Lady Byron Vindicated
by Harriet Beecher Stowe
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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.



An editorial in The London Times' of Sept. 18 says:—

'The perplexing feature in this "True Story" is, that it is impossible to distinguish what part in it is the editress's, and what Lady Byron's own. We are given the impression made on Mrs. Stowe's mind by Lady Byron's statements; but it would have been more satisfactory if the statement itself had been reproduced as bare as possible, and been left to make its own impression on the public.'

In reply to this, I will say, that in my article I gave a brief synopsis of the subject-matter of Lady Byron's communications; and I think it must be quite evident to the world that the main fact on which the story turns was one which could not possibly be misunderstood, and the remembrance of which no lapse of time could ever weaken.

Lady Byron's communications were made to me in language clear, precise, terrible; and many of her phrases and sentences I could repeat at this day, word for word. But if I had reproduced them at first, as 'The Times' suggests, word for word, the public horror and incredulity would have been doubled. It was necessary that the brutality of the story should, in some degree, be veiled and softened.

The publication, by Lord Lindsay, of Lady Anne Barnard's communication, makes it now possible to tell fully, and in Lady Byron's own words, certain incidents that yet remain untold. To me, who know the whole history, the revelations in Lady Anne's account, and the story related by Lady Byron, are like fragments of a dissected map: they fit together, piece by piece, and form one connected whole.

In confirmation of the general facts of this interview, I have the testimony of a sister who accompanied me on this visit, and to whom, immediately after it, I recounted the story.

Her testimony on the subject is as follows:—

'MY DEAR SISTER,—I have a perfect recollection of going with you to visit Lady Byron at the time spoken of in your published article. We arrived at her house in the morning; and, after lunch, Lady Byron and yourself spent the whole time till evening alone together.

'After we retired to our apartment that night, you related to me the story given in your published account, though with many more particulars than you have yet thought fit to give to the public.

'You stated to me that Lady Byron was strongly impressed with the idea that it might be her duty to publish a statement during her lifetime, and also the reasons which induced her to think so. You appeared at that time quite disposed to think that justice required this step, and asked my opinion. We passed most of the night in conversation on the subject,—a conversation often resumed, from time to time, during several weeks in which you were considering what opinion to give.

'I was strongly of opinion that justice required the publication of the truth, but felt exceedingly averse to its being done by Lady Byron herself during her own lifetime, when she personally would be subject to the comments and misconceptions of motives which would certainly follow such a communication.

'Your sister,


I am now about to complete the account of my conversation with Lady Byron; but as the credibility of a history depends greatly on the character of its narrator, and as especial pains have been taken to destroy the belief in this story by representing it to be the wanderings of a broken-down mind in a state of dotage and mental hallucination, I shall preface the narrative with some account of Lady Byron as she was during the time of our mutual acquaintance and friendship.

This account may, perhaps, be deemed superfluous in England, where so many knew her; but in America, where, from Maine to California, her character has been discussed and traduced, it is of importance to give interested thousands an opportunity of learning what kind of a woman Lady Byron was.

Her character as given by Lord Byron in his Journal, after her first refusal of him, is this:—

'She is a very superior woman, and very little spoiled; which is strange in an heiress, a girl of twenty, a peeress that is to be in her own right, an only child, and a savante, who has always had her own way. She is a poetess, a mathematician, a metaphysician; yet, withal, very kind, generous, and gentle, with very little pretension. Any other head would be turned with half her acquisitions and a tenth of her advantages.'

Such was Lady Byron at twenty. I formed her acquaintance in the year 1853, during my first visit in England. I met her at a lunch-party in the house of one of her friends.

The party had many notables; but, among them all, my attention was fixed principally on Lady Byron. She was at this time sixty-one years of age, but still had, to a remarkable degree, that personal attraction which is commonly considered to belong only to youth and beauty.

Her form was slight, giving an impression of fragility; her motions were both graceful and decided; her eyes bright, and full of interest and quick observation. Her silvery-white hair seemed to lend a grace to the transparent purity of her complexion, and her small hands had a pearly whiteness. I recollect she wore a plain widow's cap of a transparent material; and was dressed in some delicate shade of lavender, which harmonised well with her complexion.

When I was introduced to her, I felt in a moment the words of her husband:—

'There was awe in the homage that she drew; Her spirit seemed as seated on a throne.'

Calm, self-poised, and thoughtful, she seemed to me rather to resemble an interested spectator of the world's affairs, than an actor involved in its trials; yet the sweetness of her smile, and a certain very delicate sense of humour in her remarks, made the way of acquaintance easy.

Her first remarks were a little playful; but in a few moments we were speaking on what every one in those days was talking to me about,—the slavery question in America.

It need not be remarked, that, when any one subject especially occupies the public mind, those known to be interested in it are compelled to listen to many weary platitudes. Lady Byron's remarks, however, caught my ear and arrested my attention by their peculiar incisive quality, their originality, and the evidence they gave that she was as well informed on all our matters as the best American statesman could be. I had no wearisome course to go over with her as to the difference between the General Government and State Governments, nor explanations of the United States Constitution; for she had the whole before her mind with a perfect clearness. Her morality upon the slavery question, too, impressed me as something far higher and deeper than the common sentimentalism of the day. Many of her words surprised me greatly, and gave me new material for thought.

I found I was in company with a commanding mind, and hastened to gain instruction from her on another point where my interest had been aroused. I had recently been much excited by Kingsley's novels, 'Alton Locke' and 'Yeast,' on the position of religious thought in England. From these works I had gathered, that under the apparent placid uniformity of the Established Church of England, and of 'good society' as founded on it, there was moving a secret current of speculative enquiry, doubt, and dissent; but I had met, as yet, with no person among my various acquaintances in England who seemed either aware of this fact, or able to guide my mind respecting it. The moment I mentioned the subject to Lady Byron, I received an answer which showed me that the whole ground was familiar to her, and that she was capable of giving me full information. She had studied with careful thoughtfulness all the social and religious tendencies of England during her generation. One of her remarks has often since occurred to me. Speaking of the Oxford movement, she said the time had come when the English Church could no longer remain as it was. It must either restore the past, or create a future. The Oxford movement attempted the former; and of the future she was beginning to speak, when our conversation was interrupted by the presentation of other parties.

Subsequently, in reply to a note from her on some benevolent business, I alluded to that conversation, and expressed a wish that she would finish giving me her views of the religious state of England. A portion of the letter that she wrote me in reply I insert, as being very characteristic in many respects:—

'Various causes have been assigned for the decaying state of the English Church; which seems the more strange, because the clergy have improved, morally and intellectually, in the last twenty years. Then why should their influence be diminished? I think it is owing to the diffusion of a spirit of free enquiry.

'Doubts have arisen in the minds of many who are unhappily bound by subscription not to doubt; and, in consequence, they are habitually pretending either to believe or to disbelieve. The state of Denmark cannot but be rotten, when to seem is the first object of the witnesses of truth.

'They may lead better lives, and bring forward abler arguments; but their efforts are paralysed by that unsoundness. I see the High Churchman professing to believe in the existence of a church, when the most palpable facts must show him that no such church exists; the "Low" Churchman professing to believe in exceptional interpositions which his philosophy secretly questions; the "Broad" Churchman professing as absolute an attachment to the Established Church as the narrowest could feel, while he is preaching such principles as will at last pull it down.

'I ask you, my friend, whether there would not be more faith, as well as earnestness, if all would speak out. There would be more unanimity too, because they would all agree in a certain basis. Would not a wider love supersede the creed-bound charity of sects?

'I am aware that I have touched on a point of difference between us, and I will not regret it; for I think the differences of mind are analogous to those differences of nature, which, in the most comprehensive survey, are the very elements of harmony.

'I am not at all prone to put forth my own opinions; but the tone in which you have written to me claims an unusual degree of openness on my part. I look upon creeds of all kinds as chains,—far worse chains than those you would break,—as the causes of much hypocrisy and infidelity. I hold it to be a sin to make a child say, "I believe." Lead it to utter that belief spontaneously. I also consider the institution of an exclusive priesthood, though having been of service in some respects, as retarding the progress of Christianity at present. I desire to see a lay ministry.

'I will not give you more of my heterodoxy at present: perhaps I need your pardon, connected as you are with the Church, for having said so much.

'There are causes of decay known to be at work in my frame, which lead me to believe I may not have time to grow wiser; and I must therefore leave it to others to correct the conclusions I have now formed from my life's experience. I should feel happy to discuss them personally with you; for it would be soul to soul. In that confidence I am yours most truly,


It is not necessary to prove to the reader that this letter is not in the style of a broken-down old woman subject to mental hallucinations. It shows Lady Byron's habits of clear, searching analysis, her thoughtfulness, and, above all, that peculiar reverence for truth and sincerity which was a leading characteristic of her moral nature. {139} It also shows her views of the probable shortness of her stay on earth, derived from the opinion of physicians about her disease, which was a gradual ossification of the lungs. It has been asserted that pulmonary diseases, while they slowly and surely sap the physical life, often appear to give added vigour to the play of the moral and intellectual powers.

I parted from Lady Byron, feeling richer in that I had found one more pearl of great price on the shore of life.

Three years after this, I visited England to obtain a copyright for the issue of my novel of 'Dred.'

The hope of once more seeing Lady Byron was one of the brightest anticipations held out to me in this journey. I found London quite deserted; but, hearing that Lady Byron was still in town, I sent to her, saying in my note, that, in case she was not well enough to call, I would visit her. Her reply I give:—

'MY DEAR FRIEND,—I will be indebted to you for our meeting, as I am barely able to leave my room. It is not a time for small personalities, if they could ever exist with you; and, dressed or undressed, I shall hope to see you after two o'clock.

'Yours very truly,


I found Lady Byron in her sick-room,—that place which she made so different from the chamber of ordinary invalids. Her sick-room seemed only a telegraphic station whence her vivid mind was flashing out all over the world.

By her bedside stood a table covered with books, pamphlets, and files of letters, all arranged with exquisite order, and each expressing some of her varied interests. From that sick-bed she still directed, with systematic care, her various works of benevolence, and watched with intelligent attention the course of science, literature, and religion; and the versatility and activity of her mind, the flow of brilliant and penetrating thought on all the topics of the day, gave to the conversations of her retired room a peculiar charm. You forgot that she was an invalid; for she rarely had a word of her own personalities, and the charm of her conversation carried you invariably from herself to the subjects of which she was thinking. All the new books, the literature of the hour, were lighted up by her keen, searching, yet always kindly criticism; and it was charming to get her fresh, genuine, clear-cut modes of expression, so different from the world-worn phrases of what is called good society. Her opinions were always perfectly clear and positive, and given with the freedom of one who has long stood in a position to judge the world and its ways from her own standpoint. But it was not merely in general literature and science that her heart lay; it was following always with eager interest the progress of humanity over the whole world.

This was the period of the great battle for liberty in Kansas. The English papers were daily filled with the thrilling particulars of that desperate struggle, and Lady Byron entered with heart and soul into it.

Her first letter to me, at this time, is on this subject. It was while 'Dred' was going through the press.


'MY DEAR MRS. STOWE,—Messrs. Chambers liked the proposal to publish the Kansas Letters. The more the public know of these matters, the better prepared they will be for your book. The moment for its publication seems well chosen. There is always in England a floating fund of sympathy for what is above the everyday sordid cares of life; and these better feelings, so nobly invested for the last two years in Florence Nightingale's career, are just set free. To what will they next be attached? If you can lay hold of them, they may bring about a deeper abolition than any legislative one,—the abolition of the heart- heresy that man's worth comes, not from God, but from man.

'I have been obliged to give up exertion again, but hope soon to be able to call and make the acquaintance of your daughters. In case you wish to consult H. Martineau's pamphlets, I send more copies. Do not think of answering: I have occupied too much of your time in reading.

'Yours affectionately,


As soon as a copy of 'Dred' was through the press, I sent it to her, saying that I had been reproved by some excellent people for representing too faithfully the profane language of some of the wicked characters. To this she sent the following reply:—

'Your book, dear Mrs. Stowe, is of the little leaven kind, and must prove a great moral force; perhaps not manifestly so much as secretly. And yet I can hardly conceive so much power without immediate and sensible effects: only there will be a strong disposition to resist on the part of all hollow-hearted professors of religion, whose heathenisms you so unsparingly expose. They have a class feeling like others.

'To the young, and to those who do not reflect much on what is offered to their belief, you will do great good by showing how spiritual food is often adulterated. The bread from heaven is in the same case as bakers' bread.

'If there is truth in what I heard Lord Byron say, that works of fiction live only by the amount of truth which they contain, your story is sure of a long life. Of the few critiques I have seen, the best is in "The Examiner." I find an obtuseness as to the spirit and aim of the book, as if you had designed to make the best novel of the season, or to keep up the reputation of one. You are reproached, as Walter Scott was, with too much scriptural quotation; not, that I have heard, with phrases of an opposite character.

'The effects of such reading till a late hour one evening appeared to influence me very singularly in a dream. The most horrible spectres presented themselves, and I woke in an agony of fear; but a faith still stronger arose, and I became courageous from trust in God, and felt calm. Did you do this? It is very insignificant among the many things you certainly will do unknown to yourself. I know more than ever before how to value communion with you. I have sent Robertson's Sermons for you; and, with kind regards to your family, am

'Yours affectionately,


I was struck in this note with the mention of Lord Byron, and, the next time I saw her, alluded to it, and remarked upon the peculiar qualities of his mind as shown in some of his more serious conversations with Dr. Kennedy.

She seemed pleased to continue the subject, and went on to say many things of his singular character and genius, more penetrating and more appreciative than is often met with among critics.

I told her that I had been from childhood powerfully influenced by him; and began to tell her how much, as a child, I had been affected by the news of his death,—giving up all my plays, and going off to a lonely hillside, where I spent the afternoon thinking of him. She interrupted me before I had quite finished, with a quick, impulsive movement. 'I know all that,' she said: 'I heard it all from Mrs. —-; and it was one of the things that made me wish to know you. I think you could understand him.' We talked for some time of him then; she, with her pale face slightly flushed, speaking, as any other great man's widow might, only of what was purest and best in his works, and what were his undeniable virtues and good traits, especially in early life. She told me many pleasant little speeches made by him to herself; and, though there was running through all this a shade of melancholy, one could never have conjectured that there were under all any deeper recollections than the circumstances of an ordinary separation might bring.

Not many days after, with the unselfishness which was so marked a trait with her, she chose a day when she could be out of her room, and invited our family party, consisting of my husband, sister, and children, to lunch with her.

What showed itself especially in this interview was her tenderness for all young people. She had often enquired after mine; asked about their characters, habits, and tastes; and on this occasion she found an opportunity to talk with each one separately, and to make them all feel at ease, so that they were able to talk with her. She seemed interested to point out to them what they should see and study in London; and the charm of her conversation left on their minds an impression that subsequent years have never effaced. I record this incident, because it shows how little Lady Byron assumed the privileges or had the character of an invalid absorbed in herself, and likely to brood over her own woes and wrongs.

Here was a family of strangers stranded in a dull season in London, and there was no manner of obligation upon her to exert herself to show them attention. Her state of health would have been an all-sufficient reason why she should not do it; and her doing it was simply a specimen of that unselfish care for others, even down to the least detail, of which her life was full.

A little while after, at her request, I went, with my husband and son, to pass an evening at her house.

There were a few persons present whom she thought I should be interested to know,—a Miss Goldsmid, daughter of Baron Goldsmid, and Lord Ockham, her grandson, eldest son and heir of the Earl of Lovelace, to whom she introduced my son.

I had heard much of the eccentricities of this young nobleman, and was exceedingly struck with his personal appearance. His bodily frame was of the order of the Farnese Hercules,—a wonderful development of physical and muscular strength. His hands were those of a blacksmith. He was broadly and squarely made, with a finely-shaped head, and dark eyes of surpassing brilliancy. I have seldom seen a more interesting combination than his whole appearance presented.

When all were engaged in talking, Lady Byron came and sat down by me, and glancing across to Lord Ockham and my son, who were talking together, she looked at me, and smiled. I immediately expressed my admiration of his fine eyes and the intellectual expression of his countenance, and my wonder at the uncommon muscular development of his frame.

She said that that of itself would account for many of Ockham's eccentricities. He had a body that required a more vigorous animal life than his station gave scope for, and this had often led him to seek it in what the world calls low society; that he had been to sea as a sailor, and was now working as a mechanic on the iron work of 'The Great Eastern.' He had laid aside his title, and went in daily with the other workmen, requesting them to call him simply Ockham.

I said that there was something to my mind very fine about this, even though it might show some want of proper balance.

She said he had noble traits, and that she felt assured he would yet accomplish something worthy of himself. 'The great difficulty with our nobility is apt to be, that they do not understand the working-classes, so as to feel for them properly; and Ockham is now going through an experience which may yet fit him to do great good when he comes to the peerage. I am trying to influence him to do good among the workmen, and to interest himself in schools for their children. I think,' she added, 'I have great influence over Ockham,—the greater, perhaps, that I never make any claim to authority.'

This conversation is very characteristic of Lady Byron as showing her benevolent analysis of character, and the peculiar hopefulness she always had in regard to the future of every one brought in connection with her. Her moral hopefulness was something very singular; and in this respect she was so different from the rest of the world, that it would be difficult to make her understood. Her tolerance of wrong-doing would have seemed to many quite latitudinarian, and impressed them as if she had lost all just horror of what was morally wrong in transgression; but it seemed her fixed habit to see faults only as diseases and immaturities, and to expect them to fall away with time.

She saw the germs of good in what others regarded as only evil. She expected valuable results to come from what the world looked on only as eccentricities; {147} and she incessantly devoted herself to the task of guarding those whom the world condemned, and guiding them to those higher results of which she often thought that even their faults were prophetic.

Before I quit this sketch of Lady Byron as I knew her, I will give one more of her letters. My return from that visit in Europe was met by the sudden death of the son mentioned in the foregoing account. At the time of this sorrow, Lady Byron was too unwell to write to me. The letter given alludes to this event, and speaks also of two coloured persons of remarkable talent, in whose career in England she had taken a deep interest. One of them is the 'friend' she speaks of.

'LONDON, Feb. 6, 1859.

DEAR MRS. STOWE,—I seem to feel our friend as a bridge, over which our broken outward communication can be renewed without effort. Why broken? The words I would have uttered at one time were like drops of blood from my heart. Now I sympathise with the calmness you have gained, and can speak of your loss as I do of my own. Loss and restoration are more and more linked in my mind, but "to the present live." As long as they are in God's world they are in ours. I ask no other consolation.

'Mrs. W—-'s recovery has astonished me, and her husband's prospects give me great satisfaction. They have achieved a benefit to their coloured people. She had a mission which her burning soul has worked out, almost in defiance of death. But who is "called" without being "crucified," man or woman? I know of none.

'I fear that H. Martineau was too sanguine in her persuasion that the slave power had received a serious check from the ruin of so many of your Mammon-worshippers. With the return of commercial facilities, that article of commerce will again find purchasers enough to raise its value. Not that way is the iniquity to be overthrown. A deeper moral earthquake is needed. {148} We English had ours in India; and though the cases are far from being alike, yet a consciousness of what we ought to have been and ought to be toward the natives could not have been awakened by less than the reddened waters of the Ganges. So I fear you will have to look on a day of judgment worse than has been painted.

'As to all the frauds and impositions which have been disclosed by the failures, what a want of the sense of personal responsibility they show. It seems to be thought that "association" will "cover a multitude of sins;" as if "and Co." could enter heaven. A firm may be described as a partnership for lowering the standard of morals. Even ecclesiastical bodies are not free from the "and Co.;" very different from "the goodly fellowship of the apostles."

'The better class of young gentlemen in England are seized with a mediaeval mania, to which Ruskin has contributed much. The chief reason for regretting it is that taste is made to supersede benevolence. The money that would save thousands from perishing or suffering must be applied to raise the Gothic edifice where their last prayer may be uttered. Charity may be dead, while Art has glorified her. This is worse than Catholicism, which cultivates heart and eye together. The first cathedral was Truth, at the beginning of the fourth century, just as Christianity was exchanging a heavenly for an earthly crown. True religion may have to cast away the symbol for the spirit before "the kingdom" can come.

'While I am speculating to little purpose, perhaps you are doing—what? Might not a biography from your pen bring forth again some great, half- obscured soul to act on the world? Even Sir Philip Sidney ought to be superseded by a still nobler type.

'This must go immediately, to be in time for the bearer, of whose meeting with you I shall think as the friend of both. May it be happy!

'Your affectionate

'A. I. N. B.'

One letter more from Lady Byron I give,—the last I received from her:—

LONDON, May 3, 1859.

DEAR FRIEND,—I have found, particularly as to yourself, that, if I did not answer from the first impulse, all had evaporated. Your letter came by 'The Niagara,' which brought Fanny Kemble to learn the loss of her best friend, the Miss F—— whom you saw at my house.

'Her death, after an illness in which she was to the last a minister of good to others, is a soul-loss to me also; and your remarks are most appropriate to my feelings. I have been taught, however, to accept survivorship; even to feel it, in some cases, Heaven's best blessing.

'I have an intense interest in your new novel. {149} More power in these few numbers than in any of your former writings, relating, at least, to my own mind. It would amuse you to hear my granddaughter and myself attempting to foresee the future of the love-story; being, for the moment, quite persuaded that James is at sea, and the minister about to ruin himself. We think that Mary will labour to be in love with the self-devoted man, under her mother's influence, and from that hyper-conscientiousness so common with good girls; but we don't wish her to succeed. Then what is to become of her older lover? Time will show.

'The lady you desired to introduce to me will be welcomed as of you. She has been misled with respect to my having any house in Yorkshire (New Leeds). I am in London now to be of a little use to A——; not ostensibly, for I can neither go out, nor give parties: but I am the confidential friend to whom she likes to bring her social gatherings, as she can see something of the world with others. Age and infirmity seem to be overlooked in what she calls the harmony between us,—not perfect agreement of opinion (which I should regret, with almost fifty years of difference), but the spirit-union: can you say what it is?

'I am interrupted by a note from Mrs. K——. She says that she cannot write of our lost friend yet, though she is less sad than she will be. Mrs. F—— may like to hear of her arrival, should you be in communication with our friend. She is the type of youth in age.

'I often converse with Miss S——, a judicious friend of the W——s, about what is likely to await them. She would not succeed here as well as where she was a novelty. The character of our climate this year has been injurious to the respiratory organs; but I hope still to serve them.

'I have just missed Dale Owen, with whom I wished to have conversed on spiritualism. {150} Harris is lecturing here on religion. I do not hear him praised.

'People are looking for helps to believe, everywhere but in life,—in music, in architecture, in antiquity, in ceremony; and upon all these is written, "Thou shalt not believe." At least, if this be faith, happier the unbeliever. I am willing to see through that materialism; but, if I am to rest there, I would rend the veil.

'June 1.

'The day of the packet's sailing. I shall hope to be visited by you here. The best flowers sent me have been placed in your little vases, giving life to the remembrance of you, though not, like them, to pass away.

'Ever yours,


Shortly after, I was in England again, and had one more opportunity of resuming our personal intercourse. The first time that I called on Lady Byron, I saw her in one of those periods of utter physical exhaustion to which she was subject on account of the constant pressure of cares beyond her strength. All who knew her will testify, that, in a state of health which would lead most persons to become helpless absorbents of service from others, she was assuming burdens, and making outlays of her vital powers in acts of love and service, with a generosity that often reduced her to utter exhaustion. But none who knew or loved her ever misinterpreted the coldness of those seasons of exhaustion. We knew that it was not the spirit that was chilled, but only the frail mortal tabernacle. When I called on her at this time, she could not see me at first; and when, at last, she came, it was evident that she was in a state of utter prostration. Her hands were like ice; her face was deadly pale; and she conversed with a restraint and difficulty which showed what exertion it was for her to keep up at all. I left as soon as possible, with an appointment for another interview. That interview was my last on earth with her, and is still beautiful in memory. It was a long, still summer afternoon, spent alone with her in a garden, where we walked together. She was enjoying one of those bright intervals of freedom from pain and languor, in which her spirits always rose so buoyant and youthful; and her eye brightened, and her step became elastic.

One last little incident is cherished as most expressive of her. When it became time for me to leave, she took me in her carriage to the station. As we were almost there, I missed my gloves, and said, 'I must have left them; but there is not time to go back.'

With one of those quick, impulsive motions which were so natural to her in doing a kindness, she drew off her own and said, 'Take mine if they will serve you.'

I hesitated a moment; and then the thought, that I might never see her again, came over me, and I said, 'Oh, yes! thanks.' That was the last earthly word of love between us. But, thank God, those who love worthily never meet for the last time: there is always a future.


I now come to the particulars of that most painful interview which has been the cause of all this controversy. My sister and myself were going from London to Eversley to visit the Rev. C. Kingsley. On our way, we stopped, by Lady Byron's invitation, to lunch with her at her summer residence on Ham Common, near Richmond; and it was then arranged, that on our return, we should make her a short visit, as she said she had a subject of importance on which she wished to converse with me alone.

On our return from Eversley, we arrived at her house in the morning.

It appeared to be one of Lady Byron's well days. She was up and dressed, and moved about her house with her usual air of quiet simplicity; as full of little acts of consideration for all about her as if they were the habitual invalids, and she the well person.

There were with her two ladies of her most intimate friends, by whom she seemed to be regarded with a sort of worship. When she left the room for a moment, they looked after her with a singular expression of respect and affection, and expressed freely their admiration of her character, and their fears that her unselfishness might be leading her to over-exertion.

After lunch, I retired with Lady Byron; and my sister remained with her friends. I should here remark, that the chief subject of the conversation which ensued was not entirely new to me. In the interval between my first and second visits to England, a lady who for many years had enjoyed Lady Byron's friendship and confidence, had, with her consent, stated the case generally to me, giving some of the incidents: so that I was in a manner prepared for what followed.

Those who accuse Lady Byron of being a person fond of talking upon this subject, and apt to make unconsidered confidences, can have known very little of her, of her reserve, and of the apparent difficulty she had in speaking on subjects nearest her heart.

Her habitual calmness and composure of manner, her collected dignity on all occasions, are often mentioned by her husband, sometimes with bitterness, sometimes with admiration. He says, 'Though I accuse Lady Byron of an excess of self-respect, I must in candour admit that, if ever a person had excuse for an extraordinary portion of it, she has; as, in all her thoughts, words, and deeds, she is the most decorous woman that ever existed, and must appear, what few I fancy could, a perfectly refined gentlewoman, even to her femme de chambre.'

This calmness and dignity were never more manifested than in this interview. In recalling the conversation at this distance of time, I cannot remember all the language used. Some particular words and forms of expression I do remember, and those I give; and in other cases I give my recollection of the substance of what was said.

There was something awful to me in the intensity of repressed emotion which she showed as she proceeded. The great fact upon which all turned was stated in words that were unmistakable:—

'He was guilty of incest with his sister!'

She here became so deathly pale, that I feared she would faint; and hastened to say, 'My dear friend, I have heard that.' She asked quickly, 'From whom?' and I answered, 'From Mrs. ——;' when she replied, 'Oh, yes!' as if recollecting herself.

I then asked her some questions; in reply to which she said, 'I will tell you.'

She then spoke of her first acquaintance with Lord Byron; from which I gathered that she, an only child, brought up in retirement, and living much within herself, had been, as deep natures often were, intensely stirred by his poetry; and had felt a deep interest in him personally, as one that had the germs of all that is glorious and noble.

When she was introduced to him, and perceived his admiration of herself, and at last received his offer, although deeply moved, she doubted her own power to be to him all that a wife should be. She declined his offer, therefore, but desired to retain his friendship. After this, as she said, a correspondence ensued, mostly on moral and literary subjects; and, by this correspondence, her interest in him was constantly increased.

At last, she said, he sent her a very beautiful letter, offering himself again. 'I thought,' she added, 'that it was sincere, and that I might now show him all I felt. I wrote just what was in my heart.

'Afterwards,' she said, 'I found in one of his journals this notice of my letter: "A letter from Bell,—never rains but it pours."'

There was through her habitual calm a shade of womanly indignation as she spoke these words; but it was gone in a moment. I said, 'And did he not love you, then?' She answered, 'No, my dear: he did not love me.'

'Why, then, did he wish to marry you?' She laid her hand on mine, and said in a low voice, 'You will see.'

She then told me, that, shortly after the declared engagement, he came to her father's house to visit her as an accepted suitor. The visit was to her full of disappointment. His appearance was so strange, moody, and unaccountable, and his treatment of her so peculiar, that she came to the conclusion that he did not love her, and sought an opportunity to converse with him alone.

She told him that she saw from his manner that their engagement did not give him pleasure; that she should never blame him if he wished to dissolve it; that his nature was exceptional; and if, on a nearer view of the situation, he shrank from it, she would release him, and remain no less than ever his friend.

Upon this, she said, he fainted entirely away.

She stopped a moment, and then, as if speaking with great effort, added, 'Then I was sure he must love me.'

'And did he not?' said I. 'What other cause could have led to this emotion?'

She looked at me very sadly, and said, 'Fear of detection.'

'What!' said I, 'did that cause then exist?'

'Yes,' she said, 'it did.' And she explained that she now attributed Lord Byron's great agitation to fear, that, in some way, suspicion of the crime had been aroused in her mind, and that on this account she was seeking to break the engagement. She said, that, from that moment, her sympathies were aroused for him, to soothe the remorse and anguish which seemed preying on his mind, and which she then regarded as the sensibility of an unusually exacting moral nature, which judged itself by higher standards, and condemned itself unsparingly for what most young men of his times regarded as venial faults. She had every hope for his future, and all the enthusiasm of belief that so many men and women of those times and ours have had in his intrinsic nobleness. She said the gloom, however, seemed to be even deeper when he came to the marriage; but she looked at it as the suffering of a peculiar being, to whom she was called to minister. I said to her, that, even in the days of my childhood, I had heard of something very painful that had passed as they were in the carriage, immediately after marriage. She then said that it was so; that almost his first words, when they were alone, were, that she might once have saved him; that, if she had accepted him when he first offered, she might have made him anything she pleased; but that, as it was, she would find she had married a devil.

The conversation, as recorded in Lady Anne Barnard's Diary, seems only a continuation of the foregoing, and just what might have followed upon it.

I then asked how she became certain of the true cause.

She said, that, from the outset of their married life, his conduct towards her was strange and unaccountable, even during the first weeks after the wedding, while they were visiting her friends, and outwardly on good terms. He seemed resolved to shake and combat both her religious principles and her views of the family state. He tried to undermine her faith in Christianity as a rule of life by argument and by ridicule. He set before her the Continental idea of the liberty of marriage; it being a simple partnership of friendship and property, the parties to which were allowed by one another to pursue their own separate individual tastes. He told her, that, as he could not be expected to confine himself to her, neither should he expect or wish that she should confine herself to him; that she was young and pretty, and could have her lovers, and he should never object; and that she must allow him the same freedom.

She said that she did not comprehend to what this was tending till after they came to London, and his sister came to stay with them.

At what precise time the idea of an improper connection between her husband and his sister was first forced upon her, she did not say; but she told me how it was done. She said that one night, in her presence, he treated his sister with a liberty which both shocked and astonished her. Seeing her amazement and alarm, he came up to her, and said, in a sneering tone, 'I suppose you perceive you are not wanted here. Go to your own room, and leave us alone. We can amuse ourselves better without you.'

She said, 'I went to my room, trembling. I fell down on my knees, and prayed to my heavenly Father to have mercy on them. I thought, "What shall I do?"'

I remember, after this, a pause in the conversation, during which she seemed struggling with thoughts and emotions; and, for my part, I was unable to utter a word, or ask a question.

She did not tell me what followed immediately upon this, nor how soon after she spoke on the subject with either of the parties. She first began to speak of conversations afterwards held with Lord Byron, in which he boldly avowed the connection as having existed in time past, and as one that was to continue in time to come; and implied that she must submit to it. She put it to his conscience as concerning his sister's soul, and he said that it was no sin, that it was the way the world was first peopled: the Scriptures taught that all the world descended from one pair; and how could that be unless brothers married their sisters? that, if not a sin then, it could not be a sin now.

I immediately said, 'Why, Lady Byron, those are the very arguments given in the drama of "Cain."'

'The very same,' was her reply. 'He could reason very speciously on this subject.' She went on to say, that, when she pressed him hard with the universal sentiment of mankind as to the horror and the crime, he took another turn, and said that the horror and crime were the very attraction; that he had worn out all ordinary forms of sin, and that he 'longed for the stimulus of a new kind of vice.' She set before him the dread of detection; and then he became furious. She should never be the means of his detection, he said. She should leave him; that he was resolved upon: but she should always bear all the blame of the separation. In the sneering tone which was common with him, he said, 'The world will believe me, and it will not believe you. The world has made up its mind that "By" is a glorious boy; and the world will go for "By," right or wrong. Besides, I shall make it my life's object to discredit you: I shall use all my powers. Read "Caleb Williams," {161} and you will see that I shall do by you just as Falkland did by Caleb.'

I said that all this seemed to me like insanity. She said that she was for a time led to think that it was insanity, and excused and pitied him; that his treatment of her expressed such hatred and malignity, that she knew not what else to think of it; that he seemed resolved to drive her out of the house at all hazards, and threatened her, if she should remain, in a way to alarm the heart of any woman: yet, thinking him insane, she left him at last with the sorrow with which anyone might leave a dear friend whose reason was wholly overthrown, and to whom in this desolation she was no longer permitted to minister.

I inquired in one of the pauses of the conversation whether Mrs. Leigh was a peculiarly beautiful or attractive woman.

'No, my dear: she was plain.'

'Was she, then, distinguished for genius or talent of any kind?'

'Oh, no! Poor woman! she was weak, relatively to him, and wholly under his control.'

'And what became of her?' I said.

'She afterwards repented, and became a truly good woman.' I think it was here she mentioned that she had frequently seen and conversed with Mrs. Leigh in the latter part of her life; and she seemed to derive comfort from the recollection.

I asked, 'Was there a child?' I had been told by Mrs. —— that there was a daughter, who had lived some years.

She said there was one, a daughter, who made her friends much trouble, being of a very difficult nature to manage. I had understood that at one time this daughter escaped from her friends to the Continent, and that Lady Byron assisted in efforts to recover her. Of Lady Byron's kindness both to Mrs. Leigh and the child, I had before heard from Mrs. ——, who gave me my first information.

It is also strongly impressed on my mind, that Lady Byron, in answer to some question of mine as to whether there was ever any meeting between Lord Byron and his sister after he left England, answered, that she had insisted upon it, or made it a condition, that Mrs. Leigh should not go abroad to him.

When the conversation as to events was over, as I stood musing, I said, 'Have you no evidence that he repented?' and alluded to the mystery of his death, and the message be endeavoured to utter.

She answered quickly, and with great decision, that whatever might have been his meaning at that hour, she felt sure he had finally repented; and added with great earnestness, 'I do not believe that any child of the heavenly Father is ever left to eternal sin.'

I said that such a hope was most delightful to my feelings, but that I had always regarded the indulgence of it as a dangerous one.

Her look, voice, and manner, at that moment, are indelibly fixed in my mind. She looked at me so sadly, so firmly, and said,—

'Danger, Mrs. Stowe! What danger can come from indulging that hope, like the danger that comes from not having it?'

I said in my turn, 'What danger comes from not having it?'

'The danger of losing all faith in God,' she said, 'all hope for others, all strength to try and save them. I once knew a lady,' she added, 'who was in a state of scepticism and despair from belief in that doctrine. I think I saved her by giving her my faith.'

I was silent; and she continued: 'Lord Byron believed in eternal punishment fully: for though he reasoned against Christianity as it is commonly received, he could not reason himself out of it; and I think it made him desperate. He used to say, "The worst of it is I do believe." Had he seen God as I see him, I am sure his heart would have relented.'

She went on to say, that his sins, great as they were, admitted of much palliation and excuse; that he was the child of singular and ill-matched parents; that he had an organisation originally fine, but one capable equally of great good or great evil; that in his childhood he had only the worst and most fatal influences; that he grew up into manhood with no guide; that there was everything in the classical course of the schools to develop an unhealthy growth of passion, and no moral influence of any kind to restrain it; that the manners of his day were corrupt; that what were now considered vices in society were then spoken of as matters of course among young noblemen; that drinking, gaming, and licentiousness everywhere abounded and that, up to a certain time, he was no worse than multitudes of other young men of his day,—only that the vices of his day were worse for him. The excesses of passion, the disregard of physical laws in eating, drinking, and living, wrought effects on him that they did not on less sensitively organised frames, and prepared him for the evil hour when he fell into the sin which shaded his whole life. All the rest was a struggle with its consequences,—sinning more and more to conceal the sin of the past. But she believed he never outlived remorse; that he always suffered; and that this showed that God had not utterly forsaken him. Remorse, she said, always showed moral sensibility, and, while that remained, there was always hope.

She now began to speak of her grounds for thinking it might be her duty fully to publish this story before she left the world.

First she said that, through the whole course of her life, she had felt the eternal value of truth, and seen how dreadful a thing was falsehood, and how fearful it was to be an accomplice in it, even by silence. Lord Byron had demoralised the moral sense of England, and he had done it in a great degree by the sympathy excited by falsehood. This had been pleaded in extenuation of all his crimes and vices, and led to a lowering of the standard of morals in the literary world. Now it was proposed to print cheap editions of his works, and sell them among the common people, and interest them in him by the circulation of this same story.

She then said in effect, that she believed in retribution and suffering in the future life, and that the consequences of sins here follow us there; and it was strongly impressed upon her mind that Lord Byron must suffer in looking on the evil consequences of what he had done in this life, and in seeing the further extension of that evil.

'It has sometimes strongly appeared to me,' she said, 'that he cannot be at peace until this injustice has been righted. Such is the strong feeling that I have when I think of going where he is.'

These things, she said, had led her to inquire whether it might not be her duty to make a full and clear disclosure before she left the world.

Of course, I did not listen to this story as one who was investigating its worth. I received it as truth. And the purpose for which it was communicated was not to enable me to prove it to the world, but to ask my opinion whether she should show it to the world before leaving it. The whole consultation was upon the assumption that she had at her command such proofs as could not be questioned.

Concerning what they were I did not minutely inquire: only, in answer to a general question, she said that she had letters and documents in proof of her story. Knowing Lady Byron's strength of mind, her clear-headedness, her accurate habits, and her perfect knowledge of the matter, I considered her judgment on this point decisive.

I told her that I would take the subject into consideration, and give my opinion in a few days. That night, after my sister and myself had retired to our own apartment, I related to her the whole history, and we spent the night in talking of it. I was powerfully impressed with the justice and propriety of an immediate disclosure; while she, on the contrary, represented the painful consequences that would probably come upon Lady Byron from taking such a step.

Before we parted the next day, I requested Lady Byron to give me some memoranda of such dates and outlines of the general story as would enable me better to keep it in its connection; which she did.

On giving me the paper, Lady Byron requested me to return it to her when it had ceased to be of use to me for the purpose indicated.

Accordingly, a day or two after, I enclosed it to her in a hasty note, as I was then leaving London for Paris, and had not yet had time fully to consider the subject.

On reviewing my note, I can recall that then the whole history appeared to me like one of those singular cases where unnatural impulses to vice are the result of a taint of constitutional insanity. This has always seemed to me the only way of accounting for instances of utterly motiveless and abnormal wickedness and cruelty. These my first impressions were expressed in the hasty note written at the time:—

'LONDON, Nov. 5, 1856.

'DEAREST FRIEND,—I return these. They have held mine eyes waking! How strange! how unaccountable! Have you ever subjected the facts to the judgment of a medical man learned in nervous pathology?

'Is it not insanity?

"Great wits to madness nearly are allied, And thin partitions do their bounds divide."

'But my purpose to-night is not to write you fully what I think of this matter. I am going to write to you from Paris more at leisure.'

The rest of the letter was taken up in the final details of a charity in which Lady Byron had been engaged with me in assisting an unfortunate artist. It concludes thus:—

'I write now in all haste, en route for Paris. As to America, all is not lost yet. {168} Farewell! I love you, my dear friend, as never before, with an intense feeling I cannot easily express. God bless you!

'H. B. S.'

The next letter is as follows:—

'Paris, Dec. 17, 1856.

'DEAR LADY BYRON,—The Kansas Committee have written me a letter desiring me to express to Miss —— their gratitude for the five pounds she sent them. I am not personally acquainted with her, and must return these acknowledgments through you.

'I wrote you a day or two since, enclosing the reply of the Kansas Committee to you.

'On that subject on which you spoke to me the last time we were together, I have thought often and deeply.

'I have changed my mind somewhat. Considering the peculiar circumstances of the case, I could wish that the sacred veil of silence, so bravely thrown over the past, should never be withdrawn during the time that you remain with us.

'I would say, then, Leave all with some discreet friends, who, after both have passed from earth, shall say what was due to justice.

'I am led to think this by seeing how low, how unjust, how unworthy, the judgments of this world are; and I would not that what I so much respect, love, and revere should be placed within reach of its harpy claw, which pollutes what it touches.

'The day will yet come which will bring to light every hidden thing. "There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, neither hid that shall not be known;" and so justice will not fail.

'Such, my dear friend, are my thoughts; different from what they were since first I heard that strange, sad history. Meanwhile, I love you ever, whether we meet again on earth or not.

'Affectionately yours,

'H. B. S.'

The following letter will here be inserted as confirming a part of Lady Byron's story:—


'SIR,—I trust that you will hold me excused from any desire to be troublesome, or to rush into print. Both these things are far from my wish. But the publication of a book having for its object the vindication of Lord Byron's character, and the subsequent appearance in your magazine of Mrs. Stowe's article in defence of Lady Byron, having led to so much controversy in the various newspapers of the day, I feel constrained to put in a few words among the rest.

'My father was intimately acquainted with Lady Byron's family for many years, both before and after her marriage; being, in fact, steward to Sir Ralph Milbanke at Seaham, where the marriage took place; and, from all my recollections of what he told me of the affair (and he used often to talk of it, up to the time of his death, eight years ago), I fully agree with Mrs. Stowe's view of the case, and desire to add my humble testimony to the truth of what she has stated.

'Whilst Byron was staying at Seaham, previous to his marriage, he spent most of his time pistol-shooting in the plantations adjoining the hall, often making use of his glove as a mark; his servant being with him to load for him.

'When all was in readiness for the wedding-ceremony (which took place in the drawing-room of the hall), Byron had to be sought for in the grounds, where he was walking in his usual surly mood.

'After the marriage, they posted to Halnaby Lodge in Yorkshire, a distance of about forty miles; to which place my father accompanied them, and he always spoke strongly of Lady Byron's apparent distress during and at the end of the journey.

'The insulting words mentioned by Mrs. Stowe were spoken by Byron before leaving the park at Seaham; after which he appeared to sit in moody silence, reading a book, for the rest of the journey. At Halnaby, a number of persons, tenants and others, were met to cheer them on their arrival. Of these he took not the slightest notice, but jumped out of the carriage, and walked away, leaving his bride to alight by herself. She shook hands with my father, and begged that he would see that some refreshment was supplied to those who had thus come to welcome them.

'I have in my possession several letters (which I should be glad to show to anyone interested in the matter) both from Lady Byron, and her mother, Lady Milbanke, to my father, all showing the deep and kind interest which they took in the welfare of all connected with them, and directing the distribution of various charities, etc. Pensions were allowed both to the old servants of the Milbankes and to several poor persons in the village and neighbourhood for the rest of their lives; and Lady Byron never ceased to take a lively interest in all that concerned them.

'I desire to tender my humble thanks to Mrs. Stowe for having come forward in defence of one whose character has been much misrepresented; and to you, sir, for having published the same in your pages.

'I have the honour to be, sir, yours obediently,

'G. H. AIRD.



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.

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