John Greenleaf Whittier.
This Document is on The Quaker Writings Home Page.
Byron was an infidel - wretched infidel. The blessings of a mighty intellect - the prodigal gift of
Heaven, became in his possession a burthen and a curse. He was wretched in his gloomy unbelief;
and he strove, with that selfish purpose, which the miserable and unprincipled feel, to drag his
fellow beings from their only abiding hope - to break down in the human spirit the beautiful altar
of its faith; and to fix in other bosoms the doubt and despair which darkened his own. We pity him
for his early towards infidelity; but we condemn him for his attempts to lead is readers - -the vast
multitude of the beautiful, the pure, and the gifted, who knelt to his genius as to the
manifestations new divinity - into that ever-darkened path, which is trodden only by the lost to
Hope - --the forsaken of Heaven - and which leads from the perfect light of holiness, down to the
regions of eternal Death.
If ever man possessed the power of controlling at will the passions of his readers that man was
Byron. He knew-he felt of this power--and he loved to exercise it--to in a thousand bosoms was
Byron. He knew - he felt - the mightiousness of this power - and he loved to exercise it - to kindle
in a thousand bosoms the strange fire which desolated his own. He loved to shake down with a
giant's strength the strongest of human confidence; to unfix the young and susceptible from its
allegiance to virtue, and to the dearest ties of nature. No man ever drew finer and more
enchanting pictures of the social virtues; and Love and Friendship never seem more beautiful than
when made the subject of his vivid and heart-touching sketches. But a cold sneer of scepticism -
an unfeeling turn of expression - or a vulgar and disgusting comparison associated with images of
purity and loveliness, like a foul satyr in the companionship of angels - breaks in upon the
delicious reverie of the enthusiastic reader, and the holiness of beauty departs - the sweet spell is
broken forever, and the sacred image of virtue is associated with disgust and abhorrence. It seems
as if the mighty magician delighted in adorning with the sun-like hues of his imagination the
Paradise of Virtue, in order to discover more fully the fell power which he possessed of darkening
and defacing the fair vision,- of sending the curse of his own perverted feelings to brood over it
like the wing of a destroying angel on his errand of desolation.
What for instance can be more beautiful - more deeply imbued with the genuine spirit of pure and
holy love than the epistle of Julia to her lover in Don Juan? Yet to whom are these holy
sentiments attributed? To a vile and polluted paramour - an adultress; to a bosom of glowing not
with the etherial principle of love, but with the fires of a consuming and guilty passion. They
should have emanated from a heart as pure, as unsullied, as the descending snow-wreath, before
one stain of earth has dimmed its original purity. Yet it was Lord Byron's glory- - the very acme
of his triumph - to bring the virtues and the vices of our nature to a common level - to put into the
mouths of the criminal and the licentious the words of truth, and holiness, and love.
We are not insensible to the surpassing power of Byron's genius. He was the master spirit of his
time. We feel that we are not competent to sit in critical judgment upon the outpourings of his
lofty mind; - but we thank God for having given us a perception, faint and imperfect it may be in
comparison with that of others, but still to us a valuable perception, of the pure and beautiful in
nature and intellect. And, governed as we are in our remarks by this perception, we feel that we
are only acting the part of our duty, in warning the young and uncontaminated against an
enthusiastic reverence for the productions of Lord Byron.
Essex Gazette, Haverhill, Mass., May 8, 1830.