Open main menu

Page:The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero) - Volume 6.djvu/24

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

publication of these later cantos, which had been declined by Murray, and were finally entrusted to John Hunt, was spread over a period of several months. Cantos VI., VII., VIII., with a Preface, were published July 15; Cantos IX., X., XI., August 29; Cantos XII., XIII., XIV., December 17, 1823; and, finally, Cantos XV., XVI., March 26, 1824. The composition of Don Juan, considered as a whole, synchronized with the composition of all the dramas (except Manfred) and the following poems: The Prophecy of Dante, (the translation of) The Morgante Maggiore, The Vision of Judgment, The Age of Bronze, and The Island.

There is little to be said with regard to the "Sources" of Don Juan. Frere's Whistlecraft had suggested Beppo, and, at the same time, had prompted and provoked a sympathetic study of Frere's Italian models, Berni and Pulci (see "Introduction to Beppo," Poetical Works, 1901, iv. 155-158; and "Introduction to The Morgante Maggiore, ibid., pp. 279-281); and, again, the success of Beppo, and, still more, a sense of inspiration and the conviction that he had found the path to excellence, suggested another essay of the ottava rima, a humorous poem "à la Beppo," on a larger and more important scale. If Byron possessed more than a superficial knowledge of the legendary "Don Juan," he was irresponsive and unimpressed. He speaks (letter to Murray, February 16, 1821) of "the Spanish tradition;" but there is nothing to show that he had read or heard of Tirso de Molina's (Gabriel Tellez) El Burlador de Sevilla y Convidado de Piedra (The Deceiver of Seville and the Stone Guest), 1626, which dramatized the "ower true tale" of the actual Don Juan Tenorio; or that he was acquainted with any of the Italian (e.g. Convitato di Pietra, del Dottor Giacinto Andrea Cicognini, Fiorentino [see L. Allacci Drammaturgia, 1755, 4°, p. 862]) or French adaptations of the legend (e.g. Le Festin de Pierre, ou le fils criminel, Tragi-comédie de De Villiers, 1659; and Molière's Dom Juan, ou Le Festin de Pierre, 1665). He had seen (vide post, p. 11, note 2) Delpini's pantomime, which was based on Shadwell's Libertine, and he may have witnessed, at Milan or Venice, a performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni; but in taking Don Juan for his "hero," he took the name only, and disregarded the "terrible figure" "of the Titan of embodied evil, the likeness of sin made flesh" (see Selections from the Works of Lord Byron, by A. C. Swinburne, 1885, p. xxvi.), "as something to his purpose nothing"!

Why, then, did he choose the name, and what was the scheme or motif of his poem? Something is to be gathered from his own remarks and reflections; but it must be borne