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Page:The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero) - Volume 5.djvu/621

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INTRODUCTION TO THE ISLAND.

The first canto of The Island was finished January 10, 1823, We know that Byron was still at work on "the poeshie," January 25 (Letters, 1901, vi. 164), and may reasonably conjecture that a somewhat illegible date affixed to the fourth canto, stands for February 14, 1823. The MS. had been received in London before April 9 (ibid., p. 192); and on June 26, 1823, The Island; or, The Adventures of Christian and his Comrades, was published by John Hunt.

Byron's "Advertisement," or note, prefixed to The Island contains all that need be said with regard to the "sources" of the poem.

Two separate works were consulted: (1) A Narrative of the Mutiny on board His Majesty's Ship Bounty, and the subsequent Voyage of ... the Ship's Boat from Tofoa, one of the Friendly Islands, to Timor, a Dutch Settlement in the East Indies, written by Lieutenant William Bligh, 1790; and (2) An Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands, Compiled and Arranged from the Extensive Communications of Mr. William Mariner, by John Martin, M.D., 1817.

According to George Clinton (Life and Writings of Lord Byron, 1824, p. 656), Byron was profoundly impressed by Mariner's report of the scenery and folklore of the Friendly Islands, was "never tired of talking of it to his friends," and, in order to turn this poetic material to account, finally bethought him that Bligh's Narrative of the mutiny of the Bounty would serve as a framework or structure "for an embroidery of rare device"—the figures and foliage of a tropical pattern. That, at least, is the substance of Clinton's analysis of the "sources" of The Island, and whether he spoke, or only feigned to speak, with authority, his criticism is sound and to the point. The story of the mutiny of the Bounty, which is faithfully related in the first canto, is not, as the second title implies, a prelude to the "Adventures of Christian and his Comrades," but to a description of "The Island," an Ogygia of the South Seas.

It must be borne in mind that Byron's acquaintance with