"A Finished Gentleman From Top To Toe"

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Last Updated on June 3, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 494

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Context: The parts of Don Juan appeared at intervals. Canto I was written in September, 1818 and published with Canto II in 1819; III, IV, and V were printed in 1821; the next nine appeared in groups of three in 1823; XV and XVI were published in March, 1824, and the unfinished Canto XVII, that went to Greece with Byron, was not printed until 1903. After a love affair with the married Donna Julia, a young friend of his mother, Don Juan is sent on a tour of Europe in search of an education in morals. Shipwrecked, he is found by Haidée, the lovely daughter of a pirate and slave-dealer (instead of by the fisherman's daughter as in Don Juan Tenorio, a Spanish version). After an amorous interlude, her father ships him to a slave market, and Haidée dies of grief. Sold to the Sultana, the youthful Don Juan is compelled to dress as a dancing maiden to conceal his sex from the Sultan. However, remembering his former sweetheart, Juan refuses to become the Sultana's lover. He escapes, when the armies of Catherine of Russia beseige Ismail. His general bravery and his deed in saving a ten-year-old girl from slaughter by the Cossacks (an actual event of the seige but performed by the Duc de Richelieu), give Don Juan such a reputation that he is chosen to carry news of the victory to the Empress in Russia. In St. Petersburg, with new worlds to conquer, Don Juan quickly becomes a favorite of the Empress. When he is taken ill, Catherine sends him on a diplomatic mission to England which opens another area to the satirical shafts of the poet. As a young, unmarried man, polished and knowledgeable about fashionable etiquette, Juan becomes very popular. Many English ladies make love to him. He is shown the sights of London and introduced to the social world. He also meets "a Prince," actually the Prince Regent, afterward George IV, and about him writes the laudatory stanza quoted below. So slight a thread cannot fill the many stanzas of the long poem. Byron often digresses. He commends Wellington (called Villainton by the French); he excoriates the ministers of England, except Canning; he is ironic about the chastity of English women; he attacks the holiness of the Holy Roman Empire, and criticizes the poetry of numerous contemporaries. As narrator, he introduces many of his own personal likes and dislikes. He even devotes one stanza, number 41 of Canto X, to a rhymed pharmaceutical prescription. But though there are many pages in the poem, there is hardly a dull one.

There, too he saw (whate'er he may be now)
A Prince, the prince of princes at the time,
With fascination in his very bow,
And full of promise, as the spring of prime.
Though royalty was written on his brow,
He had then the grace, too, rare in every clime,
Of being, without alloy of fop or beau,
A finish'd gentleman from top to toe.


"A Lady In The Case"