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Page:The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero) - Volume 4.djvu/317

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INTRODUCTION TO THE MORGANTE MAGGIORE.

It is possible that Byron began his translation of the First Canto of Pulci's Morgante Maggiore (so called to distinguish the entire poem of twenty-eight cantos from the lesser Morgante [or, to coin a title, "Morganid] which was published separately) in the late autumn of 1819, before he had left Venice (see his letter to Bankes, February 19, 1820, Letters, 1900, iv. 403). It is certain that it was finished at Ravenna during the first week of his "domestication" in the Palazzo Guiccioli (Letters to Murray, February 7, February 21, 1820). He took a deal of pains with his self-imposed task, "serviley translating stanza from stanza, and line from line, two octaves every night;" and when the first canto was finished he was naturally and reasonably proud of his achievement. More than two years had elapsed since Frere's Whistlecraft had begotten Beppo, and in the interval he had written four cantos of Don Juan, outstripping his "immediate model," and equalling if not surpassing his model's parents and precursors, the masters of "narrative romantic poetry among the Italians."

In attempting this translation—something, as he once said of his Armenian studies, "craggy for his mind to break upon" (Letter to Moore, December 5, 1816, Letters, 1900, iv. 10)—Byron believed that he was working upon virgin soil. He had read, as he admits in his "Advertisement," John Herman Merivale's poem, Orlando in Roncesvalles, which is founded upon the Morgante Maggiore; but he does not seem to have been aware that many years before (1806, 1807) the same writer (one of the "associate bards") had published in the Monthly Magazine (May, July, 1806, etc., vide ante Introduction to Beppo, p. 156) a series of translations of selected passages of the poem. There is no resemblance whatever between Byron's laboured and faithful rendering of the text, and Merivale's far more readable