Home  »  Volume XII: English THE ROMANTIC REVIVAL The Nineteenth Century, I  »  § 14. The Vision of Judgment

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XII. The Romantic Revival.

II. Byron

§ 14. The Vision of Judgment

In The Vision of Judgment, the verse is the same, but the mood is different. In Beppo, the satire is diffused in playful irony; here, it is direct and personal. The Vision is, indeed, matter for mirth, but Byron never conceals the spirit of bitter indignation in which the travesty was conceived. Southey’s fulsome adulation of the dead monarch roused him to anger, and the anger is that of the impassioned lover of liberty who saw, in George III, the incarnation of the power of tyranny:

  • He ever warr’d with freedom and the free:
  • Nations as men, home subjects, foreign foes,
  • So that they uttered the word “Liberty!”
  • Found George the Third their first opponent.(st. XLV.)
  • It cannot be denied that Southey’s poem readily lent itself to travesty, but this fact does not in the least diminish the perfection of Byron’s constructive art or his mastery of satiric portraiture. The colloquial case of Beppo is maintained, but there are fewer digressions; while, in the description of Lucifer’s approach to the gates of heaven and of his reception there by Michael, Byron momentarily rises to the dignity of the epic. One of Southey’s reviewers accused him of profaneness in his attempt to “convert the awful tribunal of Heaven into a drawing-room levee” in which he himself plays the part of a lord-in-waiting, and it was upon this scene in Southey’s Vision that Byron swooped, with an unerring eye for burlesque effect. Of Southey’s cloud of witnesses only two—Wilkes and Junius—are summoned to the judgment-seat by Byron, but the part which they play in the action is magnificently conceived and executed. The full blast of the poet’s satiric humour is, however, held in reserve until Southey himself appears and recites the “spavin’d dactyls” of his Vision to the outraged ears of the assembled ghosts and archangels; it is satire in which every line transfixes its quarry. In this concluding scene, Byron scales the heights of the most exalted form of satire—that in which keen-edged, humorous portraiture is united with transcendent constructive and narrative art.