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V From Lord Byron's last Letter to M.Murray
LORD BY RON.
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage :
L'univers est une espèce de livre, dont on n'a lu que la première page quand on n'a vu que son pays. J'en ai feuilleté un assez grand nombre, que j'ai trouvé également mauvaises. Cet examen ne m'a point été infructueux. Je haissais ma patrie. Toutes les impertinences des peuples divers, parmi lesquels j'ai vécu, m'ont reconcilié avec elle Quand je n'aurais tiré d'autre bénéfice de mes voyages que celui-là, je n'en regretterais ni les frais ni les fatigues. LE COSMOPOLITE.1
[TO THE FIRST AND SECOND CANTOS].
THE following poem was written, for the most part, amidst the scenes which it attempts to describe. It was begun in Albania; and the parts relative to Spain and Portugal were composed from the author's observations in those countries. 2 Thus much it may be necessary to state for the correctness of the descriptions. The scenes attempted to be sketched are in Spain, Portugal, Epirus, Acarnania, and Greece. There, for the present, the poem stops: its reception will determine whether the author may venture to conduct his readers to the capital of the East, through Ionia and Phrygia: these two Cantos are merely experimental.
A fictitious character is introduced for the sake of giving some connection to the piece; which, however, makes no pretensions to regularity. It has been suggested to me by friends, on whose opinions I set a high value, that in this fictitious character, "Childe Harold," I may incur the suspicion of having intended some real personage: this I beg leave, once for all, to disclaim― Harold is the child of imagination, for the purpose I have stated. In some very trivial particulars, and those merely local, there might be grounds for such a notion; but in the main points, I should hope, none whatever.
It is almost superfluous to mention that the ap pellation Childe," as "Childe Waters," "Childe
[Par M. de Montbron, Paris, 1798. Lord Byron somewhere calls it "an amusing little volume, full of French flippancy."]
Childers," &c., is used as more consonant with the old structure of versification which I have adopted. The "Good Night," in the beginning of the first canto, was suggested by "Lord Maxwell's Good Night," in the Border Minstrelsy, edited by Mr. Scott.
With the different poems which have been published on Spanish subjects, there may be found some slight coincidence in the first part, which treats of the Peninsula, but it can only be casual; as, with the exception of a few concluding stanzas, the whole of this poem was written in the Levant.
The stanza of Spenser, according to one of our most successful poets, admits of every variety. Dr. Beattie makes the following observation : -"Not long ago, I began a poem in the style and stanza of Spenser, in which I propose to give full scope to my inclination, and be either droll or pathetic, descriptive or sentimental, tender or satirical, as the humour strikes me; for, if I mistake not, the measure which I have adopted admits equally of all these kinds of composition."3 Strengthened in my opinion by such authority, and by the example of some in the highest order of Italian poets, I shall make no apology for attempts at similar variations in the following composition; satisfied that, if they are unsuccessful, their failure must be in the execution, rather than in the design, sanctioned by the practice of Ariosto, Thomson, and Beattie.
London, February, 1812.
2["Byron, Joannini in Albania. Begun Oct. 31st, 1809. Concluded Canto 2d, Smyrna, March 28th, 1810. Byron."-MS.] 3 Beattie's Letters.
ADDITION TO THE PREFACE.
I HAVE NOW waited till almost all our periodical journals have distributed their usual portion of criticism. To the justice of the generality of their criticisms I have nothing to object: it would ill become me to quarrel with their very slight degree of censure, when, perhaps, if they had been less kind they had been more candid. Returning, therefore, to all and each my best thanks for their liberality, on one point alone shall I venture an observation. Amongst the many objections justly urged to the very indifferent character of the "vagrant Childe" (whom, notwithstanding many hints to the contrary, I still maintain to be a fictitious personage), it has been stated, that, besides the anachronism, he is very unknightly, as the times of the Knights were times of Love, Honour, and so forth. Now, it so happens that the good old times, when "l'amour du bon vieux tems, l'amour antique" flourished, were the most profligate of all possible centuries. Those who have any doubts on this subject may consult Sainte-Palaye, passim, and more particularly vol. ii. p. 69. 1 The vows of chivalry were no better kept than any other vows whatsoever; and the songs of the Troubadours were not more decent, and certainly were much less refined, than those of Ovid. The "Cours d'amour, parlemens d'amour, ou de courtésie et de gentilesse' had much more of love than of courtesy or gentleness. See Roland on the same subject with Sainte-Palaye. Whatever other objection may be urged to that most unamiable personage Childe Harold, he was so far perfectly knightly in his attributes - "No waiter, but a knight templar."2 By the by, I fear that Sir Tristrem and Sir Lancelot were no better than they should be, although very poetical personages and true knights "sans peur," though not "sans reproche." If the story of the institution of the "Garter be not a fable, the knights of that order have for several centuries borne the badge of a Countess of Salisbury, of indifferent memory. So much for chivalry. Burke need not have regretted that its days are over, though Marie-Antoinette was quite as chaste as most of those in whose honours lances were shivered, and knights unhorsed.
as he is; it had been more agreeable, and certainly more easy, to have drawn an amiable character. It had been easy to varnish over his faults, to make him do more and express less; but he never was intended as an example, further than to show, that early perversion of mind and morals leads to satiety of past pleasures and disappointment in new ones, and that even the beauties of nature, and the stimulus of travel (except ambition, the most powerful of all excitements), are lost on a soul so constituted, or rather misdirected. Had I proceeded with the poem, this character would have deepened as he drew to the close; for the outline which I once meant to fill up for him was, with some exceptions, the sketch of a modern Timon 3, perhaps a poetical Zeluco. + London, 1813.
1 [A species of the antelope. "You have the eyes of a gazelle," is considered all over the East as the greatest com. pliment that can be paid to a woman.]
2 The little village of Castri stands partly on the site of Delphi. Along the path of the mountain, from Chrysso, are the remains of sepulchres hewn in and from the rock. "One," said the guide, "of a king who broke his neck hunting." His majesty had certainly chosen the fittest spot for such an achievement. A little above Castri is a cave, supposed the Pythian, of immense depth; the upper part of it is paved, and now a cowhouse. On the other side of Castri stands a Greek monastery; some way above which is the cleft in the rock, with a range of caverns difficult of ascent, and apparently leading to the interior of the mountain; probably to the Corycian Cavern mentioned by Pausanias. From this part descend the fountain and the "Dews of Castalie." ―[“We were sprinkled," says Mr. Hobhouse, “with the spray of the immortal rill, and here, if any where, should have felt the poetic inspiration: we drank deep, too, of the spring; but — (I can answer for myself)—without feeling sensible of any extraordinary effect."]
3 [This stanza is not in the original MS.] 4 ["Childe Buron."- - MS.]
[In these stanzas, and indeed throughout his works, we must not accept too literally Lord Byron's testimony against himself he took a morbid pleasure in darkening every shadow of his self-portraiture. His interior at Newstead had, no doubt, been, in some points, loose and irregular enough; but it certainly never exhibited any thing of the profuse and Satanic luxury which the language in the text might seem to indicate. In fact, the narrowness of his means at the time the verses refer to would alone have precluded this. His household economy, while he remained at the abbey, is known to have been conducted on a very moderate scale; and, besides, his usual companions, though far from being averse to convivial indulgences, were not only, as Mr. Moore says, "of habits and tastes too intellectual for mere vulgar debauchery," but assuredly, quite incapable of playing the parts of flatterers and parasites.]
1["Yet deem him not from this with breast of steel."-MS.] 2" His house, his home, his vassals, and his lands, The Dalilahs," &c. - MS.]
6["Our best goss-hawk can hardly fly
So merrily along."-MS.]"
3 [Lord Byron originally intended to visit India.]
See" Lord Maxwell's Good Night," in Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. Poetical Works, vol. ii. p. 141. ed. 1831. Adieu, madam, my mother dear," &c. — MS.]
This "little page" was Robert Rushton, the son of one of Lord Byron's tenants. "Robert I take with me," says the poet, in a letter to his mother; "I like him, because, like myself, he seems a friendless animal: tell his father he is well, and doing well."]
But when the sun was sinking in the sea
He seized his harp, which he at times could string, And strike, albeit with untaught melody, When deem'd he no strange ear was listening: And now his fingers o'er it he did fling, And tuned his farewell in the dim twilight. While flew the vessel on her snowy wing, And fleeting shores receded from his sight, Thus to the elements he pour'd his last "Good Night.”+
"ADIEU, adieu! my native shore Fades o'er the waters blue;
The Night-winds sigh, the breakers roar, And shrieks the wild sea-mew.
Yon Sun that sets upon the sea
We follow in his flight; Farewell awhile to him and thee,
My native Land-Good Night!
"A few short hours and He will rise To give the morrow birth;
And I shall hail the main and skies, But not my mother earth. Deserted is my own good hall,
Its hearth is desolate;
Wild weeds are gathering on the wall; My dog howls at the gate.
"Come hither, hither, my little page! Why dost thou weep and wail?
Or dost thou dread the billow's rage,
But dash the tear-drop from thine eye;
Let winds be shrill, let waves roll high, I fear not wave nor wind: 7
Yet marvel not, Sir Childe, that I
Am sorrowful in mind; 8
For I have from my father gone,
'My father bless'd me fervently,
Yet did not much complain; But sorely will my mother sigh
Till I come back again.'— "Enough, enough, my little lad! Such tears become thine eye; If I thy guileless bosom had,
Mine own would not be dry. 9
Murray."Pray," he says to his mother," shew the lad every kindness, as he is my great favourite." He also wrote a letter to the father of the boy, which leaves a most favourable impression of his thoughtfulness and kindliness. "I have," he says, "sent Robert home, because the country which I am about to travel through is in a state which renders it unsafe, particularly for one so young. I allow you to deduct from your rent five and twenty pounds a year for his education, for three years, provided I do not return before that time, and I desire he may be considered as in my service. He has behaved extremely well."]
[Here follows in the MS. :
"My Mother is a high-born dame,
I had a sister once I ween,