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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsLady Byron Vindicated - Part 2 - Chapter 7. How Could She Love Him?
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Lady Byron Vindicated - Part 2 - Chapter 7. How Could She Love Him? Post by :Truman Category :Nonfictions Author :Harriet Beecher Stowe Date :May 2012 Read :605

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Lady Byron Vindicated - Part 2 - Chapter 7. How Could She Love Him?


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

One of her letters in Robinson's Memoirs, in regard to his religious opinions, shows with what intense earnestness she dwelt upon the unhappy influences of his childhood and youth, and those early theologies which led him to regard himself as one of the reprobate. She says,-- 'Not merely from casual expressions, but from the whole tenor of Lord Byron's feelings, I could not but conclude that he was a believer in the inspiration of the Bible, and had the gloomiest Calvinistic tenets. To that unhappy view of the relation of the creature to the Creator I have always ascribed the misery of his life.

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

That Lady Byron was not alone in ascribing such results to the doctrines of Calvinism, in certain cases, appears from the language of the Thirty- nine Articles, which says:-- 'As the godly consideration of predestination, and our election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the workings of the spirit of Christ; . . . so, for curious and carnal persons, lacking the spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God's predestination, is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into recklessness of most unclean living,--no less perilous than desperation.' Lord Byron's life is an exact commentary on these words, which passed under the revision of Calvin himself.

The whole tone of this letter shows not only that Lady Byron never lost her deep interest in her husband, but that it was by this experience that all her religious ideas were modified. There is another of these letters in which she thus speaks of her husband's writings and character:-- 'The author of the article on "Goethe" appears to me to have the mind which could dispel the illusion about another poet, without depreciating his claims . . . to the truest inspiration.

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

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

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

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

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

The last letter which I addressed to Lady Byron upon this subject will show that such was the impression of the whole interview. It was in reply to the one written on the death of my son:-- 'Jan. 30, 1858.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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