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Chapter 3

RESUME OF THE CONSPIRACY.


We have traced the conspiracy of Lord Byron against his wife up to its
latest device. That the reader's mind may be clear on the points of the
process, we shall now briefly recapitulate the documents in the order of
time.

I. March 17, 1816.--While negotiations for separation were
pending,--'_Fare thee well, and if for ever_.'

While writing these pages, we have received from England the testimony of
one who has seen the original draught of that 'Fare thee well.' This
original copy had evidently been subjected to the most careful and acute
revision. Scarcely two lines that were not interlined, scarcely an
adjective that was not exchanged for a better; showing that the noble
lord was not so far overcome by grief as to have forgotten his
reputation. (Found its way to the public prints through the imprudence
of _a friend_.)

II. March 29, 1816.--An attack on Lady Byron's old governess for having
been born poor, for being homely, and for having unduly influenced his
wife against him; promising that her grave should be a fiery bed, etc.;
also praising his wife's perfect and remarkable truthfulness and
discernment, that made it impossible for flattery to fool, or baseness
blind her; but ascribing all his woes to her being fooled and blinded by
this same governess. (Found its way to the prints by the imprudence of
_a friend_.)

III. September 1816.--Lines on hearing that Lady Byron is ill. Calls
her a Clytemnestra, who has secretly set assassins on her lord; says she
is a mean, treacherous, deceitful liar, and has entirely departed from
her early truth, and become the most unscrupulous and unprincipled of
women. (Never printed till after Lord Byron's death, but circulated
_privately_ among the '_initiated_.')

IV. Aug. 9, 1817.--Gives to M. G. Lewis a paper for circulation among
friends in England, stating that what he most wants is _public
investigation_, which has always been denied him; and daring Lady Byron
and her counsel to come out publicly. (Found in M. G. Lewis's portfolio
after his death; never heard of before, except among the 'initiated.')

Having given M. G. Lewis's document time to work,--

January 1818.--Gives the Fourth Canto of 'Childe Harold' {51} to the
public.

Jan. 25, 1819.--Sends to Murray to print for private circulation among
the 'initiated' the First Canto of 'Don Juan.'

Is nobly and severely rebuked for this insult to his wife by the
'Blackwood,' August 1819.

October 1819.--Gives Moore the manuscript 'Autobiography,' with leave to
show it to whom he pleases, and print it after his death.

Oct. 29, 1819, Vol. IV. Letter 344.--Writes to Murray, that he may read
all this 'Autobiography,' and show it to anybody he likes.

Dec. 10, 1819.--Writes to Murray on this article in 'Blackwood' against
'Don Juan' and himself, which he supposes written by Wilson; sends a
complimentary message to Wilson, and asks him to read his 'Autobiography'
sent by Moore. (Letter 350.)

March 15, 1820.--Writes and dedicates to I. Disraeli, Esq., a vindication
of himself in reply to the 'Blackwood' on 'Don Juan,' containing an
indignant defence of his own conduct in relation to his wife, and
maintaining that he never yet has had an opportunity of knowing whereof
he has been accused; accusing Sir S. Romilly of taking his retainer, and
then going over to the adverse party, etc. (Printed for _private
circulation_; to be found in the standard English edition of Murray, vol.
ix. p.57.)

To this condensed account of Byron's strategy we must add the crowning
stroke of policy which transmitted this warfare to his friends, to be
continued after his death.

During the last visit Moore made him in Italy, and just before Byron
presented to him his 'Autobiography,' the following scene occurred, as
narrated by Moore (vol. iv. p.221):--


'The chief subject of conversation, when alone, was his marriage, and
the load of obloquy which it had brought upon him. He was most
anxious to know _the worst_ that had been alleged of his conduct; and,
as this was our first opportunity of speaking together on the subject,
I did not hesitate to put his candour most searchingly to the proof,
not only by enumerating the various charges I had heard brought
against him by others, but by specifying such portions of these
charges as I had been inclined to think not incredible myself.

'To all this he listened with patience, and answered with the most
unhesitating frankness; laughing to scorn the tales of unmanly outrage
related of him, but at the same time acknowledging that there had been
in his conduct but too much to blame and regret, and stating one or
two occasions during his domestic life when he had been irritated into
letting the "breath of bitter words" escape him,. . . which he now
evidently remembered with a degree of remorse and pain which might
well have entitled them to be forgotten by others.

'It was, at the same time, manifest, that, whatever admissions he
might be inclined to make respecting his own delinquencies, the
inordinate measure of the punishment dealt out to him had sunk deeply
into his mind, and, with the usual effect of such injustice, drove him
also to be unjust himself; so much so, indeed, as to impute to the
quarter to which he now traced all his ill fate a feeling of fixed
hostility to himself, which would not rest, he thought, even at his
grave, but continue to persecute his memory as it was now embittering
his life. So strong was this impression upon him, that, during one of
our few intervals of seriousness, he conjured me by our friendship,
if, as he both felt and hoped, I should survive him, not to let
unmerited censure settle upon his name.'


In this same account, page 218, Moore testifies that

'Lord Byron disliked his countrymen, but only because he knew that his
morals were held in contempt by them. The English, themselves rigid
observers of family duties, could not pardon him the neglect of his,
nor his trampling on principles; therefore, neither did he like being
presented to them, nor did they, especially when they had wives with
them, like to cultivate his acquaintance. Still there was a strong
desire in all of them to see him; and the women in particular, who did
not dare to look at him but by stealth, said in an under-voice, "What
a pity it is!" If, however, any of his compatriots of exalted rank
and high reputation came forward to treat him with courtesy, he showed
himself obviously flattered by it. It seemed that, to the wound which
remained open in his ulcerated heart, such soothing attentions were as
drops of healing balm, which comforted him.'

When in society, we are further informed by a lady quoted by Mr. Moore,
he was in the habit of speaking of his wife with much respect and
affection, as an illustrious lady, distinguished for her qualities of
heart and understanding; saying that all the fault of their cruel
separation lay with himself. Mr. Moore seems at times to be somewhat
puzzled by these contradictory statements of his idol, and speculates not
a little on what could be Lord Byron's object in using such language in
public; mentally comparing it, we suppose, with the free handling which
he gave to the same subject in his private correspondence.

The innocence with which Moore gives himself up to be manipulated by Lord
Byron, the naivete with which he shows all the process, let us a little
into the secret of the marvellous powers of charming and blinding which
this great actor possessed.

Lord Byron had the beauty, the wit, the genius, the dramatic talent,
which have constituted the strength of some wonderfully fascinating
women.

There have been women able to lead their leashes of blinded adorers; to
make them swear that black was white, or white black, at their word; to
smile away their senses, or weep away their reason. No matter what these
sirens may say, no matter what they may do, though caught in a thousand
transparent lies, and doing a thousand deeds which would have ruined
others, still men madly rave after them in life, and tear their hair over
their graves. Such an enchanter in man's shape was Lord Byron.

He led captive Moore and Murray by being beautiful, a genius, and a lord;
calling them 'Dear Tom' and 'Dear Murray,' while they were only
commoners. He first insulted Sir Walter Scott, and then witched his
heart out of him by ingenuous confessions and poetical compliments; he
took Wilson's heart by flattering messages and a beautifully-written
letter; he corresponded familiarly with Hogg; and, before his death, had
made fast friends, in one way or another, of the whole 'Noctes
Ambrosianae' Club.

We thus have given the historical resume of Lord Byron's attacks on his
wife's reputation: we shall add, that they were based on philosophic
principles, showing a deep knowledge of mankind. An analysis will show
that they can be philosophically classified:--

1st. Those which addressed the sympathetic nature of man, representing
her as cold, methodical, severe, strict, unforgiving.

2nd. Those addressed to the faculty of association, connecting her with
ludicrous and licentious images; taking from her the usual protection of
womanly delicacy and sacredness.

3rd. Those addressed to the moral faculties, accusing her as artful,
treacherous, untruthful, malignant.

All these various devices he held in his hand, shuffling and dealing them
as a careful gamester his pack of cards according to the exigencies of
the game. He played adroitly, skilfully, with blinding flatteries and
seductive wiles, that made his victims willing dupes.

Nothing can more clearly show the power and perfectness of his
enchantments than the masterly way in which he turned back the moral
force of the whole English nation, which had risen at first in its
strength against him. The victory was complete.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

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