« PreviousContinue »
ART. X. Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, a Romaunt. By Lorel
Byron. 4to. pp. 226. London, Murray. 1812. WE
E have been in general much gratified, and often highly de
lighted, during our perusal of this volume, which contains, besides the two first cantos of the Pilgrimage,' and the notes by which they are accompanied, a few smaller poems of considerable merit; together with an Appendix, communicating a good deal of curious information concerning the present state of literature and language in modern Greece. The principal poem is styled 'A Romaunt;' an appellation, perhaps, rather too quaint, but which, inasmuch as it has been always used with a considerable latitude of meaning, and may be considered as applicable to all the anomalous and non-descript classes of poetical composition, is not less suited than any other title to designate the metrical itinerary which we are about to examine.
“The scenes attempted to be sketched,' says Lord Byron in his preface, 'are in Spain, Portugal, Epirus, Acarnania, and Greece. Here, for the present, the poem stops ; its reception will determine whether the author may venture to conduct his readers to the capital of the cast, through Ionia and Phrygia. These two cantos are merely experimental. À fictitious character is introduced for the sake of giving some connection to the piece; which, however, makes no pretension to regularity. It has been suggested to me by friends on whose opinions I set a high value, that in this fictitious character, ‘Childe Harold, I
may incur the suspicion of having intended some real personage; this I beg leave, once for all, to disclaim. Harold is the child of imagination, for the purpose I have stated.'
After the usual invocation to the muse, the supposed traveller is thus introduced to our acquaintance.
Save concubines and carnal companie,
But one sad losel soils a name for aye,
Nor florid prose, nor honied lies of rhyme Can blazon evil deeds, or consecrate a crime.' This description is continued through eight more stanzas, for the purpose of exhibiting, at full length, this singular child of profligacy, who is drugged with pleasure,' and driven, at once by the fulness of satiety,' and by the pangy of unrequited passion, to seek relief from the intolerable tediousness and monotony of life, in voluntary exile. To quit the companions of his debaucheries required little effort; but he quitted with the same abruptness a mother and a sister, for whom he felt a sincere affection,
A few dear objects, will in sadness feel Such partings break the heart they fondly hope to heal.' These lines will probably recal to the memory of our readers the pathetic passage in Virgil where Euryalus makes mention of his mother.
Hanc ego nunc ignaram hujus quodcunque pericli est,
Dextera, quod nequeam lacrymas perferre parentis. Childe Harold now embarks; and having soon lost sight of land, seizes his harp, and composes a lay of Good Night' to his native country. On the fifth day he reaches the mouth of the Tagus, and the city of Lisbon, whose 'image floating on that noble tide which poets vainly pave with sands of gold, inspires him with delight, nearly equal to the disgust with which he afterwards contemplated the filth of its interior, and the character of its inhabitants; then de graded by a weak government, and evincing no symptoms of that noble energy, by which they have latterly been distinguished. But it is the glorious Eden' of Cintra which calls forth his warmest admiration.
The vine on high, the willow branch below,
The buildings that add splendour to this sylvan scenery are next described; and Childe Harold, who, like Voltaire's Pococurante, is often disposed to be sarcastic, takes care to remind us of the celebrated Cintra convention, and ascribes to a wicked fiend, inhabiting the castle of Marialva, the absurdities of that martial synod, who were so eager to throw away their hard-earned laurels for the purpose of hooding themselves in the 'fool's cap' of diplomacy.
After casting one look at the palace of Mafra, the restless Harold proceeds in his devious wanderings.
Though sluggards deem it but a foolish chace,
Oh! there is sweetness in the mountain air, And life, that bloated Ease can never hope to share! In passing from the Portugueze to the Spanish territory, he is somewhat disappointed, by the smallness of the stream which forms the boundary between two nations, so long disunited by their reciprocal animosity.
The Paynim turban and the Christian crest
Red gleam'd the cross, and waned the crescent pale,
* Count Julian's daughter, the Helen of Spain. Pelagius preserved his independence in the fastnesses of the Asturias, and the descendants of his followers, after some cenLuries, completed their struggle by the conquest of Grenada.'
Pride! bend thine eye from heaven to thine estate;
Or must thou trust Tradition's simple tongue,
Say, is her voice more feeble than of yore, When her war-song was heard on Andalusia's shore?' These animated lines, and a most terrific description of the genius of battle which follows them, are naturally dictated by the arrival of the traveller at the camp of the allies, on the morning of the battle of Talavera ; and he pays a willing tribute of praise to the splendid and orderly array of the contending armies; but in his reflections on these sanguinary contests, the libertine Childe appears to be a true disciple of Falstaff; and speeds to Seville, where he finds the inhabitants rioting in pleasure, with as much security, as if the defeat of Dupont's army had crippled the French power, and rendered the Morena impervious to future invasion. At Seville he beholds the illustrious maid of Saragoza. It certainly is one of the miracles produced by the Spanish revolution, that
• She whom once the semblance of a scar
The falchion flash, and o'er the yet warm dead Stalks with Minerva's step where Mars might quake to tread:' : and the miracle is, in this case, rendered much more impressive by the personal charms of the heroine. Childe Harold therefore surveys, with much complacency, her fairy form-her graceful steplier dazzling black eyes, and glowing complection; but having no predilection for Amazon beauties, is anxious to exculpate this paragon of Spain, as well as her countrywomen, from any deficiency in the witching arts of love, observing that when they mix in the ruder scenes of war,
"'Tis but the tender fierceness of the dove
Pecking the hand that hovers o'er her mate.' The fascinations of young females are, naturally enough, the favourite theme of young poets; but the minstrel of Childe Harold, aware that some of his readers may possibly be older than himself, N 4
has very judiciously suspended his description of the dark glancing daughters' of Andalusia, for the purpose of saying a few words to Mount Parnassus, at whose foot (as we learn from a note at the bottom of the page) he was actually writing, and whom he consequently addressed as seen,
• Not in the fabled landscape of a lay,
Sighs in the gale, keeps silence in the cave,
Yield me one leaf of Daphne's deathless plant,
Ah! that to these were given such peaceful shades As Greece can still bestow, though glory fly her glades. - p. 40. It is impossible not to join in the prayers of the last couplet, if it be true, as the poet proceeds to assure us, that Venus, since the decay of her Paphian temple, has taken possession of the city of Cadiz, where her votaries are at present very ill provided with those
peaceful shades' which they would find by emigrating into Greece. They, therefore, amuse themselves as well as they can, with processions, and with bull-feasts, (in the poetical description of which we