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Page:The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero) - Volume 6.djvu/25

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INTRODUCTION TO DON JUAN.

in mind that he is on the defensive, and that his half-humorous paradoxes were provoked by advice and opposition. Writing to Moore (September 19, 1818), he says, "I have finished the first canto ... of a poem in the style and manner of Beppo, encouraged by the good success of the same. It is ... meant to be a little quietly facetious upon every thing. But I doubt whether it is not—at least as far as it has gone—too free for these very modest days." The critics before and after publication thought that Don Juan was "too free," and, a month after the two first cantos had been issued, he writes to Murray (August 12, 1819), "You ask me for the plan of Donny Johnny; I have no plan—I had no plan; but I had or have materials.... You are too earnest and eager about a work never intended to be serious. Do you suppose that I could have any intention but to giggle and make giggle?—a playful satire, with as little poetry as could be helped, was what I meant." Again, after the completion but before the publication of Cantos III., IV., V., in a letter to Murray (February 16, 1821), he writes, "The Fifth is so far from being the last of Don Juan, that it is hardly the beginning. I meant to take him the tour of Europe, with a proper mixture of siege, battle, and adventure, and to make him finish as Anacharsis Cloots in the French Revolution.... I meant to have made him a Cavalier Servente in Italy, and a cause for a divorce in England, and a Sentimental 'Werther-faced' man in Germany, so as to show the different ridicules of the society in each of these countries, and to have displayed him gradually gâté and blasé as he grew older, as is natural. But I had not quite fixed whether to make him end in Hell, or in an unhappy marriage, not knowing which would be the severest."

Byron meant what he said, but he kept back the larger truth. Great works, in which the poet speaks ex animo, and the man lays bare the very pulse of the machine, are not conceived or composed unconsciously and at haphazard. Byron did not "whistle" Don Juan "for want of thought." He had found a thing to say, and he meant to make the world listen. He had read with angry disapproval, but he had read, Coleridge's Critique on [Maturin's] Bertram (vide post, p. 4, note 1), and, it may be, had caught an inspiration from one brilliant sentence which depicts the Don Juan of the legend somewhat after the likeness of Childe Harold, if not of Lord Byron: "Rank, fortune, wit, talent, acquired knowledge, and liberal accomplishments, with beauty of person, vigorous health,... all these advantages, elevated by the habits and sympathies of noble birth and natural character, are ... combined in Don Juan, so as to