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There™s Fortune even in fame, we must allow.
(©©. )

As we have seen in his revisions of Hints from Horace, Byron™s sense of writ-
ing against the odds led him to use similar motifs in his defence of Pope.
In ˜Some Observations Upon an Article in Blackwood™s Edinburgh Maga-
zine™ (±°) he discussed writers ˜who have not had their full fame™, and
observed, ˜there is a Fortune in Fame as in all other things™ (Byron. Com-
plete Miscellaneous Prose, p. ±±·). The ˜artillery™s hits or misses™ at Ismail
recon¬gure the random chances of survival and success which, as
±·
˜Don Juan™, digressive intertextuality and the risks of reception
Byron was keenly aware, applied to the literary world and to his own
reception.
As is well known, Byron detested the way that Wellington had been
credited with military success: ˜“It was the exaggerated praises of the
people in England . . . that indisposed me to the Duke of Wellington”™,
he is supposed to have told Lady Blessington. In terms of the ˜Fortune in
fame™, Wellington™s career was the inverse of Byron™s. Don Juan, however,
makes the most of the idea of fortune not only as a plot device (as in the
lots which are made from Julia™s letter, or the ˜gaming™ (©. ±) of the
London marriage market), but as a process in which the reader takes
part in the haphazardness of digressive poetics:
And then with tears, and sighs, and some slight kisses,
They parted for the present, these to await,
According to the artillery™s hits or misses,
What Sages call Chance, Providence, or Fate “
Uncertainty is one of many blisses,
A mortgage on Humanity™s estate “
While their beloved friends began to arm,
To burn a town which never did them harm.
(©©. ·)
The choice of ˜blisses™ is predictable in terms of the rhyme, but unex-
pected in its location of heightened delight, even sexual pleasure (with its
echo of ˜kisses™) in ˜uncertainty™. The disturbing proximity of the ˜mort-
gage™ metaphor cannot cancel the teasing openness to chance which we
sense in the third rhyme. Through this stanza we can hear Byron under-
cutting a universal acceptance of ˜Chance, Providence, or Fate™, while
embracing, on the level of the individual, a small scale unpredictability “
the ˜beloved™ sexual irresponsibility of Juan and Dudù. This instance of
(unsafe) sexual waywardness seems to offer resistance to the large scale
(wholesale) chance of arming so as ˜to burn a town which never did them
harm™.
Byron also used the idea of uncertainty as a pleasure in Sardanapalus:
¤®°¬µ. There™s something sweet in my uncertainty
I would not change for your Chaldean lore.
(©©. ±. ll. “)
It is interesting that this positive sense of ˜uncertainty™ is not found in
Byron™s verse before ±±. In his ˜Detached Thoughts™ from that year,
Byron wrote a meditation on the excitement of gambling:
I have a notion that Gamblers are as happy as most people “ being always
excited; “ women “ wine “ fame “ the table “ even Ambition “ sate now & then “
but every turn of the card “ & cast of the dice keeps the Gambler alive “ besides
± Byron, Poetics and History
one can Game ten times longer than one can do anything else. “ I was very
fond of it when young “ that is to say of ˜Hazard™ for I hate all Card Games
even Faro . . . I loved and missed the rattle and dash of the box & dice “ and the
glorious uncertainty not only of good luck or bad luck “ but of any luck at all “
as one had sometimes to throw often to decide at all . . . it was the delight of the
thing that pleased me. (BLJ, ©, p. )
The thing again. This meditation locates pleasure in the suddenness of
change which so disconcerted Cohen™s reading of the opening cantos of
Don Juan. It is not until Byron returned to Don Juan and left Murray in
±, however, that variability could be fully inscribed as texture, teasing
the reader with the possibility of different sorts of digressive intertextual-
ity. Byron™s games with allusion are games with predictability and chance
because the reader™s response is an unknown quantity. Bernard Beatty
has observed that a characteristically Byronic technique is to offer a
mode, subvert it, but then endorse it in unexpected fashion. Beatty, how-
ever, does not elaborate on the crucial role of the reader in fashioning
such unexpectedness.° We can sample the multiple layers of allusion in
Byron™s use of Shakespeare in cantos ©© and ©©©: our gaze is pre¬gured
by the ˜two poor girls™, transported from the harem to the ¬eld of Ismail,
who ˜with swimming eyes, / Looked on as if in doubt if they could trust™
(©©. ·). Their uncertainty, delicately rendered by the two ˜ifs™, offers
an image for the way we see the surface of the poem ˜swimming™ at this
point. Byron™s digressive allusions may lead us to a more covert reference,
or they may draw a blank: sometimes the trail of other texts will offer an
extensive digressive labyrinth, whilst at other times an allusion will offer
little or no return.
In the siege cantos we might have expected the frequency of signalled
allusion to decrease in line with the more serious subject matter, but
instead we are presented with copious overt allusions to Shakespearean
drama and other literary texts. The penultimate stanza of canto ©©, for
example, is a compound of Shakespearean and Miltonic intimations of
con¬‚ict:
Hark! through the silence of the cold, dull night,
The hum of armies gathering rank on rank!
Lo! dusky masses steal in dubious sight
Along the leaguered wall and bristling bank
Of the armed river, while with straggling light
The stars peep through the vapours dim and dank,
Which curl in curious wreaths “ How soon the smoke
Of Hell shall pall them in a deeper cloak.
(©©. )
±
˜Don Juan™, digressive intertextuality and the risks of reception
McGann picks up the echo of Macbeth (©. µ. ll. µ°“), but we can also
hear the chorus of Henry V describe the ˜hum of either army™ before
Agincourt in the prologue to Act ©. The ˜dusky masses™ with ˜vapours
dim and dank™ might remind us of the description of ˜smoke and dusky
vapours of the night™ in © Henry VI (©©. . l. ·) and the ˜straggling light™
provides a ¬‚ickering glimpse of the ˜poor straggling soldiers™ of Timon of
Athens (. ±. ll. “·). Human battle in Don Juan creates a ˜Hell™ and, with
Shakespeare, Byron merges a Miltonic account of mischief in waiting.
The ˜dusky masses [stealing]™ and the ˜vapours . . . which curl in curious
wreaths™ also invoke Milton™s Satan as he moves towards Eden and Eve
in Paradise Lost (˜Aloft, incumbent on the dusky air™ (©. l. ); ˜In dusky
wreaths, reluctant ¬‚ames, the sign / Of wrath awaked™ (©. ll. µ“)).
It is important that none of these echoes constitutes a direct, signalled
or ˜loud™ allusion. Instead, Milton and Shakespeare form a compound
memory of epic warfare which allows the poet and reader to touch
familiar material before that texture is disrupted.
In canto ©©© Shakespearean contexts ¬gure both as familiar back-
ground and as estranged moments of foreground. Othello resurfaces as a
source of military images. In stanza , ˜the roar / Of War™s most mortal
engines™ draws on Othello™s willed departure from his occupation:
ye mortal engines, whose wide throats
The immortal Jove™s great clamour counterfeit;
Farewell.
(©©©. . ll. ± “)

and Othello™s chaos haunts the evocation of military chaos in stanza :
the heat
Of Carnage, like the Nile™s sun-sodden Slime,
Engendered monstrous shapes of every Crime.
(©©©. )

McGann™s commentary refers the reader to Cuvier at this point, but it
seems more likely that Byron is mixing Iago™s destructive designs “
I ha™t, it is engender™d; Hell and night
Must bring this monstrous birth to the world™s light.
(©. . ll. °± “)

“ together with the sexual revels of Antony and Cleopatra (˜By the ¬re /
That quickens Nilus™ slime™ (©. . ll. “)). Mingled in this ¬‚uid allusive
texture is Alexander Pope™s creation of the vapourish confusion of the
underworld in canto © of The Rape of the Lock. The muddiness of The
±° Byron, Poetics and History
Dunciad throughout provides a disturbing model for textual miscegena-
tion.± In Pope™s satire, the restless sliding mass offers an image of cultural
confusion from which the poet stands aloof, but for Byron the nightmar-
ish fantasies of Ismail are dangerously close to the meandering process
of his own poem. Contemporary readerly judgement condemned the
poetics of Don Juan as grotesque debauchery while revering the antics of
the warriors in battle as ˜glory™. By bringing the two together, Byron con-
fronts his readers with their responsibility for the assemblage of contexts
which shapes meaning.
Byron™s ability to ¬nd momentary excitement even within the wider
horror of carnage at Ismail is evident in his presentation of Juan ˜Flung
here by fate or Circumstance . . . / Dashed on like a spurred blood-horse
in a race™ (©©©. µ). It reminds us of Byron™s warning self-comparison in
a letter to Murray of ±°: ˜You must not treat a blood horse as you do
your hacks otherwise he™ll bolt out of the course.™ Juan™s battle against
the odds (and sometimes on the wrong side) recon¬gures the ironies and
accidents of Don Juan™s ˜intellectual war™.
The effect of this mixture is that Don Juan rede¬nes the epic tradition
not only at the level of panorama (as in ˜A panorama view of hell™s in
training™ (©. °°)), but also at the level of the line and even the word.
A single syllable is enough to de¬‚ect the reader into another scene, to
adjust the perspective and let the light fall in a different way. McGann
identi¬es an ˜echo™ of Hamlet (˜Let the galled jade wince, our withers are
unwrung™ (©©©. . ll. µ“)) when Byron turns to consider the people or
˜Mob™ under Wellington™s ˜heavy™ pensions:
The veriest jade will wince whose harness wrings
So much into the raw as quite to wrong her
Beyond the rules of posting, “ and the Mob
At last fall sick of imitating Job.
(©©©. µ°)
There is, however, another Shakespearean source which carries the sense
of ˜the people™ starting to stir to a recognition of injustice. At the begin-
ning of Act ©© in © Henry IV, two carriers and an ostler converse in an inn
yard:
¦©     ©  . I prithee, Tom, beat Cut™s saddle, put a few ¬‚ocks in the
point; poor jade is wrung in the withers out of all cess.
   ® ¤   ©. Peas and beans are as dank here as a dog, and that is the
next way to give poor jades the bots: this house is turned upside down since
Robin Ostler died. (© ©. ±. ll. µ“±°)
±±
˜Don Juan™, digressive intertextuality and the risks of reception
Although the line from Hamlet holds a closer linguistic echo, it has almost
certainly been compounded with the sense of mistreatment (˜Beyond the
rules of posting™) from the scene in Henry IV. This allows us to see how
Byron responded to Shakespeare™s particularity: the wording from Hamlet
¬‚ares up as a verbal oddity, but the emotional dynamic of the stanza
comes from a speci¬c dramatic incident. The effect of such digressive
allusions is to challenge the expectation of epic unity with a divided alle-
giance to parts which perplex the whole. Divided allegiance is, of course,
the political threat which destabilises Wellington™s self-presentation as
hero:
The Briton must be bold who really durst
Put to such trial John Bull™s partial patience,
As say that Wellington at Waterloo
Was beaten, “ though the Prussians say so too; “
(©. )
Byron™s affront to the prevailing view of Wellington follows his ˜hetero-
dox™ defence of Pope. These stands are made not just for the sake of
opposing the popular view, but because a view which is received rather
than realised entails smoothing over vital particulars.
More of the Shakespearean matrix of canto ©©© can be seen in stanza
, where the reader is teased with the possibility of multiple allusions,
and of the widely differing tones of the digressive process:
They fell as thick as harvests beneath hail,
Grass before scythes, or corn below the sickle,
Proving that trite old truth, that life™s as frail
As any other boon for which men stickle.
The Turkish batteries thrashed them like a ¬‚ail
Or a good boxer, into a sad pickle,
Putting the very bravest, who were knocked
Upon the head, before their guns were cocked.
(©©©. )
McGann™s commentary informs the reader that the ¬rst two lines of this
stanza are Biblical (CPW, , p. ·). It would be in keeping with the
process of Don Juan to refer to the Old Testament as ˜trite old truth™, but
it is also one of Byron™s characteristic ways of crediting Shakespeare:
I think one Shakespeare puts the same thought in
The mouth of some one in his plays so doating,
Which many people pass for wits by quoting.
(©©. ±)
± Byron, Poetics and History
The elegiac image of collapsing troops is undercut by a coarser register
of haggling (˜As any other boon for which men stickle™). Byron also dis-
turbs the harvest simile by introducing the physical labour of agriculture
(˜thrashed them like a ¬‚ail™), and then by slipping into the slang of prize
¬ghts and eating (˜pickle™ in OED carries the meanings of preserved food,
a sorry plight, and a single grain of wheat or oats). The battle-as-harvest
occurs several times in Shakespearean drama, most notably in Henry V,
with Henry™s speech before Har¬‚eur:
If I begin the batt™ry once again
. . . the ¬‚esh™d soldier, rough and hard of heart,
In liberty of bloody hand shall range
With conscience wide as hell, mowing like grass
Your fresh-fair virgins and your ¬‚ow™ring infants.
(©©©. . ll. ·“±)
This moment from the history plays may be ¬ltered through an account
of Macbeth™s military achievements:
As thick as hail,
Came post with post; and every one did bear
Thy praises
(©. . ll. ·“ ),
and Byron™s stanza may also be drawing on Shelley™s Hellas (with its own
disconcerting reference to food):
the batteries blazed
Kneading them down with ¬re and iron rain:
Yet none approached till like a ¬eld of corn
Under the hook of the swart sickleman
The band, intrenched in mounds of Turkish dead,
Grew weak.
( ll. °“µ)
In stanza  we might be aware of several juxtaposed contexts: ˜as thick
as . . . hail™ from Macbeth, the image of about-to-be mown grass from
Henry V, and the sense of the imminent scything from Hellas. It appears
here as elsewhere in Don Juan that Byron is using a network of other texts
to create a claustrophobically dense literary texture of warfare. As the
reader considers how to respond to these verbal oddities and anomalies,
digressive minutiae counter the generalising tendency of epic.
Rather than proclaiming ˜difference from™ Shakespeare, as Bate sug-
gests, Don Juan ¬nds unfamiliarity within Shakespeare as well known quo-
tations are realised in unexpected ways. Byron highlights the subversive
±
˜Don Juan™, digressive intertextuality and the risks of reception
questioning of national military purpose which is contained within
Shakespeare™s Henry V where three soldiers meet the disguised King
before Agincourt and put the cause to trial:
But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make;
when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in a battle, shall join
together at the latter day, and cry all, ˜We died at such a place™; some swearing,
some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some
upon the debt they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there
are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any

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