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The “Dedication” to Lord Byron’s Don Juan might be summarized as follows:
- Byron opens the dedication by mocking Robert Southey, as well as William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, for having abandoned their earlier liberal political beliefs (1-16) and for having declined in skill as poets (17-64). He suggests that they have been motivated partly by desire to win official approval and financial reward.
- He contrasts Southey, Wordsworth, and Coleridge with John Milton, the great revolutionary poet of the seventeenth century, who remained committed to his original radical political principles even when it was disadvantageous to do so (64-88).
- He mocks Viscount Castlereagh, an important political figure of the time, whom Byron detested (89-128), depicting him as an enemy to freedom everywhere.
- He returns to his mockery of Southey (129-36), accusing him of political hypocrisy and self-serving flattery.
The dedication thus establishes Byron’s commitment to liberal, lofty political principles as well as to composition of a kind of poetry that reflects a commitment to those principles and also commitment to lofty artistic goals we well. Byron considers Southey (and, to a lesser degree, Wordsworth and Coleridge) old men who have lost touch with the political ideals and poetic aspirations that once made them great. He depicts Southey, in particular (whom he disliked personally) as a sell-out and time-server:
Meantime, Sir Laureate, I proceed to dedicate
In honest, simple verse, this song to you;
And if in flattering strains I do not predicate,
’Tis that I still retain my “bluff and blue.” (129-32)
“Bluff and blue” were colors associated with the Whigs, the more liberal of the two political parties in England (Tories being the conservatives).
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