Full Online Books
Authors Authors Short Stories Short Stories Long Stories Long Stories Funny Stories Funny Stories Love Stories Love Stories Stories For Kids Stories For Kids Poems Poems Essays Essays Nonfictions Nonfictions Plays Plays Folktales Folktales Fairy Tales Fairy Tales Fables Fables Learning Kitchen Learning Kitchen
Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Free Classified Website Without Registration Free Classified Website Daniel Company
Twitter Twitter Add book
Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsLady Byron Vindicated - Part 2 - Chapter 5. The Direct Argument To Prove The Crime
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
Lady Byron Vindicated - Part 2 - Chapter 5. The Direct Argument To Prove The Crime Post by :mrtwist Category :Nonfictions Author :Harriet Beecher Stowe Date :May 2012 Read :2710

Click below to download : Lady Byron Vindicated - Part 2 - Chapter 5. The Direct Argument To Prove The Crime (Format : PDF)

Lady Byron Vindicated - Part 2 - Chapter 5. The Direct Argument To Prove The Crime


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4th, It is probable that the crime was the one now alleged, because that was the most important crime charged against him by rumour at the period. This appears by the following extract of a letter from Shelley, furnished by the 'Quarterly,' dated Bath, Sept. 29, 1816:-- 'I saw Kinnaird, and had a long talk with him. He informed me that Lady Byron was now in perfect health; that she was living with your sister. I felt much pleasure from this intelligence. I consider the latter part of it as affording a decisive contradiction to the only important calumny that ever was advanced against you. On this ground, at least, it will become the world hereafter to be silent.' It appears evident here that the charge of improper intimacy with his sister was, in the mind of Shelley, the only important one that had yet been made against Lord Byron.

It is fairly inferable, from Lord Byron's own statements, that his family friends believed this charge. Lady Byron speaks, in her statement, of 'nearest relatives' and family friends who were cognizant of Lord Byron's strange conduct at the time of the separation; and Lord Byron, in the letter to Bowles, before quoted, says that every one of his relations, except his sister, fell from him in this crisis like leaves from a tree in autumn. There was, therefore, not only this report, but such appearances in support of it as convinced those nearest to the scene, and best apprised of the facts; so that they fell from him entirely, notwithstanding the strong influence of family feeling. The Guiccioli book also mentions this same allegation as having arisen from peculiarities in Lord Byron's manner of treating his sister:-- 'This deep, fraternal affection assumed at times, under the influence of his powerful genius, and under exceptional circumstances, an almost too passionate expression, which opened a fresh field to his enemies.' {219} (Note 219: 'My Recollections,' p.238.)

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

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

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

Now, let us see how this note, cited by the 'Quarterly,' confirms one of Lady Byron's own statements. She says to Lady Anne Barnard,-- 'I trust you understand my wishes, which never were to injure Lord Byron in any way; for, though he would not suffer me to remain his wife, he cannot prevent me from continuing his friend; and it was from considering myself as such that I silenced the accusations by which my own conduct might have been more fully justified.' How did Lady Byron silence accusations? First, by keeping silence to her nearest relatives; second, by shutting the mouths of servants; third, by imposing silence on her friends,--as Lady Anne Barnard; fourth, by silencing her legal counsel; fifth, and most entirely, by treating Mrs. Leigh, before the world, with unaltered kindness. In the midst of the rumours, Lady Byron went to visit her; and Shelley says that the movement was effectual. Can the 'Quarterly' prove that, at this time, Mrs. Leigh had not confessed all, and thrown herself on Lady Byron's mercy?

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

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

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

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

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

The peculiar bitterness of remorse expressed in his works by Lord Byron is a further evidence that he had committed an unusual crime. We are aware that evidence cannot be drawn in this manner from an author's works merely, if unsupported by any external probability. For example, the subject most frequently and powerfully treated by Hawthorne is the influence of a secret, unconfessed crime on the soul: nevertheless, as Hawthorne is well known to have always lived a pure and regular life, nobody has ever suspected him of any greater sin than a vigorous imagination. But here is a man believed guilty of an uncommon immorality by the two best lawyers in England, and threatened with an open exposure, which he does not dare to meet. The crime is named in society; his own relations fall away from him on account of it; it is only set at rest by the heroic conduct of his wife. Now, this man is stated by many of his friends to have had all the appearance of a man secretly labouring under the consciousness of crime. Moore speaks of this propensity in the following language:-- 'I have known him more than once, as we sat together after dinner, and he was a little under the influence of wine, to fall seriously into this dark, self-accusing mood, and throw out hints of his past life with an air of gloom and mystery designed evidently to awaken curiosity and interest.' Moore says that it was his own custom to dispel these appearances by ridicule, to which his friend was keenly alive. And he goes on to say,-- 'It has sometimes occurred to me, that the occult causes of his lady's separation from him, round which herself and her legal advisers have thrown such formidable mystery, may have been nothing more than some imposture of this kind, some dimly-hinted confession of undefined horror, which, though intended by the relater to mystify and surprise, the hearer so little understood as to take in sober seriousness.' {225} (Note 225: Vol. vi. p.242.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In letter 288, speaking of the various accounts given by critics of the origin of the story, he says,-- 'The conjecturer is out, and knows nothing of the matter. I had a better origin than he could devise or divine for the soul of him.' In letter 299, he says:--

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

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

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

(Note 227: The reader is here referred to the remarks of 'Blackwood' on 'Don Juan' in Part III.)

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

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

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

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

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.

If you like this book please share to your friends :

Lady Byron Vindicated - Part 2 - Chapter 6. Physiological Argument Lady Byron Vindicated - Part 2 - Chapter 6. Physiological Argument

Lady Byron Vindicated - Part 2 - Chapter 6. Physiological Argument
PART II. CHAPTER VI. PHYSIOLOGICAL ARGUMENTThe 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

Lady Byron Vindicated - Part 2 - Chapter 4. The Character Of The Two Witnesses Compared Lady Byron Vindicated - Part 2 - Chapter 4. The Character Of The Two Witnesses Compared

Lady Byron Vindicated - Part 2 - Chapter 4. The Character Of The Two Witnesses Compared
PART II. CHAPTER IV. THE CHARACTER OF THE TWO WITNESSES COMPAREDIt will be observed, that, in this controversy, we are confronting two opposing stories,--one of Lord and the other of Lady Byron; and the statements from each are in point-blank contradiction.Lord Byron states that his wife deserted him. Lady Byron states that he expelled her, and reminds him, in her letter to Augusta Leigh, that the expulsion was a deliberate one, and that he had purposed it from the beginning of their marriage.Lord Byron always stated that he was ignorant why his wife left him, and was desirous of her return.