'It has been intimated to me that the persons understood to be the legal advisers of Lady Byron have declared "their lips to be sealed up" on the cause of the separation between her and myself. If their lips are sealed up, they are not sealed up by me, and the greatest favour they can confer upon me will be to open them. From the first hour in which I was apprised of the intentions of the Noel family to the last communication between Lady Byron and myself in the character of wife and husband (a period of some months), I called repeatedly and in vain for a statement of their or her charges, and it was chiefly in consequence of Lady Byron's claiming (in a letter still existing) a promise on my part to consent to a separation, if such was really her wish, that I consented at all; this claim, and the exasperating and inexpiable manner in which their object was pursued, which rendered it next to an impossibility that two persons so divided could ever be reunited, induced me reluctantly then, and repentantly still, to sign the deed, which I shall be happy – most happy – to cancel, and go before any tribunal which may discuss the business in the most public manner.
'Mr. Hobhouse made this proposition on my part, viz. to abrogate all prior intentions – and go into court – the very day before the separation was signed, and it was declined by the other party, as also the publication of the correspondence during the previous discussion. Those propositions I beg here to repeat, and to call upon her and hers to say their worst, pledging myself to meet their allegations, – whatever they may be, – and only too happy to be informed at last of their real nature.
'August 9, 1817.
'P.S. – I have been, and am now, utterly ignorant of what description her allegations, charges, or whatever name they may have assumed, are; and am as little aware for what purpose they have been kept back, – unless it was to sanction the most infamous calumnies by silence.
'La Mira, near Venice.'
It appears the circulation of this document must have been very private, since Moore, not over-delicate towards Lady Byron, did not think fit to print it; since John Murray neglected it, and since it has come out at this late hour for the first time.
If Lord Byron really desired Lady Byron and her legal counsel to understand the facts herein stated, and was willing at all hazards to bring on an open examination, why was this privately circulated? Why not issued as a card in the London papers? Is it likely that Mr. Matthew Gregory Lewis, and a chosen band of friends acting as a committee, requested an audience with Lady Byron, Sir Samuel Romilly, and Dr. Lushington, and formally presented this cartel of defiance?
We incline to think not. We incline to think that this small serpent, in company with many others of like kind, crawled secretly and privately around, and when it found a good chance, bit an honest Briton, whose blood was thenceforth poisoned by an undetected falsehood.
The reader now may turn to the letters that Mr. Moore has thought fit to give us of this stay at La Mira, beginning with Letter 286, dated July 1, 1817,[10 - Vol. iv. p. 40.] where he says: 'I have been working up my impressions into a Fourth Canto of Childe Harold,' and also 'Mr. Lewis is in Venice. I am going up to stay a week with him there.'
Next, under date La Mira, Venice, July 10,[11 - Ibid. p. 46.] he says, 'Monk Lewis is here; how pleasant!'
Next, under date July 20, 1817, to Mr. Murray: 'I write to give you notice that I have completed the fourth and ultimate canto of Childe Harold… It is yet to be copied and polished, and the notes are to come.'
Under date of La Mira, August 7, 1817, he records that the new canto is one hundred and thirty stanzas in length, and talks about the price for it. He is now ready to launch it on the world; and, as now appears, on August 9, 1817, two days after, he wrote the document above cited, and put it into the hands of Mr. Lewis, as we are informed, 'for circulation among friends in England.'
The reason of this may now be evident. Having prepared a suitable number of those whom he calls in his notes to Murray 'the initiated,' by private documents and statements, he is now prepared to publish his accusations against his wife, and the story of his wrongs, in a great immortal poem, which shall have a band of initiated interpreters, shall be read through the civilised world, and stand to accuse her after his death.
In the Fourth Canto of 'Childe Harold,' with all his own overwhelming power of language, he sets forth his cause as against the silent woman who all this time had been making no party, and telling no story, and whom the world would therefore conclude to be silent because she had no answer to make. I remember well the time when this poetry, so resounding in its music, so mournful, so apparently generous, filled my heart with a vague anguish of sorrow for the sufferer, and of indignation at the cold insensibility that had maddened him. Thousands have felt the power of this great poem, which stands, and must stand to all time, a monument of what sacred and solemn powers God gave to this wicked man, and how vilely he abused this power as a weapon to slay the innocent.
It is among the ruins of ancient Rome that his voice breaks forth in solemn imprecation: —
'O Time, thou beautifier of the dead,
Adorner of the ruin, comforter,
And only healer when the heart hath bled! —
Time, the corrector when our judgments err,
The test of truth, love, – sole philosopher,
For all besides are sophists, – from thy shrift
That never loses, though it doth defer! —
Time, the avenger! unto thee I lift
My hands and heart and eyes, and claim of thee a gift.
'If thou hast ever seen me too elate,
Hear me not; but if calmly I have borne
Good, and reserved my pride against the hate
Which shall not whelm me, let me not have worn
This iron in my soul in vain, – shall THEY not mourn?
And thou who never yet of human wrong
Left the unbalanced scale, great Nemesis,
Here where the ancients paid their worship long,
Thou who didst call the Furies from the abyss,
And round Orestes bid them howl and hiss
For that unnatural retribution, – just
Had it but come from hands less near, – in this
Thy former realm I call thee from the dust.
Dost thou not hear, my heart? awake thou shalt and must!
It is not that I may not have incurred
For my ancestral faults and mine, the wound
Wherewith I bleed withal, and had it been conferred
With a just weapon it had flowed unbound,
But now my blood shall not sink in the ground.
'But in this page a record will I seek;
Not in the air shall these my words disperse,
Though I be ashes, – a far hour shall wreak
The deep prophetic fulness of this verse,
And pile on human heads the mountain of my curse.
That curse shall be forgiveness. Have I not, —
Hear me, my Mother Earth! behold it, Heaven, —
Have I not had to wrestle with my lot?
Have I not suffered things to be forgiven?
Have I not had my brain seared, my heart riven,
Hopes sapped, name blighted, life's life lied away,
And only not to desperation driven,
Because not altogether of such clay
As rots into the soul of those whom I survey?
'From mighty wrongs to petty perfidy,
Have I not seen what human things could do, —
From the loud roar of foaming calumny,
To the small whispers of the paltry few,
And subtler venom of the reptile crew,
The Janus glance of whose significant eye,
Learning to lie with silence, would seem true,
And without utterance, save the shrug or sigh,
Deal round to happy fools its speechless obloquy?'[12 - The italics are mine.]
The reader will please notice that the lines in italics are almost, word for word, a repetition of the lines in italics in the former poem on his wife, where he speaks of a significant eye that has learned to lie in silence, and were evidently meant to apply to Lady Byron and her small circle of confidential friends.
Before this, in the Third Canto of 'Childe Harold,' he had claimed the sympathy of the world, as a loving father, deprived by a severe fate of the solace and society of his only child: —
'My daughter, – with this name my song began, —
My daughter, – with this name my song shall end, —
I see thee not and hear thee not, but none
Can be so wrapped in thee; thou art the friend
To whom the shadows of far years extend.
'To aid thy mind's developments, to watch