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thing when blood is their argument? (©. ±. ll. ±µ“).
Willliams™s speech tests the raw edges of individual things against the
abstract notion of a cause. In the play his points are answered and sub-
sumed, but Byron™s digressive use of Shakespeare brilliantly keeps the
general overview of leader and leader writers under interrogation by the
˜particular endings of his soldiers™ (©. ±. l. ±°). The awkwardness and
grotesqueries of the siege cantos (such as the cruel jokes about rape and
the gratuitous anecdote about dismemberment ˜(but they lie) ™tis said /
To the live leg still clung the severed head™ (©©©. )), are all part of this
unsettling texture. In the same way, the rescue of Leila (with its curi-
ous echoes of Keats) is calculated to be ˜“quite refreshing”™ because ˜to
quote / Too much of one sort would be sopori¬c™ (©©©. °; ). As the Scots
Magazine complained: ˜The episode of the little child . . . would have been
extremely touching, had it not been bedevilled by that accursed mockery
which the poet will indulge upon every event, and every subject™ (RR, B:
, p. ±µ).
Over and over again, the reader comes up against moments where
it is necessary to share responsibility for being witty and rhyming ˜like
Nero, o™er a burning city™ (©©©. ±). We ¬nd our way by faint traces
of previous texts, sometimes following routes that no one else will have
found through the poem. This is directed in part by the surface of the
poem which leads us to digress with signalled allusion but also leaves us to
digress with fainter echoes. We cannot predict exactly what will occur;
our reading of a stanza can turn in several different ways, and when
we watch what happens on a small scale we may modify our broader
view. When Byron incorporates a signalled allusion there is a strong
probability that the reader will recognise it while being uncertain about
what the new con¬guration will be.
˜Odd™ is a word which recurs throughout canto ©©©: ˜some odd an-
gle™ (©©©. °), ˜one of those odd turns of Fortune™s tides™ (©©©. ·), ˜that
odd impulse™ (©©©. ), ˜Some odd mistakes too happened in the dark™
± Byron, Poetics and History
(©©©. ±°). It is a word which signals unpredictability or irregularity: the
odd one is the surplus or the remainder, ˜the third man . . . who gives
the casting vote™ (OED). The ˜odds™ represent ˜chances™ or ˜balances of
probability in favour of something happening or being the case™ (OED).
The recurrence of this word at this point in the poem works as a double
for the reader™s uncertainty when confronted by the poetic texture of
literary and cultural echoes.
Throughout cantos ©© and ©©© signalled allusion functions to question
received patterns of language:
˜Ashes to ashes™ “ why not lead to lead?
(©©©. ±°)
Byron™s insistence on a literal reading of quotation assists this process:
˜God save the king!™ and kings!
For if he don™t, I doubt if men will longer.
(©©©. µ°)
This little gibe recreates the patterns of reformist Whig toasts in which
the establishment slogans were ironically quali¬ed (˜The King and
Constitution “ and a speedy recovery to both™; ˜Trial by Jury “ and
may its suspensions be suspended™ ). The digressive interruptions of
Don Juan are, however, open to a wider audience than the participants
of an exclusive political club. In the siege cantos, in particular, Byron
commends to all readers of newspapers the way in which digressive allu-
sions fragment journalistic rendering of fact. To this end, emphatic use is
made of the parenthetical aside, offering the reader the experience of a
parallel universe which juxtaposes of¬cial report and uncensored horror.
In canto ©©©, parentheses can function as a temporal space in or during
which someone is killed:
He climbed to where the parapet appears;
But there his project reached its utmost pitch,
(™Mongst other deaths the General Ribaupierre™s
Was much regretted) for the Moslem Men
Threw them all down into the ditch again.
(©©©. ·±)
The parenthesis here holds a fragment of military dispatch, but its
digressiveness alters the value it would have had in a different context. Its
effect eerily anticipates Virginia Woolf ™s detached reporting of the deaths
of Mrs Ramsay, Prue Ramsay and Andrew Ramsay in the ˜Time Passes™
section of To the Lighthouse.µ This graphic interruption of mortality recurs
±µ
˜Don Juan™, digressive intertextuality and the risks of reception
three stanzas later as authorial digression indulges a minor correction:
The Kozacks, or if so you please, Cossacques “
(I don™t much pique myself upon orthography,
So that I do not grossly err in facts,
Statistics, tactics, politics and geography) “
Having been used to serve on horses™ backs,
And no great dilettanti in topography
Of fortresses, but ¬ghting where it pleases
Their chiefs to order, “ were all cut to pieces.
(©©©. ·)

The parenthesis here makes an incursion on the territory of the footnote
but in the time it takes to suggest pedantic attention to the proper name
for ˜Cossacques™, their existence has been cancelled out anyway.
Digressive allusion may be seen as a vehicle of individual uncertainty
which stands against (rather than re¬‚ects) the massive uncertainties of
Ismail. From a humanist perspective, the digressions of the Siege of
Ismail af¬rm the ability of Juan, the narrator and (crucially) the reader
to behave unpredictably in an environment where the scale of ˜Fate,
or Circumstance™ threatens to cancel out the living particular. When
Shakespearean or other texts are overtly signalled, therefore, it is im-
portant that they are not easy guarantees of success or artistic ˜indepen-
dence™. By signalling the ˜oddness™ of allusion, and by not signalling it
consistently, Byron demands that the reader makes his or her ˜casting
vote™. To recognise oddness, however, the reader has also to assist in the
construction of continuity. What Byron achieves in cantos ©, ©© and ©©©
is the creation of a Shakespearean texture in which Shakespearean text
can still turn up as a ˜trump card™ (©©©. µ). In order to examine these
literary digressive allusions it has been necessary to neglect the variety
of Byronic intertextuality that invites the reader to come to terms with
everyday texts as well as the literary landmarks of national genius. The
next chapter turns to Don Juan™s play with history through the public
communication of newspapers.
° ¦©

˜The worst of sinning™: Don Juan, moral England
and feminine caprice



This chapter traces a new instance of the poem™s intertextural weaving of
history and form. Here the effects of Don Juan™s various literary intertexts
are complicated by material drawn from the less highly wrought source
of contemporary newspapers. Digressive allusions disclose journalistic
details in the fabric of the poem, opening its literary texture to chance
daily ˜events™. Disconcerting the prevailing view that ˜accident™ should
never impinge on the work of art, Byron™s texts insist that the reader is
fully aware of and implicated in the construction of what is accidental.
After investigation of Don Juan™s play with the gazettes, the issue of con-
tingency will focus on a great source of nineteenth-century journalistic
scandal, ˜feminine Caprice™. This form of transgression is thematised in
the poem™s plot, but it is also closely linked with the digressive mode of
the narrator, especially in the English cantos where the reader is drawn
into the dynamics of an intricately constructed plot and the complex
allusive play that colours it.
As we have seen, Byron™s references to other texts are bound up with
his awareness of audience relations. In the multi-volume publication of
Don Juan the recurrence of a particular allusion can test how the poem™s
relationship with the reader might have changed since the last usage.
When we recognise the same intertextual moment in a different context
within the poem, we also experience the precariousness of allusion itself;
we are involved in the risk of audience reception. In cantos  and ©, for
example, a well-known scene from Macbeth is reused and modi¬ed as the
narrator watches
all my gentler dreams
Of what I then dreamt, clothed in their own pall,
Like Banquo™s offspring; “ ¬‚oating past me seems
My childhood in this childishness of mine:
I care not “ ™tis a glimpse of ˜Auld Lang Syne.™
(. ±)

±
±·
˜Don Juan™, moral England and feminine caprice
The connection between Macbeth as a Scottish play, and Byron™s exagger-
ated nostalgia for a former life is reaf¬rmed in canto © as Juan negotiates
the English social round ˜without any “¬‚aws or starts,” ™ (©. ·), and is
admitted to literary coteries where
as in Banquo™s glass,
At great assemblies or in parties small,
He saw ten thousand living authors pass.
(©. µ)

These Macbeth allusions ¬lter our consciousness of Don Juan™s public loss of
˜honour love, obedience, troops of friends™. In the play, Macbeth™s vision
is of a future he dreads, but Byron the narrator gives us a prophecy that
looks backwards to ˜gentler dreams /Of what I then dreamt™. The allusion
directs the reader to Byron™s inaugurating statement, ˜I want a hero™, and
his subsequent list of people who have
¬ll™d their sign-posts then, like Wellesley now;
Each in their turn like Banquo™s monarchs stalk,
Followers of fame, ˜nine farrow™ of that sow.
(©. )

If by the time we reach canto © we can still recall Byron™s assertive
opening, the return of Banquo™s line of descendants now juxtaposes the
fame of Wellington with Byron™s wry view of his own absence in the
future. The presence of another text is a vehicle for our awareness of
historical change: interrupted literary contexts generate the poem™s acute
consciousness of the passing of time and the mutability of literary fame.
Like Byron™s critique of British foreign and economic policy, his picture
of contemporary London and English society is intermingled with and
mediated by literary allusion. Despite the sentimental pose of the exiled
Scot, Don Juan™s mix of literary, historical and journalistic texts interpo-
lates layers of arti¬ce between narrator, reader and the ostensible objects
of the poem. The high frequency of digressive allusion in the English
cantos offers a continual check to the medium of communication, qual-
ifying nostalgia by impeding the construction of an ideal and uni¬ed
past. By drawing attention to the complex texture of narrative, Byron
alienated nineteenth-century Britain from its own self-presentation, invit-
ing the reader to read ˜home™ and ˜nation™ as a series of fragmented
and misbegotten texts. The incorporation of newspaper reports along
with literary allusion is one of the poem™s most brilliant and challenging
innovations.
± Byron, Poetics and History
In the preface to cantos ©, ©© and ©©© Byron announced his quarrel
with what is ˜read in the gazettes™. He pointed out that Castlereagh™s
suicide had received a privileged literary treatment: in contrast to the
savage newspaper responses to Shelley™s drowning, the minister made
˜a sentimental Suicide™, and became by virtue of the press ˜the Werther
of Politics™ (CPW, , p. ).± Byron™s way of objecting to the sentiment
was to allow a parenthetical literary allusion to comment on journalistic
reportage.
He merely cut the ˜carotid artery™ (blessings on their learning) and lo! the
Pageant, and the Abbey! and the ˜Syllables of Dolour yelled forth™ by the News-
papers “ and the harangue of the Coroner in an eulogy over the bleeding body
of the deceased “ (an Anthony worthy of such a Caesar). (CPW, , p. )
Byron™s source for the notorious detail of the ˜carotid artery™ was al-
most certainly the newspaper Galignani™s Messenger (motto: ˜Bona Collegit,
Inania Spernit™) which was published daily Monday to Saturday from
Paris and to which Byron subscribed while he was living in Italy. Its cov-
erage of British news was drawn from a wide variety of sources including
British national and regional papers, and it had a Westminster correspon-
dent. The ¬nal page included a section titled ˜News from France™ which
dealt with European affairs not covered in the British papers. The paper
concluded with advertisements. Each Sunday, Galignani™s Weekly Repertory,
or Literary Gazette reprinted a selection ˜from the most esteemed English
Reviews and Magazines™ on every subject connected with ˜Polite Litera-
ture, Scienti¬c Discoveries and Improvements, Philosophical Researches,
Rural Economy etc. etc. etc.™. Both publications offered ˜Original Anec-
dotes, Letters, Poetry™. Byron referred to the newspaper as Murray™s
˜Holy Ally™, and in the years ±± “ the Messenger™s selection of material
leant more towards Tory papers and journals than others. In the Sunday
Literary Gazette, however, the Examiner was occasionally represented and
in the Messenger, editorial debate between the Tory Courier and the Whig
Chronicle featured regularly. Although he objected to the paper™s inac-
curate reporting of the death of Shelley, Byron was still subscribing to
Galignani™s in April ± when he forwarded his copies to Lord and Lady
Blessington.µ
It was this newspaper which carried the scrupulously precise and si-
multaneously evasive account of Castlereagh™s death from the Herald:
On coming out of his room this morning (Monday), and going into his dressing-
room, Dr. Bankhead followed him; and just as they got in, the Marquis said, ˜It
is of no use,™ and immediately fell into the Doctor™s arms, and was a corpse in
±
˜Don Juan™, moral England and feminine caprice
a moment. It was discovered that he had cut the carotid artery, which leads to
the brain, with a small penknife, with the point turned the reverse way to what
they usually are, which he had taken out of his writing desk.
. . . Lady Londonderry™s sufferings, and the lamentations of the domestics,
present a scene of the most heart-rending af¬‚iction. (GM, no. ·, ± August
±)
Byron™s allusion to the event is likely to have been prompted by the liter-
ary texture of this report “ even the penknife comes out of a writing desk
“ and the ˜scene of the most heart-rending af¬‚iction™ stages Castlereagh™s
suicide as popular theatre. The ˜harangue of the Coroner™ was reported
in Galignani™s from the Courier which again emphasised the dramatic
qualities of the scene:
The Coroner addressed the Jury in a speech of much feeling, in which he
commented on the excellent qualities of the deceased Marquis in private life.
(GM, no. , ±· August ±)
Byron engaged directly with this report in the preface to cantos ©, ©©
and ©©©:
That he was an amiable man in private life, may or may not be true; but with
this the Public have nothing to do. (CPW, , p. µ)
The preface shows us that although Byron™s information was mediated
by Galignani™s editorial policy as well as the particular political outlooks
of his letter-writing friends he was closely aware of events in England.
This awareness has generally been played down by Byron himself, his
friends and his critics, who have all accepted the view of a Byron as
Regency dandy out of touch with English society.· Curiously, in spite of his
protestations that things had changed ˜since [his] time™, Byron™s reading
provided him with a broader survey of public discourse in England than
would have been available to most of his contemporaries. His vehicles
of information, however, meant that whilst he was in full possession of
many relevant facts, transposition of detail proved to be a defamiliarising
process. Byron referred to the Sunday paper as ˜Galignani™s pic-nic sort
of Gazette™ (BLJ, , p. °), and, as Elizabeth French Boyd has suggested
in connection with periodicals like the Edinburgh Review, the eclecticism
of both publications may be seen as a source for some of Don Juan™s
re¬‚ections on English society in particular. Byron™s use of very topical
pieces of news out of context was received by his contemporaries as
writing from a dislocated social position rather than as a re¬‚ection of the
fragmented culture the author and his readers shared.
±° Byron, Poetics and History
The newspaper™s juxtaposition of political outlooks, for example, offers
an interesting context for Byron™s ¬‚uctuating use of the words ˜people™
and ˜mob™. The signi¬cance of these changes has been discussed by

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