An appreciation of Peter Cochran (1944–2105)

…And Glo­ry long has made the Sages smile;
‘Tis some­thing, noth­ing, words, illu­sion, wind,
Depend­ing more upon the Historian’s Style
Than on the name a per­son leaves behind,
Troy owes to Homer what Whist owes to Hoyle;”

Don Juan, Can­to III, verse 90
(Cochran edi­tion)

Peter Cochran is awarded his PhD from Glasgow

I nev­er met or cor­re­spond­ed with Peter Cochran, who died last week. But his writ­ing was wit­ty, well-informed and opin­ion­at­ed so that it was impos­si­ble after read­ing quite a lot of it not to imag­ine a per­son­al­i­ty and voice.

Dr Cochran’s schol­ar­ly work on the text of every Can­to of Don Juan, his 20-year labor on the Hob­house diaries from the Byron years and his pre­cise edi­tions of Byron’s cor­re­spon­dence with Hob­house, Lady Mel­bourne, Dou­glas Kin­naird and John Mur­ray and sev­er­al of his crit­i­cal essays have been enor­mous­ly help­ful to me in prepar­ing to read and to annotate/illustrate Don Juan.

Peter Cochran pro­duced an eru­dite, anno­tat­ed text of the poem based direct­ly on the man­u­scripts and the fair copy (super­vised by Byron) rather than on the emen­da­tions or approx­i­ma­tions of Byron’s ear­ly edi­tors as so many lat­er edi­tors have done. The result, as he argues, is more flu­id (much less ortho­dox in punc­tu­a­tion) and some­times more ambigu­ous in mean­ing. But the Cochran text gives the impres­sion of being all the more faith­ful to Byron’s own voice than the ‘cor­rect­ed’ ver­sions pro­duced by John Mur­ray or even lat­er schol­ars such as E.G. Ste­fan and Jerome McGann. (I also con­sult the Stef­fan text).

Bet­ter, for all its schol­ar­ly val­ue, Cochran’s edi­tion of Don Juan is a lot of fun. PC’s anno­ta­tions — like his essays — often extract or fill-out rel­e­vant details of Byron’s life, or read­ing (or pets) not found, or passed over, even in Leslie Marchand’s mon­u­men­tal 3-Vol­ume biog­ra­phy or (select­ed) Jour­nals and Let­ters. Best of all, PC appre­ci­ates Byron’s humour, tem­per and (many) foibles to an extent that many of his — chiefly Amer­i­can — edi­tors appar­ent­ly do not.** It would not be too much to say that Byron’s mod­ern glo­ry may owe some­thing to Peter Cochran’s ‘Historian’s Style’.

He gen­er­ous­ly made all this work — and much more — avail­able on his web­site in PDF for­mat. His daugh­ters, who seem to be his lit­er­ary execu­tors (and Twit­ters) say they will main­tain his site; for which I am grate­ful. I expect to rely on it for some time to come as I work through this project to nar­rate and illus­trate Don Juan.

Hail and farewell.


** I make one excep­tion to this obser­va­tion: the spec­tac­u­lar Isaac Asi­mov Anno­tat­ed Don Juan, illus­trat­ed by Mil­ton Glaser. IA is an anno­ta­tor rather than an edi­tor whose com­men­tary on the poem some­times seems to skirt the sen­si­bil­i­ties of his 1970’s Amer­i­can audi­ence. But Asi­mov, like Peter Cochran, got the com­ic genius and the sin­gu­lar scope of Byron’s great work.

The sound and the sense of Don Juan

Jeanne-Françoise Julie Adélaïde Récamier painted 1802 by François (Baron) Gérard
Jeanne-Françoise Julie Adélaïde Récami­er paint­ed 1802 by François (Baron) Gérard

Sam. John­son famous­ly observed that only a block­head would write for no mon­ey. He might also have said that only a fool tries to self-pub­lish; a sad fool if it’s poet­ry. So, fool­ish­ly, I’ve been look­ing for a bet­ter way to dis­trib­ute my new­er record­ings of Don Juan so that they’ll be acces­si­ble for more peo­ple and, I hope, more vis­i­ble.

I used to make my record­ings avail­able to Librivox.org. But I don’t like their insis­tence on brand­ing the record­ings to them­selves and their indif­fer­ence to mar­ket­ing. I have no present inten­tion of charg­ing for these record­ings but I no longer have any inten­tion, either, of plac­ing them in the pub­lic domain. The effect of doing so is to loose all con­trol of the dis­tri­b­u­tion and qual­i­ty. For­tu­nate­ly, so far, the re-pub­lish­ers of whom I’m aware — YouTube and oth­er stream­ing sites — have not both­ered to change any­thing; only putting a ‘cov­er’ on the record­ing.

The sound and the sense

Besides, I am equal­ly inter­est­ed in both the sound and the text of the poem. The nar­ra­tion is only a per­for­mance of the poem; fleet­ing, a fig­ment. Of course it’s sup­posed to sound as Byron may have wished it to sound. He must have had some sound in mind, or why both­er with the demand­ing con­straints of ottawa rima? He cer­tain­ly chose words in part for their metre and sound and the nar­ra­tion must con­vey this music. But Byron chose among themes and expres­sions for rea­sons the nar­ra­tion can bare­ly hint at, and nev­er ful­ly cap­ture.

You need the text for that; and even com­men­tary on the text. Does that ruin it for my lis­ten­ers?

I hope the oppo­site might be true. Don Juan is great enter­tain­ment, but it is still more fun when you under­stand the jests, satir­i­cal barbs, per­son­al con­fes­sions and eva­sions and that, today, are no longer evi­dent on the sur­face that nar­ra­tion skims. For his con­tem­po­raries, the poem con­tained so many provo­ca­tions that John Mur­ray could bring him­self to pub­lish only the first five Can­tos of the great­est com­ic epic in Eng­lish and then anony­mous­ly. It is a great pity to miss out on them.

Byron brings to his great­est work a clas­si­cal edu­ca­tion and a sense of his social envi­ron­ment that is now antique, although com­bined with ele­ments that were rad­i­cal for his time. Too, he has a fas­ci­nat­ing per­son­al his­to­ry — some­what obscured by a rak­ish, roman­ti­cised rep­u­ta­tion — and a fas­ci­na­tion with his own psy­chol­o­gy as an author that is entire­ly mod­ern. Alas, only notes on the text can give every punch-line the weight it deserves or reveal where Byron pulls a punch to save him­self some pain.

Pub­lish­ing and dis­trib­ut­ing my own nar­ra­tions and texts, how­ev­er, needs an eco­nom­ic and eas­i­ly acces­si­ble chan­nel to read­ers and lis­ten­ers. One upon a time I might have con­sid­ered, for exam­ple, includ­ing a sound record­ing on CD with a print­ed book. (If you pur­chased any of those huge com­put­er-relat­ed tomes pop­u­lar in the 1990s you will remem­ber the for­mat; the plas­tic CD sleeve past­ed in the back cov­er.) But the Inter­net has made that for­mu­la expen­sive and near­ly obso­lete. The assault of music-stream­ing means few­er peo­ple both­er to own a CD play­er. Besides, only big pub­lish­ers and big stores can now pro­vide a book+CD dis­tri­b­u­tion net­work. It would still be pos­si­ble to com­bine print and audio with an on-line ‘com­pan­ion site’ for the print­ed book. I may go in that direc­tion one day. But, as of now, the mar­ket for my nar­ra­tion is too small to war­rant it and my anno­tat­ed texts are only an exper­i­ment. So dig­i­tal dis­tri­b­u­tion is like­ly to remain my choice if only for eco­nom­ic rea­sons.

Audio-enabled ePub

Which dig­i­tal for­mat, then? I’ve tried only one, so far: ePub. Specif­i­cal­ly, a form of ePub defined by the Inter­na­tion­al Dig­i­tal Pub­lish­ing Forum as ePub 3.1 that pro­vides for a stan­dard ‘audio over­lay’ for­mat for the ePub text. When I pub­lished Can­to I of Don Juan in Sep­tem­ber 2012 only Apple iBooks ful­ly imple­ment­ed this for­mat but — as is inevitable with Apple — using some pro­pri­etary exten­sions. Unless you have a Mac or iPhone, iPad (or a lat­er iPod) you will have trou­ble play­ing it.

Slow­ly, oth­er com­pa­nies are pro­duc­ing soft­ware capa­ble of play­ing the ‘page-by-page’ over­lay; more or less accu­rate­ly.

On a Mac or PC the Adobe Dig­i­tal Edi­tions soft­ware (ver­sion 4.0) or, on the iPad, IPhone and Android plat­forms the Men­estrel­lo app will play the iBook ePub while doing dif­fer­ent kinds of dam­age to the pre­sen­ta­tion.

Still bet­ter than both of these, at present, is the Rea­d­i­um plu­g­in for the Google Chrome brows­er. If you down­load the free ePub of Can­to 1 from the Apple iBook Store (use this iTunes link) and save it to your local disk, you should be able to import it into Rea­d­i­um with accept­able results.

PDF with embedded audio

What about oth­er for­mats for text + audio?

Adobe has released a sort of ‘slide pre­sen­ta­tion’ for­mat based on their Adobe Air (Shock­Wave-replace­ment) plat­form. I’ve made a short Adobe Voice pre­sen­ta­tion on the Ded­i­ca­tion to Don Juan with some verse extracts. But Voice files are huge; Adobe evi­dent­ly intends that they be brief (~1 min.) pre­sen­ta­tions streamed from Adobe’s own cloud. Not real­ly an option for Don Juan.

There is, too, a (chiefly) Adobe means of embed­ding audio in a PDF file. Now it hap­pens that PDF is prob­a­bly my favoured for­mat for dis­tri­b­u­tion of an anno­tat­ed text. As a page descrip­tion lan­guage, PDF pro­vides strong con­trol over lay­out, ensur­ing that what I devise appears in just that form on every plat­form that dis­plays PDF (there are dozens of these). Fur­ther­more, PDF is a ‘first class cit­i­zen’ in the Apple OSX equip­ment that I use. There are many edit­ing plat­forms that native­ly out­put PDF using the facil­i­ties pro­vid­ed by the Apple oper­at­ing sys­tem.

I do not how­ev­er pre­fer Apple soft­ware to pro­duce PDF. Instead, I use LaTeX (actu­al­ly the LuaLa­TeX engine) to pro­duce PDF. This gives me a more con­sis­tent out­put, typo­graph­i­cal­ly supe­ri­or to any of the WYSIWYG edi­tors on OS X that pro­duce Apple-flavoured PDF. It also allows me to use a low-lev­el library (LaTeX macro) for embed­ding audio files in the PDF in such a way that they will play auto­mat­i­cal­ly, requir­ing no user con­fig­u­ra­tion or inter­ven­tion.

As an exper­i­ment I have embed­ded an extract from my ear­li­est record­ing of Can­to I of Don Juan (the first 36 vers­es) into an anno­tat­ed text that I cre­at­ed some­time in 2010-11. Here is a link to the audio-PDF file. I have not opti­mised the images or the audio in this file so it’s 19 MB in size (a 2–3 minute down­load if you’re on a con­sumer-lev­el DSL link to the Inter­net).

Please note that you must view this file in the free Adobe Acro­bat read­er (or in Acro­bat Pro) for the audio to play. (It relies, inter­nal­ly, on Adobe javascript exten­sions to the PDF file for­mat.). Also, you may have to down­load a free Adobe Flash Play­er plug-in if you do not already have such a thing on your com­put­er. This file will dis­play on some iOS devices (iPad etc) but only one or two iOS apps that dis­play PDF will allow access to the audio (PDF Expert from Read­dle, for exam­ple) ; and then, only as an attach­ment, not embed­ded.

Please let me know whether this is a suc­cess­ful exper­i­ment in your opin­ion. I’d be grate­ful if you’d give me some feed­back — even if only thumbs-up or down — on this for­mat.

Audio options

Still, I know that some of my lis­ten­ers are not at all inter­est­ed in read­ing the poem, much less notes on the poem. For them, the audio relieves them of the need to read it to them­selves. They might like sim­ply to lis­ten, pos­si­bly to enjoy their imag­ined scenes. Or per­haps they like to have the dis­trac­tion of lis­ten­ing while they do oth­er, less imag­i­na­tive, things like wash­ing the dish­es or com­mut­ing to work.

I am still think­ing about how best to serve them.

Canto IV in the can

Leon Gerome's painting of the Capture of Blackbeard (not much like Juan's voyage with  the pirates)
Leon Gerome’s paint­ing of the Cap­ture of Black­beard (not much like Juan’s voy­age with the pirates)

Who knew? I had the time sud­den­ly, and the oppor­tu­ni­ty. So into my ‘stu­dio’, a few prac­tice runs — helped by the recent (labo­ri­ous) work on Can­to III — and the vio­lent, sad, quirky con­clu­sion of the Juan-Haidée episode is done!

Can­to IV was writ­ten at the same time as Can­to III: they’re one sto­ry. It was split into two. Byron says (in Can­to III) ‘for mon­ey’. But that’s a fib. He offered John Mur­ray, his pub­lish­er, both Can­tos for the price of one. Mur­ray was, as ever, squea­mish about both.

Num­ber Four is the ter­ri­ble tale of the inevitable end of the Juan-Haidee romance; his injury, cap­ture and trans­port into Slav­ery at the hand of her father, the Pirate Lam­bro. Her des­o­la­tion at the loss of Juan and her hopes; her death (and the death of anoth­er); the decline and dis­ap­pear­ance, with Haidée, of all her father had built.

Juan, wound­ed and (alas!) inca­pac­i­tat­ed by his grief over the loss of Haidée, is chained to a beau­ti­ful female slave on board the slavers’ ship. His com­pan­ions in the hold are a trav­el­ing Ital­ian opera com­pa­ny whose impre­sario has sold them into slav­ery. He gets all the goss on the sex­u­al jeal­ousies, char­ac­ter faults and stage weak­ness­es of the troupe from the ‘buf­fo’ of the par­ty. But they arrive, pret­ty quick­ly at the warves below the Seraglio of Con­stan­tino­ple and dis­em­bark for the slave mart, to learn their fates.

Now… on to Can­to V (that link to Peter Gal­laghers record­ing of Don Juan Can­to V, once — a few years ago — for Lib­rivox).

Heaven, Hell and Marriage

Francesca da Rimini and her brother-in-law Paulo Malatesta, with husband Giovanni, spying on them (Ingres).
Francesca da Rim­i­ni and her broth­er-in-law Paulo Malat­es­ta, with hus­band Gio­van­ni, spy­ing on them (Ingres).

Over the past few days I’ve fin­ished edit­ing my record­ing of Can­to III of Don Juan. That makes 8 of the six­teen com­plete Canto’s that I’ve record­ed (Can­to I, twice).

Can­tos I and IV and XIII-XVI are avail­able from Librivox.org. Can­to I (a sec­ond record­ing) is also avail­able on the iBook store (but­ton to the left) as a free, illus­trat­ed, read-along audio book.

My record­ings of Can­tos II and III have not been released. I’m not sure yet how, or when, I’ll release them. Can­to II is noth­ing if not a ‘rip-roar­ing tale’ of storms at sea, ship­wreck, can­ni­bal­ism and sex on the beach. It was pub­lished, anony­mous­ly, with Can­to I and in spir­it, at least, the two form a sort of unit. They both focus on Juan’s nar­ra­tive — with Byron­ic excur­sions, of course.

Can­tos III and IV, draft­ed first as one long book and then split and slight­ly reworked, are quite dif­fer­ent from the first two. Can­to III has almost no nar­ra­tive action. It’s one long build-up to the fate of the lovers Juan and Haidée at the hands of her father, the pirate and slaver Lam­bro — with even longer Byron­ic excur­sions.

The ‘excur­sions’ include essays on fame and lit­er­a­ture, satires on love and mar­riage, skew­er­ing attacks on the flac­cid verse and fame of the “Lak­er” poets (Wordsworth, Southey, Coleridge), reflec­tions on reli­gion, fam­i­lies and a sharply-word­ed call to Greeks to rise up against their Turk­ish over­lords. This last — Byron’s first for­ay into the rebel­lion that would take his life just a few years lat­er — is in the form of a ‘song’ com­posed for a feast offered by Juan and Haidée.

The Isles of Greece” is half-famil­iar to many peo­ple who know noth­ing else of Byron’s epic (because it has been includ­ed in many antholo­gies). But I won­der how many who rec­og­nize the title recall its rev­o­lu­tion­ary con­tent and its exas­per­a­tion with Greek com­pla­cen­cy.

A cou­ple of weeks ago, I pub­lished here an anno­tat­ed text of Can­to III. For now, I’m releas­ing just a sam­ple of the record­ing that goes with it. Here are vers­es 5–11 of the Can­to: Byron on heav­en, hell and mar­riage.