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peated. The poem is full of multiplex intentions and design, and the poet's meaning and mood in it may easily be mistaken unless the reader traces the author's way with footing fine.
'Don Juan' presents examples of a score of different styles and tones, the mocking, the satirical, the gruesome, the realistic, the witty, the pathetic, the terrible mixed with the horrible, the voluptuous, the exalted, the pessimistic, and many others; but the ground tone is always the familiar, the sportive, the mocking, and the facetious. Incongruity and burlesque (sometimes savage burlesque) is of the very design of the piece. This the reader must come prepared to accept. The style attempted is suggested by the author's motto, chosen from Horace :
"Difficile est proprie communia dicere."
Half in jest, the poet again and again indulges in confidences with his readers, and discusses his plan. So, for example, canto I, stanzas cc-cciv :
'My poem's epic, and is meant to be
Divided in twelve books; each book containing,
A list of ships and captains, and kings reigning,
The sensible reader of course knows in what spirit to take such badinage.
The verse is the ottava rima stanza, composed of eight fivefoot lines, rhyming a baba b c c. Byron poses in this poem as the anti-sentimentalist, and consequently avoids purposely poetic diction and smoothness of versification. The aim is to keep up the conversational and matter-of-fact tone and rhythm as far as is compatible with the maintenance of verse and stanza at all. Hence the unemphatic rhythm, marked by the utmost license of inversion and substitution of feet within the line, the capricious variety of pauses and of run-on effects, and the wilfully queer rhymes.
The frequent double rhymes have generally in themselves a slightly ludicrous effect, arising from the wrenching of the accent
which often attends them, or which they at least suggest. Thus in the first stanza of the first selection here given, the rhymes "Léghorn," "was born," and "the mórn give this effect. Note also the effect produced by such rhymes as "Moncada" and "he had a, "trough of the sea and shattered the," "undone" and "London," "annuities" "true it is" and "Jew it is," "scanty" and "Dante," "we prided" and "and I did," and the like. The sentimentalist again is flouted by the poet's tantalizing device of introducing a digression just as the situation is becoming most thrilling, and as the emotion is mounting to its climax.* So it is in the account of the Shipwreck at stanzas numbered lxiv to lxvii. The Shipwreck episode, as a whole, however, is treated with more poetic seriousness than most parts of the poem. For poetical realism, sometimes brutal but always impressive, it stands alone. The sentence of a contemporary (anonymous) critic stands confirmed by time, that "the copiousness and flexibility of the English language were never before so triumphantly approved," and that "the same compass of talent, 'the grave, the gay, the great, the small,' comic force, humour, metaphysics, and observation, boundless fancy and ethereal beauty, and curious knowledge, curiously applied, have never been blended with the same felicity in any other poem." Or, as another phrased it, "Don Juan' is by far the most admirable specimen of the mixture of ease, strength, gaiety, and seriousness extant in the whole body of English poetry." To these judgments should be added that of Goethe: "Don Juan' is a thoroughly genial work,-misanthropical to the bitterest savageness, tender to the most exquisite delicacy of sweet feelings.. The technical execution of the verse is thoroughly in accordance with the strange wild simplicity of the conception and plan the poet no more thinks of polishing his phrase, than he does of flattering his kind; and yet, when we examine the piece more narrowly, we feel that English poetry is in possession of what the German has never attained, a classically elegant comic style." †
* Cf. above, p. 268, st. xcvi.
+ Cf. also Shelley's judgment upon the poem in his letter to Mrs. Shelley of August 10, 1821 (Works, ed. Buxton Forman, Lond., 1880, viii, 219).
The hero, whose name gives its title to the poem, is the Don Juan of legend, of Molière's play and Mozart's opera, but placed in entirely new circumstances and treated with perfect freedom and levity.
The present selection affords a fruitful opportunity to study the poet in his workshop. Byron's method of imagination and composition was peculiar. Experience, and observation or reading, always supplied him with his immediate materials. "In my writings," Byron says, "I have rarely described any character under a fictitious name: those of whom I have spoken have had their own. . . . But of real circumstances I have availed myself plentifully, both in the serious and the ludicrous-they are to poetry what landscapes are to the painter; but my figures are not portraits. It may even have happened, that I have seized on some events that have occurred under my own observation, or in my own family, as I would paint a view from my grounds, did it harmonize with my picture." And later (Aug. 23, 1821) and unequivocally: "Almost all 'Don Juan' is real life, either my own or from people I knew." So here, in regard to the Shipwreck, he wrote to Murray that "there was not a single circumstance of it not taken from fact; not, indeed, from any single shipwreck, but all from actual facts of different wrecks." The idea of depicting a shipwreck had long lain dormant and growing in his mind. Moore informs us that, "in the year 1799, while Lord Byron was the pupil of Dr. Glennie, at Dulwich, among the books that lay accessible to the boys was a pamphlet entitled hipwreck of the Juno on the Coast of Arracan, in the year 1795.' The pamphlet attracted but little public attention; but among the young students of Dulwich Grove it was a favourite study; and the impression which it left on the retentive mind of Byron may have had some share, perhaps, in suggesting that curious research through all the various accounts of Shipwrecks upon record by which he prepared himself to depict, with such power, a scene of the same description in ‘Don Juan.' The manner in which he has handled his materials, often drawing upon the very words of his sources, suggests the similar use of his sources, such as Holinshed and Plutarch, by Shakspere in his historical plays. The editor of the 1833 edition of Byron's Works has gathered together the main correspondences between
'Narrative of the
Byron's narrative and the originals.* These extracts, arranged in order as they were utilized in the poem, and forming a sort of corpus of the poet's materials, are reprinted below, with reference to the particular stanzas in which each is chiefly utilized. The proper names appended are those of the ships whose wrecks are recounted. Words which are directly incorporated into his narrative by the poet are italicized:
LOSS OF THE HERCULES: " Night came on worse than the day had been; and a sudden shift of wind, about midnight, threw the ship into the trough of the sea, which struck her aft, tore away the rudder, started the stern-post, and shattered the whole of her stern frame. The pumps were immediately sounded, and in the course of a few minutes the water had increased to four feet. [xxvii.] . . One gang was instantly put on them, and the remainder of the people employed in getting up rice from the run of the ship, and heaving it over, to come at the leak, if possible. After three or four hundred bags were thrown into the sea, we did get at it, and found the water rushing into the ship with astonishing rapidity; therefore we thrust sheets, shirts, jackets, bales of muslin, and every thing of the like description that could be got, into the opening. [xxviii.] . . . Notwithstanding the pumps discharged fifty tons of water an hour, the ship certainly must have gone down, had not our expedients been attended with some success. The pumps, to the excellent construction of which I owe my life, were made by Mr. Mann of London." [xxix.]
LOSS OF THE CENTAUR: "As the next day advanced, the weather appeared to moderate, the men continued incessantly at the pumps, and every exertion was made to keep the ship afloat. Scarce was this done, when a gust, exceeding in violence every thing of the kind I had ever seen, or could conceive, laid the ship on her beam ends. [xxx.] . . . The ship lay motionless, and, to all appearance, irrevocably overset. The water forsook the hold, and appeared between decks. [xxxi.] . . . Immediately directions were given to cut away the main and mizen masts, trusting, when the ship righted, to be able to wear her. On cutting one or two lanyards, the mizen-mast went first over, but without producing the smallest effect on the ship, and, cutting the lanyard of one shroud, the main-mast followed. I
* Besides the original pamphlets, cf. 'Shipwrecks and Disasters at Sea,' Edinburgh (Constable & Co.), 1812, 3 vols.; and Jas. S. Clarke, 'Naufragia, or Historical Memoirs of Shipwrecks,' London, 1805, 2 vols.
had the mortification to see the foremast and bowsprit also go over. On this, the ship immediately righted with great violence." [xxxii.]
LOSS OF THE ABERGAVENNY: "A midshipman was appointed to guard the spirit-room, to repress that unhappy desire of a devoted crew to die in a state of intoxication. The sailors, though in other respects orderly in conduct, here pressed eagerly upon him. [xxxiii— Xxxv.] . . ... Give us some grog,' they exclaimed, it will be all one an hour hence.'-'I know we must die,' replied the gallant officer, coolly, but let us die like men!'-armed with a brace of pistols he kept his post, even while the ship was sinking. [xxxvi.] . . . However, by great exertion of the chain-pump, we held our own. who were not seamen by profession, had been employed in thrumming a sail, which was passed under the ship's bottom, and I thought had some effect. [xxxviii-xxxix.] . . . The ship laboured so much, that I could scarce hope she would swim till morning: our sufferings were very great for want of water. [xli.] . . . The weather again threatened, and by noon, it blew a storm. The ship laboured greatly; the water appeared in the fore and after hold. The leathers were nearly consumed, and the chains of the pumps, by constant exertion, and the friction of the coils, were rendered almost useless. [xlii.] . At length, the carpenter came up from below, and told the crew, who were working at the pumps, he could do no more for them. Seeing their efforts useless, many of them burst into tears, and wept like children. [xliii.] . . . I perceived the ship settling by the head. It was not in my power to encourage the ship's company any longer with a prospect of safety. [xliv.] . . . Some appeared perfectly resigned, went to their hammocks, and desired their messmates to lash them in; others were for securing themselves to gratings and small rafts; but the most predominant idea was that of putting on their best and cleanest clothes. The boats were got over the side." [xlv.]
WRECK OF THE SYDNEY: " Eight bags of rice, six flasks of wine, and a small quantity of salted beef and pork, were put into the long boat, as provisions for the whole." [xlvi-xlvii.]
THE CENTAUR: "The yawl was stove alongside and sunk."
LOSS OF THE WELLINGTON: "One oar was erected for a mainmast, and the other bent to the breadth of the blankets for a sail." [xlviii.]
THE CENTAUR: "As rafts had been mentioned by the carpenter, I thought it right to make the attempt. It was impossible for any man to deceive himself with the hopes of being saved on a raft in such a sea as this". [1.]
LOSS OF THE PANDORA . Spars, booms, hencoops, and every thing buoyant, were therefore cast loose, that the men might have some chance to save themselves; for the boats were at some distance." [li.]