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Chapter 5

THE DIRECT ARGUMENT TO PROVE THE CRIME.


We shall now proceed to state the argument against Lord Byron.

1st, There is direct evidence that Lord Byron was guilty of some unusual
immorality.

The evidence is not, as the 'Blackwood' says, that Lushington yielded
assent to the ex parte statement of a client; nor, as the 'Quarterly'
intimates, that he was affected by the charms of an attractive young
woman.

The first evidence of it is the fact that Lushington and Romilly offered
to take the case into court, and make there a public exhibition of the
proofs on which their convictions were founded.

2nd, It is very strong evidence of this fact, that Lord Byron, while
loudly declaring that he wished to know with what he was charged,
declined this open investigation, and, rather than meet it, signed a
paper which he had before refused to sign.

3rd, It is also strong evidence of this fact, that although secretly
declaring to all his intimate friends that he still wished open
investigation in a court of justice, and affirming his belief that his
character was being ruined for want of it, he never afterwards took the
means to get it. Instead of writing a private handbill, he might have
come to England and entered a suit; and he did not do it.

That Lord Byron was conscious of a great crime is further made probable
by the peculiar malice he seemed to bear to his wife's legal counsel.

If there had been nothing to fear in that legal investigation wherewith
they threatened him, why did he not only flee from it, but regard with a
peculiar bitterness those who advised and proposed it? To an innocent
man falsely accused, the certainties of law are a blessing and a refuge.
Female charms cannot mislead in a court of justice; and the atrocities of
rumour are there sifted, and deprived of power. A trial is not a threat
to an innocent man: it is an invitation, an opportunity. Why, then, did
he hate Sir Samuel Romilly, so that he exulted like a fiend over his
tragical death? The letter in which he pours forth this malignity was so
brutal, that Moore was obliged, by the general outcry of society, to
suppress it. Is this the language of an innocent man who has been
offered a fair trial under his country's laws? or of a guilty man, to
whom the very idea of public trial means public exposure?

4th, It is probable that the crime was the one now alleged, because that
was the most important crime charged against him by rumour at the period.
This appears by the following extract of a letter from Shelley, furnished
by the 'Quarterly,' dated Bath, Sept. 29, 1816:--


'I saw Kinnaird, and had a long talk with him. He informed me that
Lady Byron was now in perfect health; that she was living with your
sister. I felt much pleasure from this intelligence. I consider the
latter part of it as affording a decisive contradiction to the only
important calumny that ever was advanced against you. On this ground,
at least, it will become the world hereafter to be silent.'

It appears evident here that the charge of improper intimacy with his
sister was, in the mind of Shelley, the only important one that had yet
been made against Lord Byron.

It is fairly inferable, from Lord Byron's own statements, that his family
friends believed this charge. Lady Byron speaks, in her statement, of
'nearest relatives' and family friends who were cognizant of Lord Byron's
strange conduct at the time of the separation; and Lord Byron, in the
letter to Bowles, before quoted, says that every one of his relations,
except his sister, fell from him in this crisis like leaves from a tree
in autumn. There was, therefore, not only this report, but such
appearances in support of it as convinced those nearest to the scene, and
best apprised of the facts; so that they fell from him entirely,
notwithstanding the strong influence of family feeling. The Guiccioli
book also mentions this same allegation as having arisen from
peculiarities in Lord Byron's manner of treating his sister:--


'This deep, fraternal affection assumed at times, under the influence
of his powerful genius, and under exceptional circumstances, an almost
too passionate expression, which opened a fresh field to his enemies.'
{219}

It appears, then, that there was nothing in the character of Lord Byron
and of his sister, as they appeared before their generation, that
prevented such a report from arising: on the contrary, there was
something in their relations that made it seem probable. And it appears
that his own family friends were so affected by it, that they, with one
accord, deserted him. The 'Quarterly' presents the fact that Lady Byron
went to visit Mrs. Leigh at this time, as triumphant proof that she did
not then believe it. Can the 'Quarterly' show just what Lady Byron's
state of mind was, or what her motives were, in making that visit?

The 'Quarterly' seems to assume, that no woman, without gross hypocrisy,
can stand by a sister proven to have been guilty. We can appeal on this
subject to all women. We fearlessly ask any wife, 'Supposing your
husband and sister were involved together in an infamous crime, and that
you were the mother of a young daughter whose life would be tainted by a
knowledge of that crime, what would be your wish? Would you wish to
proclaim it forthwith? or would you wish quietly to separate from your
husband, and to cover the crime from the eye of man?'

It has been proved that Lady Byron did not reveal this even to her
nearest relatives. It is proved that she sealed the mouths of her
counsel, and even of servants, so effectually, that they remain sealed
even to this day. This is evidence that she did not wish the thing
known. It is proved also, that, in spite of her secrecy with her parents
and friends, the rumour got out, and was spoken of by Shelley as the only
important one.

Now, let us see how this note, cited by the 'Quarterly,' confirms one of
Lady Byron's own statements. She says to Lady Anne Barnard,--


'I trust you understand my wishes, which never were to injure Lord
Byron in any way; for, though he would not suffer me to remain his
wife, he cannot prevent me from continuing his friend; and it was from
considering myself as such that I silenced the accusations by which my
own conduct might have been more fully justified.'

How did Lady Byron silence accusations? First, by keeping silence to her
nearest relatives; second, by shutting the mouths of servants; third, by
imposing silence on her friends,--as Lady Anne Barnard; fourth, by
silencing her legal counsel; fifth, and most entirely, by treating Mrs.
Leigh, before the world, with unaltered kindness. In the midst of the
rumours, Lady Byron went to visit her; and Shelley says that the movement
was effectual. Can the 'Quarterly' prove that, at this time, Mrs. Leigh
had not confessed all, and thrown herself on Lady Byron's mercy?

It is not necessary to suppose great horror and indignation on the part
of Lady Byron. She may have regarded her sister as the victim of a most
singularly powerful tempter. Lord Byron, as she knew, had tried to
corrupt her own morals and faith. He had obtained a power over some
women, even in the highest circles in England, which had led them to
forego the usual decorums of their sex, and had given rise to great
scandals. He was a being of wonderful personal attractions. He had not
only strong poetical, but also strong logical power. He was daring in
speculation, and vigorous in sophistical argument; beautiful, dazzling,
and possessed of magnetic power of fascination. His sister had been kind
and considerate to Lady Byron when Lord Byron was brutal and cruel. She
had been overcome by him, as a weaker nature sometimes sinks under the
force of a stronger one; and Lady Byron may really have considered her to
be more sinned against than sinning.

Lord Byron, if we look at it rightly, did not corrupt Mrs. Leigh any more
than he did the whole British public. They rebelled at the immorality of
his conduct and the obscenity of his writings; and he resolved that they
should accept both. And he made them do it. At first, they execrated
'Don Juan.' Murray was afraid to publish it. Women were determined not
to read it. In 1819, Dr. William Maginn of the Noctes wrote a song
against it in the following virtuous strain:--


'Be "Juan," then, unseen, unknown;
It must, or we shall rue it.
We may have virtue of our own:
Ah! why should we undo it?
The treasured faith of days long past
We still would prize o'er any,
And grieve to hear the ribald jeer
Of scamps like Don Giovanni.'

Lord Byron determined to conquer the virtuous scruples of the Noctes
Club; and so we find this same Dr. William Maginn, who in 1819 wrote so
valiantly, in 1822 declaring that he would rather have written a page of
'Don Juan' than a ton of 'Childe Harold.' All English morals were, in
like manner, formally surrendered to Lord Byron. Moore details his
adulteries in Venice with unabashed particularity: artists send for
pictures of his principal mistresses; the literary world call for
biographical sketches of their points; Moore compares his wife and his
last mistress in a neatly-turned sentence; and yet the professor of
morals in Edinburgh University recommends the biography as pure, and
having no mud in it. The mistress is lionized in London; and in 1869 is
introduced to the world of letters by 'Blackwood,' and bid, 'without a
blush, to say she loved'--

This much being done to all England, it is quite possible that a woman
like Lady Byron, standing silently aside and surveying the course of
things, may have thought that Mrs. Leigh was no more seduced than all the
rest of the world, and have said as we feel disposed to say of that
generation, and of a good many in this, 'Let him that is without sin
among you cast the first stone.'

The peculiar bitterness of remorse expressed in his works by Lord Byron
is a further evidence that he had committed an unusual crime. We are
aware that evidence cannot be drawn in this manner from an author's works
merely, if unsupported by any external probability. For example, the
subject most frequently and powerfully treated by Hawthorne is the
influence of a secret, unconfessed crime on the soul: nevertheless, as
Hawthorne is well known to have always lived a pure and regular life,
nobody has ever suspected him of any greater sin than a vigorous
imagination. But here is a man believed guilty of an uncommon immorality
by the two best lawyers in England, and threatened with an open exposure,
which he does not dare to meet. The crime is named in society; his own
relations fall away from him on account of it; it is only set at rest by
the heroic conduct of his wife. Now, this man is stated by many of his
friends to have had all the appearance of a man secretly labouring under
the consciousness of crime. Moore speaks of this propensity in the
following language:--


'I have known him more than once, as we sat together after dinner, and
he was a little under the influence of wine, to fall seriously into
this dark, self-accusing mood, and throw out hints of his past life
with an air of gloom and mystery designed evidently to awaken
curiosity and interest.'

Moore says that it was his own custom to dispel these appearances by
ridicule, to which his friend was keenly alive. And he goes on to say,--

'It has sometimes occurred to me, that the occult causes of his lady's
separation from him, round which herself and her legal advisers have
thrown such formidable mystery, may have been nothing more than some
imposture of this kind, some dimly-hinted confession of undefined
horror, which, though intended by the relater to mystify and surprise,
the hearer so little understood as to take in sober seriousness.'
{225}

All we have to say is, that Lord Byron's conduct in this respect is
exactly what might have been expected if he had a crime on his
conscience.

The energy of remorse and despair expressed in 'Manfred' were so
appalling and so vividly personal, that the belief was universal on the
Continent that the experience was wrought out of some actual crime.
Goethe expressed this idea, and had heard a murder imputed to Byron as
the cause.

The allusion to the crime and consequences of incest is so plain in
'Manfred,' that it is astonishing that any one can pretend, as Galt does,
that it had any other application.

The hero speaks of the love between himself and the imaginary being whose
spirit haunts him as having been the deadliest sin, and one that has,
perhaps, caused her eternal destruction.


'What is she now? A sufferer for my sins;
A thing I dare not think upon.'

He speaks of her blood as haunting him, and as being

'My blood,--the pure, warm stream
That ran in the veins of my fathers, and in ours
When we were in our youth, and had one heart,
And loved each other as we should not love.'

This work was conceived in the commotion of mind immediately following
his separation. The scenery of it was sketched in a journal sent to his
sister at the time.

In letter 377, defending the originality of the conception, and showing
that it did not arise from reading 'Faust,' he says,--


'It was the Steinbach and the Jungfrau, and something else, more than
Faustus, that made me write "Manfred."'

In letter 288, speaking of the various accounts given by critics of the
origin of the story, he says,--

'The conjecturer is out, and knows nothing of the matter. I had a
better origin than he could devise or divine for the soul of him.'

In letter 299, he says:--

'As to the germs of "Manfred," they may be found in the journal I sent to
Mrs. Leigh, part of which you saw.'

It may be said, plausibly, that Lord Byron, if conscious of this crime,
would not have expressed it in his poetry. But his nature was such that
he could not help it. Whatever he wrote that had any real power was
generally wrought out of self; and, when in a tumult of emotion, he could
not help giving glimpses of the cause. It appears that he did know that
he had been accused of incest, and that Shelley thought that accusation
the only really important one; and yet, sensitive as he was to blame and
reprobation, he ran upon this very subject most likely to re-awaken
scandal.

But Lord Byron's strategy was always of the bold kind. It was the plan
of the fugitive, who, instead of running away, stations himself so near
to danger, that nobody would ever think of looking for him there. He
published passionate verses to his sister on this principle. He imitated
the security of an innocent man in every thing but the unconscious energy
of the agony which seized him when he gave vent to his nature in poetry.
The boldness of his strategy is evident through all his life. He began
by charging his wife with the very cruelty and deception which he was
himself practising. He had spread a net for her feet, and he accused her
of spreading a net for his. He had placed her in a position where she
could not speak, and then leisurely shot arrows at her; and he
represented her as having done the same by him. When he attacked her in
'Don Juan,' and strove to take from her the very protection {227}of
womanly sacredness by putting her name into the mouth of every ribald, he
did a bold thing, and he knew it. He meant to do a bold thing. There
was a general outcry against it; and he fought it down, and gained his
point. By sheer boldness and perseverance, he turned the public from his
wife, and to himself, in the face of their very groans and protests. His
'Manfred' and his 'Cain' were parts of the same game. But the
involuntary cry of remorse and despair pierced even through his own
artifices, in a manner that produced a conviction of reality.

His evident fear and hatred of his wife were other symptoms of crime.
There was no apparent occasion for him to hate her. He admitted that she
had been bright, amiable, good, agreeable; that her marriage had been a
very uncomfortable one; and he said to Madame de Stael, that he did not
doubt she thought him deranged. Why, then, did he hate her for wanting
to live peaceably by herself? Why did he so fear her, that not one year
of his life passed without his concocting and circulating some public or
private accusation against her? She, by his own showing, published none
against him. It is remarkable, that, in all his zeal to represent
himself injured, he nowhere quotes a single remark from Lady Byron, nor a
story coming either directly or indirectly from her or her family. He is
in a fever in Venice, not from what she has spoken, but because she has
sealed the lips of her counsel, and because she and her family do not
speak: so that he professes himself utterly ignorant what form her
allegations against him may take. He had heard from Shelley that his
wife silenced the most important calumny by going to make Mrs. Leigh a
visit; and yet he is afraid of her,--so afraid, that he tells Moore he
expects she will attack him after death, and charges him to defend his
grave.

Now, if Lord Byron knew that his wife had a deadly secret that she could
tell, all this conduct is explicable: it is in the ordinary course of
human nature. Men always distrust those who hold facts by which they can
be ruined. They fear them; they are antagonistic to them; they cannot
trust them. The feeling of Falkland to Caleb Williams, as portrayed in
Godwin's masterly sketch, is perfectly natural, and it is exactly
illustrative of what Byron felt for his wife. He hated her for having
his secret; and, so far as a human being could do it, he tried to destroy
her character before the world, that she might not have the power to
testify against him. If we admit this solution, Byron's conduct is at
least that of a man who is acting as men ordinarily would act under such
circumstances: if we do not, he is acting like a fiend. Let us look at
admitted facts. He married his wife without love, in a gloomy,
melancholy, morose state of mind. The servants testify to strange,
unaccountable treatment of her immediately after marriage; such that her
confidential maid advises her return to her parents. In Lady Byron's
letter to Mrs. Leigh, she reminds Lord Byron that he always expressed a
desire and determination to free himself from the marriage. Lord Byron
himself admits to Madame de Stael that his behaviour was such, that his
wife must have thought him insane. Now we are asked to believe, that
simply because, under these circumstances, Lady Byron wished to live
separate from her husband, he hated and feared her so that he could never
let her alone afterwards; that he charged her with malice, slander,
deceit, and deadly intentions against himself, merely out of spite,
because she preferred not to live with him. This last view of the case
certainly makes Lord Byron more unaccountably wicked than the other.

The first supposition shows him to us as a man in an agony of
self-preservation; the second as a fiend, delighting in gratuitous deceit
and cruelty.

Again: a presumption of this crime appears in Lord Byron's admission, in
a letter to Moore, that he had an illegitimate child born before he left
England, and still living at the time.

In letter 307, to Mr. Moore, under date Venice, Feb. 2, 1818, Byron says,
speaking of Moore's loss of a child,--


'I know how to feel with you, because I am quite wrapped up in my own
children. Besides my little legitimate, I have made unto myself an
illegitimate since [since Ada's birth] to say nothing of one before;
and I look forward to one of these as the pillar of my old age,
supposing that I ever reach, as I hope I never shall, that desolating
period.'

The illegitimate child that he had made to himself since Ada's birth was
Allegra, born about nine or ten months after the separation. The other
illegitimate alluded to was born before, and, as the reader sees, was
spoken of as still living.

Moore appears to be puzzled to know who this child can be, and
conjectures that it may possibly be the child referred to in an early
poem, written, while a schoolboy of nineteen, at Harrow.

On turning back to the note referred to, we find two things: first, that
the child there mentioned was not claimed by Lord Byron as his own, but
that he asked his mother to care for it as belonging to a schoolmate now
dead; second, that the infant died shortly after, and, consequently,
could not be the child mentioned in this letter.

Now, besides this fact, that Lord Byron admitted a living illegitimate
child born before Ada, we place this other fact, that there was a child
in England which was believed to be his by those who had every
opportunity of knowing.

On this subject we shall cite a passage from a letter recently received
by us from England, and written by a person who appears well informed on
the subject of his letter:--


'The fact is, the incest was first committed, and the child of it born
before, shortly before, the Byron marriage. The child (a daughter)
must not be confounded with the natural daughter of Lord Byron, born
about a year after his separation.

'The history, more or less, of that child of incest, is known to many;
for in Lady Byron's attempts to watch over her, and rescue her from
ruin, she was compelled to employ various agents at different times.'


This letter contains a full recognition, by an intelligent person in
England, of a child corresponding well with Lord Byron's declaration of
an illegitimate, born before he left England.

Up to this point, we have, then, the circumstantial evidence against Lord
Byron as follows:--

A good and amiable woman, who had married him from love, determined to
separate from him.

Two of the greatest lawyers of England confirmed her in this decision,
and threatened Lord Byron, that, unless he consented to this, they would
expose the evidence against him in a suit for divorce. He fled from this
exposure, and never afterwards sought public investigation.

He was angry with and malicious towards the counsel who supported his
wife; he was angry at and afraid of a wife who did nothing to injure him,
and he made it a special object to defame and degrade her. He gave such
evidence of remorse and fear in his writings as to lead eminent literary
men to believe he had committed a great crime. The public rumour of his
day specified what the crime was. His relations, by his own showing,
joined against him. The report was silenced by his wife's efforts only.
Lord Byron subsequently declares the existence of an illegitimate child,
born before he left England. Corresponding to this, there is the
history, known in England, of a child believed to be his, in whom his
wife took an interest.

All these presumptions exist independently of any direct testimony from
Lady Byron. They are to be admitted as true, whether she says a word one
way or the other.

From this background of proof, I come forward, and testify to an
interview with Lady Byron, in which she gave me specific information of
the facts in the case. That I report the facts just as I received them
from her, not altered or misremembered, is shown by the testimony of my
sister, to whom I related them at the time. It cannot, then, be denied
that I had this interview, and that this communication was made. I
therefore testify that Lady Byron, for a proper purpose, and at a proper
time, stated to me the following things:--

1. That the crime which separated her from Lord Byron was incest.

2. That she first discovered it by improper actions towards his sister,
which, he meant to make her understand, indicated the guilty relation.

3. That he admitted it, reasoned on it, defended it, tried to make her
an accomplice, and, failing in that, hated her and expelled her.

4. That he threatened her that he would make it his life's object to
destroy her character.

5. That for a period she was led to regard this conduct as insanity, and
to consider him only as a diseased person.

6. That she had subsequent proof that the facts were really as she
suspected; that there had been a child born of the crime, whose history
she knew; that Mrs. Leigh had repented.

The purpose for which this was stated to me was to ask, Was it her duty
to make the truth fully known during her lifetime?

Here, then, is a man believed guilty of an unusual crime by two lawyers,
the best in England, who have seen the evidence,--a man who dares not
meet legal investigation. The crime is named in society, and deemed so
far probable to the men of his generation as to be spoken of by Shelley
as the only important allegation against him. He acts through life
exactly like a man struggling with remorse, and afraid of detection; he
has all the restlessness and hatred and fear that a man has who feels
that there is evidence which might destroy him. He admits an
illegitimate child besides Allegra. A child believed to have been his is
known to many in England. Added to all this, his widow, now advanced in
years, and standing on the borders of eternity, being, as appears by her
writings and conversation, of perfectly sound mind at the time, testifies
to me the facts before named, which exactly correspond to probabilities.

I publish the statement; and the solicitors who hold Lady Byron's private
papers do not deny the truth of the story. They try to cast discredit on
me for speaking; but they do not say that I have spoken falsely, or that
the story is not true. The lawyer who knew Lady Byron's story in 1816
does not now deny that this is the true one. Several persons in England
testify that, at various times, and for various purposes, the same story
has been told to them. Moreover, it appears from my last letter
addressed to Lady Byron on this subject, that I recommended her to leave
all necessary papers in the hands of some discreet persons, who, after
both had passed away, should see that justice was done. The solicitors
admit that Lady Byron has left sealed papers of great importance in the
hands of trustees, with discretionary power. I have been informed very
directly that the nature of these documents was such as to lead to the
suppression of Lady Byron's life and writings. This is all exactly as it
would be, if the story related by Lady Byron were the true one.

The evidence under this point of view is so strong, that a great effort
has been made to throw out Lady Byron's testimony.

This attempt has been made on two grounds. 1st, That she was under a
mental hallucination. This theory has been most ably refuted by the very
first authority in England upon the subject. He says,--


'No person practically acquainted with the true characteristics of
insanity would affirm, that, had this idea of "incest" been an insane
hallucination, Lady Byron could, from the lengthened period which
intervened between her unhappy marriage and death, have refrained from
exhibiting it, not only to legal advisers and trustees (assuming that
she revealed to them the fact), but to others, exacting no pledge of
secrecy from them as to her mental impressions. Lunatics do for a
time, and for some special purpose, most cunningly conceal their
delusions; but they have not the capacity to struggle for thirty-six
years, as Lady Byron must have done, with so frightful an
hallucination, without the insane state of mind becoming obvious to
those with whom they are daily associating. Neither is it consistent
with experience to suppose, that, if Lady Byron had been a monomaniac,
her state of disordered understanding would have been restricted to
one hallucination. Her diseased brain, affecting the normal action of
thought, would, in all probability, have manifested other symptoms
besides those referred to of aberration of intellect.

'During the last thirty years, I have not met with a case of insanity
(assuming the hypothesis of hallucination) at all parallel with that
of Lady Byron. In my experience, it is unique. I never saw a patient
with such a delusion.'


We refer our readers to a careful study of Dr. Forbes Winslow's
consideration of this subject given in Part III. Anyone who has been
familiar with the delicacy and acuteness of Dr. Winslow, as shown in his
work on obscure diseases of the brain and nerves, must feel that his
positive assertion on this ground is the best possible evidence. We here
gratefully acknowledge our obligations to Dr. Winslow for the corrected
proof of his valuable letter, which he has done us the honour to send for
this work. We shall consider that his argument, in connection with what
the reader may observe of Lady Byron's own writings, closes that issue of
the case completely.

The other alternative is, that Lady Byron deliberately committed false
witness. This was the ground assumed by the 'Blackwood,' when in July,
1869, it took upon itself the responsibility of re-opening the Byron
controversy. It is also the ground assumed by 'The London Quarterly' of
to-day.

Both say, in so many words, that no crime was imputed to Lord Byron; that
the representations made to Lushington in the beginning were false ones;
and that the story told to Lady Byron's confidential friends in later
days was also false.

Let us examine this theory. In the first place, it requires us to
believe in the existence of a moral monster of whom Madame Brinvilliers
is cited as the type. The 'Blackwood,' let it be remembered, opens the
controversy with the statement that Lady Byron was a Madame Brinvilliers.
The 'Quarterly' does not shrink from the same assumption.

Let us consider the probability of this question.

If Lady Byron were such a woman, and wished to ruin her husband's
reputation in order to save her own, and, being perfectly unscrupulous,
had circulated against him a story of unnatural crime which had no
proofs, how came two of the first lawyers of England to assume the
responsibility of offering to present her case in open court? How came
her husband, if he knew himself guiltless, to shrink from that public
investigation which must have demonstrated his innocence? Most
astonishing of all, when he fled from trial, and the report got abroad
against him in England, and was believed even by his own relations, why
did not his wife avail herself of the moment to complete her victory? If
at that moment she had publicly broken with Mrs. Leigh, she might have
confirmed every rumour. Did she do it? and why not? According to the
'Blackwood,' we have here a woman who has made up a frightful story to
ruin her husband's reputation, yet who takes every pains afterwards to
prevent its being ruined. She fails to do the very thing she undertakes;
and for years after, rather than injure him, she loses public sympathy,
and, by sealing the lips of her legal counsel, deprives herself of the
advantage of their testimony.

Moreover, if a desire for revenge could have been excited in her, it
would have been provoked by the first publication of the fourth canto of
'Childe Harold,' when she felt that Byron was attacking her before the
world. Yet we have Lady Anne Barnard's testimony, that, at this time,
she was so far from wishing to injure him, that all her communications
were guarded by cautious secrecy. At this time, also, she had a strong
party in England, to whom she could have appealed. Again: when 'Don
Juan' was first printed, it excited a violent re-action against Lord
Byron. Had his wife chosen then to accuse him, and display the evidence
she had shown to her counsel, there is little doubt that all the world
would have stood with her; but she did not. After his death, when she
spoke at last, there seems little doubt from the strength of Dr.
Lushington's language, that Lady Byron had a very strong case, and that,
had she been willing, her counsel could have told much more than he did.
She might then have told her whole story, and been believed. Her word
was believed by Christopher North, and accepted as proof that Byron had
been a great criminal. Had revenge been her motive, she could have
spoken the ONE WORD more that North called for.

The 'Quarterly' asks why she waited till everybody concerned was dead.
There is an obvious answer. Because, while there was anybody living to
whom the testimony would have been utterly destructive, there were the
best reasons for withholding it. When all were gone from earth, and she
herself was in constant expectation of passing away, there was a reason,
and a proper one, why she should speak. By nature and principle
truthful, she had had the opportunity of silently watching the operation
of a permitted lie upon a whole generation. She had been placed in a
position in which it was necessary, by silence, to allow the spread and
propagation through society of a radical falsehood. Lord Byron's life,
fame, and genius had all struck their roots into this lie, been nourished
by it, and had derived thence a poisonous power.

In reading this history, it will be remarked that he pleaded his personal
misfortunes in his marriage as excuses for every offence against
morality, and that the literary world of England accepted the plea, and
tolerated and justified the crimes. Never before, in England, had
adultery been spoken of in so respectful a manner, and an adulteress
openly praised and feted, and obscene language and licentious images
publicly tolerated; and all on the plea of a man's private misfortunes.

There was, therefore, great force in the suggestion made to Lady Byron,
that she owed a testimony in this case to truth and justice, irrespective
of any personal considerations. There is no more real reason for
allowing the spread of a hurtful falsehood that affects ourselves than
for allowing one that affects our neighbour. This falsehood had
corrupted the literature and morals of both England and America, and led
to the public toleration, by respectable authorities, of forms of vice at
first indignantly rejected. The question was, Was this falsehood to go
on corrupting literature as long as history lasted? Had the world no
right to true history? Had she who possessed the truth no responsibility
to the world? Was not a final silence a confirmation of a lie with all
its consequences?

This testimony of Lady Byron, so far from being thrown out altogether, as
the 'Quarterly' proposes, has a peculiar and specific value from the
great forbearance and reticence which characterised the greater part of
her life.

The testimony of a person who has shown in every action perfect
friendliness to another comes with the more weight on that account.
Testimony extorted by conscience from a parent against a child, or a wife
against a husband, where all the other actions of the life prove the
existence of kind feeling, is held to be the strongest form of evidence.

The fact that Lady Byron, under the severest temptations and the
bitterest insults and injuries, withheld every word by which Lord Byron
could be criminated, so long as he and his sister were living, is strong
evidence, that, when she did speak, it was not under the influence of ill-
will, but of pure conscientious convictions; and the fullest weight
ought, therefore, to be given to her testimony.

We are asked now why she ever spoke at all. The fact that her story is
known to several persons in England is brought up as if it were a crime.
To this we answer, Lady Byron had an undoubted moral right to have
exposed the whole story in a public court in 1816, and thus cut herself
loose from her husband by a divorce. For the sake of saving her husband
and sister from destruction, she waived this right to self-justification,
and stood for years a silent sufferer under calumny and
misrepresentation. She desired nothing but to retire from the whole
subject; to be permitted to enjoy with her child the peace and seclusion
that belong to her sex. Her husband made her, through his life and after
his death, a subject of such constant discussion, that she must either
abandon the current literature of her day, or run the risk of reading
more or less about herself in almost every magazine of her time.
Conversations with Lord Byron, notes of interviews with Lord Byron,
journals of time spent with Lord Byron, were constantly spread before the
public. Leigh Hunt, Galt, Medwin, Trelawney, Lady Blessington, Dr.
Kennedy, and Thomas Moore, all poured forth their memorials; and in all
she figured prominently. All these had their tribes of reviewers and
critics, who also discussed her. The profound mystery of her silence
seemed constantly to provoke inquiry. People could not forgive her for
not speaking. Her privacy, retirement, and silence were set down as
coldness, haughtiness, and contempt of human sympathy. She was
constantly challenged to say something: as, for example, in the 'Noctes'
of November 1825, six months after Byron's death, Christopher North says,
speaking of the burning of the Autobiography,--


'I think, since the Memoir was burned by these people, these people
are bound to put us in possession of the best evidence they still have
the power of producing, in order that we may come to a just conclusion
as to a subject upon which, by their act, at least, as much as by any
other people's act, we are compelled to consider it our duty to make
up our deliberate opinion,--deliberate and decisive. Woe be to those
who provoke this curiosity, and will not allay it! Woe be to them!
say I. Woe to them! says the world.'

When Lady Byron published her statement, which certainly seemed called
for by this language, Christopher North blamed her for doing it, and then
again said that she ought to go on and tell the whole story. If she was
thus adjured to speak, blamed for speaking, and adjured to speak further,
all in one breath, by public prints, there is reason to think that there
could not have come less solicitation from private sources,--from friends
who had access to her at all hours, whom she loved, by whom she was
beloved, and to whom her refusal to explain might seem a breach of
friendship. Yet there is no evidence on record, that we have seen, that
she ever had other confidant than her legal counsel, till after all the
actors in the events were in their graves, and the daughter, for whose
sake largely the secret was guarded, had followed them.

Now, does anyone claim, that, because a woman has sacrificed for twenty
years all cravings for human sympathy, and all possibility of perfectly
free and unconstrained intercourse with her friends, that she is obliged
to go on bearing this same lonely burden to the end of her days?

Let anyone imagine the frightful constraint and solitude implied in this
sentence. Let anyone, too, think of its painful complications in life.
The roots of a falsehood are far-reaching. Conduct that can only be
explained by criminating another must often seem unreasonable and
unaccountable; and the most truthful person, who feels bound to keep
silence regarding a radical lie of another, must often be placed in
positions most trying to conscientiousness. The great merit of 'Caleb
Williams' as a novel consists in its philosophical analysis of the utter
helplessness of an innocent person who agrees to keep the secret of a
guilty one. One sees there how that necessity of silence produces all
the effect of falsehood on his part, and deprives him of the confidence
and sympathy of those with whom he would take refuge.

For years, this unnatural life was forced on Lady Byron, involving her as
in a network, even in her dearest family relations.

That, when all the parties were dead, Lady Byron should allow herself the
sympathy of a circle of intimate friends, is something so perfectly
proper and natural, that we cannot but wonder that her conduct in this
respect has ever been called in question. If it was her right to have
had a public expose in 1816, it was certainly her right to show to her
own intimate circle the secret of her life when all the principal actors
were passed from earth.

The 'Quarterly' speaks as if, by thus waiting, she deprived Lord Byron of
the testimony of living witnesses. But there were as many witnesses and
partisans dead on her side as on his. Lady Milbanke and Sir Ralph, Sir
Samuel Romilly and Lady Anne Barnard were as much dead as Hobhouse,
Moore, and others of Byron's partisans.

The 'Quarterly' speaks of Lady Byron as 'running round, and repeating her
story to people mostly below her own rank in life.'

To those who know the personal dignity of Lady Byron's manners,
represented and dwelt on by her husband in his conversations with Lady
Blessington, this coarse and vulgar attack only proves the poverty of a
cause which can defend itself by no better weapons.

Lord Byron speaks of his wife as 'highly cultivated;' as having 'a degree
of self-control I never saw equalled.'


'I am certain,' he says, 'that Lady Byron's first idea is what is due
to herself: I mean that it is the undeviating rule of her conduct . .
. . Now, my besetting sin is a want of that self-respect which she
has in excess . . . . But, though I accuse Lady Byron of an excess of
self-respect, I must, in candour, admit, that, if any person ever had
excuse for an extraordinary portion of it, she has; as, in all her
thoughts, words, and actions, she is the most decorous woman that ever
existed.'

This is the kind of woman who has lately been accused in the public
prints as a babbler of secrets and a gossip in regard to her private
difficulties with children, grandchildren, and servants. It is a fair
specimen of the justice that has generally been meted out to Lady Byron.

In 1836, she was accused of having made a confidant of Campbell, on the
strength of having written him a note declining to give him any
information, or answer any questions. In July, 1869, she was denounced
by 'Blackwood' as a Madame Brinvilliers for keeping such perfect silence
on the matter of her husband's character; and in the last 'Quarterly' she
is spoken of as a gossip 'running round, and repeating her story to
people below her in rank.'

While we are upon this subject, we have a suggestion to make. John
Stuart Mill says that utter self-abnegation has been preached to women as
a peculiarly feminine virtue. It is true; but there is a moral limit to
the value of self-abnegation.

It is a fair question for the moralist, whether it is right and proper
wholly to ignore one's personal claims to justice. The teachings of the
Saviour give us warrant for submitting to personal injuries; but both the
Saviour and St. Paul manifested bravery in denying false accusations, and
asserting innocence.

Lady Byron was falsely accused of having ruined the man of his
generation, and caused all his vices and crimes, and all their evil
effects on society. She submitted to the accusation for a certain number
of years for reasons which commended themselves to her conscience; but
when all the personal considerations were removed, and she was about
passing from life, it was right, it was just, it was strictly in
accordance with the philosophical and ethical character of her mind, and
with her habit of considering all things in their widest relations to the
good of mankind, that she should give serious attention and consideration
to the last duty which she might owe to abstract truth and justice in her
generation.

In her letter on the religious state of England, we find her advocating
an absolute frankness in all religious parties. She would have all
openly confess those doubts, which, from the best of motives, are usually
suppressed; and believed, that, as a result of such perfect truthfulness,
a wider love would prevail among Christians. This shows the strength of
her conviction of the power and the importance of absolute truth; and
shows, therefore, that her doubts and conscientious inquiries respecting
her duty on this subject are exactly what might have been expected from a
person of her character and principles.

Having thus shown that Lady Byron's testimony is the testimony of a woman
of strong and sound mind, that it was not given from malice nor ill-will,
that it was given at a proper time and in a proper manner, and for a
purpose in accordance with the most elevated moral views, and that it is
coincident with all the established facts of this history, and furnishes
a perfect solution of every mystery of the case, we think we shall carry
the reader with us in saying that it is to be received as absolute truth.

This conviction we arrive at while as yet we are deprived of the
statement prepared by Lady Byron, and the proof by which she expected to
sustain it; both which, as we understand, are now in the hands of her
trustees.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

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