Lady Byron Vindicated
by Harriet Beecher Stowe
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In letter 307, to Mr. Moore, under date Venice, Feb. 2, 1818, Byron says, speaking of Moore's loss of a child,—

'I know how to feel with you, because I am quite wrapped up in my own children. Besides my little legitimate, I have made unto myself an illegitimate since [since Ada's birth] to say nothing of one before; and I look forward to one of these as the pillar of my old age, supposing that I ever reach, as I hope I never shall, that desolating period.'

The illegitimate child that he had made to himself since Ada's birth was Allegra, born about nine or ten months after the separation. The other illegitimate alluded to was born before, and, as the reader sees, was spoken of as still living.

Moore appears to be puzzled to know who this child can be, and conjectures that it may possibly be the child referred to in an early poem, written, while a schoolboy of nineteen, at Harrow.

On turning back to the note referred to, we find two things: first, that the child there mentioned was not claimed by Lord Byron as his own, but that he asked his mother to care for it as belonging to a schoolmate now dead; second, that the infant died shortly after, and, consequently, could not be the child mentioned in this letter.

Now, besides this fact, that Lord Byron admitted a living illegitimate child born before Ada, we place this other fact, that there was a child in England which was believed to be his by those who had every opportunity of knowing.

On this subject we shall cite a passage from a letter recently received by us from England, and written by a person who appears well informed on the subject of his letter:—

'The fact is, the incest was first committed, and the child of it born before, shortly before, the Byron marriage. The child (a daughter) must not be confounded with the natural daughter of Lord Byron, born about a year after his separation.

'The history, more or less, of that child of incest, is known to many; for in Lady Byron's attempts to watch over her, and rescue her from ruin, she was compelled to employ various agents at different times.'

This letter contains a full recognition, by an intelligent person in England, of a child corresponding well with Lord Byron's declaration of an illegitimate, born before he left England.

Up to this point, we have, then, the circumstantial evidence against Lord Byron as follows:—

A good and amiable woman, who had married him from love, determined to separate from him.

Two of the greatest lawyers of England confirmed her in this decision, and threatened Lord Byron, that, unless he consented to this, they would expose the evidence against him in a suit for divorce. He fled from this exposure, and never afterwards sought public investigation.

He was angry with and malicious towards the counsel who supported his wife; he was angry at and afraid of a wife who did nothing to injure him, and he made it a special object to defame and degrade her. He gave such evidence of remorse and fear in his writings as to lead eminent literary men to believe he had committed a great crime. The public rumour of his day specified what the crime was. His relations, by his own showing, joined against him. The report was silenced by his wife's efforts only. Lord Byron subsequently declares the existence of an illegitimate child, born before he left England. Corresponding to this, there is the history, known in England, of a child believed to be his, in whom his wife took an interest.

All these presumptions exist independently of any direct testimony from Lady Byron. They are to be admitted as true, whether she says a word one way or the other.

From this background of proof, I come forward, and testify to an interview with Lady Byron, in which she gave me specific information of the facts in the case. That I report the facts just as I received them from her, not altered or misremembered, is shown by the testimony of my sister, to whom I related them at the time. It cannot, then, be denied that I had this interview, and that this communication was made. I therefore testify that Lady Byron, for a proper purpose, and at a proper time, stated to me the following things:—

1. That the crime which separated her from Lord Byron was incest.

2. That she first discovered it by improper actions towards his sister, which, he meant to make her understand, indicated the guilty relation.

3. That he admitted it, reasoned on it, defended it, tried to make her an accomplice, and, failing in that, hated her and expelled her.

4. That he threatened her that he would make it his life's object to destroy her character.

5. That for a period she was led to regard this conduct as insanity, and to consider him only as a diseased person.

6. That she had subsequent proof that the facts were really as she suspected; that there had been a child born of the crime, whose history she knew; that Mrs. Leigh had repented.

The purpose for which this was stated to me was to ask, Was it her duty to make the truth fully known during her lifetime?

Here, then, is a man believed guilty of an unusual crime by two lawyers, the best in England, who have seen the evidence,—a man who dares not meet legal investigation. The crime is named in society, and deemed so far probable to the men of his generation as to be spoken of by Shelley as the only important allegation against him. He acts through life exactly like a man struggling with remorse, and afraid of detection; he has all the restlessness and hatred and fear that a man has who feels that there is evidence which might destroy him. He admits an illegitimate child besides Allegra. A child believed to have been his is known to many in England. Added to all this, his widow, now advanced in years, and standing on the borders of eternity, being, as appears by her writings and conversation, of perfectly sound mind at the time, testifies to me the facts before named, which exactly correspond to probabilities.

I publish the statement; and the solicitors who hold Lady Byron's private papers do not deny the truth of the story. They try to cast discredit on me for speaking; but they do not say that I have spoken falsely, or that the story is not true. The lawyer who knew Lady Byron's story in 1816 does not now deny that this is the true one. Several persons in England testify that, at various times, and for various purposes, the same story has been told to them. Moreover, it appears from my last letter addressed to Lady Byron on this subject, that I recommended her to leave all necessary papers in the hands of some discreet persons, who, after both had passed away, should see that justice was done. The solicitors admit that Lady Byron has left sealed papers of great importance in the hands of trustees, with discretionary power. I have been informed very directly that the nature of these documents was such as to lead to the suppression of Lady Byron's life and writings. This is all exactly as it would be, if the story related by Lady Byron were the true one.

The evidence under this point of view is so strong, that a great effort has been made to throw out Lady Byron's testimony.

This attempt has been made on two grounds. 1st, That she was under a mental hallucination. This theory has been most ably refuted by the very first authority in England upon the subject. He says,—

'No person practically acquainted with the true characteristics of insanity would affirm, that, had this idea of "incest" been an insane hallucination, Lady Byron could, from the lengthened period which intervened between her unhappy marriage and death, have refrained from exhibiting it, not only to legal advisers and trustees (assuming that she revealed to them the fact), but to others, exacting no pledge of secrecy from them as to her mental impressions. Lunatics do for a time, and for some special purpose, most cunningly conceal their delusions; but they have not the capacity to struggle for thirty-six years, as Lady Byron must have done, with so frightful an hallucination, without the insane state of mind becoming obvious to those with whom they are daily associating. Neither is it consistent with experience to suppose, that, if Lady Byron had been a monomaniac, her state of disordered understanding would have been restricted to one hallucination. Her diseased brain, affecting the normal action of thought, would, in all probability, have manifested other symptoms besides those referred to of aberration of intellect.

'During the last thirty years, I have not met with a case of insanity (assuming the hypothesis of hallucination) at all parallel with that of Lady Byron. In my experience, it is unique. I never saw a patient with such a delusion.'

We refer our readers to a careful study of Dr. Forbes Winslow's consideration of this subject given in Part III. Anyone who has been familiar with the delicacy and acuteness of Dr. Winslow, as shown in his work on obscure diseases of the brain and nerves, must feel that his positive assertion on this ground is the best possible evidence. We here gratefully acknowledge our obligations to Dr. Winslow for the corrected proof of his valuable letter, which he has done us the honour to send for this work. We shall consider that his argument, in connection with what the reader may observe of Lady Byron's own writings, closes that issue of the case completely.

The other alternative is, that Lady Byron deliberately committed false witness. This was the ground assumed by the 'Blackwood,' when in July, 1869, it took upon itself the responsibility of re-opening the Byron controversy. It is also the ground assumed by 'The London Quarterly' of to-day.

Both say, in so many words, that no crime was imputed to Lord Byron; that the representations made to Lushington in the beginning were false ones; and that the story told to Lady Byron's confidential friends in later days was also false.

Let us examine this theory. In the first place, it requires us to believe in the existence of a moral monster of whom Madame Brinvilliers is cited as the type. The 'Blackwood,' let it be remembered, opens the controversy with the statement that Lady Byron was a Madame Brinvilliers. The 'Quarterly' does not shrink from the same assumption.

Let us consider the probability of this question.

If Lady Byron were such a woman, and wished to ruin her husband's reputation in order to save her own, and, being perfectly unscrupulous, had circulated against him a story of unnatural crime which had no proofs, how came two of the first lawyers of England to assume the responsibility of offering to present her case in open court? How came her husband, if he knew himself guiltless, to shrink from that public investigation which must have demonstrated his innocence? Most astonishing of all, when he fled from trial, and the report got abroad against him in England, and was believed even by his own relations, why did not his wife avail herself of the moment to complete her victory? If at that moment she had publicly broken with Mrs. Leigh, she might have confirmed every rumour. Did she do it? and why not? According to the 'Blackwood,' we have here a woman who has made up a frightful story to ruin her husband's reputation, yet who takes every pains afterwards to prevent its being ruined. She fails to do the very thing she undertakes; and for years after, rather than injure him, she loses public sympathy, and, by sealing the lips of her legal counsel, deprives herself of the advantage of their testimony.

Moreover, if a desire for revenge could have been excited in her, it would have been provoked by the first publication of the fourth canto of 'Childe Harold,' when she felt that Byron was attacking her before the world. Yet we have Lady Anne Barnard's testimony, that, at this time, she was so far from wishing to injure him, that all her communications were guarded by cautious secrecy. At this time, also, she had a strong party in England, to whom she could have appealed. Again: when 'Don Juan' was first printed, it excited a violent re-action against Lord Byron. Had his wife chosen then to accuse him, and display the evidence she had shown to her counsel, there is little doubt that all the world would have stood with her; but she did not. After his death, when she spoke at last, there seems little doubt from the strength of Dr. Lushington's language, that Lady Byron had a very strong case, and that, had she been willing, her counsel could have told much more than he did. She might then have told her whole story, and been believed. Her word was believed by Christopher North, and accepted as proof that Byron had been a great criminal. Had revenge been her motive, she could have spoken the ONE WORD more that North called for.

The 'Quarterly' asks why she waited till everybody concerned was dead. There is an obvious answer. Because, while there was anybody living to whom the testimony would have been utterly destructive, there were the best reasons for withholding it. When all were gone from earth, and she herself was in constant expectation of passing away, there was a reason, and a proper one, why she should speak. By nature and principle truthful, she had had the opportunity of silently watching the operation of a permitted lie upon a whole generation. She had been placed in a position in which it was necessary, by silence, to allow the spread and propagation through society of a radical falsehood. Lord Byron's life, fame, and genius had all struck their roots into this lie, been nourished by it, and had derived thence a poisonous power.

In reading this history, it will be remarked that he pleaded his personal misfortunes in his marriage as excuses for every offence against morality, and that the literary world of England accepted the plea, and tolerated and justified the crimes. Never before, in England, had adultery been spoken of in so respectful a manner, and an adulteress openly praised and feted, and obscene language and licentious images publicly tolerated; and all on the plea of a man's private misfortunes.

There was, therefore, great force in the suggestion made to Lady Byron, that she owed a testimony in this case to truth and justice, irrespective of any personal considerations. There is no more real reason for allowing the spread of a hurtful falsehood that affects ourselves than for allowing one that affects our neighbour. This falsehood had corrupted the literature and morals of both England and America, and led to the public toleration, by respectable authorities, of forms of vice at first indignantly rejected. The question was, Was this falsehood to go on corrupting literature as long as history lasted? Had the world no right to true history? Had she who possessed the truth no responsibility to the world? Was not a final silence a confirmation of a lie with all its consequences?

This testimony of Lady Byron, so far from being thrown out altogether, as the 'Quarterly' proposes, has a peculiar and specific value from the great forbearance and reticence which characterised the greater part of her life.

The testimony of a person who has shown in every action perfect friendliness to another comes with the more weight on that account. Testimony extorted by conscience from a parent against a child, or a wife against a husband, where all the other actions of the life prove the existence of kind feeling, is held to be the strongest form of evidence.

The fact that Lady Byron, under the severest temptations and the bitterest insults and injuries, withheld every word by which Lord Byron could be criminated, so long as he and his sister were living, is strong evidence, that, when she did speak, it was not under the influence of ill- will, but of pure conscientious convictions; and the fullest weight ought, therefore, to be given to her testimony.

We are asked now why she ever spoke at all. The fact that her story is known to several persons in England is brought up as if it were a crime. To this we answer, Lady Byron had an undoubted moral right to have exposed the whole story in a public court in 1816, and thus cut herself loose from her husband by a divorce. For the sake of saving her husband and sister from destruction, she waived this right to self-justification, and stood for years a silent sufferer under calumny and misrepresentation. She desired nothing but to retire from the whole subject; to be permitted to enjoy with her child the peace and seclusion that belong to her sex. Her husband made her, through his life and after his death, a subject of such constant discussion, that she must either abandon the current literature of her day, or run the risk of reading more or less about herself in almost every magazine of her time. Conversations with Lord Byron, notes of interviews with Lord Byron, journals of time spent with Lord Byron, were constantly spread before the public. Leigh Hunt, Galt, Medwin, Trelawney, Lady Blessington, Dr. Kennedy, and Thomas Moore, all poured forth their memorials; and in all she figured prominently. All these had their tribes of reviewers and critics, who also discussed her. The profound mystery of her silence seemed constantly to provoke inquiry. People could not forgive her for not speaking. Her privacy, retirement, and silence were set down as coldness, haughtiness, and contempt of human sympathy. She was constantly challenged to say something: as, for example, in the 'Noctes' of November 1825, six months after Byron's death, Christopher North says, speaking of the burning of the Autobiography,—

'I think, since the Memoir was burned by these people, these people are bound to put us in possession of the best evidence they still have the power of producing, in order that we may come to a just conclusion as to a subject upon which, by their act, at least, as much as by any other people's act, we are compelled to consider it our duty to make up our deliberate opinion,—deliberate and decisive. Woe be to those who provoke this curiosity, and will not allay it! Woe be to them! say I. Woe to them! says the world.'

When Lady Byron published her statement, which certainly seemed called for by this language, Christopher North blamed her for doing it, and then again said that she ought to go on and tell the whole story. If she was thus adjured to speak, blamed for speaking, and adjured to speak further, all in one breath, by public prints, there is reason to think that there could not have come less solicitation from private sources,—from friends who had access to her at all hours, whom she loved, by whom she was beloved, and to whom her refusal to explain might seem a breach of friendship. Yet there is no evidence on record, that we have seen, that she ever had other confidant than her legal counsel, till after all the actors in the events were in their graves, and the daughter, for whose sake largely the secret was guarded, had followed them.

Now, does anyone claim, that, because a woman has sacrificed for twenty years all cravings for human sympathy, and all possibility of perfectly free and unconstrained intercourse with her friends, that she is obliged to go on bearing this same lonely burden to the end of her days?

Let anyone imagine the frightful constraint and solitude implied in this sentence. Let anyone, too, think of its painful complications in life. The roots of a falsehood are far-reaching. Conduct that can only be explained by criminating another must often seem unreasonable and unaccountable; and the most truthful person, who feels bound to keep silence regarding a radical lie of another, must often be placed in positions most trying to conscientiousness. The great merit of 'Caleb Williams' as a novel consists in its philosophical analysis of the utter helplessness of an innocent person who agrees to keep the secret of a guilty one. One sees there how that necessity of silence produces all the effect of falsehood on his part, and deprives him of the confidence and sympathy of those with whom he would take refuge.

For years, this unnatural life was forced on Lady Byron, involving her as in a network, even in her dearest family relations.

That, when all the parties were dead, Lady Byron should allow herself the sympathy of a circle of intimate friends, is something so perfectly proper and natural, that we cannot but wonder that her conduct in this respect has ever been called in question. If it was her right to have had a public expose in 1816, it was certainly her right to show to her own intimate circle the secret of her life when all the principal actors were passed from earth.

The 'Quarterly' speaks as if, by thus waiting, she deprived Lord Byron of the testimony of living witnesses. But there were as many witnesses and partisans dead on her side as on his. Lady Milbanke and Sir Ralph, Sir Samuel Romilly and Lady Anne Barnard were as much dead as Hobhouse, Moore, and others of Byron's partisans.

The 'Quarterly' speaks of Lady Byron as 'running round, and repeating her story to people mostly below her own rank in life.'

To those who know the personal dignity of Lady Byron's manners, represented and dwelt on by her husband in his conversations with Lady Blessington, this coarse and vulgar attack only proves the poverty of a cause which can defend itself by no better weapons.

Lord Byron speaks of his wife as 'highly cultivated;' as having 'a degree of self-control I never saw equalled.'

'I am certain,' he says, 'that Lady Byron's first idea is what is due to herself: I mean that it is the undeviating rule of her conduct . . . . Now, my besetting sin is a want of that self-respect which she has in excess . . . . But, though I accuse Lady Byron of an excess of self-respect, I must, in candour, admit, that, if any person ever had excuse for an extraordinary portion of it, she has; as, in all her thoughts, words, and actions, she is the most decorous woman that ever existed.'

This is the kind of woman who has lately been accused in the public prints as a babbler of secrets and a gossip in regard to her private difficulties with children, grandchildren, and servants. It is a fair specimen of the justice that has generally been meted out to Lady Byron.

In 1836, she was accused of having made a confidant of Campbell, on the strength of having written him a note declining to give him any information, or answer any questions. In July, 1869, she was denounced by 'Blackwood' as a Madame Brinvilliers for keeping such perfect silence on the matter of her husband's character; and in the last 'Quarterly' she is spoken of as a gossip 'running round, and repeating her story to people below her in rank.'

While we are upon this subject, we have a suggestion to make. John Stuart Mill says that utter self-abnegation has been preached to women as a peculiarly feminine virtue. It is true; but there is a moral limit to the value of self-abnegation.

It is a fair question for the moralist, whether it is right and proper wholly to ignore one's personal claims to justice. The teachings of the Saviour give us warrant for submitting to personal injuries; but both the Saviour and St. Paul manifested bravery in denying false accusations, and asserting innocence.

Lady Byron was falsely accused of having ruined the man of his generation, and caused all his vices and crimes, and all their evil effects on society. She submitted to the accusation for a certain number of years for reasons which commended themselves to her conscience; but when all the personal considerations were removed, and she was about passing from life, it was right, it was just, it was strictly in accordance with the philosophical and ethical character of her mind, and with her habit of considering all things in their widest relations to the good of mankind, that she should give serious attention and consideration to the last duty which she might owe to abstract truth and justice in her generation.

In her letter on the religious state of England, we find her advocating an absolute frankness in all religious parties. She would have all openly confess those doubts, which, from the best of motives, are usually suppressed; and believed, that, as a result of such perfect truthfulness, a wider love would prevail among Christians. This shows the strength of her conviction of the power and the importance of absolute truth; and shows, therefore, that her doubts and conscientious inquiries respecting her duty on this subject are exactly what might have been expected from a person of her character and principles.

Having thus shown that Lady Byron's testimony is the testimony of a woman of strong and sound mind, that it was not given from malice nor ill-will, that it was given at a proper time and in a proper manner, and for a purpose in accordance with the most elevated moral views, and that it is coincident with all the established facts of this history, and furnishes a perfect solution of every mystery of the case, we think we shall carry the reader with us in saying that it is to be received as absolute truth.

This conviction we arrive at while as yet we are deprived of the statement prepared by Lady Byron, and the proof by which she expected to sustain it; both which, as we understand, are now in the hands of her trustees.


The credibility of the accusation of the unnatural crime charged to Lord Byron is greater than if charged to most men. He was born of parents both of whom were remarkable for perfectly ungoverned passions. There appears to be historical evidence that he was speaking literal truth when he says to Medwin of his father,—

'He would have made a bad hero for Hannah More. He ran out three fortunes, and married or ran away with three women . . . He seemed born for his own ruin and that of the other sex. He began by seducing Lady Carmarthen, and spent her four thousand pounds; and, not content with one adventure of this kind, afterwards eloped with Miss Gordon.'—Medwin's Conversations, p.31.

Lady Carmarthen here spoken of was the mother of Mrs. Leigh. Miss Gordon became Lord Byron's mother.

By his own account, and that of Moore, she was a passionate, ungoverned, though affectionate woman. Lord Byron says to Medwin,—

'I lost my father when I was only six years of age. My mother, when she was in a passion with me (and I gave her cause enough), used to say, "O you little dog! you are a Byron all over; you are as bad as your father!"'—Ibid., p.37.

By all the accounts of his childhood and early youth, it is made apparent that ancestral causes had sent him into the world with a most perilous and exceptional sensitiveness of brain and nervous system, which it would have required the most judicious course of education to direct safely and happily.

Lord Byron often speaks as if he deemed himself subject to tendencies which might terminate in insanity. The idea is so often mentioned and dwelt upon in his letters, journals, and conversations, that we cannot but ascribe it to some very peculiar experience, and not to mere affectation.

But, in the history of his early childhood and youth, we see no evidence of any original malformation of nature. We see only evidence of one of those organisations, full of hope and full of peril, which adverse influences might easily drive to insanity, but wise physiological training and judicious moral culture might have guided to the most splendid results. But of these he had neither. He was alternately the pet and victim of his mother's tumultuous nature, and equally injured both by her love and her anger. A Scotch maid of religious character gave him early serious impressions of religion, and thus added the element of an awakened conscience to the conflicting ones of his character.

Education, in the proper sense of the word, did not exist in England in those days. Physiological considerations of the influence of the body on the soul, of the power of brain and nerve over moral development, had then not even entered the general thought of society. The school and college education literally taught him nothing but the ancient classics, of whose power in exciting and developing the animal passions Byron often speaks.

The morality of the times is strikingly exemplified even in its literary criticism.

For example: One of Byron's poems, written while a schoolboy at Harrow, is addressed to 'My Son.' Mr. Moore, and the annotator of the standard edition of Byron's poems, gravely give the public their speculations on the point, whether Lord Byron first became a father while a schoolboy at Harrow; and go into particulars in relation to a certain infant, the claim to which lay between Lord Byron and another schoolfellow. It is not the nature of the event itself, so much as the cool, unembarrassed manner in which it is discussed, that gives the impression of the state of public morals. There is no intimation of anything unusual, or discreditable to the school, in the event, and no apparent suspicion that it will be regarded as a serious imputation on Lord Byron's character.

Modern physiological developments would lead any person versed in the study of the reciprocal influence of physical and moral laws to anticipate the most serious danger to such an organisation as Lord Byron's, from a precocious development of the passions. Alcoholic and narcotic stimulants, in the case of such a person, would be regarded as little less than suicidal, and an early course of combined drinking and licentiousness as tending directly to establish those unsound conditions which lead towards moral insanity. Yet not only Lord Byron's testimony, but every probability from the licence of society, goes to show that this was exactly what did take place.

Neither restrained by education, nor warned by any correct physiological knowledge, nor held in check by any public sentiment, he drifted directly upon the fatal rock.

Here we give Mr. Moore full credit for all his abatements in regard to Lord Byron's excesses in his early days. Moore makes the point very strongly that he was not, de facto, even so bad as many of his associates; and we agree with him. Byron's physical organisation was originally as fine and sensitive as that of the most delicate woman. He possessed the faculty of moral ideality in a high degree; and he had not, in the earlier part of his life, an attraction towards mere brutal vice. His physical sensitiveness was so remarkable that he says of himself, 'A dose of salts has the effect of a temporary inebriation, like light champagne, upon me.' Yet this exceptionally delicately-organised boy and youth was in a circle where not to conform to the coarse drinking-customs of his day was to incur censure and ridicule. That he early acquired the power of bearing large quantities of liquor is manifested by the record in his Journal, that, on the day when he read the severe 'Edinburgh' article upon his schoolboy poems, he drank three bottles of claret at a sitting.

Yet Byron was so far superior to his times, that some vague impulses to physiological prudence seem to have suggested themselves to him, and been acted upon with great vigour. He never could have lived so long as he did, under the exhaustive process of every kind of excess, if he had not re-enforced his physical nature by an assiduous care of his muscular system. He took boxing-lessons, and distinguished himself in all athletic exercises.

He also had periods in which he seemed to try vaguely to retrieve himself from dissipation, and to acquire self-mastery by what he called temperance.

But, ignorant and excessive in all his movements, his very efforts at temperance were intemperate. From violent excesses in eating and drinking, he would pass to no less unnatural periods of utter abstinence. Thus the very conservative power which Nature has of adapting herself to any settled course was lost. The extreme sensitiveness produced by long periods of utter abstinence made the succeeding debauch more maddening and fatal. He was like a fine musical instrument, whose strings were every day alternating between extreme tension and perfect laxity. We have in his Journal many passages, of which the following is a specimen:—

'I have dined regularly to-day, for the first time since Sunday last; this being Sabbath too,—all the rest, tea and dry biscuits, six per diem. I wish to God I had not dined, now! It kills me with heaviness, stupor, and horrible dreams; and yet it was but a pint of bucellas, and fish. Meat I never touch, nor much vegetable diet. I wish I were in the country, to take exercise, instead of being obliged to cool by abstinence, in lieu of it. I should not so much mind a little accession of flesh: my bones can well bear it. But the worst is, the Devil always came with it, till I starved him out; and I will not be the slave of any appetite. If I do err, it shall be my heart, at least, that heralds the way. O my head! how it aches! The horrors of digestion! I wonder how Bonaparte's dinner agrees with him.'—Moore's Life, vol. ii. p.264.

From all the contemporary history and literature of the times, therefore, we have reason to believe that Lord Byron spoke the exact truth when he said to Medwin,—

'My own master at an age when I most required a guide, left to the dominion of my passions when they were the strongest, with a fortune anticipated before I came into possession of it, and a constitution impaired by early excesses, I commenced my travels, in 1809, with a joyless indifference to the world and all that was before me.'—Medwin's Conversations, p.42.

Utter prostration of the whole physical man from intemperate excess, the deadness to temptation which comes from utter exhaustion, was his condition, according to himself and Moore, when he first left England, at twenty-one years of age.

In considering his subsequent history, we are to take into account that it was upon the brain and nerve-power, thus exhausted by early excess, that the draughts of sudden and rapid literary composition began to be made. There was something unnatural and unhealthy in the rapidity, clearness, and vigour with which his various works followed each other. Subsequently to the first two cantos of 'Childe Harold,' 'The Bride of Abydos,' 'The Corsair,' 'The Giaour,' 'Lara,' 'Parisina,' and 'The Siege of Corinth,' all followed close upon each other, in a space of less than three years, and those the three most critical years of his life. 'The Bride of Abydos' came out in the autumn of 1813, and was written in a week; and 'The Corsair' was composed in thirteen days. A few months more than a year before his marriage, and the brief space of his married life, was the period in which all this literary labour was performed, while yet he was running the wild career of intrigue and fashionable folly. He speaks of 'Lara' as being tossed off in the intervals between masquerades and balls, etc. It is with the physical results of such unnatural efforts that we have now chiefly to do. Every physiologist would say that the demands of such poems on a healthy brain, in that given space, must have been exhausting; but when we consider that they were cheques drawn on a bank broken by early extravagance, and that the subject was prodigally spending vital forces in every other direction at the same time, one can scarcely estimate the physiological madness of such a course as Lord Byron's.

It is evident from his Journal, and Moore's account, that any amount of physical force which was for the time restored by his first foreign travel was recklessly spent in this period, when he threw himself with a mad recklessness into London society in the time just preceding his marriage. The revelations made in Moore's Memoir of this period are sad enough: those to Medwin are so appalling as to the state of contemporary society in England, as to require, at least, the benefit of the doubt for which Lord Byron's habitual carelessness of truth gave scope. His adventures with ladies of the highest rank in England are there paraded with a freedom of detail that respect for womanhood must lead every woman to question. The only thing that is unquestionable is, that Lord Byron made these assertions to Medwin, not as remorseful confessions, but as relations of his bonnes fortunes, and that Medwin published them in the very face of the society to which they related.

When Lord Byron says, 'I have seen a great deal of Italian society, and swum in a gondola; but nothing could equal the profligacy of high life in England . . . when I knew it,' he makes certainly strong assertions, if we remember what Mr. Moore reveals of the harem kept in Venice.

But when Lord Byron intimates that three married women in his own rank in life, who had once held illicit relations with him, made wedding-visits to his wife at one time, we must hope that he drew on his active imagination, as he often did, in his statements in regard to women.

When he relates at large his amour with Lord Melbourne's wife, and represents her as pursuing him with an insane passion, to which he with difficulty responded; and when he says that she tracked a rival lady to his lodgings, and came into them herself, disguised as a carman—one hopes that he exaggerates. And what are we to make of passages like this?—

'There was a lady at that time, double my own age, the mother of several children who were perfect angels, with whom I formed a liaison that continued without interruption for eight months. She told me she was never in love till she was thirty, and I thought myself so with her when she was forty. I never felt a stronger passion, which she returned with equal ardour . . . . . . .

'Strange as it may seem, she gained, as all women do, an influence over me so strong that I had great difficulty in breaking with her.'

Unfortunately, these statements, though probably exaggerated, are, for substance, borne out in the history of the times. With every possible abatement for exaggeration in these statements, there remains still undoubted evidence from other sources that Lord Byron exercised a most peculiar and fatal power over the moral sense of the women with whom he was brought in relation; and that love for him, in many women, became a sort of insanity, depriving them of the just use of their faculties. All this makes his fatal history both possible and probable.

Even the article in 'Blackwood,' written in 1825 for the express purpose of vindicating his character, admits that his name had been coupled with those of three, four, or more women of rank, whom it speaks of as 'licentious, unprincipled, characterless women.'

That such a course, in connection with alternate extremes of excess and abstinence in eating and drinking, and the immense draughts on the brain- power of rapid and brilliant composition, should have ended in that abnormal state in which cravings for unnatural vice give indications of approaching brain-disease, seems only too probable.

This symptom of exhausted vitality becomes often a frequent type in periods of very corrupt society. The dregs of the old Greek and Roman civilisation were foul with it; and the apostle speaks of the turning of the use of the natural into that which is against nature, as the last step in abandonment.

The very literature of such periods marks their want of physical and moral soundness. Having lost all sense of what is simple and natural and pure, the mind delights to dwell on horrible ideas, which give a shuddering sense of guilt and crime. All the writings of this fatal period of Lord Byron's life are more or less intense histories of unrepentant guilt and remorse or of unnatural crime. A recent writer in 'Temple Bar' brings to light the fact, that 'The Bride of Abydos,' the first of the brilliant and rapid series of poems which began in the period immediately preceding his marriage, was, in its first composition, an intense story of love between a brother and sister in a Turkish harem; that Lord Byron declared, in a letter to Galt, that it was drawn from real life; that, in compliance with the prejudices of the age, he altered the relationship to that of cousins before publication.

This same writer goes on to show, by a series of extracts from Lord Byron's published letters and journals, that his mind about this time was in a fearfully unnatural state, and suffering singular and inexplicable agonies of remorse; that, though he was accustomed fearlessly to confide to his friends immoralities which would be looked upon as damning, there was now a secret to which he could not help alluding in his letters, but which he told Moore he could not tell now, but 'some day or other when we are veterans.' He speaks of his heart as eating itself out; of a mysterious person, whom he says, 'God knows I love too well, and the Devil probably too.' He wrote a song, and sent it to Moore, addressed to a partner in some awful guilt, whose very name he dares not mention, because

'There is grief in the sound, there is guilt in the fame.'

He speaks of struggles of remorse, of efforts at repentance, and returns to guilt, with a sort of horror very different from the well-pleased air with which he relates to Medwin his common intrigues and adulteries. He speaks of himself generally as oppressed by a frightful, unnatural gloom and horror, and, when occasionally happy, 'not in a way that can or ought to last.'

'The Giaour,' 'The Corsair,' 'Lara,' 'Parisina,' 'The Siege of Corinth,' and 'Manfred,' all written or conceived about this period of his life, give one picture of a desperate, despairing, unrepentant soul, whom suffering maddens, but cannot reclaim.

In all these he paints only the one woman, of concentrated, unconsidering passion, ready to sacrifice heaven and defy hell for a guilty man, beloved in spite of religion or reason. In this unnatural literature, the stimulus of crime is represented as intensifying love. Medora, Gulnare, the Page in 'Lara,' Parisina, and the lost sister of Manfred, love the more intensely because the object of the love is a criminal, out- lawed by God and man. The next step beyond this is—madness.

The work of Dr. Forbes Winslow on 'Obscure Diseases of the Brain and Nerves' {258} contains a passage so very descriptive of the case of Lord Byron, that it might seem to have been written for it. The sixth chapter of his work, on 'Anomalous and Masked Affections of the Mind,' contains, in our view, the only clue that can unravel the sad tragedy of Byron's life. He says, p.87,—

'These forms of unrecognised mental disorder are not always accompanied by any well-marked disturbance of the bodily health requiring medical attention, or any obvious departure from a normal state of thought and conduct such as to justify legal interference; neither do these affections always incapacitate the party from engaging in the ordinary business of life . . . . The change may have progressed insidiously and stealthily, having slowly and almost imperceptibly induced important molecular modifications in the delicate vesicular neurine of the brain, ultimately resulting in some aberration of the ideas, alteration of the affections, or perversion of the propensities or instincts. . . .

'Mental disorder of a dangerous character has been known for years to be stealthily advancing, without exciting the slightest notion of its presence, until some sad and terrible catastrophe, homicide, or suicide, has painfully awakened attention to its existence. Persons suffering from latent insanity often affect singularity of dress, gait, conversation, and phraseology. The most trifling circumstances stimulate their excitability. They are martyrs to ungovernable paroxysms of passion, are inflamed to a state of demoniacal fury by the most insignificant of causes, and occasionally lose all sense of delicacy of feeling, sentiment, refinement of manners and conversation. Such manifestations of undetected mental disorder may be seen associated with intellectual and moral qualities of the highest order.'

In another place, Dr. Winslow again adverts to this latter symptom, which was strikingly marked in the case of Lord Byron:—

'All delicacy and decency of thought are occasionally banished from the mind, so effectually does the principle of thought in these attacks succumb to the animal instincts and passions . . . .

'Such cases will commonly be found associated with organic predisposition to insanity or cerebral disease . . . . Modifications of the malady are seen allied with genius. The biographies of Cowper, Burns, Byron, Johnson, Pope, and Haydon establish that the most exalted intellectual conditions do not escape unscathed.

'In early childhood, this form of mental disturbance may, in many cases, be detected. To its existence is often to be traced the motiveless crimes of the young.'

No one can compare this passage of Dr. Forbes Winslow with the incidents we have already cited as occurring in that fatal period before the separation of Lord and Lady Byron, and not feel that the hapless young wife was indeed struggling with those inflexible natural laws, which, at some stages of retribution, involve in their awful sweep the guilty with the innocent. She longed to save; but he was gone past redemption. Alcoholic stimulants and licentious excesses, without doubt, had produced those unseen changes in the brain, of which Dr. Forbes Winslow speaks; and the results were terrible in proportion to the peculiar fineness and delicacy of the organism deranged.

Alas! the history of Lady Byron is the history of too many women in every rank of life who are called, in agonies of perplexity and fear, to watch that gradual process by which physical excesses change the organism of the brain, till slow, creeping, moral insanity comes on. The woman who is the helpless victim of cruelties which only unnatural states of the brain could invent, who is heart-sick to-day and dreads to-morrow,—looks in hopeless horror on the fatal process by which a lover and a protector changes under her eyes, from day to day, to a brute and a fiend.

Lady Byron's married life—alas! it is lived over in many a cottage and tenement-house, with no understanding on either side of the cause of the woeful misery.

Dr. Winslow truly says, 'The science of these brain-affections is yet in its infancy in England.' At that time, it had not even begun to be. Madness was a fixed point; and the inquiries into it had no nicety. Its treatment, if established, had no redeeming power. Insanity simply locked a man up as a dangerous being; and the very suggestion of it, therefore, was resented as an injury.

A most peculiar and affecting feature of that form of brain disease which hurries its victim, as by an overpowering mania, into crime, is, that often the moral faculties and the affections remain to a degree unimpaired, and protest with all their strength against the outrage. Hence come conflicts and agonies of remorse proportioned to the strength of the moral nature. Byron, more than any other one writer, may be called the poet of remorse. His passionate pictures of this feeling seem to give new power to the English language:—

'There is a war, a chaos of the mind, When all its elements convulsed—combined, Lie dark and jarring with perturbed force, And gnashing with impenitent remorse, That juggling fiend, who never spake before, But cries, "I warned thee!" when the deed is o'er.'

It was this remorse that formed the only redeeming feature of the case. Its eloquence, its agonies, won from all hearts the interest that we give to a powerful nature in a state of danger and ruin; and it may be hoped that this feeling, which tempers the stern justice of human judgments, may prove only a faint image of the wider charity of Him whose thoughts are as far above ours as the heaven is above the earth.


It has seemed, to some, wholly inconsistent, that Lady Byron, if this story were true, could retain any kindly feeling for Lord Byron, or any tenderness for his memory; that the profession implied a certain hypocrisy: but, in this sad review, we may see how the woman who once had loved him, might, in spite of every wrong he had heaped upon her, still have looked on this awful wreck and ruin chiefly with pity. While she stood afar, and refused to justify or join in the polluted idolatry which defended his vices, there is evidence in her writings that her mind often went back mournfully, as a mother's would, to the early days when he might have been saved.

One of her letters in Robinson's Memoirs, in regard to his religious opinions, shows with what intense earnestness she dwelt upon the unhappy influences of his childhood and youth, and those early theologies which led him to regard himself as one of the reprobate. She says,—

'Not merely from casual expressions, but from the whole tenor of Lord Byron's feelings, I could not but conclude that he was a believer in the inspiration of the Bible, and had the gloomiest Calvinistic tenets. To that unhappy view of the relation of the creature to the Creator I have always ascribed the misery of his life.

'It is enough for me to know that he who thinks his transgression beyond forgiveness . . . has righteousness beyond that of the self- satisfied sinner. It is impossible for me to doubt, that, could he once have been assured of pardon, his living faith in moral duty, and love of virtue ("I love the virtues that I cannot claim"), would have conquered every temptation. Judge, then, how I must hate the creed that made him see God as an Avenger, and not as a Father! My own impressions were just the reverse, but could have but little weight; and it was in vain to seek to turn his thoughts from that fixed idea with which he connected his personal peculiarity as a stamp. Instead of being made happier by any apparent good, he felt convinced that every blessing would be turned into a curse to him . . . "The worst of it is, I do believe," he said. I, like all connected with him, was broken against the rock of predestination. I may be pardoned for my frequent reference to the sentiment (expressed by him), that I was only sent to show him the happiness he was forbidden to enjoy.'

In this letter we have the heart, not of the wife, but of the mother,—the love that searches everywhere for extenuations of the guilt it is forced to confess.

That Lady Byron was not alone in ascribing such results to the doctrines of Calvinism, in certain cases, appears from the language of the Thirty- nine Articles, which says:—

'As the godly consideration of predestination, and our election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the workings of the spirit of Christ; . . . so, for curious and carnal persons, lacking the spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God's predestination, is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into recklessness of most unclean living,—no less perilous than desperation.'

Lord Byron's life is an exact commentary on these words, which passed under the revision of Calvin himself.

The whole tone of this letter shows not only that Lady Byron never lost her deep interest in her husband, but that it was by this experience that all her religious ideas were modified. There is another of these letters in which she thus speaks of her husband's writings and character:—

'The author of the article on "Goethe" appears to me to have the mind which could dispel the illusion about another poet, without depreciating his claims . . . to the truest inspiration.

'Who has sought to distinguish between the holy and the unholy in that spirit? to prove, by the very degradation of the one, how high the other was. A character is never done justice to by extenuating its faults: so I do not agree to nisi bonum. It is kinder to read the blotted page.'

These letters show that Lady Byron's idea was that, even were the whole mournful truth about Lord Byron fully told, there was still a foundation left for pity and mercy. She seems to have remembered, that if his sins were peculiar, so also were his temptations; and to have schooled herself for years to gather up, and set in order in her memory, all that yet remained precious in this great ruin. Probably no English writer that ever has made the attempt could have done this more perfectly. Though Lady Byron was not a poet par excellence, yet she belonged to an order of souls fully equal to Lord Byron. Hers was more the analytical mind of the philosopher than the creative mind of the poet; and it was, for that reason, the one mind in our day capable of estimating him fully both with justice and mercy. No person in England had a more intense sensibility to genius, in its loftier acceptation, than Lady Byron; and none more completely sympathised with what was pure and exalted in her husband's writings.

There is this peculiarity in Lord Byron, that the pure and the impure in his poetry often run side by side without mixing,—as one may see at Geneva the muddy stream of the Arve and the blue waters of the Rhone flowing together unmingled. What, for example, can be nobler, and in a higher and tenderer moral strain than his lines on the dying gladiator, in 'Childe Harold'? What is more like the vigour of the old Hebrew Scriptures than his thunderstorm in the Alps? What can more perfectly express moral ideality of the highest kind than the exquisite descriptions of Aurora Raby,—pure and high in thought and language, occurring, as they do, in a work full of the most utter vileness?

Lady Byron's hopes for her husband fastened themselves on all the noble fragments yet remaining in that shattered temple of his mind which lay blackened and thunder-riven; and she looked forward to a sphere beyond this earth, where infinite mercy should bring all again to symmetry and order. If the strict theologian must regret this as an undue latitude of charity, let it at least be remembered that it was a charity which sprang from a Christian virtue, and which she extended to every human being, however lost, however low. In her view, the mercy which took him was mercy that could restore all.

In my recollections of the interview with Lady Byron, when this whole history was presented, I can remember that it was with a softened and saddened feeling that I contemplated the story, as one looks on some awful, inexplicable ruin.

The last letter which I addressed to Lady Byron upon this subject will show that such was the impression of the whole interview. It was in reply to the one written on the death of my son:—

'Jan. 30, 1858.

'MY DEAR FRIEND,—I did long to hear from you at a time when few knew how to speak, because I knew that you had known everything that sorrow can teach,—you, whose whole life has been a crucifixion, a long ordeal.

'But I believe that the Lamb, who stands for ever "in the midst of the throne, as it had been slain," has everywhere His followers,—those who seem sent into the world, as He was, to suffer for the redemption of others; and, like Him, they must look to the joy set before them,—of redeeming others.

'I often think that God called you to this beautiful and terrible ministry when He suffered you to link your destiny with one so strangely gifted and so fearfully tempted. Perhaps the reward that is to meet you when you enter within the veil where you must so soon pass will be to see that spirit, once chained and defiled, set free and purified; and to know that to you it has been given, by your life of love and faith, to accomplish this glorious change.

'I think increasingly on the subject on which you conversed with me once,—the future state of retribution. It is evident to me that the spirit of Christianity has produced in the human spirit a tenderness of love which wholly revolts from the old doctrine on this subject; and I observe, that, the more Christ-like anyone becomes, the more difficult it seems for them to accept it as hitherto presented. And yet, on the contrary, it was Christ who said, "Fear Him that is able to destroy both soul and body in hell;" and the most appalling language is that of Christ himself.

'Certain ideas, once prevalent, certainly must be thrown off. An endless infliction for past sins was once the doctrine: that we now generally reject. The doctrine now generally taught is, that an eternal persistence in evil necessitates everlasting suffering, since evil induces misery by the eternal nature of things; and this, I fear, is inferable from the analogies of Nature, and confirmed by the whole implication of the Bible.

'What attention have you given to this subject? and is there any fair way of disposing of the current of assertion, and the still deeper under-current of implication, on this subject, without admitting one which loosens all faith in revelation, and throws us on pure naturalism? But of one thing I always feel sure: probation does not end with this present life; and the number of the saved may therefore be infinitely greater than the world's history leads us to suppose.

'I think the Bible implies a great crisis, a struggle, an agony, in which God and Christ and all the good are engaged in redeeming from sin; and we are not to suppose that the little portion that is done for souls as they pass between the two doors of birth and death is all.

'The Bible is certainly silent there. The primitive Church believed in the mercies of an intermediate state; and it was only the abuse of it by Romanism that drove the Church into its present position, which, I think, is wholly indefensible, and wholly irreconcilable with the spirit of Christ. For if it were the case, that probation in all cases begins and ends here, God's example would surely be one that could not be followed, and He would seem to be far less persevering than even human beings in efforts to save.

'Nothing is plainer than that it would be wrong to give up any mind to eternal sin till every possible thing had been done for its recovery; and that is so clearly not the case here, that I can see that, with thoughtful minds, this belief would cut the very roots of religious faith in God: for there is a difference between facts that we do not understand, and facts which we do understand, and perceive to be wholly irreconcilable with a certain character professed by God.

'If God says He is love, and certain ways of explaining Scripture make Him less loving and patient than man, then we make Scripture contradict itself. Now, as no passage of Scripture limits probation to this life, and as one passage in Peter certainly unequivocally asserts that Christ preached to the spirits in prison while His body lay in the grave, I am clear upon this point.

'But it is also clear, that if there be those who persist in refusing God's love, who choose to dash themselves for ever against the inflexible laws of the universe, such souls must for ever suffer.

'There may be souls who hate purity because it reveals their vileness; who refuse God's love, and prefer eternal conflict with it. For such there can be no peace. Even in this life, we see those whom the purest self-devoting love only inflames to madness; and we have only to suppose an eternal persistence in this to suppose eternal misery.

'But on this subject we can only leave all reverently in the hands of that Being whose almighty power is "declared chiefly in showing mercy."'


In leaving this subject, I have an appeal to make to the men, and more especially to the women, who have been my readers.

In justice to Lady Byron, it must be remembered that this publication of her story is not her act, but mine. I trust you have already conceded, that, in so severe and peculiar a trial, she had a right to be understood fully by her immediate circle of friends, and to seek of them counsel in view of the moral questions to which such very exceptional circumstances must have given rise. Her communication to me was not an address to the public: it was a statement of the case for advice. True, by leaving the whole, unguarded by pledge or promise, it left discretionary power with me to use it if needful.

You, my sisters, are to judge whether the accusation laid against Lady Byron by the 'Blackwood,' in 1869, was not of so barbarous a nature as to justify my producing the truth I held in my hands in reply.

The 'Blackwood' claimed a right to re-open the subject because it was not a private but a public matter. It claimed that Lord Byron's unfortunate marriage might have changed not only his own destiny, but that of all England. It suggested, that, but for this, instead of wearing out his life in vice, and corrupting society by impure poetry, he might, at this day, have been leading the counsels of the State, and helping the onward movements of the world. Then it directly charged Lady Byron with meanly forsaking her husband in a time of worldly misfortune; with fabricating a destructive accusation of crime against him, and confirming this accusation by years of persistent silence more guilty than open assertion.

It has been alleged, that, even admitting that Lady Byron's story were true, it never ought to have been told. Is it true, then, that a woman has not the same right to individual justice that a man has? If the cases were reversed, would it have been thought just that Lord Byron should go down in history loaded with accusations of crime because he could be only vindicated by exposing the crime of his wife?

It has been said that the crime charged on Lady Byron was comparatively unimportant, and the one against Lord Byron was deadly.

But the 'Blackwood,' in opening the controversy, called Lady Byron by the name of an unnatural female criminal, whose singular atrocities alone entitle her to infamous notoriety; and the crime charged upon her was sufficient to warrant the comparison.

Both crimes are foul, unnatural, horrible; and there is no middle ground between the admission of the one or the other.

You must either conclude that a woman, all whose other works, words, and deeds were generous, just, and gentle, committed this one monstrous exceptional crime, without a motive, and against all the analogies of her character, and all the analogies of her treatment of others; or you must suppose that a man known by all testimony to have been boundlessly licentious, who took the very course which, by every physiological law, would have led to unnatural results, did, at last, commit an unnatural crime.

The question, whether I did right, when Lady Byron was thus held up as an abandoned criminal by the 'Blackwood,' to interpose my knowledge of the real truth in her defence, is a serious one; but it is one for which I must account to God alone, and in which, without any contempt of the opinions of my fellow-creatures, I must say, that it is a small thing to be judged of man's judgment.

I had in the case a responsibility very different from that of many others. I had been consulted in relation to the publication of this story by Lady Byron, at a time when she had it in her power to have exhibited it with all its proofs, and commanded an instant conviction. I have reason to think that my advice had some weight in suppressing that disclosure. I gave that advice under the impression that the Byron controversy was a thing for ever passed, and never likely to return.

It had never occurred to me, that, nine years after Lady Byron's death, a standard English periodical would declare itself free to re-open this controversy, when all the generation who were her witnesses had passed from earth; and that it would re-open it in the most savage form of accusation, and with the indorsement and commendation of a book of the vilest slanders, edited by Lord Byron's mistress.

Let the reader mark the retributions of justice. The accusations of the 'Blackwood,' in 1869, were simply an intensified form of those first concocted by Lord Byron in his 'Clytemnestra' poem of 1816. He forged that weapon, and bequeathed it to his party. The 'Blackwood' took it up, gave it a sharper edge, and drove it to the heart of Lady Byron's fame. The result has been the disclosure of this history. It is, then, Lord Byron himself, who, by his network of wiles, his ceaseless persecutions of his wife, his efforts to extend his partisanship beyond the grave, has brought on this tumultuous exposure. He, and he alone, is the cause of this revelation.

And now I have one word to say to those in England who, with all the facts and documents in their hands which could at once have cleared Lady Byron's fame, allowed the barbarous assault of the 'Blackwood' to go over the civilised world without a reply. I speak to those who, knowing that I am speaking the truth, stand silent; to those who have now the ability to produce the facts and documents by which this cause might be instantly settled, and who do not produce them.

I do not judge them; but I remind them that a day is coming when they and I must stand side by side at the great judgment-seat,—I to give an account for my speaking, they for their silence.

In that day, all earthly considerations will have vanished like morning mists, and truth or falsehood, justice or injustice, will be the only realities.

In that day, God, who will judge the secrets of all men, will judge between this man and this woman. Then, if never before, the full truth shall be told both of the depraved and dissolute man who made it his life's object to defame the innocent, and the silent, the self-denying woman who made it her life's object to give space for repentance to the guilty.



The reading world of America has lately been presented with a book which is said to sell rapidly, and which appears to meet with universal favour.

The subject of the book may be thus briefly stated: The mistress of Lord Byron comes before the world for the sake of vindicating his fame from slanders and aspersions cast on him by his wife. The story of the mistress versus wife may be summed up as follows:—

Lord Byron, the hero of the story, is represented as a human being endowed with every natural charm, gift, and grace, who, by the one false step of an unsuitable marriage, wrecked his whole life. A narrow-minded, cold-hearted precisian, without sufficient intellect to comprehend his genius, or heart to feel for his temptations, formed with him one of those mere worldly marriages common in high life; and, finding that she could not reduce him to the mathematical proprieties and conventional rules of her own mode of life, suddenly, and without warning, abandoned him in the most cruel and inexplicable manner.

It is alleged that she parted from him in apparent affection and good- humour, wrote him a playful, confiding letter upon the way, but, after reaching her father's house, suddenly, and without explanation, announced to him that she would never see him again; that this sudden abandonment drew down upon him a perfect storm of scandalous stories, which his wife never contradicted; that she never in any way or shape stated what the exact reasons for her departure had been, and thus silently gave scope to all the malice of thousands of enemies. The sensitive victim was actually driven from England, his home broken up, and he doomed to be a lonely wanderer on foreign shores.

In Italy, under bluer skies, and among a gentler people, with more tolerant modes of judgment, the authoress intimates that he found peace and consolation. A lovely young Italian countess falls in love with him, and, breaking her family ties for his sake, devotes herself to him; and, in blissful retirement with her, he finds at last that domestic life for which he was so fitted.

Soothed, calmed, and refreshed, he writes 'Don Juan,' which the world is at this late hour informed was a poem with a high moral purpose, designed to be a practical illustration of the doctrine of total depravity among young gentlemen in high life.

Under the elevating influence of love, he rises at last to higher realms of moral excellence, and resolves to devote the rest of his life to some noble and heroic purpose; becomes the saviour of Greece; and dies untimely, leaving a nation to mourn his loss.

The authoress dwells with a peculiar bitterness on Lady Byron's entire silence during all these years, as the most aggravated form of persecution and injury. She informs the world that Lord Byron wrote his Autobiography with the purpose of giving a fair statement of the exact truth in the whole matter; and that Lady Byron bought up the manuscript of the publisher, and insisted on its being destroyed, unread; thus inflexibly depriving her husband of his last chance of a hearing before the tribunal of the public.

As a result of this silent persistent cruelty on the part of a cold, correct, narrow-minded woman, the character of Lord Byron has been misunderstood, and his name transmitted to after-ages clouded with aspersions and accusations which it is the object of this book to remove.

* * * * *

Such is the story of Lord Byron's mistress,—a story which is going the length of this American continent, and rousing up new sympathy with the poet, and doing its best to bring the youth of America once more under the power of that brilliant, seductive genius, from which it was hoped they had escaped. Already we are seeing it revamped in magazine-articles, which take up the slanders of the paramour and enlarge on them, and wax eloquent in denunciation of the marble-hearted insensible wife.

All this while, it does not appear to occur to the thousands of unreflecting readers that they are listening merely to the story of Lord Byron's mistress, and of Lord Byron; and that, even by their own showing, their heaviest accusation against Lady Byron is that she has not spoken at all. Her story has never been told.

For many years after the rupture between Lord Byron and his wife, that poet's personality, fate, and happiness had an interest for the whole civilized world, which, we will venture to say, was unparalleled. It is within the writer's recollection, how, in the obscure mountain-town where she spent her early days, Lord Byron's separation from his wife was, for a season, the all-engrossing topic.

She remembers hearing her father recount at the breakfast-table the facts as they were given in the public papers, together with his own suppositions and theories of the causes.

Lord Byron's 'Fare thee well,' addressed to Lady Byron, was set to music, and sung with tears by young school-girls, even in this distant America.

Madame de Stael said of this appeal, that she was sure it would have drawn her at once to his heart and his arms; she could have forgiven everything: and so said all the young ladies all over the world, not only in England but in France and Germany, wherever Byron's poetry appeared in translation.

Lady Byron's obdurate cold-heartedness in refusing even to listen to his prayers, or to have any intercourse with him which might lead to reconciliation, was the one point conceded on all sides.

The stricter moralists defended her; but gentler hearts throughout all the world regarded her as a marble-hearted monster of correctness and morality, a personification of the law unmitigated by the gospel.

Literature in its highest walks busied itself with Lady Byron. Hogg, in the character of the Ettrick Shepherd, devotes several eloquent passages to expatiating on the conjugal fidelity of a poor Highland shepherd's wife, who, by patience and prayer and forgiveness, succeeds in reclaiming her drunken husband, and making a good man of him; and then points his moral by contrasting with this touching picture the cold-hearted pharisaical correctness of Lady Byron.

Moore, in his 'Life of Lord Byron,' when beginning the recital of the series of disgraceful amours which formed the staple of his life in Venice, has this passage:—

'Highly censurable in point of morality and decorum as was his course of life while under the roof of Madame ——, it was (with pain I am forced to confess) venial in comparison with the strange, headlong career of licence to which, when weaned from that connection, he so unrestrainedly, and, it may be added, defyingly abandoned himself. Of the state of his mind on leaving England, I have already endeavoured to convey some idea; and among the feelings that went to make up that self-centred spirit of resistance which he then opposed to his fate was an indignant scorn for his own countrymen for the wrongs he thought they had done him. For a time, the kindly sentiments which he still harboured toward Lady Byron, and a sort of vague hope, perhaps, that all would yet come right again, kept his mind in a mood somewhat more softened and docile, as well as sufficiently under the influence of English opinions to prevent his breaking out into open rebellion against it, as he unluckily did afterward.

'By the failure of the attempted mediation with Lady Byron, his last link with home was severed: while, notwithstanding the quiet and unobtrusive life which he led at Geneva, there was as yet, he found, no cessation of the slanderous warfare against his character; the same busy and misrepresenting spirit which had tracked his every step at home, having, with no less malicious watchfulness, dogged him into exile.'

We should like to know what the misrepresentations and slanders must have been, when this sort of thing is admitted in Mr. Moore's justification. It seems to us rather wonderful how anybody, unless it were a person like the Countess Guiccioli, could misrepresent a life such as even Byron's friend admits he was leading.

During all these years, when he was setting at defiance every principle of morality and decorum, the interest of the female mind all over Europe in the conversion of this brilliant prodigal son was unceasing, and reflects the greatest credit upon the faith of the sex.

Madame de Stael commenced the first effort at evangelization immediately after he left England, and found her catechumen in a most edifying state of humility. He was, metaphorically, on his knees in penitence, and confessed himself a miserable sinner in the loveliest manner possible. Such sweetness and humility took all hearts. His conversations with Madame de Stael were printed, and circulated all over the world; making it to appear that only the inflexibility of Lady Byron stood in the way of his entire conversion.

Lady Blessington, among many others, took him in hand five or six years afterwards, and was greatly delighted with his docility, and edified by his frank and free confessions of his miserable offences. Nothing now seemed wanting to bring the wanderer home to the fold but a kind word from Lady Byron. But, when the fair countess offered to mediate, the poet only shook his head in tragic despair; 'he had so many times tried in vain; Lady Byron's course had been from the first that of obdurate silence.'

Any one who would wish to see a specimen of the skill of the honourable poet in mystification will do well to read a letter to Lady Byron, which Lord Byron, on parting from Lady Blessington, enclosed for her to read just before he went to Greece. He says,—

'The letter which I enclose I was prevented from sending by my despair of its doing any good. I was perfectly sincere when I wrote it, and am so still. But it is difficult for me to withstand the thousand provocations on that subject which both friends and foes have for seven years been throwing in the way of a man whose feelings were once quick, and whose temper was never patient.'

* * * * *


'PISA, Nov. 17, 1821.

'I have to acknowledge the receipt of "Ada's hair," which is very soft and pretty, and nearly as dark already as mine was at twelve years old, if I may judge from what I recollect of some in Augusta's possession, taken at that age. But it don't curl—perhaps from its being let grow.

'I also thank you for the inscription of the date and name; and I will tell you why: I believe that they are the only two or three words of your handwriting in my possession. For your letters I returned; and except the two words, or rather the one word, "Household," written twice in an old account book, I have no other. I burnt your last note, for two reasons: firstly, it was written in a style not very agreeable; and, secondly, I wished to take your word without documents, which are the worldly resources of suspicious people.

'I suppose that this note will reach you somewhere about Ada's birthday—the 10th of December, I believe. She will then be six: so that, in about twelve more, I shall have some chance of meeting her; perhaps sooner, if I am obliged to go to England by business or otherwise. Recollect, however, one thing, either in distance or nearness—every day which keeps us asunder should, after so long a period, rather soften our mutual feelings; which must always have one rallying point as long as our child exists, which, I presume, we both hope will be long after either of her parents.

'The time which has elapsed since the separation has been considerably more than the whole brief period of our union, and the not much longer one of our prior acquaintance. We both made a bitter mistake; but now it is over, and irrevocably so. For at thirty-three on my part, and few years less on yours, though it is no very extended period of life, still it is one when the habits and thought are generally so formed as to admit of no modification; and, as we could not agree when younger, we should with difficulty do so now.

'I say all this, because I own to you, that notwithstanding everything, I considered our reunion as not impossible for more than a year after the separation; but then I gave up the hope entirely and for ever. But this very impossibility of reunion seems to me at least a reason why, on all the few points of discussion which can arise between us, we should preserve the courtesies of life, and as much of its kindness as people who are never to meet may preserve,—perhaps more easily than nearer connections. For my own part, I am violent, but not malignant; for only fresh provocations can awaken my resentments. To you, who are colder and more concentrated, I would just hint, that you may sometimes mistake the depth of a cold anger for dignity, and a worse feeling for duty. I assure you that I bear you now (whatever I may have done) no resentment whatever. Remember, that, if you have injured me in aught, this forgiveness is something; and that, if I have injured you, it is something more still, if it be true, as the moralists say, that the most offending are the least forgiving.

'Whether the offence has been solely on my side, or reciprocal, or on yours chiefly, I have ceased to reflect upon any but two things; viz., that you are the mother of my child, and that we shall never meet again. I think, if you also consider the two corresponding points with reference to myself, it will be better for all three.

'Yours ever,


The artless Thomas Moore introduces this letter in the 'Life,' with the remark,—

'There are few, I should think, of my readers, who will not agree with me in pronouncing, that, if the author of the following letter had not right on his side, he had at least most of those good feelings which are found in general to accompany it.'

The reader is requested to take notice of the important admission; that the letter was never sent to Lady Byron at all. It was, in fact, never intended for her, but was a nice little dramatic performance, composed simply with the view of acting on the sympathies of Lady Blessington and Byron's numerous female admirers; and the reader will agree with us, we think, that, in this point of view, it was very neatly done, and deserves immortality as a work of high art. For six years he had been plunged into every kind of vice and excess, pleading his shattered domestic joys, and his wife's obdurate heart, as the apology and the impelling cause; filling the air with his shrieks and complaints concerning the slander which pursued him, while he filled letters to his confidential correspondents with records of new mistresses. During all these years, the silence of Lady Byron was unbroken; though Lord Byron not only drew in private on the sympathies of his female admirers, but employed his talents and position as an author in holding her up to contempt and ridicule before thousands of readers. We shall quote at length his side of the story, which he published in the First Canto of 'Don Juan,' that the reader may see how much reason he had for assuming the injured tone which he did in the letter to Lady Byron quoted above. That letter never was sent to her; and the unmanly and indecent caricature of her, and the indelicate exposure of the whole story on his own side, which we are about to quote, were the only communications that could have reached her solitude.

In the following verses, Lady Byron is represented as Donna Inez, and Lord Byron as Don Jose; but the incidents and allusions were so very pointed, that nobody for a moment doubted whose history the poet was narrating.

'His mother was a learned lady, famed For every branch of every science known In every Christian language ever named, With virtues equalled by her wit alone: She made the cleverest people quite ashamed; And even the good with inward envy groaned, Finding themselves so very much exceeded In their own way by all the things that she did. . . . . Save that her duty both to man and God Required this conduct; which seemed very odd.

She kept a journal where his faults were noted, And opened certain trunks of books and letters, (All which might, if occasion served, be quoted); And then she had all Seville for abettors, Besides her good old grandmother (who doted): The hearers of her case become repeaters, Then advocates, inquisitors, and judges,— Some for amusement, others for old grudges.

And then this best and meekest woman bore With such serenity her husband's woes! Just as the Spartan ladies did of yore, Who saw their spouses killed, and nobly chose Never to say a word about them more. Calmly she heard each calumny that rose, And saw his agonies with such sublimity, That all the world exclaimed, "What magnanimity!"'

This is the longest and most elaborate version of his own story that Byron ever published; but he busied himself with many others, projecting at one time a Spanish romance, in which the same story is related in the same transparent manner: but this he was dissuaded from printing. The booksellers, however, made a good speculation in publishing what they called his domestic poems; that is, poems bearing more or less relation to this subject.

Every person with whom he became acquainted with any degree of intimacy was made familiar with his side of the story. Moore's Biography is from first to last, in its representations, founded upon Byron's communicativeness, and Lady Byron's silence; and the world at last settled down to believing that the account so often repeated, and never contradicted, must be substantially a true one.

The true history of Lord and Lady Byron has long been perfectly understood in many circles in England; but the facts were of a nature that could not be made public. While there was a young daughter living whose future might be prejudiced by its recital, and while there were other persons on whom the disclosure of the real truth would have been crushing as an avalanche, Lady Byron's only course was the perfect silence in which she took refuge, and those sublime works of charity and mercy to which she consecrated her blighted early life.

But the time is now come when the truth may be told. All the actors in the scene have disappeared from the stage of mortal existence, and passed, let us have faith to hope, into a world where they would desire to expiate their faults by a late publication of the truth.

No person in England, we think, would as yet take the responsibility of relating the true history which is to clear Lady Byron's memory; but, by a singular concurrence of circumstances, all the facts of the case, in the most undeniable and authentic form, were at one time placed in the hands of the writer of this sketch, with authority to make such use of them as she should judge best. Had this melancholy history been allowed to sleep, no public use would have been made of them; but the appearance of a popular attack on the character of Lady Byron calls for a vindication, and the true story of her married life will therefore now be related.

Lord Byron has described in one of his letters the impression left upon his mind by a young person whom he met one evening in society, and who attracted his attention by the simplicity of her dress, and a certain air of singular purity and calmness with which she surveyed the scene around her.

On inquiry, he was told that this young person was Miss Milbanke, an only child, and one of the largest heiresses in England.

Lord Byron was fond of idealising his experiences in poetry; and the friends of Lady Byron had no difficulty in recognising the portrait of Lady Byron, as she appeared at this time of her life, in his exquisite description of Aurora Raby:—

'There was Indeed a certain fair and fairy one, Of the best class, and better than her class,— Aurora Raby, a young star who shone O'er life, too sweet an image for such glass; A lovely being scarcely formed or moulded; A rose with all its sweetest leaves yet folded.

. . . .

Early in years, and yet more infantine In figure, she had something of sublime In eyes which sadly shone as seraphs' shine; All youth, but with an aspect beyond time; Radiant and grave, as pitying man's decline; Mournful, but mournful of another's crime, She looked as if she sat by Eden's door, And grieved for those who could return no more.

. . . .

She gazed upon a world she scarcely knew, As seeking not to know it; silent, lone, As grows a flower, thus quietly she grew, And kept her heart serene within its zone. There was awe in the homage which she drew; Her spirit seemed as seated on a throne, Apart from the surrounding world, and strong In its own strength,—most strange in one so young!'

Some idea of the course which their acquaintance took, and of the manner in which he was piqued into thinking of her, is given in a stanza or two:—

'The dashing and proud air of Adeline Imposed not upon her: she saw her blaze Much as she would have seen a glow-worm shine; Then turned unto the stars for loftier rays. Juan was something she could not divine, Being no sibyl in the new world's ways; Yet she was nothing dazzled by the meteor, Because she did not pin her faith on feature.

His fame too (for he had that kind of fame Which sometimes plays the deuce with womankind,— A heterogeneous mass of glorious blame, Half virtues and whole vices being combined; Faults which attract because they are not tame; Follies tricked out so brightly that they blind),— These seals upon her wax made no impression, Such was her coldness or her self-possession.

Aurora sat with that indifference Which piques a preux chevalier,—as it ought. Of all offences, that's the worst offence Which seems to hint you are not worth a thought.

. . . .

To his gay nothings, nothing was replied, Or something which was nothing, as urbanity Required. Aurora scarcely looked aside, Nor even smiled enough for any vanity. The Devil was in the girl! Could it be pride, Or modesty, or absence, or inanity?

. . . .

Juan was drawn thus into some attentions, Slight but select, and just enough to express, To females of perspicuous comprehensions, That he would rather make them more than less. Aurora at the last (so history mentions, Though probably much less a fact than guess) So far relaxed her thoughts from their sweet prison As once or twice to smile, if not to listen.

. . . .

But Juan had a sort of winning way, A proud humility, if such there be, Which showed such deference to what females say, As if each charming word were a decree. His tact, too, tempered him from grave to gay, And taught him when to be reserved or free. He had the art of drawing people out, Without their seeing what he was about.

Aurora, who in her indifference, Confounded him in common with the crowd Of flatterers, though she deemed he had more sense Than whispering foplings or than witlings loud, Commenced (from such slight things will great commence) To feel that flattery which attracts the proud, Rather by deference than compliment, And wins even by a delicate dissent.

And then he had good looks: that point was carried Nem. con. amongst the women.

. . . .

Now, though we know of old that looks deceive, And always have done, somehow these good looks, Make more impression than the best of books.

Aurora, who looked more on books than faces, Was very young, although so very sage: Admiring more Minerva than the Graces, Especially upon a printed page. But Virtue's self, with all her tightest laces, Has not the natural stays of strict old age; And Socrates, that model of all duty, Owned to a penchant, though discreet for beauty.'

The presence of this high-minded, thoughtful, unworldly woman is described through two cantos of the wild, rattling 'Don Juan,' in a manner that shows how deeply the poet was capable of being affected by such an appeal to his higher nature.

For instance, when Don Juan sits silent and thoughtful amid a circle of persons who are talking scandal, the poet says,—

''Tis true, he saw Aurora look as though She approved his silence: she perhaps mistook Its motive for that charity we owe, But seldom pay, the absent.

. . . .

He gained esteem where it was worth the most; And certainly Aurora had renewed In him some feelings he had lately lost Or hardened,—feelings which, perhaps ideal, Are so divine that I must deem them real:—

The love of higher things and better days; The unbounded hope and heavenly ignorance Of what is called the world and the world's ways; The moments when we gather from a glance More joy than from all future pride or praise, Which kindled manhood, but can ne'er entrance The heart in an existence of its own Of which another's bosom is the zone.

And full of sentiments sublime as billows Heaving between this world and worlds beyond, Don Juan, when the midnight hour of pillows Arrived, retired to his.' . . .

In all these descriptions of a spiritual unworldly nature acting on the spiritual and unworldly part of his own nature, every one who ever knew Lady Byron intimately must have recognised the model from which he drew, and the experience from which he spoke, even though nothing was further from his mind than to pay this tribute to the woman he had injured, and though before these lines, which showed how truly he knew her real character, had come one stanza of ribald, vulgar caricature, designed as a slight to her:—

'There was Miss Millpond, smooth as summer's sea, That usual paragon, an only daughter, Who seemed the cream of equanimity 'Till skimmed; and then there was some milk and water; With a slight shade of blue, too, it might be, Beneath the surface: but what did it matter? Love's riotous; but marriage should have quiet, And, being consumptive, live on a milk diet.'

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