"Put Himself Upon His Good Behavior"

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Last Updated on June 3, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 204

Context: Don Juan is a long, digressive, and satiric poem about the adventures of a young libertine, Juan, whom readers and critics alike persist in identifying as Lord Byron. In Canto V, Juan and an Englishman named Johnson are sold as slaves to the Sultana Gulbeyaz. While they are being led by a black eunuch to the Sultan's palace, Juan suggests to his friend that they knock the slave on the head and escape. However, both are hungry, and when they smell food cooking, they decide to defer their plans for liberty. The line quoted refers to Juan's conduct when he smells food, but readers of the poem were prone to think of Byron himself and wonder if he was ever on "his good behaviour." Byron's old publisher, Murray, brought out the first five cantos of the poem anonymously, but he was so shocked by its contents that he refused to publish any more, and the remaining cantos were published by John Hunt. In context, the line reads:

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And nearer as they came, a genial savour
Of certain stews, and roast-meats, and pilaus,
Things which in hungry mortals' eyes find favour,
Made Juan in his harsh intentions pause,
And put himself upon his good behaviour.

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