Page images
PDF

Cf. J. D. Campbell's Introduction to the Globe edition of Coleridge's Poems, p. xxi.

3. Wordsworth was appointed Distributor of Stamps for the County of Westmoreland (not exciseman) in March, 1813.

4.. The allusion is to 'The Excursion,' originally called 'The Pedlar' by Wordsworth, and referred to as "the Pedlar poem" by Dorothy Wordsworth in 'The Alfoxden Journal.'

6. Coleridge's contributions to the London 'Morning Post' began in 1798.

7-8. Southey married Edith Fricker, Nov. 14, 1795, and Coleridge her sister Sara, Oct. 4, 1795. Both were originally residents of Bristol, not Bath, and poor girls, but not "milliners" nor "partners."

268 : xciv, 7. 'The Excursion' was published in 1814.

268 : xcv, 4. Joanna Southcotc. The fanatic founder of a sect of religious enthusiasts. She proclaimed that she was to become the mother of a second Shiloh.

8. The physicians certified that she had a dropsy and was not pregnant; and so it was.

269 : xcviii, 2. It is obvious that the emphasis is maliciously on "sometimes."

4. Wordsworth's 'The Waggoner,'composed in 1805, was published in 1819.

5-8. So in 'Peter Bell,' U. 3-5:

"But through the clouds I'll never float
Until I have a little boat
Shaped like the crescent-moon."

269 : xcix, 4. Medea, after killing her children, is fabled to have fled from Jason's vengeance through the air upon a chariot drawn by winged dragons.

269 : c, 8. Byron has reference to a sentence in Wordsworth's essay supplementary to his preface of 1815: "The verses of Dryden, once highly celebrated, are forgotten."

270 : civ. Cf. the Introduction, above, p. 26.

270 : civ, 1-2. In the first draught, these lines ran:

"Are not these pretty stanzas ?—Some folks say,
Downright in print—that I have no devotion,".:

Did the poet improve by altering?

271 : cv, 4. The Adrian wave. The Adriatic, named from the ancient Etruscan town of Adria, at one time on its shores. Ravenna, now six miles from the sea, formerly stood on its shores, and in Byron's time and long before, was surrounded with a pine forest. Since his day fire and frost have destroyed the greater part of this forest.

LI. 6-7. The references are to Boccaccio's Eighth Novel of the Fifth Day of the 'Decameron,' and to Dryden's translation 'Theodore and Honoria,' the scene of which is at Ravenna and in the surrounding forest.

271 :cvi, 5-8. The references are to the events of the tale as told by Boccaccio and Dryden—which see.

271 : cvii. A paraphrase of a fragment of Sappho, to which Byron in a note refers:

'Etrxepe, Trdvra if>cpels [^^pwv], etc. "Evening, thou that bringest all that bright morning scattered; thou bringest the sheep, the goat, the child back to her mother." (Wharton's 'Sappho.') Cf. Tennyson, 'Locksley Hall Sixty Years After':

"Hesper, whom the poet call'd the Bringer home of all good things."

272: cviii. This stanza, like the preceding, is a paraphrase, and for its original Byron refers us to Dante's 'Purgatorio,' canto VIII, 11. 1-6, which are thus translated by E. H. Plumptre:

"The hour was come which brings back yearning new
To those far out at sea, and melts their hearts,
The day that they have bid sweet friends adieu;
Whereat the pilgrim fresh with strong love starts,
If he perchance hear bells, far off yet clear,
Which seem to mourn the day's life that departs."

272 : cix, 5. "See Suetonius for this fact." [Byron's note

273 : cxi, 8. See IIoHrrot^s. The 'Poetics' of Aristotle.

DON JUAN: DEATH OF HAIDEE. (canto IV, Stanzas LVI-LXXIII.) A passage of pure pathos, executed in exquisite keeping, Pj« Of the masterpieces of Byron's art,

Lambro, Haidee's father, returning secretly after an absence which had endured so long that his daughter believed him dead, finds Haidee in the company of her lover, Juan. Juan is overcome by Lambro's retainers, and falls, in Haidee's sight, severely wounded,—as she believes, dead. At this point, turning from Juan to Haidee, the narrative begins in the selection here given.

273 : lviii, 1-2. "This is no very uncommon effect of the violence of conflicting and different passions. . . . Before I was sixteen years of age, I was witness to a melancholy instance of the sameeffect of mixed passions upon a young person. . . ." [Byron's note.

274 : lxi, 4. The adversative "but" in this line is full of implication. The sense is, the fair Venus may be of marble and so lifeless, but she is for that very reason forever fair. Cf. Keats' 'Ode to a Grecian Urn';

"Forever wilt thou love and she be fair."

The Venus which the poet has in mind is the Venus de Medici, described in 'Childe Harold,' IV, xlix, l. 6. Cf. 'Childe Harold,' IV, cxl.

7-8. i.e., 'Their energy, which is like that of life, is the cause of their impressive effect as statues, yet it looks not like life, because statues are unchanging, being of marble.'

276 : lxviii, 4. retrace. Apparently here = recall, remember.

277 : Ixxi-lxii. Byron has seldom elsewhere attained precisely the exquisite cadence and music and the subdued and reticent pathos of these two stanzas—

"no dirge, except the hollow seas,
Mourns o'er the beauty of the Cyclades."

CAIN.
(act II, Scene I.)

In 'Cain ' Byron returns to the poetical treatment of some of the problems of evil, sin, death, immortality, fate, and faith, touched upon in 'Manfred.' This scene, however, is conspicuous above all else for the magnificent sweep of the imagination of interstellar space displayed in it. Three or four prototypes niay have hovered before the poet's mind as he wrote,—Milton, perhaps, first of all, the 'Paradise Lost' (II, 927 ff.) and 'Paradise Regained'; then Dante's 'Paradiso'; many passages in the Bible; and possibly also Cicero's 'Somnium Scipionis' (' De Republica,' bk. VI).

More modern passages, where in part something of a similar sort of imagination is displayed, are to be found in Victor Hugo's 'La-Haut' and 'La Comete' (in 'La Legende des Siecles,' II), or "O gouffre! l'ame plonge et rapporte le doute " ('Les Contemplations,' II), 'Magnitudo Parvi'('Les Contemplations,' I); D. G. Rossetti's 'Blessed Damozel'; Kipling's 'To Wolcott Balestier' (Dedication to 'Barrack Room Ballads'); and Cowley's 'The Ecstasy.' See also Chaucer's 'Parlement of Foules' (Proem); Blake's 'Marriage of Heaven and Hell' (passage beginning, "An Angel came to me").

'Cain' was partly planned asearly as January, 1821, and was finished early in September of the same year. Byron wrote Murray: "I have a good opinion of the piece, as poetry; it is in my gay metaphysical style, and in the Manfred line."

In the preceding portion of the drama Cain's discontent with the pious and accepted creed and the religious submission of his family is explained, as well as his determination to accompany his tempter, Lucifer, in the quest for boundless knowledge. Later occurs the murder of Abel. Byron in his preface warns us that we must remember that his personages speak strictly in character. "With regard to the language of Lucifer, it was difficult for me to make him talk like a clergyman upon the same subjects." Here, too, some of the conceptions of modern science are early taken up into poetry. "The reader will perceive," Byron writes, "that the author has partly adopted in this poem the notion of Cuvier that the world had been destroyed several times before the creation of man." In explanation of the dramatic object in the unfolding of Cain's character served by this scene Byron writes: "Cain is a proud man; if Lucifer promised him kingdom, etc., it would elate him; the object of the Demon is to depress him still further in his own estimation than he was before, by showing him infinite things and his own abasement, till he falls into the frame of mind that leads to the catastrophe . . . from the rage and fury against the inadequacy of his state to his conceptions." In its own day 'Cain' raised a great outcry from many of the ultra-orthodox,—a pother which now it is difficult to understand. Byron's own judgment seems just: "I really thought 'Cain' a speculative and hardy, but still a harmless, production."

279 : 1. I fear To sink, i.e., I fear lest I shall sink.

279 : 4. Can I do so? i.e., have faith in Lucifer.

279 : 7. i.e. Who refers to me before his angels as a demon.

279 : 8. to miserable things, i.e., to men.

279 : 18. Cf. 'Matthew,' ch. xiv.

280 : 29 ff. Are the details of the flight through chaos exactly such as they may be imagined as being from the successive points of view of the actors in it?

281 : 72. This is the consideration which gives Manfred pause.

284: 161-2. The meaning seems to be, that time and space have always existed and must ever be unchanged and as they have been.

285: 175-176. For the world of phantoms to which "beings past" return and from which those " still to come " emerge, compare the Garden of Adonis in Spenser's 'Faerie Queene ' III, vi, stanzas 29 ff.

THE LYRICS.

Byron's power in the pure lyric is doubtless inferior to that of four or five of his contemporaries. The central conception and the opening lines are often extremely good, but the later verses often fall off and he usually fails to give the delicate finish and the subtler note which we expect from Shelley, Coleridge, Keats, or Wordsworth. There are two veins which Byron especially cultivates ; the short, rounded lyric of sentiment, with musical associations, after the model of Tom Moore and the song-writers (as in 'When we two parted'or 'Maid of Athens'); and the introspective and personal lyric or monody, such as 'Darkness' or 'The Dream.' A haunting, if somewhat obvious, cadence and sentiment, which permanently recommends them to the intimate memory of the reader, attaches to the best of them. Byron's selected lyrics have their own charm and atmosphere, and, in the best sense, are English classics. . - ~'

« PreviousContinue »