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The Life of Lord Byron By John Galt Characters: 11468

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Sails from Malta to Prevesa-Lands at Patras-Sails again-Passes Ithaca-Arrival at Prevesa

It was on the 19th of September, 1809, that Byron sailed in the Spider brig from Malta for Prevesa, and on the morning of the fourth day after, he first saw the mountains of Greece; next day he landed at Patras, and walked for some time among the currant grounds between the town and the shore. Around him lay one of the noblest landscapes in the world, and afar in the north-east rose the purple summits of the Grecian mountains.

Having re-embarked, the Spider proceeded towards her destination; the poet not receiving much augmentation to his ideas of the grandeur of the ancients, from the magnitude of their realms and states. Ithaca, which he doubtless regarded with wonder and disappointment, as he passed its cliffy shores, was then in the possession of the French. In the course of a month after, the kingdom of Ulysses surrendered to a British serjeant and seven men.

Childe Harold sail'd, and pass'd the barren spot,

Where sad Penelope o'erlook'd the wave;

And onward view'd the mount, not yet forgot.

The lover's refuge, and the Lesbian's grave.

But when he saw the evening star above

Leucadia's far-projecting rock of woe,

And hail'd the last resort of fruitless love,

He felt, or deem'd he felt, no common glow;

And as the stately vessel glided slow

Beneath the shadow of that ancient mount,

He watch'd the billows' melancholy flow,

And, sunk albeit in thought as he was wont-

More placid seem'd his eye, and smooth his pallid front.

At seven in the evening, of the same day on which he passed Leucadia, the vessel came to anchor off Prevesa. The day was wet and gloomy, and the appearance of the town was little calculated to bespeak cheerfulness. But the novelty in the costume and appearance of the inhabitants and their dwellings, produced an immediate effect on the imagination of Byron, and we can trace the vivid impression animating and adorning his descriptions.

The wild Albanian, kirtled to his knee,

With shawl-girt head and ornamented gun,

And gold-embroider'd garments, fair to see;

The crimson-scarfed men of Macedon;

The Delhi with his cap of terror on,

And crooked glaive; the lively, supple Greek,

And swarthy Nubia's mutilated son;

The bearded Turk, that rarely deigns to speak,

Master of all around, too potent to be meek.

Having partaken of a consecutive dinner, dish after dish, with the brother of the English consul, the travellers proceeded to visit the Governor of the town: he resided within the enclosure of a fort, and they were conducted towards him by a long gallery, open on one side, and through several large unfurnished rooms. In the last of this series, the Governor received them with the wonted solemn civility of the Turks, and entertained them with pipes and coffee. Neither his appearance, nor the style of the entertainment, were distinguished by any display of Ottoman grandeur; he was seated on a sofa in the midst of a group of shabby Albanian guards, who had but little reverence for the greatness of the guests, as they sat down beside them, and stared and laughed at their conversation with the Governor.

But if the circumstances and aspect of the place derived no importance from visible splendour, every object around was enriched with stories and classical recollections. The battle of Actium was fought within the gulf.

Ambracia's gulf behold, where once was lost

A world for woman-lovely, harmless thing!

In yonder rippling bay, their naval host

Did many a Roman chief and Asian king

To doubtful conflict, certain slaughter bring.

Look where the second C?sar's trophies rose!

Now, like the lands that rear'd them, withering;

Imperial monarchs doubling human woes!

God! was Thy globe ordained for such to win and lose?

Having inspected the ruins of Nicopolis, which are more remarkable for their desultory extent and scattered remnants, than for any remains of magnificence or of beauty,

Childe Harold pass'd o'er many a mount sublime,

Through lands scarce noticed in historic tales.

Yet in famed Attica such lovely dales

Are rarely seen; nor can fair Tempe boast

A charm they know not; loved Parnassus fails,

Though classic ground and consecrated most,

To match some spots that lurk within this lowering coast.

In this journey he was still accompanied by Mr Hobhouse. They had provided themselves with a Greek to serve as a dragoman. With this person they soon became dissatisfied, in consequence of their general suspicion of Greek integrity, and because of the necessary influence which such an appendage acquires in the exercise of his office. He is the tongue and purse-bearer of his master; he procures him lodging, food, horses, and all conveniences; must support his dignity with the Turks-a difficult task in those days for a Greek-and his manifold trusts demand that he should be not only active and ingenious, but prompt and resolute. In the qualifications of this essential servant, the travellers were not fortunate-he never lost an opportunity of pilfering;-he was, however, zealous, bustling, and talkative, and withal good-humoured; and, having his mind intent on one object-making money-was never lazy nor drunken, negligent nor unprepared.

On the 1st of October they embarked, and sailed up the Gulf of Salona, where they were shown into an empty barrack for lodgings. In this habitation twelve Albanian soldiers and an officer were quartered, who behaved towards them with civility. On their entrance, the officer gave them pipes and coffee, and after they had dined in their own apartment, he invited them to spend the eve

ning with him, and they condescended to partake of his hospitality.

Such instances as these in ordinary biography would be without interest; but when it is considered how firmly the impression of them was retained in the mind of the poet, and how intimately they entered into the substance of his reminiscences of Greece, they acquire dignity, and become epochal in the history of the development of his intellectual powers.

"All the Albanians," says Mr Hobhouse, "strut very much when they walk, projecting their chests, throwing back their heads, and moving very slowly from side to side. Elmas (as the officer was called) had this strut more than any man perhaps we saw afterwards; and as the sight was then quite new to us, we could not help staring at the magisterial and superlatively dignified air of a man with great holes in his elbows, and looking altogether, as to his garment, like what we call a bull-beggar." Mr Hobhouse describes him as a captain, but by the number of men under him, he could have been of no higher rank than serjeant. Captains are centurions.

After supper, the officer washed his hands with soap, inviting the travellers to do the same, for they had eaten a little with him; he did not, however, give the soap, but put it on the floor with an air so remarkable, as to induce Mr Hobhouse to inquire the meaning of it, and he was informed that there is a superstition in Turkey against giving soap: it is thought it will wash away love.

Next day it rained, and the travellers were obliged to remain under shelter. The evening was again spent with the soldiers, who did their utmost to amuse them with Greek and Albanian songs and freaks of jocularity.

In the morning of the 3rd of October they set out for Arta, with ten horses; four for themselves and servants, four for their luggage, and two for two soldiers whom they were induced to take with them as guards. Byron takes no notice of his visit to Arta in Childe Harold; but Mr Hobhouse has given a minute account of the town. They met there with nothing remarkable.

The remainder of the journey to Joannina, the capital then of the famous Ali Pasha, was rendered unpleasant by the wetness of the weather; still it was impossible to pass through a country so picturesque in its features, and rendered romantic by the traditions of robberies and conflicts, without receiving impressions of that kind of imagery which constitutes the embroidery on the vestment of poetry.

The first view of Joannina seen in the morning light, or glittering in the setting sun, is lively and alluring. The houses, domes, and minarets, shining through gardens of orange and lemon trees and groves of cypresses; the lake, spreading its broad mirror at the foot of the town, and the mountains rising abrupt around, all combined to present a landscape new and beautiful. Indeed, where may be its parallel? the lake was the Acherusian, Mount Pindus was in sight, and the Elysian fields of mythology spread in the lovely plains over which they passed in approaching the town.

On entering Joannina, they were appalled by a spectacle characteristic of the country. Opposite a butcher's shop, they beheld hanging from the boughs of a tree a man's arm, with part of the side torn from the body. How long is it since Temple Bar, in the very heart of London, was adorned with the skulls of the Scottish noblemen who were beheaded for their loyalty to the son and representative of their ancient kings!

The object of the visit to Joannina was to see Ali Pasha, in those days the most celebrated Vizier in all the western provinces of the Ottoman empire; but he was then at Tepellené. The luxury of resting, however, in a capital, was not to be resisted, and they accordingly suspended their journey until they had satisfied their curiosity with an inspection of every object which merited attention. Of Joannina, it may be said, they were almost the discoverers, so little was known of it in England-I may say in Western Europe-previous to their visit.

The palace and establishment of Ali Pasha were of regal splendour, combining with Oriental pomp the elegance of the Occident, and the travellers were treated by the Vizier's officers with all the courtesy due to the rank of Lord Byron, and every facility was afforded them to prosecute their journey. The weather, however-the season being far advanced-was wet and unsettled, and they suffered more fatigue and annoyance than travellers for information or pleasure should have had to encounter.

The journey from Joannina to Zitza is among the happiest sketches in the Pilgrimage of Childe Harold.

He pass'd bleak Pindus, Acherusia's lake,

And left the primal city of the land,

And onwards did his farther journey take

To greet Albania's chief, whose dread command

Is lawless law; for with a bloody hand

He sways a nation, turbulent and bold:

Yet here and there some daring mountain-band

Disdain his power, and from their rocky hold

Hurl their defiance far, nor yield unless to gold.

Monastic Zitza! from thy shady brow,

Thou small, but favour'd spot of holy ground!

Where'er we gaze, above, around, below,

What rainbow tints, what magic charms are found;

Rock, river, forest, mountain, all abound;

And bluest skies that harmonize the whole.

Beneath, the distant torrent's rushing sound

Tells where the volumed cataract doth roll

Between those hanging rocks that shock yet please the soul.

In the course of this journey the poet happened to be alone with his guides, when they lost their way during a tremendous thunderstorm, and he has commemorated the circumstance in the spirited stanzas beginning-

Chill and mink is the nightly blast.

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