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HOURS OF IDLENESS:
A SERIES OF POEMS ORIGINAL AND TRANSLATED.*
"Virginibus puerisque canto."-HORACE, lib. 3, Ode 1.
[* First published in 1807.]
TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
FREDERICK, EARL OF CARLISLE,
KNIGHT OF THE GARTER, ETC. ETC.
SECOND EDITION OF THESE POEMS
BY HIS OBLIGED WARD AND AFFECTIONATE KINSMAN,*
[Isabella, daughter of William, fourth Lord Byron (great-great uncle of the Poet), became, in 1742, the wife of Henry, fourth Earl of Carlisle, and was the mother of the fifth Earl, to whom this dedication was addressed. This lady was a poetess in her way. The Fairy's Answer to Mrs. Greville's "Prayer for Indifference," in Pearch's Collection, is usually ascribed to her. Lord Carlisle acknowledged the receipt of the Poet's volume before reading the contents, and never returned to the subject. "Perhaps the Earl," said Lord Byron, "bears no brother near the throne, and if so, I will make his sceptre totter in his hands."]
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION.*
IN submitting to the public eye the following collection, I have not only to combat the difficulties that writers of verse generally encounter, but may incur the charge of presumption for obtruding myself on the world, when, without doubt, I might be, at my age, more usefully employed.
These productions are the fruits of the lighter hours of a young man who has lately completed his nineteenth year. As they bear the internal evidence of a boyish mind, this is, perhaps, unnecessary information. Some few were written during the disadvantages of illness and depression of spirits : under the former influence, "CHILDISH RECOLLECTIONS," in particular, were composed. This consideration, though it cannot excite the voice of praise, may at least arrest the arm of censure. A considerable portion of these poems has been privately printed, at the request and for the perusal of my friends. I am sensible that the partial and frequently injudicious admiration of a social circle is not the criterion by which poetical genius is to be estimated, yet "to do greatly," we must "dare greatly;" and I have hazarded my reputation and feelings in publishing this volume. I have passed the Rubicon," and must stand or fall by the "cast of the die." In the latter event, I shall submit without a murmur; for, though not without solicitude for the fate of these effusions, my expectations are by no means sanguine. It is probable that I may have dared much and done little; for, in the words of Cowper, "it is one thing to write what may please our friends, who, because they are such, are apt
* [This preface was omitted in the second edition.]
to be a little biassed in our favour, and another to write what may please everybody; because they who have no connection, or even knowledge of the author, will be sure to find fault if they can." To the truth of this, however, I do not wholly subscribe; on the contrary, I feel convinced that these trifles will not be treated with injustice. Their merit, if they possess any, will be liberally allowed; their numerous faults, on the other hand, cannot expect that favour which has been denied to others of maturer years, decided character, and far greater ability.
I have not aimed at exclusive originality, still less have I studied any particular model for imitation; some translations are given, of which many are paraphrastic. In the original pieces there may appear a casual coincidence with authors whose works I have been accustomed to read: but I have not been guilty of intentional plagiarism. To produce any thing entirely new, in an age so fertile in rhyme, would be a Herculean task, as every subject has already been treated to its utmost extent. Poetry, however, is not my primary vocation; to divert the dull moments of indisposition, or the monotony of a vacant hour, urged me "to this sin :" little can be expected from so unpromising a muse. My wreath, scanty as it must be, is all I shall derive from these productions; and I shall never attempt to replace its fading leaves, or pluck a single additional sprig from groves where I am, at best, an intruder. Though accustomed, in my younger days, to rove a careless mountaineer on the Highlands of Scotland, I have not, of late years, had the benefit of such pure air, or so elevated a residence, as might enable me to enter the lists with genuine bards, who have enjoyed both these advantages. But they derive considerable fame, and a few not less profit, from their productions; while I shall expiate my rashness as an interloper, certainly without the latter, and in all probability with a very slight share of the former. I leave to others "virûm volitare per ora." I look to the few who will hear with patience, “dulce est desipere in loco." To the former worthies I resign, without repining, the hope of immortality, and content myself with
the not very magnificent prospect of ranking amongst "the mob of gentlemen who write; "-my readers must determine whether I dare say "with ease," or the honour of a posthumous page in "The Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors," -a work to which the Peerage is under infinite obligations, inasmuch as many names of considerable length, sound, and antiquity, are thereby rescued from the obscurity which unluckily overshadows several voluminous productions of their illustrious bearers.
With slight hopes, and some fears, I publish this first and last attempt. To the dictates of young ambition may be ascribed many actions more criminal and equally absurd. To a few of my own age the contents may afford amusement: I trust they will, at least, be found harmless. It is highly improbable, from my situation and pursuits hereafter, that I should ever obtrude myself a second time on the public; nor even, in the very doubtful event of present indulgence, shall I be tempted to commit a future trespass of the same nature. The opinion of Dr. Johnson on the poems of a noble relation of mine,* "That when a man of rank appeared in the character of an author, he deserved to have his merit handsomely allowed," can have little weight with verbal, and still less with periodical censors; but were it otherwise, I should be loth to avail myself of the privilege, and would rather incur the bitterest censure of anonymous criticism, than triumph in honours granted solely to a title.
* The Earl of Carlisle, whose works have long received the meed of public applause, to which, by their intrinsic worth, they were well entitled. [The passage referred to by Lord Byron occurs in Boswell's Life of Johnson, vol. viii. p. 91, edit. 1835; and in the same volume, p. 242, is Dr. Johnson's letter to Mrs. Chapone, on the Earl's tragedy of "The Father's Revenge." The task of pronouncing an opinion was forced upon the Doctor, who is evidently struggling between the wish to be complimentary and the obligation to be truthful.]