BYRON (GEORGE GORDON, Lord) Autograph draft of Stanza 88 of Canto 3 of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage: A LONG-LOST DRAFT FOR CHILDE HAROLD'S PILGRIMAGE, WRITTEN BY BYRON AT THE VILLA DIODATI DURING THE WEEKEND OF 14-16 JUNE, WHEN THE SHELLEYS WERE STAYING AND MARY BEGAN WRITING FRANKENSTEIN, 1816
Lot 177*
BYRON (GEORGE GORDON, Lord)
Sold for £64,900 (US$ 107,976) inc. premium
Lot Details
BYRON (GEORGE GORDON, Lord)
Autograph draft of Stanza 88 of Canto 3 of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, comprising nine lines, with the concluding couplet rewritten during the course of composition, currente calamo, reading in its final version:

Ye Stars! – which are the poetry of Heaven –
If in your bright leaves we would read the fate
Of men & empires – 'tis to be forgiven –
That in our aspirations to be great –
Our destinies oerleap their mortal state
And claim a kindred with you – for Ye are
A Beauty & a mystery – and create
In us such love & reverence from afar –
That when Ambition bows – 'tis only to his Star

1 page, on a sheet of paper watermarked with a crescent with an aurora over the figure '4' standing above the initials 'H R', originally folded two ways as if to form an 8vo letter-packet, guard at left-hand edge, light overall time-staining, trace of small tape-stain at foot, but overall in sound and still attractive condition, professionally de-acidified, backed and restored, in a twentieth-century morocco slipcase, 4to, [Villa Diodati, Coligny, Lake Geneva, 14-16 June 1816]

Footnotes

  • A LONG-LOST DRAFT FOR CHILDE HAROLD'S PILGRIMAGE, WRITTEN BY BYRON AT THE VILLA DIODATI DURING THE WEEKEND OF 14-16 JUNE, WHEN THE SHELLEYS WERE STAYING AND MARY BEGAN WRITING FRANKENSTEIN. This working draft almost certainly represents Byron's first thoughts and is in this sense a composing, rather than revising, draft. It can be dated to the weekend of Friday 14th to Sunday 16th June 1816, when the Shelleys were staying and when Mary Shelley was beginning work on Frankenstein (which is recorded as having been under way by the seventeenth). It was, quite possibly, written at the very time and 'witching hour', of Mary's 'waking nightmare' that gave birth to her monster.

    The manuscript has been lost from view since appearing in a bookseller's catalogue in 1940, and is the only one for the third canto remaining in private hands.

    Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

    The first two cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage had been published in 1812, making Byron famous overnight. Since when, he had added notoriety to his fame, marrying and separating and having a notorious liaison with his half-sister Augusta, as well as entanglements with the likes of Lady Caroline Lamb, while publishing a stream of poems that further defined the Byronic hero. With the collapse of his marriage and the increasing hostility of the Tory press he was at last forced into exile. He took up work again on Childe Harold on the boat that took him from Dover to Ostend, never again to set foot in England: 'Self-exiled Harold wanders forth again' (l.138). It was a step that, in Leslie A. Marchand's assessment, marked 'the beginning of his maturer literary existence' (Byron: A Biography, ii, 1957, p.609).

    Written throughout with a strong sense of place – beginning with stanzas to the five-week-old daughter he had left behind – the third canto of Childe Harold 'is Byron's expressed attempt to come to terms with the collapse of his marriage and the public response to that event in England... Much has been made of the influence of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and especially Shelley on Canto III, as Byron himself acknowledged when he later joked about it to Moore... Wordsworth's natural religion, or religious naturalism, has been a special force of attention' (Jerome J. McGann, editor, Lord Byron: the Complete Works, ii, p.300; contractions expanded).

    Stanza 88 should of course be read in its context within the poem (here given in the final published version):

    86.
    It is the hush of night, and all between
    Thy margin and the mountains, dusk, yet clear,
    Mellowed and mingling, yet distinctly seen,
    Save darken'd Jura whose capt heights appear
    Precipitously steep; and drawing near,
    There breathes a living fragrance from the shore,
    Of flowers yet fresh with childhood; on the ear
    Drops the light drip of the suspended oar,
    Or Chirps the grasshopper one good-night carol more;

    87.
    He is an evening reveller, who makes
    His life an infancy, and sings his fill;
    At intervals, some bird from out the brakes
    Starts into voice a moment, then is still.
    There seems a floating whisper on the hill,
    But that is fancy, for the starlight dews
    All silently their tears of love instil,
    Weeping themselves away, till they infuse
    Deep into Nature's breast the spirit of her hues.

    88.
    Ye stars! which are the poetry of heaven!
    If in your bright leaves we would read the fate
    Of men and empires, – 'tis to be forgiven,
    That in our aspirations to be great,
    Our destinies o'erleap their mortal state,
    And claim a kindred with you; for ye are
    A beauty and a mystery, and create
    In us such love and reverence from afar,
    That fortune, fame, power, life, have named themselves a star.

    89.
    All heaven and earth are still – though not in a sleep,
    But breathless, as we grow when feeling most;
    And silent, as we stand in thought too deep:–
    All heaven and earth are still: From the high host
    Of stars, to the lull'd lake and mountain-coast,
    All is concentrated in a life intense,
    Where not a beam, nor air, nor leaf is lost,
    But hath a part of being, and a sense
    Of that which is of all Creator and defence.

    Extant Manuscripts

    Begun as it was on the boat taking him from England, the poem was drafted on 'scraps of paper of all shapes and sizes' that 'vividly bears witness to its spasmodic composition' (Anthony Burton and John Murdoch, Byron, V&A exhibition catalogue, 1974, K19): ours having every appearance from the way it was originally folded of having once been a blank leaf from a letter. These disparate sheets were then arranged and numbered by Byron into a completed unit. They were later bound up and are now among the John Murray Papers at Edinburgh. The drafts that survive in this collection are of stanzas 4-32, 34-87, 89-91, 105-9, and 111-12: the V&A catalogue illustrates the opening at stanza 89 (Plate 58). Drafts of stanzas 1-3 and 115-18, originally the first and last leaf of the Murray MS, are now at the Berg. One other draft not in the Murray collection is that of the Drachenfels lyric following Stanza 55, which Byron sent as a letter to Augusta and which is now at the Pierpont Morgan. Ours is the only other one that is known.

    From this sequence of drafts Byron made a fair copy – revising as he went – which he gave to his friend Scrope Davies to take back to England. This was the manuscript that was discovered among Davies's papers in a bank vault in 1975, and which is now in the British Library. It is published in facsimile, edited by T.A.J. Burnett, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage Canto III: A Facsimile of the Autograph Fair Copy Found in the 'Scrope Davies' Notebook, Lord Byron, Volume VII, 1988. The Scrope Davies Notebook shows that our stanza, then marked as No. 87, was added after the poem had been written and signed off on 9 June 1816. This fair copy of our stanza is marked at the head as an addition to be inserted at page 81: further stanzas were to be added, taking the total from 101 stanzas, where it stood before our stanza was added, to 118 in the published version. Byron oversaw two further fair copies, both based on the Scrope Davies MS; one by Mary Shelley (now in the Sterling Library, Senate House) and one by Claire Clairmont, which in the event served as the printer's copy (John Murray Papers, Edinburgh).

    The final couplet in our draft of Stanza 88 arrives at the starting-off point of the Scrope Davies version, which is then further revised. Slightly confusingly, however, the start of the seventh line of our version reads "A Beauty & mystery" whereas the Scrope Davies starts 'A Mystery and a Beauty' which has then been deleted and 'A Beauty and a Mystery' written above; in other words, the Scrope Davies MS arrives at our version. However, as our manuscript shows some hesitancy in writing the ampersand, it seems fair to assume that Byron changed his mind and changed it back again (or simply made a mistranscription which was then corrected). Any doubts that ours is, indeed, the earlier version can be removed by the fact that ours employs ampersands, rather than spelling-out 'and', and is less carefully capitalised; but above all by the fact that Byron's handwriting in our version is both fluid and rapid and very similar to that of the Murray drafts, whereas the Scrope Davies fair copy is more deliberate, written in the slightly ungainly, looping and flourished hand that Byron favoured for writing out addresses and suchlike.

    Our manuscript was privately printed in H.B. Smith, A Sentimental Library (1914), and was offered for sale in the Rosenbach Catalogue (1940), item 74 (Index of English Literary Manuscripts, iv, part 1, 1982, compiled by Barbara Rosenbaum and Pamela White, p. 309, ByL 115; see also McGann's survey of the MSS, Complete Works, ii, pp. 297-299).

    Dating and Location of Stanza 88's Composition

    From its position in the Scrope Davies MS and similar evidence, Stanza 88 can be dated with a fair degree of certainty to the weekend of Friday the 14th of June 1816 to Sunday the 16th: see the full analysis by McGann, op. cit., p. 297; and Burnett, p. xiv. This weekend Byron spent at the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva in company with Shelley and his future wife Mary Godwin – who for convenience's sake we refer to as Mary Shelley – then staying in a villa only ten minutes' walk away. Also staying with Byron was Dr John Polidori, who records that the Shelleys came round on Friday night and Saturday night, and spent the night of the Sunday sixteenth: 'Out of these evenings, and later ones, with the stimulus of the sky and the water and the discussions with Shelley, who, himself an ethereal presence, opened up wide vistas in Byron's mind, came new verses for Childe Harold. In the quiet early-morning hours poetry, "the lava of the imagination", flowed from his pen' (Marchand, Byron, ii, 624). It is not difficult to imagine that Stanza 88 was written under starlight and upon the balcony of the villa; indeed, Marchand records that according to local tradition, 'Byron composed part of Childe Harold and other poems on the balcony with the lake and the mountains before him' (Byron, ii, Notes, 66, for p. 625, l. 30).

    Mary Shelley has left us with an account of Byron at work during this time: 'In the summer of 1816, we visited Switzerland, and became the neighbours of Lord Byron. At first we spent our pleasant hours on the lake, or wandering on its shores; and Lord Byron, who was writing the third canto of Childe Harold, was the only one among us who put his thoughts upon paper. These, as he brought them successively to us, clothed in all the light and harmony of poetry, seemed to stamp as divine the glories of heaven and earth, whose influences we partook with him' (Introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein).

    Frankenstein and the Party at the Villa Diodati

    It was at some time that weekend or during the preceding four days that Byron, the Shelleys and Dr Polidori were forced indoors – it was an atrocious summer that year – and that Byron suggested each of them should compose a ghost story: a suggestion that famously brought forth two tales whose progeny feeds Hollywood to this day, namely Dr Polidori's The Vampyre and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

    There has been a good deal of debate over the exact sequence of events, especially in regard to the creation of Frankenstein, the consensus being that Byron must have suggested they write stories at some time on or after the tenth, the day he moved to the villa, and that the stories must have been under way by the twenty-second, the day the party broke up. This can be narrowed down by an entry for the seventeenth in Polidori's diary: 'The ghost-stories are begun by all but me'.

    Mary Shelley has left record that several days passed after Byron had made his suggestion before she came up with her tale, and this was only after a night a night of philosophical discussion which led to her having a waking nightmare and seeing 'the pale student of unhallowed arts', that gave rise to Frankenstein. Her account of this dream implies that it occurred at the Villa Diodati ('...Night waned upon this talk, and even the witching hour had gone by, before we retired to rest. When I placed my head on my pillow, I did not sleep...'). If this did indeed occur on the morning of the sixteenth, it would fit in with Polidori's entry for the fifteenth: 'June 15. -- ... Shelley etc. came in the evening ... a conversation about principles, – whether man was to be thought merely an instrument'; and with his entry for the following day that 'The ghost-stories are begun by all but me'.

    A research group from Texas University travelled to Coligny to study lunar and astronomical data in an attempt to determine the exact sequence of events, and found that the moon would indeed have shone through Mary Shelley's window at the Villa Diodati at between 2 and 3a.m. of Sunday 16th June: for a full account, together with a useful summary of alternative theories, see Kelly Danielle Schnarr, The Moon and the Origin of Frankenstein (Honors Thesis, San Marcos, Texas, May 2012).

    Our stanza is perhaps evidence that on at least one evening during that weekend at the Villa Diodati there was discussed not only mankind's ability to create life, but also the subject of astrology and our ability to 'read the fate/ Of men & empires' in the stars; or as Polidori put it in his diary entry for 15th June: ' a conversation about principles, – whether man was to be thought merely an instrument'; inspiring Byron to write about the stars and Mary Shelley to dream of Frankenstein.
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