4

From Byron's Don Juan:

The troops, already disembark'd, push'd on
To take a battery on the right; the others,
Who landed lower down, their landing done,
Had set to work as briskly as their brothers:
Being grenadiers, they mounted one by one,
Cheerful as children climb the breasts of mothers,
O'er the entrenchment and the palisade,
Quite orderly, as if upon parade.

And this was admirable; for so hot
The fire was, that were red Vesuvius loaded,
Besides its lava, with all sorts of shot
And shells or hells, it could not more have goaded.
Of officers a third fell on the spot,
A thing which victory by no means boded
To gentlemen engaged in the assault:
Hounds, when the huntsman tumbles, are at fault
.

So when a huntsman stumbles over something, he blames his hounds. But how does that explain that "since 33% of the officers died in the attack, this was a sign that the army was to be victorious"?

These two observations seem unrelated to me. Am I missing something?

3

I don't agree that this is litotes, since there is no positive to be wrung from the negative constructions.

Let's parse the passage a bit more deeply. First stanza summation: The grenadiers had landed ashore and immediately pushed their way past the defenses in an orderly fashion.

Second stanza summation: The actions of the grenadiers were admirable, even in the face of intense opposing fire that relentlessly cut the attackers down. But even if they had faced a volcano of fire, it could not have pushed them forward as much as the fear of failure, of being blamed for defeat.

Now to the final four lines (you only bolded three, but four are necessary since the final sentence includes four):

Of officers a third fell on the spot
A thing which victory by no means boded
To gentlemen engaged in the assault:

In other words, casualties were occurring at an alarming rate, which suggested to the "gentlemen" (which is a class marker, since in that era only the upper class could "buy their colors," i.e., become officers) that victory was certainly in jeopardy.

Hounds, when the huntsman stumbles, are at fault.

If the huntsman (in this case, likely the commander of the attack) falls, it is human nature to lay the blame elsewhere. I believe the statement is merely a reflection that subordinates are all too often blamed for their leader's failures. Or, as you'll hear frequently in business and military circles, "shit flows downhill."

  • Thank you! It turns out I mistook "by no means boded" for "by all means boded". Sloppy reading on my part. – CopperKettle Jan 13 '18 at 18:14
1

This is an instance of litotes. (Using "understatement to emphasize a point by stating a negative to further affirm a positive, often incorporating double negatives for effect", says the mother of all knowledge.) "By no means boded" = "did not augur well" = "looked bad". Because a third were killed, it seemed that victory was not not certain [here I'm doing it, too], that is, victory was unlikely.

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