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(WRITTEN ORIGINALLY FOR “LALLA ROOKH”
COLLECTED EDITION OF MOORE'S WORKS.)
The Poem, or Romance, of LALLA ROOKH, having now reached, I understand, its twentieth edition, a short account of the origin and progress of a work which has been hitherto so very fortunate in its course may not be deemed, perhaps, superfluous or misplaced.
It was about the year 1812, that, far more through the encouraging suggestions of friends than from any confident promptings of my own ambition, I conceived the design of writing a Poem upon some Oriental subject, and of those quarto dimensions which Scott's successful publications in that form had then rendered the regular poetical standard. A negotiation on the subject was opened with the Messrs. Longman in the same year ; but, from some causes which I cannot now recollect, led to no decisive result ; nor was it till a year or two after, that any further steps were taken in the matter,—their house being the only one, it is right to add, with which, from first to last, I held any communication upon the subject.
On this last occasion, Mr. Perry kindly offered himself as my representative in the treaty; and, what with the friendly zeal of my negotiator on the one side, and the
prompt and liberal spirit with which he was met on the other, there has seldom, I think, occurred any transaction in which Trade and Poesy have shone out so advantageously in each other's eyes. The short discussion that then took place, between the two parties, may be comprised in a very few sentences. “I am of opinion,” said Mr. Perry, -enforcing his view of the case by arguments which it is not for me to cite,—“that Mr. Moore ought to receive for his Poem the largest price that has been given, in our day, for such a work.” “That was," answered the Messrs. Longman, “three thousand guineas.” “Exactly so," replied Mr. Perry, “and no less a sum ought he to receive.”
. It was then objected, and very reasonably, on the part of the firm, that they had never yet seen a single line of the Poem ; and that a perusal of the work ought to be allowed to them, before they embarked so large a sum in the purchase. But, no ;-the romantic view which my friend Perry took of the matter, was, that this price should be given as a tribute to reputation already acquired, without any condition for a previous perusal of the new work. This high tone, I must confess, not a little startled and alarmed me; but, to the honour and glory of Romance, -as well on the publishers' side as the poet's,—this very generous view of the transaction was, without any difficulty, acceded to, and the firm agreed, before we separated, that I was to receive three thousand guineas for my Poem.
At the time of this agreement, but little of the work, as it stands at present, had yet been written. But the ready confidence in my success shown by others, made up for the deficiency of that requisite feeling within myself ; while a strong desire not wholly to disappoint this "auguring hope,"
became almost a substitute for inspiration. In the year 1815, therefore, having made some progress in my task, I wrote to report the state of the work to the Messrs. Longman, adding, that I was now most willing and ready, should they desire it, to submit the manuscript for their consideration. Their answer to this offer was as follows :-“We are certainly impatient for the perusal of the Poem; but solely for our gratification. Your sentiments are always honourable."
I continued to pursue my task for another year, being likewise occasionally occupied with the Irish Melodies, two or three numbers of which made their appearance during the period employed in writing Lalla Rookh. At length, in the year 1816, I found my work sufficiently advanced to be placed in the hands of the publishers. But the state of distress to which England was reduced, in that dismal year, 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 favourable 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
* April 10, 1815.
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
moment.” 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 endeavouring 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 daughter to this holy retreat, in a bright, enchanted boat, whose first appearance is thus described :
* November 9, 1816.
Within the boat a baby slept,
While one, who seem'd of riper years,
But not of earth, or earth-like spheres,
The feathers of some holy bird,
With which, from time to time, she stirr'd
The butterflies that, bright and blue
Around the sleeping infant few.
is sung by the Peri in approaching, of which the following forms a part :