Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Lady Byron Vindicated A history of the Byron controversy from its beginning in 1816 to the present time online

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LADY BYRON VINDICATED ***




Produced by David Edwards and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net









THE

BYRON CONTROVERSY.


LONDON: PRINTED BY
SPOTTISWOODE AND CO., NEW-STREET SQUARE
AND PARLIAMENT STREET




LADY BYRON VINDICATED.

A History
OF
THE BYRON CONTROVERSY

FROM ITS BEGINNING IN 1816 TO THE PRESENT TIME.

BY
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE.


LONDON:
SAMPSON LOW, SON, AND MARSTON
CROWN BUILDINGS, 188 FLEET STREET.
1870.

(_All rights reserved._)




NOTE

BY

THE PUBLISHERS.


The subject of this volume is of such painful notoriety that any
apology from the Publishers may seem unnecessary upon issuing the
Author's reply to the counter statements which her narrative in
_Macmillan's Magazine_ has called forth. Nevertheless they consider it
right to state that their strong regard for the Author, respect for her
motives, and assurance of her truthfulness, would, even in the absence
of all other considerations, be sufficient to induce them to place
their imprint on the title-page.

The publication has been undertaken by them at the Author's request,
'as her friends,' and as the publishers of her former works, and from
a feeling that whatever difference of opinion may be entertained
respecting the Author's judiciousness in publishing 'The True Story,'
she is entitled to defend it, having been treated with grave injustice,
and often with much maliciousness, by her critics and opponents, and
been charged with motives from which no person living is more free.
An intense love of justice and hatred of oppression, with an utter
disregard of her own interests, characterise Mrs. STOWE'S
conduct and writings, as all who know her well will testify; and the
Publishers can unhesitatingly affirm their belief that neither fear
for loss of her literary fame, nor hope of gain, has for one moment
influenced her in the course she has taken.

LONDON: _January 1870_.




CONTENTS.


PART I.


CHAPTER I. PAGE

INTRODUCTION 1


CHAPTER II.

THE ATTACK ON LADY BYRON 6


CHAPTER III.

RÉSUMÉ OF THE CONSPIRACY 50


CHAPTER IV.

RESULTS AFTER LORD BYRON'S DEATH 57


CHAPTER V.

THE ATTACK ON LADY BYRON'S GRAVE 102


PART II.


CHAPTER I.

LADY BYRON AS I KNEW HER 132


CHAPTER II.

LADY BYRON'S STORY AS TOLD ME 153


CHAPTER III.

CHRONOLOGICAL SUMMARY OF EVENTS 171

CHAPTER IV.

THE CHARACTER OF THE TWO WITNESSES COMPARED 199

CHAPTER V.

THE DIRECT ARGUMENT TO PROVE THE CRIME 217

CHAPTER VI.

PHYSIOLOGICAL ARGUMENT 247

CHAPTER VII.

HOW COULD SHE LOVE HIM? 262

CHAPTER VIII.

CONCLUSION 269


PART III.

MISCELLANEOUS DOCUMENTS.

THE TRUE STORY OF LADY BYRON'S LIFE (AS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED
IN 'THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY') 274

LORD LINDSAY'S LETTER TO 'THE LONDON TIMES' 304

DR. FORBES WINSLOW'S LETTER TO 'THE LONDON TIMES' 310

EXTRACT FROM LORD BYRON'S EXPUNGED LETTER TO MURRAY 312

EXTRACTS FROM 'BLACKWOOD'S MAGAZINE' 315

LETTERS OF LADY BYRON TO H. C. ROBINSON 318

DOMESTIC POEMS BY LORD BYRON 323




PART I.




CHAPTER I.

INTRODUCTION.


The interval since my publication of 'The True Story of Lady Byron's
Life' has been one of stormy discussion and of much invective.

I have not thought it necessary to disturb my spirit and confuse my
sense of right by even an attempt at reading the many abusive articles
that both here and in England have followed that disclosure. Friends
have undertaken the task for me, giving me from time to time the
substance of anything really worthy of attention which came to view in
the tumult.

It appeared to me essential that this first excitement should in a
measure spend itself before there would be a possibility of speaking
to any purpose. Now, when all would seem to have spoken who can speak,
and, it is to be hoped, have said the utmost they can say, there seems
a propriety in listening calmly, if that be possible, to what I have to
say in reply.

And, first, why have I made this disclosure at all?

_To this I answer briefly, Because I considered it my duty to make it._

I made it in defence of a beloved, revered friend, whose memory stood
forth in the eyes of the civilised world charged with most repulsive
crimes, of which I _certainly_ knew her innocent.

I claim, and shall prove, that Lady Byron's reputation has been the
victim of a concerted attack, begun by her husband during her lifetime,
and coming to its climax over her grave. I claim, and shall prove, that
it was not I who stirred up this controversy in this year 1869. I shall
show _who did do it_, and who is responsible for bringing on me that
hard duty of making these disclosures, which it appears to me ought to
have been made by others.

I claim that these facts were given to me unguarded by any promise or
seal of secrecy, expressed or implied; that they were lodged with me
as one sister rests her story with another for sympathy, for counsel,
for defence. _Never_ did I suppose the day would come that I should
be subjected to so cruel an anguish as this use of them has been to
me. Never did I suppose that, - when those kind hands, that had shed
nothing but blessings, were lying in the helplessness of death, - when
that gentle heart, so sorely tried and to the last so full of love, was
lying cold in the tomb, - a countryman in England could be found to cast
the foulest slanders on her grave, and not one in all England to raise
an effective voice in her defence.

I admit the feebleness of my plea, in point of execution. It was
written in a state of exhausted health, when no labour of the kind was
safe for me, - when my hand had not strength to hold the pen, and I was
forced to dictate to another.

I have been told that I have no reason to congratulate myself on it as
a literary effort. O my brothers and sisters! is there then nothing in
the world to think of but literary efforts? I ask any man with a heart
in his bosom, if he had been obliged to tell a story so cruel, because
his mother's grave gave no rest from slander, - I ask any woman who had
been forced to such a disclosure to free a dead sister's name from
grossest insults, whether she would have thought of making this work of
bitterness a literary success?

Are the cries of the oppressed, the gasps of the dying, the last
prayers of mothers, - are _any_ words wrung like drops of blood from the
human heart to be judged as literary efforts?

My fellow-countrymen of America, men of the press, I have done you one
act of justice, - of all your bitter articles, I have read not one.
I shall never be troubled in the future time by the remembrance of
any unkind word you have said of me, for at this moment I recollect
not one. I had such faith in you, such pride in my countrymen, as
men with whom, above all others, the cause of woman was safe and
sacred, that I was at first astonished and incredulous at what I
heard of the course of the American press, and was silent, not merely
from the impossibility of being heard, but from grief and shame. But
reflection convinces me that you were, in many cases, acting from a
misunderstanding of facts and through misguided honourable feeling;
and I still feel courage, therefore, to ask from you a fair hearing.
Now, as I have done you this justice, will you also do me the justice
to hear me seriously and candidly?

What interest have you or I, my brother and my sister, in this short
life of ours, to utter anything but the truth? Is not truth between man
and man and between man and woman the foundation on which all things
rest? Have you not, every individual of you, who must hereafter give
an account yourself alone to God, an interest to know the exact truth
in this matter, and a duty to perform as respects that truth? Hear me,
then, while I tell you the position in which I stood, and what was my
course in relation to it.

A shameless attack on my friend's memory had appeared in the
'Blackwood' of July 1869, branding Lady Byron as the vilest of
criminals, and recommending the Guiccioli book to a Christian public
as interesting from the very fact that it was the avowed production
of Lord Byron's mistress. No efficient protest was made against
this outrage in England, and Littell's 'Living Age' reprinted the
'Blackwood' article, and the Harpers, the largest publishing house in
America, perhaps in the world, re-published the book.

Its statements - with those of the 'Blackwood,' 'Pall Mall Gazette,' and
other English periodicals - were being propagated through all the young
reading and writing world of America. I was meeting them advertised
in dailies, and made up into articles in magazines, and thus the
generation of to-day, who had no means of judging Lady Byron but by
these fables of her slanderers, were being foully deceived. The friends
who knew her personally were a small select circle in England, whom
death is every day reducing. They were few in number compared with the
great world, and were _silent_. I saw these foul slanders crystallising
into history uncontradicted by friends who knew her personally, who,
firm in their own knowledge of her virtues and limited in view as
aristocratic circles generally are, had no idea of the width of the
world they were living in, and the exigency of the crisis. When time
passed on and no voice was raised, I spoke. I gave at first a simple
story, for I knew instinctively that whoever put the first steel point
of truth into this dark cloud of slander must wait for the storm to
spend itself. I must say the storm exceeded my expectations, and has
raged loud and long. But now that there is a comparative stillness I
shall proceed, first, to prove what I have just been asserting, and,
second, to add to my true story such facts and incidents as I did not
think proper at first to state.




CHAPTER II.

THE ATTACK ON LADY BYRON.


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 Ambrosianæ.' 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_.'[1]

[Footnote 1: The italics are mine.]

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 reprobations, 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 Staël 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 Æschylus, 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, Ægistheus. 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 Æschylus 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. p. 207. 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 'twas 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 hast 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_,[2] 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.'

[Footnote 2: The italics are mine.]

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 _any_thing, 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,



Online LibraryHarriet Beecher StoweLady Byron Vindicated A history of the Byron controversy from its beginning in 1816 to the present time → online text (page 1 of 24)