It is salutary to read the prose of William Hazlitt from time to time. While editing some film of Newstead Abbey taken last summer I looked up his essay on Byron in The Spirit of the Age: Or, Contemporary Portraits (1825). He says all that is needed to understand Byron (according to him one of the two greatest geniuses of the time; the other was Walter Scott), as is clear from these opening words:
'[Lord Byron] is, in a striking degree, the creature of his own will. He holds no communion with his kind; but stands alone, without mate or fellow—
"As if a man were author of himself,
And owned no other kin.”
He is like a solitary peak, all access to which is cut off not more by elevation than distance. He is seated on a lofty eminence, "cloud-capt," or reflecting the last rays of setting suns; and in his poetical moods, reminds us of the fabled Titans, retired to a ridgy steep, playing on their Pan's-pipes, and taking up ordinary men and things in their hands with haughty indifference. He raises his subject to himself, or tramples on it: he neither stoops to, nor loses himself in it. He exists not by sympathy, but by antipathy. He scorns all things, even himself. Nature must come to him to sit for her picture—he does not go to her. She must consult his time, his convenience, and his humour; and wear a sombre or a fantastic garb, or his Lordship turns his back upon her. There is no ease, no unaffected simplicity of manner, no "golden mean." All is strained, or petulant in the extreme. His thoughts are sphered and crystalline; his style "prouder than when blue Iris bends;" his spirit fiery, impatient, wayward, indefatigable. Instead of taking his impressions from without, in entire and almost unimpaired masses, he moulds them according to his own temperament, and heats the materials of his imagination in the furnace of his passions.'
Poignantly, Hazlitt wrote this while Byron was in Greece and tells us learned of the poet's death as he was completing the essay.