LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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[Leigh Hunt]
Distressing Circumstances in High Life [Byron's Separation].
The Examiner  No. 434  (21 April 1816)  247-50.
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No. 434. SUNDAY, APRIL 21, 1816.


We feel exceeding reluctance at entering, in any way, upon matters, which but for the officious malignity of the gossiping or the interested, might have remained private to this hour, and most likely have been completely done away. But it is not our fault, or that of the Noble Lord concerned, that the subject was first brought into notice; and as counter-notice has at length been taken of it, and well taken,—though our own first impression would certainly have been to take none at all, and thus have baffled the obvious aim of at least one kind of accusers,—we shall add a few such remarks as we think may be useful on the occasion, and trust for making them properly to feelings, which whether our task has been accusation or defence, have never yet, we thank God, lost us the friendship of one single manly mind. It has been our lot, once in our lives, to make a public stand, and a pretty strong one, against the habits and conduct of an individual in high life; but those habits and that conduct were matters of unequivocal notoriety, and as we have repeatedly observed, in excuse for our severity, involved a pettiness, a frivolity, and a spirit of irreconcileable persecution, which together with the open public scandal, took away the usual forbearance of the most charitable observers.

What is the case at present?  A young Nobleman, to whom the public are indebted for a great deal of poetical enjoyment, is reported to have separated from his Wife;
and instantly, without knowing any thing of the matter, and as if he had never done any thing or possessed any one quality to make reproach hesitate, the story is mixed up with all sorts of inconsistent and villainous accusations, some of them so monstrous, that even the first public propagators of the scandal professed the singular delicacy of being able only to hint at them. Hint at them however they did, and thus propagated the scandal, and set the imaginations of it’s mongers afloat, without any warrant whatsoever. These reports at length reached the Noble Lord, and very naturally incited him, though perhaps indiscreetly (for we still think that silent contempt would have been the best as well as the bitterest means of confounding them) to give vent to what he himself felt and thought on the subject in two copies of verses, which were privately circulated.
One of them was addressed to a person, apparently a Governess, whom he considered as a mischief-maker, and whom he covered with a caustic set of horrors, certainly calculated to make one’s imagination tremble:—the other was evidently intended for his Wife, whom he equally loaded with praises, only adding with a bittersweet reproach, which gives double truth to all the praise and all the exquisite pathos of those lines, that could she see the inmost thoughts of his breast, she would find that it was not well to spurn it as she had done. In the Verses also on the female above alluded to, he attributes to his Lady the possession of every virtue under Heaven, though he at last makes one exception, which as every thing earthly has its frailties, is too apt to be the drawback in human virtue so great,—the not knowing how to forgive frailty. We trust, and do most heartily believe, that in spite of the wretched pains taken to misrepresent him, this will be the only point in his Lady’s character, upon which the Noble Lord will find himself ultimately mistaken. What, however, is the course taken by his enemies, at sight of these passionate regrets and eulogies? They accuse him of indelicacy in noticing the matter, although it was they themselves who provoked him to it; and one of them, a Sunday Writer, in his infinite horror at the two copies of Verses, makes haste to print them both with a title of barbarous ostentation; and after turning their zeal to good attractive account, turns round to abuse them for having made their appearance at all, and to accuse the Noble Lord of attempting “to turn the whole current of public reproach and displeasure against his wife,”—of dropping an additional and burning smart into the gashes of her mangled spirit.—“She is held forth,” he continues, “as the most culpable in the quarrel,” as the “cause of the exposure.”—as being utterly deficient in a wife’s first duty.”—With a great deal more of the same extreme and gratuitous talking, exquisitely calculated, especially with the help of a long depreciation about scandal and unworthy motive, to betray itself.

Now we ask any unprejudiced and disinterested human being, who has read the lines respecting Lady Byron, whether this is not one of the falsest and most outrageous inferences, that a determination to calumniate could draw? So far from it’s being the effect of those verses to do what is here pretended, we have hitherto not met with a single person, man or woman, who did not regard them as doing honour to the feelings of the husband, paying exceeding compliment to the wife, and calculated to excite an ardent sympathy with all generous minds in behalf of the reconciliation and happiness of both. Even a Writer in the Courier, who has not escaped altogether from the influence of these poisonous suggestions, says that “if Ladies be the best judges upon such points, their opinion will be very different as to the first poem:—at least,” he continues, “one fair correspondent says that if her husband had made her such a farewell, she could not have avoided running into his arms, and being reconciled immediately.” We have heard several amiable women say precisely the same thing; and without at all meaning to reproach Lady Byron for not having acted instantaneously under a similar impression (for it is impossible to know the infinite little circumstances that may delay, or stand in the road, on such occasions) we repeat our conviction, that if she has not yet been reconciled to her Noble Husband, it is owing to something very different from her own excellent qualities, and solely to officious malignity and misrepresentation. The Sketch from Private Life, with the exception of an extract, it is not our intention to insert,—first, because we are under no necessity of giving our columns the recommendation of what we may doubt the abstract propriety of publishing, and shall disdain to do so if we were,—and secondly, because an effusion which may have been justified by bitter resentment on the part of an individual, becomes a very different thing when gratuitously circulated by others. But hear what is said of this also by the writer of the Courier, who by the way has behaved with a manliness on the occasion, that would shame any calumniator unhabituated to a resolute want of delicacy. “Let it deserve,” says he, “all the censure that has been bestowed upon it; still the fierce vengeance, the spirit of libellous invective, if you will, the deep, unmeasured, rancorous hatred, however culpable, that dictated it, may afford some proof of affection for the subject whom his Lordship, whether erroneously or not, we do not say, conceives to have been alienated from him by the person against whom the Sketch is directed.”—Aye, to be sure. There can be no doubt about it with any one, whose instincts have not been wilfully perverted by the pettiest rancours or views of interest.

What does this unhappy person, who ventures to be so loud and lofty against the Noble Poet,—what does he know of the “facts” he speaks of? What indeed does any body know? “There is,” he tells us, “information enough abroad on the matter to prevent any gross violation of justice by public opinion:”—but we deny the fact; there is no such information;—there is a great deal of horrible falsehood abroad on the subject, varied according to the fancy of the reporters, and gathering corruption from the minds that welcome it as it passes;—but who told him of his “facts?” Did the Lady’s family? He, of all persons, will surely not add to the cruelties he says they have experienced, by charging them with the information; it is obvious they could not. Did Lord Byron then inform him? It is needless to ask the question. We have the honour of knowing the Noble Poet, and as friendship is the first of principles in our theory, involving as it does the first purposes of all virtue itself, we do not scruple to confess, that whatever silence we may have thought ourselves bound to keep with regard to qualities which he could not have possessed, had he been such as the scandal-
mongers represented him, we should nevertheless, if we thought our arm worth his using, have stood by him and his misfortunes to the last. But knowing him as we do, one fact at least we are acquainted with; and that is, that these reckless calumniators know nothing about the matter:—and we know further, that there have been the vilest exaggerations about it:—and that our Noble Friend with all his faults, which he is the last man upon earth to deny, possesses qualities, which ought to crumble the consciousness of these men into dust.

Good God! Was there no mode of accounting for a separation between the parties, but resorting to all sorts of depraved speculations? Was there nothing in difference of habit and opinion? nothing in early temptation, and power of indulgence, and the tongue of unguided temper? nothing even in the frenzy of accumulated distress? nothing in the very perfection of the noble female,—but pains must be taken to hinder the wound from closing?—to make assumptions or repeat insinuations of the falsest and most brutal nature?—and to call up a gratuitous horror in the cause of virtue, by the want of the very qualities disgustingly pretended to be upheld?

It has been urged in one or two quarters, that there must be some foundation at any rate for these rumours, and indeed for repeated rumours of any kind;—and we agree with them:—there is always some foundation undoubtedly for scandalous stories, whether true or false; and the foundation, in the latter instance, lies in the base passions of the scandalizers.  A single thing, suggested in the mere wantonness of envy or malignity, may be repeated and gather as it proceeds, till at last the very authors urge it in proof of their own lie.

The truth is, that Lord Byron, from the nature of his writings, has excited the envy of some; annoyed the self-love, political and otherwise, of many; and rendered himself a mark for misrepresentation, and dark colouring, to all who are fond of the work, or think to profit by it. These people suddenly find him in a situation of distress, confessedly owing to his own frailties; and they take advantage of the wretchedest tittle tattle of the vulgar part of the upper circles to make the worst of the matter, and to be revenged upon him and his friends for qualities of which they themselves are totally destitute. We hope we may not have been somewhat instrumental in bringing this obloquy upon our Noble Friend, with whatever scorn he may treat it; but really it looks like it, from some shuffling and burning pains taken to shew what a wicked paper the Examiner is, with all the shocking opinions of some “able” writers in it,—and by the contrast, what a virtuous, modest, consistent, lofty-minded, transparent, and above-all-party-feelings-and-considerations paper (to use a Ben-Jonsonism) the journal is, that is continually fretting, we understand, at it’s abuses, and making itself pitiable out of a pure spirit of disinterested virtue, which some perverse and scornful natures might call the same spirit of contradiction. Alas, alas! We involuntarily shake our heads here, and let commiseration be once more all that we feel. We told this Writer on one occasion that he had every advantage over us, precisely because he had none; and we hoped the observation would have done him a service. We now tell him, for the same reason,—if indeed it will not anger him on that very account,—that there are minds that have just knowledge of delicacy enough, to perceive how far they may take advantage of it in other people;—and this, to say the least of it, is in very bad taste.—We now relieve ourselves, and turn to the conclusion of the subject.

We see by yesterday’s Chronicle, in the course of writing the present article, that Sir Ralph Milbanke Noel has sent a letter to that paper, stating, that instead of saying to the Editor that he knew of no conspiracy against the domestic peace of Lord Byron, he said, more strongly, that he knew for a certainty no such conspiracy had ever existed; and that the Editor mistook him when he represented him as having expressed his “disquiet and condemnation” at the discussions in the Journal above alluded to, though he still deprecates the discussion of such things in public papers. Sir Ralph mentions also, that ”the step taken by Lady Byron was the result of her own unbiassed judgment,”—that her parents and friends interfered only when called upon by her to afford her their support,”—and that he “conceives those discussions to have sprung from the publication of Lord Byron’s verses, as he does not remember the subject was ever canvassed before.” He concludes with stating that “they certainly did not originate from Lady Byron;” and expresses, in the course of the letter, his unwillingness to give further publicity to the subject. We shall merely observe on the subject of the letter, first, that though we do not exactly see how Sir Ralph Noel can positively know that no conspiracy ever existed against Lord Byron’s peace, we sincerely believe that such a thing, had he known it, would have met with his severest reprobation,—and secondly, that the Honourable Baronet is mistaken in supposing that his Lordship’s verses first created these discussions, since the subject, besides being mentioned in the daily papers, had been very prominently and fiercely alluded to in the same journal, notwithstanding the affectation of dislike to such subjects, with which its late declamation set out.—For the rest, the question is not so much now, what has past, but what can be made up. The unwillingness the Honourable Baronet speaks of must be shared by all the parties really concerned; and we conclude by repeating, that this lamented separation must not and cannot last; and that it will end the sooner, the kindlier it is treated. “Is reconciliation yet hopeless?” asks the Courier, with  an anxiety that does it honour:—“Could nothing be effected by the friends of each and all?” Yes, doubtless,—every thing. We must own, that we do not speak from information, and that something might remain to be done away of the objects of disappointed excellence on one side, and perhaps even of a shadow of returning pride, that seems to have vainly humiliated itself, on the other. But the thing can not last.  One party is too truly good, the other too full of qualities in the midst of his foibles, to suffer it. A woman, who wishes to be a model to her sex, and a man, who never yet lost a manly friend, cannot but re-unite. As resentment, however in some measure laudable, softens away before just representations and returning recollections of kindness, the whole sweetness of the wife and the mother will gush about her heart; and if he cannot see her first, she will come upon him,—depend on it,—stay or go, where he will; and bring a light upon his eyes, to which he neither can nor ought to shut them. We say nothing of what she might have done before, nor of what he ought not to have
done; but charitableness, generosity, the compact “for better, for worse,”—the dictates of Nature, almighty Nature, all will help to do as we say:—the calumnies, like the rest of the clouds, will soon vanish;—and while baffled malignity is forgotten, a silent though a smiling pardon will be extended to those, who only noticed such delicate matters in the hope of assisting to put an end to them.

Fare thee well! and if for ever—
Still for ever, fare thee well—
Even though unforgiving, never
’Gainst thee shall my heart rebel—
Would that breast were bared before thee
Where thy head so oft hath lain,
While that placid sleep came o’er thee
Which thou ne’er can’st know again:
Would that breast by thee glanc’d over,
Every inmost thought could show!
Thou, thou would’st at last discover
’Twas not well to spurn it so—
Though the world for this commend thee—
Though it smile upon the blow,
Even its praises must offend thee,
Founded on another’s woe—
Though my many faults defaced me,
Could no other arm be found
Than the soft one which embraced me
To inflict a cureless wound?
Yet—oh, yet—thyself deceive not—
Love may sink by slow decay,
But by sudden wrench, believe not
Hearts can thus be torn away;
Still thine own it’s life retaineth—
Still must mine—though bleeding—beat,
And the undying thought which paineth
Is—that we no more may meet.—
These are words of deeper sorrow
Than the wail above the dead,
Both shall live—but every morrow
Wake up from a widow’d bed.—
And when thou would’st solace gather—
When our child’s first accents flow—
Wilt thou teach her to say—“Father!”
Though his care she must forego?
When her little hands shall press thee—
When her lip to thine is prest—
Think of him whose prayer shall bless thee—
Think of him thy love had bless’d,
Should her lineaments resemble
Those thou never more may’st see—
Then thy heart will softly tremble
With a pulse yet true to me.—
All my faults—perchance thou knowest—
All my madness—none can know;
All my hopes—where’er thou goest—
Whither—yet with thee they go—
Every feeling hath been shaken,
Pride—which not a world could bow—
Bows to thee—by thee forsaken
Even my soul forsakes me now.—
But ’tis done—all words are idle—
Words from me are vainer still;
Yet the thoughts we cannot bridle
Force their way without the will.—
Fare thee well!—thus disunited—
Turn from every nearer tie—
Seared in heart—and lone—and blighted—
More than this I scarce can die.

“Foil’d was perversion by that youthful mind,
Which, Flattery fooled not—Baseness could not blind,
Deceit infect not—near Contagion soil—
Nor master’d Science tempt her to look down
On humbler talents with a pitying frown—
Nor Genius swell—Nor Beauty render vain—
Nor Envy ruffle in retaliate pain—
Nor Fortune change—Pride raise—nor Passion bow,
Nor Virtue teach austerity—till now,
Serenely purest of her sex that live,
But wanting one sweet weakness—to forgive,
Too shock’d at faults her soul can never know,
She deems that all could be like her below:
Foe to all Vice, yet hardly Virtue’s friend,
For Virtue pardons those she would amend.”