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Here’s a stanza from canto I of Byron’s Don Juan, published in 1819. The narrator has been surveying the talents (or lack thereof) of his fellow-poets, and comments:

Thou shalt not covet Mr. Sotheby’s Muse,†
    His Pegasus, nor anything that’s his;
Thou shalt not bear false witness like ‘the Blues’
    (There’s one, at least, is very fond of this);
Thou shalt not write, in short, but what I choose:
    This is true criticism, and you may kiss—
Exactly as you please, or not,—the rod;
But if you don’t, I’ll lay it on, by G—d!

† Byron had accused William Sotheby of plagiarizing from The Corsair in a passage in act 4, scene 3, of his play Ivan. See Byron’s letter to Sotheby of 25 September 1815, in Thomas Moore, ed. (1830), Letters and Journals, volume 1, pages 450–451, New York: J. & J. Harper.

By “Blues”, Byron means “blue-stockings”, that is, “women devoted to literary, scholarly, or intellectual activities” (OED), a phrase with derogatory connotations. Much later in the poem, in canto XI, Byron satirizes them as follows:

The Blues, that tender tribe who sigh o’er sonnets,
    And with the pages of the last Review
Line the interior of their heads or bonnets,
    Advanced in all their azure’s highest hue:
They talk’d bad French or Spanish, and upon its
    Late authors ask’d him for a hint or two;
And which was softest, Russian or Castilian?
And whether in his travels he saw Ilion?†

† Troy, which was not rediscovered until 1871.

But going back to canto I, what does Byron mean by “There’s one [of the Blues], at least, is very fond of this [that is, of bearing false witness]”? This must be a satire on a contemporary woman poet, but on whom?

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  • Peter Gallagher says that she "is probably Lady Byron" but gives no citation or argument. Commented Jun 4 at 20:33
  • If it is his ex-wife he is referring to, the "false witness" is possibly the story that he had an affair with his half-sister.
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Jun 5 at 11:57

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