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Ask ye, Boeotian 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
All have their fooleries — not alike are thine,
Then to the crowded circus forth they fare:
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 Bæotia, 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 [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.]
The lists are oped, the spacious area olear'd,
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.
In costly sheen and gaudy cloak array'd,
Can man achieve without his friendly steed
Thrice sounds the clarion ; lo! the signal falls,
His first attack, wide waving to and fro
Sudden he stops; his eye is fix’d: away,
He flies, he wheels, distracted with his throes;
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." MS.]
Foild, bleeding, breathless, furious to the last,
Vain rage! the mantle quits the conynge hand, Wraps his fierce eye-— 't is past he sinks upon the
sand ! 1
Where his vast neck just mingles with the spine,
he starts —
- disdaining to decline :
Four steeds that spurn the rein, as swift as shy, Hurl the dark bulk along, scarce seen in dashing by.
! [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 not 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.]
Such the ungentle sport that oft invites
To meditate 'gainst friends the secret blow,
stream must flow. I
But Jealousy has fled: his bars, his bolts,
With braided tresses bounding o'er the green,
Oh! many a time and oft, had Harold loved,
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.]