Don Juan annotated — a work in progress

For some time I have been work­ing, in desul­to­ry fash­ion, on an anno­tat­ed ver­sion of Don Juan. You can down­load the cur­rent ver­sion from that link. Would you kind­ly take a look and tell me whether I’m on the right track?

I am hard­ly the first per­son to have attempt­ed this. Per­haps the most famous — and most accom­plished —  is the emi­nent sci­ence-jour­nal­ist and sci­ence-fic­tion writer Isaac Asi­mov. He pub­lished a won­der­ful vol­ume of an anno­tat­ed Don Juan, illus­trat­ed by the fash­ion­able NY illus­tra­tor Mil­ton Glaser in 1972. I’m the delight­ed own­er of a copy ded­i­cat­ed by Glaser to his own pub­lish­er.

Still, the great­est of the anno­tat­ed texts of Don Juan, from a Byronist’s view­point, is that by the late, great Dr Peter Cochran. These are mag­nif­i­cent (not illus­trat­ed) texts of each Can­to that Cochran care­ful­ly com­piled from a vari­ety of man­u­script and pub­lished sources to re-cre­ate Byron’s own ver­sion of the poem — rather than the ver­sion “amend­ed” by his con­tem­po­rary and lat­er edi­tors at John Murray’s and else­where. Cochran’s text doesn’t shy away from Bryon’s eccen­tric punc­tu­a­tion or cru­di­ties (“mild-ities” today). It includes miss­ing vers­es, and mar­gin­al anno­ta­tions on the drafts and “fair copies” where rel­e­vant. Best of all, Cochran has added foot­notes that draw on his own unpar­al­leled Byron schol­ar­ship, his deep knowl­edge of Shake­speare and his broad research in the lit­er­a­ture famil­iar to some­one such as Byron who had absorbed an 18th cen­tu­ry clas­si­cal edu­ca­tion.

I owe a great deal to Peter Cochran’s ver­sion of Don Juan. But this draft text is my own attempt to make some­thing a lit­tle lighter than the Cochran ver­sion, a lit­tle less care­ful than Asi­mov (who tends to slide over the dif­fi­cult or naughty) and still look good on the page.

The PDF doc­u­ment attached here con­tains only Can­tos I — IV (with­out the Ded­i­ca­tion — I half-excuse myself on the basis that I have already pro­duced a free, illus­trat­ed, audio-book of the Ded­i­ca­tion and Can­to I). Can­tos I & III are ful­ly anno­tat­ed. Can­to IV has only a few notes at the start and Can­to II… well, noth­ing real­ly except the verse.

I’d be very grate­ful if you’d look this over and let me know your opin­ion of it — so far.

Highly recommended: A life of “Tita” Falcieri

A por­trait of a gon­do­lier, but not Tita

Bat­tista Falcieri was, at first, Byron’s gon­do­lier when he moved to the Moceni­go palace on the Grand Canal in Venice in 1818. He steered Byron through months of volup­tuous adven­tures in the Car­ni­val. He swam with Byron in the Grand Canal: even dined with his mas­ter in the Grand Canal. Then, in 1820 his craft host­ed Byron’s ear­li­est lia­sons with his last love, the Con­tes­sa Tere­sa Guic­ci­oli. 

Tita — a swarthy, pow­er­ful man with a won­der­ful dark beard and a hap­py dis­po­si­tion — stayed with Byron, faith­ful, pas­sion­ate, pro­tec­tive as a ‘couri­er’ and body­guard for the next six years, endur­ing prison and exile for his patron, until the last days in Mis­so­longhi. He even accom­pa­nied Byron’s body, embalmed in a butt of spir­its, back to Lon­don, sleep­ing along­side in the hold of the ship.

All but des­ti­tute in a for­eign land after the funer­al, the resource­ful Tita made his way some­how to Mal­ta where he was ‘dis­cov­ered’ by a youth­ful Ben­jamin Dis­raeli on his Grand Tour… It was the begin­ning of anoth­er remark­able rela­tion­ship of ser­vice to a lumi­nary of lit­er­a­ture (and a pan­jan­drum of Vic­to­ri­an pol­i­tics).

Clau­dia Oliv­er, a descen­dant of Tita’s Eng­lish fam­i­ly — he mar­ried in Lon­don and worked for many years in the India Office — has gath­ered the threads of this admirable man’s life from archival records in Europe and North Amer­i­ca, includ­ing long-for­got­ten cor­re­spon­dence of the great and pow­er­ful fam­i­lies for whom he worked and the rec­ol­lec­tions of Byron’s cir­cle and Disraeli’s. 

The cul­mi­na­tion of her 20-year project is this emi­nent­ly read­able, inspi­ra­tional book: “A Most Faith­ful Atten­dent: The Life of Gio­van­ni Bat­tista Falcieri”. 

Buy it and enjoy.

Shelley and Byron (1822)

Portrait of Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell (1840)
Por­trait of Mary Shel­ley by Richard Roth­well (1840)

For the first few years of his self-imposed exile in Italy, Byron’s strongest lit­er­ary friend­ship was with the sim­i­lar­ly self-exiled Per­cy Bysshe Shel­ley. PBS was a wild, tru­ly rad­i­cal genius mar­ried, but fre­quent­ly unfaith­ful, to the wit­ty, loy­al, lib­er­al Mary (Wool­stonecraft God­win) Shel­ley; the author of Franken­stein (and sev­er­al oth­er nov­els) and lat­er copy­ist of sev­er­al of Byron’s Canto’s of Don Juan.

Shel­ley was an impetu­ous, often bril­liant char­ac­ter whose poet­ry leaped a gen­er­a­tion, at least, to influ­ence major British poets writ­ing at the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry. But he hon­oured — adored, in truth — his friend Byron.

I am think­ing again of their rela­tion­ship because I am start­ing to pre­pare to record Can­to VI of Don Juan, which Byron com­posed in the first few months of 1822 in Pisa. He had moved there from Raven­na, pos­si­bly at Shelley’s urg­ing, accom­pa­nied by Tere­sa (now sep­a­rat­ed by Papal decree from the mer­cu­r­ial, age­ing Count Guic­ci­oli) and her father (Count Gam­ba), who had been exiled from Raven­na for sup­port­ing polit­i­cal intrigues against the Aus­tri­an occu­pa­tion.

Shel­ley and Mary were now res­i­dent in Pisa; the impor­tu­nate Claire Clare­mont — Mary’s half-sis­ter-by-mar­riage and moth­er of Byron’s daugh­ter Alle­gra — hav­ing been ban­ished to Rome (Byron had placed their daugh­ter at a con­vent near Raven­na). Yes, it’s com­pli­cat­ed.

Byron was on top of his game. Hap­py to move to the sun­ny city of Pisa from the harsh­er cli­mate of Raven­na. Mur­ray had, final­ly, agreed to pay 2500 guineas for Can­tos 3, 4 & 5 of Don Juan plus three dra­mas: Sar­dana­palus, The Two Fos­cari and Cain. But Bry­on was plan­ning to take his prof­itable poems else­where. Canto’s 1 and 2 of Don Juan were already a roar­ing suc­cess (even in Murray’s expen­sive Quar­to edi­tion). His cut­tingest satire of Eng­lish poe­sie and poets The Vision of Judg­ment was ready for pub­li­ca­tion and would mark the tran­si­tion from John Mur­ray to the rad­i­cal Leigh Hunt as his pub­lish­er. He had com­plet­ed the sil­ly, steamy romp of Can­to VCross-Dress­ing in the Seraglio — in Decem­ber of 1821 and now he took a break, in part because Tere­sa dis­ap­proved of the poem, urg­ing him to aban­don it, and in part because of Murray’s reluc­tance to pub­lish it.

Byron gave him­self over, for a while, to rid­ing and shoot­ing and long drunk­en din­ners with the small eng­lish lit­er­ary com­mu­ni­ty he drew around him. He also came into a wel­come inher­i­tance fol­low­ing the death of his moth­er-in-law (part of the sep­a­ra­tion set­tle­ment) that boost­ed his annu­al income from his Eng­lish estates. He resumed work on Don Juan, how­ev­er, in Feb­ru­ary of 1822.

Shel­ley was both in awe of Byron’s intel­lect and unable to fath­om his friend’s refusal to be ‘seri­ous’ about the things that Shel­ley him­self took ter­ri­bly seri­ous­ly. Here is Leslie Marchand’s report (refer­ring to the late din­ners where Shel­ley would not stay):

Despite the fact that Shel­ley was some­times annoyed by Byron’s flit­ting from sub­ject to sub­ject with­out argu­ing any point through, he too was drawn by the per­son­al­i­ty and bril­liance of the man whose genius so over­awed his own that for the first months of Byron’s res­i­dence in Pisa the younger poet wrote but lit­tle. He had writ­ten from Raven­na in August: “I despair of rivalling Lord Byron, as well I may, and there is no oth­er with whom it is worth con­tend­ing.”” And he lat­er told Horace Smith: “I do not write I have lived too long near Lord Byron and the sun has extin­guished the glow-worm .… ” He wrote to John Gis­borne apro­pos of Cain: ”What think you of Lord Byron now? Space won­dered less at the swift and fair cre­ations of God, when he grew weary of vacan­cy, than I at the late works of this spir­it of an angel in the mor­tal par­adise of a decay­ing body. So I think — let the world envy while it admires, as it may.” Even after he had begun to feel the strain of Byron’s par­ties and wished he might grace­ful­ly with­draw from them, he con­tin­ued to hold exag­ger­at­ed views of the mer­its of Cain.” (from Vol. 3 of Marchand’s Auto­bi­og­ra­phy of Byron, p. 951)

There’s more here at the British Library (includ­ing the man­u­scripts of Can­tos VI & VII).