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Page:The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero) - Volume 6.djvu/27

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INTRODUCTION TO DON JUAN.

he laughs himself away at the euphemism, but when Hobhouse and "the Zoili of Albemarle Street" talked to him "about morality," he flames out, "I maintain that it is the most moral of poems." He looked upon his great work as a whole, and he knew that the "raison d'être of his song" was not only to celebrate, but, by the white light of truth, to represent and exhibit the great things of the world—Love and War, and Death by sea and land, and Man, half-angel, half-demon—the comedy of his fortunes, and the tragedy of his passions and his fate.

Don Juan has won great praise from the great. Sir Walter Scott (Edinburgh Weekly Journal, May 19, 1824) maintained that its creator "has embraced every topic of human life, and sounded every string of the divine harp, from its slightest to its most powerful and heart-astounding tones." Goethe (Kunst und Alterthum, 1821 [ed. Weimar, iii. 197, and Sämmtliche Werke, xiii. 637]) described Don Juan as "a work of boundless genius." Shelley (letter to Byron, October 21, 1821), on the receipt of Cantos III., IV., V., bore testimony to his "wonder and delight:" "This poem carries with it at once the stamp of originality and defiance of imitation. Nothing has ever been written like it in English, nor, if I may venture to prophesy, will there be, unless carrying upon it the mark of a secondary and borrowed light.... You are building up a drama," he adds, "such as England has not yet seen, and the task is sufficiently noble and worthy of you." Again, of the fifth canto he writes (Shelley's Prose Works, ed. H. Buxton Forman, iv. 219), "Every word has the stamp of immortality.... It fulfils, in a certain degree, what I have long preached of producing—something wholly new and relative to the age, and yet surpassingly beautiful." Finally, a living poet, neither a disciple nor encomiast of Byron, pays eloquent tribute to the strength and splendour of Don Juan: "Across the stanzas ... we swim forward as over the 'broad backs of the sea;' they break and glitter, hiss and laugh, murmur and move like waves that sound or that subside. There is in them a delicious resistance, an elastic motion, which salt water has and fresh water has not. There is about them a wide wholesome air, full of vivid light and constant wind, which is only felt at sea. Life undulates and Death palpitates in the splendid verse.... This gift of life and variety is the supreme quality of Byron's chief poem" (A Selection, etc., by A. C. Swinburne, 1885, p. x.).

Cantos I., II. of Don Juan were reviewed in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, August, 1819, vol. v. pp. 512-518; Cantos III., IV., V., August, 1821, vol. x. pp. 107-115; and