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change recalls the re¬‚exes of thought in Childe Harold. Movement in Don
Juan is realised in physical terms (the ˜plunge into remorse™ derives from
the simile ˜Like Russians rushing from hot baths to snows™), and here it
offers a multi-layered revision of Byron™s earlier writing: from abstract
meditation to tangible action, and from masculine quest to feminine
experience.
Perhaps the most obvious marker of change between Childe Harold
and Don Juan is the image of the unanchored bark. This was one of the
¬gures used by Walter Scott to characterise Byron in his famous review
of the third canto of Childe Harold in the Quarterly Review in which he
counselled Byron to heed the advice of his critics, observing that ˜the
roughest ¬sherman is an useful pilot when a gallant vessel is near the
breakers™ (RR, B: ©©, p. °). Byron returned to this image in Childe
Harold canto ©, in his wish to build
from the planks, far shattered o™er the rocks
. . . a little bark of hope, once more
To battle with the ocean and the shocks
Of the loud breakers.
(CHP ©. ±°µ)
± Byron, Poetics and History
In the text of Childe Harold and in Scott™s review of it, the solitary pilots
and ¬shermen are men. In Don Juan, Byron recalls the image in talking
about himself:
But at the least I have shunned the common shore,
And leaving land far out of sight, would skim
The Ocean of Eternity: the roar
Of breakers has not daunted my slight, trim
But still sea-worthy skiff; and she may ¬‚oat
Where ships have foundered, as doth many a boat.
(. )

Coleridge, Pratt and McGann note the echo of Adonais (with its source in
Childe Harold canto ©), but none of them traces the link between Byron™s
allusion to himself and his depiction of feminine questing later in the
English cantos:
A something all-suf¬cient for the heart
Is that for which the Sex are always seeking;
But how to ¬ll up that same vacant part?
There lies the rub “ and this they are but weak in.µ
Frail mariners a¬‚oat without a chart,
They run before the wind through high seas breaking;
And when they have made the shore through ev™ry shock,
™Tis odd, or odds, it may turn out a rock.
(©. ·)

This image of women as pilgrims of eternity, hazarding their lives, takes
its cue from the sympathetic view of ˜something wanting™ in Adeline™s
marriage. Although Don Juan provides many images of the containment
of feminine experience, its digressive mixture of reactionary and eman-
cipated voices unsettles the complacencies of the ˜cruizing™ language and
instead leads the reader to participate in the ˜odds™ which shape morality
and culture.
To conclude the discussion of feminised digression in the English
cantos of Don Juan I shall explore the ways in which a particular mo-
ment of intertextuality might seek a response in its reader. The passage
I wish to examine is the vintage metaphor Byron supplies to counter the
˜common place™ description of Adeline in canto ©©©:

I™ll have another ¬gure in a trice: “
What say you to a bottle of champagne?
Frozen into a very vinous ice,
Which leaves few drops of that immortal rain,
±·
˜Don Juan™, moral England and feminine caprice
Yet in the very centre, past all price,
About a liquid glassful will remain;
And this is stronger than the strongest grape
Could e™er express in its expanded shape:
™Tis the whole spirit brought to a quintessence;
And thus the chilliest aspects may concentre
A hidden nectar under a cold presence.
And such are many “ though I only meant her,
From whom I now deduce these moral lessons,
On which the Muse has always sought to enter: “
And your cold people are beyond all price,
When once you have broken their confounded ice.
(©©©. ·“)

Byron™s digression on the merits of the frozen champagne image to
express Adeline™s ˜hidden nectar under a cold presence™ has been traced
by several scholars to Walter Scott™s review of Childe Harold™s Pilgrimage,
canto ©, in the Quarterly Review for April ±±. The well-known layer of
intertextuality may be further extended by considering another possible
source for Byron™s image of distillation. This new context allows us to see
how the forms of Don Juan are always shaped by historical contexts. Once
we realise the very particular implications of Byron™s choice of image, the
meaning of the local episode changes and our awareness of the process of
reading changes as well. Beside the pleasure of contact with the richness
of the text, we are also aware that the link might not have been made;
we might have missed the turn and another route would have provided
a different experience. This is why source hunting is not adequate to the
texture of Don Juan: a catalogue of references cannot tell us what actually
happens when digressive intertextuality encounters different readers or
the same reader in a different reading.
An additional intertext for the frozen champagne image appears
in Galignani™s Messenger. The section of the Messenger which drew most
comment from Byron was the reporting of political debate in which
Hobhouse carried on a high pro¬le campaign against the Tories, and, in
particular, George Canning, MP for Liverpool, who had been a senior
member of Lord Liverpool™s repressive government.· On ° May ±±
Byron wrote to congratulate Hobhouse for his ˜pretty . . . piece of invec-
tive™ against Canning which ˜Galignani gave with great accuracy™ (BLJ,
©©©, p. ±±). Notwithstanding this con¬‚ict, Byron admired Canning more
than other Tory politicians, and praised him as ˜an orator, a wit, a poet, a
statesman™ in a note to the preface to cantos ©, ©©, and ©©© of Don Juan.
± Byron, Poetics and History
Galignani™s Messenger for Thursday µ September ± (no. ) carried
a report of a dinner given by the Canning Club in Liverpool to Canning
himself prior to his expected departure for India. In the aftermath of
Castlereagh™s suicide, Canning was seen as a national asset who ought
to stay in England. The speeches made on that occasion were reported
at length and Canning™s thanks to the assembled Club included the
following remarks on their conservation of constitutional principles:
In northern climes, the essence of a generous vintage is often preserved in a small
liquid nucleus, which remains unfrozen amidst the surrounding congelation;
that nucleus, when the time of thaw comes, diffuses itself through the whole,
and communicates to the mass its spirit and its ¬‚avour. So, I trust, that in all
times “ even in times such as the worst that we have seen, and such as, I hope,
we are not likely soon to see again “ in this club will be constantly preserved the
spirit of loyalty and constitutional freedom, to be diffused, when the occasion
shall arise, amongst the community with which you are surrounded.
We can compare this with Scott™s comments on Byron:
there was the heart ardent at the call of freedom or of generous feeling, and
belying every moment the frozen shrine in which false philosophy had incased
it, glowing like the intense and concentrated alcohol, which remains one single
but burning drop in the centre of the ice which its more watery particles have
formed.
If we examine verbal echoes, the Galignani passage is closer to Don Juan
canto ©©©. ·“ than Scott™s review in three instances; Canning™s speech
supplies the words ˜essence™, ˜liquid™ and ˜spirit™: Scott™s review, however,
contains ˜frozen™, ˜ice™, and ˜concentrated™ (not in GM ). Linguistic echoes
allow Canning™s and Scott™s uses of the frozen vintage metaphor equally
compelling claims to be Byron™s source and this extends to the matter of
context as well.
Stephenson and Gilroy have discussed the way in which Scott™s review
extols the value of originality “ a quality which Byron self-consciously
advertises in the run up to his offering ˜another ¬gure in a trice™ (©©©. ·).
Galignani™s Messenger, however, provides material for the stanzas which
follow the frozen champagne image.
And your cold people are beyond all price,
When once you have broken their confounded ice.
But after all they are a North-West Passage
Unto the glowing India of the soul;
And as the good ships sent upon that message
Have not exactly ascertained the Pole
±
˜Don Juan™, moral England and feminine caprice
(Though Parry™s efforts look a lucky presage)
Thus gentlemen may run upon a shoal;
For if the Pole™s not open, but all frost,
(A chance still) ™tis a voyage or vessel lost.
(©©©. “)

Not only were the newspapers of autumn ± full of debate about
Canning™s imminent departure to take up the governor-generalship of
India, but also about the fate of the most recent British expedition led
by William Parry to ¬nd the north-west passage. Parry™s ships, the Fury
and the Hecla, were in a strait blocked by ice throughout the summers
of ±“, but Galignani™s Messenger carried optimistic speculative reports
about their progress and the chances that a change in weather ˜would
serve to break up the ice™ (GM, no. °).
Canto ©©© was written in February ± which is, of course, much
nearer in time to the Galignani™s Messenger material than Scott™s review of
±±. As Stephenson™s discussion of the Scott source makes clear, ˜Byron
was intensely interested in the critical reception of his works™ and it is
more than likely that he would recall Scott™s image from ±± “ in which
case the report of the Canning Club dinner might have served as an
associative trigger.µ° Indeed, there is a possibility that Canning used this
rhetorical ¬gure as a private tribute to his friend Scott who was supposed
to be at the farewell dinner. In a letter to J.B.S. Morritt of · September
± Scott wrote: ˜I had intended for Liverpool to hear Canning™s
farewell speech, and had my place taken, etc. when lo! I was particularly
commanded to Dalkeith, which I could not gracefully disobey.™µ± But
there is a more particular reason why Canning™s speech, once recovered,
becomes an audible murmur in Don Juan™s metaphoric ¬‚uency.
The scene of Canning™s farewell dinner be¬ts ˜that calm Patrician pol-
ish in the address™ with which Byron characterises Adeline. Entertaining
Lord Henry™s political allies around the dinner table is the main theatre
for Adeline™s display of poise. Beyond thematic proximity, however, we
can sense Byron™s translation of Canning™s politics of thawing. The hints
that Adeline™s ice will be broken by an affair with Juan are in place in
canto ©©©. ± where we are told that she was ˜The fair most fatal Juan
ever met™:
Although she was not evil, nor meant ill;
But Destiny and Passion spread the net.
Following this in stanzas µ“, Byron used a newspaper convention of
replacing names with ˜blanks™ to disguise the location of Lord Henry™s
±·° Byron, Poetics and History
mansion because:
there is scarce a single season
Which doth not shake some very splendid house
With some slight heart-quake of domestic treason “
A topic Scandal doth delight to rouse.

As well as the narrator™s innuendo, the bona ¬de manifestation of the family
ghost to Juan augments our expectation that the release of Adeline™s ˜high
spirit™ (©©©. ±) will result in the ruin of the house of Amundeville.
We are aware in the English cantos that our role in the poem is in
part governed by our relationship with its plot: it is less certain, however,
whether the plot at this point is being shaped by Byron, the narrator or by
Adeline. The promise of access, therefore, to Adeline™s liquid ˜very centre™
(©©©. ·), translates Canning™s ¬gure of patriarchal moral values diffus-
ing to sustain the community, into a much more dangerous dissolution.
Whereas Harold Bloom™s discussion of the champagne metaphor freezes
the possibility of intertextual play (˜severity and courtliness fuse here into
de¬nitive judgment, and bring the spirit of this female archetype to a
quintessence™) the unfreezing which Byron anticipates depends on fem-
inine passion rather than manly virtue in a ˜northern clime™ and signals
sexual, rather than ˜constitutional™ freedom.µ It is also predicated on his
readers™ ability to recognise and respond to this disruption. Canning™s
clubbable image of the spirit of loyalty is in¬ltrated by Byron™s empha-
sis on the instability of what the law calls ˜domestic treason™ and what
the poem questions by its disruption of complacent social and political
surfaces.
A key word which appears in both the Scott review and the Canning
speech, but not at this moment in Don Juan, is ˜generous™. Scott refers to
˜the call of freedom, or of generous feeling™, and Canning speaks of ˜the
essence of a generous vintage™. The word connects the sources outside the
poem, completing a triangle of textual relationships so that for just a mo-
ment, the reader epitomises that generosity, and holds all three together.
Scott™s review of Byron and Canning™s farewell to England combine to
enrich our reading of Adeline by suggesting the explosive potential and
the exquisite arti¬ce of her physical, ˜fatal™ generosity without solidify-
ing these possibilities into absolutes. Awareness of this complex texture
also complicates our reading of our own role in the poem. Don Juan in-
vites receptions which take up digressive allusion with varying degrees of
commitment, or none at all. Sometimes we are rewarded by completing
the triangle of textual relationships as I have outlined above. Elsewhere,
±·±
˜Don Juan™, moral England and feminine caprice
minutiae in the texture of the poem elude our grasp, but not our touch.
Byron teases the reader about his or her uncertain role:
And, gentle reader! when you gather meaning.
You may be Boaz, and I “ modest Ruth.
(©©©. )

These lines hold hints of the delicacy of touch required (˜gentle™, ˜gather™,
˜may be™, ˜modest™) and it is the uncertainty of these digressive ventures
which sustains a relationship between poet and reader against the odds
of generality, closure and absolutism in ˜this vile age™ (©©©. ·).
° ©

˜Between carelessness and trouble™: Byron™s
last digressions



All the untidy activity continues,
awful but cheerful.
Elizabeth Bishop, ˜The Bight™
Why did Byron suddenly return to Pope at the end of ± in the middle
of the English cantos of Don Juan? And what does this tell us about
digressive poetics at the end of his career? Byron completed the ¬rst
draft of canto ©© in early December ±, but before resuming work
on canto ©©© in February he wrote two poems in heroic couplets: The
Age of Bronze and The Island.± He also worked ¬tfully on The Deformed
Transformed, the irregular blank verse drama which had been started in
January ±, and like Don Juan, remained un¬nished at his death. The
break in ottava rima composition was not unprecedented “ he had left Don
Juan once before in ±°“± to revise Hints from Horace and experiment
with historical drama. At that time, the interruption of his epic could be
seen as Byron forsaking the licentious Italian ottava rima for neo-classical
closed couplets and dramatic unities, mainly in order to teach a lesson in
aesthetic discipline to Bowles, the Lakers and all those who, in Gifford™s
terms, ˜require[d] checking™.
When we read Byron™s later poems in the context of their composition
and his reception during ±“, the shift between Don Juan and The Age
of Bronze, The Island and The Deformed Transformed appears not simply as a
continuation of neo-classical rigour. This time, from the start, Byron was
recasting Popean poetics for a readership that he knew had changed,

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