Page:The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero) - Volume 2.djvu/347

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INTRODUCTION TO THE FOURTH CANTO.

The first draft of the Fourth Canto of Childe Harold, which embodies the original and normal conception of the poem, was the work of twenty-six days. On the 17th of June, 1817, Byron wrote to Murray: "You are out about the Third Canto: I have not done, nor designed, a line of continuation to that poem. I was too short a time at Rome for it, and have no thought of recommencing." But in spite of this assertion, "the numbers came," and on June 26 he made a beginning. Thirty stanzas "were roughened off" on the 1st of July, fifty-six were accomplished by the 9th, "ninety and eight" by the 15th, and on July 20 he announces "the completion of the fourth and ultimate canto of Childe Harold. It consists of 126 stanzas." One stanza (xl.) was appended to the fair copy. It suggested a parallel between Ariosto "the Southern Scott," and Scott "the Northern Ariosto," and excited some misgiving.

In commending his new poem to Murray (July 20, August 7), Byron notes three points in which it differed from its predecessors: it is "the longest of the four;" "it treats more of works of art than of nature;" "there are no metaphysics in it—at least, I think not." In other words, "The Fourth Canto is not a continuation of the Third. I have parted company with Shelley and Wordsworth. Subject-matter and treatment are alike new."

The poem as it stood was complete, and, as a poem, it lost as well as gained by the insertion of additional stanzas and groups of stanzas, "purple patch" on "purple patch," each by itself so attractive and so splendid. The pilgrim finds himself at Venice, on the "Bridge of Sighs." He