DON JUAN, by Lord Byron: Canto I

Canto I, st. 36-75

XXXVI Whate'er might be his worthlessness or worth, Poor fellow! he had many things to wound him, Let's own--since it can do no good on earth-- It was a trying moment that which found him Standing alone beside his desolate hearth, Where all his household gods lay shiver'd round him: No choice was left his feelings or his pride, Save death or Doctors' Commons--so he died.

XXXVII Dying intestate, Juan was sole heir To a chancery suit, and messuages and lands, Which, with a long minority and care, Promised to turn out well in proper hands: Inez became sole guardian, which was fair, And answer'd but to nature's just demands; An only son left with an only mother Is brought up much more wisely than another.

XXXVIII Sagest of women, even of widows, she Resolved that Juan should be quite a paragon, And worthy of the noblest pedigree: (His sire was of Castile, his dame from Aragon). Then for accomplishments of chivalry, In case our lord the king should go to war again, He learn'd the arts of riding, fencing, gunnery, And how to scale a fortress--or a nunnery.

XXXIX But that which Donna Inez most desired And saw into herself each day before all The learned tutors whom for him she hired, Was, that his breeding should be strictly moral: Much into all his studies she inquired, And so they were submitted first to her, all, Arts, sciences, no branch was made a mystery To Juan's eyes, excepting natural history.

XL The languages, expecially the dead, The sciences, and most of all the abstruse, The arts, at least all such as could be said To be the most remote from common use, In all these he was much and deeply read: But not a page of anything that's loose, Or hints continuation of the species, Was ever suffer'd, lest he should grow vicious.

XLI His classic studies made a little puzzle, Because of filthy loves of gods and goddesses, Who in the earlier ages raised a bustle, But never put on pantaloons or bodices; His reverend tutors had at times a tussle, And for their AEneids, Iliads, and Odysseys, Were forced to make an odd sort of apology, For Donna Inez dreaded the Mythology.

XLII Ovid's a rake, as half his verses show him, Anacreon's morals are a still worse sample, Catullus scarcely has a decent poem, I don't think Sappho's Ode a good example, Although Longinus tells us there is no hymn Where the sublime soars forth on wings more ample; But Virgil's songs are pure, except that horrid one Beginning with 'Formosum Pastor Corydon.'

XLIII Lucretius' irreligion is too strong For early stomachs, to prove wholesome food; I can't help thinking Juvenal was wrong, Although no doubt his real intent was good, For speaking out so painly in his song, So much indeed as to be downright rude; And then what proper person can be partial To all those nauseous epigrams of Martial?

XLIV Juan was taught from out the best edition, Expugated by learned men, who place, Judiciously, from out the schoolboy's vision, The grosser parts; but, fearful to deface Too much their modest bard by this omission, And pitying sore his mutilated case, They only add them all in an appendix, Which saves, in fact,the trouble of an index.

XLV For there we have them all 'at one fell swoop,' Instead of being scatter'd through the pages; They stand forth marshall'd in a handsome troop, To meet the ingenuous youth of future ages, Till some less rigid editor shall stoop To call them back into their separate cages, Instead of standing staring all together, Like garden gods--and not so decent either.

XLIV The Missal too (it was the family Missal) Was ornamented in a sort of way Which ancient mass-books often are, and this all Kinds of groteques illumined; and how they, Who saw those figures on the margin kiss all, Could turn their optics to the text and pray, Is more than I know--But Don Juan's mother Kept this herself, and gave her son another.

XLVII Sermons he read, and lectures he endured, And homilies, and lives of all the saints; To Jerome and to Chrysostom inured, He did not take such studies for restraints; But how faith is acquired, and then insured, So well not one of the aforesaid paints As Saint Augustine in his fine Confessions, Which make the reader envy his transgressions.

XLVIII This, too, was a seal'd book to little Juan-- I can't but say that his mamma was right, If such an education was the true one. She scarcely trusted him from her sight; Her maids were old, and if she took a new one, You might be sure she was a perfect fright, She did this during even her husband's life-- I recommend as much to every wife.

XLVIX Young Juan wax'd in godliness and grace; At six a charming child, and at eleven With all the promise of as fine a face As e'er to man's maturer growth was given. He studied steadily and grew apace, And seem'd, at least, in the right road to heaven, For half his days were pass'd at church, the other Between his tutors, confessor, and mother.

L At six, I said, he was a charming child, At twelve he was a fine, but quite boy; Although in infancy a little wild, They tamed him down amongst them: to destroy His natural spirit not in vain they toil'd, At least it seem'd so; and his mother's joy Was to declare how sage, and still, and steady, Her young philosopher was grown already.

LI I had my doubts, perhaps I have them still, But what I say is neither here nor there: I knew his father well, and have some skill In character--but it would not be fair From sire to son to augur good or ill: He and his wife were an ill sorted pair-- But scandal's my aversion--I protest Against all evil speaking, even in jest.

LII For my part I say nothing--nothing--but This I will say--my reasons are my own-- That if I had an only son to put To school (as God be praised that I have none), 'Tis not with Donna Inez I would shut Him up to learn his catechism alone, No--no--I'd send him out betimes to college, For there it was I pick'd up my own knowledge.

LIII For there one learns--'tis not for me to boast, Though I acquired--but I pass over that, As well as all the Greek I since have lost: I say that there's the place--but 'Verbum sat,' I think I pick'd up too, as well as most, Knowledge of matters--but no matter what-- I never married--but, I think, I know That sons should not be educated so.

LIV Young Juan now was sixteen years of age, Tall, handsome, slender, but well knit: he seem'd Active, though not so sprightly, as a page; And everybody but his mother deem'd Him almost man; but she flew in a rage And bit her lips (for else she might have scream'd) If any said so, for to be precocious Was in her eyes a thing the most atrocious.

LV Amongst her numerous acquaintance, all Selected for discretion and devotion, There was the Donna Julia, whom to call Pretty were but to give a feeble notion Of many charms in her as natural As sweetness to the flower, or salt to ocean, Her zone to Venus, or his bow to Cupid (But this last simile is trite and stupid).

LVI That darkness of her Oriental eye Accorded with her Moorish origin; (Her blood was not all Spanish, by the by; In Spain, you know, this is a sort of sin). When proud Granada fell, and, forced to fly Boabdil wept, of Donna Julia's kin Some went to Africa, some stay'd in Spain, Her great great grandmamma chose to remain.

LVII She married (I forget the pedigree) With an Hidalgo, who transmitted down His blood less noble than such blood should be; At such alliances his sires would frown, In that point so precise in each degree That they bred in and in, as might be shown, Marrying their cousins--nay, their aunts, and nieces, Which always spoils the breed, if it increases.

LVIII This heathenish cross restored the breed again, Ruin'd its blood, but much improved its flesh; For from a root the ugliest in old Spain Sprung up a branch as beautiful as fresh; The sons no more were short, the daughters plain: But there's a rumour which I fain would hush, 'Tis said that Donna Julia's grandmamma Produced her Don more heirs at love than law.

LIX However this might be, the race went on Improving still through every generation, Until it centred in an only son, Who left an only daughter: my narration May have suggested that this single one Could be but Julia (whom on this occasion I shall much to speak about), and she Was married, charming, chaaste, and twenty-three.

LX Her eye (I'm very fond of handsome eyes) Was large and dark, suppressing half its fire Until she spoke, then through its soft disguise Flash'd an expression more of pride than ire, And love than either; and there would arise A something in them which was not desire, But would have been, perhaps, but for the soul Which struggled through and chasten'd down the whole.

LXI Her glossy hair was cluster'd o'er a brow Bright with intelligence, and fair, and smooth; Her eyebrow's shape was like the aerial bow, Her cheek all purple with the beam of youth, Mounting, at times, to a transparent glow, As if her veins ran lightning; she, in sooth, Possess'd an air and grace by no means common: Her stature tall--I hate a dumpy woman.

LXII Wedded she was some years, and to a man Of fifty, and such husbands are in plenty; And yet, I think, instead of such a ONE 'Twere better to have TWO of five-and-twenty, Especially in countries near the sun: And now I think on't, 'mi vien in mente,' Ladies even of the most uneasy virtue Prefer a spouse whose age is short of thirty.

LXIII 'Tis a sad thing, I cannot choose but say, And all the fault of that indecent sun, Who cannot leave alone our helpless clay, But will keep baking, broiling, burning on, That howsoever people fast and pray, The flesh is frail, and so the soul undone: What men call gallantry, and gods adultery, Is much more common where the climate's sultry.

LXIV Happy the nations of the moral North! Where all is virtue, and the winter season Sends sin, without a rag on, shivering forth ( Twas snow that brought St. Anthony to reason); Where juries cast up what a wife is worth, By laying whate er sum, in mulct, they please on The lover, who must pay a handsome price, Because it is a marketable vice.

LXV Alfonso was the name of Julia s lord, A man well looking for his years, and who Was neither much beloved nor yet abhorr d: They lived together as most people do, Suffering each other s foibles by accord, And not exactly either one or two; Yet he was jealous, though he did not show it, For jealousy dislikes the world to know it.

LXVI Julia was--yet I never could see why-- With Donna Inez quite a favourite friend; Between their tastes there was small sympathy, For not a line had Julia ever penn d: Some people whisper (but, no doubt, they lie, For malice still imputes some private end) That Inez had, ere Don Alfonso s marriage, Forgot with him her very prudent carriage;

LXVII And that still keeping up the old connexion, Which time had lately render d much more chaste, She took his lady also in affection, And certainly this course was much the best: She flatter d Julia with her sage protection, And complimented Don Alfonso s taste; And if she could not (who can?) silence scandal, At least she left it a more slender handle.

LXVIII I can t tell whether Julia saw the affair With other people's eyes, or if her own Discoveries made, none could be aware Of this, at least no symptom e'er was shown; Perhaps she did not know, or did not care, Indifferent from the first, or callous grown: I'm really puzzled what to think or say, She kept her counsel in so close a way.

LXIX Juan she saw, and, as a pretty child, Caress'd him often--such a thing might be Quite innocently done, and harmless styled When she had twenty years, and thirteen he; But I am not so sure I should have smiled When he was sixteen, Julia twenty-three; These few short years make wondrous alterations, Particularly amongst sun-burnt nations.

LXX Whate'er the cause might be, they had become Changed; for the dame grew distant, the youth shy, Their looks cast down, their greetings almost dumb, And much embarrassment in either eye; There surely will be little doubt with some That Donna Julia knew the reason why, But as for Juan, he had no more notion Than he who never saw the sea of ocean.

LXXI Yet Julia's very coldness still was kind, And tremulously gentle her small hand Withdrew itself from him, but left behind A little pressure, thrilling, and so bland And slight,so very slight, that to the mind "Twas but a doubt; but ne'er magician's wand Wrought change with all Armida's fairty art Like what this light touch left on Juan's heart.

LXXII And if she met him, though she smiled no more, She look'd a sadness sweeter than her smile, As if her heart had deeper thoughts in store She must not own, but cherish'd more the while For that compression in its burning core; Even innocence itself has many a wile, And will not dare to trust itself with truth, And love is taught hypocrisy from youth.

LXXIII But passion most dissembles, yet betrays Even by its darkness; as the blackest sky Foretells the heaviest tempest, it displays Its workings through the vainly guarded eye, And in whatever aspect it arrays Itself,'tis still the same hypocrisy: Coldness or anger, even disdain or hate, Are masks it often wears, and still too late.

LXXIV Then there were sighs, the deeper for supression, And stolen glances, sweeter for the theft, And burning blushes, though for no transgression, Tremblings when met, and restlessness when left; All these are little preludes to possession, Of which young passion cannot be bereft, And merely tend to show how greatly love is Embarrass'd at first starting with a novice.

LXXV Poor Julia's heart was in an awkward state; She felt it going, and resolved to make The noblest efforts for herself and mate, For honour's, pride's, religion's, virtue's sake. Her resolutions were most truly great, And almost might have made a Tarquin quake: She pray'd the Virgin Mary for her grace, As being the best judge of a lady's case.

Don Juan, Canto I (1819), Byron

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