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A POEM, IN SIX CANTOS.
NOTICE TO EDITION 1833.
novelty of their feelings towards it. Dulness and
tameness are the only irreparable faults.” Sir WALTER Scott commenced the composition of ROKEBY at Abbotsford, on the 15th of September December 31st.“ With kindest wishes on the re1812, and finished it on the last day of the following turn of the season, I send you the last of the copy of December.
Rokeby. If you are not engaged at home, and like The reader may be interested with the following to call in, we will drink good luck to it; but do not extracts from his letters to his friend and printer, derange a family party. Mr. Ballantyne.
“ There is something odd and melancholy in conAbbotsford, 28th Oct. 1812.
cluding a poem with the year, and I could be almost “ DEAR JAMES, I send you to-day better than the silly and sentimental about it. I hope you think I third sheet of Canto II., and I trust to send the other have done my best. I assure you of my wishes the three sheets in the course of the week. I expect that work may succeed ; and my exertions to get out in you will have three cantos complete before I quit this time were more inspired by your interest and John's, place on the 11th of November. Surely, if you do than my own. And so vogue la galère. W. S.” your part, the poem may be out by Christmas ; but you must not daudle over your typographical scruples.
INTRODUCTION TO EDITION 1830. I have too much respect for the public to neglect any thing in my poem to attract their attention ; and Between the publication of “ The Lady of the you misunderstood me much, when you supposed that Lake,” which was so eminently successful, and that I designed any new experiments in point of composi- of “Rokeby,” in 1813, three years had intervened. I tion. I only meant to say, that knowing well that the shall not, I believe, be accused of ever having atsaid public will never be pleased with exactly the same tempted to usurp a superiority over many men of thing a second time, I saw the necessity of giving a genius, my contemporaries ; but, in point of populacertain degree of novelty, by throwing the interest rity, not of actual talent, the caprice of the public had more on character than in my former poems, without certainly given me such a temporary superiority over certainly meaning to exclude either incident or de- men, of whom, in regard to poetical fancy and feelscription. I think you will see the same sort of diffe- ing, I scarcely thought myself worthy to loose the rence taken in all my former poems, of which I would shoe-latch. On the other hand, it would be absurd say, if it is fair for me to say any thing, that the force affectation in me to deny, that I conceived myself to in the Lay is thrown on style, in Marmion on descrip- understand, more perfectly than many of my contemtion, and in the Lady of the Lake on incident.” poraries, the manner most likely to interest the great
mass of mankind. Yet, even with this belief, I must 3d November.-“ As for my story, the conduct of truly and fairly say, that I always considered myself the plot, which must be made natural and easy, pre- rather as one who held the bets, in time to be paid vents my introducing any thing light for some time. over to the winner, than as having any pretence to You must advert, that in order to give poetical effect keep them in my own right. to any incident, I am often obliged to be much longer In the meantime years crept on, and not without than I expected in the detail. You are too much their usual depredations on the passing generation. like the country squire in the what d'ye call it, who My sons had arrived at the age when the paternal commands that the play should not only be a tragedy home was no longer their best abode, as both were and comedy, but that it should be crowned with a destined to active life. The field-sports, to which I spice of your pastoral. As for what is popular, and was peculiarly attached, had now less interest, and what people like, and so forth, it is all a joke. Be were replaced by other amusements of a more quiet interesting; do the thing well, and the only difference character ; and the means and opportunity of pursuwill be, that people will like what they never liked ing these were to be sought for. I had, indeed, for before, and will like it so much the better for the some years attended to farming, a knowledge of which
is, or at least was then, indispensable to the comfort fort myself with the Spanish proverb, “ Time and I of a family residing in a solitary country-house ; but against any two." although this was the favourite amusement of many The difficult and indispensable point, of finding a of my friends, I have never been able to consider it as permanent subject of occupation, was now at length a source of pleasure. I never could think it a matter attained; but there was annexed to it the necessity of passing importance, that my cattle or crops were of becoming again a candidate for public favour; for, better or more plentiful than those of my neighbours, as I was turned improver on the earth of the every-day and nevertheless I began to feel the necessityhof some world, it was under condition that the small tenement more quiet out-door occupation, different from those of Parnassus, which might be accessible to my labours, I had hitherto pursued. I purchased a small farm of should not remain uncultivated. about one hundred acres, with the purpose of plant I meditated, at first, a poem on the subject of Bruce, ing and improving it, to which property circumstances in which I made some progress, but afterwards judged afterwards enabled me to make considerable addi- it advisable to lay it aside, supposing that an English tions; and thus an era took place in my life, almost story might have more novelty; in consequence, the equal to the important one mentioned by the Vicar precedence was given to “ Rokeby.” of Wakefield, when he removed from the Blue-room If subject and scenery could have influenced the to the Brown. In point of neighbourhood, at least, fate of a poem, that of “ Rokeby” should have been the change of residence made little more difference. eminently distinguished; for the grounds belonged to Abbotsford, to which we removed, was only six or a dear friend, with whom I had lived in habits of inseven miles down the Tweed, and lay on the same timacy for many years, and the place itself united the beautiful stream. It did not possess the romantic romantic beauties of the wilds of Scotland with the character of Ashestiel, my former residence; but it rich and smiling aspect of the southern portion of the had a stretch of meadow-land along the river, and island. But the Cavaliers and Roundheads, whom I possessed, in the phrase of the landscape-gardener, attempted to summon up to tenant this beautiful reconsiderable capabilities. Above all, the land was gion, had for the public neither the novelty nor the my own, like Uncle Toby's Bowling-green, to do peculiar interest of the primitive Highlanders. This, what I would with. It had been, though the gratifi- perhaps, was scarcely to be expected, considering that cation was long postponed, an early wish of mine to the general mind sympathizes readily and at once with connect myself with my mother earth, and prosecute the stamp which nature herself has affixed upon the those experiments by which a species of creative manners of a people living in a simple and patriarchal power is exercised over the face of nature. I can state; whereas it has more difficulty in understanding trace, even to childhood, a pleasure derived from or interesting itself in manners founded upon those Dodsley's account of Shenstone's Leasowes, and I peculiar habits of thinking or acting, which are proenvied the poet much more for the pleasure of accom- duced by the progress of society. We could read with plishing the objects detailed in his friend's sketch of pleasure the tale of the adventures of a Cossack or a his grounds, than for the possession of pipe, crook, Mongol Tartar, while we only wonder and stare over flock, and Phillis to boot. My memory, also, tena- those of the lovers in the “ Pleasing Chinese History," cious of quaint expressions, still retained a phrase where the embarrassments turn upon difficulties ariswhich it had gathered from an old almanack of ing out of unintelligible delicacies peculiar to the cusCharles the Second's time (when every thing down toms and manners of that affected people. to almanacks affected to be smart), in which the The cause of my failure had, however, a far deeper reader, in the month of June, is advised for health's root. The manner, or style, which, by its novelty, atsake to walk a mile or two every day before breakfast, tracted the public in an unusual degree, had now, and, if he can possibly so manage, to let his exercise after having been three times before them, exhausted be taken upon his own land.
the patience of the reader, and began in the fourth to With the satisfaction of having attained the fulfil- lose its charms. The reviewers may be said to have ment of an early and long-cherished hope, I com- apostrophized the author in the language of Parnell's menced my improvements, as delightful in their pro- Edwin :gress as those of the child who first makes a dress for a new doll. The nakedness of the land was in time
" And here reverse the charm, he cries, hidden by woodlands of considerable extent-the
And let it fairly now suffice, smallest of possible cottages was progressively ex
The gambol has been shown." panded into a sort of dream of a mansion-house, whimsical in the exterior, but convenient within. Nor did The licentious combination of rhymes, in a manner I forget what is the natural pleasure of every man not perhaps very congenial to our language, had not who has been a reader; I mean the filling the shelves been confined to the author. Indeed, in most similar of a tolerably large library. All these objects I kept cases, the inventors of such novelties have their repuin view, to be executed as convenience should serve ; tation destroyed by their own imitators, as Actæon and, although I knew many years must elapse before fell under the fury of his own dogs. The present authey could be attained, I was of a disposition to com- thor, like Bobadil, had taught his trick of fence to a
hundred gentlemen, (and ladies,') who could fence ed; and there was some appearance of that labour of very nearly, or quite as well as himself. For this the file, which indicates that the author is conscious there was no remedy; the harmony became tiresome of the necessity of doing every justice to his work, that and ordinary, and both the original inventor and his it may pass warrant. Lord Byron was also a travelinvention must have fallen into contempt, if he had ler, a man whose ideas were fired by having seen, in not found out another road to public favour. What distant scenes of difficulty and danger, the places has been said of the metre only, must be considered whose very names are recorded in our bosoms as the to apply equally to the structure of the Poem and of shrines of ancient poetry. For his own misfortune, the style. The very best passages of any popular style perhaps, but certainly to the high increase of his poeare not, perhaps, susceptible of imitation, but they tical character, nature had mixed in Lord Byron's may be approached by men of talent; and those who system those passions which agitate the human heart are less able to copy them, at least lay hold of their with most violence, and which may be said to have peculiar features, so as to produce a strong burlesque. hurried his bright career to an early close. There In either way, the effect of the manner is rendered would have been little wisdom in measuring my force cheap and common; and, in the latter case, ridicu- with so formidable an antagonist; and I was as likely lous to boot. The evil consequences to an author's to tire of playing the second fiddle in the concert, as reputation are at least as fatal as those which come my audience of hearing me. Age also was advancing. upon the musical composer, when his melody falls I was growing insensible to those subjects of excitainto the hands of the street ballad-singer.
tion by which youth is agitated. I had around me Of the unfavourable species of imitation, the au- the most pleasant but least exciting of all society, that thor's style gave room to a very large number, owing of kind friends and an affectionate family. My circle to an appearance of facility to which some of those of employments was a narrow one; it occupied me who used the measure unquestionably leaned too far. constantly, and it became daily more difficult for me The effect of the more favourable imitations, composed to interest myself in poetical composition :by persons of talent, was almost equally unfortunate
“How happily the days of Thalaba went by !" to the original minstrel, by showing that they could overshoot him with his own bow. In short, the po Yet, though conscious that I must be in the opinion pularity which once attended the School, as it was of good judges, inferior to the place I had for four or called, was now fast decaying.
five years held in letters, and feeling alike that the Besides all this, to have kept his ground at the cri- latter was one to which I had only a temporary right, sis when “ Rokeby" appeared, its author ought to I could not brook the idea of relinquishing literary have put forth his utmost strength, and to have pos- occupation, which had been so long my chief diversessed at least all his original advantages, for a mighty sion. Neither was I disposed to choose the alternaand unexpected rival was advancing on the stage-a tive of sinking into a mere editor and commentator, rival not in poetical powers only, but in that art of at- though that was a species of labour which I had prac. tracting popularity, in which the present writer had tised, and to which I was attached. But I could not hitherto preceded better men than himself. The read- endure to think that I might not, whether known or er will easily see that Byron is here meant, who, concealed, do something of more importance. Myinafter a little velitation of no great promise, now ap- most thoughts were those of the Trojan Captain in peared as a serious candidate, in the “ First two Can- the galley race,tos of Childe Harold.”2 I was astonished at the power evinced by that work, which neither the "Hours
“Non jam, prima peto, Mnestheus, neque vincere certo ;
Quanquam 0!-sed superent, quibus hoc, Neptune, dedisti; of Idleness," nor the “ English Bards and Scotch Re
Extremus pudcat rediisse : hoc vincite, cives, viewers," had prepared me to expect from its author.
Et prohibete nefas." 3-Æx, lib. v. 194. There was a depth in his thought, an eager abundance in his diction, which argued full confidence in the in I had, indeed, some private reasons for my “Quanexhaustible resources of which he felt himself possess- quam 0!” which were not worse than those of Mnes
I "Sott found peculiar favour and imitation among the had been witnessed in this country for at least two generafair sex: there was Miss Halford, and Miss Mitford, and Miss tions. “I awoke one morning,' he says, and found myself Francis : but, with the greatest respect be it spokon, none of famous.' In truth, he had fixed himself, at a single bound, his imitators did much honour to the original, except Hogg, on a summit, such as no English poet had ever before attained, the Ettrick Shepherd, until the appearance of the ' Bridal of but after a long succession of painful and comparatively neTriermain'and Harold the Dauntless,' which, in the opinion glected efforts." - Advertisement to Byron's Life and Works, of some, equalled, if not surpassed, him; and lo! after three vol. viii. or four years, they turned out to be the Master's own compo 3“ I seek not now the foremost palm to gain; sitions."-Byron's Works, vol. xv. p. 96.
Though yet-but ah! that haughty wish is vain! 9 " These two Cantos were published in London in March Let those enjoy it whom the gods ordain. 1812, and immediately placed their author on a level with the But to be last, the lags of all the race! very highest names of his age. The impression they created
Redeem yourselves and me from that disgrace." was more uniform, decisive, and triumphant, than any that
theus. I have already hinted that the materials were enough to retreat when the battle should be more decollected for a poem on the subject of Bruce, and cidedly lost. The sale of " Rokeby,” excepting as fragments of it had been shown to some of my friends, compared with that of “ The Lady of the lake,” and received with applause. Notwithstanding, there was in the highest degree respectable; and as it infore, the eminent success of Byron, and the great cluded fifteen hundred quartos, in those quarto-readchance of his taking the wind out of my sails, there ing days, the trade had no reason to be dissatisfied. was, I judged, a species of cowardice in desisting from
W. S. the task which I had undertaken, and it was time ABBOTSFORD, April 1830.
1 "George Ellis and Murray have been talking something vex him, and do me no good."-BRYON's Dary, Nor. 1813– about Scott and me, George pro Scoto, -and very right too. Works, vol ii. p. 259. If they want to depose him, I only wish they would not set me up as a competitor. I like the man-and admire his works to . The 4to, Edition was published by John Ballantyne and wbat Mr. Braham calls Entusymusy. All such stuff can only Co. £2, 25. in January, 1813.
A POEM IN SIX CANTOS.
JOHN B. S. MORRITT, Esq.,
TIE SCENE OF WHICH IS LAID IN HIS BEAUTIFUL DEMESNE OF ROK EBY,
IS INSCRIBED, IN TOKEN OF SINCERE FRIENDSHIP, BY
The Scene of this Poem is laid at Rokeby, near Greta Bridge, in Yorkshire, and shifts to the adjacent fortress of Barnard Castle, and to other places in that Vicinity.
The Time occupied by the Action is a space of Five Days, Three of which are supposed to elapse between the end of the Fifth and beginning of the Sixth Canto.
The date of the supposed events is immediately subsequent to the great Battle of Marston Moor, 3d July, 1644, This period of public confusion has been chosen, without any purpose of combining the Fable with the Military or Political Events of the Civil War, but only as affording a degree of probability to the Fictitious Narrative novo presented to the Public.?
When conscience, with remorse and fear,
Her light seems now the blush of shame,
Seems now fierce anger's darker flame,
Shifting that shade, to come and go,
Like apprehension's hurried glow;
Then sorrow's livery dims the air, But hoarse and high the breezes blow,
And dies in darkness, like despair. And, racking o'er her face, the cloud
Such varied hues the warder sees Varies the tincture of her shroud;
Reflected from the woodland Tees, On Barnard's towers, and Tees's stream,
Then from old Baliol's tower looks forth, She changes as a guilty dream,
Sees the clouds mustering in the north, 1 Dec. 31, 1812.
now is, it be likely to satisfy the just expectations which that 2 " Behold another lay from the harp of that indefatigable reputation has excited, is a question which, perhaps, will not minstrel, who has so often provoked the censure, and extort be decided with the same unanimity. Our own opinion is in ed the admiration of his critics; and who, regardless of both, the affirmative, but we confess that this is our rerised opinion; and following every impulse of his own inclination, has yet and that when we concluded our first perusal of Rokeby, our raised himself at once, and apparently with little effort, to the gratification was not quite unmixed with disappointment. pinnacle of public favour.
The reflections by which this impression has been subsequent“ A poem thus recommended may be presumed to have ly modified, arise out of our general view of the poem; of the already reached the whole circle of our readers, and we be interest inspired by the fable ; of the masterly delineations of lieve that all those readers will concur with us in considering the characters by whose agency the plot is unravelled ; and of Rokeby as a composition, which, if it had preceded, instead of the spirited nervous conciseness of the narrative."- Quarterly following, Marmion, and the Lady of the Lake, would have
Review, No. xvi. contributed, as effectually as they have done, to the establishment of Mr. Scott's high reputation. Whether, timed as it a See Appendix, Note A.