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Chapter 2

THE ATTACK ON LADY BYRON.


In proving what I asserted in the first chapter, I make four points:

1st. A concerted attack upon Lady Byron's reputation, begun by Lord
Byron in self-defence.

2nd. That he transmitted his story to friends to be continued after his
death.

3rd. That they did so continue it.

4th. That the accusations reached their climax over Lady Byron's grave
in 'Blackwood' of 1869, and the Guiccioli book, and that this re-opening
of the controversy was my reason for speaking.

And first I shall adduce my proofs that Lady Byron's reputation was,
during the whole course of her husband's life, the subject of a
concentrated, artfully planned attack, commencing at the time of the
separation and continuing during his life. By various documents
carefully prepared, and used publicly or secretly as suited the case, he
made converts of many honest men, some of whom were writers and men of
letters, who put their talents at his service during his lifetime in
exciting sympathy for him, and who, by his own request, felt bound to
continue their defence of him after he was dead.

In order to consider the force and significance of the documents I shall
cite, we are to bring to our view just the issues Lord Byron had to meet,
both at the time of the separation and for a long time after.

In Byron's 'Memoirs,' Vol. IV. Letter 350, under date December 10, 1819,
nearly four years after the separation, he writes to Murray in a state of
great excitement on account of an article in 'Blackwood,' in which his
conduct towards his wife had been sternly and justly commented on, and
which he supposed to have been written by Wilson, of the 'Noctes
Ambrosianae.' He says in this letter: 'I like and admire W---n, and he
should not have indulged himself in such outrageous license. . . . . When
he talks of Lady Byron's business he talks of what he knows nothing
about; and you may tell him _no man can desire a public investigation of
that affair more than I do_.' {7}

He shortly after wrote and sent to Murray a pamphlet for publication,
which was printed, but not generally circulated till some time
afterwards. Though more than three years had elapsed since the
separation, the current against him at this time was so strong in England
that his friends thought it best, at first, to use this article of Lord
Byron's discreetly with influential persons rather than to give it to the
public.

The writer in 'Blackwood' and the indignation of the English public, of
which that writer was the voice, were now particularly stirred up by the
appearance of the first two cantos of 'Don Juan,' in which the indecent
caricature of Lady Byron was placed in vicinity with other indecencies,
the publication of which was justly considered an insult to a Christian
community.

It must here be mentioned, for the honour of Old England, that at first
she did her duty quite respectably in regard to 'Don Juan.' One can
still read, in Murray's standard edition of the poems, how every
respectable press thundered reprobations, which it would be well enough
to print and circulate as tracts for our days.

Byron, it seems, had thought of returning to England, but he says, in the
letter we have quoted, that he has changed his mind, and shall not go
back, adding 'I have finished the Third Canto of "Don Juan," but the
things I have heard and read discourage all future publication. You may
try the copy question, but you'll lose it; the cry is up, and the cant is
up. I should have no objection to return the price of the copyright, and
have written to Mr. Kinnaird on this subject.'

One sentence quoted by Lord Byron from the 'Blackwood' article will show
the modern readers what the respectable world of that day were thinking
and saying of him:--

'It appears, in short, as if this miserable man, having exhausted
_every species_ of sensual gratification--having drained the cup of
sin even to its bitterest dregs--were resolved to show us that he is
no longer a human being even in his frailties, but a cool, unconcerned
fiend, laughing with detestable glee over the whole of the better and
worse elements of which human life is composed.'


The defence which Lord Byron makes, in his reply to that paper, is of a
man cornered and fighting for his life. He speaks thus of the state of
feeling at the time of his separation from his wife:--

'I was accused of every monstrous vice by public rumour and private
rancour; my name, which had been a knightly or a noble one since my
fathers helped to conquer the kingdom for William the Norman, was
tainted. I felt that, if what was whispered and muttered and murmured
was true, I was unfit for England; if false, England was unfit for me.
I withdrew; but this was not enough. In other countries--in
Switzerland, in the shadow of the Alps, and by the blue depth of the
lakes--I was pursued and breathed upon by the same blight. I crossed
the mountains, but it was the same; so I went a little farther, and
settled myself by the waves of the Adriatic, like the stag at bay, who
betakes him to the waters.

'If I may judge by the statements of the few friends who gathered
round me, the outcry of the period to which I allude was beyond all
precedent, all parallel, even in those cases where political motives
have sharpened slander and doubled enmity. I was advised not to go to
the theatres lest I should be hissed, nor to my duty in parliament
lest I should be insulted by the way; even on the day of my departure
my most intimate friend told me afterwards that he was under the
apprehension of violence from the people who might be assembled at the
door of the carriage.'


Now Lord Byron's charge against his wife was that SHE was directly
responsible for getting up and keeping up this persecution, which drove
him from England,--that she did it in a deceitful, treacherous manner,
which left him no chance of defending himself.

He charged against her that, taking advantage of a time when his affairs
were in confusion, and an execution in the house, she left him suddenly,
with treacherous professions of kindness, which were repeated by letters
on the road, and that soon after her arrival at her home her parents sent
him word that she would never return to him, and she confirmed the
message; that when he asked the reason why, she refused to state any; and
that when this step gave rise to a host of slanders against him she
silently encouraged and confirmed the slanders. His claim was that he
was denied from that time forth even the justice of any tangible
accusation against himself which he might meet and refute.

He observes, in the same article from which we have quoted:--


'When one tells me that I cannot "in any way _justify_ my own
behaviour in that affair," I acquiesce, because no man can "_justify_"
himself until he knows of what he is accused; and I have never
had--and, God knows, my whole desire has ever been to obtain it--any
specific charge, in a tangible shape, submitted to me by the
adversary, nor by others, unless the atrocities of public rumour and
the mysterious silence of the lady's legal advisers may be deemed
such.'

Lord Byron, his publishers, friends, and biographers, thus agree in
representing his wife as the secret author and abettor of that
persecution, which it is claimed broke up his life, and was the source of
all his subsequent crimes and excesses.

Lord Byron wrote a poem in September 1816, in Switzerland, just after the
separation, in which he stated, in so many words, these accusations
against his wife. Shortly after the poet's death Murray published this
poem, together with the 'Fare thee well,' and the lines to his sister,
under the title of 'Domestic Pieces,' in his standard edition of Byron's
poetry. It is to be remarked, then, that this was for some time a
private document, shown to confidential friends, and made use of
judiciously, as readers or listeners to his story were able to bear it.
Lady Byron then had a strong party in England. Sir Samuel Romilly and
Dr. Lushington were her counsel. Lady Byron's parents were living, and
the appearance in the public prints of such a piece as this would have
brought down an aggravated storm of public indignation.

For the general public such documents as the 'Fare thee well' were
circulating in England, and he frankly confessed his wife's virtues and
his own sins to Madame de Stael and others in Switzerland, declaring
himself in the wrong, sensible of his errors, and longing to cast himself
at the feet of that serene perfection,


'Which wanted one sweet weakness--to forgive.'

But a little later he drew for his private partisans this bitter poetical
indictment against her, which, as we have said, was used discreetly
during his life, and published after his death.

Before we proceed to lay that poem before the reader we will refresh his
memory with some particulars of the tragedy of AEschylus, which Lord
Byron selected as the exact parallel and proper illustration of his
wife's treatment of himself. In his letters and journals he often
alludes to her as Clytemnestra, and the allusion has run the round of a
thousand American papers lately, and been read by a thousand good honest
people, who had no very clear idea who Clytemnestra was, and what she did
which was like the proceedings of Lady Byron. According to the tragedy,
Clytemnestra secretly hates her husband Agamemnon, whom she professes to
love, and wishes to put him out of the way that she may marry her lover,
AEgistheus. When her husband returns from the Trojan war she receives
him with pretended kindness, and officiously offers to serve him at the
bath. Inducing him to put on a garment, of which she had adroitly sewed
up the sleeves and neck so as to hamper the use of his arms, she gives
the signal to a concealed band of assassins, who rush upon him and stab
him. Clytemnestra is represented by AEschylus as grimly triumphing in
her success, which leaves her free to marry an adulterous paramour.


'I did it, too, in such a cunning wise,
That he could neither 'scape nor ward off doom.
I staked around his steps an endless net,
As for the fishes.'

In the piece entitled 'Lines on hearing Lady Byron is ill,' Lord Byron
charges on his wife a similar treachery and cruelty. The whole poem is
in Murray's English edition, Vol. IV. p. 207. Of it we quote the
following. The reader will bear in mind that it is addressed to Lady
Byron on a sick-bed:--

'I am too well avenged, but 't was my right;
Whate'er my sins might be, _thou_ wert not sent
To be the Nemesis that should requite,
Nor did Heaven choose so near an instrument.
Mercy is for the merciful! If thou
Hast been of such, 't will be accorded now.
Thy nights are banished from the realms of sleep,
For thou art pillowed on a curse too deep;
Yes! they may flatter thee, but thou shalt feel
A hollow agony that will not heal.
Thou hast sown in my sorrow, and must reap
The bitter harvest in a woe as real.
_I have had many foes, but none like thee_;
For 'gainst the rest myself I could defend,
And be avenged, or turn them into friend;
But thou, in safe implacability,
Hast naught to dread,--in thy own weakness shielded,
And in my love, which hath but too much yielded,
And spared, for thy sake, some I should not spare.
And thus upon the world, trust in thy truth,
And the wild fame of my ungoverned youth,--
On things that were not and on things that are,--
Even upon such a basis thou halt built
A monument whose cement hath been guilt!
The moral Clytemnestra of thy lord,
And hewed down with an unsuspected sword
Fame, peace, and hope, and all that better life
Which, but for this cold treason of thy heart,
Might yet have risen from the grave of strife
And found a nobler duty than to part.
But of thy virtues thou didst make a vice,
Trafficking in them with a purpose cold,
And buying others' woes at any price,
For present anger and for future gold;
And thus, once entered into crooked ways,
The early truth, that was thy proper praise,
Did not still walk beside thee, but at times,
And with a breast unknowing its own crimes,
Deceits, averments incompatible,
Equivocations, and the thoughts that dwell
_In Janus spirits, the significant eye
That learns to lie with silence_, {14} the pretext
Of prudence with advantages annexed,
The acquiescence in all things that tend,
No matter how, to the desired end,--
All found a place in thy philosophy.
The means were worthy and the end is won.
I would not do to thee as thou hast done.'

Now, if this language means anything, it means, in plain terms, that,
whereas, in her early days, Lady Byron was peculiarly characterised by
truthfulness, she has in her recent dealings with him acted the part of a
liar,--that she is not only a liar, but that she lies for cruel means and
malignant purposes,--that she is a moral assassin, and her treatment of
her husband has been like that of the most detestable murderess and
adulteress of ancient history, that she has learned to lie skilfully and
artfully, that she equivocates, says incompatible things, and crosses her
own tracks,--that she is double-faced, and has the art to lie even by
silence, and that she has become wholly unscrupulous, and acquiesces in
_any_thing, no matter what, that tends to the desired end, and that end
the destruction of her husband. This is a brief summary of the story
that Byron made it his life's business to spread through society, to
propagate and make converts to during his life, and which has been in
substance reasserted by 'Blackwood' in a recent article this year.

Now, the reader will please to notice that this poem is dated in
September 1816, and that on the 29th of March of that same year, he had
thought proper to tell quite another story. At that time the deed of
separation was not signed, and negotiations between Lady Byron, acting by
legal counsel, and himself were still pending. At that time, therefore,
he was standing in a community who knew all he had said in former days of
his wife's character, who were in an aroused and excited state by the
fact that so lovely and good and patient a woman had actually been forced
for some unexplained cause to leave him. His policy at that time was to
make large general confessions of sin, and to praise and compliment her,
with a view of enlisting sympathy. Everybody feels for a handsome
sinner, weeping on his knees, asking pardon for his offences against his
wife in the public newspapers.

The celebrated 'Fare thee well,' as we are told, was written on the 17th
of March, and accidentally found its way into the newspapers at this time
'through the imprudence of a friend whom he allowed to take a copy.'
These 'imprudent friends' have all along been such a marvellous
convenience to Lord Byron.

But the question met him on all sides, What is the matter? This wife you
have declared the brightest, sweetest, most amiable of beings, and
against whose behaviour as a wife you actually never had nor can have a
complaint to make,--why is she _now_ all of a sudden so inflexibly set
against you?

This question required an answer, and he answered by writing another
poem, which also _accidentally_ found its way into the public prints. It
is in his 'Domestic Pieces,' which the reader may refer to at the end of
this volume, and is called 'A Sketch.'

There was a most excellent, respectable, well-behaved Englishwoman, a
Mrs. Clermont, {16} who had been Lady Byron's governess in her youth, and
was still, in mature life, revered as her confidential friend. It
appears that this person had been with Lady Byron during a part of her
married life, especially the bitter hours of her lonely child-bed, when a
young wife so much needs a sympathetic friend. This Mrs. Clermont was
the person selected by Lord Byron at this time to be the scapegoat to
bear away the difficulties of the case into the wilderness.

We are informed in Moore's Life what a noble pride of rank Lord Byron
possessed, and how when the headmaster of a school, against whom he had a
pique, invited him to dinner, he declined, saying, 'To tell you the
truth, Doctor, if you should come to Newstead, I shouldn't think of
inviting _you_ to dine with _me_, and so I don't care to dine with you
here.' Different countries, it appears, have different standards as to
good taste; Moore gives this as an amusing instance of a young lord's
spirit.

Accordingly, his first attack against this 'lady,' as we Americans should
call her, consists in gross statements concerning her having been born
poor and in an inferior rank. He begins by stating that she was


'Born in the garret, in the kitchen bred,
Promoted thence to deck her mistress' head;
Next--for some gracious service unexpressed
And from its wages only to be guessed--
Raised from the toilet to the table, where
Her wondering betters wait behind her chair.
With eye unmoved and forehead unabashed,
She dines from off the plate she lately washed:
Quick with the tale, and ready with the lie,
The genial confidante and general spy,--
Who could, ye gods! her next employment guess,--
An _only infant's earliest governess_!
What had she made the pupil of her art
None knows; _but that high soul secured the heart,
And panted for the truth it could not hear
With longing soul and undeluded ear_!' {17}

The poet here recognises as a singular trait in Lady Byron her peculiar
love of truth,--a trait which must have struck everyone that had any
knowledge of her through life. He goes on now to give what he certainly
knew to be the real character of Lady Byron:--

'Foiled was perversion by that youthful mind,
Which flattery fooled not, baseness could not blind,
_Deceit infect_ not, nor contagion soil,
Indulgence weaken, or example spoil,
Nor mastered science tempt her to look down
On humbler talent with a pitying frown,
Nor genius swell, nor beauty render vain,
Nor envy ruffle to retaliate pain.'

We are now informed that Mrs. Clermont, whom he afterwards says in his
letters was a spy of Lady Byron's mother, set herself to make mischief
between them. He says:--

'If early habits,--those strong links that bind
At times the loftiest to the meanest mind,
Have given her power too deeply to instil
The angry essence of her deadly will;
If like a snake she steal within your walls,
Till the black slime betray her as she crawls;
If like a viper to the heart she wind,
And leaves the venom there she did not find,--
What marvel that this hag of hatred works
Eternal evil latent as she lurks.'

The noble lord then proceeds to abuse this woman of inferior rank in the
language of the upper circles. He thus describes her person and manner:--

'Skilled by a touch to deepen scandal's tints
With all the kind mendacity of hints,
While mingling truth with falsehood, sneers with smiles,
A thread of candour with a web of wiles;
A plain blunt show of briefly-spoken seeming,
To hide her bloodless heart's soul-harden'd scheming;
A lip of lies; a face formed to conceal,
And without feeling mock at all who feel;
With a vile mask the Gorgon would disown,--
A cheek of parchment and an eye of stone.
Mark how the channels of her yellow blood
Ooze to her skin and stagnate there to mud,
Cased like the centipede in saffron mail,
Or darker greenness of the scorpion's scale,--
(For drawn from reptiles only may we trace
Congenial colours in that soul or face,)
Look on her features! and behold her mind
As in a mirror of itself defined:
Look on the picture! deem it not o'ercharged
There is no trait which might not be enlarged.'

The poem thus ends:--

'May the strong curse of crushed affections light
Back on thy bosom with reflected blight,
And make thee in thy leprosy of mind
As loathsome to thyself as to mankind!
Till all thy self-thoughts curdle into hate,
Black--as thy will for others would create;
Till thy hard heart be calcined into dust,
And thy soul welter in its hideous crust.
O, may thy grave be sleepless as the bed,
The widowed couch of fire, that thou hast spread
Then when thou fain wouldst weary Heaven with prayer,
Look on thy earthly victims--and despair!
Down to the dust! and as thou rott'st away,
Even worms shall perish on thy poisonous clay.
_But for the love I bore and still must bear_
To her thy malice from all ties would tear,
Thy name,--thy human name,--to every eye
The climax of all scorn, should hang on high,
Exalted o'er thy less abhorred compeers,
And festering in the infamy of years.'
March 16, 1816.

Now, on the 29th of March 1816, this was Lord Byron's story. He states
that his wife had a truthfulness even from early girlhood that the most
artful and unscrupulous governess could not pollute,--that she always
_panted_ for truth,--that flattery could not fool nor baseness blind
her,--that though she was a genius and master of science, she was yet
gentle and tolerant, and one whom no envy could ruffle to retaliate pain.

In September of the same year she is a monster of unscrupulous deceit and
vindictive cruelty. Now, what had happened in the five months between
the dates of these poems to produce such a change of opinion? Simply
this:--

1st. The negotiation between him and his wife's lawyers had ended in his
signing a deed of separation in preference to standing a suit for
divorce.

2nd. Madame de Stael, moved by his tears of anguish and professions of
repentance, had offered to negotiate with Lady Byron on his behalf, and
had failed.

The failure of this application is the only apology given by Moore and
Murray for this poem, which gentle Thomas Moore admits was not in quite
as generous a strain as the 'Fare thee well.'

But Lord Byron knew perfectly well, when he suffered that application to
be made, that Lady Byron had been entirely convinced that her marriage
relations with him could never be renewed, and that duty both to man and
God required her to separate from him. The allowing the negotiation was,
therefore, an artifice to place his wife before the public in the
attitude of a hard-hearted, inflexible woman; her refusal was what he
knew beforehand must inevitably be the result, and merely gave him
capital in the sympathy of his friends, by which they should be brought
to tolerate and accept the bitter accusations of this poem.

We have recently heard it asserted that this last-named piece of poetry
was the sudden offspring of a fit of ill-temper, and was never intended
to be published at all. There were certainly excellent reasons why his
friends should have advised him not to publish it _at that time_. But
that it was read with sympathy by the circle of his intimate friends, and
believed by them, is evident from the frequency with which allusions to
it occur in his confidential letters to them. {21}

About three months after, under date March 10, 1817, he writes to Moore:
'I suppose now I shall never be able to shake off my sables in public
imagination, more particularly since my moral ----- clove down my fame.'
Again to Murray in 1819, three years after, he says: 'I never hear
anything of Ada, the little Electra of Mycenae.'

Electra was the daughter of Clytemnestra, in the Greek poem, who lived to
condemn her wicked mother, and to call on her brother to avenge the
father. There was in this mention of Electra more than meets the ear.
Many passages in Lord Byron's poetry show that he intended to make this
daughter a future partisan against her mother, and explain the awful
words he is stated in Lady Anne Barnard's diary to have used when first
he looked on his little girl,--'What an instrument of torture I have
gained in you!'

In a letter to Lord Blessington, April 6, 1823, he says, speaking of Dr.
Parr:-- {22a}


'He did me the honour once to be a patron of mine, though a great
friend of the _other branch of the house of Atreus_, and the Greek
teacher, I believe, of my _moral_ Clytemnestra. I say _moral_ because
it is true, and is so useful to the virtuous, that it enables them to
do anything without the aid of an AEgistheus.'

If Lord Byron wrote this poem merely in a momentary fit of spleen, why
were there so many persons evidently quite familiar with his allusions to
it? and why was it preserved in Murray's hands? and why published after
his death? That Byron was in the habit of reposing documents in the
hands of Murray, to be used as occasion offered, is evident from a part
of a note written by him to Murray respecting some verses so intrusted:
'Pray let not these _versiculi_ go forth with my name except _to the
initiated_.' {22b}

Murray, in publishing this attack on his wife after Lord Byron's death,
showed that he believed in it, and, so believing, deemed Lady Byron a
woman whose widowed state deserved neither sympathy nor delicacy of
treatment. At a time when every sentiment in the heart of the most
deeply wronged woman would forbid her appearing to justify herself from
such cruel slander of a dead husband, an honest, kind-hearted, worthy
Englishman actually thought it right and proper to give these lines to
her eyes and the eyes of all the reading world. Nothing can show more
plainly what this poem was written for, and how thoroughly it did its
work! Considering Byron as a wronged man, Murray thought he was
contributing his mite towards doing him justice. His editor prefaced the
whole set of 'Domestic Pieces' with the following statements:--


'They all refer to the unhappy separation, of which the precise causes
are still a mystery, and which he declared to the last were never
disclosed to himself. He admitted that pecuniary embarrassments,
disordered health, and dislike to family restraints had aggravated his
naturally violent temper, and driven him to excesses. He suspected
that his mother-in-law had fomented the discord,--which Lady Byron
denies,--and that more was due to the malignant offices of a female
dependant, who is the subject of the bitterly satirical sketch.

* * * *

'To these general statements can only be added the still vaguer
allegations of Lady Byron, that she conceived his conduct to be the
result of insanity,--that, the physician pronouncing him responsible
for his actions, she could submit to them no longer, and that Dr.
Lushington, her legal adviser, agreed that a reconciliation was
neither proper nor possible. _No weight can be attached to the
opinions of an opposing counsel upon accusations made by one party
behind the back of the other, who urgently demanded and was
pertinaciously refused the least opportunity of denial or defence_. He
rejected the proposal for an amicable separation, but _consented when
threatened with a suit in Doctors' Commons._' {23}


Neither John Murray nor any of Byron's partisans seem to have pondered
the admission in these last words.

Here, as appears, was a woman, driven to the last despair, standing with
her child in her arms, asking from English laws protection for herself
and child against her husband.

She had appealed to the first counsel in England, and was acting under
their direction.

Two of the greatest lawyers in England have pronounced that there has
been such a cause of offence on his part that a return to him is neither
proper nor possible, and that no alternative remains to her but
separation or divorce.

He asks her to state her charges against him. She, making answer under
advice of her counsel, says, 'That if he _insists_ on the specifications,
he must receive them in open court in a suit for divorce.'

What, now, ought to have been the conduct of any brave, honest man, who
believed that his wife was taking advantage of her reputation for virtue
to turn every one against him, who saw that she had turned on her side
even the lawyer he sought to retain on his; {24} that she was an
unscrupulous woman, who acquiesced in every and any thing to gain her
ends, while he stood before the public, as he says, 'accused of every
monstrous vice, by public rumour or private rancour'? When she, under
advice of her lawyers, made the alternative legal _separation_ or open
investigation in court for divorce, what did he do?

HE SIGNED THE ACT OF SEPARATION AND LEFT ENGLAND.

Now, let any man who knows the legal mind of England,--let any lawyer who
knows the character of Sir Samuel Romilly and Dr. Lushington, ask whether
_they_ were the men to take a case into court for a woman that had no
_evidence_ but her own statements and impressions? Were _they_ men to go
to trial without proofs? Did they not know that there were artful,
hysterical women in the world, and would _they_, of all people, be the
men to take a woman's story on her own side, and advise her in the last
issue to bring it into open court, without legal proof of the strongest
kind? Now, as long as Sir Samuel Romilly lived, this statement of
Byron's--that he was condemned unheard, and had no chance of knowing
whereof he _was accused--never appeared in public_.

It, however, was most actively circulated in _private_. That Byron was
in the habit of intrusting to different confidants articles of various
kinds to be shown to different circles as they could bear them, we have
already shown. We have recently come upon another instance of this kind.
In the late eagerness to exculpate Byron, a new document has turned up,
of which Mr. Murray, it appears, had never heard when, after Byron's
death, he published in the preface to his 'Domestic Pieces' the sentence:
'_He rejected the proposal for an amicable separation, but consented when
threatened with a suit in Doctors' Commons_.' It appears that, up to
1853, neither John Murray senior, nor the son who now fills his place,
had taken any notice of this newly found document, which we are now
informed was drawn up by Lord Byron in August 1817, while Mr. Hobhouse
was staying with him at La Mira, near Venice, given to Mr. Matthew
Gregory Lewis, _for circulation among friends in England_, found in Mr.
Lewis's papers after his death, and _now_ in the possession of Mr.
Murray.' Here it is:--


'It has been intimated to me that the persons understood to be the
legal advisers of Lady Byron have declared "their lips to be sealed
up" on the cause of the separation between her and myself. If their
lips are sealed up, they are not sealed up by me, and the greatest
favour _they_ can confer upon me will be to open them. From the first
hour in which I was apprised of the intentions of the Noel family to
the last communication between Lady Byron and myself in the character
of wife and husband (a period of some months), I called repeatedly and
in vain for a statement of their or her charges, and it was chiefly in
consequence of Lady Byron's claiming (in a letter still existing) a
promise on my part to consent to a separation, if such was _really_
her wish, that I consented at all; this claim, and the exasperating
and inexpiable manner in which their object was pursued, which
rendered it next to an impossibility that two persons so divided could
ever be reunited, induced me reluctantly then, and repentantly still,
to sign the deed, which I shall be happy--most happy--to cancel, and
go before any tribunal which may discuss the business in the most
public manner.

'Mr. Hobhouse made this proposition on my part, viz. to abrogate all
prior intentions--and go into court--the very day before the
separation was signed, and it was declined by the other party, as also
the publication of the correspondence during the previous discussion.
Those propositions I beg here to repeat, and to call upon her and hers
to say their worst, pledging myself to meet their
allegations,--whatever they may be,--and only too happy to be informed
at last of their real nature.

'BYRON.'

'August 9, 1817.

'P.S.--I have been, and am now, utterly ignorant of what description
her allegations, charges, or whatever name they may have assumed, are;
and am as little aware for what purpose they have been kept
back,--unless it was to sanction the most infamous calumnies by
silence.

'BYRON.'

'La Mira, near Venice.'


It appears the circulation of this document must have been _very
private_, since Moore, not _over_-delicate towards Lady Byron, did not
think fit to print it; since John Murray neglected it, and since it has
come out at this late hour for the first time.

If Lord Byron really desired Lady Byron and her legal counsel to
understand the facts herein stated, and was willing at all hazards to
bring on an open examination, why was this _privately_ circulated? Why
not issued as a card in the London papers? Is it likely that Mr. Matthew
Gregory Lewis, and a chosen band of friends acting as a committee,
requested an audience with Lady Byron, Sir Samuel Romilly, and Dr.
Lushington, and formally presented this cartel of defiance?

We incline to think not. We incline to think that this small serpent, in
company with many others of like kind, crawled secretly and privately
around, and when it found a good chance, bit an honest Briton, whose
blood was thenceforth poisoned by an undetected falsehood.

The reader now may turn to the letters that Mr. Moore has thought fit to
give us of this stay at La Mira, beginning with Letter 286, dated July 1,
1817, {28a} where he says: 'I have been working up my impressions into a
_Fourth_ Canto of Childe Harold,' and also 'Mr. Lewis is in Venice. I am
going up to stay a week with him there.'

Next, under date La Mira, Venice, July 10, {28b} he says, 'Monk Lewis is
here; how pleasant!'

Next, under date July 20, 1817, to Mr. Murray: 'I write to give you
notice that I have _completed the fourth and ultimate canto of Childe
Harold_. . . . It is yet to be copied and polished, and the notes are to
come.'

Under date of La Mira, August 7, 1817, he records that the new canto is
one hundred and thirty stanzas in length, and talks about the price for
it. He is now ready to launch it on the world; and, as now appears, on
August 9, 1817, _two days after_, he wrote the document above cited, and
put it into the hands of Mr. Lewis, as we are informed, 'for circulation
among friends in England.'

The reason of this may now be evident. Having prepared a suitable number
of those whom he calls in his notes to Murray 'the initiated,' by private
documents and statements, he is now prepared to publish his accusations
against his wife, and the story of his wrongs, in a great immortal poem,
which shall have a band of initiated interpreters, shall be read through
the civilised world, and stand to accuse her after his death.

In the Fourth Canto of 'Childe Harold,' with all his own overwhelming
power of language, he sets forth his cause as against the silent woman
who all this time had been making no party, and telling no story, and
whom the world would therefore conclude to be silent because she had no
answer to make. I remember well the time when this poetry, so resounding
in its music, so mournful, so apparently generous, filled my heart with a
vague anguish of sorrow for the sufferer, and of indignation at the cold
insensibility that had maddened him. Thousands have felt the power of
this great poem, which stands, and must stand to all time, a monument of
what sacred and solemn powers God gave to this wicked man, and how vilely
he abused this power as a weapon to slay the innocent.

It is among the ruins of ancient Rome that his voice breaks forth in
solemn imprecation:--


'O Time, thou beautifier of the dead,
Adorner of the ruin, comforter,
And only healer when the heart hath bled!--
Time, the corrector when our judgments err,
The test of truth, love,--sole philosopher,
For all besides are sophists,--from thy shrift
That never loses, though it doth defer!--
Time, the avenger! unto thee I lift
My hands and heart and eyes, and claim of thee a gift.

* * * *

'If thou hast ever seen me too elate,
Hear me not; but if calmly I have borne
Good, and reserved my pride against the hate
Which shall not whelm me, _let me not have worn
This iron in my soul in vain, shall_ THEY _not mourn_?
And thou who never yet of human wrong
Left the unbalanced scale, great Nemesis,
Here where the ancients paid their worship long,
Thou who didst call the Furies from the abyss,
And round Orestes bid them howl and hiss
_For that unnatural retribution,--just
Had it but come from hands less near_,--in this
Thy former realm I call thee from the dust.
Dost thou not hear, my heart? awake thou shalt and must!
It is not that I may not have incurred
For my ancestral faults and mine, the wound
Wherewith I bleed withal, and had it been conferred
With a just weapon it had flowed unbound,
But now my blood shall not sink in the ground.

* * * *

'But in this page a record will I seek;
Not in the air shall these my words disperse,
Though I be ashes,--a far hour shall wreak
The deep prophetic fulness of this verse,
And pile on human heads the mountain of my curse.
That curse shall be forgiveness. Have I not,--
Hear me, my Mother Earth! behold it, Heaven,--
Have I not had to wrestle with my lot?
Have I not suffered things to be forgiven?
Have I not had my brain seared, my heart riven,
Hopes sapped, name blighted, life's life lied away,
And only not to desperation driven,
Because not altogether of such clay
As rots into the soul of those whom I survey?

----------

'From mighty wrongs to petty perfidy,
Have I not seen what human things could do,--
From the loud roar of foaming calumny,
To the small whispers of the paltry few,
And subtler venom of the reptile crew,
_The Janus glance of whose significant eye,
Learning to lie with silence, would seem true,
And without utterance, save the shrug or sigh,
Deal round to happy fools its speechless obloquy_?' {31}


The reader will please notice that the lines in italics are almost, word
for word, a repetition of the lines in italics in the former poem on his
wife, where he speaks of a _significant eye_ that has _learned to lie in
silence_, and were evidently meant to apply to Lady Byron and her small
circle of confidential friends.

Before this, in the Third Canto of 'Childe Harold,' he had claimed the
sympathy of the world, as a loving father, deprived by a severe fate of
the solace and society of his only child:--


'My daughter,--with this name my song began,--
My daughter,--with this name my song shall end,--
I see thee not and hear thee not, but none
Can be so wrapped in thee; thou art the friend
To whom the shadows of far years extend.

* * * *

'To aid thy mind's developments, to watch
The dawn of little joys, to sit and see
Almost thy very growth, to view thee catch
Knowledge of objects,--wonders yet to thee,--
And print on thy soft cheek a parent's kiss;--
This it should seem was not reserved for me.
Yet this was in my nature,--as it is,
I know not what there is, yet something like to this.

----------

'_Yet though dull hate as duty should be taught_,
I know that thou wilt love me; though my name
Should be shut out from thee as spell still fraught
With desolation and a broken claim,
Though the grave close between us,--'t were the same
I know that thou wilt love me, though to drain
My blood from out thy being were an aim
And an attainment,--all will be in vain.'


To all these charges against her, sent all over the world in verses as
eloquent as the English language is capable of, the wife replied nothing.

'Assailed by slander and the tongue of strife,
Her only answer was,--a blameless life.'

She had a few friends, a very few, with whom she sought solace and
sympathy. One letter from her, written at this time, preserved by
accident, is the only authentic record of how the matter stood with her.

We regret to say that the publication of this document was not brought
forth to clear Lady Byron's name from her husband's slanders, but to
shield _him_ from the worst accusation against him, by showing that this
crime was not included in the few private confidential revelations that
friendship wrung from the young wife at this period.

Lady Anne Barnard, authoress of 'Auld Robin Grey,' a friend whose age and
experience made her a proper confidante, sent for the broken-hearted,
perplexed wife, and offered her a woman's sympathy.

To her Lady Byron wrote many letters, under seal of confidence, and Lady
Anne says: 'I will give you a few paragraphs transcribed from one of Lady
Byron's own letters to me. It is sorrowful to think that in a very
little time this young and amiable creature, wise, patient, and feeling,
will have her character mistaken by every one who reads Byron's works. To
rescue her from this I preserved her letters, and when she afterwards
expressed a fear that anything of her writing should ever fall into hands
to injure him (I suppose she meant by publication), I safely assured her
that it never should. But here this letter shall be placed, a sacred
record in her favour, unknown to herself.


'I am a very incompetent judge of the impression which the last Canto
of "Childe Harold" may produce on the minds of indifferent readers.

'It contains the usual trace of a conscience restlessly awake, though
his object has been too long to aggravate its burden, as if it could
thus be oppressed into eternal stupor. I will hope, as you do, that
it survives for his ultimate good.

'It was the acuteness of his remorse, impenitent in its character,
which so long seemed to demand from my compassion to spare every
semblance of reproach, every look of grief, which might have said to
his conscience, "You have made me wretched."

'I am decidedly of opinion that he is responsible. He has wished to
be thought partially deranged, or on the brink of it, to perplex
observers and _prevent them from tracing effects to their real causes_
through all the intricacies of his conduct. I was, as I told you, at
one time the dupe of his acted insanity, and clung to the former
delusions in regard to the motives that concerned me personally, till
the whole system was laid bare.

'He is the absolute monarch of words, and uses them, as Bonaparte did
lives, for conquest, without more regard to their intrinsic value,
considering them only as ciphers, which must derive all their import
from the situation in which he places them, and the ends to which he
adapts them, with such consummate skill.

'Why, then, you will say, does he not employ them to give a better
colour to his own character? Because he is too good an actor to over-
act, or to assume a moral garb, which it would be easy to strip off.

'In regard to his poetry, egotism is the vital principle of his
imagination, which it is difficult for him to kindle on any subject
with which his own character and interests are not identified; but by
the introduction of fictitious incidents, by change of scene or time,
_he has enveloped his poetical disclosures in a system impenetrable
except to a very few_; and his constant desire of creating a sensation
makes him not averse to be the object of wonder and curiosity, even
though accompanied _by some dark and vague suspicions_.

'Nothing has contributed more to the misunderstanding of his real
character than the lonely grandeur in which he shrouds it, and his
affectation of being above mankind, when he exists almost in their
voice. The romance of his sentiments is another feature of this mask
of state. I know no one more habitually destitute of that enthusiasm
he so beautifully expresses, and to which he can work up his fancy
chiefly by contagion.

'_I had heard he was the best of brothers, the most generous of
friends, and I thought such feelings only required to be warmed and
cherished into more diffusive benevolence. Though these opinions are
eradicated, and could never return but with the decay of my memory_,
you will not wonder if there are still moments when the association of
feelings which arose from them soften and sadden my thoughts.

'But I have not thanked you, dearest Lady Anne, for your kindness in
regard to a principal object,--that of rectifying false impressions. 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_.

'It is not necessary to speak ill of his heart in general; it is
sufficient that to me it was hard and impenetrable that my own must
have been broken before his could have been touched. I would rather
represent this as _my_ misfortune than as _his_ guilt; but, surely,
that misfortune is not to be made my crime! Such are my feelings; you
will judge how to act.

'His allusions to me in "Childe Harold" are cruel and cold, but with
such a semblance as to make _me_ appear so, and to attract all
sympathy to himself. It is said in this poem that hatred of him will
be taught as a lesson to his child. I might appeal to all who have
ever heard me speak of him, and still more to my own heart, to witness
that there has been no moment when I have remembered injury otherwise
than affectionately and sorrowfully.

'It is not my duty to give way to hopeless and wholly unrequited
affection; but, so long as I live, my chief struggle will probably be
not to remember him too kindly. I do not seek the sympathy of the
world, but I wish to be known by those whose opinion is valuable and
whose kindness is dear to me. Among such, my dear Lady Anne, you will
ever be remembered by your truly affectionate

'A. BYRON.'


On this letter I observe Lord Lindsay remarks that it shows a noble but
rather severe character, and a recent author has remarked that it seemed
to be written rather in a 'cold spirit of criticism.' It seems to strike
these gentlemen as singular that Lady Byron did not enjoy the poem! But
there are two remarkable sentences in this letter which have escaped the
critics hitherto. Lord Byron, in this, the Third Canto of 'Childe
Harold,' expresses in most affecting words an enthusiasm of love for his
sister. So long as he lived he was her faithful correspondent; he sent
her his journals; and, dying, he left her and her children everything he
had in the world. This certainly seems like an affectionate brother; but
in what words does Lady Byron speak of this affection?

'I _had heard he was the best of brothers_, the most generous of friends.
I thought these feelings only required to be warmed and cherished into
more diffusive benevolence. THESE OPINIONS ARE ERADICATED, AND COULD
NEVER RETURN BUT WITH THE DECAY OF MEMORY.' Let me ask those who give
this letter as a proof that at this time no idea such as I have stated
was in Lady Byron's mind, to account for these words. Let them please
answer these questions: Why had Lady Byron ceased to think him a good
brother? Why does she use so strong a word as that the opinion was
eradicated, torn up by the roots, and could never grow again in her
except by decay of memory?

And yet this is a document Lord Lindsay vouches for as authentic, and
which he brings forward _in defence_ of Lord Byron.

Again she says, 'Though he _would not suffer me to remain his wife_, he
cannot prevent me from continuing his friend.' Do these words not say
that in some past time, in some decided manner, Lord Byron had declared
to her his rejection of her as a wife? I shall yet have occasion to
explain these words.

Again she says, 'I silenced accusations by which my conduct might have
been more fully justified.'

The people in England who are so very busy in searching out evidence
against my true story have searched out and given to the world an
important confirmation of this assertion of Lady Byron's.

It seems that the confidential waiting-maid who went with Lady Byron on
her wedding journey has been sought out and interrogated, and, as appears
by description, is a venerable, respectable old person, quite in
possession of all her senses in general, and of that sixth sense of
propriety in particular, which appears not to be a common virtue in our
days.

As her testimony is important, we insert it just here, with a description
of her person in full. The ardent investigators thus speak:--


'Having gained admission, we were shown into a small but neatly
furnished and scrupulously clean apartment, where sat the object of
our visit. Mrs. Mimms is a venerable-looking old lady, of short
stature, slight and active appearance, with a singularly bright and
intelligent countenance. Although midway between eighty and ninety
years of age, she is in full possession of her faculties, discourses
freely and cheerfully, hears apparently as well as ever she did, and
her sight is so good that, aided by a pair of spectacles, she reads
the Chronicle every day with ease. Some idea of her competency to
contribute valuable evidence to the subject which now so much engages
public attention on three continents may be found from her own
narrative of her personal relations with Lady Byron. Mrs. Mimms was
born in the neighbourhood of Seaham, and knew Lady Byron from
childhood. During the long period of ten years she was Miss
Milbanke's lady's-maid, and in that capacity became the close
confidante of her mistress. There were circumstances which rendered
their relationship peculiarly intimate. Miss Milbanke had no sister
or female friend to whom she was bound by the ties of more than a
common affection; and her mother, whatever other excellent qualities
she may have possessed, was too high-spirited and too hasty in temper
to attract the sympathies of the young. Some months before Miss
Milbanke was married to Lord Byron, Mrs. Mimms had quitted her service
on the occasion of her own marriage with Mr. Mimms; but she continued
to reside in the neighbourhood of Seaham, and remained on the most
friendly terms with her former mistress. As the courtship proceeded,
Miss Milbanke concealed nothing from her faithful attendant; and when
the wedding-day was fixed, she begged Mrs. Mimms to return and fulfil
the duties of lady's-maid, at least during the honeymoon. Mrs. Mimms
at the time was nursing her first child, and it was no small sacrifice
to quit her own home at such a moment, but she could not refuse her
old mistress's request. Accordingly, she returned to Seaham Hall some
days before the wedding, was present at the ceremony, and then
preceded Lord and Lady Byron to Halnaby Hall, near Croft, in the North
Riding of Yorkshire, one of Sir Ralph Milbanke's seats, where the
newly married couple were to spend the honeymoon. Mrs. Mimms remained
with Lord and Lady Byron during the three weeks they spent at Halnaby
Hall, and then accompanied them to Seaham, where they spent the next
six weeks. It was during the latter period that she finally quitted
Lady Byron's service; but she remained in the most friendly
communication with her ladyship till the death of the latter, and for
some time was living in the neighbourhood of Lady Byron's residence in
Leicestershire, where she had frequent opportunities of seeing her
former mistress. It may be added that Lady Byron was not unmindful of
the faithful services of her friend and attendant in the instructions
to her executors contained in her will. Such was the position of Mrs.
Mimms towards Lady Byron; and we think no one will question that it
was of a nature to entitle all that Mrs. Mimms may say on the subject
of the relations of Lord and Lady Byron to the most respectful
consideration and credit.'

Such is the chronicler's account of the faithful creature whom nothing
but intense indignation and disgust at Mrs. Beecher Stowe would lead to
speak on her mistress's affairs; but Mrs. Beecher Stowe feels none the
less sincere respect for her, and is none the less obliged to her for
having spoken. Much of Mrs. Mimms's testimony will be referred to in
another place; we only extract one passage, to show that while Lord Byron
spent his time in setting afloat slanders against his wife, she spent
hers in sealing the mouths of witnesses against him.

Of the period of the honeymoon Mrs. Mimms says:--


'The happiness of Lady Byron, however, was of brief duration; even
during the short three weeks they spent at Halnaby, the irregularities
of Lord Byron occasioned her the greatest distress, and she even
contemplated returning to her father. Mrs. Mimms was her constant
companion and confidante through this painful period, and she does not
believe that her ladyship concealed a thought from her. _With
laudable reticence, the old lady absolutely refuses to disclose the
particulars of Lord Byron's misconduct at this time; she gave Lady
Byron a solemn promise not to do so_.

* * * *

'So serious did Mrs. Mimms consider the conduct of Lord Byron, that
she recommended her mistress to confide all the circumstances to her
father, Sir Ralph Milbanke, a calm, kind, and most excellent parent,
and take his advice as to her future course. At one time Mrs. Mimms
thinks Lady Byron had resolved to follow her counsel and impart her
wrongs to Sir Ralph; but on arriving at Seaham Hall her ladyship
strictly enjoined Mrs. Mimms to preserve absolute silence on the
subject--a course which she followed herself;--so that when, six weeks
later, she and Lord Byron left Seaham for London, not a word had
escaped her to disturb her parents' tranquillity as to their
daughter's domestic happiness. As might be expected, Mrs. Mimms bears
the warmest testimony to the noble and lovable qualities of her
departed mistress. She also declares that Lady Byron was by no means
of a cold temperament, but that the affectionate impulses of her
nature were checked by the unkind treatment she experienced from her
husband.'


We have already shown that Lord Byron had been, ever since his
separation, engaged in a systematic attempt to reverse the judgment of
the world against himself, by making converts of all his friends to a
most odious view of his wife's character, and inspiring them with the
zeal of propagandists to spread these views through society. We have
seen how he prepared partisans to interpret the Fourth Canto of 'Childe
Harold.'

This plan of solemn and heroic accusation was the first public attack on
his wife. Next we see him commencing a scurrilous attempt to turn her to
ridicule in the First Canto of 'Don Juan.'

It is to our point now to show how carefully and cautiously this Don Juan
campaign was planned.

Vol. IV. p.138, we find Letter 325 to Mr. Murray:--


'Venice: January 25, 1819.

'You will do me the favour to _print privately, for private
distribution, fifty copies of "Don Juan."_ The list of the men to
whom I wish it presented I will send hereafter.'


The poem, as will be remembered, begins with the meanest and foulest
attack on his wife that ever ribald wrote, and puts it in close
neighbourhood with scenes which every pure man or woman must feel to be
the beastly utterances of a man who had lost all sense of decency. Such
a potion was too strong to be administered even in a time when great
license was allowed, and men were not over-nice. But Byron chooses fifty
armour-bearers of that class of men who would find indecent ribaldry
about a wife a good joke, and talk about the 'artistic merits' of things
which we hope would make an honest boy blush.

At this time he acknowledges that his vices had brought him to a state of
great exhaustion, attended by such debility of the stomach that nothing
remained on it; and adds, 'I was obliged to reform my way of life, which
was conducting me from the yellow leaf to the ground with all deliberate
speed.' {41} But as his health is a little better he employs it in
making the way to death and hell elegantly easy for other young men, by
breaking down the remaining scruples of a society not over-scrupulous.

Society revolted, however, and fought stoutly against the nauseous dose.
His sister wrote to him that she heard such things said of it that _she_
never would read it; and the outcry against it on the part of all women
of his acquaintance was such that for a time he was quite overborne; and
the Countess Guiccioli finally extorted a promise from him to cease
writing it. Nevertheless, there came a time when England accepted 'Don
Juan,'--when Wilson, in the 'Noctes Ambrosianae,' praised it as a
classic, and took every opportunity to reprobate Lady Byron's conduct.
When first it appeared the 'Blackwood' came out with that indignant
denunciation of which we have spoken, and to which Byron replied in the
extracts we have already quoted. He did something more than reply. He
marked out Wilson as one of the strongest literary men of the day, and
set his 'initiated' with their documents to work upon him.

One of these documents to which he requested Wilson's attention was the
private autobiography, written expressly to give his own story of all the
facts of the marriage and separation.

In the indignant letter he writes Murray on the 'Blackwood' article, Vol.
IV., Letter 350--under date December 10, 1819--he says:--


'I sent home for Moore, and for Moore only (who has my journal also),
my memoir written up to 1816, and I gave him leave to show it to whom
he pleased, but _not to publish_ on any account. _You_ may read it,
and you may let Wilson read it if he likes--not for his public
opinion, but his private, for I like the man, and care very little
about the magazine. And I could wish Lady Byron herself to read it,
that she may have it in her power to mark any thing mistaken or
misstated. As it will never appear till after my extinction, it would
be but fair she should see it; that is to say, herself willing. Your
"Blackwood" accuses me of treating women harshly; but I have been
their martyr; my whole life has been sacrificed to them and by them.'

It was a part of Byron's policy to place Lady Byron in positions before
the world where she _could_ not speak, and where her silence would be set
down to her as haughty, stony indifference and obstinacy. Such was the
pretended negotiation through Madame de Stael, and such now this
apparently fair and generous offer to let Lady Byron see and mark this
manuscript.

The little Ada is now in her fifth year--a child of singular sensibility
and remarkable mental powers--one of those exceptional children who are
so perilous a charge for a mother.

Her husband proposes this artful snare to her,--that she shall mark what
is false in a statement which is all built on a damning lie, that she
cannot refute over that daughter's head,--and which would perhaps be her
ruin to discuss.

Hence came an addition of two more documents, to be used 'privately among
friends,' {43} and which 'Blackwood' uses after Lady Byron is safely out
of the world to cast ignominy on her grave--the wife's letter, that of a
mother standing at bay for her daughter, knowing that she is dealing with
a desperate, powerful, unscrupulous enemy.


'Kirkby Mallory: March 10, 1820.

'I received your letter of January 1, offering to my perusal a Memoir
of part of your life. I decline to inspect it. I consider the
publication or circulation of such a composition at any time as
prejudicial to Ada's future happiness. For my own sake, I have no
reason to shrink from publication; but, notwithstanding the injuries
which I have suffered, I should lament some of the consequences.

'A. Byron.

'To Lord Byron.'


Lord Byron, writing for the public, as is his custom, makes reply:--

'Ravenna: April 3, 1820.

'I received yesterday your answer, dated March 10. My offer was an
honest one, and surely could only be construed as such even by the
most malignant casuistry. I could answer you, but it is too late, and
it is not worth while. To the mysterious menace of the last sentence,
whatever its import may be--and I cannot pretend to unriddle it--I
could hardly be very sensible even if I understood it, as, before it
can take place, I shall be where "nothing can touch him further." . .
. I advise you, however, to anticipate the period of your intention,
for, be assured, no power of figures can avail beyond the present; and
if it could, I would answer with the Florentine:--

'"Ed io, che posto son con loro in croce
. . . . . e certo
La fiera moglie, piu ch'altro, mi nuoce." {44}

'BYRON.

'To Lady Byron.'


Two things are very evident in this correspondence: Lady Byron intimates
that, if he publishes his story, some _consequences_ must follow which
she shall regret.

Lord Byron receives this as a threat, and says he doesn't understand it.
But directly after he says, 'Before IT can take place, I shall be,' etc.

The intimation is quite clear. He _does_ understand what the
consequences alluded to are. They are evidently that Lady Byron will
speak out and tell her story. He says she cannot do this till _after he
is dead_, and then he shall not care. In allusion to her accuracy as to
dates and figures, he says: 'Be assured no power of figures can avail
beyond the present' (life); and then ironically _advises_ her to
_anticipate the period_,--i.e. to speak out while he is alive.

In Vol. VI. Letter 518, which Lord Byron wrote to Lady Byron, but did not
send, he says: 'I burned your last note for two reasons,--firstly,
because it was written in a style not very agreeable; and, secondly,
because I wished to take your word without documents, which are the
resources of worldly and suspicious people.'

It would appear from this that there was a last letter of Lady Byron to
her husband, which he did not think proper to keep on hand, or show to
the 'initiated' with his usual unreserve; that this letter contained some
kind of _pledge_ for which he preferred to take her word, _without
documents_.

Each reader can imagine for himself what that _pledge_ might have been;
but from the tenor of the three letters we should infer that it was a
promise of silence for his lifetime, on _certain conditions_, and that
the publication of the autobiography would violate those conditions, and
make it her duty to speak out.

This celebrated autobiography forms so conspicuous a figure in the whole
history, that the reader must have a full idea of it, as given by Byron
himself, in Vol. IV. Letter 344, to Murray:--


'I gave to Moore, who is gone to Rome, my life in MS.,--in seventy-
eight folio sheets, brought down to 1816 . . . also a journal kept in
1814. Neither are for publication during my life, but when I am cold
you may do what you please. In the mean time, if you like to read
them you may, and show them to anybody you like. I care not. . . . '

He tells him also:--

'You will find in it a detailed account of my marriage and its
consequences, as true as a party concerned can make such an account.'

Of the extent to which this autobiography was circulated we have the
following testimony of Shelton Mackenzie, in notes to 'The Noctes' of
June 1824.

In 'The Noctes' Odoherty says:--


'The fact is, the work had been copied for the private reading of a
great lady in Florence.'

The note says:--

'The great lady in Florence, for whose private reading Byron's
autobiography was copied, was the Countess of Westmoreland. . . . Lady
Blessington had the autobiography in her possession for weeks, and
confessed to having copied every line of it. Moore remonstrated, and
she committed her copy to the flames, but did not tell him that her
sister, Mrs. Home Purvis, now Viscountess of Canterbury, had also made
a copy! . . . From the quantity of copy I have seen,--and others were
more in the way of falling in with it than myself,--I surmise that at
least half a dozen copies were made, and of these _five_ are now in
existence. Some particular parts, such as the marriage and
separation, were copied separately; but I think there cannot be less
than five full copies yet to be found.'

This was written _after the original autobiography was burned_.

We may see the zeal and enthusiasm of the Byron party,--copying seventy-
eight folio sheets, as of old Christians copied the Gospels. How widely,
fully, and thoroughly, thus, by this secret process, was society
saturated with Byron's own versions of the story that related to himself
and wife! Against her there was only the complaint of an absolute
silence. She put forth no statements, no documents; had no party, sealed
the lips of her counsel, and even of her servants; yet she could not but
have known, from time to time, how thoroughly and strongly this web of
mingled truth and lies was being meshed around her steps.

From the time that Byron first saw the importance of securing Wilson on
his side, and wrote to have his partisans attend to him, we may date an
entire revolution in the 'Blackwood.' It became Byron's warmest
supporter,--is to this day the bitterest accuser of his wife.

Why was this wonderful silence? It appears by Dr. Lushington's
statements, that, when Lady Byron did speak, she had a story to tell that
powerfully affected both him and Romilly,--a story supported by evidence
on which they were willing to have gone to public trial. Supposing, now,
she had imitated Lord Byron's example, and, avoiding public trial, had
put her story into private circulation; as he sent 'Don Juan' to fifty
confidential friends, suppose she had sent a written statement of her
story to fifty judges as intelligent as the two that had heard it; or
suppose she had confronted his autobiography with her own,--what would
have been the result?

The first result might have been Mrs. Leigh's utter ruin. The world may
finally forgive the man of genius anything; but for a woman there is no
mercy and no redemption.

This ruin Lady Byron prevented by her utter silence and great
self-command. Mrs. Leigh never lost position. Lady Byron never so
varied in her manner towards her as to excite the suspicions even of her
confidential old servant.

To protect Mrs. Leigh effectually, it must have been necessary to
continue to exclude even her own mother from the secret, as we are
assured she did at first; for, had she told Lady Milbanke, it is not
possible that so high-spirited a woman could have restrained herself from
such outward expressions as would at least have awakened suspicion. There
was no resource but this absolute silence.

Lady Blessington, in her last conversation with Lord Byron, thus
describes the life Lady Byron was leading. She speaks of her as 'wearing
away her youth in almost monastic seclusion, questioned by some,
appreciated by few, seeking consolation alone in the discharge of her
duties, and avoiding all external demonstrations of a grief that her pale
cheek and solitary existence alone were vouchers for.' {49}

The main object of all this silence may be imagined, if we remember that
if Lord Byron had not died,--had he truly and deeply repented, and become
a thoroughly good man, and returned to England to pursue a course worthy
of his powers, there was on record neither word nor deed from his wife to
stand in his way.

HIS PLACE WAS KEPT IN SOCIETY, ready for him to return to whenever he
came clothed and in his right mind. He might have had the heart and
confidence of his daughter unshadowed by a suspicion. He might have won
the reverence of the great and good in his own lands and all lands. That
hope, which was the strong support, the prayer of the silent wife, it did
not please God to fulfil.

Lord Byron died a worn-out man at thirty-six. But the bitter seeds he
had sown came up, after his death, in a harvest of thorns over his grave;
and there were not wanting hands to use them as instruments of torture on
the heart of his widow.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

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