LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
[William Maginn?]
My Wedding Night: Lord Byron’s Memoirs.
The John Bull Magazine  Vol. 1  (July 1824)  19-21.
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH




Vol. I. JULY, 1824. No. I.


The obnoxious Chapter in Lord Byron’s Memoirs.

[Every body knows that Lord Byron’s Memoirs have been burnt, though it at present appears difficult to say, who should bear the blame, or deserve the credit, of such a destruction. However, we know, and every body may know if every body pleases, that there are more copies than two, beyond doubt, still existent; and that the Memoirs, moreover, have been read by more than five hundred people, as Lady C——ne L—b and Lady B——sh could, perhaps, depose, if they were subpœned for the nonce. Under these circumstances, it is quite impossible that they (begging their ladyships’ pardon,) can remain unpublished. In order to expedite this good work, for we think it a pity that an expurgated edition of his lordship’s autography should be lost, we here publish, with due mutilations, which we shall not specify, the chapter which has given most offence; and, it is said, finally determined Lord Byron’s relatives on the destruction of the MS. For its genuineness we can only answer, that it was given to us by a person who had the best opportunities of perusing the original. That there is such a chapter in the book, and that it was this alone which sealed the fate of the whole, is beyond all dispute.]

His lordship had been just describing his marriage.

* * * * *

“It was now near two o’clock in the morning, and I was jaded to the soul by the delay. I had left the company, and retired to a private apartment. Will those, who think that a bridegroom on his bridal-night should be so thoroughly saturated with love, as to render it impossible for him to yield to any other feeling, pardon me when I say, that I had almost fallen asleep on a sofa, when a giggling, tittering, half-blushing face popped itself into the door, and popped as fast back again, after having whispered as audibly as a suivante whispers upon the stage, that Anne was in bed? It was one of her bridemaids. Yet such is the case. I was actually dozing. Matrimony begins very soon to operate narcotically—had it been a mistress—had it been an assignation with any animal, covered with a petticoat—any thing but a wife—why, perhaps, the case would have been different.

“I found my way, however, at once into the bed-room, and tore off my garments. Your pious zeal will, I am sure, be quite shocked, when I tell you I did not say my prayers that evening—morning I mean. It was, I own, wrong in me, who had been educated in the pious and praying kingdom of Scotland, and must confess myself—you need not smile—at least half a Presbyterian. Miss N—l—should I yet say Lady Byron?—had turned herself away to the most remote verge, and tightly enwrapped herself in the bed-clothes. I called her by her name—her Christian name—her pet name—every name of endearment—I spoke in the softest under tones—in the most melodious upper tones of which my voice is master. She made no answer, but lay still, and I stole my arm under her neck, which exerted all the rigidity of all its muscles to prevent the (till then undreamt of) invasion. I turned up her head—but still not a word. With gentle force I removed the close-pressed folds of the sheet from her fine form—you must let me say that of her, unfashionable as it is, and unused as I have been to paying her compliments—she resisting all the while. After all, there is nothing like a coup de main in love or war. I conquered by means of one, with the other arm, for I had got it round her waist, and using all my strength, (and what is that of a woman, particularly a woman acting the modeste, to that of a vigorous fellow, who had cleft the Hellespont,) drew her to my arms, which now clasped her to my bosom with all the warmth of glowing, boiling passion, and all the pride of victory. I pressed my lips warmly to hers. There was no return of the pressure. I pressed them again and again—slightly at last was I answered, but still that slightly was sufficient. Ce n’est que la premiere pas qui coute. She had not, however, opened her lips. I put my hand upon her heart, and it palpitated with a strong and audible beating under my touch. Heaven help it! it little knew how much more reason it would, ere long, have for more serious and more lasting throbbings.

As yet she had not uttered a word, and I was becoming tired of her obsti-
20My Wedding Night.
nacy. I made, therefore, a last appeal. ‘Are you afraid of me, dearest?’—I uttered, in a half-fond, half-querulous, tone. It broke the ice. She answered in a low, timid, and subdued voice—‘I am not,’—and turned to me, for the first time, with that coy and gentle pressure which is, perhaps, the dearest and most delightful of all sensations ever to be enjoyed by man. I knew by it that I had conquered. * * * * * * * * *

[There follows immediately, in his lordship’s manuscript, a long passage—long enough to fill three of our pages, but it is unfortunately illegible. At least our correspondent assures us that he could not decypher it—it is not, however, impossible that some more skilful decypherer will be found—nor is it totally out of the question, but that even this difficult passage may find its way into print.]

“My sleep might have been profound, but it was, of course, not over-long. I slept about three hours, which were sadly infested with dreams. I fancied that I had died, yet retained a puzzling sense of consciousness of existence. I seemed to be a sort of spectator of my own actions—to be looking at what the deceased Lord Byron was occupied about, yet, nevertheless, intimately blended and mixed up with all his actions. After my death, I descended to the infernal regions. The hell into which I had entered, was not the orthodox depository for damned souls, nor was it the Miltonian region of sorrow and doleful shades; nor was it the hall of Eblis as in Beckford’s Vathek; nor what would be perhaps more to be expected from my style of reading at the time, the Inferno of Dante, with its dread inscription of ‘Lasciate ogni speranza.’ No, it was the old classical hell, with the grim ferryman that poets write of, in the full costume of the Æneid, or rather, of an old weather-beaten engraving in Tooke’s Pantheon. I had no sense of apprehension about me; I was but a visitor, although disembodied. Like our old schoolboy friends, Ulysses, or Æneas, I was but on a cruize, in quest of infernal novelties. I crossed the darksome flood, in the leathern boat, ploughing through it like a sluggish stream of molten lava. I trod on the burning soil, and saw, through a long perspective of irregular fires, the smouldering rivers of unextinguishable flame. I perceived all the old company to whom I had been introduced by Dr. Drury at Harrow. Ixion, on his wheel; Sisyphus rolling up his endless stone, like Southey, labouring after interminable quartos, puffed up as uselessly, and doomed to as rapid a revolution downhill; Tityus, with his vultures, and he put me in mind of England, with her borough lords preying for ever on her entrails, while she still lingers on, and appears ever to suffer nothing in her constitution—and so on.

“As I had been presented to Ali Pacha, I had no scruple whatever of making my approaches to Pluto. He was sitting, silent, in which he had much the advantage of most kings with whom I have the honour of being acquainted, for he thereby avoided talking nonsense; and by him sate his bride; pale, dark-haired, with melancholy eye, and conjugal detestation of her sovereign lord; she looked as if she would have no objection to an earthly lover. I approached her, methought gallantly, and bowing reverently before her throne, with my right-hand placed with an air of devotion on my breast, I said, ‘Hail, Proserpine!’

“And, so saying, I awoke: but the influence of the dream was still strong upon me. The sound of my salutation rung in my ears, and the objects that met my eyes did not for some moments dispel the illusion. It was a clear January morning, and the dim grey light streamed in murkily through the glowing red damask-curtains of our bed. It represented just the gloomy furnace light with which our imaginations have illuminated hell. On the pillow reclined the head of my wife, with her face paler than the white cover which she was pressing; her hair had escaped from the night-cap, and it waved in long irregular tresses over her neck and bosom. She slept, but there was a troubled air upon her countenance. Altogether, that light—that cavern-like bed—that pale, melancholy visage—that disordered and dark hair so completely agreed with the objects which I had just seen in my slumbers, that I started. I was almost going to continue the address, which, in the inferior realms I had commenced. ‘Hail, Proserpine,’ was again upon my lips, but reason soon returned. Her hand casually met mine, and, instead of the monumental-marble-like
My Wedding Night.21
coldness which should characterize the chill Queen of Erebus—it was warm, glowing, melting, moist—it was the hand not of a divinity, but of a much better creature—a beautiful woman. You may be sure it was not long * * * * * * * * *

[There is some more of this chapter, but this is sufficient for a sample. We leave the remainder to the imagination of our readers. We are promised additional sketches from the same quarter.]