LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Astarte: a Fragment of Truth
Notes by the Editor

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 necessity has been pointed out to me of dealing with Mr. R. Edgcumbe’s book, “Byron, the Last Phase,” published in 1909.

Mr. Edgcumbe’s thesis is to the effect that Byron and his early love, Mary Chaworth (Mrs. Chaworth Musters), met again in the summer of 1813, and that the child, Elizabeth Medora Leigh, born in April, 1814, was the result of their intercourse. He supposes that Mrs. Leigh pretended to be the mother of this child in order to shield another woman, whom, as he himself acknowledges, she had not known more than three months. (There is, in fact, so far as I can ascertain, no evidence that she ever did know her.) He does not attempt to explain how a married woman, living surrounded by family and friends and servants, contrived to go through a bogus confinement and introduce a make-believe child into her house without detection. He goes on to assume that after this Mrs. Leigh corresponded with Lady Byron for years, sending letters to her to read which she pretended had been addressed by Byron to herself, when in fact they had been sent to her for transmission to Mrs. Chaworth—that in doing so she avowed that she had been guilty of incest, and acknowledged Byron’s fatherhood of her child, Elizabeth Medora. And all this for the sake of a comparative stranger, whose guilt, if she had been guilty, would have been as nothing compared to that assumed by Mrs. Leigh.

There was a very able article by the late Andrew Lang in the Fortnightly Review of August, 1910, on “Byron and Mary Chaworth,” in which, from publicly printed sources only, he completely exposed the absurdities of Mr. Edgcumbe’s inventions. He writes:—

Byron’s liaison with Mrs. Chaworth Musters, says Mr. Edgcumbe, was of June-July, 1813. The lady was then living at Annesley, near Byron’s place, Newstead Abbey. We therefore expect evidence from Mr. Edgcumbe proving that Byron did reside at Newstead Abbey on occasion, in June-July, 1813.
Not only does he produce no such evidence, but his own statement, slipshod enough, proves, if it proves anything, that Byron never was at Newstead or near it in June, 1813; nor is any proof afforded that he was there in July.”

. . . . .

“Far from proving that Byron got into a new and very serious scrape in June, near Newstead, Mr. Edgcumbe’s evidence—Byron’s letters—proves that the scrape dates from the end of July, when Byron was quite certainly in London, cheered by Mrs. Leigh’s presence, yet with his ‘soul scorching in the blackest mood.’ . . .

“When next he ventures into the field of secret history, and attacks a dead lady’s reputation, Mr. Edgcumbe may find it desirable to pay close attention to his dates, his topography, and his logic.” . . .

Mr. Lang wrote again much to the same effect, “A Scapegoat for Byron,” in the Morning Post, October 7th, 1910, in which he gibbeted yet another foolish book, “The Love Affairs of Lord Byron,” by Mr. Francis Gribble. Complete confirmation of Mr. Lang’s intuition exists (unknown to him) in the unpublished letters of Lord Byron to Lady Melbourne, which form an almost daily record of his movements from September, 1812, until the end of 1814. Lady Melbourne was the mother-in-law of Lady Caroline Lamb, and Byron’s extremely intimate and confidential relations with the elder lady began with their combined endeavours to restrain the vagaries of poor half-mad Lady Caroline. He soon fell into the habit of writing to Lady Melbourne full descriptions of all his social doings, and especially of his love affairs. The record for the summer of 1813 is particularly full, and nowhere does Mrs. Chaworth’s name appear in it.

Byron’s liaison with Lady Oxford came to an end about June 28th, 1813, when she departed for the Continent with her husband, and immediately after this event Mrs. Leigh came to join him in London, and remained there for some weeks. During the months of July and August and part of September, Byron remained almost uninterruptedly in London, his only absences being two sojourns of a few days at Mrs. Leigh’s home, Six Mile Bottom, near Newmarket, and at Cambridge, which is in the same neighbourhood. On August 5th he tells Lady Melbourne that Mrs. Leigh has returned with him from Newmarket to London, and that they contemplate going abroad together. The next few letters are answers to the remonstrances that Lady Melbourne made against this course—remonstrances which evidently helped to shake his resolution (see Chapter II., pp. 33—34).
September 21st finds him at Aston Hall, Rotherham, where (evidently encouraged by Lady Melbourne) he immediately applied himself to a hot courtship of Lady Frances, the young wife of his host and friend,
Wedderburne Webster. This was his first acquaintance with the lady, and it is therefore impossible that the words “I am . . . in a far more serious, and entirely new scrape” in his letter to Moore, of August 22nd (“Letters and Journals”) should apply to her. With interludes of a few days in London, and of two expeditions for a night or two from Aston to Newstead, he spent his whole time until October 19th at Aston Hall with the Websters. And for the two short stays at Newstead, above mentioned, he had with him the first time Wedderburne Webster alone, and the second time Lady Frances also and all their guests. Mr. Edgcumbe chooses to imagine that at this time Byron went from Newstead to visit Mrs. Chaworth at Annesley. The daily, almost hourly, record of events, that he was now sending to Lady Melbourne, shows that no such thing happened or was ever contemplated.

He was for the moment completely absorbed in his chase of Lady Frances. He cynically describes to Lady Melbourne the poor little lady’s agitations and her tearful and fluttering resistance. It is satisfactory to be able to record that, though apparently much moved and shaken, and though she had no love for her foolish and profligate husband, Lady Frances did ultimately resist Byron, and that he was not altogether unchivalrous towards her.

From the end of October until January, 1814, Byron remained in London. He continued to correspond for a time with Lady Frances, and he sent her a picture of himself (see “Letters and Journals,” Vol. II., p. 350). He was uneasy lest the husband, who had become suspicious, should challenge him to a duel. All this is minutely reported to Lady Melbourne; but his letters soon begin to show that his thoughts were once more occupied with the same object as in July and August, namely, Augusta Leigh.

On January 8th, 1814, occurs the first mention of Mrs. Chaworth Musters. He tells Lady Melbourne that he had received two letters from his “old love of all loves,” and he encloses the last for Lady Melbourne to read and advise upon. He gives a short history of his youthful friendship with Mrs. Chaworth and his boyish adoration of her, and says that they had hardly met since her marriage. Her letters apparently ask him to come and see the writer, and suggest his giving his help and support to her in her matrimonial difficulties. More letters followed, and were again sent on to Byron’s correspondent. He is careful to
explain to Lady Melbourne that “she is a good girl” and that it is an entirely fraternal part that he is being asked to play. He does not relish the role, and he does not think that it is in Mrs. Chaworth’s own interest that he should take it up. Finally, he decides to go and visit Mrs. Chaworth from Newstead, whither he is bound on January 17th, and where he remained three weeks with
Augusta for his companion. But though he says that she (Augusta) especially urged him to do so, he did not go to see Mrs. Chaworth. He writes to Lady Melbourne, February 6th, with some compunction, that what with snowstorms and other obstacles, and his own “sluggishness” on the subject, he finds himself after all leaving Newstead for London, without having paid the important visit.

Three months after this, in April, 1814, was born Elizabeth Medora Leigh. I wish I could print the letter that Byron wrote on the occasion to Lady Melbourne, and other letters from the same series. But though our family possess more than one set of carefully authenticated copies, the letters themselves are not ours to publish.

The only other allusion to Mrs. Chaworth in these letters occurs six months later, on October 31st, 1814. Byron and Augusta had been together at Hastings in July and August of that year, and he writes that “poor Mrs. Chaworth” had gone mad in the house there where she succeeded them as tenant, and was now very ill in London.

Mr. Edgcumbe states that when Bryon left England (two years later) Mrs. Chaworth’s “mind gave way.” If so, it was not for the first time.

A good and clear account of all that concerns this poor lady will be found in Miss E. C. Mayne’sByron,” Vol. I., Chapter IV.


THE family of the late Lady Byron being convinced that the portrait by Ramsay to which her name is attached in the Letters and Journals of Lord Byron, Vol. IV, p. 66, is a spurious one, I undertook to collect evidence on the subject. This I embodied in an article with illustrations published in The Connoisseur of October, 1917, which has since been reprinted as a pamphlet, entitled “A Portrait Mis-named Lady Byron,” of a convenient size for keeping with the book. From this I give the following extracts:—

. . . In answer to my inquiries, Messrs. Browne, of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, write:—

“We bought the picture at the sale of an old Newcastle solicitor in 1897, who had a taste for buying old paintings. This old collector had bought it at the artist’s sale—the artist lived and died in Newcastle. Written on the wooden stretcher of the canvas in a contemporary hand were the words, ‘Portrait of Lady Byron.’”

I asked Messrs. Browne and Browne if they could give me names and addresses of any descendants of James Ramsay, but they were unable to do so. The sole evidence, therefore, which connects this picture with Lady Byron is the inscription on the stretcher in an unknown hand, which may or may not be “contemporary.” Nowhere in the very voluminous correspondence of Anne Isabella Milbanke and her parents before her marriage and after, in possession of the family, is there the slightest allusion to this portrait or to James Ramsay. There is, on the other hand, frequent mention of the sittings to George Hayter in 1812, and the miniature that he painted was regarded as a satisfactory likeness.1 Annabella Milbanke was at that time twenty years of age. She is shown as a pretty young girl of slender figure, with brown hair and blue eyes. The nose is somewhat retroussé and very clean-cut and refined. The marked characteristic of the face is the breadth of the brow and eyes as contrasted with the very short and somewhat narrow chin. The same proportions may be seen in her portrait as a child by

1 See p. 184.

Hoppner (frontispiece), and again in the daguerrotypes taken in her old age. The portrait by Ramsay, on the other hand, is of a middle-aged woman, large and strongly made, the eyes not far apart, and with no special width of brow, the nose thick and blunt in shape, and the chin decidedly long and rounded.

Byron himself thus describes his future wife:—1

“There was something piquant and what we term pretty in Miss Milbanke. Her features were small and feminine, though not regular. She had the fairest skin imaginable. Her figure was perfect for her height, and there was a simplicity, a retired modesty about her which was very characteristic, and formed a happy contrast to the cold, artificial formality and studied stiffness which is called ‘fashion.’”

The roundness of her face suggested to Byron the pet name of “Pippin. . .”

The dress in this picture and in the miniature of Lady Byron by Hayter are both of the same period, that of the French Empire; both have the hair dressed in masses of short curls on the forehead, a fashion imitated from old Roman Imperial busts. There is, therefore, nothing to confuse the extreme contrast between the two women portrayed. The elder one is slightly draped about with a lace scarf or veil, an evident effort to minimise the unbecomingness of a tight and scant light-coloured garment on a person of her type. About this portrait Mr. William de Morgan wrote to me some years ago:—

“My Dear Lady Lovelace,—The portrait on page 66 of Vol. IV. of Murray and Prothero’sByron’ is certainly not the late Lady Noel Byron. I was really very familiar with her face in childhood and early manhood, and it would be mere affectation in me to qualify my opinion in order not to seem too positive in my way of stating it.

“I suspect that Lady Anne Blunt is right in thinking this portrait a younger version of that of Mrs. Byron in the same volume.2 Had I been told that this last had been supposed also to be a portrait of the poet’s wife, I should have assigned exactly similar reasons for disputing its authenticity.

“I think if I had to make choice of an epithet that would not describe the countenance of the almost ethereally delicate, almost painfully serious, almost disconcertingly precise lady (whom I remember vividly), it would be one that my mind at once applied to the original or originals of each of these portraits—the adjective jovial. It may be said that the tragedy of her life

1 Medwin’sConversations with Lord Byron,” pp. 44, 45.

2 Portrait by Stewardson, belonging to John Murray, Esq.

had left its mark upon her. But then this supposed portrait is palpably older than she was at the date of its occurrence.

“On the other hand, the word stoical associates itself in my mind with Lady Noel Byron—not implying severity or grimness—and I feel sure there was mighty little stoicism in any sense in the original of either of these portraits.

Murray and Prothero must surely have accepted this portrait on the strength of seemingly indisputable authentication, because so many still living remember the supposed original as plainly as myself. But folk are never to hand when wanted and don’t get consulted.

“Believe me, dear Lady Lovelace,
“Always sincerely yours,
Wm. De Morgan.”

(It is, perhaps, now better known than formerly that Mr. De Morgan was not only distinguished as a writer, but also as an artist, and his evidence, therefore, is that of a trained observer.)

I asked Lady Anne Blunt also to put in writing the views I had often heard her express, and she has done so as follows:—

“That portrait to which you refer—of the middle-aged woman dressed in Empire fashions, said to be by James Ramsay, R.A.—at page 66 of Vol. IV. of Murray’s ‘Letters and Journals’ of my grandfather, reminded me at once when I saw it of a picture I possess1 of my Gordon of Gight great-grandmother. I never was more surprised than on finding it described as being a representation of my Milbanke grandmother, to whom it never could have had the remotest resemblance at any time in her life.” . . .

From the “Life of Thomas Woolner, R.A.,” by his daughter, page 193:—

May 17th, 1860.

“Yesterday I had to go and see a cast taken of the left hand of Lady Noel Byron, wife of the poet. The summons said it was essential that an honorable man should do it or I should not have been troubled. I do not much like taking casts of anyone dead, but could not refuse in this case, as I know so many of their friends. But I am glad I did go, for a nobler sight I never saw—she looked as if she were living, and had just dropped to sleep, and as proud as a queen in all her splendour. I think there was never anything finer than her brow and nose. . . . She seems to have been almost adored by those about her. . . .”

1 This is a replica of the portrait by Stewardson, owned by Mr. John Murray.


MISS E. C. Mayne gives (“Byron ,” Vol. I., Chapter VIII.), on the authority of Scrope Davies, a story to the effect that Byron’s hair was artificially curled. This may seem to be a small matter, but the statement was profoundly irritating to the late Lady Anne Blunt, who flatly denied it. Whatever Byron may have chosen to do to his hair on a particular occasion it did curl naturally. Lady Anne said that her grandmother, Lady Byron, was wont to describe her husband’s curly head. Lady Anne also argued that the story was disproved by Byron’s well-known passion for bathing and swimming on every possible opportunity, and before all sorts of witnesses. Artificial curls will not bear wetting. If Byron had been seen to go into the water with a curly head, and to come out of it with lank and snaky locks, the fact would surely have been recorded. And would so vain a man have ever risked such an exposé? But I can produce other evidence.

In a little old mother-o’-pearl box, set in gold, are kept, together with Lady Byron’s wedding ring, two small packets, docketed in Lady Byron’s handwriting. On the first is written:—

“This lock of Lord Byron’s Hair, I cut off after our marriage. A. I. N. B.

and on the second:—

Lord B.’s hair from Fletcher, taken after his death.”

In the first packet is a short thick piece of hair, tightly curled in a broad ring. If a finger is inserted in it, the hair closes round it like a spring. The colour is a warm chestnut brown. It is soft enough but not very fine. The vigour of life seems still to be so strong in it, that it is almost incredible that it should have ceased to grow more than a hundred years ago.

In the second packet the piece of hair is longer and thinner. It is of a much duller and darker brown, and here and there is a white thread in it. Instead of one broad ring, there are several small thin ones. It does not curl so vigorously, but it does curl.1

1 See letter of September 13th, 1821, p. 305.


WHEN Byron wrote his vitriolic poem, “A Sketch,” he chose to pour out the venom that filled his soul upon a humble and faithful creature, of whom he can have known but little, and who had never harmed him or his. Only twelve days before he had written his tender “Fare thee well” to his wife. His mood had now changed, but he could not decently write so soon in bitterness of her, nor do more than indirectly accuse her parents.

Mrs. Clermont had never been, as he imagined, a domestic servant. It is intolerable that he should have insulted in her person a whole class of honest folk. She had been Miss Milbanke’s governess, and remained a warm friend and trusted counsellor of the whole family. She was never an inmate of Lord Byron’s house until the birth of his child, when, as she says in a statement describing the miseries and terrors of the young wife (to which, she took her oath), “Mrs. Leigh intreated me to come and sleep in the house at the time of Lady Byron’s confinement, saying ‘if he continues in this way God knows what he may do!’” “This way” meant Byron’s outbreaks of savage aversion for his wife, which alarmed all who witnessed them.1

There is no record anywhere in any letters of the family, or statement of Lady Byron’s, of any interference on Mrs. Clermont’s part in Lord Byron’s married life, or any efforts of hers to detach his wife from him. She saw and guessed a good deal, but she does not appear to have been fully confided in by Lady Byron until some time after she had left his roof.

Her important rôle began when Sir Ralph Noel came to London to negotiate the separation, and she remained with him at Mivart’s Hotel, acting as a kind of confidential secretary. Lady Noel was the greater part of this time at Kirkby with her daughter, and it was Mrs. Clermont who assisted at all the interviews with lawyers, who collected information for them, cross-questioned the doctors about Lord Byron’s health, and wrote daily, almost hourly, accounts of all that went on to the two anxious women

1 See pp. 39-40.

in the country.
Lady Byron was tortured with doubt as to her husband’s insanity. Mrs. Clermont does her utmost to satisfy her demands for every detail that can be given about him and for every word that the doctors say. Nothing decisive can be got from them. Mrs. Leigh reports confused sayings of Byron’s, but against that must be set the fact that he is continually drinking brandy, in spite of all that the doctors can do to prevent it. Mrs. Leigh’s letters torment Lady Byron with descriptions of his melancholy and his bad health. Mrs. Clermont writes to Lady Noel: “I have always thought Mrs. Leigh weak about her brother.” To Lady Byron she writes: “I have no doubt that, although he has been always wishing and endeavouring to drive you to a separation, his pride at least will suffer dreadfully; but he is a being whose whole talents seem to be employed in bringing unhappiness upon himself, and it is not in the power of any mortal to prevent him doing so.”

As to his health, she says: “I find Lord Byron has his dinner and goes to the play as usual. I hope you have got over your alarm about him. Pray do not be so weak as to mind Mrs. Leigh’s Ohs and Ahs.”

Sir Ralph Noel’s firmness in negotiation was evidently doubted by his wife and daughter. Lady Byron writes: “Pray don’t let Sir R. stir a step or write a line without the legal counsels. . . . I have some fears of his being led to commit himself by some artful people.” Mrs. Clermont assures her that he is being carefully watched over.

When Lady Noel joined the conclave in London for a few days Lady Byron—alone at Kirkby with her child—had a new cause for anxiety. She knew her mother’s impetuosity of character. “I hope” (she writes to Mrs. Clermont) “you will find my mother reasonable and temperate.” . . . Again three days later:—

“I hope you will keep my mother sober. She will break my heart if she takes up the thing in bitterness against him. The more I think of the whole conduct on his part, the more unaccountable it is—I cannot believe him all bad, though the case is quite as hopeless as if he were.” . . . Again Mrs. Clermont soothes her and preaches patience. Some time must elapse before there can be any certainty about Lord B.’s mental condition.

Throughout this difficult time Mrs. Clermont’s influence is always for moderation, for calmness, for generosity as to money terms (in this she was knocking at an open door), and for justice even to the guilty.

On March 9th she writes to Lady Noel: “In regard to Mrs.
Leigh you have I think been very unjust, as I am confident however maliciously he (Byron) may act, it never has been her wish to take it (the child) from A.,1 nor ever will be, although I fear she must have felt herself much hurt of late by a change of manner on this side. I know she has acted weakly but I do firmly believe her intentions have been good—nor can I ever forget the kindness A. experienced from her the latter part of the time she was in piccadilly (sic). Even for her life I believe we may thank Mrs. Leigh.”

In the same letter she had written triumphantly: “I have at last the happiness to inform you that this business is in a fair way to be settled, without the Law.”

Lord Byron, doubtless, knew of her presence at Sir Ralph’s side and of the help that she rendered to him and his advisers. Thus his wrath fastened upon her. It is amusing to read her matter-of-fact narrative of events from day to day with her homely comments on them, and to contrast them with his wild and extravagant accusations against her, and his imaginings of dark and mysterious plotting. Her actions were entirely open and honest, and they were not taken until after Lord Byron had himself driven his wife out of his house and had openly declared married life to be intolerable to him. What motive need such a woman have, beyond the simple affection and pity which breathes from all her letters for the young creature who had been her care from childhood?

When Byron wrote the “Fare thee well,” he did not send it to his wife. She read it first in print. But when he wrote the “Sketch,” a copy was sent at once to the victim. She writes about it to Lady Noel, April 10th, 1816:—

“You and I are now the Objects of his Satire, he has wrote a long copy of verses in which I am a Gorgon and paid by you for some secret service. It is sufficiently Blackguard for any poet of St. Giles’s.”

She describes the letter she had written to Lord Byron and continues:

“I do not expect any good from the measure, but A. thought it might prevent the publication of the verses.” The letter is as follows:—

April 9, 1816.
My Lord,—

In consequence of an attempt which your Lordship has made to injure my character, I take the liberty of requesting to be made acquainted with the grounds on which I am accused of

1 Annabella (Lady Byron).

being a false witness and those other charges which you are pleased to alledge against me. If favoured with this information, I have no doubt of being able to prove in the most satisfactory manner that such accusations are wholly unfounded. I have hitherto, my Lord, said very little, nor could I have deemed myself of sufficient importance to have any weight in the scale of public opinion where your Lordship was concerned, had you not yourself attached importance to what you call falsehoods devised by me. The little I have said is strictly true, and what more I may be compelled to say, shall be equally so, and my name will always be added to whatever I may write hereafter, as it has been to whatever I have written heretofore.1

I am, my Lord,
Your Lordship’s
Obedient humble servt.

She may be left with the last word.

1 This is an allusion to an anonymous letter that she had received in February, which she believed to have been from Lord Byron.