LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

In Whig Society 1775-1818
Chapter VIII.

Chapter I.
Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
Chapter V.
Chapter VI.
Chapter VII.
‣ Chapter VIII.
Chapter IX.
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History says that Lord Byron consulted Lady Melbourne on the choice of a wife. His letter just quoted does not give the impression of being the culmination of a series of conversations. It comes like a bolt from the blue. Lady Melbourne, who loved success, would never have proposed Annabella Milbanke as a wife for Lord Byron, but when he suggested it, and moreover said his heart was involved, Lady Melbourne felt that she had every right to endeavour to bring about the marriage. She knew that Lord Byron was not really in love with Lady Caroline, that indeed she had begun to bore him. Lord Byron’s marriage might deliver William from the danger of another scandal such as he had just experienced.

Anne Isabella Milbanke, to give her her true name, was born in 1792. She was therefore about 20 when Byron first proposed marriage with her. When young she was described as “pretty not beautiful, the prevalent expression of her countenance is ingenuousness,” and later the same writer says “what she may have lost in regular beauty, she made up in variety and
expression of countenance during conversation.”
George Hayter’s miniature of her painted in 1812 showed that she had beautiful long curling hair. She was engaging and clever; she talked well and wrote rather pompously. She had evidently not only a deep affection for her aunt Melbourne, but a great belief in her judgment. She had already been sought in marriage by a mysterious “E.” and others. Elizabeth Duchess of Devonshire, whose son Sir Augustus Foster had been greatly attracted by Annabella, wrote to a friend:

“Letters have passed which have put an end to our hopes on that subject. She is so odd a girl—in short she is good amiable and sensible, but cold, prudent & reflecting. Lord Byron makes up to her a little, but she don’t seem to admire him, except as a poet, nor he her, except as a wife.”

Lady Melbourne after receiving Lord Byron’s letter must have decided that the diplomatic way to approach its subject was to ask Annabella what qualities she required in a husband. Poor Annabella described her own nature—and then that of the ideal she had created as a husband. She wrote:

Dear Aunt,

On the opposite side you will find what I promised—do not forget your part.

It is so difficult to speak of oneself exactly as one means, that I think you might mistake the
account I gave of my defects of temper. As I do not wish you to think worse of me than I deserve, I will try to explain myself more correctly.

I am never irritated except when others are so, and then I am too apt to imitate them. This makes good temper in my companions very necessary for my peace, and if I am not disturbed by others in this way I have not any disposition to disturb them. I am never sulky, but my spirits are easily depressed, particularly by seeing anybody unhappy.

What I call my Romance is this—that if I had not acquired the habit of reflecting before I act, I should sometimes have sacrificed considerations of prudence to the impulse of my feelings—but I am not conscious of ever having yielded to the temptation which assailed me. I can assure you from experience that I am very thankfully submissive to correction so tell me when I am wrong.

Yours affectly. [A. I. Milbanke].

On the “opposite side” she wrote as follows:


“He must have consistent principles of Duty governing strong & generous feelings, and reducing them under the command of Reason.

“Genius is not in my opinion necessary, though desirable, if united with what I have just mentioned.

“I require a freedom from suspicion, & from habitual ill-humour—also an equal tenor of affection towards me, not that violent attachment which is susceptible of sudden encrease or diminution from trifles.


“I wish to be considered by my husband as a reasonable adviser, not as a guide on whom he could implicitly depend.

“So much for the chief requisites of mind, and for the sake of these I could overlook many imperfections in other respects. In regard to external qualifications I would have fortune enough to enable me to continue without embarrassment in the kind of society to which I have been accustomed. I have no inclination to extravagance, and should be content to practise economy for the attainment of this object.

“Rank is indifferent to me. Good connections I think an important advantage.

“I do not regard beauty, but am influenced by the manners of a gentleman, without which I scarcely think that any one could attract me.

“I would not enter into a family where there was a strong tendency to Insanity.”

Lady Melbourne asked for more details on receiving this letter. Annabella explained herself more thoroughly, and admitted she had an irritable temper:

Miss A. I. M[ilbanke] to Lady Melbourne

I thank you most warmly for the trouble you have taken which will be of great use to me. I wish to make some remarks on parts of your very kind letter & comments.

I am so deeply sensible of the mischievous consequences that would ensue from want of temper were I married to a man of warm feelings (and I could not love one who had them not), that I have thought it a sufficient reason for
deferring matrimony. I should at present occasion disappointment to a husband who expected to find me possessed of constant self-command & composure. I most fully agree with you in thinking a reciprocation of Passion highly culpable and absurd—it is therefore my constant endeavour to practise self-government in my present slight trials in order to prepare my mind for enduring those I may hereafter encounter, in such a manner as will make myself & others happy. I have confessed that my good resolutions on this subject sometimes fail when their execution is most requisite, but as the failures become gradually less frequent, I hope I may without presumption look forward to the time when I shall not disappoint my husband. I do not exactly recollect in what way I gave myself credit for Controuling my feelings, but I think I must have applied it to those which border on Romance, not to my irritable dispositions, as I reproach myself so painfully for not having completely subdued the latter.

With this consciousness of my own deficiencies in what is so essential to the conduct of a good wife, I am not in danger of being dissatisfied because I do not find perfection. Believe me I have never imagined myself deserving of attachment from the best kind of imperfect characters, and on that account I did not venture to include in my demands some qualities which you justly consider very great advantages (as those of Talents & Chearfulness) because I would not be conceitedly unreasonable.

In some particulars you have not exactly estimated my meaning, which I cannot be surprised at when I consider the obscurity & in-
sufficiency of my statement owing to my wish for brevity. You are mistaken in thinking that I meant to dispense with the amiable feelings. I thought those of “good-nature, openness, frankness & kindness of heart” included under the term “generous” and if that expression was not correct, I cannot explain my meaning better than by those particular qualities which you have enumerated at the foundation of Love. So far from supposing that I could be attached by a character of dry Reason, and cold Rectitude, I am always repelled by people of that description.

With regard to the Principles, which I would have founded on a sense of religion, I thought that if they are consistent they cannot be unsettled, therefore that it is needless to add that they should be fixed. However you are very right in reproving vague expressions, and I should have made the sense less equivocal.

You say that with all these requisites “a man has my free leave to be obstinate, perverse, morose, sulky & ill-natured.” How can these dispositions exist with the well-regulated good feelings which I mention in the first place? Besides I afterwards specify the absence of ill-humoured habits. If I had not thought this sufficient to secure the exclusion of such bad qualities as you describe I should have named them distinctly as objectionable.

After so full an explanation you will perhaps take off my stilts, and allow that I am only on tiptoe. I quite agree with what you say, and I am trying to show you that it agrees more nearly with what I said than you seem to suppose.

Most affecty. yours,
A. I. M.

She learnt then, if she had not known it before, that the husband to whom her aunt referred was Lord Byron. Annabella, having thought over the proposal most carefully, calmly and definitely wrote to her aunt and rejected it. She said that, much as she regretted the fact, she could not marry Lord Byron, because she was not in love with him. “La! how comical!” Lady Melbourne must have said to herself, “that my niece should be almost the only woman who knows him who can say that!”

“I do not give my answer without that serious deliberation which is due to the honourable and disinterested nature of Lord Byron’s sentiments. I am convinced that he considers my happiness not less than his own, in the wishes which he has expressed to you, and I think of them with the sincerest gratitude.

“I endeavour not to yield to any decided preference till my judgment has been strengthened by longer observation, but I will not assign this as my only motive for declining the estimable and very uncommon advantages now offered. I should be totally unworthy of Lord Byron’s esteem if I were not to speak the truth without equivocation. Believing that he never will be the object of that strong affection which would make me happy in domestic life, I should wrong him by any measure that might, even indirectly, confirm his present impressions. From my limited observations of his conduct, I was predisposed to believe your strong testimony in his favour, and I willingly attribute it more to the defect
of my own feelings than of his character that I am not inclined to return his attachment. After this statement which I make with real sorrow from the idea of its giving pain, I must leave our future intercourse to his judgment. I can have no reason for withdrawing from an acquaintance that does me honor and is capable of imparting so much rational pleasure, except the fear of involuntarily deceiving him. I cannot appear insensible to kindness, and its influence on my manner might lead him erroneously to suppose that I had a stronger interest. Whatever may be his determination from a full consideration of these circumstances, I shall acquiesce in it with an anxious wish that it may prove for his happiness.

“Perhaps the most satisfactory method of acquainting him with the contents of this letter would be to let him have it. I have too much confidence in his liberality, to think reserve or caution necessary in communicating my feelings. The generous delicacy of his whole conduct towards me, particularly when he acted from the false information of my engagement to another person, is one of many proofs that his principles of Honor deserve my entire reliance. I assure him of my perfect silence on this subject.

Oct. 12.”

Lord Byron kept up a frequent correspondence with Lady Melbourne at this time. She encouraged it, and was glad to hear the facts from both sides, for while he confided in Lady Melbourne she was also receiving the hysterical outpourings of Lady Caroline’s heart. In one of Lady
Melbourne’s letters to him, written in her mocking, teasing style on September 29, 1812, she mentions that Caroline had read a letter from Lord Byron intended for only Lady Melbourne’s eye, and goes on to laugh at him for his praise of herself:

“You are too suspicious, after all I have said, it makes me half angry—in one of yr. last Letters you hinted tht. perhaps I left yr. Letter in the way on purpose. These are your ‘wounding flouts’ and shew what those persons are to expect ‘that lye within the mercy of your Wit.’ I can not bear her having got that Letter whether she opened it, or found it, ’tis all one, it will be long before I forgive it, if it was either on my Table or in my Drawer, she has added falsehood to her other iniquities, for in that case she could not think it was for her. I have not been in right good humour since I heard it. What high flown compliments you have paid me, for Heaven’s sake lower me to my proper level, or I shall be quite alarm’d when I see you again. I shall neither dare speak before you nor to you, & as to talking my usual nonsense that must be quite out of the question, or I shall soon drop from the Pinnacle where you have placed me. Do let me down easily, that I may not break my Bones by a sudden fall; What can you have in yr. Head? ‘Men of distinguish’d abilities’ ce sont des Hommes comme les autres, & I am a Woman comme les autres—superior in nothing. I happen fortunately to be gifted with a fund of good nature & chearfulness, & very great spirits—& have a little more tact than my neighbours, & people call me pleasant because I am always inclined in conversation to enter into the subjects that
seem most adapted to the taste of those with whom I happen to be—when they are not too high for aspiration (as Mr. Ward says) like some I have lately been with. You say ‘I admire you certainly as much as ever you were admired’ & a great deal more I assure you than ever I was admired in the same way. I may have been beloved—but Love is not admiration. Lovers admire of course without knowing why. Yours therefore is much more flattering as I sd. the other day—but you quite astonished me when I found your usual playfulness chang’d into such a formal tirade. I have hardly yet recover’d my surprise—now I have told you everything & have shown myself truly to you; I can not see why you should wish that you had not known me. It can not lead to any regrets and if circumstances should not stop it entirely our Friendship will be very pleasant to both as any sentiment must be where all is sunshine—and where love does not introduce itself, there can be no jealousys, torments & quarrels. And should this catastrophe take place, it will, at least to me, always be a pleasing recollection, that we should have been good friends (there is something in tht. expression I like very much) if imperious circumstances had not prevented it. Once you told me you did not understand Friendship. I told you I would teach it you, & so I will, if you do not allow
C. to take you quite away. Do you remember some verses of Voltaire’s where after lamenting tht. he was old, he says:
Du ciel alors daignant descendre
L’amitié vint à mon secours,
Elle étoit peut être aussi tendre
Mais moins vive que les amours.


“I admire you extremely for your resolutions respecting her but Dr. Ld. B. you deceive yourself—you never will be able to keep them. What! pass your time in endeavouring to put her into good humour, & to satisfy her, & disguise from her that you are unhappy. Fine Dreams indeed—the first is much beyond yr. power & finding how ill you succeed, must inevitably prevent you from persisting in the last. Do not however mistake me, I would not have you say a harsh sentence to her for the World, or anything that could be deem’d insulting. I had not the least intention of advising you to do it; there is no kindness that I would not have you shew her, but sacrificing yourself to her would only be romantic, & not kind—for supposing the sentiments you express to me are real, it would be quite the contrary, for it must lead to unhappiness & misery. If a little trifling expression of coldness at present would prevent this finale, how much more kind, to give a little present pain, & avoid her total ruin; however I do not mean to give any advice, you probably know much better than I do, how to act. You may depend upon my giving you the earliest intelligence in my power of their return. I hear no mention of it yet—& if they come back thro’ holland which was their intention, we shall hear of their leaving Ireland a long time before they arrive here. I must however add that I think you attach too much blame to yourself—she was no novice & tho’ I give her credit for being what one must believe every Heroine of a Romance to be (except Made. Cottin’s) yet she knew enough to be upon her guard, & cannot be look’d upon as the Victim of a designing Man. All the world are of a very
different opinion—she always told me you continually sd. that she had exposed herself so much before she was acquainted with you, tht. her character could not suffer, as it was already gone—I abused you at the time for giving it this turn tho what you sd. was perfectly true, & in my opinion exculpates you entirely.

“Poor Annabella, her innocent Eyes will have to contend with the Black & probably experienced ones of yr. Innamorata. Recollect in the meantime how much they will improve if she should be in love with you, the others are acquernis [sic] & will be no better. Eyes require that sort of inspiration. Many people have fine Eyes who do not know what to do with them, many have nothing behind them, then it is hopeless. Mon cher Neveu, vous êtes bien changéant, much like the man in the farce we saw together (the Weathercock) do you recollect it? I thought then it was a character not to be found in nature, however the wind that blows one way to[-day] may blow from the contrary point tomorrow [torn off] but where is all yr. boasted power of forgetting those you have liked? A sound brings those objects (I put them in the plural) back to yr. recollection & displays all the charms tht. had captivated you—& you fall in love anew, but not with them—with that sound—something like Vapid I think, & his Grandmother’s picture. Do you think you can manage both her & C[aroline]? Impossible. As a friend I say flirt as much as you please but do not get into a serious scrape before you are safe from the present one.

“As I was folding up this Letter, a servant arrived fm. town & brought me two Letters fm.
C[aroline]—if I know her, vous n’en êtes pas quite. Both the Letters are written the same day, one full of spirits, gaiete, Dinners Parties &c., &c., the other false written to deceive one, talking of her unhappiness & affecting to be perfectly quiet & resign’d. As this is not in her Nature, you will most likely know the contrary by this time, she is trying to act upon my feelings, & to make me tell her something about you. This I shall not do. She says you are angry, begs me to tell her why—entreats me to speak openly—& she will not betray me, perhaps I have shewn you her last Letter—if so she will forgive me—& so on.

“I am now inclined to think that if you could get her into a quiet state by any means, it would be the best chance. You might agree to see her quietly when she returns, provided she made none of the scenes she is so fond of; it might possibly go off in that way, but it never can while she is in this constant state of irritation, and whilst she thinks all about her wish to put an end to it. If she thought her friends cared less she would be more likely to take some other fancy—the result of all this seems to me that the best thing you can do is to marry, & that in fact you can get out of this scrape by no other means.”

One of these letters became the making of a quarrel. Lord Byron had written something important for Lady Melbourne’s eye only, and Lady Caroline had seen it. Lady Melbourne said that Lady Caroline had tampered with her drawers. Lady Caroline said:

“I found on the floor of my room in London
a part of an open letter addressed to no one—& as I thought to me—I could not know it was to you. I left it exactly where I found it though I was spoken to of it in a way I did not like. I told it all of you, I care not who knows it—there was no crime in it.”

The incident is mysterious. Did Lady Melbourne wish her daughter-in-law to read the letter and take this means of ensuring that she did so? Lord Byron seemed a little suspicious. When the incident happened Annabella had not refused him. But after Annabella’s refusal there is no evidence that Lady Melbourne ever pressed on the marriage until it was too irrevocably settled for her to do anything but help. Lady Caroline wrote to her mother-in-law on October 15, 1812:

My dearest Lady Melbourne,

Once more I assure you upon my honour, I never opened or intentionally read any letter of yours. I found a part of one on the floor—it was in a hand I used to receive to myself—I made no secret of it, I have committed no wrong. Hitherto I have behaved with perfect honour, deceived by every human being I never have returned in kind their ill-treatment—but as you say it is not for me to complain, & you shall none of you ever more tax me with too much openness. I have borne a great deal, & will bear no more—that which is not spoken is more to be dreaded than that which is seen. I shall write no more, only entreating you not to write unkindly to my Mother, who says, instead of delightful letters
from you, she receives at present nothing but a few short guarded lines—& why? Upon my soul she is innocent, & ignorant of everything of this—she never names one I do not ever speak of & as to my having accused him I hope I did not. If I said he was unkind to me because I wishd to behave well—I did him great wrong. I beg his, I beg your pardon. I scarcely know what I wrote. Do not tell him I said this. I conclude I have deserved the treatment I have met with, & I will bear it without complaint, but it was so unexpected & it is [sic] wounds me so deeply that you must not think I can write to you or any one again.
Lady Melbourne I here do solemnly swear to you—by all that you may hold most sacred if it were not for my mother & the kindness I have received from you all, from this day forth you should never see me again. Oh that I had not been weak enough to return when Lord Byron brought me back, that I had never returned—but come it late, it will come at last—& such an exit I will make from this scene of Deceit & unkindness that it shall expiate even my atrocious conduct as you call [? it and] the canting sorrow of which you accuse me. Lord Byron has now seald my destruction, and it shall follow—mark these words—& when it comes remember it was not the mere impotence of frantic grief, but the secret firm resolution of a heart bitterly & deeply injured. I never more will write to you—& thanks for the letters I have received. I shall not reproach you for them—I deserve unkindness from you. I never have, I hope I never have, accused Lord Byron—he or you best know why he behaves ill to the Woman he so lately professed to love. He is changed perhaps, is
that a reason? No, we are not master of our affections; his love for another is no crime but I neither expected nor can bear insult, hatred, suspicion & contempt. I will not bear it; he may love who he pleases I shall never reproach him—but he should not treat me with cruelty & contempt.

Postmark: “Oc. 15—12.
Ck on Suir” [Carrick-on-Suir, Tipperary],

Lady Melbourne had warned Lord Byron that the only way to treat Lady Caroline was with firmness. Fate played into his hand. Lady Caroline in 1813 writes:

“I wrote to him & said: ‘Byron, when my letters tire or when you dislike writing, only tell truth—I can bear anything but suspense.’ Yet after far the kindest he ever wrote even more professing than the one I shewed you, one I could hardly like to shew, so full of such assurances—saying I must be his; he could not would not live much longer away—I say, after this letter, I never receivd a word. He was angry I know very well at one I wrote—a very improper one, no doubt, but I had heard such things, such double things of his saying & doing, that with my usual violence I wrote. About ten days after Mamma received a letter very gay & one or two little things about Cheltenham having cured him. I only had a cover inclosing John Green’s letter; after that 4 pages in praise of some other person & these words to me ‘correct yr. vanity which is ridiculous & proverbial, exert yr. Caprices on your new conquests & leave me in peace, yrs. Byron.’ I never
shall forget what pain I felt. Off was despatched an express—‘only for God sake, Byron, explain yourself. What have I done—if you are tired of me say so, but do not, do not treat me so.’

“The express brought me a letter I enclose, & it made me miserable. But I wrote no more, except the small note I inclos’d to you, & one other, but without one Idea, without one supposition about Lady Oxford. I wrote to her saying, ‘my Dearest Aspasia, only think Byron is angry with me! Will you write to him, will you tell him I have not done one thing to displease him, & that I am miserable—tell him I wrote him a cross letter I know. But I have a thousand times askd his pardon. He is tired of me, I see it by his letter. I will write no more—never teaze him—never intrude upon him, only do you obtain his forgiveness.’ I received no answer, & went to Dublin. There a letter came to me from Lady Oxford. As I thought it had her seal, I open’d it tho’ I knew it could not be an answer to mine as there had not been time. But it was a letter from him saying—‘Lady Caroline—our affections are not in our own power—mine are engaged. I love another—were I inclined to reproach you I might for 20 thousand things, but I will not. They really are not cause of my present conduct—my opinion of you is entirely alter’d, & if I had wanted anything to confirm me, your Levities your caprices & the mean subterfuges you have lately made use of while madly gay—of writing to me as if otherwise, would entirely have open’d my eyes. I am no longer yr. lover—I shall but never be less than your friend—it would be too dishonourable for me to name her to whom I am now entirely devoted & attached.’—& he put Lady Oxford’s
seal—one I had myself shewn him & laugh’d with him about, & he dated his letter Presteign. I have no complaints to make against him, or against her. Such are the facts, & now you shall hear what my wishes are—& if you think them unreasonable I will try & give them up. I did wish to see him because I think it would in every way be better—but I now feel this ought not to be, & my only desire is that you should engage him to write me a few lines just to recall those very harsh accusations—or, if he will believe these things against me, just to say he forgives me & we part in peace—because if I were to die I should be miserable at doing so without—[MS. ends].”

Later Lady Caroline did ask to see him once more, and Lady Melbourne advised that the interview should be in the presence of witnesses. The witness Lord Byron chose was Lady Oxford. Lady Melbourne reproached him for this, saying, “Why, if a third person was necessary, did you not ask me? I would have left the room if she was calm.”

The final rupture came on July 6, 1813, at a party at Lady Heathcote’s1 house, where all the beauty of London Society was assembled, the younger women, in their short-waisted gowns with tight skirts, their high nodding plumes in the fashion of the Empire, the older women, like Lady Melbourne, with the sweeping robes of their younger days. She was then 61. Though her beauty was less brilliant and her presence more imposing, she was still a magnificent figure

1 Wife of Admiral Sir John Heathcote.

in any assembly, and her dress and charm of manner were as full of care and art as ever. The men in their high neckcloths and knee-breeches moved about among the women.
Whitbread might have been seen in one corner with Lord Grey, Sheridan rather drunk rolling about in another corner. The new Member for Camelford (Henry Brougham), who had been elected in 1810, an unknown young lawyer who so far had not opened his mouth in the House of Commons, stood alone surveying the crowd with a rather fierce and malignant eye. The candles in the candelabra gave a soft light—and who that has not seen it can know how soft and beautiful women look under candlelight?

Suddenly the crowd broke, and there passed with Lady Oxford on his arm a figure, so sinister in its beauty, so paralysing and fascinating in look, that Moore says Lady Rosebery, wife of the 4th Lord Rosebery, to whom Lord Byron had once spoken in a doorway, “was terrified to meet him, for her heart beat so violently she could not answer him.”1 In the shifting crowd he came face to face with a flitting airy figure, very fair of face, but with haggard dark eyes, worn with weeping. Their eyes met—no shadow even of recognition came into his, and he passed on to the supper room with Lady Oxford, who uttered an affected laugh.

1 Moore’s Diary, chap, iii, p. 247.


It was too much. Lady Caroline completely lost her self-control; shriek after shriek alarmed the guests, and there followed the scene which is depicted in a letter from the Duchess of Beaufort to Lady Holland:

To Lady Holland from the Duchess of Beaufort.1
Wednesday, July 8th, 1813.

I am perfectly horror struck, my dear Lady Holland, at the account I have received from town, of the scene at Ly. Heathcote’s. To a degree I hope & think the particulars sent me may be & are exaggerated, but I have been told that poor Ly. C[aroline] L[amb] not only wounded herself in several places, but at last was carried out by several people actually in a straight waistcoat. For her individually I should feel the greatest compassion, but when I think of what poor Lady Bessborough’s feelings must be I really cannot express my strong comiseration at what her sufferings must be. I daresay Beau[fort] will write a line himself but if he does not, you know his good heart sufficiently to judge how much he must suffer on poor Lady B[essborough’s] account. Pray let me hear from you. These tales of horror strike me I assure you with aggravated terror in the country where only imperfect reports reach one, & nothing occurs to drive away the impression that such dreadful details must make on one’s mind. In the world you have such a succession of occurrences that one event drives out another—but in the quiet of St. Leonard’s the recollection

1 Daughter of the 1st Marquess of Stafford, married Lord Worcester, afterwards 5th Duke of Beaufort.

of this poor ly. Caroline & her afflicted friends will continue to haunt me night & day. You will I am sure write & give us every detail.

Later came an even more distressing account from Lady Melbourne:

To Lord Byron from Lady Melbourne
7th July 1813.
Dr. Ld. B.

She is what she calls calm this morg., & I was in hopes I might have read some parts of yr. Letter to her—& in that intention told her I had heard & that you wish’d to know how she was, but I soon found, that the less I sd. the better. I ask’d her if she had any message to send; she sd. tell him I have been ill, that I am now calm, but not very well but don’t tell him what pass’d the other night. I then sd.—probably you have told him yr. own story, have you written? After an awkward attempt at equivocation, she confess’d she had, but denied your having sent an answer. However this I don’t believe, as I do not see how you could avoid answering her. She then sd. she should not abuse you; she should keep her thoughts to herself—& to the World she should praise yr. behaviour—& upon my just hinting that she had sd. shameful things the other night & that I was glad she had made this determination she went into a rage, saying tht. she would expose you & clear herself & so on. She is now like a Barrel of Gunpowder & takes fire with the most trifling spark. She has been in a dreadfull [sic]—I was interrupted & obliged to put my paper into my
drawer, & now I cannot for my life recollect what I was going to say—oh now I have it!—I was stating tht. she had been in a dreadful bad humour this last week. With her, when the fermentation begins there is no stopping it till it bursts forth, she must have gone to
Ly. H[eathcote’s] determined to pique you by her waltzing & when she found that fail’d, in her passion she wish’d to expose you, not feeling how much worse it was for herself. Now she seems ashamed—for the first time I ever saw the least mark of that feeling. It might have been kept secret but for Ly. O[xford] & Ly. H[eathcote]—the first from folly—the other from being entirely ignorant how to be good natur’d & from a wish to display her fine feelings. That is the reason why all these Women abuse you—how I hate that affectation of sentiment! I knew they would talk & thought if it reach’d you it must make you uncomfortable & therefore desired Ly. O. to say to you there had been a scene—but tht. she was calm’d & I would write to you next morg. At present I am trying to get her out of Town & hope I shall succeed. I was able to send for Fre[deric]k whom I knew could hold her & I could not by myself & indeed I must do Ly. B[essborough] the justice to say that her representation of her violence in these paroxysms was not at all exaggerated. I could not have believed it possible for any one to carry absurdity to such a pitch. I call it so, for I am convinced she knows perfectly what she is about all the time, but she has no idea of controuling her fury. She broke a glass & scratched herself, as you call it, with the broken pieces. Ly. O. & Ly. H. screamed instead of taking it from her, & I had
just left off holding her for 2 minutes—she had a pair of scissors in her hand when I went up, with which she was wounding herself but not deeply. Pray if you answer her letters do not let her find out I have written you word of all this. I shall perhaps meet you somewhere but if I do not, you shall hear how we go on. I can not describe how fatigued I was yesterday.

I must finish
Yrs. ever
E. M.

So far as can be known by these letters Lady Caroline corresponded no more with Lord Byron, though Lady Melbourne continued writing to him. There is no record of how William Lamb took this last terrible sign of his wife’s madness. Lady Melbourne felt that anything would be better than a separation between Caroline and William. She knew the faults of William’s nature and dreaded his leaving her roof, which he might do were his wife no longer there.

In the midst of all these domestic troubles Lady Melbourne seems to have had little time for influencing the larger issues of life. No letters of hers tell of what was happening in the world and how the country was at that moment passing through the throes of misgovernment. William was no longer in Parliament. His spirit seemed broken by his wife’s vagaries.

Lord Wellesley and Lord Moira were each in turn asked to form a government. In the end
Lord Liverpool was sent for by the Prince. He accepted the offer, and Creevy tells us that at a meeting at his house on June 9 he declared to the Government Members that “the intention of the Government is not to oppose the Catholic question as a Government measure, but to let everyone do as he pleases.”1

The elections in 1812 produced a triumphant Tory majority. Lord Castlereagh had succeeded Lord Wellesley at the Foreign Office. His foreign policy was effective and the Peninsular campaign was going well. The old Whigs did not care to press hostilities when the Government was so successful, and became but a weak opposition. Henry Brougham, who had been Member for Camelford, belonged to the new “Radical Party,” which sat on the same side of the House as the Whigs. He saw that the position between the Prince Regent and his wife the Princess of Wales was a weapon to his hand with which to attack the Government.

The unfortunate position of the Princess excited much compassion, and the middle classes especially sympathized with her. The Regent had as early as 1806 appointed a commission to inquire into his wife’s conduct, and when the old King died would not allow her daughter to see her more than once a fortnight. When the Princess remonstrated he paid no attention, and she published the letter in the Morning Chronicle.

1 Creevy Memoirs, vol. i, p. 158.

The Prince’s retort was to appoint another commission to inquire into her behaviour, and
Lady Melbourne wrote to Lord Byron, with whom she still corresponded—

“Have you read the Times of today? There is an account of Lord Moira having examined two people which will not redound to his honour or to that of his employer. The remarks before the depositions are very good. I am told, but not from good authority, that they are written by Mr. Whitbread.1 I hear it is the fashion amongst Ladies to burn their newspapers—that the servants may not read such improprieties. They had better burn them without reading when they are first brought—that would really be acting with propriety.

“As you sd. I must get well, I have been out this morg. which I was told would do me good, & I have thoughts of going to Ly. Holland’s this Eveg. You see this is doing the best I can in obedience to yr. orders, but if I catch cold in so doing & be lay’d up in a Fever I shall say you made me do this—it is all yr. fault—this is Yr. Lordps method of reasoning.”

Annabella, whose father and mother had taken a house in Portland Place, had been, in spite of her first decision, thinking a great deal of Lord Byron. She wrote to Lady Melbourne on July 18, as she was leaving London:

“I am sorry to find that a report very disadvantageous to Lord Byron is in circulation, and

1 Samuel Whitbread, Member for Tavistock.

as I cannot believe it I wish it may be contradicted. It is said, and in a circle where it is likely to have credit, that he has behaved very unhandsomely to the
young man who purchased Newstead—that the latter from the imprudent eagerness of youth bid much more for the property than it was worth and that, though almost ruined by the contract, Lord B. cruelly takes advantage of the Law to make him adhere to unfair terms. I should be very ungenerous if I did not put the most candid construction on all Lord Byron’s actions and if I did not wish that others should do the same. As I shall not have an opportunity of seeing him again I should be glad if you would tell him that however long his absence may be, I shall always have pleasure in hearing that he is happy, and if my esteem can afford him any satisfaction, he may rely on my not adopting the opinions of those who wrong him. Of the propriety of this communication you will judge, but I feel certain that it would not be misunderstood, and unless he is more changeable than I imagine, he may be gratified by my friendly dispositions, particularly at a moment when he experiences such painful injustice.”

She also wrote directly she arrived in the country:

“Since I left London I have not heard anything of your proceedings, except such reports concerning Lady Caroline as I cannot credit. I am anxious to know if she has kept her good resolutions, or rather her good promises, for she has hitherto seemed incapable of forming a serious
resolution. However I hope the temptation is far away. When we were in Yorkshire we heard of
George at Mr. Taylor’s and we had the felicity of seeing one of his companions, Mr. Strickland, who certainly ought to be the hero of ‘Patience & Perseverance.’ But if I do not capitulate at once, I do not think I shall be gained by such means.”

In October she wrote to say that she was reading the “Giaour”:

To Lady Melbourne from Miss Milbanke

I have just been reading the enlarged Edition of Giaour, and think the additions very beautiful. The description of Love almost makes me in love. Certainly he excels in the language of Passion, whilst the power of delineating inanimate nature appears more copiously bestowed on other poets. Perhaps he has not displayed his excellence in that line only because it has not so much occupied his attention. In the intellectual he is truly sublime, yet I cannot believe that his Genius has yet attained its maturity. There is a progressive improvement in his writings. I shall be glad of his stay in England as I may hope to have some share of his agreeable society next year in London. After the lapse of nearly two years since the declaration of his wishes, it is not probable that they should continue in a sufficient degree to occasion mutual embarrassment. I consider his acquaintance as so desirable that I would incur the risk of being called a Flirt for the sake of enjoying it, provided I may do so without detri-
ment to himself—for you know that his welfare has been as much the object of my consideration as if it were connected with my own. To shew you that Invention does not languish in this country I was told a few days since that
Lord Byron had gone to establish himself in some remote island with a younger daughter of Lady Oxford’s, whom he was to educate & ultimately to marry.

The Novel which you recommend will be a welcome interruption to my present studies, which I should suppose were suited to your taste—metaphysical reasoning, Locke, Dugald Stuart, &c. My early study of Mathematics has contributed to lead me to these pursuits, since they are in fact the Demonstrat[ions] of Moral Philosophy. I differ from many in considering such books of great practical utility—even in the commonest circumstances of life. You will laugh, & think I mean to eat my dinner metaphysically. Perhaps I might be allowed to waltz metaphysically without incurring even Lord B.’s censure.

On February 12, 1814, we read that she had finished the “Corsair”:

“I have just finished the Corsair—am in the greatest admiration. In knowledge of the human heart & its most secret workings surely he may without exaggeration be compared to Shakespeare. He gives such wonderful life & individuality to character that from that cause, as well as from unjust prepossessions as to his own disposition, the idea that he represents himself in his heroes may be partly accounted for. It is difficult to
believe that he could have known these beings so thoroughly but from introspection.
Who hath seen
Man as himself—the secret spirit face?
I am afraid the compliment to his poetry will not repay him for the injury to his character.”

And on April 29 she wrote:

My dear Aunt,

After this reform in my Constitution you will be happy to hear of a reform in my Character, which is that I am become a great Politician, and there was a bonfire last night on the village green which I admired with a proper degree of patriotism. Have you not been astonished at the fate of Bonaparte? Lord Byron’s Ode to him is, I think, admirable—yet perhaps rather too philosophical for the character of an Ode. I have to inform you that my father & mother, hearing that he was likely to renew his Northern tour, have thought it advisable to invite him here, and, deserving as you think him and as he has proved himself, of the fullest confidence, I trust you will not think it an objectionable measure. I shall be very glad if he should avail himself of the invitation, which my father sends by this post, as it will be one of the best compensations for what I lose in Society this year. I am very indifferent about reports, and I know you think it the wisest plan to be so.

The foundations of the engagement were probably laid during this visit. After it was settled Lady Melbourne wrote to Lord Byron suggesting
that now the marriage had been arranged the sooner it took place the better:

“So at last yr. Agent condescends to fix some time when he will meet my Brs. people. I know tht. all those sort of personages who have had the Management of an Estate, & of course of the owner of it, are displeased, when they think it likely they may lose a portion of their power, by its being transferr’d to a Wife—I mean power over their employer, & mostly dupe. They are enemies to matrimony, as much as you see I am to them; in truth I never knew a Man who had not the cleverest & honestest agent in the World & if ever I have become acquainted with them or their actions, I have seldom found them honest, sometimes sinning from stupidity, but invariably turning everything to their own advantage & selfish to the highest degree, and always enriching themselves. Mr. Hansom may be an exception to this rule—I certainly have no acquaintance with him, & never heard his Name but from you—so I do not say this from any knowledge I have either of him or his character but were I to judge from appearances I should say he has been unpardonably dilatory in this business from the beginning & were I Annabella I should never forget him. And indeed it may be well for yr. Lordship that I am not for you would come in for your share of blame too—but we’ll say no more about it. On this occasion I should wish the whole to be concluded speedily, & as I am well acquainted with the dilatoriness, puzzleheadedness &c., &c., of my Brother’s Agents if I were you I would try & be married upon Articles. If you laugh at this at least acknow-
ledge tht. I am eager to sign myself yr. affte. Aunt. I have entered on this dry subject in a Letter knowing tht. I never should have got you to listen even to twenty words of it in a conversation.”

Annabella wrote from home saying the marriage would take place about the end of December, but the actual date was January 2, 1815, in the Chapel at Seaham. Whether Lady Melbourne had worked to bring about this result is uncertain, and in the many letters she wrote to Lord Byron after Annabella’s refusal there are nothing but warnings. In one of her replies to him on August 23, 1813, from Cheltenham, where she had gone to take the waters, she says:

“You can not expect me, with my head full of these Waters, (which make even Nugent’s twirl about, strong as it appears)—to understand & unravel the confusion tht. exists amongst all the different Ladies you allude to. You are accustom’d to it; therefore to you I have no doubt it is clear. My Magical influence!—you make me Laugh. I won’t say, as the Mareshalle d’Ancre (I think it was) when she was going to be executed for witchcraft & was ask’d by what means she obtain’d her power over some persons I have forgot—“par le pouvoir qu’ont les esprits forts sur les ames faibles”—for I have no pretentions to strength of mind, & I always think that when people talk of my power they are laughing at me and you more than anyone I have ever met with. And I have no objection to it, for I like a joke even when against myself & it always
appears to me that when you are describing my influence over you, you mean yours over me.”

The result of the marriage is well known. Ada Byron was born on December 10, 1815, and on January 15, 1816, Lady Byron, taking her child with her, left her husband’s home for ever.

That Lady Melbourne, who always knew everything, was a little anxious is proved by the letter she wrote Lord Byron in 1815, saying: “I hope you’ll come very soon do you hear? or rather do you heed?”

From Kirkby, which Lady Byron’s mother had just inherited from her uncle Lord Wentworth, Lady Melbourne received a letter probably from her brother Sir Ralph, telling her of the proposed separation. She answered:

“I am miserable to think what A. must have suffered before she would have resolved to bring such an appeal before the World. As you say justly you have every consolation from her known Character, as it is not possible that anyone can stand higher in publick opinion than she does, or be more beloved by her private friends—& I must add that Ld. Byron appeared to me to appreciate her value most justly for he came to me the day before this report had made its way into the world & for an hour talk’d only of her many amiable qualities & how much he lov’d her. This you may believe rendered me perfectly incredulous at first, & made it difficult if not impossible for me to believe anything I heard
—till I enquired from you—& from whatever cause these unhappy differences may have arisen I must feel extremely sorry for both at the same time that I respect your motives for concealment . . . you speak of the necessity of the measures you have taken, & I have a full reliance upon your judgment—but knowing as little as I do I confess I wish it could have been settled amicably—& not brought before a tribunal like the World where everything of the sort is discussed & represented with levity indifference & derision & without regard to the pain it may give. Everything that passes between Husband & Wife ought to be sacred—the strongest reasons can hardly justify a departure from this rule—that you have them [sic] the relative situation of Husband & Wife is so delicate, so united & blended together, that both must be affected in some degree by publicity.”