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Malcolm Kelsall who maintains that Byron™s use of ˜the people™ and
˜mobs™ in the same stanza (©. µ) ˜totters with insecurity™.±° Alternatively,
we can read this stanza as a collage of literary and journalistic voices
in which the instability re¬‚ects competing discourses of nationhood in
contemporary Britain. In Galignani™s Messenger for  August ±, a piece
from The Times discussed how the press had reported the transportation
of Castlereagh™s remains to Westminster Abbey. Several Tory papers had
expressed horror at the ˜coarse exultation of the populace™, but The Times
was more cautious:
Let not the name of ˜rabble™ be foolishly applied to this unsophisticated class
of our fellow subjects. What the rabble feel strongly, it is certain that many of
those who are not rabble think. (GM, no. )

This report shows that the naming of political factions is as self-conscious
in ± as it was in ±± when Byron drew attention to the different
agendas behind the appellations of ˜People™ and ˜Mob™ in his parliamen-
tary speech in support of the frame-breakers. The debate is about how
parts are to be related to a concept of the whole nation: could dissonant
voices be read as mere ˜accidentals™ or as a synecdochal representation
of the collective view? By assembling opposed editorial perspectives and
by the ¬‚uidity of its manner of reference (sometimes suppressing and
sometimes highlighting the contextual frames), Don Juan fragments con-
servative complacency about a uni¬ed Britain.
In canto ©©, the scathing account of John Bull™s ˜hallucination™ “
Debt he calls wealth, and taxes, Paradise;
And Famine, with her gaunt and bony growth,
Which stare him in the face, he won™t examine,
Or swears that Ceres hath begotten Famine.
(©©. µ)

“ sounds like an ottava rima recasting of a satirical poem which appeared
in Galignani™s Messenger no. ±° (± April ±±):
The Wonderful Era
Tho™ miracles, ceasing, are now seen by no man
In the rest of the globe, still in England they™re common.
Ask why there is nothing but starving redundant?
You™re told ™tis because of our harvests abundant!
±±
˜Don Juan™, moral England and feminine caprice
Why the country™s ¬nances are running so taper?
You™re answered because we have gold, and not paper!
And why poverty reigns, when our armaments cease?
™Tis all through transition from warfare to peace!
What then places the land in a ˜¬‚ourishing™ station?
˜Why our debt,™ replied Van, ˜is the wealth of the nation™
And this being true, without food, without breeches,
No country like England for rolling in riches!
Such miracles blessing, no perils dare brave us “
And only another is wanting to save us!

Byron was composing canto ©© in ± when the news on England™s
¬nancial situation was much the same as the year before. In one sense, it is
this unchanging condition of the country which lies behind the frustration
of ˜he won™t examine™. Part of the point of Byron™s repetition is that
because of the British Establishment™s ability to put a self-congratulatory
gloss over other evidence, political satire has an unusually long shelf life.
Material features of the text of Don Juan draw attention to particulars
which interrupt the smooth presentation of national propaganda. That
same materiality, however, recognises that readers will only notice what
they have chosen to see.
Throughout cantos ©©“©, Byron interrupted his narrative with
snatches of the current newspaper debate. By mentioning bishops ˜taken
by the tail™ (©©©. ·), ˜taxes, Castlereagh, and debt™, ˜Ireland™s present
story™ (©©©. ±µ), ˜ “Gentlemen Farmers” ™, and the falling price of oats
(©. ), Byron returned to England the news which he had received out
of it.±± The precision of his reference is clear in the parting shot of canto :
Teach them the decencies of good threescore;
Cure them of tours, Hussar and Highland dresses;
Tell them that youth once gone returns no more;
That hired huzzas redeem no land™s distresses;
Tell them Sir W[i]ll[ia]m C[ur]t[i]s is a bore,
Too dull even for the dullest of excesses “
The witless Falstaff of a hoary Hal,
A fool whose bells have ceased to ring at all.
(. )

Mary Shelley appreciated the joke, calling it ˜the most severe satire I ever
read “ what is Falstaff without his wit but a thing an old play must give a
name to “ and Hal without his youth but an unpardonable rake™, but she
didn™t appreciate how nicely the image refracted a patriotic outlook.±
Byron™s stanza is a direct answer to a report from Edinburgh on the
± Byron, Poetics and History
King™s visit (staged by Walter Scott) to Scotland, reprinted in Galignani™s
Messenger on  August ±:
His Majesty appeared at the levee on Saturday in a full Highland uniform, of
what is called the Stuart tartan. It is a dress which requires a tall and robust
¬gure to produce advantageous display, and the general opinion of the levee was,
that this martial and picturesque dress was never worn to more advantage: he
wore the Highland broad sword, pistols and phileberg, and had quite a martial
air. Next appeared in a similar garb Sir Wm. Curtis; but the worthy Baronet™s
¬gure was anything but that of the hardy, swarthy Highlander; what it wanted,
however, in the air of the soldier, was abundantly supplied in the comfortable
and jolly expression of the citizen. The worthy Baronet laughed heartily himself
at the merriment his presence excited among the Highland Chieftains, who, for
the ¬rst time, had to rank such a ¬gure among their clans. Sir Wm., however,
makes a better soldier than Falstaff, while he rivals him in the better part of his
other gay quali¬cations. (GM, no. )
We can see how Byron has punctuated the excited report of the Royal
Tour (˜Highland dresses™, ˜merriment™, ˜Sir Wm. Curtis™ as ˜Falstaff ™) with
an alternative point of view. Byron burlesques the newspaper™s patriotic
Falstaff allusion by casting him as an exhibit of senility: Falstaff becomes
˜witless™ and (sexually) impotent, ˜A fool whose bells have ceased to ring
at all™.
Two stanzas earlier, Byron warns his ˜gentle countrymen™ that he is
about to ˜renew / Our old acquaintance™. The juxtaposition of ˜new™
and ˜old™ in these lines duplicates the mixture of material characteristic
of the English cantos. By intermingling reminiscence and contemporary
journalism, Byron unsettles the tone of nostalgia. To some extent, the
Tory reviewers™ insistence that Byron was out of touch carries a tacit
recognition that he was indeed striking home: indeed, the narrator of
the English cantos must have appeared as a sort of Banquo™s ghost, a
disruptive presence at a feast, showing how the present is predicated
upon the past:
Oh, pardon me digression “ or at least
Peruse! ™Tis always with a moral end
That I dissert, like Grace before a feast.
(©©. )

The picture conveyed through the English cantos in Don Juan has usually
been ascribed to Byron™s remembered experience of Regency London;
but the city which Juan encounters is much closer than has been recog-
nised to the view of London propagated by the Tory press in ±“
while Byron was composing these cantos.
±
˜Don Juan™, moral England and feminine caprice
Juan™s encounter with the highway robber at the beginning of canto
© has been likened by Elizabeth French Boyd to an incident in Hope™s
Anastasius, but the emphasis on the robber™s peculiar vocabulary makes
it likely that Byron™s reading of newspaper reports also contributed to
the episode.± Galignani™s Messenger carried a regular column of crime
stories from Bow Street, and on  January ±± it offered a lengthy
report of the ˜Mysterious Death™ of a man found shot dead. His killer
came forward and gave an account of an attempted highway robbery
which had been foiled by the intended victim drawing and ¬ring on his
assailant. Two details in particular may have caught Byron™s attention:
the highwayman™s melodramatic exclamation ˜Oh! I am killed!™ (Tom
calls out, ˜ “Oh Jack! I™m ¬‚oored” ™(©. ±)), and the reported sentiments
of the man who shot him:
The very peculiar and con¬‚icting feelings of the moment “ gratitude for my
own providential escape “ and sorrow for the victim of his own attempted
crime, operated powerfully on my mind. (GM, no. ±)
Juan also ˜wished he had been less hasty with his ¬‚int™ (©. ±) and went
swiftly through the process of the coroner™s inquest (a formality which
Galignani™s Messenger always observed). On ±° April ± its Bow Street
criminal column reported ˜the disgraceful scene™ of a ¬ght between two
women, one of whom was called ˜Sall™. This may be the source of the
name for ˜Sal™ who never receives Tom™s blood-stained cravat.
The Bow Street column specialised in reproducing the individual di-
alects of people hauled before magistrates. Most of them, when groping
for explanations, would refer to ˜something of that ™ere sort™ (rather as
Tom gestures to ˜ “that ™ere bloody Frenchman” ™) and the reports also
emphasised the communication dif¬culties between law-enforcers and
transgressors, as in their account of a ˜Ball and Rout Extraordinary™ on
± April ±±:±
Mr C. ˜I merely went in for a lark™
Magistrate ˜. . . I must say I do not understand your language™
Mr C. ˜Well, Sir, I suppose you have been a young man yourself, sometime or
other, and everybody, now-a-days, knows what a lark means.™
The magistrate declared himself perfectly unaware of the meaning of the word,
and made some severe remarks upon the Rev. Gentleman™s manner, but even-
tually, he was discharged. (GM, no. ±°)
In this way, contemporary slang was reproduced in italics, or underlined,
or placed in inverted commas, thus providing a rich contemporary source
for Byron™s ˜¬‚ash™ vocabulary.±µ The activities of ˜diddling™, ˜¬‚ooring™,
˜smashing™, ˜catching ¬‚ats™ and ˜¬‚ash capers™ were related, translated and
± Byron, Poetics and History
to some degree sentimentalised for the Messenger™s readers. Byron™s use
of the highway robbery, therefore, details not just the corrupt British
economy, but the way in which this corruption is negotiated in pub-
lic discourse. Language comes under particular scrutiny in the English
cantos because it is the medium which realises the relation between in-
dividual parts and the party-political or national whole.
The Messenger employed a different register for its court and social
columns. Here, hyperbolic catalogues advertised the sumptuousness of
each occasion. An account of a ˜Ball and Supper at Chandos House™ in
the issue of ± April ±±, for example, shows how the splendour of the
Regency era was sustained into the ±°s:
It would be dif¬cult to describe, adequately, the brilliancy of the scene “ the
whole interior of the mansion literally blazed with light; costly or-molu, and crys-
tal candelabra, meeting the eye in every direction. The great saloon, or principal
drawing room, was beautifully chalked for the dance. In the noble rooms ad-
joining, six tables (of twelve each) were laid with services of massive plate for the
©lite of the brilliant circle. (GM, no. ±°)
This description shows that Byron™s picture of London society in canto
© is not merely a distant memory of his ˜years of fame™:
Then dress, then dinner, then awakes the world!
Then glare the lamps, then whirl the wheels, then roar
Through street and square fast ¬‚ashing chariots, hurled
Like harnessed meteors; then along the ¬‚oor
Chalk mimics painting; then festoons are twirled;
Then roll the brazen thunders of the door,
Which opens to the thousand happy few
An earthly Paradise of ˜Or Molu.™
(©. ·)±
The stanza reverses the newspaper™s tendency to make the ˜happy few™
stand for the whole nation, moving instead from the wider ˜world™ to
minute details of interior decoration. An interesting feature of the Mes-
senger™s account of the ball is the emphasis on the lighting: it suggests that
Byron™s lines on the ˜joy™ which met London™s ˜grand illumination™ in
canto ©© and the remarks on London™s lights in canto ©. “ are as
much a response to immediate circumstances as a memory of past extrav-
agance. Indeed, lighting was still worthy of comment on ±µ November
± when the paper reported a ˜Banquet in Guildhall™:
The hall was splendidly illuminated with gas-lights, which poured their effulgent
beams from immensely large lustres suspended from the centre of the Hall . . .
From the top of the Gothic pillars, festoons of gas lights were also suspended,
which greatly added to the brilliant coup d™oeil. (GM, no. °)
±µ
˜Don Juan™, moral England and feminine caprice
This extract illustrates the way that certain words in journalistic prose
are marked as bearers of special signi¬cance. By giving details of social
occasions in this way, the newspapers heightened the effect of the fragility
and transience that surrounded them. The nostalgia, in other words, isn™t
all Byron™s “ instead we may see Don Juan as an inscription of wider social
and cultural dislocation. Galignani™s Messenger reprinted British newspaper
editorial debate about whether Britain had deteriorated as a world eco-
nomic power and whether the social scene of London was as vibrant as
it used to be. In this debate, Tory papers tended to assert unchanging
prosperity whilst the opposition papers took a more pessimistic line.
One standard Tory argument in ± was that nothing at all had
declined over the last ten years:
It is strange to see how foreigners mistake our national character; and indeed
how we mistake it ourselves. A dull and plodding people “ a despairing and
ruined nation! Why, let any man look at the columns of any of our Morning
Papers, and they will ¬nd them ¬lled with dinners and balls, sumptuous enter-
tainments, quadrilles and cotillons “ our fashionables ¬‚ying from one scene to
another with the quickness of magic; seen at every public place the same night “
a trip at Almack™s, and a squeeze at the Opera. To be sure, we sometimes wish
that a little more novelty were given to the scene, for the personages we saw ten
years ago we see still. (GM, no. °, ± July ±, reprinted from the Courier)
Galignani™s Messenger reprinted the highlights of London society news, and
Byron would have been aware that his portrait of the Amundevilles
leaving town fully lived up to the Courier™s expectations:
Another feature in our character is the delight we take in having every move-
ment, every act, of our lives known; to ¬gure among the arrivals or departures “
to have it published not only where we dance or dine, but whither we go, or
when we return ˜Captain A. goes from London to Kew,™ ˜Mr and Mrs T. repair
from Pall Mall to Hounslow,™ “ the whole fashionable world must know it. (GM,
no. °, ± July ±)
We can compare this Tory applause for the ˜gaieties . . . of our capital™
with Byron™s coverage of the transience of fashion:
A paragraph in every paper told
Of their departure: such is modern fame:
™Tis pity that it takes no further hold
Than an advertisement, or much the same;
When, ere the ink be dry, the sound grows cold.
The Morning Post was foremost to proclaim “
˜Departure, for his country seat, to-day,
Lord H. Amundeville and Lady A.™
(©©©. µ±)
± Byron, Poetics and History
Byron™s ubi sunt intonation in part voices a national anxiety which seeps
out of reports like that in the Courier quoted above. To describe the English
cantos as Jerome McGann does, as ˜grounded in Byron™s nostalgia for a
world he had left behind with equal bitterness and regret™, and to claim
that ˜they are his Remembrance of Things Past™ (CPW, , p. ·) is to seal the
poem off from history. By recovering newspaper intertexts, we can see
how Byron was writing of things present, but threatened by transition.
One focus of change was the Congress of Verona and its effect on the
stock market (as well as the stock market™s effect on the Congress). This
is one point at which Don Juan overlaps with The Age of Bronze:
Who hold the balance of the world? Who reign
O™er Congress, whether royalist or liberal?
Who rouse the shirtless patriots of Spain?
(That make old Europe™s journals squeak and gibber all.)
Who keep the world, both old and new, in pain
Or pleasure? Who make politics run glibber all?
The shade of Bonaparte™s noble daring? “
Jew Rothschild, and his fellow Christian Baring.
Those, and the truly liberal La¬tte,

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