Open main menu

Page:The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero) - Volume 4.djvu/277

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
239
THE PROPHECY OF DANTE.

twenty-seven lines, "the sole example in English literature of that period, of the use of terza rima, obviously copied from Dante" (Complete Works of Chaucer, by the Rev. W. Skeat, 1894, i. 76, 261), are imbedded in Chaucer's Complaint to his Lady. In the sixteenth century Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey ("Description of the restless state of a lover"), "as novises newly sprung out of the schools of Dante, Ariosto, and Petrarch" (Puttenham's Art of Poesie, 1589, pp. 48-50); and later again, Daniel ("To the Lady Lucy, Countess of Bedford"), Ben Jonson, and Milton (Psalms ii., vi.) afford specimens of terza rima. There was, too, one among Byron's contemporaries who had already made trial of the metre in his Prince Athanase (1817) and The Woodman and the Nightingale (1818), and who, shortly, in his Ode to the West Wind (October, 1819, published 1820) was to prove that it was not impossible to write English poetry, if not in genuine terza rima, with its interchange of double rhymes, at least in what has been happily styled the "Byronic terza rima." It may, however, be taken for granted that, at any rate in June, 1819, these fragments of Shelley's were unknown to Byron. Long after Byron's day, but long years before his dream was realized, Mrs. Browning, in her Casa Guidi Windows (1851), in the same metre, re-echoed the same aspiration (see her Preface), "that the future of Italy shall not be disinherited." (See for some of these instances of terza rima, Englische Metrik, von Dr. J. Schipper, 1888, ii. 896. See, too, The Metre of Dante's Comedy discussed and exemplified, by Alfred Forman and Harry Buxton Forman, 1878, p. 7.)

The MS. of the Prophecy of Dante, together with the Preface, was forwarded to Murray, March 14, 1820; but in spite of some impatience on the part of the author (Letter to Murray, May 8, 1820, Letters, 1901, v. 20), and, after the lapse of some months, a pretty broad hint (Letter, August 17, 1820, ibid, p. 165) that "the time for the Dante would be good now ... as Italy is on the eve of great things," publication was deferred till the following year. Marino Faliero, Doge of Venice, and the Prophecy of Dante were published in the same volume, April 21, 1821.

The Prophecy of Dante was briefly but favourably noticed by Jeffrey in his review of Marino Faliero (Edinb. Rev., July, 1821, vol. 35, p. 285). "It is a very grand, fervid, turbulent, and somewhat mystical composition, full of the highest sentiment and the highest poetry;... but disfigured by many faults of precipitation, and overclouded with many obscurities. Its great fault with common readers