John Ruskin on Byron’s ‘Perfect’ Revolutionary Paragraph

The Revolutionary Lord Byron (1788-1824)

‘Of course, I could no more measure Byron’s greatest powers at this time than I could Turner’s; but I saw that both were right in all things that I knew right from wrong in; and that they must thenceforth be my masters, each in his own domain. The modern reader, not to say also, modern scholar, is usually so ignorant of the essential qualities of Byron, that I cannot go farther in the story of my own novitiate under him without illustrating, by rapid example, the things which I saw to be unrivalled in his work. 

For this purpose, I take his common prose, rather than his verse, since his modes of rhythm involve other questions that those with which I am now concerned. Read, the chance-first, the sentence on Sheridan, in his letter to Thomas Moore, from Venice, June 1st (or dawn of June 2nd), 1818: – 

“The Whigs abuse him; however, he never left them, and such blunderers deserve neither credit nor compassion. As for his comforts – remember Sheridan never had a shilling, and was thrown, with great powers and passions, onto the think of the world, and placed upon the pinnacle of success, with no other external means to support him in his elevation. Did Fox pay his debts? Or did Sheridan take a subscription? Was —-’s drunkenness more excusable than his? Were his intrigues more notorious than those of all his contemporaries? And is his memory to be blasted and theirs respected? Don’t let yourself be led away by clamour, but compare him with the coalitioner Fox, and the pensioner Burke, as a man of principle; and with ten hundred thousand in personal views; and with none in talent, for he beat them all out and out. Without means, without connection, without character (which might be false at first, and drive him mad afterwards from desperation), he beat them all, in all he ever attempted. But, alas poor human nature! Good-night, or rather morning. It is four, and the dawn gleams over the Grand Canal. And unshadows the Rialto.” 

Now, observe, that passage is noble, primarily because it contains the utmost number that will come together into the space, of absolutely just wise, and kind thoughts. But it is more than noble, it is perfect, because the quantity it holds is not artificially concentrated, but with the serene swiftness of a smith’s hammer-strokes on hot iron; and with choice of terms which, each in its place, will convey far more than they mean in the dictionary.’ 

John Ruskin: Praeterita, Everyman, (2005), Pages 130-131 

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