The Dedication to Don Juan

A dedication?! For an Epic??

Not the usual style. But how typical of Byron to dedicate his poem to someone he hates: the Poet Laureate, Robert Southey!

The illustrated audio-iBook of Don Juan — available free on the iBook store (see the link to the right of this story) — includes the Dedication. See a sample here!

In contrast to the usual syrupy style of poetic dedications, the Dedication to Don Juan is filled with spleen, calumny and bitter irony. It’s a rant, to be truthful. Byron attacks Southey for being a turncoat, selling-out his once-liberal views and embracing the reactionary politics of the Tory government in return for promotion and his Laureate fees. He accuses Coleridge of confusion and Wordsworth of being unintelligible and boring.

Lots of fun.

But then he turns to much bigger targets. In vitriolic verse, he labels the Foreign Secretary, Lord Castlereagh, an “intellectual eunuch”, a blood-sucker, a jailer, a bungler and a botcher… Strong stuff reflecting Byron’s (mistaken) belief that Castlereagh — who had a bloody reputation as Secretary for Ireland — was in league with the Austrian Chancellor Metternich and the other repressive reactionary governments of Europe to crush popular demand for liberty after the collapse of the Napoleonic campaigns.

Byron was fearless; he was, after all, a Peer of the Realm and, self-exiled in Venice, somewhat out of the reach of the English government.

As a monument of invective, the Dedication to Don Juan has no equal in English verse (… it possibly owes a tip of the hat to Pope’s Dunciad and Dryden’s MacFlecknoe)

By the way, don’t you love this image: The Laughing Fool? How well does it convey the utter foolisness he witnesses? He removes his spectacles (well-to-do fool?) because… why? He laughs to tears? He has seen enough… ? What do you think?

The Hermitage Museum says it the painting is possibly by Jacob Cornelisz. van Oostsanen, working in about the year 1500 in the then provincial town of Amsterdam.

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Byron fan (not fanatic); poetry lover (not tragic); doctor of melancholia (not gloom).