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Page:The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero) - Volume 5.djvu/622

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582
THE ISLAND.

the details of the mutiny of the Bounty was derived exclusively from Bligh's Narrative; that he does not seem to have studied the minutes of the court-martial on Peter Heywood and the other prisoners (September, 1792), or to have possessed the information that in 1809, and, again, in 1815, the Admiralty received authentic information with regard to the final settlement of Christian and his comrades on Pitcairn Island. Articles, however, had appeared in the Quarterly Review, February, 1810, vol. iii. pp. 23, 24, and July, 1815, vol. xiii. pp. 376-378, which contained an extract from the log-book of Captain Mayhew Folger, of the American ship Topaz, dated September 29, 1808, and letters from Folger (March 1, 1813, and Sir Thomas Staines, October 18, 1814, which solved the mystery. Moreover, the article of February, 1810, is quoted in the notes (pp. 313-318) affixed to Miss Mitford's Christina, the Maid of the South Seas, 1811, a poem founded on Blights Narrative, of which neither Byron or his reviewers seem to have heard.

But whatever may have been his opportunities of ascertaining the facts of the case, it is certain (see his note to Canto IV. section vi. line 122) that he did not know what became of Christian, and that whereas in the first canto he follows the text of Bligh's Narrative, in the three last cantos he draws upon his imagination, turning Tahiti into Toobonai (Tubuai), and transporting Toobonai from one archipelago to another—from the Society to the Friendly Islands.

Another and still more surprising feature of The Island is that Byron accepts, without qualification or reserve, the guilt of the mutineers and the innocence and worth of Lieutenant Bligh. It is true that by inheritance he was imbued with the traditions of the service, and from personal experience understood the necessity of discipline on board ship; but it may be taken for granted that it he had known that the sympathy, if not the esteem, of the public had been transferred from Bligh to Christian, that in the opinion of grave and competent writers, the guilt of mutiny on the high seas had been almost condoned by the violence and brutality of the commanding officer, he would have sided with the oppressed rather than the oppressor. As it is, he takes Bligh at his own valuation, and carefully abstains from "eulogizing mutiny." (Letter to L. Hunt, January 25, 1823.)

The story of the "mutiny of the Bounty" happened in this wise. In 1787 it occurred to certain West India planters and merchants, resident in London, that it would benefit the natives, and perhaps themselves, if the bread-fruit tree, which flourished in Tahiti (the Otaheite of Captain Cook and Sir Joseph Banks, see Poetical Works, 1899, ii. 7, note 2) and