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FOR any one besides the author to write a suitable Preface to one of the most extraordinary books in the world, is, to say the least of it, a somewhat extraordinary undertaking. But the bookseller commands, and must be obeyed. It is now some five or six years ago, since I was called upon to write a “ Life of Lord Byron,” to be prefixed to an edition of certain minor poems of his Lordship. “ Bless your heart! sir,” I exclaimed, to the expectant bookseller, “ I know nothivg of Lord Byron's life: I know there has been a great deal of talk about him of late ; and where there is a good deal of talk, there is usually a great deal of scandal and falsehood, which I dare' say is the case in this instance; but as to Lord Byron's Life, I know no more than the man in the moon!” “ Nonsense!” replied my bookseller ; you must write it for all that." “If I must,-I must:" so, recollecting the title of one of the chapters in Tom Jones, that “ an author would write all the better for understanding his subject," I immediately set about to inquire ; and soon, what with a little chit-chat, and a great deal of Sir Egerton Bridges' Collins, I made up the Memoir.
But to this Preface :—What can be said ? A preface, though usually written last, comes first, and is supposed to explain the author's own views and motives in publishing his book; and in which he sometimes takes occasion to clear up some points in the text which may not appear quite clear, or be otherwise capable of misapprehension. Now, when a preface comes to be written by another hand, though the writer, or editor, ought not to be charged with approving of every thing in the work so prefaced, he may fairly be supposed to give his sanction to the work generally,
This work, entitled Don JUAN, seems, I know not why, a sort of common property amongst the booksellers : for we have had editions of all sorts and sizes ; from the original superb quarto, to the shabby two-penny trash," or weekly instalment of about twenty-four duodecimo, badly printed, pages. In short, it has been, and still is, one of the most popular poems of the present day :-and what is the reason of this ? To this question there have been various answers given. “ The book," says one,“ is so very licentious, that it suits the corrupt taste of the age.” Now this I deny.-In the first place, “ Don Juan,” as a book, is not licentious. Let those fastidious censors read from line 1010 to 1045—to say nothing of many other parts of Milton's Paradise Lost, and then, if they can consistently, accuse Lord Byron's Muse of licentiousness.-" To the pure, all things are pure ;" to the puritanical, all things are impure; with the exception of their own luscious and prurient hymns, many of which abound with expressions of no very chaste tendency. Besides; if it be true, as these pseudo-saints would have us believe, that the licentiousness of “ Don Juan" accounts for its popularity, what is all this noise of Missionary, and Bible, and School Societies--and Evangelism-and Gospel-light about ?-and, if we may believe their quarterly and annual PUBLISHER'S PREFACE.
reports, of the almost commencement of the Millenium ?Have we been preaching, and praying, and building churches, and sending infidels db prison, and persecuting and prosecuting blasphemers all to no purpose ? When will the age become less licentious ? Surely we are in no lack of Meetings and Methodism to accomplish the good work of our national moral and spiritual reformation! No, no! this is the age of canting; and your canting fellows are no great enemies to secret licentiousness, however they may publicly prate and pray against it ; and they only raise the cry of licentiousness against a work, to “make believe" that they abhor the thing itself. But the very great eagerness with which the works of my Lord Byron are read, is a proof that the taste of the age for true poetical beauty, for “ the celestial fire of genius, and the vigour of noble sentiment,” is increasing. The Southeyans, the Wordsworthians, and the whole tribe of their canting and childish admirers, are sinking into oblivion; and we are gradually returning to the true tact, (although, to use the words of our author,
“ That modern phrase appears to me sad stuff,")
or true poetical feeling, with which the admirers of Milton, Dryden, and Pope have ever been inspired.
I have been informed, that Lord Byron has lately been joined, in his literary pursuits and continental retirement, by a late well-known Editor of a popular Sunday Newspaper. · Personally known as that gentleman' is to the writer of this Preface, nothing more is required to confirmi his persuasion, that, whatever may be the political or theological views of these gentlemen, honour is the basis of their conduct, and integrity of principle that which guides them in whatever, either jointly or separately, they send forth into the world. With their opinions we have nothing to do, but to confute, reject, or overlook them.
The apparently loose and wandering style which appears in many of the lines in “ Don Juan,” are amply made up by the great majesty, beauty, and brilliancy of the rest. The poem is confessedly satirical, and in many places ludicrous; and a more luxuriant mixture of the sublime, the beautiful, and the humorous was never before exhibited. The admirers of Hudibras (and who, except the censurers of “ Don Juan," does not admire that excellent satire ?) cannot but be pleased with the hudibrasticism of some parts of the following work; whilst, on the other hand, the lovers of the pathetic will be amply gratified by the truly affecting details interspersed throughout the several cantos.
The author's digressions are certainly numerous; but they will repay the reader's patience by their great interest.
The criticisms on some of our modern poets are very severe; but they have been provoked by the unmanly attacks made upon the author by those against whom his lordship's criticisms are directed.
But it is said Lord Byron has no religion. This phrase, " to have no religion,” is very fashionable ; but very unmeaning: for it is applied to all those who may happen to differ from us in some points of our creed. Hence, we say of such an one, “ He has no religion,” merely because he has not got our religion. If his lordship is, indeed, as is reported, an unbeliever in the Christian doctrines, I am sorry for it : but the loss is his own; and he has as
much moral and natural right to believe in and worship one God, as we Christians have to pay adoration to three persons in one incomprehensible divine hypostasis. If Lord Byron's
46_Altars are the mountains and the ocean,
Earth, air, and stars,--all that springs from the Great Whole, “ Who hath produced, and will receive the soul,” they were Adam's, and Abraham's, and Isaac's, and Jacob's, before him ; and it is becoming in a Christian to act upon the advice of St. Paul, who said, “ Him that is weak in the faith, receive ye; but not to doubtful disputations :" and let those to whom God hath given more faith (for “ faith is the gift of God,") than to the author of Don Juan, be thankful for their superior light, and, by setting Deists a good example,-not by railing and abuse,-endeavour to bring them also into the right way.
As to the poem itself, in a moral point of view, the writer of this preface, himself a Christian from the firmest conviction ; and being a member of that portion of what are usually denominated “the leamed professions,”. which particularly calls upon him to “defend the faith,” -though not " by law,”-must confess, that he sees nothing in it, as a whole-i.e. as far as the noble author has proceeded-at all objectionable, when viewed in its proper light, and with that Christian allowance which we are bound to make for his lordship’s own views, opinions, and motives. Let others think as they may; for my own part, “ Plus apud nos vera ratio valeat quam vulgi opinio ;" and, if I err in this determination, I have at least Cicero for my companion.
It is not probable that my Lord Byron will ever see this edition of Don Juan ; but, should it be otherwise, the