Page:The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero) - Volume 2.djvu/524

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480
[CANTO IV.
CHILDE HAROLD’S PILGRIMAGE.

struggling Italians, and carried along less interested critics in its current, is run out. We have another proof that we can never be sure that the paradox, the most singular, and therefore having the most agreeable and authentic air, will not give place to the re-established ancient prejudice.

It seems, then, first, that Laura was born, lived, died, and was buried, not in Avignon, but in the country. The fountains of the Sorga, the thickets of Cabrieres, may resume their pretensions, and the exploded de la Bastie again be heard with complacency. The hypothesis of the Abbé had no stronger props than the parchment sonnet and medal found on the skeleton of the wife of Hugo de Sade, and the manuscript note to the Virgil of Petrarch, now in the Ambrosian library. If these proofs were both incontestable, the poetry was written, the medal composed, cast, and deposited within the space of twelve hours: and these deliberate duties were performed round the carcass of one who died of the plague, and was hurried to the grave on the day of her death. These documents, therefore, are too decisive: they prove not the fact, but the forgery. Either the sonnet or the Virgilian note must be a falsification. The Abbé cites both as incontestably true; the consequent deduction is inevitable—they are both evidently false.[1]

Secondly, Laura was never married, and was a haughty virgin rather than that tender and prudent wife who honoured Avignon, by making that town the theatre of an honest French passion, and played off for one and twenty years her little machinery of alternate favours and refusals[2] upon the first poet of the age. It was, indeed, rather too unfair that a female should be made responsible for eleven children upon the faith of a misinterpreted abbreviation, and the decision of a librarian.[3] It is, however, satisfactory to think that the

    confidence and delight. The compiler of a very voluminous work must take much criticism upon trust; Mr. Gibbon has done so, though not as readily as some other authors.

  1. The sonnet had before awakened the suspicions of Mr. Horace Walpole. See his letter to Dr. Joseph Warton, March 16, 1765.
  2. "Par ce petit manége, cette alternative de faveurs et de rigueurs bien ménagée, une femme tendre & sage amuse pendant vingt et un ans le plus grand Poète de son siècle, sans faire la moindre brêche à son honneur." Mémoires pour la Vie de Pétrarque, Préface aux Français, i. p. cxiii.
  3. In a dialogue with St. Augustin, Petrarch has described Laura as having a body exhausted with repeated ptubs.