The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero)/Poetry/Volume 3/Lara

3451693The Works of Lord Byron — LaraGeorge Gordon Byron





The MS. of Lara is dated May 14, 1814. The opening lines, which were not prefixed to the published poem, and were first printed in Murray's Magazine (January, 1887), are of the nature of a Dedication. They were probably written a few days after the well-known song, "I speak not, I trace not, I breathe not thy name," which was enclosed to Moore in a letter dated May 4, 1814. There can be little doubt that both song and dedication were addressed to Lady Frances Wedderburn Webster, and that Lara, like the Corsair and the Bride of Abydos, was written con amore, and because the poet was "eating his heart away."

By the 14th of June Byron was able to announce to Moore that "Lara was finished, and that he had begun copying." It was written, owing to the length of the London season, "amidst balls and fooleries, and after coming home from masquerades and routs, in the summer of the sovereigns" (Letter to Moore, June 8, 1822, Life, p. 561).

By way of keeping his engagement—already broken by the publication of the Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte—not to "trespass on public patience," Byron began by protesting (June 14) that Lara was not to be published separately, but "might be included in a third volume now collecting." A fortnight later (June 27) an interchange of unpublished poems between himself and Rogers, "two cantos of darkness and dismay" in return for a privately printed copy of Jacqueline, who is "all grace and softness and poetry" (Letter to Rogers, Letters, 1899, iii. 101), suggested another and happier solution of the difficulty, a coalescing with Rogers, and, if possible, Moore {Life, 1892, p. 257, note 2), "into a joint invasion of the public" (Letter to Moore, July 8, 1814, Letters, 1899, iii. 102). But Rogers hesitated, and Moore refused to embark on so doubtful a venture, with the result that, as late as the 3rd of August, Byron thought fit to remonstrate with Murray for "advertising Lara and Jacqueline," and confessed to Moore that he was "still demurring and delaying and in a fuss" (Letters, 1899, iii. 115, 119). Murray knew his man, and, though he waited for Byron's formal and ostensibly reluctant word of command, "Out with Lara, since it must be" (August 5, 1814, Letters, 1899, iii. 122), he admitted (August 6, Memoir of John Murray, 1891, i. 230) that he had "anticipated his consent," and "had done everything but actually deliver the copies of Lara," "The moment," he adds, "I received your letter, for for it I waited, I cut the last cord of my aerial work, and at this instant 6000 copies are sold." Lara, a Tale; Jacqueline, a Tale, was published on Saturday, August 6, 1814.

Jacqueline is a somewhat insipid pastoral, betraying the influence of the Lake School, more especially Coleridge, on a belated and irresponsive disciple, and wholly out of place as contrast or foil to the melodramatic Lara.

No sooner had the "lady," as Byron was pleased to call her, played her part as decoy, than she was discharged as emerita. A week after publication (August 12, 1814, Letters, iii. 125) Byron told Moore that "Murray talks of divorcing Larry and Jacky—a bad sign for the authors, who will, I suppose, be divorced too. . . . Seriously, I don't care a cigar about it." The divorce was soon pronounced, and, contrary to Byron's advice (September 2, 1814, Letters, iii. 131), at least four separate editions of Lara were published during the autumn of 1814.

The "advertisement" to Lara and Jacqueline contains the plain statement that "the reader . . . may probably regard it [Lara] as a sequel to the Corsair"—an admission on the author's part which forestalls and renders nugatory any prolonged discussion on the subject. It is evident that Lara is Conrad, and that Kaled, the "darkly delicate" and mysterious page, whose "hand is femininely white," is Gulnare, despite his raven and her auburn hair.

If the facts which the "EngHsh Gentleman in the Greek Military Service" {Life, Writings, etc., of Lord Byron, 1825, i. 191-201) gives in detail with regard to the sources of the Corsair are not wholly imaginary, it is possible that the original Conrad's determination to "quit so horrible a mode of life" and return to civilization may have suggested to Byron the possible adventures and fate of a grand seigneur who had played the pirate in his time, and resumed his ancestral dignities only to be detected and exposed by some rival or victim of his wild and lawless youth.

Lara was reviewed together with the Corsair, by George Ellis in the Quarterly Review for July, 1814, vol. xi. p. 428; and in the Portfolio, vol. xiv. p. 33.


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