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such specimen that European literature had received during a period of two centuries — in other words, since Shakespeare founded the Romantic Drama, and Cervantes the Romantic Novel of modern Europe.
Of the general history of the poem, it cannot be necessary to say much to the readers of the preceding volumes of this collection. The first canto was commenced, as Lord Byron's diaries inform us, at Joannina, in Albania, on the 31st of October, 1809; and the second was finished on the 28th of March, in the succeeding year, at Smyrna. These two cantos, after having received numberless corrections and additions in their progress through the press, were first published in London in March, 1812, and immediately placed their author on a level with the very highest names of his age. The impression they created was more uniform, decisive, and triumphant than any that had been witnessed in this country for at least two generations. “I awoke one morning,” he says, “and found myself famous.” In truth, he had fixed himself, at a single bound, on a summit such as no English poet. had ever before attained, but after a long succession of painful and comparatively neglected efforts.
Those who wish to analyse with critical accuracy the progress of Lord Byron in his art, must, of course, interpose their study of various minor pieces, to be comprised in the ninth volume of this series, between their perusal of the first and second cantos of “ Childe Harold," and that of the third; which was finished at Diodati, near Geneva, in July, 1816, and records the author's mental experiences during his perambulations of the Netherlands, the Rhine country, and Switzerland, in that and the two preceding months — the poetical autobiography of, perhaps, the most melancholy period of his not less melancholy than glorious life, — that in which the wounds of domestic misery that had driven him from his native land, were yet green, and bleeding at the touch. This canto was published by itself, in August, 1816; and, notwithstanding at once the proverbial hazard of continuations, and the obloquy which envious exaggeration had at the time attached to Lord Byron's name, was all but universally admitted to have more than sustained the elevation of the original flight of “Childe Harold.” A just and generous article, by Sir Walter Scott, in the Quarterly Review, not only silenced the few cavillers who had ventured to challenge the inspiration of this magnificent canto, but had a more powerful influence than Lord Byron, gratefully as he acknowledged it, seems to have been aware of, in rebuking the harsh prejudices which had unfortunately gathered about some essential points of his personal character.
The fourth, and by far the longest canto, in itself no doubt the grandest exertion of Lord Byron's genius, appears to have occupied the nearly undivided labour of half a year. It was begun at Venice, in June, 1817, and finished in the same city, in January, 1818; and, being shortly afterward published in London, carried the author's fame to the utmost height it ever reached. It is at once the most flowing, the most energetic, and the most solemn of all his pieces; and would of itself sufficiently justify the taste of the surviving affection that dictated for the sole inscription of his tombstone, -"Here lies the Author of • Childe Harold's Pilgrimage.
It has been our object to do now for this great work, as far as our means might permit, what the author himself would, of course, have wished to do for it, had he survived to see it produced in such a form of publication as the present. We have endeavoured to equip it with such a body of notes and illustrations as may render its often evanescent hints intelligent throughout to the general reader, of what we must already consider as a new generation. From Lord Byron's own letters and diaries,
from the writings of Sir John Cam Hobhouse, the truest and sincerest, as well as ablest of his friends, to whom the fourth canto is dedicated in terms of the most touching kindness and manly respect, and from various other sources,
we have collected whatever seemed necessary to explain the historical and statistical allusions of the poetical Pilgrim ; and, though by no means desirous of overloading his pages with merely critical remarks, we have not hesitated to quote here and there a peculiarly striking observation, called forth by some signal specimen of grandeur of thought or grace of language, ere yet the first impression of such beauties had been dimmed by familiarity, from such contemporaries as Sir Walter Scott, Sir Egerton Brydges, Mr. Jeffrey, or Professor Wilson.
The original MS. has furnished many variæ lectiones, which may probably be interesting to an extensive class of the poet's readers. One, and the most important, in order to avoid repetitions on the margin, we mention once for all here: in the first draught of the opening cantos, the hero is uniformly “ Childe Burun.”
Some splendid fragments, which the author never worked into the texture of his piece, will also be found in the notes to this edition ; nor, after the lapse of twenty years, will any one, it is presumed, complain that we have printed in like manner certain complete stanzas, which Lord Byron was induced to withhold from the public, only by tenderness for the feelings of individuals now beyond the reach of satire.
London, July 20, 1832.
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. 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 pretension 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 appellation “ Childe,” as “Childe Waters,” «Childe Childers," etc., 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.” 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.