'I am too well avenged, but 'twas my right;
Whate'er my sins might be, thou wert not sent
To be the Nemesis that should requite,
Nor did Heaven choose so near an instrument.
Mercy is for the merciful! If thou
Hast been of such, 't will be accorded now.
Thy nights are banished from the realms of sleep,
For thou art pillowed on a curse too deep;
Yes! they may flatter thee, but thou shalt feel
A hollow agony that will not heal.
Thou hast sown in my sorrow, and must reap
The bitter harvest in a woe as real.
I have had many foes, but none like thee;
For 'gainst the rest myself I could defend,
And be avenged, or turn them into friend;
But thou, in safe implacability,
Hast naught to dread, – in thy own weakness shielded,
And in my love, which hath but too much yielded,
And spared, for thy sake, some I should not spare.
And thus upon the world, trust in thy truth,
And the wild fame of my ungoverned youth, —
On things that were not and on things that are, —
Even upon such a basis thou hast built
A monument whose cement hath been guilt!
The moral Clytemnestra of thy lord,
And hewed down with an unsuspected sword
Fame, peace, and hope, and all that better life
Which, but for this cold treason of thy heart,
Might yet have risen from the grave of strife
And found a nobler duty than to part.
But of thy virtues thou didst make a vice,
Trafficking in them with a purpose cold,
And buying others' woes at any price,
For present anger and for future gold;
And thus, once entered into crooked ways,
The early truth, that was thy proper praise,
Did not still walk beside thee, but at times,
And with a breast unknowing its own crimes,
Deceits, averments incompatible,
Equivocations, and the thoughts that dwell
In Janus spirits, the significant eye
That learns to lie with silence[2 - The italics are mine.], the pretext
Of prudence with advantages annexed,
The acquiescence in all things that tend,
No matter how, to the desired end, —
All found a place in thy philosophy.
The means were worthy and the end is won.
I would not do to thee as thou hast done.'
Now, if this language means anything, it means, in plain terms, that, whereas, in her early days, Lady Byron was peculiarly characterised by truthfulness, she has in her recent dealings with him acted the part of a liar, – that she is not only a liar, but that she lies for cruel means and malignant purposes, – that she is a moral assassin, and her treatment of her husband has been like that of the most detestable murderess and adulteress of ancient history, – that she has learned to lie skilfully and artfully, that she equivocates, says incompatible things, and crosses her own tracks, – that she is double-faced, and has the art to lie even by silence, and that she has become wholly unscrupulous, and acquiesces in anything, no matter what, that tends to the desired end, and that end the destruction of her husband. This is a brief summary of the story that Byron made it his life's business to spread through society, to propagate and make converts to during his life, and which has been in substance reasserted by 'Blackwood' in a recent article this year.
Now, the reader will please to notice that this poem is dated in September 1816, and that on the 29th of March of that same year, he had thought proper to tell quite another story. At that time the deed of separation was not signed, and negotiations between Lady Byron, acting by legal counsel, and himself were still pending. At that time, therefore, he was standing in a community who knew all he had said in former days of his wife's character, who were in an aroused and excited state by the fact that so lovely and good and patient a woman had actually been forced for some unexplained cause to leave him. His policy at that time was to make large general confessions of sin, and to praise and compliment her, with a view of enlisting sympathy. Everybody feels for a handsome sinner, weeping on his knees, asking pardon for his offences against his wife in the public newspapers.
The celebrated 'Fare thee well', as we are told, was written on the 17th of March, and accidentally found its way into the newspapers at this time 'through the imprudence of a friend whom he allowed to take a copy.' These 'imprudent friends' have all along been such a marvellous convenience to Lord Byron.
But the question met him on all sides, What is the matter? This wife you have declared the brightest, sweetest, most amiable of beings, and against whose behaviour as a wife you actually never had nor can have a complaint to make, – why is she now all of a sudden so inflexibly set against you?
This question required an answer, and he answered by writing another poem, which also accidentally found its way into the public prints. It is in his 'Domestic Pieces,' which the reader may refer to at the end of this volume, and is called 'A Sketch.'
There was a most excellent, respectable, well-behaved Englishwoman, a Mrs. Clermont,[3 - In Lady Blessington's 'Memoirs' this name is given Charlemont; in the late 'Temple Bar' article on the character of Lady Byron it is given Clermont. I have followed the latter.] who had been Lady Byron's governess in her youth, and was still, in mature life, revered as her confidential friend. It appears that this person had been with Lady Byron during a part of her married life, especially the bitter hours of her lonely child-bed, when a young wife so much needs a sympathetic friend. This Mrs. Clermont was the person selected by Lord Byron at this time to be the scapegoat to bear away the difficulties of the case into the wilderness.
We are informed in Moore's Life what a noble pride of rank Lord Byron possessed, and how when the headmaster of a school, against whom he had a pique, invited him to dinner, he declined, saying, 'To tell you the truth, Doctor, if you should come to Newstead, I shouldn't think of inviting you to dine with me, and so I don't care to dine with you here.' Different countries, it appears, have different standards as to good taste; Moore gives this as an amusing instance of a young lord's spirit.
Accordingly, his first attack against this 'lady,' as we Americans should call her, consists in gross statements concerning her having been born poor and in an inferior rank. He begins by stating that she was
'Born in the garret, in the kitchen bred,
Promoted thence to deck her mistress' head;
Next – for some gracious service unexpressed
And from its wages only to be guessed —
Raised from the toilet to the table, where
Her wondering betters wait behind her chair.
With eye unmoved and forehead unabashed.
She dines from off the plate she lately washed;
Quick with the tale, and ready with the lie,
The genial confidante and general spy, —
Who could, ye gods! her next employment guess, —
An only infant's earliest governess!
What had she made the pupil of her art
None knows; but that high soul secured the heart,
And panted for the truth it could not hear
With longing soul and undeluded ear!'[4 - The italics are mine.]
The poet here recognises as a singular trait in Lady Byron her peculiar love of truth, – a trait which must have struck everyone that had any knowledge of her through life. He goes on now to give what he certainly knew to be the real character of Lady Byron: —
'Foiled was perversion by that youthful mind,
Which flattery fooled not, baseness could not blind,
Deceit infect not, nor contagion soil,
Indulgence weaken, or example spoil,
Nor mastered science tempt her to look down
On humbler talent with a pitying frown,
Nor genius swell, nor beauty render vain,
Nor envy ruffle to retaliate pain.
We are now informed that Mrs. Clermont, whom he afterwards says in his letters was a spy of Lady Byron's mother, set herself to make mischief between them. He says: —
'If early habits, – those strong links that bind
At times the loftiest to the meanest mind,
Have given her power too deeply to instil
The angry essence of her deadly will;
If like a snake she steal within your walls,