London: John Murray, 1813-14. Octavo (22.5 x 14.2 cm) 108 pages, all edges gilt, the year 1813 printed at base of spine, gilt panel decorations between raised bands, blind tooled cover dentelles, gilt border patterns on front and back covers, inside gilt dentelles, rose endpapers, bookplate with arms of James Hunter, Hafton, on inside front endpaper, faint owner’s ink signature and date at top of title page of The Giaour.
A fine, sound copy, binding tight, clean text pages, minor occasional light browning consistent with age of book, minor colour rubbing at front, top and bottom of spine, endpaper edges a little discoloured. Item #558
From June 1813 to February 1814, Byron published three verse tales informed by his travels in Greece, Turkey and the eastern Mediterranean in 1809-11. These tales instantly became hugely popular, rapidly went through many editions and consolidated and immensely enhanced his fame as a Romantic poet. The first of these, The Giaour, sub-titled ”A Fragment of a Turkish Tale”, dedicated to the poet Samuel Rogers, appeared in June 1813, The Bride of Abydos, dedicated to Lord Holland, in December 1813 and The Corsair, dedicated to Thomas Moore, in February 1814. The Giaour went through eight editions in 1813 and 14 by 1815. In the present volume, The Giaour is a first edition, printed in ordinary wove paper without the watermark (Wise,p.78-79). The runaway success of The Giaour encouraged Byron to publish more Turkish tales, leading to the public perception of the “Byronic hero”: The Bride of Abydos, “A Turkish Tale”, dated 1813 on its title page, fourth edition, and The Corsair, dated 1814 on its title page, a third edition. The Corsair sold 10,000 copies on its first day of publication, leading Byron’s publisher to offer him a 10,000 guineas contract. Jane Austen, who mentions The Giaour and The Bride of Abydos in her novel Persuasion, records in a letter to her sister that she read The Corsair in 1814.
Soon after publication, Byron’s three Turkish narratives received wildly contradictory reviews, ranging from enthusiastic praise to dismissal. In The Giaour, the Turkish lord Hassan punishes the infidelity of his wife Leila by drowning her in a sack (Byron had prevented a similar death at Piraeus in 1810.) In revenge, her lover, the Giaour (or non-Muslim), slays Hassan. The Giaour fascinated readers with its out-of-joint sequencing, its multiple points of view, and its depictions of illicit love, violence, death, and contrasting Christian and Muslim perceptions of love, death and the afterlife. It has been pointed out that the Giaour suffers no guilt for killing Hassan, but deep anguish for causing Leila’s death.
The Bride of Abydos sold 6,000 copies within a month of publication. It is divided into two Cantos, each with a number of stanzas. Zuleika, engaged daughter of the Pasha Giaffir, is also loved by Selim, her supposed half brother (actually, her cousin), the leader of a pirate band. The first canto closes as Zuleika notices a change in Selim and wonders about his evasive language. He comforts her and promises to reveal himself later that night. The second Canto opens with a description of Turkish lands and the grotto where the lovers meet. Selim, wishing to kiss his love one last time, tarries to leave the cave and soon falls, dying on the beach, the fatal blow administered by Giaffir himself. Zuleika dies of a broken heart. The second canto thus ends with Zuleika dying of sorrow for Selim, while Giaffir is forced to live out the rest of his life in solitude. Selim represents another variation on the Byronic hero—the hero of sensibility. Like the Giaour, he is associated with illicit love, violence, and death, but he also enjoys stories and songs, responds to the beauty in nature, and, out of consideration for Zuleika, refrains from avenging his father. For the first time Byron deals with the theme of incest, his "perverse passion" as he told Lady Melbourne, to which he would return in later poems.
In The Corsair, the third of these Oriental tales, Byron used heroic couplets for extended romantic narrative. Driven by love, the harem queen Gulnare saves Conrad the Corsair from impalement by killing her master the Pasha. Fleeing to the pirate’s stronghold, they discover Conrad’s beloved Medora dead of heartbreak. United by guilt, Conrad and Gulnare disappear. The poem, divided into three Cantos, narrates the story of the corsair or privateer Conrad, rejected in his youth by society, who perceives himself as an anti-hero, a man of mystery and loneliness. Verdi’s opera It Corsaro, the Berlioz overture Le Corsaire and Adolphe Adams’s ballet Le Corsaire are based on this tale by Byron.
The first canto recounts Conrad’s plan to attack the Pasha Seyd and seize his possessions. His wife, Medora, however, is determined to convince him to abandon his plan and not embark on the mission. He sails from his Aegean island to attack the pasha. The second canto describes the attack. Conrad hears the cries from the harem of the Pasha’s women whom he tries to free. The diversion from the plan enables the Pasha's forces to mount a counterattack. They are able to kill most of the attackers and to seize Conrad. Gulnare, the Pasha's slave, sneaks to Conrad's prison cell where she informs him that she will make an attempt to save him in gratitude for his attempt to save her. In the final canto, Gulnare initiates the escape plan by seeking, unsuccessfully, to hoodwink Syed into freeing Conrad. The Pasha threatens to kill her and Conrad. Gulnare tries to convince Conrad to kill Syed, secretly sending a knife to his cell. Conrad, however, refuses to kill the Pasha in cold blood without a fair fight. She then kills the Pasha herself and both escape. Upon his return, he discovers that his wife Medora has died due to grief and despair at his supposed death. Conrad then departs from the island alone, not marrying Gulnare: "He left a Corsair's name to other times,/Linked with one virtue and a thousand crimes". Included at the end of the present volume are six further short poems, two of them sonnets.
This volume has the Hafton bookplate of the Glasgow and Greenock merchant James Hunter (1780-1834). Hafton Castle, in Argyll, Western Scotland, is reached by crossing the Firth of Clyde, and has sweeping views of Holy Loch. It was designed by David Hamilton and built by James Hunter. In recent years Hafton Castle has operated as an events and wedding venue and as a private resort, with maximum individual accommodation rates set at £4,500 for weekends and £9,000 per week.