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"Now the Serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made."— Gen. ch. iii. ver. 1
SIR WALTER SCOTT, BART.
THIS MYSTERY OF CAIN IS INSCRIBED,
BY HIS OBLIGED FRIEND, AND FAITHFUL SERVANT,
THE following scenes are entitled "A Mystery," in conformity with the ancient title annexed to dramas
["CAIN" was begun at Ravenna, on the 16th of July, 1821-completed on the 9th of September-and published, in the same volume with “Sardanapalus" and "The Two Foscari," in December. Perhaps no production of Lord Byron has been more generally admired, on the score of ability, than this "Mystery; -certainly none, on first appearing, exposed the author to a fiercer tempest of personal abuse. Besides being unmercifully handled in most of the critical journals of the day," Cain" was made the subject of a solemn separate essay, entitled " A Remonstrance addressed to Mr Murray respecting a recent Publication-by Oxoniensis;" of which we may here preserve a specimen :
"There is a method of producing conviction, not to be found in any of the treatises on logic, but which I am persuaded you could be quickly made to understand; it is the argumentum ad crumenam; and this, I trust, will be brought home to you in a variety of ways; not least, I expect, in the profit you hope to make by the offending publication. As a bookseller, I conclude you have but one standard of poetic excellence the extent of your sale. Without assuming any thing beyond the bounds of ordinary foresight, I venture to foretell, that in this case you will be mistaken: the book will disappoint your cupidity, as much as it discredits your feeling and discretion. Your noble employer has deceived you, Mr. Murray he has profited by the celebrity of his name to palm upon you obsolete trash, the very off-scourings of Bayle and Voltaire, which he has made you pay for as though it were first-rate poetry and sound metaphysics. But I tell you (and if you doubt it, you may consult any of the literary gentlemen who frequent your reading-room) that this poem, this Mystery,' with which you have insulted us, is nothing more than a cento from Voltaire's novels, and the most objectionable articles in Bayle's Dictionary, served up in clumsy cuttings of ten syllables, for the purpose of giving it the guise of poetry. "Still, though Cain' has no claims to originality, there are other objects to which it may be made subservient; and so well are the noble author's schemes arranged, that in some of them he will be sure to succeed.
"In the first place, this publication may be useful as a financial measure. It may seem hard to suspect, that the high. souled philosophy, of which his Lordship makes profession, could be servile to the influence of money; but you could tell us, Sir, if you would, what sort of a hand your noble friend is at a bargain; whether Plutus does not sometimes go shares with Apollo in his inspirations.
"In the second place (second I mean in point of order, for I do not presume to decide which motive predominates in his Lordship's mind), the blasphemous impieties of Cain,' though nothing more in reality than the echo of often refuted sophisms, by being newly dressed and put forth in a form easy to be remembered, may produce considerable effect; that is, they may mislead the ignorant, unsettle the wavering, or confirm the hardened sceptic in his misbelief. These are conse. quences which Lord Byron must have contemplated; with what degree of complacency he alone can tell.
"But, in the third place, if neither of these things happens, and Cain' should not prove either lucrative or mischievous,
| upon similar subjects, which were styled "Mysteries, or Moralities." The author has by no means taken the same liberties with his subject which were common, formerly, as may be seen by any reader curious
there is another point which Lord Byron has secured to himself, so that he cannot be deprived of it,-the satisfaction of insulting those from whom he differs both in faith and practice. Now, at last, he quarrels with the very conditions of humanity, rebels against that Providence which guides and governs all things, and dares to adopt the language which had never before been attributed to any being but one, Evil, be thou my good.' Such, as far as we can judge, is Lord Byron."
This critic's performance is thus alluded to in one of Lord Byron's letters to Mr. Douglas Kinnaird : —“I know nothing of Rivington's Remonstrance' by the eminent Churchman;' but I suppose the man wants a living." On hearing that his publisher was threatened with more serious annoyances, in consequence of the appearance of the "Mystery," Lord Byron addressed the following letter to Mr. Murray :
"Pisa, February 8. 1822. "Attacks upon me were to be expected; but I perceive one upon you in the papers, which I confess that I did not expect. How, or in what manner, you can be considered responsible, for what I publish, I am at a loss to conceive.
"If Cain be 'blasphemous,' Paradise Lost is blasphe mous; and the very words of the Oxford gentleman, Evil, be thou my good,' are from that very poem, from the mouth of Satan; and is there any thing more in that of Lucifer in the Mystery? Cain' is nothing more than a drama, not a piece of argument. If Lucifer and Cain speak as the first murderer and the first rebel may be supposed to speak, surely all the rest of the personages talk also according to their characters -and the stronger passions have ever been permitted to the drama.
"I have even avoided introducing the Deity, as in Scripture (though Milton does, and not very wisely either); but have adopted his angel as sent to Cain instead, on purpose to avoid shocking any feelings on the subject, by falling short of what all uninspired men must fall short in, viz. giving an adequate notion of the effect of the presence of Jehovah. The old Mysteries introduced him liberally enough, and all this is avoided in the new one.
"The attempt to bully you, because they think it won't succeed with me, seems to me as atrocious an attempt as ever disgraced the times. What! when Gibbon's, Hume's, Priestley's, and Drummond's publishers have been allowed to rest in peace for seventy years, are you to be singled out for a work of fiction, not of history or argument? There must be something at the bottom of this-some private enemy of your own it is otherwise incredible.
"I can only say,Me, me; en adsum qui feci ;'-that any proceedings directed against you, I beg, may be transferred to me, who am willing, and ought, to endure them all; - that if you have lost money by the publication, I will refund any or all of the copyright; that I desire you will say that both you and Mr. Gifford remonstrated against the publication, as also Mr. Hobhouse; that I alone occasioned it, and I alone am the person who, either legally or otherwise, should bear the burden. If they prosecute. I will come to England; that is, if, by meeting it in my own person, I can save yours. Let
enough to refer to those very profane productions, 1 whether in English, French, Italian, or Spanish.
me know. You sha'n't suffer for me, if I can help it. Make any use of this letter you please. Yours ever, &c. "BYRON. "P.S.1 write to you about all this row of bad passions and absurdities with the summer moon (for here our winter is clearer than your dog-days) lighting the winding Arno, with all her buildings and bridges, so quiet and still!What nothings are we before the least of these stars!"
An individual of the name of Benbow having pirated "Cain," Mr. Shadwell (now, 1836, Sir Lancelot, and ViceChancellor) applied to the Lord Chancellor (Eldon) for an injunction to protect Mr. Murray's property in the Mystery. The learned counsel, on the 9th of February, 1822, spoke as follows:
"This work professes to record, in a dramatic poem of three acts, the story contained in the book of Genesis. It is meant to represent the state of Cain's mind when it received those temptations which led him to commit the murder of his bro ther. The actors in the poem are few: they consist of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and their two wives, with Lucifer, and, in the third act, the angel of the Lord. The book only does that which was before done by Milton, and adheres more closely to the words contained in Scripture. The book, in the commencement, represents Cain in a moody, dissipated disposition, when the Evil Spirit tempts him to go forth with him to acquire knowledge. After the first act, he leads him through the abyss of space; and, in the third, Cain returns with a still more gloomy spirit. Although the poet puts passages into his mouth, which of themselves are blasphemous and impious; yet it is what Milton has done also, both in his Paradise Lost, and Regained. But those passages are powerfully combated by the beautiful arguments of his wife, Adah. It is true that the book represents what Scripture represents, -that he is, notwithstanding, instigated to destroy the altar of his orother, whom he is then led on to put to death; but then the punishment of his crime follows in the very words of the Scripture itself. Cain's mind is immediately visited with all the horror of remorse, and he goes forth a wanderer on the face of the earth. I trust I am the last person in the world who would attempt to defend a blasphemous or impious work; but I say that this poem is as much entitled to the protection of the court, in the abstract, as either the Paradise Lost or the Paradise Regained. So confident am I of this, that I would at present undertake to compare it with those works, passage by passage, and show that it is perfectly as moral as those productions of Milton. Every sentence carries with it, if I may use the expression, its own balsam. The authority of God is recognised; and Cain's impiety and crime are introduced to show that its just punishment immediately followed. I repeat, that there is no reason why this work, taken abstractedly, should not be protected as well as either of the books I have mentioned. I therefore trust that your Lordship will grant this injunction in limine, and then the defendants may come in and show cause against it."
The following is a note of the Lord Chancellor's judg. ment :
"This court, like the other courts of justice in this country, acknowledges Christianity as part of the law of the land. The jurisdiction of this court in protecting literary property is founded on this, that where an action will lie for pirating a work, there the court, attending to the imperfection of that remedy, grants its injunction; because there may be publication after publication which you may never be able to hunt down by proceeding in the other courts. But where such an action does not lie, I do not apprehend that it is according to the course of the court to grant an injunction to protect the copyright. Now this publication, if it is one intended to vilify and bring into discredit that portion of Scripture history to which it relates, is a publication with reference to which, if the principles on which the case of Dr. Priestley, at Warwick, was decided, be just principles of law, the party could not recover any damages in respect of a piracy of it. This court has no criminal jurisdiction; it cannot look on any thing as an offence; but in those cases it only administers justice for the protection of the civil rights of those who possess them, in consequence of being able to maintain an action. You have alluded to Milton's immortal work: it did happen in the course of last long vacation, amongst the solicita jucunda oblivia vitæ, I read that work from beginning to end; it is therefore quite fresh in my memory, and it appears to me that the great object of its author was to promote the cause of Christianity: there are undoubtedly a great many passages in it, of which, if that were not its object, it would be very improper by law to vindicate the publication; but, taking it all together, it is clear that the object and effect were not to bring into disrepute, but to pro. mote, the reverence of our religion. Now the real question is, looking at the work before me, its preface, the poem, its manner of treating the subject, particularly with reference to the fall and the atonement, whether its intent be as innocent as that of the other with which you have compared it; or
The author has endeavoured to preserve the language adapted to his characters; and where it is (and this
whether it be to traduce and bring into discredit that part of sacred history. This question I have no right to try, because it has been settled, after great difference of opinion among the learned, that it is for a jury to determine that point; and where, therefore, a reasonable doubt is entertained as to the character of the work (and it is impossible for me to say I have not a doubt, I hope it is a reasonable one), another course must be taken for determining what is its true nature and character. There is a great difficulty in these cases, because it appears a strange thing to permit the multiplication of copies by way of preventing the circulation of a mischievous work, which I do not presume to determine that this is; but that I cannot help and the singularity of the case, in this instance, is more obvious, because here is a defendant who has multiplied this work by piracy, and does not think proper to appear. If the work be of that character which a court of common law would consider criminal, it is pretty clear why he does not appear, because he would come confitens reus; and for the same reason the question may perhaps not be tried by an action at law; and if it turns out to be the case, I shall be bound to give my own opinion. That opinion I express no further now than to say that, after having read the work, I cannot grant the injunction until you show me that you can maintain an action for it. If you annot maintain an action. there is no pretence for granting an injunction; if you should not be able to try the question at law with the defendant, 1 cannot be charged with impropriety if I then give my own opinion upon it. It is true that this mode of dealing with the work, if it be calculated to produce mischievous effects, opens a door for its dissemination; but the duty of stopping the work does not belong to a court of equity, which has no criminal jurisdiction, and cannot punish or check the offence. If the character of the work is such that the publication of it amounts to a temporal offence, there is another way of proceeding, and the publication of it should be proceeded against directly as an offence; but whether this or any other work should be so dealt with, it would be very improper for me to form or intimate an opinion."
The injunction was refused accordingly. The reader is referred to Mr. Moore's Notices for abundant evidence of the pain which Lord Byron suffered from the virulence of the attacks on "Cain," and the legal procedure above alluded to. Sir Walter Scott announced his acceptance of the dedication in the following letter to Mr. Murray:
"Edinburgh, 4th December, 1821. "MY DEAR SIR, I accept with feelings of great obligation, the flattering proposal of Lord Byron to prefix my name to the very grand and tremendous drama of Cain.' 'I may be partial to it, and you will allow I have cause; but I do not know that his Muse has ever taken so lofty a flight amid her former soarings. He has certainly matched Milton on his own ground. Some part of the language is bold, and may shock one class of readers, whose line will be adopted by others out of affectation or envy. But then they must con. demn the Paradise Lost,' if they have a mind to be consistent. The fiend-like reasoning and bold blasphemy of the fiend and of his pupil lead exactly the point which was to be expected, the commission of the first murder, and the ruin and despair of the perpetrator.
"I do not see how any one can accuse the author himself of Manicheism. The Devil talks the language of that sect, doubtless; because, not being able to deny the existence of the Good Principle, he endeavours to exalt himself the Evil Principle-to a seeming equality with the Good; but such arguments, in the mouth of such a being, can only be used to deceive and to betray. Lord Byron might have made this more evident, by placing in the mouth of Adam, or of some good and protecting spirit, the reasons which render the existence of moral evil consistent with the general benevolence of the Deity. The great key to the mystery is, perhaps, the imperfection of our own faculties, which see and feel strongly the partial evils which press upon us, but know too little of the general system of the universe, to be aware how the existence of these is to be reconciled with the benevolence of the great Creator.
"To drop these speculations, you have much occasion for some mighty spirit, like Lord Byron, to come down and trouble the waters; for, excepting The John Bull *,' you seem stagnating strangely in London. Yours, my dear Sir, very truly, WALTER SCOTT."
"To John Murray, Esq."
[See note to "Hints from Horace," post; Payne Collier's "Annals of the Stage," vol. i.; the "Histoire du Theatre Français," vol. ii., &c.]
[The pungent Sunday print so called had been established some little time before this letter was written, and had excited a sensation unequalled in the recent history of the newspaper press.]
is but rarely) taken from actual Scripture, he has made as little alteration, even of words, as the rhythm would permit. The reader will recollect that the book of Genesis does not state that Eve was tempted by a demon, but by "the Serpent ;" and that only because he was "the most subtil of all the beasts of the field." Whatever interpretation the Rabbins and the Fathers may have put upon this, I take the words as I find them, and reply, with Bishop Watson upon similar occasions, when the Fathers were quoted to him, as Moderator in the schools of Cambridge," Behold the Book!"- holding up the Scripture. 1 It is to be recollected that my present subject has nothing to do with the New Testament, to which no reference can be here made wit out anachronism. With the poems upon similar topics I have not been recently familiar. Since I was twenty, I have never read Milton; but I had read him so frequently before, that this may make little difference. Gesner's "Death of Abel" I have never read since I was eight years of age, at Aberdeen. The general impression of my recollection is delight; but of the contents I remember only that Cain's wife was called Mahala, and Abel's Thirza: in the following pages I have called them " Adah" and "Zillah," the earliest female names which occur in Genesis; they were those of Lamech's wives: those of Cain and Abel are not called by their names. Whether, then, a coincidence of subject may have caused the same in expression, I know nothing, and care as little. 2
The reader will please to bear in mind (what few choose to recollect), that there is no allusion to a future state in any of the books of Moses, nor indeed in the Old Testament. 3 For a reason for this extraordinary omission he may consult Warburton's "Divine Legation; whether satisfactory or not, no better has yet been assigned. I have therefore supposed it new to Cain, without, I hope, any perversion of Holy Writ.
With regard to the language of Lucifer, it was difficult for me to make him talk like a clergyman upon the same subjects; but I have done what I could to restrain him within the bounds of spiritual polite
If he disclaims having tempted Eve in the shape of the Serpent, it is only because the book of Genesis has not the most distant allusion to any thing of the kind, but merely to the Serpent in his serpentine capacity.
Note. The reader will perceive that the author has partly adopted in this poem the notion of Cuvier, that the world had been destroyed several times before the creation of man. This speculation,
["I never troubled myself with answering any arguments which the opponents in the divinity-schools brought against the Articles of the Church, nor ever admitted their authority as decisive of a difficulty; but I used on such occasions to say to them, holding up the New Testament in my hand, En sacrum codicem! Here is the fountain of truth; why do you follow the streams derived from it by sophistry, or polluted by the passions, of man?'"- Bp. Watson's Life, vol.ì. p.63.]
? [Here follows, in the original draught,—“ I am prepared to be accused of Manicheism, or some other hard name ending in ism, which make a formidable figure and awful sound in the eyes and ears of those who would be as much puzzled to explain the terms so bandied about, as the liberal and pious indulgers in such epithets. Against such I can defend myself, or, if necessary, I can attack in turn."]
[There are numerous passages dispersed throughout the Old Testament, which import something more than " an
derived from the different strata and the bones of enormous and unknown animals found in them, is not contrary to the Mosaic account, but rather confirms it; as no human bones have yet been discovered in those strata, although those of many known animals are found near the remains of the unknown. The assertion of Lucifer, that the pre-Adamite world was also peopled by rational beings much more intelligent than man, and proportionably powerful to the mammoth, &c. &c. is, of course, a poetical fiction to help him to make out his case.
ADAM. CAIN. ABEL.
allusion to a future state." In truth, the Old Testament abou:.ds in phrases which imply the immortality of the soul, and which would be insignificant and hardly intelligible, but upon that supposition. "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit return unto God who gave it.' -Eccl. xii. 7. "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever." Dan. x. 2. "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand in the latter days upon the earth: and though after my skin worms shall destroy my body, yet in my flesh shail I see God"-Job xix. 25. Brit. Rev.]
[Lord Byron has thought proper to call this drama a Mystery" the name which was given in our own country, before the Reformation, to those scenic representations of the
Who didst divide the wave from wave, and call Part of thy work the firmament—all hail!
Abel. God who didst call the elements into Earth-ocean-air-and fire, and with the day And night, and worlds, which these illuminate, Or shadow, madest beings to enjoy them, And love both them and thee-all hail! all hail ! Aduh. God, the Eternal! Parent of all things Who didst create these best and beauteous beings, To be beloved, more than all, save theeLet me love thee and them:-All hail! all hail ! Zillah. Oh, God! who loving, making, blessing all, Yet didst permit the Serpent to creep in, And drive my father forth from Paradise, Keep us from further evil :- Hail! all hail!
Eve. My boy! thou speakest as I spoke, in sin, Before thy birth: let me not see renew'd My misery in thine. I have repented. Let me not see my offspring fall into The snares beyond the walls of Paradise, Which e'en in Paradise destroy'd his parents. Content thee with what is. Had we been so, Thou now hadst been contented. Oh, my son !
Adam. Our orisons completed, let us hence, Each to his task of toil-not heavy, though Needful the earth is young, and yields us kindly Her fruits with little labour.
Which can avail thee nothing, save to rouse
["Say then, shall man, deprived all power of choice,
More dear to them, than to himself, is man." - Juv.
"Though the Deity is inclined," says Owen," by his own
Adah. My beloved Cain, Wilt thou frown even on me? Cain.
No, Adah! no; I fain would be alone a little while. Abel, I'm sick at heart; but it will pass. Precede me, brother-I will follow shortly. And you, too, sisters, tarry not behind; Your gentleness must not be harshly met : I'll follow you anon. Adah. If not, I will Return to seck you here. Abel.
Be on your spirit, brother!
The peace of God
[Exeunt ABEL, ZILLAH, and ADAH.
Cain (solus). And this is Life-Toil! and wherefore should I toil ?-because My father could not keep his place in Eden. What had I done in this?-I was unborn: I sought not to be born; nor love the state To which that birth has brought me. Why did he Yield to the serpent and the woman? or, Yielding, why suffer? What was there in this? The tree was planted, and why not for him? If not, why place him near it, where it grew, The fairest in the centre? They have but One answer to all questions, "'Twas his will, And he is good." How know I that? Because He is all-powerful, must all-good, too, follow?
benignity, to bless his creatures, yet he expects the outward expressions of devotion from the rational part of them." This is certainly what Juvenal means to inculcate: hence his earnest recommendation of a due regard to the public and ceremonial part of religion. — GIFFORD.]
3["I took out my Ogden on Prayer,' and read some of it. Dr. Johnson praised him. Abernethy,' said he, allows only of a physical effect of prayer upon the mind, which may be produced many ways as well as by prayer; for instance, by meditation. Ogden goes farther. In truth, we have the consent of all nations for the efficacy of prayer, whether offered up by individuals or by assemblies; and revelation has told us it will be effectual.'" BOSWELL, vol. iv. p. 66. ed. 1835.]
[This passage affords a key to the temper and frame of mind of Cain throughout the piece. He disdains the limited existence allotted to him; he has a rooted horror of death, attended with a vehement curiosity as to his nature; and he nourishes a sullen anger against his parents, to whose misconduct he ascribes his degraded state. Added to this, he has an insatiable thirst for knowledge beyond the bounds prescribed to mortality; and this part of the poem bears a strong resemblance to Manfred, whose counterpart, indeed, in the main points of character, Cain seems to be. CAMPBELL.]