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NoT in those climes where I have late been straying, Though Beauty long hath there been matchless deem’d, Not in those visions to the heart displaying Forms which it sighs but to have only dream’d, Hathaught like thee in truth or fancy seem'd : Nor, having seen thee, shall I vainly seek To paint those charms which varied as they beam'd— To such as see thee not my words were weak To those who gaze on thee what language could they speak?
Ah! may'st thou ever be what now thou art, Nor unbeseem the promise of thy spring, As fair in form, as warm yet pure in heart, Love's image upon earth without his wing, And guileless beyond Hope's imagining ! And surely she who now so fondly rears Thy youth, in thee, thus hourly brightening, Beholds the rainbow of her future years, Before whose heavenly hues all sorrow disappears. * [Lady Charlotte Harley (afterwards Lady Charlotte Bacon), second daughter of the Earl of Oxford, had not completed her eleventh year when these lines
were addressed to her, in the autumn of 1812. Her juvenile beauty has been preserved in a portrait which Mr. Westall painted at Lord Byron's request.]
Young Peri" of the West —'tis well for me
But mix'd with pangs to Love's even loveliest hours decreed.
Oh let that eye, which, wild as the Gazelle's,t
Such is thy name with this my verse entwined; And long as kinder eyes a look shall cast On Harold's page, Ianthe's here enshrined Shall thus be first beheld, forgotten last : My days once number'd, should this homage past Attract thy fairy fingers near the lyre Of him who hail'd thee, loveliest as thou wast, Such is the most my memory may desire; Though more than Hope can claim, could Friendship less require? * [Peri, the Persian term for a beautiful intermediate order of beings, is generally supposed to be another form of our own word Fairy.]
t [A species of the antelope. “You have the eyes of a gazelle,” is considered all over the East as the greatest compliment that can be paid to a woman.]
INTRODUCTION TO CANTOS I. AND II.
The first Canto of Childe Harold was commenced in Albania, on the 31st of October, 1809, and the second was finished at Smyrna in the following March. Unconscious of the splendour of his performance, Lord Byron wrote to his mother in 1811, that he was content to have convinced the critics that he was more than they took him for, and would not hazard his fame by another publication. A month afterwards he completed at Athens the “Hints from Horace,” and to this effusion of the satirist, and not to the magnificent musings of the Pilgrim, he looked for the extension of his name. If the eagles which he saw above Parnassus were a type of Childe Harold, the vultures, as Hobhouse called thern, were not an unfit emblem of the Hints. The sunny skies of Spain and Greece had warmed into life the latent poetry of Byron's nature, and he undervalued the inspired products of his Muse, just because they were more spontaneous than his imitative strains. His friends convinced him of his mistake, and the two Cantos were published in the March of 1812. The copyright was presented by Lord Byron to Mr. Dallas, and sold to Mr. Murray for 600l. For more than a century, said Sir Walter Scott, no work had produced a greater effect. I awoke one morning, said Lord Byron, and found myself famous. The plan of the poem was entirely novel. He had put the spirit of his travels into verse, and avoiding cold descriptions, dwelt solely on the scenes which were striking in themselves, or memorable from their associations. To these vivid pictures, with their commentary of sentiments, gloomy or glowing, was added the interest from the character of the Pilgrim, who, in spite of his disclaimer, was universally believed to be Lord Byron himself. He had, indeed, called him in the MS. Childe Bàrun (the Norman name of the Byron family,) and every attribute assigned to the hero belonged equally to the author. The mixture of frankness and mystery, roused and piqued curiosity. With all the evil he had done, and suffered, he hinted at further deeds and woes too dark to be disclosed. This wounded, and worn out spirit, breathing a proud disdain of the world, and boldly avowing obnoxious opinions, gave character to a poem, which even otherwise was full of life and passion. Lord Byron's hatred of hypocrisy, and his ambition to astonish, made him, like the Regent Orleans, “un fanfaron de crimes.” He darkened every shadow of his self-portraiture, and instead of putting upon vice the gloss of virtue, covered native beauties with a mask of deformity. In a poem of which the topics, and, in general, the language, were entirely modern, the antique phrases were out of place. and the jesting passage on the London Sunday is still less in keeping with the ardent tenor of the surrounding verse. But these trivial defects did not diminish the conviction that the star of song, which shone dimly at its rising, was bursting forth with unrivalled brilliancy as it advanced to its height.