200 CAIN. before the " tragedy of Cain " was actually begun. He had been recording a " thought " which had come to him, that " at the very height of human desire and pleasure, a certain sense of doubt and sorrow "—an amari aliquid which links the future to the past, and so blots out the present—" mingles with our bliss," making it of none effect, and, by way of moral or corollary to his soliloquy, he adds three lines of verse headed, " Thought for a speech of Lucifer in the Tragedy of Cain"— "Were Death an Evil, would I let thee live? Fool ! live as I live—as thy father lives, And thy son's sons Rhall live for evermore." In these three lines, which were not inserted in the play, and in the preceding " thought," we have the key-note to Cain. " Man walketh in a vain shadow "—a shadow which he can never overtake, the shadow of an eternally postponed fruition. With a being capable of infinite satisfaction, he is doomed to realize failure in attainment. In all that is best and most enjoyable, "the rapturous moment and the placid hour," there is a foretaste of " Death the Unknown" ! The tragedy of Manfred lies in remorse for the inevitable past ; the tragedy of Cain, in revolt against the limitations of the inexorable present. The investigation of the " sources " of Cain does not lead to any very definite conclusion (see Lord Byron's Cain and Seine Quellen, von Alfred Schaffner, 1880). He was pleased to call his play " a Mystery," and, in his Preface (vide post, p. 207), Byron alludes to the Old Mysteries as " those very profane productions, whether in English, French, Italian, or Spanish." The first reprint of the Chester Plays was pub-lished by the Roxburghe Club in 1818, but Byron's knowledge of Mystery Plays was probably derived from Dodsley's Plays (ed. 1780, 1., or from John Stevens's Con-tinuation of Dugdale's Monasticon (vide post, p. 207), or possibly, as Herr Schaffner suggests, from Warton's History of English Poetry, ed. 1871, ii. 222-230. He may, too, have witnessed some belated Rapfiresentazione of the Creation and Fall at Ravenna, or in one of the remoter towns or villages of Italy. There is a superficial resemblance between the treatment of the actual encounter of Cain and Abel, and the conventional rendering of the same incident in the Ludus Coventriee, and in the Mz:sterre du Viel Testament; but it is unlikely that he had closely studied any one Mystery Play at first hand. On the other hand, his recollections of Gessner's Death of Abel, which "he had never read since he was eight years old," were clearer than he imagined. Not
Page:The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero) - Volume 5.djvu/228
There was a problem when proofreading this page.