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Childe Harold`s Pilgrimage published by John Murray and took the
GEORGE NOEL GORDON,
LORD BYRON (1788-1824)
He was among the most famous of the
English
'Romantic'
poets;
his
contemporaries included Percy Shelley
and John Keats. He was also a satirist
whose poetry and personality captured
the imagination of Europe.
1788 Jan. 22
George Gordon Byron born at
16 Holles Street, Cavendish Square,
London; son of Captain ‘Mad Jack‘
Byron and the wealthy Catherine
Gordon.
1789 Byron and his mother move to
Aberdeen, Scotland.
As a child he was known simply as
George Noel Gordon. Born with a
clubfoot, he was taken by his mother,
Catherine Gordon, to Aberdeen,
Scotland, where they lived in lodgings
on a meager income because Mad Jack
had squandered most of his wife’s her
fortune and deserted her.
1791 ‘Mad Jack' Byron dies in
France. He was aged only 36.
1794-8 Byron attends Aberdeen
Grammar School
Byron’s mother’s moods towards him varied from
violent rages to loving affection. 'Her temper is so
variable, and when inflamed, so furious,' Lord
Byron later wrote, 'that I dread our meeting.‘
When she raged at him, which was often, she
would shout: 'Ah, you little dog, you are a Byron
all over; you are as bad as your father!'
Once she called him 'a lame brat!' but
a moment later was smothering him
with kisses. On his side, George had
the same quick temper and an
irresistible urge to provoke conflict.
It was rumored that his nurse, May Gray,
made physical advances to him when he
was only nine. This experience and his
idealized love for his distant cousins Mary
Duff and Margaret Parker shaped his
paradoxical attitudes toward women.
1798 At the death of his great-uncle, the
fifth Baron Byron, Byron becomes
sixth Baron Byron and inherits the
heavily mortgaged ancestral estate,
Newstead Abbey in
Nottinghamshire, to which he
moves with his mother.
George inherited the title and estates
of his great-uncle, the "wicked" Lord
Byron. The boy fell in love with the
ghostly halls and spacious grounds of
Newstead Abbey, which had been
presented to the Byron family by the
infamous King Henry VIII, and he and
his mother lived in its ruins for a while.
1799 Byron enters Dr.Glennie's
School, Dulwich and
endures painful but futile
treatments of his club
foot.
1801


Byron enters Harrow where he will
remain until 1805.
In Harrow he excelled at boxing and
cricket, but not in the classroom. He
hated the 'drill'd dull lesson' and soon
came into conflict with the school
authorities - with one exception, Dr.
Drury, the Head Master, who saw
something more beyond the indiscipline
in this 'mountain colt' and treated him
with some sympathy.
His friendships with younger boys
fostered a romantic attachment to
the school. It is possible that these
friendships gave the first impetus to
his sexual ambivalence, which
became more pronounced at
Cambridge and later in Greece.
1805 Byron enters Trinity College, Cambridge
and befriends John Hobhouse.
After a term at Trinity College, Byron
indulged in dissipation and undue generosity
in London that put him deeply into
debt. When he returned to Trinity he formed
a close friendship with John Cam Hobhouse,
who stirred his interest in liberal Whiggism.
1806
Byron's Fugitive Pieces privately
printed and immediately
suppressed when Revd John
Becher objects to some of the
poems.
1807 Byron's Poems on Various Occasions privately
printed and Hours of Idleness published. He
also writes a review of Wordsworth's Poems.
Hours of Idleness was moderately received
except for The Edinburgh Review which
counseled 'that he do forthwith abandon
poetry, and turn his talents . . . to better
account.' The effect of this criticism on Byron
was to put him into a rage, drink three
bottles of claret and write the satire English
Bards and Scotch Reviewers.
His latter days at Cambridge were mainly spent
away from it. He kept table, so he said, with
jockeys, gamblers, boxers, parsons and poets.
He also kept a tame bear in his attic. He swam
the Thames from Lambeth to Blackfriars for a
bet, and made friends with Gentleman John
Jackson, or 'Dear Jack' as he called him, the
retired champion prize-fighter of England. After
learning to spar at Jackson's rooms in Bond
Street, Byron described himself as 'not a bad
boxer when I could keep my temper, which was
difficult.'
A gentlemanly fencing instructor taught him to
fence but swimming and shooting pistols at a mark
were his favourite pastimes. Wearing no whiskers,
Byron began to carry an imposing, rather
supercilious air and took to wearing very broad
white trousers to hide his lame foot. Confessing to
being 'a spice of everything, except a jockey', he
spent himself freely 'in routs, riots, balls, and
boxing-matches, cards . . . masquerades, love, and
lotteries . . . opera-singers and oratorios, wine,
women, wax-works and weather-cocks', or so he
later boasted to a newspaper correspondent.
1809


On reaching his majority in January, he took
his seat in the House of Lords.
Byron publishes nine poems in Imitations and
Translations from the Ancient and Modern
Classics by John Hobhouse. In March English
Bards and Scotch Reviewers is published
anonymously.
With Hobhouse departs for the Grand
Tour: sails to Lisbon, travels in Spain,
Portugal, Gibraltar, Malta, Greece,
Albania (visits the Ali Pasha),
Missolunghi and Athens. He also starts
writing Canto I of Childe Harold's
Pilgrimage.
In March 1810 he sailed with Hobhouse for
Constantinople by way of Smyrna, and, while
becalmed at the mouth of the Hellespont, Byron
visited the site of Troy and swam the channel in
imitation of Leander. Byron’s sojourn in Greece
made a lasting impression on his mind and
character - he delighted in the sunshine and moral
tolerance of the people. After leaving, he often
spoke longingly of his visit - and his desire to
return.
1811 Byron sails to England, arriving by
summer. Byron arrived in
London on 14 July 1811, and his
mother died on August 1 before he
could reach her at Newstead.

1812

Byron's maiden speech in the House of
Lords against the death penalty for
Luddities. Second speech in House of
Lords on Roman Catholics civil rights.
Childe Harold Pilgrimage I and II
published by Murray in March.
Affairs with Caroline Lamb and Lady
Oxford. As to Byron's love-life, he was
undoubtedly a favourite with the ladies,
love being a constant necessity of his life.
He invented the classic phrase, 'it's
impossible to live with women, or to live
without them', and organised his
lovemaking with unparalleled stupidity,
blundering from one affair to another,
usually with maximum loss to everyone
else.
He was a strong advocate of social reform, and
was particularly noted as one of the few
Parliamentary defenders of the Luddites. He was
also a defender of Roman Catholics. Byron was
inspired to write political poems such as "Song
for the Luddites" (1816) and "The Landlords'
Interest" (1823). Examples of poems where he
attacked his political opponents include
"Wellington: The Best of the Cut-Throats" (1819)
and "The Intellectual Eunuch Castlereagh"
(1818).
Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage published by John
Murray and took the town by storm. The
Edinburgh Review (Jeffrey) gave a favourable
review.
The poet Byron woke one morning to find
himself famous - the universal talk of the
town. His speech and his poem had not only
raised his fame to an extraordinary height but
crowds of eminent persons courted an
introduction.
Besides furnishing a poetic travelogue of
picturesque lands, it gave vents to the
moods of melancholy and disillusionment
of the post-Revolutionary and Napoleonic
eras. And the poem conveyed the
disparity between the romantic ideal and
the world of reality, a unique
achievement in 19th century verse.
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage is a lengthy
narrative poem in four parts It was published
between 1812 and 1818 and is dedicated to
"Ianthe". The poem describes the travels and
reflections of a world-weary young man who,
disillusioned with a life of pleasure and
revelry, looks for distraction in foreign lands.
In a wider sense, it is an expression of the
melancholy and disillusionment felt by a
generation weary of the wars of the postRevolutionary and Napoleonic eras. The title
comes from the term childe, a medieval title
for a young man who was a candidate for
knighthood.
Childe Harold became a vehicle for Byron's
own beliefs and ideas; indeed in the
preface
to
book
three
Byron
acknowledges the fact that his hero is just
an extension of himself. According to
Jerome McGann, by masking himself
behind a literary artifice, Byron was able
to express his view that "man's greatest
tragedy is that he can conceive of a
perfection which he cannot attain".
The work provided the first example of the
Byronic hero. The idea of the Byronic hero is
one that consists of many different
characteristics. The hero must have a rather
high level of intelligence and perception as
well as be able to easily adapt to new
situations and use cunning to his own gain. It
is clear from this description that this hero is
well educated and by extension is rather
sophisticated in his style. Aside from the
obvious charm and attractiveness that this
automatically creates, he struggles with his
integrity, being prone to mood swings or
bipolar tendencies.
Generally, the hero has a disrespect for
any figure of authority, thus creating the
image of the Byronic hero as an exile or
an outcast. The hero also has a tendency
to be arrogant and cynical, indulging in
self-destructive behaviour which leads to
the need to seduce women. Although his
sexual
attraction
through
being
mysterious is rather helpful, this sexual
attraction often gets the hero into
trouble.
The Byronic hero pervades much of Byron's
work. Scholars have traced the literary
history of the Byronic hero from Milton,
and many authors and artists of the
Romantic
movement
show
Byron's
influence -- during the 19th century and
beyond. The Byronic hero presents an
idealised but flawed character whose
attributes include:
•rebelling
•having a distaste for society and social
institutions
•suffering exile
•expressing a lack of respect for rank and
privilege
•having great talent
•hiding an unsavoury past
•exhibiting great passion
•ultimately, acting in a self-destructive
manner
•unsuccessful in love, usually the beloved is
dead
To the reader the Byronic hero whispers,
threatens a self-revelation. This special quality
of the Byronic hero sets him apart from most
Gothic villains, who served, however, as Byron’s
immediate inspiration. For the typical Gothic
villain does not set out to promote a radical
critique of established moral issues.. A sense of
prevenient order is always present in the preByronic treatment of the hero-villain.
But Byron’s tales and plays achieved
their enormous influence, and
sometimes bad reputation, because
their heroes forced the reader to a
more searching inquiry into norms for
order and value. We say that they are
skeptical, and problematic, for they
do not allow things to come out right
in the end. We are always left
wondering about the events and
puzzling over their significance.
The handsome poet with the clubfoot was
swept into affairs with the passionate Lady
Caroline Lamb, the "autumnal" Lady Oxford,
Lady Frances Webster, and - possibly - his halfsister, Augusta Leigh. The agitation of these
affairs and the sense of mingled guilt and
exultation they aroused in his mind are
reflected in the Turkish tales he wrote during
the period.
1813


Byron's The Waltz is privately printed. The
Giaour and The Bride of Abydos published.
Third and last speech at the House of Lords
in support of Major Cartwright.
He makes frequent visits to Princess
Charlotte (the Regent's daughter).
Following his travels in Albania, Greece, and
Turkey, Byron published a series of Easternthemed Turkish Tales poems between 1813 and
1816. The Giaour (June 1813) went through
eight editions by the end of the year, while
Byron continued to add new sections to the
poem, imparting a highly fragmentary character
to it. In the tale, the Turkish lord Hassan
punishes the infidelity of his wife, Leila, by
drowning her in a sack (the usual punishment
and one that Byron had prevented at Piraeus in
1810). In revenge, the lover, called the Giaour
(meaning non-Muslim) kills Hassan.
The Bride of Abydos (December 1813) sold equally
well (six thousand copies in one month). In this tale,
Byron, who was having an affair with his half sister,
Augusta, dealt with the theme of incest for the first
time: Zuleika, daughter of the Pasha Giaffir is loved
by Selim, her supposed half brother (which he is not),
the leader of a band of pirates. When they are seen
together in the harem, Selim is shot, and Zuleika dies
of a broken heart. Illicit love, violence, and brutal
death are the key ingredients of this group of Byron’s
writings.
1814

Byron's The Corsair, ‘Lines to a Lady
Weeping',
‘Ode
to
Napoleon
Bonaparte' and Lara published.
Nothing like the “Turkish Tales” had ever been
seen. Their convincing Oriental colours, the
wildness of their characters, and the violent
events portrayed – or supposedly portrayed – in
their plots, made them a phenomenon. As soon
as the cessation of war in 1815 permitted, they
were translated into French; and within ten years,
most were available either in continental Englishlanguage editions, or in other languages. Never
before or since had or has English literature been
so influential with such speed. Shakespeare took
much longer to percolate through.
His third poem in the series, The Corsair, was published
in February 1816 and was written in heroic couplets.
The sales of this poem were unprecedented: ten
thousand copies on the day of publication. Again, the
poem features a mysterious and lonely hero defying
society, a mixture of Byronic hero and gothic villain.
While trying to rescue women of the harem, he is
captured. Gulnare saves him from impalement by killing
the pasha. After their flight to the pirates’ lair, they
discover that Conrad’s beloved Medora has died of a
broken heart, and they subsequently disappear. Lara,
published in August 1814, was the sequel to The Corsair
and features Conrad’s return to the feudal castle of his
origins, accompanied by Gulnare. The Siege of Corinth
and Parisina were published in February 1816.
For his half-sister, Augusta Leigh, he
wrote many passionate poems. She
had been separated from her
husband since 1811 when she gave
birth on April 15, 1814 to a daughter,
Medora. Byron's joy over the birth
seems to substantiate the rumors of
an incestuous relationship.
After meeting Anne Isabella Millbanke, an
heiress and a cousin by marriage to Lady
Caroline, he noted that she was: 'Pretty in a
modest way, the fairest skin imaginable, and a
perfect figure for her height.‘
'High-principled' . . . 'cold' . . . 'a strong sense
of duty' were expressions that found their way
into other accounts of Miss Millbanke. She was
a mathematician and Byron called her his
'Princess of Parallelograms.'
Seeking escape in marriage, in September
1814, he proposed to Anne Isabella
(Annabella) Milbanke. The marriage took
place on 2 January 1815. After a honeymoon
"not all sunshine," the Byrons, in March,
settled in London. Delays in negotiations to
sell
Newstead
left
them
financially
embarrassed and before long bailiffs were in
the
house
demanding
payment
of
debts. Byron escaped to the house of John
Murray, his publisher.
1815

Murray publishes a four-volume edition
of Byron's poems; Hebrew Melodies
published
Lady Byron gave birth to a daughter,
Augusta Ada, on 10 December, and in
January she left with the child for a visit to
her parents and let him know that she was
not moving back. The reasons for her
decision were never given and rumors
began to fly, most of them centering on
Byron’s relations with Augusta Leigh. When
the rumors grew, Byron signed the legal
separation papers.
Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace was an
English writer chiefly known for her work on
Charles Babbage's early mechanical generalpurpose computer, the analytical engine. As a
young adult she took an interest in mathematics,
and in particular Babbage's work on the
analytical engine. Between 1842 and 1843 she
translated an article by Italian mathematician
Luigi Menabrea on the engine, which she
supplemented with a set of notes of her own.
These notes contain what is considered the first
computer program—that is, an algorithm
encoded for processing by a machine. Though
Babbage's engine was not built until 1989-91,
Lovelace's notes are important in the early
history of computers. She also foresaw the
capability of computers to go beyond mere
calculating or number-crunching while others,
including Babbage himself, focused only on these
capabilities.
And there was newspaper scandal. True
to tradition, the British press, having
acclaimed Byron, now attacked him with
venom, shooting him down with each and
every innuendo. Byron fell from a position
of esteem into one of contempt, seen
through the eyes of society as a monster.
1816

Byron's The Siege of Corinth and Parisina
are published in February. The Prisoner of
Chillon and Other Poems and Childe
Harold's Pilgrimage III come out in
December.
In April he leaves England for good and starts his
European itinerary. He first travels in Belgium,
Waterloo, the Rhine and Switzerland. He is now
the most famous exile in Europe. For the first time
he meets Percy Shelley at Sécheron, rents Villa
Diodati on Lake Geneva. He tours the Alps
(Chamouni and Mont Blanc) and Lake Geneva with
the Shelleys' and he visits Chateau de Chillon.
He meets and starts an affair with Claire
Clermont, Mary Shelley's stepsister.
Claire Clermont is pregnant with his
child and leaves for England with the
Shelleys.
The child is born 12 January 1817, and
named Alba by Claire and Allegra by
Byron.
A tour of the Bernese Oberland with Hobhouse
provided the scenery for Manfred, a Faustian
poetic drama that reflected Byron’s brooding
sense of guilt and remorse and the wider
frustrations of the romantic spirit doomed by
the reflection that man is "half dust, half deity,
alike unfit to sink or soar."
Byron undertook Manfred, his most Gothic
work, in late 1816, a few months after the
famed ghost-story sessions which provided the
initial impetus for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
and John Polidori's The Vampyre, which some
argue is based on Byron's fragment of a novel,
his brief response to the challenge of the ghoststory sessions. Byron also heard Goethe's Faust
about this time, and Manfred may also owe
something to Matthew Lewis, author of The
Monk, who visited Byron a month or two before
Manfred was begun.
Manfred is a Faustian noble living in the
Bernese Alps. Internally tortured by some
mysterious guilt, which has to do with the
death of his most beloved, Astarte, he uses his
mastery of language and spell-casting to
summon seven spirits, from whom he seeks
forgetfulness. The spirits, who rule the various
components of the corporeal world, are unable
to control past events and thus cannot grant
Manfred's plea. For some time, fate prevents
him from escaping his guilt through suicide.
At the end, Manfred dies defying religious
temptations of redemption from sin.
Throughout the poem, he succeeds in
challenging all authoritative powers he
comes across, and chooses death over
submitting to spirits of higher powers.
Manfred directs his final words to the
Abbot, remarking, "Old man! 't is not so
difficult to die."
Manfred represents Byron's articulation of the
Romantic hero, a figure so far superior to other
humans that he need not be bound by the
constraints of human society. Similarly, he
submits to no spiritual authority, rejecting
pantheism, Zoroastrianism, and Christianity.
Manfred answers only to himself, and because
of this he is the instrument of his own
destruction, fashioning a punishment for his
unexplained guilt that far exceeds any possible
retribution imposed by human or religious
authorities.
In October 1816 he departs with Hobhouse for
Italy where he spends the first month in Milan
And then moves to Venice. He starts his affair
With Marianna Segati, his landlord's wife and
Studies Armenian at a monastery on the island
of San Lazzaro.
If Byron was spectacular, it was in his sins,
taking his pleasures as they came, usually in
droves of dark-eyed beauties eager for his
attentions. He kept fit by regularly swimming
in the Adriatic, or the Grand Canal, and easily
won a contest against a soldier - an admirer of
Napoleon - in swimming the length of the
canal. He also indulged his love of animals by
keeping two monkeys, a fox, and two mastiffs
at his villa.
In May 1817 he joined Hobhouse in Rome and
rode over the ruins, gathering impressions that
he recorded in a fourth canto of Childe Harold.
He meets Margarita Cogni, wife of a baker, who
followed him to Venice and eventually replaced
Marianna Segati in his affections.
At a summer villa at La Mira on the Brentat River,
he writes Beppo, a rollicking satire on Italian
manners, based on a story Margarita tells him.
1817



In December he sells Newstead Abbey for
£ 94,500.
The sale of Newstead Abbey finally cleared
most of his debts and left him with a small
income which supported him in Italy. But
money did not solve any of his problems,
notably
his
dissatisfaction
and
restlessness. Shelley and other visitors, in
1818, had found Byron grown fat, with hair
long and turning gray, looking older than his
years, and sunk in promiscuity.
1818


Byron's Beppo and Childe Harold's
Pilgrimage IV are published respectively in
February and April.
He rents a palazzo on the Grand Canal where
he spends much time with the Shelleys and
begins Don Juan. During the summer, he
completes the first canto of Don Juan, a
picaresque verse satire, with pointed
references to his own experiences.
The Shelleys arrived with Claire and her daughter
Allegra. Byron was not keen on renewing his
intimacy with Claire but was prepared to receive
their daughter Allegra. In the hope that it would
open a door for her back to Byron, Claire allowed
her daughter to go to Byron, writing to him: '. . .
you are the father of my little girl and I cannot
forget you.'
At first, Allegra with her blue eyes and fair curls
delighted Byron but she soon showed her
father's devil of a spirit.
1819 Mazeppa and Ode to Venice published
in June, Don Juan I-II published
anonymously in July, and then pirated,
to Murray's distress. All four cantos of
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage published
together.

A chance meeting with the Countess Teresa
Guicciolo in April 1819 changed the course of his
life. In a few days he fell completely in love with
Teresa, 19 years old and married to man nearly
three times her age. Byron followed her to
Ravenna, and, later in the summer, she
accompanied him back to Venice and stayed until
her husband called for her.

Byron returned to Ravenna in January
1820, as Teresa’s accepted gentlemanin-waiting. He won the friendship of
her father and brother who initiated
him into the secret revolutionary
society of the Carbonari, the Italian
revolutionary
movement
against
Austrian rule.
In Ravenna he was brought into closer touch with
the life of the Italian people than he had ever
been. He gave arms to the Carbonari and alms to
the poor.
The lovers were desolate. Byron wrote to her:
'My love - my duty - my honour . . . should make
me forever what I am now, your lover friend
and (when circumstances permit) your
husband.'
Now sure of Byron's commitment, Teresa laid
her case before the Pope who granted her a
separation from Count Guiccioli on condition
that she lived respectably under her father's
roof. The permanent pledge of Byron and Teresa
to each other lent some stability to his life and
she helped him find some peace for his restless,
warring spirit.
It was one of the happiest and most
productive periods of his life. He wrote The
Prophecy of Dante; three cantos for Don
Juan; the poetic dramas Marino Faliero,
Sardanapalus, The Two Foscari, and Cain (all
published in 1821); and his satire on the poet
Robert Southey, The Vision of Judgment.
When Teresa’s father and brother were
exiled for the part in an abortive uprising
and she, now separated from her husband,
was forced to follow them, Byron
reluctantly removed to Pisa, where Shelley
had rented the Casa Lanfranchi on the Arno
River for him.
He leaves his daughter Allegra in a convent near
Ravenna where he sends her to be educated. She
dies on 20 April of the following year from
typhoid.
Byron paid daily visits to Teresa, whose father
and brother had found temporary asylum in
Pisa, until early summer when then all went to
Leghorn, where Byron had leased a villa near
Shelley’s house on the Bay of Lerici. There the
poet Leigh Hunt found him on 1 July, when he
arrived from England to join with Shelley and
Byron in the editing of a new periodical. Hunt
and his family were installed in the lower floor
of Byron’s house in Pisa, where Byron and Teresa
returned after her father and brother were
expelled from Tuscany.
The drowning of Shelley on 8 July left Hunt
entirely dependent on Byron, who had already
"loaned" him money for his passage and the
apartment. Byron found Hunt an agreeable
companion, but their relations were somewhat
strained by Mrs. Hunt’s moral condescension
and by the demands of her six children. Byron
contributed his Vision of Judgment to the first
number of the new periodical, The Liberal,
which was published in London by Hunt’s
brother John on 15 October 1822.
At the end of September he moved his entire
household to a suburb of Genoa, where Teresa’s
family had found asylum and had taken a large
house for him. Mary Shelley leased another
house nearby for herself and the Hunts.
After a quarrel with his publisher, John Murray,
Byron gave all his later work - including cantos VI
to XVI of Don Juan, The Age of Bronze, and The
Island - to John Hunt.
Don Juan is a satiric poem, based on the
legend of Don Juan, which Byron reverses,
portraying Juan not as a womanizer but as
someone easily seduced by women. It is a
variation on the epic form. Byron himself
called it an "Epic Satire" (Don Juan, c. xv, v.
790). Modern critics generally consider it
Byron's masterpiece, with a total of over
sixteen thousand individual lines of verse.
Byron completed 16 cantos, leaving an
unfinished 17th canto before his death in
1824.
This long, digressive satiric poem is a
loose narrative held together only by the
hero, Don Juan, and the narrator, Byron
himself, who maintains a mocking, ironic
relationship with the story. Byron claimed
that he had no plot in mind as he wrote
the poem, and he continued to add
episodes as long as he lived.
Byron was a rapid as well as a voluminous
writer. Nevertheless, the composition of his
great poem, Don Juan, was coextensive with a
major part of his poetical life. He began the
first canto of Don Juan in the autumn of 1818,
and he was still at work on a seventeenth canto
in the spring of 1823. The poem was issued in
parts, with intervals of unequal duration.
Interruptions in the composition and
publication of Don Juan were due to the
disapproval and discouragement of friends as
well as the publisher's hesitation and
procrastination.
Many of Byron's remarks and reflections on
the motive behind his poem are humorous
paradoxes, provoked by advice and
opposition. For instance, writing to Thomas
Moore, he says, "I have finished the first
canto ... of a poem in the style and manner of
Beppo, encouraged by the good success of
the same. It is ... meant to be a little quietly
facetious upon every thing. But I doubt
whether it is not—at least as far as it has
gone—too free for these very modest days."
Critical opinion aligned itself with the opinion
that the poem was "too free," however, a month
after the two first cantos had been issued, Byron
wrote to Murray , "You ask me for the plan of
Donny Johnny; I have no plan—I had no plan; but
I had or have materials.... You are too earnest and
eager about a work never intended to be serious.
Do you suppose that I could have any intention
but to giggle and make giggle?—a playful satire,
with as little poetry as could be helped, was what
I meant."
The action of the poem takes place in the
latter quarter of the 18th century, but
Byron’s own time with its sentiments,
ideas, and events burst into the narrative,
thus creating a broad critical picture of
European life. The famous writer Gideon
praised Don Juan as “the work of an
absolute genius” for its profound thoughts
and contents, broad volume of the life and
distinctive culture of art.
Canto I (written in 1818)
In Sevilla, Juan's father Jóse is married to Juan's
mother Inez, but has various affairs, causing her
to plot against him and file for divorce.
Conveniently he dies, leaving Juan the sole heir.
His classical education is intended by his mother
to shield him from salacious material (this effort is
unsuccessful). Inez strikes up an affair with Don
Alfonso, and in turn Alfonso's 23 y/o lovely wife
eyes the 16 y/o Don Juan. Such things are more
common in sun-drenched climes. On a summer
day in June, an inadvertent touch of her hand on
his leads on to stolen glances, sighs, Platonic love,
kissing, etc., and finally she "consents" (for which
Plato and Inez are to blame).
One night Don Alfonso arrives to find Julia in bed with
Antonia her maid, but he is suspicious and searches with
his lackeys for her suspected male lover unsuccessfully.
Julia makes an extended speech of outrage and
indignation. After Alfonso leaves, a half-smothered and
slender Don Juan emerges from the bed where he had
hidden all along. But Don Alfonso returns, and eventually
discovers Juan's shoes next to the bed, and then Juan,
whereupon Juan flees. Alfonso files for divorce, and Julia
is sent to a nunnery. Donna Inez decides that her son
should travel and see the world, so makes plans to send
him to Cadiz. He carries a tearful letter of goodbye from
Julia upon his departure.
Canto II (written in 1818-9)
Juan embarks on a voyage from Cadiz on the ship
Trinidada, accompanied by 3 servants and a tutor
Pedrillo, still in love with Julia (and seasick), intending
to travel for 4 years. But a storm sinks the ship. Juan
and his fellow survivors cram into a longboat and
eventually find themselves starving. They draw lots
(using Julia's letter for paper) to see who will be
eaten--sadly it is Pedrillo. Eventually, Juan as the sole
survivor washes ashore on an island in the Cyclades in
the Aegean. He is discovered by the lovely 17 y/o
Haidée (like Nausicaa) and her c. 18 y/o maid, Zoe. He
is tended by them in a cave by the beach.
Juan and Haidée's love blossoms, though they
cannot initially understand each other's spoken
language. Her Greek father, Lambro, is a
"fisherman" and pirate who makes his living
plundering ships that shipwreck there--he takes
the cargoes and sells the occupants into
slavery, etc. Haidée has no mother. Her love for
Juan is innocent, idyllic, needs no vows--it is
like the first parents Adam and Eve. She was
"Nature's bride... Passion's child... One made
but to love..." "Their priest was Solitude, and
they were wed."
Canto III (written in 1819)
The opening line is "Hail Muse! et cetera...", parodying
classic epic conventions. The poets thoughts on marriage.
Lambro her father has been away for a while, and was
thought to have died. His house was in mourning for
several weeks. But now however, he returns (like
Odysseus to a house full of unwelcome suitors) to find
that Haidée and Juan have moved into his house and are
having a large celebration. He bides his time
unrecognized, making discrete inquiries of others, and
there are lengthy digressions on poetry, etc. The Isles of
Greece poem is sung by their poet, celebrating the former
glories of Greece (Byron was a philhellene).
Canto IV (written in 1819)
After the celebration is over, Haidée and Juan are asleep
together, "a nymph and her beloved". She dreams and
her dream evolves into real image of her father--he
stands over them and confronts them. Lambro attacks
and, with the aid of his pirate associates, defeats Juan
despite Haidée's efforts to defend her lover. Juan is
severely wounded, and placed in the hold of a slave ship
as part of the cargo of slaves. Haidée despairs at the loss
and refuses food, dying after 12 days of fasting, her
unborn child dying within her. The isle is now deserted-the graves of Haidée and her father are all that are left
to suggest former human habitation.
Juan finds himself a captive at sea, passing
Ilion (Troy) and entering the Hellespont. The
slave ship has a troupe of singers, dancers,
and other entertainers aboard. Juan is
paired up in chains with an Englishman, a
man of the world named John Johnson.
They are taken to the slave market in the
capital, Istanbul, as the slave ship stands at
anchor beneath the palace walls.
Canto V (written in 1820)
Juan in the slave market. He converses with the
Englishman, telling of his lost love, whereas the more
experienced John says he had to run away from his 3rd
wife. A black eunuch from the seraglio, Baba, buys Juan
and John, and takes the infidels to the palace. He takes
them back to an inner chamber, where he insists that Don
Juan dress as a woman, and threatens him with castration
if he resists. Finally, Juan is brought into an imperial hall
to meet the sultana, Gulbeyaz, a 26 y/o beauty who is the
sultan's fourth, last, and favorite wife. Full of stubborn
pride, he refuses to kiss her foot and finally compromises
by kissing her hand. She had spotted Juan at the market,
and had asked Baba to secretly purchase him for her,
despite the risk of discovery by the sultan.
She wants Juan to "love" her, and throws herself on his
breast. But he still has thoughts of Haidée and spurns
her advances, saying "The prisoned eagle will not pair,
nor I / Serve a sultana's sensual phantasy." She is taken
aback, enraged, and thinks of having him beheaded,
but breaks out in tears instead. Before they can
progress further in their relationship, Baba rushes in to
announce that the Sultan is coming: "The sun himself
has sent me like a ray / To hint that he is coming up
this way." The sultan arrives, preceded by a parade of
damsels, eunuchs, etc. (he is 59 y/o and has 1500
concubines). Looking around, he takes note of the
attractive Christian woman (Juan), expressing regret
that a mere Christian should be so pretty (Juan is a
giaour, or non-Muslim).
Canto VI (written in 1822)
The sultan retires with Gulbeyaz. Juan, still dressed as a
woman, is taken to the overcrowded seraglio. He is asked
to share a couch with the young and lovely 17 y/o Dudù,
who calls him Juanna. She is a "kind of sleepy Venus ...
very fit to murder sleep... Her talents were of the more
silent class... pensive..." She gives Juanna a chaste kiss and
undresses. The chamber of odalisques is asleep at 3 AM.
Dudù suddenly screams, and awakens agitated, while
Juanna still lies asleep and snoring. The women ask the
cause of her scream, and she relates a suggestive dream of
being in a wood like Dante, of dislodging a reluctant
golden apple clinging tenaciously to its bough (which at
last willingly falls), of almost biting into the forbidden fruit
when a bee flies out from it and stings her to the heart.
The matron of the seraglio decides to place Juanna with
another odalisque, but Dudù begs to keep her in her own
bed, hiding her face in Juanna's breast. The poet is at a loss
to explain why she screamed.
In the morning, the sultana asks Baba to tell her how Don
Juan passed the night. He tells of "her" stay in the seraglio,
but carefully omits details about Dudù and her dream. But
the sultana is suspicious nevertheless, becomes enraged,
and instructs Baba to have Dudù and Juan killed in the
usual manner (drowning). Baba pleads with her that killing
Juan will not cure what ails her. The sultana summons
Dudù and Juan. [We do not see how this scene plays out.]
Canto VII (written in 1822)
Juan and John Johnson have escaped with 2
women from the seraglio, and arrive during the
siege of Ismail (historically 1790), a Turkish fort at
the mouth of the Danube on the Black Sea. Field
Marshall Suvaroff, an officer in the Russian army,
is preparing for an all-out final assault against the
besieged fortress. The battle rages. He has been
told to "take Ismail at whatever price" by Prince
Potemkin, the commander-in-chief of the Russian
army. The Christian empress Queen Catherine II is
the Russian head-of-state.
John Johnson appears to Suvaroff (with whom
he has previously served in battle at Widdin)
and introduces his friend Juan--both are ready
to join the fight against the "pagan" Turks.
Suvaroff is unhappy with the women the 2
men brought, but they state that they are the
wives of other men, and that the women aided
their escape. Suvaroff consents for the women
to stay.
Canto VIII (written in 1822)
Juan and John join fearlessly and bravely in the savage
assault on Ismail. They scale the walls of the town and
charge into battle. The conquest of Ismail causes the
slaughter of 40,000 Turks, among them women (only a
few of whom are ravished) and children. Juan nobly
rescues a 10 y/o Muslim child Leila from two murderous
Cossacks intent on killing her, and immediately resolves to
adopt her as his own child. A noble Tartar khan valiantly
fights to the death alongside his 5 sons, just as instructed
by Mahomet, presumably to be rewarded with houris in
heaven.
Juan is a hero and is sent to Petersburgh, Russia,
accompanied by Leila, whom he makes a vow to protect.
Canto IX (written in 1822)
Dressed as a war hero in military uniform, Juan
cuts a handsome figure in the court of Queen
Catherine II, who lusts after him. She is c. 48 y/o
[historically actually 61-2 y/o] and "just now in
juicy vigour". He becomes one of her favorites
and is flattered by her interest as well as
promoted for it. "Love is vanity, / Selfish in its
beginning as its end, / Except where 'tis a mere
insanity." Juan still lovingly cares for Leila.
Canto X (written in 1822)
Juan enjoys the good life, is in demand at court
with "damsels and dances, revels, [and] ready
money", and gradually becomes very polished. But
he also becomes a little dissipated "in this gay
clime of bearskins black and furry". He writes his
mother Donna Inez, who worries about his
exposure to Greek worship, etc. Gradually, Juan
becomes ill, still strong but delicate. His doctors
say he needs to travel to get back to sunnier
climes, etc. Catherine arranges for him to go to
Britain on an undisclosed "mission".
Juan loves Leila, who stubbornly remains a
Muslim and refuses conversion to
Christianity. They travel to London, passing
through Poland, the Rhine river, Holland, etc.
(Byron has now been away from England in
exile for 7 years.) Leila marvels at Canterbury
cathedral, but wonders how God could
tolerate infidels (Christians) there.
Canto XI (written in 1822)
Juan kills a man in self-defense. He is presented to
and settles into fashionable society in London. He is
in demand by fair virgins and wedded dames. He is
superficial and blasé, living "amongst live poets and
blue ladies", pursuing business in the morning ("a
laborious nothing that leads to lassitude"), lunching,
lounging, and boxing in the afternoons, dining and
dancing in the evening, etc. The poet cautions Juan
not to become complacent: "But carpe diem, Juan,
carpe, carpe! / Tomorrow sees another race as gay /
And transient and devoured by the same harpy."
Canto XII (written in 1822)
The poet laments middle age, now 35 y/o. Juan
is still idling in London, flirting, etc. Several
persons compete to take up Leila's education,
and he finally chooses Lady Pinchbeck, of whom
Juan is a favorite. Juan, coming from a land of
passions and is not impressed by the reserved
London women at first, though they gradually
grow on him.
Canto XIII (written in 1823)
The Lady Adeline Amundeville and her husband Lord
Henry Amundeville host Juan and others. She is "the
fair most fatal Juan ever met", the "queen bee, the
glass of all that's fair, / Whose charms made all men
speak and women dumb". Diplomatic relations often
bring Juan ("the envoy of a secret Russian mission")
and Lord Henry together, and he befriends Juan and
makes him a frequent guest at their London mansion.
The Amundevilles invite numerous distinguished guests
for a party at their country estate. The banquet...
English ennui. They all retire for the evening.
Canto XIV (written in 1823)
Juan acquits himself well on a fox hunt. He is attractive to
the ladies, including the Duchess of Fitz-Fulke, who begins
to flirt with him. Lady Adeline is jealous of the Duchess
(who has had many amorous exploits), and resolves to
protect the "inexperienced" Juan from her enticements.
Juan and Adeline are both 27 y/o. Lady Adeline has a
vacant heart and has a cold but proper marriage. She is
not in love with Juan, but the poet will only later divulge
whether they have an affair (apparently not).
Canto XV (written in 1823)
Lady Adeline is at risk for losing her honour over Juan.
Juan has a seductive manner because he never seems
anxious to seduce. He neither brooks nor claims
superiority. Adeline advises Juan to get married, but he
acknowledges the women he is attracted to tend to be
already married. Adeline tries to deduce a suitable
match for Juan, but intentionally omits mention of the
16 y/o and enticing Aurora Raby, a Catholic. Juan is
attracted to her--she is purer than the rest, and
reminds him of his lost Haidée. An elaborate dinner is
described in detail. Juan is seated between Adeline and
Aurora. Aurora has little to say initially, and thaws only
a little during the dinner.
Canto XVI (written in 1823)
Juan is smitten with the beautiful Aurora, and thinks of her
on retiring. At night, he walks into the hall, viewing the
gallery of paintings. He hears footsteps, and sees a monk in
cowl and beads. Is this a ghost, a phantasy? He does not
see his face, though the monk passes and repasses several
times.
The next morning, Adeline appears pale, the Duchess looks
at Juan hard, and Aurora surveys him "with a kind of calm
surprise". Adeline wonders if he is ill, and he tells of seeing
the monk. Lord Henry relates the story of the "Black Friar",
the "spirit of these walls" who used to be seen often but
had not been seen of late. He had seen the Black Friar on
his honeymoon.
Adeline offers to sing the story of the ghost,
accompanying it on her harp. The song begins, "Beware!
beware of the Black Friar! / Who sitteth by Norman stone,
/ For he mutters his prayer in the midnight air, / And his
mass of the days that are gone. / When the Lord of the
Hill, Amundeville, / Made Norman Church his prey, / And
expelled the friars, one friar still / Would not be driven
away." Aurora remains silent, but Lady Fitz-Fulke appears
mischievous. She suggests that Adeline has sung this to
laugh Juan out of his dismay. Juan's spirits are lifted. He
visits with Lord Henry. A pregnant country girl and other
petitioners present themselves to Lord Henry in his
capacity as Justice of the Peace.
Another banquet, at which Juan is preoccupied. He
wonders if Aurora had been the ghost--did he catch a smile
on her cheek? He is vexed with uncertainty, while Aurora
sits pale and only a little flushed. Adeline goes about her
duties, while the Duchess of Fitz-Fulke is very much at
ease.
They retire for the evening. Juan thinks about Aurora, who
has reawakened feelings in him which had been lately lost.
After going to bed, he hears the tiptoe of footsteps again.
The doors opens, and again it is the sable Friar concealed in
his solemn hood. He pursues the friar up against a wall,
notes the "ghost" has sweet breath, a straggling curl, red
lips and pearls, a glowing bust--in short, the "friar" is the
voluptuous Duchess of Fitz-Fulke
Canto XVII (incomplete fragment, written in
1823)
At breakfast the next morning, Don Juan
appears wan and worn as if he had combated
two ghosts, and the Duchess "Seemed pale
and shivered, as if she had kept / A vigil or
dreamt rather more than slept." The poet
does not say whether vice or virtue had
triumphed during the night.
The poem is in eight line iambic pentameter with
the rhyme scheme ab ab ab cc - often the last
rhyming couplet is used for a humor comic line or
humorous bathos. There are mostly 10 syllables
per line. The rhyme scheme of each stanza is
known as ottava rima. In Italian, because of the
common rhymed endings, the effect of ottava rima
is often highly comedic or highly tragic. Because of
its few rhymed endings, the effect of ottava rima
in English is often comic, and Byron chose it for
this reason.
In Don Juan Byron shows himself as a master
of rhyme
Till, after cloying the gazettes with cant,
The age discovers he is not the true one;
Of such as these I should not care to vaunt,
I'll therefore take our ancient friend Don Juan
In the above passage, "Juan" is rhymed with
"true one", the word being read according to
the rules of English orthography as /dʒuən/
JEW-ən. (The usual English pronunciation of
Juan is /wɑn/ wahn.)
Similarly, in stanza 190 of the first canto, Byron
rhymes "ladies" with "Cádiz," the city in Spain:
And then, by the advice of some old ladies,
She sent her son to be embark'd at Cadiz.
suggesting it is to be pronounced /keɪdiz/ KAY-deez.
The usual English pronunciation of Cadiz is /kədɪz/
kə-dizz.
But soon enough, in 1823 Byron's old
restlessness returned and the domesticity
of his life with Teresa gave no
satisfaction.
He also longed for the
opportunity for some noble action that
would vindicate him in the eyes of his
countrymen.
Accordingly, when the London Greek Committee
contacted him in April 1823 to act as its agent in
aiding the Greek war for independence from the
Turks, Byron immediately accepted the offer. All
of his legendary enthusiasm, energy, and
imagination were now at the service of the
Greek army. This was a worthy cause to which a
poet of liberty might splendidly give his name;
but he desired to do more - he wanted to engage
in active service.
On 16 July, Byron left Genoa on a chartered
ship, arriving at the Ionian island of
Cephalonia on 2 August; he settled in
Metaxata. He sent 4000 pounds of his own
money to prepare the Greek fleet for sea
service and then sailed for Missolonghi on 29
December to join Prince Alexandros
Mavrokordatos, leader of the forces in
western Greece.
With tremendous passion he entered into the plans
to attack the Turkish-held fortress of Lepanto. He
employed a fire master to prepare artillery and
took under his own command and pay the Souliot
soldiers, reputedly the bravest of the Greeks. In
addition he made dedicated but ultimately fruitless
efforts to unite eastern and western Greece. On 15
February 1824 he fell ill (he possibly had two
epileptic fits in a fortnight) and the usual remedy of
bleeding weakened him at the same time that an
insurrection of the Souliots opened his eyes to their
cupidity.
Though his enthusiasm for the Greek cause was
undiminished, he now possessed a more realistic
view of the obstacles facing the army. He was also
suffering from the emotional strain of his friendship
with Loukas Chalandritsanos, a Greek boy, whom he
had brought as a page from Cephalonia and to
whom he addressed his final poems.
1824


He writes ‘On this day I complete my thirtysixth year' and publishes The Deformed
Transformed and Don Juan XV-XVI .
Recollections of Lord Byron published by
Dallas and Journal of the Conversations of
Lord Byron at Pisa by Medwin.
The poem "On This Day I complete My ThirtySixth Year" from Lord Byron, written on the
poet’s birthday, on January 22nd, 1824, 28 days
before his death of fever, has a sense of his life
drawing to a close.
Byron was a person who had lots of affairs
and incestuous relationships with, for
example, his half-sister and two cousins,
who did not dislike sexual contact with both
sexes and who had a very turbulent and not
very constant love-life. Towards the end of
his short life he got a more realistic view and
was pursued by guilt about his affairs.
As the title says, the poem was written on his
thirty-sixth birthday and could be understood
as his desire for his thirty-seventh year.
The poem has ten stanzas with four verses
each.
The main aspect of the poem and leitmotif is
death. Byron already was pretty ill and was
to die soon, but he is also talking about the
death of his love. He is not happy with the
number of the relationships he has had in his
life.
It is a poem on his wish and need for freedom
and the last love and desire for loving
romantically. Byron uses two of his main
motives in this poems. He talks of his dream of
being a hero but also about love.
The spring of 1824 was wet and miserable, and it
unfortunately caught Byron while he was still weak
from the convulsive fits of mid-February. He
continued to carry out his duties and seemed on the
path to certain recovery. But in early April he was
caught outdoors in a rainstorm; though drenched
and chilled, he did not hurry home. Unfortunately,
he caught a violent cold which was soon aggravated
by the bleeding insisted on by the doctors. Though
he briefly rallied, the cold grew worse; he eventually
slipped into a coma. Around six o'clock in the
evening of 19 April 1824, he passed away.
Deeply mourned by the Greeks, he became a
hero throughout their land. His body was
embalmed; the heart was removed and
buried in Missolonghi. His remains were
then sent to England and, refused burial in
Westminster Abbey, placed in the vault of his
ancestors near Newstead.
St. Mary Magdalene Church - final resting
place of George Gordon, Lord Byron
His memoirs, which he intended for
publication after his death, were
burned by a group of his friends.
Ironically, 145 years after his death, in 1969, a
memorial to Byron was finally placed on the
floor of the Abbey.
Memorial plaque inside Westminster Abbey
1825

Murray produces an eight-volume
edition of Byron's poetry, and
Hazlitt's essay on ‘Lord Byron'
appears in The Spirit of the Age.
1826

Don Juan is published in two volumes.
The life of Byron has been the source of endless
anecdotes, from his own time to ours. His
character, wit, and charm were impressed upon
virtually everyone who met him. Beyond the
opinions of others, however, one can know Byron
on a personal level - through the letters and
journals which chronicle every aspect of his life in
his own words. These personal writings possess
all the immediate force and vitality of his poetry.
Byron exercised a marked influence on
Continental literature and art, and his
reputation as poet is higher in many European
countries than in England or America,
although not as high as in his time.
The re-founding of the Byron Society in 1971
reflects the fascination that many people have for
Byron and his work. This society has become very
active, publishing a learned annual journal. Today
some 36 International Byron Societies function
throughout the world, and an International
Conference takes place annually. Hardly a year
passes without a new book about the poet
appearing. In the last 20 years two new feature
films about him have screened, and a television
play has been broadcast.
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