The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XII. The Romantic Revival.

II. Byron

§ 13. Beppo

It is, moreover, questionable whether Byron would ever have written his great comic masterpieces if he had continued to live under the grey skies of England and amid the restraining conventions of English society. Beppo, from beginning to end, is steeped in the atmosphere of Italy; its mood is that of the Venetian carnival; in tone and temper it is the most alien poem in our literature. And, without Beppo, there might never have been a Don Juan. In that case, the student of Byron would have been compelled to turn to his letters for the full disclosure of his genius and personality, and for a complete understanding of the fact that Byron was infinitely greater and more versatile than the Byronic hero of the verse-tales and the plays. Those letters rank with the best in a literature singularly rich in epistolography, and, in them, we see, in boon profusion, the racy wit, the persiflage and the rare colloquial ease which reappear with dazzling effect in his later poetry.

In its tolerant, almost genial, portrayal of the social licence of Italian burgess life, Beppo is the direct descendant of the Italian novella of the early renascence, while, in its truth to reality and inimitable faiety, it rivals the Decameron. To the unwary reader, the return of Beppo, disguised as a Turkish merchant, may seem the occasion for a clash of rapiers, but nothing was farther from Byron’s mind, and nothing would have destroyed more effectually that atmosphere of amused tolerance and polished irony which hangs over the poem, and keeps heroics at arm’s length. The poem also shows that its author, at one step, had gained full mastery of those subtle effects of style and rime which are the peculiar light of ottava rima.