Don Juan By Lord Byron Summary and Analysis Canto X

Summary

In Russia Juan becomes a polished Russian courtier and in the process also becomes a little dissipated. He lives "in a hurry / Of waste, and haste, and glare, and gloss, and glitter" (St. 26). He writes to relatives in Spain about his present circumstances. They answer promptly, impressed by his good fortune. A number of them prepare to emigrate to Russia. His mother writes that she has remarried and Juan now has a baby brother. She gives him a lot of good advice on how to conduct himself in Russia.

Life in Russia, however, does not continue to agree with Juan. He falls sick. The physicians, unable to determine the exact cause of his illness, recommend a change of climate. It happens that at the time the Empress Catherine is involved in negotiations with the English and decides that Juan will handle them. With his ward Leila and an entourage of valets and secretaries, he sets out across Europe, passing through Poland, Germany, and Holland. Eventually the party arrives in London.

Their arrival in England is an invitation to Byron to make some scathing remarks about his native land, whose sons have "butchered half the earth, and bullied t'other" (St. 81). He ends the canto with a promise of telling his fellow countrymen some unpleasant truths about themselves which, he says, they will not believe.

Analysis

Canto X is as devoid of narrative or incident as Canto IX, nor does Byron make up for dearth of incident by introducing an interesting character, as he had done in Canto VII in the person of General Suvorov. There is, however, an abundance of lively comment on a multitude of matters, and in Stanza 41 Byron performs a tour de force in turning a prescription with all its medical Latin and symbols into rhyme, a paraphrase of which can be found in the fourth volume of the Steffan-Pratt variorum edition of Don Juan.

England was hardly the country for a man who falls ill because of the rigors of the Russian climate. Spain would have been much better, but Byron had obviously decided that he was going to use Don Juan to satirize the country and the class that had ostracized him. Byron devotes the last six cantos of his poem to this task. Possibly it was for this reason that Byron carried Don Juan to Russia, which Byron had never visited. His own travels had brought him only as far as Turkey, Russia's neighbor. In addition to enabling him to introduce Catherine the Great, one of the most colorful figures of the eighteenth century, into his poem, it enabled him to spin out some stanzas on courts and courtiers, which in his mind were synonymous with depravity, waste, venality, and every form of corruption. Putting Don Juan in a court atmosphere, moreover, helped to prepare him for living in high aristocratic circles in England. The Russian court helped to mature Juan, gave him poise and knowledge of the ways of the upper-class world. Juan arrived in Russia a boy and left it as a self-assured young man. Juan had also arrived at Ismail penniless, and if Byron at this time planned to send him to England to circulate in high society, he had to have money. So he sent him to the generous Catherine, who gave him a fortune. He came to England "rich in rubles, diamonds, cash, and credit" (St. 70). A Don Juan without wealth would have been a figure of very limited interest and influence in the fashionable society of England where there was no Catherine to make him her favorite. No aristocrat knew the value of money better than Byron, who was always having trouble with it.

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