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Ask ye, Baotian shades ! the reason why ?1 'Tis to the worship of the solemn Horn, Grasp'd in the holy hand of Mystery,
In whose dread name both men and maids are sworn, And consecrate the oath 2 with draught, and dance till morn, 3
Then to the crowded circus forth they fare:
1 This was written at Thebes, and consequently in the best situation for asking and answering such a question; not as the birthplace of Pindar, but as the capital of Boeotia, where the first riddle was propounded and solved.
2 [Lord Byron alludes to a ridiculous custom which formerly prevailed at the public-houses in Highgate, of administering a burlesque oath to all travellers of the middling rank who stopped there. The party was sworn on a pair of horns, fastened, “never to kiss the maid when he could kiss the mistress ; never to eat brown bread when he could get white; never to drink small beer wher he could get strong;” with many other injunctions of the like kind, -to all which was added the saving clause, " unless you like it best."]
3 S In thus mixing up the light with the solemn, it was the intention of the poet to imitate Ariosto. But it is far easier to rise, with grace, from the level of a strain generally familiar, into an occasional short burst of pathos or splendour, than to interrupt thus a prolonged tone of solemnity by any descent into the ludicrous or burlesque. In the former case, the transition may have the effect of softening or elevating ; while, in the latter, it almost invariably shocks ; - for the same reason, perhaps, that a trait of pathos or high feeling, in comedy, has a peculiar charm; while the intrusion of comic scenes into tragedy, however sanctioned among us by habit and authority, rarely fails to offend. The poet was himself convinced of the failure of the experiment, and in none of the succeeding cantos of Childe Harold repeated it. - MOORE.]
LXXII. The lists are oped, the spacious area olear'd, Thousands on thousands piled are seated round; Long ere the first loud trumpet's note is heard, Ne vacant space for lated wight is found : Here dons, grandees, but chiefly dames abound, Skill'd in the ogle of a roguish eye, Yet ever well inclined to heal the wound; None through their cold disdain are doom'd to die, As moon-struck bards complain, by Love's sad archery.
LXXIII. Hush'd is the din of tongues — on gallant steeds, With milk-white crest, gold spur, and light-poised
lance, Four cavaliers prepare for venturous deeds, And lowly bending to the lists advance; Rich are their scarfs, their chargers featly prance : If in the dangerous game they shine to-day, The crowd's loud shout and ladies' lovely glance,
Best prize of better acts, they bear away, And all that kings or chiefs e'er gain their toils repay.
Can man achieve without his friendly steed-
The sand, nor blindly rushes on his foe:
His first attack, wide waving to and fro
LXXVI. Sudden he stops; his eye is fix'd: away, Away, thou heedless boy! prepare the spear : Now is thy time, to perish, or display The skill that yet may check his mad career. With well-timed croupe 1 the nimble coursers veer; On foams the bull, but not unscathed he goes ; Streams from his flank the crimson torrent clear : He flies, he wheels, distracted with his throes; Dart follows dart; lance, lance; loud bellowings speak
Though death-struck, still his feeble frame he rears; Staggering, but stemming all, his lord unharm'd he bears.
[“ The croupe is a particular leap taught in the manège.” –
LXXVIII. Foil'd, bleeding, breathless, furious to the last, Full in the centre stands the bull at bay, Mid wounds, and clinging darts, and lances brast, And foes disabled in the brutal fray : And now the Matadores around him play, Shake the red cloak, and poise the ready brand : Once more through all he bursts his thundering way
Vain rage! the mantle quits the conynge hand, Wraps his fierce eye-— 't is past - he sinks upon the
LXXIX. Where his vast neck just mingles with the spine, Sheathed in his form the deadly weapon lies. He stops — he starts — disdaining to decline : Slowly he falls, amidst triumphant cries, Without a groan, without a struggle dies. The decorated car appears — on high The corse is piled - sweet sight for vulgar eyes - 2
Four steeds that spurn the rein, as swift as shy, Hurl the dark bulk along, scarce seen in dashing by.
I[The reader will do well to compare Lord Byron's animated picture of the popular “ sport” of the Spanish nation, with the very circumstantial details contained in the charming “ Letters of Don Leucadio Doblado," (i. e. the Rev. Blanco White) published in 1822. So inveterate was, at one time, the rage of the people for this amusement, that even boys mimicked its features in their play. In the slaughter-house itself the professional bull-fighter gave public lessons ; and such was the force of depraved custom, that ladies of the highest rank were pot ashamed to appear amidst the filth and horror of the shambles. The Spaniards received this sport from the Moors, among whom it was celebrated with great pomp and splendour. See various Notes to Mr. Lockhart's Collection of Ancient Spanish Ballads. 1822.]
2 [" The trophy corse is reared – disgusting prize Or, “ The corse is reared - sparkling the chariot Aies.”-MS.] LXXX. Such the ungentle sport that oft invites The Spanish maid, and cheers the Spanish swain. Nurtured in blood betimes, his heart delights In vengeance, gloating on another's pain. What private feuds the troubled village stain ! Though now one phalanx'd host should meet the foe, Enough, alas! in humbler homes remain,
To meditate 'gainst friends the secret blow, For some slight cause of wrath, whence life's warm
stream must flow. 1
With braided tresses bounding o'er the green,
1 [" The Spaniards are as revengeful as ever. At Santa Otella I heard a young peasant threaten to stab a woman an old one, to be sure, which mitigates the offence), and was told, on expressing some small surprise, that this ethic was by no means uncommon." - MS.]