LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Journal of the Conversations of Lord Byron
Byron's marriage and separation

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IN THE YEARS 1821 AND 1822.





J. C. Hobhouse, in Westminster Magazine

“I am sorry,” said he, not to have a copy of my Memoirs to shew you; I gave them to Moore, or rather to Moore’s little boy, at Venice. I remember saying, ‘Here are 2000l. for you, my young friend.’ I made one reservation in the gift,—that they were not to be published till after my death.

Review in The New Times

“I have not the least objection to their being circulated; in fact they have been read by some of mine, and several of Moore’s friends and acquaintances; among others, they were lent to Lady Burghersh. On returning the MS. her Ladyship told Moore that she had transcribed the whole work. This was un peu fort, and he suggested the propriety of her destroying the copy. She did so, by putting it into the fire in his presence. Ever since this happened, Douglas Kinnaird has been recom-
mending me to resume possession of the MS., thinking to frighten me by saying that a spurious or a real copy, surreptitiously obtained, may go forth to the world. I am quite indifferent about the world knowing all that they contain. There are very few licentious adventures of my own, or scandalous anecdotes that will affect others, in the book. It is taken up from my earliest recollections, almost from childhood,—very incoherent, written in a very loose and familiar style. The second part will prove a good lesson to young men; for it treats of the irregular life I led at one period, and the fatal consequences of dissipation. There are few parts that may not, and none that will not, be read by women.”

Another time he said:—

“A very full account of my marriage and separation is contained in my Memoirs. After they were completed, I wrote to Lady Byron, proposing to send them for her inspection, in order that any mistatements or inaccuracy (if any such existed, which I was not aware of,) might be pointed out and corrected. In her answer she declined the offer, without assigning any reason; but desiring, if not on her account, for the sake of her daughter, that
they might never appear, and finishing with a threat. My reply was the severest thing I ever wrote, and contained two quotations, one from
Shakspeare, and another from Dante.* I told her that she knew all I had written was incontrovertible truth, and that she did not wish to sanction the truth. I ended by saying, that she might depend on their being published. It was not till after this correspondence that I made Moore the depositary of the MS.

“The first time of my seeing Miss Millbank was at Lady ——’s. It was a fatal day; and I remember that in going upstairs I stumbled, and remarked to Moore, who accompanied me, that it was a bad omen. I ought to have taken the warning. On entering the room I observed a young lady, more simply dressed than the rest of the assembly, sitting alone upon a sofa. I took her for a humble companion, and asked if I was right in my conjecture? ‘She is a great heiress,’ said he in a whisper that became lower as he proceeded; ‘you had better marry her, and repair the old place, Newstead.’

* I could not retain them.


“There was something piquant, and what we term pretty, in Miss Millbank. Her features were small and feminine, though not regular. She had the fairest skin imaginable. Her figure was perfect for her height, and there was a simplicity, a retired modesty about her, which was very characteristic, and formed a happy contrast to the cold artificial formality, and studied stiffness, which is called fashion. She interested me exceedingly. It is unnecessary to detail the progress of our acquaintance. I became daily more attached to her, and it ended in my making her a proposal that was rejected. Her refusal was couched in terms that could not offend me. I was besides persuaded that, in declining my offer, she was governed by the influence of her mother; and was the more confirmed in this opinion by her reviving our correspondence herself twelve months after. The tenor of her letter was, that although she could not love me, she desired my friendship. Friendship is a dangerous word for young ladies; it is Love full-fledged, and waiting for a fine day to fly.

“It had been predicted by Mrs. Williams, that twenty-seven was to be a dangerous age for me. The fortune-telling witch was right; it was destined to prove so. I
shall never forget the 2d of January!
Lady Byron (Byrn, he pronounced it) was the only unconcerned person present; Lady Noel, her mother, cried; I trembled like a leaf, made the wrong responses, and after the ceremony called her Miss Millbank.

“There is a singular history attached to the ring. The very day the match was concluded, a ring of my mother’s, that had been lost, was dug up by the gardener at Newstead. I thought it was sent on purpose for the wedding; but my mother’s marriage had not been a fortunate one, and this ring was doomed to be the seal of an unhappier union still.*

“After the ordeal was over, we set off for a country-seat of Sir Ralph’s; and I was surprised at the arrangements for the journey, and somewhat out of humour to find a lady’s-maid stuck between me and my bride. It was rather too early to assume the husband; so I was
* ————“Save the ring,
Which, being the damned’st part of matrimony—”
Don Juan, Canto IX. Stanza 70.
forced to submit, but it was not with a very good grace. Put yourself in a similar situation, and tell me if I had not some reason to be in the sulks. I have been accused of saying, on getting into the carriage, that I had married
Lady Byron out of spite, and because she had refused me twice. Though I was for a moment vexed at her prudery, or whatever you may choose to call it, if I had made so uncavalier, not to say brutal a speech, I am convinced Lady Byron would instantly have left the carriage to me and the maid (I mean the lady’s). She had spirit enough to have done so, and would properly have resented the affront.

“Our honeymoon was not all sunshine; it had its clouds: and Hobhouse has some letters which would serve to explain the rise and fall in the barometer,—but it was never down at zero.

“You tell me the world says I married Miss Millbank for her fortune, because she was a great heiress. All I have ever received, or am likely to receive, (and that has been twice paid back too,) was 10,000l. My own income at this period was small, and somewhat bespoke. Newstead was a very unprofitable estate, and brought me in
a bare 1500l. a-year; the Lancashire property was hampered with a law-suit, which has cost me 14,000l., and is not yet finished.

“We had a house in town, gave dinner-parties, had separate carriages, and launched into every sort of extravagance. This could not last long. My wife’s 10,000l. soon melted away. I was beset by duns, and at length an execution was levied, and the bailiffs put in possession of the very beds we had to sleep on. This was no very agreeable state of affairs, no very pleasant scene for Lady Byron to witness; and it was agreed she should pay her father a visit till the storm had blown over, and some arrangements had been made with my creditors. You may suppose on what terms we parted, from the style of a letter she wrote me on the road: you will think it began ridiculously enough,—‘Dear Duck!’*

“Imagine my astonishment to receive, immediately on her arrival in London, a few lines from her father, of a very dry and unaffectionate nature, beginning ‘Sir,’

* Shelley, who knew this story, used to say these two words would look odd in an Italian translation, Anitra carissima.

and ending with saying that his daughter should never see me again.

“In my reply I disclaimed his authority as a parent over my wife, and told him I was convinced the sentiments expressed were his, not hers. Another post, however, brought me a confirmation (under her own hand and seal) of her father’s sentence. I afterwards learnt from Fletcher’s (my valet’s) wife, who was at that time femme-de-chambre to Lady Byron, that after her definite resolution was taken, and the fatal letter consigned to the post-office, she sent to withdraw it, and was in hysterics of joy that it was not too late. It seems, however, that they did not last long, or that she was afterwards over-persuaded to forward it. There can be no doubt that the influence of her enemies prevailed over her affection for me. You ask me if no cause was assigned for this sudden resolution?—if I formed no conjecture about the cause? I will tell you.

I have prejudices about women: I do not like to see them eat. Rousseau makes Julie un peu gourmande; but that is not at all according to my taste. I do not like to be interrupted when I am writing. Lady Byron
did not attend to these whims of mine. The only harsh thing I ever remember saying to her was one evening shortly before our parting. I was standing before the fire, ruminating upon the embarrassment of my affairs, and other annoyances, when Lady Byron came up to me and said, ‘Byron, am I in your way?’ to which I replied, ‘damnably!’ I was afterwards sorry, and reproached myself for the expression: but it escaped me unconsciously—involuntarily; I hardly knew what I said.

“I heard afterwards that Mrs. Charlment had been the means of poisoning Lady Noel’s mind against me;—that she had employed herself and others in watching me in London, and had reported having traced me into a house in Portland-place. There was one act of which I might justly have complained, and which was unworthy of any one but such a confidante: I allude to the breaking open my writing-desk. A book was found in it that did not do much credit to my taste in literature, and some letters from a married woman with whom I had been intimate before my marriage. The use that was made of the latter was most unjustifiable, whatever may be thought of the
breach of confidence that led to their discovery.
Lady Byron sent them to the husband of the lady, who had the good sense to take no notice of their contents. The gravest accusation that has been made against me is that of having intrigued with Mrs. Mardyn in my own house; introduced her to my own table, &c. There never was a more unfounded calumny. Being on the Committee of Drury-lane Theatre, I have no doubt that several actresses called on me: but as to Mrs. Mardyn, who was a beautiful woman, and might have been a dangerous visitress, I was scarcely acquainted (to speak) with her. I might even make a more serious charge against —— than employing spies to watch suspected amours,

* * * * * * *
* * * * * * *
* * * * * * *
I had been shut up in a dark street in London, writing (I think he said) ‘The Siege of Corinth,’ and had refused myself to every one till it was finished. I was surprised one day by a Doctor and a Lawyer almost forcing themselves at the same time into my room. I did not know till afterwards the real object of their visit. I thought their questions singular, frivolous, and somewhat importunate, if not
impertinent: but what should I have thought, if I had known that they were sent to provide proofs of my insanity?
* * * * * * *   
* * * * * * *   
* * * * * * (†)
I have no doubt that my answers to these emissaries’ interrogations were not very rational or consistent, for my
(†) “For Inez called some druggists and physicians,
And tried to prove her loving lord was mad;
But as he had some lucid intermissions,
She next decided he was only bad.
Yet when they ask’d her for her depositions,
No sort of explanation could be had,
Save that her duty both to man and God
Required this conduct,—which seem’d very odd.
“She kept a journal where his faults were noted,
And opened certain trunks of books and letters,
All which might, if occasion served, be quoted:
And then she had all Seville for abettors,
Besides her good old grandmother———”
Don Juan, Canto I. Stanzas 27 and 28.
imagination was heated by other things. But Dr. Bailey could not conscientiously make me out a certificate for Bedlam; and perhaps the Lawyer gave a more favourable report to his employers. The Doctor said afterwards, he had been told that I always looked down when
Lady Byron bent her eyes on me, and exhibited other symptoms equally infallible, particularly those that marked the late King’s case so strongly. I do not, however, tax Lady Byron with this transaction; probably she was not privy to it. She was the tool of others. Her mother always detested me; she had not even the decency to conceal it in her own house. Dining one day at Sir Ralph’s, (who was a good sort of man, and of whom you may form some idea, when I tell you that a leg of mutton was always served at his table, that he might cut the same joke upon it,) I broke a tooth, and was in great pain, which I could not avoid shewing. ‘It will do you good,’ said Lady Noel; ‘I am glad of it!’ I gave her a look!

You ask if Lady Byron were ever in love with me—I have answered that question already—No! I was the fashion when she first came out: I had the character of being a great rake, and was a great dandy—both of which young ladies like. She married me from vanity and the
hope of reforming and fixing me. She was a spoiled child, and naturally of a jealous disposition; and this was increased by the infernal machinations of those in her confidence.

“She was easily made the dupe of the designing, for she thought her knowledge of mankind infallible: she had got some foolish idea of Madame de Staël’s into her head, that a person may be better known in the first hour than in ten years. She had the habit of drawing people’s characters after she had seen them once or twice. She wrote pages on pages about my character, but it was as unlike as possible.

Lady Byron had good ideas, but could never express them; wrote poetry too, but it was only good by accident. Her letters were always enigmatical, often unintelligible. She was governed by what she called fixed rules and principles, squared mathematically.* She would have made an excellent wrangler at Cambridge. It must be
* “I think that Dante’s more abstruse ecstatics
Meant to personify the mathematics.
Don Juan, Canto III. Stanza 11.
confessed, however, that she gave no proof of her boasted consistency. First, she refused me, then she accepted me, then she separated herself from me:—so much for consistency. I need not tell you of the obloquy and opprobium that were cast upon my name when our separation was made public. I once made a list from the Journals of the day, of the different worthies, ancient and modern, to whom I was compared. I remember a few:
Nero, Apicius, Epicurus, Caligula, Heliogabalus, Henry the Eighth, and lastly the ——. All my former friends, even my cousin, George Byron, who had been brought up with me, and whom I loved as a brother, took my wife’s part. He followed the stream when it was strongest against me, and can never expect any thing from me: he shall never touch a sixpence of mine. I was looked upon as the worst of husbands, the most abandoned and wicked of men, and my wife as a suffering angel—an incarnation of all the virtues and perfections of the sex. I was abused in the public prints, made the common talk of private companies, hissed as I went to the House of Lords, insulted in the streets, afraid to go to the theatre, whence the unfortunate Mrs. Mardyn had been driven with insult. The Examiner was the only paper that
dared say a word in my defence, and
Lady Jersey the only person in the fashionable world that did not look upon me as a monster.

“I once addressed some lines to her that made her my friend ever after. The subject of them was suggested by her being excluded from a certain cabinet of the beauties of the day. I have the lines somewhere, and will shew them to you.

“In addition to all these mortifications my affairs were irretrievably involved, and almost so as to make me what they wished. I was compelled to part with Newstead, which I never could have ventured to sell in my mother’s life-time. As it is, I shall never forgive myself for having done so; though I am told that the estate would not now bring half as much as I got for it. This does not at all reconcile me to having parted with the old abbey.* I did not make up my mind to this

* The regard which he entertained for it is proved by the passage in Don Juan, Canto XIII. Stanza 55, beginning thus:
“To Norman Abbey whirl’d the noble pair,” &c.

step, but from the last necessity. I had my wife’s portion to repay, and was determined to add 10,000l. more of my own to it; which I did. I always hated being in debt, and do not owe a guinea. The moment I had put my affairs in train, and in little more than eighteen months after my marriage, I left England, an involuntary exile, intending it should be for ever*.”

Speaking of the multitude of strangers, whose visits of curiosity or impertinence he was harassed by for
some years after he came abroad, particularly at Venice, he said:

“Who would wish to make a show-bear of himself, and dance to any tune any fool likes to play? Madame de Staël said, I think of Goëthe, that people who did not wish to be judged by what they said, did not deserve that the world should trouble itself about what they thought. She had herself a most unconscionable insatiability of talking and shining. If she had talked less, it would have given her time to have written more, and would have been better. For my part, it is indifferent to me what the world says or thinks of me. Let them know me in my books. My conversation is never brilliant.

“Americans are the only people to whom I never refused to shew myself. The Yankees are great friends of mine. I wish to be well thought of on the other side of the Atlantic; not that I am better appreciated there, than on this; perhaps worse. Some American Reviewer has been persevering in his abuse and personality, but he should have minded his ledger; he
never excited my spleen.* I was confirmed in my resolution of shutting my door against all the travelling English by the impertinence of an anonymous
scribbler, who said he might have known me, but would not.”

I interrupted him by telling him he need not have been so angry on that occasion,—that it was an authoress who had been guilty of that remark. “I don’t wonder,” added I, “that a spinster should have avoided associating with so dangerous an acquaintance as you had the character of being at Venice.”

“Well, I did not know that these ‘Sketches of Italy

* The taste and critical acumen of the American magazine will appear from the following extract:

“The verses (it is of the ‘Prisoner of Chillon’ that it speaks) are in the eight syllable measure, and occasionally display some pretty poetry; at all events, there is little in them to offend.

“We do not find any passage of sufficient beauty or originality to warrant extract.”

were the production of a woman; but whether it was a Mr., Mrs., or Miss, the remark was equally uncalled for. To be sure, the life I led at Venice was not the most saintlike in the world.”

“Yes,” said I, “if you were to be canonized, it must be as San Ciappelletto.”

“Not so bad as that either,” said he, somewhat seriously.

“Venice,” resumed he, “is a melancholy place to reside in:—to see a city die daily as she does, is a sad contemplation. I sought to distract my mind from a sense of her desolation, and my own solitude, by plunging into a vortex that was any thing but pleasure. When one gets into a mill-stream, it is difficult to swim against it, and keep out of the wheels. The consequences of being carried down by it would furnish an excellent lesson for youth. You are too old to profit by it. But, who ever profited by the experience of others, or his own? When you read my Memoirs, you will learn the evils, moral and physical, of true dissipation. I assure you my life is very entertaining, and very instructive.”


I said, “I suppose, when you left England, you were a Childe Harold, and at Venice a Don Giovanni, and Fletcher your Leporello.” He laughed at the remark. I asked him, in what way his life would prove a good lesson? and he gave me several anecdotes of himself, which I have thrown into a sort of narrative.