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Chapter 8

CONCLUSION.


In leaving this subject, I have an appeal to make to the men, and more
especially to the women, who have been my readers.

In justice to Lady Byron, it must be remembered that this publication of
her story is not her act, but mine. I trust you have already conceded,
that, in so severe and peculiar a trial, she had a right to be understood
fully by her immediate circle of friends, and to seek of them counsel in
view of the moral questions to which such very exceptional circumstances
must have given rise. Her communication to me was not an address to the
public: it was a statement of the case for advice. True, by leaving the
whole, unguarded by pledge or promise, it left discretionary power with
me to use it if needful.

You, my sisters, are to judge whether the accusation laid against Lady
Byron by the 'Blackwood,' in 1869, was not of so barbarous a nature as to
justify my producing the truth I held in my hands in reply.

The 'Blackwood' claimed a right to re-open the subject because it was not
a private but a public matter. It claimed that Lord Byron's unfortunate
marriage might have changed not only his own destiny, but that of all
England. It suggested, that, but for this, instead of wearing out his
life in vice, and corrupting society by impure poetry, he might, at this
day, have been leading the counsels of the State, and helping the onward
movements of the world. Then it directly charged Lady Byron with meanly
forsaking her husband in a time of worldly misfortune; with fabricating a
destructive accusation of crime against him, and confirming this
accusation by years of persistent silence more guilty than open
assertion.

It has been alleged, that, even admitting that Lady Byron's story were
true, it never ought to have been told. Is it true, then, that a woman
has not the same right to individual justice that a man has? If the
cases were reversed, would it have been thought just that Lord Byron
should go down in history loaded with accusations of crime because he
could be only vindicated by exposing the crime of his wife?

It has been said that the crime charged on Lady Byron was comparatively
unimportant, and the one against Lord Byron was deadly.

But the 'Blackwood,' in opening the controversy, called Lady Byron by the
name of an unnatural female criminal, whose singular atrocities alone
entitle her to infamous notoriety; and the crime charged upon her was
sufficient to warrant the comparison.

Both crimes are foul, unnatural, horrible; and there is no middle ground
between the admission of the one or the other.

You must either conclude that a woman, all whose other works, words, and
deeds were generous, just, and gentle, committed this one monstrous
exceptional crime, without a motive, and against all the analogies of her
character, and all the analogies of her treatment of others; or you must
suppose that a man known by all testimony to have been boundlessly
licentious, who took the very course which, by every physiological law,
would have led to unnatural results, did, at last, commit an unnatural
crime.

The question, whether I did right, when Lady Byron was thus held up as an
abandoned criminal by the 'Blackwood,' to interpose my knowledge of the
real truth in her defence, is a serious one; but it is one for which I
must account to God alone, and in which, without any contempt of the
opinions of my fellow-creatures, I must say, that it is a small thing to
be judged of man's judgment.

I had in the case a responsibility very different from that of many
others. I had been consulted in relation to the publication of this
story by Lady Byron, at a time when she had it in her power to have
exhibited it with all its proofs, and commanded an instant conviction. I
have reason to think that my advice had some weight in suppressing that
disclosure. I gave that advice under the impression that the Byron
controversy was a thing for ever passed, and never likely to return.

It had never occurred to me, that, nine years after Lady Byron's death, a
standard English periodical would declare itself free to re-open this
controversy, when all the generation who were her witnesses had passed
from earth; and that it would re-open it in the most savage form of
accusation, and with the indorsement and commendation of a book of the
vilest slanders, edited by Lord Byron's mistress.

Let the reader mark the retributions of justice. The accusations of the
'Blackwood,' in 1869, were simply an intensified form of those first
concocted by Lord Byron in his 'Clytemnestra' poem of 1816. He forged
that weapon, and bequeathed it to his party. The 'Blackwood' took it up,
gave it a sharper edge, and drove it to the heart of Lady Byron's fame.
The result has been the disclosure of this history. It is, then, Lord
Byron himself, who, by his network of wiles, his ceaseless persecutions
of his wife, his efforts to extend his partisanship beyond the grave, has
brought on this tumultuous exposure. He, and he alone, is the cause of
this revelation.

And now I have one word to say to those in England who, with all the
facts and documents in their hands which could at once have cleared Lady
Byron's fame, allowed the barbarous assault of the 'Blackwood' to go over
the civilised world without a reply. I speak to those who, knowing that
I am speaking the truth, stand silent; to those who have now the ability
to produce the facts and documents by which this cause might be instantly
settled, and who do not produce them.

I do not judge them; but I remind them that a day is coming when they and
I must stand side by side at the great judgment-seat,--I to give an
account for my speaking, they for their silence.

In that day, all earthly considerations will have vanished like morning
mists, and truth or falsehood, justice or injustice, will be the only
realities.

In that day, God, who will judge the secrets of all men, will judge
between this man and this woman. Then, if never before, the full truth
shall be told both of the depraved and dissolute man who made it his
life's object to defame the innocent, and the silent, the self-denying
woman who made it her life's object to give space for repentance to the
guilty.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

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