By Carla Pomare
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Filtering in Byron’s use of documentary material, Bayle’s model mingled with a literary tradition that alternatively used paratexts as a device for authenticating narratives (like Scott’s novels) or with satiric purposes (like Pope’s Dunciad). Pope’s model hovers above the longest note of Don Juan, which I subject to a close reading that highlights how Byron ambivalently indulges in the act of correction, only apparently endorsing ideals of textual accuracy but actually colouring the tenets of historicism with Bayle’s scepticism while relying on old forms of para-historical knowledge represented by the long-standing tradition of commonplace books.
In the context of his reading of the process of cultural transmission in terms of great epistemic breaks, Foucault situates between the years 1775 and 182512 – curiously almost coinciding with the span of Byron’s life – the divide between what he defines as the Classical Age (itself begun in the mid-seventeenth century) and modernity. 14 Foucault therefore reverses the traditional way of looking at the nineteenth-century emergence of history within the epistemological space, as he explains in his highly figurative prose: We are usually inclined to believe that the nineteenth century, largely for political and social reasons, paid closer attention to human history … and that the bourgeoisie, in attempting to recount its own ascension, encountered, in the calendar of its victory, the historical density of institutions, the specific gravity of habits and beliefs, the violence of struggles, the alternation of success and failure … According to this point of view, the study of economies, the history of literatures and grammars, and even the evolution of living beings are merely effect of the diffusion, over increasingly more distant areas of knowledge, of a historicity first revealed in man.
Davila – Guicc[i]ardini – Robertson – & Hume – you know without my telling you are the best ‘modern Historians’ – and Gibbon is well worth a hundred perusals – Watson’s Philips’ [sic] of Spain – and Coxe’s Spain & Austria are dry enough – but there is some advantage to be extracted even from them – Vertot’s Revolutions – (but he writes not history but romance) – the best thing of that kind I met with by accident at Athens in a Convent Library in old & not ‘very choice Italian’ I forget the title – but it was a history in some 30 tomes of all Conjurazioni whatsoever from Cataline’s down to Fiesco of Lavagna’s in Genoa – and Braganza’s in Lisbon – I read it through (having nothing else to read) & having nothing to compare it withal thought it perfection.