London: Davison / Hunt, 1819-1824. First Edition. Boards. 6 vols. 1st edition. Vol. 1 (cantos I and II) is 4to., vols. 2–6 (cantos III to XVI) are 8vo. and large paper copies limited to 1,500 each, as published. Original boards (all 6 vols. in boards including the first), paper labels (one is gone, 2 are fragments, one is chipped), vol. 1 was neatly rebacked long ago, other joints strengthened, boards worn else very good, uncut, complete with all half–titles, errata, and ads. A recent reprint of the unfinished Canto XVII (a 112–line fragment, first published in 1903 as part of Byron’s works) is laid in. Scarce these days this way. RBH logs one sale at auction of a 1st edition set, in original boards, in the last 10 years ($15,000, Christie’s, in 2021). Very good. Item #772
Don Juan (pronounced Ju–ahn) is the peak of Byron’s genius. He considered it a satirical epic, but Byron the romanticist could not avoid giving vent to numerous lyrical and rhapsodic lines. Every facet of his complex nature finds full and vivid expression in this sweeping poem. His impassioned love of liberty, his implacable hatred of hypocrisy, and his cynical and romantic moods are all reflected in it, providing a moving view of Europe in the early 19th century, and it raised Byron’s prestige on the continent to greater heights than that of any other English romantic poet. But it didn’t last long. Whatever bargain he had made with some devil expired in April 1824. He caught a cold that would have passed but he was bled with unsterile instruments, and on April 19 he died of the infection.
Juan is a 16–year old gentleman from Seville. Because of an intrigue with Donna Julia (the jam that is made from forbidden fruits), he is sent abroad by his mother. A shipwreck puts him in an overcrowded longboat where first his spaniel and then his tutor are eaten by the crew. Cast up on an island, he is returned to life by Haidee, the bewitching daughter of a Greek pirate. They fall in love, but the girl’s father finds them together and binds Juan in chains. Haidee goes mad and dies while Juan is sold as a slave to Gulbeyas, Sultana of Constantinople. She loves Juan but he loves one of her harem girls and this so arouses the sultana’s jealousy, that he barely escapes with his life, this time to the Russian army, busy besieging Ismail. Because of his gallant conduct in the battle, he is sent with a dispatch to St. Petersburg. There he attracts the attention of the Empress Catherine who, in turn, sends him on a political mission to England where Byron intermingles sardonic accounts of English social conditions with attacks on the victims of his scorn and enmity, and Don Juan’s delight in being pursued by a quixotic troupe of tempting women, but all 16 plus cantos are riddled with digressions on every sort of subject, the character of Juan providing the constant in a vast social comedy intershot with Byron’s inspired and fiery wit.