In February Byron, having seen this assault in the Courier, writes off in needless heat, “I have got Southey’s pretended reply; what remains to be done is to call him out,”—and despatches a cartel of mortal defiance. Mr. Douglas Kinnaird, through whom this was sent, judiciously suppressed it, and the author’s thirst for literary blood was destined to remain unquenched. Meanwhile he had written his own Vision of Judgment. This extraordinary work, having been refused by both Murray and Longman, appeared in 1822 in the pages of the Liberal. It passed the bounds of British endurance; and the publisher, Mr. John Hunt, was prosecuted and fined for the publication.
Readers of our day will generally admit that the “gouty hexameters” of the original poem, which celebrates the apotheosis of King George in heaven, are much more blasphemous than the ottava rima of the travesty, which professes to narrate the difficulties of his getting there. Byron’s Vision of Judgment is as unmistakably the first of parodies as the Iliad is the first of epics, or the Pilgrim’s Progress the first of allegories. In execution it is almost perfect. Don Juan is in scope and magnitude a far wider work; but no considerable series of stanzas in Don Juan are so free from serious artistic flaw. From first to last, every epithet hits the white; every line that does not convulse with laughter stings or lashes. It rises to greatness by the fact that, underneath all its lambent buffoonery, it is aflame with righteous wrath. Nowhere in such space, save in some of the prose of Swift, is there in English so much scathing satire.
Byron, having arrived at Pisa with his troop of carriages, horses, dogs, fowls, servants, and a monkey, settled himself quietly in the Palazzo Lanfranchi for ten months, interrupted only by a sojourn of six weeks in the neighbourhood of Leghorn. His life in the old feudal building followed in the main the tenour of his life at Ravenna. He rose late, received visitors in the afternoons, played billiards, rode or practised with his pistols, in concert with Shelley, whom he refers to at this time as “the most companionable man under thirty” he had ever met. Both poets were good shots, but Byron the safest; for, though his hand often shook, he made allowance for the vibration, and never missed his mark. On one occasion he set up a slender cane, and at twenty paces divided it with his bullet. The early part of the evening he gave to a frugal meal and the society of La Guiccioli—now apparently, in defiance of the statute of limitations, established under the same roof—and then sat late over his verses. He was disposed to be more sociable than at Venice or Ravenna, and occasionally entertained strangers; but his intimate acquaintanceship was confined to