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Chapter 3

CHRONOLOGICAL SUMMARY OF EVENTS.


I have now fulfilled as conscientiously as possible the requests of those
who feel that they have a right to know exactly what was said in this
interview.

It has been my object, in doing this, to place myself just where I should
stand were I giving evidence under oath before a legal tribunal. In my
first published account, there were given some smaller details of the
story, of no particular value to the main purpose of it, which I received
not from Lady Byron, but from her confidential friend. One of these was
the account of her seeing Lord Byron's favourite spaniel lying at his
door, and the other was the scene of the parting.

The first was communicated to me before I ever saw Lady Byron, and under
these circumstances:--I was invited to meet her, and had expressed my
desire to do so, because Lord Byron had been all my life an object of
great interest to me. I inquired what sort of a person Lady Byron was.
My friend spoke of her with enthusiasm. I then said, 'but of course she
never loved Lord Byron, or she would not have left him.' The lady
answered, 'I can show you with what feelings she left him by relating
this story;' and then followed the anecdote.

Subsequently, she also related to me the other story of the parting-scene
between Lord and Lady Byron. In regard to these two incidents, my
recollection is clear.

It will be observed by the reader that Lady Byron's conversation with me
was simply for consultation on one point, and that point whether she
herself should publish the story before her death. It was not,
therefore, a complete history of all the events in their order, but
specimens of a few incidents and facts. Her object was, not to prove her
story to me, nor to put me in possession of it with a view to my proving
it, but simply and briefly to show me what it was, that I might judge as
to the probable results of its publication at that time.

It therefore comprised primarily these points:--

1. An exact statement, in so many words, of the crime.

2. A statement of the manner in which it was first forced on her
attention by Lord Byron's words and actions, including his admissions and
defences of it.

3. The admission of a period when she had ascribed his whole conduct to
insanity.

4. A reference to later positive evidences of guilt, the existence of a
child, and Mrs. Leigh's subsequent repentance.

And here I have a word to say in reference to the alleged inaccuracies of
my true story.

The dates that Lady Byron gave me on the memoranda did not relate either
to the time of the first disclosure, or the period when her doubts became
certainties; nor did her conversation touch either of these points: and,
on a careful review of the latter, I see clearly that it omitted dwelling
upon anything which I might be supposed to have learned from her already
published statement.

I re-enclosed that paper to her from London, and have never seen it
since.

In writing my account, which I designed to do in the most general terms,
I took for my guide Miss Martineau's published Memoir of Lady Byron,
which has long stood uncontradicted before the public, of which
Macmillan's London edition is now before me. The reader is referred to
page 316, which reads thus:--

'She was born 1792; married in January 1814; returned to her father's
house in 1816; died on May 16, 1860.' This makes her married life two
years; but we need not say that the date is inaccurate, as Lady Byron was
married in 1815.

Supposing Lady Byron's married life to have covered two years, I could
only reconcile its continuance for that length of time to her uncertainty
as to his sanity; to deceptions practised on her, making her doubt at one
time, and believe at another; and his keeping her in a general state of
turmoil and confusion, till at last he took the step of banishing her.

Various other points taken from Miss Martineau have also been attacked as
inaccuracies; for example, the number of executions in the house: but
these points, though of no importance, are substantially borne out by
Moore's statements.

This controversy, unfortunately, cannot be managed with the accuracy of a
legal trial. Its course, hitherto, has rather resembled the course of a
drawing-room scandal, where everyone freely throws in an assertion, with
or without proof. In making out my narrative, however, I shall use only
certain authentic sources, some of which have for a long time been before
the public, and some of which have floated up from the waves of the
recent controversy. I consider as authentic sources,--

Moore's Life of Byron;

Lady Byron's own account of the separation, published in 1830;

Lady Byron's statements to me in 1856;

Lord Lindsay's communication, giving an extract from Lady Anne Barnard's
diary, and a copy of a letter from Lady Byron dated 1818, about three
years after her marriage;

Mrs. Mimms' testimony, as given in a daily paper published at Newcastle,
England;

And Lady Byron's letters, as given recently in the late 'London
Quarterly.'

All which documents appear to arrange themselves into a connected series.

From these, then, let us construct the story.

According to Mrs. Mimms' account, which is likely to be accurate, the
time spent by Lord and Lady Byron in bridal-visiting was three weeks at
Halnaby Hall, and six weeks at Seaham, when Mrs. Mimms quitted their
service.

During this first period of three weeks, Lord Byron's treatment of his
wife, as testified to by the servant, was such that she advised her young
mistress to return to her parents; and, at one time, Lady Byron had
almost resolved to do so.

What the particulars of his conduct were, the servant refuses to state;
being bound by a promise of silence to her mistress. She, however,
testifies to a warm friendship existing between Lady Byron and Mrs.
Leigh, in a manner which would lead us to feel that Lady Byron received
and was received by Lord Byron's sister with the greatest affection. Lady
Byron herself says to Lady Anne Barnard, 'I had heard that he was the
best of brothers;' and the inference is, that she, at an early period of
her married life, felt the greatest confidence in his sister, and wished
to have her with them as much as possible. In Lady Anne's account, this
wish to have the sister with her was increased by Lady Byron's distress
at her husband's attempts to corrupt her principles with regard to
religion and marriage.

In Moore's Life, vol. iii., letter 217, Lord Byron writes from Seaham to
Moore, under date of March 8, sending a copy of his verses in Lady
Byron's handwriting, and saying, 'We shall leave this place to-morrow,
and shall stop on our way to town, in the interval of taking a house
there, at Colonel Leigh's, near Newmarket, where any epistle of yours
will find its welcome way. I have been very comfortable here, listening
to that d---d monologue which elderly gentlemen call conversation, in
which my pious father-in-law repeats himself every evening, save one,
when he played upon the fiddle. However, they have been vastly kind and
hospitable, and I like them and the place vastly; and I hope they will
live many happy months. Bell is in health and unvaried good-humour and
behaviour; but we are in all the agonies of packing and parting.'

Nine days after this, under date of March 17, Lord Byron says, 'We mean
to metropolize to-morrow, and you will address your next to Piccadilly.'
The inference is, that the days intermediate were spent at Colonel
Leigh's. The next letters, and all subsequent ones for six months, are
dated from Piccadilly.

As we have shown, there is every reason to believe that a warm friendship
had thus arisen between Mrs. Leigh and Lady Byron, and that, during all
this time, Lady Byron desired as much of the society of her sister-in-law
as possible. She was a married woman and a mother, her husband's nearest
relative; and Lady Byron could with more propriety ask, from her, counsel
or aid in respect to his peculiarities than she could from her own
parents. If we consider the character of Lady Byron as given by Mrs.
Mimms, that of a young person of warm but repressed feeling, without
sister or brother, longing for human sympathy, and having so far found no
relief but in talking with a faithful dependant,--we may easily see that
the acquisition of a sister through Lord Byron might have been all in all
to her, and that the feelings which he checked and rejected for himself
might have flowed out towards his sister with enthusiasm. The date of
Mrs. Leigh's visit does not appear.

The first domestic indication in Lord Byron's letters from London is the
announcement of the death of Lady Byron's uncle, Lord Wentworth, from
whom came large expectations of property. Lord Byron had mentioned him
before in his letters as so kind to Bell and himself that he could not
find it in his heart to wish him in heaven if he preferred staying here.
In his letter of April 23, he mentions going to the play immediately
after hearing this news, 'although,' as he says, 'he ought to have stayed
at home in sackcloth for "unc."'

On June 12, he writes that Lady Byron is more than three months advanced
in her progress towards maternity; and that they have been out very
little, as he wishes to keep her quiet. We are informed by Moore that
Lord Byron was at this time a member of the Drury-Lane Theatre Committee;
and that, in this unlucky connection, one of the fatalities of the first
year of trial as a husband lay. From the strain of Byron's letters, as
given in Moore, it is apparent, that, while he thinks it best for his
wife to remain at home, he does not propose to share the retirement, but
prefers running his own separate career with such persons as thronged the
greenroom of the theatre in those days.

In commenting on Lord Byron's course, we must not by any means be
supposed to indicate that he was doing any more or worse than most gay
young men of his time. The licence of the day as to getting drunk at
dinner-parties, and leading, generally, what would, in these days, be
called a disorderly life, was great. We should infer that none of the
literary men of Byron's time would have been ashamed of being drunk
occasionally. The Noctes Ambrosianae Club of 'Blackwood' is full of
songs glorying, in the broadest terms, in out-and-out drunkenness, and
inviting to it as the highest condition of a civilised being. {178a}

But drunkenness upon Lord Byron had a peculiar and specific effect, which
he notices afterwards, in his Journal, at Venice: 'The effect of all
wines and spirits upon me is, however, strange. It settles, but makes me
gloomy--gloomy at the very moment of their effect: it composes, however,
though sullenly.' {178b} And, again, in another place, he says, 'Wine
and spirits make me sullen, and savage to ferocity.'

It is well known that the effects of alcoholic excitement are various as
the natures of the subjects. But by far the worst effects, and the most
destructive to domestic peace, are those that occur in cases where
spirits, instead of acting on the nerves of motion, and depriving the
subject of power in that direction, stimulate the brain so as to produce
there the ferocity, the steadiness, the utter deadness to compassion or
conscience, which characterise a madman. How fearful to a sensitive
young mother in the period of pregnancy might be the return of such a
madman to the domestic roof! Nor can we account for those scenes
described in Lady Anne Barnard's letters, where Lord Byron returned from
his evening parties to try torturing experiments on his wife, otherwise
than by his own statement, that spirits, while they steadied him, made
him 'gloomy, and savage to ferocity.'

Take for example this:--


'One night, coming home from one of his lawless parties, he saw me
(Lady B.) so indignantly collected, and bearing all with such a
determined calmness, that a rush of remorse seemed to come over him.
He called himself a monster, and, though his sister was present, threw
himself in agony at my feet. "I could not, no, I could not, forgive
him such injuries! He had lost me forever!" Astonished at this
return to virtue, my tears, I believe, flowed over his face; and I
said, "Byron, all is forgotten; never, never shall you hear of it
more."

'He started up, and folding his arms while he looked at me, burst out
into laughter. "What do you mean?" said I. "Only a philosophical
experiment; that's all," said he. "I wished to ascertain the value of
your resolutions."'


To ascribe such deliberate cruelty as this to the effect of drink upon
Lord Byron, is the most charitable construction that can be put upon his
conduct.

Yet the manners of the period were such, that Lord Byron must have often
come to this condition while only doing what many of his acquaintances
did freely, and without fear of consequences.

Mr. Moore, with his usual artlessness, gives us an idea of a private
supper between himself and Lord Byron. We give it, with our own italics,
as a specimen of many others:--


'Having taken upon me to order the repast, and knowing that Lord Byron
for the last two days had done nothing towards sustenance beyond
eating a few biscuits and (to appease appetite) chewing mastic, I
desired that we should have a good supply of at least two kinds of
fish. My companion, however, confined himself to lobsters; and of
these finished two or three, to his own share, interposing, sometimes,
a small liqueur-glass of strong white brandy, sometimes a tumbler of
very hot water, and then pure brandy again, to the amount of near half
a dozen small glasses of the latter, without which, alternately with
the hot water, he appeared to think the lobster could not be digested.
After this, we had claret, of which, having despatched two bottles
between us, at about four o'clock in the morning we parted.

'As Pope has thought his "delicious lobster-nights" worth
commemorating, these particulars of one in which Lord Byron was
concerned may also have some interest.

'Among other nights of the same description which I had the happiness
of passing with him, I remember once, in returning home from some
assembly at rather a late hour, we saw lights in the windows of his
old haunt, Stevens's in Bond Street, and agreed to stop there and sup.
On entering, we found an old friend of his, Sir G---- W----, who
joined our party; and, the lobsters and brandy and water being put in
requisition, it was (as usual on such occasions) broad daylight before
we separated.'--Vol. iii. p.83.


During the latter part of Lady Byron's pregnancy, it appears from Moore
that Byron was, night after night, engaged out at dinner parties, in
which getting drunk was considered as of course the finale, as appears
from the following letters:--

(LETTER 228.)

TO MR. MOORE.

'TERRACE, PICCADILLY, OCT. 31,1815.

'I have not been able to ascertain precisely the time of duration of
the stock-market; but I believe it is a good time for selling out, and
I hope so. First, because I shall see you; and, next, because I shall
receive certain moneys on behalf of Lady B., the which will materially
conduce to my comfort; I wanting (as the duns say) "to make up a sum."

'Yesterday I dined out with a large-ish party, where were Sheridan and
Colman, Harry Harris, of C. G., and his brother, Sir Gilbert
Heathcote, Ds. Kinnaird, and others of note and notoriety. Like other
parties of the kind, it was first silent, then talky, then
argumentative, then disputatious, then unintelligible, * then
altogethery, then inarticulate, and then drunk. When we had reached
the last step of this glorious ladder, it was difficult to get down
again without stumbling; and, to crown all, Kinnaird and I had to
conduct Sheridan down a d---d corkscrew staircase, which had certainly
been constructed before the discovery of fermented liquors, and to
which no legs, however crooked, could possibly accommodate themselves.
We deposited him safe at home, where his man, evidently used to the
business, {181} waited to receive him in the hall.

'Both he and Colman were, as usual, very good; but I carried away much
wine, and the wine had previously carried away my memory: so that all
was hiccough and happiness for the last hour or so, and I am not
impregnated with any of the conversation. Perhaps you heard of a late
answer of Sheridan to the watchman who found him bereft of that
"divine particle of air" called reason . . . He (the watchman) found
Sherry in the street fuddled and bewildered, and almost insensible.
"Who are you, sir?"--No answer. "What's your name?"--A hiccough.
"What's your name?"--Answer, in a slow, deliberate, and impassive
tone, "Wilberforce!" Is not that Sherry all over?--and, to my mind,
excellent. Poor fellow, his very dregs are better than the "first
sprightly runnings" of others.

'My paper is full, and I have a grievous headache.

'P.S.--Lady B. is in full progress. Next month will bring to light
(with the aid of "Juno Lucina, fer opem," or rather opes, for the last
are most wanted) the tenth wonder of the world; Gil Blas being the
eighth, and he (my son's father) the ninth.'


Here we have a picture of the whole story,--Lady Byron within a month of
her confinement; her money being used to settle debts; her husband out at
a dinner-party, going through the usual course of such parties, able to
keep his legs and help Sheridan downstairs, and going home 'gloomy, and
savage to ferocity,' to his wife.

Four days after this (letter 229), we find that this dinner-party is not
an exceptional one, but one of a series: for he says, 'To-day I dine with
Kinnaird,--we are to have Sheridan and Colman again; and to-morrow, once
more, at Sir Gilbert Heathcote's.'

Afterward, in Venice, he reviews the state of his health, at this period
in London; and his account shows that his excesses in the vices of his
times had wrought effects on his sensitive, nervous organisation, very
different from what they might on the more phlegmatic constitutions of
ordinary Englishmen. In his journal, dated Venice, Feb. 2, 1821, he
says,--


'I have been considering what can be the reason why I always wake at a
certain hour in the morning, and always in very bad spirits,--I may
say, in actual despair and despondency, in all respects, even of that
which pleased me over night. In about an hour or two this goes off,
and I compose either to sleep again, or at least to quiet. In
England, five years ago, I had the same kind of hypochondria, but
accompanied with so violent a thirst, that I have drunk as many as
fifteen bottles of soda-water in one night, after going to bed, and
been still thirsty,--calculating, however, some lost from the bursting-
out and effervescence and overflowing of the soda-water in drawing the
corks, or striking off the necks of the bottles from mere thirsty
impatience. At present, I have not the thirst; but the depression of
spirits is no less violent.'--Vol. v. p.96.

These extracts go to show what must have been the condition of the man
whom Lady Byron was called to receive at the intervals when he came back
from his various social excitements and pleasures. That his nerves were
exacerbated by violent extremes of abstinence and reckless indulgence;
that he was often day after day drunk, and that drunkenness made him
savage and ferocious,--such are the facts clearly shown by Mr. Moore's
narrative. Of the natural peculiarities of Lord Byron's temper, he thus
speaks to the Countess of Blessington:--

'I often think that I inherit my violence and bad temper from my poor
mother, not that my father, from all I could ever learn, had a much
better; so that it is no wonder I have such a very bad one. As long
as I can remember anything, I recollect being subject to violent
paroxysms of rage, so disproportioned to the cause as to surprise me
when they were over; and this still continues. I cannot coolly view
any thing which excites my feelings; and, once the lurking devil in me
is roused, I lose all command of myself. I do not recover a good fit
of rage for days after. Mind, I do not by this mean that the ill
humour continues, as, on the contrary, that quickly subsides,
exhausted by its own violence; but it shakes me terribly, and leaves
me low and nervous after.'--Lady Blessington's Conversations, p.142.

That during this time also his irritation and ill temper were increased
by the mortification of duns, debts, and executions, is on the face of
Moore's story. Moore himself relates one incident, which gives some idea
of the many which may have occurred at these times, in a note on p.215,
vol. iv., where he speaks of Lord Byron's destroying a favourite old
watch that had been his companion from boyhood, and gone with him to
Greece. 'In a fit of vexation and rage, brought upon him by some of
these humiliating embarrassments, to which he was now almost daily a
prey, he furiously dashed this watch on the hearth, and ground it to
pieces with the poker among the ashes.'

It is no wonder, that, with a man of this kind to manage, Lady Byron
should have clung to the only female companionship she could dare to
trust in the case, and earnestly desired to retain with her the sister,
who seemed, more than herself, to have influence over him.

The first letter given by 'The Quarterly,' from Lady Byron to Mrs. Leigh,
without a date, evidently belongs to this period, when the sister's
society presented itself as a refuge in her approaching confinement. Mrs
Leigh speaks of leaving. The young wife, conscious that the house
presents no attractions, and that soon she herself shall be laid by,
cannot urge Mrs. Leigh's stay as likely to give her any pleasure, but
only as a comfort to herself.


'You will think me very foolish; but I have tried two or three times,
and cannot talk to you of your departure with a decent visage: so let
me say one word in this way to spare my philosophy. With the
expectations which I have, I never will nor can ask you to stay one
moment longer than you are inclined to do. It would [be] the worst
return for all I ever received from you. But in this at least I am
"truth itself," when I say, that whatever the situation may be, there
is no one whose society is dearer to me, or can contribute more to my
happiness. These feelings will not change under any circumstances,
and I should be grieved if you did not understand them. Should you
hereafter condemn me, I shall not love you less. I will say no more.
Judge for yourself about going or staying. I wish you to consider
yourself, if you could be wise enough to do that, for the first time
in your life.

'Thine,

'A. I. B.'

Addressed on the cover, 'To The Hon. Mrs. Leigh.'


This letter not being dated, we have no clue but what we obtain from its
own internal evidence. It certainly is not written in Lady Byron's usual
clear and elegant style; and is, in this respect, in striking contrast to
all her letters that I have ever seen.

But the notes written by a young woman under such peculiar and
distressing circumstances must not be judged by the standard of calmer
hours.

Subsequently to this letter, and during that stormy, irrational period
when Lord Byron's conduct became daily more and more unaccountable, may
have come that startling scene in which Lord Byron took every pains to
convince his wife of improper relations subsisting between himself and
his sister.

What an utter desolation this must have been to the wife, tearing from
her the last hold of friendship, and the last refuge to which she had
clung in her sorrows, may easily be conceived.

In this crisis, it appears that the sister convinced Lady Byron that the
whole was to be attributed to insanity. It would be a conviction gladly
accepted, and bringing infinite relief, although still surrounding her
path with fearful difficulties.

That such was the case is plainly asserted by Lady Byron in her statement
published in 1830. Speaking of her separation, Lady Byron says:--


'The facts are, I left London for Kirkby Mallory, the residence of my
father and mother, on the 15th of January, 1816. Lord Byron had
signified to me in writing, Jan. 6, his absolute desire that I should
leave London on the earliest day that I could conveniently fix. It
was not safe for me to encounter the fatigues of a journey sooner than
the 15th. Previously to my departure, it had been strongly impressed
on my mind that Lord Byron was under the influence of insanity.

'This opinion was in a great measure derived from the communications
made to me by his nearest relatives and personal attendant'


Now there was no nearer relative than Mrs. Leigh; and the personal
attendant was Fletcher. It was therefore presumably Mrs. Leigh who
convinced Lady Byron of her husband's insanity.

Lady Byron says, 'It was even represented to me that he was in danger of
destroying himself.

'With the concurrence of his family, I had consulted with Dr. Baillie, as
a friend, on Jan. 8, as to his supposed malady.' Now, Lord Byron's
written order for her to leave came on Jan. 6. It appears, then, that
Lady Byron, acting in concurrence with Mrs. Leigh and others of her
husband's family, consulted Dr. Baillie, on Jan. 8, as to what she should
do; the symptoms presented to Dr. Baillie being, evidently, insane hatred
of his wife on the part of Lord Byron, and a determination to get her out
of the house. Lady Byron goes on:--


'On acquainting him with the state of the case, and with Lord Byron's
desire that I should leave London, Dr. Baillie thought my absence
might be advisable as an experiment, assuming the fact of mental
derangement; for Dr. Baillie, not having had access to Lord Byron,
could not pronounce an opinion on that point. He enjoined, that, in
correspondence with Lord Byron, I should avoid all but light and
soothing topics. Under these impressions, I left London, determined
to follow the advice given me by Dr. Baillie. Whatever might have
been the nature of Lord Byron's treatment of me from the time of my
marriage, yet, supposing him to have been in a state of mental
alienation, it was not for me, nor for any person of common humanity,
to manifest at that moment a sense of injury.'

It appears, then, that the domestic situation in Byron's house at the
time of his wife's expulsion was one so grave as to call for family
counsel; for Lady Byron, generally accurate, speaks in the plural number.
'His nearest relatives' certainly includes Mrs. Leigh. 'His family'
includes more. That some of Lord Byron's own relatives were cognisant of
facts at this time, and that they took Lady Byron's side, is shown by one
of his own chance admissions. In vol. vi. p.394, in a letter on Bowles,
he says, speaking of this time, 'All my relations, save one, fell from me
like leaves from a tree in autumn.' And in Medwin's Conversations he
says, 'Even my cousin George Byron, who had been brought up with me, and
whom I loved as a brother, took my wife's part.' The conduct must have
been marked in the extreme that led to this result.

We cannot help stopping here to say that Lady Byron's situation at this
time has been discussed in our days with a want of ordinary human feeling
that is surprising. Let any father and mother, reading this, look on
their own daughter, and try to make the case their own.

After a few short months of married life,--months full of patient
endurance of the strangest and most unaccountable treatment,--she comes
to them, expelled from her husband's house, an object of hatred and
aversion to him, and having to settle for herself the awful question,
whether he is a dangerous madman or a determined villain.

Such was this young wife's situation.

With a heart at times wrung with compassion for her husband as a helpless
maniac, and fearful that all may end in suicide, yet compelled to leave
him, she writes on the road the much-quoted letter, beginning 'Dear
Duck.' This is an exaggerated and unnatural letter, it is true, but of
precisely the character that might be expected from an inexperienced
young wife when dealing with a husband supposed to be insane.

The next day, she addressed to Augusta this letter:--


'MY DEAREST A.,--It is my great comfort that you are still in
Piccadilly.'

And again, on the 23rd:--

'DEAREST A.,--I know you feel for me, as I do for you; and perhaps I
am better understood than I think. You have been, ever since I knew
you, my best comforter; and will so remain, unless you grow tired of
the office,--which may well be.'

We can see here how self-denying and heroic appears to Lady Byron the
conduct of the sister, who patiently remains to soothe and guide and
restrain the moody madman, whose madness takes a form, at times, so
repulsive to every womanly feeling. She intimates that she should not
wonder should Augusta grow weary of the office.

Lady Byron continues her statement thus:--


'When I arrived at Kirkby Mallory, my parents were unacquainted with
the existence of any causes likely to destroy my prospects of
happiness; and, when I communicated to them the opinion that had been
formed concerning Lord Byron's state of mind, they were most anxious
to promote his restoration by every means in their power. They
assured those relations that were with him in London that "they would
devote their whole case and attention to the alleviation of his
malady."'

Here we have a quotation {190a} from a letter written by Lady Milbanke to
the anxious 'relations' who are taking counsel about Lord Byron in town.
Lady Byron also adds, in justification of her mother from Lord Byron's
slanders, 'She had always treated him with an affectionate consideration
and indulgence, which extended to every little peculiarity of his
feelings. Never did an irritating word escape her lips in her whole
intercourse with him.'

Now comes a remarkable part of Lady Byron's statement:--


'The accounts given me after I left Lord Byron, by those in constant
intercourse with him, {190b} added to those doubts which had before
transiently occurred to my mind as to the reality of the alleged
disease; and the reports of his medical attendants were far from
establishing anything like lunacy.'

When these doubts arose in her mind, it is not natural to suppose that
they should, at first, involve Mrs. Leigh. She still appears to Lady
Byron as the devoted, believing sister, fully convinced of her brother's
insanity, and endeavouring to restrain and control him.

But if Lord Byron were sane, if the purposes he had avowed to his wife
were real, he must have lied about his sister in the past, and perhaps
have the worst intentions for the future.

The horrors of that state of vacillation between the conviction of
insanity and the commencing conviction of something worse can scarcely be
told.

At all events, the wife's doubts extend so far that she speaks out to her
parents. 'UNDER THIS UNCERTAINTY,' says the statement, 'I deemed it
right to communicate to my parents, that, if I were to consider Lord
Byron's past conduct as that of a person of sound mind, nothing could
induce me to return to him. It therefore appeared expedient, both to
them and to myself, to consult the ablest advisers. For that object, and
also to obtain still further information respecting appearances which
indicated mental derangement, my mother determined to go to London. She
was empowered by me to take legal opinion on a written statement of mine;
though I then had reasons for reserving a part of the case from the
knowledge even of my father and mother.'

It is during this time of uncertainty that the next letter to Mrs. Leigh
may be placed. It seems to be rather a fragment of a letter than a whole
one: perhaps it is an extract; in which case it would be desirable, if
possible, to view it in connection with the remaining text:--


Jan. 25, 1816.

'MY DEAREST AUGUSTA,--Shall I still be your sister? I must resign my
right to be so considered; but I don't think that will make any
difference in the kindness I have so uniformly experienced from you.'


This fragment is not signed, nor finished in any way, but indicates that
the writer is about to take a decisive step.

On the 17th, as we have seen, Lady Milbanke had written, inviting Lord
Byron. Subsequently she went to London to make more particular inquiries
into his state. This fragment seems part of a letter from Lady Byron,
called forth in view of some evidence resulting from her mother's
observations. {192}

Lady Byron now adds,--


'Being convinced by the result of these inquiries, and by the tenour
of Lord Byron's proceedings, that the notion of insanity was an
illusion, I no longer hesitated to authorize such measures as were
necessary in order to secure me from ever being again placed in his
power.

'Conformably with this resolution, my father wrote to him, on the 2nd
of February, to request an amicable separation.'


The following letter to Mrs. Leigh is dated the day after this
application, and is in many respects a noticeable one:--

'KIRKBY MALLORY, Feb. 3, 1816.

'MY DEAREST AUGUSTA,--You are desired by your brother to ask if my
father has acted with my concurrence in proposing a separation. He
has. It cannot be supposed, that, in my present distressing
situation, I am capable of stating in a detailed manner the reasons
which will not only justify this measure, but compel me to take it;
and it never can be my wish to remember unnecessarily [sic] those
injuries for which, however deep, I feel no resentment. I will now
only recall to Lord Byron's mind his avowed and insurmountable
aversion to the married state, and the desire and determination he has
expressed ever since its commencement to free himself from that
bondage, as finding it quite insupportable, though candidly
acknowledging that no effort of duty or affection has been wanting on
my part. He has too painfully convinced me that all these attempts to
contribute towards his happiness were wholly useless, and most
unwelcome to him. I enclose this letter to my father, wishing it to
receive his sanction.

'Ever yours most affectionately,

'A. I. BYRON.'


We observe in this letter that it is written to be shown to Lady Byron's
father, and receive his sanction; and, as that father was in ignorance of
all the deeper causes of trouble in the case, it will be seen that the
letter must necessarily be a reserved one. This sufficiently accounts
for the guarded character of the language when speaking of the causes of
separation. One part of the letter incidentally overthrows Lord Byron's
statement, which he always repeated during his life, and which is
repeated for him now; namely, that his wife forsook him, instead of
being, as she claims, expelled by him.

She recalls to Lord Byron's mind the 'desire and determination he has
expressed ever since his marriage to free himself from its bondage.'

This is in perfect keeping with the 'absolute desire,' signified by
writing, that she should leave his house on the earliest day possible;
and she places the cause of the separation on his having 'too painfully'
convinced her that he does not want her--as a wife.

It appears that Augusta hesitates to show this note to her brother. It
is bringing on a crisis which she, above all others, would most wish to
avoid.

In the meantime, Lady Byron receives a letter from Lord Byron, which
makes her feel it more than ever essential to make the decision final. I
have reason to believe that this letter is preserved in Lady Byron's
papers:--


'Feb. 4, 1816.

'I hope, my dear A., that you would on no account withhold from your
brother the letter which I sent yesterday in answer to yours written
by his desire, particularly as one which I have received from himself
to-day renders it still more important that he should know the
contents of that addressed to you. I am, in haste and not very well,

'Yours most affectionately,

'A. I. BYRON.'


The last of this series of letters is less like the style of Lady Byron
than any of them. We cannot judge whether it is a whole consecutive
letter, or fragments from a letter, selected and united. There is a
great want of that clearness and precision which usually characterised
Lady Byron's style. It shows, however, that the decision is made,--a
decision which she regrets on account of the sister who has tried so long
to prevent it.

'KIRKBY MALLORY, Feb. 14, 1816.

'The present sufferings of all may yet be repaid in blessings. Do not
despair absolutely, dearest; and leave me but enough of your interest
to afford you any consolation by partaking of that sorrow which I am
most unhappy to cause thus unintentionally. You will be of my opinion
hereafter; and at present your bitterest reproach would be forgiven,
though Heaven knows you have considered me more than a thousand would
have done,--more than anything but my affection for B., one most dear
to you, could deserve. I must not remember these feelings. Farewell!
God bless you from the bottom of my heart!

'A. I. B.'


We are here to consider that Mrs. Leigh has stood to Lady Byron in all
this long agony as her only confidante and friend; that she has denied
the charges her brother has made, and referred them to insanity,
admitting insane attempts upon herself which she has been obliged to
watch over and control.

Lady Byron has come to the conclusion that Augusta is mistaken as to
insanity; that there is a real wicked purpose and desire on the part of
the brother, not as yet believed in by the sister. She regards the
sister as one, who, though deceived and blinded, is still worthy of
confidence and consideration; and so says to her, 'You will be of my
opinion hereafter.'

She says, 'You have considered me more than a thousand would have done.'
Mrs. Leigh is, in Lady Byron's eyes, a most abused and innocent woman,
who, to spare her sister in her delicate situation, has taken on herself
the whole charge of a maniacal brother, although suffering from him
language and actions of the most injurious kind. That Mrs. Leigh did not
flee the house at once under such circumstances, and wholly decline the
management of the case, seems to Lady Byron consideration and
self-sacrifice greater than she can acknowledge.

The knowledge of the whole extent of the truth came to Lady Byron's mind
at a later period.

We now take up the history from Lushington's letter to Lady Byron,
published at the close of her statement.

The application to Lord Byron for an act of separation was positively
refused at first; it being an important part of his policy that all the
responsibility and insistence should come from his wife, and that he
should appear forced into it contrary to his will.

Dr. Lushington, however, says to Lady Byron,--


'I was originally consulted by Lady Noel on your behalf while you were
in the country. The circumstances detailed by her were such as
justified a separation; but they were not of that aggravated
description as to render such a measure indispensable. On Lady Noel's
representations, I deemed a reconciliation with Lord Byron
practicable, and felt most sincerely a wish to aid in effecting it.
There was not, on Lady Noel's part, any exaggeration of the facts,
nor, so far as I could perceive, any determination to prevent a return
to Lord Byron: certainly none was expressed when I spoke of a
reconciliation.'

In this crisis, with Lord Byron refusing the separation, with Lushington
expressing a wish to aid in a reconciliation, and Lady Noel not
expressing any aversion to it, the whole strain of the dreadful
responsibility comes upon the wife.

She resolves to ask counsel of her lawyer, in view of a statement of the
whole case.

Lady Byron is spoken of by Lord Byron (letter 233) as being in town with
her father on the 29th of February; viz., fifteen days after the date of
the last letter to Mrs. Leigh. It must have been about this time, then,
that she laid her whole case before Lushington; and he gave it a thorough
examination.

The result was, that Lushington expressed in the most decided terms his
conviction that reconciliation was impossible. The language be uses is
very striking:--


'When you came to town in about a fortnight, or perhaps more, after my
first interview with Lady Noel, I was, for the first time, informed by
you of facts utterly unknown, as I have no doubt, to Sir Ralph and
Lady Noel. On receiving this additional information, my opinion was
entirely changed. I considered a reconciliation impossible. I
declared my opinion, and added, that, if such an idea should be
entertained, I could not, either professionally or otherwise, take any
part towards effecting it.'

It does not appear in this note what effect the lawyer's examination of
the case had on Lady Byron's mind. By the expressions he uses, we should
infer that she may still have been hesitating as to whether a
reconciliation might not be her duty.

This hesitancy he does away with most decisively, saying, 'A
reconciliation is impossible;' and, supposing Lady Byron or her friends
desirous of one, he declares positively that he cannot, either
professionally as a lawyer or privately as a friend, have anything to do
with effecting it.

The lawyer, it appears, has drawn, from the facts of the case, inferences
deeper and stronger than those which presented themselves to the mind of
the young woman; and he instructs her in the most absolute terms.

Fourteen years after, in 1830, for the first time the world was
astonished by this declaration from Dr. Lushington, in language so
pronounced and positive that there could be no mistake.

Lady Byron had stood all these fourteen years slandered by her husband,
and misunderstood by his friends, when, had she so chosen, this opinion
of Dr. Lushington's could have been at once made public, which fully
justified her conduct.

If, as the 'Blackwood' of July insinuates, the story told to Lushington
was a malignant slander, meant to injure Lord Byron, why did she suppress
the judgment of her counsel at a time when all the world was on her side,
and this decision would have been the decisive blow against her husband?
Why, by sealing the lips of counsel, and of all whom she could influence,
did she deprive herself finally of the very advantage for which it has
been assumed she fabricated the story?

Harriet Beecher Stowe

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