The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero)/Poetry/Volume 6/Don Juan/Canto XVII



The world is full of orphans: firstly, those
Who are so in the strict sense of the phrase;
But many a lonely tree the loftier grows
Than others crowded in the Forest's maze—
The next are such as are not doomed to lose
Their tender parents, in their budding days,
But, merely, their parental tenderness,
Which leaves them orphans of the heart no less.


The next are "only Children," as they are styled,
Who grow up Children only, since th' old saw
Pronounces that an "only's" a spoilt child—
But not to go too far, I hold it law,
That where their education, harsh or mild,
Transgresses the great bounds of love or awe,
The sufferers—be 't in heart or intellect—
Whate'er the cause, are orphans in effect.


But to return unto the stricter rule—
As far as words make rules—our common notion
Of orphan paints at once a parish school,
A half-starved babe, a wreck upon Life's ocean,
A human (what the Italians nickname) "Mule!"[2]
A theme for Pity or some worse emotion;
Yet, if examined, it might be admitted
The wealthiest orphans are to be more pitied.


Too soon they are Parents to themselves: for what
Are Tutors, Guardians, and so forth, compared
With Nature's genial Genitors? so that
A child of Chancery, that Star-Chamber ward,
(I'll take the likeness I can first come at,)
Is like—a duckling by Dame Partlett reared,
And frights—especially if 't is a daughter,
Th' old Hen—by running headlong to the water.


There is a common-place book argument,
Which glibly glides from every tongue;
When any dare a new light to present,
"If you are right, then everybody 's wrong"!
Suppose the converse of this precedent
So often urged, so loudly and so long;
"If you are wrong, then everybody 's right"!
Was ever everybody yet so quite?


Therefore I would solicit free discussion
Upon all points—no matter what, or whose—
Because as Ages upon Ages push on,
The last is apt the former to accuse
Of pillowing its head on a pin-cushion,
Heedless of pricks because it was obtuse:
What was a paradox becomes a truth or
A something like it—witness Luther!


The Sacraments have been reduced to two,
And Witches unto none, though somewhat late
Since burning agéd women (save a few—
Not witches only b——ches—who create
Mischief in families, as some know or knew,
Should still be singed, but lightly, let me state,)
Has been declared an act of inurbanity,
Malgré Sir Matthew Hales's great humanity.


Great Galileo was debarred the Sun,
Because he fixed it; and, to stop his talking,
How Earth could round the solar orbit run,
Found his own legs embargoed from mere walking:
The man was well-nigh dead, ere men begun
To think his skull had not some need of caulking;
But now, it seems, he 's right—his notion just:
No doubt a consolation to his dust.


Pythagoras, Locke, Socrates—but pages
Might be filled up, as vainly as before,
With the sad usage of all sorts of sages,
Who in his life-time, each, was deemed a Bore!
The loftiest minds outrun their tardy ages:
This they must bear with and, perhaps, much more;
The wise man 's sure when he no more can share it, he
Will have a firm Post Obit on posterity.


If such doom waits each intellectual Giant,
We little people in our lesser way,
In Life's small rubs should surely be more pliant,
And so for one will I—as well I may—
Would that I were less bilious—but, oh, fie on 't!
Just as I make my mind up every day,
To be a "totus, teres" Stoic, Sage,
The wind shifts and I fly into a rage.


Temperate I am—yet never had a temper;
Modest I am—yet with some slight assurance;
Changeable too—yet somehow "Idem semper:"
Patient—but not enamoured of endurance;
Cheerful—but, sometimes, rather apt to whimper:
Mild—but at times a sort of "Hercules furens:"
So that I almost think that the same skin
For one without—has two or three within.


Our Hero was, in Canto the Sixteenth,
Left in a tender moonlight situation,
Such as enables Man to show his strength
Moral or physical: on this occasion
Whether his virtue triumphed—or, at length,
His vice—for he was of a kindling nation—
Is more than I shall venture to describe;—
Unless some Beauty with a kiss should bribe.


I leave the thing a problem, like all things:—
The morning came—and breakfast, tea and toast,
Of which most men partake, but no one sings.
The company whose birth, wealth, worth, has cost
My trembling Lyre already several strings,
Assembled with our hostess, and mine host;
The guests dropped in—the last but one, Her Grace,
The latest, Juan, with his virgin face.


Which best it is to encounter—Ghost, or none,
'Twere difficult to say—but Juan looked
As if he had combated with more than one,
Being wan and worn, with eyes that hardly brooked
The light, that through the Gothic window shone:
Her Grace, too, had a sort of air rebuked—
Seemed pale and shivered, as if she had kept
A vigil, or dreamt rather more than slept.


  1. [May 8, 1823.—MS. More than one "Seventeenth Canto," or so-called continuation of Don Juan, has been published. Some of these "Sequels" pretend to be genuine, while others are undisguisedly imitations or parodies. E.g. Don Juan, Cantos XVII., XVIII., 1824: The New Don Juan ... and The Last Canto of the The Original Don Juan, From the papers of the Countess Guiccioli, London, n.d., etc. There was, however, a foundation for the myth. Before Byron left Italy he had begun (May 8, 1823) a seventeenth canto, and when he sailed for Greece he took the new stanzas with him. Trelawny found "fifteen stanzas of the seventeenth canto of Don Juan" in Byron's room at Missolonghi (Recollections, etc., 1858, p. 237). The MS., together with other papers, was handed over to John Cam Hobhouse, and is now in the possession of his daughter, the Lady Dorchester. The copyright was purchased by the late John Murray. The fourteen (not fifteen) stanzas are now printed and published for the first time.]
  2. The Italians, at least in some parts of Italy, call bastards and foundlings the mules—why, I cannot see, unless they mean to infer that the offspring of matrimony are asses.