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

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

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

Moore's Life of Byron;

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

Lady Byron's statements to me in 1856;

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

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

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

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

From these, then, let us construct the story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take for example this:—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(LETTER 228.)

TO MR. MOORE.

'TERRACE, PICCADILLY, OCT. 31,1815.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Thine,

'A. I. B.'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such was this young wife's situation.

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

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

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

And again, on the 23rd:—

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

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

Lady Byron continues her statement thus:—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan. 25, 1816.

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

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

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

Lady Byron now adds,—

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

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

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

'KIRKBY MALLORY, Feb. 3, 1816.

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

'Ever yours most affectionately,

'A. I. BYRON.'

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

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

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

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

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

'Feb. 4, 1816.

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

'Yours most affectionately,

'A. I. BYRON.'

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

'KIRKBY MALLORY, Feb. 14, 1816.

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

'A. I. B.'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER IV. THE CHARACTER OF THE TWO WITNESSES COMPARED.

It will be observed, that, in this controversy, we are confronting two opposing stories,—one of Lord and the other of Lady Byron; and the statements from each are in point-blank contradiction.

Lord Byron states that his wife deserted him. Lady Byron states that he expelled her, and reminds him, in her letter to Augusta Leigh, that the expulsion was a deliberate one, and that he had purposed it from the beginning of their marriage.

Lord Byron always stated that he was ignorant why his wife left him, and was desirous of her return. Lady Byron states that he told her that he would force her to leave him, and to leave him in such a way that the whole blame of the separation should always rest on her, and not on him.

To say nothing of any deeper or darker accusations on either side, here, in the very outworks of the story, the two meet point-blank.

In considering two opposing stories, we always, as a matter of fact, take into account the character of the witnesses.

If a person be literal and exact in his usual modes of speech, reserved, careful, conscientious, and in the habit of observing minutely the minor details of time, place, and circumstances, we give weight to his testimony from these considerations. But if a person be proved to have singular and exceptional principles with regard to truth; if he be universally held by society to be so in the habit of mystification, that large allowances must be made for his statements; if his assertions at one time contradict those made at another; and if his statements, also, sometimes come in collision with those of his best friends, so that, when his language is reported, difficulties follow, and explanations are made necessary,—all this certainly disqualifies him from being considered a trustworthy witness.

All these disqualifications belong in a remarkable degree to Lord Byron, on the oft-repeated testimony of his best friends.

We shall first cite the following testimony, given in an article from 'Under the Crown,' which is written by an early friend and ardent admirer of Lord Byron:—

'Byron had one pre-eminent fault,—a fault which must be considered as deeply criminal by everyone who does not, as I do, believe it to have resulted from monomania. He had a morbid love of a bad reputation. There was hardly an offence of which he would not, with perfect indifference, accuse himself. An old schoolfellow who met him on the Continent told me that he would continually write paragraphs against himself in the foreign journals, and delight in their republication by the English newspapers as in the success of a practical joke. Whenever anybody has related anything discreditable of Byron, assuring me that it must be true, for he heard it from himself, I always felt that he could not have spoken upon worse authority; and that, in all probability, the tale was a pure invention. If I could remember, and were willing to repeat, the various misdoings which I have from time to time heard him attribute to himself, I could fill a volume. But I never believed them. I very soon became aware of this strange idiosyncrasy: it puzzled me to account for it; but there it was, a sort of diseased and distorted vanity. The same eccentric spirit would induce him to report things which were false with regard to his family, which anybody else would have concealed, though true. He told me more than once that his father was insane, and killed himself. I shall never forget the manner in which he first told me this. While washing his hands, and singing a gay Neapolitan air, he stopped, looked round at me, and said, "There always was madness in the family." Then, after continuing his washing and his song, he added, as if speaking of a matter of the slightest indifference, "My father cut his throat." The contrast between the tenour of the subject and the levity of the expression was fearfully painful: it was like a stanza of "Don Juan." In this instance, I had no doubt that the fact was as he related it; but in speaking of it, only a few years since, to an old lady in whom I had perfect confidence, she assured me that it was not so. Mr. Byron, who was her cousin, had been extremely wild, but was quite sane, and had died very quietly in his bed. What Byron's reason could have been for thus calumniating not only himself but the blood which was flowing in his veins, who can divine? But, for some reason or other, it seemed to be his determined purpose to keep himself unknown to the great body of his fellow-creatures; to present himself to their view in moral masquerade.'

Certainly the character of Lord Byron here given by his friend is not the kind to make him a trustworthy witness in any case: on the contrary, it seems to show either a subtle delight in falsehood for falsehood's sake, or else the wary artifices of a man who, having a deadly secret to conceal, employs many turnings and windings to throw the world off the scent. What intriguer, having a crime to cover, could devise a more artful course than to send half a dozen absurd stories to the press, which should, after a while, be traced back to himself, till the public should gradually look on all it heard from him as the result of this eccentric humour?

The easy, trifling air with which Lord Byron made to this friend a false statement in regard to his father would lead naturally to the inquiry, on what other subjects, equally important to the good name of others, he might give false testimony with equal indifference.

When Medwin's 'Conversations with Lord Byron' were first published, they contained a number of declarations of the noble lord affecting the honour and honesty of his friend and publisher Murray. These appear to have been made in the same way as those about his father, and with equal indifference. So serious were the charges, that Mr. Murray's friends felt that he ought, in justice to himself, to come forward and confront them with the facts as stated in Byron's letters to himself; and in vol. x., p.143, of Murray's standard edition, accordingly these false statements are confronted with the letters of Lord Byron. The statements, as reported, are of a most material and vital nature, relating to Murray's financial honour and honesty, and to his general truthfulness and sincerity. In reply, Murray opposes to them the accounts of sums paid for different works, and letters from Byron exactly contradicting his own statements as to Murray's character.

The subject, as we have seen, was discussed in 'The Noctes.' No doubt appears to be entertained that Byron made the statements to Medwin; and the theory of accounting for them is, that 'Byron was "bamming" him.'

It seems never to have occurred to any of these credulous gentlemen, who laughed at others for being 'bammed,' that Byron might be doing the very same thing by themselves. How many of his so-called packages sent to Lady Byron were real packages, and how many were mystifications? We find, in two places at least in his Memoir, letters to Lady Byron, written and shown to others, which, he says, were never sent by him. He told Lady Blessington that he was in the habit of writing to her constantly. Was this 'bamming'? Was he 'bamming,' also, when he told the world that Lady Byron suddenly deserted him, quite to his surprise, and that he never, to his dying day, could find out why?

Lady Blessington relates, that, in one of his conversations with her, he entertained her by repeating epigrams and lampoons, in which many of his friends were treated with severity. She inquired of him, in case he should die, and such proofs of his friendship come before the public, what would be the feelings of these friends, who had supposed themselves to stand so high in his good graces. She says,—

'"That," said Byron, "is precisely one of the ideas that most amuses me. I often fancy the rage and humiliation of my quondam friends in hearing the truth, at least from me, for the first time, and when I am beyond the reach of their malice. . . . What grief," continued Byron, laughing, "could resist the charges of ugliness, dulness, or any of the thousand nameless defects, personal or mental, 'that flesh is heir to,' when reprisal or recantation was impossible? . . . People are in such daily habits of commenting on the defects of friends, that they are unconscious of the unkindness of it. . . Now, I write down as well as speak my sentiments of those who think they have gulled me; and I only wish, in case I die before them, that I might return to witness the effects my posthumous opinions of them are likely to produce in their minds. What good fun this would be! . . . You don't seem to value this as you ought," said Byron with one of his sardonic smiles, seeing I looked, as I really felt, surprised at his avowed insincerity. "I feel the same pleasure in anticipating the rage and mortification of my soi-disant friends at the discovery of my real sentiments of them, that a miser may be supposed to feel while making a will that will disappoint all the expectants that have been toadying him for years. Then how amusing it will be to compare my posthumous with my previously given opinions, the one throwing ridicule on the other!"'

It is asserted, in a note to 'The Noctes,' that Byron, besides his Autobiography, prepared a voluminous dictionary of all his friends and acquaintances, in which brief notes of their persons and character were given, with his opinion of them. It was not considered that the publication of this would add to the noble lord's popularity; and it has never appeared.

In Hunt's Life of Byron, there is similar testimony. Speaking of Byron's carelessness in exposing his friends' secrets, and showing or giving away their letters, he says,—

'If his five hundred confidants, by a reticence as remarkable as his laxity, had not kept his secrets better than he did himself, the very devil might have been played with I don't know how many people. But there was always this saving reflection to be made, that the man who could be guilty of such extravagances for the sake of making an impression might be guilty of exaggeration, or inventing what astonished you; and indeed, though he was a speaker of the truth on ordinary occasions,—that is to say, he did not tell you he had seen a dozen horses when he had seen only two,—yet, as he professed not to value the truth when in the way of his advantage (and there was nothing he thought more to his advantage than making you stare at him), the persons who were liable to suffer from his incontinence had all the right in the world to the benefit of this consideration.' {205a}

With a person of such mental and moral habits as to truth, the inquiry always must be, Where does mystification end, and truth begin?

If a man is careless about his father's reputation for sanity, and reports him a crazy suicide; if he gaily accuses his publisher and good friend of double-dealing, shuffling, and dishonesty; if he tells stories about Mrs. Clermont, {205b} to which his sister offers a public refutation,—is it to be supposed that he will always tell the truth about his wife, when the world is pressing him hard, and every instinct of self-defence is on the alert?

And then the ingenuity that could write and publish false documents about himself, that they might reappear in London papers,—to what other accounts might it not be turned? Might it not create documents, invent statements, about his wife as well as himself?

The document so ostentatiously given to M. G. Lewis 'for circulation among friends in England' was a specimen of what the Noctes Club would call 'bamming.'

If Byron wanted a legal investigation, why did he not take it in the first place, instead of signing the separation? If he wanted to cancel it, as he said in this document, why did he not go to London, and enter a suit for the restitution of conjugal rights, or a suit in chancery to get possession of his daughter? That this was in his mind, passages in Medwin's 'Conversations' show. He told Lady Blessington also that he might claim his daughter in chancery at any time.

Why did he not do it? Either of these two steps would have brought on that public investigation he so longed for. Can it be possible that all the friends who passed this private document from hand to hand never suspected that they were being 'bammed' by it?

But it has been universally assumed, that, though Byron was thus remarkably given to mystification, yet all his statements in regard to this story are to be accepted, simply because he makes them. Why must we accept them, any more than his statements as to Murray or his own father?

So we constantly find Lord Byron's incidental statements coming in collision with those of others: for example, in his account of his marriage, he tells Medwin that Lady Byron's maid was put between his bride and himself, on the same seat, in the wedding journey. The lady's maid herself, Mrs. Mimms, says she was sent before them to Halnaby, and was there to receive them when they alighted.

He said of Lady Byron's mother, 'She always detested me, and had not the decency to conceal it in her own house. Dining with her one day, I broke a tooth, and was in great pain; which I could not help showing. "It will do you good," said Lady Noel; "I am glad of it!"'

Lady Byron says, speaking of her mother, 'She always treated him with an affectionate consideration and indulgence, which extended to every little peculiarity of his feelings. Never did an irritating word escape her.'

Lord Byron states that the correspondence between him and Lady Byron, after his refusal, was first opened by her. Lady Byron's friends deny the statement, and assert that the direct contrary is the fact.

Thus we see that Lord Byron's statements are directly opposed to those of his family in relation to his father; directly against Murray's accounts, and his own admission to Murray; directly against the statement of the lady's maid as to her position in the journey; directly against Mrs. Leigh's as to Mrs. Clermont, and against Lady Byron as to her mother.

We can see, also, that these misstatements were so fully perceived by the men of his times, that Medwin's 'Conversations' were simply laughed at as an amusing instance of how far a man might be made the victim of a mystification. Christopher North thus sentences the book:—

'I don't mean to call Medwin a liar . . . The captain lies, sir, but it is under a thousand mistakes. Whether Byron bammed him, or he, by virtue of his own egregious stupidity, was the sole and sufficient bammifier of himself, I know not; neither greatly do I care. This much is certain, . . . that the book throughout is full of things that were not, and most resplendently deficient quoad the things that were.'

Yet it is on Medwin's 'Conversations' alone that many of the magazine assertions in regard to Lady Byron are founded.

It is on that authority that Lady Byron is accused of breaking open her husband's writing-desk in his absence, and sending the letters she found there to the husband of a lady compromised by them; and likewise that Lord Byron is declared to have paid back his wife's ten-thousand-pound wedding portion, and doubled it. Moore makes no such statements; and his remarks about Lord Byron's use of his wife's money are unmistakable evidence to the contrary. Moore, although Byron's ardent partisan, was too well informed to make assertions with regard to him, which, at that time, it would have been perfectly easy to refute.

All these facts go to show that Lord Byron's character for accuracy or veracity was not such as to entitle him to ordinary confidence as a witness, especially in a case where he had the strongest motives for misstatement.

And if we consider that the celebrated Autobiography was the finished, careful work of such a practised 'mystifier,' who can wonder that it presented a web of such intermingled truth and lies that there was no such thing as disentangling it, and pointing out where falsehood ended and truth began?

But in regard to Lady Byron, what has been the universal impression of the world? It has been alleged against her that she was a precise, straightforward woman, so accustomed to plain, literal dealings, that she could not understand the various mystifications of her husband; and from that cause arose her unhappiness. Byron speaks, in 'The Sketch,' of her peculiar truthfulness; and even in the 'Clytemnestra' poem, when accusing her of lying, he speaks of her as departing from

'The early truth that was her proper praise.'

Lady Byron's careful accuracy as to dates, to time, place, and circumstances, will probably be vouched for by all the very large number of persons whom the management of her extended property and her works of benevolence brought to act as co-operators or agents with her. She was not a person in the habit of making exaggerated or ill-considered statements. Her published statement of 1830 is clear, exact, accurate, and perfectly intelligible. The dates are carefully ascertained and stated, the expressions are moderate, and all the assertions firm and perfectly definite.

It therefore seems remarkable that the whole reasoning on this Byron matter has generally been conducted by assuming all Lord Byron's statements to be true, and requiring all Lady Byron's statements to be sustained by other evidence.

If Lord Byron asserts that his wife deserted him, the assertion is accepted without proof; but, if Lady Byron asserts that he ordered her to leave, that requires proof. Lady Byron asserts that she took counsel, on this order of Lord Byron, with his family friends and physician, under the idea that it originated in insanity. The 'Blackwood' asks, "What family friends?' says it doesn't know of any; and asks proof.

If Lord Byron asserts that he always longed for a public investigation of the charges against him, the 'Quarterly' and 'Blackwood' quote the saying with ingenuous confidence. They are obliged to admit that he refused to stand that public test; that he signed the deed of separation rather than meet it. They know, also, that he could have at any time instituted suits against Lady Byron that would have brought the whole matter into court, and that he did not. Why did he not? The 'Quarterly' simply intimates that such suits would have been unpleasant. Why? On account of personal delicacy? The man that wrote 'Don Juan,' and furnished the details of his wedding-night, held back from clearing his name by delicacy! It is astonishing to what extent this controversy has consisted in simply repeating Lord Byron's assertions over and over again, and calling the result proof.

Now, we propose a different course. As Lady Byron is not stated by her warm admirers to have had any monomania for speaking untruths on any subject, we rank her value as a witness at a higher rate than Lord Byron's. She never accused her parents of madness or suicide, merely to make a sensation; never 'bammed' an acquaintance by false statements concerning the commercial honour of anyone with whom she was in business relations; never wrote and sent to the press as a clever jest false statements about herself; and never, in any other ingenious way, tampered with truth. We therefore hold it to be a mere dictate of reason and common sense, that, in all cases where her statements conflict with her husband's, hers are to be taken as the more trustworthy.

The 'London Quarterly,' in a late article, distinctly repudiates Lady Byron's statements as sources of evidence, and throughout quotes statements of Lord Byron as if they had the force of self-evident propositions. We consider such a course contrary to common sense as well as common good manners.

The state of the case is just this: If Lord Byron did not make false statements on this subject it was certainly an exception to his usual course. He certainly did make such on a great variety of other subjects. By his own showing, he had a peculiar pleasure in falsifying language, and in misleading and betraying even his friends.

But, if Lady Byron gave false witness upon this subject, it was an exception to the whole course of her life.

The habits of her mind, the government of her conduct, her life-long reputation, all were those of a literal, exact truthfulness.

The accusation of her being untruthful was first brought forward by her husband in the 'Clytemnestra' poem, in the autumn of 1816; but it never was publicly circulated till after his death, and it was first formally made the basis of a published attack on Lady Byron in the July 'Blackwood' of 1869. Up to that time, we look in vain through current literature for any indications that the world regarded Lady Byron otherwise than as a cold, careful, prudent woman, who made no assertions, and had no confidants. When she spoke in 1830, it is perfectly evident that Christopher North and his circle believed what she said, though reproving her for saying it at all.

The 'Quarterly' goes on to heap up a number of vague assertions,—that Lady Byron, about the time of her separation, made a confidant of a young officer; that she told the clergyman of Ham of some trials with Lord Ockham; and that she told stories of different things at different times.

All this is not proof: it is mere assertion, and assertion made to produce prejudice. It is like raising a whirlwind of sand to blind the eyes that are looking for landmarks. It is quite probable Lady Byron told different stories about Lord Byron at various times. No woman could have a greater variety of stories to tell; and no woman ever was so persecuted and pursued and harassed, both by public literature and private friendship, to say something. She had plenty of causes for a separation, without the fatal and final one. In her conversations with Lady Anne Barnard, for example, she gives reasons enough for a separation, though none of them are the chief one. It is not different stories, but contradictory stories, that must be relied on to disprove the credibility of a witness. The 'Quarterly' has certainly told a great number of different stories,—stories which may prove as irreconcilable with each other as any attributed to Lady Byron; but its denial of all weight to her testimony is simply begging the whole question under consideration.

A man gives testimony about the causes of a railroad accident, being the only eye-witness.

The opposing counsel begs, whatever else you do, you will not admit that man's testimony. You ask, 'Why? Has he ever been accused of want of veracity on other subjects?'—'No: he has stood high as a man of probity and honour for years.'—'Why, then, throw out his testimony?'

'Because he lies in this instance,' says the adversary: 'his testimony does not agree with this and that.'—'Pardon me, that is the very point in question,' say you: 'we expect to prove that it does agree with this and that.'

Because certain letters of Lady Byron's do not agree with the 'Quarterly's' theory of the facts of the separation, it at once assumes that she is an untruthful witness, and proposes to throw out her evidence altogether.

We propose, on the contrary, to regard Lady Byron's evidence with all the attention due to the statement of a high-minded conscientious person, never in any other case accused of violation of truth; we also propose to show it to be in strict agreement with all well-authenticated facts and documents; and we propose to treat Lord Byron's evidence as that of a man of great subtlety, versed in mystification and delighting in it, and who, on many other subjects, not only deceived, but gloried in deception; and then we propose to show that it contradicts well-established facts and received documents.

One thing more we have to say concerning the laws of evidence in regard to documents presented in this investigation.

This is not a London West-End affair, but a grave historical inquiry, in which the whole English-speaking world are interested to know the truth.

As it is now too late to have the securities of a legal trial, certainly the rules of historical evidence should be strictly observed. All important documents should be presented in an entire state, with a plain and open account of their history,—who had them, where they were found, and how preserved.

There have been most excellent, credible, and authentic documents produced in this case; and, as a specimen of them, we shall mention Lord Lindsay's letter, and the journal and letter it authenticates. Lord Lindsay at once comes forward, gives his name boldly, gives the history of the papers he produces, shows how they came to be in his hands, why never produced before, and why now. We feel confidence at once.

But in regard to the important series of letters presented as Lady Byron's, this obviously proper course has not been pursued. Though assumed to be of the most critical importance, no such distinct history of them was given in the first instance. The want of such evidence being noticed by other papers, the 'Quarterly' appears hurt that the high character of the magazine has not been a sufficient guarantee; and still deals in vague statements that the letters have been freely circulated, and that two noblemen of the highest character would vouch for them if necessary.

In our view, it is necessary. These noblemen should imitate Lord Lindsay's example,—give a fair account of these letters, under their own names; and then, we would add, it is needful for complete satisfaction to have the letters entire, and not in fragments.

The 'Quarterly' gave these letters with the evident implication that they are entirely destructive to Lady Byron's character as a witness. Now, has that magazine much reason to be hurt at even an insinuation on its own character when making such deadly assaults on that of another? The individuals who bring forth documents that they suppose to be deadly to the character of a noble person, always in her generation held to be eminent for virtue, certainly should not murmur at being called upon to substantiate these documents in the manner usually expected in historical investigations.

We have shown that these letters do not contradict, but that they perfectly confirm the facts, and agree with the dates in Lady Byron's published statements of 1830; and this is our reason for deeming them authentic.

These considerations with regard to the manner of conducting the inquiry seem so obviously proper, that we cannot but believe that they will command a serious attention.



CHAPTER V. THE DIRECT ARGUMENT TO PROVE THE CRIME.

We shall now proceed to state the argument against Lord Byron.

1st, There is direct evidence that Lord Byron was guilty of some unusual immorality.

The evidence is not, as the 'Blackwood' says, that Lushington yielded assent to the ex parte statement of a client; nor, as the 'Quarterly' intimates, that he was affected by the charms of an attractive young woman.

The first evidence of it is the fact that Lushington and Romilly offered to take the case into court, and make there a public exhibition of the proofs on which their convictions were founded.

2nd, It is very strong evidence of this fact, that Lord Byron, while loudly declaring that he wished to know with what he was charged, declined this open investigation, and, rather than meet it, signed a paper which he had before refused to sign.

3rd, It is also strong evidence of this fact, that although secretly declaring to all his intimate friends that he still wished open investigation in a court of justice, and affirming his belief that his character was being ruined for want of it, he never afterwards took the means to get it. Instead of writing a private handbill, he might have come to England and entered a suit; and he did not do it.

That Lord Byron was conscious of a great crime is further made probable by the peculiar malice he seemed to bear to his wife's legal counsel.

If there had been nothing to fear in that legal investigation wherewith they threatened him, why did he not only flee from it, but regard with a peculiar bitterness those who advised and proposed it? To an innocent man falsely accused, the certainties of law are a blessing and a refuge. Female charms cannot mislead in a court of justice; and the atrocities of rumour are there sifted, and deprived of power. A trial is not a threat to an innocent man: it is an invitation, an opportunity. Why, then, did he hate Sir Samuel Romilly, so that he exulted like a fiend over his tragical death? The letter in which he pours forth this malignity was so brutal, that Moore was obliged, by the general outcry of society, to suppress it. Is this the language of an innocent man who has been offered a fair trial under his country's laws? or of a guilty man, to whom the very idea of public trial means public exposure?

4th, It is probable that the crime was the one now alleged, because that was the most important crime charged against him by rumour at the period. This appears by the following extract of a letter from Shelley, furnished by the 'Quarterly,' dated Bath, Sept. 29, 1816:—

'I saw Kinnaird, and had a long talk with him. He informed me that Lady Byron was now in perfect health; that she was living with your sister. I felt much pleasure from this intelligence. I consider the latter part of it as affording a decisive contradiction to the only important calumny that ever was advanced against you. On this ground, at least, it will become the world hereafter to be silent.'

It appears evident here that the charge of improper intimacy with his sister was, in the mind of Shelley, the only important one that had yet been made against Lord Byron.

It is fairly inferable, from Lord Byron's own statements, that his family friends believed this charge. Lady Byron speaks, in her statement, of 'nearest relatives' and family friends who were cognizant of Lord Byron's strange conduct at the time of the separation; and Lord Byron, in the letter to Bowles, before quoted, says that every one of his relations, except his sister, fell from him in this crisis like leaves from a tree in autumn. There was, therefore, not only this report, but such appearances in support of it as convinced those nearest to the scene, and best apprised of the facts; so that they fell from him entirely, notwithstanding the strong influence of family feeling. The Guiccioli book also mentions this same allegation as having arisen from peculiarities in Lord Byron's manner of treating his sister:—

'This deep, fraternal affection assumed at times, under the influence of his powerful genius, and under exceptional circumstances, an almost too passionate expression, which opened a fresh field to his enemies.' {219}

It appears, then, that there was nothing in the character of Lord Byron and of his sister, as they appeared before their generation, that prevented such a report from arising: on the contrary, there was something in their relations that made it seem probable. And it appears that his own family friends were so affected by it, that they, with one accord, deserted him. The 'Quarterly' presents the fact that Lady Byron went to visit Mrs. Leigh at this time, as triumphant proof that she did not then believe it. Can the 'Quarterly' show just what Lady Byron's state of mind was, or what her motives were, in making that visit?

The 'Quarterly' seems to assume, that no woman, without gross hypocrisy, can stand by a sister proven to have been guilty. We can appeal on this subject to all women. We fearlessly ask any wife, 'Supposing your husband and sister were involved together in an infamous crime, and that you were the mother of a young daughter whose life would be tainted by a knowledge of that crime, what would be your wish? Would you wish to proclaim it forthwith? or would you wish quietly to separate from your husband, and to cover the crime from the eye of man?'

It has been proved that Lady Byron did not reveal this even to her nearest relatives. It is proved that she sealed the mouths of her counsel, and even of servants, so effectually, that they remain sealed even to this day. This is evidence that she did not wish the thing known. It is proved also, that, in spite of her secrecy with her parents and friends, the rumour got out, and was spoken of by Shelley as the only important one.

Now, let us see how this note, cited by the 'Quarterly,' confirms one of Lady Byron's own statements. She says to Lady Anne Barnard,—

'I trust you understand my wishes, which never were to injure Lord Byron in any way; for, though he would not suffer me to remain his wife, he cannot prevent me from continuing his friend; and it was from considering myself as such that I silenced the accusations by which my own conduct might have been more fully justified.'

How did Lady Byron silence accusations? First, by keeping silence to her nearest relatives; second, by shutting the mouths of servants; third, by imposing silence on her friends,—as Lady Anne Barnard; fourth, by silencing her legal counsel; fifth, and most entirely, by treating Mrs. Leigh, before the world, with unaltered kindness. In the midst of the rumours, Lady Byron went to visit her; and Shelley says that the movement was effectual. Can the 'Quarterly' prove that, at this time, Mrs. Leigh had not confessed all, and thrown herself on Lady Byron's mercy?

It is not necessary to suppose great horror and indignation on the part of Lady Byron. She may have regarded her sister as the victim of a most singularly powerful tempter. Lord Byron, as she knew, had tried to corrupt her own morals and faith. He had obtained a power over some women, even in the highest circles in England, which had led them to forego the usual decorums of their sex, and had given rise to great scandals. He was a being of wonderful personal attractions. He had not only strong poetical, but also strong logical power. He was daring in speculation, and vigorous in sophistical argument; beautiful, dazzling, and possessed of magnetic power of fascination. His sister had been kind and considerate to Lady Byron when Lord Byron was brutal and cruel. She had been overcome by him, as a weaker nature sometimes sinks under the force of a stronger one; and Lady Byron may really have considered her to be more sinned against than sinning.

Lord Byron, if we look at it rightly, did not corrupt Mrs. Leigh any more than he did the whole British public. They rebelled at the immorality of his conduct and the obscenity of his writings; and he resolved that they should accept both. And he made them do it. At first, they execrated 'Don Juan.' Murray was afraid to publish it. Women were determined not to read it. In 1819, Dr. William Maginn of the Noctes wrote a song against it in the following virtuous strain:—

'Be "Juan," then, unseen, unknown; It must, or we shall rue it. We may have virtue of our own: Ah! why should we undo it? The treasured faith of days long past We still would prize o'er any, And grieve to hear the ribald jeer Of scamps like Don Giovanni.'

Lord Byron determined to conquer the virtuous scruples of the Noctes Club; and so we find this same Dr. William Maginn, who in 1819 wrote so valiantly, in 1822 declaring that he would rather have written a page of 'Don Juan' than a ton of 'Childe Harold.' All English morals were, in like manner, formally surrendered to Lord Byron. Moore details his adulteries in Venice with unabashed particularity: artists send for pictures of his principal mistresses; the literary world call for biographical sketches of their points; Moore compares his wife and his last mistress in a neatly-turned sentence; and yet the professor of morals in Edinburgh University recommends the biography as pure, and having no mud in it. The mistress is lionized in London; and in 1869 is introduced to the world of letters by 'Blackwood,' and bid, 'without a blush, to say she loved'—

This much being done to all England, it is quite possible that a woman like Lady Byron, standing silently aside and surveying the course of things, may have thought that Mrs. Leigh was no more seduced than all the rest of the world, and have said as we feel disposed to say of that generation, and of a good many in this, 'Let him that is without sin among you cast the first stone.'

The peculiar bitterness of remorse expressed in his works by Lord Byron is a further evidence that he had committed an unusual crime. We are aware that evidence cannot be drawn in this manner from an author's works merely, if unsupported by any external probability. For example, the subject most frequently and powerfully treated by Hawthorne is the influence of a secret, unconfessed crime on the soul: nevertheless, as Hawthorne is well known to have always lived a pure and regular life, nobody has ever suspected him of any greater sin than a vigorous imagination. But here is a man believed guilty of an uncommon immorality by the two best lawyers in England, and threatened with an open exposure, which he does not dare to meet. The crime is named in society; his own relations fall away from him on account of it; it is only set at rest by the heroic conduct of his wife. Now, this man is stated by many of his friends to have had all the appearance of a man secretly labouring under the consciousness of crime. Moore speaks of this propensity in the following language:—

'I have known him more than once, as we sat together after dinner, and he was a little under the influence of wine, to fall seriously into this dark, self-accusing mood, and throw out hints of his past life with an air of gloom and mystery designed evidently to awaken curiosity and interest.'

Moore says that it was his own custom to dispel these appearances by ridicule, to which his friend was keenly alive. And he goes on to say,—

'It has sometimes occurred to me, that the occult causes of his lady's separation from him, round which herself and her legal advisers have thrown such formidable mystery, may have been nothing more than some imposture of this kind, some dimly-hinted confession of undefined horror, which, though intended by the relater to mystify and surprise, the hearer so little understood as to take in sober seriousness.' {225}

All we have to say is, that Lord Byron's conduct in this respect is exactly what might have been expected if he had a crime on his conscience.

The energy of remorse and despair expressed in 'Manfred' were so appalling and so vividly personal, that the belief was universal on the Continent that the experience was wrought out of some actual crime. Goethe expressed this idea, and had heard a murder imputed to Byron as the cause.

The allusion to the crime and consequences of incest is so plain in 'Manfred,' that it is astonishing that any one can pretend, as Galt does, that it had any other application.

The hero speaks of the love between himself and the imaginary being whose spirit haunts him as having been the deadliest sin, and one that has, perhaps, caused her eternal destruction.

'What is she now? A sufferer for my sins; A thing I dare not think upon.'

He speaks of her blood as haunting him, and as being

'My blood,—the pure, warm stream That ran in the veins of my fathers, and in ours When we were in our youth, and had one heart, And loved each other as we should not love.'

This work was conceived in the commotion of mind immediately following his separation. The scenery of it was sketched in a journal sent to his sister at the time.

In letter 377, defending the originality of the conception, and showing that it did not arise from reading 'Faust,' he says,—

'It was the Steinbach and the Jungfrau, and something else, more than Faustus, that made me write "Manfred."'

In letter 288, speaking of the various accounts given by critics of the origin of the story, he says,—

'The conjecturer is out, and knows nothing of the matter. I had a better origin than he could devise or divine for the soul of him.'

In letter 299, he says:—

'As to the germs of "Manfred," they may be found in the journal I sent to Mrs. Leigh, part of which you saw.'

It may be said, plausibly, that Lord Byron, if conscious of this crime, would not have expressed it in his poetry. But his nature was such that he could not help it. Whatever he wrote that had any real power was generally wrought out of self; and, when in a tumult of emotion, he could not help giving glimpses of the cause. It appears that he did know that he had been accused of incest, and that Shelley thought that accusation the only really important one; and yet, sensitive as he was to blame and reprobation, he ran upon this very subject most likely to re-awaken scandal.

But Lord Byron's strategy was always of the bold kind. It was the plan of the fugitive, who, instead of running away, stations himself so near to danger, that nobody would ever think of looking for him there. He published passionate verses to his sister on this principle. He imitated the security of an innocent man in every thing but the unconscious energy of the agony which seized him when he gave vent to his nature in poetry. The boldness of his strategy is evident through all his life. He began by charging his wife with the very cruelty and deception which he was himself practising. He had spread a net for her feet, and he accused her of spreading a net for his. He had placed her in a position where she could not speak, and then leisurely shot arrows at her; and he represented her as having done the same by him. When he attacked her in 'Don Juan,' and strove to take from her the very protection {227}of womanly sacredness by putting her name into the mouth of every ribald, he did a bold thing, and he knew it. He meant to do a bold thing. There was a general outcry against it; and he fought it down, and gained his point. By sheer boldness and perseverance, he turned the public from his wife, and to himself, in the face of their very groans and protests. His 'Manfred' and his 'Cain' were parts of the same game. But the involuntary cry of remorse and despair pierced even through his own artifices, in a manner that produced a conviction of reality.

His evident fear and hatred of his wife were other symptoms of crime. There was no apparent occasion for him to hate her. He admitted that she had been bright, amiable, good, agreeable; that her marriage had been a very uncomfortable one; and he said to Madame de Stael, that he did not doubt she thought him deranged. Why, then, did he hate her for wanting to live peaceably by herself? Why did he so fear her, that not one year of his life passed without his concocting and circulating some public or private accusation against her? She, by his own showing, published none against him. It is remarkable, that, in all his zeal to represent himself injured, he nowhere quotes a single remark from Lady Byron, nor a story coming either directly or indirectly from her or her family. He is in a fever in Venice, not from what she has spoken, but because she has sealed the lips of her counsel, and because she and her family do not speak: so that he professes himself utterly ignorant what form her allegations against him may take. He had heard from Shelley that his wife silenced the most important calumny by going to make Mrs. Leigh a visit; and yet he is afraid of her,—so afraid, that he tells Moore he expects she will attack him after death, and charges him to defend his grave.

Now, if Lord Byron knew that his wife had a deadly secret that she could tell, all this conduct is explicable: it is in the ordinary course of human nature. Men always distrust those who hold facts by which they can be ruined. They fear them; they are antagonistic to them; they cannot trust them. The feeling of Falkland to Caleb Williams, as portrayed in Godwin's masterly sketch, is perfectly natural, and it is exactly illustrative of what Byron felt for his wife. He hated her for having his secret; and, so far as a human being could do it, he tried to destroy her character before the world, that she might not have the power to testify against him. If we admit this solution, Byron's conduct is at least that of a man who is acting as men ordinarily would act under such circumstances: if we do not, he is acting like a fiend. Let us look at admitted facts. He married his wife without love, in a gloomy, melancholy, morose state of mind. The servants testify to strange, unaccountable treatment of her immediately after marriage; such that her confidential maid advises her return to her parents. In Lady Byron's letter to Mrs. Leigh, she reminds Lord Byron that he always expressed a desire and determination to free himself from the marriage. Lord Byron himself admits to Madame de Stael that his behaviour was such, that his wife must have thought him insane. Now we are asked to believe, that simply because, under these circumstances, Lady Byron wished to live separate from her husband, he hated and feared her so that he could never let her alone afterwards; that he charged her with malice, slander, deceit, and deadly intentions against himself, merely out of spite, because she preferred not to live with him. This last view of the case certainly makes Lord Byron more unaccountably wicked than the other.

The first supposition shows him to us as a man in an agony of self-preservation; the second as a fiend, delighting in gratuitous deceit and cruelty.

Again: a presumption of this crime appears in Lord Byron's admission, in a letter to Moore, that he had an illegitimate child born before he left England, and still living at the time.

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