Page:The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero) - Volume 3.djvu/250

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218
THE CORSAIR.

the sensation which the publication has occasioned; and my only regret is that you were not present to witness it."

For some time before and after the poem appeared, Byron was, as he told Leigh Hunt (February 9, 1814; Letters, 1899, iii. 27), "snow-bound and thaw-swamped in 'the valley of the shadow' of Newstead Abbey," and it was not till he had returned to town that he resumed his journal, and bethought him of placing on record some dark sayings with regard to the story of the Corsair and the personality of Conrad. Under date February 18, 1814, he writes—

"The Corsair has been conceived, written, published, etc., since I last took up this journal [? last day but one]. They tell me it has great success; it was written con amore [i.e. during the reign of Lady Frances Wedderburn Webster], and much from existence."

And again, Journal, March 10 (Letters, 1898, ii. 399), "He [Hobhouse] told me an odd report,—that I am the actual Conrad, the veritable Corsair, and that part of my travels are supposed to have passed in privacy [sic; ? piracy]. Um! people sometimes hit near the truth; but never the whole truth. H. don't know what I was about the year after he left the Levant; nor does any one—nor—nor—nor—however, it is a lie—but, 'I doubt the equivocation of the fiend that lies like truth.' "

Very little weight can be attached to these "I could an I would" pronouncements, deliberately framed to provoke curiosity, and destined, no doubt, sooner or later to see the light; but the fact remains that Conrad is not a mere presentation of Byron in a fresh disguise, or "The Pirate's Tale" altogether a "painting of the imagination."

That the Corsair is founded upon fact is argued at some length by the author (an "English Gentleman in the Greek Military Service") of the Life, Writings, Opinions, and Times of the R. H. George Gordon Noel Byron, which was published in 1825. The point of the story (i. 197-201), which need not be repeated at length, is that Byron, on leaving Constantinople and reaching the island of Zea (July, 1810), visited ["strolled about"] the islands of the Archipelago, in company with a Venetian gentleman who had turned buccaneer malgré lui, and whose history and adventures,