The Works of Lord Byron Volume III Part 39

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["But here (at Gloucester) is a _modernity_, which beats all antiquities for curiosity. Just by the high altar is a small pew hung with green damask, with curtains of the same; a small corner-cupboard, painted, carved, and gilt, for books, in one corner, and two troughs of a bird-cage, with seeds and water. If any mayoress on earth was small enough to inclose herself in this tabernacle, or abstemious enough to feed on rape and canary, I should have sworn that it was the shrine of the queen of the aldermen. It belongs to a Mrs. Cotton, who, having lost a favourite daughter, is convinced her soul is transmigrated into a robin redbreast, for which reason she pa.s.ses her life in making an aviary of the cathedral of Gloucester."--Letter to Richard Bentley, September, 1753 (_Lord Orford's Works_, 1798, v. 279).]

[192] {210} [According to J. B. Le Chevalier (_Voyage de La Propontide, etc._, an. viii. (1800), p. 17), the Turkish name for a small bay which formed the ancient port of Sestos, is _Ak-Bachi-Liman_ (Port de la Tete blanche).]


_And in its stead that mourning flower_ _Hath flourished--flourisheth this hour,_ _Alone and coldly pure and pale_ _As the young cheek that saddens to the tale_.

_And withers not, though branch and leaf_ _Are stamped with an eternal grief_.--[MS.]

An earlier version of the final text reads--

_As weeping Childhood's cheek at Sorrow's tale!_

[193] ["_The Bride_, such as it is is my first _entire_ composition of any length (except the Satire, and be d.a.m.ned to it), for _The Giaour_ is but a string of pa.s.sages, and _Childe Harold_ is, and I rather think always will be, unconcluded" (Letter to Murray, November 29, 1813). It (the _Bride_) "was published on Thursday the second of December; but how it is liked or disliked, I know not. Whether it succeeds or not is no fault of the public, against whom I can have no complaint. But I am much more indebted to the tale than I can ever be to the most partial reader; as it wrung my thoughts from reality to imagination--from selfish regrets to vivid recollections--and recalled me to a country replete with the _brightest_ and _darkest_, but always most _lively_ colours of my memory" (_Journal_, December 5, 1813, _Letters_, 1898, ii. 291, 361).]



----"I suoi pensieri in lui dormir non ponno."

Ta.s.so, _Gerusalemme Liberata_, Canto X. [stanza lxxviii. line 8].


A seventh edition of the _Giaour_, including the final additions, and the first edition of the _Bride of Abydos_, were published on the twenty-ninth of November, 1813. In less than three weeks (December 18) Byron began the _Corsair_, and completed the fair copy of the first draft by the last day of the year. The _Corsair_ in all but its final shape, together with the sixth edition of the _Bride of Abydos_, the seventh of _Childe Harold_, and the ninth of the _Giaour_, was issued on the first of February, 1814.

A letter from John Murray to Lord Byron, dated February 3, 1814 (_Memoir of John Murray_, 1891, i. 223), presents a vivid picture of a great literary triumph--

"My Lord,--I have been unwilling to write until I had something to say.... I am most happy to tell you that your last poem _is_--what Mr. Southey's is _called_--a _Carmen Triumphale_. Never in my recollection has any work ... excited such a ferment ... I sold on the day of publication--a thing perfectly unprecedented--10,000 copies.... Mr. Moore says it is masterly--a wonderful performance.

Mr. Hammond, Mr. Heber, D'Israeli, every one who comes ... declare their unlimited approbation. Mr. Ward was here with Mr. Gifford yesterday, and mingled his admiration with the rest ... and Gifford did, what I never knew him do before--he repeated several stanzas from memory, particularly the closing stanza--

"'His death yet dubious, deeds too widely known.'

"I have the highest encomiums in letters from Croker and Mr. Hay; but I rest most upon the warm feeling it has created in Gifford's critic heart.... You have no notion of the sensation which the publication has occasioned; and my only regret is that you were not present to witness it."

For some time before and after the poem appeared, Byron was, as he told Leigh Hunt (February 9, 1814; _Letters_, 1899, iii. 27), "snow-bound and thaw-swamped in 'the valley of the shadow' of Newstead Abbey," and it was not till he had returned to town that he resumed his journal, and bethought him of placing on record some dark sayings with regard to the story of the _Corsair_ and the personality of Conrad. Under date February 18, 1814, he writes--

"The _Corsair_ has been conceived, written, published, etc., since I last took up this journal [?last day but one]. They tell me it has great success; it was written _con amore_ [i.e. during the reign of Lady Frances Wedderburn Webster], and much from _existence_."

And again, _Journal_, March 10 (_Letters_, 1898, ii. 399),

"He [Hobhouse] told me an odd report,--that _I_ am the actual Conrad, the veritable Corsair, and that part of my travels are supposed to have pa.s.sed in privacy [_sic;_?piracy]. Um! people sometimes. .h.i.t near the truth; but never the whole truth. H. don't know what I was about the year after he left the Levant; nor does any one--nor--nor--nor--however, it is a lie--but, 'I doubt the equivocation of the fiend that lies like truth.'"

Very little weight can be attached to these "I could an I would"

p.r.o.nouncements, deliberately framed to provoke curiosity, and destined, no doubt, sooner or later to see the light; but the fact remains that Conrad is not a mere presentation of Byron in a fresh disguise, or "The Pirate's Tale" altogether a "painting of the imagination."

That the _Corsair_ is founded upon fact is argued at some length by the author (an "English Gentleman in the Greek Military Service") of the _Life, Writings, Opinions, and Times of the R. H. George Gordon Noel Byron_, which was published in 1825. The point of the story (i.

197-201), which need not be repeated at length, is that Byron, on leaving Constantinople and reaching the island of Zea (July, 1810), visited ["strolled about"] the islands of the Archipelago, in company with a Venetian gentleman who had turned buccaneer _malgre lui_, and whose history and adventures, amatory and piratical, prefigured and inspired the "gestes" of Conrad. The tale must be taken for what it is worth; but it is to be remarked that it affords a clue to Byron's mysterious entries in a journal which did not see the light till 1830, five years after the "English Gentleman" published his volumes of gossiping anecdote. It may, too, be noted that, although, in his correspondence of 1810, 1811, there is no mention of any tour among the "Isles of Greece," in a letter to Moore dated February 2, 1815 (_Letters_, 1899, iii. 176), Byron recalls "the interesting white squalls and short seas of Archipelago memory."

How far Byron may have drawn on personal experience for his picture of a pirate _chez lui_, it is impossible to say; but during the year 1809-11, when he was travelling in Greece, the exploits of Lambros Katzones and other Greek pirates sailing under the Russian flag must have been within the remembrance and on the lips of the islanders and the "patriots" of the mainland. The "Pirate's Island," from which "Ariadne's isle" (line 444) was visible, may be intended for Paros or Anti-Paros.

For the inception of Conrad (see Canto I. stanza ii.), the paradoxical hero, an a.s.sortment rather than an amalgam of incongruous characteristics, Byron may, perhaps, have been in some measure indebted to the description of Malefort, junior, in Ma.s.singer's _Unnatural Combat_, act i. sc. 2, line 20, sq.--

"I have sat with him in his cabin a day together,

Sigh he did often, as if inward grief And melancholy at that instant would Choke up his vital spirits....

When from the maintop A sail's descried, all thoughts that do concern Himself laid by, no lion pinched with hunger Rouses himself more fiercely from his den, Then he comes on the deck; and then how wisely He gives directions," etc.

The _Corsair_, together with the _Bride of Abydos_, was reviewed by Jeffrey in the _Edinburgh Review_ of April, 1814, vol. xxiii. p. 198; and together with _Lara_, by George Agar Ellis in the _Quarterly Review_ of July, 1814, vol. ii. p. 428.


In comparison with the _Giaour_, the additions made to the _Corsair_ whilst it was pa.s.sing through the press were inconsiderable. The original MS., which numbers 1737 lines, is probably the fair copy of a number of loose sheets which have not been preserved. The erasures are few and far between, and the variations between the copy and the text are neither numerous nor important.

In one of the latest revises stanza x. was added to the First Canto. The last four lines of stanza xi. first appeared in the Seventh Edition.

The Second Canto suffered no alteration except the subst.i.tution of lines 1131-1133 for two lines which were expunged.

Larger additions were made to the Third Canto. Lines 1299-1375, or stanza v. (included in a revise dated January 6, 1814), stanzas xvii.

and xxiii., numbering respectively 77, 32, and 16 lines, and the two last lines of stanza x., 127 lines in all, represent the difference between the text as it now stands and the original MS.

In a note to Byron's _Poetical Works_, 1832, ix. 257, it is stated that the _Corsair_ was begun on the 18th and finished on the 31st of December, 1813. In the Introduction to the _Corsair_ prefixed to the Library Edition, the poem is said to have been composed in ten days, "at the rate of 200 lines a day." The first page of the MS. is dated "27th of December, 1813," and the last page "December 31, 1813, January 1, 1814." It is probable that the composition of the first draft was begun on the 18th and finished on the 27th of December, and that the work of transcription occupied the last five days of the month. Stanza v. of Canto III. reached the publisher on the 6th, and stanzas xvii. and xxiii. on the 11th and 12th of January, 1814.

The First Edition amounted to 1859 lines (the numeration, owing to the inclusion of broken lines, is given as 1863), and falls short of the existing text by the last four lines of stanza xi. It contains the first dedication to Moore, and numbers 100 pages. To the Second Edition, which numbers 108 pages, the following poems were appended:--

_To a Lady Weeping_.

_From the Turkish_.

_Sonnet to Genevra_ ("Thine eyes' blue tenderness," etc.).

_Sonnet to Genevra_ ("Thy cheek is pale with thought," etc.).

_Inscription on the Monument of a Newfoundland Dog_.


These occasional poems were not appended to the Third Edition, which only numbered 100 pages; but they reappeared in the Fourth and subsequent editions.

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The Works of Lord Byron Volume III Part 39 summary

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