"She Looked A Lecture"
Context: Byron, preparing to write a satiric epic, looks about for an appropriate hero for his poem. Failing to find "in the present age" a fitting protagonist, he looks to the heroes of the past and chooses from among them "our ancient friend Don Juan." Most epic poets, says Byron, start their poems in the middle of things from which point the reader is brought up to date by a series of recollections delivered by the hero to a circle of friends after dinner or to his mistress in a tavern or a bower. But with Don Juan, "My way is to begin with the beginning; . . ./ Narrating somewhat of Don Juan's father,/ And also of his mother, if you'd rather." If the father, Don Jóse, was a true aristocrat of Spain, his wife, Donna Inez, was all of this and much more. She was, indeed, a lady learned in the sciences and in mathematics, with virtues equalled only by her wit, before whom even the cleverest people quailed, and the best of them were put into the shade. In short, she was perfection beyond parallel. Of this formidable lady, a satiric portrait of Lady Byron, who had left her husband three years before the publication of the first canto of Don Juan, the poet writes that while
Some women use their tongues–she look'd a lecture,Each eye a sermon, and her brow a homily,An all-in-all sufficient self-director,Like the lamented late Sir Samuel Romilly,The Law's expounder, and the State's corrector,Whose suicide was almost an anomaly–One sad example more, that "All is vanity,"–(The jury brought their verdict in "Insanity.")In short, she was a walking calculation,Miss Edgeworth's novels stepping from their covers,Or Mrs. Trimmer's books on education,Or "Coelebs' Wife" set out in quest of lovers,Morality's grim personification,In which not Envy's self a flaw discovers;To others' share let "female errors fall,"For she had not even one–the worst of all.