LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Astarte: a Fragment of Truth

‣ Introduction
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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THE original edition of “Astarte,” so named after the character in Byron’sManfred,” appeared first in the year 1905. The author had intended to write for private circulation only, desiring above all things to avoid the possibility of making money out of the story of his ancestors, but he found it necessary to protect the copyright of his book by going through the form of publication. Out of two hundred copies printed a small number only were sold to approved purchasers, selected from a long list of applicants. The remainder were given away. The few copies that have since then from time to time reached the auction room have realised very high prices.

Astarte” has therefore been read hitherto by comparatively few persons, but it is known by hearsay to a great many. It has been almost inevitably misrepresented as an immoral book, unnecessarily raking up a half-forgotten scandal. Those who know the pain and travail of mind with which it was produced, and how distasteful to the author was the duty of clearing away once for all the cloud of calumnies and injustices which had settled round certain facts, feel that the time has come for defending his memory. His book shall speak for itself. He had always foreseen that it must sooner or later be given to a wider public. In his own preface he said:

“Apocryphal personalities about the Byrons were what forced the preparation of ‘Astarte’; and some
preliminary notice has been taken of that swollen triumph of deception which seemed everlasting, though doomed to burst by dint of time. This is done in the first two chapters, headed: ‘
Lady Byron’s Policy of Silence,’ and ‘Informers and Defamers.’ They are not quite in their right place at the beginning, and I should have liked to transfer their substance, somewhat compressed and fortified, to an appendix, instead of leaving them in front of the essential part of the history. The change could not now be made without considerable inconvenience, but it is recommended that the second part of ‘Astarte’ be read before looking at Chapters I and II of the First Part.”

In the opinion of various good judges of literature, and especially of the late William De Morgan, a life-long friend of the author, “Astarte” had suffered from the inclusion of certain extraneous matter. This was of two kinds: first, an unnecessary amount of detail about individuals who were concerned with the records of Byron’s life immediately after his death; and second, a considerable mass of quotation, consisting largely of extracts from French sources, dealing principally with Byron and the epoch of the French Restoration. This last, mainly collected in the Appendices of the Original Edition, is excellent reading for lovers of literature, but it is not of the highest relevance.

I have acted on this opinion, but only with the greatest caution. In the first two chapters only of the Original Edition, “Lady Byron’s Policy of Silence” and “Informers and Defamers,” I have made a strictly limited number of excisions, and I have adopted Lovelace’s own suggestion in the passage above quoted, and have printed these two chapters and the following one “When we Dead Awake,” after Part II. instead of before it; Chapters I. to V. of this edition comprise
what was originally Part II. The change certainly makes for greater clearness. Apart from these slight alterations, the text is exactly as given in the original edition. At the close of that text I have introduced much important new matter which I will describe later.

Astarte” is not so much a narrative as a commentary upon events and discussions very familiar to the writer’s own generation. As these cannot be equally familiar to the present one, I give the following explanation:

When, in the year 1816, Lord Byron, then at the height of his fame, separated from his young wife—after only twelve months of married life—the sensation created in the social and literary world was immense. No reason for their parting being made public by either side, speculations and rumours of every kind were rife. The most serious of the latter was to the effect that a guilty connection existed between Byron and his own half-sister, Augusta (Byron), wife of Colonel George Leigh, and mother of several children. This rumour, supported by the theme of Byron’s “Manfred,” was discredited at the time and for many years afterwards by the conduct of Lady Byron, who continued apparently to keep up an affectionate intimacy with Mrs. Leigh, and never by word or deed confirmed the accusations against her and Lord Byron. In the course of years these accusations were forgotten by all save a very few persons, possessed of real information. Mrs. Leigh died in 1851 and Lady Byron in 1860. In 1869, nine years after the latter event, Mrs. Beecher Stowe electrified the reading world both in England and America by the announcement that Lady Byron had (a few years before her death) confided to her that the story of the guilt of Byron and Augusta was in fact true.

Many persons now alive must remember the hubbub
caused by this publication,1 and the storm of obloquy that was poured out in the press not only upon
Mrs. Stowe but upon the memory of Lady Byron, whose confidence had been thus unscrupulously betrayed. For many years speculations upon the “Byron Mystery” continued to be published in innumerable forms, and the defenders of Lord Byron—often obviously insincere—revelled in accusations against Lady Byron, alternately of malicious calumny or of an insanely morbid imagination. “Astarte” is the answer to these accusations.

Those who wish to study the life of Byron should read the recent excellent biography of him, written by Ethel Colburne Mayne,2 the only “Life” which gives a really comprehensive and impartial picture of the poet and his surroundings. The monumental edition of Lord Byron’s “Letters and Journals,” edited by Rowland Prothero,3 is of course, well known to students. Moore’sLife,” apart from other faults, is written from very insufficient materials, and is now quite superseded.

The original narrative of “Astarte” ends with Chapter VIII. Immediately after this, and before the Appendices, will be found in Chapters IX., X. and XI. a number of new letters, chosen and collated by me from original documents in my possession. These are:—

1. Some of the correspondence between Lady Byron, Mrs. Leigh and Mrs. Villiers4 in 1816, hitherto unpublished, but occasionally quoted from in Chapter III., pp. 60 to 66.

1The True Story of Lady Byron’s Life,” by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Macmillan’s Magazine, September, 1869; published simultaneously in the Atlantic Monthly.

2Byron,” by Ethel Colburne Mayne. Methuen. 1912.

3 Now Lord Ernie.

4 Hon. Therese Parker, daughter of first Lord Boringdon, and wife of the Hon. George Villiers. See note, Chapter III., p. 57.


2. An inscription apparently sent by Augusta to Byron with a lock of hair, and endorsed by him.

3. The full text of some of Byron’s letters to Augusta, 1816 to 1823, and three letters to Lady Byron.

I have included these in response to a generally expressed criticism to the effect that the narrative of “Astarte” was not sufficiently supported by documents. They by no means exhaust the evidence to the same effect in my hands. Lovelace had been much influenced by Sir Leslie Stephen’s wish that he should print as few as possible of “poor Mrs. Leigh’s very painful letters,” and he also realised that any short selections from the correspondence of the three women above described could not be convincing. Perhaps only those who have read in its entirety this long series of letters, which continued at irregular intervals from 1816 to 1851, continually touching on the same problems as developed by time, can realise its full significance. In addition, these letters will answer, I think finally, one of the principal objections to the argument of “Astarte,” made especially by women, that Lady Byron could not have continued to show affection, or even pity, for Augusta, if at the time she had really believed in her guilt. Many years later, questioned about these things by the friend of her old age, Frederick Robertson, the great preacher, Lady Byron said, “I loved her, and I love her still!” From this long series of letters and from other correspondence in his possession, the author drew his appreciations of character and many sidelights upon events. His main narrative is founded upon Lady Byron’s “Statements.” For a full description of these see Note to page 21. This and all other notes added by the Editor to the original matter of “Astarte” are printed in square brackets.

The most just criticism of “Astarte” was that it
should have appeared earlier. At the time of
Mrs. Stowe’s revelations of the friends of Lady Byron, who bitterly resented the injustice of the public towards her, were yet living. The release from the burden of silence would, after the first shock, have been unspeakable relief to them. And the effect would have been to make impossible the publication of various more or less poisonous rehashes of the story which went on for years to come. I have tried in my short memoir of my husband,1 to explain why any publication of the truth at that date was impossible, and to show how the fact that he was unable to discharge what he felt to be a sacred obligation at the right time was an intolerable weight upon him for the rest of his life. I would ask those who, having read “Astarte,” are still inclined to blame the author of it for his action, to read the narrative of his life, as I have put it together. Whatever be the shortcomings of my story, I hope and believe that it will at least give some understanding of and sympathy with the man who had to face so great a dilemma, and who felt that, however belated, his only possible course was—honesty.


1Ralph Earl of Lovelace.” A Memoir. Christophers. 1920.