Don Juan Canto 10

When we last left Don Juan, he was in Russia and Catherine the Great had taken a shine to him. Let’s see what happens next.

Canto 10 opens in praise of astronomers:

When Newton saw an apple fall, he found
In that slight startle from his contemplation –
‘Tis said (for I’ll not answer above ground
For any sage’s creed or calculation) –
A mode of proving that the earth turn’d round
In a most natural whirl, call’d “gravitation;”
And thus is the sole mortal who could grapple,
Since Adam, with a fall or with an apple.
-Canto X, Stanza 1

Byron goes on to say, “Man fell with apples, and with apples rose” and “full soon/Steam-engines will conduct [mankind] to the moon (X, 2). Why start the canto discussing astronomy? Byron says that although he is “much inferior” to those who “Discover stars, and sail in the wind’s eye,/I wish to do as much by poesy. (X, 3)” We’ll see how that goes.

Byron describes Catherine as “a not old queen,/But one who is not so youthful as she was” and tells us “Sovereigns may sway materials, but not matter,/And wrinkles (the d—-d democrats) won’t flatter (X, 24).”

Anyhow, being the queen’s favorite has its benefits. Juan writes home and invites his cousins to Moscow. He gets them prestigious stations. His mother, Donna Inez, writes back to inform him he now has a little brother born in a second marriage. After running low on money herself, she advises him to be careful in his spending. She urges him to stay true to his Catholic roots and not convert to the Greek Orthodox faith. She also tells him to “smother/Outward dislike” and praises “the empress’s maternal love (X, 32).” If Juan had shacked up with an older woman back home in Spain, she wouldn’t have accepted it, but maybe because Russia is colder, she thinks people are more virtuous there.

Unfortunately, just when everything seems to be going well, Juan falls sick. The doctors came up with several theories as to what was causing the illness.

But here is one prescription out of many:
“Sodae-sulphat. 3 vi. 3. s. Mannae optim.
Aq. fervent. F. 3. iss. 3. ij. tinct. Sennae
Haustus’ (and here the surgeon came and cupp’d him)
“R. Pulv. Com. gr. iii. Ipecacuanhae”
(With more beside, if Juan had not stopp’d ’em.)
“Bolus potassae sulphuret, sumendus,
Et haustus ter in die capiendus.”
-Canto X, 41

I’d love to hear how an audio book recorder would tackle that stanza. I had no idea what any of that said, so I looked it up. According to The Burning of Byron’s Memoirs: New and Unpublished Essays and Papers by Peter Cochran (page 20), there are two prescriptions listed. The items described on the first two lines are laxatives, while the next two items cause vomiting. So things would have been coming out of both ends for poor Don Juan. Not only that, but “cupping” means blood letting (which contributed to Byron’s own death after he himself had fallen ill). Juan could very well have died from these physicians’ ministrations.

He ends up surviving, but he’s still sickly. The doctors advise that he move to a warmer climate. Catherine reluctantly sends him on a mission to England (I guess it’s warmer than Russia, but wouldn’t somewhere like Spain be better?) to recover. Juan brings his ward Leila, the 10-year-old girl he rescued from Ismail along with him. We’re told she refuses to convert to Christianity, insisting on remaining Muslim.

They travel through Poland, Prussia, Germany, and Holland before arriving at England, thus drawing this canto to a close. In an aside, Byron mentions “Carotid-artery-cutting Castlereagh (X, 59)” a man who bribed members of Irish parliament to join England and later cut his own throat. Byron was not a fan.

If this yeast didn’t have enough leaven, perhaps there’s more in canto eleven.

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