Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 08.djvu/146

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ink out of window, and his excitement at the theatre is also suggested. Lady Byron upon hearing the medical opinion immediately decided upon separation. Dr. Baillie and a lawyer, by Lady Noel's desire, ‘almost forced themselves upon Byron’ (Medwin, p. 46), and confirmed Le Mann's report. On 25 Jan. 1816 Lady Byron tells Mrs. Leigh that she must resign the right to be her sister, but hopes that no difference will be made in their feelings. From this time she consistently adhered to the view finally set forth in her statement in 1830. Her letters to Mrs. Leigh, to Hodgson, who had ventured to intervene, and her last letter to Byron (13 Feb. 1816), take the same ground. Byron had been guilty of conduct inexcusable if he were an accountable agent, and therefore making separation a duty when his moral responsibility was proved. She tells Mrs. Leigh and Hodgson that he married her out of revenge; she tells Hodgson (15 Feb.) that her security depended on the ‘total abandonment of every moral and religious principle,’ and tells Byron himself that to her affectionate remonstrances and forewarnings of consequences he had replied by a ‘determination to be wicked though it should break my heart.’

On 2 Feb. 1816 Sir R. Noel proposed an amicable separation to Byron, which he at first rejected. Lady Byron went to London and saw Dr. Lushington, who, with Sir S. Romilly, had been consulted by Lady Noel, and had then spoken of possible reconciliation. Lady Byron now informed him of facts ‘utterly unknown,’ he says, ‘I have no doubt, to Sir R. and Lady Noel.’ His opinion was ‘entirely changed.’ He thought reconciliation impossible, and should it be proposed he could take no part, ‘professionally or otherwise, towards effecting it.’ Mrs. Leigh requested an interview soon after, which Lady Byron declined ‘with the greatest pain.’ Lushington had forbidden any such interview, as they ‘might be called upon to answer for the most private conversation.’ In a following letter (neither dated) Lady Byron begs for the interview which she had refused. She cannot bear the thought of not meeting, and the ‘grounds of the case are in some degree changed’ (Addit. MS. 31037, ff. 33, 34). According to Lady Byron's statement (in 1830) Byron consented to the separation upon being told that the matter must otherwise come into court. We may easily believe that, as Mrs. Leigh tells Mr. Horton, Byron would be happy to ‘escape the exposure,’ whatever its precise nature. He afterwards threw the responsibility for reticence on the other side. He gave a paper to Mr. Lewis, dated at La Mira in 1817, saying that Hobhouse had challenged the other side to come into court; that he only yielded because Lady Byron had claimed a promise that he would consent to a separation if she really desired it. He declares his ignorance of the charges against him, and his desire to meet them openly. This paper was apparently shown only to a few friends. It was first made public in the ‘Academy’ of 9 Oct. 1869. Hobhouse (see Quarterly Review for October 1869, January 1870, and July 1883) also said that Byron was quite ready to go into court, and that Wilmot Horton on Lady Byron's part disclaimed all the current scandals. It would seem, however, Byron could have forced an open statement had he really chosen to do so. This paper shows his consciousness that he ought to have done it if his case had been producible. Lady Byron tells Hodgson at the time (15 Feb. 1816) he ‘does know, too well, what he affects to inquire.’

The question remains, what were the specific charges which decided Lady Byron and Lushington? A happy marriage between persons so little congenial would have surprised his best friends. So far we might well accept the statement which Moore assigns to him: ‘My dear sir, the causes were too simple to be easily found out.’ But this will not explain Lady Byron's statements at the time, nor the impression made upon Lushington by her private avowal. Lady Byron only exchanged the hypothesis of insanity for that of diabolical pride. Byron's lifelong habit of ‘inverse hypocrisy’ may account for something. Harness reports (p. 32) that he used to send paragraphs to foreign papers injurious to his own character in order to amuse himself by mystifying the English public. Some of Lady Byron's statements may strengthen the belief that she had taken some such foolish brags too seriously.

Other explanations have been offered. In 1856 Lady Byron told a story to Mrs. Beecher Stowe. She thought that by blasting his memory she might weaken the evil influence of his writings, and shorten his expiation in another world. Lady Byron died in 1860. After the publication of the Guiccioli memoirs in 1868, Mrs. Stowe thought it her duty to publish the story in ‘Macmillan's Magazine’ for September 1869 and the ‘Atlantic Monthly.’ Her case is fully set forth, with documents and some explanations, in ‘Lady Byron Vindicated; a History of the Byron Controversy,’ 1870. According to Mrs. Stowe, Lady Byron accused her husband to Lushington of an incestuous intrigue with Mrs. Leigh. An examination of all that is known of Mrs. Leigh (see Quarterly Review,