The Complete Poetical Works of Lord Byron

By George Gordon Byron | Go to book overview

In misery, and that thy teacher knows.
But if to learn our passion's first root preys
Upon thy spirit with such sympathy,

I will do even as he who weeps and says. 30
We read one day for pastime, seated nigh,
Of Lancilot, how love enchain'd him too.
We were alone, quite unsuspiciously.
But oft our eyes met, and our cheeks in hue
All o'er discolour'd by that reading were;
But one point only wholly us o'erthrew;
When we read the long-sigh'd-for smile of her,
To be thus kiss'd by such devoted lover,
He who from me can be divided ne'er
Kiss'd my mouth, trembling in the act all over. 40

Accursed was the book and he who wrote!
That day no further leaf we did un-cover.' --
While thus one spirit told us of their lot,
The other wept, so that with pity's thralls
I swoon'd as if by death I had been smote,
And fell down even as a dead body falls.


[The composition of the eight Dramas extends over a period of seven years, from 1816 to 1822, making a little more than one every twelvemonth besides the large amount of other verse written. To this reckless haste in production may be ascribed many of their crudities; indeed, the more one reads in the poetry of that age, whether it be in the works of Byron or Shelley, the more one is impressed with the harm their genius suffered from the lack of critical repression. The Dramas of Byron fall naturally into two groups: Manfred, Cain, and Heaven and Earth, which deal with frankly supernatural themes and are the full and, in Manfred at least, the most perfect expression of his romantic temperament; and Marino Faliero, Sardanapalus, and The Two Foscari, which are an attempt to show the playwrights of the day what could be done with the materials of history while preserving the classical laws of the drama. Byron protested always that these plays of the second group were not written for the stage, but one cannot but feel that he protests too much, and that all the while in his heart he longed to see them drive the accepted drama of the day off the boards. Otherwise it is hard to see why he should have drawn the contrast so frequently between his work and the lawless plays against which he waged war. It is fair to say, however, that when news reached hint of the preparations to bring out Marino Faliero at Drury Lane, he protested vigorously, and even went so far as to attempt to stay the proceedings by means of an injunction obtained from the Lord Chancellor. The play was nevertheless given on April 30, 1821, and on five nights in May. It failed as Byron had predicted. The two latest of the Dramas, Werner and The Deformed Transformed, belong in a way to the second group butcontain romantic elements that to a certain extent mark them off by themselves. -- The first two acts of Manfred were written during Byron's residence in Switzerland in 1816, and the third act was added in Venice. This third act was sent to England, March 9, 1817, and received such severe criticism at the hands of Gifford, Murray's adviser, that Byron practically rewrote it. The play was published June 16, 1817. Much has been said about the source of Byron's inspiration in this poem, and its resemblance to the Faust legend is patent. Byron protested that he had never read Marlowe's Faustus, but he had heard an oral translation of Goethe's poem at Diodati, and his Manfred undoubtedly contains echoes of the German work, though its tone is markedly original. Above all the spirit of the Alps, which inspired the third canto of Childe Harold, breathes also in this powerful drama. The project of Marino Faliero followed hard upon Manfred, and is the fruit of Byron's sympathetic study of the history of Venice. But the play for some reason was laid aside and not taken up again until the year 1820, when it was finished in three months ending July 17. He had prepared himself for the work by a careful study of Venetian annals and boasts of the literalness with which he reproduced the facts of history. For the subject of his next attempt 'to dramatize like the Greeks,' he turned from Italy to Assyria. Sardanapalus was begun at Ravenna, January 13, 1821, and completed by May 28. It was published in the same volume with The Two Foscari and Cain, December 19, 1821.; the three Plays were thug written in a single year. The Two Foscari, indeed, represents the same spirit of enthusiasm for the 'regular' drama; it was begun June 12, 1821, and concluded on July 12. Judging by the extracts from Daru Histoire de la Republique de Venise and from Sismondi, published in the appendix of the first edition, it would seem that Byron relied chiefly on these two authorities for big knowledge of this incident in Venetian history. But a comparison with these writers shows


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