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intimacy fosters the community of the poem, and encourages the reader
to enjoy the serendipity of ˜dear Murray™ as an aside to Byron™s publisher.
In a Bloomian sense, it is an example of ˜Clinamen™ and ˜Tessera™: Byron
has swerved away from Pope by alternating the lines to ¬t into ottava rima;
he also hijacks the ˜Nil admirari™ dictat and antithetically completes it. In
spite of Murray™s fears, cantos ©©©, © and  sold well when they were
published in August ±±. But, between this volume and the subsequent
instalment of Don Juan, there was a radical change in the politics of
publication and in the poet™s attitude to his readers.
Murray had never been wholly at ease with Byron™s ˜turn for satire™
(Byron complained that he had ˜played the Stepmother to D[on] J[uan] “
throughout™ ); his ¬rm had lost the copyright to Cain and he had to face
a small pamphlet war over its publication. Murray™s political allegiances
and the necessity of running a business led to a horri¬ed outburst when
Byron associated with the Hunts (˜My company used to be courted for the
pleasure of talking about you “ it is totally the reverse now . . . we are in
constant alarm but [Augusta] should be deprived of her situation about
Court™µ° ). This combination of pressures led him to refuse to publish
cantos ©“©©© of Don Juan (˜they were so outrageously shocking that
I would not publish them if you were to give me your Estate “ Title
and Genius “ For Heaven™s sake revise them™). Byron then made his
most overt political gesture since his maiden speech, he withdrew from
Murray as a publisher and Murray™s ˜customers among the Orthodox™
as his readership. The epigraph to cantos ©, ©© and ©©© intimated this
change of tone:
˜Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more Cakes and
Ale?™ “ ˜Yes, by St. Anne; and Ginger shall be hot i™ the mouth too!™ “

The motto from Twelfth Night constructs Byron™s ex-readers and his ex-
publisher as Malvolio, a puritanical hypocrite outside the community
of the poem. This move had been anticipated by the ±± Letter to John
Murray Esqre., where several reviewers picked up Byron™s reference to
England as ˜your Country™: ˜it is by this pronoun that Lord B designated
the country of himself and his fathers™.µ± Byron™s ¬‚aunted sense of alien-
ation was a response to the erosion of his friends™ con¬dence in Don Juan
and was, no doubt, also adopted to rile his critics. Both the epigraph for
the new volume and the prose preface appear in Mary Shelley™s fair copy
of the canto dated ±. It was in this preface to canto © that Byron
adopted a more judgemental approach towards the opponents of his
±°±
˜Hints from Horace™ and the trouble with decency
poem who (according to Byron) were also the supporters of a discredited
ministry and court. The effect of the change of publishers on the recep-
tion of the poem was instantaneous. All the Tory and moderate Whig
periodicals registered and lamented the signi¬cance of Byron™s ˜falling
off ™ into a ˜shilling™s worth of dirty brown paper™.µ Byron™s acute aware-
ness of the arbitrary opprobrium which was heaped on Murray, John
Hunt and himself became part of the way he addressed his readers.
In ˜Some Observations Upon an Article in Blackwood™s Edinburgh
Magazine™ (±°), Byron listed the disciples of Pope and added that there
were ˜others who have not had their full fame . . . because there is a For-
tune in Fame as in all other things™.µ Byron™s realisation of the way that
names fell in and out of fashion in the literary world informed his view of
the way that military fame (like the outcome of the Siege of Ismail) was
constructed in the political world. Hints from Horace (±±±) played with the
idiom of Popean satire as a way of advancing Byron™s reputation because
it was ˜the most dif¬cult poem in the language™.µ By the time that Pope
(and that whole ˜dif¬cult™ tradition) came under attack, Byron himself
was experiencing the vagaries of ˜the order of the day™ in the changed
currency of his own name. He was half baf¬‚ed and half de¬ant about
the forces which made previously unquestioned notions of aesthetic value
˜heterodox™ and ˜unpopular™.µµ
Byron emphasised the nine years between the original composition of
the Hints and their second preparation for publication (BLJ, ©©, p. ±·).
The appeal of the nine years was that it coincided with Horace™s dictum:
˜nonumque prematur in annum™, but the passage of time haunted Byron
in other ways too. In a digression from Horace in the ±±± Hints, Byron
had attacked the ˜Methodistic men™ (l. ) who opposed the theatre
on moral grounds, and digressed on the difference between previous
generations and ˜this nice age, when all aspire to Taste™:
The dirty language, and the noisome jest,
Which pleased in Swift of yore, we now detest.
(ll. “)

This was exactly the matter which had come to the fore in the reception
of Don Juan: ˜™Tis all the same to me; I™m fond of yielding™, Byron gibed at
Murray and the orthodox families in canto ©, ˜And therefore leave them
to the purer page/Of Smollet, Prior, Ariosto, Fielding,/Who say strange
things for so correct an age™ (©. ). The most daring cultural revelation
in Cain was that morality was really a matter of fashion (and that God
was as changeable as the English public). This idea resurfaced in Byron™s
±° Byron, Poetics and History
prose defence of Pope when he referred scathingly to ˜this immaculate pe-
riod, this Moral Millennium of expurgated editions in books, manners “
and royal trials for divorce. “ “ “ “ “™.µ Byron attempted to defend Pope
from Bowles™s charge of ˜the strange mixture of indecent and sometimes
profane levity which his conduct and language often exhibited™.µ· In ±±,
this was as much a defence of Byron™s own writing as Pope™s, and hav-
ing referred the reader to the comedies of Congreve and others ˜which
naturally attempted to represent the manners & conversation of private
life™, Byron attacked

The re¬nement of latter days “ which is perhaps the consequence of Vice
which wishes to mask & soften itself . . . The Delicacy of the day is exactly in
all it™s circumstances like that of this respectable foreigner [a famous French
˜Entremetteuse™] “ “ ˜It ensures every ˜Succes™ & is not a whit more moral “
than, & not half so honourable “ as “ the coarser candour of our less polished
ancestors. (Byron, Complete Miscellaneous Prose, pp. ±“·°)

The plethora of quotation marks which appear in the ˜Observations
Upon Observations™ may provide some explanation of the increased fre-
quency of signalled allusion in Don Juan cantos ©, ©© and ©©©. Innuendo,
legal allegations and journalistic reportage breed quotation marks (or, as
they are suggestively called now, ˜scare quotes™) and since Byron was ex-
pecting his readership to read him warily, he cultivated his own method
of textual insinuation. By signalling some, but not all, instances of inter-
textuality he played with the offensive possibility that any allusion might
be ˜indelicate™. Henry Crabb Robinson identi¬ed in Byron™s defence of
Pope a judgement ˜given to the world out of spite and affectation™; Lady
Blessington recorded the same impression: ˜Byron is so prone to talk for
effect . . . and takes pleasure in . . . wounding the vanity of the English.™µ
Their sense of a public performance captures the testing, provocative
style of Byron™s relationship with Pope.
Byron™s lack of faith in the taste of his contemporary readers has al-
ready been suggested in the discussion of English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.
In ±°“± this became more acute, gathering to a crisis of readership.
Byron™s second revision of the Hints seems to have prompted an urgent
sense that his readers constituted the main locus of meaning, and that
they could not be relied upon. This suspicion, and Byron™s acceptance
of its implications, led to a change of tone in Don Juan from canto ©
to the end of the poem. The later cantos of Don Juan are increasingly
alert to the relativity governing their reception and they foreground the
relationship between context and literary conventions rather than the
Lake School convention of ˜natural™ lyrical over¬‚ow.
±°
˜Hints from Horace™ and the trouble with decency
In the ±± Letter to John Murray Esqre., Byron stressed the role of art, the
˜exquisitely arti¬cial™ and the ˜superarti¬cial™.µ Bowles™s writing on Pope
had argued that the ˜passions of the human heart which belong to nature
in general, are, per se, more adapted to the higher species of Poetry than
those which are derived from incidental and transient manners™.° Byron
rejected this elevation of the general over the particular and the very pos-
sibility of ˜invariable principles™. In this regard, Byron™s prose criticism
adumbrates the juxtapositions we have found in his verse texture. Dis-
cussing the appeal of Campbell™s ˜Ship™, Byron asks his reader: ˜Is the
Sea itself “ a more attractive “ a more moral a more poetical “ object
with or without a vessel “ breaking it™s vast but fatiguing monotony?™±
The idea of the ˜break™ admitting a space for human ingenuity ap-
pealed to Byron as a way of interrupting the gushing Lake and Cockney
Schools. It recalls Henry Fielding™s discussion of his ˜little spaces™ or
˜resting-places™ between chapters where the reader is advised to pause
and take refreshment:
I would not advise him to travel through these pages too fast: for if he doth, he
may probably miss the seeing [of ] some curious productions of nature which
will be observed by the slower and more accurate reader. A volume without any
such places of rest resembles the opening of wilds or the seas, which tires the
eye and fatigues the spirit when entered upon.

Byron developed this eighteenth-century narrative convention by fore-
grounding the human activity which creates the ˜little spaces™ and
changes of perspective. One of the most wearisome aspects of the
Pope/Bowles controversy was Bowles™s insistence that his arguments had
been misrepresented by critics who set out to ˜pervert™ his sentiments.
The vast bulk of his writing on the topic was, therefore, a laboured and
vain attempt to ¬x his meaning beyond any doubt with the help of ital-
ics, capitalisation and quotation. Byron™s reading of Bowles™s extensive
correspondence on the topic can only have enforced his (already acute)
awareness of the relativity of perception and the probability of a text™s
being misconstrued or recon¬gured altogether by its readers. Human
craftsmanship in the face of overwhelming odds, therefore, becomes the
most signi¬cant agency in Byron™s recollection of the anchorage off Cape
Sigeum:
The Sight of these little scudding vessels darting over the foam in the twilight “
now appearing “ and now disappearing between the waves in the cloud of
night . . . all struck me as something far more ˜poetical™ than the mere broad “
brawling “ shipless Sea & the sullen winds could possibly have been without
them. (Byron, Complete Miscellaneous Prose, pp. ±± “)
±° Byron, Poetics and History
In both cases, Byron argues for an intermittent awareness of human
design and form. His attraction towards discontinuity in writing may
be read fruitfully with Barthes™s The Pleasure of the Text:
It is intermittence, as psychoanalysis has so rightly stated, which is erotic: the
intermittence of skin ¬‚ashing between two articles of clothing (trousers and
sweater), between two edges (the open-necked shirt, the glove and the sleeve);
it is this ¬‚ash itself which seduces, or rather: the staging of an appearance-as-
disappearance.µ

The difference between Barthes and Byron, at this point, would be that
Byron is more interested in a disrupted continuum, how one goes on
with the rest of the ravelled sleeve or the uncovered skin beneath after
interruption. Byron™s poem is involved in what Michael Cooke calls ˜the
universe of the unpredictable™. Barthes, however, is happy to regard the
˜¬‚ash™ as an occurrence which appears among so many other isolated
˜stagings™. Byron™s insistence that works of human art are worth more
than ˜inanimate nature™ in being ˜direct manifestations of the mind™ sum-
marises his difference from the Lake and Cockney Schools of poetry and
ironically, from the School of Pope. Pope celebrates the human scene
as ˜A mighty maze! but not without a plan™: Byron™s poetry repudiates
(while his prose rejects outright) ˜plan™ and ˜system™. Instead, he places
his trust in what is constructed moment by moment in the formal prop-
erties of the poem, while acknowledging that these are, to some extent,
contingent on the plan of the reader.
As we have seen, the signals which mark some of Byron™s allusions
prevent them from being absorbed and assimilated (in a Bloomian way)
into the new text. Instead, the uncertain presence of another text is an
invitation to the reader to digress. The signalling of allusion offers an
intermittent reminder that the reader generates meaning from a verbal
texture in which many strands are woven. As we divert from one reading
to follow any other of these pathways, we become aware that each reading
passes over multiple contiguous threads. This idea of poetic surface comes
very close to Sir Joshua Reynolds™s image of artistic disaster: ˜The detail of
particulars™, he argued, ˜which does not assist the expression of the main
characteristick, is worse than useless, it is mischievous, as it dissipates
the attention, and draws it from the principal point.™· Our ¬‚ickering
awareness of the poem as a surface to be modi¬ed by each reader is what
makes Byronic digressive intertextuality so different in quality from other
Romantic modes of allusion. The difference between them could be read
as the difference between Barthes™s text of pleasure and the unpredictable
±°µ
˜Hints from Horace™ and the trouble with decency
text of bliss:
Text of pleasure: the text that contents, ¬lls, grants euphoria; the text that
comes from culture and does not break with it, is linked to a comfortable practice
of reading. Text of bliss: the text that imposes a state of loss, the text that discom-
forts (perhaps to the point of a certain boredom), unsettles the reader™s historical,
cultural, psychological assumptions, the consistency of his tastes, values, mem-
ories, brings to a crisis his relation with language.
Having seen how Byron™s poetry unsettled his contemporary readers by
appearing simultaneously to uphold and to break with English culture,
the next chapter examines the ways in which Byron™s digressive inter-
textuality in Don Juan historicises high art.
° ¦µ

Uncertain blisses: Don Juan, digressive intertextuality
and the risks of reception



In the last three chapters we have seen how Byron disconcerted his ¬rst
readers, his friends and his publisher by recon¬guring the rich satiric tra-
ditions of Churchill, Prior, Sterne and Pope. Their playfulness beckoned
to an adventurous and textually experienced class of readers whose own
protean potential mirrored the writers™ polarities of scurrility and sublim-
ity. But by the early nineteenth century, public manners were changing.
In his early career, Byron™s peerage offered the alibi of social class for
stylistic misdemeanour, but even before he left England his digressive po-
etics were beginning to place the relationship between poet and reader
in jeopardy.
Byron™s susceptibility to awkward particulars was especially troubling
to the ˜middling™ readership with its reliance on a conservative, polite
concept of the general. The poetics of factual speci¬city jolted the reader
out of neatly consolidated expectations about genre and taste and into
sudden encounters with physical minutiae. William Hazlitt described
this experience as a form of textual travel sickness the reader shared
with the seasick Don Juan, complaining that ˜after the lightning and
the hurricane, we are introduced to the interior of the cabin and the
contents of wash-hand basins™.± Shadowing the ottava rima verse, the
Pope/Bowles controversy was also received as a fall from grace. Thomas
Moore recorded in his journal, ˜ “ the whole thing unworthy of him “ a
Leviathan among small fry “ He has had the bad taste to allude to an
anecdote which I told him about Bowles™s early life, which is even worse
than Bowles.™ Once again, the personal and the particular are seen to
violate the integrity of good taste. From the start of his career, Byron™s
attention to ˜things™ made for a peculiarly close, theatrical relationship
between him and his readership. Things came to a head with Don Juan,
and we shall now examine the relationship between poetics and history
in this poem to see how the play of digression in Byron™s poetry forced his

±°
±°·
˜Don Juan™, digressive intertextuality and the risks of reception
readers to participate in the aesthetic debates of contemporary reviews
and pamphlet controversies.
Up to this point, we have focused on the digressive poetics signalled
typographically by marks such as brackets or inverted commas. Beyond
these devices, however, Byron™s ottava rima satire invites its readers to
change course in a number of other ways such as the intertextual games
of the Dedication:
If fallen in evil days on evil tongues,
Milton appeal™d to the Avenger, Time.

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