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Chapter 5

THE ATTACK ON LADY BYRON'S GRAVE.


We have now brought the review of the antagonism against Lady Byron down
to the period of her death. During all this time, let the candid reader
ask himself which of these two parties seems to be plotting against the
other.

Which has been active, aggressive, unscrupulous? which has been silent,
quiet, unoffending? Which of the two has laboured to make a party, and
to make that party active, watchful, enthusiastic?

Have we not proved that Lady Byron remained perfectly silent during Lord
Byron's life, patiently looking out from her retirement to see the waves
of popular sympathy, that once bore her up, day by day retreating, while
his accusations against her were resounding in his poems over the whole
earth? And after Lord Byron's death, when all the world with one consent
began to give their memorials of him, and made it appear, by their
various 'recollections of conversations,' how incessantly he had obtruded
his own version of the separation upon every listener, did she manifest
any similar eagerness?

Lady Byron had seen the 'Blackwood' coming forward, on the first
appearance of 'Don Juan,' to rebuke the cowardly lampoon in words
eloquent with all the unperverted vigour of an honest Englishman. Under
the power of the great conspirator, she had seen that 'Blackwood' become
the very eager recipient and chief reporter of the stories against her,
and the blind admirer of her adversary.

All this time, she lost sympathy daily by being silent. The world will
embrace those who court it; it will patronise those who seek its favour;
it will make parties for those who seek to make parties: but for the
often accused who do not speak, who make no confidants and no parties,
the world soon loses sympathy.

When at last she spoke, Christopher North says 'she astonished the
world.' Calm, clear, courageous, exact as to time, date, and
circumstance, was that first testimony, backed by the equally clear
testimony of Dr. Lushington.

It showed that her secret had been kept even from her parents. In words
precise, firm, and fearless, she says, 'If these statements on which Dr.
Lushington and Sir Samuel Romilly formed their opinion were false, the
responsibility and the odium should rest with me only.' Christopher
North did not pretend to disbelieve this statement. He breathed not a
doubt of Lady Byron's word. He spoke of the crime indicated, as one
which might have been foul as the grave's corruption, unforgivable as the
sin against the Holy Ghost. He rebuked the wife for bearing this
testimony, even to save the memory of her dead father and mother, and, in
the same breath, declared that she ought now to go farther, and speak
fully the one awful word, and then--'a mitigated sentence, or eternal
silence!'

But Lady Byron took no counsel with the world, nor with the literary men
of her age. One knight, with some small remnant of England's old
chivalry, set lance in rest for her: she saw him beaten back unhorsed,
rolled in the dust, and ingloriously vanquished, and perceived that
henceforth nothing but injury could come to any one who attempted to
speak for her.

She turned from the judgments of man and the fond and natural hopes of
human nature, to lose herself in sacred ministries to the downcast and
suffering. What nobler record for woman could there be than that which
Miss Martineau has given?

Particularly to be noted in Lady Byron was her peculiar interest in
reclaiming fallen women. Among her letters to Mrs. Prof. Follen, of
Cambridge, was one addressed to a society of ladies who had undertaken
this difficult work. It was full of heavenly wisdom and of a large and
tolerant charity. Fenelon truly says, it is only perfection that can
tolerate imperfection; and the very purity of Lady Byron's nature made
her most forbearing and most tender towards the weak and the guilty. This
letter, with all the rest of Lady Byron's, was returned to the hands of
her executors after her death. Its publication would greatly assist the
world in understanding the peculiarities of its writer's character.

Lady Byron passed to a higher life in 1860. {105} After her death, I
looked for the publication of her Memoir and Letters as the event that
should give her the same opportunity of being known and judged by her
life and writings that had been so freely accorded to Lord Byron.

She was, in her husband's estimation, a woman of genius. She was the
friend of many of the first men and women of her times, and corresponded
with them on topics of literature, morals, religion, and, above all, on
the benevolent and philanthropic movements of the day, whose principles
she had studied with acute observation, and in connection with which she
had acquired a large experience.

The knowledge of her, necessarily diffused by such a series of letters,
would have created in America a comprehension of her character, of itself
sufficient to wither a thousand slanders.

Such a Memoir was contemplated. Lady Byron's letters to Mrs. Follen were
asked for from Boston; and I was applied to by a person in England, who I
have recently learned is one of the existing trustees of Lady Byron's
papers, to furnish copies of her letters to me for the purpose of a
Memoir. Before I had time to have copies made, another letter came,
stating that the trustees had concluded that it was best not to publish
any Memoir of Lady Byron at all.

This left the character of Lady Byron in our American world precisely
where the slanders of her husband, the literature of the Noctes Club, and
the unanimous verdict of May Fair as recorded by 'Blackwood,' had placed
it.

True, Lady Byron had nobly and quietly lived down these slanders in
England by deeds that made her name revered as a saint among all those
who valued saintliness.

But in France and Italy, and in these United States, I have had abundant
opportunity to know that Lady Byron stood judged and condemned on the
testimony of her brilliant husband, and that the feeling against her had
a vivacity and intensity not to be overcome by mere allusions to a
virtuous life in distant England.

This is strikingly shown by one fact. In the American edition of Moore's
'Life of Byron,' by Claxton, Remsen, and Haffelfinger, Philadelphia,
1869, which I have been consulting, Lady Byron's statement, which is
found in the Appendix of Murray's standard edition, is entirely omitted.
Every other paper is carefully preserved. This one incident showed how
the tide of sympathy was setting in this New World. Of course, there is
no stronger power than a virtuous life; but, for a virtuous life to bear
testimony to the world, its details must be told, so that the world may
know them.

Suppose the memoirs of Clarkson and Wilberforce had been suppressed after
their death, how soon might the coming tide have wiped out the record of
their bravery and philanthropy! Suppose the lives of Francis Xavier and
Henry Martyn had never been written, and we had lost the remembrance of
what holy men could do and dare in the divine enthusiasm of Christian
faith! Suppose we had no Fenelon, no Book of Martyrs!

Would there not be an outcry through all the literary and artistic world
if a perfect statue were allowed to remain buried for ever because some
painful individual history was connected with its burial and its
recovery? But is not a noble life a greater treasure to mankind than any
work of art?

We have heard much mourning over the burned Autobiography of Lord Byron,
and seen it treated of in a magazine as 'the lost chapter in history.'
The lost chapter in history is Lady Byron's Autobiography in her life and
letters; and the suppression of them is the root of this whole mischief.

We do not in this intend to censure the parties who came to this
decision.

The descendants of Lady Byron revere her memory, as they have every
reason to do. That it was their desire to have a Memoir of her
published, I have been informed by an individual of the highest character
in England, who obtained the information directly from Lady Byron's
grandchildren.

But the trustees in whose care the papers were placed drew back on
examination of them, and declared, that, as Lady Byron's papers could not
be fully published, they should regret anything that should call public
attention once more to the discussion of her history.

Reviewing this long history of the way in which the literary world had
treated Lady Byron, we cannot wonder that her friends should have doubted
whether there was left on earth any justice, or sense that anything is
due to woman as a human being with human rights. Evidently this lesson
had taken from them all faith in the moral sense of the world. Rather
than re-awaken the discussion, so unsparing, so painful, and so
indelicate, which had been carried on so many years around that loved
form, now sanctified by death, they sacrificed the dear pleasure of the
memorials, and the interests of mankind, who have an indefeasible right
to all the help that can be got from the truth of history as to the
living power of virtue, and the reality of that great victory that
overcometh the world.

There are thousands of poor victims suffering in sadness, discouragement,
and poverty; heart-broken wives of brutal, drunken husbands; women
enduring nameless wrongs and horrors which the delicacy of their sex
forbids them to utter,--to whom the lovely letters lying hidden away
under those seals might bring courage and hope from springs not of this
world.

But though the friends of Lady Byron, perhaps from despair of their kind,
from weariness of the utter injustice done her, wished to cherish her
name in silence, and to confine the story of her virtues to that circle
who knew her too well to ask a proof, or utter a doubt, the partisans of
Lord Byron were embarrassed with no such scruple.

Lord Byron had artfully contrived during his life to place his wife in
such an antagonistic position with regard to himself, that his intimate
friends were forced to believe that one of the two had deliberately and
wantonly injured the other. The published statement of Lady Byron
contradicted boldly and point-blank all the statement of her husband
concerning the separation; so that, unless she was convicted as a false
witness, he certainly was.

The best evidence of this is Christopher North's own shocked, astonished
statement, and the words of the Noctes Club.

The noble life that Lady Byron lived after this hushed every voice, and
silenced even the most desperate calumny, while she was in the world. In
the face of Lady Byron as the world saw her, of what use was the talk of
Clytemnestra, and the assertion that she had been a mean, deceitful
conspirator against her husband's honour in life, and stabbed his memory
after death?

But when she was in her grave, when her voice and presence and good deeds
no more spoke for her, and a new generation was growing up that knew her
not; then was the time selected to revive the assault on her memory, and
to say over her grave what none would ever have dared to say of her while
living.

During these last two years, I have been gradually awakening to the
evidence of a new crusade against the memory of Lady Byron, which
respected no sanctity,--not even that last and most awful one of death.

Nine years after her death, when it was fully understood that no story on
her side or that of her friends was to be forthcoming, then her
calumniators raked out from the ashes of her husband's sepulchre all his
bitter charges, to state them over in even stronger and more indecent
forms.

There seems to be reason to think that the materials supplied by Lord
Byron for such a campaign yet exist in society.

To 'The Noctes' of November 1824, there is the following note apropos to
a discussion of the Byron question:--


'Byron's Memoirs, given by him to Moore, were burned, as everybody
knows. But, before this, Moore had lent them to several persons. Mrs.
Home Purvis, afterwards Viscountess of Canterbury, is known to have
sat up all one night, in which, aided by her daughter, she had a copy
made. I have the strongest reason for believing that one other person
made a copy; for the description of the first twenty-four hours after
the marriage ceremonial has been in my hands. Not until after the
death of Lady Byron, and Hobhouse, who was the poet's literary
executor, can the poet's Autobiography see the light; but I am certain
it will be published.'

Thus speaks Mackenzie in a note to a volume of 'The Noctes,' published in
America in 1854. Lady Byron died in 1860.

Nine years after Lady Byron's death, when it was ascertained that her
story was not to see the light, when there were no means of judging her
character by her own writings, commenced a well-planned set of operations
to turn the public attention once more to Lord Byron, and to represent
him as an injured man, whose testimony had been unjustly suppressed.

It was quite possible, supposing copies of the Autobiography to exist,
that this might occasion a call from the generation of to-day, in answer
to which the suppressed work might appear. This was a rather delicate
operation to commence; but the instrument was not wanting. It was
necessary that the subject should be first opened by some irresponsible
party, whom more powerful parties might, as by accident, recognise and
patronise, and on whose weakness they might build something stronger.

Just such an instrument was to be found in Paris. The mistress of Lord
Byron could easily be stirred up and flattered to come before the world
with a book which should re-open the whole controversy; and she proved a
facile tool. At first, the work appeared prudently in French, and was
called 'Lord Byron juge par les Temoins de sa Vie,' and was rather a
failure. Then it was translated into English, and published by Bentley.

The book was inartistic, and helplessly, childishly stupid as to any
literary merits,--a mere mass of gossip and twaddle; but after all, when
one remembers the taste of the thousands of circulating-library readers,
it must not be considered the less likely to be widely read on that
account. It is only once in a century that a writer of real genius has
the art to tell his story so as to take both the cultivated few and the
average many. De Foe and John Bunyan are almost the only examples. But
there is a certain class of reading that sells and spreads, and exerts a
vast influence, which the upper circles of literature despise too much
ever to fairly estimate its power.

However, the Guiccioli book did not want for patrons in the high places
of literature. The 'Blackwood'--the old classic magazine of England; the
defender of conservatism and aristocracy; the paper of Lockhart, Wilson,
Hogg, Walter Scott, and a host of departed grandeurs--was deputed to
usher into the world this book, and to recommend it and its author to the
Christian public of the nineteenth century.

The following is the manner in which 'Blackwood' calls attention to it:--


'One of the most beautiful of the songs of Beranger is that addressed
to his Lisette, in which he pictures her, in old age, narrating to a
younger generation the loves of their youth; decking his portrait with
flowers at each returning spring, and reciting the verses that had
been inspired by her vanished charms:--

'Lorsque les yeux chercheront sous vos rides
Les traits charmants qui m'auront inspire,
Des doux recits les jeunes gens avides,
Diront: Quel fut cet ami tant pleure?
De men amour peignez, s'il est possible,
Vardeur, l'ivresse, et meme les soupcons,
Et bonne vieille, an coin d'un feu paisible
De votre ami repetez les chansons.
"On vous dira: Savait-il etre aimable?
Et sans rougir vous direz: Je l'aimais.
D'un trait mechant se montra-t-il capable?
Avec orgueil vous repondrez: Jamais!'"

'This charming picture,' 'Blackwood' goes on to say, 'has been
realised in the case of a poet greater than Beranger, and by a
mistress more famous than Lisette. The Countess Guiccioli has at
length given to the world her "Recollections of Lord Byron." The book
first appeared in France under the title of "Lord Byron juge par les
Temoins de sa Vie," without the name of the countess. A more
unfortunate designation could hardly have been selected. The
"witnesses of his life" told us nothing but what had been told before
over and over again; and the uniform and exaggerated tone of eulogy
which pervaded the whole book was fatal to any claim on the part of
the writer to be considered an impartial judge of the wonderfully
mixed character of Byron.

'When, however, the book is regarded as the avowed production of the
Countess Guiccioli, it derives value and interest from its very
faults. {113} There is something inexpressibly touching in the
picture of the old lady calling up the phantoms of half a century ago;
not faded and stricken by the hand of time, but brilliant and gorgeous
as they were when Byron, in his manly prime of genius and beauty,
first flashed upon her enraptured sight, and she gave her whole soul
up to an absorbing passion, the embers of which still glow in her
heart.

'To her there has been no change, no decay. The god whom she
worshipped with all the ardour of her Italian nature at seventeen is
still the "Pythian of the age" to her at seventy. To try such a book
by the ordinary canons of criticism would be as absurd as to arraign
the authoress before a jury of British matrons, or to prefer a bill of
indictment against the Sultan for bigamy to a Middlesex grand jury.'


This, then, is the introduction which one of the oldest and most
classical periodicals of Great Britain gives to a very stupid book,
simply because it was written by Lord Byron's mistress. That fact, we
are assured, lends grace even to its faults.

Having brought the authoress upon the stage, the review now goes on to
define her position, and assure the Christian world that


'The Countess Guiccioli was the daughter of an impoverished noble. At
the age of sixteen, she was taken from a convent, and sold as third
wife to the Count Guiccioli, who was old, rich, and profligate. A
fouler prostitution never profaned the name of marriage. A short time
afterwards, she accidentally met Lord Byron. Outraged and rebellious
nature vindicated itself in the deep and devoted passion with which he
inspired her. With the full assent of husband, father, and brother,
and in compliance with the usages of Italian society, he was shortly
afterwards installed in the office, and invested with all the
privileges, of her "Cavalier Servente."'

It has been asserted that the Marquis de Boissy, the late husband of this
Guiccioli lady, was in the habit of introducing her in fashionable
circles as 'the Marquise de Boissy, my wife, formerly mistress to Lord
Byron'! We do not give the story as a verity; yet, in the review of this
whole history, we may be pardoned for thinking it quite possible.

The mistress, being thus vouched for and presented as worthy of sympathy
and attention by one of the oldest and most classic organs of English
literature, may now proceed in her work of glorifying the popular idol,
and casting abuse on the grave of the dead wife.

Her attacks on Lady Byron are, to be sure, less skilful and adroit than
those of Lord Byron. They want his literary polish and tact; but what of
that? 'Blackwood' assures us that even the faults of manner derive a
peculiar grace from the fact that the narrator is Lord Byron's mistress;
and so we suppose the literary world must find grace in things like
this:--


'She has been called, after his words, the moral Clytemnestra of her
husband. Such a surname is severe: but the repugnance we feel to
condemning a woman cannot prevent our listening to the voice of
justice, which tells us that the comparison is still in favour of the
guilty one of antiquity; for she, driven to crime by fierce passion
overpowering reason, at least only deprived her husband of physical
life, and, in committing the deed, exposed herself to all its
consequences; while Lady Byron left her husband at the very moment
that she saw him struggling amid a thousand shoals in the stormy sea
of embarrassments created by his marriage, and precisely when he more
than ever required a friendly, tender, and indulgent hand to save him.

'Besides, she shut herself up in silence a thousand times more cruel
than Clytemnestra's poniard: that only killed the body; whereas Lady
Byron's silence was destined to kill the soul,--and such a
soul!--leaving the door open to calumny, and making it to be supposed
that her silence was magnanimity destined to cover over frightful
wrongs, perhaps even depravity. In vain did he, feeling his
conscience at ease, implore some inquiry and examination. She
refused; and the only favour she granted was to send him, one fine
day, two persons to see whether he were not mad.

'And, why, then, had she believed him mad? Because she, a methodical,
inflexible woman, with that unbendingness which a profound moralist
calls the worship rendered to pride by a feelingless soul, because she
could not understand the possibility of tastes and habits different to
those of ordinary routine, or of her own starched life. Not to be
hungry when she was; not to sleep at night, but to write while she was
sleeping, and to sleep when she was up; in short, to gratify the
requirements of material and intellectual life at hours different to
hers,--all that was not merely annoying for her, but it must be
madness; or, if not, it betokened depravity that she could neither
submit to nor tolerate without perilling her own morality.

'Such was the grand secret of the cruel silence which exposed Lord
Byron to the most malignant interpretations, to all the calumny and
revenge of his enemies.

'She was, perhaps, the only woman in the world so strangely
organised,--the only one, perhaps, capable of not feeling happy and
proud at belonging to a man superior to the rest of humanity; and
fatally was it decreed that this woman alone of her species should be
Lord Byron's wife!'


In a note is added,--

'If an imaginary fear, and even an unreasonable jealousy, may be her
excuse (just as one excuses a monomania), can one equally forgive her
silence? Such a silence is morally what are physically the poisons
which kill at once, and defy all remedies; thus insuring the culprit's
safety. This silence it is which will ever be her crime; for by it
she poisoned the life of her husband.'

The book has several chapters devoted to Lord Byron's peculiar virtues;
and under the one devoted to magnanimity and heroism, his forgiving
disposition receives special attention. The climax of all is stated to
be that he forgave Lady Byron. All the world knew that, since he had
declared this fact in a very noisy and impassioned manner in the fourth
canto of 'Childe Harold,' together with a statement of the wrongs which
he forgave; but the Guiccioli thinks his virtue, at this period, has not
been enough appreciated. In her view, it rose to the sublime. She says
of Lady Byron,--

'An absolute moral monstrosity, an anomaly in the history of types of
female hideousness, had succeeded in showing itself in the light of
magnanimity. But false as was this high quality in Lady Byron, so did
it shine out in him true and admirable. The position in which Lady
Byron had placed him, and where she continued to keep him by her
harshness, silence, and strange refusals, was one of those which cause
such suffering, that the highest degree of self-control seldom
suffices to quiet the promptings of human weakness, and to cause
persons of even slight sensibility to preserve moderation. Yet, with
his sensibility and the knowledge of his worth, how did he act? what
did he say? I will not speak of his "farewell;" of the care he took
to shield her from blame by throwing it on others, by taking much too
large a share to himself.'

With like vivacity and earnestness does the narrator now proceed to make
an incarnate angel of her subject by the simple process of denying
everything that he himself ever confessed,--everything that has ever been
confessed in regard to him by his best friends. He has been in the world
as an angel unawares from his cradle. His guardian did not properly
appreciate him, and is consequently mentioned as that wicked Lord
Carlisle. Thomas Moore is never to be sufficiently condemned for the
facts told in his biography. Byron's own frank and lawless admissions of
evil are set down to a peculiar inability he had for speaking the truth
about himself,--sometimes about his near relations; all which does not in
the least discourage the authoress from giving a separate chapter on
'Lord Byron's Love of Truth.'

In the matter of his relations with women, she complacently repeats (what
sounds rather oddly as coming from her) Lord Byron's own assurance, that
he never seduced a woman; and also the equally convincing statement, that
he had told her (the Guiccioli) that his married fidelity to his wife was
perfect. She discusses Moore's account of the mistress in boy's clothes
who used to share Byron's apartments in college, and ride with him to
races, and whom he presented to ladies as his brother.

She has her own view of this matter. The disguised boy was a lady of
rank and fashion, who sought Lord Byron's chambers, as, we are informed,
noble ladies everywhere, both in Italy and England, were constantly in
the habit of doing; throwing themselves at his feet, and imploring
permission to become his handmaids.

In the authoress's own words, 'Feminine overtures still continued to be
made to Lord Byron; but the fumes of incense never hid from his sight his
IDEAL.' We are told that in the case of these poor ladies, generally
'disenchantment took place on his side without a corresponding result on
the other: THENCE many heart-breakings.' Nevertheless, we are informed
that there followed the indiscretions of these ladies 'none of those
proceedings that the world readily forgives, but which his feelings as a
man of honour would have condemned.'

As to drunkenness, and all that, we are informed he was an anchorite.
Pages are given to an account of the biscuits and soda-water that on this
and that occasion were found to be the sole means of sustenance to this
ethereal creature.

As to the story of using his wife's money, the lady gives, directly in
the face of his own Letters and Journal, the same account given before by
Medwin, and which caused such merriment when talked over in the Noctes
Club,--that he had with her only a marriage portion of 10,000 pounds; and
that, on the separation, he not only paid it back, but doubled it. {119}

So on the authoress goes, sowing right and left the most transparent
absurdities and misstatements with what Carlyle well calls 'a composed
stupidity, and a cheerful infinitude of ignorance.' Who should know, if
not she, to be sure? Had not Byron told her all about it? and was not
his family motto Crede Byron?

The 'Blackwood,' having a dim suspicion that this confused style of
attack and defence in reference to the two parties under consideration
may not have great weight, itself proceeds to make the book an occasion
for re-opening the controversy of Lord Byron with his wife.

The rest of the review devoted to a powerful attack on Lady Byron's
character, the most fearful attack on the memory of a dead woman we have
ever seen made by living man. The author proceeds, like a lawyer, to
gather up, arrange, and restate, in a most workmanlike manner, the
confused accusations of the book.

Anticipating the objection, that such a re-opening of the inquiry was a
violation of the privacy due to womanhood and to the feelings of a
surviving family, he says, that though marriage usually is a private
matter which the world has no right to intermeddle with or discuss, yet--


'Lord Byron's was an exceptional case. It is not too much to say,
that, had his marriage been a happy one, the course of events of the
present century might have been materially changed; that the genius
which poured itself forth in "Don Juan" and "Cain" might have flowed
in far different channels; that the ardent love of freedom which sent
him to perish at six and thirty at Missolonghi might have inspired a
long career at home; and that we might at this moment have been
appealing to the counsels of his experience and wisdom at an age not
exceeding that which was attained by Wellington, Lyndhurst, and
Brougham.

'Whether the world would have been a gainer or a loser by the exchange
is a question which every man must answer for himself, according to
his own tastes and opinions; but the possibility of such a change in
the course of events warrants us in treating what would otherwise be a
strictly private matter as one of public interest.

'More than half a century has elapsed, the actors have departed from
the stage, the curtain has fallen; and whether it will ever again be
raised so as to reveal the real facts of the drama, may, as we have
already observed, be well doubted. But the time has arrived when we
may fairly gather up the fragments of evidence, clear them as far as
possible from the incrustations of passion, prejudice, and malice, and
place them in such order, as, if possible, to enable us to arrive at
some probable conjecture as to what the skeleton of the drama
originally was.'


Here the writer proceeds to put together all the facts of Lady Byron's
case, just as an adverse lawyer would put them as against her, and for
her husband. The plea is made vigorously and ably, and with an air of
indignant severity, as of an honest advocate who is thoroughly convinced
that he is pleading the cause of a wronged man who has been ruined in
name, shipwrecked in life, and driven to an early grave, by the arts of a
bad woman,--a woman all the more horrible that her malice was disguised
under the cloak of religion.

Having made an able statement of facts, adroitly leaving out ONE, {121}
of which he could not have been ignorant had he studied the case
carefully enough to know all the others, he proceeds to sum up against
the criminal thus:--


'We would deal tenderly with the memory of Lady Byron. Few women have
been juster objects of compassion. It would seem as if Nature and
Fortune had vied with each other which should be most lavish of her
gifts, and yet that some malignant power had rendered all their bounty
of no effect. Rank, beauty, wealth, and mental powers of no common
order, were hers; yet they were of no avail to secure common
happiness. The spoilt child of seclusion, restraint, and parental
idolatry, a fate (alike evil for both) cast her into the arms of the
spoilt child of genius, passion, and the world. What real or fancied
wrongs she suffered, we may never know; but those which she inflicted
are sufficiently apparent.

'It is said that there are some poisons so subtle that they will
destroy life, and yet leave no trace of their action. The murderer
who uses them may escape the vengeance of the law; but he is not the
less guilty. So the slanderer who makes no charge; who deals in hints
and insinuations: who knows melancholy facts he would not willingly
divulge,--things too painful to state; who forbears, expresses pity,
sometimes even affection, for his victim, shrugs his shoulders, looks
with

"The significant eye,
Which learns to lie with silence,--"

is far more guilty than he who tells the bold falsehood which may be
met and answered, and who braves the punishment which must follow upon
detection.

'Lady Byron has been called

"The moral Clytemnestra of her lord."

The "moral Brinvilliers" would have been a truer designation.

'The conclusion at which we arrive is, that there is no proof whatever
that Lord Byron was guilty of any act that need have caused a
separation, or prevented a re-union, and that the imputations upon him
rest on the vaguest conjecture; that whatever real or fancied wrongs
Lady Byron may have endured are shrouded in an impenetrable mist of
her own creation,--a poisonous miasma in which she enveloped the
character of her husband, raised by her breath, and which her breath
only could have dispersed.

"She dies and makes no sign. O God! forgive her."'


As we have been obliged to review accusations on Lady Byron founded on
old Greek tragedy, so now we are forced to abridge a passage from a
modern conversations-lexicon, that we may understand what sort of
comparisons are deemed in good taste in a conservative English review,
when speaking of ladies of rank in their graves.

Under the article 'Brinvilliers,' we find as follows:--


MARGUERITE D'AUBRAI, MARCHIONESS OF BRINVILLIERS.--The singular
atrocity of this woman gives her a sort of infamous claim to notice.
She was born in Paris in 1651; being daughter of D'Aubrai, lieutenant-
civil of Paris, who married her to the Marquis of Brinvilliers.
Although possessed of attractions to captivate lovers, she was for
some time much attached to her husband, but at length became madly in
love with a Gascon officer. Her father imprisoned the officer in the
Bastille; and, while there, he learned the art of compounding subtle
and most mortal poisons; and, when he was released, he taught it to
the lady, who exercised it with such success, that, in one year, her
father, sister, and two brothers became her victims. She professed
the utmost tenderness for her victims, and nursed them assiduously. On
her father she is said to have made eight attempts before she
succeeded. She was very religious, and devoted to works of charity;
and visited the hospitals a great deal, where it is said she tried her
poisons on the sick.'

People have made loud outcries lately, both in America and England, about
violating the repose of the dead. We should like to know what they call
this. Is this, then, what they mean by respecting the dead?

Let any man imagine a leading review coming out with language equally
brutal about his own mother, or any dear and revered friend.

Men of America, men of England, what do you think of this?

When Lady Byron was publicly branded with the names of the foulest
ancient and foulest modern assassins, and Lord Byron's mistress was
publicly taken by the hand, and encouraged to go on and prosper in her
slanders, by one of the oldest and most influential British reviews, what
was said and what was done in England?

That is a question we should be glad to have answered. Nothing was done
that ever reached us across the water.

And why was nothing done? Is this language of a kind to be passed over
in silence?

Was it no offence to the house of Wentworth to attack the pure character
of its late venerable head, and to brand her in her sacred grave with the
name of one of the vilest of criminals?

Might there not properly have been an indignant protest of family
solicitors against this insult to the person and character of the
Baroness Wentworth?

If virtue went for nothing, benevolence for nothing, a long life of
service to humanity for nothing, one would at least have thought, that,
in aristocratic countries, rank might have had its rights to decent
consideration, and its guardians to rebuke the violation of those rights.

We Americans understand little of the advantages of rank; but we did
understand that it secured certain decorums to people, both while living
and when in their graves. From Lady Byron's whole history, in life and
in death, it would appear that we were mistaken.

What a life was hers! Was ever a woman more evidently desirous of the
delicate and secluded privileges of womanhood, of the sacredness of
individual privacy? Was ever a woman so rudely dragged forth, and
exposed to the hardened, vulgar, and unfeeling gaze of mere
curiosity?--her maiden secrets of love thrown open to be handled by
roues; the sanctities of her marriage-chamber desecrated by leering
satyrs; her parents and best friends traduced and slandered, till one
indignant public protest was extorted from her, as by the rack,--a
protest which seems yet to quiver in every word with the indignation of
outraged womanly delicacy!

Then followed coarse blame and coarser comment,--blame for speaking at
all, and blame for not speaking more. One manly voice, raised for her in
honourable protest, was silenced and overborne by the universal roar of
ridicule and reprobation; and henceforth what refuge? Only this
remained: 'Let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the
keeping of their souls to him as to a faithful Creator.'

Lady Byron turned to this refuge in silence, and filled up her life with
a noble record of charities and humanities. So pure was she, so
childlike, so artless, so loving, that those who knew her best, feel, to
this day, that a memorial of her is like the relic of a saint. And could
not all this preserve her grave from insult? O England, England!

I speak in sorrow of heart to those who must have known, loved, and
revered Lady Byron, and ask them, Of what were you thinking when you
allowed a paper of so established literary rank as the 'Blackwood,' to
present and earnestly recommend to our New World such a compendium of
lies as the Guiccioli book?

Is the great English-speaking community, whose waves toss from Maine to
California, and whose literature is yet to come back in a thousand voices
to you, a thing to be so despised?

If, as the solicitors of the Wentworth family observe, you might be
entitled to treat with silent contempt the slanders of a mistress against
a wife, was it safe to treat with equal contempt the indorsement and
recommendation of those slanders by one of your oldest and most powerful
literary authorities?

No European magazine has ever had the weight and circulation in America
that the 'Blackwood' has held. In the days of my youth, when New England
was a comparatively secluded section of the earth, the wit and genius of
the 'Noctes Ambrosianae' were in the mouths of men and maidens, even in
our most quiet mountain-towns. There, years ago, we saw all Lady Byron's
private affairs discussed, and felt the weight of Christopher North's
decisions against her. Shelton Mackenzie, in his American edition,
speaks of the American circulation of 'Blackwood' being greater than that
in England. {126} It was and is now reprinted monthly; and, besides
that, 'Littell's Magazine' reproduces all its striking articles, and they
come with the weight of long established position. From the very fact
that it has long been considered the Tory organ, and the supporter of
aristocratic orders, all its admissions against the character of
individuals in the privileged classes have a double force.

When 'Blackwood,' therefore, boldly denounces a lady of high rank as a
modern Brinvilliers, and no sensation is produced, and no remonstrance
follows, what can people in the New World suppose, but that Lady Byron's
character was a point entirely given up; that her depravity was so well
established and so fully conceded, that nothing was to be said, and that
even the defenders of aristocracy were forced to admit it?

I have been blamed for speaking on this subject without consulting Lady
Byron's friends, trustees, and family. More than ten years had elapsed
since I had had any intercourse with England, and I knew none of them.
How was I to know that any of them were living? I was astonished to
learn, for the first time, by the solicitors' letters, that there were
trustees, who held in their hands all Lady Byron's carefully prepared
proofs and documents, by which this falsehood might immediately have been
refuted.

If they had spoken, they might have saved all this confusion. Even if
bound by restrictions for a certain period of time, they still might have
called on a Christian public to frown down such a cruel and indecent
attack on the character of a noble lady who had been a benefactress to so
many in England. They might have stated that the means of wholly
refuting the slanders of the 'Blackwood' were in their hands, and only
delayed in coming forth from regard to the feelings of some in this
generation. Then might they not have announced her Life and Letters,
that the public might have the same opportunity as themselves for knowing
and judging Lady Byron by her own writings?

Had this been done, I had been most happy to have remained silent. I
have been astonished that any one should have supposed this speaking on
my part to be anything less than it is,--the severest act of
self-sacrifice that one friend can perform for another, and the most
solemn and difficult tribute to justice that a human being can be called
upon to render.

I have been informed that the course I have taken would be contrary to
the wishes of my friend. I think otherwise. I know her strong sense of
justice, and her reverence for truth. Nothing ever moved her to speak to
the public but an attack upon the honour of the dead. In her statement,
she says of her parents, 'There is no other near relative to vindicate
their memory from insult: I am therefore compelled to break the silence I
had hoped always to have observed.'

If there was any near relative to vindicate Lady Byron's memory, I had no
evidence of the fact; and I considered the utter silence to be strong
evidence to the contrary. In all the storm of obloquy and rebuke that
has raged in consequence of my speaking, I have had two unspeakable
sources of joy; first, that they could not touch her; and, second, that
they could not blind the all-seeing God. It is worth being in darkness
to see the stars.

It has been said that I have drawn on Lady Byron's name greater obloquy
than ever before. I deny the charge. Nothing fouler has been asserted
of her than the charges in the 'Blackwood,' because nothing fouler could
be asserted. No satyr's hoof has ever crushed this pearl deeper in the
mire than the hoof of the 'Blackwood,' but none of them have defiled it
or trodden it so deep that God cannot find it in the day 'when he maketh
up his jewels.'

I have another word, as an American, to say about the contempt shown to
our great people in thus suffering the materials of history to be
falsified to subserve the temporary purposes of family feeling in
England.

Lord Byron belongs not properly either to the Byrons or the Wentworths.
He is not one of their family jewels to be locked up in their cases. He
belongs to the world for which he wrote, to which he appealed, and before
which he dragged his reluctant, delicate wife to a publicity equal with
his own: the world has, therefore, a right to judge him.

We Americans have been made accessories, after the fact, to every insult
and injury that Lord Byron and the literary men of his day have heaped
upon Lady Byron. We have been betrayed into injustice and a complicity
with villainy. After Lady Byron had nobly lived down slanders in
England, and died full of years and honours, the 'Blackwood' takes
occasion to re-open the controversy by recommending a book full of
slanders to a rising generation who knew nothing of the past. What was
the consequence in America? My attention was first called to the result,
not by reading the 'Blackwood' article, but by finding in a popular
monthly magazine two long articles,--the one an enthusiastic
recommendation of the Guiccioli book, and the other a lamentation over
the burning of the Autobiography as a lost chapter in history.

Both articles represented Lady Byron as a cold, malignant, mean,
persecuting woman, who had been her husband's ruin. They were so full of
falsehoods and misstatements as to astonish me. Not long after, a
literary friend wrote to me, 'Will you, can you, reconcile it to your
conscience to sit still and allow that mistress so to slander that
wife,--you, perhaps, the only one knowing the real facts, and able to set
them forth?'

Upon this, I immediately began collecting and reading the various
articles and the book, and perceived that the public of this generation
were in a way of having false history created, uncontradicted, under
their own eyes.

I claim for my countrymen and women, our right to true history. For
years, the popular literature has held up publicly before our eyes the
facts as to this man and this woman, and called on us to praise or
condemn. Let us have truth when we are called on to judge. It is our
right.

There is no conceivable obligation on a human being greater than that of
absolute justice. It is the deepest personal injury to an honourable
mind to be made, through misrepresentation, an accomplice in injustice.
When a noble name is accused, any person who possesses truth which might
clear it, and withholds that truth, is guilty of a sin against human
nature and the inalienable rights of justice. I claim that I have not
only a right, but an obligation, to bring in my solemn testimony upon
this subject.

For years and years, the silence-policy has been tried; and what has it
brought forth? As neither word nor deed could be proved against Lady
Byron, her silence has been spoken of as a monstrous, unnatural crime, 'a
poisonous miasma,' in which she enveloped the name of her husband.

Very well; since silence is the crime, I thought I would tell the world
that Lady Byron had spoken.

Christopher North, years ago, when he condemned her for speaking, said
that she should speak further,--

'She should speak, or some one for her. One word would suffice.'

That one word has been spoken.


Harriet Beecher Stowe

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