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Editor's Introduction
Don John; or, Don Juan Unmasked
Don Juan, Canto the Third!

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Don John; or, Don Juan Unmasked
Don Juan, Canto the Third!

The Don Juan Spinoffs

Don John, or Don Juan Unmasked


Don Juan, Canto the Third!

Editor's Introduction

[1] On 15 July, 1819, John Murray—the most prominent and probably the most prosperous conservative publisher in England—produced the first two cantos of Lord Byron's sexy and irreverent Don Juan. It was a controversial publication. Several of Byron's friends and advisers in England had recommended against publication on account of the poem's iconoclastic social, religious, and political implications. The shrewd Murray, however, saw a fine opportunity in the manuscript, and he decided to publish—though not without some alterations that were intended, it seems, to safeguard his conservative reputation and perhaps even to guard against a possible libel prosecution. For example, Murray declined to publish the long "Dedication" in which Byron skewers the current Poet Laureate (and Murray confidant) Robert Southey; likewise, some of the more explicitly political stanzas were, in the 1819 edition, replaced with asterisks. In addition, Murray took precautions in the production and sale of the poem: To shield himself from charges of popular rabble-rousing, he printed his Don Juan as an expensive quarto edition with opulent margins that was intentionally priced beyond the means of all but the wealthiest of book-buyers, and he declined to put Byron's name on the publication as the author or his own name as the publisher. Neither did Murray's advertising of the new volume identify its source; instead, he ran a single, cryptic sentence in the major newspapers: "In a few days, DON JUAN."

[2] Hone's response to this mysterious new poem was two-fold. Within a week of Murray's edition Hone issued Don John: or Don Juan Unmasked. Don John is a 40+ page pamphlet that presents a generally admiring review and description of the poem (with extensive excerpts). More importantly, Hone's pamphlet identifies Byron as the poet and Murray as the publisher and then takes the latter to task for what Hone interprets as a squeamish cowardice evident in Murray's unwillingness to own up to his own publication. What Hone found particularly galling about Murray's Don Juan is to be found in the stanzas (canto I, 205-06) that parody the language of the Ten Commandments (see Don John, par. 27). Hone had been tried in the court of King's Bench in 1817 for parodying liturgical language. The prosecution's argument was, in essence, that parodying liturgical language is inherently blasphemous because it degrades the sacred quality of the original. Though Hone won his own acquittals, subsequent printers of Hone's parodies were still facing libel trials on exactly the same charges (see par. 28, n. 5.). As Hone saw it, there is glaring evidence here both of Murray's hypocrisy and cowardice and of a legal double-standard. Murray was "the Publisher to the Board of Longitude, and of the Quarterly Review—the Bookseller to the Admiralty, and strenuous supporter of orthodoxy and the Bible Society" (par. 25), and yet Murray tried (ineffectually) to mask his own responsibility for a heterodox poem like Don Juan. However negatively that act might reflect on Murray's character, as a staunch conservative and highly "respectable" publisher he was not likely to be hauled into court to answer charges of blasphemy even though his publication quite manifestly commits the same "offence" as the works of any number of radical publishers who were constantly harrassed and often imprisoned on charges of libel, typically issued ex officio from the Home Office itself.

[3] While Don John offers an immediate and indignant response to Murray's publication, the work is very much a product of July, 1819. A few weeks later, on 16 August, the Manchester Massacre (or "Peterloo") completely changed the terms of public debate. Peterloo, in which the cavalry attacked a meeting of peaceful persons killing at least 11 and maiming scores more, was both a polarizing and a clarifying event—it demonstrated in visceral terms the power struggle between those who sought to maintain the traditional political and economic hierarchies of British culture and those who sought to reform them. As a result, the post-Peterloo months of 1819 were distinguished by an almost palpable tension as the government struggled to control what they saw as the threat of an imminent revolution and the radicals held a number of public meetings to protest the government's actions and to petition Parliament for reform. One such meeting took on 2 September in London where a crowd gathered to hear speeches by some of the most prominent radical speakers, including Sir Francis Burdett and John Cam Hobhouse. This meeting became the impetus for Hone's Don Juan, Canto the Third!

[4] Unlike the direct attack of Don John, Don Juan, Canto the Third! takes strategic advantage of Murray's unwillingness to put his own name on Byron's poem. In effect, the anonymity of both author and publisher left the poem open to appropriation by other writers and publishers, and Hone's Juan is probably the most effective and interesting of the several spurious continuations of Byron's poem. Adopting the voice of Byron's famous narrator, Hone claims that his own poem is the genuine article and he coopts the poem and presses it into the service of English radical politics.

[5] In Hone's continuation of Byron's narrative, Juan marries Haidee, the two have twelve children (six sets of twins born in consecutive years), and the whole family moves to London where Juan tries to support them by starting a political newspaper called The Devilled Biscuit. The central section of Hone's poem is devoted to Juan's reporting of the 2 September meeting, complete with a description of the gathering, Burdett's speech (in Spenserian stanzas), Hobhouse's speech, and eventually the break up of the meeting. As Juan reports on this event—he sings the contents of his newspaper to passersby—he is arrested and brought before the Lord Mayor of London, where, after a summary and inconclusive hearing, he is remanded to prison to await the further actions of the authorities. At this point, with Juan sleeping peacefully in his prison cell, Hone's canto draws to a close. Not surprisingly, much of this narrative has parallels in Hone's biography: with ten children, Hone had a large family to maintain; in 1817 he had set himself up as publisher of a radical newspaper—The Reformists' Register—in which he reported on various radical meetings and other activities; in May of that year he was arrested on mysterious ex officio charges and remanded to King's Bench Prison for several months before being released without explanation; and he offered a spirited and principled self-defense both during his initial hearing in May and then, famously, in his trials in December 1817.

[6] Illuminating as these parallels between Hone and Juan might be from a biographical perspective, when considered as a literary/political document, the narrative itself is less significant than Hone's ability to exploit the Byronic narrator in order to further his own political ends. What really counts in Hone's poem is the comical and ironic parrying for authority (i.e. the opening stanzas' claim that Hone rather than "drab John" [Murray] is the legitimate publisher of the work), the representation of print culture in general and newspaper journalism in particular (see esp. stanzas 13-31 and 55-61), and the final courtroom scene which portrays the sense of post-Peterloo paranoia within the Lord Mayor's chambers and then contrasts the forthright and principled courage of Don Juan against the blundering and violent prejudice of the royalist butcher (see stanzas 91-114). This last point is, I suspect, a veiled representation of Peterloo wherein a spirit of orderly and principled protest was violently and brutally suppressed by the yeoman cavalry who were often referred to in the radical press as "butchers" and whom Hone depicts, in the figure of the London butcher, as dangerous but almost cartoonishly simple-minded in his blind support of the Lord Mayor. All of these elements combine in Hone's poem to coopt the power and authority of Murray (and Byron) in such a way as to recast the popular understanding of Peterloo in a way sympathetic to the reformist cause. The poem, in brief, exemplifies Hone's remarkable ability, through parody and wit, and through some very good (if uneven) poetry, to transform the terms of public debate. It is not surprising, then, that Hone's poem was produced as the immediate precursor to the immensely popular and influential Political House that Jack Built.

[7] For further discussion and interpretation of Hone's Don Juan, Canto the Third! I would encourage readers to consult the following sources:
  • Peter Cochran's edition of Don Juan, Canto the Third! which is included as a PDF on Cochran's blog. (See this link.) Cochran's Don Juan, Canto the Third has been very useful to me in producing the present edition though readers will find a number of differences in our separate notes to the poem. Cochran's edition includes an informative introduction and, as appendices, transcripts of Hobhouse's journal pages and the Morning Chronicle article describing the 2 September meeting.
  • John Gardner's Poetry and Popular Protest: Peterloo, Cato Street and the Queen Caroline Controversy (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). This is an excellent study of the 1819-21 period with one chapter specifically about Hone and Peterloo (Chap. 3, pp. 33-71).
  • Kyle Grimes's "William Hone, John Murray, and the Uses of Byron" in Romanticism, Radicalism, and the Press, Ed. Stephen Behrendt. (Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1997). This essay develops at greater length the interpretation hinted at above regarding Hone's poem as a comic/rhetorical claim on Byron.
  • Hugh J. Luke's "The Publishing of Byron's Don Juan" (PMLA 80.3, 1965). Still a useful account of the immediate circumstances surrounding the publication of Byron's poem in 1819.
  • Marcus Wood's Radical Satire and Print Culture, 1790-1822 (Oxford: Clarenden P, 1994). Excellent comprehensive treatment of romantic satire with a close focus on Hone.

[8] The present page introduces electronic editions of both Don John and Don Juan, Canto the Third! These are diplomatic transcriptions of the original works. I have made a very few silent emendations, typically by standardizing the representation of titles (Hone tends simply to capitalize titles; I have put them in italics), or by correcting a handful of obvious compositors' errors. Also, to make the texts more accessible for screen-based reading, I have inserted a set of subtitles in each. These divisions are entirely my own, but they should facilitate navigation through each text. I have added my own explanatory footnotes to the works, distinguishing them from Hone's notes in the text of each note.

[9] Don John appears to have had a fairly short life in the lists of Hone's publications (as one would expect from such a topical work). My copy text for the BioText edition has been a copy of the work from the Houghton Library at Harvard, which I have checked against the copy in the British Library. Don Juan, Canto the Third! exists in at least two editions with some minor differences between them. The copy text for this BioText publication has been the first edition; I have inserted explanatory footnotes in the few places where there are alterations to the text in the second edition.

[10] In preparing these electronic editions I have transcribed and encoded each work by hand, using the oXygen software (version 12.2) with a slightly modified version of the TEILite tag set (P5). These "raw" TEI transcriptions are available for download from links in the navigation column at the left side of the screen. I then transformed the TEI files into HTML and edited the resulting files slightly in order to fit the BioText style sheets and to facilitate easier reading and linking within each work.

2 October, 2013