LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Astarte: a Fragment of Truth
VIII. “When We Dead Awake”

I. Byron Characteristics
II. Three Stages of Lord Byron’s Life
III. Manfred
IV. Correspondence of Augusta Byron
V. Anne Isabella Byron
VI. Lady Byron’s Policy of Silence
VII. Informers and Defamers
‣ VIII. “When We Dead Awake”
IX. Lady Byron and Mrs. Leigh (I)
X. Lady Byron and Mrs. Leigh (II)
XI. Byron and Augusta
Notes by the Editor
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“Facta est super me manus Domini, et eduxit me in spiritu Domini: et dimisit me in medio campi, qui erat plenus ossibus: . . . Et dixit ad me: Fili hominis putasne vivent ossa ista? Et dixi: Domine Deus, tu nosti. Et dixit ad me: Vaticinare de ossibus istis: et dices eis: Ossa arida audite verbum Domini. Haec dicit Dominus Deus ossibus his: Ecce ego intromittam in vos spiritum, et vivetis. . . . Et prophetavi sicut praeceperat mihi: et ingressus est in ea spiritus, et vixerunt: steteruntque super pedes suos exercitus grandis nimis valde.”

“I was dead for many years. They came and bound me fast and sunk me down in a vault with barred windows and muffled walls,—so that no one on the earth above could hear the cries from my tomb. But now I half begin to rise up from the dead.” “It is when we dead awake, that we first see what is irreparable—what we have never had—our life.”

“Seems she not like resurrection personified?”1

THE dead Byrons wake to reveal themselves. The posthumous phantoms of three tragic figures will tell of wasted lives, wasted loves, the tangle of strife and suffering which for them made up existence. They stand up—“distinct but distant”—in the “moonlight of other days”—as living and yet unfathomable as any of the innumerable host of dead whose ghosts speak in a few fragments of hieroglyph. The history of the three Byrons is summed up in some words of the Norse wizard, as, “Empty dreams—idle dead dreams.” The love that

1 “Jeg var død i mange år. De kom og bandt mig. Snørte armene sammen på ryggen.—Så sænkte de mig ned i et gravkammer med jernstænger for lugen. Og med polstrde vægge,—så ingen ovenover på jorden kunde høre gravskrigene—. Men nu begynder jeg så halvvejs at stå op fra de døde.”” (“Nar vi døde vagner”).

“Det uopettelige ser vi ferst,— . . . når vi døde vågner, . . . Vi sér, at vi aldrig har levet.”

“Sér hun ikke ud som den levendegjorte opstandelse?” (Henrik Ibsen, “Når vi dø de vågner”).

blossoms in earthly life—the beautiful, wonderful riddle of life upon earth—that love perished1 in all of them together with the blending of their lives—with no possible resurrection. The separation of each from all was consciously and verily for all life and time.2 Their resurrection is that of the irreparable.

Bringing the dead Byrons into undistorted vision ought to be a work of compression. True history is necessarily a fragment, and of that fragment all is not wanted. It is selection that constitutes a clear and faithful picture. In the choice of materials it has been thought right to exclude from this book mere amplifications of documentary evidence—to concentrate attention on the dominating points. This is not an attempt to amuse, but a struggle for honour and life, for resurrection. During several years there has been long and full consideration, and many consultations with all those sufficiently conversant with the facts. Candid criticisms have left in existence little of the first form of this fragment, which has undergone two or three transformations from end to end. If friends could only help to rewrite as well as condemn what is submitted to them, the ultimate result might be better. Unfortunately, removal of rubbish is only the beginning of reconstruction—and of something like despair to an unskilled hand, who cannot make the work what it should be, but must carry it through without indefinite delay over a vain pursuit of perfection.

The highest authority consulted did not give and could not be asked for any purely literary advice, but frankly and fully gave his opinion of the effect of the evidence and its treatment from a strictly judicial and ethical point of view. Sir Leslie Stephen, K.C.B., as he presently became, authorized a statement in this place, that he had long rejected the hypothesis to which he once gave some

1 “Tom de drømme. Ørkesløse—døde drømme. Vort samliv har ingen opstandelse efter sig.” “Den kærlighed, som er jordlivets,—det dejilge, vidunderlige jordlivs,—de gådefulde jordlivs,—den er død i os begge” ”” (“Nar vi døde vagner”).

2 “Manfred: Say, shall we meet again? Phantom: Farewell!”

support, viz., of resentment and illusion in
Lady Byron which developed into false charges against Mrs. Leigh. Sir Leslie Stephen also most kindly permitted full reference to his important communications and correspondence on this subject, beginning in 1887. The only claim upon his attention was that at an early period of his labour at the “Dictionary of National Biography,” he had followed others and been persuaded into belief of the surmise that “Lady Byron had become jealous of Byron’s public and pointed expressions of love for his sister, contrasted so forcibly with his utterances about his wife, and brooding over her wrongs had developed the hateful suspicions communicated to Mrs. Stowe, and, as it seems, to others.” It might have been hoped that he at least would from the first have considered the matter to be still unsettled, and judged that, on the one hand, Lady Byron’s real opinion of Mrs. Leigh required to be known by less meagre evidence than a few letters selected for show by Mrs. Leigh herself, and, on the other hand, that Mrs. Stowe’s narrative, made on the strength of a recollection of Lady Byron’s statement thirteen years before, might be inaccurate on important points. A reserve of judgement on Lady Byron would have been the natural attitude for the great and just national biographer. Extreme unwillingness to believe in the possibility of such facts as verily had existed may have made reading and writing about Lord Byron distasteful, but one might sooner have expected from Sir Leslie Stephen total avoidance of the subject than a half-hearted search in matters mentioned at all. In a serious work of reference nothing but rigorously proved fact need be included. Conjectures, and more particularly edifying conjectures that appeal to sentiment, are worse than useless unless verified. It has been said that “with ordinary minds, such as much the greatest part of the world are, ’tis the suitableness, not the evidence of a truth that makes it assented to.”1

Had they been attended to, plenty of proofs existed in

1 Dr. South.

Lord Byron’s own poems of April, May, and July, 1816, and it was even admitted in the most fulsome puffs of Mrs. Leigh in 1869-70, that the so-called “hateful suspicions” already existed as widespread reports long before they could have developed inside Lady Byron’s mind in the manner suggested. Sir Leslie Stephen’s language about Lady Byron was measured, but his condemnation of her was in substantial accordance with the views of men whose epileptic violence, bad taste and vulgarity were utterly foreign to him. He did not himself consider that very deep moral infamy was inherent to his “hypothesis of illusion,” and of course no one has a right to put into his words any meaning inconsistent with his own interpretation. His sanction of the charges against Lady Byron seemed serious and far-reaching enough to render a personal appeal not altogether inappropriate, except for the amount of trouble inflicted on him and most liberally undertaken. There are few in any rank or quarter who could or would have done what he did, who have his insight and impartiality when seriously at work, or to whom it would have been safe to offer unlimited confidence. More accurate knowledge of the facts was given to Sir Leslie Stephen in 1887—too late for correction of his article. He completely altered his views and wrote his opinion1 that the papers shown to him “entirely refute the hypothesis of such an illusion as I had suggested. They prove that Lady Byron’s conduct was thoroughly honourable, that it was dictated by conscientious motives, and by convictions not due to resentment or illusion.” Since then a long time has elapsed, but there has been no fitting opportunity for making known to the public Sir Leslie Stephen’s definitive opinion, though that was always considered desirable. In 1900, in consequence of his former examination of private documents, Sir Leslie Stephen kindly undertook to look at a large collection of important documents (including those in the present volume), together with a first draft for “Astarte.” It was submitted to him that the Byron

1 December 18th, 1887.

family felt themselves obliged on every ground of self-respect and honesty to vindicate Lady Byron’s conduct by destroying the tissue of falsehood woven and still weaving about their house. They wished to know Sir Leslie Stephen’s wishes concerning reference to the correspondence with him, and whether he had any further remarks to make.

It must first be stated distinctly that after giving full consideration to the whole subject, he felt that if he had had to decide on the propriety of publishing at all, he would have leaned to answer that fundamental question in the negative. If Lady Byron had not been concerned, he would have been very sorry to see any revelation made, and even the necessity of making it for her sake seemed to him to be a painful one.

However, he drew up an outline of the form of a possible brief statement of the case in case it should be so decided. Five propositions were suggested by Sir Leslie Stephen, and as it would be impossible to improve upon them much, they shall now be given with a few additions and modifications as a summary of the case, which will be established beyond dispute by documentary evidence in the second part of “Astarte.”1

1. Lady Byron believed from the first the story of the connection with Mrs. Leigh, though she was always striving to disbelieve it during her residence with Lord Byron, and for most at least of that time persuaded herself that she did not believe it.

2. She believed it on grounds which satisfied Lushington, her legal adviser, and other competent persons. At the same time they all advised her that while the proofs and impressions were such as left no doubt on her mind, they were decidedly not such as could have been brought forward to establish a charge of that nature—should the facts be boldly denied—and she be challenged to bring forward the grounds of the imputation.

3. Her friendly intercourse with Mrs. Leigh (which has been the great argument against her early belief in the

1 Now Chapters I. to V.—See Introduction, p. vi.

story) was approved by her friends, who took care to place on record the reasons for her behaviour.

4. She was not certain at the time (nor is it now certain) that the connection had lasted after her marriage, and she believed Mrs. Leigh to have been desirous of promoting her happiness during the marriage.

5. The grounds of her suspicion not only satisfied other people at the time, but were in fact justified. Mrs. Leigh admitted the facts afterwards, and Lady Byron endeavoured to influence her so as to make a renewal of the connection impossible.

Sir Leslie Stephen wrote:1

“These propositions and any others that might be desirable could be stated simply and straightforwardly. You would also say that you would give documents enough to place them beyond doubt, but would not give more than was necessary for that purpose.

“Such documents would be easily selected from the papers. The statement witnessed by her friends is conclusive for one point, and the letters from Lord Byron to Mrs. Leigh [and other correspondence of Mrs. Leigh’s in 1819—L.] are conclusive for another.

“Now what I thought was that if these propositions were clearly proved, the essential case is made out, the fictions about Lady Byron would be completely confuted. A great deal of course would remain vague, but it would be impossible for anyone to suppose that Lady Byron invented the story afterwards, or was under an illusion. All such reasons would be cut down finally, and that seems to be the essential point. . . .

“I have, I confess, still a wish that the truth of the story could be left without explicit confirmation. I admit, however, that that would be difficult, because it would leave an opening for the supposition that Lady Byron had been hasty and over-suspicious, though not intentionally unfair.

“Anyhow, I have written all this, because I feel very

1 April 9th, 1900, to the Earl of Lovelace.

strongly that you should make it perfectly clear that you published solely from a sense of obligation, and publish only as much as is necessary. My notion was that the scheme which I have suggested would make this clear.

“You have very strong reasons for defending Lady Byron. Moreover, there is much to be said for the opinion that even in regard to Lord Byron the truth should be known. I will not argue the point, but my view would be that if you deliberately decide that the facts should be known, nobody would have a right to complain. The point of casuistry cannot be settled by argument, but is finally matter of your own instinct and sense of justice.”

These remarks define the actual position, and it only remains to be mentioned that Sir Leslie Stephen’s advice has been followed by omitting hundreds of important and interesting documents, which would only have increased the mass of evidence and information without otherwise altering the case. These pages were of course not inspired by him, and do not claim to represent his views except where and so far as his own words are quoted; but none of the material facts contained in Lady Byron’s papers were kept back from him, and nothing is now kept back that could affect the real ultimate judgement.

When the false maternal taint has been burnt out of the tragedy of Astarte, the whole of the mystery of the Byron story is dispelled. A structure of deception is inherently a greater evil than the most painful of revelations. The silences have been irrevocably broken. Nothing remains but to cut the ground from under the feet of those who would seek and perhaps manufacture some substitute for the truth, as easily and recklessly as the calumnies about Lady Byron were produced, if the truth were longer concealed. That there was some potent necessity for the separation was really put beyond a doubt by the well-known agreement of opinion between three such men as Sir Robert Wilmot Horton, Sir Francis
, and Dr. Lushington. The younger Sir Francis Doyle wrote an unanswerable page in his interesting “Recollections and Opinions,” which clearly demonstrated that a separation on trivial grounds could not possibly have been forced through with the collusion of those three able and honourable men of the world. Some obstacle to reunion of exceptional gravity must have been known to them to render possible such determined action as they took in combination with each other. All alternative explanations, graduating from murder down to bigamy, are more heinous or repulsive than incest with a half-sister, the senior by four years, met again almost as a stranger after many years’ absence without correspondence. His memory has less than nothing to gain from all the possible degrading and disgusting suppositions that might be invented and decoy prospective purchasers, in the event of a high tide of Byronese folly, curiosity and ill-nature. There were many baseless reports in 1816, and Mrs. Leigh, for obvious reasons, gave very faint discouragement to those which diverted attention from herself. She almost suggested, on one occasion, a comparison between her brother and Lord Ferrers, faintly affecting a hope that the mystery might not be that!1 An obvious subterfuge, for, had she really thought Lord Byron in danger of being tried for his life, even to save herself she could hardly have given a hint like a common informer. It is right to state most distinctly that the separation papers leave no possible place for other charges besides the two commonplace ones of adultery and cruelty, and that connected with Mrs. Leigh. Many reports of other matters were circulated by Lord Byron’s enemies in 1816, and were not altogether displeasing to Mrs. Leigh, though entirely discredited by Lady Byron’s papers.

The exposure of a melancholy and wicked conspiracy against Lady Byron’s character does not involve un-

1 [The fourth Earl Ferrers had been hanged for murder. My grandmother used to say that, as a privilege accorded to his rank, it was with a silken rope.—Ed.]

qualified eulogy. If records and witnesses are to be believed, she acted well and nobly in all that related to her separation, except that perhaps she need not have fastened the door so irrevocably against all possibility of reconciliation in a remote future. She felt herself that had there been one person less amongst the living, she “might have had duties, however steeped in sorrow.” It is true that the end would have been the same. That third person long survived
Lord Byron, thus de facto and de jure keeping him asunder from his wife, even supposing, which is by no means established, that he was ever serious about wishing to return to Lady Byron, the parting having been quite as much his act as hers.

No one ever admired the genius of Byron more than she, though the spell of his power no longer held her. His creations still were a spectacle of exceeding beauty,—distant, but seductive and dangerous. All the splendours of the world seemed to her now but a mystery of wickedness. She found rest and serenity in a sanctuary of renunciation; and averted her gaze from the tangle of human adventure, judged after one desperate outlaw. Her youth was a sacrifice, and she was prepared for a universal abolition of youth by edict. She almost persuaded herself into views worthy of the old thoroughgoing divines who thought to extinguish corporeality and bring the world to an end.1

1 “L’enseignement ecclésiastique a un inconvénient: un bon prêtre vous prend affectueusement par les deux mains le dos tourné au monde, et il vous dit: ‘Mon cher enfant, ne regardez pas derrière vous; c’est un spectacle très séduisant, mais très dangereux; à première vue, c’est plus beau que tout, et l’on croirait que c’est Dieu même qui a fait ces merveilles apparentes (ne vous retournez donc pas, mon enfant, quand je vous parle); c’est l’oeuvre du diable, mais d’un colons si trompeur! (Voilà encore que vous vous retournez!)’

* * *

“La morale de tout cela, c’est qu’on n’a goût à ce qui dure que quand on a éprouvé le peu de valeur de ce qui passe. J’ai vu à Cologne, sur un autel, des colliers, des bracelets, des couronnes que de grandes princesses étaient venues déposer là dans leurs soucis. Qu’est-ce à dire, sinon qu’elles avaient vu toutes les splendeurs du monde et qu’elles ne valaient pas la sombre sérénité du temple? Encore faut il avoir porté ces rubis, ces émeraudes, pour savoir qu’il arrive un moment oû les yeux n’y prennent plus de plaisir.

“Si vous ne lisez pas la vie de lord Byron, vous ne saurez pas bien que de beaux chevaux, au grand génie poétique, l’art de tuer au pistolet une mouche à


This would not be the place to attempt an account of Lady Byron’s character, but it is no duty of piety and affection to deny that there were in her some grave and even disastrous deficiencies, of which she was not unconscious towards the close, when she looked back upon her life, and was waiting for death. There was nothing fundamentally evil in her defects; they were like the inversions of virtues, but not the less dangerous for that, and charged with potential destruction for her own welfare and the happiness of others. Her peculiar position isolated her from that contact with her own equals which might have checked the progress of undesirable mental and moral tendencies. She ought to have made the effort—a painful one—to keep her place in society, whereby, not impossibly, she might have preserved better, even bodily health, and still more, soundness of judgement, happiness for herself and for all who depended upon her. In her absence “that great blockhead the world” was fatly prejudiced against her. Her unconcealed contempt for ambition, popularity, success and fashion of itself made her an object of suspicion to all classes of English opinion. The ground was ready for ridicule, insult and the vilest delations. Unknown, and therefore odious, she was condemned unheard by the united suffrage of the meanest and the highest, by the select respectabilities, and the whole scum and weeds of England. About the middle of the nineteenth century, most preposterous accounts of her were circulated; and they were credited not merely by chimney-sweeps, but also by fastidious lords and ladies. Had she been there, such fables would have been extinguished without thought or effort by a palpable reality.

On June 20th, 1815, Ticknor wrote of her:

“While I was there Lady Byron came in. She is pretty, not beautiful—for the prevalent expression of her countenance is that of ingenuousness. . . . She

vingt pas, les grands yeux de la Fornarina, les forêts qui pendent sur la vallée de Lacédémone, toutes les recherches de la civilisation; et tous les plaisirs de la vie sauvage, laissent un grand ennui au fond de l’âme. Faites venir alors saint Thomas d’Aquin” (X. Doudan to M. Raulin, 6 Septembre, 1843).

. . . is rich in intellectual endowments, . . . possesses common accomplishments in an uncommon degree, and adds to all this a sweet temper.”

“June 23rd, 1815. I went by appointment to see Lord Byron. He was busy when I first went in, and I found Lady Byron alone. She did not seem so pretty to me as she did the other day; but what she may have lost in regular beauty she made up in variety and expression of countenance during the conversation. She is diffident,—she is very young, not more, I think, than nineteen—but is obviously possessed of talent, and did not talk at all for display. For the quarter of an hour during which I was with her, she talked upon a considerable variety of subjects—America, of which she seemed to know considerable; of France, and Greece, with something of her husband’s visit there,—and spoke of all with a justness and a light good humour that would have struck me even in one of whom I had heard nothing.”

“June 26th, 1815. I again met Lady Byron, and had a very pleasant conversation with her until her carriage came. . . . [Mrs. Siddons] formed a singular figure by Lady Byron, who sat by her side, all grace and delicacy,1 and this showed Mrs. Siddons’s masculine powers in the stronger light of comparison and contrast.”

Ticknor finally2 saw Lady Byron in her husband’s box at Drury Lane, June 27th, 1815, when he wrote:

Lady Byron more interesting than I have yet seen her.”

Ticknor wrote [later] of Lady Byron (July 14th, 1835):

“The upper part of her face is still fresh and young; the lower part bears strong marks of suffering and sorrow. Her whole manner is very gentle and quiet,—not reserved, but retiring,—and there are sure indications in it of deep feeling. She is much interested in doing good, and seemed anxious about a school she has established, to

1 [I must record here that the portrait by J. Ramsay named “Lady Byron” in the “Letters and Journals of Lord Byron,” Vol. iv., p. 66, which is far from depicting a person “all grace and delicacy,” is a spurious one. See Note II., p. 318.—Ed.]

2 [I.e., for the last time before the separation.—Ed.]

support, as well as educate, a number of poor boys, so as to fit them to be teachers. She talked well, and once or twice was amused, and laughed; but it was plain that she has little tendency to gaiety. . . . Her whole appearance and conversation gratified me very much, it was so entirely suited to her singular position in the world.”

Mary Clarke (afterwards Madame Mohl), after seeing Lady Byron, July 23rd, 1838, thought her prim, refined, observant, devout, honest, respectable, fond of information, not the least pretty, clever or amusing, but not exactly stupid.

In remarkable contrast to this depreciation is Sir William Molesworth’s impression in 1833. He liked her much: “she is a calm, dignified and certainly very clever person; expresses herself remarkably well and clearly, rather stern in manners. We got on very well, as she is almost a Radical, and we talked on education.”

She was observed with much curiosity at Count Molé’s reception in the Académie Francaise, December 30th, 1840. Chateaubriand was there to support his old friend Molé, saw Lady Byron, and thought she looked as if she had “pas assez de songes.”

One of her defects was a want of suppleness; “any argument founded on expediency causes her to take a decidedly opposite course.”1 She was not enough of a politician, too much absorbed in high and stoical ideals for herself and others. After the separation, this took the form of saying and acting: “Happiness no longer enters into my views.” She too completely gave up all that was congenial to youth,—“to bear and expiate a past which was not hers.”2 She renounced the world of enjoyment, like the founder of a severe monastic order, and would have forced everyone under her power to live a life of Spartan self-denial, and devotion to a somewhat despotic philanthropy. Her ideal was like that of Pascal, whom she particularly admired, in his renunciation of the world. The devil she said she did not believe in,

1 From a letter of 1853.

2 R. L. Stevenson, “Olalla.”

but under dislike of the name, the thing afterwards defined by
Huxley as the primacy of Satan, became to her also virtually ever present. Her horror of the flesh was almost excessive. For the government of the young she adopted a system of coercion, which, amongst other drawbacks, was self-destructive in its extreme severity. She did not absolutely insist on cutting off all the pleasures of life from girls, who are comparatively submissive to family, chastity and law. But boys were to be held without respite under restraint, deprived of the appropriate amusements for their time of life, condemned to the society of the old and wise; lest they should be tempted to drink, gambling, and, above all, women. She thought early profligacy more natural and even more fatal to a man than to a woman, and held rightly enough that the male reprobate is sure to end in an ignominious old age. The force of this idea—exceeding dread of vices the effects of which she had witnessed—took away from her all sense of proportion of means to end. In her extreme desire to stamp out vice and inforce asceticism, she was not unlike the holy pontiff, Pius V, stated by a chronicler to have been so occupied in re-establishing and improving “his admirable inquisition”1 that the concerns of the people went to ruin. So Lady Byron wasted energy on useless, abortive, or mischievous schemes and illusions—co-operation, education, phrenology, juvenile delinquents—and missed the good she might have done within her own natural circle.2 She

1 “Ce saint pape, tout occupé, comme on sait, de sa juste haine contre l’hérésie et du retablissement de son admirable inquisition, n’eut que du mépris pour l’administration temporelle de son État” (Stendhal, “Les Cenci,” “traduction du récit contemporain; il est en italien de Rome, et fut écrit le 14 septembre, 1599”).

2 [An old friend, Mr. H. de Fellenberg Montgomery, who had lived from boyhood in closest intimacy with Lady Byron and her family, writes the following protest:—

Lady Byron took a very important part in many movements for the benefit of the people, and I believe that if the secret about her and Mrs. Leigh had not been a bar to any life of her appearing shortly after her death, there would probably have been a record published, and very properly, of her work during the last forty years of her life, and her correspondence with many distinguished men of that period. . . . It is much to be regretted that circumstances made

seemed almost insensible to the ridiculous side of the Utopia she dreamed of; unconscious of the dreariness and futility of the world if transformed into a reformatory by educational philanthropists, or a paradise for Unitarian Saints.1

The illusion of absolute Spiritualism, the impossibilities of universal Altruism, were for her a refuge from the hypocrisy and injustice of the world. Her circumstances had trained her to a heroism of indignation against public or private wrong; whilst she struck at least one good observer as by nature “a woman capable of profound and fervid enthusiasm, with a mind of rather a romantic and visionary order.”2 Before her twenty-fourth birthday she had nothing more to learn of the sway of misery and guilt. Her own visions and romance were judged and ended. She was left to stern contemplation of the surrounding system—softened by intense pity for the wretched.

Church and State were under a dead weight of oppression tempered by the brutality of the rabble. A spirit of revolt was in her as much as it ever was in Lord Byron. She abjured the frivolous despotism of society, civil coercion, bloodthirsty mobs, persecuting Protestantism, greasy Methodism, the Judaic incubus. Vindictive repression even of crime seemed hateful to her. She could see no distinct boundary line between constables and outlaws. Some outcasts were wicked and dangerous

such a memoir impossible at the time. . . . I regret that ‘grave and disastrous deficiencies’ should be attributed to her, or that her conduct in turning her back on a society which was mainly occupied in amusing itself, in order to try and relieve the distresses of the poor (which in those days were great and grievous) was altogether a mistake, and not rather a merit. My grandfather Fellenberg [Emmanuel de Fellenberg of Berne, the great educationalist.—Ed.] wrote for publication, under the lithograph of his portrait, the following words:
—“‘Den Reichen gebricht es selten an Hülfe
Stehe du den Armen und Verlassenen bei.’”—Ed.]

1 “En présence d’un relâchement moral comme celui dont nous sommes les témoins, on se figure volontiers que l’oeuvre de la réforme sociale consisterait a donner au monde un peu d’honnêteté.” ...“S’il n’est pas le fondateur, Channing est vraiment le saint des unitaires.” . . . “Le moindre inconvénient du monde de Channing scrait qu’on y mourrait d’ennui” (Renan, “Études d’Histoire Religieuse”).

2Records of a Girlhood,” by Frances Anne Kemble, i. 212.

more by training than nature, and might once have been saved, or yet be reclaimed. Her theory of the unreality of evil was not very consistent with ascetic rigour. She persuaded herself that man habitually falsified himself by seeming bad, like assuming a disguise, and that goodness was human nature stripped of its disguise and seen absolutely as it is. Perversion was an illusion. Duty and self-denial were (with a little assistance and education) the natural mode of being of almost everyone. All the kindred absolutisms, religious, political, social, or personal, were alike repugnant to her; and she was disposed to love all who like herself were calumniated and oppressed—Catholics, Negro slaves, the poor Irish goaded into rebellion,1 heretics like the Unitarians, against whom every hand was raised. She was attracted towards
Channing by the mild and tolerant spirit of his generation of American Unitarians. But she could no more have found room for herself in the mean and frigid halting-place of Unitarianism, than she would have been drawn into the time-honoured fane of Catholicity—so mysterious in its spacious grandeur without apparent solidity.2 Many of the sectaries would have liked to make a good heretic of her, but in this they were bound to fail. She was impervious to dogmas of faith, orthodox or heretical, Protestant or Popish. The way to Rome was impenetrably closed to her, but she was a very bad Protestant.3 She rejoiced over any one who

1 Lady Byron’s antipathy to the dominating system of Church and State in Ireland was inherited from her mother, Judith Milbanke, who had written to Mary Noel (an aunt), May 24th, 1797: “certainly Ireland is at present a very horrible place to be in. . . . I observe parties of Seddon’s regiment are often ordered out to quell the poor oppressed Irish, who are driven desperate, and now must be subdued at all Events.” In 1843, during the O’Connell prosecution, Lady Byron heartily desired a change in the Irish Church arrangements, and looked forward with hope to a virtual Repeal of the Union.

2 Renan has somewhere compared the cathedral of his native Tréguier—marvel of lightness, with forest-like nave massed over void, foolhardy attempt to realize in granite an impossible ideal—to the Catholic Church in its barbaric vastness, strange witchcraft and beauty—and want of solidity. I cannot find the passage, but take another description of the great stone book of his infancy from the “Souvenirs.”

3 Like Lord Ampthill, who was thought so charming at the Vatican that some true believer asked Pius IX whether he might not be on the way to be a

stood out against worldly inducements and even family influence to “work out the will of his conscience.”

A son of some lifelong friends changed his religion and sacrificed a good income in 1850. She wrote: “I always regretted that—did not become a Catholic.—His character would have been the better for it. The struggle to prevent it shortened his father’s life—Had the step been resolutely taken, the struggle would have been precluded—. . . He is at least one who will never offer a prayer to Mammon—Should the time ever come when such a communication would be proper, pray say how much I honor him. . . . When all strife between the nearest Relatives is ended by final measures, the natural feelings flow forth again, for the cause of restraint is removed. It must be a great happiness to those who have ceased to be in a position of Antagonism.”

Some years before that a young woman who was more than a daughter to her had taken the same step. Lady Olivia Acheson was the child of one of her dearest friends, Lady Gosford. Lady Byron’s affection for both was very strong. On Lady Gosford’s death, she took this much-loved Olivia more than ever to her heart. Lady Olivia went into charitable works and a convent at Birmingham, and in 1851 she was ill, and probably felt she was not long for this world. (She died in March, 1852, to the extreme grief of her adopted mother.) In June, 1851, Lady Byron went to Birmingham for a meeting which was to be the last, and on the 12th she wrote: “Olivia said to me—‘I could not help thinking this morning how happy it would make me to see you a Catholic before I die!’ You will conceive that this was to be met by sympathy not opposition and with tenderness and gratitude. She cannot conceive Faith to exist out of a collective body—and because she sees me alone, she believes me without Faith. I reminded her how many of her Catholics had in their day stood alone—

Catholic. “He will never get there,” said the Pope, “but you may be pleased to hear that he is a very bad Protestant,—ma posso dirvi che è pessimo protestante.

what self-denial it required, what fidelity to God,—not to join in outward as well as in inward communion with the beloved, and I felt it at that moment.—”

Lady Byron was, during her visit to Birmingham, introduced to John Henry Newman, whose impression was stated to be that she would never come to his religion. There was a secret antagonism between them, because she thought he encouraged Lady Olivia to go out against Dr. Bence Jones’s injunctions. In those days doctors dreaded fresh air for her malady, which was consumption. Lady Byron remarked that, phrenologically, Newman’s veneration was excessive, logic and benevolence wanting. She had quite as much aversion as he for the popular Protestantism of that time, in other words, the dogmatism of the uninformed, the alliance of fanaticism with vulgarity.1 She wished for no penal laws to suppress old beliefs or young enthusiasms, but impartial liberty for all, even for the enemies of liberty. Like Renan she held that the iniquities and absurdities of spiritual potentates or demagogues would become harmless with equal law—the unfailing sterilizer of the reciprocal rage and hate of Calvin and Philip the Second.2 No outcry for preventive statutes, royal supremacy or popular control of other people’s religion got sympathy from her. What she applauded was the cry of free minds and large hearts: “Dream not that divine truth can be bought with the coin of human injury.” She felt all the scorn of

1 In a letter of Lady Byron’s of 1842 I find the following quotation from a new book of Hallam’s (he had compared the Reformation of the sixteenth century to the Revolutionary innovations starting from 1789):

“In each the characteristic features are a contempt for antiquity, a shifting of prejudices, an inward sense of self-esteem leading to an assertion of private judgment in the most uninformed, a sanguine confidence in the amelioration of human affairs, a fixing of the heart on great ends, with a comparative disregard of things intermediate.”

“Le protestantisme partait d’une foi très absolue. Loin de corresponds à un aftaiblissement du dogmatisme, la Réforme marque une renaissance de l’esprit chrétien le plus rigide” (Renan, “Les Apôtres,” p. xli).

2 “Si, au lieu de faire conduire Polyeucte au supplice, le magistrat romain l’eut renvoyé en souriant et en lui serrant amicalement la main, Polyeucte n’eût pas recommencé; peut-être même, sur ses vieux jours, eût-il ri de son escapade et fût-il devenu un homme de bons sens” (Renan, “Conférences d’Angleterre,” p. 207).

James Martineau for “religious liberties held on no tenure of immutable justice, but only during theological good behaviour.”1 Pity for sufferers from extremes of cruelty—however long ago—and whether innocent or not, made her friendly even to those aliens in race and religion who are well able to take care of themselves—adepts at gain and retaliation.
“Wroth without cause—revenged without a wrong—

* * *
Racked by an idle lust of useless gold—
* * *
A people nationless—whom every land—
Receives to punish—& preserves to brand
Yet still enduring all—& all in vain—
The doomed inheritors of scorn & pain—
Untaught by sufferance—unreclaimed from ill—
Hating & hated—stubborn Israel still”2
She was influenced by the worth of some individuals of the Jewish invasion, and would not think them guilty of the principles and practice of their own old books—books which more than anyone she considered to be the most pernicious popular reading. She was unwilling to discover the claim and boast by the present Jews of identity with the Jacobins of the Old Testament.3

1 “No one thinks of insisting on humility of mind as a condition for the franchise, or denying the alderman’s gown except to the shoulders of modest innocence; and as little can we make the temper of a Church the qualifying ground of its civil freedom.” “Had this (the pretensions of Rome) been a secret twenty years ago [in 1829], the removal of Catholic disabilities would lose not only every noble, but every respectable feature; and would be degraded from an act of legislative rectitude to the level of a defeated bargain, or an extorted boon. But it was no secret: the repeated parliamentary debates, the protracted controversies between the established and the disabled communion, had long brought out every feature of the case; and nothing was done but with open eyes” (James Martineau in the “Westminster Review,” January, 1851).

2 From Lord Byron’s manuscript (in Lady Byron’s papers) of his fragment “Magdalen.”

3 “Moïse est un conventionnel parlant du haut de la Montagne” (James Darmesteter as quoted by M. Bourget in “L’Étape ”).

Both destructives and conservatives have found in the Bible what never was there, but it is more specious to classify Joel and Amos amongst the collectivists

Whilst decidedly alienated from the Old Testament, she was not unreservedly attached to the New, which with her hardly ranked above
Tacitus, Dante, Pascal, Chateaubriand,1 Wordsworth and Shakespeare. Christ was for her the Man of Sorrows, the Poet of the deathbed, who knew what was in man, and had compassion upon all. He was “the friend of all the distressed,” who remained till the end, when Dante and Shakespeare were powerless to console. Her own brightest side showed itself to those who were in presence of trouble, pain, remorse, or death. She could give very great comfort, having deep feeling with self-command, ability to turn her own mind and other people’s away from present scenes, from the darkness and dread of the last hour.

Wisdom about the conduct of life flowed too late into Lady Byron’s mind. But she was capable of learning by experience and always candid. After looking back on many afflictions and some mistakes, she once wrote very late in her life to a friend:

“It has appeared to me from the consequences of many facts in my own and others’ conduct, that all exaggerations of a good feeling are chastised with great severity. I believe I may say without exception that I have never been ill-used to any great extent, except by those for whom I had gone beyond the common limits of

than to convert Moses into the first Jacobin, thus condemning him to the company of “the first Whig.”

The accounts of the age of the prophets are full of revolutionary crimes, such as the murder of Jezebel, recalling the massacres of September, or the butchery of the priests of Baal, like those of the Paris commune; and undoubtedly the Old Testament in the hands of demagogues since the Reformation has been used to instigate and excuse manifold atrocities. The subversive tendencies of parts of the Old Testament have been made the most of by Semitic agitators in their enmity to the invaded communities. It has been well said of some modern Jewish ideas that: “On y lisait le ressouvenir des persécutions et l’audace intellectuelle d’une race qui, ayant trop souffert, ayant trop connu les pires extremités du sort, ne tremble pas devant la perspective de bouleversements moins terribles que ses anciennes misères” (“L’Étape ”).

1 Lady Byron was a special student of the newly-recovered authentic text of the “Pensees.” She read with me in Latin the “Germania,” and the first books of the “Annals.” I well remember her exceptional interest in Chateaubriand—his tomb on the Grand Bé in the midst of his own sea—“cette patrie qui voyage avec nous,” and the “Memoires d’outre Tombe.”

kindness. I have not quite made out the sequences by which such results can be accounted for. Perhaps the kindness directed to those channels was withdrawn from others which had a better right to it. I think it was, in one or two cases, but not in the majority. Perhaps the kindness itself was alloyed by some mixture of personal indulgence or self-complacency. Had it been purer, would it have brought bitter instead of pleasant fruits? And besides, I may suppose there was a want of adaptation in the benefits to the nature of the persons to be benefited, in other words, a want of judgment. Still the consequences have looked like a stern retribution. . . .

“What you have said concerning the exhaustion of good feelings by their effusion,1 is not less true of bad feelings, and I therefore consider the latter as arrows spent when they have left the bow. It appears to me folly to act upon the supposition that because they were once aimed at me, they would still be aimed.”

Never were words more applicable to Lord Byron (cf. p. 3).

The blend in Lady Byron of generosity, fortitude, sternness, gentleness, affection, altruism and implacability struck two men with amazement at a time of

1 This was possibly inspired by a passage of Cardinal Newman’s. I only know it as given in “Polonius” (Pickering, 1852, lxxi): “God has made us feel in order that we may go on to act in consequence of feeling. If, then, we allow our feelings to be excited without acting upon them, we do mischief to the moral system within us, just as we might spoil a watch or other piece of mechanism by playing with the wheels of it. We weaken the springs, and they cease to act truly. . . . For instance, we will say we have read again and again of the heroism of facing danger, and we have glowed with the thought of its nobleness; we have felt how great it is to bear pain and to submit to indignities rather than wound our conscience, and all this again and again when we had no opportunity of carrying our good feelings into practice. Now suppose at length we actually come to trial and let us say our feelings become roused, as often before, at the thought of boldly resisting temptations to cowardice. Shall we therefore do our duty, quitting ourselves like men? Rather, we are likely to talk loudly and then run from the danger—why? rather let us ask, why not? What is to keep us from yielding? Because we feel aright? Nay, we have again and again felt aright, and thought aright, without accustoming ourselves to act aright, and though there was an original connection in our minds between feeling and acting, there is none now; the wires within us, as they may be called, are loosened and weakened.”

supreme sorrow and difficulty—one of whom wrote with the fidelity and attachment of thirty-seven years, the other with the concentrated bitterness of a rupture that was hardly Lady Byron’s fault and not entirely his.

Lady Noel Byron had written to the Earl of Lovelace on January 4th, 1853:

“To you, Lovelace, I have been the most faithful of friends & at no time more actively & self-sacrificingly than in the last year & a half.”

And in his answer of January 6th, 1853, were these remarkable words:

“And yet with all your severity and coldness which drives me into these indignant remonstrances with you, the last page of your letter is too true for me not to reecho and confirm it. You have been too noble and generous (in some things) self-denying in all for me not to bear ready testimony to it. In most fine qualities you have not your equal on earth, and my love for you is as ardent as ever however you may repel it. I hold you in respect and admiration more than ever—but your want of sympathy (in spite of all your gentleness) with those who do not feel exactly as you do, has cruelly destroyed what of certainty hope & comfort remained to me.”

Dr. Lushington had a few months earlier, during a very distressing period of illness and trouble—that of the last illness of Lady Byron’s daughter—written of his friend of so many years:

“If there be a wonderful person in this world it is Lady NB: her energy of mind, her bodily exertions, the strength of her affection, the cool decision of her judgment, all increase instead of diminishing by the continued severity of the trial—I am in boundless admiration of her—of her heart, intellect and governed mind—Most brightly she shines in this dark shade of Affliction”1

But the character and life of Lady Byron are not public property. She was condemned by a Pharisee

1 The Rt. Hon. Stephen Lushington, D.C.L., to Frances Carr, September 2nd, 1852.

race with usurped jurisdiction. The false witness against her was not consciously or intentionally the work of her husband. Criminal use was made of his dreadful, but not wholly unnatural and insincere, words. The shame and the guilt belong to strangers who intervened without right and accused without cause.