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Lady Byron Vindicated - Part 3. Documents - Letters Of Lady Byron To H. C. Robinson Post by :mrtwist Category :Nonfictions Author :Harriet Beecher Stowe Date :May 2012 Read :1658

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Lady Byron Vindicated - Part 3. Documents - Letters Of Lady Byron To H. C. Robinson


The following letters of Lady Byron's are reprinted from the Memoirs of H. C. Robinson. They are given that the reader may form some judgment of the strength and activity of her mind, and the elevated class of subjects upon which it habitually dwelt.


'DEC. 31, 1853.

'DEAR MR. CRABB ROBINSON,--I have an inclination, if I were not afraid of trespassing on your time (but you can put my letter by for any leisure moment), to enter upon the history of a character which I think less appreciated than it ought to be. Men, I observe, do not understand men in certain points, without a woman's interpretation. Those points, of course, relate to feelings.

'Here is a man taken by most of those who come in his way either for Dry- as-Dust, Matter-of-fact, or for a "vain visionary." There are, doubtless, some defective or excessive characteristics which give rise to those impressions.

'My acquaintance was made, oddly enough, with him twenty-seven years ago. A pauper said to me of him, "He's the poor man's doctor." Such a recommendation seemed to me a good one: and I also knew that his organizing head had formed the first district society in England (for Mrs. Fry told me she could not have effected it without his aid); yet he has always ignored his own share of it. I felt in him at once the curious combination of the Christian and the cynic,--of reverence for man, and contempt of men. It was then an internal war, but one in which it was evident to me that the holier cause would be victorious, because there was deep belief, and, as far as I could learn, a blameless and benevolent life. He appeared only to want sunshine. It was a plant which could not be brought to perfection in darkness. He had begun life by the most painful conflict between filial duty and conscience,--a large provision in the church secured for him by his father; but he could not sign. There was discredit, as you know, attached to such scruples.

'He was also, when I first knew him, under other circumstances of a nature to depress him, and to make him feel that he was unjustly treated. The gradual removal of these called forth his better nature in thankfulness to God. Still the old misanthropic modes of expressing himself obtruded themselves at times. This passed in '48 between him and Robertson. Robertson said to me, "I want to know something about ragged schools." I replied, "You had better ask Dr. King: he knows more about them."--"I?" said Dr. King. "I take care to know nothing of ragged schools, lest they should make me ragged." Robertson did not see through it. Perhaps I had been taught to understand such suicidal speeches by my cousin, Lord Melbourne.

'The example of Christ, imperfectly as it may be understood by him, has been ever before his eyes: he woke to the thought of following it, and he went to rest consoled or rebuked by it. After nearly thirty years of intimacy, I may, without presumption, form that opinion. There is something pathetic to me in seeing any one so unknown. Even the other medical friends of Robertson, when I knew that Dr. King felt a woman's tenderness, said on one occasion to him, "But we know that you, Dr. King, are above all feeling."

'If I have made the character more consistent to you by putting in these bits of mosaic, my pen will not have been ill employed, nor unpleasingly to you.

'Yours truly,



'BRIGHTON, NOV. 15,1854.

'The thoughts of all this public and private suffering have taken the life out of my pen when I tried to write on matters which would otherwise have been most interesting to me: these seemed the shadows, that the stern reality. It is good, however, to be drawn out of scenes in which one is absorbed most unprofitably, and to have one's natural interests revived by such a letter as I have to thank you for, as well as its predecessor. You touch upon the very points which do interest me the most, habitually. The change of form, and enlargement of design, in "The Prospective" had led me to express to one of the promoters of that object my desire to contribute. The religious crisis is instant; but the man for it? The next best thing, if, as I believe, he is not to be found in England, is an association of such men as are to edit the new periodical. An address delivered by Freeman Clarke at Boston, last May, makes me think him better fitted for a leader than any other of the religious "Free-thinkers." I wish I could send you my one copy; but you do not need, it, and others do. His object is the same as that of the "Alliance Universelle:" only he is still more free from "partialism" (his own word) in his aspirations and practical suggestions with respect to an ultimate "Christian synthesis." He so far adopts Comte's theory as to speak of religion itself under three successive aspects, historically,--1. Thesis; 2. Antithesis; 3. Synthesis. I made his acquaintance in England; and he inspired confidence at once by his brave independence (incomptis capillis) and self-unconsciousness. J. J. Tayler's address of last month follows in the same path,--all in favour of the "irenics," instead of polemics.

'The answer which you gave me so fully and distinctly to the questions I proposed for your consideration was of value in turning to my view certain aspects of the case which I had not before observed. I had begun a second attack on your patience, when all was forgotten in the news of the day.'

* * * * *


'BRIGHTON, Dec. 25, 1854.

'With J. J. Tayler, though almost a stranger to him, I have a peculiar reason for sympathising. A book of his was a treasure to my daughter on her death-bed. {320a}

(Note {320a} Probably 'The Christian Aspects of Faith and Duty.' Mr. Tayler has also written 'A Retrospect of the Religious Life of England.')

'I must confess to intolerance of opinion as to these two points,--eternal evil in any form, and (involved in it) eternal suffering. To believe in these would take away my God, who is all-loving. With a God with whom omnipotence and omniscience were all, evil might be eternal; but why do I say to you what has been better said elsewhere?'

* * * * *


'BRIGHTON, Jan. 31, 1855.

. . . 'The great difficulty in respect to "The Review" {320b} seems to be to settle a basis, inclusive and exclusive; in short, a boundary question. From what you said, I think you agreed with me, that a latitudinarian Christianity ought to be the character of the periodical; but the depth of the roots should correspond with the width of the branches of that tree of knowledge. Of some of those minds one might say, "They have no root;" and then, the richer the foliage, the more danger that the trunk will fall. "Grounded in Christ" has to me a most practical significance and value. I, too, have anxiety about a friend (Miss Carpenter) whose life is of public importance: she, more than any of the English reformers, unless Nash and Wright, has found the art of drawing out the good of human nature, and proving its existence. She makes these discoveries by the light of love. I hope she may recover, from to-day's report. The object of a Reformatory in Leicester has just been secured at a county meeting . . . . Now the desideratum is well- qualified masters and mistresses. If you hear of such by chance, pray let me know. The regular schoolmaster is an extinguisher. Heart, and familiarity with the class to be educated, are all important. At home and abroad, the evidence is conclusive on that point; for I have for many years attended to such experiments in various parts of Europe. "The Irish Quarterly" has taken up the subject with rather more zeal than judgment. I had hoped that a sound and temperate exposition of the facts might form an article in the "Might-have-been Review."'

(Note{320b} 'The National Review.')

* * * * *


'BRIGHTON, Feb. 12, 1855.

'I have at last earned the pleasure of writing to you by having settled troublesome matters of little moment, except locally; and I gladly take a wider range by sympathizing in your interests. There is, besides, no responsibility--for me at least--in canvassing the merits of Russell or Palmerston, but much in deciding whether the "village politician" Jackson or Thompson shall be leader in the school or public-house.

'Has not the nation been brought to a conviction that the system should be broken up? and is Lord Palmerston, who has used it so long and so cleverly, likely to promote that object?

'But, whatever obstacles there may be in state affairs, that general persuasion must modify other departments of action and knowledge. "Unroasted coffee" will no longer be accepted under the official seal,--another reason for a new literary combination for distinct special objects, a review in which every separate article should be convergent. If, instead of the problem to make a circle pass through three given points, it were required to find the centre from which to describe a circle through any three articles in the "Edinburgh" or "Westminster Review," who would accomplish it? Much force is lost for want of this one-mindedness amongst the contributors. It would not exclude variety or freedom in the unlimited discussion of means towards the ends unequivocally recognized. If St. Paul had edited a review, he might

have admitted Peter as well as Luke or Barnabas . . . .

'Ross gave us an excellent sermon, yesterday, on "Hallowing the Name." Though far from commonplace, it might have been delivered in any church.

'We have had Fanny Kemble here last week. I only heard her "Romeo and Juliet,"--not less instructive, as her readings always are, than exciting; for in her glass Shakspeare is a philosopher. I know her, and honour her, for her truthfulness amidst all trials.'

* * * * *


'BRIGHTON, March 5, 1855.

'I recollect only those passages of Dr. Kennedy's book which bear upon the opinions of Lord Byron. Strange as it may seem, Dr. Kennedy is most faithful where you doubt his being so. Not merely from casual expressions, but from the whole tenor of Lord Byron's feelings, I could not but conclude 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 remember, that he who thinks his transgressions beyond forgiveness (and such was his own deepest feeling) has righteousness beyond that of the self-satisfied sinner, or, perhaps, of the half-awakened. It was impossible for me to doubt, that, could he have been at once assured of pardon, his living faith in a moral duty, and love of virtue ("I love the virtues which I cannot claim"), would have conquered every temptation. Judge, then, how I must hate the creed which made him see God as an Avenger, not a Father! My own impressions were just the reverse, but could have little weight; and it was in vain to seek to turn his thoughts for long from that idee fixe with which he connected his physical 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. Who, possessed by such ideas, could lead a life of love and service to God or man? They must, in a measure, realize themselves. "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 referring to his frequent expression of the sentiment that I was only sent to show him the happiness he was forbidden to enjoy. You will now better understand why "The Deformed Transformed" is too painful to me for discussion. Since writing the above, I have read Dr. Granville's letter on the Emperor of Russia, some passages of which seem applicable to the prepossession I have described. I will not mix up less serious matters with these, which forty years have not made less than present still to me.'

* * * * *


'BRIGHTON, April 8, 1855.

. . . . 'The book which has interested me most, lately, is that on "Mosaism," translated by Miss Goldsmid, and which I read, as you will believe, without any Christian (unchristian?) prejudice. The missionaries of the Unity were always, from my childhood, regarded by me as in that sense the people; and I believe they were true to that mission, though blind, intellectually, in demanding the crucifixion. The present aspect of Jewish opinions, as shown in that book, is all but Christian. The author is under the error of taking, as the representatives of Christianity, the Mystics, Ascetics, and Quietists; and therefore he does not know how near he is to the true spirit of the gospel. If you should happen to see Miss Goldsmid, pray tell her what a great service I think she has rendered to us soi-disant Christians in translating a book which must make us sensible of the little we have done, and the much we have to do, to justify our preference of the later to the earlier dispensation.' . . .

* * * * *


BRIGHTON, April 11, 1855.

'You appear to have more definite information respecting "The Review" than I have obtained . . . It was also said that "The Review" would, in fact, be "The Prospective" amplified,--not satisfactory to me, because I have always thought that periodical too Unitarian, in the sense of separating itself from other Christian churches, if not by a high wall, at least by a wire-gauze fence. Now, separation is to me the (Greek text). The revelation through Nature never separates: it is the revelation through the Book which separates. Whewell and Brewster would have been one, had they not, I think, equally dimmed their lamps of science when reading their Bibles. As long as we think a truth better for being shut up in a text, we are not of the wide-world religion, which is to include all in one fold: for that text will not be accepted by the followers of other books, or students of the same; and separation will ensue. The Christian Scripture should be dear to us, not as the charter of a few, but of mankind; and to fashion it into cages is to deny its ultimate objects. These thoughts hot, like the roll at breakfast, where your letter was so welcome an addition.'

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