Annotated proofs of 'Don Juan', showing the 'Dedication' at the start of the poem. [Library reference: MS.43394].
Publisher John Murray purchased the rights to publish the first two parts — 'cantos' — of Lord Byron's poem 'Don Juan' in May 1819. Before it was published, the work went through a 'proofing stage' which gave the opportunity to identify mistakes and make revisions to improve style or clarity.
The proofs of cantos I and II were read by Byron's closest friend, John Cam Hobhouse, who annotated them to highlight where he thought changes should be made. Hobhouse felt that some of the topics, like cannibalism and syphilis were unacceptable, and he was also concerned about the personal attacks Byron had included in his work.
At the beginning of the poem Byron had written a dedication in which he attacked the poet laureate Robert Southey. Byron disliked Southey’s poetry and politics and was enraged when he heard that Southey had spread rumours about him. Byron agreed to omit the dedication, writing on the proofs:
'As the Poem is to be published anonymously omit the dedication — I won't attack the dog in the dark — such things are for Scoundrels and renegadoes like himself.'
Byron's character Donna Inez
proof relating to Donna Inez,
[Library reference: MS.43394].
Although Byron denied that the character of Donna Inez in 'Don Juan' was based on his estranged wife Annabella Milbanke, the similarities were clear.
Byron's friends considered this to be unnecessarily cruel and contrary to social codes.
Hobhouse noted his concerns on several pages of the proofs in which Donna Inez was described.