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A NEW, REVISED AND ENLARGED EDITION,
Poetry. Vol. V.
ERNEST HARTLEY COLERIDGE, M.A.,
JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET.
THE FIFTH VOLUME.
THE plays and poems contained in this volume were written within the space of two years-the last two years of Byron's career as a poet. But that was not all. Cantos VI.-XV. of Don Juan, The Vision of Judgment, The Blues, The Irish Avatar, and other minor poems, belong to the same period. The end was near, and, as though he had received a warning, he hastened to make the roll complete.
Proof is impossible, but the impression remains that the greater part of this volume has been passed over and left unread by at least two generations of readers. Old play-goers recall Macready as "Werner," and many persons have read Cain; but apart from students of literature, readers of Sardanapalus and of The Two Foscari are rare; of The Age of Bronze and The Island rarer still. A few of Byron's later poems have shared the fate of Southey's epics; and, yet, with something of Southey's persistence, Byron believed that posterity would weigh his "regular dramas" in a fresh balance, and that his a 3
heedless critics would kick the beam. But can these bones live"? Can dramas which excited the wondering admiration of Goethe and Lamartine and Sir Walter Scott touch or lay hold of the more adventurous reader of the present day? It is certain that even the halfforgotten works of a great and still popular poet, which have left their mark on the creative imagination of the poets and playwrights of three quarters of a century, will always be studied by the few from motives of curiosity, or for purposes of reference; but it is improbable, though not impossible, that in the revolution of taste and sentiment, moribund or extinct poetry will be born again into the land of the living. Poetry which has never had its day, such as Blake's Songs of Innocence, the Lyrical Ballads, or Fitzgerald's Omar Khayyám, may come, in due time, to be recognized at its full worth; but it is a harder matter for a poem which has lost its vogue to recapture the interest and enthusiasm of the many.
Byron is only an instance in point. Bygone poetry has little or no attraction for modern readers. This poem or that drama may be referred to, and occasionally examined in the interests of general culture, or in support of a particular belief or line of conduct, as a classical or quasi-scriptural authority; but, with the rarest exceptions, plays and narrative poems are not read spontaneously or with any genuine satisfaction or delight. An old-world poem which will not yield up its secret to the idle reader "of an empty day" is more or less