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_Morning Chronicle_, April 27, 1814.]
INTRODUCTION TO _LARA_
The MS. of _Lara_ is dated May 14, 1814. The opening lines, which were not prefixed to the published poem, and were first printed in _Murray's Magazine_ (January, 1887), are of the nature of a Dedication. They were probably written a few days after the well-known song, "I speak not, I trace not, I breathe not thy name," which was enclosed to Moore in a letter dated May 4, 1814. There can be little doubt that both song and dedication were addressed to Lady Frances Wedderburn Webster, and that _Lara_, like the _Corsair_ and the _Bride of Abydos_, was written _con amore_, and because the poet was "eating his heart away."
By the 14th of June Byron was able to announce to Moore that "_Lara_ was finished, and that he had begun copying." It was written, owing to the length of the London season, "amidst b.a.l.l.s and fooleries, and after coming home from masquerades and routs, in the summer of the sovereigns"
(Letter to Moore, June 8, 1822, _Life_, p. 561).
By way of keeping his engagement--already broken by the publication of the _Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte_--not to "trespa.s.s on public patience,"
Byron began by protesting (June 14) that _Lara_ was not to be published separately, but "might be included in a third volume now collecting." A fortnight later (June 27) an interchange of unpublished poems between himself and Rogers, "two cantos of darkness and dismay" in return for a privately printed copy of _Jacqueline_, who is "all grace and softness and poetry" (Letter to Rogers, _Letters_, 1899, iii. 101), suggested another and happier solution of the difficulty, a coalescing with Rogers, and, if possible, Moore (_Life_, 1892, p. 257, note 2), "into a joint invasion of the public" (Letter to Moore, July 8, 1814, _Letters_, 1899, iii. 102). But Rogers hesitated, and Moore refused to embark on so doubtful a venture, with the result that, as late as the 3rd of August, Byron thought fit to remonstrate with Murray for "advertising _Lara and Jacqueline_," and confessed to Moore that he was "still demurring and delaying and in a fuss" (_Letters_, 1899, iii. 115, 119). Murray knew his man, and, though he waited for Byron's formal and ostensibly reluctant word of command, "Out with Lara, since it must be" (August 5, 1814, _Letters_, 1899, iii. 122), he admitted (August 6, _Memoir of John Murray_, 1891, i. 230) that he had "antic.i.p.ated his consent," and "had done everything but actually deliver the copies of _Lara_." "The moment," he adds, "I received your letter, for for it I waited, I cut the last cord of my aerial work, and at this instant 6000 copies are sold." _Lara, a Tale_; _Jacqueline, a Tale_, was published on Sat.u.r.day, August 6, 1814.
_Jacqueline_ is a somewhat insipid pastoral, betraying the influence of the Lake School, more especially Coleridge, on a belated and irresponsive disciple, and wholly out of place as contrast or foil to the melodramatic _Lara_.
No sooner had the "lady," as Byron was pleased to call her, played her part as decoy, than she was discharged as _emerita_. A week after publication (August 12, 1814, _Letters_, iii. 125) Byron told Moore that "Murray talks of divorcing Larry and Jacky--a bad sign for the authors, who will, I suppose, be divorced too.... Seriously, I don't care a cigar about it." The divorce was soon p.r.o.nounced, and, contrary to Byron's advice (September 2, 1814, _Letters_, iii. 131), at least four separate editions of _Lara_ were published during the autumn of 1814.
The "advertis.e.m.e.nt" to _Lara and Jacqueline_ contains the plain statement that "the reader ... may probably regard it [_Lara_] as a sequel to the _Corsair_"--an admission on the author's part which forestalls and renders nugatory any prolonged discussion on the subject.
It is evident that Lara is Conrad, and that Kaled, the "darkly delicate"
and mysterious page, whose "hand is femininely white," is Gulnare in a transparent and temporary disguise.
If the facts which the "English Gentleman in the Greek Military Service"
(_Life, Writings, etc., of Lord Byron_, 1825, i. 191-201) gives in detail with regard to the sources of the _Corsair_ are not wholly imaginary, it is possible that the original Conrad's determination to "quit so horrible a mode of life" and return to civilization may have suggested to Byron the possible adventures and fate of a _grand seigneur_ who had played the pirate in his time, and resumed his ancestral dignities only to be detected and exposed by some rival or victim of his wild and lawless youth.
_Lara_ was reviewed together with the _Corsair_, by George Agar Ellis in the _Quarterly Review_ for July, 1814, vol. xi. p. 428; and in the _Portfolio_, vol. xiv. p. 33.
CANTO THE FIRST.
The Serfs are glad through Lara's wide domain,
And Slavery half forgets her feudal chain; He, their unhoped, but unforgotten lord, The long self-exiled Chieftain, is restored: There be bright faces in the busy hall, Bowls on the board, and banners on the wall; Far checkering o'er the pictured window, plays The unwonted f.a.ggot's hospitable blaze; And gay retainers gather round the hearth, With tongues all loudness, and with eyes all mirth. 10
The Chief of Lara is returned again: And why had Lara crossed the bounding main?
Left by his Sire, too young such loss to know,
Lord of himself,--that heritage of woe, That fearful empire which the human breast But holds to rob the heart within of rest!-- With none to check, and few to point in time The thousand paths that slope the way to crime; Then, when he most required commandment, then Had Lara's daring boyhood governed men.[jc] 20 It skills not, boots not step by step to trace His youth through all the mazes of its race; Short was the course his restlessness had run,[jd]
But long enough to leave him half undone.
And Lara left in youth his father-land; But from the hour he waved his parting hand Each trace waxed fainter of his course, till all Had nearly ceased his memory to recall.
His sire was dust, his va.s.sals could declare, 'Twas all they knew, that Lara was not there; 30 Nor sent, nor came he, till conjecture grew Cold in the many, anxious in the few.
His hall scarce echoes with his wonted name, His portrait darkens in its fading frame, Another chief consoled his destined bride,[je]
The young forgot him, and the old had died;[jf]
"Yet doth he live!" exclaims the impatient heir, And sighs for sables which he must not wear.[jg]
A hundred scutcheons deck with gloomy grace The Laras' last and longest dwelling-place; 40 But one is absent from the mouldering file, That now were welcome in that Gothic pile.[jh]
He comes at last in sudden loneliness, And whence they know not, why they need not guess; They more might marvel, when the greeting's o'er Not that he came, but came not long before: No train is his beyond a single page, Of foreign aspect, and of tender age.
Years had rolled on, and fast they speed away To those that wander as to those that stay; 50 But lack of tidings from another clime Had lent a flagging wing to weary Time.
They see, they recognise, yet almost deem The present dubious, or the past a dream.
He lives, nor yet is past his Manhood's prime, Though seared by toil, and something touched by Time; His faults, whate'er they were, if scarce forgot, Might be untaught him by his varied lot; Nor good nor ill of late were known, his name Might yet uphold his patrimonial fame: 60 His soul in youth was haughty, but his sins
No more than pleasure from the stripling wins; And such, if not yet hardened in their course, Might be redeemed, nor ask a long remorse.
And they indeed were changed--'tis quickly seen, Whate'er he be, 'twas not what he had been: That brow in furrowed lines had fixed at last, And spake of pa.s.sions, but of pa.s.sion past: The pride, but not the fire, of early days, Coldness of mien, and carelessness of praise; 70 A high demeanour, and a glance that took Their thoughts from others by a single look; And that sarcastic levity of tongue, The stinging of a heart the world hath stung, That darts in seeming playfulness around, And makes those feel that will not own the wound; All these seemed his, and something more beneath Than glance could well reveal, or accent breathe.
Ambition, Glory, Love, the common aim, That some can conquer, and that all would claim, 80 Within his breast appeared no more to strive, Yet seemed as lately they had been alive; And some deep feeling it were vain to trace At moments lightened o'er his livid face.
Not much he loved long question of the past, Nor told of wondrous wilds, and deserts vast, In those far lands where he had wandered lone, And--as himself would have it seem--unknown: Yet these in vain his eye could scarcely scan, Nor glean experience from his fellow man; 90 But what he had beheld he shunned to show, As hardly worth a stranger's care to know; If still more prying such inquiry grew, His brow fell darker, and his words more few.
Not unrejoiced to see him once again, Warm was his welcome to the haunts of men; Born of high lineage, linked in high command, He mingled with the Magnates of his land; Joined the carousals of the great and gay, And saw them smile or sigh their hours away; 100 But still he only saw, and did not share, The common pleasure or the general care; He did not follow what they all pursued With hope still baffled still to be renewed; Nor shadowy Honour, nor substantial Gain, Nor Beauty's preference, and the rival's pain: Around him some mysterious circle thrown Repelled approach, and showed him still alone; Upon his eye sat something of reproof, That kept at least Frivolity aloof; 110 And things more timid that beheld him near In silence gazed, or whispered mutual fear; And they the wiser, friendlier few confessed They deemed him better than his air expressed.
Twas strange--in youth all action and all life, Burning for pleasure, not averse from strife; Woman--the Field--the Ocean, all that gave Promise of gladness, peril of a grave, In turn he tried--he ransacked all below, And found his recompense in joy or woe, 120 No tame, trite medium; for his feelings sought In that intenseness an escape from thought:[ji]
The Tempest of his Heart in scorn had gazed On that the feebler Elements hath raised; The Rapture of his Heart had looked on high, And asked if greater dwelt beyond the sky: Chained to excess, the slave of each extreme, How woke he from the wildness of that dream!
Alas! he told not--but he did awake To curse the withered heart that would not break. 130
Books, for his volume heretofore was Man, With eye more curious he appeared to scan, And oft in sudden mood, for many a day, From all communion he would start away: And then, his rarely called attendants said, Through night's long hours would sound his hurried tread O'er the dark gallery, where his fathers frowned In rude but antique portraiture around: They heard, but whispered--"_that_ must not be known-- The sound of words less earthly than his own.[jj] 140 Yes, they who chose might smile, but some had seen They scarce knew what, but more than should have been.
Why gazed he so upon the ghastly head
Which hands profane had gathered from the dead, That still beside his opened volume lay, As if to startle all save him away?
Why slept he not when others were at rest?