Childe Harold’s pilgrimage: canto the third


focus: why so much empty space in the first edition of CHPIII

Published in 1816, the first edition of Lord Byron’s ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage Canto III’  found at the Simon Fraser Special Collections department of the library is in a fragile state with minimal damage. This edition is printed by Thomas Davison, who printed several of Byron’s other works (including Lara), and published by John Murray, who published the majority of Byron’s works.

Fig 1. Title page of the first edition of  CHPIII found at the SFU library.

It does not possess a cover, and has several pages (74-78) stained with what appears to be coffee marks, or a substance of similar color.

Fig 2. Pages 74-75 stained, pages 76-78 appear stained with the same liquid.

In order to seek out any potential damage or differences the SFU text may have endured, due to its fragile state, I  decided to compare this first edition to the photographed first edition on the British Library online database. By comparing the two editions, I discovered the SFU edition was missing the last page following the notes, which included

Fig 3. This is the final page in the edition present at the SFU library. The edition at the British Library has another advertisement page after this one.

advertisements of Lord Byron’s other published works at the time, and twelve plates of associated artwork by Charles Heath for sale. This ‘Advertisements’ may have either been lost with time, or, more likely, deliberately removed when its content was no longer relevant. Other than that single missing page, the SFU and the British Library’s editions seem identical in content, fonts, and spacing. I was thus able to conclude the Simon Fraser edition was most likely complete, and was a fair representation of the first edition of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage Canto III. I was unable to compare the covers of the two editions, as the Simon Fraser one did not possess one. This, however, was not problematic or particularly important in analyzing the edition itself, as each individual buyer at the time of the text’s publication would have chosen a cover, rather than the printer/publisher having a collective cover for the entire edition (as we discussed in class). There are no markings or identifications of any sort that reveal to whom the book may have belonged (as there often were in books published during that period), and no signs that it was a part of a rotating library.

This edition features a large amount of white empty space: five pages of empty space before and after the title page, and only two stanzas per page. Consider that paper was by far the most expensive part of a printed text, and so typically, publishers sought to narrow and limit their expenses by using as little paper as possible. This edition could have been condensed to use less paper quite easily, perhaps by eliminating the empty pieces of paper in the beginning of the text, or having three/four stanzas per page, rather than two. The fact that both Murray and Byron decided to present the novel as they did suggests Murray was confident given the popularity of Cantos One and Two, that this Canto would sell very well, and thus the extra paper could be afforded. If that was a part of his consideration, it was not mistaken. Beyond Murray’s assumption that the text would sell well, I also associated the amount of wasted paper in the edition to Byron’s self presentation and persona. Byron was quite a radical figure, and as a Lord he sought to present himself as a wealthy elevated individual, even when he had not the money he portrayed to possess. I inspected there may be a correlation between Byron’s presentation of the self to that of the text, and though books as a whole were a privillage only the upper class could afford, this edition would have been quite expensive and a noble representation of its author.


Moreover, with consideration to the large amount of empty space, I noted the text did not feature any illustrations. Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage as a whole, but particularly Canto III, recounts the adventures of the poet across sentimental areas of Europe; he visits the Rhine, the Battle of Waterloo, and through those recounts important political figures, such as Rousseau and Napoleon. Consider that this text depict lands and adventures Harold/Byron encountered that would have been quite sublime and only familiar in theory to the majority of Byron’s readers. Consequently, I first thought this text to be hardly interactive, only offering words as tools for its physical appeal .

Fig 4. The 1925 edition of CHP which included an illustration by I.H.Jones

This 1816 edition,  as the title suggests, only includes the Third canto of Four. It was not until 1925 that all four Cantos of ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’ appeared together. At this point, on the cover of the 1925 edition, the title page features an engraved illustration by I.H. Jones. I examined continued to reason behind Byron’s choice not to have any illustrations in the 1816 edition of Canto III, and reconsidered my claim this text was not interactive. Stanza 6 expresses the importance of language, and of the written word:

‘Tis to create, and in creating live
A being more intense, that we endow
With form our fancy, gaining as we give
The life we image, even as I do now (Byron)

Byron discusses here the importance of art and the imagination, as it is “in creating” we “live”. The physical layout of this edition represents the importance of creation through the power of the written word, and the influence it plays in the reader’s minds. This edition deliberately features only two stanzas per page and no illustrations; his words are illustrations, and the empty space is an interactive canvas for the readers to translate those illustrations onto. The use of empty space becomes a literary tool similar to imagery. These empty pages, thus, become representative of the Romantic inquiry to understand the importance of what we cannot see and cannot grasp.

In mentioning Rousseau, it seems that Byron also reflects on the importance of the written word; words are revolutions.



focus: Byron, Revolutions, Rousseau

“The true difference between [them] consists in this, that those who understand and love them consider it fortunate that Byron died in his thirty-sixth year, for he would have become a reactionary bourgeois had he lived longer; conversely, they regret Shelley’s death at the age of twenty-nine, because he was a revolutionary through and through and would consistently have stood along with the vanguard of socialism”

When ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’ was first written, as I mentioned, Byron famously claims“he woke up to find himself famous over night”. While it is suggested that he was quite a literary celebrity beforehand, the reception of ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’ was quite positive. It must have been positive, since in 1812 when Canto One of the Four was published, “the quarto edition of five hundred copies sold out in just three days, running into ten subsequent editions in three years”, an unusual occurrence since novels were quite expensive at the time even for the Elite (Chalk 48). Many chose

Fig 5. Lord Byron

to read the collection as a biography, and Childe Harold as a simulacra of the author himself. Byron himself appeared fond of this particular Canto, and in January of 1817 he told Augusta Leigh “that ‘this Canto is the Best which [he] ha[s] ever written; there is depth of thought in it throughout and a strength of Repressed passion …but it requires reading more than once, because it is in Part metaphysical, and of a kind of metaphysics which every body will not understand’” (Garett 59). It is important to recall that Byron was born to a time of war; the French Revolution takes place in 1789, and lasts an entire decade. Naturally, France being a short distance away from the British borders, the revolution vibrated throughout British society, and caused many to fear the possibility of another revolution taking place closer to home.

The English Romantics are  known to be influenced by these effects of war, and often write about the hardships British citizens faced afterwards: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein accordingly revolves around the concept of death and Man’s morality, Percy Shelley’s poems, such as ‘Ode to the West Wind’ and ‘Ozymandias’, reflect the hardships and concepts ungraspable to Man particularly after such an ungraspable revolution, and similarly, William Wordsworth’s ‘London 1802’ discusses the hardships of British society during the period of poverty that followed the French Revolution in London. Even Jane Austen, whose novels hardly concern with the themes of battle, portrays echoes of war and its side-effects, such as reflected by the presence of the militia in Pride and Prejudice and Mr. Wickham as an officer. This is the 1816 England in which Byron was writing. Beyond war and poverty, 1816 was a particularly difficult year for Byron personally. After only a short year of marriage to Annabella Milbanke, “the couple separated in 1816” (British Library). Byron shortly after “left England, never to return”, and though he reflects upon his only legitimate daughter, Ada, regretfully in Childe Harolde Pilgrimage Canto III, he never sees her again (British Library). Canto III of ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’ was composed in exile outside of England, on 25 April 1816 (Garrett 58) over the banks of the Rhine, from Switzerland. It was completed in the 4th of  July, and published shortly afterwards on November (Garrett 58).

In comparing Lord Byron to his contemporary, Percy Shelley, Marx found that “The true difference between [them] consists in this, that those who understand and love them consider it fortunate that Byron died in his thirty-sixth year, for he would have become a reactionary bourgeois had he lived longer; conversely, they regret Shelley’s death at the age of twenty-nine, because he was a revolutionary through and through and would consistently have stood along with the vanguard of socialism” (Woods). Though Byron was often reflected as a radical revolutionary, in agreement with Marx many critics deem his revolutionary efforts  poetic, shallow, and in their essence displayed for the delights of his audience. Though “Byron’s attachment to Napoleon reflected, on the one hand, a sincere attachment to the revolutionary cause”, and “his revolutionary politics and unconventional behaviour led him to be described as “Mad, bad and dangerous to know””, it seems problematic to label him as a revolutionary figure (Woods). In inspecting the French Revolution, British Society, and Lord Byron, Alan Woods claims Byron could be consider a poseur by his nature, a talented actor who “was particularly careful about his image” (Woods). Image was particularly important to Byron, and in his most famous and scandalous portrait he “had himself painted dressed in a white shirt, carelessly unbuttoned at the collar, covered in an immense black cloak” (Woods). Yet, In the highly political Canto III of ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’, Byron discusses the war in melancholy terms, describing it to be a useless waste of heroism and life. This approach makes it problematic to label Byron as a Revolutionary; there are inconsistencies between his written words and actions, as Woods suggest. Through the political side-effects of the French Revolution, and the mentioning of Rousseau, Byron becomes a paradoxical figure.

Accordingly, Byron introduces several figures who stand for leadership and revolutions, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau’s influential text,  The Social Contract, depicts an elected government run by the voices of many that upholds the rights of its citizens, men and women, rather than solely the elite. This text ignited the rise of the French Revolution. Evidently, Byron reflects upon Rousseau with paradoxical respect; in stanza 76, naming him “One, whose dust was once all fire”. This stanza then proceeds to characterize Rousseau in similar terms:

        “To look on One, whose dust was once all fire,

A native of the land where I respire

The clear air for a while — a passing guest,

Where he became a being, — whose desire

Was to be glorious; ‘twas a foolish quest,

The which to gain and keep, he sacrificed all rest.” (stanza 76)

Here, Byron considers Rousseau to have once been a “flame”, powerful and significant, yet as the nature of fire suggests, his efforts and struggles eventually became obsolete, and were reduced to “dust” (Byron). While Byron considers Rousseau respectable, as he “knew/ How to make madness beautiful and cast/ O’er erring deeds and thoughts a heavenly hue”(Stanza 77.730-732), he also considers his ambition “a foolish quest” (stanza 76.724). Accordingly, this fire and dust metaphor re-appears  in Stanza 47, where Byron claims heroism dies and glory vanishes, which defeats the necessity of having either of them in the first place:

And there they stand, as stands a lofty mind,
Worn, but unstooping to the baser crowd,
All tenantless, save to the crannying wind,
Or holding dark communion with the cloud.
There was a day when they were young and proud,
Banners on high, and battles pass’d below;
But they who fought are in a bloody shroud,
And those which waved are shredless dust ere now,
And the bleak battlements shall bear no future blow. (stanza 47)

Heroes and their deeds, such as Rousseau, fade with time. Consider, that if Rousseau stands for the revolution, and specifically through this recurring metaphor of  flame and dust, Byron finds the entire notion to fight for revolutions rather useless. Can Byron be a true Revolutionary then, if he finds the revolutionary movements, struggles, and beliefs of one such as Rousseau, useless in the long run? Even his Byronic hero is “only a pose, a creature of the imagination. Here we have a beast that is very tame indeed: it is a sheep in wolves’ clothing, a toothless lion, a paper tiger to terrify young society ladies – a drawing-room “revolutionary”” (Woods). What Woods, earlier above, labelled as Byron’s posteur could here relate to the Byronic hero’s melancholy, as an exaggerated and dramatic form of emotion. Rousseau thus contrasts Byron and his Byronic hero, through his belief in war. While, Byron, the Shelleys, and Jane Austen all adopt radically different approaches towards wars and revolutions, they all created revolutionary literature; or that is, a revolution that is concerned with the power of the word, which must be as long-lasting as war itself, since we read their literature to this day.


Works Cited

Chalk, Aidan. “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage: a Romaunt and the Influence of Local Attachment.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language, vol. 40, no. 1, 1998, pp. 48–77.

“Lord Byron – Author of Don Juan.” The British Library. The British Library, 15 Jan. 2014. Web.

Woods, Alan. “British Poets and the French Revolution. Part Three: Byron.” In Defence of Marxism. N.p., 23 July 2003. Web.