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A NEW, REVISED AND ENLARGED EDITION
Poetry. Vol. III.
ERNEST HARTLEY COLERIDGE, M.A.,
THE THIRD VOLUME.
The present volume contains the six metrical tales which were composed within the years 1812 and 1815, the Hebrew Melodies, and the minor poems of 1809-1816. With the exception of the first fifteen poems (1809-1811) - Chansons de Voyage, as they might be called—the volume as a whole was produced on English soil. Beginning with the Giaour, which followed in the wake of Childe Harold and shared its triumph, and ending with the illomened Domestic Pieces, or Poems of the Separation, the poems which Byron wrote in his own country synchronize with his popularity as a poet by the acclaim and suffrages of his own countrymen. His greatest work, by which his lasting fame has been established, and by which his relative merits as a great poet will be judged in the future, was yet to come; but the work which made his name, which is stamped with his sign-manual, and which has come to be regarded as distinctively and
characteristically Byronic, preceded maturity and achievement.
No poet of his own or other times, not Walter Scott, not Tennyson, not Mr. Kipling, was ever in his own lifetime so widely, so amazingly popular. Thousands of copies of the “Tales"-of the Bride of Abydos, of the Corsair, of Lara-were sold in a day, and edition followed edition month in and month out. Everywhere men talked about the “noble author"—in the capitals of Europe, in literary circles in the United States, in the East Indies. He was “the glass of fashion ... the observ'd of all observers," the swayer of sentiment, the master and creator of popular emotion. No other English poet before or since has divided men's attention with generals and sea-captains and statesmen, has attracted and fascinated and overcome the world so entirely and potently as Lord Byron.
It was Childe Harold, the unfinished, immature Childe Harold, and the Turkish and other “ Tales," which raised this sudden and deafening storm of applause when the century was young, and now, at its close (I refer, of course, to the Tales, not to Byron's poetry as a whole, which, in spite of the critics, has held and still holds its own), are ignored if not forgotten, passed over if not despised—which but few know thoroughly, and “very few" are found to admire or to love. Ubi lapsus, quid feci? might the questioning spirit of the author exclaim with regard to his “Harrys and Larrys, Pilgrims and
Pirates," who once held the field, and now seem to have gone under in the struggle for poetical existence !
To what, then, may we attribute the passing away of interest and enthusiasm ? To the caprice of fashion, to an insistence on a more faultless technique, to a nicer taste in ethical sentiment, to a preference for a subtler treatment of loftier themes ? More certainly, and more particularly, I think, to the blurring of outline and the blotting out of detail due to lapse of time and the shifting of the intellectual standpoint.
However much the charm of novelty and the contagion of enthusiasm may have contributed to the success of the Turkish and other Tales, it is in the last degree improbable that our grandfathers and greatgrandfathers were enamoured, not of a reality, but of an illusion born of ignorance or of vulgar bewilderment. They were carried away because they breathed the same atmosphere as the singer; and being undistracted by ethical, or grammatical, or metrical offences, they not only read these poems with avidity, but understood enough of what they read to be touched by their vitality, to realize their verisimilitude.
Tout comprendre c'est tout pardonner. Nay, more, the knowledge, the comprehension of essential greatness in art, in nature, or in man is not to know that there is aught to forgive. But that sufficing knowledge which the reader of average intelligence brings with him for the comprehension and appreciation of contemporary