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Page:The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero) - Volume 5.djvu/227

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INTRODUCTION TO CAIN.

Cain was begun at Ravenna, July 16, and finished September 9, 1821 (vide MS. M.). Six months before, when he was at work on the first act of Sardanapalusm Byron had "pondered" Cain but it was not till Sardanapalus and a second historical play, The Two Foscari, had been written, copied out, and sent to England, that he indulged his genius with a third drama—on "a metaphysical subject, something in the style of Manfred", (Letters, 1901, v. 189).

Goethe's comment on reading and reviewing Cain was that he should be surprised if Byron did not pursue the treatment of such "biblical subjects," as the, destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Conversations,etc., 1879, p.62); and, many years after, he told Crabb Robinson (Diary 1869, ii, 435) that Byron should have lied "to execute his vocation ... to dramatize the Old Testament." He was better equipped for such a task than might have been imagined. A Scottish schoolboy, "from a child he had known the Scriptures," and, as his Hebrew Melodies testify, he was not unwilling to turn to the Bible as a source of poetic inspiration. Moreover, he was born with the religious temperament. Questions "of Providence, foreknowledge, will and fate," exercised his curiosity because they appealed to his imagination and moved his spirit. He was eager to plunge into controversy with friends and advisers who challenged or rebuked him, Hodgson, for instance, or Dallas; and he responded with remarkable amenity to the strictures and exhortations of such orthodox professors as Mr. Sheppard and Dr. Kennedy. He was, no doubt, from first to last a heretic, impatient, not to say contemptuous, of authority, but he was by no means indifferent to religion altogether. To "argue about it and about" was a necessity, if not an agreeable relief to his intellectual energies. It would appear from the Ravenna diary (January 28, 1821, Letters, 1901, v. 190, 191}, that the conception of Lucifer was working in his brain