we have a condensation of the refrain of the poet’s philosophy; but the main drift of the later books is a satire on London society. There are elements in a great city which may be wrought into something nobler than satire, for all the energies of the age are concentrated where passion is fiercest and thought intensest, amid the myriad sights and sounds of its glare and gloom. But those scenes, and the actors in them, are apt also to induce the frame of mind in which a prose satirist describes himself as reclining under an arcade of the Pantheon: “Not the Pantheon by the Piazza Navona, where the immortal gods were worshipped—the immortal gods now dead; but the Pantheon in Oxford Street. Have not Selwyn, and Walpole, and March, and Carlisle figured there? Has not Prince Florizel flounced through the hall in his rustling domino, and danced there in powdered splendour? O my companions, I have drunk many a bout with you, and always found ‘Vanitas Vanitatum’ written on the bottom of the pot.” This is the mind in which Don Juan interprets the universe, and paints the still living court of Florizel and his buffoons. A “nondescript and ever varying rhyme”—“a versified aurora borealis,” half cynical, half Epicurean, it takes a partial though a subtle view of that microcosm on stilts called the great world. It complains that in the days of old “men made the manners—manners now make men.” It concludes—
Good company’s a chess-board, there
Queens, bishops, knights, rooks, pawns; the world’s a game.
It passes from a reflection on “the dreary fuimus of all things here” to the advice—
But “carpe diem,” Juan, “carpe,
To-morrow sees another race as gay
And transient, and devour’d by the same harpy.
“Life’s a poor player,”—then play out the play.
It was the natural conclusion of the foregone stage of Byron’s career. Years had given him power, but they were years in which his energies were largely wasted. Self-indulgence had not petrified his feeling, but it had thrown wormwood into its springs. He had learnt to look on existence as a walking shadow, and was strong only with the strength of a sincere despair.
Through life’s road, so dim and
I have dragg’d to three and thirty.
What have those years left to me?
Nothing, except thirty-three.
These lines are the summary of one who had drained the draught of pleasure to the dregs of bitterness.
POLITICS—THE CARBONARI—EXPEDITION TO GREECE—DEATH.