The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero)/Poetry/Volume 4/Sonnet to Lake Leman


Rousseau—Voltaire—our Gibbon—and De Staël—
Leman![1] these names are worthy of thy shore,
Thy shore of names like these! wert thou no more,
Their memory thy remembrance would recall:
To them thy banks were lovely as to all,
But they have made them lovelier, for the lore
Of mighty minds doth hallow in the core
Of human hearts the ruin of a wall
Where dwelt the wise and wondrous; but by thee
How much more, Lake of Beauty! do we feel,
In sweetly gliding o'er thy crystal sea,[2]
The wild glow of that not ungentle zeal,
Which of the Heirs of Immortality
Is proud, and makes the breath of Glory real!

Diodati, July, 1816.
[First published, Prisoner of Chillon, etc., 1816.]

  1. Geneva, Ferney, Copet, Lausanne. [For Rousseau, see Poetical Works, 1899, ii. 277, note 1, 300, 301, note 18; for Voltaire and Gibbon, vide ibid., pp. 306, 307, note 22; and for De Staël, see Letters, 1898, ii. 223, note 1. Byron, writing to Moore, January 2, 1821, declares, on the authority of Monk Lewis, "who was too great a bore ever to lie," that Madame de Staël alleged this sonnet, "in which she was named with Voltaire, Rousseau, etc.," as a reason for changing her opinion about him—"she could not help it through decency." (Letters, 1901, v. 213). It is difficult to believe that Madame de Staël was ashamed of her companions, or was sincere in disclaiming the compliment, though, as might have been expected, the sonnet excited some disapprobation in England. A writer in the Gentleman's Magazine (February, 1818. vol. 88, p. 122) relieved bis feelings by a "Retort Addressed to the Thames"—

    "Restor'd to my dear native Thames' bank,
    My soul disgusted spurns a Byron's lay,—

    · · · · ·

    Leman may idly boast her Staël, Rousseau,
    Gibbon, Voltaire, whom Truth and Justice shun—

    · · · · ·

    Whilst meekly shines midst Fulham's bowers the sun
    O'er Sherlock's and o'er Porteus' honour'd graves,
    Where Thames Britannia's choicest meads exulting laves."]

  2. [Compare—

    "Lake Leman woos me with its crystal face."

    Childe Harold Canto III, stanza lxviii. line 1,
    Poetical Works, 1899, ii. 257.