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The following lines are all from Byron's Don Juan.

But Passion most dissembles, yet betrays
Even by its darkness; as the blackest sky
Foretells the heaviest tempest, it displays
Its workings through the vainly guarded eye,
And in whatever aspect it arrays
Itself, 't is still the same hypocrisy;
Coldness or Anger, even Disdain or Hate,
Are masks it often wears, and still too late.

Of his departure had been sent him by
His Spanish friends for those in Italy.

I perch upon an humbler promontory,
Amidst Life's infinite variety:
With no great care for what is nicknamed Glory,
But speculating as I cast mine eye
On what may suit or may not suit my story,
And never straining hard to versify,
I rattle on exactly as I'd talk
With anybody in a ride or walk.

Similar rhymes are found throughout English poetry.

My question is this. Was "by" pronounced "bee"; or was Italy pronounced "I-tal-eye"?

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    No, neither. This is eye rhyme, which came in as a by-product of the EGVS but lingered in English poetic practice down to the middle of the 19th century. And though Byron occasionally uses eye rhyme quite unaffectedly and even deliberately, I think it's pretty plainly tongue-in-cheek in these examples. Don Juan is stuffed with playful rhyming. – StoneyB on hiatus Nov 2 '15 at 15:06
  • @StoneyB: Is there scientific evidence of this? Do 18th and 19th Century scholars mention eye rhyming at all? I'm trying to research this, but the only name that comes up in relation with the GVS is Otto Jespersen, who coined the term. – Ricky Nov 2 '15 at 17:07
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    Scientific evidence of what? The fact of eye rhyme? - it doesn't seem to have bothered people much before the 19th century, but it's acknowledged here and there in the 18th. There was a severe reaction against it in the middle of the 19th -- see this dissertation – StoneyB on hiatus Nov 2 '15 at 20:19
  • @StoneyB: It's a fascinating essay, and it does contain a few clues, especially about the Victorians; and the poem about aural rhyming is a gem! But it doesn't answer my original question, and it has raised another one. First things first: The idea that Shakespeare used eye rhymes in his PLAYS (in an epoch when about a dozen literate people lived in merry old England) strikes me as absurd. So: did HE (Shakespeare) pronounce "by" as "bee"; or "Italy" as "Ital-eye"? – Ricky Nov 2 '15 at 21:32
  • The London reading public in Shakes' day supported 20 book publishers putting out 100-150 books a year in press runs of around 1,000 copies; the real argument against eye rhyme then is that spelling was not yet stabilized, any more than pronunciation was. But Shakespeare certainly felt free to rhyme terminal -y with die. David Crystal, the tireless promoter of "OP" (original pronunciation) of Shakes, has a post on the final rhyme in Blake's Tyger which addresses this – StoneyB on hiatus Nov 2 '15 at 22:57

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