LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
Thomas Campbell
Notices of the Life of Lord Byron by Mr. Moore.
New Monthly Magazine  Vol. 28  (April 1830)  377-382.
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New Monthly Magazine.

APRIL 1, 1830.



Mr. Moore’s Life of the noble bard was reviewed in our last Number: it must now be reviewed again. Among the literary notices of the New Monthly, I consented to the insertion of a laudatory account of the work; nay, more, I expunged a portion of the manuscript critique, in which Mr. Moore was censured for unfairness towards Lady Byron. This I did from unwillingness to blame my friend Mr. Moore, and from having scarcely dipped into the censured parts of the book. Besides, I did not then believe Lady Byron to be so perfectly justifiable in the separation as I now know her to be. Such were the circumstances under which I circulated among thousands the little warranty of my approbation of a work, which I find, on closer inspection, to be one of the most injudicious books that was ever published. But since that time, the state of circumstances has wholly changed. Lady Byron has spoken out. As her friend, I could not keep my mind quiet about her feelings under this ill-starred resuscitation of the question concerning her. I consulted several of her friends, and it was their joint opinion, that since the ice of reserve had been broken by Lord Byron’s biographer on the luckless topic, it would be the duty of some one of her friends to say in answer to Mr. Moore something more than Lady Byron could with propriety say for herself. A female friend offered to do this, and she would have probably done it better than I can. But I could not be such a craven as to let a woman come forward in my place. I went to Lady Byron for such general circumstances of truth as might not involve her in accusing Lord Byron. For more particular facts respecting the separation, I applied to a different but perfectly authentic quarter, and there I learnt a few facts, which, though my readers need not fear that I shall inflict them on their delicacy, suffice to convince me that Lady Byron was justified in the parting by circumstances, which Lord Byron had either forgot, or, “with all his manly candour,” had failed to state to Mr. Moore.

My plainness in speaking of Mr. Moore is a compliment to his importance and popularity, which would make a weak or timid remonstrance incapable of reaching him. My interest in a suffering woman needs no apology.

I found my right to speak on this painful subject on its now irrevocable publicity, brought up afresh, as it has been by Mr. Moore, to be the theme of discourse to millions, and, if I err not much, the cause of misconception to innumerable minds. I claim to speak of Lady Byron in the right of a man, and of a friend to the rights of woman, and to liberty, and to natural religion. I claim a right, more especially, as one of the many friends of Lady Byron, who, one and all, feel aggrieved by this production. It has virtually dragged her forward from the shade of retirement, where she had hid her sorrows, and compelled her to defend the heads of her friends and her parents from being crushed under the tombstone of Byron. Nay, in a general view, it has forced her to defend herself; though with her true sense, and her pure taste, she stands above all special pleading. To plenary explanation she ought not—she never shall be driven. Mr. Moore is too much a gentleman not to shudder at the thought of that; but if other Byronists, of a far different stamp, were to force the savage ordeal, it is her enemies, and not she, that would have to dread the burning ploughshares.

378 Moore’s Life of Lord Byron.

We, her friends, have no wish to prolong the discussion; but a few words we must add, even to her admirable statement—for her’s is a cause not only dear to her friends, but having become, from Mr. Moore and her misfortunes, a publicly agitated cause, it concerns morality, and the most sacred rights of the sex, that she should (and that, too, without more special explanations,) be acquitted out and out, and honourably acquitted in this business, of all share in the blame, which is one and indivisible. Mr. Moore, on farther reflection, may see this, and his return to camlour will surprise us less than his momentary deviation from its path.

For the tact of Mr. Moore’s conduct in this affair, I have not to answer; but, if indelicacy be charged upon me, I scorn the charge. Neither will I submit to be called Lord Byron’s accuser,—because a word against him I wish not to say, beyond what is painfully wrung from me by the necessity of owning or illustrating Lady Byron’s unblamableness, and of repelling certain misconceptions respecting her, which are now walking the fashionable world; and which have been fostered, (though Heaven knows where they were born) most delicately and warily by the Christian godfathership of Mr. Moore.

I write not at Lady Byron’s bidding—I have never humiliated either her or myself by asking if I should write—or what I should write—that is to say, I never applied to her for information against Lord Byron, though I was justified, as one intending to criticize Mr. Moore, to enquire into the truth of some of his statements. Neither will I suffer myself to be called her champion, if by that word be meant the advocate of her mere legal innocence, for that, I take it, nobody questions. Still less is it from the sorry impulse of pity that I speak of this noble woman, for I look with wonder and even envy at the proud purity of her sense and conscience, that have carried her exquisite sensibilities in triumph through such poignant tribulations. But I am proud to be called her friend—the humble illustrator of her cause, and the advocate of those principles which make it to me more interesting than Lord Byron’s. Lady Byron (if the subject must be discussed) belongs to sentiment and morality—at least as much as Lord Byron—nor is she to be suffered, when compelled to speak, to raise her voice as in a desert with no friendly voice to respond to her. Lady Byron could not have outlived her sufferings, if she had not wound up her fortitude to the high point of trusting mainly for consolation, not to the opinion of the world, but to her own inward peace; and having said what ought to convince the world, I verily believe that she has less care about the fashionable opinion respecting her than any of her friends can have. But we, her friends, mix with the world, and we hear offensive absurdities about her which we have a right to put down.

What Lady Byron professes to be her main aim in her Remarks on the Life of her Husband, it seems to me that she very clearly accomplishes. I am not sure that I should feel my esteem for Byron, or for any man, much enhanced by finding that a foolish relative or two could sever from him a wife once doatingly fond of him. But we have not a tittle of fair evidence against this pack of ——, as his Lordship politely calls them; and, to throw the blame on her parents is proved ridiculous by Dr. Lushington’s letter, for it shows that the deepest cause, or causes, of the separation were not imparted to her parents. I dismiss, therefore, this hinted plea of palliation with contempt.

I proceed to deal more generally with Mr. Moore’s book—You
Moore’s Life of Lord Byron.379
Mr. Moore, against Lord Byron’s censurers in a tone of indignation which is perfectly lawful towards calumnious traducers, but which will not terrify me, or any other man of courage, who is no calumniator, from uttering his mind freely with regard to this part of your hero’s conduct. I think your whole theory about the unmarriageableness of genius a twaddling little hint for a compliment to yourself, and a theory refuted by the wedded lives of Scott and Flaxman. I question your philosophy in assuming that all that is noble in Byron’s poetry was inconsistent with the possibility of his being devoted to a pure and good woman—and I repudiate your morality for canting too complacently about “the lava of his imagination,” and the unsettled fever of his passions being any excuses for his planting the tic douloureux of domestic suffering in a meek woman’s bosom. These are hard words, Mr. Moore, but you have brought them on yourself by your voluntary ignorance of facts known to me—for you might, and ought to have known both sides of the question, and if the subject was too delicate for you to consult Lady Byron’s confidential friends, you ought to have had nothing to do with the subject. But you cannot have submitted your book even to Lord Byron’s sister, otherwise she would have set you right about the imaginary spy, Mrs. Clermont.

Hence arose your misconceptions, which are so numerous, that having applied to Lady Byron (you will please to observe that I applied not for facts against Lord Byron, for these I got elsewhere, but for an estimate of the correctness of your statements,) I received the following letter from her Ladyship:—

“Dear Mr. Campbell,—In taking up my pen to point out for your private information* those passages in Mr. Moore’s representation of my part of the story which were open to contradiction, I find them of still greater extent than I had supposed—and to deny an assertion here and there would virtually admit the truth of the rest.—If, on the contrary, I were to enter into a full exposure of the falsehood of the views taken by Mr. Moore, I must detail various matters, which, consistently with my principles and feelings, I cannot under the existing circumstances disclose. I may, perhaps, convince you better of the difficulty of the case by an example.—‘It is not true that pecuniary embarrassments were the cause of the disturbed state of Lord Byron’s mind, or formed the chief reason for the arrangements made by him at that time. But is it reasonable for me to expect that you, or any one else, should believe this, unless I show you what were the causes in question? and this I cannot do.’ I am, &c. &c.—E. Noel Byron.”

Excellent woman! honoured by all who know her, and injured only by those who know her not, I will believe her on her own testimony.

What I regret most in Mr. Moore’s Life of Lord Byron is, that he had in his own hands the only pure means of serving Lord Byron’s character—which was his Lordship’s own touching confession, and that he has thrown away the said means by garnishing that fair confession with unfair attempts at blaming others. In Letter 235 Lord Byron takes all the blame on himself. “The fault, he says, was not, no, nor even the misfortune in my choice, (unless in choosing at all,) but I must say it in the very dregs of all this bitter business, that there never was a better, or even a kinder or more amiable and agreeable bring than Lady Byron. I never had, nor ever can have any reproach to make her while with me.

* I had not time to ask Lady Byron’s permission to print this private letter, but it seemed to me important, and I have published it meo periculo.
380Moore’s Life of Lord Byron.
Now nothing in Lord Byron’s poetry is finer than this. But why, Mr. Moore, have you frozen the effect of this melting candour by dishing up the inconsistencies of Lord Byron on the same subject, and by showing your own ungallant indifference to the thus acquitted Lady Byron? In the name of both of them I reprove you. Byron confesses, but you try to explain away his confession; and by your hints at spies, unsuitableness, &c. you dirty and puddle the holy water of acknowledgment that alone will wash away the poor penitent man’s transgressions. You resort to Byron’s letter to
Mr. Rogers for the means of inculpating Lady Byron and her friends, as blamers of Lord Byron. But they never said more than that Lord Byron’s temper was intolerable to Lady Byron. That was true, and they never circulated any calumnies against him.

There is equal injustice in the allusion to Lord Byron having been ever surrounded by spies. What spy was near him? The only person denounced in that odious capacity by Lord Byron himself was Mrs. Clermont; and what was the fact with regard to her? If Mrs. Clermont was a spy, surely the last person in the world to have acquitted her would have been Mrs. Leigh, the sister of Lord Byron; but I have in my possession the authentic copy of a letter from Mrs. Leigh to the same Mrs. Clermont, earnestly acquitting her of the calumny, and offering even public testimony to her (Mrs. Clermont’s) tenderness and forbearance (I copy Mrs. Leigh’s words) under circumstances that must have been trying to any friend of Lady Byron. Another unworthy expression of Mr. Moore’s is that of calling Lord Byron “a deserted husband.” Let him read Lady Byron’s remarks, and blot out this absurdity from his volume. Dr. Lushington, versed in the harshest cases of justifiable separation, and bound to admit none of a slight nature, thought that it was impossible she could live with him.

You should have paused, Mr. Moore, before you compelled any friend of Lady Byron to bring out this truth.

It is a farther mistake on Mr. Moore’s part, and I can prove it to be so, if proof be necessary, to represent Lady Byron, in the course of their courtship, as one inviting her future husband to correspondence by letters, after she had at first refused him. She never proposed a correspondence. On the contrary, he sent her a message, after that first refusal, stating that he meant to go abroad, and to travel for some years in the East; that he should depart with a heart aching, but not angry; and that he only begged a verbal assurance that she had still some interest in his happiness. Could Miss Milbank, as a well-bred woman, refuse a courteous answer to such a message? She sent him a verbal answer, which was merely kind and becoming, but which signified no encouragement that he should renew his offer of marriage. After that message, he wrote to her a most interesting letter about himself—about his views, personal, moral, and religious, to which it would have been uncharitable not to have replied. The result was an insensibly increasing correspondence, which ended in her being devotedly attached to him. About that time, I occasionally saw Lord Byron, and though I knew less of him than Mr. Moore, yet I suspect I knew as much of him as Miss Milbank then knew. At that time, he was so pleasing, that if I had had a daughter with ample fortune and beauty, I should have trusted her in marriage with Lord Byron.

Mr. Moore at that period evidently understood Lord Byron better
Moore’s Life of Lord Byron.381
than either his future bride, or myself; but this speaks more for Mr. Moore’s shrewdness, than for Byron’s ingenuousness of character.

It is another improper insinuation, when Mr. Moore hints at a resemblance between the first wife of Milton and the widow of Byron. The parallel is disgustingly unfair. Of Milton’s married life we know not much; but, upon the whole, it is clear that his wife could not have got two honourable men to justify her departure. She went away from him, to all appearance, in rashness, and returned, for her own convenience, in repentance. Lady Byron acted no such part. Produce on Mrs. Milton’s part a Dr. Lushington to speak for her, and we will meet you in the parallel: but beware of the ploughshare!

It is more for Lord Byron’s sake than for his widow’s, that I resort not to a more special examination of Mr. Moore’s misconceptions. The subject would lead me insensibly into hateful disclosures against poor Lord Byron, who is more unfortunate in his rash defenders, than his reluctant accusers. Happily his own candour turns our hostility from himself against his defenders. It was only in wayward and bitter remarks that he misrepresented Lady Byron. He would have defended himself irresistibly if Mr. Moore had left only his acknowledging passages. But Mr. Moore has produced a Life of him which reflects blame on Lady Byron—so dextrously that more is meant than meets the ear. The almost universal impression produced by his book is, that Lady Byron must be a precise, and a wan unwarming spirit—a blue stocking of chilblained learning, a piece of insensitive goodness. Who that knows Lady Byron, will not pronounce her to be every thing the reverse? Will it be believed that this person, so unsuitably matched to her moody Lord, has written verses that would do no discredit to Byron himself—that her sensitiveness is surpassed and bounded only by her good sense, and that she is
Blest with a temper, whose unclouded ray
Can make to-morrow cheerful as to-day.
She brought to Lord Byron, beauty, manners, fortune, meekness, romantic affection, and every thing that ought to have made her to the most transcendant man of genius—had he been what he should have been—his pride and his idol. I speak not of Lady Byron in the commonplace manner of attesting character, I appeal to the gifted
Mrs. Siddons, and Joanna Baillie, to Lady Charlemont, and to other ornaments of their sex, whether I am exaggerating in the least when I say, that in their whole lives they have seen few beings so intellectual and well tempered, as Lady Byron. I wish to be as ingenuous as possible in speaking of her. Her manner, I have no hesitation to say, is cool at the first interview, but it is modestly, and not insolently cool: she contracted it, I believe, from being exposed by her beauty and large fortune in youth, to numbers of suitors, whom she could not have otherwise kept at a distance. But this manner could have had no influence with Lord Byron, for it vanishes on nearer acquaintance, and has no origin in coldness. All her friends like her frankness the better for being preceded by this reserve. This manner, however, though not the slightest apology for Lord Byron, has been inimical to Lady Byron in her misfortunes. It endears her to her friends, but it piques the indifferent. Most odiously unjust, therefore, is Mr. Moore’s assertion, that she has had the advantage of Lord Byron in public opinion. She is, comparatively speaking, unknown to the world; for though she has many friends, that is, a friend in every one who knows her, yet her
382Moore’s Life of Lord Byron.
pride, and purity, and misfortunes, naturally contract the circle of her acquaintance. There is something exquisitely unjust in Mr. Moore comparing her chance of popularity with Lord Byron’s: the poet who can command men of talents, putting even Mr. Moore into the livery of his service, and who has suborned the favour of almost all women by the beauty of his person and the voluptuousness of his verses. Lady Byron has nothing to oppose to these fascinations but the truth and justice of her cause.

The true way of bringing off Byron from this question of his conjugal unhappiness would be his own way, namely, to acknowledge frankly this one, and, perhaps, the only one great error of his life. Acknowledge it, and after all, what a space is still left in our minds for allowance and charity, and even for admiration of him! All men, as they are frail and fallible beings, are concerned in palliating his fault—to a certain degree they are concerned; though if you reduce the standard of duty too low, the meanest man may justly refuse to sympathize with your apology for a bad husband, and disdain to take the benefit of an insolvent act in favour of debtors to morality. But pay the due homage to moral principle, frankly own that the child of genius is, in this particular, not to be defended—abstain from absolving Byron on false grounds, and you will do him more good than by idle attempts at justification. Above all, keep off your sentimental mummeries from the hallowed precincts of his widow’s character. There, Mr. Moore, you must not fish for compliments, or poach for the pathetic.—Byron acquitted at Lady Byron’s expense, can be taken home to no honest heart’s sympathy, though there is no saying how much the heart yearns to forgive him when there is no sophistry used in his defence.

You said, Mr. Moore, that Lady Byron was unsuitable to her Lord—the word is cunningly insidious, and may mean as much or as little as may suit your convenience. But if she was unsuitable, I remark that it tells all the worse against Lord Byron. I have not read it in your book, for I hate to wade through it; but they tell me, that you have not only warily depreciated Lady Byron, but that you have described a lady that would have suited him. If this be true, it is the unkindest cut of all—to hold up a florid description of a woman suitable to Lord Byron, as if in mockery over the forlorn flower of Virtue, that was drooping in the solitude of sorrow. But I trust there is no such passage in your book. Surely you must be conscious of your woman, with her “virtue loose about her, who would have suited Lord Byron,” to be as imaginary a being as the woman without a head.—A woman to suit Lord Byron!!!—Poo! poo! I could paint to you the woman that could have matched him, if I had not bargained to say as little as possible against him.

If Lady Byron was not suitable to Lord Byron, so much the worse for his Lordship; for let me tell you, Mr. Moore, that neither your poetry, nor Lord Byron’s, nor all our poetry put together, ever delineated a more interesting being than the woman whom you have so coldly treated. This was not kicking the dead lion, but wounding the living lamb, who was already bleeding and shorn even unto the quick. I know that, collectively speaking, the world is in Lady Byron’s favour; but it is coldly favourable, and you have not warmed its breath. Time, however, cures every thing, and even your book, Mr. Moore, may be the means of Lady Byron’s character being better appreciated.