6 AUGUST 1921, Page 17



LORD Lovment, in our opinion, did right in putting on record the facts about the Byron separation in his original Astark • deatts. By Ralph Bart of LoVelaaa. : Christopher.' [185. net.]

volume. That ho did not do it in quite the right way did not alter his obligation to tell the truth. Lady Lovelace has also done right in publishing the new edition, which illuminates some of the matters which Lord Lovelace left dark, or, to put it in a more precise way, makes certain instead of uncertain

several points upon which his statements were insufficient and unsatisfactory. He thought he had said enough to prove his case, but, in fact, he had suggested rather than proved.

Before we say anything about the book in detail and the new matter supplied by Lady Lovelace, we must meet the argument so often raised. Why could not, first, Lord Lovelace, and then Lady Lovelace, leave the matter alone ? Why, even if we grant that their case is made out, should they not have allowed the scandal to die away altogether ? What was the use of raking it up after the lapse of a hundred years ? There will only be one answer for people who care for the truth, who believe that it will prevail and ought to prevail, and who regard it as an imperative duty to assist in the recording of the truth wherever possible.

But though this abstract desire to ascertain the truth and to put it on record would have been, in our opinion, an amply suffi- cient ground for his action, Lord Lovelace had another. When, sixty years ago, Mrs. Beecher Stowe published the article in Macmillan's Magazine which started the Byron controversy, Lord Lovelace was a young man. Ho was the grandson of the poet, and also, of course, the grandson of Lady Byron. Therefore, do what he would, he could not keep clear of the great breach which had taken place between them. Unless he had been a man utterly careless and cynical—a man of stone—he was obliged to have an opinion on the essential point. The world was fighting hard and dealing fierce blows on the question whether his grandfather had behaved like the worst of criminals and blackguards to his own wife, or whether the wife had acted cruelly and priggishly, and had circulated in secrecy the most odious and yet perfectly untrue stories about her husband. In such circumstances how could Lord Lovelace avoid inquiring into the matter ? What rendered this duty more imperative was the fact that about the time of the Beecher Stowe revelations he had become the possessor of the papers which contained the full story and made him master of the secret. Most naturally, nay inevitably, ho began to make a thorough investigation of the story. The result of the reading of the papers and the weighing of the evidence at his disposal was that he became convinced, as indeed must any man placed as he was, that Mrs. Beecher Stowe's story was true, and that Byron was guilty of an incestuous intrigue with his half-sister, Mrs. Leigh. Worse, he could not be excused on the grounds of madness.

When 'circumstances thus forced Lord Lovelace to look into the whole matter, and when he had come to the conclusion we have just described, can anyone say that he would have been right not to have given to the world what he could not help realizing was the truth and the whole truth 1 Can anyone say that he should have turned the key of this literary poison- cupboard and said : " It is a nasty story, and though I have

come to certain conclusions, I do not mean to tell them " ? Instead of blaming him, we must surely praise him for deciding that, as he knew the truth, he should put it on record and let other people know it too. In the case of a man of Byron's reputation, it would be idle to say that the public did not really care about the facts, that he was a private individual, and that there was no occasion for anyone to pry into his affairs. The poet was a world genius, his affairs had

always been under discussion, and therefore it was necessary to know the truth about them, and not to let matters that could be settled remain in perpetual doubt, for remember this was

the alternative. Nobody can think it possible that the scandal would really have died out. It would have been constantly revived, and from the half-facts or wrong facts abundant false legends would have been concocted.

But. Lord Lovelace had an extra reason for publicity, and one which, to our mind, was very much to his credit. The people

who protected the character of his grandfather thought- it

necessary in doing so to defame his grandmother. Lord Lovelace knew her himself and respected her memory, and he could not bear the idea that she, an innocent woman, should be defamed in order to keep obscure the criminal lusts and cruelties of his grandfather. No doubt he admired, pitied, and in a sense made excuses for that grandfather and would have liked to protect him, but he was determined that in doing so he would not throw Lady Byron to the wolves. Accordingly, he published the true version of the story after grave deliberation and only after making sure of the facts.

His doubts and hesitations as to putting the facts on record seem to have been determined by the publication of the complete edition of Byron's prose and poetical works. In the manner of publication, however, Lord Lovelace did not, we think, show good judgment. In the first plane, his attempt at what might be called a concealed publicity was a failure, and did just what he wanted to avoid. It created a special and, on the whole, obnoxious interest in his book. Next, he was so anxious not to say too much and not to publish anything more than the minimum proof required that he ended by not giving sufficient proof—by leaving, that is, opportunities for persons who were, and small blame to them, unwilling to accept Byron's guilt so long as they could find any reasonable grounds for saying that it was a case of not proven.

In a word, Lord Lovelace did not observe the good rule that when you are dealing with revelations it is often more dangerous to say too little than too much. When public opinion is excited and involved, you may be quite sure that you will not be allowed to rest on half-revelations. The whole will have to come out. It was because of his over-scrupulosity that Lord Lovelace became engaged in a controversy which was most disagreeable to him, and which obliged him to charge his widow with the duty that he felt must be undertaken in the interests of truth. Lady Lovelace has taken up the grievous burden by the publi- cation in the present volume of the letters which began to pass between Lord Byron and Mrs. Leigh immediately after the separation—letters which make it impossible to doubt the accuracy of the accusations.

One of the obstacles to convincing people of the truth in the Byron controversy is a very curious one. People say : " How is it possible to believe Mrs.. Beecher Stowe's story in face of the fact that Lady Byron remained on friendly terms with Mrs.. Leigh during the whole of her life 1" The answer is to be found in the mental configuration of Lady Byron. She was a woman of no small power of mind_ and character, but too much of a philosopher for the rough and tumble of life, or at any rate too much of a philosopher to make life easy for herself. She was almost the very reverse of what Byron. tried to persuade the British. people that she was a cold, hard, correct, pitiless, evangelical prig, who, if her moral and religious ideas were outraged, would stop at nothing in the way of exacting punishment, nay, revenge. As a matter of fact, Lady Byron was a woman who was essentially forgiving and cruelty-hating- almost punishment-hating. She had a great deal of the passion of humanity in her, but very little of the passion of hatred or of combat. She was almost without• the desire to win or to put herself in the right ; she was almost over-tender to sufferers.

She considered her sister-in-law to be a victim, and therefore she thought it her duty—and duty with her was always the com- pelling word--to do everything she could to help and redeem Mrs. Leigh and to save her from Byron and from herself. She carried this spirit so far that if she had been able to convince herself that Byron was mad, as she first thought he was, she would willingly have endured for life the torture at his hands which she endured for the first ten or eleven months of her marriage. It was only when she found that no excuse could be made for him on the grounds of insanity that she felt separation was absolutely necessary, as, of course, it was. No woman who was not a self-determined martyr could have endured the life she would have had to endure unless fortified by some impulse such as that of protecting the insane from their own horrible acts. That Mrs. Leigh in mind, if not in body, betrayed Lady Byron's efforts does not matter. Again, the fact that Lady Byron exposed herself to the risk of Byron making her kindness to. Mrs. Leigh and even to himself a ground for what approached blackmail constitutes no condemnation of Lady Byron, though it is a black condemnation of Lord Byron. He used his own wickedness as an instrument for getting his own way in the various controversies with his wife. He used to threaten to come back to England and claim his daughter, and drag the whole scandal out before the public. There are letters which contain threats which can only mean : " If you push me too far I will expose the whole business, and how would you like that for your daughter ? "

Lady Byron bore these threats with extraordinary coolness and good- sense, and recognized the kind of effect they would

have on Mrs. Leigh. Therefore you have the singular circum- stances of Lady Byron actually suffering censure because she

would not allow the partner of Byron's guilt to be exposed and her feelings lacerated. And yet Lady Byron well knew how unsatisfactory a character and nature Mrs. Leigh had. Presumably this expert in self-sacrifice would have answered such a plea : " Yes, but that did not make her want my aid any the less, but very much the more. I was not going to make

things easier for myself by abandoning the chance of rescuing her."

We have spoken of Mrs. Leigh as being Byron's victim, and so

we believe with Lady Byron that she was. At the same time, she herself, in one of the most incriminating of her letters, tries to

protect Byron by saying that it was she and not he who was to blame ! Very possibly this was true, but that really only amounts to saying what we knew before—that she was the kind of weak, pleasure-loving woman who would fall a victim to a man like Byron at the slightest sign. The whole trio were certainly strange people. In two of them there was a. moral depravity and obliquity which can hardly be exaggerated, while in the third, that is in Lady Byron, there was a grandeur and kindliness

of temperament mixed with a curious vein of logic and of the power of rationalizing which often misled her in treading the

stony paths of life. If she had had a little more passion and a little more inclination to be led rather by instinct than by reason,

her life would probably have been a happier one. If you can imagine her bringing herself to say to Byron : "If you think you are going to frighten me by talking about your having committed three unforgivable sins, or by your going about the house in tantrums over your remorse for your misdeeds, you

are very much mistaken. Pull yourself together lire a man and don't behave like a stage-struck lunatic." But, alas I she was much too kind-hearted a woman ever to tackle a man in that way.

Before we Leave the book we may express our great satisfaction that Lady Lovelace has restored to us the wonderful opening lines written as an introduction to " Lora." They bear an evil implication in the present controversy, but they are great poetry.

" When she is gone—the loved, the lost—the one Whose smile hath gladdened. though perchance undone—

Whose name too dearly cherished to impart

Dies on the lip but trembles in the heart ;

Whose sudden mention can almost convulse And lighten& through the ungovernable pulse—.

Till the heart leaps so keenly to the word

We fear that throb can hardly beat unheard—

Then sinks at once beneath that sickly chill

That follows when we find her absent still— When such is gone—too far again to bless— Oh God—how slowly comes Forgetfulness—

Let none complain. how faithless and how brief

The brain's remembrance or the bosom's grief— Or e'er they thus forbid us to forgot—

Let Mercy strip the memory of regret,

Yet—selfish still—we would not be forgot—

What lip dare say—' my Love—remember not—'

Oh best—and dearest—thou whose thrilling name— My heart adores too deeply to proclaim—

My memory almost ceasing to repine Would mount to Hope if once secure of thine.

Meantime the tale I weave must mournful be—

As absence to the heart that lives on thee."