Page:The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero) - Volume 3.djvu/16

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viii
PREFACE TO THE THIRD VOLUME.

literature has to be bought at the price of close attention and patient study when the subject-matter of a poem and the modes and movements of the poet's consciousness are alike unfamiliar.

Criticism, however subtle, however suggestive, however luminous, will not bridge over the gap between the past and the present, will not supply the sufficing knowledge. It is delightful and interesting and, in a measure, instructive to know what great poets of his own time and of ours have thought of Byron, how he "strikes" them; but unless we are ourselves saturated with his thought and style, unless we learn to breathe his atmosphere by reading the books which he read, picturing to ourselves the scenes which he saw,—unless we aspire to his ideals and suffer his limitations, we are in no way entitled to judge his poems, whether they be good or bad.

Byron's metrical "Tales" come before us in the guise of light reading, and may be "easily criticized" as melo-dramatic—the heroines conventional puppets, the heroes reduplicated reflections of the author's personality, the Oriental "properties" loosely arranged, and somewhat stage-worn. A thorough and sympathetic study of these once extravagantly lauded and now belittled poems will not, perhaps, reverse the deliberate judgment of later generations, but it will display them for what they are, bold and rapid and yet exact presentations of the "gorgeous East," vivid and fresh from the hand of the great artist who conceived them out of the abundance