Read CHAPTER 2.  THE ATTACK ON LADY BYRON. of Lady Byron Vindicated, free online book, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, on

In proving what I asserted in the first chapter, I make four points: 

1st.  A concerted attack upon Lady Byron’s reputation, begun by Lord Byron in self-defence.

2nd.  That he transmitted his story to friends to be continued after his death.

3rd.  That they did so continue it.

4th.  That the accusations reached their climax over Lady Byron’s grave in ‘Blackwood’ of 1869, and the Guiccioli book, and that this re-opening of the controversy was my reason for speaking.

And first I shall adduce my proofs that Lady Byron’s reputation was, during the whole course of her husband’s life, the subject of a concentrated, artfully planned attack, commencing at the time of the separation and continuing during his life.  By various documents carefully prepared, and used publicly or secretly as suited the case, he made converts of many honest men, some of whom were writers and men of letters, who put their talents at his service during his lifetime in exciting sympathy for him, and who, by his own request, felt bound to continue their defence of him after he was dead.

In order to consider the force and significance of the documents I shall cite, we are to bring to our view just the issues Lord Byron had to meet, both at the time of the separation and for a long time after.

In Byron’s ‘Memoirs,’ Vol.  IV.  Letter 350, under date December 10, 1819, nearly four years after the separation, he writes to Murray in a state of great excitement on account of an article in ‘Blackwood,’ in which his conduct towards his wife had been sternly and justly commented on, and which he supposed to have been written by Wilson, of the ’Noctes Ambrosianae.’  He says in this letter:  ’I like and admire W –­n, and he should not have indulged himself in such outrageous license. . . . .  When he talks of Lady Byron’s business he talks of what he knows nothing about; and you may tell him no man can desire a public investigation of that affair more than I do.’

He shortly after wrote and sent to Murray a pamphlet for publication, which was printed, but not generally circulated till some time afterwards.  Though more than three years had elapsed since the separation, the current against him at this time was so strong in England that his friends thought it best, at first, to use this article of Lord Byron’s discreetly with influential persons rather than to give it to the public.

The writer in ‘Blackwood’ and the indignation of the English public, of which that writer was the voice, were now particularly stirred up by the appearance of the first two cantos of ‘Don Juan,’ in which the indecent caricature of Lady Byron was placed in vicinity with other indecencies, the publication of which was justly considered an insult to a Christian community.

It must here be mentioned, for the honour of Old England, that at first she did her duty quite respectably in regard to ‘Don Juan.’  One can still read, in Murray’s standard edition of the poems, how every respectable press thundered réprobations, which it would be well enough to print and circulate as tracts for our days.

Byron, it seems, had thought of returning to England, but he says, in the letter we have quoted, that he has changed his mind, and shall not go back, adding ’I have finished the Third Canto of “Don Juan,” but the things I have heard and read discourage all future publication.  You may try the copy question, but you’ll lose it; the cry is up, and the cant is up.  I should have no objection to return the price of the copyright, and have written to Mr. Kinnaird on this subject.’

One sentence quoted by Lord Byron from the ‘Blackwood’ article will show the modern readers what the respectable world of that day were thinking and saying of him: ­

’It appears, in short, as if this miserable man, having exhausted every species of sensual gratification ­having drained the cup of sin even to its bitterest dregs ­were resolved to show us that he is no longer a human being even in his frailties, but a cool, unconcerned fiend, laughing with detestable glee over the whole of the better and worse elements of which human life is composed.’

The defence which Lord Byron makes, in his reply to that paper, is of a man cornered and fighting for his life.  He speaks thus of the state of feeling at the time of his separation from his wife: ­

’I was accused of every monstrous vice by public rumour and private rancour; my name, which had been a knightly or a noble one since my fathers helped to conquer the kingdom for William the Norman, was tainted.  I felt that, if what was whispered and muttered and murmured was true, I was unfit for England; if false, England was unfit for me.  I withdrew; but this was not enough.  In other countries ­in Switzerland, in the shadow of the Alps, and by the blue depth of the lakes ­I was pursued and breathed upon by the same blight.  I crossed the mountains, but it was the same; so I went a little farther, and settled myself by the waves of the Adriatic, like the stag at bay, who betakes him to the waters.

’If I may judge by the statements of the few friends who gathered round me, the outcry of the period to which I allude was beyond all precedent, all parallel, even in those cases where political motives have sharpened slander and doubled enmity.  I was advised not to go to the theatres lest I should be hissed, nor to my duty in parliament lest I should be insulted by the way; even on the day of my departure my most intimate friend told me afterwards that he was under the apprehension of violence from the people who might be assembled at the door of the carriage.’

Now Lord Byron’s charge against his wife was that she was directly responsible for getting up and keeping up this persecution, which drove him from England, ­that she did it in a deceitful, treacherous manner, which left him no chance of defending himself.

He charged against her that, taking advantage of a time when his affairs were in confusion, and an execution in the house, she left him suddenly, with treacherous professions of kindness, which were repeated by letters on the road, and that soon after her arrival at her home her parents sent him word that she would never return to him, and she confirmed the message; that when he asked the reason why, she refused to state any; and that when this step gave rise to a host of slanders against him she silently encouraged and confirmed the slanders.  His claim was that he was denied from that time forth even the justice of any tangible accusation against himself which he might meet and refute.

He observes, in the same article from which we have quoted: ­

’When one tells me that I cannot “in any way justify my own behaviour in that affair,” I acquiesce, because no man can “justify” himself until he knows of what he is accused; and I have never had ­and, God knows, my whole desire has ever been to obtain it ­any specific charge, in a tangible shape, submitted to me by the adversary, nor by others, unless the atrocities of public rumour and the mysterious silence of the lady’s legal advisers may be deemed such.’

Lord Byron, his publishers, friends, and biographers, thus agree in representing his wife as the secret author and abettor of that persecution, which it is claimed broke up his life, and was the source of all his subsequent crimes and excesses.

Lord Byron wrote a poem in September 1816, in Switzerland, just after the separation, in which he stated, in so many words, these accusations against his wife.  Shortly after the poet’s death Murray published this poem, together with the ‘Fare thee well,’ and the lines to his sister, under the title of ‘Domestic Pieces,’ in his standard edition of Byron’s poetry.  It is to be remarked, then, that this was for some time a private document, shown to confidential friends, and made use of judiciously, as readers or listeners to his story were able to bear it.  Lady Byron then had a strong party in England.  Sir Samuel Romilly and Dr. Lushington were her counsel.  Lady Byron’s parents were living, and the appearance in the public prints of such a piece as this would have brought down an aggravated storm of public indignation.

For the general public such documents as the ‘Fare thee well’ were circulating in England, and he frankly confessed his wife’s virtues and his own sins to Madame de Stael and others in Switzerland, declaring himself in the wrong, sensible of his errors, and longing to cast himself at the feet of that serene perfection,

   ‘Which wanted one sweet weakness ­to forgive.’

But a little later he drew for his private partisans this bitter poetical indictment against her, which, as we have said, was used discreetly during his life, and published after his death.

Before we proceed to lay that poem before the reader we will refresh his memory with some particulars of the tragedy of AEschylus, which Lord Byron selected as the exact parallel and proper illustration of his wife’s treatment of himself.  In his letters and journals he often alludes to her as Clytemnestra, and the allusion has run the round of a thousand American papers lately, and been read by a thousand good honest people, who had no very clear idea who Clytemnestra was, and what she did which was like the proceedings of Lady Byron.  According to the tragedy, Clytemnestra secretly hates her husband Agamemnon, whom she professes to love, and wishes to put him out of the way that she may marry her lover, AEgistheus.  When her husband returns from the Trojan war she receives him with pretended kindness, and officiously offers to serve him at the bath.  Inducing him to put on a garment, of which she had adroitly sewed up the sleeves and neck so as to hamper the use of his arms, she gives the signal to a concealed band of assassins, who rush upon him and stab him.  Clytemnestra is represented by AEschylus as grimly triumphing in her success, which leaves her free to marry an adulterous paramour.

   ’I did it, too, in such a cunning wise,
   That he could neither ’scape nor ward off doom. 
   I staked around his steps an endless net,
   As for the fishes.’

In the piece entitled ‘Lines on hearing Lady Byron is ill,’ Lord Byron charges on his wife a similar treachery and cruelty.  The whole poem is in Murray’s English edition, Vol.  IV. .  Of it we quote the following.  The reader will bear in mind that it is addressed to Lady Byron on a sick-bed: ­

   ’I am too well avenged, but ’t was my right;
   Whate’er my sins might be, thou wert not sent
   To be the Nemesis that should requite,
   Nor did Heaven choose so near an instrument. 
   Mercy is for the merciful!  If thou
   Hast been of such, ’t will be accorded now. 
   Thy nights are banished from the realms of sleep,
   For thou art pillowed on a curse too deep;
   Yes! they may flatter thee, but thou shalt feel
   A hollow agony that will not heal. 
   Thou hast sown in my sorrow, and must reap
   The bitter harvest in a woe as real.
   I have had many foes, but none like thee;
   For ’gainst the rest myself I could defend,
   And be avenged, or turn them into friend;
   But thou, in safe implacability,
   Hast naught to dread, ­in thy own weakness shielded,
   And in my love, which hath but too much yielded,
   And spared, for thy sake, some I should not spare. 
   And thus upon the world, trust in thy truth,
   And the wild fame of my ungoverned youth, ­
   On things that were not and on things that are, ­
   Even upon such a basis thou halt built
   A monument whose cement hath been guilt! 
   The moral Clytemnestra of thy lord,
   And hewed down with an unsuspected sword
   Fame, peace, and hope, and all that better life
   Which, but for this cold treason of thy heart,
   Might yet have risen from the grave of strife
   And found a nobler duty than to part. 
   But of thy virtues thou didst make a vice,
   Trafficking in them with a purpose cold,
   And buying others’ woes at any price,
   For present anger and for future gold;
   And thus, once entered into crooked ways,
   The early truth, that was thy proper praise,
   Did not still walk beside thee, but at times,
   And with a breast unknowing its own crimes,
   Deceits, averments incompatible,
   Equivocations, and the thoughts that dwell
   In Janus spirits, the significant eye
   That learns to lie with silence
, the pretext
   Of prudence with advantages annexed,
   The acquiescence in all things that tend,
   No matter how, to the desired end, ­
   All found a place in thy philosophy. 
   The means were worthy and the end is won. 
   I would not do to thee as thou hast done.’

Now, if this language means anything, it means, in plain terms, that, whereas, in her early days, Lady Byron was peculiarly characterised by truthfulness, she has in her recent dealings with him acted the part of a liar, ­that she is not only a liar, but that she lies for cruel means and malignant purposes, ­that she is a moral assassin, and her treatment of her husband has been like that of the most detestable murderess and adulteress of ancient history, that she has learned to lie skilfully and artfully, that she equivocates, says incompatible things, and crosses her own tracks, ­that she is double-faced, and has the art to lie even by silence, and that she has become wholly unscrupulous, and acquiesces in anything, no matter what, that tends to the desired end, and that end the destruction of her husband.  This is a brief summary of the story that Byron made it his life’s business to spread through society, to propagate and make converts to during his life, and which has been in substance reasserted by ‘Blackwood’ in a recent article this year.

Now, the reader will please to notice that this poem is dated in September 1816, and that on the 29th of March of that same year, he had thought proper to tell quite another story.  At that time the deed of separation was not signed, and negotiations between Lady Byron, acting by legal counsel, and himself were still pending.  At that time, therefore, he was standing in a community who knew all he had said in former days of his wife’s character, who were in an aroused and excited state by the fact that so lovely and good and patient a woman had actually been forced for some unexplained cause to leave him.  His policy at that time was to make large general confessions of sin, and to praise and compliment her, with a view of enlisting sympathy.  Everybody feels for a handsome sinner, weeping on his knees, asking pardon for his offences against his wife in the public newspapers.

The celebrated ‘Fare thee well,’ as we are told, was written on the 17th of March, and accidentally found its way into the newspapers at this time ‘through the imprudence of a friend whom he allowed to take a copy.’  These ‘imprudent friends’ have all along been such a marvellous convenience to Lord Byron.

But the question met him on all sides, What is the matter?  This wife you have declared the brightest, sweetest, most amiable of beings, and against whose behaviour as a wife you actually never had nor can have a complaint to make, ­why is she now all of a sudden so inflexibly set against you?

This question required an answer, and he answered by writing another poem, which also accidentally found its way into the public prints.  It is in his ‘Domestic Pieces,’ which the reader may refer to at the end of this volume, and is called ‘A Sketch.’

There was a most excellent, respectable, well-behaved Englishwoman, a Mrs. Clermont, who had been Lady Byron’s governess in her youth, and was still, in mature life, revered as her confidential friend.  It appears that this person had been with Lady Byron during a part of her married life, especially the bitter hours of her lonely child-bed, when a young wife so much needs a sympathetic friend.  This Mrs. Clermont was the person selected by Lord Byron at this time to be the scapegoat to bear away the difficulties of the case into the wilderness.

We are informed in Moore’s Life what a noble pride of rank Lord Byron possessed, and how when the headmaster of a school, against whom he had a pique, invited him to dinner, he declined, saying, ’To tell you the truth, Doctor, if you should come to Newstead, I shouldn’t think of inviting you to dine with me, and so I don’t care to dine with you here.’  Different countries, it appears, have different standards as to good taste; Moore gives this as an amusing instance of a young lord’s spirit.

Accordingly, his first attack against this ‘lady,’ as we Americans should call her, consists in gross statements concerning her having been born poor and in an inferior rank.  He begins by stating that she was

   ’Born in the garret, in the kitchen bred,
   Promoted thence to deck her mistress’ head;
   Next ­for some gracious service unexpressed
   And from its wages only to be guessed ­
   Raised from the toilet to the table, where
   Her wondering betters wait behind her chair. 
   With eye unmoved and forehead unabashed,
   She dines from off the plate she lately washed: 
   Quick with the tale, and ready with the lie,
   The genial confidante and general spy, ­
   Who could, ye gods! her next employment guess, ­
   An only infant’s earliest governess
   What had she made the pupil of her art
   None knows; but that high soul secured the heart,
   And panted for the truth it could not hear
   With longing soul and undeluded ear

The poet here recognises as a singular trait in Lady Byron her peculiar love of truth, ­a trait which must have struck everyone that had any knowledge of her through life.  He goes on now to give what he certainly knew to be the real character of Lady Byron: ­

’Foiled was perversion by that youthful mind, Which flattery fooled not, baseness could not blind, Deceit infect not, nor contagion soil, Indulgence weaken, or example spoil, Nor mastered science tempt her to look down On humbler talent with a pitying frown, Nor genius swell, nor beauty render vain, Nor envy ruffle to retaliate pain.’

We are now informed that Mrs. Clermont, whom he afterwards says in his letters was a spy of Lady Byron’s mother, set herself to make mischief between them.  He says: ­

   ’If early habits, ­those strong links that bind
    At times the loftiest to the meanest mind,
    Have given her power too deeply to instil
    The angry essence of her deadly will;
    If like a snake she steal within your walls,
    Till the black slime betray her as she crawls;
    If like a viper to the heart she wind,
    And leaves the venom there she did not find, ­
    What marvel that this hag of hatred works
    Eternal evil latent as she lurks.’

The noble lord then proceeds to abuse this woman of inferior rank in the language of the upper circles.  He thus describes her person and manner: ­

   ’Skilled by a touch to deepen scandal’s tints
    With all the kind mendacity of hints,
    While mingling truth with falsehood, sneers with smiles,
    A thread of candour with a web of wiles;
    A plain blunt show of briefly-spoken seeming,
    To hide her bloodless heart’s soul-harden’d scheming;
    A lip of lies; a face formed to conceal,
    And without feeling mock at all who feel;
    With a vile mask the Gorgon would disown, ­
    A cheek of parchment and an eye of stone. 
    Mark how the channels of her yellow blood
    Ooze to her skin and stagnate there to mud,
    Cased like the centipede in saffron mail,
    Or darker greenness of the scorpion’s scale, ­
    (For drawn from reptiles only may we trace
    Congenial colours in that soul or face,)
    Look on her features! and behold her mind
    As in a mirror of itself defined: 
    Look on the picture! deem it not o’ercharged
    There is no trait which might not be enlarged.’

The poem thus ends: ­

   ’May the strong curse of crushed affections light
   Back on thy bosom with reflected blight,
   And make thee in thy leprosy of mind
   As loathsome to thyself as to mankind! 
   Till all thy self-thoughts curdle into hate,
   Black ­as thy will for others would create;
   Till thy hard heart be calcined into dust,
   And thy soul welter in its hideous crust. 
   O, may thy grave be sleepless as the bed,
   The widowed couch of fire, that thou hast spread
   Then when thou fain wouldst weary Heaven with prayer,
   Look on thy earthly victims ­and despair! 
   Down to the dust! and as thou rott’st away,
   Even worms shall perish on thy poisonous clay.
   But for the love I bore and still must bear
   To her thy malice from all ties would tear,
   Thy name, ­thy human name, ­to every eye
   The climax of all scorn, should hang on high,
   Exalted o’er thy less abhorred compeers,
   And festering in the infamy of years.’ 
      March 16, 1816.

Now, on the 29th of March 1816, this was Lord Byron’s story.  He states that his wife had a truthfulness even from early girlhood that the most artful and unscrupulous governess could not pollute, ­that she always panted for truth, ­that flattery could not fool nor baseness blind her, ­that though she was a genius and master of science, she was yet gentle and tolerant, and one whom no envy could ruffle to retaliate pain.

In September of the same year she is a monster of unscrupulous deceit and vindictive cruelty.  Now, what had happened in the five months between the dates of these poems to produce such a change of opinion?  Simply this: ­

1st.  The negotiation between him and his wife’s lawyers had ended in his signing a deed of separation in preference to standing a suit for divorce.

2nd.  Madame de Stael, moved by his tears of anguish and professions of repentance, had offered to negotiate with Lady Byron on his behalf, and had failed.

The failure of this application is the only apology given by Moore and Murray for this poem, which gentle Thomas Moore admits was not in quite as generous a strain as the ‘Fare thee well.’

But Lord Byron knew perfectly well, when he suffered that application to be made, that Lady Byron had been entirely convinced that her marriage relations with him could never be renewed, and that duty both to man and God required her to separate from him.  The allowing the negotiation was, therefore, an artifice to place his wife before the public in the attitude of a hard-hearted, inflexible woman; her refusal was what he knew beforehand must inevitably be the result, and merely gave him capital in the sympathy of his friends, by which they should be brought to tolerate and accept the bitter accusations of this poem.

We have recently heard it asserted that this last-named piece of poetry was the sudden offspring of a fit of ill-temper, and was never intended to be published at all.  There were certainly excellent reasons why his friends should have advised him not to publish it at that time.  But that it was read with sympathy by the circle of his intimate friends, and believed by them, is evident from the frequency with which allusions to it occur in his confidential letters to them.

About three months after, under date March 10, 1817, he writes to Moore:  ’I suppose now I shall never be able to shake off my sables in public imagination, more particularly since my moral ----- clove down my fame.’  Again to Murray in 1819, three years after, he says:  ’I never hear anything of Ada, the little Electra of Mycenae.’

Electra was the daughter of Clytemnestra, in the Greek poem, who lived to condemn her wicked mother, and to call on her brother to avenge the father.  There was in this mention of Electra more than meets the ear.  Many passages in Lord Byron’s poetry show that he intended to make this daughter a future partisan against her mother, and explain the awful words he is stated in Lady Anne Barnard’s diary to have used when first he looked on his little girl, ­’What an instrument of torture I have gained in you!’

In a letter to Lord Blessington, April 6, 1823, he says, speaking of Dr. Parr: ­

’He did me the honour once to be a patron of mine, though a great friend of the other branch of the house of Atreus, and the Greek teacher, I believe, of my moral Clytemnestra.  I say moral because it is true, and is so useful to the virtuous, that it enables them to do anything without the aid of an AEgistheus.’

If Lord Byron wrote this poem merely in a momentary fit of spleen, why were there so many persons evidently quite familiar with his allusions to it? and why was it preserved in Murray’s hands? and why published after his death?  That Byron was in the habit of reposing documents in the hands of Murray, to be used as occasion offered, is evident from a part of a note written by him to Murray respecting some verses so intrusted:  ’Pray let not these versiculi go forth with my name except to the initiated.’

Murray, in publishing this attack on his wife after Lord Byron’s death, showed that he believed in it, and, so believing, deemed Lady Byron a woman whose widowed state deserved neither sympathy nor delicacy of treatment.  At a time when every sentiment in the heart of the most deeply wronged woman would forbid her appearing to justify herself from such cruel slander of a dead husband, an honest, kind-hearted, worthy Englishman actually thought it right and proper to give these lines to her eyes and the eyes of all the reading world.  Nothing can show more plainly what this poem was written for, and how thoroughly it did its work!  Considering Byron as a wronged man, Murray thought he was contributing his mite towards doing him justice.  His editor prefaced the whole set of ‘Domestic Pieces’ with the following statements: ­

’They all refer to the unhappy separation, of which the precise causes are still a mystery, and which he declared to the last were never disclosed to himself.  He admitted that pecuniary embarrassments, disordered health, and dislike to family restraints had aggravated his naturally violent temper, and driven him to excesses.  He suspected that his mother-in-law had fomented the discord, ­which Lady Byron denies, ­and that more was due to the malignant offices of a female dependant, who is the subject of the bitterly satirical sketch.

’To these general statements can only be added the still vaguer allegations of Lady Byron, that she conceived his conduct to be the result of insanity, ­that, the physician pronouncing him responsible for his actions, she could submit to them no longer, and that Dr. Lushington, her legal adviser, agreed that a reconciliation was neither proper nor possible. No weight can be attached to the opinions of an opposing counsel upon accusations made by one party behind the back of the other, who urgently demanded and was pertinaciously refused the least opportunity of denial or defence.  He rejected the proposal for an amicable separation, but consented when threatened with a suit in Doctors’ Commons.

Neither John Murray nor any of Byron’s partisans seem to have pondered the admission in these last words.

Here, as appears, was a woman, driven to the last despair, standing with her child in her arms, asking from English laws protection for herself and child against her husband.

She had appealed to the first counsel in England, and was acting under their direction.

Two of the greatest lawyers in England have pronounced that there has been such a cause of offence on his part that a return to him is neither proper nor possible, and that no alternative remains to her but separation or divorce.

He asks her to state her charges against him.  She, making answer under advice of her counsel, says, ’That if he insists on the specifications, he must receive them in open court in a suit for divorce.’

What, now, ought to have been the conduct of any brave, honest man, who believed that his wife was taking advantage of her reputation for virtue to turn every one against him, who saw that she had turned on her side even the lawyer he sought to retain on his; that she was an unscrupulous woman, who acquiesced in every and any thing to gain her ends, while he stood before the public, as he says, ’accused of every monstrous vice, by public rumour or private rancour’?  When she, under advice of her lawyers, made the alternative legal separation or open investigation in court for divorce, what did he do?


Now, let any man who knows the legal mind of England, ­let any lawyer who knows the character of Sir Samuel Romilly and Dr. Lushington, ask whether they were the men to take a case into court for a woman that had no evidence but her own statements and impressions?  Were they men to go to trial without proofs?  Did they not know that there were artful, hysterical women in the world, and would they, of all people, be the men to take a woman’s story on her own side, and advise her in the last issue to bring it into open court, without legal proof of the strongest kind?  Now, as long as Sir Samuel Romilly lived, this statement of Byron’s ­that he was condemned unheard, and had no chance of knowing whereof he was accused ­never appeared in public.

It, however, was most actively circulated in private.  That Byron was in the habit of intrusting to different confidants articles of various kinds to be shown to different circles as they could bear them, we have already shown.  We have recently come upon another instance of this kind.  In the late eagerness to exculpate Byron, a new document has turned up, of which Mr. Murray, it appears, had never heard when, after Byron’s death, he published in the preface to his ‘Domestic Pieces’ the sentence:  ’He rejected the proposal for an amicable separation, but consented when threatened with a suit in Doctors’ Commons.’  It appears that, up to 1853, neither John Murray senior, nor the son who now fills his place, had taken any notice of this newly found document, which we are now informed was drawn up by Lord Byron in August 1817, while Mr. Hobhouse was staying with him at La Mira, near Venice, given to Mr. Matthew Gregory Lewis, for circulation among friends in England, found in Mr. Lewis’s papers after his death, and now in the possession of Mr. Murray.’  Here it is: ­

’It has been intimated to me that the persons understood to be the legal advisers of Lady Byron have declared “their lips to be sealed up” on the cause of the separation between her and myself.  If their lips are sealed up, they are not sealed up by me, and the greatest favour they can confer upon me will be to open them.  From the first hour in which I was apprised of the intentions of the Noel family to the last communication between Lady Byron and myself in the character of wife and husband (a period of some months), I called repeatedly and in vain for a statement of their or her charges, and it was chiefly in consequence of Lady Byron’s claiming (in a letter still existing) a promise on my part to consent to a separation, if such was really her wish, that I consented at all; this claim, and the exasperating and inexpiable manner in which their object was pursued, which rendered it next to an impossibility that two persons so divided could ever be reunited, induced me reluctantly then, and repentantly still, to sign the deed, which I shall be happy ­most happy ­to cancel, and go before any tribunal which may discuss the business in the most public manner.

’Mr. Hobhouse made this proposition on my part, viz. to abrogate all prior intentions ­and go into court ­the very day before the separation was signed, and it was declined by the other party, as also the publication of the correspondence during the previous discussion.  Those propositions I beg here to repeat, and to call upon her and hers to say their worst, pledging myself to meet their allegations, ­whatever they may be, ­and only too happy to be informed at last of their real nature.


   ’August 9, 1817.

’P.S. ­I have been, and am now, utterly ignorant of what description her allegations, charges, or whatever name they may have assumed, are; and am as little aware for what purpose they have been kept back, ­unless it was to sanction the most infamous calumnies by silence.


   ‘La Mira, near Venice.’

It appears the circulation of this document must have been very private, since Moore, not over-delicate towards Lady Byron, did not think fit to print it; since John Murray neglected it, and since it has come out at this late hour for the first time.

If Lord Byron really desired Lady Byron and her legal counsel to understand the facts herein stated, and was willing at all hazards to bring on an open examination, why was this privately circulated?  Why not issued as a card in the London papers?  Is it likely that Mr. Matthew Gregory Lewis, and a chosen band of friends acting as a committee, requested an audience with Lady Byron, Sir Samuel Romilly, and Dr. Lushington, and formally presented this cartel of defiance?

We incline to think not.  We incline to think that this small serpent, in company with many others of like kind, crawled secretly and privately around, and when it found a good chance, bit an honest Briton, whose blood was thenceforth poisoned by an undetected falsehood.

The reader now may turn to the letters that Mr. Moore has thought fit to give us of this stay at La Mira, beginning with Letter 286, dated July 1, 1817, where he says:  ’I have been working up my impressions into a Fourth Canto of Childe Harold,’ and also ’Mr. Lewis is in Venice.  I am going up to stay a week with him there.’

Next, under date La Mira, Venice, July 10, he says, ’Monk Lewis is here; how pleasant!’

Next, under date July 20, 1817, to Mr. Murray:  ’I write to give you notice that I have completed the fourth and ultimate canto of Childe Harold. . . .  It is yet to be copied and polished, and the notes are to come.’

Under date of La Mira, August 7, 1817, he records that the new canto is one hundred and thirty stanzas in length, and talks about the price for it.  He is now ready to launch it on the world; and, as now appears, on August 9, 1817, two days after, he wrote the document above cited, and put it into the hands of Mr. Lewis, as we are informed, ’for circulation among friends in England.’

The reason of this may now be evident.  Having prepared a suitable number of those whom he calls in his notes to Murray ‘the initiated,’ by private documents and statements, he is now prepared to publish his accusations against his wife, and the story of his wrongs, in a great immortal poem, which shall have a band of initiated interpreters, shall be read through the civilised world, and stand to accuse her after his death.

In the Fourth Canto of ‘Childe Harold,’ with all his own overwhelming power of language, he sets forth his cause as against the silent woman who all this time had been making no party, and telling no story, and whom the world would therefore conclude to be silent because she had no answer to make.  I remember well the time when this poetry, so resounding in its music, so mournful, so apparently generous, filled my heart with a vague anguish of sorrow for the sufferer, and of indignation at the cold insensibility that had maddened him.  Thousands have felt the power of this great poem, which stands, and must stand to all time, a monument of what sacred and solemn powers God gave to this wicked man, and how vilely he abused this power as a weapon to slay the innocent.

It is among the ruins of ancient Rome that his voice breaks forth in solemn imprecation: ­

   ’O Time, thou beautifier of the dead,
   Adorner of the ruin, comforter,
   And only healer when the heart hath bled! ­
   Time, the corrector when our judgments err,
   The test of truth, love, ­sole philosopher,
   For all besides are sophists, ­from thy shrift
   That never loses, though it doth defer! ­
   Time, the avenger! unto thee I lift
   My hands and heart and eyes, and claim of thee a gift.

’If thou hast ever seen me too elate, Hear me not; but if calmly I have borne Good, and reserved my pride against the hate Which shall not whelm me, let me not have worn This iron in my soul in vain, shall THEY not mourn?  And thou who never yet of human wrong Left the unbalanced scale, great Nemesis, Here where the ancients paid their worship long, Thou who didst call the Furies from the abyss, And round Orestes bid them howl and hiss For that unnatural retribution, ­just Had it but come from hands less near, ­in this Thy former realm I call thee from the dust.  Dost thou not hear, my heart? awake thou shalt and must!  It is not that I may not have incurred For my ancestral faults and mine, the wound Wherewith I bleed withal, and had it been conferred With a just weapon it had flowed unbound, But now my blood shall not sink in the ground.

   ’But in this page a record will I seek;
   Not in the air shall these my words disperse,
   Though I be ashes, ­a far hour shall wreak
   The deep prophetic fulness of this verse,
   And pile on human heads the mountain of my curse. 
   That curse shall be forgiveness.  Have I not, ­
   Hear me, my Mother Earth! behold it, Heaven, ­
   Have I not had to wrestle with my lot? 
   Have I not suffered things to be forgiven? 
   Have I not had my brain seared, my heart riven,
   Hopes sapped, name blighted, life’s life lied away,
   And only not to desperation driven,
   Because not altogether of such clay
   As rots into the soul of those whom I survey?

’From mighty wrongs to petty perfidy, Have I not seen what human things could do, ­ From the loud roar of foaming calumny, To the small whispers of the paltry few, And subtler venom of the reptile crew, The Janus glance of whose significant eye, Learning to lie with silence, would seem true, And without utterance, save the shrug or sigh, Deal round to happy fools its speechless obloquy?’

The reader will please notice that the lines in italics are almost, word for word, a repetition of the lines in italics in the former poem on his wife, where he speaks of a significant eye that has learned to lie in silence, and were evidently meant to apply to Lady Byron and her small circle of confidential friends.

Before this, in the Third Canto of ‘Childe Harold,’ he had claimed the sympathy of the world, as a loving father, deprived by a severe fate of the solace and society of his only child: ­

   ’My daughter, ­with this name my song began, ­
   My daughter, ­with this name my song shall end, ­
   I see thee not and hear thee not, but none
   Can be so wrapped in thee; thou art the friend
   To whom the shadows of far years extend.

   ’To aid thy mind’s developments, to watch
   The dawn of little joys, to sit and see
   Almost thy very growth, to view thee catch
   Knowledge of objects, ­wonders yet to thee, ­
   And print on thy soft cheek a parent’s kiss; ­
   This it should seem was not reserved for me. 
   Yet this was in my nature, ­as it is,
   I know not what there is, yet something like to this.

Yet though dull hate as duty should be taught, I know that thou wilt love me; though my name Should be shut out from thee as spell still fraught With desolation and a broken claim, Though the grave close between us, ­’t were the same I know that thou wilt love me, though to drain My blood from out thy being were an aim And an attainment, ­all will be in vain.’

To all these charges against her, sent all over the world in verses as eloquent as the English language is capable of, the wife replied nothing.

   ’Assailed by slander and the tongue of strife,
   Her only answer was, ­a blameless life.’

She had a few friends, a very few, with whom she sought solace and sympathy.  One letter from her, written at this time, preserved by accident, is the only authentic record of how the matter stood with her.

We regret to say that the publication of this document was not brought forth to clear Lady Byron’s name from her husband’s slanders, but to shield him from the worst accusation against him, by showing that this crime was not included in the few private confidential revelations that friendship wrung from the young wife at this period.

Lady Anne Barnard, authoress of ‘Auld Robin Grey,’ a friend whose age and experience made her a proper confidante, sent for the broken-hearted, perplexed wife, and offered her a woman’s sympathy.

To her Lady Byron wrote many letters, under seal of confidence, and Lady Anne says:  ’I will give you a few paragraphs transcribed from one of Lady Byron’s own letters to me.  It is sorrowful to think that in a very little time this young and amiable creature, wise, patient, and feeling, will have her character mistaken by every one who reads Byron’s works.  To rescue her from this I preserved her letters, and when she afterwards expressed a fear that anything of her writing should ever fall into hands to injure him (I suppose she meant by publication), I safely assured her that it never should.  But here this letter shall be placed, a sacred record in her favour, unknown to herself.

   ’I am a very incompetent judge of the impression which the last Canto
   of “Childe Harold” may produce on the minds of indifferent readers.

’It contains the usual trace of a conscience restlessly awake, though his object has been too long to aggravate its burden, as if it could thus be oppressed into eternal stupor.  I will hope, as you do, that it survives for his ultimate good.

’It was the acuteness of his remorse, impenitent in its character, which so long seemed to demand from my compassion to spare every semblance of reproach, every look of grief, which might have said to his conscience, “You have made me wretched.”

’I am decidedly of opinion that he is responsible.  He has wished to be thought partially deranged, or on the brink of it, to perplex observers and prevent them from tracing effects to their real causes through all the intricacies of his conduct.  I was, as I told you, at one time the dupe of his acted insanity, and clung to the former delusions in regard to the motives that concerned me personally, till the whole system was laid bare.

’He is the absolute monarch of words, and uses them, as Bonaparte did lives, for conquest, without more regard to their intrinsic value, considering them only as ciphers, which must derive all their import from the situation in which he places them, and the ends to which he adapts them, with such consummate skill.

   ’Why, then, you will say, does he not employ them to give a better
   colour to his own character?  Because he is too good an actor to over-
   act, or to assume a moral garb, which it would be easy to strip off.

’In regard to his poetry, egotism is the vital principle of his imagination, which it is difficult for him to kindle on any subject with which his own character and interests are not identified; but by the introduction of fictitious incidents, by change of scene or time, he has enveloped his poetical disclosures in a system impenetrable except to a very few; and his constant desire of creating a sensation makes him not averse to be the object of wonder and curiosity, even though accompanied by some dark and vague suspicions.

’Nothing has contributed more to the misunderstanding of his real character than the lonely grandeur in which he shrouds it, and his affectation of being above mankind, when he exists almost in their voice.  The romance of his sentiments is another feature of this mask of state.  I know no one more habitually destitute of that enthusiasm he so beautifully expresses, and to which he can work up his fancy chiefly by contagion.

I had heard he was the best of brothers, the most generous of friends, and I thought such feelings only required to be warmed and cherished into more diffusive benevolence.  Though these opinions are eradicated, and could never return but with the decay of my memory, you will not wonder if there are still moments when the association of feelings which arose from them soften and sadden my thoughts.

’But I have not thanked you, dearest Lady Anne, for your kindness in regard to a principal object, ­that of rectifying false impressions.  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.

’It is not necessary to speak ill of his heart in general; it is sufficient that to me it was hard and impenetrable that my own must have been broken before his could have been touched.  I would rather represent this as my misfortune than as his guilt; but, surely, that misfortune is not to be made my crime!  Such are my feelings; you will judge how to act.

’His allusions to me in “Childe Harold” are cruel and cold, but with such a semblance as to make me appear so, and to attract all sympathy to himself.  It is said in this poem that hatred of him will be taught as a lesson to his child.  I might appeal to all who have ever heard me speak of him, and still more to my own heart, to witness that there has been no moment when I have remembered injury otherwise than affectionately and sorrowfully.

’It is not my duty to give way to hopeless and wholly unrequited affection; but, so long as I live, my chief struggle will probably be not to remember him too kindly.  I do not seek the sympathy of the world, but I wish to be known by those whose opinion is valuable and whose kindness is dear to me.  Among such, my dear Lady Anne, you will ever be remembered by your truly affectionate

   ‘A.  BYRON.’

On this letter I observe Lord Lindsay remarks that it shows a noble but rather severe character, and a recent author has remarked that it seemed to be written rather in a ‘cold spirit of criticism.’  It seems to strike these gentlemen as singular that Lady Byron did not enjoy the poem!  But there are two remarkable sentences in this letter which have escaped the critics hitherto.  Lord Byron, in this, the Third Canto of ’Childe Harold,’ expresses in most affecting words an enthusiasm of love for his sister.  So long as he lived he was her faithful correspondent; he sent her his journals; and, dying, he left her and her children everything he had in the world.  This certainly seems like an affectionate brother; but in what words does Lady Byron speak of this affection?

’I had heard he was the best of brothers, the most generous of friends.  I thought these feelings only required to be warmed and cherished into more diffusive benevolence.  THESE OPINIONS ARE ERADICATED, AND COULD NEVER RETURN BUT WITH THE DECAY OF MEMORY.’  Let me ask those who give this letter as a proof that at this time no idea such as I have stated was in Lady Byron’s mind, to account for these words.  Let them please answer these questions:  Why had Lady Byron ceased to think him a good brother?  Why does she use so strong a word as that the opinion was eradicated, torn up by the roots, and could never grow again in her except by decay of memory?

And yet this is a document Lord Lindsay vouches for as authentic, and which he brings forward in defence of Lord Byron.

Again she says, ’Though he would not suffer me to remain his wife, he cannot prevent me from continuing his friend.’  Do these words not say that in some past time, in some decided manner, Lord Byron had declared to her his rejection of her as a wife?  I shall yet have occasion to explain these words.

Again she says, ’I silenced accusations by which my conduct might have been more fully justified.’

The people in England who are so very busy in searching out evidence against my true story have searched out and given to the world an important confirmation of this assertion of Lady Byron’s.

It seems that the confidential waiting-maid who went with Lady Byron on her wedding journey has been sought out and interrogated, and, as appears by description, is a venerable, respectable old person, quite in possession of all her senses in general, and of that sixth sense of propriety in particular, which appears not to be a common virtue in our days.

As her testimony is important, we insert it just here, with a description of her person in full.  The ardent investigators thus speak: ­

’Having gained admission, we were shown into a small but neatly furnished and scrupulously clean apartment, where sat the object of our visit.  Mrs. Mimms is a venerable-looking old lady, of short stature, slight and active appearance, with a singularly bright and intelligent countenance.  Although midway between eighty and ninety years of age, she is in full possession of her faculties, discourses freely and cheerfully, hears apparently as well as ever she did, and her sight is so good that, aided by a pair of spectacles, she reads the Chronicle every day with ease.  Some idea of her competency to contribute valuable evidence to the subject which now so much engages public attention on three continents may be found from her own narrative of her personal relations with Lady Byron.  Mrs. Mimms was born in the neighbourhood of Seaham, and knew Lady Byron from childhood.  During the long period of ten years she was Miss Milbanke’s lady’s-maid, and in that capacity became the close confidante of her mistress.  There were circumstances which rendered their relationship peculiarly intimate.  Miss Milbanke had no sister or female friend to whom she was bound by the ties of more than a common affection; and her mother, whatever other excellent qualities she may have possessed, was too high-spirited and too hasty in temper to attract the sympathies of the young.  Some months before Miss Milbanke was married to Lord Byron, Mrs. Mimms had quitted her service on the occasion of her own marriage with Mr. Mimms; but she continued to reside in the neighbourhood of Seaham, and remained on the most friendly terms with her former mistress.  As the courtship proceeded, Miss Milbanke concealed nothing from her faithful attendant; and when the wedding-day was fixed, she begged Mrs. Mimms to return and fulfil the duties of lady’s-maid, at least during the honeymoon.  Mrs. Mimms at the time was nursing her first child, and it was no small sacrifice to quit her own home at such a moment, but she could not refuse her old mistress’s request.  Accordingly, she returned to Seaham Hall some days before the wedding, was present at the ceremony, and then preceded Lord and Lady Byron to Halnaby Hall, near Croft, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, one of Sir Ralph Milbanke’s seats, where the newly married couple were to spend the honeymoon.  Mrs. Mimms remained with Lord and Lady Byron during the three weeks they spent at Halnaby Hall, and then accompanied them to Seaham, where they spent the next six weeks.  It was during the latter period that she finally quitted Lady Byron’s service; but she remained in the most friendly communication with her ladyship till the death of the latter, and for some time was living in the neighbourhood of Lady Byron’s residence in Leicestershire, where she had frequent opportunities of seeing her former mistress.  It may be added that Lady Byron was not unmindful of the faithful services of her friend and attendant in the instructions to her executors contained in her will.  Such was the position of Mrs. Mimms towards Lady Byron; and we think no one will question that it was of a nature to entitle all that Mrs. Mimms may say on the subject of the relations of Lord and Lady Byron to the most respectful consideration and credit.’

Such is the chronicler’s account of the faithful creature whom nothing but intense indignation and disgust at Mrs. Beecher Stowe would lead to speak on her mistress’s affairs; but Mrs. Beecher Stowe feels none the less sincere respect for her, and is none the less obliged to her for having spoken.  Much of Mrs. Mimms’s testimony will be referred to in another place; we only extract one passage, to show that while Lord Byron spent his time in setting afloat slanders against his wife, she spent hers in sealing the mouths of witnesses against him.

Of the period of the honeymoon Mrs. Mimms says: ­

’The happiness of Lady Byron, however, was of brief duration; even during the short three weeks they spent at Halnaby, the irregularities of Lord Byron occasioned her the greatest distress, and she even contemplated returning to her father.  Mrs. Mimms was her constant companion and confidante through this painful period, and she does not believe that her ladyship concealed a thought from her. With laudable reticence, the old lady absolutely refuses to disclose the particulars of Lord Byron’s misconduct at this time; she gave Lady Byron a solemn promise not to do so.

’So serious did Mrs. Mimms consider the conduct of Lord Byron, that she recommended her mistress to confide all the circumstances to her father, Sir Ralph Milbanke, a calm, kind, and most excellent parent, and take his advice as to her future course.  At one time Mrs. Mimms thinks Lady Byron had resolved to follow her counsel and impart her wrongs to Sir Ralph; but on arriving at Seaham Hall her ladyship strictly enjoined Mrs. Mimms to preserve absolute silence on the subject ­a course which she followed herself; ­so that when, six weeks later, she and Lord Byron left Seaham for London, not a word had escaped her to disturb her parents’ tranquillity as to their daughter’s domestic happiness.  As might be expected, Mrs. Mimms bears the warmest testimony to the noble and lovable qualities of her departed mistress.  She also declares that Lady Byron was by no means of a cold temperament, but that the affectionate impulses of her nature were checked by the unkind treatment she experienced from her husband.’

We have already shown that Lord Byron had been, ever since his separation, engaged in a systematic attempt to reverse the judgment of the world against himself, by making converts of all his friends to a most odious view of his wife’s character, and inspiring them with the zeal of propagandists to spread these views through society.  We have seen how he prepared partisans to interpret the Fourth Canto of ’Childe Harold.’

This plan of solemn and heroic accusation was the first public attack on his wife.  Next we see him commencing a scurrilous attempt to turn her to ridicule in the First Canto of ‘Don Juan.’

It is to our point now to show how carefully and cautiously this Don Juan campaign was planned.

Vol.  IV. , we find Letter 325 to Mr. Murray: ­

      ’Venice:  January 25, 1819.

   ’You will do me the favour to print privately, for private
   distribution, fifty copies of “Don Juan."
The list of the men to
   whom I wish it presented I will send hereafter.’

The poem, as will be remembered, begins with the meanest and foulest attack on his wife that ever ribald wrote, and puts it in close neighbourhood with scenes which every pure man or woman must feel to be the beastly utterances of a man who had lost all sense of decency.  Such a potion was too strong to be administered even in a time when great license was allowed, and men were not over-nice.  But Byron chooses fifty armour-bearers of that class of men who would find indecent ribaldry about a wife a good joke, and talk about the ‘artistic merits’ of things which we hope would make an honest boy blush.

At this time he acknowledges that his vices had brought him to a state of great exhaustion, attended by such debility of the stomach that nothing remained on it; and adds, ’I was obliged to reform my way of life, which was conducting me from the yellow leaf to the ground with all deliberate speed.’ But as his health is a little better he employs it in making the way to death and hell elegantly easy for other young men, by breaking down the remaining scruples of a society not over-scrupulous.

Society revolted, however, and fought stoutly against the nauseous dose.  His sister wrote to him that she heard such things said of it that she never would read it; and the outcry against it on the part of all women of his acquaintance was such that for a time he was quite overborne; and the Countess Guiccioli finally extorted a promise from him to cease writing it.  Nevertheless, there came a time when England accepted ’Don Juan,’ ­when Wilson, in the ‘Noctes Ambrosianae,’ praised it as a classic, and took every opportunity to reprobate Lady Byron’s conduct.  When first it appeared the ‘Blackwood’ came out with that indignant denunciation of which we have spoken, and to which Byron replied in the extracts we have already quoted.  He did something more than reply.  He marked out Wilson as one of the strongest literary men of the day, and set his ‘initiated’ with their documents to work upon him.

One of these documents to which he requested Wilson’s attention was the private autobiography, written expressly to give his own story of all the facts of the marriage and separation.

In the indignant letter he writes Murray on the ‘Blackwood’ article, Vol.  IV., Letter 350 ­under date December 10, 1819 ­he says: ­

’I sent home for Moore, and for Moore only (who has my journal also), my memoir written up to 1816, and I gave him leave to show it to whom he pleased, but not to publish on any account. You may read it, and you may let Wilson read it if he likes ­not for his public opinion, but his private, for I like the man, and care very little about the magazine.  And I could wish Lady Byron herself to read it, that she may have it in her power to mark any thing mistaken or misstated.  As it will never appear till after my extinction, it would be but fair she should see it; that is to say, herself willing.  Your “Blackwood” accuses me of treating women harshly; but I have been their martyr; my whole life has been sacrificed to them and by them.’

It was a part of Byron’s policy to place Lady Byron in positions before the world where she could not speak, and where her silence would be set down to her as haughty, stony indifference and obstinacy.  Such was the pretended negotiation through Madame de Stael, and such now this apparently fair and generous offer to let Lady Byron see and mark this manuscript.

The little Ada is now in her fifth year ­a child of singular sensibility and remarkable mental powers ­one of those exceptional children who are so perilous a charge for a mother.

Her husband proposes this artful snare to her, ­that she shall mark what is false in a statement which is all built on a damning lie, that she cannot refute over that daughter’s head, ­and which would perhaps be her ruin to discuss.

Hence came an addition of two more documents, to be used ’privately among friends,’ and which ‘Blackwood’ uses after Lady Byron is safely out of the world to cast ignominy on her grave ­the wife’s letter, that of a mother standing at bay for her daughter, knowing that she is dealing with a desperate, powerful, unscrupulous enemy.

      ’Kirkby Mallory:  March 10, 1820.

’I received your letter of January 1, offering to my perusal a Memoir of part of your life.  I decline to inspect it.  I consider the publication or circulation of such a composition at any time as prejudicial to Ada’s future happiness.  For my own sake, I have no reason to shrink from publication; but, notwithstanding the injuries which I have suffered, I should lament some of the consequences.

      ’A.  Byron.

   ‘To Lord Byron.’

Lord Byron, writing for the public, as is his custom, makes reply: ­

      ’Ravenna:  April 3, 1820.

’I received yesterday your answer, dated March 10.  My offer was an honest one, and surely could only be construed as such even by the most malignant casuistry.  I could answer you, but it is too late, and it is not worth while.  To the mysterious menace of the last sentence, whatever its import may be ­and I cannot pretend to unriddle it ­I could hardly be very sensible even if I understood it, as, before it can take place, I shall be where “nothing can touch him further.” . . .  I advise you, however, to anticipate the period of your intention, for, be assured, no power of figures can avail beyond the present; and if it could, I would answer with the Florentine: ­

   ’"Ed io, che posto son con loro in croce
   . . . . . e certo
   La fiera moglie, piú ch’altro, mi nuoce.”


   ‘To Lady Byron.’

Two things are very evident in this correspondence:  Lady Byron intimates that, if he publishes his story, some consequences must follow which she shall regret.

Lord Byron receives this as a threat, and says he doesn’t understand it.  But directly after he says, ‘Before IT can take place, I shall be,’ etc.

The intimation is quite clear.  He does understand what the consequences alluded to are.  They are evidently that Lady Byron will speak out and tell her story.  He says she cannot do this till after he is dead, and then he shall not care.  In allusion to her accuracy as to dates and figures, he says:  ’Be assured no power of figures can avail beyond the present’ (life); and then ironically advises her to anticipate the period, ­i.e. to speak out while he is alive.

In Vol.  VI.  Letter 518, which Lord Byron wrote to Lady Byron, but did not send, he says:  ’I burned your last note for two reasons, ­firstly, because it was written in a style not very agreeable; and, secondly, because I wished to take your word without documents, which are the resources of worldly and suspicious people.’

It would appear from this that there was a last letter of Lady Byron to her husband, which he did not think proper to keep on hand, or show to the ‘initiated’ with his usual unreserve; that this letter contained some kind of pledge for which he preferred to take her word, without documents.

Each reader can imagine for himself what that pledge might have been; but from the tenor of the three letters we should infer that it was a promise of silence for his lifetime, on certain conditions, and that the publication of the autobiography would violate those conditions, and make it her duty to speak out.

This celebrated autobiography forms so conspicuous a figure in the whole history, that the reader must have a full idea of it, as given by Byron himself, in Vol.  IV.  Letter 344, to Murray: ­

’I gave to Moore, who is gone to Rome, my life in MS., ­in seventy- eight folio sheets, brought down to 1816 . . . also a journal kept in 1814.  Neither are for publication during my life, but when I am cold you may do what you please.  In the mean time, if you like to read them you may, and show them to anybody you like.  I care not. . . . ’

He tells him also: ­

   ’You will find in it a detailed account of my marriage and its
   consequences, as true as a party concerned can make such an account.’

Of the extent to which this autobiography was circulated we have the following testimony of Shelton Mackenzie, in notes to ‘The Noctes’ of June 1824.

In ‘The Noctes’ Odoherty says: ­

   ’The fact is, the work had been copied for the private reading of a
   great lady in Florence.’

The note says: ­

’The great lady in Florence, for whose private reading Byron’s autobiography was copied, was the Countess of Westmoreland. . . .  Lady Blessington had the autobiography in her possession for weeks, and confessed to having copied every line of it.  Moore remonstrated, and she committed her copy to the flames, but did not tell him that her sister, Mrs. Home Purvis, now Viscountess of Canterbury, had also made a copy! . . .  From the quantity of copy I have seen, ­and others were more in the way of falling in with it than myself, ­I surmise that at least half a dozen copies were made, and of these five are now in existence.  Some particular parts, such as the marriage and separation, were copied separately; but I think there cannot be less than five full copies yet to be found.’

This was written after the original autobiography was burned.

We may see the zeal and enthusiasm of the Byron party, ­copying seventy-eight folio sheets, as of old Christians copied the Gospels.  How widely, fully, and thoroughly, thus, by this secret process, was society saturated with Byron’s own versions of the story that related to himself and wife!  Against her there was only the complaint of an absolute silence.  She put forth no statements, no documents; had no party, sealed the lips of her counsel, and even of her servants; yet she could not but have known, from time to time, how thoroughly and strongly this web of mingled truth and lies was being meshed around her steps.

From the time that Byron first saw the importance of securing Wilson on his side, and wrote to have his partisans attend to him, we may date an entire revolution in the ‘Blackwood.’  It became Byron’s warmest supporter, ­is to this day the bitterest accuser of his wife.

Why was this wonderful silence?  It appears by Dr. Lushington’s statements, that, when Lady Byron did speak, she had a story to tell that powerfully affected both him and Romilly, ­a story supported by evidence on which they were willing to have gone to public trial.  Supposing, now, she had imitated Lord Byron’s example, and, avoiding public trial, had put her story into private circulation; as he sent ‘Don Juan’ to fifty confidential friends, suppose she had sent a written statement of her story to fifty judges as intelligent as the two that had heard it; or suppose she had confronted his autobiography with her own, ­what would have been the result?

The first result might have been Mrs. Leigh’s utter ruin.  The world may finally forgive the man of genius anything; but for a woman there is no mercy and no redemption.

This ruin Lady Byron prevented by her utter silence and great self-command.  Mrs. Leigh never lost position.  Lady Byron never so varied in her manner towards her as to excite the suspicions even of her confidential old servant.

To protect Mrs. Leigh effectually, it must have been necessary to continue to exclude even her own mother from the secret, as we are assured she did at first; for, had she told Lady Milbanke, it is not possible that so high-spirited a woman could have restrained herself from such outward expressions as would at least have awakened suspicion.  There was no resource but this absolute silence.

Lady Blessington, in her last conversation with Lord Byron, thus describes the life Lady Byron was leading.  She speaks of her as ’wearing away her youth in almost monastic seclusion, questioned by some, appreciated by few, seeking consolation alone in the discharge of her duties, and avoiding all external demonstrations of a grief that her pale cheek and solitary existence alone were vouchers for.’

The main object of all this silence may be imagined, if we remember that if Lord Byron had not died, ­had he truly and deeply repented, and become a thoroughly good man, and returned to England to pursue a course worthy of his powers, there was on record neither word nor deed from his wife to stand in his way.

HIS PLACE WAS KEPT IN SOCIETY, ready for him to return to whenever he came clothed and in his right mind.  He might have had the heart and confidence of his daughter unshadowed by a suspicion.  He might have won the reverence of the great and good in his own lands and all lands.  That hope, which was the strong support, the prayer of the silent wife, it did not please God to fulfil.

Lord Byron died a worn-out man at thirty-six.  But the bitter seeds he had sown came up, after his death, in a harvest of thorns over his grave; and there were not wanting hands to use them as instruments of torture on the heart of his widow.