[In reading Childe Harold one should remember that it is really two, or even three, poems written at quite different periods in Byron's poetical development. The first and second cantos represent the time of his early travels, when he was comparatively unskilled as a poet and unversed in the world. The stanzas begin with an awkward attempt to imitate the archaic language of Spenser, and there is an equally awkward confusion of the poet himself and his hero, who are neither wholly merged together nor yet fully distinguished. Nevertheless it is of these two cantos that Byron uttered the famous remark: 'I awoke one morning and found myself famous. , Canto I. was begun at Joannina in Albania, October 31, 1809, and Canto II. was finished at Smyrna, March 28, 1810. They were published in March, 1812. Between that date and the writing of the third canto came Byron's life in London, and the composition of the Oriental Tales; there came also his marriage and the fatal rupture. It was, indeed, during the first months of his melancholy exile that he returned to Childe Harold. Canto III. was completed at Diodati, on Lake Geneva, in July, 1816, and was published the same year. To compare these stanzas with those of the earlier cantos is to see how much Byron had grown in depth of feeling and in technical skill. The poem gains in force by the frankness with which the poet now speaks in his own person. With the first line, 'Is thy face like thy mother's, my fair child,' we feel that we have come to the true Byron. The fourth canto, though published Separately, is in the same tone as the third. It was written at Venice between June of 1817 and January of 1818, and was published immediately. As with most of his works the poem suffered manifold changes while going through the press, and later editions brought other alterations. The stanzas to 'Ianthe' (Lady Charlotte Harley) had been written in 1812, but were first printed in 1814 as a dedication to the seventh edition of Cantos I. and II.]
L'univers est une espèce de livre, dont on n'a lu que la premiére page quand on n'a vu que son pays. J'en ai feuilleté un assez grand nombre, que j'ai trouvé également mauvaises. Cet examen ne m'a point été infructueux. Je haissais ma patrie. Toutes les impertinences des peuples divers, parmi lesquels j'ai vécu, m'out réconcilié avec elle. Quand je n'aurais tiré d'autre bénéfice de mes voyages que celuilà, je n'en regretterais ni les frais ni les fatigues. -- Le Cosmopolite.
[TO THE FIRST AND SECOND CANTOS]
The following poem was written, for the most part, amidst the scenes which it attempts to describe. It was begun in Albania; and the parts relative to Spain and Portugal were composed from the author's observations in those countries. Thus much it may be necessary to state for the correctness of the descriptions. The scenes attempted to be sketched are in Spain, Portugal, Epirus, Acarnania, and Greece. There, for the present, the poem stops: its reception will determine whether the author may venture to conduct his readers to the capital of the East, through Ionia and Phrygia: these two cantos are merely experimental.
A 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. In some very trivial particulars, and those merely local, there might be grounds for such a notion; but in the main points, I should hope, none whatever.
It is almost superfluous to mention that the appellation 'Childe,' as 'Childe Waters,' 'Childe Childers,' etc., is used as more consonant with the old structure of versification which I have adopted, The Good Night,