Chapter 3 Functions and Strategies of Self-Annotation in Byron

In: The Author as Annotator
Miriam Lahrsow
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3.1 Byron’s Self-Annotations in Context: The Golden Age of Self-Annotation

In a letter to Robert Charles Dallas on 15 September 1811, Byron facetiously calls annotations the “modern indispensables” of rhyme (BLJ 2: 99). What sounds like an overstatement is, in fact, rather close to the truth: in the Romantic age, literary self-annotations were nearly ubiquitous – not only in poetry but, albeit to a lesser extent, also in prose and drama (cf. E. Simpson, Literary Minstrelsy 20–21; A. Watson, Romantic Marginality 1–9).1 Byron was by no means the only writer to comment on the prevalence of authorial notes around 1800. For example, Robert Southey remarks in a letter to his publisher:

With regard to the illustrations [i.e. annotations] of my larger poems, I am glad you think of them, because such things are now become so customary that the poet who goes without them might seem to hold but a low place in public opinion. (Southey, Coll. Letters 6: letter 3426)

P. B. Shelley, who (except for Queen Mab) usually left his works unannotated, was rather critical of the practice but nevertheless recognised the contemporary vogue for self-annotation. In a letter to Thomas Medwin, he tells him that

[t]he only general error, if it be such, in your Poem, seems to me to be the employment of Indian words, in the body of the piece, & the relegation of their meaning to the notes. Strictly, I imagine, every expression in a poem ought to be in itself an intelligible picture. But this practice, though foreign to that of the great Poets of former times, is so highly admired by our contemporaries that I can hardly counsel you to dissent. And then you have Moore & Lord Byron on your side, who being much better & more successful poets than I am, may be supposed to know better the road to success, than one who has sought & missed it. (Shelley, Letters 2: 183–84)

Byron’s friend Thomas Moore – himself an avid self-annotator2 – makes fun of the fashion in the preface to his (heavily annotated) poems Corruption and Intolerance (cf. E. Simpson, Literary Minstrelsy 19):

The practice, which has lately been introduced into literature, of writing very long notes upon very indifferent verses, appears to me a rather happy invention; for it supplies us with a mode of turning stupid poetry to account; and, as horses too dull for the saddle may serve to draw lumber, so Poems of this kind make excellent beasts of burden, and will bear notes, though they may not bear reading. Besides, the comments in such cases are so little under the necessity of paying any servile deference to the text, that they may even adopt that Socratic dogma, ‘Quod supra nos nihil ad nos’ [‘What is above us, is nothing to us’]. (T. Moore, Corruption and Intolerance v)

Ridiculing the craze for self-annotation, two poems even felt the need to facetiously announce on their title pages that they are “without notes”: The Lash, A Satire: Without Notes (1809) and Battle of Niagara: A Poem Without Notes (1818), both of which were published anonymously.

Notwithstanding the popularity of self-annotation in the Romantic age, there is no large-scale overview of the highly diverse practices of authorial annotation during this period. The only published monograph so far is Alex Watson’s excellent study Romantic Marginality: Nation and Empire on the Borders of the Page which discusses the self-annotations of Maria Edgeworth, Sydney Owenson (Lady Morgan), Robert Southey, Robert Burns, Walter Scott, and Byron as well as Hobhouse’s collaboration with, and notes on, the latter. Watson provides insightful close-readings of single works but is not concerned with offering a large-scale overview of self-annotatorial practices, nor does he provide much information on whether readers actually paid attention to the notes.

The present chapter will embed Byron’s use of authorial notes in their larger literary and cultural context. Because of the prevalence of self-annotation in his age, it is, of course, impossible to provide a detailed overview of all contemporary annotatorial practices here.3 This introductory chapter will hence focus on three aspects. Firstly, in order to show how Byron’s annotations differ from those of his contemporaries, I will outline a few tendencies in the style and content of Romantic self-annotations as a whole. Secondly, I will show that Byron’s contemporaries avidly read and discussed literary self-annotations – rather than ignored them, as has sometimes been argued4. Lastly, I will attempt to reconstruct how exactly readers in the Romantic age approached annotations: did they constantly jump between main text and notes, or did they read the whole main text first and only paid attention to the annotations in a second reading?

3.1.1 Tendencies of Self-Annotation in Byron’s Time

In my analysis of Byron’s self-annotations, three features will play an especially prominent role: (1) his use of a very overt annotatorial voice and his practice of (allegedly) basing notes on personal experience rather than on book knowledge; (2) his penchant for appending facetious notes to lofty passages and of using his notes to ‘correct’ and contradict the main text; and (3) his reliance on editorial fiction and editorial personas as a means of ambiguation. In order to discuss whether and to what extent Byron’s self-annotations stand out among those of his contemporaries, I will very briefly outline how a handful of Romantic authors whose works were well-known to Byron approached these three aspects. These are: Walter Scott, Robert Southey, William Wordsworth, Thomas Moore, Samuel Rogers, Percy Shelley, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Samuel Henley (who wrote the notes for William Beckford’s Vathek, thus being an allographic rather than an authorial annotator).5 This survey is, of course, not designed to provide a comprehensive discussion of these authors’ notes, much less of self-annotation during the Romantic age in general. The – very limited – discussion is meant to shine a light on Byron rather than provide an in-depth study of others’ works, but it also sets out to illustrate the great diversity of Romantic practices of self-annotation, thus hopefully inspiring future studies in this fruitful field of research.

First, however, one important general development of self-annotation between 1700 and 1830 needs to be outlined.6 As I have shown in chapter 2.1.3, Pope’s Dunciads popularised excessive self-annotation for satirical poems and other humorous works. This popularity only waned at the end of the Romantic age. By contrast, self-annotated ‘serious’ poems, i.e. works that deal with historical, religious, philosophical, political, or scientific topics in a non-comical way, usually only featured a few brief notes between ca. 1700 and ca. 1750. Thus, even though there had been a tradition of extensive self-annotation for ‘serious’ texts before the Augustan age (e.g. by Jonson, Donne, Cowley, Bunyan, Opitz, and Gryphius), Pope’s contemporaries employed annotations primarily for satirical and comical verse. This changed in the course of the eighteenth century.

Between ca. 1750 and ca. 1770, the self-annotations in ‘serious’ poems grew longer and more numerous. There was also considerable diversity: some self-annotated texts published during this time feature many long notes, some many short ones, and some a few long ones. Self-annotated ‘serious’ works that only feature a few short annotations became rarer. Between 1770 and 1800, the notes in ‘serious’ self-annotated poems became even lengthier and more numerous. By this point, it is common to find short notes or even long ones on almost every page of a self-annotated poem.7 And from 1800 up until ca. 1830, it was rather popular for self-annotated ‘serious’ works of poetry to feature extremely long and numerous notes.8 Put briefly, self-annotated humorous poetry commonly featured extensive notes from 1729 onwards until the end of the Romantic age, while the length and number of self-annotations in ‘serious’ poetry started to increase from 1750 onwards and culminated in the decades between 1800 and 1830.

It is not surprising that the slow revival of extensively self-annotated ‘serious’ poetry coincided with the publication of such immensely successful works as Macpherson’s Ossian poems, Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, and Warton’s The History of English Poetry (cf. F. Robertson 145; E. Simpson, “Orality and Improvisation” 376–77). All three contain a considerable number of xenographic annotations – or, in the case of the Ossian poems, self-annotations disguised as xenographic commentary. The abundance of scholarly, antiquarian notes in these editions seems to have inspired many contemporary authors to approach their own works in the same way, and to add more or less scholarly annotations to their non-satirical and non-comical works, especially to such as dealt with temporally or spatially remote topics (cf. E. Simpson, “Orality and Improvisation” 376–77).

Overt vs. Covert Annotatorial Voice & Book Learning vs. Personal Experience

The importance of these scholarly models for Romantic-era self-annotations raises the question whether or not Byron’s contemporaries usually imitated the tone and content of xenographic notes. In other words, do their annotations tend to feature an impersonal voice9 that (seemingly) objectively presents information drawn from scholarly sources, or do they rather include authorial self-insertions and references to personal anecdotes rather than to written works? The answer to this question will serve to illustrate the diversity of Romantic annotation. At the most scholarly and impersonal end of the spectrum, we can find, for example, the footnotes and endnotes in Thomas Moore’s Lalla Rookh. These mainly identify allusions, translate words, and provide contextual information about history, religion, philosophy, and culture. The great majority of the notes consist of quotes from scholarly works; the bibliographic information of the sources is usually meticulously cited, especially in the endnotes. The notes do not contain any comments or personal anecdotes by Moore; the annotator remains covert and impersonal. All of these characteristics can also be found in Henley’s allographic notes on William Beckford’s Vathek, which was Byron’s favourite novel.10 The class to which these annotations belong almost entirely adheres to the conventions of xenographic scholarly annotations.

The majority of self-annotated works in the Romantic age can be seen as ‘mixed bags’, i.e. they include both references to scholarly sources and anecdotal or even autobiographical comments by the author, and they feature both notes written in an impersonal, objective voice and notes that overtly flaunt their subjectivity and grounding in private experience. This goes, for instance, for most of Walter Scott’s and Robert Southey’s poems.11 However, in their annotations, scholarship (conscientiously cited and presented by an impersonal, covert speaker) usually still outweighs subjective, personal musings presented by an overt author/annotator persona.

The annotations in, for example, Shelley’s Queen Mab and Moore’s Corruption and Intolerance, which take the annotated poems as pretexts to enter into lengthy political and religious discussions, are a bit harder to classify.12 Even though they assume a scholarly tone and often meticulously quote and cite their sources, the very fact that they are more or less independent (and quite controversial) essays rather than notes subservient to the text make them different from many (though by no means all) xenographic scholarly annotations.

In the case of Wordsworth, we are usually confronted with factual annotations (e.g. translating dialect words and offering enriching contextual information), in which, however, the presence of the annotator is often very palpable.13 For instance, in a note on the preface of his Excursion, Wordsworth refers to Robert Heron’s Observations Made in a Journey Through the Western Counties of Scotland and explains: “I regret that I have not the book at hand to quote the passage” (W. Wordsworth, Excursion 425). Similarly, in an annotation on sonnet XVII in The River Duddon, he refers to his own experience rather than book knowledge: “Often have I heard anglers speak of the grandeur of [the eagles’] appearance” (W. Wordsworth, Poetical Works 3: 508). An even greater overtness of the annotatorial voice and reliance on personal experience rather than on scholarly sources can be found in Southey’s The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo.

It can be concluded that Romantic self-annotations cover the whole spectrum from being entirely impersonal to being highly subjective, from meticulously quoting and citing sources to almost exclusively relying on personal anecdotes. The majority of works contain a mix of both. As we will see, a similar mix can be found in Byron, yet his notes heavily lean to the personal side. In his annotations we frequently find an overt annotatorial voice and the (not always correct)14 appearance of him referring to his personal experience rather than book knowledge. Thus, to a much greater extent than any of his contemporaries, Byron’s annotations are characterised by his self-insertions. The main (though by no means only) exception to this rule are the appendices to Marino Faliero, The Two Foscari, and The Island which contain long quotes from scholarly sources and often provide detailed bibliographical information.15

Self-Ridicule and Self-Contradiction

As will be shown below, a considerable number of Byron’s self-annotations facetiously interrupt lofty passages in his poems and sometimes even directly contradict the annotated text. Was this a common practice in the Romantic age, or is Byron an outlier? There are indeed some authors (e.g. Scott, Southey, and Moore) who also used their notes to ‘correct’ the main text, usually by conscientiously acknowledging whenever they had had recourse to poetic licence in their poems. While this helped them to portray themselves as experts in their subject matter, it also to some extent undermines the authority and verisimilitude of their poems. In Scott’s case, we sometimes even find annotations that make fun of the narrators and characters in his works. In the context of discussing Scott’s The Lay of the Last Minstrel, John H. Alexander argues that the practice of drawing attention to factual mistakes or a speaker’s follies often creates a certain tension between the poem and the notes. The annotations

offer a tone and viewpoint very different from that of the Minstrel-narrator in the poem. […] [T]he simplified psychology and motivation of the poem is contrasted in the notes with a more complex and objective assessment or a contrary view of the same material. (Alexander 166; 168)

However, – and this is acknowledged by Alexander (cf. 176) – such annotations are quite rare, not only in Scott but also in Romantic-era literature in general. On the whole, self-annotations in Byron’s age usually support, rather than call into question, the main text. What is more, juxtapositions of solemn passages and facetious notes are almost entirely absent from the works of Byron’s contemporaries. The great (Pre-Romantic) exception is Rousseau’s Nouvelle Héloïse. Here, the alleged ‘editor’ occasionally uses notes to explicitly ridicule the protagonists’ letters. For instance, in part one, letter 65, the annotator at one point condescendingly remarks:

I am hard pressed to know how this anonymous lover, of whom it is said later that he is not yet twenty-four, was able to sell a house, not being of age. These Letters are so full of similar absurdities that I shall no longer mention them; it is enough to have called attention to them. (Rousseau 152)

Another example can be found in the first letter of part two, where the annotator comments: “I believe I hardly need to notify the reader that in this second part and the next, the two separated Lovers do nothing but rave and wander about; they have lost their poor heads” (Rousseau 155).16 As we will see, it is possible that Byron drew some inspiration from Rousseau when writing the annotations on The Giaour, though in Byron’s case the partial subversion of the main text is not achieved through explicit criticism but only through the tonal discrepancy between the poem and some of the notes (see chapter Equally facetious notes for serious passages can be found in the first, second and fourth cantos of CHP, but many of them only appear in the manuscripts and were omitted in the published editions (see chapter A humorous self-annotation on a lofty passage can also be found in The Bride of Abydos (see chapter 3.2.2). Furthermore, a note that ridicules the authorial persona is appended to The Waltz (see chapter 3.3.3), while “Lachin Y Gair” contains an annotation that contradicts the poem (see chapter 3.4.1). Thus, more than any other author of his age, Byron used his annotations for self-contradiction, self-subversion, and self-ridicule.

Editorial Fiction

Lastly, a few words on the convention of editorial fiction in the Romantic age and Byron’s creative appropriation of it. The term “editorial fiction” refers to works that pretend that they are merely editions of authentic letters, manuscripts, spoken discourse, songs, etc. that the alleged editor found or – in the two latter cases – overheard. Writers thus use editorial fiction to suggest that they are not the real authors of a text but merely its editors (cf. Konrad 3). During Byron’s time (and the same also goes for the Augustan age), most editorial fictions did not fool any reader; they had become sufficiently conventionalised as a literary genre. True, Macpherson succeeded for a brief time in presenting his Ossian poems as authentic ancient texts, but, in the case of Beckford’s Vathek, for example, most readers and reviewers immediately saw through the fiction of the ‘found manuscript’.18

At the beginning of his career, Byron’s later friend Thomas Moore presented himself as the mere editor and annotator of another’s work in order to conceal his authorship. In the anonymously published The Poetical Works of the Late Thomas Little, Esq. many of the short annotations are employed to maintain the fiction that the volume was published by a ‘T. M.’ who was merely trying to elucidate the poems of his deceased friend. The ruse was, however, soon detected and commented on by reviewers.19 Later in his career, Moore would use such faux-editorial annotations only for his satirical works. For instance, some of the notes in his poems The Fudge Family in Paris, Edited by Thomas Brown, the Younger and Intercepted Letters, or, The Twopenny Postbag playfully justify ‘editorial choices’ like leaving out some of the lines written by an intemperate young man and describe what else was ‘found’ in the intercepted parcels (a rejected manuscript, an invitation to a ball, etc.).

Another work relying on the fiction of the ‘found manuscript’ that Byron definitely knew is Samuel Rogers’s The Voyage of Columbus. This poem is frequently believed to have inspired the interplay of the different voices in Byron’s The Giaour (cf. Gleckner 91; McGann, Fiery Dust 142; Peterson 28–29; Seed 15). The Voyage of Columbus exists in two versions. In the first version (1810), the preface makes clear that the poem was written by a modern (anonymous) author. However, when The Voyage of Columbus was included in Rogers’s Poems (1812), the poet – most likely in an attempt to make the rather insipid work more interesting – claimed that it was a translation of an old Castilian manuscript of which only fragments remain. Alleged gaps in the manuscript are indicated by rows of asterisks in the text and are sometimes addressed by an annotation. At the end of the second canto, for instance, a note deplores that “[t]his Canto seems to have suffered more than the rest” (Sam. Rogers 203). Rogers’s notes, which substantiate his fiction of the ‘found manuscript’, thus emphasise the presence of two distinct voices in the work: the author of the old manuscript and the modern translator/editor.

The examples of Beckford, Moore, and Rogers show that in Byron’s time annotated editorial fiction was quite popular, albeit rather as a transparent literary device than as a genuine attempt to conceal one’s authorship. As will be seen, what differentiates Byron’s The Giaour and Don Juan20 from the works by Beckford, Moore, and Rogers is that in neither of them it is entirely obvious that they are editorial fictions in the first place. In The Giaour, the annotation that tells readers that the poem consists of an ‘overheard tale’ interspersed with a few additions by the ‘editor’ only occurs at the very end of the poem. And in Don Juan, the preface that likewise presents the poem as an ‘overheard story’ with editorial interpolations was cancelled before publication. As I will show, this delay or omission of the markers of editorial fiction sometimes leads to a confusion of voices and to uncertainty over who exactly is ‘speaking’ in the annotations as well as the annotated text, which, in turn, has wide-reaching consequences for the interpretation of the works as a whole (see chapter

The examples of Romantic self-annotation discussed here show the prevalence and diversity of this practice around 1800 and hint at why Byron is an especially intriguing case to study. Among all of his contemporaries, his annotations deviate the farthest from the conventions of xenographic annotation, and his notes are characterised by constant authorial self-insertions (as well as by insertions that again raise the question whether it is really Byron that is speaking). He uses annotations to contradict, undermine, and mock his own poems much more frequently than any of his fellow Romantic authors. And he employs the popular device of the ‘overheard story’ for purposes that go far beyond the transparent play with different voices; rather, the ‘delayed’ editorial fiction in The Giaour and the resulting ambiguity of which parts of the text can be attributed to which speaker lie at the very heart of the work’s meaning.

3.1.2 (How) Were Self-Annotations Read?

In his 1819 Grammar of the English Language, William Cobbett claims: “Notes are seldom read” (83, original emphasis; also see Chatsiou, “Lord Byron” 641).21 Basing my argument on authors’ correspondence, reviews, and other contemporary sources, I will explain why this statement is wrong, at least with regard to Romantic-era self-annotations for poetry. After having established that annotations were indeed read by Byron’s contemporaries, I will draw on authors’ remarks to discuss how they were read or at least how they were assumed to be read: did readers immediately turn to the notes whenever they found an asterisk or a superscript number in the poem? Or did they first read the whole poem and then pay attention to the annotations in a second reading?

Authors’ correspondence in the Romantic age reveals that they showed considerable interest in the notes of other writers as well as in the reception of their own. Self-annotations even seem to have been a topic for lively conversation, at least in literary circles. For example, Byron’s friend Hobhouse wrote to him in October 1810 to tell him of a discussion that one of his notes in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (EBSR) had given rise to:

Only think of that ninny Ekenhead! When he was reading the Satire [EBSR] and came to that note where you talk about Haley and call him Mr. H. he said ‘ah ah so he has got a slap at you too,’ and, I fancy, he thinks that Mr. H means Mr. Hobhouse to this moment. (Hobhouse 51)

Another annotation in EBSR stirred up quite some controversy and almost led to a duel between Byron and Thomas Moore, who would later become one of his closest friends. Moore believed that Byron accused him of cowardice in an annotation on Moore’s duel with the reviewer Francis Jeffrey (EBSR 465–67n; CPW 1: 407). He wrote an indignant letter to Byron on 1 January 1810 (which Byron did not receive before going abroad) and, upon not having received an answer, sent another letter on 22 October 1811 (T. Moore, Letters 1: 134–35; 1: 161–61). The matter was concluded without bloodshed, but it illustrates that annotations were indeed taken quite seriously.

Wordsworth, Southey, and Scott were also avid readers of annotations. In a letter to Anna Eliza Bray on 8 September 1832, Southey proudly relates how he found his name in a note:

To my no little surprise, I once came upon this sentence in the notes to an Italian poem by Pananti: ‘Si avrebbe potuto nominare il famoso poeta Southey, gran viaggiatore a piedi.’ How I deserved to be thus immortalised I do not know. (Southey, Sel. Letters 4: 299–300)22

In a letter to Scott, Wordsworth chides him for having misquoted him in his notes on Marmion: “In the notes you have quoted two lines of mine from memory, and your memory admirable as it is, has here failed you” (W. Wordsworth, Letters 1806–1811 264). Scott himself even occasionally advised his correspondents to read a poem for its annotations only. In a letter to Patrick Murray on 18 January 1812, he announces that he will send him Edward Pellews’s Catalonia and explains: “the notes contain some curious information which is the reason I send it. The bard seems to me however to croak a little too much” (W. Scott, Letters 3: 67).

Byron himself read annotations quite carefully as well. He even refers to them in his own notes, quoting an annotation from the Nouvelle Héloïse in a note on the third canto of CHP and Southey’s Thalaba note on vampires in an annotation for The Giaour (cf. CHP 3.99n, Giaour 755n; CPW 2: 311–13, CPW 3: 420). Furthermore, in his review of William Henry Ireland’s Neglected Genius in the Monthly Review (vol. 70, Feb. 1813), Byron ridicules the author for committing a blunder in his annotations: “The notes communicate, among other novelties, the new title of ‘Sir Horace’ to the Honourable H. Walpole” (CMP 19). Despite his complaints about having to write more annotations for CHP I–II (cf. BLJ 2: 111), Byron usually seems to have been quite protective of his notes and became enraged whenever John Murray published them with errors or even failed to include them in the first place: “The Notes you can’t have lost – you acknowledged them[.] […] And now I ask once more if such liberties taken in a man’s absence – are fair or praise-worthy?” (BLJ 8: 194, original emphasis). Byron also objected when he learned that Murray planned a separate publication for the hundreds of pages of annotations that John Cam Hobhouse had written for the fourth canto of CHP and that Byron wanted to include in the same volume as his poem. In a letter to Hobhouse, he complains: “You have vexed me mightily about your notes on which I depend seriously […] however you must do as you like – only recollect that I protest against withholding the notes – & look upon myself as an ill used Gentleman” (BLJ 6: 19, original emphasis).

Publishers apparently were aware of the fact that annotations were indeed perused by many readers and that the bookseller could get in trouble for them. For example, in 1826, William Miller claimed that the main reason why he had refused to publish Byron’s CHP in 1812 was that its notes satirised Lord Elgin (cf. Murray 472n5). Byron’s publisher Murray himself sometimes unauthorisedly left out annotations on account of their political sentiments. Writing to Byron in January 1817, he justifies this practice by alluding to economic considerations, arguing that “[t]he Note omitted was I think some personal allusion to poor Louis XVIII – & this I desired lest it might in any way interfere with the popularity of my book” (Murray 202, original emphasis).

Many critics also paid close attention to the notes and included them in their evaluation. A review of Marino Faliero in the Literary Gazette (no. 223, 28 Apr. 1821), for instance, announces: “Before examining the play […] in detail, we must offer a few comments upon the preface and notes which accompany it” (“Review of Marino Faliero” 259). Usually, however, the paragraph about the notes appears at the very end of a review; it often comments on the usefulness and appropriateness of the information and points out factual mistakes in the annotations. For example, in its review of the first two cantos of CHP (vol. 19, no. 38, Feb. 1812), the Edinburgh Review comments:

The Notes are written in a flippant, lively, tranchant and assuming style – neither very deep nor very witty; though rather entertaining, and containing some curious information as to the character and qualifications of the modern Greeks; of whom, as well as of the Portuguese, Lord Byron seems inclined to speak much more favourably in prose than in verse. (“Review of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”475)23

And when discussing Byron’s The Siege of Corinth, the Gentleman’s Magazine (Mar. 1816) explains that “[w]e copy the following exquisite lines on account of the accompanying note” before quoting the entire annotation (“Review of The Siege of Corinth” 242; for the note, see Siege of Corinth 598n; CPW 3: 486). The Critical Review (vol. 1, no. 6, June 1812) even complains that the more than fifty pages of annotations in CHP I–II “are much too sparing[] for our wishes” and, after having spent two pages criticising the information Byron provides in his appendix, even feels the need to justify that it “estimated the volume now before us, rather with reference to its poetical merits than the information it conveys” (“Review of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage I–II” 572; 575). The practice of reviewers commenting on annotations was not restricted to British journals. For example, the review of Byron’s The Bride of Abydos in the Wiener Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (no. 26, Apr. 1814) spends a whole page on Byron’s annotations and especially focuses on his compliment to Madame de Staël in one of them:

An manchen Stellen scheint sogar der Text nur um der Noten willen da zu stehen. […] The music breathing from her face, hätte in einem deutschen, und vielleicht auch in einem englischen Gedichte keiner Note bedurft, wenn es dem Verf. nicht darum zu thun gewesen wäre, der Frau von Staël […] eine artige Verbeugung zu machen. (“Review of The Bride of Abydos” 424, original emphasis)24

There is not much information about whether ‘ordinary’ readers were just as interested in annotations as authors and reviewers. Yet, for example, the anonymously published Extracts from the Diary of a Lover of Literature (1810, ascribed to a Thomas Green, who does not make an appearance in literature elsewhere) frequently records the author’s opinions of the notes (xenographic and authorial) that he read. Even readers who could not afford to buy books in their (often very expensive)25 ‘official’ versions still had access to the texts and their annotations via other means: pirated editions in Britain and Galignani’s continental reprints of British works usually retained the annotations.26 It appears that most translations likewise kept the author’s annotations.27 Reviews in periodicals like the Edinburgh Review, the Quarterly Review, Blackwood’s Monthly Magazine, and many others generally included long quotes from the reviewed poem and often reprinted the annotations attached to these quotes in their entirety.28 Thus, at least to some extent, self-annotations were not only accessible to the purchasers of the authentic editions but to a much larger audience. Whether an annotation was read (and by whom) would also, of course, have depended on its length and subject. For example, as Gillian Hughes rightly points out,

Scott’s notes seem designed for a more specific constituency than the poems themselves, one of gentlemanly scholars apparently, since they include untranslated Latin as well as quotations from manuscripts and obscure pamphlets in private libraries, medieval Scottish literary texts with original spelling, old charters and legal records and the like. (Hughes 54)

A brief, witty, and risqué note for Don Juan would probably have appealed to a different (and wider?) readership than the lengthy historical appendices for The Two Foscari.

After having established that many (perhaps even most) contemporary readers indeed paid eager attention to the notes, it remains to be discussed how people read annotations. Information on this issue is quite scarce, and individual preferences and habits would, of course, also have played a role. Nevertheless, some tendencies emerge from authors’ correspondences, prefaces, and the layout of the annotations. It appears that many readers first finished the whole poem before taking heed of the annotations in a second, more thorough reading.29 For instance, in a letter to John May on 12 October 1808, Southey complains that, since his long annotations in Thalaba are printed as footnotes and only leave space for a few lines of poetry on the page, those who first want to focus on the poem itself have to flip the pages constantly: “There is an unpleasant effect by the manner of placing the notes; for many pages have only a line of text, and so the eye runs faster than the fingers can turn them over” (Southey, Coll. Letters 3: letter 1518). Thus, Southey apparently expected readers to disregard the footnotes initially and only to read the poem. In his satire The Pursuits of Literature, Thomas James Mathias even advises his readers to peruse the poem in this manner: “I think, if the Poem is read once without reference to the notes, the plan, connection, and manner of it will be perceived” (Mathias 2). In the preface to his translation of the satires of Juvenal, Francis Hodgson (a close friend of Byron’s) explains that this is also how he prefers to read an annotated work.30 Nevertheless, he owns that it is almost impossible to ignore footnotes:

I confess that I like to read a poem quite through before I examine it in detail. We must compound for a little temporary ignorance of the full meaning of particular passages by this method: but pleasure is the great end of poetry; and it is impossible to judge of the general effect of a poem, if our attention is called off every moment to quotation and reference in the notes. This must be the case, if they are at the bottom of the page. There is a sort of compulsion in the plan; a reader is forced by his natural curiosity to look for an explanation before his eyes, although in many passages he may have no occasion, or wish to seek for more knowledge than he finds in the text, or can supply from his own stores of information. (Hodgson iv; cf. Edson, “Introduction” xxiii)

As I show in my appendix (p. 391 and p. 395ff.), the layout of self-annotated works in the Romantic age often catered to readers’ preference for first focussing on the poem itself. After 1800, intrusive and hard-to-ignore footnotes were increasingly supplanted by endnotes which could be more easily disregarded in a first reading. Around 1820, more than 60 % of English self-annotated poetry featured either endnotes or a mix of foot- and endnotes. In works that combined footnotes and endnotes, the former are usually very brief and provide information that is essential for understanding the poem (e.g. translations of foreign words), while the endnotes are often very long. In many of these works, the poem itself contains no indications (e.g. asterisks or superscript numbers) that would draw readers’ attention to the presence of the endnotes. This is yet another hint that readers were expected to initially peruse the entire poem without referring to the notes.

The practice of first reading the poem as whole and then rereading it with reference to the notes corresponds to what William St. Clair observes about reading practices in the Romantic age in general: “the same texts were still read many times over. Sometimes the books were re-read because nothing different was available, but for many readers, frequent re-reading was a conscious choice” (St. Clair, The Reading Nation 395).

The question how and when readers encountered an annotation must be kept in mind when contemplating the effect of the annotations that will be discussed in the course of this study. In the case of The Giaour, for example, a crucial piece of information (namely that the greatest part of the poem consists of an ‘authentic’ Levantine tale ‘overheard’ by the English editor) is only given in the very last annotation. If readers read the work three times – first only the poem, then the poem with the notes, then the poem and the notes having in mind the last annotation – they would be confronted with three different communicative situations in each reading.

Self-annotations were indeed the ‘modern indispensables’ of rhyme in the Romantic age. They were thoroughly researched and discussed by authors, perused and animatedly commented on by many readers, and evaluated by national and international journals. As such, this understudied (para)textual feature deserves more attention than it has received so far.

3.2 Mimicking Explanatory Notes in Byron

3.2.1 Personal Annotations: Creating and Undermining the Idea of the ‘Real’ Byron

Throughout his career, Byron both hinted at and denied resemblances between himself and his characters or narrators.31 He invited readers to identify him with his “beings of the mind” and berated them for doing so – often in such a teasingly half-hearted manner that the refutations began to resemble confirmations. In the preface to the fourth canto of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (CHP), for example, Byron informs readers that

[w]ith regard to the conduct of the last canto, there will be found less of the pilgrim than in any of the preceding, and that little slightly, if at all, separated from the author speaking in his own person. The fact is, that I had become weary of drawing a line which every one seemed determined not to perceive: like the Chinese in Goldsmith’s ‘Citizen of the World’, whom nobody would believe to be a Chinese, it was in vain that I asserted, and imagined, that I had drawn, a distinction between the author and the pilgrim; and the very anxiety to preserve this difference, and disappointment at finding it unavailing, so far crushed my efforts in the composition, that I determined to abandon it altogether. (CPW 2: 122)

While Byron contends that there was indeed a clear separation between himself and Harold in the first three cantos,32 the reference to Goldsmith’s The Citizen of the World again calls this into question. Goldsmith’s work claims to be written by a Chinese traveller, who was quite obviously only a fictional author persona through whom Goldsmith commented on contemporary English society. Thus, by referring to The Citizen of the World in order to deny the connection between himself and Harold, Byron playfully insists on it even more; he suggests that the distinction between Harold and himself is almost as implausible as the distinction between Lien Chi and Goldsmith.33 Furthermore, the preface partly confirms that, at least in the fourth canto, readers can indeed equate author and protagonist. (However, Byron does not specify whether this is merely due to his annoyance at readers’ (mis)interpretation of the poem or because Harold had actually been a stand-in for himself all along.) Similar equivocalities can be found in the preface for The Corsair:

With regard to my story, and stories in general, I should have been glad to have rendered my personages more perfect and amiable, if possible, inasmuch as I have been sometimes criticised, and considered no less responsible for their deeds and qualities than if all had been personal. Be it so – if I have deviated into the gloomy vanity of ‘drawing from self’, the pictures are probably like, since they are unfavourable; and if not, those who know me are undeceived, and those who do not, I have little interest in undeceiving. I have no particular desire that any but my acquaintance should think the author better than the beings of his imagining[.] (CPW 3: 149)

Byron refuses to outright deny any resemblances between his heroes and himself. Rather, he puts the interpretative onus on his audience, while still asserting that they will never be able to resolve the question, because (1) he himself is (allegedly) unsure about the matter, and (2) even if he were sure that there are no similarities, he would have “little interest in undeceiving” the public.

As these quotes from two of his prefaces indicate, Byron constantly raises questions that he then refuses to answer unequivocally: which (if any) of the events that are related in his poems are based on his own life? Can readers discover the genuine thoughts and feelings of the author by reading his works? And if yes, which of his works – Lara or Beppo, CHP or Don Juan?

Contemporary readers reacted in quite different ways to the ambiguities that surrounded the potentially autobiographical and self-revelatory aspects of Byron’s works. For instance, in letters written within only a few weeks in 1816, Walter Scott took three contradictory positions on the matter: (1) all of Byron’s works contain genuine self-expression, and all of his heroes are more or less identical with him;34 (2) his melancholy and misanthropy used to be a pose in all of his earlier works, but in CHP III they are sincere;35 and (3), rather than art imitating life, life is imitating art in Byron’s case.36 Other contemporaries claimed that the mystery could be cleared up easily: for example, in John Bull’s Letter to Lord Byron (1821), John Gibson Lockhart famously asserts that the persona that Byron assumed from CHP onwards until the publication of Beppo and Don Juan was a complete sham.37 While Lockhart dissociates Byron from his Byronic heroes, he suggests that Don Juan is indeed a work of genuine self-expression: “Stick to Don Juan: It is the only sincere thing you have ever written” (Lockhart, John Bull’s Letter to Lord Byron 82). One can detect the ‘real’ Byron in his works, Lockhart suggests – one only has to read the right poem. However, as Lockhart points out in his Letter, even after the publication of the first cantos of Don Juan, many readers continued to insist that the ‘real’ Byron was a brooding, world-weary misanthrope like Harold, Conrad, Lara, and Manfred.38 The controversy did not end with the poet’s death. As Jerome McGann has pointed out, “the whole history of Byron research shows a constant struggle between those who praise him for his poetic sincerity, and those who damn him for his insincerity” (McGann, Fiery Dust 26).

‘Sincerity’, Autobiographical Factuality, and ‘Personal’ Annotations

As the discussion below will show, it is important to differentiate this notion of sincerity from that of (autobiographical) factuality. A passage that is (rightly or wrongly) seen as expressing the author’s actual feelings and attitudes would be called sincere,39 while a passage that is (again, rightly or wrongly) seen as being directly drawn from the author’s life experience would be called (autobiographically) factual. Readers could, for instance, argue that Byron’s description of Conrad in The Corsair is not autobiographically factual (Byron was, after all, no pirate) but that it is ‘sincere’ (i.e. that Byron expresses his own feelings of pride, disillusion, and misanthropy through Conrad).

The quotes by Scott and Lockhart show that readers formed widely divergent judgements about both the sincerity and the factuality of Byron’s works. As hinted at by the quotes from Byron’s prefaces above, there is a clear textual basis for these contradictory assessments. They are a direct result of readers’ attempts at coming to terms with (or explaining away) one of the fundamental ambiguities of Byron’s œuvre.

In what follows, I will discuss the central role that Byron’s self-annotations play in this ambiguity. More specifically, I will investigate how he uses his notes to both support and undermine the impression that his works are to a great extent autobiographically factual and that they serve his sincere and unrestrained self-expression. To this end, I will focus on his ‘personal’ annotations. The term here refers to notes that connect passages in the poem to Byron’s first-hand observations and experiences as well as to notes that suggest that he is recording his own opinions or feelings in the poem and/or the annotations. In some cases (see chapter, these ‘personal’ notes also relate autobiographical anecdotes that are more or less unrelated to the annotated passage. Throughout the chapter, it will be shown that self-annotations are especially suited for ambiguating the autobiographical and self-revelatory aspect of a work due to their own ambiguous status: they are both fictional parts of a fictional text that are potentially voiced by a fictional persona and factual remarks standing outside a (semi-?)fictional text that are potentially voiced by the actual author.

To approach Byron’s personal annotations as a means of ambiguation may seem a bit surprising. Based on his pronouncements on the importance of factuality40 and first-hand observation in poetry,41 one would expect that most of these notes mainly serve as a way of disambiguating his poems by suggesting that they are more or less based on incidents that he witnessed in person. And indeed, while the notes of many other Romantic writers mainly rely on book-learning (occasionally mixed with first-hand accounts) (see chapter 3.1.1), Byron’s notes often do not refer to any written sources but solely to his personal experience.42 In other words, while most other Romantic poets signal that they thoroughly researched the scenes they are describing, Byron assures readers that he actually saw them. For instance, he explains that the buskins worn by some characters in The Bride of Abydos “are those of an Arnaut robber, who was my host (he had quitted the profession)” (Bride of Abydos 2.150n; CPW 2: 440), and he affirms that the depiction of Haidée’s hair being so long as to reach her ankles is no exaggeration but was inspired by his having seen four women “who possessed their hair in this profusion” (Don Juan 3.73n; CPW 5: 699). Byron’s assertions that the general descriptions in his poems are based on personal experience may lead readers to go a step further and to assume that the events portrayed in the works as well as the protagonists’ feelings and opinions are likewise based on Byron’s own life and character.

At this point, however, annotatorial ambiguation begins to play a role since there are a considerable number of personal notes that call this impression of autobiography and self-revelation into question. While affirming that Byron personally witnessed some of the scenes he is describing in his poems, these notes insinuate that the attitude that the character or narrator expresses towards these scenes is not necessarily Byron’s and that he perhaps also made certain changes when transforming fact into fiction. In other words, these notes imply that his poems may to some extent be grounded in his own experiences but that this does not mean that these works serve his ‘sincere’ self-expression nor that the events described in them are faithful to what actually happened in Byron’s life.

This sense is often achieved by juxtaposing a melancholic, lofty poetical passage and an irreverent or sceptical note. Personal annotations of this kind suggest that the poems may indeed tell readers something about Byron’s first-hand geographical, cultural, or religious knowledge but by no means paint a ‘sincere’ or complete picture of his thoughts, feelings, and experiences. In Byron’s never-ending game of teasing readers with hints at the potentially self-revelatory nature of his poems, the combinations of serious passages and comical notes thus give rise to questions like: might the ‘real’ Byron perhaps be found in the annotations rather than the poem? Or does he just adopt yet another pose in them? Or – especially against the backdrop of his pronouncements on ‘mobility’ in Don Juan (see below) – does the blend of serious passages and comical annotations finally give readers a glimpse at the ‘real’ Byron in all his contradictoriness? As will be shown, a further aspect highlighted by these personal notes is that Byron often draws readers’ attention to the fact that his poems and notes are at best half-revelatory, that he is always hiding more than he is revealing. Moreover, especially in the example drawn from Don Juan (see below), Byron’s personal notes present themselves as both private reminiscences not meant for others’ eyes and as public remarks in which the author is fully aware of his audience and might wish to project a certain (not necessarily faithful) image of himself for them.

Earlier Approaches to Byron’s Ambiguous ‘Sincerity’ and Autobiographical Factuality

The aim here is, of course, not to reconstruct Byron’s actual opinions and feelings on the basis of his self-annotations, or to determine how ‘sincere’ and/or factual his works really were.43 The present chapter focuses exclusively on the textual strategies through which he creates, and calls into question, the illusion of sincerity and autobiographical factuality.44 In doing so, the chapter draws on a wealth of research, which has, however, often neglected the role that Byron’s annotations play in his identification with, and distancing from, his characters and narrators. Previous scholarship has mainly concentrated on two points: (1) the co-presence of signals of sincerity and insincerity, self-revelation and self-concealment, in Byron’s works; and (2) the question how Byron managed to convince readers that they were getting a glimpse of his real self in his earlier works, only to contest this conviction in his later ones.

With respect to the first issue, it has been argued that we can find in Byron’s works a “radical dissolution of […] the dichotomies of authenticity and role-playing, of fiction and non-fiction, of fact and fake” (Bode, “Byron’s Dis-Orientations” 73), as well as “a self-dramatisation or self-creation through combined self-revelation and self-concealment” (Graham 28). He offers his readers “‘indirect’ or ‘staged’ autobiography that so effectively melds personal revelation with fictionalizing as to render the one often indistinguishable from the other” (Behrendt 148). His poems are “a mode of presentation in which disguise and disclosure intermix” and present “a game of candour and obliquity” (Soderholm 184). This chapter will provide evidence for the central role that Byron’s notes play in this hide-and-seek game with his readers.

The second question has been discussed in detail by Andrew Elfenbein and Tom Mole. Both of them argue that Byron used certain textual strategies in order to close the, according to them, widening gap between authors and readers around 1800 by suggesting to readers that his works provide them with a direct glimpse at his real life and feelings. Both Elfenbein and Mole attribute this gap to the decline of patronage- and subscription-based publication, the rise in literacy and the growing number of readers, as well as to the increase in literary production (cf. Elfenbein 52–53; Mole, Byron’s Romantic Celebrity 10–23). The strategies identified by Elfenbein and Mole, however, vastly differ from each other. Elfenbein argues that readers chose to identify Byron with his characters because his poems “provided no origin [i.e. explanation] for the hero’s torment” and thus forced readers to find this origin outside the works, in the author himself (Elfenbein 20). According to him, “Byron was equated with his heroes more because of what he did not tell than because of what he did” (Elfenbein 20). By contrast, Mole contends that, in order to ease the sense of alienation between author and audience, many Romantic poets (most prominently Byron himself) strove to create a “Hermeneutic of Intimacy”. This worked by implying that their works

could only be understood fully by referring to their author’s personality, that reading them was entering a kind of relationship with the author and that that relationship resembled an intimate connection between individuals. (Mole, Byron’s Romantic Celebrity 23)

The Hermeneutic of Intimacy thus relies on readers’ “belief that Byron revealed himself in his poetry, though this revelation was never stable or complete” (Mole, Byron’s Romantic Celebrity 24). In the course of his book, Mole discusses a variety of strategies through which this belief is created and cemented but also refuted in Byron’s works.45 While I agree with Mole and Elfenbein that Byron used certain textual strategies to (partly) create the impression that he could be equated with his protagonists and/or narrators, neither the reasons they name for the need for such an impression, nor the strategies they cite for achieving it, are entirely convincing.

For one, it is questionable whether the intimacy between authors and readers that, according to Mole and Elfenbein, was lost around 1800 ever existed in the first place. Even the annotations in Spenser’s The Shepheardes Calender, for example, are often seen as a way to mediate his innovative poem to readers who might otherwise have rejected the work (cf. A. Assmann 357); mass production and consumption of literature were decried much earlier than in the Romantic age;46 and even from Antiquity onwards authors were aware (or at least hoped) that their works would not only be read by contemporaries but by future readers, who might speak a different language, have a different horizon of understanding, and adhere to different values.47

With respect to the textual strategy identified by Elfenbein, it needs to be pointed out that Byron’s heroes usually do have a background story to explain their mental anguish, though the poems often claim that some aspects of these background stories must be left untold.48 Nevertheless, Elfenbein’s argument that readers insisted that Byron’s past and personality could be found in his poems more because of what he did not say than because of what he did is compelling. As I will show in the course of this chapter, many of Byron’s personal annotations teasingly withhold information – not about his protagonists, however, but about himself. Making only minor autobiographical revelations, these notes hint at major ones, which they, however, dare not (or care not) to supply. By occasionally suggesting that the poems indeed contain traces of Byron’s life and opinions, these annotations invite readers to search for other, unannotated, and potentially more weighty self-revelations.49

Moving on to Mole, his discussion sometimes seems to overstate the centrality of certain of Byron’s textual strategies for creating the Hermeneutic of Intimacy. His discussion of CHP I–II, for instance, strongly focuses on the prefatory poem “To Ianthe”, which was added to the work in 1814, i.e. two years after the first publication of CHP. By the time when this poem was added, however, many in Byron’s audience were already quite convinced that he was confessing his innermost feelings in his works and that they were among the privileged few who could understand these confessions. Hence, even though Mole’s analysis of “To Ianthe” offers an insightful addition to discussions of the seemingly self-revelatory nature of Byron’s works, it does not get to the core of the issue.

With regard to the poems themselves (i.e. disregarding the role of the paratexts), this core seems to consist of three components: (1) Many of Byron’s narrative poems repeat key elements in the characterisation of his ‘Byronic’ protagonists, which suggests to readers that the author is obsessed with one specific type of hero (for reasons which they are left to imagine). (2) The next component consists of two steps. First, it relies on the strategy of partly identifying the narrators of his romances and tales with their protagonists, which is achieved in passages where narrators move from descriptions of the protagonists’ feelings to reflections that hint at their own familiarity with such sentiments, e.g. “And many a withering thought lies hid, not lost, / In smiles that least befit who wear them most” (Corsair 3.638–39). And, second, the narrators’ reflections in these passages often echo sentiments that readers would have known from Byron’s lyrical (and seemingly confessional) poems, thereby suggesting that Byron and the narrators of his long narrative poems can (at least partially) be equated. For instance, the lines just quoted bear a great resemblance to his lyrical poem “If Sometimes in the Haunts of Men”. Put briefly, Byron is partly identified with the narrators and these narrators again partly with the protagonists. (3) Lastly, Byron’s poems make frequent references to circumstances that readers knew (from newspaper articles, gossip, etc.) to be similar to those in which Byron lived at the time of writing (e.g. composing Manfred in Switzerland and Beppo in Venice).

However, neither, the ‘auto-intertextuality’ of Byron’s poems, nor their partial identification of narrator and protagonist as well as of narrator and author, nor their implicit autobiographical contextualisation can sufficiently explain why so many readers were (and are) adamant that Byron’s poems contain the author’s heart and soul. The similarity of his Byronic heroes to one another might, for instance, be just a result of Byron’s (and his publisher’s) realisation that works featuring such characters sold extremely well. The sentiments in his lyrical poems may simply be entirely fictional and derivative of other popular lyrics at the time; their reappearance in the narrative poems does not necessarily make the latter in any way confessional. Moreover, as readers would have known from, for instance, Scott’s poems, one may write about a culture and landscape that is very familiar to oneself without in the least resembling any of one’s characters.

This is where the central importance of Byron’s personal annotations shows itself. Without them (and their hints that the poems are partly based on Byron’s personal experience), readers would have been much less inclined to identify him with his narrators and protagonists. But, in turn, without his ‘indecorous’ facetious notes, readers would also have been less eager to call this very identification into question. In other words, Byron’s ‘personal’ notes serve an important double function: they create the illusion of sincere, complete self-expression and factual, autobiographical self-revelation, and they cast severe doubt on it again. Byron, Harold, and the Narrator of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage I–II: Identification and Dissociation Through Annotation

In Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage I–II, the published and the unpublished ‘personal’ annotations serve quite different functions. The published ones mainly disambiguate the work and suggest that it is indeed autobiographically factual and ‘sincere’. A handful of published notes, however, cast some slight doubts on this, thereby ambiguating the self-revelatory nature of CHP again. In a few unpublished notes, however, these doubts grow: while they still affirm the work’s autobiographical factuality, these annotations strongly insinuate that the narrator’s and the protagonist’s feelings and opinions are by no means identical with Byron’s.

The Published Annotations: Digressive Identification

Among all of Byron’s works, it is especially in CHP that he uses anecdotal annotations to ground the poem in his personal experience, going so far as to give the exact date and circumstances during which certain passages were composed. For example, he informs readers that one stanza was written at Castri “at the foot of Parnassus” and yet another passage at Thebes (CHP 1.60n; 1.70n; CPW 2: 280; 2: 189). In a further instance, he also tells them that

[t]his is written in the eye of Mont Blanc, (June 3d. 1816) which even at this distance dazzles mine. (June 20th). This day I observed for some time the distant reflection of Mont Blanc and Mont Argentiere in the calm of the lake, which I was crossing in my boat; the distance of these mountains from their mirror is 60 miles. (CHP 3.67n; CPW 2: 308)

In another case, anticipating objections that “[t]he above description may seem fantastical or exaggerated to those who have never seen an Oriental or Italian sky”, Byron assures his audience that this is, in fact, a “literal and hardly sufficient delineation of an August evening (the eighteenth) as contemplated during a ride along the Banks of the Brenta – near La Mira” (CHP 4.27n; CPW 2: 228). Elsewhere, he informs readers that “[t]he thunder-storms to which these lines refer occurred on the 13th of June, 1816, at midnight. I have seen among the Acroceraunian mountains of Chimari several more terrible, but none more beautiful” (CHP 3.92n; CPW 2: 311).50

None of the passages annotated in this manner require annotation; they do not raise any questions that have to be addressed in a note, and one dare say that readers did not need to learn the specific dates on which Byron saw sunsets and thunderstorms to believe that he was capable of accurately describing such natural phenomena. If these notes were xenographic rather than authorial, the editor would probably be seen as over-zealous, pedantic, or simply incapable of distinguishing between relevant and irrelevant information. As they stand, however, they are relevant, though not with respect to their informational content.

Byron’s anecdotal annotations often appear less like explanatory notes than entries in a personal diary at which readers are allowed to take a brief peek.51 By informing readers that even descriptions of such mundane events as sunsets refer to specific occurrences, Byron makes the biographical context seem relevant for an understanding of the poem. These notes suggest that the poem could never have been written if the author had not witnessed a specific event or visited a specific place – it is entirely fuelled by experience, not imagination, and one cannot fully make sense of the work without knowing the author’s life.

These anecdotal annotations in CHP are usually appended to passages in which the narrator rather than the protagonist is speaking. Thus, – unlike the preface to CHP I–II, which is mainly concerned with the (non-)identity of Byron and Harold – these notes primarily serve to connect author and narrator.52 Nevertheless, they can be seen as linking Byron and Harold at least by proxy, since Harold and the narrator are frequently indistinguishable (cf. Pointner and Weißenfels 73–74): the passages that are supposed to be spoken by the narrator and those that are supposed to be spoken by the Childe cannot always be clearly separated from one another, and the transitions between them are often nearly imperceptible (cf. Calderaro 40).53 Thus, in CHP’s constant game of both denying and affirming the identity of Byron, his narrator, and his protagonist, the prefaces serve to ambiguate this identification, while the published annotations mainly disambiguate it and emphasise the autobiographical nature of the work.

The socio-pragmatic and the intratextual functions of the annotations are nearly identical in these cases: they attest to the verisimilitude of Byron’s descriptions and serve to suggest that both Harold’s and the narrator’s experiences are actually Byron’s. From this, it is only a small step for readers to assume that Harold’s and the narrator’s opinions and feelings are likewise Byron’s. There is little evidence in the published version of CHP that would contradict such a notion, and there is even at least one annotation that directly supports it. This note is appended to the stanzas commemorating Byron’s Harrow favourite John Wingfield, which are supposedly spoken by the narrator (beginning “And thou, my friend! – since unavailing woe / Bursts from my heart, and mingles with the strain”; CHP 1.91). The note explains that these lines refer to a real person and that the narrator’s grief is, in fact, Byron’s: “In the short space of one month I have lost her who gave me being, and most of those who had made that being tolerable” (CHP 1.91n, original emphasis; CPW 2: 189).54 In the published version of CHP, the annotations can therefore be seen as one of the main reasons why readers were so eager to read the work as the author’s direct, sincere self-revelation and to picture Byron as a disillusioned, melancholy man like his narrator and protagonist.

Yet, even in the published version of CHP, there are a few elements that cast some doubt on this image of Byron. Just as there are still a few hints of humour and satire in the published poem, some of the published annotations likewise introduce a dose of facetiousness. There, we find comments like “[t]he fountain of Dirce turns a mill: at least, my companion (who resolving to be at once cleanly and classical bathed in it) pronounced it to be the fountain” (CHP 2.73n, Paper I; CPW 199), remarks such as “[a]ccording to Pouqueville the lake of Yanina; but Pouqueville is always out” (CHP 2.47n; CPW 2: 288), and long notes that ridicule scholarly controversies.55 Reviewers noted the fact that some stanzas and notes presented a jarring contrast to the solemn tone of the rest of the work. As Jane Stabler points out, the Eclectic Review (vol. 8, June 1812), for instance, objected to the few humorous and satirical stanzas in the poem (e.g. CHP 1.25–26; 1.69–70) and criticised Byron’s irreverent comment on Sydney Owenson’s Ida of Athens in one of his notes (cf. Stabler, Byron, Poetics and History 23; “Review of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, I–II” 638–39). And the Edinburgh Review (vol. 19, no. 38, Feb. 1812) commented: “The Notes are written in a flippant, lively, tranchant and assuming style – neither very deep nor very witty; though rather entertaining” (“Review of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” 475, original emphasis). The reviewer’s bewilderment at the fact that “the author of the [serious, lofty] passages we have quoted could write such [facetious] stanzas as the following” shows how strongly readings of CHP were guided by questions of tonal consistency and the belief that the author must himself feel the sentiments that are expressed in the work (“Review of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, I–II” 638).56 The reviewers were, however, not as shocked at the tonal differences between the poem and some of the notes as they would be one year later in the case of The Giaour (see below). The reason for this was perhaps that – in the published version – the most humorous comments occur only in the notes on the notes (on the notes), i.e. either in the papers to which the annotation on CHP 2.73 refers or in the annotations on these papers. Two or even three times removed from the poem, they have hardly any relation to the narrative and, thus, are not particularly suited to raise any serious doubts as to whether the narrator’s and protagonist’s feelings are really Byron’s and whether the poem can be interpreted as the confession of a deeply melancholic man.

The Unpublished Annotations: Facetious Dissociation

In the manuscript version of CHP, things lie differently. Even in the poem itself, the mix of the serious and the comic, of pathos and bathos, was much more prominent than in the published version, though loftiness and melancholy still by far outweighed the humorous aspects (cf. Joseph 21; McGann, Fiery Dust 105; Stabler, Byron, Poetics and History 20–21).57 A considerable degree of facetiousness can also be found in some of the annotations that Byron ultimately decided to omit. One of them is appended to a passage in which the narrator ponders on the prevalence of blood vengeance in Spain:

Nurtur’d in blood betimes, his heart delights
In vengeance, gloating on another’s pain.
What private feuds the troubled village stain!
Though now one phalanx’d host should meet the foe,
Enough, alas! in humble homes remain,
To meditate ‘gainst friends the secret blow,
For some slight cause of wrath, whence life’s warm stream must flow. (CHP 1.80)

The annotation, though attesting to the veracity of this observation, makes light of the issue: “The Spaniards are as revengeful as ever. At Santa Olalla I heard a young peasant threaten to stab a woman (an old one to be sure, which mitigates the offence), and was told on expressing some small surprise, that this ethic was by no means uncommon” (CHP 1.80n; CPW 2: 280). Like the anecdotal annotations discussed above, this one grounds the poem in Byron’s own experience. However, it also suggests that, in the course of transforming life into literature, Byron rendered certain occurrences much loftier and more serious than they actually were. This not only raises questions about the similarities between Byron and his narrator (and Harold), it also suggests that other passages – though based on Byron’s life – might likewise have undergone this process of poetic elevation and by no means reflect the triviality of the original event, nor Byron’s feelings towards it.58 And again, the autobiographical factuality of the poem is partly affirmed, while the sincerity of the feelings and opinions expressed in the poem is ambiguated.

The relationship between Byron (as he presents himself in the note) and the narrator of the passage can be interpreted in various ways, with different implications for the (in)sincerity of the feelings that are being expressed in the poem. The annotation can be read as (1) Byron making fun of the sombre, pompous narrator who can by no means be identified with himself, (2) Byron ridiculing the pose he himself adopts in the poem, or (3) Byron being ambivalent about the subject of the passage, using the poem to stress its tragic aspects and the annotation to stress its comedy. In any case, the note points readers to the difference between the real author and the persona that is speaking in the poem and makes one wonder how much of the melancholy in the poem is simply a fashionable pose rather than authentic self-revelation. In cases (1) and (2), the tonal inconsistencies raise serious doubts about Byron’s sincerity in the poem (or in the note, though this less likely given its closer association with the actual author). In the third case, however, the very contradictoriness of poem and note might just as well be the ultimate form of authentic albeit ambivalent self-expression, a way of coming to terms with the fact that in Byron’s case “the same skin, / For one without, has two or three within” (Don Juan 17.11).

No matter how one interprets the interplay of poem and note in this instance, one may surmise that, if this and other facetious annotations had not been omitted from the published versions of CHP, readers and reviewers would probably have been a bit more hesitant to read the narrator’s and Harold’s disenchantment and sadness as Byron’s entirely sincere and complete self-revelation. As it was, the melancholic, misanthropic, sceptical, and immoral character traits ascribed to the narrator and Harold came to dominate Byron’s public image from CHP onwards until the publication of Beppo and Don Juan – notwithstanding earlier satirical productions like EBSR and The Waltz and despite the fact that a handful of published notes in his other works (especially in The Giaour) humorously subverted this image. Cheerful Editor vs. Suffering Hero in The Giaour

The annotations in The Giaour are among the most-discussed paratexts of Byron’s œuvre, and they are so for a good reason. Published one year after CHP I–II, this work takes the tonal inconsistency between poem and notes that was only sparsely found in CHP to new extremes. The stark contrast between the tone of the poem and that of some (but by no means all) of its annotations has puzzled readers, critics, and scholars ever since the publication of The Giaour. The Scots Magazine (Oct. 1813), for instance, complained:

We do not think there is anything positively bad in this volume, except the notes. These Lord Byron seems to have studied to write in a manner the most opposite possible to that in which he has composed the poem. They aim at that flippant wit, and careless indifference, which forms the reigning tone among the most frivolous of the most fashionable circle. We object to this style […] chiefly, because these notes, occurring very frequently, interrupt completely that tone of deep solemnity which reigns unbroken through the poetry. (“Review of The Giaour” 772)59

Contemporary reviewers (foreshadowing the outrage over the tonal discrepancies of Don Juan six years later) thus perceived the facetiousness of the annotations as being altogether inappropriate for a poem as serious as The Giaour. The indecorous mismatch between the style of the poem and that of some of the notes has led Tom Mole to argue that Byron

splits himself between text and footnote in The Giaour, providing a number of approaches to an imagined pre-textual Byron, some of which appear to be contradictory. […] [He] writes against a reductive Byronism which would portray him only as a Romantic hero[.] […] The text and the footnote provide two versions of Byron, which do not exist in harmony, but which are nonetheless both recognisably him. (Mole, “Narrative Desire and the Body in The Giaour” 92–93)

While Mole argues that both the gloomy poem and the comical notes may provide a glimpse at the ‘real’ Byron, he acknowledges that some readers might feel the need to choose between what they see as the cheerful and the melancholic version of the author: the tonal contrast between poem and note results in a “nonchalant comedy [which] gives the reader room to wonder where the real Byron is. Does he endorse the high rhetorical enthusiasm of the poem, or the irony of the note?” (Mole, “Narrative Desire and the Body in The Giaour” 93). In a similar vein, Ourania Chatsiou notes that, in the annotations for The Giaour, Byron rebels against the “conventional authorial identity of the poet of the romantic sublime” and creates an “alternative identity of the ironic, factual antiquarian”, making readers wonder “which of the two identities is the real one” (Chatsiou, Paratext and Poetics 113–14 n148). Elsewhere, she tentatively answers this question, surmising that the notes “puncture sentiment and the illusion of fiction, upsetting the reader’s bond with the main poetic text”, which would suggest that the ‘real’, facetious Byron is trying to destroy the gloomy image of himself that the poem builds up (Chatsiou, “Lord Byron” 647). This view is also implicit in Barbara Ravelhofer’s and Alice Levine’s essays on The Giaour, though neither of them directly discusses the question where (if anywhere) the ‘real’ Byron is to be found in the work. Ravelhofer contends that the notes “undermine the apparent seriousness of the main text” and work “as an anti-dote on doting readers who are […] carried away by the immediacy of seemingly straight oral poetry” (Ravelhofer 27; 28). Levine likewise argues that “[t]he notes in The Giaour […] pull the reader away from the story and the poetry, and, in both their content and style, work overtime to dispel the atmosphere and emotion built up in the poem” (A. Levine 131). According to these views the cheerful, waggish ‘real’ Byron of the notes makes fun of his own poem which itself is far from providing any glimpse at his actual feelings, opinions, and memories. However, in what follows, I would like to suggest that there are five factors that render the search for the ‘real’ Byron in The Giaour much more complicated than critics have so far allowed. These factors are:

  1. The ambiguous autobiographical factuality of The Giaour. There are notes that suggest that the poem is based on Byron’s experiences in the Ottoman Empire as well as notes that call this into question and explain that The Giaour is based on an event that had nothing to do with Byron whatsoever.

  2. The ambiguous ‘sincerity’ of The Giaour mentioned by Mole, Chatsiou, Ravelhofer, and Levine. This ambiguity arises from the facetious annotations which raise the question whether Byron is distancing himself from the solemnity of his poem, thereby insinuating that the feelings and opinions expressed in the verses should by no means be taken for his own.

  3. The fact that The Giaour is an editorial fiction which alleges that the main body of the poem is a story told in a Levantine coffee-house, which was ‘overheard’, ‘translated’ and ‘annotated’ by a European traveller. This traveller purportedly also added a few passages to the poem himself. This editorial fiction distances Byron from large sections of the poem and partly identifies him with the European traveller. However, while the last note on the poem claims that The Giaour in its entirety (poem and notes) is the work of two different persons, readers knew, of course, that Byron wrote both the whole poem and the notes. This results in the co-existence of two communicative situations: on the inner level of communication, the traveller is annotating the coffee-house storyteller (and sometimes himself), whereas on the outer level of communication Byron is annotating his own poem. What adds to the complexity is the variety of narrators and speaking characters in the poem itself, i.e. it is not only the Levantine storyteller (or, on the outer level, Byron) who are being targeted by irreverent notes but also the narrators and characters in their tale.

  4. Byron’s use of Romantic irony as well as his introduction of the concept of “mobility” in Don Juan in 1824 (Don Juan 16.96–98 and n) and the different possible interpretations of The Giaour that retrospectively arise from these two notions.

  5. The posthumous revelation that the main incident of The Giaour was indeed closely modelled on Byron’s own life.

All of these factors taken together show that in The Giaour Byron plays an extremely complex game of hide-and-seek with his readers, constantly appearing to offer glimpses into his present character as well as his past experiences while frequently raising doubts about the accuracy and sincerity of these glimpses.

I. The Ambiguous Autobiographical Factuality of The Giaour

As in the case of CHP, one has to ask why exactly readers and reviewers pondered the question whether The Giaour provides an insight into Byron’s life and feelings in the first place. In effect, without the annotations, The Giaour could very well be seen as an entirely fictional work. In the poem itself, the only hint at its potentially autobiographical nature is the fact that the protagonist’s feelings bear some resemblance to those of both the narrator and protagonist of CHP, who, as we have seen, had been partly aligned with Byron himself one year earlier. The annotations for The Giaour underpin this notion by – to some extent – creating the impression that the poem is based on Byron’s experiences in the Ottoman Empire. In these notes, we find subjective comments that suggest that they are drawn from first-hand experience rather than book-learning. When describing javelin throwers, for instance, Byron explains that “the most expert in the art are the Black Eunuchs of Constantinople. – I think, next to these, a Mamlouk at Smyrna was the most skilful that came within my own observation” (Giaour 251n; CPW 3: 417). Later, he reflects that, “on a still evening, when the Muezzin has a fine voice (which they frequently have) the effect is solemn and beautiful beyond all the bells in Christendom” (Giaour 734n; CPW 3: 420). Comments such as these, though neither directly aligning Byron with his protagonist, nor insinuating that the plot of the poem is based on his own life, nevertheless suggest that Byron has a closer personal connection with his subject matter than, for example, Robert Southey and Thomas Moore, who wrote about the East without ever having been there.

Then, however, the last annotation on the poem casts some doubt on Byron’s familiarity with the Orient. In a passage which was only added to this note in the second edition, Byron admits that, rather than being drawn from his personal knowledge of Eastern cultures, some of his explanatory notes are based on Herbelot’s Bibliothèque orientale and Samuel Henley’s annotations in Beckford’s Vathek (cf. Giaour 1334n; CPW 2: 423). The impression of first-hand knowledge that Byron’s unsourced annotations suggest is, accordingly, not always justified. It is unclear whether Byron’s failure to cite his sources properly in every annotation (as other Romantic poets usually did) was the result of laziness or of the desire to overstate his personal familiarity with Eastern mores in order to convince readers that there is an autobiographical background to the poem.

In addition, the last note on the poem raises even more questions about the potentially autobiographical nature of the poem. Unlike the annotation that Byron initially planned on appending to the poem, which connected Leila’s drowning with an incident that he witnessed and prevented himself (see below), this one connects the main event in the poem to history and literature, not to Byron’s own life:

The circumstance to which the above story relates was not very uncommon in Turkey. A few years ago the wife of Muchtar Pacha complained to his father of his son’s supposed infidelity; he asked with whom, and she had the barbarity to give in a list of the twelve handsomest women in Yanina. They were seized, fastened up in sacks, and drowned in the lake the same night! […] The fate of Phrosine [Kyra Frosini], the fairest of this sacrifice, is the subject of many a Romaic and Arnaut ditty. (Giaour 1334n; CPW 2: 422–23)

This note seems to suggest that the poem is based recent history (the murders only happened a little bit over a decade before the publication of The Giaour) and on songs inspired by this event, with no more than a few minor details drawn from Byron’s own experiences.

This impression, however, is again undermined elsewhere in The Giaour. Here, the annotation directly links an event in the poem to an event in the author’s life. In the annotated passage (which is part of the Giaour’s dying confession), the protagonist tells the prior that Hassan knew he would soon be killed:

His [Hassan’s] doom was seal’d – he knew it well,
Warn’d by the voice of stern Taheer,
Deep in whose darkly boding ear
The deathshot peal’d of murder near – (Giaour 1075–78)

These lines are followed by an exceptionally long annotation:

This superstition of a second-hearing (for I never met with downright second-sight in the East) fell once under my own observation. – On my third journey to Cape Colonna early in 1811, as we passed through the defile that leads from the hamlet between Keratia and Colonna, I observed Dervish Tahiri riding rather out of the path, and leaning his head upon his hand, as if in pain.– I rode up and enquired. ‘We are in peril,’ he answered. ‘What peril? we are not now in Albania, nor in the passes to Ephesus, Messalunghi, or Lepanto; there are plenty of us, well armed, and the Choriates [peasants] have not courage to be thieves’ – ‘True, Affendi, but nevertheless the shot is ringing in my ears.’ – ‘The shot! – not a tophaike has been fired this morning.’ – ‘I hear it notwithstanding – Bom – Bom – as plainly as I hear your voice.’– ‘Psha.’– ‘As you please, Affendi; if it is written, so will it be.’ – I left this quickeared predestinarian, and rode up to Basili, his Christian compatriot; whose ears, though not at all prophetic, by no means relished the intelligence. – We all arrived at Colonna, remained some hours, and returned leisurely, saying a variety of brilliant things, in more languages than spoiled the building of Babel, upon the mistaken seer. Romaic [modern Greek], Arnaout [Albanian], Turkish, Italian, and English were all exercised, in various conceits, upon the unfortunate Mussulman. While we were contemplating the beautiful prospect, Dervish was occupied about the columns. – I thought he was deranged into an antiquarian, and asked him if he had become a ‘Palaocastro’ man: ‘No.’ said he, ‘but these pillars will be useful in making a stand’; and added other remarks, which at least evinced his own belief in his troublesome faculty of forehearing. – On our return to Athens, we heard from Leone (a prisoner set ashore some days after) of the intended attack of the Mainotes, mentioned, with the cause of its not taking place, in the notes to Childe Harolde [sic], Canto 2d. – I was at some pains to question the man, and he described the dresses, arms, and marks of the horses of our party so accurately, that with other circumstances, we could not doubt of his having been in ‘villainous company’, and ourselves in a bad neighbourhood. – Dervish became a sooth-sayer for life, and I dare say is now hearing more musquetry than ever will be fired, to the great refreshment of the Arnaouts of Berat, and his native mountains. – I shall mention one trait more of this singular race. – In March 1811, a remarkably stout and active Arnaout came (I believe the 50th on the same errand) to offer himself as an attendant, which was declined: ‘Well, Affendi,’ quoth he, ‘may you live! – you would have found me useful. I shall leave the town for the hills to-morrow; in the winter I return, perhaps you will then receive me.’ – Dervish, who was present, remarked as a thing of course, and of no consequence, ‘in the mean time he will join the Klephtes’ (robbers), which was true to the letter. – If not cut off, they come down in the winter, and pass it unmolested in some town, where they are often as well known as their exploits. (Giaour 1077n; CPW 3: 421–22, original emphasis)60

At least partly, this annotation stresses the autobiographical background of the poem and attests to its verisimilitude. It suggests that the passage is inspired by Byron’s own witnessing of an instance of “second-hearing”. Allegedly, Byron’s Albanian companion Tahiri not only believed in fore-hearing, his prediction also turned out to be correct. If readers choose to take this as a proof that second-hearing really exists, the note heightens the seriousness of the annotated passage and suggests that the Giaour is not naive or superstitious, nor that readers should make light of his tormented memories. (For the note’s ridicule of second-hearing and the question what this means for the search for the ‘real’ Byron, see below.) The very ending of the note, which is altogether unrelated to the annotated passage and the concept of second-hearing, yet again refers to Byron’s experiences in Albania and clarifies that the Giaour’s decision to join a band of robbers to avenge himself on Hassan is not as melodramatic or unrealistic as readers might assume. Byron’s anecdote suggests that, in fact, becoming a robber is neither an uncommon nor a disreputable choice in the region in which the poem is set.61

By explaining that even such a minute detail as the name of Taheer, the “predestinarian” in The Giaour, was inspired by Byron’s Albanian friend Tahiri, the note creates the impression that nothing about the poem is entirely fictional. This, of course, creates demand for more weighty revelations. If Taheer is based on a real person in Byron’s life, what about Leila? Or even the Giaour himself? The annotations refuse to answer such questions, and this lack of disclosure is all the more felt when contrasted with the abundance of information on rather trivial issues that they provide.

The impression that – despite their often considerable length – Byron’s paratexts hide more than they divulge is also reinforced by half-revelatory notes which tantalisingly hint at grave or shocking autobiographical backgrounds without elaborating on them. In The Giaour, one such case occurs in an annotation on the facial expressions of corpses: Byron introduces his note by stating that he believes that “few of my readers have ever had an opportunity of witnessing what is here attempted in description”, before proceeding to muse on the “singular beauty which pervades […] the features of the dead, a few hours […] after ‘the spirit is not there’” (Giaour 89n; CPW 3: 416). He then continues to explain that people who have been shot dead usually retain a different facial expression than those who have been stabbed. While strongly implying that Byron has seen several corpses of people who had suffered violent deaths, the annotation does not provide any information on the when, where, and who.62 Notes like these suggest that there are subtle hints of Byron’s (allegedly) fascinating or shocking past inscribed in the poem but that they can never be fully spelled out. The annotated passage in this case is not at all concerned with violence and murder but with the fallen beauty of contemporary Greece. By appending such a note to it, Byron insinuates that even inconspicuous lines may contain traces of half-supressed, tormenting memories. The anecdotal but unsatisfying annotations, then, dare readers to reconstruct the missing background themselves and to scrutinise other passages for similar hidden meanings. Even Goethe was not exempt from this temptation. In his 1817 review of Manfred (first published in 1820), he contends that Byron has

often enough confessed what it is that torments him. He has repeatedly pourtrayed it; and scarcely any one feels compassion for this intolerable suffering, over which he is ever laboriously ruminating. […] When a bold and enterprising young man, he won the affections of a Florentine lady. Her husband discovered the amour, and murdered his wife; but the murderer was the same night found dead in the street, and there was no one on whom any suspicion could be attached. Lord Byron removed from Florence, and these spirits haunted him all his life after. This romantic incident is rendered highly probably by innumerable allusions to it in his poems. (Goethe in Rutherford, Critical Heritage 119–20)63

In his conversations with Medwin, Byron jokingly referred to this rumour and surmised that “this dark hint took its origin from one of my Notes in ‘The Giaour’” (Medwin 223; also see BLJ 7: 220). However, rather than warranting a straightforwardly autobiographical interpretation like Goethe’s, The Giaour provides contradictory evidence. On the one hand, it indeed features annotations that stress the self-revelatory and factual nature of the poem and even insinuate that the personal anecdotes in the notes are only the tip of the iceberg. On the other hand, it hints at the contrary, implying that the poem is not at all autobiographical but based on literature, history, and an aesthetic programme that relied on guilt-ridden, brooding protagonists.

The note on second-hearing and the one on corpses also show how vastly Byron’s self-presentation differs from annotation to annotation. While the note on the facial expression of corpses creates the impression that the author harbours terrible secrets and witnessed events that he dares only allude to in a roundabout way, annotations like the one on second-hearing call into question this gloomy image. This annotation suggests that, unlike the Giaour, Byron is not a misanthropic loner. Instead, it portrays him as someone who cares for those around him, e.g. relating how he enquired after Tahiri when he thought that he was in pain. Even more prominently, Byron depicts himself as a waggish, cheerful man of the world, without the least tinge of sorrow or suffering (“quickeared predestinarian”; “saying a variety of brilliant things […] upon the mistaken seer”; “deranged into an antiquarian”). Though this annotation certainly paints him as a fascinating man – stressing his command of several languages that the ordinary English reader (or poet) would not understand and asserting that he knows modern Greece well enough to be able to judge where to expect robbers –, the fascination arises from him being a fun-loving and knowledgeable adventurer rather than a tormented, mysterious pariah.64 Thus, the annotation serves to complicate readers’ notion of who the ‘real’ Byron is and of how many of his experiences, feelings, and opinions can actually be found in the dark and violent poem.65

II. The Ambiguous Sincerity of The Giaour, or: Annotator Byron vs. Author Byron?

While the previous section mainly focussed on the different autobiographical and non-autobiographical sources of the poem that the annotations alternately propose and deny, the present part will be concerned with the attitudes that the annotations express towards the poem. In other words, it focuses less on how the notes ambiguate the issue whether The Giaour is based on Byron’s life and more on what they suggest about the author’s opinion of his poem and the feelings expressed in it. The verse part in The Giaour seems to be entirely serious, but the comical annotations raise doubts about this. Is Byron perhaps making fun of his own poem? Is The Giaour a parody of an oriental tale rather than an oriental tale proper?66 If one subscribes to this interpretation, one cannot simultaneously claim that Byron is using the poem to express his sincere feelings and opinions. (However, the notion that nothing of the ‘real’ Byron can be found in the poem is called into question by yet another annotation. This will be discussed in the next section.)

In the note on second-hearing quoted earlier, there was a clear contrast between the tone of the annotated passage and that of the note. In the poem, both the communicative situation (the Giaour’s dying confession) and the event that the protagonist refers to (i.e. Taheer prophesising to Hassan that he will die soon) are entirely serious.67 There is no indication in the narrative itself to suggest that readers should ridicule any of the three characters for their belief in second-hearing. Things look differently in the annotation which constantly pokes fun at the concept of second-hearing and Tahiri’s belief in it. Byron’s “quickeared predestinarian” may have been right in the anecdote related in the note, but the annotation insinuates that his prophecies owe more to chance than to talent and suspects that Byron’s former servant is “now hearing more musquetry than ever will be fired, to the great refreshment of the Arnaouts of Berat”. Though the annotation leaves it up to readers whether they interpret the anecdote as an instance of actual fore-hearing or of sheer luck, Byron’s own sceptical attitude towards second-hearing becomes rather clear.

One facetious annotation alone, however, would hardly have been enough to warrant the indignant comments by reviewers quoted above. In fact, there are at least five other comical annotations in The Giaour that likewise present a jarring contrast to the serious or even melodramatic passages to which they are appended.68 Four of them are explanatory notes; one is a faux-editorial annotation. (One of these comical explanatory annotations will only be mentioned in a footnote because it is very similar to one of the other notes discussed here in detail; see n 71 below).

The first instance occurs in the famous lines that compare the “Mind, that broods o’er guilty woes” (Giaour 422) to a scorpion that, when surrounded by fire, commits suicide by stinging itself. The annotated part reads:

So do the dark in soul expire,
Or live like Scorpion girt by fire;
So writhes the mind Remorse hath riven,
Unfit for earth, undoom’d for heaven,
Darkness above, despair beneath,
Around it flame, within it death! – (Giaour 433–38)

The forceful (and rather histrionic) passage is then followed by this annotation:

Alluding to the dubious suicide of the scorpion, so placed for experiment by gentle philosophers. Some maintain that the position of the sting, when turned towards the head, is merely a convulsive movement; but others have actually brought in the verdict ‘Felo de se’. The scorpions are surely interested in a speedy decision of the question; as, if once established as insect Catos, they will probably be allowed to live as long as they think proper, without being martyred for the sake of an hypothesis. (Giaour 434n; CPW 3: 418)

The annotation is highly ironic (“gentle philosophers”) and jarringly combines the notion of a scientific experiment with religious (“martyred”) and judicial language (“verdict ‘Felo de se’”). A great part of the humour of the annotation also derives from it allowing the scorpions a human-like consciousness: they are “interested in a speedy decision” so that they can go on to “live as long as they think proper”, and their actions are likened to Cato the Younger’s heroic suicide. Furthermore, the annotation even questions the veracity of what is asserted in the annotated passage and remarks that some scientists doubt whether scorpions surrounded by fire intentionally kill themselves. The annotation does not serve to help readers understand the image used in the passage (its meaning becomes quite clear from the poem alone) but instead subverts the image itself.

The next facetiously annotated passage is spoken by one of the Muslim narrators.69 He describes how Leila’s “Soul beam’d forth in every spark” (477) and goes on to reinforce this metaphor thus:

Yea, Soul, and should our prophet say
That form was nought but breathing clay,
By Alla! I would answer nay;
Though on Al-Sirat’s arch I stood,
Which totters o’er the fiery flood,
With Paradise within my view,
And all his Houris beckoning through. (480–486)

The narrator hyperbolically praises Leila by arguing that, even if he stood on the narrow bridge leading over hell, he would contradict the prophet Mohammed and deny what he believes to be a Muslim tenet, namely that women do not have souls (this belief is called a “vulgar error” in an annotation for line 488, see n 68 above). What adds to the extravagance of the passage is that the narrator implies that he would do so even if he saw that there are no women in paradise but that they had been replaced by the Houris (cf. also Giaour 488n). The annotation, then, reads:

Al-Sirat, the bridge of breadth less than the thread of a famished spider, over which the Mussulmans must skate into Paradise, to which it is the only entrance; but this is not the worst, the river beneath being hell itself, into which, as may be expected, the unskilful and tender of foot contrive to tumble with a ‘facilis descensus Averni’, not very pleasing in prospect to the next passenger. There is a shorter cut downwards for the Jews and Christians. (Giaour 483n, original emphasis; CPW 3: 418–19)

The humorous effect of the annotation mainly derives from the fact that it literalises the religious allegory represented by the bridge Al-Sirat. This becomes especially apparent by comparing the annotation in The Giaour with its source, which is a note in Vathek.70 After having explained how narrow and dangerous the bridge is, the note in Vathek specifies that “[t]hese indeed who have behaved well need not be alarmed; mixed characters will find it difficult; but the wicked soon miss their standing, and plunge headlong onto the abyss” (Beckford 314). The note in Vathek explains that Al-Sirat is only an allegory for how one’s entry into paradise depends on one’s actions and, we may suppose, religious beliefs. The Muslim narrator in The Giaour hence implies that, in order to compliment Leila, he would severely endanger his safe crossing of the bridge by contradicting what he believes to be one of the dogmas of his religion. In this poetical passage in The Giaour and in the note for Vathek, the crossing of Al-Sirat is a matter of morality rather than agility. The note in The Giaour, then, completely disregards this moral aspect; it takes the image literally and only focuses on the dangers that await the “unskilful and tender of foot”. The humour of the annotation is further enhanced by the irreverent and euphemistic depiction of people trying to “skate into Paradise” and “tumbling” down the bridge, which is “not very pleasing in prospect to the next passenger”.71

The next example occurs in the context of the fight between Hassan and the Giaour. When Hassan realises that the Arnauts have secured the only way through which he and his Tartars could escape, we are told by an unidentifiable narrator that “[t]hen curl’d his very beard with ire” (Giaour 593). Arguably, even this image itself is quite bathetic but – without the note and given the absence of other cartoonish depictions of Hassan in the poem – it is not enough to dispel the sense of threat and valour emanating from this character in the passage. One might even suspect that this ridiculous detail (which might easily be overlooked without the note drawing attention to it) was only included so that the following annotation could be appended to it:

A phenomenon not uncommon with an angry Mussulman. In 1809, the Capitan Pacha’s whiskers at a diplomatic audience were no less lively with indignation than a tiger cat’s, to the horror of all the dragomans; the portentous mustachios twisted, they stood erect of their own accord, and were expected every moment to change their colour, but at last condescended to subside, which, probably, saved more heads than they contained hairs. (Giaour 593n; CPW 3: 419)

Unlike the annotation on the suicidal scorpion, the annotation here confirms rather than calls into question what is asserted in the poem, anticipating the objection that it is impossible for a beard to curl with anger.72 In this instance, as opposed to the notes on Al-Sirat and on Monkir (for the latter, see n 71), the annotation partly defends the notions expressed in the passage. Nevertheless, the annotation is curiously two-pronged and points out the amusing in the midst of the horrible. It becomes clear that the Pacha was on the brink of executing numerous people, but the incident is still described in rather humorous terms (the whiskers making strange movements and being compared to those of a cat). The curling beard emblematises both Hassan’s fierceness and the Captain Pacha’s threatening nature, but it also introduces a hint of ludicrousness into their characterisation.

Apart from these facetious explanatory notes, we can also find a subversive, faux-editorial annotation towards the end of the poem. It is appended to a passage that does, in fact, not exist. The note appears in the middle of the Giaour’s dying confession, right after he protests that his “grief / Looks not to priesthood for relief” (Giaour 1206–07), and reads:

The monk’s sermon is omitted. It seems to have had so little effect upon the patient, that it could have no hopes from the reader. It may be sufficient to say, that it was of a customary length (as may be perceived from the interruptions and uneasiness of the penitent), and was delivered in the nasal tone of all orthodox preachers. (Giaour 1207n; CPW 3: 422)

The note’s irreverent tone clashes with the terms in which the Giaour himself addresses the monk: he imagines that the monk is “without a crime or care” (974) and has a “pure and pitying breast” (981), before going on to call him his “holy guide” (1121) and thanking him “for the generous tear” (1322). The Giaour could, of course, also be ironic in these instances, but there is no textual evidence to substantiate this possibility. In any case, the annotation disrupts the mood of the melancholy scene by attributing the Giaour’s “uneasiness” not to his grief and despair but to the monk’s long-winded sermon.73 In the poem, the Giaour is not bored; he is despondent and rejects salvation (“I would not, if I might, be blest, / I want no paradise – but rest”; 1269–70). The annotation makes light of the Giaour’s feelings and, moreover, uses the opportunity to ridicule the monk. In the struggle between Islam and Christianity, which preoccupies many of the narrators and characters in The Giaour, the annotations do not take a side: just like other notes poke fun at the Muslim notions of Al-Sirat and the demons Monkir and Nekir, this one facetiously undermines the Christian’s efforts. The poem does not specify which of the monks is attending the Giaour. Most likely it is the prior, who – despite the protestations of his brothers – lets the Giaour stay in the monastery, or (less likely) the monk who earlier (798–831; 883–915) talked to the Muslim fisherman and who is very critical of the Giaour, arguing that “were I Prior, not a day / Should brook such stranger’s further stay” (818–19). If we assume that it is indeed the prior who is listening to the Giaour’s dying confession, there is nothing in the poem itself that justifies the note’s ridicule of him. Thus, the annotation supplies a negative or at least comical characterisation that is quite inconsistent with the annotated text: just like there is almost nothing in the poem that makes Hassan appear ridiculous and cartoonish (although he is sometimes presented as villainous),74 there is nothing in the poem that makes the prior seem particularly orthodox, incompetent, or boring.

As Mole and Chatsiou have pointed out, the irreverent annotations in The Giaour make us wonder about Byron’s attitude towards his own poem (cf. Mole, “Narrative Desire and the Body in The Giaour” 92–93; Chatsiou, Paratext and Poetics 113–14n148). Does he make fun of its melodrama and, perhaps, even of the genre of oriental tales in general? Is Byron trying to prevent readers from identifying him with the Giaour? In other words, can we find the feelings and opinions of the ‘real’ Byron in the annotations, whereas the poem is only peopled with wholly fictional and deliberately ludicrous narrators and characters?

III. The Giaour as Editorial Fiction, or: Who Makes Fun of Whom?

One of the aspects that makes it rather difficult to answer these questions is the fact that The Giaour contains a hint that neither the poem nor the notes can be straightforwardly attributed to the ‘real’ Byron. The last annotation on the poem (present from the very first edition onwards) explains that

[t]he story in the text is one told of a young Venetian many years ago, and now nearly forgotten. – I heard it by accident recited by one of the coffee-house story-tellers who abound in the Levant, and sing or recite their narratives. – The additions and interpolations by the translator will be easily distinguished from the rest by the want of Eastern imagery; and I regret that my memory has retained so few fragments of the original. (Giaour 1334n; CPW 3: 423)75

The note hence claims that the poem is, for the most part, only a translation of a Levantine tale.76 Based on this annotation, The Giaour can be read as an example of editorial fiction.77 As such, it stands in the tradition of, for instance, the Nouvelle Héloïse78 and Vathek, both of which pretend that they are merely editions or translations of other persons’ writings.79 The entire poem in The Giaour is thus presented as the work of two different ‘authors’: a Levantine coffee-house storyteller and a European traveller. The latter translated the passages that he remembered from the storyteller’s recital and added a few poetic “interpolations” composed by himself.80

As the use of the first person in the annotation above shows, readers are to imagine that the European traveller not only translated parts of the original story and composed the interpolations but supplied the annotations as well. There are more reasons why the annotations can be attributed to this traveller: (1) it is highly unlikely that the Levantine storyteller should be imagined as constantly interrupting his oral recital to add explanations, (2) the annotations elucidate terms and concepts that the storyteller’s original audience would have been well-acquainted with, and (3) the notes usually imply that they have been prepared by an outsider writing about Eastern customs and beliefs. Jerome McGann and Susan Matthias likewise attribute the notes to the European traveller (cf. McGann, Beauty of Inflections 263; Matthias 99).

Since The Giaour is an editorial fiction, readers have to wonder who exactly is supposed to be annotating and who is supposed to be annotated, i.e. who is responsible for the feelings and opinions expressed in the annotations and in the poem. McGann, for example, reads the European traveller as being identical with the actual Byron (cf. McGann, Beauty of Inflections 263). This interpretation, however, either presupposes that readers see through the editorial fiction but still perceive of the ‘editor’ as Byron’s alter ego through which he can express his feelings and opinions, or that they take the editorial fiction at face value and believe that The Giaour is, for the most part, indeed a story that the ‘real’ Byron only overheard, translated, and annotated.81 In the latter case, Byron does not speak through the fictional European traveller, he is the European traveller and expresses his own thoughts in the interpolations and the notes. (For interpreting the notes, the distinction between Byron as editor vs. Byron as speaking through the editor is, however, rather negligible.) The last option – not covered by McGann – is that readers see through the editorial fiction and choose not to fully equate Byron and the fictional traveller, rather seeing the editorial fiction as a means of distancing the author from the editor persona.

The function fulfilled by the editorial fiction in The Giaour is, hence, ambiguous: it can serve to insert the ‘real’ Byron into the work – suggesting that the feelings and opinions that the ‘editor’ expresses in the annotations and interpolations are actually the author’s –, or it can imply that Byron created the persona of the ‘editor’ in order to dissociate himself from the attitudes expressed in the interpolations and the notes.82

The interpolations attributed to the ‘European traveller’ only make up a small portion of the poem, i.e. lines 1–167 (on the dire state of contemporary Greece), 388–438 (the similes of the butterfly and of the scorpion), and 916–970 (reflections on love and solitude).83 The rest of the poem allegedly belongs to the original Turkish tale related by the Levantine story-teller – the various sections within this tale can be attributed to several different narrators (e.g. the fisherman) and speaking characters (e.g. the Giaour).84 In some cases, it is not entirely clear who is narrating.85 Unlike his notes, the poetic interpolations by the ‘European editor’ are entirely serious and chime in with the gloomy and rather bombastic tone of the rest of the poem. Thus, the ‘editor’ shows two different responses to the Levantine story – a sympathetic one in the poem and a ridiculing one in the notes.86 (The possible effects of these contradictory reactions will be discussed in more detail below.)

Given the multitude of voices in The Giaour, whose words are, in fact, being targeted by the facetious annotations? The passages on the bridge Al-Sirat, on Hassan’s curling beard, and on the demons Monkir and Nekir are uttered by Muslim speakers and are part of the ‘original’ Turkish tale. In these instances, the annotations make fun of the opinions of minor characters, who feel antagonistic towards the Giaour. Thus, the ironic annotations appended to these passages neither ridicule the Giaour, nor the European traveller – the two characters that (Byron had to assume) readers were most likely to identify with the author. The three other facetious annotations, however, are more unsettling. The passage on the suicidal scorpion occurs in one of the interpolations allegedly added by the European ‘editor’, which might suggest that this ‘editor’ (who may or may not be equated with Byron) is partly poking fun at his own work.87 The note on second-hearing is appended to a line spoken by the Giaour, while the annotation justifying the ‘editorial choice’ to omit the sermon is targeted at a (non-existing) passage spoken by the prior. In these three cases, thus, the ridicule is directed at the two characters that readers could, theoretically, equate with Byron (the protagonist and the European editor) as well as at a speaker who acts benignly towards the Giaour and whom Christian readers would most likely perceive as the only morally upright character in the poem (perhaps together with the other monk, who is speaking to the fisherman at 787–831). What, then, does all of this mean for the effect of the annotations and the search for the ‘real’ Byron in The Giaour?

IV. Ambivalence, Romantic Irony, and ‘Mobility’

As we have seen, the opinions and attitudes expressed in the facetious annotations can either be attributed to a completely fictional editor persona, who must not be equated with the actual author, or to the ‘real’ Byron himself (who, in this case, would be seen as either identical with the editor or as using the fictional editor as his mouthpiece). The irreverence of the annotations targets both passages that were allegedly part of the original Levantine tale and such as were supposedly added by the European editor. They ridicule characters that readers might wish to associate with the actual author (i.e. the protagonist and the ‘editor’) and such as are more or less dissociated from him. There are several ways in which this complex interplay of different voices, of poem and notes, can be read.88

Jerome McGann puts special focus on the fact that the contributions of the European editor (whom he equates with Byron) contradict each other: Byron’s poetic interpolations are characterised by a “complete romantic sympathy with the characters and events as well as an absorption in the heroic ideology which they exhibit”, while his annotations are a “mordant series of comical remarks on Eastern mores and commonplace European ideas” (McGann, Beauty of Inflections 263). Up to this point, I agree with McGann (though not with his argument that the ‘editor’ must definitely be read as Byron). However, he then argues that these contrasting responses to the main narrative show that “the European understanding of the Levant between 1780–1813 […] is self-deluded and helpless” and that they reflect Byron’s “exposure to this failed understanding” (263). This conclusion is not convincing. There is no evidence that the European ‘editor’ fails to understand Eastern notions and beliefs. Quite on the contrary: the notes suggest that he does understand their underlying concepts perfectly well – he just does not take them (entirely) seriously. Another of McGann’s points, i.e. his observation that the annotations might not be completely humorous but rather a “flinching away, the laughter, spoken of in Don Juan, which serves to hold back weeping and bleaker realities” (263–64), will become important below.

As shown above, the very last annotation on The Giaour can either be read as Byron retrospectively distancing himself from the work (suggesting that it is just a playful editorial fiction and that the ‘editor’ does not express the author’s own opinions) or as retrospectively inserting himself into it (insinuating that he himself is the European traveller or, at least, that he is using this persona as his mouthpiece). These two possibilities of who can be seen as speaking in the notes and interpolations give rise to three ways of interpreting the interplay between poem and notes and of answering the question where the ‘real’ Byron is to be found in The Giaour: (1) he is only to be found in the notes, (2) he is to be found neither in the poem nor in the notes, or (3) he is only found in the interaction between serious poem and facetious notes. As will be shown, read in the light of Byron’s whole œuvre (especially the discussion of ‘mobility’ in Don Juan), the third appears to be the more plausible reading, yet even this option is rendered dubious by the very passages that seem to suggest it in the first place. As he does so often, Byron presents readers with multiple possibilities of finding him in his works but playfully renders them unable to choose between them.

All three possibilities of where the real Byron is to be found in The Giaour are related to Romantic irony.89 Romantic irony is, of course, a notoriously slippery concept, and authors have used the textual strategies associated with it in vastly different ways and for different purposes. Broadly speaking, the term is usually employed to describe three different but interconnected phenomena: (A) a philosophical attitude according to which one perceives the world as highly chaotic and contradictory, and, as a consequence, adopts an ambivalent attitude towards it (cf. Wellek 14; Furst 228, 231; Mellor 4); (B) the ambivalent attitude of artists towards their own work and subject matter, as well as towards the representational quality of art in general (cf. Immerwahr 673; Bishop 1, 7; Strohschneider-Kohrs 37, 49, 70, 75; Wellek 14); and (C) the textual phenomena in which (A) and (B) manifest themselves. These are mainly (C.a) deliberately unresolved contradictions within a text (cf. Furst 228; Mellor 18), (C.b) the destruction of the fictional illusion through self-reflexive remarks (cf. Bishop 7; Mellor 17–18; Immerwahr 666; Furst 231; Strohschneider-Kohrs 49), and (C.c) “rapid mood swings” (Bone, “Romantic Irony Revisited” 240) or the juxtaposition of the serious and the comical (cf. Strohschneider-Kohrs 75–77). In the interplay of poem and notes in The Giaour, we can indeed find all three textual phenomena associated with Romantic irony: the contradictions which are “carefully balance[d]” and which the author “refuses to synthesize or harmonize” (Mellor 18), the self-reflexive remarks which destroy the fictional illusion (especially in the annotation on the ‘omitted’ sermon and the note which turns the work into an editorial fiction), and, most prominently, the unsettling combination of gloom and facetiousness.

As Gavin Hopps has shown, many scholars who discuss Byron’s Romantic irony move their focus away from ambivalence and instead insist that Byron’s humour (especially in Don Juan) is sufficient to completely undermine the seriousness of his works (cf. Hopps 137–38).90 This approach points to the first possible interpretation named above, namely that the ‘real’ Byron can only be found in the notes. For instance, Chatsiou, who also reads the notes of The Giaour against the backdrop of Romantic irony, interprets this concept as a destructive force, which “aggressively interrupts and subverts the poem’s world of serious, sublime imagination” (Chatsiou, “Lord Byron” 645). According to her, the comedy of the notes ultimately overpowers and supplants the melancholy of the poem. Romantic irony would, in this case, be an agent of disambiguation, which means that readers should see the Byron of the notes as the ‘real’ one, who is making fun of his own gloomy poem and ridicules the religious, moral, cultural, and emotional themes that are treated seriously in the poem itself. In this case, Byron would not distance himself from the whole work (as he would if one reads the ‘editor’ as a completely fictional character) but only from the typically ‘Byronic’ aspects of it – signalling to his audience that, in reality, he is more similar to the witty satirist of EBSR than to the melancholic protagonists and narrators of CHP and The Giaour. The latter are just fashionable poses – the ‘real’ Byron would be someone who does not take anything seriously, be it himself, his poetry, or human existence in general.

This reading, however, is too simplistic. The annotations can never completely undermine the gloominess of the poem. If one only reads the poem and ignores the notes (as many contemporaries of Byron suggested one should do in a first reading, see chapter 3.1.2)91, The Giaour is an entirely serious work. As opposed to Don Juan, where readers have no choice but to take heed of both the serious and the ridiculous aspects because both occur in the poem itself, readers of The Giaour can, theoretically, just focus on the poem and its melancholy (cf. Chatsiou, “Lord Byron” 658–61). The tone and imagery of the poem may be exaggerated and overly melodramatic sometimes, but they never turn downright ludicrous and are almost always appropriate for what is being depicted: a desperate and guilty man is likened to a scorpion on the brink of committing suicide, a Muslim speaker uses the image of the bridge Al-Sirat to prove how much he admires Leila, another Muslim speaker envisions how the Giaour will be tortured by demons, and the dying protagonist thanks the prior for his sincere care and compassion. (Hassan’s curling beard is the only outlier here.) In other words, the poem is an oriental tale in its own right rather than a parody of one, and the annotations cannot change this. A handful of facetious notes are not sufficient to undermine 1334 consistently serious lines of poetry.

Thus, rather than completely subverting the seriousness of the poem, the comedy of the annotations can be seen as an equally valid alternative to it. In this, I agree with Drummond Bone, Jane Stabler, and Gavin Hopps, who stress that, in Byron’s case, Romantic irony usually results in a case of both/and rather than either/or (cf. Bone, “Romantic Irony Revisited” 240–47; Stabler, “Byron, Postmodernism and Intertextuality” 270; Hopps passim). Discussing a stanza which contains both an enthusiastic description of an odalisque and a comical remark on that description (Don Juan 6.68), Bone, for instance, remarks: “Do we read back and contaminate the particularity of the previous simile with the random materiality of the deconstructed one? I do not think so” (Bone, “Romantic Irony Revisited” 244). Byron’s Romantic irony creates and reinforces ambiguity instead of resolving it. Rather than allowing the comical, ironic aspects to gain precedence, he uses Romantic irony to bring about a “hospitable coexistence” of high and low, gloomy and cheerful, pathos and bathos, idealism and disillusionment (Hopps 147; also see Stabler, “Byron, Postmodernism and Intertextuality” 270). The two other possible interpretations of the interplay between poem and notes in The Giaour both draw on this notion that two contradictory attitudes can coexist without cancelling each other. However, the two interpretations come to diametrically opposed conclusions.

The second possible reading relates to Stabler’s observation that such juxtapositions were seen by some as the pinnacle of insincerity: “Byron’s contemporary readers felt that by mingling sentiment and satire, his texts undermined the possibility of sincerity altogether” (Stabler, “Byron, Postmodernism and Intertextuality” 281; also see Stabler, Byron, Poetics and History 18–42). In this case, the tonal inconsistencies created through the interplay of poem and notes in The Giaour would show that the ‘real’ Byron is to be found neither in the main text nor in the paratext; they are merely the entirely fictional productions of a capricious writer who playfully refused to observe decorum. According to this interpretation, the feelings and opinions expressed in the interpolations and notes only belong to the fictional European ‘editor’ himself, and Byron’s own attitudes remain entirely hidden from readers. There is no sincerity or self-revelation to be found in The Giaour, only fiction. In this second case, rather than misunderstanding the tale he is editing, the fictional European traveller would be presented as being ambivalent towards it. The gloominess of his poetic interpolations and the merriment of his notes do not cancel out or overpower each other but coexist. The attitudinal and tonal ambiguities that arise from this interplay between poem and notes would thus complement the moral and cultural ambiguities that pervade the poem. The poem itself constantly raises questions which it then refuses to answer: is the Giaour a righteous avenger or – as several of the Muslim characters perceive him – a villain? Is he a Muslim or a Christian or neither? Is he a representative of the West or the East or of neither? While the notes – according to this second interpretation – do not tell us anything about Byron’s own feelings, they add to these uncertainties, ridiculing Muslim and Christian characters alike, and inducing readers to wonder whether the Levantine story-teller’s narrative is a deeply moving tale, melodramatic trash, or, perhaps, a bit of both. According to this interpretation, the notes are, in brief, entirely concerned with their intratextual function (how do they influence the meaning of the poem?) rather than their socio-pragmatic function (what do they tell us about Byron himself?).

The third option points in the opposite direction of what has been suggested about the insincerity of Romantic irony. In this third case, it is only through (self-)contradiction that Byron can be sincere and that he can fully grasp the complexity of the world and his attitudes towards it. After all, “if a writer should be quite consistent, / How could he possibly show things existent?” (Don Juan 15.87). Or, as Byron’s friend Thomas Moore wrote to Lady Donegal after Waterloo: “Tragedy and farce come so mixed up together, that to do justice to the world, we ought to be like the grimacier at Astley’s, and cry at one side of the face while we laugh with the other” (T. Moore, Letters 1: 366). By supplementing a poem which treats topics like religion, despair, and death seriously with annotations which make light of them, Byron might have attempted to show that he sees tragical and comical elements in all of these concepts – just as Don Juan insists on both the tragic and the comic aspects of shipwrecks and sieges. Hopps’s suggestion that, in Don Juan, Byron’s Romantic irony “set[s] one perspective alongside another, allowing them to relativize each other’s claims, but nonetheless allowing both to stand” may be true for The Giaour as well (Hopps 140). The work can be seen as striving to offer a more balanced and complete view of the world than an entirely gloomy or an entirely humorous work could provide. The serious always entails the comic; the two are inextricably connected, and only a text depicting both can do justice to reality. It should nevertheless be noted that – as opposed to Don Juan where this juxtaposition occurs in the poem itself – The Giaour still tilts to one side, though it is not entirely clear which one this is: the solemnity of the main text or (since they serve as an ‘authoritative’ comment on the poem) the facetiousness of the notes?

The ambivalence that may be found in The Giaour is, of course, not restricted to the work’s outlook on the world: readers could also interpret the interplay between the poem and the annotations as Byron hinting at his ambivalence towards his own style and subject matter. By writing a serious poem with humorous annotations, he could have his cake and eat it too: he could compose a work in the bombastic ‘Byronic’ mode and still show that he was aware of, and somewhat amused by, its pathos. As stated above, this need not suggest (as has sometimes been contended) that Byron regarded his oriental tales as half-hearted, ridiculous trash which he only wrote because he suspected that poems of this kind would sell well (for this argument, see Martin 30–63). Instead, the tonal inconsistencies in The Giaour can be seen as an acknowledgement that it is just as alluring, honest, and artistically ambitious to write about passionate, idealised love and the heights of despair and regret as it is to make fun of them.

What is more, readers could interpret these inconsistencies as suggesting that Byron was not only someone eager to depict both the lofty and the ludicrous aspects of existence, but that he was also someone who deeply felt them. In other words, The Giaour suggests that its contradictoriness is not only necessitated by the world which it strives to describe but that it is also a natural result of its author’s character and sentiments.

The idea that self-contradiction may be the highest form of sincerity was – as Stabler has shown – not prevalent at the time when The Giaour was published. Neither was the sense that Byron of all people would be someone to entertain such a notion.92 (As stated earlier, most passages in CHP that might have created this impression had been left out in the published version.) However, the publication of Don Juan from 1819 onwards and especially of its sixteenth canto (1824) retrospectively shed light on The Giaour by suggesting that self-contradiction and (self-)ambivalence were indeed the most characteristic features of the ‘real’ Byron. In the sixteenth canto of Don Juan, Byron famously introduces the concept of ‘mobility‘. Describing Lady Adeline Amundeville, the narrator muses that

[s]o well she acted, all and every part
By turns – with that vivacious versatility,
Which many people take for want of heart.
They err – ‘tis merely what is called mobility,
A thing of temperament and not of art,
Though seeming so, from its supposed facility;
And false – though true; for surely they’re sincerest,
Who are strongly acted on by what is nearest. (Don Juan 16.97)

Byron’s annotation on this stanza further explains that mobility “may be defined as an excessive susceptibility of immediate impressions – at the same time without losing the past” (Don Juan 16.97n; CPW 5: 769, original emphasis). Those who are characterised by mobility are fully aware that they are contradicting their own past feelings, opinions, and actions, but they cannot help but doing so. While Romantic irony may be seen as a deliberately chosen philosophical outlook and artistic method, mobility is here presented as inherent and instinctive. The end of this annotation, which asserts that this is “a most painful and unhappy attribute”, as well as information by and about Byron published after his death,93 suggested to readers that mobility was one of his own defining character traits. Is this, then, finally the retrospective confirmation that, in The Giaour, readers can find the sincere, ‘actual’ Byron neither exclusively in the serious poem nor exclusively in the comical notes but in their contradictory interplay? The confirmation that The Giaour indeed allows them a candid, though necessarily inconsistent, glimpse at the character and feelings of the author?

Though this appears to be a plausible explanation in the light of his œuvre as a whole, Byron would not be Byron if he did not cast some doubt on this solution as well. Despite insisting that people who are characterised by mobility are “sincerest”, the passage in Don Juan raises questions. As McGann points out, the two preceding stanzas – describing Adeline’s electioneering for her husband – insinuate that mobility depends just as much on one’s “social formation” as on one’s psychology, being partly an acquired skill rather than an inherent disposition (McGann, “Byron, Mobility, and the Poetics of Historical Ventriloquism” 70).94 What is more, it is suggested that mobility may not be so sincere after all: Adeline is depicted as “playing her grand role, / Which she went through as though it were a dance, / (Betraying only now and then her soul[)]” (Don Juan 16.96), and mobility is declared to be “false – though true”. This is also stressed by Angela Esterhammer, who argues that Byron’s depiction of Adeline “reveals discomfort at the idea that emotion, if so mobile, might be merely skin deep” (Esterhammer 112, original emphasis). In other words, the stanzas raise the question whether the outward signs of mobility indeed always correspond to an “internal psychological state” (Esterhammer 112). Instead of embodying sincerely felt conflicting emotions and attitudes, mobility might, after all, only be capricious role-playing which is meant to hide one’s real feelings.95 Thus, rather than disambiguating The Giaour, Byron’s description of mobility in Don Juan again problematises readers’ search for the ‘real’ author in his oriental tale.

The discussion of Byron’s facetious annotations in The Giaour shows how contradictory images of the ‘real’ author can be traced through different stages, each of which presents the work in a different context.96 One context is how Byron’s contemporaries went about reading The Giaour, i.e. whether or not they perused the notes in a first reading. Read without the annotations, The Giaour does not give any hints (apart from the similarity between the Giaour and the narrator as well as the protagonist of CHP) that the poem could be read as autobiographical self-revelation on the part of Byron. Given that, by 1813, certain emotions were recognised as typically Byronic, however, some readers might have been induced to believe that specific passages (supposedly spoken by an unidentifiable narrator and later pronounced to be ‘interpolations’) express his own gloomy feelings. A reading which also takes into account the annotations needs to qualify this impression and negotiate how the facetiousness of the notes can be reconciled with the melancholy of the poem. Furthermore, due to its position in the work, the last annotation – claiming that The Giaour is mainly an overheard authentic Turkish tale and that the interpolations and notes are written by a European traveller (who may or may not be identified with Byron himself) – can only inform a later reading; the editorial fiction is not apparent in a first perusal.

Read in the light of CHP I–II, The Giaour on the one hand seems to confirm the identity of Byron and his ‘Byronic’ heroes and narrators that some readers had suspected from 1812 onwards. On the other hand, both of these works feature the introduction of comical elements into a largely serious text. Readers may either ignore these instances of facetiousness as irrelevant lapses of decorum or regard the tonal inconstancies as characteristic of Byron which have to be accounted for in an interpretation both of his œuvre and his character. Byron’s later oriental tales and Manfred – which do not include any humorous notes97 – suggested that readers should opt for the former. Don Juan and especially its pronouncements on mobility, however, partly hinted at the latter, as did information published about Byron after his death. The question of where, if anywhere, the ‘real’ Byron could be found in The Giaour, thus, was not only rendered more complicated by the work itself but also by the likewise contradictory, half-revelatory, teasing pieces of information that readers had received and continued to receive elsewhere.

V. What Was Left Unsaid: Another Case of Posthumous Dis- and Re-Ambiguation

As in the case of CHP, what did not find its way into the published version of The Giaour is just as intriguing as what did. Byron had originally planned to add a note to a later edition of The Giaour that would have had wide-reaching consequences for readers’ assessment of the potential autobiographical nature of the poem. For this annotation, Byron asked Lord Sligo (who had stayed in Athens at the same time as himself) to write a letter in which he recorded the rumours about Byron saving a woman from suffering the same fate as Leila in The Giaour.98 The anecdote suggests that Byron witnessed a similar incident as the one which he describes in the poem, though with a happier ending. As he did with his first-hand experience of the Albanians’ belief in second-hearing, Byron seems to have taken a more or less fortunate event and transformed it into something much darker for his poem. The acknowledgment that the poem is based on facts thus also serves to highlight how much it differs from these facts. Like the note on second-hearing, the planned annotation both reinforces and subverts the autobiographical aspects of The Giaour.

What is more, Byron’s projected annotation also tantalisingly raises questions regarding the accuracy of Sligo’s account and argues that it is “not requisite for me to subjoin either assent or contradiction” (CPW 3: 423). Like the note on the facial expression of corpses, this annotation insinuates that it veils more information than it discloses. Far from answering questions, it raises new ones – adding yet another element to Byron’s constant game of hide-and-seek with his readers.

Without anticipating chapter 3.2.2 too much (which is concerned with notes that make use of the fact that different groups of readers possess different pieces of background knowledge on certain topics), it needs to be added that, though the annotation remained unpublished during Byron’s lifetime, Sligo’s account was known to a handful of readers.99 As Tom Mole explains, Byron circulated Sligo’s letter “among his acquaintance in 1813, with ten lines inked out so heavily as to have torn the paper” (Mole, Byron’s Romantic Celebrity 63).100 Byron claimed that the censored lines only contained “some uncouth Turkish patronymics – and some circumstances amusing enough but neither singular nor edifying”, though his correspondents probably knew him well enough to suspect that his personal involvement in the incident was not limited to him saving the woman (BLJ 3: 156). Even with his friends, thus, Byron resorted to playful and provocative half-revelations rather than straightforward disclosures.

When Thomas Medwin’s Conversations of Lord Byron were published in 1824, all readers could eventually discover the full story that had (allegedly) inspired The Giaour.101 According to Medwin, Byron explained to him that a woman had been ordered to be drowned because of their affair, that he had been deeply in love with her, and that she died soon after being saved by him, “of a fever – perhaps of love” (Medwin 86). This, though not as terrible as Leila’s death in The Giaour, is nevertheless a far cry from the happy ending of Sligo’s letter. On the one hand, the story can be read as a final confirmation of the verisimilitude of the poem, of the fact that Byron had more in common with the Giaour than he had hitherto admitted. On the other hand, not even this melancholy disclosure can explain away the facetiousness with which Byron often treats his narrative in the notes to the poem. After years of suggesting and denying that he could be equated with his heroes, Medwin’s posthumous revelation about Byron does not resolve any of the ambiguities that surround the autobiographical nature of his works – it only heaps a new contradiction on older ones. Byron continued (and still continues) to ‘quiz’ readers from the grave. Don Juan: Half-Revelations and Pseudo-Privacy

The personal notes discussed so far were concerned with relating anecdotes that have a direct and obvious connection to the respective annotated passage. This cannot be said of all of Byron’s anecdotal self-annotations. Some of them digress so far from the poems that they lose any relation to passage, plot, or character and instead become exclusively preoccupied with the author himself. It would be easy to dismiss such notes as self-centred and irrelevant, but they deserve critical attention as being characteristic of Byron and as contributing a great deal to the appeal of his works. In their “conversational facility” (Don Juan 15.20), these annotations create a sense of immediacy and intimacy, of sitting at Byron’s table and listening to his amusing and scandalous reminiscences. In what follows, I will both elaborate on how exactly this sense is achieved in Don Juan and on how it is, again, undermined. For the latter, two aspects are of special importance: (1) the constant reminders that both Don Juan and its notes conceal more than they reveal, and (2) the fact that the anecdotal annotations create an impression of privacy while relying on readers’ knowledge that such privacy was an illusion – both in public and in ‘personal’ writing. In other words, even if Byron’s self-revelation in these anecdotal annotations was meant to be completely sincere, this sincerity has to be communicated in some way, which means that it “enters the realm of […] socially determined codes and conventions” (Esterhammer 101–02). Or, as James Treadwell puts it (discussing CHP III rather than Don Juan): Byron

performs an autobiography which speaks the language of authentic personal consciousness while also conducting its transactions with the public sphere: the autobiography of an exile writing home, where privacy happens in public, where the very identification of the first-person subject of the text as the inward self of the author is inseparable from that subject’s negotiations with the conditions of being printed. (Treadwell 195)

The awareness that there is an audience to which one’s sincerity has to be conveyed thus endangers this very sincerity.

Self-Revelation as a Reminder of Self-Concealment

Examples of digressive anecdotal notes can be found quite early in Byron’s career. For instance, in the annotations on The Bride of Abydos, he briefly addresses an issue mentioned in the poem (confirming that Turkish scimitars usually are decorated with a quote from the Quran), before proceeding to tell readers in great detail about a scimitar in his personal collection, its peculiarities, and how he came by it (cf. Bride of Abydos 2.189n; CPW 3: 440). However, the biggest mine of digressive anecdotal annotations is, unsurprisingly, Don Juan – especially from the fourth canto (1821) onwards. While the poem itself contains many (however thinly) fictionalised glimpses at Byron’s life (Donna Inez, the English cantos, etc.), its annotations present a scattered array of anecdotes that seem to be directly drawn from the poet’s past. In them, Byron remembers how he once witnessed someone nearly die of a burst vein (Don Juan 4.58n; CPW 5: 704); he relates how he heard a singer in Venice who had earlier been kidnapped and sold as a slave in Algiers (4.80n; CPW 5: 704); and he shares stories about himself drinking too much raki (5.53n; CPW 5: 708), a scary childhood memory (10.18n; CPW 5: 743), him meeting his relatives, the Birons of France (10.58n; CPW 5: 745), and the day on which he learnt of the existence of ‘drapery misses’ (11.49n; CPW 5: 749).102 The annotation I will focus on here is appended to a passage that describes how Juan, upon his arrival in London, “drove past some Hotels, / St. James’s Palace, and St. James’s ‘Hells’” (Don Juan 11.29). It explains:

‘Hells,’ gaming-houses. What their number may now be, in this life, I know not. Before I was of age I knew them pretty accurately, both ‘gold’ and ‘silver.’ I was once nearly called out by an acquaintance, because when he asked me where I thought that his soul would be found hereafter, I answered, ‘In Silver Hell’. (11.29n; CPW 5: 748)

Though the very beginning of the annotation provides an explanation that is still closely connected to the poem, it does not dispel the impression that the reference to ‘hells’ was mainly introduced to give Byron the opportunity to brag about his wild youth. By the time when this canto was published, the slang term ‘hell’ seems to have been fairly familiar to readers,103 and it was common knowledge among contemporaries that these establishments were mainly found in the vicinity of St. James’s (cf. Rendell 177). Besides, the annotation seems to presuppose that readers are sufficiently versed in gambling terminology to understand the difference between ‘gold hells’ and ‘silver hells’ without further explanation.104 In other words, by translating the word ‘hell’, the note tells readers something that they in all likelihood already knew or could at least infer from the context.

The note can hence hardly be called explanatory. Furthermore, unlike the other anecdotal annotations discussed earlier in this chapter, this one is completely detached from what is being described in the annotated passage. The notes analysed above establish (but then also sometimes call into question) a connection between Byron and his protagonists or narrators: whatever they are doing or witnessing has allegedly also been done or witnessed by Byron. In the present passage, however, neither the protagonist nor the narrator enter a gambling den themselves. They do not come close to fighting a duel, either.105 The annotation does not tell us anything about the poem, only about its author.

In doing so, the note serves a rather paradoxical function: on the one hand, it suggests that readers can indeed use Byron’s works to learn something about the ‘real’ author. The note gives them the impression that they are witnessing the actual Byron writing “exactly as [he]’d talk / With any body in a ride or walk” and garrulously revealing entertaining details about his life (Don Juan 15.19). Apart from catering to readers’ interest in gossip about himself, Byron here presents himself as a typical upper-class rake, who – unlike his enemies of the Lake School – is primarily a man of the world rather than a poet. By creating the impression that Byron is directly chatting with his readers and letting them into his secrets, the annotation indeed evokes a feeling of intimacy between author and audience as described by Tom Mole (see above). Furthermore, as opposed to many of the passages in CHP and The Giaour discussed above, there is no harsh tonal contrast between poem and note, no insinuation that Byron might use the note to destabilise any notions about his experiences, character, or opinions that the poem built up. The talkative, amused, and detached tone of nostalgia that reigns throughout the note is not at all different from the tone of the stanzas preceding and succeeding it.

On the other hand, a jarring juxtaposition of different moods and attitudes occurs within Don Juan as a whole, of course. By the eleventh canto, readers have encountered a large number of passages that complicate the notion of a sincere, unified, and complete Byronic ‘essence’ that could somehow be inscribed into the poem or paratext. They have witnessed him (or, rather, the narrator who may or may not be identified with Byron) describe a shipwreck in the most solemn and in the most callously comical way; they have heard him melancholically lament the Khan and his sons’ deaths during the siege of Ismail and later facetiously relate the middle-aged widows’ indignant question “[w]herefore the ravishing did not begin!’” (Don Juan 8.182); they have read enthusiastic musings on posthumous fame and the immediate ridicule of this notion (3.88–92). Even if readers assumed that all of these contradictory attitudes converge to form at least an approximation of the ‘real’ Byron’s complex feelings and opinions, this would mean that each passage taken for itself only allows for an extremely limited insight into the author. Thus, even if they believed that the ‘hells’ passage and note give them a glimpse at the worldly, daring, cheerful Byron, they would have been aware that this could only ever be one facet of him, never the full picture.

Furthermore – like many of the personal notes in CHP and The Giaour –, while the annotation indeed suggests that it allows readers a glimpse at Byron’s past, it also implicitly draws attention to all the things that Don Juan does not reveal.106 For one, readers never learn the name of Byron’s acquaintance who almost challenged him to a duel – foregrounding that Don Juan will at best be able to furnish them with partial revelations. Furthermore, since the note relates an anecdote that is not mentioned in the main text at all, it reminds readers that, even though the poem offers some hints about Byron’s past, these hints are incomplete and carefully selected.107 Despite its occasional exhibitionism, Don Juan conceals more than it reveals. This is also shown in the curious choices of what is annotated in the first place. The passage about Don Juan driving past ‘hells’ contains no autobiographical allusion and requires no explanation but nevertheless receives an autobiographical note. By contrast, the lines “I have a passion for the name of ‘Mary,’ / For once it was a magic sound to me” (Don Juan 5.4; alluding to Byron’s childhood love Mary Chaworth) are teasingly and ostentatiously autobiographical. They call for an explanation but remain unannotated. Then, there are also cases in which annotations for seemingly autobiographical passages raise more questions than they answer. Take, for instance, the lines “My days of love are over, me no more / The charms of maid, wife, and still less of widow / Can make the fool of which they made before” (Don Juan 1.216). The annotation on them merely quotes (in Latin) Horace’s Odes 4.1.29–32, which is concerned with the speaker’s loss of interest in both women and male youths. Readers who understood the Latin note had to ask themselves (1) whether the lines in Byron’s poem might simply be a joking reference to literary tradition rather than an expression of his genuine feelings, and (2) why exactly he chose to quote an explicit reference to bisexuality even though the annotated passage only mentions women.108 The mystifying, half-revelatory, or downright missing annotations in Don Juan chime in with instances in which the poem itself draws attention to all the things it cannot say. For example, references to the suicide of Sir Samuel Romilly (Don Juan 1.15) and to syphilis (1.129–31) were replaced by lines of asterisks.109 Don Juan does not simply omit information – it draws attention to the omission. It gives away just enough to incite readers’ interest but never enough to satisfy it.

The Anecdotal Annotation between Byron’s “Detached Thoughts” and Spence’s Observations, Anecdotes, and Characters, of Books and Men

Byron’s note on ‘hells’ subverts the discourse conventions of xenographic annotation, which prescribe that a note should directly address a question raised by the annotated passage. One may even argue that Byron’s self-absorbed comment is an annotation in form only and that, in reality, it inscribes itself into a variety of other discourse traditions, all of which are concerned with life-writing. As will be shown, the four models on which this annotation is based – Byron’s “Detached Thoughts”, Joseph Spence’s Observations, table-talk, and ‘private’ journals designed for posthumous publication – are themselves ambiguous, being simultaneously private and public, conversational and written. As a consequence, the note is rendered ambiguous with respect to its discourse tradition (annotation vs. memoir), its ‘medial form’ (spoken vs. written), and its (im)mediacy (Byron privately noting down his memories and thoughts for himself vs. Byron putting on a show for his readers). The annotation gives readers the impression that they are allowed to hear the ‘real’ Byron candidly chatting about his past, while at the same time reminding them of the constructedness of this impression. The sense of unmediated, sincere self-revelation is both created and undermined.

The most immediate model for this annotation in Don Juan can be found in Byron’s “Detached Thoughts”. Byron recorded the “Detached Thoughts” in his private journal, starting in October 1821 and concluding in May 1822. (The eleventh canto of Don Juan itself was written slightly later, between 6 and 17 October 1822; cf. CPW 5: 746.) Byron’s “Detached Thoughts” are a chaotic hotchpotch of entertaining autobiographical reminiscences; opinions on various literary, political, and philosophical issues; anecdotes about, and judgments on, Byron’s contemporaries; as well as second-hand gossip. In one of his “Detached Thoughts”, Byron reminisces:

Captain Wallace a notorious character of that day – and then intimate with most of the more dissipated young men of the day – asked me one night at the Gaming table where I thought his Soul would be found after death? I answered him – ‘in Silver Hell’ (a cant name for a second rate Gambling house) – – (BLJ 9: 19, original emphasis)110

This privately recorded version of the anecdote is almost identical with Byron’s published annotation, but it also provides the name of Byron’s acquaintance and explains what a ‘silver hell’ is. One may, of course, wonder why Byron explains the latter in his own journal – he certainly did not have to translate the slang term for himself. This has to do with the fact that the “Detached Thoughts” were not so private after all. When he sent them to Murray, Byron explained that they “may serve partly hereafter – in aid of the Memoirs”, and Thomas Moore indeed made ample use of them in his 1830/1831 biography of Byron (BLJ 9: 168, original emphasis). As Stephen Cheeke has pointed out, the “Detached Thoughts” were only one of several “memorial projects” that Byron undertook between 1821 and 1823: he composed the ‘English cantos’ of Don Juan, made negotiations with Murray to publish his Memoirs (begun in 1818), and gave his friends directions for publishing his letters after his death (Cheeke 157; cf. BLJ 8: 226–28). Byron’s anecdotal annotations can be seen as yet another “memorial project”, giving readers a sneak peek at the revelations that would await them in his Memoirs and correspondence.111 Such autobiographical undertakings do, of course, not come as a surprise in a successful author – especially one as concerned about the unpredictable vagaries of posthumous fame112 and as interested in anecdotes and gossip of earlier times as Byron.113

These memorial projects were not only fuelled by Byron’s wish to influence how posterity would perceive him and his age but were also indebted to various contemporary forms of life-writing.114 One such form consisted in collecting and publishing anecdotes – sometimes about a single person, sometimes about a specific topic or time span.115 Yet, Byron’s digressive autobiographical annotations and his gossipy, unorganised “Detached Thoughts” differ greatly from the anecdotes in the printed collections that he owned, which rather resemble lengthy and surprisingly dry encyclopaedia entries.116 There is, however, one important exception to this: Joseph Spence’s Observations, Anecdotes, and Characters, of Books and Men, compiled in the mid-eighteenth century but first published in 1820. The book was definitely known to Byron: in January 1821, he recorded in his journal: “Read Spence’s Anecdotes. Pope a fine fellow – always thought him so” (BLJ 8: 14). Spence (1699–1768) was a personal acquaintance of Pope, and the anecdotes related in his book are for the most part drawn from his conversations with the poet (some also come from other contemporaries). Spence’s Observations are, hence, an example of table-talk, i.e. a “form of literary biography which consists of a person’s sayings, opinions, obiter dicta, aperçus, etc. These are recorded by the person to whom they are addressed” (Cuddon 708).117 The opinions and anecdotes noted down by Spence are short and amusing. Similar to Byron’s “Detached Thoughts”, they provide a glimpse at Pope’s and his contemporaries’ views on various subjects as well as at their assessments and memories of other notable figures of the age.118 As in Byron’s collection, the conversational, even gossipy nature of Spence’s book is often clearly noticeable. Furthermore, like the “Detached Thoughts”, Spence’s anecdotes are quite disconnected from one another, which gives the book a rather unpredictable quality.119 Despite the brevity of this comparison, it hopefully becomes apparent how deeply Byron’s own attempt at capturing the spirit of his age in the “Detached Thoughts” was indebted to Spence’s Observations. One may even go so far as to speculate that his reading of Spence incited him to note down the “Detached Thoughts” in the first place.

Reading Byron’s note on ‘hells’ against the backdrop of Spence’s book helps highlighting why it is ambiguous with respect to its ‘media form’. It is based on the written “Detached Thoughts”, which are themselves inspired by Spence’s Observations – the printed record of spoken dialogue. Like so many other passages in Don Juan, this note has a conversational directness to it, while its typographical presentation as an endnote still draws attention to the fact that it appears in print.120 Furthermore, it presents itself as table-talk with the middleman cut out: while table-talk is usually noted down by someone other than the speaker, Byron here straightforwardly records his own joke. On the one hand, this creates a higher sense of immediacy and reliability – there is no second person involved who might misremember or deliberately misconstrue the author’s words. On the other hand, it exhibits a certain showmanship and destroys one of the illusions of table-talk, namely that the speakers did not know (or at least pretended not to know) that their bon mots would be written down afterwards. The note, thus, presents readers with two impressions: that of hearing the ‘real’ Byron chat to them about his past and that of listening to the words of a carefully crafted, rakish, worldly persona.

What adds to this ambiguity is that the annotation also to some degree pretends that it was not designed for the eyes (or ears) of strangers. While I fully agree with McGann’s and Stabler’s observation that Byron’s works constantly draw attention to their awareness of their readership(s), I would like to argue that they are just as much characterised by their feigned obliviousness to readers’ presence (cf. Stabler, “Byron, Conversation and Discord” 114–17; 121; McGann, “Private Poetry, Public Deception” 117). True, the annotation suggests that it is written to be read by the public – its conversational nature, its inclusion in a bestselling poem, and the fact that it is an instance of self-recorded table-talk attest to this. But at the same time, it also appears like a memo exclusively reserved for Byron’s personal use, which somehow found its way into Don Juan – pretending that readers are merely allowed to eavesdrop on Byron talking to himself.

However, even this partial illusion of privacy and intimacy is undermined by the fact that the boundaries between private and public writing were extremely blurred during the Romantic age and that, as a consequence, the purely personal text did not exist. Even if something seems to be written for the eyes of the author only and sometimes one specific other person, it was nearly always written with a much larger and perhaps unwanted audience in mind. For example, during this era, letters were more or less treated as public-domain even during the writer’s lifetime, and confidential correspondence often met the eyes of many other (contemporary) readers beside their intended recipient. One need only think of Thomas Moore, who sent a private letter to Longman, telling him that he did not like Scott’s The Lord of the Isles, only to receive an answer from Scott’s (and his own) whole publishing house, Longman, Hurst, Orme, Rees, and Brown (cf. BLJ 4: 280; T. Moore, Letters 1: 358).121 Likewise, Byron’s publisher Murray felt that it was his “duty” to read to “every gentleman who is in the habit of visiting at my house” a passage from one of Byron’s letters, in which he claims that he knew that Leigh Hunt’s journal The Liberal was destined to fail and that he only contributed to it out of charity (Murray 455; cf. BLJ 10: 13). Another famous case of ‘postal indiscretion’ is related to Byron’s lampoon on his friend Hobhouse (“My Boy Hobby-O”), which he sent in a private letter to Murray, who promptly got it published in the Morning Post.122 Furthermore, almost every public figure in Byron’s time kept journals and wrote letters with an eye to posthumous publication.123 In writing such ‘personal’ documents, authors knew that their words would not only be read by themselves and their correspondents but also by posterity. In a letter to Murray, Byron half-jokingly refers to this fact and tells him that he wanted to avoid “smart [i.e. biting] postscripts which would not adorn our mutual archives” (BLJ 8: 187). (The letter is now, of course, in the John Murray Archive.) As noted above, Byron also gave his friends information on his correspondents, so that they could contact them after his death and prepare the letters for publication.124 What is more, Byron and his contemporaries knew that, even if authors (or their literary executors) wanted to keep certain writings hidden from the public eye and even if these writings indeed remained unpublished after their death, it was still rather easy to gain access to them (unless, of course, the late author’s overly concerned friends destroyed them). For example, Byron recorded that John Allen (a close friend of Lord and Lady Holland) lent him “a quantity of Burns’s unpublished, and never-to-be-published, Letters. They are full of oaths and obscene songs” (BLJ 3: 239). Byron was certainly delighted to know that future readers of his own letters (published or not) would stumble upon “Turdsworth” and the “Son of a Bitch” Southey and would undertake great efforts to figure out what exactly the “above two hundred pl & opt Cs” were that he had “obtained” in Greece (BLJ 7: 158; 6: 76; 2: 23).

All of these examples show that the private, unmediated, monologic nature of a diary entry or memo that Byron’s annotation partly imitates was a chimaera in the first place. In publishing the anecdote in Don Juan, Byron merely pre-empted the loss of privacy that awaited his ‘personal’ writings after his death. The fact that even seemingly confidential texts were composed with at least a vague idea of an audience in mind casts further doubt on the possibility of sincere, complete self-revelation through writing. Who can be entirely himself when he knows that his words will be judged by others? This notion that purely personal and, thus, sincere writing was impossible was even further aggravated by Byron’s keen sense that he had to take control over his posthumous reputation. For instance, when Hobhouse accused him of “buying” Moore as his biographer, he retorted: “I suppose […] that like most men who have been talked about – I might have had […] a biographer without purchase – since most other scribblers have two or three – gratis” (Hobhouse, Byron’s Bulldog 321; BLJ 9: 88).125

The digressive anecdotal annotations show Byron become his own biographer – with all the ambiguities entailed by this. He suggests that readers can use these annotations as the most intimate and reliable source on his life, opinions, and feelings (at least before his letters and the Memoirs are published) – creating the impression that they are sitting next to him and are eagerly listening to him reminisce about his adventures. At the same time, as we have seen, readers had sufficient reasons to fear that the essence of the ‘real’ Byron that they tried to glean from these notes was just a carefully constructed image of how he wanted to be seen by contemporaries and posterity.


The discussion of Byron’s ‘personal’ annotations in CHP, The Giaour, and Don Juan has shed light on some of the central problems that are posed not only by these three works but by his entire œuvre. It has shown how Byron constantly dares his readers to find his experiences, opinions, and feelings inscribed in his works only to teasingly frustrate their attempts at doing so. Byron’s ‘personal’ annotations highlight why – apart from the few hints given in the poems and in the other paratexts – readers were so eager to discover Byron in his works in the first place. By tracing even the minutest details of his writings (e.g. the date of a specific thunderstorm) back to the author’s own life, they suggest that nearly everything in Byron’s works is based on his personal experience. This impression is underpinned by notes such as the one on the facial expression of corpses in The Giaour, which suggests that Byron is harbouring secrets which can never be explicitly disclosed in his poetry but which readers are dared to discover by reading between the lines. In Byron, self-revelation always entails self-concealment and self-mystification.

While Byron’s notes often insinuate that his poems are at least partly factual (i.e. based on his own life) and that they are ‘sincere’ (i.e. that Byron is expressing his actual feelings and attitudes in them), they also constantly cast considerable doubt on these impressions. The notes in CHP and The Giaour do so mainly by supplementing serious passages with facetious notes, forcing readers to choose between three options: can the ‘real’ Byron’s feelings be found in the notes rather than in the poem? Or can readers discover the ‘real’ Byron only in the jarring contrast between text and paratext – taking them as a hint of his fundamental ambivalence towards himself, his work, and the world, as a sign that self-contradiction is the highest form of sincerity? Or, lastly, are the self-contradictory and jarring juxtapositions of hilarity and melancholy not so sincere after all and rather just capricious role-playing?

The digressive anecdotal annotation in Don Juan even goes a step further than the latter option and raises questions about the possibility of sincere, complete, uninhibited self-expression through writing in general. It hints at the fact that when authors pretend to be at their most private – seemingly engaged in a soliloquy with no audience whatsoever or talking to a single privileged collocutor – they are actually carefully crafting the illusion of privacy for a readership of whom they are fully aware.

The effect of Byron’s ‘personal’ annotations depends to a considerable extent on their employment, transformation, and subversion of various discourse traditions. For one, they make use of the assumption that self-annotations allow readers to hear authors speak in their own voice. (Of course, there are exceptions to this: some notes contain clear warning signs that readers will not find the author’s own voice in them, e.g. editorial fictions that are apparent from the very beginning of the work, annotations that are signed by (fictional or real) people who are not the author, as well as notes that include obvious mistakes and ludicrous interpretations.)126 While readers are aware that the narrator or protagonist of the main text may owe more to literary tradition or fashionable posing than to the author’s real character, self-annotations seem to be unmediated and to be directly expressing the author’s thoughts and feelings. Byron’s annotations in CHP and The Giaour make use of this assumption in order to enhance their subversive effect with respect to the poem: if the witty, cheerful voice of the notes is that of the ‘real’ Byron, it becomes hard to fully equate the author with his melancholy protagonists and narrators.

However, especially in The Giaour, the notes also draw attention to the fact that this assumption may be wrong and that the voice in an annotation may be just as indebted to artistic conventions and role-playing as the voices in the poem. This is mainly achieved by forcing readers to reinterpret the work in the light of the editorial fiction that is introduced in the very last note to the poem. The example of The Giaour shows that it is not sufficient to interpret self-annotations as authors commenting on their own fictions but that it is necessary to also analyse them as fictional annotatorial personas responding to fictional poetic personas. For other works in which this question becomes especially important, see chapters 3.3.3 and 3.4.1.

Moreover, Byron’s ‘personal’ annotations consistently subvert the discourse conventions of xenographic notes. Their explanatory function is often extremely limited. In some cases, they answer questions that most (sane) readers would never have asked (e.g. ‘on which exact date did Byron see the sunset described here?’). And in others, they indeed elucidate the text but shift the focus from the content of their explanation to its mocking tone or entertain readers with autobiographical anecdotes that have hardly any relation to the annotated passage. Furthermore, Byron’s ‘personal’ annotations inscribe themselves in a variety of other discourse conventions: ethnographic travelogues, letters, and diary entries (CHP); serious antiquarian commentaries as in Vathek and subversive notes in editorial fictions like the Nouvelle Héloïse (The Giaour); and table-talk as well as private-public journal entries (Don Juan).

As I have shown, The Giaour also serves as an example of the dynamics of ambiguation, tentative disambiguation, and re-ambiguation. For one, this is due to the different paths that readers can take through the work (first reading it without the annotations, then with them, then with the knowledge of its alleged ‘double authorship’ by the Levantine storyteller and the European translator). For another, these dynamics depend on the different ways in which our reading of this work is influenced by other works written by and about Byron. Examples include the similarity of the Giaour to Byron’s other Byronic heroes, Byron’s pronouncements on mobility in Don Juan, and Medwin’s anecdote about the autobiographical incident that inspired The Giaour.

Byron’s personal annotations can be seen as one of the reasons for the enormous appeal of his works. They constantly whet readers’ appetite for private revelations but never fully satisfy their curiosity. The complex interplay of Byron’s poems and notes ambiguates his public profile; it offers different possible images of him while never allowing readers to settle for one and often raising the question whether he can be found in his works at all. As a result, Byron’s works are rarely straightforwardly autobiographical; rather, they are a potentially autobiographical scavenger hunt with misleading, contradictory, and missing clues.

The present chapter has concentrated on annotations that provide the same amount of information to all readerships, thus giving all readers the roughly same glimpse at the ‘real’ Byron and frustrating their desire for further revelations in the same way. In the next chapter, I will show how Byron uses his annotations to privilege some groups of readers over others – providing some with seemingly more intimate knowledge of himself, while excluding others from grasping the full meaning of his notes and poems.

3.2.2 Differentiating Readerships – Social Networking – Self-Presentation

At the beginning of the previous chapter, I quoted the insights that Byron achieves “self-dramatisation or self-creation through combined self-revelation and self-concealment” (Graham 28) and that his poems are “a mode of presentation in which disguise and disclosure intermix” (Soderholm 184). In order to achieve this mix, Byron uses two main strategies: in his personal, anecdotal annotations discussed above, he provides all readers with more or less the same information. With the exception of the case in which Byron hints at the potentially autobiographical background of The Giaour (him saving a woman from being drowned in the same manner as Leila), these notes do not rely on the fact that some readers (e.g. Byron’s close friends) know a lot more about the context of certain passages than others. These notes may still contain hints that Byron does not dare to ‘tell all’ (e.g. in the annotation on the facial expressions of corpses), but they do not create the impression that they are deliberately withholding information from specific groups of readers. In the cases discussed above, thus, the ambiguity of Byron’s personal notes mainly arises from the fact that they suggest that readers can use them to learn something about the life and opinions of the ‘real’ author while at the same time casting doubt on this impression.

In the present chapter, I will focus on Byron’s second strategy of combining self-revelation and self-concealment, namely on annotations that have different meanings for different readerships. These notes use various strategies of excluding certain readers from fully understanding the passages and notes while apparently giving other, more informed readers privileged access to the author and his works. Thus, while (self-)annotations may theoretically be used to bridge the gap between various readerships and provide ‘outsiders’ with enough information to understand the text just as well as ‘insiders’, the notes discussed here draw the line between the initiated and the uninitiated much more emphatically. This chapter hence takes a look at both the production and the perception side of strategic ambiguity: it analyses the means by which ambiguities are created and the extent to which different interpretations of a text depend on readers’ different levels of knowledge of (and, in some cases, personal involvement in) the background of a given passage.

Take, for instance, the following example: when describing the (presumed) plain of Troy in Byron’s The Bride of Abydos, the narrator exclaims

Minstrel [Homer]! with thee to muse, to mourn –
To trace again those fields of yore –
Believing every hillock green
Contains no fabled hero’s ashes –
And that around the undoubted scene
Thine own ‘broad Hellespont’ still dashes –
Be long my lot – and cold were he
Who there could gaze denying thee!
(Bride of Abydos 2.31–38)

The expression “broad Hellespont” alludes to the “Ἑλλήσποντος ἀπείρων” (boundless Hellespont) in the Iliad (Homer, Iliad 24.545). Byron appears to have anticipated readers wondering why he chose the term “broad” over the more literal translation and presents them with the following facetious annotation:

The wrangling about this epithet, ‘the broad Hellespont,’ or the ‘boundless Hellespont,’ whether it means one or the other, or what it means at all, has been beyond all possibility of detail. I have even heard it disputed on the spot; and not foreseeing a speedy conclusion to the controversy, amused myself by swimming across it in the meantime, and probably may again, before the point is settled. Indeed, the question as to the truth of ‘the tale of Troy divine’ still continues, much of it resting upon the word ‘απείρος’ [boundless]: probably Homer had the same notion of distance that a coquette has of time, and when he talks of the boundless, means half a mile; as the latter, by a like figure, when she says eternal attachment, simply specifies three weeks. (Bride of Abydos 2.36n; CPW 3: 438–39)

This annotation is directed at different (though partly overlapping) readerships and, as a consequence, has different meanings for each of them. The readerships in this case can be distinguished according to (a) the knowledge they have about the scholarly and autobiographical backgrounds of the note, (b) their possible personal involvement in the matters alluded to in the passage, and (c) – based on their knowledge and involvement – the functions that this annotation performs for them.127 In the case of this annotation, one can infer four possible readerships, which are here listed starting with the least informed and moving forward to the most knowledgeable and involved: (1) the general reading public,128 (2) a scholarly audience, (3) everyone who had attentively read John Cam Hobhouse’s A Journey Through Albania, and (4) Byron’s friend John Cam Hobhouse himself.

To (1) the general reading public, Byron signals that he is a gentleman and adventurer, not a pedantic scholar. His refusal to discuss the question in a serious, academic manner also presents a marked difference from other contemporary poets (one need only think of Thomas Moore’s scholarly notes on his oriental tales). For this general readership, the annotation thus serves to stress Byron’s exceptionality: unlike most contemporaries, he has the means to travel to Greece; unlike many of his co-travellers, he is not interested in learned discussion; and unlike many of his fellow poets, he does not feel the need to bore his readers with scholarship in the annotations but entertains them with comical and exciting personal anecdotes. And, of course, the annotation also gives Byron the opportunity to once again brag about having swum the Hellespont.129

To (2) the scholars among his readers, Byron signals that he knows about the controversy regarding the historical accuracy of the Iliad and the existence of Troy, and about the role that the expression “boundless Hellespont” plays in this discussion.130 Though affirming that he is educated enough to be aware of the debate and to take part in it (using both the poem and the note to argue for the existence of Troy), Byron also stresses that he rejects their too scholarly way of approaching the question. “The truth of ‘the tale of Troy divine’” can be felt on the spot; it does not depend on linguistic hair-splitting.

On the most personal level, the annotation is a mild jibe at Byron’s friend Hobhouse. He had accompanied Byron on his travels through the Ottoman Empire and, in 1813, published A Journey Through Albania, and Other Provinces of Turkey. This work includes a seven(!)-pages-long scholarly discussion about the possible reasons why Homer called the Hellespont “boundless” even though the strait is obviously not boundless (cf. Hobhouse, Journey 2: 790–97). It was him whom Byron had heard dispute the question “on the spot”.131 Based on their degree of personal involvement in the matter alluded to in the note, one can here distinguish between (3) those readers who are able to detect (and relish) the taunt against Hobhouse, and (4) Hobhouse himself, whose pedantry is being made fun of.132

The four readerships in this annotation differ from each other with respect to their awareness of the other readerships. For instance, the general reading public are able to infer from the note that it is also directed at scholars, and they can deduce which functions the note may serve for this scholarly readership. The allusion to Hobhouse’s book, however, is not apparent to this general readership. As a consequence, they are oblivious to the third and fourth readerships and to the functions this note performs for these; they are not able to grasp the annotation in its full complexity. What is more, even if the general reading public inferred that the annotation is also directed at the person who “disputed [the question] on the spot”, they would only understand that the note serves to mock this person but would remain ignorant as to who exactly this person is, which robs the note of part of its bite.

The notion of different readerships that are inscribed in Byron’s works is, of course, not a new one. In his discussion of “When We Two Parted”, Jerome McGann points out that “Byron uses different levels of poetic coding to define his audiences” and, when referring to the ‘separation stanzas’ in the first canto of Don Juan, he argues that “the passage has imagined various contemporary readerships” (McGann, “Byron and ‘the Truth in Masquerade’” 194; McGann, “Private Poetry, Public Deception” 121).133 Gary Dyer, analysing a passage in Don Juan that will also be discussed below, contends that Byron acknowledges that his readers “are not an undifferentiated public but are publics – discrete if often overlapping subcultures and counterpublics” (Dyer, “Thieves, Boxers, Sodomites, Poets” 574). Furthermore, Tom Mole argues that CHP “imagines a […] split audience. On the one hand, a faceless public; on the other, a limited, sophisticated and sympathetic audience of friends” (Mole, Byron’s Romantic Celebrity 46).

The present chapter will elaborate on these approaches by putting an even stronger focus on unravelling how exactly Byron differentiates between readerships and which purposes this differentiation serves.134 Byron’s annotation on the “broad Hellespont” highlights four aspects that can play a role when analysing how a given self-annotation differentiates between various readerships. First of all, who are the different readerships, and according to which specific traits can they be distinguished from one another? Second, which readerships are obvious to, or inferable by, other readerships, and which remain veiled from some or all other readerships? In this context, it is also important to distinguish between cases in which it is merely clear to others that the annotation is directed at yet another readership and cases in which it is also clear at whom exactly it is being directed. Third, does the annotation allow other readerships to infer which significance it has for a certain readership, or does it obscure the functions that it serves with respect to this readership? Hence, an annotation may hint at its own ambiguity while depriving some readerships of the means to uncover its additional meanings and purposes. Fourth and last, which readerships are aware of (some of) the various audiences and meanings of a note, and which remain oblivious to them, only detecting one meaning where there are many?

As these questions show, even though an annotation may be ambiguous, this ambiguity is not always made explicit to all readerships. One may, hence, distinguish between the implicit and the explicit exclusion of readerships. In the first case, the uninitiated readerships are unaware that they are being excluded from part of the annotation’s meaning. In the second, the note overtly teases them with secrets that they cannot uncover.135 (Of course, different passages in an annotation may also combine these textual strategies in various ways.) In the latter case, the effect of differentiating readerships can itself be ambiguous. On the one hand, such notes create the impression that the general reading public have the privilege of eavesdropping on (half-)private conversations between authors and their associates. On the other hand, by alluding to pieces of information that only certain groups of readers possess, such annotations again remind the general audience that they will never entirely be let into the authors’ (alleged) secrets. Differentiating readerships through annotations thus, among other things, allows authors to publicly sport and foster their social network136 and to forge (or loosen) a bond with different groups of readers. Literary Background Knowledge: Byron’s ‘Non-Plagiarism’ from Christabel

In the following example, the different pieces of background knowledge that some readerships have and that others lack are exclusively concerned with the literary scene, especially with plagiarism controversies and the publishing industry. In Byron’s time, journals concerned with literary matters were fond of discussing potential cases of plagiarism.137 For example, a letter to the Gentleman’s Magazine (Feb. 1818) accused Byron of having plagiarised Radcliffe, Voltaire, Parnell, Shakespeare, and Pope (cf. “Plagiarisms of Lord Byron”), whereas another letter to the same magazine (May 1818) absolved him from all accusations (cf. “Lord Byron Vindicated”). It is no surprise, then, that Byron tried to forestall such controversies by pointing out passages in his works that could be perceived as plagiarised but that he (allegedly) wrote when still being unaware of a text that contained the same ideas and images.138 Such a case famously occurs in The Siege of Corinth.139 In the annotated passage, the protagonist Alp discovers his beloved Francesca (or, rather, her ghost):

Was it the wind, through some hollow stone,
Sent that soft and tender moan?
He lifted his head, and he looked on the sea,
But it was unrippled as glass may be;
He looked on the long grass – it waved not a blade;
How was that gentle sound conveyed?
He looked to the banners – each flag lay still,
So did the leaves on Cithaeron’s hill,
And he felt not a breath come over his cheek;
What did that sudden sound bespeak?
He turned to the left – is he sure of sight?
There sate a lady, youthful and bright! (Siege of Corinth 476–87)

The following annotation is appended to the first line of the passage:

I must here acknowledge a close, though unintentional, resemblance in these twelve lines to a passage in an unpublished poem of Mr Coleridge, called ‘Christabel.’ It was not till after these lines were written that I heard that wild and singularly original and beautiful poem recited: and the MS. of that production I never saw till very recently, by the kindness of Mr Coleridge himself, who, I hope, is convinced that I have not been a wilful plagiarist. The original idea undoubtedly pertains to Mr Coleridge, whose poem has been composed above fourteen years. Let me conclude by a hope that he will not longer delay the publication of a production, of which I can only add my mite of approbation to the applause of far more competent judges. (Siege of Corinth 476n; CPW 3: 486)

The passage in Christabel that this annotation most likely refers to depicts the moment right before Christabel meets Geraldine for the first time (S. T. Coleridge, Christabel 1.37–50).140 The two passages in Byron and Coleridge both describe the discovery of a beautiful (and otherworldly) woman, both refer to moans of which neither Alp nor Christabel can discover the origin at first, and both passages mention the absolutely still air. Furthermore, both segments are written in what Jeff Strabone describes as “irregularly recurring anapests” or, more precisely, as “anapests [deployed] irregularly throughout otherwise iambic poems” (Strabone 265; 287).141 Hence, even though there are no direct verbal echoes from Christabel in this passage and even though it seems that that Byron had indeed not heard Christabel being recited until after having composed this passage (see p. 319 n below), the number of parallels between the passages suffices to justify accusations of plagiarism. However, by addressing different readerships, Byron’s note goes far beyond simply defending him against such charges. In order to be able to distinguish these different readerships and the ensuing respective functions of Byron’s annotation, a brief overview of the publication history of Christabel is necessary.

The Complicated Publishing History of Christabel

As Byron’s note explains, Christabel was yet unpublished when The Siege of Corinth came out in February 1816. According to the preface of Christabel, the first part of the poem had been written in 1797 and the second in 1800. Despite remaining unpublished for a long time, Christabel circulated in manuscript even as early as from 1798 onwards and was often recited by Coleridge and others (e.g. Scott) in front of small private audiences (cf. Laxer 168–71). In December 1811, Coleridge wrote a letter discussing whether Walter Scott’s 1805 The Lay of the Last Minstrel contains unacknowledged borrowings from the yet unpublished Christabel (cf. S. T. Coleridge, Coll. Letters 3: 355–61). Coleridge never sent the letter and its addressee is unknown (from Coleridge’s letter it appears that his correspondent was convinced of Scott’s plagiarism and wanted Coleridge to compile a list of parallels between his and Scott’s work). Coleridge’s letter considers the arguments brought forward against Scott in detail but (perhaps rather disingenuously)142 absolves him from all charges and concludes that the similarities are the “result of mere Coincidence between two Writers of similar Pursuits” (cf. S. T. Coleridge, Coll. Letters 3: 358). At that point, the plagiarism controversy still seems to have been a private rather than a public one.143 Accordingly, the general, ‘uninitiated’ readership – in this case meaning anyone who did not move in certain literary circles – would neither have known about the existence of Christabel in the first place, nor about the fact that some people accused Scott of having plagiarised it.

Four years later, in March 1815, Coleridge asked Byron to read some of his poems in manuscript and to “recommend them to some respectable Publisher” (S. T. Coleridge, Coll. Letters 4: 561). Coleridge explained that he feared that the publishers (knowing of his dire financial situation) would not offer much for the copyright if he approached them directly and argued that Byron’s recommendation would “treble the amount of their offer” (4: 561). Byron agreed to help him (cf. BLJ 4: 285–86). In June 1815, Byron heard Scott recite Christabel and, in October of the same year, highly praised it in a letter to Coleridge, expressing his hopes that the poem would be among those that Coleridge planned to publish (cf. BLJ 4: 318; 4: 321). Coleridge sent Byron a manuscript copy of Christabel and apparently must have included a comment (no longer extant) in which he discussed the accusations of plagiarism against Scott.144 In a slightly earlier letter, he also implicitly charged Wordsworth with not owning his debts to Christabel, explaining that he has “not learnt with what motive Wordsworth omitted the original avertisement [sic] prefixed to his White Doe, that the peculiar metre and mode of narration he had imitated from the Christabel” (S. T. Coleridge, Coll. Letters 4: 603). On 27 October 1815, Byron acknowledged that he had received the manuscript of Christabel and defended Scott, affirming that “[a]ll I have ever seen of him has been frank, fair, and warm in regard towards you” (BLJ 4: 321). He then went on to explain that

I am partly in the same scrape myself, as you will see by the enclosed extract from an unpublished poem [The Siege of Corinth], which I assure you was written before (not seeing your Christabelle [sic], for that you know I never did till this day), but before I heard Mr. S. [Scott] repeat it, which he did in June last, and this thing was begun in January and more than half written before the Summer. The coincidence is only in this particular passage, and, if you will allow me, in publishing it […], I will give the extract from you, and state that the original thought and expression have been many years in the Christabelle. The stories, scenes, etc., are in general quite different[.] […] I know not what you may think of this. If you like, I will cut out the passage, and do as well as I can without, – or what you please. (BLJ 4: 321–22, original emphasis)145

A day later, Byron wrote to Thomas Moore and asked him to “review [Coleridge] favourably in the Edinburgh Review” as soon as the collection of poems would be published (BLJ 4: 324).146 On 4 November 1815, he urged his own publisher John Murray to publish Christabel and furthermore explained that he wanted “to make a short extract from Christabelle in a note about Coleridge”, which he planned to insert in The Siege of Corinth (BLJ 4: 331). Murray agreed to publish Coleridge’s poem.

When Byron’s The Siege of Corinth came out, most reviews of the poem did not comment on its compliment to Coleridge. Only the Gentleman’s Magazine (Mar. 1816) remarked that “[i]n the notes, Lord Byron […] anticipates a charge which no classical reader could have made”, before quoting the entire annotation (“Review of The Siege of Corinth” 242).147 However, in promoting Coleridge’s poem, Murray made full use of Byron’s note: the advertisements (e.g. in the Morning Chronicle, 16 and 20 May 1816) quoted the annotation’s praise of it as a “wild and singularly original and beautiful poem” (cf. Laxer 172; 181). And when Christabel was finally published in May 1816, many critics mentioned Byron’s annotation on the poem in their reviews; some even introduced their articles with a quote from it.148

Based on the rather complicated publication history of Christabel and the private plagiarism controversy, one can infer four groups of readerships of Byron’s annotation: (1) Coleridge himself, (2) Scott and Wordsworth, who did not publicly acknowledge their debts to Christabel, (3) readers moving in literary circles, who had already heard Christabel being recited before it was published and who would have been able to spot the parallels between Coleridge’s poem and The Siege of Corinth was well as Scott’s The Lay of the Last Minstrel and Wordsworth’s The White Doe of Rylstone, and (4) the general reading public, who had no knowledge of the existence of Christabel nor of the plagiarism controversy yet.

Byron, the ‘Ethical’ Author

With respect to Coleridge himself, the annotation constitutes a compliment and a (much-needed though eventually fruitless149 ) act of public support. Moreover, it may have served as atonement for the ridicule that Byron had showered on Coleridge in EBSR. Byron’s praise of Christabel seems to have been sincere. In his letters to Moore and Murray (with both of whom he was usually very candid), written shortly after he had received the manuscript of Christabel, he calls Coleridge “a man of wonderful talent” and assures his publisher that he “think[s] most highly” of the poem (BLJ 4: 324; 331).150

Sincere as the compliment in the annotation may be, the very fact that it is a public compliment – and thereby directed at various readerships besides Coleridge – suggests that it is far from selfless. First of all, by insisting that the textual similarities are unintentional, Byron uses the annotation to emphasise his own originality. More importantly, the note serves Byron’s self-presentation as a generous patron of poor writers and as someone who abides by professional ethics and acts honourably with regard to his fellow authors. While this aspect of the note is also to some extent directed at Coleridge, it is even more significant with respect to Scott and Wordsworth, to readers moving in literary circles, and to the general reading public.

With respect to Scott, Wordsworth, and literary insiders, the annotation is quite double-edged. It can be interpreted as either a defence or – more convincingly – as an indictment of the two other poets. On the one hand, the note affirms that not every literary parallel is the result of deliberate plagiarism. Just as the similarities between Christabel and The Siege of Corinth are coincidental, the resemblance of The Lay of the Last Minstrel and The White Doe of Rylstone to Coleridge’s poem may likewise be purely accidental. On the other hand, unlike Byron, Scott and Wordsworth had indeed read Christabel before composing their own poems – a fact that was known in literary circles. Byron’s annotation thus implicitly criticises the other two authors: while the hugely successful Scott and even one of Coleridge’s closest associates remain silent on their actual debts to Christabel, Byron (who could hardly be counted among Coleridge’s friends) owns a similarity that indeed seems to have been accidental.151 The general reading public, who did not know about Scott’s and Wordsworth’s unacknowledged uses of Christabel yet, would not have been aware of this veiled attack in the note. To everyone else, however, the annotation signals that Byron does what his two fellow writers should have done.

This self-presentation as an ‘honourable’ author is, of course, a bit disingenuous given that Byron does not acknowledge his own debts to Scott in the poem (see n 151 below). Hence, the note can to some extent be seen as one which carefully foregrounds and sets in scene Byron’s authorial ethos. It can thus be interpreted as performative, which here both refers to performance as the genuine “accomplishment or carrying out of something” and as a false “pretence” or “sham” (OED “performance, n.” def. 1.a; def. 4.c.). Byron’s self-presentation as ‘ethical’ author is ambiguous; it is neither entirely honest (or selfless), nor entirely insincere.152

Covert Advertising à la Byron

Byron’s annotation pretends that in February 1816 Coleridge was still undecided whether or not he should publish Christabel and expresses the “hope that he will not longer delay the publication of a production, of which I can only add my mite of approbation to the applause of far more competent judges”. This comment strives to excite the general reading public’s curiosity for a mysterious work that apparently all literary grandees of the day admired and that everyone except themselves had seen by this time. If they wanted to know what all the excitement was about, they had to pray that Coleridge would one day make his poem available to ‘ordinary’ readers – at least this is what the annotation appears to suggest.

What the note does not mention is that, of course, the publication of Christabel was a ‘done deal’ by then, and that the forthcoming poem happened to be sold by Byron’s own publisher, who, naturally, had a vested interest in its success. Thus, the note’s ostensible ‘encouragement’ to Coleridge to finally publish his work was, in reality, a marketing ploy. As Nicholas Mason points out, John Murray – shrewd businessman that he was – understood that

publicity is much more effective than direct advertising for establishing a brand name. In an age when advertising columns were increasingly crowded, simply running a series of conventional advertisements did little to get a product noticed. (Mason 426)

It was probably no coincidence that the letter in which Byron asked Murray to publish Christabel and the letter in which he told Murray that he would include a note on Christabel in his next poem were sent on the same day. If Byron wanted to convince Murray to act as the publisher of Christabel, he also had to assure him that he would do his best to make people buy it. Critics soon noticed the role that Byron had played in securing readers (and, more importantly, buyers) for Christabel. In its article on Christabel, the Anti-Jacobin Review (vol. 50, no. 218, July 1816) even remarks that the poem has

been ushered into the world by a new species of puff direct; under the auspices of Lord Byron, who, as the newspapers informed the public, had read them in manuscript, and, in a letter to the author [sic], had called Christabel, it seems, a ‘singularly wild and beautiful Poem.’ The artifice has succeeded so far as to force it into a second edition! for what woman in fashion would not purchase a book recommended by Lord Byron? (“Review of Christabel” 632, original emphasis)

As shown above, this “artifice” relied on the fact that the general reading public was unaware that Christabel had been prepared and accepted for publication long before Byron’s annotation first met their eyes. Byron hence used these readers’ lack of insight into the publishing business in order to veil the partly commercial background of his note.

In summary, in this annotation the initiated readerships – Coleridge, Scott, Wordsworth, and readers moving in literary circles – are differentiated by their degree of personal involvement in the matters alluded to in the note and by the exact functions the annotation serves with respect to them. For instance, while readers belonging to the literary scene merely witness Byron’s self-presentation and his implicit criticism of Scott and Wordsworth, these two authors are directly involved in the controversy. In both the case of covert advertisement and the indirect criticism of Scott and Wordsworth, the general reading public is implicitly excluded from part of the meaning of the annotation: the note does not publicly hint at the fact that one requires certain background knowledge in order to grasp the ulterior functions of the annotation. It leaves the general readership completely unaware that this knowledge exists and that the annotation serves purposes that may not at first sight be apparent to them. In the next example discussed here, the exclusion of certain readerships will be more explicit. Personal and Literary Background Knowledge: Hodgson’s Objection, de Staël’s Eloquence, and a Lady’s “speaking harmony”

While Byron’s annotation on Christabel was purely concerned with the literary sphere, other annotated passages combine the literary and the personal. Such an example appears in The Bride of Abydos and depicts the female protagonist as follows:

Such was Zuleika – such around her shone
The nameless charms unmarked by her alone –
The light of love – the purity of grace –
The mind – the Music breathing from her face! (Bride of Abydos 1.176–79)

The arguably rather unusual expression “The mind – the Music breathing from her face”, which combines a double metaphor and synaesthesia, is complemented by a lengthy annotation:

This expression has met with objections. I will not refer to “Him who hath not Music in his soul,” but merely request the reader to recollect, for ten seconds, the features of the woman whom he believes to be the most beautiful; and if he then does not comprehend fully what is feebly expressed in the above line, I shall be sorry for us both. For an eloquent passage in the latest work of the first female writer of this, perhaps of any age, on the analogy (and the immediate comparison excited by that analogy) between “painting and music,” see vol. iii. cap. 10, “De L’Allemagne.” And is not this connexion still stronger with the original than the copy? with the colouring of Nature than of Art? After all, this is rather to be felt than described; still, I think there are some who will understand it, at least they would have done had they beheld the countenance whose speaking harmony suggested the idea; for this passage is not drawn from imagination but memory, that mirror which Affliction dashes to the earth, and looking down upon the fragments, only beholds the reflection multiplied. (Bride of Abydos 1.179n; CPW 3: 436–37)

As will be shown, this annotation differentiates between six partly overlapping readerships: (1) Byron’s friend Francis Hodgson, who was most likely the one who had raised the objection,153 (2) Madame de Staël, (3) the woman whose face probably “suggested the idea”, (4) Byron’s friends, especially those who knew about at least one of his flirts or affairs of 1813, (5) the general reading public, and, possibly, (6) those readers who remembered a certain passage in Fielding’s Joseph Andrews.

Public Justifications and Private Jibes

The annotation starts out by reacting to an objection raised during the composition or revision process of the poem.154 Instead of silently altering the expression or simply ignoring Hodgson’s advice, Byron publicly justifies the line. This justification is directed at both Hodgson and any future reader who might likewise criticise the expression, and it is both a sincere defence and a good-humoured jibe. On the more facetious side, the annotation insinuates that everyone who objects to the line is simply not romantically inclined enough to understand it or has perhaps never seen a beautiful enough woman. In the case of Hodgson, this implication is especially piquant, given that Byron’s friend had only recently become engaged (cf. BLJ 3: 206).

On the more serious side, the annotation justifies the expression by alluding to (and misquoting) a similar phrase in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice,155 by invoking readers’ personal experience, and by referring to de Staël’s discussion of synaesthesia.156 Thus, at least initially, the annotation suggests that one’s ability to understand and appreciate the expression primarily relies on one’s life experience and, furthermore, on one’s book knowledge. In the course of the annotation, however, Byron contradicts the initial argument that everyone who has seen a beautiful woman (or read the right books) can comprehend the line: “I think there are some who will understand it, at least they would have done had they beheld the countenance” (my emphasis). What began as a way of including all readers in the meaning-making of the passage suddenly becomes exclusive, suggesting that only those are able to comprehend the expression who have seen this particular woman.

This is not the only instance in which Byron’s defence of the line gives the general reading public the impression of both being included and excluded. In the humorous reaction to Hodgson’s criticism, they are seemingly allowed to overhear a private conversation between Byron and Hodgson and are able to partly infer which function this note serves with respect to the original objector. Nevertheless, they are also forced to realise their outsider status by not being able to discover this objector’s identity. Furthermore, the very fact that the annotation reminds readers that the poem does not miraculously appear in print but that it passes through many hands before it is finally published both fosters and destroys the apparent intimacy between author and reader.157 On the one hand, the general reading public is invited to look behind the scenes and to learn more about the composition process that would otherwise have remained hidden from them.158 On the other hand, this look behind the scenes shows readers that the poem, even before it is published, is a collaborative, social, and commercial enterprise. It is by no means the personal and unmediated record of solitary musings and, therefore, does not necessarily give them privileged access to the feeling and ideas of an individual author.159

Networking Among Literary Lions

The social aspect of the work becomes even more apparent in the compliment to de Staël. A review of The Bride of Abydos in the Wiener Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (no. 26, Apr. 1814) even conjectures that the expression to which Hodgson objected was only included in the poem so that Byron could write a note on it and therein “make a polite bow” to the French writer (for the review, see p. 239 above). Even Princess Charlotte commented on the annotation and remarked:

In one of his notes he pays Madame de Stael a very great compliment upon what she says in her Allemagne upon musick; & I confess that the note, to me, so fully expresses all I feel upon it, & is so elegantly turned, that it ought to be engraved on marble & on brass, that it may never be obliterated from the minds of the lovers of musick. (Charlotte Augusta of Wales 88–89, original emphasis)

Byron’s description of de Staël as the “first female writer of this, perhaps of any age” is indeed a more or less genuine compliment directed at her. After she had written to Byron in order to thank him for the note,160 he recorded in his journal: “I spoke as I thought. Her works are my delight, and so is she herself, for – half an hour” (BLJ 3: 227). The qualification “for half an hour”, however, indicates that Byron’s admiration for her was not as boundless as the annotation suggests. Even though he indeed held her works in high regard (despite sometimes poking fun at Corinne), he initially found her quite overbearing in person. In “Some Recollections of my Acquaintance with Madame de Staël” (written in 1821 and not published during his lifetime), Byron remembers their first meeting as follows:

I saw the woman of whom I had heard marvels – she justified what I had heard – but she was still a mortal – and made long speeches – nay the very day of this philosophical feast in her honour – she made very long speeches to those who had been accustomed to hear such only in the two Houses – she interrupted Whitbread – she declaimed to Lord L[ansdowne] – She misunderstood Sheridan’s jokes for assent – She harangued – she lectured – She preached English politics to the first of our English Whig politicians – the day after her arrival in England – and (if I am not much misinformed –) preached politics no less to our Tory politicians the day after.——The Sovereign himself – if I am not in error was not exempt from this flow of Eloquence. (Byron, CMP 185, original emphasis)

Thus, Byron’s praise of De l’Allemagne itself is sincere but veils his more ambivalent attitude towards its author, of which only Byron’s friends would have known at this time.

In contrast to the note on Coleridge discussed above, the compliment here is not used as advertisement for the work mentioned in the annotation, though De l’Allemagne was likewise published by John Murray. De Staël was hardly in need of any further promotion for her book – her previous literary successes, her celebrated visit to England, and the destruction of almost the entire (yet unpublished) 1810 first edition of De l’Allemagne in France161 provided sufficient publicity. When De l’Allemagne was finally published in 1813 (in London), it was sold out within three days; its English translation, which was likewise published by Murray at the same time, was equally successful (cf. Wilkes 5).

Thus, rather than being an advertising scheme, the annotation in The Bride of Abydos (published several months after De l’Allemagne) publicly acknowledges and fosters the connection between two of the most famous authors of the day. Of course, far from being selfless, the note benefits Byron’s literary reputation just as much as de Staël’s. It draws readers’ attention to his “familiarity with the writings of Britain’s current new literary celebrity” (Wilkes 68) and insists that he can ‘bear a sister near the throne’.

The exact nature of the connection between the two lionised authors as it is depicted in this annotation, however, is left open to debate. Does the annotation express the deference of a young poet to an established author, portray a respectful professional relationship among equals, or rather condescendingly admit that – as Byron elsewhere ironically imagines his publisher saying – “for a woman / her talents surely were uncommon” (Byron, “Epistle from Mr. Murray to Dr. Polidori” 79–80)? Whatever its main tenor may be, the compliment to de Staël is the most ‘transparent’ part of the annotation with respect to the general reading public. They can easily grasp who it is directed at, and the passage does not signal to them that there might be any hidden meaning that they will never be able to uncover. The only difference between them and those readers who moved in Byron’s circle is that the latter knew about his ambivalence towards de Staël as a person.

Autobiographical Interpretation, Self-Presentation, and Global Ambiguity

Both the compliment to de Staël and the jibe at Hodgson contribute exclusively to the socio-pragmatic dimension of the annotation; they have almost no bearing on the meaning of the annotated passage nor even of the poem as a whole. Things lie differently in the last third of the annotation, which serves both socio-pragmatic and intratextual functions. Here, Byron informs readers that “this passage is not drawn from imagination but memory” and that there was a certain “countenance whose speaking harmony suggested the idea”.

It is not clear who this passage refers to. The three most plausible candidates are Lady Oxford, with whom Byron had had an affair in 1813 and who had left England to travel with her husband; Lady Frances Webster, with whom he had almost had an affair in 1813; and Augusta Leigh, Byron’s half-sister and, from 1813 onwards, (probably)162 also his lover. Byron’s involvement with Lady Oxford seems to have been known to several members of high society (even her husband was aware of it), but it is unclear who – apart from Byron’s confidante Lady Melbourne – knew of the other two women. Lady Frances’s husband might have suspected something, and it is likely that Byron made some allusions to his possible affair with Augusta Leigh to Thomas Moore (cf. BLJ 3: 96; 153).

The strategic underspecification of who is meant has, first of all, two rather practical reasons. For one, Byron could not explicitly name any of these married women (least of all his half-sister) without causing scandal. For another, this passage also serves as an example of ‘poetic economy’ in allowing Byron to compliment three (or perhaps even more) women at the same time.163 With respect to them, the note is a means of teasingly fostering Byron’s relationships: in each of these women, it strives to evoke a mix of (1) pride in being praised in this manner, (2) pleasure in being among the few readers who are able to decode the half-public, half-private message, (3) the thrill of being a participant in this risky game of self-revelation and self-concealment, and (4) compassion with ‘poor Byron’, whose writing of these lines is (allegedly) inspired by “memory” and “Affliction”.164 For those very few readers who already suspected that Byron might have an affair with Augusta Leigh, the note also served an intratextual function. By suggesting that the depiction of Zuleika was possibly inspired by Byron’s half-sister, the annotation emphasises the incest theme of the poem.165

With respect to the general reading public, the note’s underspecification serves quite different aims. To everyone outside of Byron’s closest circle of friends and lovers, the possible referent(s) of this passage would have been impossible to discover, with the exception of, perhaps, Lady Oxford, whose affair with Byron was not a particularly well-kept secret.166 Thus, to an even greater extent than the allusion to Hodgson, this part of the annotation plays with the inclusion and exclusion of the general reading public – in this case meaning everyone who had no insight into the intricacies of Byron’s 1813 love life. On the one hand, the section gives these readers the impression that Byron is baring his soul to them and that they have the privilege of eavesdropping on clandestine communication between him and his lover(s). On the other hand, by making it impossible to identify its main addressee(s), the passage reminds these readers of their status as outsiders who are not able to fully uncover Byron’s alleged secrets. This strategy of teasing readers with partial revelations may be seen as one of the pillars of Byron’s commercial success; it gave readers the impression that they simply had to buy the next publication in order to find more ‘hints’ that might bring them a bit nearer to solving the mystery he had cast about himself.167

The last section of this annotation also has two functions that are the same for all addressees, regardless of whether or not they could identify at least one of the women possibly addressed in it. For one, it serves to present Byron in one of his favourite roles (at least in works written between CHP and Beppo), i.e. that of the man who harbours dark secrets and suffers from memories that he cannot bring himself to fully articulate (see chapter 3.2.1 above). For another – and this is where the intratextual function of the note finally comes into play –, it suggests that Zuleika is by no means a fictional character but inspired by a real person. Elsewhere in The Bride of Abydos, there is not the least hint that the poem may be (partly) autobiographical. Hence, as argued in chapter 3.2.1 above, it is again only through annotation that the seemingly fictional poem is ambiguated and a potential autobiographical background is evoked.

Autobiographical Hint or Intertextual Allusion?

To make matters even more complicated, the annotation may – partly at least – also implicitly undermine its insistence on autobiography. The request to the reader to “recollect, for ten seconds, the features of the woman whom he believes to be the most beautiful” bears some similarity to an annotation in Fielding’s Joseph Andrews (1742) – a novel greatly admired by Byron. The annotated passage in Joseph Andrews depicts the sunrise in the following terms: “That beautiful young Lady, the Morning, now rose from her Bed, and with a Countenance blooming with Fresh Youth and Sprightliness, like Miss—”. The annotation for the blank only facetiously states “Whoever the Reader pleases” (Fielding 225n, original emphasis). As in The Bride of Abydos, the reader is here directly involved in the meaning-making of the passage; in Byron’s poem, however, as we have seen, this involvement is later denied.

The possible allusion to Fielding thus raises the question whether Byron’s annotation refers to the real-life model of Zuleika or to Fielding’s mockery of readers who call for such identifications. The note can be seen as both supporting and ridiculing readers’ insistence that many (if not all) characters in fictional texts are based on real-life models and that authors are obliged to name them. As in the examples discussed in chapter 3.2.1 above, the annotation hence simultaneously suggests and denies that Byron’s works have an autobiographical background.

This note in The Bride of Abydos primarily resorts to the explicit differentiation of readerships. Those who are prevented from grasping the full background of the annotation and annotated passage are made fully aware of this fact. What makes the note especially complex, however, is that many of the mechanisms by which the note excludes the general reading public at the same time serve to partly form a closer bond between them and the author by suggesting that these readers are allowed to overhear Byron’s ‘private’ conversations with his lover(s), friends, and literary associates. Cultural and Linguistic Background Knowledge: A ‘Flash’ Compliment to John ‘Gentleman’ Jackson

While the annotation on Christabel discussed above mainly distinguishes readers according to their insider knowledge of literary circles, the note on The Bride of Abydos primarily employs allusions to Byron’s private life. In my last example, the differentiation of readerships relies on readers’ proficiency in, or ignorance of, boxing slang, and on the contemporary cultural implications of (not) knowing this slang.

In the eleventh canto of Don Juan, the eponymous hero is forced to shoot a young robber in self-defence. After this incident, the narrator muses:

He [Juan] from the world had cut off a great man,
Who in his time had made heroic bustle.
Who in a row like Tom could lead the van,
Booze in the ken, or at the spellken hustle?
Who queer a flat? Who (spite of Bow–street’s ban)
On the high toby–spice so flash the muzzle?
Who on a lark, with black–eyed Sal (his blowing)
So prime, so swell, so nutty, and so knowing? (Don Juan 11.19)

Even though the gist of the stanza becomes clear, i.e. that the robber Tom was involved in various illegal activities and had a girlfriend named Sal, the exact meaning of the lines remains obscure to readers who are not familiar with the slang terms used in this passage.168 The annotation that is appended to the stanza appears, at first sight, to be of little help:

The advance of science and of language has rendered it unnecessary to translate the above good and true English, spoken in its original purity by the select mobility and their patrons. The following is a stanza of a song which was very popular, at least in my early days: –

On the high toby-spice flash the muzzle,
In spite of each gallows old scout;
If you at the spellken can’t hustle,
You’ll be hobbled in making a Clout.
Then your Blowing will wax gallows haughty,
When she hears of your scaly mistake,
She’ll surely turn snitch for the forty,
That her Jack may be regular weight.

If there be any Gemman so ignorant as to require a traduction, I refer him to my old friend and corporeal pastor and master, John Jackson, Esq., Professor of Pugilism; who I trust still retains the strength and symmetry of his model of a form, together with his good humour, and athletic as well as mental accomplishments. (Don Juan 11.19n; CPW 5: 747)

Alice Levine quotes this as an example of a “failed note”, which belongs to the “sub-genre of the mock-scholarly note” and invites “the reader to fill in the poem’s blanks” (A. Levine 129). Implicitly, she thus evaluates the note according to the discourse conventions of xenographic annotations, which would, one might assume, call for a straightforward ‘translation’ of the stanza. However, in what follows, I will show why her reading of this note as a failed one falls short. In doing so, I will be following Gary Dyer’s argument that the note is employed as a means of demarcating different readerships – a much more complex and intriguing use of the paratext than a straightforward explication of the slang terms would be (cf. Dyer, “Thieves, Boxers, Sodomites, Poets” 564; 574). The exact import of the words used in the stanza is much “less significant than the reader’s need to translate”; in other words, it is not so important what the words mean but who is privy to their meaning (Dyer, “Thieves, Boxers, Sodomites, Poets” 564). In his article, Dyer mainly focuses on the idea that, by making explicit that there is something in the poem that many readers will not understand and by refusing to provide any help to them, the stanza and annotation may alert readers to the fact that the poem may also contain more inconspicuous passages that nevertheless require insider knowledge in order to be understood (e.g. passages alluding to homosexuality) (cf. Dyer, “Thieves, Boxers, Sodomites, Poets” 567). My own discussion of the annotation will be concerned with three aspects: (1) the question of social milieus that seems to be at the core of Byron’s method of differentiating readerships here, (2) Byron’s self-presentation, and (3) his strategy of subverting expectations of what (self-)annotations should do.

Differentiating Readerships Through Language

Like the annotation on the Hellespont discussed above, this note refuses to provide readers with scholarly facts and instead gives purely personal, anecdotal, and – in the present case – potentially incomprehensible information. In this, the note not only differs from the greatest majority of xenographic annotations but also from the self-annotations of most of Byron’s contemporaries. For instance, Thomas Moore’s Tom Crib’s Memorial to Congress and Pierce Egan’s Life in London provided annotations that translated the many slang terms used in these works (cf. Dart 186; Coleman 156; 236). This may be a nice service to the uninitiated, but readers with insider knowledge are deprived of the pleasant experience of being able to grasp more than others and of discovering a common ground of understanding between themselves and the author. Byron, by contrast, occasionally leaves certain things unsaid so that his readers (or at least a part of them) could infer the meaning themselves. In some cases, he makes rather transparent allusions that every contemporary would have been able to decipher (see e.g. the annotation on Ney, chapter 3.3.4). In other cases, as in the present annotation, he pits different groups of readers against one another.

In order to understand how Byron’s annotation differentiates between readerships, one has to reconstruct which social groups would have understood the slang terms used in the passage. The annotation claims that the language spoken in the stanza is “good and true English” and that the “advance of science and of language has rendered it unnecessary to translate [it]”. While the first statement is obviously ironic, the second contains more truth than one might initially suppose: the time around 1800 saw a considerable interest in ‘flash language’, i.e. the slang used by, among others, criminals. Francis Grose’s A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785, rev. 1811) and John Badcock’s Slang: A Dictionary of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, the Pit, Of Bon-Ton, and the Varieties of Life (1823), for example, could provide the willing reader with a helpful guide to the language of the underworld (cf. Dyer, “Thieves, Boxers, Sodomites, Poets” 564; for other works of this kind, see Dyer 575n7). Most of the terms used in Byron’s annotation and annotated passage are explained in Grose’s and Badcock’s dictionaries. Thus, for those readers who shared the contemporary interest in flash, the “advance of science” indeed rendered a straightforward translation of the stanza in the note unnecessary.169

What is even more important for understanding the annotation in its cultural context is the prevalence of flash in the boxing world and the latter’s curious social makeup. As Jane Moore points out, boxing in Byron’s day was not only “associated with low-life gambling and drinking dens” but also with the nobility (J. Moore 276). To illustrate the popularity of boxing in Romantic-era high society, a few examples may suffice. Apart from Byron and many of his friends,

[t]he Prince of Wales [and] his brothers the Dukes of York and Clarence […] were well-known aficionados. Indeed, the future George IV famously appointed eighteen of the foremost pugilists of the day [among them John Jackson] to act as ushers at Westminster Hall on his coronation day in July 1821. (J. Moore 276)

In 1814, Lord Lowther even organised two evenings of box fights for the amusement of, among others, the Emperor of Russia, Blücher, the King of Prussia, the Prince Royal of Prussia, Princes Frederick and William of Prussia, and the Prince of Mecklenburg (cf. Miles 100; 262–63; Ford 71). Furthermore, after his retirement as a boxer, John “Gentleman” Jackson (the “Professor of Pugilism” mentioned in the note) opened a boxing school for the aristocracy. The author of the 1841 Fistiana explains that “[h]ere all the élite of the fashionable world […] were daily assembled; noblemen and gentlemen of the highest rank did not disdain to take the gloves” (Dowling 38, original emphasis). Another nineteenth-century description even remarks that “[n]ot to have had lessons of Jackson was a reproach. To attempt a list of his pupils would be to copy one-third of the then peerage” (Miles 97). As might be expected, Byron himself regularly took lessons at this school.170

The “fans and patrons of boxing” were called the ‘Fancy’ (Dyer, “Thieves, Boxers, Sodomites, Poets” 563). The flash language used by boxers and the Fancy was “a combination of sporting technicalities and cockney and underworld slang. […] [It] could quickly be learnt by anyone interested enough in their pursuits” and was used in several books and journals concerned with the sport (Ford 158). The annotation thus had three kinds of initiated readerships: (1) the original, lower-class users of flash language; (2) members of the upper class who picked up the slang by attending prize fights, boxing schools, and sometimes also less reputable establishments like seedy pubs or gambling dens; and (3) readers who had a general interest in flash language. These readerships would not have needed a translation in order to grasp the meaning of Byron’s stanza and note. The uninitiated readership was composed of the majority of middle-class readers, among whom there was considerable opposition to boxing, especially by “[i]ntellectuals, radicals, conservative moralists, Evangelicals, and a good portion of the Dissenting community” (J. Moore 276).171

Publicly Forging and Severing Bonds

Due to the Romantic-era interest in slang and the many publications written partly or entirely in boxing flash, most contemporary readers would have been able to easily identify the kind of language used in the stanza and annotation. They also knew who understood this language and who did not, which means that the different groups of readers would have been aware of each other. What is more, even though the note relies on coded language and the inclusion of some and the exclusion of other readers, each readership would have known which functions the annotation serves with respect to the other readerships. Unlike the two annotations discussed above, this one is hence rather transparent about its different readerships as well as the various meanings it has for each of them.

To high-society readers who were part of the Fancy, the annotation was a knowing nod from one upper-class insider to others. They were able to both understand the slang expressions and to poke fun at their vulgarity. Members of this social group had been the main purchasers of Byron’s poems for a long time – most other readers could simply not afford them (cf. St. Clair, The Reading Nation 201). Byron’s implicit reminder in this passage that he belongs to this class is nothing extraordinary – one can find such reminders throughout his works (e.g. in “Lachin Y Gair”, see chapter 3.4.1). However, in most of these cases, he goes about quite straightforwardly (e.g. by providing information on his ancestry), whereas here he employs a much more creative (and less pretentious) method. He facetiously uses one of the (linguistically speaking) ‘lowest’ passages of Don Juan to remind his readers that he used to move among the uppermost echelons of British society. (See below for the special role that the reference to John “Gentleman” Jackson plays in this strategy).

The second group who was part of the initiated, privileged readership that could understand the stanza and the note were the original users of flash language, i.e. the lower-class “mobility” in general and boxers and criminals in particular.172 Unlike Byron’s forbiddingly expensive earlier works, the many volumes of Don Juan (either as pirate copies or – after John Hunt became Byron’s new publisher – as cheap authorised copies) were extremely popular among the lower classes. William St. Clair explains that “Don Juan, even in its official [i.e. non-pirated] form, was by far the biggest seller of any contemporary literary work during the romantic period” (St. Clair, The Reading Nation 333). He estimates that

[w]ithin a decade Don Juan had penetrated far deeper into the reading of the nation than any other modern book, with the possible exception of Tom Paine’s Rights of Man […]. The poem was read, in part at least, by many thousands who did not read any of Byron’s other works, and it was probably read by thousands who read no other book of any kind except the Bible. (St. Clair, “The Impact of Byron’s Writings” 18)

Of course, not everyone among these thousands of lower-class readers would have used flash language in everyday communication. Nevertheless, it is likely that the passage gave at least of a portion of them the opportunity to witness (and understand) the most famous poet of the age suddenly using slang expressions they were familiar with. Though the note good-humouredly teases the original users of flash language, it also establishes a common ground of understanding and a special bond with this new part of Byron’s readership. A similar sense of unity and mutual understanding is established with regard to the third initiated group, i.e. those readers who had a general linguistic interest in flash language, without necessarily ever using it in actual communication.

As far as the uninitiated group of readers – the respectable middle-class “Gemmen” – is concerned, it is questionable how many of them read Don Juan (especially the later cantos published by Hunt) in the first place. For those who did, the annotator’s assertion that it is unnecessary to translate the slang terms is, of course, clearly ironical. Hence, contrary to what the note at first sight seems to suggest, the main butt of its joke are not lower-class speakers, criminals, or boxers who would use such terminology but the respectable middle classes – those who are neither members of the “select mobility” nor of their noble “patrons” and who try to put a barrier between themselves and lower-class language. It is these readers who, given their unfamiliarity with boxing and flash, require a translation of the slang terms and these readers to whom the note refuses elucidation. By more or less explicitly barring this potential part of his readership from fully understanding the passage and note, Byron forges a closer relationship with those readers who do comprehend it. The Hermeneutic of Intimacy – the “communications between intimates” – that Byron appears to create both with his upper- and lower-class readers – is thus to some extent achieved by excluding part of his middle-class audience from this intimacy (Mole, Byron’s Romantic Celebrity 24).

From Compliment to Self-Presentation

The first four readerships of the annotation are distinguished on the basis of their social status and their ability to understand flash terms without help. The last reader at whom this annotation is directed is differentiated from the others on account of his personal acquaintance with the author and the direct reference to him in the note: Byron’s “corporeal pastor and master, John Jackson, Esq., Professor of Pugilism”. As the annotation suggests, he was indeed an “old friend”. Byron first met Jackson in 1806 and, at least until the end of 1814, regularly took boxing lessons with him (cf. Gross 145).173 When Byron spent the summer of 1808 at Brighton, Jackson visited him several times and, in the same year, Byron even invited him to spend Christmas at Newstead Abbey (cf. Gross 147–48). In his letters (always familiarly addressing him as “dear Jack”), Byron occasionally called on Jackson’s assistance in buying dogs and weapons as well as in intimidating deceitful business partners (cf. Gross 147–48).

Byron’s sudden change from humorously showing off his proficiency in flash language towards affectionately praising Jackson is indicated by the style of the annotation which shifts from facetious to amicable, from slang to standard English. The compliment to Jackson in the annotation is both a private token of genuine friendship and a public enactment of this friendship for the other four groups of addressees. As in Byron’s compliments to Coleridge and de Staël, his praise of Jackson is not entirely selfless. Just as Jackson’s reputation could gain by him being associated with one of the most successful authors of the day, Byron could likewise polish his image by reminding readers of his friendship with the boxer who was the darling of high society. Jackson’s epithet “Gentleman” was not applied to him ironically. He had an “unusually prosperous background for a pugilist” because his father owned a “thriving building business” (Brailsford, Bareknuckles 68). Pierce Egan’s Boxiana (1823) describes him as “one of the best behaved men” of the kingdom and someone who “acquired proficiency in his manners and address. He has let no opportunity slip whereby he might obtain knowledge and improvement” (P. Egan 287–88).174 By reminding readers that it was partly from Jackson and not from any obscure, low-life pugilist that he learnt flash language, Byron again affirms his own belonging to high society.

By contrast, the song quoted in the annotation is not concerned with the at least half-respectable world of boxing but rather with the criminal underworld. While the greatest part of the note associates Byron with the gentlemanly Fancy, this song serves his self-presentation as a daredevil and rogue, who is not averse to spending his time in dubious company. Similar strategies can also be observed in other annotations in which he is eager to remind readers that he, among other things, passed several nights at the house of a (retired) Albanian robber (cf. Bride of Abydos 2.150n; CPW 3: 440) and spent a considerable part of his youth in low-life gambling dens (cf. Don Juan 11.29n; CPW 5: 748, see chapter The note hence serves to present Byron in one of his favourite roles – that of the adventurous aristocratic man of the world rather than that of the poet or scribbler.175 Furthermore, by stressing his ties to both the Fancy and to the criminal underworld, the note gives testimony to the authenticity of Byron’s use of flash language.176 Here, as in many of his annotations about Spanish, Portuguese, Swiss, Italian, Albanian, Turkish, or Greek culture, Byron is eager to point out the ‘correctness’ and verisimilitude of his poetry which he (allegedly) derived from lived experience, not from books (cf. BLJ 3: 165). Thus, even though the note is primarily concerned with socio-pragmatic functions, it also serves the intratextual purpose of supporting and authenticating the annotated passage.

With respect to its strategy of differentiating readerships, Byron’s flash annotation is the most transparent among the notes discussed in this chapter. The annotation on The Siege of Corinth discussed above completely veils the fact that there is certain background knowledge that one needs in order to fully understand the note, while the annotation on The Bride of Abydos hints at secrets which the general reading public can never uncover. In the present case, however, the note refers to pieces of background information that uninitiated readers can, theoretically, quite easily obtain by resorting to a slang dictionary. Furthermore, all readerships of this annotation are aware of one another and of the functions that the note serves with regard to the other readerships. Lastly, the use of flash language and the refusal to translate it make the exclusion of one group of readers – the middle-class ‘Gemmen’ – very explicit.


Many approaches to Byron’s works argue that he gives every single reader the impression that he is speaking to them (and only to them) directly, and that they are the only ones who can fully understand him. For instance, in its article on the fourth canto of CHP, the Edinburgh Review (June 1818, vol. 30, iss. 59) argues that in Byron’s works there seems to be something

of the nature of private and confidential communications. They are not felt, while we read, as declarations published to the world, – but almost as secrets whispered to chosen ears. Who is there that feels, for a moment, that the voice which reaches the inmost recesses of his heart is speaking to the careless multitudes around him? Or, if we do so remember, the words seem to pass by others like air, and to find their way to the hearts for whom they were intend, – kindred and sympathizing spirits, who discern and own that secret language, of which the privacy is not violated, though spoken in hearing of the uninitiated, – because it is not understood. […] There is felt to be between him and the public mind, a stronger personal bond than ever linked its movements to any other living poet. (“Review of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto IV” 90; 93)

A similar argument also lies at the centre of Tom Mole’s notion of the Hermeneutic of Intimacy (for the concept, see p. 251 above), which argues that Byron strategically created the impression that he “revealed himself in his poetry” and that his poems were “communications between intimates” (Mole, Byron’s Romantic Celebrity 24).177

As the present chapter has shown, such accounts cannot fully do justice to the highly complex ways in which Byron interacted with his audiences. Paradoxically, what makes the communication in Byron’s works often feel so intimate is the very fact that they exclude certain readerships. By signalling (either in the poem itself or in the annotations) that part of the message is not directed at, and comprehensible to, each and every reader, the works create a sense of privileged intimacy with those readers who can grasp the veiled meaning and gives uninitiated readers the impression that they are being allowed to eavesdrop on clandestine communication. Part of the appeal of Byron’s works to the general, uninitiated reading public was not that he straightforwardly revealed any secrets to them but that they seemingly overheard him convey these secrets to the “knowing ones”, as he liked to call them. For the greatest majority of readers, Byron’s works were not characterised by the revelatory but by the tantalisingly half-revelatory. The works were rendered ambiguous. They contain the public enactment of private communication, situated somewhere between autobiography and pose. To achieve a sense of intimacy with the general readership, Byron thus made explicit that he was withholding certain pieces of information from them, which, however, partly destroyed this very intimacy again. Hence, the ambiguity of such annotations lies not only in the fact that they have different meanings for different readerships and that they seem to be both private and public but also in the fact that they serve two contradictory functions with respect to one and the same audience: they both forge and sever a bond with the general reading public.

As outlined above, there were also cases in which Byron completely veiled the fact that he was conveying further meanings to a group of insiders (e.g. in the annotation about Coleridge’s Christabel). In these instances, the sense of community and intimacy was, of course, only created with respect to the initiated readers; the uninitiated remained oblivious of the fact that the passage even had a further import and readership(s).

Forging (or severing) a bond with certain readerships was, of course, not the only purpose that these annotations served. As we have seen, functions could range from covert advertising to teasing friends, but the two most important ones were the interconnected functions of self-presentation and social networking. Byron depicts himself as a man who knows classical Greek as well as modern flash, who moves in the highest and lowest circles, who has seen everything from the plains of Troy to the gambling dens of St. James’s. This combination of very disparate fields of knowledge, experience, and social circles sets Byron apart from virtually all other poets of his time and also from the greatest majority of readers. The annotations further flaunt Byron’s (alleged) exceptionality by creating an air of mystery around him and by feeding into his continuous game of self-revelation and self-concealment, teasing the reading public with the possible disclosure of insider information but never making good on that promise. The annotations’ frequent references to Byron’s friends and acquaintances also make explicit that his works do not exist in a vacuum but are informed by political, social, legal, and commercial considerations, and involve various ‘stakeholders’ besides poet, publisher, “gentle reader! and / Still gentler purchaser!” (Don Juan 1.221; cf. McGann, “Byron and ‘the Truth in Masquerade’” 195). They remind readers that these works had real-life repercussions. A compliment in them could make and a taunt could break another’s career; they could get the printer arrested, make the publisher rich enough to move to Albemarle Street, and immortalise friends (and enemies) in print.178 Through such social networking annotations, Byron could oblige his acquaintances179 and, at the same time, serve his self-presentation as grateful friend, generous patron, adventurous rake, and member of high society.

Annotations of the kind that was discussed in this chapter often work by creatively subverting the genre conventions of xenographic annotation. They openly violate the principles of straightforwardness and of being directly relevant to an elucidation of the annotated passage. They veil pieces of knowledge from most readers or explicitly refuse to explain while openly teasing the poet’s audience with the information they will not disclose. They are usually extremely digressive and are primarily concerned with socio-pragmatic rather than intratextual functions. As places of social networking, they appropriate the function of other paratexts – dedications and acknowledgments – but often ingeniously deviate from the rather conventionalised expressions of gratitude that are usually found in these paratexts.

3.3 Mimicking Manuscript Comments in Byron: The Printer’s Devil ‘Corrects’ the Text

In contrast to Pope, who attributes many of his annotations to other (real or fictional) people, Byron uses only two fictional annotator personas throughout his works: the irreverent European ‘editor’ of The Giaour (who may or may not be identified with Byron himself, see chapter above) and the printer’s devil who appears four times in The Waltz, Beppo, and Don Juan. In the four latter cases, Byron presents his own (printed) notes as manuscript comments written by the printer’s apprentice or errand boy. These notes hence constitute a special case of self-annotation: they do not mimic printed xenographic annotations that would appear in a published scholarly edition but rather imitate handwritten comments inserted in a manuscript or proof during the composition and publication process.

Given readers’ basic knowledge about book publishing (i.e. that such handwritten comments would not be reproduced in the published version of a work), they are, of course, able to grasp that Byron rather than the real printer’s apprentice is the author of these notes. However, they are also able to temporarily suspend their disbelief to focus on the alleged dialogue between the apprentice as the ‘writer’ of the note and the speaker (and/or the author) of the poem.

Though three of the four notes signed by the printer’s devil in Byron’s œuvre claim that the main text contains a factual or typographical error, the ambiguity of whether it is the annotation or the poem that is correct remains in the background. Rather, this ambiguity is used as a means to an end: what is at stake in these cases is not the ‘correctness’ of the annotated passage but the satirical, ironical, or political elements that the ‘rectifying’ annotation can add to the main text.

As I will show, in the three works in which Byron uses the printer’s devil as an annotator, this persona performs quite different functions. In The Waltz, the devil’s note allows factual contradictions to remain unresolved within the poem and adds a remark that wavers (on Byron’s side, not the devil’s) between irony and self-irony as well as attack and self-defence. In Beppo, the annotation is used to create a ‘milder’ form of Romantic irony by pitting two different voices against each other instead of having one and the same voice undermine itself. And in Don Juan, Byron employs the printer’s devil’s notes to explain his own jokes without detracting from their humour and, in the case of one of the notes, as an extremely efficient way of activating his readers’ background knowledge.

Before discussing Byron’s literary use of the printer’s devil in detail, I will briefly explain what real printer’s devils did and why this made them perfect annotator personas. I will also provide a short overview of earlier examples of the printer’s devil as ‘annotator’ in order to show to what extent Byron’s use of the printer’s devil is indebted to a literary convention and to what extent he also creatively transforms and expands this convention.

3.3.1 The Real Printer’s Devil: Corrector or Mere Errand Boy?

What exactly is the joke behind using the printer’s devil as an annotatorial figure? Was it because printer’s devils had, in reality, no right to correct the text and were mainly employed for menial tasks? In this case, Byron’s notes would derive their humour from the fact that a young, naive, and most likely error-prone worker is depicted as forgetting his place and raising important questions about the meaning of certain passages, while also ‘correcting’ one of the era’s most successful poets. Or was it because (sensible as well as nonsensical) objections and corrections by the printer’s devil were all-too-real and something that most authors had experienced at some point of their career? In other words, are the notes funny because they conjure up a completely unrealistic scenario or because they mimic actual notes by printer’s devils that authors would sometimes find in their manuscripts and proofs? Evidence on this issue is quite inconclusive and contradictory, but a closer look at the function and reputation of the actual printer’s devil shows why this character lends itself well to being turned into an ‘annotator’.

The printer’s devil was, first of all, the lowliest worker in a printer’s office. The OED defines him as a “young assistant (sometimes the youngest apprentice) in a printing office” (“devil, n.” def. 8.a.). John Johnson in his Typographia: Or, The Printers’ Instructor (1824) explains that the printer’s devil is the “Errand-Boy of a Printing-house” (J. Johnson 653; cf. also Hansard 925). According to William Savage’s A Dictionary of the Art of Printing (1841), the devils “make the fires, sweep the rooms, assist in the warehouse, and go on errands” (Savage 196), and a certain ‘W. B.’ in A Familiar Letter to Sam Foote (ca. 1770) explains that their business “consists in carrying Proof-Sheets to Authors and Correctors, and waiting on Compositors and Press-men” (W. B. 6). It appears by this that proof-reading was usually carried out by a corrector (sometimes also called ‘reader’), who was by far superior to the printer’s devil: “No proof-sheet […] ought to be put to press, until it has been carefully read and revised by an experienced Reader” (Hansard 749, original emphasis).180 Similarly, Johann Caspar Müller in his Wohlmeynender Unterricht bey der Unterweisung eines Setzer- und Drucker-Knabens (1740) advises that a corrector should revise everything himself and not entrust the reading of the proofs to the apprentice boys (cf. Müller 111). However, Robert Bisset, in his novel Modern Literature (1804), also presents the printer’s devil as an aspiring professional rather than a mere errand boy:

He takes up one of two courses, or both, aspires at being a compositor, or a reader [i.e. editor/corrector]. In such occupations, if tolerably sharp, he acquires a much better education than many professed men of letters; he becomes acquainted with spelling, and even receives an insight into higher parts of grammar[.] (Bisset 152)

It also appears that printer’s devils were sometimes in charge of setting the types. Ridiculing the so-called Cockney school, John Gibson Lockhart claims that “they know no more about the spirit of these divine beings, than the poor printer’s devils, whose fingers are wearied with setting together the types” (Lockhart, Peter’s Letters to His Kinsfolk 2: 223). Some texts even explicitly link printer’s devils to proof-reading. In his study of eighteenth-century newspaper printing offices, Karl Tilman Winkler observes:

Die Lehrjungen lasen auch Korrektur, ohne jedoch die Satzform zu verbessern. […] [Die Lehrlinge nahmen] häufig die Funktion von Springern wahr, die, soweit es ihr bereits erlerntes Können und die gewonnene Fertigkeit erlaubten, immer da eingesetzt wurden, wo der routinemäßige Ablauf es erforderte. (K. T. Winkler 128–29)181

Furthermore, a review in The London Literary Gazette (no. 350, 4 Oct. 1823) – after complaining about the number of typographical errors in a book – argues that the reviewed work is “a sore warning against […] publishing without a printer’s devil to correct the errors of the manuscript” (“A Visit to Milan” 631). Likewise, the preface to the anonymously published satire The Churchiliad (1761) depicts a printer’s devil who

takes the liberty to look over my [the author’s] shoulder. Now this, without any breach of decorum, may be allow’d; for we very often take the liberty, to leave the spelling and pointing of a whole piece to these Midwives of the muses, as Mr. [Samuel] Foote [in The Author, a Comedy] calls them. (The Churchiliad iv–v, original emphasis)182

In his review of William Henry Ireland’s poem Neglected Genius in the Monthly Review (vol. 70, Feb. 1813), Byron himself also associates the printer’s devil with proof-reading. After having ridiculed Ireland for calling Horace Walpole “Sir Horace” in his notes, Byron wonders “at the malicious fun of the printer’s devil in permitting it to stand, for he certainly knew better” (Byron, “Review of Neglected Genius” 205, original emphasis). Murray’s remark to Byron about Jane Waldie’s Sketches Descriptive of Italy in the Years 1816 and 1817 also suggests that printer’s devils were the go-to address for making sense of authors’ manuscripts: “she sent the MSS written in so cursed a hand that neither I nor any other person could decypher it […] [I sent] it to the printers [sic] Devil – […] he made it out” (Murray 344). Furthermore, in his Modern Dunciad (1814), George Daniel facetiously suggests that authors blame the devils for their own errors: “SIR JOHN’s own bulls were – errors of the press; / And lest upon his back the rod should fall, / The printer’s devils were to blame for all” (Daniel 46). One last remark (though not explicitly mentioning printer’s devils) is perhaps the most illuminating with respect to Byron’s use of this persona as an annotator: when advising correctors on what to do when they notice a mistake in an author’s manuscript, Henry Morgan’s A Dictionary of Terms Used in Printing (1863) explains:

although no corrector of the press can be required to do more than follow his copy, that is faithfully adhere to the original, yet he should point out such imperfections or mistakes by underlining the faulty sentence, and marking “query” (?) in the margin, thus drawing the author’s attentions to the part, and removing the responsibility from himself. (Morgan 115, original emphasis)

Such “queries” are found in two of Byron’s annotations ascribed to the printer’s devil.

This brief overview of the rather contradictory information that we receive on printer’s devils paints them as young, inexperienced, lowly workers who were nevertheless often employed as correctors and who some works (Churchiliad and Memoirs of a Printer’s Devil) characterise as curious and even a bit impish.183 All of these features make them perfect models for a naive, inquisitive, and sometimes slightly mischievous annotator persona who prides himself on detecting errors (or ironically pretending to detect errors?) in his author’s texts.

3.3.2 The Printer’s Devil as ‘Annotator’ – A Brief History

The connection between errors in a text and the devil (in this case: the real one, not the printer’s) had already been established by the fifteenth century. Medieval scribes “disclaimed responsibility for the errors in the manuscripts they had to rush to produce” and instead blamed the devil Titivillus, who, they claimed, “had tempted them to err” (Drogin 18–19).184 However, it is unclear whether writers around 1800 were aware of this tradition since, after the dawning of the Renaissance, the concept of Titivillus was soon forgotten (cf. Drogin 19).

The practice of having a fictional printer’s devil sign annotations seems to have begun in the 1780s; the earliest example I could find appears in John Almon’s satiric poem “A Familiar Epistle” published in 1785. The main text reads: “But shall I tell thee how I heard / A Bishop, with a sapient beard, / This folly [i.e. avarice] once deride?” (Almon 121). The annotation, while pretending to correct the annotated text, in fact introduces an attack against bishops:

By your leave, Master Editor, here must be some mistake in this place. The doctrine you speak of, could not come from a Bishop: not because they are not contented with little; not because they are not unsolicitous of pomp and power; not because they are not wholly free from avarice, but because they none of them wear beards. Printer’s Devil. (Almon 121n, original emphasis)

This ridicule of bishops, thinly disguised as a correction, is not at all connected to the subject matter of the poem, in which the speaker facetiously and good-humouredly urges an old friend to remember their youthful follies and get drunk with him to forget the sorrows of old age. The printer’s devil’s ‘detection’ of a mistake in the main text, hence, allows Almond to introduce a satirical digression (and, at the same time, to partly distance himself from it by attributing it to the devil), which would have seemed like an alien element if it had been included in the main text. Thus, by ‘correcting’ the poem, the printer’s devil adds a joke that is unrelated to the poem but nevertheless chimes in with the buoyant and even childish mood of the poem.

Another characteristic example of an annotation attributed to a printer’s devil can be found in the satire Little Odes to Great Folks (1808), written by a ‘Pindar Minimus’. In a footnote, the annotator ‘Sextus Scriblerus’ explains that he “would seriously advise him [Lord Erskine] to practice on the dumb-belles” (Pindar Minimus 62, original emphasis). The last two words of the note are again annotated as follows: “Is not this a mistake in orthography? – Printer’s Devil” (ibid.). The bawdy pun drawing on the difference between ‘dumb-bells’ vs. ‘dumb-belles’, which might have been easily overlooked otherwise, is emphasised by the devil’s seemingly naive and innocent note.

It is unknown whether Byron knew Almon’s poem or Little Odes to Great Folks, but he was well-acquainted with William Gifford’s The Baviad and The Mæviad, which contain two (three in the revised edition of 1797) annotations signed by the printer’s devil. Two of them introduce puns (cf. Gifford, The Baviad, and Mæviad viii; 128); the other one is a garrulous and pedantic note, which corrects the word ‘shoes’ to ‘slippers’ and contemplates the meaning of the term ‘accommodated’ (cf. 38).

As a whole, in Byron’s time annotations attributed to the printer’s devil seem to have had two (often connected) uses: (1) pretending to have spotted a typographical error in the annotated text, thereby drawing attention to, or introducing, puns, and (2) seemingly contradicting or correcting the main text while actually supporting its satiric thrust or introducing jokes related or unrelated to the text.185

3.3.3 The Waltz: Reinforcing and Disowning the Satirical Attack

The first time the printer’s devil appears in Byron’s œuvre is in the anonymously published The Waltz (1813). In this satire, the annotated passage reads “Blest was the time Waltz chose for her debut; / The Court, the R––t, like herself were new” (Waltz 161–62) and is followed by this annotation:

An anachronism – Waltz, and the battle of Austerlitz, are before said to have opened the ball together – the Bard means (if he means any thing), Waltz was not so much in vogue till the R––t attained the acme of his popularity. Waltz, the Comet, Whiskers, and the new Government, illuminated heaven and earth, in all their glory, much about the same time: of these the Comet only has disappeared; the other three continue to astonish us still. PRINTER’S DEVIL. (Waltz 162n; CPW 3: 401)

The printer’s devil makes us aware of an (easily overlooked) ambiguity in the poem, namely the fact that it presents two contradictory dates for the introduction of waltzing into England: the annotated lines 161–62 suggest the year 1811 (when the Prince of Wales became Regent), whereas the lines “She came – Waltz came – and with her certain sets / Of true dispatches, and as true Gazettes; / Then flamed of Austerlitz the blest dispatch” suggest 1805 (67–69). Since Byron added the annotation only in the first proof (cf. editor’s n in CPW 3: 401), it is possible that he spotted (or was made aware of) this contradiction within the poem while revising the text. If the note appended to this passage had been unsigned (and, consequently, attributed to either the speaker of the passage or the poem’s author), one would wonder why the speaker or author chose to point out a ‘mistake’ in his own text rather than correct it before publishing. Hence, by shifting the responsibility for the note to a fictional annotator who is not identical with the speaker or author of the poem, the two passages in the main text can remain as they are and serve as anchors for a note that performs several (slightly contradictory) functions.

First of all, the annotation introduces satirical elements that are not explicitly mentioned in the annotated passage itself. Thus, the fictional commentator reinforces and expands the attack of the text by ‘correcting’ a minor issue in the poem. This is here achieved by the devil explaining that “Waltz was not so much in vogue till the R––t attained the acme of his popularity”, which insinuates that the Regent’s popularity had already waned since. Further, the incongruous list “Waltz, the Comet, Whiskers, and the new Government” (which to some extent reminds one of the famous “Puffs, powders, patches, bibles, billet-doux” in Pope’s The Rape of the Lock (1.118)), reduces Lord Liverpool’s government to the level of a new, indecent dance, a short-lived natural phenomenon, and a fashion for beards. The comment that waltz, whiskers, and the government “continue to astonish us” adds a further point to the attack.

The devil’s doubt whether the Bard “means any thing” can be read in different ways, which to some extent depend on who we assume to be speaking in the annotated passage (for a similar case, also see chapter The preface for The Waltz claims that the poem was penned by Horace Hornem – a clearly fictional persona,186 who explains that his poem is a praise of waltzing and that he composed it “with the aid of W. F. Esq. and a few hints from Dr. B. (whose recitations I attend, and am monstrous fond of Master B.’s manner of delivering his father’s late successful D. L. Address)” (CPW 3: 23). ‘W. F.’ refers to William Fitzgerald, whom Byron ridicules at the very beginning of EBSR, while ‘Dr. B.’ refers to William Busby, who was enraged that his proposal for a poem to be delivered at the re-opening of Drury Lane Theatre had been rejected in favour of Byron, who had not even handed in a proposal. The preface thus links the fictional author of the poem to two of Byron’s enemies.

It would, however, be wrong to make the fictional Hornem responsible for all sentiments expressed in the poem. Rather, the main text consists of single-voiced and double-voiced passages. In the former, the anonymous satirist (who may very well be identified with Byron) is writing straightforward and obvious satire, e.g. “New wars, because the old succeed so well, / That most survivors envy those who fell” (169–70). In the latter, readers hear both the naive fictional Hornem seriously praising waltzing and the present political order and the actual author being ironic, e.g. “We bless thee [Germany] still – for George the Third is left! / Of kings the best – and last, not least in worth, / For graciously begetting George the Fourth” (44–46).187 The confusion of voices in the poem is further complicated by the fact that one annotation seems to be ‘written’ by Hornem, while the rest can be attributed to the anonymous satirist. (Hornem’s annotation is the one for line 34: “My Latin is all forgotten […], but I bought my title-page motto of a Catholic priest”; CPW 3: 396.) The fiction that the work was written by Hornem is hence not sustained throughout the work. The passage annotated by the printer’s devil occurs at a point when the alleged authorship of the poem shifts from Hornem to the anonymous satirist.

Thus, it remains unclear whether the printer’s devil’s doubt that the Bard “means any thing” refers to Hornem or to the anonymous satirist himself. If it refers to the former, the devil’s depreciating remark adds to the attack that is perpetrated by the actual anonymous author against his naive and enthusiastic fictional speaker Hornem. If it refers to the anonymous satirist, it can either merely be a humorous, self-ironic remark on the side of Byron or an attempt to partly dissociate himself from the dangerous satirical attacks in the poem.188 In any case, the devil’s “if he means any thing” creates distance between the real author and what is expressed in the annotated passage, either by pretending that he is unaccountable for its sentiment because it is still Hornem who is speaking or by insinuating that the author himself may not take his own satire entirely serious. Furthermore, the printer’s devil’s potential jibe against the author of the poem to some extent also serves to draw a clear line between Byron and his fictional ‘annotator’, which, as a consequence, distances Byron from the devil’s ridicule of the Regent and government.

What is at stake in this annotation is not the correctness of the main text, i.e. whether waltz was introduced to England in 1805 or in 1811. Rather, the note strengthens the political attack of the passage (by introducing yet another jibe at the government) and playfully dissociates the real satirist from the attack. This ambiguity can never be wholly resolved and must be analysed with respect to different readerships: the added criticism of the Regent and Liverpool’s government caters to readers who share the satirist’s political opinions, while possible critics of this passage may be appeased by the fact that it is unclear whether the sentiments expressed in it can really be attributed to the actual author himself. Like some of the annotations in which Byron tries to forestall anticipated objections to his poems (see chapters 3.4.2 and 3.4.3), this note hence combines attack and defence.

3.3.4 Beppo: Romantic Irony

In Beppo, readers are confronted with a particularly creative printer’s devil. The annotated stanza of the main text reads:

Eve of the land which still is Paradise!
Italian Beauty! didst thou not inspire
Raphael, who died in thy embrace, and vies
With all we know of heaven, or can desire
In what he hath bequeathed us? In what Guise,
Though flashing from the fervour of the Lyre,
Would Words describe thy past and present Glow,
While yet Canova can create below? (Beppo 46)

Instead of being content with annotating the poem in prose, the printer’s devil continues it in verse at the bottom of the page,189 using the same rhyme scheme as the poem but hexameter rather than pentameter:

(In talking thus, the writer, more especially
Of women, would be understood to say,
He speaks as a spectator, not officially,
And always, reader, in a modest way;
Perhaps, too, in no very great degree shall he
Appear to have offended in this lay,
Since, as all know, without the sex, our sonnets
Would seem unfinish’d, like their untrimm’d bonnets.)
(Signed) PRINTER’S DEVIL. (CPW 4: 487–88)

The printer’s devil’s annotation (anchored in the last line of the stanza) here anticipates an objection, namely that the passage (like the whole poem) is too bawdy and that it is based on Byron’s own amatory adventures in Venice. (The devil here very likely has in mind readers’ eagerness to identify Byron’s heroes and narrators with the author.) The accusation of bawdiness is all the more understandable when one takes into account the annotation provided for “Raphael, who died in thy embrace”, which appears a few lines earlier. This annotation reads: “For the received accounts of the cause of Raphael’s death see his Lives” (CPW 4: 487). For those in the know, this note makes a half-hidden reference to Giorgio Vasari’s The Lives of the Artists, where it is asserted that Raphael died after having “pursued his amorous pleasures beyond all moderation” (Vasari 336).

A large part of the joke consists in the printer’s devil attempt to deny both what is obvious from this context, namely that the passage is indeed erotic, and what Byron’s friends knew (and other contemporaries would have guessed), i.e. that “the writer” was far from being a mere “spectator” of Venetian love intrigues. With regard to its socio-pragmatic dimension, the note thus draws attention to the possible autobiographical background by pretending to disavow it. As is the case in many self-annotations (see chapters; 2.4; 3.4.2; and 3.4.3), the feigned defence gives way to an ostentatious indulgence in the very interpretation it claims to deny.

As far as the intratextual dimension of the note is concerned, the contrast between the tone of the note and that of the annotated passage is striking (for the same phenomenon in CHP and The Giaour, see chapters and The unbridled enthusiasm of the stanza is undercut by the facetious note, especially by its concluding couplet. These two lines raise the question whether Byron’s praise of an “Italian Beauty” is simply a poetic convention that has to be adhered to lest the poem be “unfinish’d, like their untrimm’d bonnets”. In Don Juan, such passages of Romantic irony, in which a concept or feeling is first introduced in earnest only to be ridiculed later, will be integrated in the poem itself. In Beppo, however, there is no juxtaposition of the serious and the comical within the poem because the poem itself is facetious and bawdy almost throughout.190 Like stanza 46, the few other serious stanzas that can be found in the poem (e.g. 13–14) are integrated in such a way that they are not undermined by the surrounding facetious passages. As a consequence, in Beppo, the only jarring juxtaposition of pathos and facetiousness appears in the interplay between poem and note in stanza 46.

Like stanza 51 of Beppo,191 the apposition of stanza 46 and its annotation can be seen as a metatextual element, introducing a hint of literary criticism as well as self-criticism into the work. The serious stanza is followed by a comical one at the bottom of the page, which re-enacts on a much smaller scale the fact that the (mainly) serious CHP and oriental tales were succeeded by the (mainly) comical Beppo. Thus, CHP, the oriental tales, and Beppo taken together present the unsettling case of an author who combines two diametrically opposite styles in his œuvre, which is now mirrored in the stark tonal contrast between stanza 46 and its annotation. This can be interpreted as a signal by Byron to his readers that he would either (1) from now on reject his earlier manner and only produce comical poetry, or (2) that this brief combination of the serious and the facetious was only a foretaste and that he would attempt to integrate the two more often and more radically than in this passage.192 When readers opened the first two cantos of Don Juan a year later, they immediately knew that the latter was the case.

In contrast to the previous and the next example, here the presence of the printer’s devil is not really needed in order for to the annotation to ‘work’. It could just as well have remained unsigned. Nevertheless, the fact that the note is attributed to the printer’s devil rather than the speaker of the lines or the author of the poem means two things. First, the humorousness of the apparently defensive note is emphasised by being put into the mouth of a persona that – by contemporary literary convention – is either a naive fool or an ironic wag.193 Secondly, the devil’s presence means that the two different tones that are found in the stanza and the note can be attributed to two ostensibly different speakers. This is what distinguishes the present case of Romantic irony from those in Don Juan, where usually (but by no means always) one and the same speaker first introduces and then subverts a concept.

3.3.5 Don Juan: Activating Background Knowledge

In Don Juan, the printer’s devil is put to the use that would have been most familiar to Byron’s contemporaries, namely to introduce or draw attention to puns. There are two examples of such notes in the poem, but the one appearing at 10.15 will not be discussed here because it is rather straightforward and simple.194 The other annotation in Don Juan which is signed by the printer’s devil offers a great deal more matter for analysis. It is appended to the first stanza of the ninth canto:

Oh, Wellington! (or ‘Villainton’ – for Fame
Sounds the heroic syllables both ways;
France could not even conquer your great name,
But punn’d it down to this facetious phrase –
Beating or beaten she will laugh the same),
You have obtain’d great pensions and much praise:
Glory like yours should any dare gainsay,
Humanity would rise, and thunder ‘Nay!’ (Don Juan 9.1)

Yet again, the printer’s devil pretends to have spotted an error in the text and comments: “Query, Ney? – Printer’s Devil” (CPW 5: 737). Modern readers may wonder why the printer’s devil here proposes a simple spelling variant, but Byron’s contemporaries would immediately have recognised a reference to Michel Ney, one of Napoleon’s most important commanders. After Napoleon had been banished to Elba, Ney declared for the Bourbons and, on Napoleon’s escape and landing in France, marched against him. However, Ney quickly reverted to Napoleon, led parts of the emperor’s troops in the battles of Quatre-Bras and Waterloo, and was executed on 7 December 1815 for his treason against the Bourbons. Depending on whether we read the stanza with or without the annotation referring to Ney, the last line can be paraphrased in different ways.

Without the annotation that insinuates that “Nay” should read “Ney”, the line simply asserts that “Humanity would rise, and thunder ‘No – Wellington’s glory cannot/should not be questioned’”. Given the context of the line, i.e. the pun on Wellington’s name as “Villainton”, the emphasis on the fact that he has gained “great pensions”, and the stanzas following it (in which, among other things, Wellington is called the “the best of cut–throats” (Don Juan 9.4)), the irony of this line would, however, still be fairly obvious.

When trying to take into account the annotation, it does not become entirely clear at first sight what exactly the reference to Ney adds to the meaning of the passage (McGann offers no explanation in his notes in CPW 5: 737). Ceryl Giuliano suggests that it is meant to allude to Ney’s betrayal of the Bourbon king (cf. Giuliano 70), but the paraphrase “Glory like yours should any dare gainsay, / Humanity would rise, and thunder ‘Ney betrayed his king!’” is far from convincing, since it introduces an issue that is quite unrelated to the attack on Wellington and even undermines the satire against the Duke by criticising one of his main opponents.

Rather, the annotation refers to Wellington’s involvement (or lack thereof) in Ney’s execution, which will become apparent by reconstructing the controversy surrounding what the Encyclopædia Britannica calls “one of the most divisive trials in French history” (“Michel Ney, Duke d’Elchingen” n.pag.). In theory, Article 12 of the Convention of St. Cloud (3 July 1815, settling the terms for the capitulation of Paris) granted amnesty to everyone in Paris who was still resisting the Bourbons and their British and Prussian Allies in exchange for their surrender – regardless of their former stations, actions and political opinions.195 During his trial for high treason in late 1815, Ney referred to this article and demanded to be acquitted. This was refused on the grounds that the treaty had only been signed by Prussian and British leaders rather than Louis XVIII and his new government themselves and that the French king, hence, was not bound by it. Ney wrote an appeal to Wellington (as one of the persons in whose name the treaty was set up), in which he entreated him to “cause an end to be put, with regards to me, to all criminal procedure” (“The Marshal to the Ambassadors” 239).196 Wellington argued that he had no right to interfere with Louis XVIII’s decision, and Ney was executed.

Wellington’s decision was heavily criticised by many British Whigs and Radicals who argued that he had betrayed Ney’s trust. Two days before Ney’s execution, Lord Holland, a prominent figure in the Whig opposition, wrote to Lord Kinnaird (brother of Byron’s close friend Douglas Kinnaird):

Technical arguments may possibly be urged on both sides; and though they appear to me all in favour of Ney’s claim, it is not on them I lay the stress, but on the obvious and practical aspect of the transaction, as it must strike impartial men and posterity. […] A promise of security was held out to the inhabitants of Paris; they surrendered their town; and while Wellington and the Allies were still really in possession of it, Labedoyere was executed, and Ney was tried for political opinions and conduct. Even of subsequent executions (and I fear there will be many), it will be said the Allies delivered over their authority in Paris to a French government, without exacting an observance of the stipulations on which they originally acquired it. (qtd. in Whishaw 140–41)

On 24 December 1815, the Hunt brothers’ radical newspaper The Examiner published an indignant commentary on Ney’s execution, attacking Wellington for his role in the trial:

[I]t is quite ludicrous in our eyes to pretend that Marshal Ney was properly tried. […] Did not Lord Wellington clearly evince, that he thought himself, with whatever officiousness, acting all along on behalf of the Bourbons [when setting up the treaty]; and did not the Bourbons follow him up like their avant-couriers and enter into all the gates he had opened for them? The Noble Duke [Wellington] indeed has since been applied to for his opinion on the subject, – he has been applied to for interpretation of an article, which in common with the rest was to be construed, in case of doubt, in favour of the French; and he has given it against the French. (“Gloomy State of Things in France” 817)

It is with this knowledge about contemporary opinions on Wellington’s involvement in Ney’s trial in mind that the printer’s devil’s annotation has to be read.197 The most likely paraphrase of the last two lines of Don Juan 9.1 would hence be: “Glory like yours should any dare gainsay, / Humanity would rise, and thunder ‘Yes, given his role in Ney’s trial, you are right in questioning Wellington’s glory’”.198

Another possible (related) paraphrase arises against the background that in 1821 (two years prior to the publication of the ninth canto of Don Juan) Ney’s son Michel Louis Félix Ney wanted to challenge Wellington to a duel (cf. H. Arbuthnot 1: 118).199 In Italy, where Byron lived in 1821, there were even rumours that “Wellington had been killed in a duel with the son of Marshal Ney” (Cochran (ed.) in Guiccioli 643). Given the open antagonism of Ney’s son towards Wellington, another paraphrase of the lines could hence use “Ney!” as an appellative and read: “Glory like yours should any dare gainsay, / Humanity would rise, and thunder [ironically] ‘Michel Louis Félix Ney! (How dare you question Wellington’s glory?)’.”

In the poem itself, the Nay-Ney pun may have been easily overlooked by readers, especially since the canto was published eight years after Ney’s execution. The annotation consisting of only four words (“Query, Ney? – Printer’s Devil”), however, suffices to conjure up a whole range of topical associations in contemporary readers’ minds and, thereby, adds to the satirical thrust of the poem. Without having to spell out another point in his attack against Wellington, Byron trusts that his readers’ background knowledge about the controversy surrounding Ney’s trial will supply the rest. The annotation thus makes obvious what is only implied in the poem itself. The printer’s devil here serves as an extremely efficient means of broadening the range of Byron’s satire. Given the political implications of the note, it would most likely have especially resonated with the radical target readers of Byron’s new publisher John Hunt rather than the more conservative readership of his old publisher John Murray.


The three examples of the printer’s devil as an annotator in The Waltz, Beppo, and Don Juan attest to the creativity with which this persona was employed by Byron.200 In The Waltz and Don Juan it is used for political satire, while in Beppo it introduces a self-ironic, meta-literary remark. The main strategy employed in the example in The Waltz is the ambiguation of who is speaking in the annotated passage, which, in turn, ambiguates the function of the annotation: it both reinforces the satire against the Prince Regent and Lord Liverpool, and partly distances Byron from this satire. In Beppo – as in CHP and The Giaour before it – we are confronted with a passionate and serious section in the poem that is juxtaposed with an irreverent note. The comical distance between the actual meaning of the passage and what the printer’s devil (seriously or ironically) asserts about it adds a great deal to the humour of the note. This passage in Beppo – in just sixteen lines (eight in the poem, eight in the note) – encapsulates not one but two of the main turning points of Byron’s career. The annotated stanza harks back to his older works like CHP and the oriental tales, which were almost entirely serious and lofty (for exceptions, see chapter 3.2.1). The note itself exemplifies Byron’s (re)turn to comedy in Beppo. And the combination of solemn passage and facetious note (while also looking back to older examples of this in CHP and The Giaour) anticipates the Romantic irony of Don Juan. In Don Juan itself, the printer’s devil’s annotation on the Nay/Ney pun shows how well this persona lends itself to strategic ambiguation and to ingeniously activating readers’ background knowledge.201 Furthermore, if the annotation were unsigned, much of the humour of the passage would be lost. Being attributed to the printer’s devil, the note presents us with a little apprentice who is either clever and mischievous enough to tease out the author’s satirical thrust or who (the author might ironically claim) ineptly misinterprets a harmless passage that meant absolutely no offence to Wellington. If unsigned, however, the note would simply leave readers with the stale aftertaste of just having witnessed an author explain his own joke.

3.4 Mimicking Evaluative Notes in Byron: Justification, Mock-Justification, and No Justification

Throughout his works, Byron draws attention to the fact that he is “quite sensitive to the presence of his many readers – indeed, his acts of writing are equally acts of imagining them into existence, and then talking with them” (McGann, “Private Poetry, Public Deception” 120). As a consequence, his poems are “intrinsically conversational in [their] manner of anticipating and incorporating recalcitrant, external material and dissonant opinion” (Stabler, “Byron, Conversation and Discord” 121). One way in which Byron imagines, and reacts to, readers’ reception of his poems is by appending notes that anticipate possible criticism and address actual objections. As shown in chapter 2.4, such evaluative annotations have a long history: from Antiquity onwards, editors included notes in which they assess, defend, and sometimes also condemn their authors; and Pope’s evaluative annotations on the Dunciads show how creatively and ambiguously self-annotators appropriated this discourse tradition.

In the two examples from Pope discussed above, the satirist uses a variety of strategies that make it difficult to decide whether these notes constitute genuine defences of the poem or whether they rather revel in its offensiveness. In Byron’s evaluative annotations, we can observe three main strategies: (1) straightforward justifications, (2) defences that seem half-hearted at best and can more or less be seen as mock-justifications, and in one case (3) the fabrication of an alleged objection by a reader and Byron’s facetious refusal to defend himself against this (invented) objection.202 Thus, the ambiguity of Byron’s evaluative notes stems less from the question whether they are genuine or ironic defences. Rather, chapter 3.4.1 presents a note that retrospectively ambiguates the whole poem by correcting a factual mistake in it, while chapter 3.4.2 shows how Byron relies on readers’ background knowledge to detect the fact that his ‘defence’ actually aggravates the offensiveness of the poem. Chapter 3.4.3, then, discusses how Byron uses a deliberately nonsensical justification to both acknowledge and disavow his debt to another author, and chapter 3.4.4 shows how he uses an evaluative note to again ambiguate an entire poem, while also transforming a supposedly defensive annotation into an intertextual allusion to Pope’s Dunciads.

3.4.1 Genuine Defence: Poetic Licence and Retrospective Ambiguation in “Lachin Y Gair”

Byron’s preoccupation with facts and his “almost pedantic concern for truth” are notorious (Barton 16). For instance, enraged by his publisher Murray having doubts whether he was correct in having a Muslim character mention Cain, Byron retorted: “I don’t care one lump of Sugar for my poetry – but for my costume and my correctness on those points […] I will combat lustily” (BLJ 3: 165, original emphasis). Likewise, regarding the shipwreck scene in the second canto of Don Juan, Byron boasted that there “was not a single circumstance of it – not taken from fact” (BLJ 8: 186, original emphasis).203 As proud as Byron was whenever his own texts corresponded to this criterion of factuality, as contemptuous he was when those of others did not. This becomes clear from, for instance, “Paper I” in the notes on the second canto of CHP (2.73n). There, he mocks Sydney Owenson’s novel Woman, or Ida of Athens and requests the author

when she next borrows an Athenian heroine for her four volumes, to have the goodness to marry her to somebody more of a gentleman than a ‘Disdar Aga’, (who by the by is not an Aga) the most impolite of petty officers. (CPW 2: 199)

It is thus no surprise, then, that Byron tried to avoid similar ridicule by anxiously acknowledging when his works deviated from historical, cultural, or geographical fact.204 For instance, in an annotation on The Siege of Corinth, Byron admits that he took the poetic licence “to transplant the jackall from Asia” into Greece (Siege 1024n, CPW 3: 487),205 and in a note for The Island, he explains that the cave in which Christian and Neuha hide indeed exists but that he moved it to another island (cf. Island 3.122n, CPW 7: 146–47). These two examples, however, only revolve around very minor details in the respective works; the question whether these descriptions follow or deviate from fact has no consequence for readers’ interpretation of the texts as a whole.

In the case of the short poem “Lachin Y Gair” (included in Hours of Idleness) things lie differently. Here, the acknowledgement that the text deviates from historical fact has bearings on the meaning of the entire poem. “Lachin Y Gair” is concerned with the speaker’s nostalgia for his childhood in the Highlands; the fourth stanza of the poem celebrates his Jacobite ancestors:

‘Ill starred, though brave, did no visions foreboding,
Tell you that Fate had forsaken your cause?’
Ah! were you destin’d to die at Culloden,
Victory crown’d not your fall with applause[.] (“Lachin Y Gair” 25–28)

At this point in the poem, readers have no reason whatsoever to doubt that the speaker’s ancestors really died at the battle of Culloden. Quite on the contrary: the statement is even substantiated both in the poem and (initially at least) in the annotations. In the poem, this knowledge is presented as part of traditional folklore. Two stanzas earlier, the speaker remembers how

[o]n chieftains, long perish’d, my memory ponder’d,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
For Fancy was cheer’d, by traditional story,
Disclos’d by the natives of dark Loch na Garr. (“Lachin Y Gair” 11; 15–16)

A footnote for line 25 then supports these traditional tales with historical fact and suggests that the lines are not concerned with the ancestors of a fictional persona but with Byron’s own:

I allude here to my maternal ancestors, the ‘Gordons’, many of whom fought for the unfortunate Prince Charles, better known by the name of the Pretender. This branch was nearly allied by blood, as well as attachment, to the STEWARTS [sic]. (“Lachin Y Gair” 25n; CPW 1: 373)

This first annotation for the passage hence suggests that what is asserted in the poem, namely that the speaker’s (read: Byron’s) ancestors were Jacobites and died at the battle of Culloden, is accurate. However, the annotation for line 27 – and this is the annotation that I will focus on here – suddenly casts doubt on this: “Whether any perished in the Battle of Culloden, I am not certain; but as many fell in the insurrection, I have used the name of the principal action, ‘Pars pro toto’” (“Lachin Y Gair” 27n, CPW 1: 373).

Factuality and Decorum

On the most basic level, the juxtaposition of the annotated poetic passage (in combination with the note for line 25) and this annotation for line 27 is an attempt at finding a compromise between two competing forms of correctness, namely poetic decorum and historical accuracy. This compromise is mainly necessitated by Byron’s claim (in the note for line 25) that the passage indeed refers to his own family history. This autobiographical dimension is also hinted at in the headnote of the poem, which ends with the remark “near Lachin y Gair, I spent some of the early part of my life, the recollection of which, has given birth to the following Stanzas” (CPW 1: 103). Without this headnote and the annotation for line 25, one could just as well assume that one is reading the ponderings of a fictional speaker on his fictional ancestors. However, because Byron here introduces the criterion of historical and biographical accuracy, he remains bound by it for the rest of the work. As a consequence, some way has to be found to integrate the lofty style of the poem and the much less glorious facts that it is based on. In the case of “Lachin Y Gair”, this is achieved by relegating the latter to the paratext.

In the annotated section of the poem, the main concern clearly lies on decorum or, in other words, the avoidance of creating a mismatch between the style and the content of the lines. In the case of “Lachin Y Gair”, decorum is achieved not by adapting the diction of the poem to the events that are being described but the other way round, namely by turning the real historical events that the lines refer to into something that can be depicted in such a lofty manner. The celebratory, proud, and martial style of the passage is appropriate for the last and most famous battle of the Jacobite uprisings; using it in allusion to a minor skirmish (or even to surviving the rebellion) would seem rather bathetic. The events that are referred to in the passage thus have to be elevated in order to match its style. The diction is set; the facts are variable.

The annotation on line 27, then, anticipates that readers might object to this tampering with history, and it acknowledges that Byron’s ancestors did not die in the battle of Culloden.206 Without the note, Byron would have risked being accused of ignorance and careless research or an attempt to deliberately lie about his ancestors’ fate in order to portray them in a more glorious light.207 The annotation makes clear that this is not the case. It allows Byron to incorporate doubtful or inaccurate information in the poem while still complying with historical truth. The note is thus (unlike the ones that will be discussed below) an unequivocally sincere defence against objections that could be levelled at the poem. Put briefly, the poem transgresses against facts for the sake of decorum, while the rather bathetic note transgresses against decorum for the sake of facts.

The annotation for line 27 thus ambiguates the passage by creating two different versions of the same event, one in which the speaker’s ancestors died in the battle and one in which they did not. The juxtaposition of the passage and the note also leads to the co-presence of two different genres and two different tones: the poem is a celebratory apostrophe to the speaker’s ancestors, full of enthusiasm and pathos. The annotation, on the other hand, is a sceptical and self-consciousness antiquarian elucidation. Furthermore, the fact that the note explicitly names the rhetorical device used in the passage (Culloden as a ‘pars pro toto’ for the Jacobite uprisings as a whole) evinces expert knowledge that creates a stark contrast to the seemingly simple and folkloristic poem (which would later indeed become a popular folk song).

Enthusiasm vs. Distance

The ambiguities that result from the combination of poem and note cannot (and do not have to) be resolved. Rather, they contribute to a central aspect of “Lachin Y Gair” – an aspect which does not at all become apparent from the poem alone: the main speaker’s wavering between his longing for and, at the same time, his growing detachment from, his childhood in the Highlands. For this argument, it is essential to first ascertain who is actually speaking in which parts of “Lachin Y Gair”. As is shown below, I read lines 17–18 and 25–26 as spoken by the natives of Loch na Garr rather than by the main speaker of the poem. For one, this interpretation is based on lines 15–16, which seem to suggest that the lines following them are uttered by the natives. Furthermore, this reading explains why lines 17–18 and 25–26 are set off by quotation marks, which would not make sense if they were supposed to be expressed by the same speaker as the rest of the stanza. The annotation discussed here hence refers to lines that are part of the natives’ traditional tales (lines 25–26), while the rest of the stanza consists of the main speaker’s reaction to these tales.208

If we ignore the annotations and focus on the poem alone, the speaker appears to wholeheartedly subscribe to the tales related to him by the natives of Loch na Garr, both with respect to his family history and to more general beliefs, e.g. about the afterlife (cf. 19–20). Furthermore, without the annotations, there is no reason not to believe that lines 19–24 and 27–32 (those in which the speaker enthusiastically reacts to the folktales) are spoken by the adult speaker now living in England and remembering the stories told to him in his childhood. In other words, if we disregard the annotations, the adult speaker still appears to have a completely uncritical stance towards the natives’ tales. This changes once we also consider the footnotes.

Like the headnote to the poem, these footnotes are supposedly provided by the adult speaker, i.e. Byron (or a partly fictionalised version of him) at the time of the publication of Hours of Idleness. In contrast to the poem, these notes contain two instances in which the adult speaker and annotator distances himself from the world of his childhood. One is the note on Culloden, the other an annotation explaining that the proper pronunciation of the word “plaid” is “(according to the Scotch) […] shown by the Orthography” (“Lachin Y Gair” 10n; CPW 1: 373). While the speaker felt Scottish himself in his childhood, the Scotch now appear to be a people that the speaker is not longer a part of.

Focussing again on the annotation on Culloden, this distancing can mean two things for the interplay between the note and the annotated passage. On the one hand, the lines in the poem in which the speaker is reacting to the natives’ tales may be attributed to the adult speaker who enthusiastically remembers the stories of his childhood in the poem but then counterbalances his uncritical reaction by appending the sceptical note on line 27.209 This would suggest that the adult speaker is ambivalent towards the folktales; he is still fascinated by them but knows that they are not based on historical fact. On the other hand, one may also read the interaction between poem and note as an interaction between the young and the old, present speaker (or, put differently, the experiencing and the narrating I). In this case, lines 19–24 and 27–32 in the poem would provide readers with a glimpse of the young speaker immediately reacting to the tales he has just heard. The adult speaker would then use the annotation to implicitly criticise the naivety and fervour of his younger self that is shown in these lines. In this case, the speaker’s distancing from the sentiments of the poem would be more pronounced. The possibilities of who is uttering which lines, depending on whether or not we take into account the annotations, can be summarised as follows:

Table 1
Table 1
Speakers & Ambiguity in “Lachin Y Gair”

Regardless of whether the adult or the young version of the speaker is uttering the lines reacting to the natives’ tales, the annotation for line 27 shows that the speaker feels more critical towards the world of his childhood than becomes apparent from the poem. The poem itself is a rather simple and nostalgic celebration of the speaker’s Scottish heritage; in combination with the notes, however, “Lachin Y Gair” also becomes a work about his coming of age and the loss of his childhood illusions. The annotation on Culloden (as well as the one on “plaid”) thus adds a whole new layer of meaning to the brief poem by suggesting that the speaker’s attitude towards the convictions of his childhood is not as unquestioningly positive as it appears from the poem itself.

The note also shows that “Lachin Y Gair” makes it necessary to qualify Chatsiou’s statement that “[i]n [Byron’s] early works paratext was, to a large extent, subordinate to the poetic narrative, supporting and justifying its purposes and objectives” (Chatsiou, “Lord Byron” 643). Thanks to his annotations, even Byron’s earliest works contain traces of the self-subversiveness and self-contradiction that would come to characterise The Giaour and – to an even greater extent – his master-piece Don Juan.

3.4.2 Don Juan, Castlereagh’s Suicide, and Feigned Piety

In the next note discussed here, Byron only pretends to genuinely address possible objections against his poem while actually revelling in the impudence of the annotated passage and the note’s half-hearted defence. The annotation appears at the very beginning of a passage that ridicules the late Viscount Castlereagh’s notorious rhetorical incompetence.210 His speeches are described as an “odd string of words […], / Which none divine, and every one obeys” (Don Juan 9.49), and Castlereagh himself as a “sad inexplicable beast of prey” and “monstrous Hieroglyphic” (9.50). In comparison to what Byron elsewhere wrote about Castlereagh (both before and after the politician’s death), these descriptions seem almost mild.211 What is most offensive in this passage, given that Castlereagh had committed suicide by cutting his throat, is the depiction of him as a “Spout / Of blood and water” (9.50).212 Before his suicide, this expression might have been read as a reference to him spilling others’ (instead of his own) blood, e.g. during his suppression of the Irish Rebellion in 1798. The additional reading that is conferred upon the image after his suicide, however, seems much more plausible given that liquids emanate from spouts. Nevertheless, the annotation at first sight seems to forestall the interpretation that this expression in any way alludes to the manner of Castlereagh’s death: “This was written long before the suicide of that person” (Don Juan 9.49n; CPW 5: 740).

The information given in the annotation seems to be correct, even though the claim that the stanzas were written long before Castlereagh’s suicide is clearly an overstatement. Rather, it appears that Byron was just finishing his draft of the ninth canto when he learned of the incident; this is also what McGann suggests in his commentary on the annotation (cf. editor’s n in CPW 5: 740).213 The expression “Spout / Of blood and water” appears exactly like this in the manuscript; there are no traces that Byron first wrote something else and then, after he had learnt of Castlereagh’s suicide, introduced this allusion to it (cf. Cochran, Facsimile of Prisoner of Chillon and Don Juan IX 120–21). The annotation does not appear in the manuscript, which again supports the claim that Byron indeed wrote the stanza while Castlereagh was alive and then later added the annotation after word about his death reached him.

Contemporary readers did, of course, not know this. They only knew that the stanza was published a whole year after the Foreign Secretary’s suicide. A reviewer in The Literary Gazette (no. 346, Sept. 1823), quite understandably, even openly accuses Byron of lying in the note:

We are told a falsehood, by way of apology to an indignant world, for the unmanly way he has spoken of Lord Castlereagh; and the falsehood is, that the expressions were used before that nobleman’s deplorable death. This is baser than using the expressions. (“Review of Don Juan, Cantos 9–11” 563)

Thus, given the long time between the composition of the stanzas and their publication, it is almost impossible to interpret the annotation as a straightforward defence of having included the attack against Castlereagh after his suicide and as an attempt to disavow the more conceivable (and tactless) interpretation of the “Spout / Of Blood and Water”. First of all, it is not clear what the “This” in “This was written long before the suicide of that person” refers to. Since the annotation is anchored at the very beginning of the passage – in stanza 49, ten lines before the risky expression in stanza 50 – it can, theoretically, be read as only referring to the lines that ridicule Castlereagh’s speeches rather than the lines that might be interpreted as alluding to his suicide. The anchoring of the annotation and the referential ambiguity of “This” hence leave open whether the whole passage on Castlereagh or only the more innocent portion of it was written before his death. Contemporary readers, who did not possess the information on the composition history of canto nine that we do, could understand it either way. More importantly, however, even if readers assumed that Byron indeed wrote the entire passage before Castlereagh’s suicide, his defence is still extremely lackadaisical.

The annotation pretends that the passage exists in two different time frames: that of the composition of the stanzas before Castlereagh’s death and that of the publication of the poem a year later. The note either appears to suggest that (1) the lines, once written, could not be changed or that, (2) even though they could have been altered, they did not have to be because Byron’s original intention at the time of composition mattered (i.e. to satirise a living politician), not the context in which readers would approach these lines after Castlereagh’s death. Of course, neither argument is particularly plausible. Readers knew that there was both enough time to rewrite or omit the passage and that Byron could not expect of them to completely erase the memory of Castlereagh’s suicide from their minds when approaching these lines.214

There is hence a stark contrast between the apparent and the ulterior function of the annotation. The information that it provides about the composition history of the lines is deliberately unconvincing as a defence. Instead of mitigating the insult of the lines and of vindicating the stanzas, the note actually draws attention to, and revels in, their offensiveness. The half-hearted annotation dismisses readers’ possible objections against the passage as overly squeamish. What the annotation signals is: ‘Yes, I know that I could and should have changed it, but I deliberately left it as it is.’ The annotation hence serves as yet another jibe at Castlereagh’s memory and at those who feel the (in Byron’s eyes unjustified) need to protect it.

3.4.3 Plagiarism and (Dis)Owning Literary Sources in Marino Faliero

In chapter, I discussed an annotation in which Byron attempts (among other things) to forestall accusations of having plagiarised from Coleridge’s Christabel (cf. Siege 476n; CPW 3: 486). A similar note – this time regarding Lady Morgan’s Italy –appears in the appendix for The Two Foscari (cf. CPW 6: 222). Such precautions were necessary, given the eagerness of literary reviews to discuss potential cases of unoriginality and theft (see chapter While Byron’s notes on Coleridge and Lady Morgan are sincere defences against such charges, the annotation that will be discussed here only pretends to be trying to forestall accusations of plagiarism while actually poking fun at readers who might bring them forward. The annotated passage occurs towards the end of Marino Faliero, shortly before the protagonist’s execution:

ONE OF THE TEN: Thou tremblest, Faliero!

DOGE: ‘Tis with age, then. (Marino Faliero 5.3.7–8)

The annotation reads as follows:

This was the actual reply of Bailli, maire of Paris, to a Frenchman who made him the same reproach on his way to execution, in the earliest part of their revolution. I find in reading over (since the completion of this tragedy), for the first time these six years, “Venice Preserved,” a similar reply on a different occasion by Renault, and other coincidences arising from the subject. I need hardly remind the gentlest reader, that such coincidences must be accidental, from the very facility of their detection by reference to so popular a play on the stage and in the closet as Otway’s chef d’œuvre. (Marino Faliero 5.3.8n; CPW 4: 561)

The note suggests two sources for Faliero’s proud retort: a historical one, which was deliberately used by Byron, and a literary one, which he (allegedly) employed unconsciously. The reference to the historical source is rather straightforward (though Jean Sylvain Bailly was actually killed during the terror of 1793, not at the very beginning of the revolution), and the anecdote seems to have been fairly well-known and is, for instance, recorded in the Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure (Aug. 1795, cf. “Afflicting Incidents” 119).

The reference to the second source is more difficult to unravel. At the beginning (“I find in reading over …”), the line of argument is still convincing. It appears that Byron finished writing Marino Faliero without thinking about Otway’s Venice Preserved (1682) and only afterwards discovered that Faliero’s answer echoes Renault’s and that there are several other “coincidences arising from the subject” (given that both plays are concerned with a failed plot to overturn the state in the Republic of Venice).215 Up to this point, the note still seems to be a sincere attempt to forestall unwarranted accusations of plagiarism. The last sentence of the note, however, makes clear that this is not the case; the sudden twist is already hinted at in the ironic address to the “gentlest reader”. What follows is not a protestation that Faliero’s retort was exclusively inspired by the incident revolving around the mayor of Paris, or that the quote from Otway lingered somewhere hidden in Byron’s mind and was used by him unconsciously, or that it is just yet another proof that great minds think alike. Instead, Byron argues that the allusion must be accidental because it is so easy to detect. This ironic argument is markedly nonsensical because it jumbles together two contradictory defences that, each by itself, would indeed be convincing. One can either not be accused of plagiarising if one is unaware that someone else has already written something similar216 or if one can rely on the fact that the source one is alluding to is so well-known that readers will immediately know that the words are not one’s own. (For instance, no one could be accused of stealing when including “To be, or not to be” in a text without identifying the source.) What Byron’s note does, in combining these two arguments, is similar to saying: ‘I included the words “To be, or not to be” in my text, but it is not plagiarism because I did not know that Shakespeare also wrote this and because I knew that everyone is so familiar with these words by Shakespeare that all readers would immediately identify the reference’. The two defences hence preclude each other because one of them presupposes that Byron believed that everyone would be able to detect the unmarked reference, which, in turn, would mean that he was indeed aware of the source and that there is nothing “accidental” in the similarity between Marino Faliero and Venice Preserved.

A contributing factor to the markedness of this mock-defence is the fact that the annotation suggests that – as in the note on Castlereagh’s suicide discussed above – the text could have been changed to avoid accusations but that it was deliberately kept as it is. If we, for a moment, credit Byron’s unconvincing explanation that he was unaware of the parallels between Marino Faliero and Venice Preserved and that he detected them after composing but before publishing the work, he could easily have forestalled charges of plagiarism. For instance, he could simply have drawn readers’ attention to the similarities between the two plays in the preface to his tragedy. As in the annotation on Castlereagh in Don Juan, this note does not so much defend the text but instead even draws attention to a problematic element in it that the author deliberately left unaltered. It starts out as a seemingly genuine defence but quickly turns into a mock-defence.

But what functions, then, does this mock-defensive note serve? First of all, Byron points readers to the historical and literary sources of the line and, to a lesser extent, the influence of Venice Preserved on his tragedy as a whole. In doing so, the note indeed tries to forestall accusations of plagiarism because it acknowledges the debt to Otway, though in a very roundabout, ironic way, which downplays the importance of Byron’s literary model. That Otway’s tragedy was definitely on Byron’s mind even before he started to compose his own work (rather than after having finished it, as the note claims) is shown by his correspondence. Byron was already thinking about Marino Faliero in connection with Venice Preserved in 1817, i.e. four years prior to the publication of his tragedy (cf. BLJ 5: 203; Murray 206). While he was just finishing Marino Faliero, he yet again referred to Otway in a letter to his publisher Murray and Ugo Foscolo: “Shakespeare and Otway have a million advantages over me […] let me then preserve the only one which I could possibly have – that – of having been at Venice – and entered into the local Spirit of it” (BLJ 7: 194). The nonsensical (and, based on this evidence, disingenuous) defence in the note thus allows Byron to shift the focus away from the literary source itself to the manner in which he avows it.

Hence, the annotation – both by its ironic tone with regard to plagiarism and the fact that it only refers to Otway in the context of one specific line rather than the tragedy as a whole – allows Byron to characterise Marino Faliero not as an imitation of Otway’s tragedy but as a historical play based on facts and scholarly works.217 The focus on history and factuality is emphasised by the lengthy preface and the numerous appendices in which Byron compares and evaluates different accounts of Marino Faliero’s downfall by various historians and justifies why he chose to adhere to a certain version of the story. The tragedy is thus framed by historical documents, and its literary source is relegated to a brief, puzzling, and ironic endnote. On a broader scale, the annotation pokes fun at the contemporary discourse on plagiarism. It can be read both as a parody on notes that offer similarly unconvincing explanations and as a satire on readers’ and reviewers’ fondness for detecting literary thefts.

3.4.4 Inventing Reception, or: Byron Imitating the Dunciads

The last note that I will discuss here shows Byron attempting to mimic one main strategy of Pope’s Dunciads. In his satire, Pope frequently records the reactions of his enemies to the poem and its notes, and reprints (sometimes faithfully, sometimes not) their often-whimsical corrections. For instance, an annotation at the beginning of the second book reads:

Edmund Curl [sic] stood in the pillory at Charing-cross, in March 1727–8. Mr. Curl loudly complained of this note, as an untruth; protesting ‘that he stood in the pillory, not in March, but in February.’ And of another on ver. 152. saying, ‘he was not tossed in a Blanket, but a Rug.’ Curliad, duodecimo, 1729, p. 19, 25. (Dunciad 2.3n, original emphasis)

Both objections can indeed be found in Curll’s Curliad, and Pope uses them to ridicule his enemy even further: they prove that Curll – the notorious publisher of pirate copies and pornography – has no moral compass whatsoever. He is not ashamed of the misdeeds for which he had to stand in the pillory and was tossed in a rug but is outraged when Pope gets minor details about these punishments wrong.

In one of his annotations on EBSR, Byron – at first sight – pursues a very similar strategy of including the reaction of one of his enemies in order to expand (and justify) his attack against him. The note is appended to a passage on historian Henry Hallam:

And classic HALLAM, much renowned for Greek.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
Known be thy name! unbounded be thy sway!
Thy HOLLAND’S banquets shall each toil repay;
While grateful Britain yields the praise she owes,
To HOLLAND’S hirelings, and to Learning’s foes.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
See honest HALLAM lay aside his fork,
Resume his pen, review his Lordship’s work,
And grateful for the dainties on his plate,
Declare his landlord can at least translate! (EBSR 513; 518–21; 548–51)

Byron’s annotation reads as follows (the second paragraph was only added in the second edition of EBSR):

Mr. Hallam reviewed Payne Knight’s Taste, and was exceedingly severe on some Greek verses therein: it was not discovered that the lines were Pindar’s till the press rendered it impossible to cancel the critique, which still stands an everlasting monument of Hallam’s ingenuity.

The said Hallam is incensed, because he is falsely accused, seeing that he never dineth at Holland House. – If this be true, I am sorry – not for having said so, but on his account, as I understand his Lordship’s feasts are preferable to his compositions. – If he did not review Lord Holland’s performance, I am glad, because it must have been painful to read, and irksome to praise it. If Mr. Hallam will tell me who did review it, the real name shall find a place in the text, provided nevertheless the said name be of two orthodox musical syllables, and will come into the verse: till then, Hallam must stand for want of a better. (EBSR 513n; CPW 1: 408)

The beginning of the second paragraph at first sight seems to closely imitate Pope (the archaic verb form “dineth” even directly evokes Scriblerus’s style in the Dunciads). Byron’s annotation insinuates that Hallam is more concerned with a minor mistake in the satire – the claim that he dines at Holland House – and less with the major accusations regarding his sycophancy and scholarly incompetence.

The problem is that, unlike Curll in the case of the Dunciads, Hallam never seems to have reacted to EBSR.218 Neither Thomas Moore, nor E. H. Coleridge, nor Jerome McGann in their respective editions of Byron’s poetry mention any evidence that Hallam was “incensed” at the lines and note (cf. T. Moore, Works of Byron 7: 255; E. H. Coleridge Works of Byron 1: 337; McGann, CPW 1: 408–09). And William Bates (who offers a rather long discussion of Byron and Hallam’s relationship, and meticulously cites articles about the fact that Hallam was not the reviewer of Payne Knight’s Taste) does not provide any proof that Hallam reacted to EBSR but simply seems to take Byron’s word for it: “Hallam, himself, was wroth at the imputation, and remonstrated with the satirist” (Bates 432). I have searched everywhere in contemporary reviews, newspaper articles, memoirs, and letters but could not find any evidence that Hallam tried to correct Byron’s misstatements. All of this gives reason to suspect that Byron simply invented a reaction that best served his satirical purposes and that could be used to evoke the Dunciads. Hence, the note is an intertextual reference rather than a record of the poem’s reception or of Byron’s flippant reaction to this reception. Due to the enduring popularity of the Dunciads in Byron’s age (see chapter 2.1.3), it is probable that many readers would indeed have understood the allusion.

The fact that the annotation is most likely based on a lie has several ramifications for EBSR as a whole. Like the mock-defensive notes about Castlereagh and Byron’s ‘non-plagiarism’ from Otway’s Venice Preserved (see above), the present annotation does not serve as a justification or qualification of the satire but rather enhances its offensiveness – by fabricating Hallam’s reaction, by refusing to apologise for having falsely claimed that Hallam praises Lord Holland in exchange for dinner invitations, and by continuing to ridicule Hallam and Holland. Like Pope’s manipulated annotations (chapter 2.2.2), this note raises questions about the trustworthiness of Byron’s notes on EBSR as a whole and about the factual basis of the entire satire. Does Byron attack actual dunces for their real misdeeds and shortcomings, or does he take more or less inoffensive people and (with a considerable disregard for truth) turn them into duncical types that have little to do with their real-life models?219

Yet again – like Pope’s manipulated annotations and evaluative notes that can be both read as sincere defences and as increasing the offensiveness of the annotated passages (chapter 2.4) –, this note also casts doubt on the motivation of Byron’s satire as well as on his authorial ethos. Is Byron a justified satirist who feels compelled to save art and scholarship from incompetent hacks, or does he merely enjoy randomly attacking other writers? The doubt about Byron’s ‘noble objectives’ is further intensified by the fact that, unlike Pope’s annotations, Byron’s provide little justification for his satire against the victims of EBSR. As shown above, some of his notes assert that he knows next to nothing about the people he is attacking (see the “Interlude”, p. 219ff.), and the present note even claims that Byron’s victims are interchangeable because he will gladly insert the name of the real reviewer of Lord Holland’s poetry into the poem “provided […] the said name be of two orthodox musical syllables”.

Though Byron’s EBSR is much more light-hearted (and much less elaborate) than the Dunciads, both works make readers wonder whether their authors are moral satirists or simply witty libellers. EBSR contains many references to the Dunciads (see p. 44 above), but it is in this note that Byron comes closest to imitating his great idol Pope, even if he has to make up Hallam’s reaction in order to be able to do so.


As in Pope’s evaluative notes, one can find a considerable degree of playfulness and equivocality in Byron’s – both in imagining readers’ reception of his poems and in employing apparently defensive notes for ulterior, even diametrically opposite, functions than the one they appear to have. In “Lachin Y Gair”, the annotated passage (and poem) itself is not ambiguous at all. It only becomes so when the note directly contradicts the main text and suggests that the adult speaker’s sentiments about his childhood in the Highlands are much more ambivalent than the poem itself suggests. The corrective note hence retrospectively ambiguates the whole work. In Byron’s annotation on Castlereagh, the supposedly defensive function of the note is counteracted by its deliberate implausibility, based on contemporary readers’ knowledge that Byron had more than enough time to simply alter or omit the offensive passage. And in his note about Otway’s Venice Preserved, Byron uses an intentionally convoluted and nonsensical defence to both acknowledge and facetiously downplay his debt to Otway, as well as to mock readers’ eagerness to detect plagiarisms. In the notes on Castlereagh and Otway, Byron thus turns his supposed qualifications into further attacks; he pretends to take readers’ possible objections seriously only to ridicule them. Lastly, in EBSR, Byron’s fabrication of Hallam’s reaction serves to ambiguate the entire poem and transforms the supposedly corrective annotation into an intertextual allusion to Pope’s Dunciads. These four notes are hence yet another testament to how playfully Byron evokes, transforms, violates, and subverts the conventions of xenographic annotations. His elaborate strategies in these notes are not primarily designed to either genuinely defend his poems or to parody such defensive annotations. Rather, his authorial notes change the meaning of his works (“Lachin Y Gair”), emphasise certain important aspects of them (Don Juan, Marino Faliero, EBSR), and also serve Byron’s self-presentation as a sceptic who does not get carried away by folklore but recognises the importance of historical facts, as a witty and provocative satirist, and as a self-confident writer who ridicules readers who demand justifications for dangerous passages and who are eager to accuse authors of plagiarism.


However, it is only fair to point out that, despite the fashion for self-annotation, not all authors in the Romantic age appended notes to their own works. For instance, John Hookham Frere’s Whistlecraft and Giovanni Battista Casti’s Novelle Galanti – both of which served as models for Byron’s ottava rima poems – do not contain annotations. Likewise, Charles Churchill’s highly successful and influential Rosciad was not annotated either. Most prominently perhaps, neither Austen nor Keats (apart from one footnote at the end of Lamia) made use of self-annotations in their works.


For instance, Moore recorded that he spent an entire month writing the annotations on his The Loves of the Angels and his Fables for the Holy Alliance (cf. T. Moore, Journal of Thomas Moore 2: 619).


Romantic works with authorial notes which are not discussed here because they are not directly relevant for Byron can be found in my collection of self-annotated works between 1300 and 1900 in the ‘External Appendix’ (; for a brief introduction to this collection, see p. 391). Prominent examples include Lady Morgan’s The Wild Irish Girl, Thomas Love Peacock Nightmare Abbey, Maria Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent, Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater, Erasmus Darwin’s Botanic Garden, and Charlotte Smith’s Elegiac Sonnets, The Emigrants, and Beachy Head. Furthermore, even though Byron was very familiar with them, Robert Burns’s Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect are not discussed here because they are only rather sparsely annotated. For Burns’s (and other eighteenth-century Scottish poets’) self-annotations, see R. Brown, “Self‐Curation, Self‐Editing and Audience Construction by Eighteenth‐Century Scots Vernacular Poets”.


Chatsiou, for example, argues that “[c]ontemporary readers did not like the notes”, but the only evidence she cites is William Cobbett’s claim that annotations are rarely read (for Cobbett, see below) (Chatsiou, “Lord Byron” 641).


Elsewhere in this study, I also briefly discuss how other Romantic authors (Madame de Staël, Walter Scott, and the Lake Poets) used self-annotations for social networking, see p. 313 n below.


The outline that follows is based on my ‘External Appendix’ which lists more than 1100 self-annotated literary works published between 1300 and 1900:


It should, however, be remembered that ‘only’ about half of the English poems published during this time span featured self-annotations in the first place (see p. 78 above).


To name only a few examples (referring to the number of pages in the respective first or at least very early editions): in Scott’s The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), the poem spans 190 pages and the endnotes 120 pages; in Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage I–II (1812), the poem takes up 113 pages and the endnotes 66 pages; in Shelley’s Queen Mab (1813), the poem covers 121 pages and the endnotes 115 pages; and in Scott’s The Lord of the Isles (1815), the poem spans 256 pages and the endnotes 164 pages.


It should, however, be noted that many xenographic commentaries in the Romantic age feature a rather overt annotatorial voice (e.g. ‘I believe that’, ‘I have learnt from the local peasants that …’). One prominent example of this approach is William Lisle Bowles 1806 edition of Pope. Hence, some Romantic self-annotators made their notes appear more neutral and objective than even scholarly annotators.


The annotations were written by Samuel Henley (who translated Beckford’s French text into English) and were endorsed by the author himself. Neither Henley’s nor Beckford’s name was mentioned in the first English edition of 1786. For more information on the collaboration between Beckford and Henley, see A. Watson, Romantic Marginality 33–38.


For a detailed discussion of Southey’s annotatorial practice see A. Watson, “Marginal Imprints”; Chatsiou, “Robert Southey’s ‘Old Curiosity-Shops’”; and Simmons, “‘Useful and Wasteful Both’”. While the annotations for Scott’s Waverly novels have received considerable scholarly attention, secondary literature about Scott’s notes for his poems is scarce. Among the few exceptions are Gillian Hughes’s “Pickling Virgil?” and John H. Alexander’s chapter “On the Notes” in his The Lay of the Last Minstrel: Three Essays. Scott’s Waverly novels were only very sparsely annotated when they first appeared; the author added the extensive commentary only before publishing the magnum opus edition of his novels (1829–1833). Since the annotations for the Waverly novels were published after Byron’s death, they will not be discussed here. For studies on them, see Mayer, “The Internal Machinery Displayed”; Mayer, “The Illogical Status of Novelistic Discourse”; Mayer, “Authors and Readers”; and Mayer, “Scott’s Editing”. Charlotte Smith’s notes also fall under this category, but they were most likely not known to Byron. For her self-annotations, see Reinfandt, “The Textures of Romanticism”; Labbe, Charlotte Smith 44–59; and Labbe, “‘Transplanted into more congenial soil’”.


For studies of Shelley’s notes on Queen Mab, see Erchinger, “Science, Footnotes and the Margins of Poetry”; and Morton, “The Notes to Queen Mab and Shelley’s Spinozism”. The annotations for Moore’s satirical poems are discussed in the 2003 edition of The Satires of Thomas Moore (ed. Jane Moore).


For a study of Wordsworth’s annotations, see Broadhead, “Framing Dialect in the 1800 Lyrical Ballads”.


For example, when describing the destroyed chapel on the battlefield of Morat, he simply glosses over the fact that he takes the description not from his own memory of the place but verbatim from the published letters of Friedrich von Matthisson (cf. CHP 3.63n; CPW 2: 307). This is the most blatant case of plagiarism that I could find in Byron’s self-annotations. Samuel Rogers had lent Byron his copy of the English translation of Matthisson’s letters (Letters Written from Various Parts of the Continent, Between the Years 1785 and 1794, published 1799), and Byron took the book with him when he went to Switzerland (cf. BLJ 5: 87–88). It is likely that these letters also made Byron and John Polidori search for the epitaph of Julia Alpinula because Polidori notes in his diary entry for 24 May 1816: “In the walls of the church we sought in vain for the inscription that Mathison [sic] mentions to Julia Alpinula” (Polidori 94). The epitaph is referred to in CHP 3.66n; CPW 2: 308. Matthisson’s letter to Friedrich von Köpken, dated 30 October 1787, both provides Julia Alpinula’s epitaph and story as well as a detailed description of the field of Morat that Byron copies without mentioning his source (cf. Matthisson 97–98; 100).

In the case of The Giaour, Byron only mentions his sources at the very end of the work, without citing particular pages or even chapters: “For the contents of some of the notes I am indebted partly to D’Herbelot, and partly to […] the ‘Caliph Vathek’” (Giaour 1334n; CPW 3: 423, for a discussion of this note, see chapter


Byron’s tendency to tease his readers with hints at autobiographical revelations in his notes will be discussed in chapter 3.2.1.


The notes for Rousseau’s Nouvelle Héloïse are discussed in detail by Yannick Séité in Du livre au lire; for an analysis of the ironic notes, see especially 306–12. According to Séité, Rousseau strategically used the notes to prevent readers from becoming too emotionally involved in the narrative (cf. Séité 325). The numerous negative reactions to Rousseau’s facetious notes (quoted by Séité 306–07) sound very similar to reviewers’ complaints about Byron’s annotations for The Giaour.


This practice may also have been partly inspired by two of Byron’s non-literary models of self-annotation, i.e. Pierre Bayle’s Dictionnaire historique et critique and Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon was fond of interrupting a highly dramatic passage in the main text with a pedantic or facetious discussion of bare facts (cf. Cosgrove 148). Likewise, Peter L. Thorslev argues that in their notes both Bayle and Byron sometimes take a critical stance towards their own work and its topics: “they seem like Olympian deities to ‘laugh down from the heights’ on the subjects of their discourse” (Thorslev 70). The influence of Bayle’s notes on Byron is also discussed by Pomarè in chapter 2 of her study Byron and the Discourses of History.


For instance, one review of Vathek in the English Review (vol. 8, Sep. 1786) notes that “[i]n an age that has abounded so much with literary impostures, we confess that we cannot see the propriety of such a palpable fiction. The general strain of the work, and the many allusions to modern authors, indicate the work to be an [sic] European” (“Review of Vathek” 181).


See, for example, reviews of Thomas Little in The British Critic (vol. 18, Nov. 1801), The Poetical Register (vol. 1, Jan. 1802), and The Critical Review (vol. 34, Feb. 1802).


In the cancelled preface to Don Juan, Byron facetiously suggests that the poem should be read as an example of editorial fiction. The beginning of his preface quotes Wordsworth who asked his readers to imagine that his poem “The Thorn” is spoken by the Captain of a small trading vessel. Afterwards, Byron requests his own readers “to suppose by a like exertion of Imagination – that the following epic Narrative is told by a Spanish Gentleman[.] […] Having supposed as much of this as the utter impossibility of such a supposition will admit – the reader is requested to extend his supposed power of supposing so far as to conceive that the dedication to Mr. Southey – & several stanzas of the poem itself are interpolated by the English Editor” (Preface to Don Juan Canto 1; CPW 5: 81).


For a comprehensive collection of (Pre)Romantic attitudes to annotations (most of them, however, to xenographic annotations), see Edson, “Introduction” xxi–xxiii.


“One could have mentioned the famous poet Southey, a great pedestrian” (my translation).


The ‘tonal mismatch’ between the poem and some of the notes in CHP is discussed in chapter


“In some instances, the text seems to be written only for the sake of the notes. […] The music breathing from her face would not have necessitated a note in a German poem – maybe not in an English one either – had the author not wanted to make a polite bow to Madame de Staël” (my translation, original emphasis). For a discussion of this note, see chapter


A bound quarto copy of the first two cantos of CHP cost 50 shillings, half the weekly income of a gentleman (cf. O’Connell 86–87; St. Clair, “The Impact of Byron’s Writings” 4).


See, for example, the pirated Don Juan, An Exact Copy from the Quarto Edition, published in 1819 by J. Onwhyn, which cost four shillings. The compilers of commonplace books (i.e. personal collections of extracts from different texts), however, frequently did not transcribe the annotations (cf. Colclough 129). Nevertheless, commonplacers sometimes “physically cut the poem out of the periodical to stick in their album” (Throsby 237); it is not inconceivable that they sometimes also cut out particularly interesting or witty annotations.


A German translation of Byron’s The GiaourDer Gjaur: Bruchstück einer Türkischen Erzählung (1820) – even included notes in which the translator comments on, and corrects, Byron’s annotations. The 1828 French translation Le giaour, fragmens d’un conte turc faithfully includes all of Byron’s notes. A Swedish and a Dutch translation – Giaourn, fragment af en turkisk bërattelse (1830) and De Gjouwer (1840) – reproduce many of Byron’s notes faithfully, shorten others, and add xenographic notes by the translators. (The four translations mentioned here are listed as De Gjouwer, Der Gjaur, Le Giaour, and Giaourn in the Works Cited.)


Contemporary publishers apparently did not see these long quotes as copyright violations that might endanger their sales numbers. The Quarterly Review, which was owned by Byron’s publisher Murray, for example, contains many long quotes in its review of Byron’s The Giaour (“Review of The Giaour”, vol. 10, no. 20, Jan. 1814).


However, commenting on the annotations in Gray’s The Bard, Percival Stockdale suggests that readers usually alternate between poem and notes even in a first reading: by the presence of footnotes, “the flow, and warmth of the reader’s mind, […] is checked and broken, whenever He is obliged to consult the Anecdotes at the bottom of the page: and after this interruption He recovers not, even with the assistance of the Notes, that ardour which a well-written Poem should not only inspire, but maintain” (Stockdale 104–05; also see Edson, “Introduction” xxii).


One of the most famous and often-quoted discussions of annotations in the eighteenth century, found in Johnson’s preface to his Shakespeare edition (1765), makes a similar point: “Notes are often necessary, but they are necessary evils. Let him that is yet unacquainted with the powers of Shakespeare, and who desires to feel the highest pleasure that the drama can give, read every play, from the first scene to the last, with utter negligence of all his commentators. When his fancy is once on the wing, let it not stoop at correction or explanation. […] And when the pleasures of novelty have ceased, let him attempt exactness, and read the commentators. Particular passages are cleared by notes, but the general effect of the work is weakened. The mind is refrigerated by interruption; the thoughts are diverted from the principal subject; the reader is weary, he suspects not why; and at last throws away the book which he has too diligently studied” (S. Johnson, Johnson on Shakespeare 111).

Johnson’s preface is often cited as an argument against reading (and writing) annotations altogether. However, it seems that it rather offers advice on how and when to use them (cf. also Edson, “Introduction” xxi).


For general studies of Romantic autobiography, see Treadwell passim; Stelzig (ed.), Romantic Autobiography in England; and Stelzig, “Autobiography and Confession”.


In the preface to the first and second cantos, however, the identity between Byron and the Childe is likewise both suggested and denied. It explains that “[t]he following poem was written, for the most part, amidst the scenes which it attempts to describe. It was begun in Albania; and the parts relative to Spain and Portugal were composed from the author’s observations in those countries. […] A fictitious character is introduced for the sake of giving some connection to the piece […]. It has been suggested to me by friends […] that in this fictitious character, ‘Childe Harold,’ I may incur the suspicion of having intended some real personage: this I beg leave, once for all, to disclaim – Harold is the child of imagination, for the purpose I have stated. In some very trivial particulars, and those merely local, there might be grounds for such a notion; but in the main points, I should hope, none whatever” (CPW 2: 3–4). In the addition to the preface for CHP I–II, Byron refers to the “‘vagrant Childe,’ (whom, notwithstanding many hints to the contrary, I still maintain to be a fictitious personage)”, without clarifying whether he himself included these hints in the work or whether he refers to readers and reviewers (mistakenly) hinting at the fact that Harold might be Byron’s alter ego (CPW 2: 5).


For another statement that denies the similarities between Byron and his characters or narrators before facetiously calling this very denial into question, see his unpublished letter to Blackwood’s Monthly Magazine (1820) (cf. CMP 90; 93).


“I question whether there ever lived a man who, without looking abroad for subjects excepting as they produced an effect on himself, has contrived to render long poems turning almost entirely upon the feelings, character, and emotions of the author” (W. Scott, Letters 4: 297). “Almost all characters from Harold to Alp Arselan are more or less Lord Byron himself” (W. Scott, Letters 4: 307–08).


Scott relates that he “was not much moved by the sort of scorn of the world which [Byron’s] first poems implied because I know it is a humour of mind which those whom fortune has spoild [sic] by indulgence or irritated by reverses are apt to assume and which a man of genius sometimes may be tempted to assume because it looks melancholy and gentlemanlike and becomes a bard as well as being desperately in love or very fond of the sun-rise tho he lies in bed till nine or anxious in recommending to others to catch cold by visiting old Abbies by moonlight which he never happend to see under the chaste moonbeam himself” (W. Scott, Letters 4: 300). The third canto of CHP, however, is not a pose; it “intimates a terrible state of mind” and raises fears that Byron might “end either in actual insanity or something equally frightful”, i.e. suicide (W Scott, Letters 4: 300).


Byron has “Child Harolded himself and Outlawd himself into too great a resemblance with the pictures of his imagination” (W. Scott, Letters 4: 234). Scott’s uncertainty whether the melancholic ‘Byron’ of the poems is a fashionable pose, a genuine manifestation of the author, or a fiction that has become reality, might, of course, also reflect a wish to tell each correspondent whatever Scott assumed he/she would like to hear. Even if this were the case, the fact that he possibly felt the need to take three different positions to cater to different correspondents’ preconceptions would still show that contemporary readers were unsure whether or not they could equate Byron and his characters.


“The whole of your misanthropy […] is humbug. You do not hate men, ‘no, nor woman neither,’ but you thought it would be a fine, interesting thing for a handsome young Lord to depict himself as a dark-souled, melancholy, morbid being, and you have done so, it must be admitted, with exceeding cleverness. In spite of all your pranks, (Beppo, &c. Don Juan included,) every boarding-school in the empire still contains many devout believers in the amazing misery of the black-haired, high-browed, blue-eyed, bare-throated, Lord Byron” (Lockhart, John Bull’s Letter to Lord Byron 80).


In 1821, for example, Byron himself told Moore that he had met a young American, who “did not take quite so much to me, from his having expected to meet a misanthropical gentleman, in wolf-skin breeches, and answering in fierce monosyllables, instead of a man of the world” (BLJ 8: 146). Likewise, a review of CHP III in The Portfolio, Political and Literary (vol. 1, no. 4, 23 Nov. 1816) argued that “[i]ndeed it is the real romance of his life, immeasurably more than the fabled one of his pen, which the public expects to find in his pages, and which not so much engages its sympathy, as piques its curiosity, and feeds thought and conversation” (“Review of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage III” 73).


Also see Angela Esterhammer’s definition of sincerity: it is the “correspondence between (inner) reality and (outward) appearance” (Esterhammer 101). Her perceptive observation that sincerity is “inimical to performativity” (102) and yet has to be performed, i.e. that the very attempt at publicly communicating one’s sincerity imperils this very sincerity, will be of particular relevance in chapter


As Anne Barton points out, Byron was notorious for his “almost pedantic concern for truth in his descriptions” and for his disdain for writers who got historical or cultural details wrong (Barton 16). One need only think of his comment on Wordsworth’s inaccurate description of a Turkish cemetery (“this is pure stuff”) or his annotation in CHP, requesting Sydney Owenson “to have the goodness to marry her [the heroine of her next novel] to somebody more of a gentleman than a ‘Disdar Aga’ (who by the by is not an Aga)” (BLJ 4: 325; CHP 2.73n, Paper I n; CPW 2: 199). He famously claimed to “hate things all fiction” and argued that reading the Iliad would give him “no delight” if he did not believe it to be the “truth of history (in the material facts) and of place” (BLJ 5: 203; 8: 22, original emphasis).

As might be expected, Byron was very fond of insisting on the cultural and historical correctness of his own poems. For instance, enraged by his publisher Murray’s doubts whether he was correct in having a Muslim character mention Cain in The Bride of Abydos, Byron retorted: “I don’t care one lump of Sugar for my poetry – but for my costume and my correctness on those points […] I will combat lustily” (BLJ 3: 165, original emphasis). He was similarly indignant when a reviewer argued that Conrad’s behaviour in The Corsair was unrealistic (cf. BLJ 4: 95; “Review of The Corsair”, Critical Review vol. 5, iss. 2, Feb. 1814, 144–145). In both of these cases Byron used self-annotations to affirm the truthfulness of his descriptions (cf. Bride of Abydos 2.204n; CPW 3: 440; Corsair 3.696n; CPW 3: 449).


For instance, Byron claimed that he “could not write upon any thing, without some personal experience and foundation” (BLJ 5: 14). Likewise, when Murray suggested that Byron should compose a poem about Jerusalem, he responded (perhaps with a tinge of irony): “how the devil should I write about Jerusalem – never having yet been there?” (BLJ 5: 139, original emphasis). Byron was proud of the first-hand knowledge that fed into his works and argued that it was the most important difference between him and other authors. He asserted, for example, that when writing about Venice his main advantage over Otway and Shakespeare was that “of having been at Venice – and enterd [sic] into the local Spirit of it” (BLJ 7: 194). He also claimed that The Bride of Abydos “is my story and my East – (& here I am venturing with no one to contend against – from having seen what my contemporaries must copy from the drawings of others only[)]” (BLJ 3: 168, original emphasis).


Even in the few cases in which Byron refers to written sources, he is usually decidedly unacademic and only cites the title of the work and the name of the author, giving neither the edition, nor the chapter, nor the page number. We also sometimes find information like “I quote from memory” (Island 3.334n; CPW 7: 148; cf. Don Juan 1.88n; CPW 5: 677) and the combination of bibliographical and biographical information as in “No. 31 of the Edinburgh Review (given to me the other day by the captain of an English frigate off Salamis)” (Hints from Horace 586var n; CPW 1: 438).

There are, of course, exceptions to Byron’s unscholarliness, e.g. the lengthy note at the end of The Corsair mentioned above, the appendices to Marino Faliero and The Two Foscari, and the detailed information on François de Bonnivard in a note for the “Sonnet on Chillon”. (However, the appendices to his two Venetian dramas and the note on Bonnivard are yet again framed by personal explanations, i.e. Byron’s observations on modern-day Venice and Chillon). That Byron could indeed be scholarly when he wanted to is shown in his exceedingly long note on Thomas Campbell’s mistakes in the introduction to Specimens of the British Poets and Francis Bacon’s blunders in his apophtegms (cf. Don Juan 5.147n; CPW 5: 710–13). Although Byron’s observations on Bacon are so pedantic as to border on the parodic, his journal entries and his letters to Murray about them suggest that he was serious in this note (cf. BLJ 8: 14; 8: 194).


For an unsuccessful attempt at determining the ‘sincerity’ of Byron’s works, see Philip Martin’s Byron: A Poet Before his Public, which, however, does not consider his self-annotations. Martin argues that Byron believed that the majority of his readers (especially from the middle class) “were incapable of recognizing literary distinctions” (37) and that they were “predominantly uninformed, or voluntarily undiscriminating” (39). For this reason, in all of his works before Beppo and Don Juan, Byron wrote deliberately bad poetry, only including here and there a few indications of his (in Martin’s opinion) ‘real’ opinion of his works. The tonal inconsistencies in CHP, for example, “betray[] Byron’s fundamental indifference towards his art and also evince[] an equal lack of regard for his readership” (26). Moreover, according to Martin, the oriental tales are written in a deliberately sensationalist, inept, and conventional style, which shows that Byron was making fun of his readers’ inability to detect that their inferior quality is merely a joke (cf. 53; 61–62). It is only in Beppo and especially in Don Juan that Byron is able to free himself from the wish to project a certain ‘Romantic’ image of himself to his audience and to finally be ‘sincere’ (and a good poet) (cf. 184; 186).

As this brief summary shows, Martin relies on two rather bold presuppositions: firstly, that Byron’s contemporary readers were an incompetent monolith who simply did not ‘get’ what he was trying to do and, secondly, that since Martin believes nearly all of Byron’s works except Don Juan to be bad, Byron must have thought so as well. The first presupposition has convincingly been refuted by, among others, Tom Mole (who shows how Byron addresses very different readerships) and Jane Stabler (who delineates the complex ways in which Byron’s contemporaries reacted to the tonal inconsistencies in his poems) (cf. Mole, Byron’s Romantic Celebrity 44–59; Stabler, Byron, Poetics and History 18–42). The second is a crass simplification of the highly contradictory and ambivalent attitudes that Byron’s expressed towards his works throughout his career. Byron is, of course, partly himself to blame for the argument that his early works are just melodramatic, lackadaisical ‘cash-grabs’. In a letter to P. B. Shelley, for example, he calls his earlier writings “the exaggerated nonsense which has corrupted the public taste” (BLJ 9: 161). This, of course, presents a marked contrast to comments like “I adhere (in liking) to my fragment [The Giaour]” (BLJ 3: 237) and the care he took in revising his oriental tales. Such contradictory statements about his works can be found throughout his letters. In the case of Manfred, for instance, he first told Murray that he had “no great opinion of this piece of phantasy” and that his publisher “may either throw it into the fire or not” (BLJ 5: 170) and later was enraged when Murray dared to omit a single line (cf. BLJ 5: 257).


The fact that the apparent ‘sincerity’ of parts of Byron’s works relies on deliberate artistic methods is, for instance, stressed by Jerome McGann. He takes up Matthew Arnold’s notion of the “illusion of sincerity created by art, an illusion that makes the dramatic ‘personality’ of Byron presented in his poetry seem fully and empirically ‘real’” and concludes that “this ‘personality’ is a product of art and artifice” (McGann, Fiery Dust 26, original emphasis).


For instance, he argues that the prefatory poem “To Ianthe” (added to CHP I–II in 1814) allowed “female readers [to] imagine their own readings in the intimate terms in which Ianthe’s was presented” (Mole, Byron’s Romantic Celebrity 58). Mole also stresses the fact that illustrations of Byron’s protagonists were designed to resemble the author himself (25; 90), and he asserts that the oriental tales’ insistence that faces can bear “traces of hidden crimes or sorrows” induced readers to try to read Byron’s own face for hints of his thoughts and feelings (60–77). In his eighth chapter, Mole describes how Don Juan turns these notions on their head by constantly “disput[ing] the extent to which the interior was legible to onlookers” (143).


For example, in 1729, Pope bemoans that “Paper […] became so cheap, and Printers so numerous, that a deluge of Authors covered the land” (Dunciad 70).


One need only think of the thirtieth poem of Horace’s third book of the Odes, which contains the famous line “Exegi monumentum aere perennius” (‘I have created a monument more lasting than bronze’). A similar hope is expressed at the end of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.


For instance, Harold has become jaded by his own dissoluteness, the Giaour is tormented by his inability to save Leila, Conrad is still ruminating on a betrayal he suffered in youth, Lara (if we assume him to be Conrad under a new name, as the preface suggests) mourns Medora, and Manfred feels guilty about Astarte’s death.


Even in his ‘private’ journals (for the non-privacy of which, see below), Byron followed a similar strategy. Referring to The Corsair, he records: Hobhouse “told me an odd report, – that I am the actual Conrad, the veritable Corsair, and that part of my travels are supposed to have passed in privacy [piracy?] Um! – people sometimes hit near the truth; but never the whole truth. H. don’t know what I was about the year after he left the Levant; nor does any one – nor – nor – nor – however, it is a lie” (BLJ 3: 250, original emphasis, editor’s addition in brackets).


Beppo and Don Juan likewise feature notes that provide information on the circumstances of composition, attest to the verisimilitude of the poems, and partly identify Byron with the narrator. In Beppo, the annotated passage reads: “They went to the Ridotto (’tis a place / To which I mean to go myself to-morrow[)]” (Beppo 64). This is annotated “January 19th 1818. Tomorrow will be Sunday Sull’ Ridotto” (Beppo 64n; CPW 4: 489; as McGann notes in CPW, Byron gets the date wrong). The annotated passage does not raise any questions that might require an annotation (the question what a “Ridotto” even is has been answered in stanza 58). Thus, in a note that would seem quite irrelevant if it were a xenographic rather than an autographic one, Byron suggests that the first-person narrator can here be equated with himself and informs readers about his current leisure activities. In Don Juan, the autobiographical annotation is appended to the famous stanza on the assassination of the military commandant of Ravenna: “The other evening (‘twas on Friday last) – / This is a fact and no poetic fable –”, etc. (Don Juan 5.33). The note reads: “The assassination alluded to took place on the eighth of December, 1820, in the streets of Ravenna, not a hundred paces from the residence of the writer. The circumstances were as described” (Don Juan 5.33n; CPW 5: 707). Here, the note affirms what the poem asserts; the present stanza describes a “fact and no poetic fable”. This affirmation is needed because other – clearly fictional – passages in the poem are likewise claimed to be entirely factual by the narrator. For instance, the secret rendezvous between Juan and Julia is dated precisely to “the sixth of June, about the hour / Of half-past six – perhaps still nearer seven” (Don Juan 1.104), and the narrator later asserts that his “story’s actually true” and that he himself “and several now in Seville, / Saw Juan’s last elopement with the devil” (Don Juan 1.202–03, original emphasis). Due to such unconvincing protestations of factuality in the poem itself, one requires a note to clarify when a fact is indeed a fact.


The diary-like manner of Byron’s annotations for CHP is perhaps most apparent in an unpublished note to the second canto: “An additional ‘misery to human life!’ – lying-to at sunset for a large convoy till the sternmost pass ahead. Mem.: fine frigate, fair wind likely to change before morning, but enough at present for ten knots!” (CHP 2.20n; CPW 2: 286). Some of the annotations in CHP I–II also recycle passages from Byron’s letters to his mother and his friends in England.


For Byron’s stronger connection with the narrators of CHP and Don Juan than with their protagonists, also see Graham, “His Grand Show” 29.


For instance, passages that first appear as if they were spoken by the narrator later turn out to be spoken by Harold, e.g. the long attack against the Convention of Cintra (CHP 1.24–26) ends with the statement “[s]o deem’d the Childe” (CHP 1.27).


This annotation may be seen as yet another example of a note that differentiates between readerships (for such annotations, see chapter 3.2.2): in all authorised editions published during Byron’s lifetime, the annotation does not spell out the name of the person who is alluded to in the stanza. Thus, the reference would only have been clear to Wingfield’s family and friends. Rather than straightforwardly commemorating (and naming) Wingfield, the annotation goes on to provide an obituary on Byron’s mother and his friend Charles Skinner Matthews, who are not mentioned in the stanza at all. Furthermore, the annotation embeds the expression of Byron’s own grief in the tradition of pre-Romantic poetry. This is not only achieved through the quote from Young’s Night Thoughts in the note but also through a subtler allusion (not annotated by Byron) in the poem itself. As McGann points out, the line “And thou, my friend! – since unavailing woe” refers to an expression used at the very end of James Beattie’s The Minstrel (cf. editor’s n for CHP 1.927; CPW 2: 282). The passage in Beattie reads “Art thou, my G********, for ever fled! / And am I left to unavailing woe!” (Beattie 2.63). Here, as in Byron’s note on Wingfield, one can see the curious case of a poet commemorating a friend without naming him. Even more intriguingly, Beattie also appended an annotation to the passage. In this note on the line “Friend, teacher, pattern, darling of mankind!”, Beattie explains that “[t]his excellent Person died suddenly, on the 10th of February, 1773. The conclusion of the poem was written a few days after” (Beattie 2.62n). The similarities between Byron’s and Beattie’s literary monuments to their dead friends are apparent: both added the mournful stanzas after having already finished the rest of the poem, both supply a commemorative note, and both do not name the friend but provide certain hints that make him at least partly identifiable. Hence, the stanza and note on Wingfield, Lady Byron, and Matthews, can – just like the preface to the first two cantos of CHP – be seen as one of Byron’s attempts to align his poem with the tradition of Beattie.

For other cases in which Byron used his annotations to commemorate friends, see his long obituary on Madame de Staël in a note for CHP 4.54 (CPW 2: 235–36) and the annotation on his Cambridge acquaintance Edward Grose, who died at Waterloo and whose name was later misspelled in the Duke of Wellington’s Despatch in the official London Gazette (22 June 1815, iss. 17028). The note on him is appended to Don Juan 8.18 (CPW 5: 732), a passage that attacks public military commemorations that de-personalise and de-individualise the fallen soldiers. For a discussion of the note on de Staël, see Gardiner, passim. For the annotation about Grose, see J. R. Watson 163–64.


For instance, in his summary of a dispute between Pouqueville and a Mr. Thornton, Byron facetiously remarks: “‘Aha[’], thinks Mr. Thornton (angry with the Doctor for the fiftieth time) ‘have I caught you?’ – Then, in a note twice the thickness of the Doctor’s anecdote, he questions the Doctor’s proficiency in the Turkish tongue, and his veracity in his own” (CHP 2.73n, Paper II n; CPW 2: 292). Slightly later, Byron makes fun of a French Hellenist who threatened to throw one of his colleagues out of the window (cf. CHP 2.73n, Paper III n; CPW 2: 293).

The annotations also give Byron the chance to exact his revenge on the Edinburgh Review, which, in its article on Hours of Idleness, had questioned his knowledge of the Scottish dialect. He writes: “There is a slip of the pen, and it can only be a slip of the pen, in p. 58. No. 31. of the Edinburgh Review, where these words occur: – ‘We are told that when the capital of the East yielded to Solyman’ – It may be presumed that this last word will, in a future edition, be altered to Mahomet II. […] Query, – Was it in Scotland that the young gentlemen of the Edinburgh Review learned that Solyman means Mahomet II. any more than criticism means infallibility? […] The mistake seemed so completely a lapse of the pen (from the great similarity of the two words, and the total absence of error from the former pages of the literary leviathan) that I should have passed it over as in the text, had I not perceived in the Edinburgh Review much facetious exultation on all such detections” (CHP 2.73n, Paper III n; CWP 2: 206; 2: 294, original emphasis). The joke that the Edinburgh Review must have confounded Solyman and Mahomet due to “the great similarity of the two words” might be a reference to an annotation in Tristram Shandy (vol. 2, ch. 19). In the note, the fictional editor surmises that Tristram mistook “Lithopædus for Trinecavellius, – from the too great similitude of the names” (Sterne 121, original emphasis). Byron’s use of the annotations to react to his enemies also, of course, reminds of Pope.


The objections voiced by the Critical Review (vol. 1, no. 6, June 1812) are very similar: “The occasional bursts of humour are […] unpleasant, as breaking in too abruptly upon the general tone of the reader’s feelings” (“Review of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage I–II” 571–72).


Some of the comic, satiric, homoerotic, and religiously sceptical stanzas and notes were omitted at the request of Robert Charles Dallas and John Murray (cf. Joseph 21; Murray 3). The much more serious and melancholic tone of the published version of CHP I–II was, of course, also a reaction to the recent deaths of Byron’s mother, John Wingfield, John Edleston, and Charles Skinner Matthews, of which Byron had learnt after his return to England.


There are at least two other instances of such bathetic notes in CHP. The first (though not an autobiographically anecdotal one) is appended to the following passage “Yet Mafra shall one moment claim delay, / Where dwelt of yore the Lusian’s luckless queen; / And church and court did mingle their array, / And mass and revel were alternate seen” (CHP 1.29). These lines refer to Queen Maria I of Portugal (1734–1816) (for her illness and treatment, see Peters and Willis 293). On this lofty, half-archaic, and sympathetic passage, the unpublished annotation irreverently comments: “Her insane majesty went religiously mad. Dr. Willis, who so dexterously cudgelled kingly pericraniums, could make not a thing of hers”, a satirical reference to George III, who was likewise treated by Willis (CHP 1.29n; CPW 2: 277). The other example occurs in the fourth canto (1818, six years after CHP I–II), where Byron apostrophises and mythologises the river Clitumnus: “But thou, Clitumnus! in thy sweetest wave / Of the most living crystal that was e’er / The haunt of river nymph” (CHP 4.66). There, the beginning of the annotation reads: “In my gratitude to the Clitumnus I ought not to forget the largest and very best trout that ever were seen in a river or a dish” (CHP 4.66n; CPW 2: 328).


The comment of the British Review (vol. 5, no. 9, Oct. 1813) is in a similar vein: “The notes which his lordship has added by way of explanation of these words, and also of particular facts and customs to which the poem alludes, are beyond measure trifling and injudicious. Some of them tell us what every body knew before. Some of them come in aid of the odd words used in the text, and ought not to have been rendered necessary; and some of them call our attention from the midst of tumult and slaughter to some ridiculous story, or fable of superstition. We will not say that the inimitable satyrist [sic] of the Scotish [sic] bards and reviewers is without the talent of humour; but we must say that the attempts at humour in these notes are very far below the standard of his lordship’s undoubted taste and spirit. The note upon the phenomenon of the captain pasha’s whiskers is a specimen of this ill-placed drollery. Indeed the curling of the angry Mussulman’s beard when beset with foes which threaten him with instant death, was a circumstance very ill suited to the horror of the scene which it was the poet’s purpose and duty to describe with that dignity which the most obvious of poetical proprieties demanded” (“Review of The Giaour” 141).


The annotation in CHP II which this note refers to reads as follows: “In our second land excursion, we had a narrow escape from a party of Mainnotes, concealed in the caverns beneath. We were told afterwards, by one of their prisoners subsequently ransomed, that they were deterred from attacking us by the appearance of my two Albanians: conjecturing very sagaciously, but falsely, that we had a complete guard of these Arnaouts at hand, they remained stationary, and thus saved our party, which was too small to have opposed any effectual resistance” (CHP 2.12n; CPW 2: 284–85).


The annotation also serves a further, purely intratextual function, which, however, is not related to the focus of this chapter. It implicitly characterises the Giaour by making clear that – while English readers would be more familiar with fore-sight – the belief in fore-hearing is decidedly Eastern or even exclusively Albanian. (John Galt, in his 1813 Letters from the Levant, confirms that the “Albanians have among them persons who pretend to know the character of approaching events, by hearing sounds which resemble those that will accompany, the actual occurrence” (Galt 178). Galt associates second-sight with the Scottish Highlanders and second-hearing with the Albanians (cf. ibid.)). The annotation thus highlights that the Giaour holds views that are not at all associated with his place of origin (Venice) but with the culture that he adopted (or pretended to adopt) while living in the Levant. Hence, the Giaour’s reference to second-hearing is one of many instances in the poem that call into question the status as a representative of the West that Hassan and the fisherman ascribe to him. Other examples include the passages in which he agrees with his mortal enemy Hassan that an unfaithful woman deserves death (“Yet did he but what I had done / Had she been false to more than one”; 1062–63) and in which he asserts that love is “by Alla given” (1133). Alice Levine likewise argues that “[t]he notes underscore how, at every level, The Giaour refuses the Christian/Muslim dichotomy that seems central to its subject matter” (A. Levine 132). For a recent discussion of all the elements in The Giaour that make the protagonist’s culture and religion so ‘unclassifiable’, see Bode, “Byron’s Dis-orientations”.


In his note on this passage in The Giaour, Peter Cochran dryly remarks that “[i]t is not clear that B. had, in 1813, ever seen bodies of people who had been either shot or stabbed” (Cochran, ed., The Giaour 6n6).


The original (published in Kunst und Altertum vol. 2, no. 2) reads: “Er hat oft genug bekannt was ihn quält, er hat es wiederholt dargestellt, und kaum hat irgend Jemand Mitleid mit seinem unerträglichen Schmerz, mit dem er sich, wiederkäuend, immer herumarbeitet. […] Als ein junger, kühner, höchstanziehender Mann gewinnt er die Neigung einer florentinischen Dame, der Gemal [sic] entdeckt es und ermordet seine Frau. Aber auch der Mörder wird in derselben Nacht auf der Straße todt gefunden, ohne daß jedoch der Verdacht auf irgend Jemand könnte geworfen werden. Lord Byron entfernt sich von Florenz und schleppt solche Gespenster sein ganzes Leben hinter sich drein. Dieses mährchenhafte [sic] Ereigniß wird durch unzählige Anspielungen in seinen Gedichten vollkommen wahrscheinlich” (Goethe 455).


One must notice, however, that the outcome of the anecdote casts some doubt on Byron’s intimate knowledge of Greece since it shows that he severely misjudged the dangerousness of the situation.


As in the case of CHP, contemporary reviewers were very divided over these questions. The Critical Review (vol. 4, no. 1, July 1813), for instance, argues that The Giaour shows Byron’s real feelings on religion and that the annotation on the different facial expressions of corpses is “evidently the result of personal observation” (“Review of The Giaour” 62; 68). The Scots Magazine (Oct. 1813) – likewise detecting the author in the poem – argues that Byron is inspired by a (typically Haroldian) “premature satiety of all things” and that his works are “deeply impregnated with gloomy views of human life and human fate” (“Review of The Giaour” 769). Other critics were more sceptical. Both the British Review (vol. 5, no. 9, Oct. 1813) and the Edinburgh Review (vol. 21, no. 42, July 1813) see the Giaour as a literary stereotype rather than as Byron’s alter ego. The former comments that the protagonist is “evidently one of those persons whom poetry and the German drama have, under various modifications, so frequently introduced to us” (“Review of The Giaour” 144), while the latter argues that the Giaour has the “fiery soul of the Marmion and Bertram of Scott” combined with “the constitutional gloom and the mingled disdain and regret for human nature, which were invented for Childe Harold” (“Review of The Giaour” 301, my emphasis). And the Anti-Jacobin (vol. 45, no. 183, Aug. 1813) does not even attempt to resolve the ambiguity: noting that a feeling of disappointed love runs through the poem, it comments: “Whether this be only assumed, for the purpose of heightening the poetical effect, or whether it really proceed from the heart, we presume not to decide” (“Review of The Giaour” 127).


This is, for example, tentatively suggested by Ravelhofer (cf. 30).


It has to be noted that – apart from the annotated passage discussed here – the poem makes no mention of the fact that Hassan knew that he was destined to be killed by the Giaour on this day. Quite on the contrary: during the fight, Hassan asserts that “‘[t]hough far and near the bullets hiss, / I’ve scaped a bloodier hour than this’” (Giaour 595–96) and that the Giaour will not be saved from death (cf. 617). This internal contradiction may be due to the complicated composition history of The Giaour. One might also suspect that Byron was so eager to include the anecdote on second-hearing that he cared little whether or not the annotated passage presented a ‘continuity error’.


To these five, one may perhaps add four minor instances. The first is the annotation which explains that “[g]reen is the privileged colour of the prophet’s numerous pretended descendants; with them, as here, faith (the family inheritance) is supposed to supersede the necessity of good works; they are the worst of a very indifferent brood” (Giaour 357n; CPW 3: 418). The second note makes fun of one of the Muslim narrators within the Levantine story-teller’s narrative, who believes that women have no soul. It explains that this is “[a] vulgar error; the Koran allots at least a third of Paradise to well-behaved women; but by far the greater number of Mussulmans interpret the text their own way, and exclude their moieties from heaven” (Giaour 488n; CPW 3: 419). The third is the annotation on vampires, which slightingly refers to a “long story” about these creatures told by “Honest Tournefort” and to Southey’s misspelling of the modern Greek term for them (Giaour 755n; CPW 3: 420). The fourth is appended to a passage uttered by an unknown, featureless speaker – most likely the European traveller. As he muses on desolation and loneliness, he reflects: “It is as if the desart-bird, / Whose beak unlocks her bosom’s stream / To still her famish’d nestlings’ scream, / […] / Should rend her rash devoted breast, / And find them flown her empty nest” (Giaour 951–56). The annotation for these lines raises doubts about the veracity of this notion and quips: “The pelican is, I believe, the bird so libelled, by the imputation of feeding her chickens with her blood” (Giaour 951n; CPW 3: 421).


Kroeber, Sundell, and Shilstone argue that the narrator in this passage is the fisherman, who also spoke at the beginning of The Giaour (lines 180–276), but this is unlikely (cf. Kroeber 140; Sundell 590; Shilstone 54). The narrator in the present passage briefly refers to the scene that the fisherman witnessed at the beach and introduces it thus: “But others say, that on that night” (Giaour 467, my emphasis). This suggests that the narrator of this passage cannot be identical with the fisherman and that, instead, he is yet another Muslim narrator.


I quote from the 1786 edition of Vathek (English, with more than 100 pages of notes) which Byron owned (cf. Cochran, Byron’s Library 15; 55).


There is another facetious note in The Giaour that works very similarly to the note on Al-Sirat. The annotated passage contains direct speech by a Muslim character, but it is not clear by whom exactly (possible candidates are the fisherman, the same unidentifiable narrator as in the Al-Sirat passage, Hassan’s mother, or even the Levantine coffee-house storyteller himself). The speaker curses the Giaour and prophesises that he shall writhe “[b]eneath avenging Monkir’s scythe” for having killed Hassan (Giaour 748). The corresponding annotation explains that “Monkir and Nekir are the inquisitors of the dead, before whom the corpse undergoes a slight noviciate and preparatory training for damnation. If the answers are none of the clearest, he is hauled up with a scythe and thumped down with a red hot mace till properly seasoned, with a variety of subsidiary probations. The office of these angels is no sinecure; there are but two; and the number of orthodox deceased being in a small proportion to the remainder, their hands are always full” (Giaour 748n; CPW 3: 420). As in the note on Al-Sirat, this annotation makes fun of the religious notion which is put forward seriously by a Muslim character. The method employed is a mix of the notes on the scorpion and on Al-Sirat. For one, like the scorpion note, this annotation jumbles together different registers, combining a term carrying Christian associations (“noviciate”), with the context of education and sports (“preparatory training”), woodworking or cooking (“properly seasoned”), as well as with the field of modern religious or government posts (“sinecure”), none of which are particularly apt in the context of explaining Muslim beliefs of the afterlife. Furthermore, like the note on Al-Sirat, it makes light of the danger that is being evoked in the poem, calling being tortured by two demons “a slight noviciate and preparatory training”.


I could not find any literary (or actual) models – oriental or otherwise – for the beard curling with ire before 1813; it does not seem to have been a common notion. Byron does not mention the anecdote of the Captain Pacha’s lively whiskers elsewhere.


It is not entirely clear what Byron means by the Giaour’s “interruptions” of the monk’s sermon, but several instances in his dying confession might qualify as such: “Nay, start not” (1036), “Why marvel ye?” (1149), “But talk no more of penitence” (1202), “But would’st thou pity more – say less” (1209), “Tell me no more of fancy’s gleam” (1257), as well as “Waste not thine orison” (1267).

On the one hand, this annotation reinforces the (still rather transparent) illusion that The Giaour is an authentic Turkish tale which was only edited by a European traveller, who chose to omit this part of the original story. On the other hand, the phrasing of the annotation seems to imply that the ‘editor’ had witnessed the monk’s sermon in person (he relates how it was “delivered in the nasal tone”), but this is implausible given that, according to the last note in The Giaour, the ‘editor’ only heard the Levantine’s performance in the coffee-house. Either the note is meant to inform us that the Levantine storyteller included this sermon in his tale and that he recited it “in the nasal tone of all orthodox preachers”, or Byron accidentally (and metaleptically) made the European ‘editor’ a first-hand observer of the Giaour’s dying confession. The latter possibility is not altogether inconceivable given that the passage and the annotation were only added in the seventh edition, more than half a year after The Giaour had first been published.


The negative characterisation of Hassan is, however, counteracted by the unidentified Muslim narrator (“For Courtesy and Pity died / With Hassan on the mountain side”, 346–47) and even partly by the Giaour himself, who argues that he would have acted like Hassan if Leila had betrayed him as well (“Yet did he but what I had done / Had she been false to more than one”, 1062–63).


Since the annotation in which this frame narrative is introduced only appears at the very end of the poem, one has to keep in mind that, in a first perusal, readers are not aware of the editorial framing. The last annotation, hence, retrospectively ambiguates the poem. My discussion thus refers to a second reading, during which readers are already aware of the presence of the ‘European traveller’ in the notes and the interpolations.


Susan Matthias briefly reflects on the idea of The Giaour as a “mock translation” and remarks that the manuscript title of the work was The Giaour, Fragments of a Turkish Tale, Translated (Matthias 99). However, she does not discuss what this means for the interaction between the poem and the facetious notes.


Ravelhofer likewise discusses The Giaour as editorial fiction, focussing on its framing of the (allegedly) oral nature of the ‘original’ Turkish tale.


Rousseau’s Nouvelle Héloïse likewise features annotations in which the fictional ‘editor’ makes fun of the letters he is editing. It is possible that Byron even drew inspiration from this work for The Giaour. For further details, see p. 232 above.


Samuel Rogers’s editorial fiction The Voyage of Columbus (in the 1812 version) is also often cited as a model for The Giaour (cf. Gleckner 91; McGann, Fiery Dust 142; Peterson 28–29; Seed 15). For a brief discussion of this work and its annotations, see p. 234 above.


In the cancelled preface to the first two cantos of Don Juan, Byron would later make fun of editorial fictions containing such “interpolations”. Referring to Wordsworth’s “The Thorn” in which the author asks readers to imagine that the poem is spoken by the Captain of a small trading vessel, Byron requests his readers “to suppose by a like exertion of Imagination – that the following epic Narrative is told by a Spanish Gentleman[.] […] Having supposed as much of this as the utter impossibility of such a supposition will admit – the reader is requested to extend his supposed power of supposing so far as to conceive that the dedication to Mr. Southey – & several stanzas of the poem itself are interpolated by the English Editor” (CPW 5: 81; 83–84).


The Giaour was published only a few decades after Macpherson’s Ossian poems, Chatterton’s Thomas Rowley poems, and Beckford’s Vathek, and only shortly after Samuel Rogers’s The Voyage of Columbus and Thomas Moore’s The Poems of Thomas Little. Given their experience with such works, readers were, of course, wary whenever they encountered a ‘found’ manuscript or an ‘overheard’ story. However, as the annotations in both CHP and The Giaour constantly reminded them, Byron (unlike Beckford, for example) had been to the East. Thus, despite the era’s penchant for editorial fiction, it was not inconceivable for contemporaries that this ‘overheard’ story was, for once, authentic and that Byron was indeed only the translator, annotator, and interpolator of an original Turkish story. In an addition to the last annotation on The Giaour (the addition was first included in the fourth ed.), however, Byron raises doubts about his ‘overheard’ story by discussing the (in)authenticity of Vathek, thus drawing attention to the similarly dubious origins of The Giaour (cf. Giaour 1334n; CPW 3: 423). Furthermore, Byron’s affirmation – for a passage that is allegedly part of the original Turkish story – that the “oriental simile” in it is “fairly stolen” from oriental literature though it may appear ‘too oriental’ to be authentic adds to the doubts about the existence of this original Turkish story (cf. Giaour 494n; CPW 3: 419, original emphasis). As McGann points out, the many additions to The Giaour that Byron made in later editions further undermined his fiction of the ‘overheard’ story: “Were his readers to assume, as each new and augmented edition of his ‘snake of a poem’ came out, that he periodically recalled additional snatches of the original lay?” (McGann, Fiery Dust 143).

Reviews show that contemporary readers were divided over the existence of Byron’s ‘overheard’ story. The British Review (vol. 5, no. 9, Oct. 1813), for instance, comments that they at first erroneously “thought it to have been the translation of a genuine portion of a Turkish poem” but that they were soon undeceived (“Review of The Giaour” 133). The Edinburgh Review (vol. 21, no. 42, July 1813) is in two minds about the question. They argue that “Turk or Christian” might have written the poem, but that they do “not think any other but Lord Byron himself could have imparted the force and the character which are conspicuous in the fragments” (“Review of The Giaour” 300). Later on, they conjecture that “the Turkish original of the tale is attested, to all but the bolder sceptics of literature, by the great variety of untranslated words” (308). The Quarterly Review (vol. 10, no. 20, Jan. 1814) seems (or pretends) to blindly trust the annotation, speculating that the character of the Giaour “was, perhaps, further recommended to Lord Byron, by a recollection of the scene in which he first heard it [the tale], of the impression which it made on the eastern audience, and of the grotesque declamations and gestures of the Turkish story-teller” (“Review of The Giaour and of The Bride of Abydos” 333).


In one case, i.e. the note on second-hearing discussed above, the difference between the ‘real’ Byron and the fictional editor is being blurred. This note makes clear that in it the real-life Byron rather than any fictional annotator persona is speaking: it provides various autobiographical details (the trip to Cape Colonna, the names of Byron’s Albanian servants, the group almost being attacked by robbers), all of which are verified outside The Giaour itself – in the notes to CHP. This raises the question whether Byron is, in fact, also directly speaking in all other annotations to The Giaour or whether the straightforwardly autobiographical note on second-hearing is an exception. This example shows that there are instances in which the “I” in an annotation straightforwardly refers to the actual Byron (as in this note for 1077) and instances in which the “I” in an annotation refers to the European traveller, who may or may not be equated with Byron (as in the very last note on the poem, in which the editorial fiction is being established).


This identification is based on the fact that these passages do not contain any Eastern imagery (the touchstone for differentiating between the two ‘authors’ mentioned in the note) and that they neither recount any event related to the plot nor feature any of the characters of the main narrative. This description is for the most part consistent with Shilstone’s analysis, who, however, does not distinguish between those passages ‘told’ by the Levantine and those ‘added’ by the European ‘editor’ and argues instead that there is one overarching author-persona who ventriloquises different narrators (cf. Shilstone 52–55). According to him, the interpolations are spoken by this fictionalised author-persona directly (cf. 49; 52). He also attributes the last six lines of the poem (1329–1443) to this persona (cf. Shilstone 257n19).


The question which narrator is responsible for which passage (as well as the question how many narrators there are in the first place) is discussed, for example, by Karl Kroeber (cf. 140), Michael Sundell (cf. 590), Frederick Shilstone (cf. 52–55), Jerome McGann (cf. Fiery Dust 142–46), Robert Gleckner (cf. Byron and the Ruins of Paradise 98–117), and Christoph Bode (cf. “Byron’s Dis-Orientations” 76–78). For my own attempt at identifying both the speakers and the ‘authors’ of each passage in The Giaour, see p. 402f.


For example, the passage in which the Giaour is cursed (723–786) could be spoken by the heterodiegetic Levantine story-teller or by one of the homodiegetic Muslim characters (e.g. the fisherman or Hassan’s mother).


This makes the interaction between poem and notes in The Giaour quite similar to that in Byron’s “Lachin Y Gair”, where the speaker enthusiastically responds to the natives’ tales in the poem itself but expresses scepticism of them in the annotations. For a longer discussion, see chapter 3.4.1.


The comical annotation on the ‘libelled pelican’ (briefly mentioned above on p. 271 n above) is likewise appended to one of the interpolations (cf. Giaour 951n; CPW 3: 421).


Two other approaches to the notes of The Giaour will only briefly be mentioned here because they do not directly deal with the contrast between the serious poem and the comical notes. Firstly, Barbara Ravelhofer argues that the notes are meant to be “a swipe at Robert Southey’s metrical romance Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), in which orientalist subject matter was heavily glossed by long-winded, ponderous annotations” (Ravelhofer 27). However, apart from one reference to Southey’s poem in the note for line 755, there is no evidence that the notes in The Giaour specifically target those in Thalaba (or any other of Southey’s verse tales). The notes for Thalaba mainly consist of quotes, i.e. it is usually not Southey who is being long-winded and ponderous (and who might be ridiculed for being so) but the authors he is quoting. Hence, even if the annotations in The Giaour parodied those in Thalaba (which they do not), the parody would be directed at Southey’s sources rather than at the poet himself. Furthermore, as has been noted above, many annotations in The Giaour are (at least content-wise) drawn from Beckford’s Vathek, rather than from any of Southey’s works. It is unlikely that Byron’s use of Vathek (one of his favourite novels) is meant to be parodic. Second, Ruth Knezevich contends that the annotations in The Giaour “attempt to force the fragmented verse into a linear, objective model of narrative and scholarship. They represent an authorial and authorizing act that I shall describe as ‘textual imperialism’” (Knezevich 37). However, the very presence of the facetious, irreverent notes in The Giaour and the fact that they also make fun of the Christian prior and the European ‘editor’ counters Knezevich’s argument that the notes are mainly authoritative, objective, and imperialistic. Quite on the contrary: as shown here, they serve to complicate rather than fix or simplify the meaning of the work.


Byron did most likely not know Friedrich Schlegel’s reflections on Romantic irony (cf. Chatsiou, Paratext and Poetics 84). He does not make any reference to the concept in his works or letters; the first and only time that he (disparagingly) mentions Schlegel is in 1821, i.e. eight years after the publication of The Giaour and almost two years after he had published the first two cantos of Don Juan (cf. BLJ 8: 38–40). In 1816, Byron met Friedrich Schlegel’s brother August at Coppet, but he does not mention having discussed his brother’s philosophical ideas with him (cf. BLJ 8: 167; 172–73). Even though Byron did not know Schlegel’s concept itself, it is nevertheless permissible to describe certain phenomena in his works as instances of Romantic irony. After all, Schlegel has to be seen as the discoverer rather than the inventor of the concept (cf. Immerwahr 665). In other words, the phenomena which are subsumed under the term ‘Romantic irony’ can be found in literature long before the Romantic age, and Schlegel was merely the first to draw a connection between a certain set of philosophical and literary notions, and to apply the term ‘irony’ to them. Rather than by Schlegel’s theoretical considerations, Byron’s use of textual strategies that are associated with Romantic irony was most likely influenced by his reading of Sterne, Fielding, Cervantes, Pulci, Berni, and Ariosto, as well as – later – of Casti and Frere (cf. Joseph 183–87; Fuess 143).


See, for example, Alexandra Böhm, who argues that in Don Juan Byron “brings the high claims of Romanticism back to the mundane materiality of life” (Böhm 182). When he uses Romantic irony to represent the “contrasting, paradoxical, and open heterogeneity and multiplicity of the real” and when he employs an “unexpected conjunction of incongruous elements”, he never points to a “higher, transcendental synthesis” (183). According to her, Byron succeeds in the conjunction of opposites only on a worldly and often comical level; he never combines the mundane/facetious and the transcendental/serious in this way without entirely debasing the latter.


In the first six editions, the annotations in The Giaour were printed as footnotes; they were turned into endnotes from the seventh edition onwards (cf. Chatsiou, “Lord Byron” 650). I agree with Chatsiou’s argument that this change from foot- to endnotes was probably made in order to better allow readers to first read the poem in its entirety and to pay attention to the annotations only in a second reading.


Byron himself, however, privately stressed the sincerity of self-contradiction as early as in 1813/1814. Regarding the journal he kept during this time, he commented: “God knows what contradictions it may contain. If I am sincere with myself […] every page should confute, refute, and utterly abjure its predecessor” (BLJ 3: 233).


In his biography of Byron (1830–31), his friend Thomas Moore comments on this passage in Don Juan, arguing that Byron “was fully aware not only of the abundance of this quality in his own nature, but of the danger in which it placed consistency and singleness of character” (T. Moore, Lord Byron 2: 787). Slightly earlier in the biography, he explains that Byron was governed “at different moments by totally different passions” (2: 782) and that “[s]o various, indeed, and contradictory were his attributes, both moral and intellectual, that he may be pronounced to have been not one, but many” (2: 783). Likewise, he comments on Byron’s “readiness in reflecting all hues, whether of the shadows or of the lights of our variegated existence” (2: 795) and on the “unexampled versatility of his powers and feelings, and the facility with which he gave way to the impulses of both” (2: 795). For a more detailed discussion of Moore’s account of Byron’s role-playing, mobility and apparent insincerity, see Vail 169–76.

Moore’s account of Byron’s character chimes in with a famous stanza in the posthumously published seventeenth canto of Don Juan. The narrator (who is, in this case, strongly implied to be identical with Byron) reflects: “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” (Don Juan 17.11, original emphasis).


McGann also notes that, from a political standpoint, mobility is dangerously close to treachery and opportunism – calling special attention to Byron’s comments on Robert Southey in Don Juan and The Vision of Judgment (cf. McGann, “Byron, Mobility, and the Poetics of Historical Ventriloquism” 72). To this, one may add that the narrator of Don Juan (who may, in this particular passage, be read as Byron’s alter ego) ascribes a similar political mobility to himself, (facetiously?) arguing that he “was born for opposition” and that he would immediately change his political allegiances if the party he supported came into power (Don Juan 15.22): if the current monarchist powers fell, he would first “deride their tumble” and then “turn the other way, / And wax an Ultra-royalist in loyalty, / Because I hate even democratic royalty” (15.23). While Southey’s political mobility impelled him to go the ‘safer’ way from Jacobin to royalist Poet Laureate, the narrator’s (and Byron’s) would allegedly lead them to whatever is most dangerous and rebellious.


Furthermore, rather than expressing ambivalence (i.e. the co-presence of conflicting attitudes), mobility might just as well indicate a simple move from one unambivalent attitude to the next one.


Of course, the matter is rendered even more complicated by the fact that Byron kept adding to The Giaour over several months after its first publication, with the result that there are seven different published versions of the poem. The extremely complex composition and publication history of The Giaour is traced in CPW 3: 406–13.


This might have been a reaction to reviewers’ hostile responses to the notes in The Giaour or an attempt to write works that were more consistent with what readers at that time would recognise as ‘Byronic’, i.e. full of grandeur, gloom, and disillusionment. It was only in Don Juan that Byron re-introduced the combination of the serious and the comical. Instances of self-subversion through self-annotation can, however, also be found earlier than in The Giaour. Apart from being included in CHP, they also occur in “Lachin Y Gair” (see chapter 3.4.1) and The Waltz (see chapter 3.3.3).


The letter is reprinted in CPW 3: 414. It was also reprinted in Moore’s biography of Byron, who, however, omitted Byron’s drafted annotation which questions the accuracy of Sligo’s account (cf. T. Moore, Lord Byron 1: 289–90).


These readers were: John Galt, Lord Holland, Matthew Lewis, Thomas Moore, Samuel Rogers, Lady Melbourne, and Edward Daniel Clarke (cf. BLJ 3: 200; 3: 230).


It appears from Byron’s correspondence that he initially wanted to use the letter to counter the rumours that his ex-lover Lady Caroline Lamb spread about his adventures in the Ottoman empire (cf. BLJ 3: 102; 3: 155–56). Neither the exact content of these rumours, nor the number of people who heard about them can be reconstructed. I could not find a review of The Giaour that refers to the rumours; it is uncertain how well-known they were beyond Lamb’s private circle.


Medwin is usually rather unreliable. Thomas Moore, one of Byron’s closest friends, for example, argued that his book on Byron’s conversations was “full of gross errors” (T. Moore, Journal of Thomas Moore 2: 772). In this case, however, his account is more or less substantiated by Byron’s personal correspondence and journal entries.

William St. Clair contends that Byron deliberately hoaxed Medwin during their conversations, whereas Doris Langley Moore points out that Medwin seems to have been simply careless and stupid, and that neither he nor Byron appear to have been particularly sober during their talks (cf. St. Clair, “Byron’s Bamming and Humming” 43–45; D. L.-L. Moore, The Late Lord Byron 96–98).


Byron’s most conceited and irrelevant (with respect to the annotated passage) anecdotal note was never published; it only appears in the manuscript of Don Juan. Annotating the passage where Juan is forced to kiss the sultana Gulbeyaz’s “thorough-bred” fingers, he explains that “[t]here is perhaps nothing more distinctive of birth than the hand – it is almost the only sign of blood which Aristocracy can generate. – I remember a Pacha’s remarking that he knew that a certain Englishman was nobly born – because ‘he had small ears – small hands & curling silky hair’” (Don Juan 5.106n; CPW 5: 709, original emphasis). The “certain Englishman” was, of course, Byron himself, and the Pacha was Ali Pacha, whom he had met in 1809. The Pacha’s compliment made a great impression on the young Byron, who mentions it four times in his letters from Albania – twice to his mother (cf. BLJ 1: 227; 1: 249), to his schoolfriend Henry Drury (cf. BLJ 1: 238), and to his Cambridge friend Francis Hodgson (cf. BLJ 1: 254). The note in Don Juan shows that he remembered it even more than a decade later. In the published version, Byron only printed the first sentence of the annotation. Maybe he eventually realised that the fact that an old Albanian warlord had flirted with him was nothing to boast of.


The first use of “hell” in this sense that I could find occurs in Theophilus Swift’s The Gamblers, a Poem (1777). In 1809, the article “Notorious Gamblers” in the Satirist, or Monthly Meteor (vol. 4) remarks that a “Mr. Trist […] attended regularly at all the Hells” without providing an explanation of the word, which suggests that its meaning was sufficiently known to readers by this time (“Notorious Gamblers” 154, original emphasis). The first mention recorded in the OED is from 1812 (cf. “hell, n. and int.” def. A.8.).


In the passage in his “Detached Thoughts”, on which this annotation is based, Byron explains that ‘silver hell’ is “a cant name for a second rate Gambling house” (BLJ 9: 19).


The narrator, however, muses on the feeling one has right before a duel in Don Juan 4.41.


Gary Dyer makes a similar argument about Byron’s use of foreign and slang languages in Don Juan: “Even when Byron uses Latin, French, or the dialect of the Fancy to refer to innocuous or uncontroversial things, his constant reliance on these languages points to the need to disguise his meanings on other subjects” (Dyer, “Thieves, Boxers, Sodomites, Poets” 574).


In his “Detached Thoughts” (see below), Byron likewise tantalises readers with the shocking confessions that he withholds from them: “If I could explain at length the real causes which have contributed to increase this perhaps natural temperament of mine – this Melancholy which hath made me a bye-word – nobody would wonder – – but this is impossible without doing much mischief. […] I must not go on with these reflections – or I shall be letting out some secret or other – to paralyze posterity” (BLJ 9: 38, original emphasis). Byron’s remarks on his Memoirs (which were burnt by his friends after his death) also constantly refer to all the things that he dared not include in them (cf. BLJ 6: 59; 6: 236; 7: 244; 9: 38; 9: 172).


In the manuscript, Byron had left out the reference to young men when quoting Horace’s lines. Hobhouse – torn between moral squeamishness and scholarly correctness – told him to “add the whole or scratch out all after femina”. Byron replied: “Quote the whole then – it was only in compliance with your Settentrionale [northern] notions that I left out the remnant of the line” (CPW 5: 681).


The decision to substitute asterisks for these lines was Murray’s rather than Byron’s. The restored lines were only published after Byron’s death.


It is probable that Byron’s acquaintance was William Wallace, later author of Memoirs of William Wallace, Esq. Late of His Majesty’s 15th Hussars (1821). The rather sentimental and moralising book recounts how the author spent his youth in gambling dens among high-society rakes and how he was eventually imprisoned for his debts. It is not recorded whether Byron knew the work.


The Memoirs were destroyed shortly after Byron’s death (against his own wishes and despite the protests of Moore). For more information on them, see D. L.-L. Moore, The Late Lord Byron 12–56 and Cochran, The Burning of Byron’s Memoirs 1–17.


See, for instance, his remarks on what unfavourable (or too honest) biographers did to the reputation of great men (cf. Don Juan 3.91–92) and his poem “Churchill’s Grave”, which ponders on both the posthumous neglect and fame of an author who was highly successful among contemporaries. It must also be kept in mind that, in the same year as he began writing his “Detached Thoughts”, Byron was deeply involved in the Pope-Bowles controversy, witnessing one of the most celebrated poets of the previous century and his personal idol falling out of favour with parts of posterity. On a grander scale, Byron also tried to assess what future generations would think of Waterloo – guessing (quite correctly) that “it will be like the battle of Zama, where we think of Hannibal more than Scipio”, i.e. remembered for Napoleon’s defeat rather than Wellington and Blücher’s victory (CHP 4.181n; CPW 2: 340).


For example, he told Lady Melbourne that he “would give the world to pass a month with Sheridan or any lady or gentleman of the old school – & hear them talk every day & all day of themselves & acquaintance – & all they have heard & seen in their lives” (BLJ 3: 129). Fuelled by his “awareness of having lived in a particular world (that of early Regency London) which had passed into history”, Byron apparently tried to provide future generations with as much gossip and amusing information about the early nineteenth century as he would have liked to hear about the eighteenth (Cheeke 157; also see 182–83).


Volume four of The Oxford History of Life-Writing, which will cover the Romantic age, has unfortunately not been published yet.


The Romantic interest in anecdotes can be seen, for example, in Thomas Moore’s posthumously published journal, in which he recorded many first-, second- and third-hand accounts of amusing incidents and bon mots.


Among others, he owned John Nichols’s Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century and Isaac D’Israeli’s Curiosities of Literature as well as the latter’s Calamities of Authors and Quarrels of Authors (cf. CMP 234; 240).


The fashion for recording table-talk stems from the seventeenth century (cf. Cuddon 708). Byron’s own table-talk has been published by a multitude of contemporaries; it is also collected in Ernest J. Lovell’s His Very Self and Voice. Lovell notes that the reliability of many of these accounts is highly contested.


Three examples may suffice to give an idea of the nature of Spence’s Observations: Pope is recorded saying: “Sir John Suckling was an immoral man, as well as debauched. The story of the French cards (his getting certain marks affixed to all that came from the great makers in France) was told me by the late Duke of Buckingham, and he had it from old Lady Dorset herself” (Spence 89). According to the Observations, Pope also reflected on the “terrible moments” one feels “after one has engaged for a large work! In the beginning of my translating the Iliad, I wished any body would hang me a hundred times” (Spence 28). And, lastly, his opinion of Elijah Fenton: “Fenton is a right honest man. He is fat and indolent; a very good scholar; sits within, and does nothing but read or compose” (Spence 135). I am quoting from the edition Byron owned (edited by Edmund Malone and published by John Murray in 1820). A modern edition (edited by James M. Osborn) came out in 1966.


The advertisement informs readers that Spence’s original manuscript was even more disorganised (cf. Spence iv). The nineteenth-century editor attempted to create some order by sorting the anecdotes according to the person to which they refer.


Byron’s “Detached Thoughts” likewise often imitate spoken discourse while also drawing attention to the fact that he was writing them down. For instance, Byron recorded: “At Brighthelmstone – (I love orthography at length) in the year 1808 Hobhouse, Scrope Davies, Major Cooper – and myself – having dined together with Lord Delvin – Count (I forget the french [sic] Emigrant nomenclature) and others – did about the middle of the night (we four) proceed to a house of Gambling – being amongst us possest of about twenty guineas of ready cash – with which we had to maintain about as many of our whoreson horses & servants – besides household and whorehold expenditure. We had I say – twenty guineas or so – & lost them – returning home in bad humour” (BLJ 9: 39, original emphasis). (The anecdote ends with Davies and Hobhouse almost killing each other but reconciling the next day.)


The absence of postal secrecy is also shown in Byron’s letters from Italy, which were intercepted by the Austrians due to his association with the carbonari. Since he knew that the Austrians would read his correspondence, he included a brief aside to them in one of his letters to Murray, so that “they may see in my most legible hand – that I think them damned Scoundrels and Barbarians – their Emperor a fool – & themselves more fools than he” (BLJ 7: 238–39). For public-private letters shortly before Byron’s age and the fact that they were likewise read by many people beside the intended recipient, also see W. L. Jones 20–22.


Even satires that were not immediately printed often existed in a curious liminal stage between private coterie and public readership. As Gary Dyer has shown, (print) publication and publicity were not necessarily the same – satirical verses could circulate in manuscript for years, being transcribed and distributed by ever new readers, before finally being printed (cf. Dyer, “Circulation of Satiric Poetry” 68).


Examples of such private-public journals include those of Mary Berry, Charles Greville, and Harriet Arbuthnot, as well as of Byron’s friends Hobhouse and Moore. When Byron got into an altercation with Hobhouse (who objected to the planned publication of Byron’s Memoirs or at least to the fact that, instead of himself, Moore was to be their editor), Byron told Murray: “Does Mr. Hobhouse dispute my right to leave Memoirs of myself for posthumous publication? Have not thousands done it? […] But the best is – that I happen to know that he himself keeps – and has kept for many years a regular diary […] – and has he done this with no view to posthumous publication? I will not believe it” (BLJ 9: 70, original emphasis).


Even before his death, Byron’s contemporaries guessed as much: John Gibson Lockhart commented that Byron had been “writing certain letters, which, although you [Byron] say they ‘never can be published,’ most undoubtedly will, one day or other, be published, and have been written, one and all of them, for the express purpose of being published” (Lockhart, John Bull’s Letter to Lord Byron 106).


For the importance of literary biography in the Romantic age, also see H. Jackson, “What’s Biography Got to Do With It?”.


Susan Matthias, for instance, argues that “[t]he paratextual elements [in The Giaour] also permit Byron to speak in his own voice” (Matthias 98), and Ourania Chatsiou contends that Byron’s “voice dominates his notes” (Chatsiou, “Robert Southey’s ‘Old Curiosity-Shops’” 21).


This notion of different readerships that can be inferred and differentiated from each other on the basis of a single passage is quite different from the concept of the implied reader. Wayne C. Booth famously argued that the implied reader is a persona “whose beliefs must coincide with the author’s” and that it serves as the author’s “second self” (Booth, Rhetoric of Fiction 138). Furthermore, in his overview of different concepts of implied readership, Wolf Schmid defines the implied reader as “the author’s image of the recipient that is fixed and objectified in the text by specific indexical signs” (Schmid § 1). Schmid differentiates between two types of implied readers. The first one is a “presumed addressee to whom the work is directed and whose linguistic codes, ideological norms, and aesthetic ideas must be considered if the work is to be understood. In this function, the implied reader is the bearer of the codes and norms presumed in the readership” (Schmid § 5, original emphasis). The second (closer to Booth’s) is an “ideal recipient who understands the work in a way that optimally matches its structure and adopts the interpretive position and aesthetic standpoint put forward by the work” (Schmid § 7, original emphasis). Both of these notions refer to a single, uniform readership who is best suited to understand, and to accept the propositions of, a given text in its entirety. The notion of readerships that I am adopting here, however, takes into account that many self-annotations (and literary texts in general) deliberately play with different readerships, some of which are not at all well-equipped to understand (or to accept) the propositions of a given note in its entirety. In other words, these notes are directed at various readerships that have different levels of knowledge and, possibly, different opinions and attitudes towards the matter(s) presented.


This general reading public was, of course, by no means a uniform mass, and who was part of it could change from passage to passage. Who I mean by this general readership is everyone who (1) had at least partial access to the annotated work in question (i.e. through authentic editions, pirated editions, long quotes in reviews, or extracts in commonplace books), (2) who had no specialised knowledge or insider information on the background of a given passage, and (3) who was not personally mentioned/alluded to in this passage. Thus, depending on the passage in question, ‘general readership’ can mean, for example, anyone who is not a personal acquaintance of Byron, or who does not move in literary circles, or who is not able to detect a certain allusion, or who does not understand a foreign word or slang term. In other words, the term ‘general reading public’ is here always used to refer to those readers who have less knowledge about, or personal involvement in, specific aspects of a certain passage than any other reader or group of readers. People who were part of the general readership of one passage could be insiders in another passage, and vice versa.


Other instances of Byron boasting about his swimming feats can be found in “On Swimming from Sestos to Abydos”, Don Juan 2.105, and the “Letter to John Murray, Esq.”, which was published in the context of the Pope-Bowles controversy (cf. Byron, CMP 131).


The most prominent work arguing that Troy never existed and that the Iliad has no foundation in history is Jacob Bryant’s 1796 A Dissertation Concerning the War of Troy and the Expedition of the Grecians as Described by Homer. Byron makes disparaging remarks about Bryant in his Ravenna Journal and in Don Juan (cf. BLJ 8: 22; Don Juan 4.76; 4.101).


A decade after their journey, Byron noted in his Ravenna Journal that Hobhouse and others had “bored [him] with their learned localities” when visiting the plain of Troy (BLJ 8: 22).


For a more detailed analysis of this passage in The Bride of Abydos and its annotation, see Cheeke 63–66.


In McGann, the notion of “poetic coding” refers to “playing with language, developing systems of punning and coded talk which require some kind of special knowledge to decipher” (McGann, “Byron and ‘the Truth in Masquerade’” 194).


The most elaborate classification of the various strategies and functions of differentiating readerships/audiences can be found in Peter Kühn’s study Mehrfachadressierung: Untersuchungen zur adressatenspezifischen Polyvalenz sprachlichen Handelns (see esp. 6; 113; 133–34; 137; 139; 153). For instance, he differentiates between cases in which it is clear to uninitiated readerships that an utterance has a further meaning which they cannot understand (‘encrypted’ multi-addressing) and cases in which an ambiguous utterance seems to be absolutely unambiguous to the unitiniated, thereby veiling its further readership(s) and meaning(s) (‘conspirational’ multi-addressing) (cf. Kühn 137–39). Kühn’s work is primarily concerned with non-literary utterances. Most of his examples are drawn from political speeches, but he also refers to, for instance, employment references and patient information leaflets. His focus on non-literary texts means that he treats the differentiation of readerships as a means to a practical end rather than as a possible end in itself. As a consequence, his close-readings are almost exclusively concerned with the functions (i.e. the ‘what and why’) of multi-addressed utterances, whereas the present chapter will also analyse how exactly the text passages in question differentiate between readerships. Furthermore, Kühn’s non-literary examples almost never address their own use of multi-addressing, let alone teasingly parade it. In contrast, as will be shown in the course of this chapter, the differentiation of readerships in literary texts can be highly self-reflexive, ostentatious, and playful.


With respect to Don Juan, for example, McGann notes that the manner in which the poem is written “is precisely designed not to disguise its own procedures of mystification. Rather, [it is] flaunting its doubletalk” (McGann, “Byron and ‘the Truth in Masquerade’” 194, original emphasis).


Byron was by no means the only author in the Romantic age to use his annotations for social networking. Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey’s propensity to sing each other’s praises in their notes was so notorious that the author of John Bull’s Letter to Lord Byron (1821, most likely written by John Gibson Lockhart) commented: “the Lakers are not understood to be much in the habit of giving good – very good words – to any one beyond their own sweet circle. Read their notes. […] You will then perceive as all that have read them already have done, – that in fact the Lakers would fain have us believe there are no poets in the world but themselves” (Lockhart, John Bull’s Letter to Lord Byron 70). The notes in Madame de Staël’s Corinne likewise contain compliments to her father, to Goethe, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Vittorio Alfieri, and Friedrich Schlegel. And Scott, in his notes, was fond of both promoting his friends’ works and of including inside jokes that, as the notes assure readers, only those who know Scott personally would understand (cf. Mayer, “Scott’s Editing” 677).


For plagiarism in the Romantic age, also see Mazzeo, Plagiarism and Literary Property in the Romantic Period as well as E. F. Smith, Byron’s Plagiarism as Judged by his Contemporaries.


That Byron indeed sometimes plagiarised (not only from literary works but also from travel narratives and even cookbooks) is illustrated in Cochran, “Byron and Plagiarism”. Also see p. 198 n above for a case in which Byron plagiarised an entire annotation – presenting the information as if it were drawn from personal experience when he is actually just copying a published letter by German poet Friedrich von Matthisson.


Another example of such a note appears in the appendix for The Two Foscari, where Byron declares that he used the expression “ocean-Rome” for Venice before having discovered it in Lady Morgan’s Italy (cf. CPW 6: 222). This note not only functions as a defence against accusations of plagiarism but also serves to clarify Byron’s political allegiances: Morgan’s “fearless and excellent work” (as Byron extols it in the appendix) deplores the dire state of contemporary Italy and attacks its Austrian rulers, for which she, in turn, was heavily criticised by conservative English reviewers.


The passage in Christabel reads: “The Lady sprung up suddenly, / The lovely Lady, Christabel! / It moan’d as near, as near can be, / But what it is, She cannot tell – / On the other Side it seems to be / Of the huge brown-breasted old Oak Tree. / The Night is chill; the Forest bare; / Is it the Wind that moaneth bleak? / There is not Wind enough in the Air / To move away the ringlet Curl / From the lovely Lady’s Cheek – / There is not wind enough to twirl / The One red Leaf, the last of its Clan, / That dances as often as dance it can” (S. T. Coleridge, Christabel 1.37–50).


For a more detailed analysis of the metre of Christabel, its origins, and its influence on Scott and Byron, see Strabone 261–97. For Byron’s comments on the unusual formal features of The Siege of Corinth, see BLJ 5: 29.


A letter to his nephew, written in 1825, shows that Coleridge was indeed quite piqued about Scott’s unacknowledged use of Christabel. He points out that “Sir W. Scott might have served me [by promoting Christabel] if he had at [that] time said only one half of what he has since avowed, in large companies” (S. T. Coleridge, Coll. Letters 5: 437, original emphasis). For a more detailed discussion of Coleridge’s thoughts on Scott and Wordsworth’s drawing inspiration from Christabel without properly acknowledging it, see Paley passim.


I could not find any reviews or other public discussions of the allegations against Scott in the years right after The Lay of the Last Minstrel had been published. The first time that Scott acknowledged his debt to Christabel in print was in 1830, possibly in response to Thomas Medwin’s 1824 Conversations of Lord Byron, in which Medwin quotes Byron arguing that “‘Christabel’ was the origin of all Scott’s metrical tales” (Medwin 172; cf. 202; cf. Paley 106).


The editor of Coleridge’s letters surmises that it might have been a copy of the unsent letter to an unknown correspondent mentioned above (cf. editor’s n for Coleridge, Coll. Letters 4: 602).


Unfortunately, Coleridge’s reply to this letter is no longer extant (his next surviving letter to Byron dates from 17 February 1816).


The review of Christabel that would eventually be published in the Edinburgh Review (vol. 27, no. 53, Sep. 1816) harshly criticises Coleridge’s poem as well as Byron’s praise of it, and briefly digresses to ridicule Byron’s recent publications. It is not clear whether the review was written by Thomas Moore (it is highly unlikely that one of Byron’s closest friends would attack him in this manner). The review might also have been written by William Hazlitt. For a recent discussion of the possible authorship of the review, see Benatti and Tonra.


It is not really clear what the reviewer’s reference to the “classical reader” means. Perhaps it alludes to the fact that Coleridge by no means invented the metre he used in Christabel (for Coleridge’s models, see Strabone 269–75).


See, for instance, the Theatrical Inquisitor (vol. 8, Mar. 1816) (“Theatrical and Literary Chit-Chat” 240) and the Monthly Review (vol. 82, Jan. 1817) (“Review of Christabel; Kubla Khan, a Vision; The Pains of Sleep” 24). Those who refer to Byron’s praise right at the beginning of their review include the Edinburgh Review (vol. 27, no. 53, Sep. 1816) (“Review of Christabel, Kubla Khan, a Vision”); the British Review (vol. 8, no. 15, Aug. 1816) (“Review of Christabel – Kubla Khan, a Vision”); the Literary Panorama (vol. 4, no. 22, July 1816) (“Review of Christabel. Kubla Khan, a Vision. The Pains of Sleep”); and the Anti-Jacobin Review (vol. 50, no. 218, July 1816) (“Review of Christabel”).


Despite Byron’s efforts, Christabel was a commercial and critical failure. A decade after its publication, Coleridge remarked that “[t]he Sale of the Christabel sadly disappointed Mr Murray. It was abused & ridiculed by the Edingburgh [sic] Review: & the Quarterly [Review] refused even to notice it” (S. T. Coleridge, Coll. Letters 5: 437).


At other times, of course, both before and after 1815, Byron was very ambivalent towards, or even dismissive of, Coleridge’s talent. For instance, writing to James Hogg in 1814, Byron sharply criticised the Lake Poets: “I hate these talkers one and all, body and soul. They are a set of the most despicable impostors […]. They know nothing of the world[.] […] Look at their beastly vulgarity, when they wish to be homely; and their exquisite stuff, when they clap on sail, and aim at fancy. Coleridge is the best of the trio – but bad is the best. Southey should have been a parish-clerk, and Wordsworth a man-midwife – both in darkness. I doubt if either of them ever got drunk” (BLJ 4: 85).


Byron’s sincerity in claiming that he had never heard or seen Christabel before composing the passage in question cannot be verified with absolute certainty, but most of the evidence confirms his statement. McGann’s conjectures on the composition history of The Siege of Corinth endorse Byron’s account. The watermark dates in the manuscripts, the physical condition of the manuscripts, and Byron’s letters suggest that lines 474–563 were written as early as in autumn 1813, i.e. nearly two years before Byron heard Scott recite Christabel (cf. editor’s n in CPW 3: 480). In his commentary on The Siege of Corinth in the posthumous Works of Byron, Thomas Moore provides a convincing explanation for the similarities between Byron’s poem and Christabel: “the poet had never read ‘Christabel’ at the time when he wrote those lines; – he had, however, [read] the ‘Lay of the Last Minstrel’” (T. Moore, Works of Byron 10: 105–06). In other words, Scott had been inspired by Coleridge and Byron by Scott. Given his implicit criticism of Scott for using Christabel without acknowledgement, it is a bit ironic that Byron does not admit his debt to Scott anywhere in The Siege of Corinth.


For the ‘truth’ of performance, see Zirker, William Shakespeare and John Donne 12. For the concept of performance, in general, see Fischer-Lichte 29–37.


It is not entirely clear whether Hodgson was the one who had objected to the expression, but he is the most likely candidate. The annotation must have been written between 13 November (when the lines in question were first received by Murray as a corrected fair copy to be added to the poem) and 20 November 1813 (when Byron asked Murray to delete part of the note that he had sent him) (cf. CPW 3: 432; BLJ 3: 169). The manuscript of the annotation is not extant (cf. editor’s n in Murray 50). Both the annotated lines and the (full) annotation were first printed in the proof of 21 November 1813 (cf. editor’s n in Murray 50). (The full note was eventually published; Byron seems to have retracted his order to delete part of it.) Drafts of The Bride of Abydos were read by Hodgson, William Gifford (Murray’s literary adviser), and Lord Holland (one of the foremost Whig politicians of the day) (cf. BLJ 3: 161; 166). Gifford, however, had received a proof of the poem on 12 November 1813, i.e. before the additional lines were even sent to Murray or inserted into the existing draft (cf. BLJ 3: 161). Thus, he cannot have been the one who objected to them. Besides, it is unlikely that Byron would have reacted this facetiously if the criticism had been voiced by Gifford, whom he called his “literary father” and whose opinion on literary matters he valued above everyone else’s (BLJ 11: 117, original emphasis; cf. e.g. BLJ 5: 193). It is just as implausible that the irreverent retort is directed at Holland, to whom the poem is dedicated and with whom Byron tried his best to establish a friendly relationship after having satirised him in EBSR.


Other annotations in which Byron reacts to objections that his friends and advisers raised when reading the drafts of his poems include: (1) Bride of Abydos 2.204n, in which Byron counters Murray’s argument that a Muslim character would not mention the names of Noah and Cain (CPW 3: 440; cf. also BLJ 3: 164–65), (2) Lara 1n, (a note written by Hobhouse at Byron’s request) which explains that, even though Lara’s name sounds Spanish, the poem is not set in Spain and that it is hence not incorrect to call Lara’s subjects “serfs” despite the fact that serfdom never existed in Spain (CPW 3: 453; cf. also BLJ 4: 143–46), and (3) Don Juan 13.106n, where Byron prints one of his friend’s manuscript comments criticising Byron’s claim that “[n]o angler can be a good man” (CPW 5: 759).


The correct passage in Shakespeare reads “The man that hath no music in himself, / Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, / Is fit for treason, stratagems, and spoils” (Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice 5.1.82–84). It appears that the passage was often quoted incorrectly in Byron’s age. For instance, in the entry for “Shakespeare” in Rees’s The Cyclopædia: Or, Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Literature, the line is introduced and misquoted as follows: “This is the initial of a well-known, and now proverbial, eulogium on modulated sound: ‘The man that has no music in his soul,’ etc.” (Rees n.pag., original emphasis).


In the passage in De l’Allemagne to which Byron’s note refers, de Staël not only discusses synaesthesia but also argues that the soul can be manifested or mirrored in external phenomena (I am quoting from the 1813 translation): “Why […] should not the supreme Intelligence, which formed nature and the soul, have made one the emblem of the other? There is no vain play of fancy in those continual metaphors which aid us in comparing our sentiments with external phænomena; sadness, with the clouded heaven […] – it is the same thought of our Creator, transfused into two different languages, and capable of reciprocal interpretation. […] The analogies between the different elements of external nature together constitute the chief law of the creation[.] […] For example, What is there more astonishing than the connexion [sic] between sounds and forms, and between sounds and colours? […] Sanderson, who was blind from his birth, said, that the colour of scarlet, in his idea, was like the sound of a trumpet […][.] We incessantly compare painting to music; because the emotions we feel discover analogies where cold observation would only have seen differences” (de Staël, Germany 3: 150–52).


Yet another annotation that draws attention to the collaborative nature of writing appears in Don Juan and records that, in the proof of the poem, Byron and one of his friends fought over the weighty question whether an angler can be a good man (cf. Don Juan 13.106n; CPW 5: 759).


This can be compared to Andrew Elfenbein’s argument that Byron’s works in general give readers the chance to take a glimpse at a world that they were usually barred from. He allows them to “view and identify with a secret aristocratic space not ordinarily open to public view” (Elfenbein 52). Nevertheless, it should be kept in mind that most works before Don Juan were sold at a prize that would have prevented middle- and lower-class readers from buying them in the first place, so that Byron’s works were mainly read by his social equals (cf. St. Clair, “The Impact of Byron’s Writings” 4; 7).


For the collaborative nature of Romantic writing, also see St. Clair, The Reading Nation 183.


She wrote (with a great dose of feigned humility): “I do not know how to express to you, my lord, how honoured I feel to be in a note to your poem, and in what a poem! For the first time it seems to me that I am certain to be remembered by posterity, and you have placed at my disposal that real of esteem which will be yours more and more every day” (de Staël, Selected Corr. 329).


The first edition was destroyed at the behest of Napoleon before any copy could be sold. Only a handful of the 5000 copies of this edition survived (cf. Lonchamp no. 90). It was in the form of Murray’s 1813 edition that De l’Allemagne met the public eye for the first time.


For a recent discussion of the evidence for and against the possibility that Byron and Leigh had an incestuous relationship, see Rawes, “‘That Perverse Passion’” 75–79. Regardless of what actually happened between the two (a matter that will probably never be resolved with final certainty), one must at least admit that Byron was quite fond of hinting at such a relationship, both in his private correspondence and his works.


Though it is unlikely that she is meant here, it is quite possible that Lady Caroline Lamb (and many others who knew of her rather public past affair with Byron) would have interpreted the lines as a reference to herself. For the connection between ambiguity and poetic economy, see Bross passim.


It is very likely that Augusta Leigh would have been far from proud, pleased, or thrilled to read this allusion to their possible relationship. Throughout her life, she did her best to disclaim all rumours about the affair, e.g. forbidding Byron to publish the “Epistle to Augusta” in 1816.


In the draft, Selim and Zuleika were siblings; in the published version, they are cousins who initially believe themselves to be siblings.


Even Thomas Moore – one of Byron’s closest friends – appears to have learnt about Byron and Augusta’s possible relationship only after The Bride of Abydos had been published. Jeffery Vail surmises (based on their correspondence), that Byron hinted at it to Moore in May 1814, i.e. a few months after the publication (cf. Vail 144).


This teasing of readers with pieces of information that might or might not be supplied in later works or editions can be compared to Pope’s strategy of deliberately withholding information in the 1728 Dunciad in order to create a greater demand for the heavily annotated 1729 Dunciad (see chapter 2.2.1 above).


Gary Dyer paraphrases the stanza as follows: “Juan had removed from the world a great man, who in his day had made considerable commotion. Who could lead the thieves in attack in a fight, drink in the thieves’ hideout, or steal at the theater as Tom could? Who could cheat a fool as well or rob on horseback despite the threat of constables? Who, when out with his girlfriend Sal, was so lusty, so well dressed, so devoted, and so clued in?” (Dyer, “Thieves, Boxers, Sodomites, Poets” 564).


Byron was not the first poet to use flash language in his works. For instance, his friend Tom Moore’s poem Tom Crib’s Memorial to Congress is written in (boxing) flash. For lesser-known flash poems by Moore and others, see Dyer, “Thieves, Boxers, Sodomites, Poets” 575n9. For seventeenth- and eighteenth-century precursors of slang literature, see Sorensen 27–105.

For the popularity of flash language in the Romantic age in general, also see Snowdon 35–70; Dyer, “Thieves, Boxers, Sodomites, Poets” 564–67; Dart passim; and Ford 158–57; 166–87.


Byron was also friends with Tom Cribb, another of the foremost boxers of the age (cf. BLJ 3: 221). Furthermore, while he was at Cambridge, Byron organised an illegal boxing match between the professional boxers Tom Belcher and Dan Dogherty. The fight was interrupted by the magistrates, who subsequently arrested the fighters (cf. Hobhouse, Byron’s Bulldog 32; Dyer, “Thieves, Boxers, Sodomites, Poets” 566).


However, boxing also had some supporters among “middle-class citizens who had made their money in manufacture and trade” (Brailsford, Bareknuckles 25). Nevertheless, these were far outnumbered by both those above and below them on the social scale (cf. Brailsford, “Morals and Maulers” 134).


The OED defines “mobility” (being a play on the term “nobility”) as “[t]he mob, the rabble; the common people; the working classes” (“mobility, n.2.”).


In April 1814, for example, Byron noted that he had been sparring “with Jackson for this last month daily” (BLJ 4: 91).


Dennis Brailsford likewise describes Jackson as someone who had “won the highest regard from pugilists and peers alike, was looked upon as a model of honesty and was accepted as the final authority on all matters pugilistic” (Brailsford, Bareknuckles 68).


For example, he claims that “no one should be a rhymer who could be any thing better” (BLJ: 3: 217), and stresses: “I do think the preference of writers to agents – the mighty stir made about scribbling and scribes, by themselves and others – a sign of effeminacy, degeneracy, and weakness. Who would write who had anything better to do? ‘Action – action – action’ – said Demosthenes: ‘Actions – actions,’ I say, and not writing, – least of all rhyme” (BLJ 3: 220, original emphasis). Also see BLJ 4: 183 and BLJ 5: 177.


The authenticity of the song quoted in the annotation cannot be ascertained. I could not find the stanzas printed anywhere before Don Juan. In his edition of the eleventh canto of Don Juan, Cochran argues that “the authenticity of this lyric is clear from its appearance in 1828 in The Finish of the Adventures of Tom, Jerry, and Logic, sequel to London Life by Pierce Egan” (Cochran (ed.), Don Juan Canto 11 13n46). However, it is just as likely that Egan took the lines from Byron’s note rather than from any real-life model.


Even though McGann stresses the presence of different (initiated and uninitiated) readerships in Byron’s poems, he nevertheless also argues that “[i]n general, it is as if Byron in his work were not simply meditating in public, but were declaring or even declaiming his inmost thoughts and feelings out loud, and directly to others” (McGann, “Private Poetry, Public Deception” 117–18).


A letter from Murray to Byron about Francis Cohen (later Sir Francis Palgrave), who had translated part of the Italian appendix in Marino Faliero, illustrates the social (and commercial) implications of the paratexts. Murray tells Byron: “You would [make] Cohen very happy & confer a great favour upon him if you would mention him in the preface – he is preparing a Work for the press & a notice of him from you would much serve him by bringing his name before the public” (Murray 364). It is unknown which of Cohen’s works this refers to; he “published no work under his own name at this time” (editor’s n in Murray 366). Possibly Murray “had in mind the report Cohen was preparing for negotiating the publication of the Public Records, of which he was soon to become the editor” (editor’s n in Murray 366).


In two cases, Byron’s attempts at social networking in his paratexts did more harm than good. Both of them occur in Marino Faliero. Firstly, in his preface, he deprecates the current state of the theatre but then qualifies this statement, arguing that “surely there is dramatic power somewhere, where Joanna Baillie, and [Henry Hart] Milman, and John Wilson exist” (Marino Faliero Pref. ll. 181–183; CPW 4: 305). Byron then proceeds to praise some of their works. This compliment to contemporary dramatists did not sit well with Byron’s Harrow schoolfellow Barry Procter, who complained to Thomas Medwin “that he had been jeered on [his] ‘The Duke of Mirandola’ not having been included in [Byron’s] enumeration of the dramatic pieces of the day” (Medwin 124). Byron wrote a letter of apology to Procter, assuring him that had he been aware of his tragedy, he “should certainly not have omitted to insert [Procter’s] name with those of other writers who still do honour to the drama” (BLJ 9: 83–84, original emphasis).

Secondly, in Appendix 5, Byron laments the desolate state of Venice, before going on to argue that “from the present decay and degeneracy of Venice under the Barbarians [i.e. Austrians], there are some honourable individual exceptions” (Marino Faliero App. 5; CPW 4: 542). He proceeds to compliment various of his friends and acquaintances, among them “Vittor Benzon, the son of the celebrated beauty, the heroine of ‘La Biondina in Gondoletta’, […] and, not least in an Englishman’s estimation, Madame Michelli, the translator of Shakspeare […], and Giuseppe Albrizzi, the accomplished son of an accomplished mother” (ibid.). However, as Byron’s friend Richard Belgrave Hoppner informed him, the three contesse mentioned in this passage – Maria Querini Benzoni, Giustina Michele, and Isabella Teotochi Albrizzi – were not content with Byron’s praise of them: “This note you must know has been the general subject of conversation […], and none of the three good ladies of whom you speak are perfectly satisfied because in fact each of them thinks you ought to have spoken of her alone. Poor Benzoni however was the most [satisfied] notwithstanding her hatred of the Albrizzi, until the malicious little Michaeli put it into her head that you ought to have celebrated her wit and amiability as her beauty was sufficiently notorious” (Cochran and Curtis (eds.) 71). For Byron’s facetious answer, see BLJ 8: 130–31. It should be noted that these two examples prove yet again – despite Cobbett’s assertion to the contrary – that annotations and other paratexts were indeed avidly read and discussed by Byron’s contemporaries (for Cobbett, see p. 236 above).


For correctors’ tasks and social status prior to the Romantic age, see Grafton, The Culture of Correction and Grafton, Inky Fingers 29–55.


“The apprentices were also employed in proof-reading but without correcting the press. […] [The apprentices] often worked as floaters, who, provided they had already developed the required abilities, were employed wherever the usual workflow made it necessary” (my translation). Percy Simpson in Proof-Reading in the Sixteenth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Centuries also mentions a William Smellie whom his firm employed as a corrector while he was still an apprentice (cf. P. Simpson 160–61).


Printer’s devils seem to have been a byword for curiosity: the author of the anonymous Memoirs of a Printer’s Devil (1793) explains that “we Printer’s Devils have a strong propensity to peep into other men’s Works” (Memoirs of a Printer’s Devil 2).


It is possible that the contradictory accounts of the tasks that printer’s devils performed is due to the fact that some printing offices allowed their devils to take on more responsible jobs than other offices and also soon promoted them to ‘readers’ and ‘correctors’ (cf. Grafton, personal communication, 12 March 2021).


For an extensive history of Titivillus (also sometimes spelled Tutivillus) see Margaret Jennings’s Tutivillus: The Literary Career of the Recording Demon. The name of Tutivillus was first recorded in 1285 (cf. Jennings 16–17); at this time, he was not responsible for scribal errors but recorded “the idle words of churchgoers” and the “omitted or skimmed-over syllables from the carelessly recited prayers of the religious” (Jennings 10–11). I am grateful to Wolfgang Forster for drawing my attention to the notion of Titivillus.


Other telling examples of the printer’s devil appear in (1) vol. 30 of the Anti-Jacobin (4 June 1798; reprinted in Canning and Frere’s Poetry of the Anti-Jacobin 1799), where the devil spots a mistake in the poem (cf. 179 in repr.); (2) vol. 12 (1809) of the Universal Magazine, where the devil detects ‘plagiarisms’ in the text (“Literary Adventures” 372); (3) the preface to Edward Du Bois’s Fashionable Biography (1808), where the devil again spots a pun (the phrase “a luminous collection of speeches” is followed by the annotation “Quaere, vo-luminous. Printer’s Devil”) (Du Bois xxxviii, original emphasis); (4) a review of Sydney Owenson’s Woman, or Ida of Athens in the Quarterly Review (vol. 1, Feb. 1809), in which the devil facetiously corrects the review (“Review of Woman, or Ida of Athens” 51); and (5) an article about the “sage” committee of Drury Lane Theatre in The London Literary Gazette (no. 50, 3 Jan. 1818) annotated thus: “The Printer’s Devil, who is a bit of a critic, has just come to us to know if it should not be written stage committee. He thought sage must be a mistake” (“The Drama” 125, original emphasis).


Hornem’s exceedingly naive tone and the other persons mentioned in the preface (the Countess of Waltzaway, the Honourable Augustus Tiptoe) made it obvious to contemporary readers that he was a fictional persona rather than the real author. It is likely that his name is a pun on ‘horn [i.e. cuckold] them’ (cf. OED “horn, v.” def. 2.).


The double-voicedness of passages in which the real author is being ironic and the fictional annotator is being serious can, of course, also be seen in Pope’s use of the annotator persona ‘Scriblerus’. (Though in the case of Scriblerus, it is often ambiguous whether he is really serious or rather ironic as well.) For a more detailed comparison between Byron’s printer’s devil and Pope’s Scriblerus, see chapter 4.1.


In his notes, McGann explains that The Waltz was published anonymously and did not name John Murray as publisher because Byron and Murray feared the “possible legal and political repercussions” of the satiric poem (editor’s n in CPW 3: 395).


I could not find any earlier instance of a printer’s devil adding a stanza to a poem; Byron seems to have been the first to employ this persona in such an elaborate manner. In Alfred de Musset’s “Mardoche” (which is modelled on Byron’s Beppo and Don Juan) one finds another rhymed annotation, which, however, is not signed by the printer’s devil (cf. Bishop 44). There are also two rhymed notes signed by the printer’s devil in Alexander d’Arblay’s 1836 comical poem Caïssa rediviva, which are most likely indebted to Beppo (cf. d’Arblay 19; 26).


Referring to the annotated stanza 46, the Edinburgh Review (vol. 29, no. 58, Feb. 1818) comments: “This […] is the only slip of the kind in the whole work – the only passage in which the author betrays the secret […] of his own genius and his affinity to a higher order of poets than those to whom he has here been pleased to hold out a model” (“Review of Beppo” 307).


The relevant lines in stanza 51 famously read: “Oh that I had the art of easy writing / What should be easy reading! […] / […] / How quickly would I print (the world delighting) / A Grecian, Syrian, or Assyrian tale; / And sell you, mix’d with western sentimentalism, / Some samples of the finest Orientalism” (original emphasis). Commenting on these lines, Michael K. Joseph argues that Beppo “is like one of the Turkish Tales turned inside-out; Beppo’s life as a slave, renegade, and pirate, which would have made the experience of an early Byronic hero, is relegated to the distant background; and Byron turns his back on the Orientalism which he had exploited and fostered” (Joseph 135).


At the same time, one might go so far as to suggest that the note already contains a subtle hint of criticism of Byron’s new poetic style: the fact that the note is signed by the printer’s devil insinuates that even a mere errand boy can write a perfect ottava rima stanza.


As in many of the annotations attributed to Scriblerus in Pope’s Dunciads, it remains unclear whether the printer’s devil is being naive or ironic, i.e. whether or not he is fully aware that his defence of the poem is untenable.


The note appears in the middle of an attack against lawyers, where readers are presented with the following metaphor: “A legal broom’s a moral chimney-sweeper, / And that’s the reason he himself’s so dirty: / The endless soot bestows a tint far deeper / Than can be hid by altering his shirt; he” (Don Juan 10.15). The concise annotation for “soot” merely reads “Query, suit? – Printer’s devil” (CPW 5: 743). The devil pretends to have spotted a typographical error, which would mean that the poem actually contains a reference to lawyers who unnecessarily protract lawsuits for personal gain. The printer’s devil ensures that all readers are aware of the joke and reaffirms the metaphorical link between lawyer and chimney-sweeper.


The original article 12 reads: “Seront pareillement respectées les personnes et les propriétés particulières; les Habitans et en général tous les Individus qui se trouvent dans la Capitale, continueront à jouir de leurs droits et libertés, sans pouvoir être inquiétés ni recherchés en rien, relativement aux fonctions qu’ils occupent ou auraient occupées, à leur conduite et à leurs opinions politiques” (“Convention entre les Commisaires” 194).


Ney’s letter and Wellington’s answer were reprinted, and commented on, in Cobbett’s Political Register (“The Marshal to the Ambassadors”, 25 Nov. 1816) and The Examiner (“Foreign Intelligence” 26 Nov. 1815). Both newspapers had radical leanings; The Examiner was published by John Hunt, who also became Byron’s new publisher in 1822.


Byron’s own opinion of Ney is not known. He does not mention him in any of his letters or journal entries. Apart from the annotation discussed here, only his “Ode (From the French)” (1816) makes a reference to Ney. The respective lines in this poem read: “[Ney] whose honoured grave / Contains the ‘bravest of the brave’” (9–10). The lines do, however, not necessarily have to reflect Byron’s personal opinion. Even though the poem is an original composition, the title and headnote of the anonymously published work claim that it is only a translation of a French poem (ascribed to Chateaubriand); hence, Byron might only voice actual or possible French assessments of Ney. For Byron’s unfavourable opinion of Wellington, see M. Williams, “‘I like the Habeas Corpus (when we’ve got it)’” passim.


In a journal entry from 1818, Byron’s close friend John Cam Hobhouse mentions an epigram which might have served as a prototype for the Nay-Ney pun in Don Juan (cf. Cochran (ed.), Don Juan, Canto 9 2n2): “Lord Holland repeated to me an epigram on Kinnaird’s Memoir, which turned on the folly of listening to the Duke of Wellington’s guarantee: ‘To all the Duke could say, / You should have answered, Ney’” (Hobhouse, Recollections 2: 98, original emphasis). The epigram refers to the fact that Wellington (according to Lord Kinnaird) had guaranteed amnesty to a man called Marinêt, whom Kinnaird had been able to persuade to go to Paris to identify a man who had made an attempt on Wellington’s life. Despite the (in Kinnaird’s view) promised amnesty, Marinêt was arrested and tried (but eventually acquitted) for his connivance in the attempted assassination (cf. Cochran (ed.), The Byron-Hobhouse Correspondence 47n133). Byron mentions the incident in Don Juan 9.2. In his edition of Don Juan, E. H. Coleridge provides detailed background information on the case (cf. E. H. Coleridge (ed.) 6: 374). For Kinnaird’s reaction to Marinêt’s arrest, see his Letter to the Duke of Wellington, on the Arrest of M. Marinet (1818).


Also see the article about this incident in Hunt’s The Examiner on 16 September 1821, which is highly sympathetic to Ney’s son and critical of Wellington (cf. “Challenge of Marshal Ney’s Son”).


The printer’s devil – both as an annotatorial persona and a character in fiction – remained popular throughout the nineteenth century. He was either employed as a naive laughing-stock who inadvertently commits blunders (e.g. in Poe’s short story “X-ing a Paragrab” [sic]) or as a witty commentator who makes ironic remarks on the annotated poem (e.g. in the 1857 Job Morbid’s Pilgrimage written by a certain ‘D. R. M.’). I am grateful to Anthony Grafton for drawing my attention to Poe’s story.

Employed both as a clever, ironic character and as the inept butt of authors’ jokes, the printer’s devil can thus be compared to Pope’s annotatorial persona ‘Martinus Scriblerus’, who suffered the same fate at the hands of both Pope himself and later writers. Reviewers’ and authors’ propensity to jokingly attribute typographical errors to the printer’s devil continues to this day (see, for instance, Alcock et al. which begins: “By a curious trick of the proverbial printer’s devil, about ten pages of the original print-out did not appear” 289).


For the connection between ambiguity and poetic economy, see Bross passim.


There are a few further, minor examples of defensive/corrective notes in Byron. In the notes on CHP I, he acknowledges a factual mistake in his poem to which Scott had drawn his attention after its publication (cf. CHP 1.20n; CPW 2: 187). In a note on The Prophecy of Dante, he asks readers to pronounce “Beatrice” in the Italian way, so that the iambic pentameter remains intact (cf. 1.11n; CPW 4: 501), and in Parisina he quotes Shakespeare’s Richard II to justify his use of “haught” for “haughty” (cf. 267n; CPW 3: 491). Furthermore, in Mazeppa, he explains that it is permissible to describe the Palatine (a high-ranking official) as being as rich as a salt mine because, according to the note, Poland’s wealth consisted mainly in salt mines (cf. 157n; CPW: 4: 494). And in a note for the expression “strip[ping] the Saxons of their hydes” in Don Juan (10.36, original emphasis), Byron facetiously explains: “I believe a hyde of land to be a legitimate word, and, as such, subject to the tax of a quibble” (CPW 5: 744).


Also see Byron’s letter to Murray, in which he tells his publisher to write a note alerting readers to cases in which he made use of poetic licence in Marino Faliero: “Make a Note of this and put Editor as the Subscription to it. As I make such pretensions to accuracy – I should not like to be twitted even with such trifles on that score. – Of the play – they may say what they please but not so of my costume – and dram. pers. [dramatis personae] they having been real existences” (BLJ 7: 201, original emphasis).


In this respect, Byron is very similar to Scott, who likewise felt “obliged to indicate in the notes those occasions when he has departed from historical truth in the text” (Alexander 167; cf. also Clubbe 75). See, for example, the notes for The Lay of the Last Minstrel, where, in an annotation for canto 4, stanza 6, Scott explains that he introduced Lord William Howard “[b]y a poetical anachronism […] into the romance a few years earlier than he actually flourished” (W. Scott, The Lay of the Last Minstrel 272–73). Both Byron and Scott also took care to point out that their descriptions indeed corresponded to reality whenever they anticipated that readers might unjustly tax them with having deviated from facts (cf. Mayer, “The Illogical Status of Novelistic Discourse” 918). See, for example, Byron, Island 4.153n; CPW 7: 147.


In his edition of The Siege of Corinth, Cochran suggests that Byron not only wanted to forestall criticism for this instance of poetic licence but that he was also “determined to let the world know that he had seen eagles over Parnassus, and [as Byron explains later in the note] heard jackals howling in the ruins of Ephesus” (Cochran (ed.), Siege of Corinth 27n41). Thus, in this instance, Byron’s apparent concern for accuracy can also be seen as a pretext for self-presentation.


It is not clear how much Byron actually knew about his Gordon ancestors and their involvement in the Jacobite uprisings. In Gordons Under Arms, Skelton and Bulloch name “103 Gordons [who] entered the field for the old Chevalier in 1715 and for Prince Charlie in 1745” but only mention very few who were killed in either insurrection (Skelton and Bulloch l; cf. 507–32). Prominent Jacobites who were members of Clan Gordon included Lord Lewis Gordon (1724–1754) and John Gordon of Glenbucket (c.1673–1750), neither of whom was closely related to Byron (cf. Aikman 123–34). In The House of Gordon, Bulloch does not mention Byron’s great-grandfather, Alexander Gordon, 11th Laird of Gight, (1716–1760), in connection with Jacobite activities; he did not die in battle but most likely drowned himself (cf. Bulloch 114–17). What Byron does not mention in his note either is that there were also many Gordons who supported House Hanover, most prominently Cosmo Gordon, the third Duke of Gordon (cf. Way and Squire 147). However, there is no evidence that Byron intentionally overstated his family’s Jacobite ties or its fatalities in the two uprisings; rather, he most likely did not know better and, as McGann suggests in his notes for “Lachin Y Gair”, “seems to have had this romanticized history of the Gordons from his mother” (editor’s n in CPW 1: 373). Thus, even though Byron’s note on line 27 is still not entirely accurate, it nevertheless seems to reflect what he believed to be correct.


The Gordons of Gight to which Byron’s belonged “had a record of violence and banditry, of feuding and murder” and “were among the most notorious of the Scottish lairds” (Marchand, Life 1: 16).


The fact that Byron, in an annotation for lines supposed to be spoken by the natives of Loch na Garr, explains “I allude here to my maternal ancestors” makes clear that, ultimately, Byron is, of course, responsible for both the lines spoken by the natives and the lines uttered by the main speaker of the poem (“Lachin Y Gair” 25n, my emphasis).


This possibility can be compared to the annotations and poetic interpolations that the fictional editor in The Giaour adds to the work: the interpolations react sympathetically to the emotions and ideas depicted in the rest of them poem, while the notes adopt an irreverent and sceptical stance towards them (see chapter


For example, in a contemporary account in the Noctes Ambrosianæ, Castlereagh’s speeches are described as being “full of unnecessary parentheses; stretched out by verbose repetitions; crowded with intangible propositions; and made ludicrous by absurd images” (J. Wilson et al. 84n).


One need only think of the preface to cantos 6–8 of Don Juan, published merely a month before cantos 9–11, which uses much harsher words against Castlereagh. In the preface, Byron anticipates that readers will object to a few stanzas alluding to Castlereagh and uses this as an opportunity to launch a severe attack on the late Foreign Secretary: “Had that person’s Oligarchy died with him, [the stanzas] would have been suppressed; as it is, I am aware of nothing in the manner of his death or of his life – to prevent the free expression of the opinions of all to whom his whole existence was consumed in endeavouring to enslave. […] [A]nd as to lamenting his death, it will be time enough when Ireland has ceased to mourn for his birth. As a Minister, I, for one of millions, looked upon him as the most despotic in intention and the weakest in intellect that ever tyrannized over a country. […] [I]f a poor radical devil such as Waddington or Watson had cut his throat, he would have been buried in a cross-road, with the usual appurtenances of the stake and mallet. […] It may at least serve as some Consolation to the Nations, that their Oppressors are not happy, and in some instances judge so justly of their own actions as to anticipate the sentence of mankind” (Don Juan 6, preface; CPW 5: 296).


The expression is most likely an allusion to Thomas Moore’s short poem “What’s My Thought Like?”, which explains that Castlereagh is like a pump because he is “a slender thing of wood / That up and down its awkward arm doth sway / And coolly spout and spout and spout away, / In one weak, washy, everlasting flood” (T. Moore, Poetical Works 177).


Castlereagh died on 12 August 1822. On 8 August 1822 Byron had sent a letter to Thomas Moore, telling him that he had just begun to write the ninth canto of Don Juan (cf. BLJ 9: 191). On 24 August he had nearly finished it, and on 9 September he sent the manuscript to England (cf. BLJ 9: 195; 204). The first time that Byron mentions Castlereagh’s death in a letter is on 27 August 1822 (cf. BLJ 9: 197). It is likely that Byron learnt about Castlereagh’s suicide from Galignani’s Messenger, the newspaper he subscribed to while he was in Italy. Galignani’s first reported the occurrence on 17 August 1822 (no. 2327) (cf. “Melancholy Death of the Marquis of Londonderry”). Evidence from Byron’s letters shows that it usually took the newspaper eleven or twelve days to reach him from Paris, perhaps even a bit less if we assume that he did not write the letters in which he refers to Galignani’s on the exact same day on which he received the newest issue. For instance, in a letter from 4 December 1821 he mentions an article about him and Napoleon being the “greatest examples of human vanity”, which appeared on 22 November 1821 (BLJ 9: 74). Another example is a letter from 1 March 1822 referring to a review of Moore’s Irish Melodies, which appeared in the issue of 17 February 1822 (cf. BLJ 9: 117). This suggests that he would have seen the article on Castlereagh’s suicide around 23 or 24 August 1822, i.e. when he was just finishing the ninth canto. For other instances in which Byron drew on news reported or reprinted in Galignani’s, see Stabler, Byron, Poetics and History chapter 5. For the importance of Galignani’s Messenger for nineteenth-century travellers on the continent, see Cooper-Richet, “Distribution, diffusion et circulation du Galignani’s Messenger (1814–1890)”.


One can contrast the preservation of the lines against Castlereagh (published by Byron’s new, radical publisher John Hunt) with the omission of a passage that makes fun of Sir Samuel Romilly’s suicide, which was meant to appear in canto 1 of Don Juan (published by the more cautious and conservative John Murray). Murray had written to Byron about the stanza, advising him to “modify or substitute others for, the lines on Romilly whose death should save him” (Murray 273; cf. also 274n2). Against Byron’s explicit orders to keep the passage as it was (cf. BLJ 6: 167), Murray omitted the whole stanza and instead printed two rows of asterisks. The stanza was only included in Don Juan after Byron’s death. (Byron hated Romilly because he believed that Romilly had accepted to become his lawyer in the separation from his wife only to suddenly change sides and represent Lady Byron. For what had actually happened, see Cochran, Byron’s Romantic Politics 203–04.)


The lines that are echoed in Marino Faliero occur in Otway’s Venice Preserved at 3.2.297–98. For a discussion of the similarities and differences between Byron’s and Otway’s two tragedies, see Jump, “A Comparison of Marino Faliero with Otway’s Venice Preserved”.


For example, a letter to the Gentleman’s Magazine that (in May 1818, several years before the publication of Marino Faliero) defended Byron against charges of plagiarism, argued: “For surely, if a Plagiary be […] one who endeavours the clandestine appropriation of a borrowed thought; if allowed to be unconscious of its pre-existence, he cannot with much propriety be accused of stealing it” (“Lord Byron Vindicated” 390).


The fact that the annotation only refers to one line whereas there are parallels to Venice Preserved throughout the drama was noted in a review published in the Literary Gazette (iss. 223, 28 Apr. 1821). The reviewer complains that Marino Faliero is “neither more nor less than a remodification of Venice Preserved. The action, the characters, the catastrophe, are nearly the same”. The persons in the tragedy, “if not individually, do collectively repeat all the sentiments of the dramatis personæ of Otway; and upon this point of resemblance, the author, who is precise in acknowledging the minutest obligations, treats us with the following exquisite piece of irony [the reviewer then quotes the note]”. The review does not comment on the contradictoriness of Byron’s defence and mainly objects to the argument that obvious plagiarism is no plagiarism at all: “For ourselves, we know not what the gentlest reader may be inclined to credit; but we must declare that if any writer can be allowed to plunder another in the way Lord Byron has plundered Otway, and plead in defence that the robbery was committed in open day, we may as well concede at once, that barefaced depredation in literature is not a cognizable crime” (“Review of Marino Faliero” 260, original emphasis).


He was not the author of the review on Payne Knight’s Taste either. The actual reviewer was John Allen, the librarian of Lord and Lady Holland. It is usually suggested that Byron just misheard Allen’s name and assumed that it must refer to Hallam (cf. Bates 433).


For this problem in the Dunciads, see A. L. Williams 60–76.

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