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Page:The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero) - Volume 4.djvu/48

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18
THE PRISONER OF CHILLON.

From Chillon's snow-white battlement,[1]
Which round about the wave inthralls:
A double dungeon wall and wave
Have made—and like a living grave.

Below the surface of the lake[2]
  1. [Ruskin (Modern Painters, Part IV. chap. i. sect. 9, "Touching the Grand Style," 1888, iii. 8, 9) criticizes these five lines 107-111, and points out that, alike in respect of accuracy and inaccuracy of detail, they fulfil the conditions of poetry in contradistinction to history. "Instead," he concludes, "of finding, as we expected, the poetry distinguished from the history by the omission of details, we find it consisting entirely in the addition of details; and instead of it being characterized by regard only of the invariable, we find its whole power to consist in the clear expression of what is singular and particular!"]
  2. The Château de Chillon is situated between Clarens and Villeneuve, which last is at one extremity of the Lake of Geneva. On its left are the entrances of the Rhone, and opposite are the heights of Meillerie and the range of Alps above Boveret and St. Gingo. Near it, on a hill behind, is a torrent: below it, washing its walls, the lake has been fathomed to the depth of 800 feet, French measure: within it are a range of dungeons, in which the early reformers, and subsequently prisoners of state, were confined. Across one of the vaults is a beam black with age, on which we were informed that the condemned were formerly executed. In the cells are seven pillars, or, rather, eight, one being half merged in the wall; in some of these are rings for the fetters and the fettered: in the pavement the steps of Bonnivard have left their traces. He was confined here several years. It is by this castle that Rousseau has fixed the catastrophe of his Héloïse, in the rescue of one of her children by Julie from the water; the shock of which, and the illness produced by the immersion, is the cause of her death. The château is large, and seen along the lake for a great distance. The walls are white. ["Le château de Chillon ... est situé dans le lac sur un rocher qui forme une presqu'isle, et autour du quel j'ai vu sonder à plus de cent cinquante brasses qui font près de huit cents pieds, sans trouver le fond. On a creusé dans ce rocher des caves et des cuisines au-dessous du niveau de l'eau, qu'on y introduit, quand on veut, par des robinets. C'est-la que fut détenu six ans prisonnier François Bonnivard ... homme d'un mérite rare, d'une droiture et d'une fermeté à toute épreuve, ami de la liberté, quoique Savoyard, et tolérant quoique prêtre," etc. (La Nouvelle Héloïse, par J. J. Rousseau, partie vi. Lettre 8, note (1); Œuvres complètes, 1836, ii. 356, note 1).

    With Byron's description of Chillon, compare that of Shelley, contained in a letter to Peacock, dated July 12, 1816 (Prose Works of P. B. Shelley, 1880, ii. 171, sq.). The belief or tradition that Bonivard's prison is "below the surface of the lake," for which Shelley as well as Rousseau is responsible, but which Byron only records in verse, may be traced to a statement attributed to Bonivard himself, who says (Mémoires, etc., 1845, iv. 268) that the commandant thrust him "en unes croctes desquelles le fond estoit plus bas que le lac sur lequel Chillon estoit citue." As a matter of fact, "the level [of les souterrains] is now three metres higher than the level of the water, and even if we take off the difference arising from the fact that the level of the lake