From Byron's Don Juan:

The Russians, having built two batteries on
An isle near Ismail, had two ends in view;
The first was to bombard it, and knock down
The public buildings and the private too,
No matter what poor souls might be undone.
The city's shape suggested this, 't is true;
Form'd like an amphitheatre, each dwelling
Presented a fine mark to throw a shell in.

The second object was to profit by
The moment of the general consternation,
To attack the Turk's flotilla, which lay nigh
Extremely tranquil, anchor'd at its station:
But a third motive was as probably
To frighten them into capitulation;
A phantasy which sometimes seizes warriors,
Unless they are game as bull-dogs and fox-terriers.

What is the meaning of this?

A fantasy to frighten an enemy into capitulation sometimes seizes warriors (it seizes them as strong as bull-dogs and fox-terriers) - but if these warriors are game (i.e. they are to be frightened into capitulation themselves) it does not seize them?

Am I right? I'm not sure because there's no comma after "game".

1 Answer 1


In this stanza “seize” means

Of an object of perception, a fact, etc.: To arrest, hold (the attention), to impress irresistibly.

and “game” means

Of a person or animal: full of pluck, spirit, or fight; spirited, plucky; intrepid.

Oxford English Dictionary

In the context of dogs, “gameness” specifically refers to the quality of aggression that was bred or trained into fighting dogs. Bulldogs were bred for the sport of bull baiting, where the dog needed to be willing to attack the much larger and stronger bull; and fox terriers were bred to pursue foxes into their earths and kill them there (hence the name “terrier”).

Byron’s point in this stanza is that expecting to frighten the enemy into capitulation is unrealistic: the enemy will almost always fight back as hard as he can. So why does do warriors sometimes believe this “phantasy”? Clearly this is wishful thinking: the warriors would like to avoid a battle, since they themselves are frightened of the prospect. Only warriors who are “game as bull-dogs” would actually want to fight.

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