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Lady Byron Vindicated - Part 3. Documents - Lord Lindsay's Letter To The London Times Post by :vbhnl Category :Nonfictions Author :Harriet Beecher Stowe Date :May 2012 Read :2238

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Lady Byron Vindicated - Part 3. Documents - Lord Lindsay's Letter To The London Times


SIR,--I have waited in expectation of a categorical denial of the horrible charge brought by Mrs. Beecher Stowe against Lord Byron and his sister on the alleged authority of the late Lady Byron. Such denial has been only indirectly given by the letter of Messrs. Wharton and Fords in your impression of yesterday. That letter is sufficient to prove that Lady Byron never contemplated the use made of her name, and that her descendants and representatives disclaim any countenance of Mrs. B. Stowe's article; but it does not specifically meet Mrs. Stowe's allegation, that Lady Byron, in conversing with her thirteen years ago, affirmed the charge now before us. It remains open, therefore, to a scandal-loving world, to credit the calumny through the advantage of this flaw, involuntary, I believe, in the answer produced against it. My object in addressing you is to supply that deficiency by proving that what is now stated on Lady Byron's supposed authority is at variance, in all respects, with what she stated immediately after the separation, when everything was fresh in her memory in relation to the time during which, according to Mrs. B. Stowe, she believed that Byron and his sister were living together in guilt. I publish this evidence with reluctance, but in obedience to that higher obligation of justice to the voiceless and defenceless dead which bids me break through a reserve that otherwise I should have held sacred. The Lady Byron of 1818 would, I am certain, have sanctioned my doing so, had she foreseen the present unparalleled occasion, and the bar that the conditions of her will present (as I infer from Messrs Wharton and Fords' letter) against any fuller communication. Calumnies such as the present sink deep and with rapidity into the public mind, and are not easily eradicated. The fame of one of our greatest poets, and that of the kindest and truest and most constant friend that Byron ever had, is at stake; and it will not do to wait for revelations from the fountain-head, which are not promised, and possibly may never reach us.

The late Lady Anne Barnard, who died in 1825, a contemporary and friend of Burke, Windham, Dundas, and a host of the wise and good of that generation, and remembered in letters as the authoress of 'Auld Robin Gray,' had known the late Lady Byron from infancy, and took a warm interest in her; holding Lord Byron in corresponding repugnance, not to say prejudice, in consequence of what she believed to be his harsh and cruel treatment of her young friend. I transcribe the following passages, and a letter from Lady Byron herself (written in 1818) from ricordi, or private family memoirs, in Lady Anne's autograph, now before me. I include the letter, because, although treating only in general terms of the matter and causes of the separation, it affords collateral evidence bearing strictly upon the point of the credibility of the charge now in question:--

'The separation of Lord and Lady Byron astonished the world, which believed him a reformed man as to his habits, and a becalmed man as to his remorses. He had written nothing that appeared after his marriage till the famous "Fare thee well," which had the power of compelling those to pity the writer who were not well aware that he was not the unhappy person he affected to be. Lady Byron's misery was whispered soon after her marriage and his ill usage, but no word transpired, no sign escaped, from her. She gave birth, shortly, to a daughter; and when she went, as soon as she was recovered, on a visit to her father's, taking her little Ada with her, no one knew that it was to return to her lord no more. At that period, a severe fit of illness had confined me to bed for two months. I heard of Lady Byron's distress; of the pains he took to give a harsh impression of her character to the world. I wrote to her, and entreated her to come and let me see and hear her, if she conceived my sympathy or counsel could be any comfort to her. She came; but what a tale was unfolded by this interesting young creature, who had so fondly hoped to have made a young man of genius and romance (as she supposed) happy! They had not been an hour in the carriage which conveyed them from the church, when, breaking into a malignant sneer, "Oh! what a dupe you have been to your imagination! How is it possible a woman of your sense could form the wild hope of reforming me? Many are the tears you will have to shed ere that plan is accomplished. It is enough for me that you are my wife for me to hate you! If you were the wife of any other man, I own you might have charms," etc. I who listened was astonished. "How could you go on after this," said I, "my dear? Why did you not return to your father's?" "Because I had not a conception he was in earnest; because I reckoned it a bad jest, and told him so,--that my opinions of him were very different from his of himself, otherwise he would not find me by his side. He laughed it over when he saw me appear hurt: and I forgot what had passed, till forced to remember it. I believe he was pleased with me, too, for a little while. I suppose it had escaped his memory that I was his wife." But she described the happiness they enjoyed to have been unequal and perturbed. Her situation, in a short time, might have entitled her to some tenderness; but she made no claim on him for any. He sometimes reproached her for the motives that had induced her to marry him: all was "vanity, the vanity of Miss Milbanke carrying the point of reforming Lord Byron! He always knew her inducements; her pride shut her eyes to his: he wished to build up his character and his fortunes; both were somewhat deranged: she had a high name, and would have a fortune worth his attention,--let her look to that for his motives!"--"O Byron, Byron!" she said, "how you desolate me!" He would then accuse himself of being mad, and throw himself on the ground in a frenzy, which she believed was affected to conceal the coldness and malignity of his heart,--an affectation which at that time never failed to meet with the tenderest commiseration. I could find by some implications, not followed up by me, lest she might have condemned herself afterwards for her involuntary disclosures, that he soon attempted to corrupt her principles, both with respect to her own conduct and her latitude for his. She saw the precipice on which she stood, and kept his sister with her as much as possible. He returned in the evenings from the haunts of vice, where he made her understand he had been, with manners so profligate! "O the wretch!" said I. "And had he no moments of remorse?" "Sometimes he appeared to have them. One night, coming home from one of his lawless parties, he saw me so indignantly collected, and bearing all with such a determined calmness, that a rush of remorse seemed to come over him. He called himself a monster, though his sister was present, and threw himself in agony at my feet. I could not--no--I could not forgive him such injuries. He had lost me for ever! Astonished at the return of virtue, my tears, I believe, flowed over his face, and I said, 'Byron, all is forgotten: never, never shall you hear of it more!' He started up, and, folding his arms while he looked at me, burst into laughter. 'What do you mean?' said I. 'Only a philosophical experiment; that's all,' said he. 'I wished to ascertain the value of your resolutions.'" I need not say more of this prince of duplicity, except that varied were his methods of rendering her wretched, even to the last. When her lovely little child was born, and it was laid beside its mother on the bed, and he was informed he might see his daughter, after gazing at it with an exulting smile, this was the ejaculation that broke from him: "Oh, what an implement of torture have I acquired in you!" Such he rendered it by his eyes and manner, keeping her in a perpetual alarm for its safety when in his presence. All this reads madder than I believe he was: but she had not then made up her mind to disbelieve his pretended insanity, and conceived it best to intrust her secret with the excellent Dr. Baillie; telling him all that seemed to regard the state of her husband's mind, and letting his advice regulate her conduct. Baillie doubted of his derangement; but, as he did not reckon his own opinion infallible, he wished her to take precautions as if her husband were so. He recommended her going to the country, but to give him no suspicion of her intentions of remaining there, and, for a short time, to show no coldness in her letters, till she could better ascertain his state. She went, regretting, as she told me, to wear any semblance but the truth. A short time disclosed the story to the world. He acted the part of a man driven to despair by her inflexible resentment and by the arts of a governess (once a servant in the family) who hated him. "I will give you," proceeds Lady Anne, "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 any thing of her writings 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 resemblance 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 clear to me. Among such, my dear Lady Anne, you will ever be remembered by your truly affectionate,

'"A. BYRON."'

It is the province of your readers, and of the world at large, to judge between the two testimonies now before them,--Lady Byron's in 1816 and 1818, and that put forward in 1869 by Mrs. B. Stowe, as communicated by Lady Byron thirteen years ago. In the face of the evidence now given, positive, negative, and circumstantial, there can be but two alternatives in the case: either Mrs. B. Stowe must have entirely misunderstood Lady Byron, and been thus led into error and misstatement; or we must conclude that, under the pressure of a lifelong and secret sorrow, Lady Byron's mind had become clouded with an hallucination in respect of the particular point in question.

The reader will admire the noble but severe character displayed in Lady Byron's letter; but those who keep in view what her first impressions were, as above recorded, may probably place a more lenient interpretation than hers upon some of the incidents alleged to Byron's discredit. I shall conclude with some remarks upon his character, written shortly after his death by a wise, virtuous, and charitable judge, the late Sir Walter Scott, likewise in a letter to Lady Anne Barnard:--

'Fletcher's account of poor Byron is extremely interesting. I had always a strong attachment to that unfortunate though most richly-gifted man, because I thought I saw that his virtues (and he had many) were his own; and his eccentricities the result of an irritable temperament, which sometimes approached nearly to mental disease. Those who are gifted with strong nerves, a regular temper, and habitual self-command, are not, perhaps, aware how much of what they may think virtue they owe to constitution; and such are but too severe judges of men like Byron, whose mind, like a day of alternate storm and sunshine, is all dark shades and stray gleams of light, instead of the twilight gray which illuminates happier though less distinguished mortals. I always thought, that, when a moral proposition was placed plainly before Lord Byron, his mind yielded a pleased and willing assent to it; but, if there was any side view given in the way of raillery or otherwise, he was willing enough to evade conviction . . . . It augurs ill for the cause of Greece that this master-spirit should have been withdrawn from their assistance just as he was obtaining a complete ascendancy over their counsels. I have seen several letters from the Ionian Islands, all of which unite in speaking in the highest praise of the wisdom and temperance of his counsels, and the ascendancy he was obtaining over the turbulent and ferocious chiefs of the insurgents. I have some verses written by him on his last birthday: they breathe a spirit of affection towards his wife, and a desire of dying in battle, which seems like an anticipation of his approaching fate.'

I remain, sir, your obedient servant,


DUNECHT, Sept. 3.

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