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Any person who is destined to live will not go down to future generations such as he really was ; at some distance from him, his epopee commences ; his person is idealised; he is transfigured; a power, vices, and virtues, which he never had, are attributed to him; the incidents of his life are garbled, they are wrested, they are wrought into a system. Biographers repeat these falsehoods; painters fix their inventions upon canvas, and posterity adopts the phantom. Very silly must he be who believes in history. History is a mere fallacy : as it is coloured and fashioned by a great writer, such it remains. Were we to discover memoirs, proving to demonstration that Tacitus has told egregious falsehoods in his account of the virtues of Agricola and the vices of Tiberius, Agricola and Tiberius would still remain what Tacitus has made them.
Two distinct persons are to be found in Lord Byron—the man of nature and the man of system. The poet, perceiving what part the public made him perform, accepted it, and began to curse the world, which had at first only been the subject of his reveries : this transition is obvious in the chronological order of his works. As for the character of his genius, so far from having the extent which is attributed to it, it is, on the contrary, very limited.
His poetic and impassioned thought is but a moan, a plaint, an imprecation; in this quality, it is admirable: we must not ask the lyre what it thinks but what it sings.
Lord Byron has abundance of wit, and extremely diversified wit, but of a kind that agitates and has a baneful influence. He has read Voltaire, and he frequently iinitates him. In following the great English poet step by step, we are forced to acknowledge that he aims at effect, that he rarely loses sight of himself, that he is almost always in attitude; that he looks at himself with complacency; but the affectation of eccentricity, singularity, originality, belongs to the English character in general. If, however, Lord Byron has atoned for his genius by certain foibles, futurity will not concern itself about such paltry matters, or rather it will know nothing about them; the poet will hide the man, and will interpose talent between the man and future generations : through this divine veil posterity will discern nothing but the god.
Lord Byron has formed an epoch; he will leave behind him a trace so deep that it cannot be erased. The accident which made him lame and increased his wildness, ought not to have given him any concern, since it did not prevent his being loved. Unfortunately, the poet did not always place his affections high enough, and suffered too lowly. attachments to entwine themselves around him.
We cannot but pity Rousseau and Byron for having offered at altars unworthy of their sacrifices; perhaps, covetous of time, every minute of which belonged to the world, they were desirous only of pleasure, charging their talent to transform it into passion and glory. Melancholy, jealousy, the pangs of love, were for their lyres; for themselves voluptuous enjoyment and its sleep beneath light hands: they sought reverie, unhappiness, tears, despair, in solitude, winds, darkness, storms, forests, seas, and composed from them for their readers the torments of Childe Harold and St. Preux upon the bosom of La Padoana and del Can de la Madona.
Be this as it may, in the moment of their intoxication, the illusion of love was complete; for the rest, they were perfectly aware that they held Inconstancy herself in their arms; that she would fly away with the dawn. She did not deceive them with a false semblance of fidelity; she did not impose on herself the task of following them, weary of their tenderness or her own. To sum up all, Jean Jacques and Lord Byron were both unfortunate men; this was the condition of their genius : the first poisoned himself; the second, weary
of his excesses, and feeling the need of esteem, returned to the shores of that Greece where his Muse and Death rendered him in turn such good service.
LORD BYRON AT THE LIDO.
I PRECEDED Lord Byron in life; he has preceded me in death. He was called before his turn : my number had the start of his, and yet his came out first. The world might have lost me without being aware of my disappearance and without regretting me.
All that I have seen pass, or all that has around me since I have existed cannot be told How many graves have opened and closed before my eyes ! A hundred times, in sunshine or in rain, on the brink of an open grave, into which they were letting down a coffin with ropes, have I heard the creaking of those ropes, have I heard the first shovelful of earth falling on that coffin, and at every fresh shovelful the hollow sound becoming duller and more dull. The mould, as it filled the grave, made eternal silence ascend by degrees to its surface.
It is not yet two years since, one day at dawn, I
was strolling upon the Lido, where Lord Byron had so often strolled. It was but a faint and unsmiling Aurora that issued from the sea; the transformation of darkness into light, with its wonderful changes, its stars extinguished one by one in the gold and the roses of morning, did not take place. Four or five barks were coasting close along the shore; a large ship was just disappearing on the horizon. The wet beach was dotted with groups of sea-gulls ; some of them were flying heavily above the receding waves. The ebb-tide had left the traces of its concentric arcs on the shore; the sand, garlanded with sea-weed, was wrinkled by every wave, like a brow over which Time has passed his hand. The retiring water attached its white festoons to the abandoned beach.
The waves which I meet with have been everywhere my faithful companions : like young girls holding each other by the hand in a round dance, they encircled me at my birth. I saluted these rockers of my cradle. I walked along the margin of the billows, listening to their noise, doleful, familiar, and grateful to my ear. I frequently paused to contemplate the immensity of the sea ; a mast, a cloud, were sufficient to awaken my recollections.
I had formerly crossed this sea. In front of the Lido a storm overtook me. I said to myself in