Open main menu

Page:The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero) - Volume 4.djvu/351

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


INTRODUCTION TO FRANCESCA OF RIMINI.

The MS. of "a literal translation, word for word (versed like the original), of the episode of Francesca of Rimini" (Letter March 23, 1820, Letters, 1900, iv. 421), was sent to Murray from Ravenna, March 20, 1820 (ibid., p. 419), a week after Byron had forwarded the MS. of the Prophecy of Dante. Presumably the translation had been made in the interval by way of illustrating and justifying the unfamiliar metre of the "Dante Imitation." In the letter which accompanied the translation he writes, "Enclosed you will find, line for line, in third rhyme (terza rima,) of which your British Blackguard reader as yet understands nothing, Fanny of Rimini. You know that she was born here, and married, and slain, from Cary, Boyd, such people already. I have done it into cramp English, line for line, and rhyme for rhyme, to try the possibility. You had best append it to the poems already sent by last three posts."

In the matter of the "British Blackguard," that is, the general reader, Byron spoke by the card. Hayley's excellent translation of the three first cantos of the Inferno (vide ante, "Introduction to the Prophecy of Dante," p. 237), which must have been known to a previous generation, was forgotten, and with earlier experiments in terza rima, by Chaucer and the sixteenth and seventeenth century poets, neither Byron nor the British Public had any familiar or definite acquaintance. But of late some interest had been awakened or revived in Dante and the Divina Commedia.

Cary's translation—begun in 1796, but not published as a whole till 1814—had met with a sudden and remarkable success. "The work, which had been published four years, but had remained in utter obscurity, was at once eagerly sought after. About a thousand copies of the first edition, that remained on hand, were immediately disposed of; in less than three months a new edition was called for." Moreover, the Quarterly and Edinburgh Reviews were loud in its