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).

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.