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COPYRIGHT, 1905, BY HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND CO.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
The text of Byron's poetry here presented was prepared some seven or eight years ago, and the notes written, before the new seven-volume edition published by Mr. Murray (grandson of the John Murray who was Byron's friend and original publisher) was on the market. It seemed advisable, however, to hold the manuscript until the completion of this elaborate work, in order that the new material taken by Mr. Ernest Hartley Coleridge from various MSS. might be included. Mr. Coleridge's text is based on the edition of 1831; and where possible has been collated with the original autographs. By the present editor the edition of 1832–33 was adopted as the more desirable guide. The words are with few exceptions the same in both sources, but there is considerable variance in the use of capitals and italics, the advantage being in favor of the later publication. Byron, it is known, was perfectly reckless in these matters, and the printed texts represent the taste of Murray's advisers rather than that of the poet. With the exception of marking the è in ed when pronounced, and other minor alterations, the present text conforms in respect to spelling, capitals, and italics with that of 1832–33. The usage is inconsistent, if not freakish, but there is some profit, perhaps, in thus preserving the atmosphere and emphasis of the author's age. The punctuation was a more difficult problem. Byron himself was content to sprinkle his page with dashes, and Murray's printer put in points and commas where he chose. Since the old punctuation did not at all emanate from the poet, and since it is often annoying, not to say misleading, no scruple has been felt in altering it as far as was desired. The task was difficult and unsatisfactory, for the long sentences and loose grammar of Byron made a complete change to the modern system impracticable. The result is a somewhat arbitrary compromise, but offers to the reader, it is hoped, fewer obstacles than he will meet in any other edition.
After the completion of the new Murray edition the manuscript of the present text was compared with that word for word, and advantage was taken of the very few corrections based on the MSS. accessible to Mr. Coleridge. In general it may be said that this collation confirmed the present editor in his opinion that the edition of 1832–33 is a better guide than that of 1831. But it would be ungenerous to slur over the obligation to that monumental undertaking, and in particular acknowledgment is due (and, in each specific case, given) for the new material there for the first time printed.
In the arrangement of the poems two things were aimed at — chronology and convenience. An absolute ordering in accordance with chronology is practically impossible; it would necessitate, for instance, the insertion of a mass of stuff between the two parts of Childe Harold, and would result in other obvious absurdities. A compromise was therefore adopted. The poems are arranged in groups, — Childe Harold, Shorter Poems, Satires, Tales, Italian Poems, Dramas, Don Juan, and these groups are placed in general chronological sequence. In this way it is easy to perceive how Byron's manner passed from genre to genre as his genius developed. Within each group the poems follow strictly the date of composition, or, when this is unknown, the date of publication.
The notes, owing to the size of the volume, are confined to such points as are necessary for rendering the text intelligible. Byron was already well annotated, and large use has been made of the traditional matter handed down from the editions published immediately after the poet's death. The language of these notes has been adopted, or adapted, without scruple. Some assistance, too, has been derived from the investigations of Mr. Coleridge; yet with all these helps no slight amount of labor has been expended by the present editor in the pursuit of accuracy and serviceability. Almost all of Byron's own notes have been taken over. But the long excursions, which were appended to Childe Harold and some of the other poems, have been omitted. These were, in part, the work of Hobhouse, and for the rest belong with Byron's prose works rather than with his verse. They would only increase the bulk of the volume without adding appreciably to its value.