The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero)/Poetry/Volume 3/Poems of the Separation

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1396995The Works of Lord Byron — Poems of the SeparationGeorge Gordon Byron



The two poems, Fare Thee Well (March 17) and A Sketch (March 29, 1816), which have hitherto been entitled Domestic Pieces, or Poems on His Own Circumstances, I have ventured to rename Poems of the Separation. Of secondary importance as poems or works of art, they stand out by themselves as marking and helping to make the critical epoch in the life and reputation of the poet. It is to be observed that there was an interval of twelve days between the date of Fare Thee Well and A Sketch; that the composition of the latter belongs to a later episode in the separation drama; and that for some reasons connected with the proceedings between the parties, a pathetic if not uncritical resignation had given place to the extremity of exasperation—to hatred and fury and revenge. It follows that either poem, in respect of composition and of publication, must be judged on its own merits. Contemporary critics, while they were all but unanimous in holding up A Sketch to unqualified reprobation, were divided with regard to the good taste and good faith of Fare Thee Well. Moore intimates that at first, and, indeed, for some years after the separation, he was strongly inclined to condemn the Fare Thee Well as a histrionic performance—"a showy effusion of sentiment; "but that on reading the account of all the circumstances in Byron's Memoranda, he was impressed by the reality of the "swell of tender recollections, under the influence of which, as he sat one night musing in his study, these stanzas were produced—the tears, as he said, falling fast over the paper as he wrote them" (Life, p. 302).

With whatever purpose, or under whatever emotion the lines were written, Byron did not keep them to himself. They were shown to Murray, and copies were sent to "the initiated." "I have just received," writes Murray, "the enclosed letter from Mrs. Maria Graham [1785-1842, née Dundas, authoress and traveller, afterwards Lady Callcott], to whom I had sent the verses. It will show you that you are thought of in the remotest corners, and furnishes me with an excuse for repeating that I shall not forget you. God bless your Lordship. Fare Thee Well" [MSS. M.].

But it does not appear that they were printed in their final shape (the proof of a first draft, consisting of thirteen stanzas, is dated March 18, 1816) till the second copy of verses were set up in type with a view to private distribution (see Letters, 1899, iii. 279). Even then there was no thought of publication on the part of Byron or of Murray, and, as a matter of fact, though Fare Thee Well was included in the "Poems" of 1816, it was not till both poems had appeared in over twenty pirated editions that A Sketch was allowed to appear in vol. iii. of the Collected Works of 1819. Unquestionably Byron intended that the "initiated," whether foes or sympathizers, should know that he had not taken his dismissal in silence; but it is far from certain that he connived at the appearance of either copy of verses in the public press. It is impossible to acquit him of the charge of appealing to a limited circle of specially chosen witnesses and advocates in a matter which lay between himself and his wife, but the aggravated offence of rushing into print may well be attributed to "the injudicious zeal of a friend," or the "malice prepense" of an enemy. If he had hoped that the verses would slip into a newspaper, as it were, malgré lui, he would surely have taken care that the seed fell on good ground under the favouring influence of Perry of the Morning Chronicle, or Leigh Hunt of the Examiner. As it turned out, the first paper which possessed or ventured to publish a copy of the "domestic pieces" was the Champion, a Tory paper, then under the editorship of John Scott (1783-1821), a man of talent and of probity, but, as Mr. Lang puts it (Life and Letters of John Gibson Lockhart, 1897, i. 256), "Scotch, and a professed moralist." The date of publication was Sunday, April 14, and it is to be noted that the Ode from the French ("We do not curse thee, Waterloo") had been published in the Morning Chronicle on March 15, and that on the preceding Sunday, April 7, the brilliant but unpatriotic apostrophe to the Star of the Legion of Honour had appeared in the Examiner. "We notice it [this strain of his Lordship's harp]," writes the editor, "because we think it would not be doing justice to the merits of such political tenets, if they were not coupled with their corresponding practice in regard to moral and domestic obligations. There is generally a due proportion kept in 'the music of men's lives.' ... Of many of the facts of this distressing case we are not ignorant; but God knows they are not for a newspaper. Fortunately they fall within very general knowledge, in London at least; if they had not they would never have found their way to us. But there is a respect due to certain wrongs and sufferings that would be outraged by uncovering them." It was all very mysterious, very terrible; but what wonder that the laureate of the ex-emperor, the contemner of the Bourbons, the pænist of the "star of the brave," "the rainbow of the free," should make good his political heresy by personal depravity—by unmanly vice, unmanly whining, unmanly vituperation?

Wordsworth, to whom Scott forwarded the Champion of April 14, "outdid" the journalist in virtuous fury: "Let me say only one word of Lord B. The man is insane. The verses on his private affairs excite in me less indignation than pity. The latter copy is the Billingsgate of Bedlam.... You yourself seem to labour under some delusion as to the merits of Lord B.'s poetry, and treat the wretched verses, the Fare Well, with far too much respect. They are disgusting in sentiment, and in execution contemptible. 'Though my many faults deface me,' etc. Can worse doggerel than such a stanza be written? One verse is commendable: 'All my madness none can know.'" The criticism, as criticism, confutes itself, and is worth quoting solely because it displays the feeling of a sane and honourable man towards a member of the "opposition," who had tripped and fallen, and now lay within reach of his lash (see Life of William Wordsworth, 1889, ii. 267, etc.).

It was not only, as Macaulay put it, that Byron was "singled out as an expiatory sacrifice" by the British public in a periodical fit of morality, but, as the extent and the limitations of the attack reveal, occasion was taken by political adversaries to inflict punishment for an outrage on popular sentiment.

The Champion had been the first to give tongue, and the other journals, on the plea that the mischief was out, one after the other took up the cry. On Monday, April 15, the Sun printed Fare Thee Well, and on Tuesday, April 16, followed with A Sketch. On the same day the Morning Chronicle, protesting that "the poems were not written for the public eye, but as having been inserted in a Sunday paper," printed both sets of verses; the Morning Post, with an ugly hint that "the noble Lord gives us verses, when he dare not give us circumstances," restricted itself to Fare Thee Well; while the Times, in a leading paragraph, feigned to regard "the two extraordinary copies of verses ... the whining stanzas of Fare Thee Well, and the low malignity and miserable doggerel of the companion Sketch, as "an injurious fabrication." On Thursday, the 18th, the Courier, though declining to insert A Sketch, deals temperately and sympathetically with the Fare Thee Well, and quotes the testimony of a "fair correspondent" (? Madame de Staël), that if "her husband had bade her such a farewell she could not have avoided running into his arms, and being reconciled immediately—'Je n'aurois pu m'y tenir un instant';" and on the same day the Times, having learnt to its "extreme astonishment and regret," that both poems were indeed Lord Byron's, maintained that the noble author had "degraded literature, and abused the privileges of rank, by converting them into weapons of vengeance against an inferior and a female." On Friday, the 19th, the Star printed both poems, and the Morning Post inserted a criticism, which had already appeared in the Courier of the preceding day. On Saturday, the 20th, the Courier found itself compelled, in the interests of its readers, to print both poems. On Sunday, the 21st, the octave of the original issue, the Examiner devoted a long article to an apology for Byron, and a fierce rejoinder to the Champion; and on the same day the Independent Whig and the Sunday News, which favoured the "opposition," printed both poems, with prefatory notices more or less favourable to the writer; whereas the Tory Antigallican Monitor, which also printed both poems, added the significant remark that "if everything said of Lord Byron be true, it would appear that the Whigs were not altogether so immaculate as they themselves would wish the world to suppose."

The testimony of the press is instructive from two points of view. In the first place, it tends to show that the controversy was conducted on party lines; and, secondly, that the editor of the Champion was in some degree responsible for the wide diffusion and lasting publicity of the scandal. The separation of Lord and Lady Byron must, in any case, have been more than a nine days' wonder, but if the circulation of the "pamphlet" had been strictly confined to the "initiated," the excitement and interest of the general public would have smouldered and died out for lack of material.

In his second letter on Bowles, dated March 25, 1821 (Observations upon Observations, Life, 1892, p. 705), Byron alludes to the publication of these poems in the Champion, and comments on the behaviour of the editor, who had recently (February 16, 1821) been killed in a duel. He does not minimize the wrong, but he pays a fine and generous tribute to the courage and worth of his assailant. "Poor Scott is now no more ... he died like a brave man, and he lived an able one," etc. It may be added that Byron was an anonymous subscriber to a fund raised by Sir James Mackintosh, Murray, and others, for "the helpless family of a man of virtue and ability." (London Magazine, April, 1821, vol. iii. p. 359).

For chronological reasons, and in accordance with the precedent of the edition of 1832, a third poem, Stanzas to Augusta, has been included in this group.



"Alas! they had been friends in youth;

But whispering tongues can poison truth:

And Constancy lives in realms above;

And Life is thorny; and youth is vain:

And to be wroth with one we love,

Doth work like madness in the brain;

But never either found another
To free the hollow heart from paining—
They stood aloof, the scars remaining,
Like cliffs which had been rent asunder;
A dreary sea now flows between,
But neither heat, nor frost, nor thunder,
Shall wholly do away, I ween,
The marks of that which once hath been."
Coleridge's Christabd.[2]

Fare thee well! and if for ever,
Still for ever, fare thee well:
Even though unforgiving, never
'Gainst thee shall my heart rebel.
Would that breast were bared before thee[3]
Where thy head so oft hath lain,
While that placid sleep came o'er thee[4]
Which thou ne'er canst know again:
Would that breast, by thee glanced over,
Every inmost thought could show!10
Then thou would'st at last discover
'Twas not well to spurn it so.
Though the world for this commend thee—[5]
Though it smile upon the blow,
Even its praises must offend thee,
Founded on another's woe:
Though my many faults defaced me,
Could no other arm be found,
Than the one which once embraced me,
To inflict a cureless wound?20
Yet, oh yet, thyself deceive not—
Love may sink by slow decay,
But by sudden wrench, believe not
Hearts can thus be torn away:
Still thine own its life retaineth—
Still must mine, though bleeding, beat;[6]
And the undying thought which paineth[7]
Is—that we no more may meet.
These are words of deeper sorrow[8]
Than the wail above the dead;30
Both shall live—but every morrow[9]
Wake us from a widowed bed.
And when thou would'st solace gather—
When our child's first accents flow—
Wilt thou teach her to say "Father!"
Though his care she must forego?
When her little hands shall press thee—
When her lip to thine is pressed—
Think of him whose prayer shall bless thee—
Think of him thy love had blessed!40
Should her lineaments resemble
Those thou never more may'st see,
Then thy heart will softly tremble[10]
With a pulse yet true to me.
All my faults perchance thou knowest—
All my madness—none can know;[11]
All my hopes—where'er thou goest—
Wither—yet with thee they go.
Every feeling hath been shaken;
Pride—which not a world could bow—[12]50
Bows to thee—by thee forsaken,[13]
Even my soul forsakes me now.
But 'tis done—all words are idle—
Words from me are vainer still;[14]
But the thoughts we cannot bridle
Force their way without the will.
Fare thee well! thus disunited—[15]
Torn from every nearer tie—
Seared in heart—and lone—and blighted—
More than this I scarce can die.60

[First draft, March 18, 1816.
First printed as published, April 4, 1816.]

A SKETCH.[16][17]

"Honest—honest Iago!
If that thou be'st a devil, I cannot kill thee."


Born in the garret, in the kitchen bred,
Promoted thence to deck her mistress' head;[18]
Next—for some gracious service unexpressed,
And from its wages only to be guessed—
Raised from the toilet to the table,—where
Her wondering betters wait behind her chair.
With eye unmoved, and forehead unabashed,
She dines from off the plate she lately washed.
Quick with the tale, and ready with the lie,
The genial confidante, and general spy—10
Who could, ye gods! her next employment guess—
An only infant's earliest governess![19]
She taught the child to read, and taught so well,
That she herself, by teaching, learned to spell.
An adept next in penmanship she grows,
As many a nameless slander deftly shows:
What she had made the pupil of her art,
None know—but that high Soul secured the heart,[20]
And panted for the truth it could not hear,
With longing breast and undeluded ear.20
Foiled was perversion by that youthful mind,[21]
Which Flattery fooled not, Baseness could not blind,
Deceit infect not, near Contagion soil,
Indulgence weaken, nor Example spoil,[22]
Nor mastered Science tempt her to look down
On humbler talents with a pitying frown,
Nor Genius swell, nor Beauty render vain,
Nor Envy ruffle to retaliate pain,[23]
Nor Fortune change, Pride raise, nor Passion bow,
Nor Virtue teach austerity—till now.30
Serenely purest of her sex that live,[24]
But wanting one sweet weakness—to forgive;
Too shocked at faults her soul can never know,
She deems that all could be like her below:
Foe to all vice, yet hardly Virtue's friend,
For Virtue pardons those she would amend.

But to the theme, now laid aside too long,
The baleful burthen of this honest song,[25]
Though all her former functions are no more,
She rules the circle which she served before.40
If mothers—none know why—before her quake;
If daughters dread her for the mothers' sake;
If early habits—those false links, which bind
At times the loftiest to the meanest mind—"[26]
Have given her power too deeply to instil
The angry essence of her deadly will;[27]
If like a snake she steal within your walls,
Till the black slime betray her as she crawls;
If like a viper to the heart she wind,
And leave the venom there she did not find;{pline|50}}
What marvel that this hag of hatred works[28]
Eternal evil latent as she lurks,
To make a Pandemonium where she dwells,
And reign the Hecate of domestic hells?
Skilled by a touch to deepen Scandal's tints
With all the kind mendacity of hints,
While mingling truth with falsehood—sneers with smiles—
A thread of candour with a web of wiles;[29]
A plain blunt show of briefly-spoken seeming,
To hide her bloodless heart's soul-hardened scheming;60
A lip of lies; a face formed to conceal,
And, without feeling, mock at all who feel:
With a vile mask the Gorgon would disown,—
A cheek of parchment, and an eye of stone.[30]
Mark, how the channels of her yellow blood
Ooze to her skin, and stagnate there to mud,
Cased like the centipede in saffron mail,
Or darker greenness of the scorpion's scale—[31]
(For drawn from reptiles only may we trace
Congenial colours in that soul or face)—70
Look on her features! and behold her mind[32]
As in a mirror of itself defined:
Look on the picture! deem it not o'ercharged—
There is no trait which might not be enlarged:
Yet true to "Nature's journeymen,"[33] who made
This monster when their mistress left off trade—
This female dog-star of her little sky,
Where all beneath her influence droop or die.[34]

Oh! wretch without a tear—without a thought,
Save joy above the ruin thou hast wrought—80
The time shall come, nor long remote, when thou
Shalt feel far more than thou inflictest now;
Feel for thy vile self-loving self in vain,
And turn thee howling in unpitied pain.
May the strong curse of crushed affections light[35]
Back on thy bosom with reflected blight!
And make thee in thy leprosy of mind
As loathsome to thyself as to mankind!
Till all thy self-thoughts curdle into hate,
Black—as thy will for others would create:90
Till thy hard heart be calcined into dust,
And thy soul welter in its hideous crust.
Oh, may thy grave be sleepless as the bed,
The widowed couch of fire, that thou hast spread!
Then, when thou fain wouldst weary Heaven with prayer,
Look on thine earthly victims—and despair!
Down to the dust!—and, as thou rott'st away,
Even worms shall perish on thy poisonous clay.[36]
But for the love I bore, and still must bear,
To her thy malice from all ties would tear—100
Thy name—thy human name—to every eye
The climax of all scorn should hang on high,
Exalted o'er thy less abhorred compeers—
And festering[37] in the infamy of years.[38]

[First draft, March 29, 1816.
First printed as published, April 4, 1816.]


When all around grew drear and dark,[40]
And reason half withheld her ray—

The Hon. Augusta Leigh
from a drawing by Sir George Hayter.

And Hope but shed a dying spark
Which more misled my lonely way;
In that deep midnight of the mind,
And that internal strife of heart,
When dreading to be deemed too kind,
The weak despair—the cold depart;
When Fortune changed—and Love fled far,[41]
And Hatred's shafts flew thick and fast,10
Thou wert the solitary star[42]
Which rose and set not to the last.[43]
Oh! blest be thine unbroken light!
That watched me as a Seraph's eye,
And stood between me and the night,
For ever shining sweetly nigh.
And when the cloud upon us came,[44]
Which strove to blacken o'er thy ray—[45]
Then purer spread its gentle flame,[46]
And dashed the darkness all away.20
Still may thy Spirit dwell on mine,[47]
And teach it what to brave or brook—
There's more in one soft word of thine
Than in the world's defied rebuke.
Thou stood'st, as stands a lovely tree,[48]
That still unbroke, though gently bent,
Still waves with fond fidelity
Its boughs above a monument.
The winds might rend—the skies might pour,
But there thou wert—and still wouldst be30
Devoted in the stormiest hour
To shed thy weeping leaves o'er me.
But thou and thine shall know no blight,
Whatever fate on me may fall;
For Heaven in sunshine will requite
The kind—and thee the most of all.
Then let the ties of baffled love
Be broken—thine will never break;
Thy heart can feel—but will not move;
Thy soul, though soft, will never shake.40
And these, when all was lost beside,
Were found and still are fixed in thee;—
And bearing still a breast so tried,
Earth is no desert—ev'n to me.

[First published, Poems, 1816.]



  1. ["He there (Byron, in his Memoranda) described, and in a manner whose sincerity there was no doubting, the swell of tender recollections, under the influence of which, as he sat one night musing in the study, these stanzas were produced,—the tears, as he said, falling fast over the paper as he wrote them."—Life, p. 302. It must have been a fair and complete copy that Moore saw (see Life, p. 302, note 3). There are no tear-marks on this (the first draft, sold at Sotheby's, April 11, 1885) draft, which must be the first, for it is incomplete, and every line (almost) tortured with alterations. "Fare Thee Well!" was printed in Leigh Hunt's Examiner, April 21, 1816, at the end of an article (by L. H.) entitled "Distressing Circumstances in High Life." The text there has two readings different from that of the pamphlet, viz.—

    Examiner: "Than the soft one which embraced me."
    Pamphlet: "Than the one which once embraced me."
    Examiner: "Yet the thoughts we cannot bridle."
    Pamphlet: "But," etc.

    MS. Notes taken by the late J. Dykes Campbell at Sotheby's, April l8, 1890, and re-transcribed for Mr. Murray, June 15, 1894.

    A final proof, dated April 7, 1816, was endorsed by Murray, "Correct 50 copies as early as you can to-morrow."]

  2. The motto was prefixed in Poems, 1816.
  3. Thou my breast laid bare before thee.—[MS. erased.]
  4. Not a thought is pondering on thee.—[MS. erased.]
  5. [Lines 13-20 do not appear in an early copy dated March 18, l816. They were added on the margin of a proof dated April 4, 1816.]
  6. Net result of many alterations.
  7. And the lasting thought ——.—[MS. erased.]
  8. —— of deadlier sorrow.—[MS. erased.]
  9. Every future night and morrow.—[MS. erased.]
  10. Still thy heart ——.—[MS. erased.]
  11. All my follies ——.—[MS. erased.]
  12. —— which not the world could bow.—[MS.]
  13. Falls at once ——.—[MS. erased.]
  14. Tears and sighs are idler still.—[MS. erased.]
  15. Fare thee well—thus lone and blighted.—[MS. erased.]
  16. A Sketch from Life.—[MS. M.]
  17. ["I send you my last night's dream, and request to have 50 copies (for private distribution) struck off. I wish Mr. Gifford to look at them; they are from life."—Letter to Murray, March 30, 1816. "The original MS. of Lord Byron's Satire, 'A Sketch from Private Life,' written by his Lordship, 30th March, 1816. Given by his Lordship to me on going abroad after his separation from Lady Byron, John Hanson. To be carefully preserved." (This MS. omits lines 19-20, 35-36, 55-56, 65-70, 77-78, 85-92.) A copy entitled, "A sketch from private Life," dated March 30, 1816, is in Mrs. Leigh's handwriting. The corrections and additions are in Byron's handwriting. A proof dated April 2, 1816, is endorsed by Murray, "Correct with most particular care and print off 50 copies, and keep standing."]
  18. Promoted thence to comb ——.—[MS. M. erased.]
  19. —— early governess.—[MS. M.]
  20. —— but that pure spirit saved her heart.—[MS. M. erased.]
  21. Vain was each effort ——.—[MS. M.]
  22. Much Learning madden—when with scarce a peer
    She soared through science with a bright career
    Nor talents swell ——.—[MS. M.]

  23. —— bigotry provoke.—[MS. M. erased.]
  24. Serenely purest of the things that live.—[MS. M.]
  25. The trusty burthen of my honest song.—[MS. M.]
  26. At times the highest ——.—[MS. M.]
  27. —— of her evil will.—[MS. M.]
  28. What marvel that this mistress demon works

    Eternal evil wheresoe'er she lurks.—[MS. M.]
    when she latent works.—[Copy.]
  29. A gloss of candour of a web of wiles.—[MS. M.]
  30. Lines 65-66 were added April 2, 1816.
  31. The parenthesis was added April 2, 1816.
  32. Look on her body ——.—[MS. M.]
  33. [See Hamlet, act iii. sc. 2, line 31.]
  34. Where all that gaze upon her droop or die.—[MS. altered April 2, 1816.]
  35. [Lines 85-91 were added April 2, 1816, on a page endorsed, "Quick—quick—quick—quick."]
  36. —— in thy poisoned clay.—[MS. M. erased.]
  37. ["I doubt about 'weltering' but the dictionary should decide—look at it. We say 'weltering in blood'—but do they not also use 'weltering in the wind' 'weltering on a gibbet'?—there is no dictionary, so look or ask. In the meantime, I have put 'festering,' which perhaps in any case is the best word of the two.—P.S. Be quick. Shakespeare has it often and I do not think it too strong for the figure in this thing."—Letter to Murray, April 2.]
  38. And weltering in the infamy of years.—[MS. M.]
  39. [His sister, the Honourable Mrs. Leigh.—These stanzas—the parting tribute to her whose tenderness had been his sole consolation in the crisis of domestic misery—were, we believe, the last verses written by Lord Byron in England. In a note to Mr. Rogers, dated April 16 [1816], he says, "My sister is now with me, and leaves town to-morrow; we shall not meet again for some time at all events—if ever! and under these circumstances I trust to stand excused to you and Mr. Sheridan, for being unable to wait upon him this evening."—Note to Edition of 1832, x. 193. A fair copy, broken up into stanzas, is endorsed by Murray, "Given to me (and I believe composed by Ld. B.), Friday, April 12, 1816."]
  40. —— grew waste and dark.—[MS. M.]
  41. When Friendship shook ——.—[MS. M.]
  42. Thine was the solitary star.—[MS. M.]
  43. Which rose above me to the last.—[MS. M.]
  44. And when the cloud between us came.—[MS. M.]
    And when the cloud upon me came.—[Copy C. H.]
  45. Which would have closed on that last ray.—[MS. M.]
  46. Then stiller stood the gentle Flame.—[MS. M.]
  47. Still may thy Spirit sit on mine.[MS. M.]
  48. And thou wast as a lovely Tree
    Whose branch unbroke but gently bent
    Still waved with fond Fidelity.—[Copy C. H.]