LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Astarte: a Fragment of Truth
I. Byron Characteristics

‣ I. Byron Characteristics
II. Three Stages of Lord Byron’s Life
III. Manfred
IV. Correspondence of Augusta Byron
V. Anne Isabella Byron
VI. Lady Byron’s Policy of Silence
VII. Informers and Defamers
VIII. “When We Dead Awake”
IX. Lady Byron and Mrs. Leigh (I)
X. Lady Byron and Mrs. Leigh (II)
XI. Byron and Augusta
Notes by the Editor
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“Ich leb und weisz nicht wie lang
ich sterb und weisz nicht wann
ich fahr und weisz nicht wohin
mich wundert dasz ich frohlich bin.”

Inscription on a house at Partenlrirchen, Bavaria. According to tradition, originally written by Maximilian I on a wall of the Castle of Tratzberg, Tirol.

IT will not be irrelevant to begin the record of events with the observation that never, perhaps, has constitutional melancholy been more closely allied to, though hidden under, levity and wit, than in the mysterious being who died at Missolonghi on Easter Monday, 1824.1 His merriment was “foam that floated on the waters of bitterness.”2 Laughter and profound sadness flow together all through the course of his life, and were mingled even in the melancholy circumstances that have to be noticed in these pages.

When he and Augusta were snowed up together at Newstead in January, 1814, they made the old ruinous

1 April 19th, or 7th in the Old Style, for it happened also to be Easter Monday in the Julian Calendar.

2 “When he would converse familiarly, there was a sort of conventional language of nonsense between us—which relieved his fears of ‘Sermons and Sentiment,’ and rather gave play to his Imagination than confined it. In the midst of this childishness, which with Augusta was continual, he would suddenly deliver the deepest reflections and then shrink again into frolic and levity. The transitions had all the grace of Genius, and formed its greatest charm to me, till I learned to consider those light and brilliant effusions only as the foam that might float on the waters of bitterness” (from narrative by Lady Byron, dated March, 1817).

spaces resound with their laughter, but “a deep abiding sadness always filled his heart”—in common with another incomplete man of action,
Mazzini—who as a poet and a thinker was not without affinity to Byron. They both, “with a few exceptions, despised the present generation.”1 Mazzini found his only consolation amidst the selfishness and stupidity, the deformities and disasters of humanity of the present, in visions and prophecies of restoration to a lost ideal in an immeasurably remote future. Byron saw in his imagination an incommensurable void gaping beneath overhanging ledges upon which he was perched, with no possible descent. Bulging precipices drop beneath him to uplands glowing in the tints of June. A sunny mirage from the chasm between his feet becomes the vision of the optimist dreamer, but Byron well knows that no living foot can ever plant itself upon that paradise, the flight to which seems so easy,2 and he takes refuge from the terror of the abyss in formidable flashes of laughter, in fleeting agitations, diversions and illusions. “He gives the tumultuous eagerness of action and the fixed despair of thought,” said Hazlitt.3

It was noticed4 that his feelings, even when most “soft and voluptuous,” are “tinged with the same shade of sorrow which gives character and harmony” to the lines:
“It is the hour when from the boughs
The nightingale’s high note is heard;
It is the hour when lover’s vows
Seem sweet in every whispered word.”

1Personal Recollections of Mazzini,” by M. Blind (“Fortnightly Review,” May, 1891, p. 708).

2 “Ye crags upon whose extreme edge
I stand, and on the torrent’s brink beneath
Behold the tall pines dwindled as to shrubs
In dizziness of distance;
How beautiful is all this visible world!
How glorious in its action and itself!”
Manfred,” Act I, Sc. 2.

3 On the Living Poets.

4 In the “Edinburgh Review.”


Dramatic and voluptuous pessimism seems to have been inborn in him—a sensuous and poetical leaning, which excited unbounded scorn for the unctuous optimism which flatters social democracy—the ragged sovereign who exceeds even oriental despots and gods in his taste for compliments. This and certain bitter personal recollections—unavowed wounded feelings—impelled him to burning words of acute hatred,1 thus exhausting revenge, for never was language of extreme violence more severed from vindictiveness in action. Ferocity there was in him. A display of moral baseness, of human infamy caught in the act, stirred him to fierce transports of delight. Such cruel rejoicing over the ignominy of man is said to be the resurrection of an ape or tiger ancestor. Unregenerate love of torture has been refined into sardonic exultation at men’s vileness.

It may be that Lord Byron was peculiarly a re-incarnation of cosmic man, similar in this to Napoleon, who, as was said by Madame de Staël, Stendhal, and Byron himself,2 was a mediaeval Italian risen from the bones of the dead.

The influence of Lord Byron’s descent upon his ambiguity and mobility of character has been too much overlooked. By his fathers he was the offspring of the

1 “He who wishes for ‘a curse to kill with’ may find it in Lord Byron’s writings. Yet he has beauty lurking underneath his strength, tenderness sometimes joined with the phrenzy of despair. A flash of golden light sometimes follows from a stroke of his pencil, like a falling meteor. The flowers that adorn his poetry bloom over charnel-houses and the grave!” (Hazlitt, “Lecture on Living Poets”).

2 He said to Lady Byron at Seaham in February, 1815: “Bonaparte’s conduct since his fall is to be traced entirely to the Italian character—for a Frenchman or Englishman would have shot himself. An Italian will persevere—waiting for any chance or change.”

At Elba Napoleon wrote: “Ne m’étant pas donne la vie, je ne me l’ôterai pas non plus, tant qu’elle voudra bien de moi” (Chateaubriand, “Memoires d’Outre-Tombe”).

It has been recorded, however, that Napoleon tried ineffectually at Fontainebleau to poison himself.

Chateaubriand wrote: “Chez Napoleon, la grandeur du cœur ne répondait pas à la largeur de la tête: ses querelles avec les Anglais sont deplorables; elles révoltent Lord Byron. Comment daigna-t-il honorer d’un mot ses geôliers?”

Hazlitt’sLecture on Living Poets” quarrels with Lord Byron for “writing both for and against Bonaparte.”

oligarchy against which his cry of revolt resounded, but through his mother he was descended from the conquered and lawless Celts, from whom he inherited his superstitious fancies, and perhaps the peculiar strain of wit and levity which floated on the surface of his constitutional melancholy. This last was to some extent common to his father and him, but may have been intensified by his portion of Celtic blood. A certain amount of antagonism was obvious in him to the ascendant Saxon nationality, amidst which his Norman forefathers had become merged. He spoke with sympathy of those Celtic rebels, who, down to his own time, had caused so much terror and suffered such ghastly repression. In April, 1812, in one of his few speeches to the House of Lords, he compared the Irish Union to the “union of the shark with his prey.”1 With his infusion of alien blood, he did not sympathize with rejoicings over the triumphs of the great war, and his fury on hearing of the catastrophe of Waterloo has been described.2 Later, in Italy, he started a very similar animosity to the Austrian domination in Lombardy, so like that of the English in Ireland, both in its benefits and the not altogether unnatural loathing it inspired.

He was destitute of the more serviceable qualities of the English, by whom he was hardly loved, even at the time of his ominous vogue, and still less understood, unless with the clairvoyance of antipathy. It was from the scum and weeds of England that voracious admirers, or pretended admirers, swarmed upon his memory. Abroad he had less detrimental adherents.

1 O’Connell quoted these words in a House of Commons debate about February, 1844.

2 By Lady Byron, amongst others. See also Ticknor’s Diary, of June 20th, 1815.

The Celtic element with which he was (from an English point of view) contaminated, made him more liked in France. Since writing the above, I have read in an interesting article on the Celtic revival in Ireland by M. Louis Paul Dubois:

“‘Le celtisme’ a sa part dans ce composé d’élémens trés divers qu’est l’esprit anglais; on le sent trés manifestement chez quelques-uns des plus grands hommes, des plus grands poètes de l’Angleterre, chez Byron, par exemple” (“Revue des deux Mondes,” 15 avril, 1902).


He was a man of the past and a destroyer of the past without being a man of progress. He lived in a time of coercion and smouldering rebellion, hating the “governors” with something like personal enmity, but thinking of the “governed” with contempt. His rank and celebrity gave a licence of speech against the Court, administration and established religion which he seemed to enjoy rather from pride of birth than sympathy with the Democrats, except those of his own station, for he had little patience with familiarity from individuals of other social grades. He warmed his imagination—on paper—at an exhilarating blaze of Jacobin destruction, but he no more loved Whiggery, reform, sovereignty of the populace, than he loved Lord Eldon. “Such fanciful chimeras as a golden mountain or a perfect man” and “the boundless pursuit of universal benevolence” were not for Lord Byron. He despised the Utopian philosophers, and could not “rush forward into their ideal world as into a vacuum of good.” He did not suppose that “all things would move on by the mere impulse of wisdom and virtue, to still higher and higher degrees of perfection and happiness.” He wanted no schemes by which men should be “hurried forward with the progress of improvement, and dashed to pieces down the tremendous precipice of human perfectibility.”1 No wonder that universal suffrage should not think highly of him. All things considered, his influence upon that long-vanished society was astonishing and inexplicable. For a brief epoch he acted, perhaps more than he was aware of or intended, as a disintegrating force upon the community which had withstood the shock of the French Revolution, and himself largely contributed to that radical transformation which amongst other effects extinguished his own memory, except as an episode in the decline and fall of oligarchical England into popular government.

“Unconsumed and still consuming” passions drove

1 Hazlitt, “Spirit of the Age.” On Sir James Mackintosh, William Godwin, Mr. Malthus.

him from childhood, and devastated the lives of himself and those near him—made him a destroyer of all he could reach in private or public.

“But still there is power; and power rivets attention and forces admiration. ‘He hath a demon’; and that is the next thing to being full of the God. His brow collects the scattered gloom: his eye flashes livid fire that withers and consumes. But still we watch the progress of the scathing bolt with interest, and mark the ruin it leaves behind with awe.” 1

Though it is hardly, if at all, mentioned, he must have read “Rene,” wherein Chateaubriand idealized the morbid passion of the revolutionary generation. Byron was curiously addicted to imitating anything that might impress him as a literary image of himself. It is a remarkable coincidence that the remorse of René was caused by guilt with a sort of prototype of Astarte. Chateaubriand gave an interesting explanation of the logical necessity to connect the fatal career of René with the forbidden relationships. And undoubtedly that particular defiance of perpetual law was characteristic of the age of the French Revolution. 2

1 Hazlitt, “Lecture on Living Poets.” Mr. Birrell (“William Hazlitt”) refers to Lord Byron’s greatness as a destroyer:

“Just as a mournful Scotch proprietor judges of the strength of a gale of wind by walking through his plantations after it has dropped, and ‘moaning the expense’ of many a fallen tree, so it is only by reading the lives and letters of his astonished contemporaries and immediate successors that you are able to form some estimate of the power of Byron.”

2 The atmosphere at that time was prolific of such reports and of a curious latitude of opinion and language.

Madame de Staël’s perfectly legitimate though exaggerated sentiment about her father was sometimes singularly expressed. Necker died April 10th, 1804; and in the autumn his daughter published a book on his domestic life and character, in which she expressed the wish that she could have been a contemporary of his youth, and actually wrote: “Nos destinées auraient pu s’unir pour toujours!”

In some indiscreet confidences, of about 1803, to Madame de Remusat, Josephine spoke of Bonaparte as another Caligula: “N’avait-il pas séduit ses sœurs, les unes après les autres?” (“Memoirs of Mme. de Remusat,” i. 204). This might have been suggested by: “Cum omnibus sororibus suis stupri consuetudinem fecit” (Suetonius, “Caligula,” xxiii.). In the spirit of “Memento, ait, omnia mihi et in omnes liceri” (Suetonius, “Caligula,” xxix.) Bonaparte used to say: “Je ne suis pas un homme comme un autre, et les lois


Manfred, with all its underlying reality, was in literature but a René in slight disguise.1 René was Chateaubriand himself, Amélie was Lucile, that charming sister in whom was embodied all the genius of René in the ideal and innocent perfection of nature and sincerity. She could not write, but only feel and die.2 The question: What was the mystery? Was there a mystery about Lucile? can be answered fearlessly: There is nothing to deform the pure and touching portrait of Lucile in the “Mémoires d’Outre Tombe,” so fugitive in its vivid melancholy. There the resemblance between Manfred and René ends. Amélie escapes all comparison with Astarte.3

de morale ou de convenance ne peuvent être faites pour moi” (“Madame de Rémusat,” i. 278).

A report about Bonaparte and his youngest sister Caroline (born at Ajaccio, March 25th, 1782, married to Joachim Murat January 20th, 1800, died at Florence May 18th, 1839) was one principal reason for the alienation of the First Consul from General Moreau. Madame Moreau’s mother, during a visit to Malmaison, made some sarcastic allusions to the story, which could never be forgiven by Bonaparte.

The twelve Caesars were sacred beings while Napoleon ruled. It was seditious to speak evil of masters of the world. The providential judgments of Tacitus were resented by Napoleon like a condemnation of himself. Chateaubriand’s sentence: “C’est en vain que Néron prospère, Tacite est déjà né dans l’empire, . . . et déjà l’intègre Providence a livré à un enfant obscur la gloire du maître du monde,” in 1807 caused the suppression of “le Mercure,”—orders being nearly given also to arrest the writer. Napoleon said: “Chateaubriand croit-il que je suis un imbécile, que je ne le comprends pas! Je le ferai sabrer sur les marches des Tuileries.”

1 “‘Manfred n’est qu’un René habillé à la Shakespeare’ (Chênedollé). Le mot est bien dit si l’on n’en abuse pas” (Sainte Beuve, “Chateaubriand et son groupe littéraire sous l’empire,” Quinzième Leçon, p. 364).

Béranger said that Byron was of the family of René. Villemain wrote of Byron in the “Biographie Universelle”: “Quelques pages incomparables de René avaient épuisé ce caractère poétique. Je ne sais si Byron les imitait ou les renouvelait de génie.”

2 “On a entendu . . . d’admirables pages de Lucille sa soeur, l’Amélie de René, génie de mélancolie égal au sien, qui aurait eu l’art, si elle avait voulu, mais elle pratiqua la sensibilité plutôt que de la dépeindre. Inquiète, malheureuse d’imagination et assiégée de terreurs presque comme Jean-Jacques elle se dévora. Ce que René a dit, elle l’a fait. Quelqu’un entendant ces lettres de Lucile regrettait qu’elle n’eût pas écrit.—Laissez donc, répondit un plus sage, laissez un peu de sensibilité à l’état de nature et d’entière sincerité; il en faut aussi comme cela; on n’a pas de regret à avoir: à chacun son rôle; ils se le sont partagé; il a écrit pour elle, elle est morte pour lui” (Sainte Beuve, “Chateaubriand et son groupe,” etc., Troisième Leçon, p. 97).

3 “Amélie avait reçu de la nature quelque chose de divin; son âme avait les mêmes grâces innocentes que son corps; la douceur de ses sentiments était


Augusta was not the heir of Lucile, though Byron inherited René’s ennui and rêverie—his romantic voluptuousness, his extreme violence against political rulers, his disbelief in almost everything.1

Chateaubriand excepted honour and religion,—if he really excepted religion. Miss Randall said (see Moore’s Diary) that Chateaubriand took up religion as Byron took up wickedness—as a subject—without either of them having much of the spirit of the subject chosen in his heart; it was for external application, if it could stop there, but the adoption of religion or wickedness as a practice, as it were not seriously, may affect the experimenter much more than skin deep.

Byron had been worked hard at Calvinistic religion in childhood, and the first thing he did on becoming his own master was to put all that aside with the profane grin of “an unbelieving schoolboy” (Moore’s phrase). Much greater men than he have failed to shake off that iron-bound theology after a lifetime of study; and Byron, who had not studied at all (beyond the ennui he suffered from the Bible in infancy), came without effort to the same conclusions as Hume or Lucretius. Renan might say: “Let us not hasten to acknowledge Byron

infinie; il n’y avait rien que de suave et d’un peu rêveur dans son esprit; on eût dit que son cœur sa pensée et sa voix soupiraient comme de concert; elle tenait de la femme la timidité et l’amour, et de l’Ange la pureté et la mélodie.”—“Une question qu’on voudrait repousser se glisse malgré nous: René est bien René, Amélie est bien Lucile; qu’est-ce donc? et qu’y a-t-il eu de réel au fond dans le reste du mystère? Poète, comment donner à deviner de telles situations, si elles ont eu quelque chose de vrai? Comment les donner à supposer, si elles sont un rêve?” (Saint Beuve, “Chateaubriand et son groupe,” etc., Troisième Leçon, p. 94).

1 “Notre défaut capital est l’ennui, le dégoût de tout et le doute perpétuel.”

“L’homme sage et inconsolé de ce siècle sans conviction ne rencontre un misérable repos que dans l’athéisme politique. Que les jeunes générations se bercent d’espérances, avant de toucher au but, elles attendront de longues années. Les âges vont au nivellement général, mais ils ne hâtent point leur marche à l’appel de nos désirs. Le Temps est une sorte d’Eternité appropriée aux choses mortelles; il compte pour rien les races et leurs douleurs dans les œuvres qu’il accomplit.”

“Le ciel fait rarement naître ensemble l’homme qui veut et l’homme qui peut. En fin de compte, est-il aujourd’hui une chose pour laquelle on voulût se donner la peine de sortir de son lit? On s’endort au bruit des royaumes tombés pendant la nuit, et que l’on balaie chaque matin devant nos portes” (“Congrès de Vérone”).

as greater than
St. Augustine, Pascal, Calvin, or Dr. Chalmers. It is not every child of the gutter who has the right of Lucretius to profess himself an atheist.”1

But, after all, the world owes something to the unbelieving schoolboy, to flippant urchins who laughed away, or helped to “laugh away hope”2 of hell, made tangible in dominion of the saints, pious founders of an earthly hell. Without the obscene laughter of Voltaire, who knew nothing and taught nothing, stakes and faggots might have continued till now. The imp Byron (as Lady Holland called him) and the ape Voltaire3 were partly in the right against churches without God and kings above the law. One may regret some things, but not everything, in what Renan called “l’effroyable aventure du moyen age.”4

1 “De ce qu’un gamin de Paris écarte par une plaisanterie des croyances dont la raison d’un Pascal ne réussit pas à se dégager, il ne faut cependant pas conclure que Gavroche est supérieur à Pascal. Je l’avoue, je me sens parfois humilié qu’il m’ait fallu cinq ou six ans de recherches ardentes, l’hébreu, les langues sémitiques, Gesenius, Ewald, pour arriver juste au résultat que ce petit drôle atteint tout d’abord. . . . Non, je ne veux pas croire que mes labeurs aient été vains, ni qu’en théologie on puisse avoir raison à aussi bon marché que le croient les rieurs. En réalité, peu de personnes ont le droit de ne pas croire au christianisme. Si tous savaient combien le filet tissé par les théologiens est solide, comme il est difficile d’en rompre les mailles, quelle érudition on y a déployée, quelle habitude il faut pour dénouer tout cela!” (“Souvenirs d’enfance,” pp. 133, 134).

2 A phrase of Lord Byron, often quoted by Lady Byron.

3 Haydon marked “the cutting satire, the dreadful wit, the sneering chuckle of Voltaire”—“charitable from contempt, blasphemous from envy, pious from fear, and foul from a disgust at human nature.” “It was as if a wrinkled fiend had put his grinning and ghastly face into a summer cloud, and changed its silvery sunniness into a black, heavy, suffocating vapour.” (Life, ii. 71.) “The Excursion” has: “a fond, a vain old man.”

4 “Je me reproche quelquefois d’avoir contribué au triomphe de M. Homais (the Voltairean apothecary in ‘Madame Bovary’) sur son curé. Que voulezvous? c’est M. Homais qui a raison. Sans M. Homais nous serions tous brûlés vifs. Mais, je le répète, quand on s’est donné bien du mal pour trouver la vérité, il en coûte d’avouer que ce sont les frivoles, ceux qui sont bien résolus à ne lire jamais saint Augustin ou saint Thomas d’Aquin, qui sont les vrais sages. Gavroche et M. Homais arrivant d’emblée et avec si peu de peine au dernier mot de la philosophie! c’est bien dur à penser” (“Souvenirs d’enfance”).

The redoubtable pen of Hazlitt compared Lord Byron to “a solitary peak, all access to which is cut off not more by elevation than distance. He is seated on a lofty eminence, ‘cloud-capt,’ or reflecting the last rays of setting suns; . . . and in his poetical moods . . . taking up ordinary men and things with haughty indifference. ... He exists not by sympathy, but by antipathy.” But Hazlitt


Byron was so complex, contradictory, antithetical, as the craniologists used to say, as to elude analysis. The more his conflicting words and perplexing actions are compiled into books, the more enigmatic, unknowable, he becomes. He finally remains a riddle in human nature; its solution is equally impracticable and unprofitable. Lady Byron once wrote of him (somewhere about 1817): “His character is a labyrinth; but no clue would ever find the way to his heart.”

He has been described as having “two selves, one frantic, the other calm, and contemplating almost with wonder the frenzy,” as existing “almost in the voice of mankind,” and dwelling in cold and remote inacessibility to all human sympathy—“natura remota ab nostris rebus seiunctaque longe.”

Lady Blessington reported that he said one day: “You will believe me, what I sometimes believe myself, mad, when I tell you that I seem to have two states of existence, one purely contemplative, during which the crimes, faults, and follies of mankind are laid open to my view (my own forming a prominent object in the picture), and the other active, when I play my part in the drama of life, as if impelled by some power over which I have no control, though the consciousness of doing wrong remains. It is as though I had the faculty of discovering error without the power of avoiding it.”1

Lady Byron, in the course of 1818, wrote2 that “his moralising and prophecies are a curious instance of that judgment which beholds as a spectator the destructive passions with which it is associated. It is an illustration of Fichte’s doctrine as represented by Mme. de Staël: ‘le Moi qui sert de base à tout; mais

also commemorates “Byron’s glowing rage” and “applies to him more than to any of his contemporaries” Gray’s image: “Thoughts that glow, and words that burn.”

1Journal of Conversations with Lord Byron,” p. 118.

2 In some manuscript notes on “Childe Harold.”

“il distingue encore dans ce Moi celui qui est passager, ‘et celui qui est durable.’”1

1De l’Allemagne. Troisième Partie. Chapitre VII. Des Philosophes les plus célèbres de l’Allemagne, avant et après Kant.”

Madame de Staël proceeds: “En effet, quand on réfléchit sur les opérations de l’entendement, on croit assister soi-même à sa pensée, on croit la voir passer comme l’onde, tandis que la portion de soi qui la contemple est immuable.

“Il arrive souvent à ceux qui réunissent un caractère passionné à un esprit observateur, de se regarder souffrir, et de sentir en eux-mêmes un être supérieur à sa propre peine, qui la voit, et tour-à-tour la blâme ou la plaint.

“Il s’opère des changements continuels en nous, par les circonstances extérieures de notre vie, et néanmoins nous avons toujours le sentiment de notre identité. Qu’est-ce donc qui atteste cette identité, si ce n’est le Moi toujours le même, qui voit passer devant son tribunal le Moi modifié par les impressions extérieures?”

The minister Ancillon told Ticknor on May 25th, 1836, that when Madame de Staël was at Berlin in 1804, “she had the men of letters of the time as it were trotted up and down before her successively to see their paces. I was present,” he went on, “when Fichte’s turn came. After talking with him a little while, she said, ‘Now, Mons. Fichté, could you be so kind as to give me, in fifteen minutes or so, a sort of idea or apercu of your system, so that I may know clearly what you mean by your ich, your moi, for I am entirely in the dark about it.’

“The notion of explaining in a petit quart d’heure, to a person in total darkness, a system which he had been his whole life developing from a single principle within himself, and spinning, as it were, out of his own bowels, till its web embraced the whole universe, was quite shocking to the philosopher’s dignity. However, being much pressed, he began, in rather bad French, to do the best he could. But he had not gone more than ten minutes before Madame de Staël, who had followed him with the greatest attention, interrupted him with a countenance full of eagerness and satisfaction: ‘Ah! c’est assez, je comprends, je vous comprends parfaitement, Mons. Fichtê. Your system is perfectly illustrated by a story in Baron Munchausen’s travels.’ Fichte’s face looked like a tragedy; the faces of the rest of the company a good deal like a comédie larmoyante. Madame de Staël heeded neither, but went on: ‘For, when the Baron arrived once on the bank of a vast river, where there was neither bridge, nor ferry, nor even a poor boat or raft, he was at first confounded, quite in despair; until at last his wits coming to his assistance, he took a good hold of his own sleeve and jumped himself over to the other side. Now, Mons. Fichte, this, I take it, is just what you have done with your ich, your moi; n’est-ce pas?’

“There was so much truth in this, and so much esprit, that, of course, the effect was irresistible on all but poor Fichte himself. As for him, he never forgot or forgave Madame de Staël, who certainly, however, had no malicious purpose of offending him, and who, in fact, praised him and his ich most abundantly in her De l’ Allemagne” (“Life of George Ticknor ”).

Her summary of that system is that “Fichte ne considère le monde extérieur que comme une borne de notre existence, sur laquelle la pensée travaille. Dans son système, cette borne est créee par l’âme elle-même, dont l’activité constante s’exerce sur le tissu qu’elle a formé . . . mais la nature et l’amour perdent tout leur charme par ce système; car si les objets que nous voyons et les êtres que nous aimons ne sont rien que l’œuvre de nos idées, c’est l’homme lui-même qu’on peut considérer comme le grand célibataire des mondes.”

Madame de Staël’s tactless wit may be compared to the flash of nonsense in

He was an artist in emotion,—one who could only act out sensations that really agitated him; but his moods were almost as much at command as those of that greatest of all comedians,
Napoleon, whose passions certainly existed with extreme violence, and yet he also contrived to act them with dramatic effect calculated to help in his designs.1 Byron had no hypocrisy, for that, as defined by Hazlitt, “is the setting up a pretention to a feeling you never had and have no wish for.”2 What could be imputed to him was “the voluntary overcharging or prolongation of a real sentiment,” in consequence of which, and of the alternations of his dual nature, many were misled about him, and some said he was a prince of duplicity. He adapted himself too conspicuously to the tone of company of the meanest kind. His tumultuous spirits at Kinnaird’s brandy parties (presided over by a left-handed Mrs. Kinnaird) were over-acted.3 Those ignoble boon companions deceived themselves when they thought Byron most gay and unconcerned. When he took a part in the low comedy of bad company, his immutable self, unknown to such bystanders, was

which Mr. Anstey imitated the transcendental prose of Mr. Herbert Spencer: “And these illusive and primordial cognitions, or pseud-ideas, are homogeneous entities which may be differentiated objectively or subjectively, according as they are presented as Noumenon or Phenomenon. Or, in other words, they are only cognoscible as a colligation of incongruous coalescences” (“The Travelling Companions”).

1 Talleyrand said: “Ce diable d’homme trompe sur tous les points. Ses passions mêmes vous échappent; car il trouve encore le moyen de les feindre, quoiqu’elles existent réellement.”

“Il semblait de la meilleure humeur du monde; je le remarquai. . . . Bonaparte se mit à rire, et continua ses jeux avec l’enfant. Tout à coup, on vint l’avertir que le cercle était formé. Alors, se relevant brusquement et la gaieté disparaissant de ses lèvres, je fus frappée de l’expression sévère qui la remplaça subitement, son teint parut presque pâlir à sa volonté, ses traits se contractèrent, et tout en moins de temps que je ne mets à le conter. En prononçant d’une voix émue ces seuls mots: ‘Allons, mesdames!’ il marcha précipitamment, entra dans le salon, et, ne saluant personne, il s’avança vers l’ambassadeur d’Angleterre.” Thus began the celebrated scene, at the end of which, “le flegme de l’Anglais en fut même déconcerté, et il eut beaucoup de peine à trouver des paroles pour lui répondre.” (“Mémoires de Madame de Rémusat ,” i. 117-120.)

2Sketches and Essays” (1839 edition), p. 44.

3 From Ransom’s bank the Hon. Douglas Kinnaird practised vice, and preached the Old Testament to Lord Byron, whom he exhorted to write Hebrew Melodies.

watching in tragic contemplation of the ribald nightmare, judging and condemning the transient self with the surrounding crew.

He often talked of Napoleon, of whom he was a great admirer, and said that what he most liked in his character was his want of sympathy, which proved his knowledge of man, as those only could possess sympathy who were in happy ignorance of human nature.1

“Tu grandis sans plaisir, tu tombas sans murmure,
Rien d’humain ne battait sous ton épaisse armure:
Sans haine et sans amour, tu vivais pour penser;
Comme l’aigle régnant dans un ciel solitaire,
Tu n’avais qu’un regard pour mesurer la terre,
Et des serres pour l’embrasser.”2

His gift of creating emotion in himself and others was not more astonishing than the suddenness of its extinction. By that bewildering antinomy which is the only persistent fact observable in him, he could divest himself, or at least simulate being destitute of that poignant passion he so beautifully describes.

1 Lady Blessington’sConversations,” etc., p. 132.

2 Lamartine’s “Bonaparte,” as quoted in M. Albert Sorel’sMadame de Staël.” She had written in the “Considérations sur la Révolution Française”: “Loin de me rassurer en voyant Bonaparte plus souvent, il m’intimidoit toujours davantage. Je sentois confusément qu’aucune émotion du cœur ne pouvoit agir sur lui. Il regarde une créature humaine comme un fait ou comme une chose, mais non comme un semblable. Il ne hait plus qu’il n’aime; il n’y a que lui pour lui; tout le reste des créatures sont des chiffres. La force de sa volonté consiste dans l’imperturbable calcul de son égoîsme; c’est un habile joueur d’échecs dont le genre humain est la partie adverse qu’il se propose de faire échec et mat. . . . Je sentois dans son âme une épée froide et tranchante qui glaçoit en blessant; je sentois dans son esprit une ironie profonde à laquelle rien de grand ni de beau, pas même sa propre gloire, ne pouvoit échapper; car il méprisoit la nation dont il vouloit les suffrages, et nulle étincelle d’enthousiasme ne se méloit à son besoin d’étonner l’espèce humaine” (ii. 197-199).

Madame de Staël once (February, 1814) reproved Lord Byron for his want of human sympathy, in which he was a follower of Napoleon: “Si vous avez le tort da ne pas aimer l’espèce humaine il me semble qu’elle fait ce qu’elle peut pour se raccomoder avec vous par son suffrage—et la destinée n’a pas maltraité celui qu’elle a fait le premier poète de son siècle et tout le reste—traitez ceux qui vous admirent avec un peu plus de bienveillance et sachez moi gré de pardonner à votre génie tout ce qui a dû me déplaire en vous—je voudrais causer avec vous quand m’en trouverez vous digne?”—

Lord Byron almost disliked Madame de Staël at their first acquaintance in 1813; but in 1816 he warmly appreciated her cordial welcome to him in Switzerland, at the time he was shunned by fair-weather friends.


Lady Blessington observed in Lord Byron a candour in talking of his own defects, nay, a seeming pleasure in dwelling on them, that she never remarked in any other person. She told him this one day, and he answered: Well, does not that give you hopes of my amendment?” Her reply was: “No. I fear, by continually recapitulating them, you will get so accustomed to their existence, as to conquer your disgust of them. You remind me of Belcour in ‘The West Indian,’ when he exclaims: ‘No one sins with more repentance or repents with less amendment than I do.’” It appeared to her that the consciousness of his own defects rendered him still less tolerant to those of others.1

Goethe said that Byron but dimly understood himself, ever living from hour to hour and passion to passion, he knew not and cared not what he did;2 but “the like would never come again.”3 There was in him a high degree of that daemonic instinct and attraction which influences others independently of reason, effort, or affection, which sometimes succeeds in guiding where the understanding fails.4

An eye-witness wrote:

“If you had seen Lord Byron you could scarcely disbelieve him—so beautiful a countenance I scarcely

1Journal of Conversations with Lord Byron,” pp. 118, 110. Compare Coleridge, than whom “nobody could lecture more sagaciously on his own defects, point out the evil results, and even suggest the remedy” (vide Sir Leslie Stephen in “The New Review,” 1895). “Coleridge has such a complete self-knowledge, mixed with intellectual complacency, that he takes a lively interest in contemplating his own shortcomings, and has a ‘consequent slowness in amending them.’ When there is a dispute at home, Mrs. Coleridge will never see that she is wrong, which seems strangely unreasonable to the husband. He, meanwhile, seeing with singular clearness that he is also wrong, will not take the trouble to improve, which to the wife seems equally unreasonable. Having expounded the theory of the situation with undeniable lucidity, Coleridge assumes that the evil is as good as amended.”

Naturally Coleridge attained virtue and final happiness by swallowing oblivion and metaphysics in regions inaccessible to Mrs. Coleridge.

2 “Er war zu dunkel über sich selbst. Er lebte immer leidenschaftlich in den tag hin und wuszte und bedachte nichte, was er that” (To Eckermann, February 24th, 1825).

3 To Crabb Robinson, August, 1829.

4 In conversation with Eckermann, March 8th, 1831.

ever saw . . . his eyes the open portals of the sun—things of light and for light—”1

Another description says:

“His eyes, though of a light grey, were capable of all extremes of expression, from the most joyous hilarity to the deepest sadness, from the very sunshine of benevolence to the most concentrated scorn or rage, [as] I once had an opportunity of seeing [on his] suddenly turning round upon me with a look of such intense anger, as, though it lasted not an instant, could not easily be forgot, and of which no better idea can be given than in the words of one who, speaking of Chatterton’s eyes, says that fire rolled at the bottom of them.2

It might, perhaps, be said that his eyes were placed too near his nose, and that one was rather smaller than the other; they were of a greyish brown, but of a peculiar clearness, and when animated possessed a fire which seemed to look through and penetrate the thoughts of others, while they marked the inspirations of his own.”3

Sir Thomas Lawrence wrote in 1822:

“In Lord Byron’s countenance you see all the character; its keen and rapid genius, its pale intelligence, its profligacy and its bitterness—its original symmetry distorted by the passions, his laugh of mingled merriment and scorn—the forehead clear and open, the brow boldly prominent, the eyes bright and dissimilar, the nose finely cut, and the nostril acutely formed—the mouth well formed, but wide, and contemptuous even in its smile, falling singularly at the corners,4 and its vindictive and disdainful expression heightened by the massive firmness of the chin, which springs at once

1 Coleridge (April 10th, 1816), Gilman’sLife,” Pickering, 1838, p. 236.

2Letters and Journals of Lord Byron ,” by Thomas Moore, 2 vols, quarto, 1830, Vol. II., 798.

3Conversations of Lord Byron ,” by Thomas Medwin, Esq., p. 8.

4 Like the “beaucoup de mepris . . . dans les deux coins pendants de la bouche” of M. de Talleyrand, according to the description in the “Mémoires d’Outre Tombe.”

from the centre of the full underlip—the hair dark and curling, but irregular in its growth; all this presents to you the poet and the man, and the general effect is aided by a thin spare form, and, as you may have heard, by a deformity of limb.”1

Chantrey, however, remarked “the soft voluptuous character of the lower part of his face, and the firmness of the upper part.”2

Still more remarkable than the magic of love (Liebeszauber) was his power of paralyzing and fascinating with a peculiar “sort of under look he used to give.” In consequence of her awe of this glance, Lady Rosebery (afterwards Mildmay) was terrified to meet Lord Byron, and “once, when he spoke to her in a doorway, her heart beat so violently that she could hardly answer him.”3

The superstitious horror felt by some almost touched veneration. A friend of Lady Byron’s family, Lady Liddell (afterwards the first Lady Ravensworth), who

1Life of Sir Thomas Lawrence,” by D. E. Williams, 1831, ii. 70.

Lord Byron mentioned (in a journal of seven years later) having met Lawrence the painter one evening in 1814 when he had dined with Earl Grey and heard one of the daughters of the house play on the harp. “Well, I would rather have had my talk with Lawrence (who talked delightfully) and heard the girl, than have had all the fame of Moore,” etc. (Moore’s Quarto, ii. 410).

Lawrence once made a sketch in ink of Byron’s head, which he sent to a friend, a beautiful woman named Mrs. Wolff” (“Sir Thomas Lawrence,” by Lord Ronald Gower).

2 Moore’s Diary, v. 189.

3 See Moore’s Diary, iii. 247.

Harriet, second daughter of the Hon. Bartholomew Bouverie, was married first to the Earl of Rosebery, and divorced in 1815, and was married secondly, at Stuttgardt in 1815, to her brother-in-law, Sir Henry Mildmay.

Another half-Celt—Gladstone—had an eye “fierce, luminous, restless, and with dangerous symptoms of possible insanity,” the glance of which was “piercing as a stab to the heart” (vide Mr. Lecky’s Introduction to the new edition of “Democracy and Liberty”).

But no one perhaps ever intimidated those who approached him anything like what is described of Napoleon, with Madame de Staël, Augereau, and even Vandamme: “un autre soudard revolutionnaire plus energique et plus brutal encore qu’Augereau. En 181; Vandamme disait au marechal d’Ornano un jour qu’ils montaient ensemble l’escalier des Tuileries, ‘Mon cher, ce diable d’homme (il parlait de l’Empereur) exerce sur moi une fascination dont je ne puis me rendre compte. C’est au point que moi, qui ne crains ni Dieu, ni diable, quand je l’approche, je suis prêt à trembler comme un enfant; il me ferait passer par le trou d’une aiguille pour aller me jeter dans le feu” (vide Taine’s Le Regime Moderne,” vol. i., pp. 17-21).

had never seen
Lord Byron, suddenly came upon him on the roof of St. Peter’s at Rome, while walking with her daughter and friends. In a moment it struck her who it was:

“And what came over me I cannot describe, but I felt ready to sink, and stood as if my feet were rooted to the ground, looking at him, as Mr. Blakeney told me, as if I were horror-struck.”

Lady Liddell was so alarmed at the terrible reprobate that she insisted on her daughter (Maria, afterwards Marchioness of Normanby) keeping her eyes down, saying, “Don’t look at him, he is dangerous to look at.”

Southey told Henry Taylor he had a vivid remembrance of first meeting Byron. There was an insidious softness in Byron’s manner which made Southey compare it at the time to a tiger patting something which had not angered him with his paw, the talons being all sheathed; “and the prevailing expression in his fine countenance was something which distrusted you, and which it could never have been possible for you or me to trust.”1 This first impression was so strongly confirmed the three or four times he saw him after this, that at last Southey could not be persuaded into another meeting with Byron.

For a long time Lord Byron was almost totally boycotted by the English in Switzerland and Italy, with a few honourable exceptions, the most striking of which were Lord and Lady Jersey, who would not be turned away from an old friend by a ubiquitous intriguer. The taboo of Lord Byron had been ably organized at Geneva and Milan by Brougham, comedian to the Whig party and mischief-maker general.2

An old novel-writing lady, Elizabeth Hervey, sister of “Vathek” Beckford, tried hard to faint at Madame de Staël’s on the unexpected arrival of Lord Byron. She wrote from Geneva (August 1st, 1816):

1 From a letter of Henry Taylor, March 3rd, 1830.

2 “That indescribable wretch Brougham,” as O’Connell said in 1844—not without ground.


“The sight of him quite disordered me, and he affected tender melancholy and much agitation. I could not prevent his seizing my hands, but I behaved to him the whole time of his stay with the most marked coldness in despite of all the pains he took to conciliate me, and these were noticed by everybody. . . .

“By the charms of his wit, his harmonious voice, and fascinating manner, he completely enchanted Madame de Staël without ever being able to change the bad opinion she has of his morals.”

The influence of women on Lord Byron’s life is of course very traceable, without being at all remarkable in the generation to which he belonged, or specially characteristic of him. It should be remembered that all through the eighteenth century, and for the first third of the nineteenth, seductions and all the similar pursuits formed a great, almost the principal part of the life of rich Englishmen, without any offence being given to the moral feelings of the community. The greatest nobles, such as Lord Pembroke (died 1794), who was well known for his elopement with Miss Kitty Hunter, “but universally esteemed as an accomplished nobleman,” the Earl Bishop of Derry, the Duke of Devonshire, who died in 1811, Lord Egremont, Lord Hertford, and, not least, Lord Darlington, were all, to use the phrase of Wraxall, “well known in the annals of meretricious pleasure.” Chastity and sobriety were thought ridiculous. As Lady Byron once wrote towards the close of her life: “A kind of ridicule attaches to the differences between man and wife.”1

1Mrs. Norton will be cleared I think by her pamphlet, and by Ld. M.’s letters—so conclusive—but she must have waited

Domestic Martyrdoms have been less sympathized with than any others—partly because a kind of Ridicule (why?) attaches to the differences between man & Wife—” (Lady Noel Byron to Eliza Follen, April 18th, 1854 (?) ).

“Le monde, dont les jugements sont rarement tout a fait faux, voit une sorte de ridicule à être vertueux quand on n’y est pas obligé par un devoir professionel. Le prêtre, ayant pour état d’etre chaste, comme le soldat d’être brave, est, d’après ces idées, presque le seul qui puisse sans ridicule tenir a des principes sur lesquels la morale et la mode se livrent les plus étranges combats. Il est hors de doute qu’en ce point, comme en beaucoup d’autres, mes principes cléricaux, conservés


More than once the love of a woman for Byron—said by her to be stronger than death—decomposed into hatred more bitter than the grave. In a trance of fear she would see a dark transfiguration from hero to monster, and in a delusion of loathing, might thus speak to him:

“In Francesco Cenci you may behold yourself some twenty years hence!”

The constitution of his body and mind had destined him to his swift and feverish pilgrimage from family, country, friends, mankind, and life.

“In the post-mortem examination it was found that the Sutures were quite obliterated—a change which only takes place at a late age. There was also (which was not stated) incipient ossification of heart—‘the madness of the heart.’”1

The great man who keenly followed his career from a distance, and understood him with the wisdom of genius and experience, once exclaimed:

“If only Lord Byron had known how to set moral limits for himself! That he could not was his overthrow, and it may very well be said that he went to ruin because he was utterly unbridled. Taking his own course ‘along the line of limitless desires,’ and approving of nothing in anyone else, he was sure of destruction, certain to raise up a whole world against himself. He had started by offending the foremost literary potentates. In order to live without lifelong war, he must afterwards have given way a little; instead of which he went

dans le siècle, m’ont nui aux yeux du monde. Ils ne m’ont pas nui pour le bonheur” (“Souvenirs de jeunesse ,” Renan, p. 360).

“Plus tard, je vis bien la vanité de cette vertu comme de toutes les autres, je reconnus, en particulier, que la nature ne tient pas du tout à ce que l’homme soit chaste. Je n’en persistai pas moins, par convenance, dans la vie que j’avais choisie, et je m’imposai les mœurs d’un pasteur protestant” (Ibid., p. 359).

“Je ne peux m’ôter l’idée que c’est peut-être après tout le libertin qui a raison et qui pratique la vraie philosophic de la vie (Ibid., p. 149).

Renan sometimes amused himself with the fancy that we are all the dupes of a wily power lurking in nature (“une puissance rusée, qui nous exploite”). We are thus decoyed into virtues and sacrifices that are of no use to us, but serve hidden ends for which we might care little and still less understand.

1 Such is Lady Byron’s statement in one of her papers.

further and further in his opposition and disapproval; he respected neither State nor Church. This reckless energy banished him from England, and must in time have banished him from Europe. It was everywhere too close for him, and with boundless personal licence he felt himself confined; the world was for him a prison. His retreat to Greece was no voluntary act; it was a false relation to the world that drove him thither.1 Not only did abjuration of all prescriptive or patriotic obligations prove personally disastrous to so remarkable a being, but his revolutionary animus and consequent eternal restlessness of mind hindered the proper development of his talent.”2

Goethe’s comprehension of Byron, whom he had never seen, particularly struck Lady Byron, who was rather repelled than attracted by Goethe. She wrote (September 24th, 1854):

Crabb Robinson told me what he called ‘some strange mistaken notions of Goethe’s respecting Lord Byron,’ as an instance that one poet did not perfectly understand the other.

“But they were true—and prove wonderful insight. I could not say so to Mr. Robinson, whose own ideas of Lord Byron are very far from the truth I am persuaded.”

One coincidence occurs between what Goethe said of “Lara,” which he thought “bordered on the kingdom of spectres,”3 and Lady Byron’s own remark to Lord Byron himself about that poem:

“One of the conversations he then held with me turned upon the subject of his poems, and—tacitly between us—of their allusions to himself. He said of ‘Lara,’ ‘There’s more in that than any of them,’ shuddering and avoiding my eye. I said it had a stronger

1 Lady Blessington wrote: “He so often turned with a yearning heart to his wish of going to England before Greece, that we asked him why, being a free agent, he did not go. The question seemed to embarrass him, he stammered, blushed and said: ‘Why, true, there is no reason why I should not go, but yet I want resolution to encounter all the disagreeable circumstances which might and most probably would greet my arrival in England.’”

2 Goethe’s “Conversation with Eckermann,” February 24th, 1825.

3 Conversation with Ticknor, October 25th, 1816.

mysterious effect than any, and was ‘like the darkness in which one fears to behold spectres.’ The remark struck him as accidentally more characteristic than he thought I could know it to be—at least I presume so from his singular commendation of it with the usual mysterious manner. He often said that ‘Lara’ was the most metaphysical of his works.”1

Lord Byron’s literary activity was accidental. He told Lady Byron that if she had married him when he first proposed, he should not have written any of the poems which followed “Childe Harold”; and once at Halnaby he observed that no one who was naturally meant for a poet could have had so much solitude without making more verses. He was strongly impressed with the idea that celebrity rapidly acquired is seldom permanent. The very favourable reception of “Childe Harold” had been quite unexpected to him. His estimation of his own works was below that of the public.

1 Narrative F, March, 1817. [Lady Byron’s statements will be found frequently thus referred to under various initials, and it must not be inferred that—as suggested by a hostile critic—they were as numerous as the letters of the alphabet. The initials were those used by the author to indicate the various portions of materials from which he quoted. There are in fact only two important narratives by Lady Byron of her married life. The first one, which was prepared in January, 1816, for Lady Noel’s preliminary discussions with Dr. Lushington, gave a long and very minute account of Byron’s words and actions, but omitted anything that could incriminate Mrs. Leigh. When it is necessary to speak of Byron’s avowals of passion, the object is simply alluded to as “another woman.” In this first narrative the obsession as to his possible insanity is very manifest. The second narrative is mainly occupied with the story of Byron’s conduct to Augusta and his constant avowals about her to Lady Byron. It was apparently begun some time before Mrs. Leigh’s confession, which took place in September, 1816, and not finished until the following March. It is very fragmentary; some interpolations being on very small bits of notepaper. Many letters of the alphabet were used up in particularising these small interpolations. Many years later, apparently about 1854, Lady Byron projected a long and full narrative of all that she had known and seen of Byron from the first day of their acquaintance, which should embody her original stories of 1816 and 1817; but though more than one abortive version of this later narrative exists, none was ever completed. The author of “Astarte” may have culled here and there a few sidelights on Byron’s character from these later writings, but for the main story that he had to tell he relied upon the narratives of 1816-17; his other materials being quotations from letters, and stray memoranda written by Lady Byron at different times on Byron’s poetry. He did not regard the presentation of Lady Byron’s narratives in their entirety to the public as possible, but in his own narrative he has reproduced the greater part of them very closely.—Ed]


His feelings and sympathies were only kindled by what he could identify with himself. In all the characters on which he had any inclination to dwell, there were, at least in his imagination, resemblances to himself, for instance, Rousseau, or Napoleon.1

Lord Byron could describe nothing which he had not actually had under his eyes, and not even then unless either done on the spot or immediately after. He wrote only from impressions, which, after all, as Lord Holland replied to Moore’s criticisms, was the sign of a true poet.2

Lord Byron’s command of words was his resource in failure to command men. He was a man of words in consequence of physical limitations—a man of words and a tragic jester—but a man of force by nature. But command over words was exercised in a spirit of dominion over men. Like Napoleon, he no more loved than he hated his kind; he was a determined rebel against them, who craved to subdue them—or at least to be an object of wonder and terror. Without study or effort he became a literary enchanter—of fleeting might. As explained by Goethe, the world of feeling and the physical world seemed transparent to him. He knew them by anticipation before acquaintance.3 He formed it all into words without reflection and by intuition, as women get beautiful offspring, they know not how.4 His views of nature were profound and poetical and so were those he

1 Miss Randall said how much she had been struck by the resemblance between Lord Byron’s smile and Bonaparte’s (Moore’s Diary, iii. 232).

“M. Molé dit qu’il n’a jamais vu de sourire plus aimable, ou du moins plus distingué, plus fin, que celui de Napoleon et celui de Chateaubriand. Mais ni l’un ni l’autre ne souriaient tous les jours” (Sainte Beuve, “Chateaubriand,” Vme Leçon, p. 152).

The substance of these two paragraphs is from Lady Byron’s Statements, L, F, etc.

2 Moore’s Diary, iii. 248.

3 “Dasz ihm die welt durchsichtig sei, und dasz ihm ihre darstellung durch anticipation möglich,” etc., etc. (“Conversation with Eckermann,” February 26th, 1824).

4 “Aber alles was er produciren mag, gelingt ihm, und man kann wirklich sagen, dasz sich bei ihm die inspiration an die stelle der reflexion setzt. . . . Zu seinen sachen kam er wie die weiber zu schonen kindern; sie denken nicht daran und wissen nicht wie!” (“Conversation with Eckermann” February 24th, 1825).’

took of the Bible; but for the latter he was indebted to the ennui he suffered from it at school.1 The dogmas of the Church were insufficient for a free spirit like
Byron, and “Cain” shows how he shook off the doctrines that had been lavished on him.2

Goethe, who “was by no means addicted to contradiction,” passed over the defects of Byron’s workmanship. He spoke of the brilliancy and clearness of his style, saying: “There is no padding in his poetry.”3 He said that his poetry showed great knowledge of human nature and great talent in description.4 With every fresh reading he appreciated Lord Byron’s talent more highly, but at the same time probed his fundamental incapacity to be a really great man. His hypochondria and negation excluded him from supreme genius.5 Goethe especially praised “The Deformed Transformed.” He dwelt much on Lord Byron’s everlasting opposition and discontent, and how much the best of his works had suffered from it.

“For not only does the discomfort of the poet spread to the reader, but all work of opposition degenerates into negation, and negation is void. If I say evil is evil, what is gained? but if perchance I take good for evil, great harm is done. Whoever would work right must never scold, or be in trouble over things perverted, but simply do what is good. We should not care to pull down, but to build up, what will inspire mankind with unsullied joy.”6

At the time of the publication of “Manfred,” the readers of Lord Byron’s poetry felt as if they were receiving confidential disclosures. The reader forgets for the time that he is but one of the public to whom the feelings are thus revealed.7

“Or may not each” (wrote Lady Byron, Septem-

1 Conversation with Crabb Robinson , August, 1829.

2 Conversation with Eckermann , February 24th, 1824.

3 Conversation with Crabb Robinson , August, 1829.

4 Conversation with Ticknor , October 25th, 1816.

5 Conversation with Eckermann , November 8th, 1826.

6 Conversation with Eckermann , February 24th, 1825.

7 Lady Byron’s Journal of September 14th, 1818, mentions this as the best idea of a recent article in the “Edinburgh Review.”

ber 14th, 1818), “each of the children of passion at least, feel that he understands the nature of the confession so much more intimately than the colder multitude, that to him it is really private? It conveys a mystical sense—so I have felt.”

Lord Byron seems to have been, like the fair-haired Eckbert of Tieck’s story, seized with the longing to unbosom himself wholly to the public, as to a friend, that so it might become his friend still more. When he thus opened the inmost recesses of his heart in verses, “that wonderful poetry affected its readers like an evil potion taken into their blood.”

“The small sweet draught which I sipped . . . remained indelibly impressed on my memory.”1

When Byron passed to
“The things that were—and what and whence were they?
Those clouds and rainbows of thy yesterday?
Their path has vanished from the eternal sky,”
and gradually his “shadow lengthens but to fade,” that boundless appreciation of his poetry, which was in the main extra-literary, also faded away. The vitality of his writings had depended mainly on his own vivid existence of agitations, errors, illusions, loves, hates, and catastrophes.

All levity vanishes from the closing scenes of his life of passion, mirth, and disaster, when he vainly tried to articulate messages2 to his wife, herself both a victim and an instrument3 of the furies 4 who had haunted his

1Records of a Girlhood,” by Frances Anne Kemble, vol. i., p. 91.

2 Fletcher was desired by Lord Byron to go to her the day before he died, but for what purpose could not be articulated.

3 “Yours has been a bitter connection to me in every sense; it would have been better for me never to have been born than to have ever seen you. This sounds harsh, but is it not true? and recollect I do not mean that you were my intentional evil Genius but an Instrument for my destruction, and you yourself have suffered too (poor thing) in the agency, as the lightning perishes in the instant with the oak that it strikes” (Lord Byron to Lady Byron, January 11th, 1821).

4 “My solitude is solitude no more,
But peopled by the Furies.”
Manfred,” Act II., Scene 2.
existence. But even at the last his indomitable spirit was not conquered.
“’Tis over—my dull eyes can fix thee not;
But all things swim around me, and the earth
Heaves as it were beneath me—Fare thee well.”
“I’ll die as I have lived—alone.”1

Those who have access to the best information are sure of nothing in the character of Lord Byron. He struck out for his life, exulting in his blows with a “cry of savage gladness,” but it was at least rash to assume that
“No grief is thine, no moody madness
In that mysterious bosom found.”2

The character of Augusta Byron is far simpler to read in her letters and actions. She was a woman of that great family—often very lovable—which is vague about facts, unconscious of duties, impulsive in conduct. The course of her life could not be otherwise explained, by those who had looked into it with close intimacy, than by “a kind of moral idiotcy from birth.”3

She was of a sanguine and buoyant disposition, childishly fond and playful, ready to laugh at anything, loving to talk nonsense. The great charm of her society was a refined species of comic talent. She had kind feelings and good intentions without principles; she received a strict moral and pietistic training, but its influence on her life was limited to a prodigal and sometimes inappropriate use of devout phrases. When she confessed all in September, 1816, she said she blamed herself more for her guilt because of the principles she had had instilled into her early.

A friend4 who had loved her from childhood wrote (July 9th, 1816): “I think I am justified in saying very confidently that her mind was purity and innocence itself,” but her moral ideas were to the greatest degree

1Manfred,” Act III., Scene 4.

2 Lines addressed to Lord Byron by Robert Wilmot, April, 1816.

3 Lady Byron to the Hon. Mrs. Villiers, May 11th, 1852.

4 The Hon. Mrs. Villiers.

confused. She did not feel that there was much harm in anything which made no one unhappy.
Lady Byron once wrote:1 “I have observed the remarkable difference that his feelings, distinct from practice, were much more sensitive and correct on all moral questions than hers.” On the side of virtue she was weak, but the character was not altogether weak, rather incomplete. She was shy and timid, and there was great apparent facility and yieldingness, but in emergencies she could be steadfast and act with considerable courage. She had a sort of good feeling that led her to risk her own skin for some who needed it, and for whom she cared more or less. But there was always a blend of artificial sentiment. She excelled in simulation; herself she could persuade of almost anything. She feigned without thinking, perhaps felt what she feigned, unmindful of tangible truths at unsuitable seasons. “There was apparently an absence of all deep feeling in her mind, of everything on which a strong impression could be made.”2 With instinctive craft and courage she fought for self-preservation—a life-long battle—hopeless and lost owing to fundamental mistakes and untrustworthy associates. She was great in the cleverness of expedients, full of plausible sophistry, of smooth disparagement, pretending altruism whilst really acting for herself without incurring any responsibility.

She was abominably married to a first cousin—impracticable,3 helpless,4 tiresome and obstructive. She was more than any one sensible how intolerable her husband was with his debts and selfishness, which had a large share in bringing on the final ruin of the whole family.5 He was little with her, being generally at race meetings or on long visits to Lord Darlington6 and other

1 To the Hon. Mrs. Villiers, June 28th, 1816.

2 Lady Byron to the Hon. Mrs. Villiers, October 17th, 1851.

3 The Hon. Mrs. Villiers to Lady Byron, July 18th, 1816.

4 “That very helpless gentleman, your cousin,” as Lord Byron calls him in a letter to the Hon. Mrs. Leigh of September 17th, 1816. [See Chap. XI.]

5 The Hon. Mrs. Villiers to Lady Byron, March 9th, 1841.

6 The life at Lord Darlington’s in the time of his first wife, who died 1807, is described by Lady Byron’s mother (then the Hon. Mrs. Milbanke) in a letter to

reprobates, protectors and boon companions. When Newmarket races brought
Colonel Leigh home, Mrs. Leigh went off on a holiday if she could. He was a trying and exacting inmate. Everything had to be done for him, not the least of which was his turfy correspondence. He was quite capable of acquiescing in her going away for any purpose, temporarily or otherwise.1

Long habits of concealment made it difficult to judge of her feelings by her manner.2 For years and down to her death she was “under the necessity of acting what she did not feel.”3 She was almost always collected and prepared to repel suspicion,4 and at the same time “her horror of the crime was already not too great.”5 She was strangely insensible to the nature and magnitude of the offence in question even as an imputation. “She did not appear to think these transgressions of consequence.”6

In one or two points there was a resemblance of character to Rousseau’s account of Madame de Warens, who was naturally pure of heart and fitted for an irreproachable life, which she always desired for its own sake, but never realized in practice, because she came to look on conjugal fidelity as the most indifferent act in itself, regarding only public opinion, and to regard a woman who outwardly appeared virtuous as really so, by the mere absence of all offence or unhappiness to anyone.7

her aunt, Mary Noel (December 23rd, 1797): “We stayed two nights at Raby Castle, you know it is a visit of duty, and we are always glad when it is over, however we escaped much wine this time as My Lord had the Gripes and could not drink; we succeeded the Liddells & Sir Thomas who hates drinking was never permitted to rise from table till past midnight any one day for a week—Lord D. plunges deeper and deeper in low Amours & got into a terrible scrape at Dunbar when there with his Regiment—he went into the room of a Servant Girl at the Inn & attempted violence, the poor Girl threw herself out of window and was so much hurt that She will be a Cripple for life, this is one of many Stories equally to his credit—”

1 The Hon. Mrs. Villiers to Lady Byron, May 18th, 1816.

2 Anne Wilmot to Lady Byron, July 31st, 1816.

3 The Hon. Mrs. Villiers to Lady Byron, July 27th, 1816.

4 Lady Byron to the Hon. Mrs. Villiers, June 28th, 1816.

5 The Hon. Mrs. Villiers to Lady Byron, September 12th, 1816.

6 Lady Byron to the Hon. Mrs. Villiers, June 28th, 1816.

7 “Elle étoit bien née, son cœur étoit pur, elle aimoit les choses honnêtes, ses penchans étoient droits et vertueux, son gout étoit délicat; elle étoit faite pour une elégance de mœurs qu’elle a toujours aimée ct qu’elle n’a jamais suivie


Augusta’s expressions of conscious innocence to her friends were wonderful.1 “She named the report concerning her with the pride of Innocence!—as it is called—”2

Outwardly she affected extreme prudery, and after alighting on one unlucky passage, said she would not open “Don Juan” again “for fear her delicate feelings should be shocked by stumbling again on a Shipwrecke.”3 Lord Byron wrote to her: “I am delighted to see you grown so moral. It is edifying.”

She had a language of her own, that of half fact, half fiction; that in which the most definite actions are blurred or obliterated under an ambiguous mist of hints, parentheses, inuendoes, dashes, “megrims, mysteries,” and as Lord Byron used to add, “d——d crinkum crankum.”

“For the life of me I can’t make out whether your disorder is a broken heart or ear-ache—or whether it is you that have been ill or the children—or what your melancholy & mysterious apprehensions tend to—or refer to—whether to Caroline Lamb’s novels—Mrs. Clermont’s evidence—Lady Byron’s magnanimity—or any other piece of impossture.”4

In Augusta’s idiom blood shame is translated into “I have been most unfortunate in all my nearest connections.”5 Unfortunate! When she writes: “None can know how much I have suffered from this unhappy

parce qu’au lieu d’écouter son cœur, qui la menoit bien, elle écouta sa raison qui la menoit mal.”

Madame de Warens was persuaded to regard “l’union des sexes comme l’acte le plus indifférent en soi; la fidelité conjugale, comme une apparence obligatoire dont toute la moralité regardoit l’opinion; le repos des maris, comme la seule règle du devoir des femmes; en sorte que les infidelites ignorées, nulles pour celui qu’elles offensoient, l’étoient aussi pour la conscience; enfin il lui persuada que la chose en elle-même n’étoit rien, qu’elle ne prenoit d’existence que par le scandale, et que toute femme qui paroissoit sage par cela l’étoit en effet” (“Les Confessions,” première partie, livre v.).

1 The Hon. Mrs. Villiers to Lady Byron, May 9th, 1816.

2 Lady Byron’s Statement G.

3 Words in a letter of Lord Byron’s to the Hon. Mrs. Leigh.

4 Lord Byron to the Hon. Mrs. Leigh, June 3rd, 1817.

5 Lady Byron to the Hon. Mrs. Villiers, March 29th, 1826.

business”—the real meaning is that detection of her secret is imminent. Substitution of herself for
Lord Byron’s right heirs becomes “unnatural conduct in them” and she is sick of them and the subject.

After her final rupture with her sister-in-law she used to proclaim that nothing could justify Lady Byron in abandoning her husband. Augusta’s indignation was about three quarters sincere; but she kept back a little bit of information for want of which her language altogether missed the truth. Naturally enough she could not name the real obstacle between Lord and Lady Byron—that was herself, Augusta. Accordingly she suppressed a troublesome particle of truth, which in her eyes only rendered Lady Byron still more odious now that the bondage of gratitude had been shaken off.

She lived in the impulse of the moment; saw what had been in the specious restorations of her fabric of truth,—her outlet for imperative present necessities. If a fact grew into an obstruction, it must no longer be a fact. Some women can thus delete their own past in good faith, or very nearly so.

She worked her friends well—frequently induced them by partial statements which they believed made with the most unreserved confidence, to give the very worst advice possible,1 and take part in her concerns upon a perfect persuasion of her innocence.2 In numerous instances they were made accessory to her doing the very things she ought most to have avoided.3

Her actions necessarily became regulated by self-deceit as to herself and suspicion as to others.4 There had been a day when she “foolishly imagined she had not such a thing as an enemy.” She came to think that there were many who would make out everything in an ill-natured light against her.5 Even when unattacked, she lived in a state of morbid anxiety for a

1 The Hon. Mrs. Villiers to Lady Byron, May 18th, 1816.

2 The same to the same, July 18th, 1816.

3 The same to the same, May 18th, 1816.

4 Robert John Wilmot to Lady Byron, May 29th, 1816.

5 The Hon. Mrs. Leigh to Lady Byron, December 22nd, 1816.

defence, and instead of persisting in a policy of silence she became ready to accuse anyone, under the pre occupation of making a case for herself.1 Fancying enemies everywhere, she exhibited a character of hardness.2 She also grew more and more wary, and resorted more habitually to subterfuges for fencing off embarrassing inquiries. She would pretend to be in a hurry, or studiously forget or postpone the most momentous topics, till the fag end of a conversation or a letter.

Sometimes she would simply wait till children or servants were in the room and heard all that was said, which gave her the opportunity herself to introduce the subject on which she expected questions, and drop it altogether after a few superficial words. Even when she could not divert a vivâ voce discussion of her concerns, it required great energy on the part of friends to protract a conversation she was desirous of discontinuing, as she was very adroit in letting questions or zealous interest in her affairs perish of inanition.3

She could make a good fight for herself in other ways—sometimes made painful scenes, accusing some in whose power she might be to a certain extent, or at least think she was, of unkindness, prejudice, or treachery. In some cases she was wisely suspicious, in others mistakenly so, and she could be very rancorous in her resentment for unfavourable opinions about herself. She showed much anger against those who had friendly relations with her real or supposed enemies. These sentiments led her to quarrel with and insult some who were not ill-disposed towards her, and even to alienate friends and relations. She violently resented the most moderate criticism in any matter that was even remotely connected with her peculiar position. On her own part, she did not abstain from provocation. This state of mind resulted in a bitter quarrel with Lady Noel Byron, and

1 Robert John Wilmot to Lady Byron, May 29th, 1816.

2 Colonel Francis Hastings Doyle to Lady Byron, July 9th, 1816.

3 The Hon. Mrs. Villiers to Lady Byron, June 19th, 1816, July 12th, 1816, and February 23rd, 1817.

also with
Admiral Lord Byron and his wife, and interrupted intimate relations with Sir Robert and Lady Wilmot Horton and Mrs. Villiers.

Strange to say, there was more vacillation about Lady Caroline Lamb, whom she hated and had reason to hate beyond anyone else, knowing she had done more than anyone else to circulate the reports against her. On chance meetings Mrs. Leigh’s manner towards Lady Caroline Lamb was that of hatred and horror openly displayed, but she ceased to cut her dead later, when Lady Caroline Lamb had changed her system, and actually denied the truth of reports spread by herself. Lady Caroline Lamb refused to be put off with a low and ironical curtsey. On one occasion she suddenly started up before Mrs. Leigh, as if from underground, and claimed acquaintance, whereupon, according to Mrs. Leigh’s own account of the scene, she felt “compelled to touch Lady Caroline Lamb’s hand.” The key to this and many other inconsistencies is that, involved as Mrs. Leigh was by the many obliquities of her conduct, she was often obliged to act in a manner which variously appeared like imprudence or timidity; when there were very different causes underneath.1

There would be no use in specifying all the causes of Mrs. Leigh’s financial ruin, even if they were completely recorded. Her property, including that bequeathed by Lord Byron, largely passed into the hands of the money-lenders, of whom twenty-six came forward as claimants for everything after Mrs. Leigh’s death. In her later years a more painful impersonation of anxious disquiet and misery could hardly be imagined. She rather suddenly became a very sunk and aged person. Her disposition had ever been such that no lasting impression could be made on her feelings. She lived through so much that at last she found herself growing callous at bottom like flint or steel. Her wits got darkened at intervals by judicial blindness, by a kind of fatuity which besets people burthened with a secret, and sooner or later

1 Lady Noel Byron to the Hon. Mrs. Villiers, March 16th, 1841.

forces its disclosure. Her heart seemed frozen. But when she was dying,
Lady Byron felt so great a desire to send her a message, that, after fully considering what might be the effects, Lady Byron determined to disregard all but those which it might possibly have upon Mrs. Leigh herself, and wrote to the daughter to whisper two words of affection long disused. This was a week before Mrs. Leigh’s death, and on hearing the message, tears long dry flowed again with the joy of hearing once more “Dearest Augusta!” from Lady Byron. Mrs. Leigh said those words “were her greatest consolation”; and she went on to say a great deal that could not be heard distinctly, her voice had grown so weak and thick. Thus was another message lost, but there had been a speck of light in almost infinite darkness. Mrs. Leigh’s sufferings were dreadful and continued to the very last. She died October 12th, 1851, of heart disease and dropsy, with her hands in those of her youngest daughter Emily who, she said, had always been such a comfort to her.1

Mrs. Leigh’s distress for money had been so extreme that she even got money (from a publisher) for a box of Lord Byron’s letters but told her daughter before she died that she wished them to be redeemed.2 There never was apparently money enough to save the letters; some of them passed away for ever into the hands of strangers, and were ultimately made use of in the way which Mrs. Leigh most dreaded.

1 The Hon. Mrs. Leigh to Elizabeth Medora Leigh, February, 1831; Lady Noel Byron to the Hon. Mrs. Villiers, June 11th, 1841; to the Rev. F. W. Robertson, October 14th, 1851; and memorandum of April 8th, 1851; Emily Leigh to Lady Noel Byron, October 5th and October 13th, 1851.

2 The Hon. Mrs. Villiers to Lady Noel Byron, October 30th, 1851. See also Chap. XI., p. 264.