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I conceived, however, that I held the distinguished situation I had obtained, however unworthily, rather like the champion of pugilism, on the condition of being always ready to show proofs of my skill, than in the manner of the champions of chivalry, who performs his duties only on rare and solemn occasions. I was in any case conscious that I could not long hold a situation which the caprice rather than the judgment of the public had bestowed upon me, and preferred being deprived of my precedence by some more worthy rival, to sinking into contempt for my indolence, and losing my reputation by what Scottish lawyers call the negative prescription. Accordingly, those who choose to look at the Introduction to Rokeby, will be able to trace the steps by which I declined as a poet to figure as a novelist; as the ballad says, Queen Eleanor sunk at Charing Cross to rise again at Queenhithe.
It only remains for me to say that, during my short preeminence of popularity, I faithfully observed the rules of moderation which I had resolved to follow before I began my course as a man of letters. If a man is determined to make a noise in the world, he is sure to encounter abuse and ridicule, as he who gallops furiously through a village must reckon on being followed by the curs in full cry. Experienced persons know that in stretching to flog the latter, the rider is very apt to catch a bad fall; nor is an attempt to chastise a malignant critic attended with less danger to the author. On this principle, I let parody, burlesque, and squibs find their own level; and while the latter hissed most fiercely, I was cautious never to catch them up, as schoolboys do, to throw them back against the naughty boy who fired them off, wisely remembering that they are in such cases apt to explode in the handling. Let me add that my reign (since Byron has so called it) was marked by some instances of good-nature as well as patience. I never refused a literary person of merit such services in smoothing his way to the public as were in my power; and I had the advantage. rather an uncommon one with our irritable race to enjoy general favor without incurring permanent ill-will, so far as is known to me, among any of my contemporaries.
ABBOTSFORD, April, 1830.
The scene of the following Poem is laid chiefly in the vicinity of Loch Katrine, in the Western Highlands of Perthshire. The time of Action includes Six Days, and the transactions of each Day occupy a Canto.
THE LADY OF THE LAKE
HARP of the North! that mouldering long hast hung
Till envious ivy did around thee cling, Muffling with verdant ringlet every string,—
O Minstrel Harp, still must thine accents sleep? Mid rustling leaves and fountains murmuring,
Still must thy sweeter sounds their silence keep, Nor bid a warrior smile, nor teach a maid to weep?
Not thus, in ancient days of Caledon,
Was thy voice mute amid the festal crowd, When lay of hopeless love, or glory won,
Aroused the fearful or subdued the proud. At each according pause was heard aloud
Thine ardent symphony sublime and high! Fair dames and crested chiefs attention bowed; For still the burden of thy minstrelsy Was Knighthood's dauntless deed, and Beauty's matchless eye.
O, wake once more! how rude soe'er the hand
Some feeble echoing of thine earlier lay:
Though harsh and faint, and soon to die away,
The wizard note has not been touched in vain.
The stag at eve had drunk his fill,
Where danced the moon on Monan's rill,
And faint, from farther distance borne,
As Chief, who hears his warder call,
Yelled on the view the opening pack;
Less loud the sounds of sylvan war
Had the bold burst their mettle tried.