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Mich. St. Lib
9-19-1923

PREFACE

-12-27. EHW.

by the exhausting effects of the series of wars she had just then concluded, and the general embarrassment of all classes, both agricultural and commercial, rendered it a juncture the least favorable that could well be conceived for the first launch into print of so light and costly a venture as Lalla Rookh. Feeling conscious, therefore, that, under such circumstances, I should act* but honestly in putting it in the power of the Messrs. Longman to reconsider the terms of their engagement with me, – leaving them free to postpone, modify, or even, should such be their wish, relinquish it altogether, I wrote them a letter to that effect, and received the following answer :-“We shall be most happy in the pleasure of seeing you in February. We agree with you, indeed, that the times are most inauspicious for poetry and thousands ; ' but we believe that your poetry would do more than that of any other living poet at the present mo

ment." 1

The length of time I employed in writing the few stories strung together in Lalla Rookh will appear, to some persons, much more than was necessary for the production of such easy and “light o' love" fictions. But, besides that I have been, at all times, a far more slow and painstaking workman than would ever be guessed, I fear, from the result, I felt that, in this instance, I had taken upon myself a more than ordinary responsibility, from the immense stake risked by others on my chance of success. For a long time, therefore, after the agreement had been concluded, though generally at work with a view to this task, I made but very little real progress in it; and I have still by me the beginnings of several stories, continued, some of them to the length of three or four hundred lines, which, after in vain endeavoring to mould them into shape, I threw aside, like the tale of Cambuscan, “left half-told.” One of these stories, entitled The Peri's Daughter, was meant to relate the loves of a nymph of this aërial extraction with a youth of mortal race, the rightful Prince of Ormuz, who had been, from his infancy, brought up, in seclusion, on the banks of the river Amou, by an aged guardian named Mohassan The story opens with the first meeting of these destined lovers, then in their childhood; the Peri having wafted her

· November 9, 1816.

daughter to this holy retreat, in a bright, enchanted boat, whose first appearance is thus described :

For, down the silvery tide afar,
There came a boat, as swift and bright

As shines, in heaven, some pilgrim-star,
That leaves its own high home, at night,
To shoot to distant shrines of light.

“It comes, it comes," young Orian cries,
And panting to Mohassan flies.
Then down upon the flowery grass
Reclines to see the vision pass;
With partly joy and partly fear,
To find its wondrous light so near,
And hiding oft his dazzled eyes
Among the flowers on which he lies.

Within the boat a baby slept,
Like a young pearl within its shell ;

While one, who seemed of riper years,

But not of earth, or earth-like spheres,
Her watch beside the slumberer kept;
Gracefully waving, in her hand,

The feathers of some holy bird,
With which, from time to time, she stirred
The fragrant air, and coolly fanned
The baby's brow, or brushed away

The butterflies that, bright and blue
As on the mountains of Malay,

Around the sleeping infant flew.
And now the fairy boat hath stopped
Beside the bank, - the nymph has dropped
Her golden anchor in the stream;

* * *

A song is sung by the Peri in approaching, of which the following forms a part :

My child she is but half divine;
Her father sleeps in the Caspian water;

Sea-weeds twine

His funeral shrine,
But he lives again in the Peri's daughter.
Fain would I fly from mortal sight

To my own sweet bowers of Peristan;
But there, the flowers are all too bright

For the eyes of a baby born of man.
On flowers of earth her feet must tread;
So hither my light-winged bark hath brought her;

Stranger, spread

Thy leafíest bed,
To rest the wandering Peri's daughter.

In another of these inchoate fragments, a proud female saint, named Banou, plays a principal part; and her progress through the streets of Cufa, on the night of a great illuminated festival, I find thus described :

It was a scene of mirth that drew
A smile from ev'n the Saint Banou,
As, through the hushed, admiring throng,
She went with stately steps along,
And counted o'er, that all might see,
The rubies of her rosary.
But none might see the worldly smile
That lurked beneath her veil, the while:
Alla forbid! for, who would wait
Her blessing at the temple's gate,
What holy man would ever run
To kiss the ground she knelt upon,
If once, by luckless chance, he knew
She looked and smiled as others do.
Her hands were joined, and from each wrist
By threads of pearl and golden twist
Hung relics of the saints of yore,
And scraps of talismanic lore,
Charms for the old, the sick, the frail,
Some made for use, and all for sale.
On either side, the crowd withdrew,
To let the Saint pass proudly through;
While turbaned heads, of every hue,
Green, white, and crimson, bowed around,
And gay tiaras touched the ground,
As tulip-bells, when o'er their beds
The musk-wind passes, bend their heads.
Nay, some there were, among the crowd
of Moslem heads that round her bowed,
So filled with zeal, by many a draught
Of Shiraz wine profanely quaffed,
That, sinking low in reverence then,
They never rose till morn again.

There are yet two more of these unfinished sketches, one of which extends to a much greater length than I was aware of; and, as far as I can judge from a hasty renewal of my acquaintance with it, is not incapable of being yet turned to account.

In only one of these unfinished sketches, the tale of The Peri's Daughter, had I yet ventured to invoke that most home-felt of all my inspirations, which has lent to the story of The Fire-worshippers its main attraction and interest. That it was my intention, in the concealed Prince of Ormuz, to shadow out some impersonation of this feeling, I take for granted from the prophetic words supposed to be addressed to him by his aged guardian:

Bright child of destiny! even now
I read the promise on that brow,
That tyrants shall no more defile
The glories of the Green-Sea Isle,
But Ormuz shall again be free,
And hail her native Lord in thee!

In none of the other fragments do I find any trace of this sort of feeling, either in the subject or the personages of the intended story; and this was the reason, doubtless, though hardly known, at the time, to myself, that, finding my subjects so slow in kindling my own sympathies, I began to despair of their ever touching the hearts of others; and felt often inclined to say,

"O no, I have no voice or hand
For such a song, in such a land.”

Had this series of disheartening experiments been carried on much further, I must have thrown aside the work in despair. But, at last, fortunately, as it proved, the thought occurred to me of founding a story on the fierce struggle so long maintained between the Ghebers, or ancient Fire-worshippers of Persia, and their haughty Moslem masters. From that moment, a new and deep interest in my whole task took possession of me. The cause of tolerance was again my inspiring theme; and the spirit that had spoken in the melodies of Ireland soon found itself at home in the East.

Having thus laid open the secrets of the workshop to account for the time expended in writing this work, I must also, in justice to my own industry, notice the pains I took in long and laboriously reading for it. To form a storehouse, as it were, of illustration purely Oriental, and so familiarize myself with its various treasures, that, as quick as Fancy required the aid of fact, in her spiritings, the memory was ready, like another Ariel, at her “strong bidding," to furnish materials for the spell-work, — such was,

i Voltaire, in his tragedy of “ Les Guébres," written with a similar undercurrent of meaning, was accused of having transformed his Fire-worshippers into Jansenists :-“Quelques figuristes," he says, “prétendent que les Gudbres sont les Jansenistes.'

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