LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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The Life of Lord Byron
Chapter XV

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Leave Utraikee.—Dangerous pass in the woods.—Catoona.—Quarrel between the guard and primate of the village.—Makala.—Gouri—Missolonghi.—Parnassus.

Having spent the night at Utraikee, Byron and his friend continued their journey southward. The reports of the state of the country induced them to take ten additional soldiers with them, as their road for the first two hours lay through dangerous passes in the forest. On approaching these places fifteen or twenty of the party walked briskly on before, and when they had gone through the pass halted until the travellers came up. In the woods two or three green spots were discovered on the road-side, and on them Turkish tombstones, generally under a clump of trees, and near a well or fountain.

When they had passed the forest they reached an open country, whence they sent back the ten men whom they had brought from Utraikee. They then passed on to a village called Catoona, where they arrived by noon. It was their intention to have proceeded farther that day, but their progress was interrupted by an affair between their Albanian guard and the primate of the village. As they were looking about, while horses were collecting to carry their luggage, one of the soldiers drew his sword at the primate, the Greek head magistrate; guns were cocked, and in an instant, before either Lord Byron or Mr. Hobhouse could stop the affray, the primate, throwing off his shoes and cloak, fled so precipitately that he rolled
down the hill and dislocated his shoulder. It was a long time before they could persuade him to return to his house, where they lodged, and when he did return he remarked that he cared comparatively little about his shoulder to the loss of a purse with fifteen sequins, which had dropped out of his pocket during the tumble. The hint was understood.

Catoona is inhabited by Greeks only, and is a rural, well-built village. The primate’s house was neatly fitted up with sofas. Upon a knoll, in the middle of the village, stood a schoolhouse, and from that spot the view was very extensive. To the west are lofty mountains, ranging from north to south, near the coast; to the east a grand romantic prospect in the distance, and in the foreground a green valley, with a considerable river winding through a long line of country.

They had some difficulty in procuring horses at Catoona, and in consequence were detained until past eleven o’clock the next morning, and only travelled four hours that day to Makala, a well-built stone village, containing about forty houses distinct from each other, and inhabited by Greeks, who were a little above the condition of peasants, being engaged in pasturage and a small wool-trade.

The travellers were now in Carnia, where they found the inhabitants much better lodged than in the Albanian villages. The house in which they slept at this place resembled those old mansions which are to be met with in the bottoms of the Wiltshire Downs. Two green courts, one before and the other behind, were attached to it, and the whole was surrounded by a high and thick wall, which shut out the prospect, but was necessary in a country so frequently overrun by strong bands of freebooters.

From Makala they proceeded through the woods, and in the course of their journey passed three new-made graves, which the Albanians pointing at as
they rode by, said they were “robbers.” In the course of the journey they had a distant view of the large town of Vraikore, on the left bank of the Aspro, but they did not approach it, crossing the river by a ferry to the village of Gouria, where they passed the night.

Leaving that place in the morning, they took an easterly direction, and continued to ride across a plain of cornfields, near the banks of the river, in a rich country; sometimes over stone causeways, and between the hedges of gardens and olive-groves, until they were stopped by the sea. This was that fruitful region formerly called Paracheloitis, which, according to classic allegory, was drained or torn from the river Achelous, by the perseverance of Hercules and presented by him for a nuptial present to the daughter of Oëneus.

The water at which they had now arrived was rather a salt marsh than the sea, a shallow bay stretching from the mouth of the Gulf of Lepanto into the land for several miles. Having dismissed their horses, they passed over in boats to Natolico, a town which stood in the water. Here they fell in with a hospitable Jew, who made himself remembered by saying that he was honoured in their having partaken of his little misery.

Natolico, where they stayed for the night, was a well-built town; the houses of timber, chiefly of two stories, and about six hundred in number. Having sent on their baggage in boats, they themselves proceeded to the town of Missolonghi, so celebrated since as having suffered greatly during the recent rebellion of the Greeks, but more particularly as the place where Lord Byron died.

Missolonghi is situated on the south side of the salt marsh or shallow, along the north coast of the Gulf of Corinth, nearly opposite to Patras. It is a dull, and I should think an unwholesome place. The marsh, for miles on each side, has only from a foot to two feet of water on it, but there is a channel for boats marked out
by perches. When I was there the weather was extremely wet, and I had no other opportunity of seeing the character of the adjacent country than during the intervals of the showers. It was green and pastoral, with a short skirt of cultivation along the bottom of the hills.

Abrupt and rapid as the foregoing sketch of the journey through Albania has been, it is evident from the novelty of its circumstances that it could not be performed without leaving deep impressions on the susceptible mind of the poet. It is impossible, I think, not to allow that far more of the wildness and romantic gloom of his imagination was derived from the incidents of this tour, than from all the previous experience of his life. The scenes he visited, the characters with whom he became familiar, and above all, the chartered feelings, passions, and principles of the inhabitants, were greatly calculated to supply his mind with rare and valuable poetical materials. It is only in this respect that the details of his travels are interesting.—Considered as constituting a portion of the education of his genius, they are highly curious, and serve to show how little, after all, of great invention is requisite to make interesting and magnificent poetry.

From Missolonghi the travellers passed over the Gulf of Corinth to Patras, then a rude, half-ruined, open town with a fortress on the top of a hill; and on the 4th of December, in the afternoon, they proceeded towards Corinth, but halted at Vostizza, the ancient Ægium, where they obtained their first view of Parnassus, on the opposite side of the gulf; rising high above the other peaks of that hilly region, and capped with snow. It probably was during this first visit to Vostizza that the Address to Parnassus was suggested.

Oh, thou Parnassus! whom I now survey
Not in the frensy of a dreamer’s eye,
Not in the fabled landscape of a lay,
But soaring snow-clad through thy native sky,
In the wild pomp of mountain majesty!
What marvel if I thus essay to sing?
The humblest of thy pilgrims passing by
Would gladly woo thine echoes with his string,
Though from thy heights no more one muse will wave her wing.
Oft have I dream’d of thee! whose glorious name
Who knows not, knows not man’s divinest lore;
And now I view thee, ’tis, alas! with shame
That I in feeblest accents must adore.
When I recount thy worshippers of yore
I tremble, and can only bend the knee;
Nor raise my voice, nor vainly dare to soar,
But gaze beneath thy cloudy canopy
In silent joy, to think at last I look on thee.