LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Astarte: a Fragment of Truth

‣ Preface
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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“Ne quid falsi audeat . . . ne quid veri non audeat.”
(De Oratore, ii, 15.)

FACTS and comments have been here placed together in obedience to two duties. It was right to preserve a minimum of truth and justice from eventual risks, and in some measure at the same time to testify how deeply the sources of literature were poisoned by Byronese traders. The truth may not be attended to now, or adapted for a wide circulation; still it is henceforth perpetuated in a form accessible to those who choose to search, and the reign of falsehood at last meets with authorized resistance.

There was nothing in Lord Byron’s amazing indiscretions to justify a counterfeit work of exposing or explaining him away. The sombre outlaw Manfred is a fairer and nobler portrait than Lord Byron, emptied of his character and history, converted into an advertising nuisance and completed into a copious soporific for respectable citizens willing to take a dose of edification. The real man was not to be found in letters to paid friends or an artificial padding of commentaries. Lord Byron’s fame sorely needs untarnishing if possible from posthumous contamination by his ignoble acquaintances. His robes and patents of celebrity were seized to make the notoriety and fortunes of pretended literary representatives—self-consecrated in Lord Byron’s stead, though alien in reality—not unlike the highwaymen of old on Hounslow Heath, described by Swift as dressing themselves up in the spoils of the worthy divines they regularly robbed and murdered on the road to take possession of Irish bishoprics.


Perhaps it would have been better never to publish any thing about Lord Byron when he was dead; but after a heavy accumulation of coarse misrepresentation, the dark night of his real history seems less suffocating than the poison of flatteries and familiarities in apocryphal compilations.

The work of invention did not stop at Lord Byron, but was indulged in against Lady Byron with at least equal profusion; and in addition to a natural wish that unveracities may burst, there are strong reasons for establishing her truth and honour against the unmeasured imposture of certain accusers. Her own authority for such a refutation exists in a paper of directions signed 18th February, 1850, as well as in the provisions of her will, drawn up in 1860. The document of 1850 is quoted on page 158. I am in possession of the original manuscripts subject to those trusts, and it is in exercise of the responsibility attached that “Astarte” has been compiled from the documents thus authenticated.

I have not sought for information outside the papers held on this fiduciary tenure. Of all the books about Lord Byron, I have referred only to those which date far back. I am not familiar with things published about him for some fifteen or twenty years past. Nothing has appeared that I should have sanctioned or condoned. In the absence of acknowledged power to prohibit, I did not care to examine. My duties are not to search for information from sources I mistrust; and it is unnecessary for me to investigate the character of books made up by strangers with uncertain ingredients; therefore I do not read them.

On receipt of applications to edit poetry or prose of Lord Byron’s, I intimated that I would endeavour to deal with the materials that might be forthcoming if they were all placed unreservedly in my hands. Of course I declined to engage myself specifically whilst utterly unacquainted with the manuscripts which must
have been submitted to me before I could formulate a scheme. Those papers, etc., never were intrusted to me for inspection, and, so far as I was concerned, all proposals connected with them naturally fell to the ground. I had refused to pledge myself beforehand what I should put in or leave out, as to which my own discretion had to be absolute. I also declared that I could sanction no rivalries, competitions, and contests amongst publishers or editors. All these communications led to fundamental disagreement, and negociations were closed with mutually unsatisfactory impressions.1 My principal object would have been to avoid any hasty measure of excessive production, and to moderate the burst of superfluous activity upon Lord Byron. I never could have been a vassal to foreign schemes, however masterful in themselves or meritorious in the eyes of promoters.

The most essential facts of this fragment of history will be found in pages 33-100,2 which comprise Chapters II, III, and IV of “Astarte.” Sir Leslie Stephen’s remarks on the documents contained in those chapters are also worthy of attention and are quoted at pages 179-181. He authorized this use of his letters and gave leave to mention how they came to be written. His spirit of equity and peace is now inaccessible to consultations, but it may be hoped that the reference to him at page 176 would not have been found incorrect or improper, though he could hardly sanction some of the other pages in this book. It will be seen that, while

1 [It is fair to say that Mr. Murray has given an account of the transactions between himself and the author of “Astarte” which differs in many respects from the above. Lovelace never saw this rejoinder. His own position in regard to the “Letters and Journals,” edited by R. E. Prothero (Lord Ernle), is explained in Chapter VII. of my Memoir, “Ralph Earl of Lovelace.” I can say from my own knowledge that the reference on the preceding page to “books made up by strangers” was of a very general character, and was written in allusion to many and various publications.—Ed.]

2 [See Introduction. In the text of this Preface the numbers of the pages referred to have been altered to correspond with those of the present edition. They still, however, comprise Chapters II., III. and IV. of the present volume.—Ed.]

admitting there were strong reasons for defending
Lady Byron, he deeply regretted a necessity he was too just to dispute. The case for Lady Byron (as presented at pages 179-180 in Sir Leslie Stephen’s words) rests upon the testimony of Dr. Lushington, Colonel Doyle, Robert Wilmot, Lord Byron, and Mrs. Leigh, as well as Lady Byron herself, in the document at page 46 and the letters in Chapter IV. Chapter V should also be referred to. Some very remarkable words will be found in Byron’s reply to his wife’s assurance of December 10, 1820, that “the past should not prevent her from befriending Augusta Leigh.” He declares in the letter of December 28, 1820 (printed on pages 111-112), that his life with Augusta had been perfectly distinct from his life with Lady Byron: “When one ceased, the other began—and now both are closed.” He adds: “She [Augusta] and two others were the only things I ever really loved.” (See Chapter V, pages 112-113). To make the story more intelligible, an epitome of events and correspondence from June, 1813, to December, 1820, is included in Chapters II to V, with textual evidence of the most essential points; and nothing is stated that I am not in a position to authenticate by papers in my possession; but it would serve no purpose to elucidate every detail of the history on this occasion.

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.1

It would have been betrayal of a trust to be silent, and I was driven virtually unaided to discover as best I could by a process of failure how to execute a difficult and thankless task. Much of it was badly done, and none as it should have been. The crudest and weakest places might perhaps be considerably amended, even at my hands, if it were worth while or practicable to undertake so heavy a labour over again. But, after all, evidences speak for themselves, and are faithfully recorded, though no great advocate has been found to introduce and make the most of them, and though the great mass of important evidence has been left aside for the present. However unsatisfactory the work, and inadequate to consume a vast palace of lies, nothing can be made worse by what I do; any change must be some diminution of injury and fiction about everything connected with the name of Byron. Great structures of secret fraud may sometimes fall at a touch: “Souvent en arrachant un brin d’herbe, on fait crouler une grande ruine.”2

Byron’s character was a labyrinth of irreconcilables. Every conclusion requires qualification. One view is limited by another, both being equally real though in apparent contradiction to each other.3

Subject to this reserve, I do not think I have made any statements likely to admit of specific modification. Opinions and inferences have been formed and stated with care and sincerity; whether they find favour everywhere is of minor importance; and no one, I think, can possibly expect me to “contradict the contradictor,” answer questions, or promise to look at

1 [See Introduction. This change has now been effected.—Ed.]

2 Congrès de Vérone.

3 “Si vous avez le malheur, dans un débat, d’introduire deux idées qui se limitent l’une l’autre, vous voyez sourire tout l’auditoire, qui semble se dire: ‘En voila un qui se contredit!’ L’homme naturel, quand il n’est pas dans un grand repos et soumis à un régime tres-rafraîchissant, ne peut etre possédé que par une seule idée ou un seul sentiment. C’est même l’histoire tragique de toutes lea sottises et de la moitié des crimes de l’humanité.” (X. Doudan to L. de Viel-Castel, 22 juillet, 1858.)

what strangers may say. I put on record certain facts and repudiate those deceptions which I ought to notice.

Having done so, nothing is further from my mind than to take part in discussion; and I shall adhere in silence to what I have written.

July 31, 1905.
M. C. L.