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George Gordon Byron, Lord Byron

Sixth Baron Byron of Rochdale

 

 

 

 

 

WELCOME TO

Byronmania

 

This electronic journal is intended to be an environment in which

 Byron-maniacs around the world can publish their thoughts

 

It is a place for more extended writing than a chat group can accommodate

A place for speculation, conversation, adoration

 

More accessible and informal than an academic journal

 

You don’t have to be famous, respected - or even old - to contribute 

 

You just have to have something interesting to say and be able to say it - clearly

 

Or have an interesting question to ask.

Or be able to answer a question with some authority.

 

About the people, places, politics, religions

scrapes, japes and poesies associated with

 

The Right Honourable George Gordon Lord Byron

 

the real, original,

Regency Romantic hero

in boots,

pantaloons

and many caped coat,

 athlete,

revolutionary,

philosopher,

poet

 

born deformed,

victim of child abuse,

 advocate of paederasty,

Old English Baron

rake, debtor,

hounded by the press,

ostracised because of rumours of sexual deviations and irreligion,

abandoned by his wife,

source of the Vampyre,

legendary bi-sexual lover

and 

freedom fighter.

 

 


               


Byronmania

Volume one, Number one

 

 

 

George Gordon Byron and Augusta Byron Leigh

“Strangely Fraternal”

 

“you would think me grown strangely fraternal” Byron to Augusta - June 26, 1813


 

Almost everyone knows something about Lord Byron.

Unfortunately, like many things “everyone knows” these are, at best, distortions of the facts

 

“He was one of the Romantic poets - like Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley.”

 

Byron hated the “Lakers” as he called Wordsworth and the similar Romantic poets.  He admired classic form and rules, the poetry of Pope and satire.  Shelley became a personal friend and he influenced Byron’s poetry.

 

“His early poems are trash.”

 

Many of his earliest poems are funny and lovely - and display his trademark facetiousness and passionate emotion.

 

“He was a drunk and drug addict- they all were - smoked opium.”

 

He was not a heavy drinker.  He drank wine with dinner, champagne with women and brandy with friends.  He smoked cigars and took laudanum when ill - to doctor’s prescription.  After returning from Turkey in 1811, he drank only water and did not eat meat.  His contemporaries criticized him for being abstemious.

 

“He had a clubbed foot.”

 

He had a congenital defect in his leg (the right - probably - although there is argument about which one) that caused his foot to turn in.  He had poor medical treatment as a child that aggravated the problem.  He walked with a limp and couldn’t (or wouldn’t) dance - especially not the waltz, but he could run and played cricket for Harrow against Rugby.

 

“He was a lonely outsider - had no friends - nobody knew him.”

 

His school and college friends were aristocrats and the son’s of politicians and were devoted to him.  He had a widespread reputation as a rake and was elected a member of the gambling club Watiers.  He was one of the original Dandies and a friend of Beau Brummell. He had a solid reputation as a poet by the age of twenty.

 

“He was homosexual.”

 

He had passionate “romantic” friendships with other boys at school at Harrow.  He fell in love with John Edelston, a boy chorister in the church at Cambridge.  He discussed “paederasty” and proposed writing a “treatise” on it. When he was in Greece he wrote letters to England about sexual conquests of boys and his last, but unrequited passion was for a Greek boy of fifteen.  He also “had “ several hundred women - so bisexual or hyper-sexual is more correct.

 

“Lady Caroline Lamb wrote that Byron was “mad, bad and dangerous to know.”

 

Lady Morgan wrote it.  She said Caroline Lamb had told her she had written  “mad, bad and dangerous to know” in her diary the first evening she saw Byron.

 

“Byron was a cad and abandoned his heartbroken lover, Lady Caroline Lamb.”

 

Caroline Lamb was older than Byron and a married woman.  She seduced him when he became a famous and admired poet.  She was bold about it and wanted everyone to know of her “conquest”.  They were lovers for about three months but her behaviour embarrassed Byron and her family, especially because her husband was a politician. Her mother in-law, Lady Melbourne, befriended Byron and convinced him to break off the relationship.  Her family take her away to Ireland to break up their love affair and Byron moved on to be lover of the famous beauty Lady Oxford. 

 

“He was exiled to Europe.”

 

He left England because he wanted to.  He was being hounded by the press and public after his separation from his wife, but he had been planning to leave for three or four years, and intended to return. He preferred to live in Italy because of the climate and because it was inexpensive.

 

“He was very extravagant, but miserly to friends”

 

He was in debt all his life.  He did not have a great fortune even though he had an estate of thousands of acres because of law suits and low rents.  Just before he died the law suits were settled and he was rich.  Byron had got into debt when he was seventeen years old and had borrowed money at exorbitant rates.  He took many years to pay it off, which required the selling of the family estates.   None the less, he was very generous to family, friends, and strangers and embarrassed when he could not afford to help people financially.

 

“He slept with his sister.”

 

He loved his sister - and wrote several poems about her love for him and a verse drama about incestuous love. He wrote many passionate letters to her from Italy. Did he make love with her?

 

 

Read the rest of this journal and decide for yourself.

 

Anne Ridsdale Mott

January 22, 1998

 


 

 

A Conversation  with Bernard Beatty of the University of Liverpool,

 editor of the Byron Journal ,

on implications of

Childe Harold’s “pure love” for his sister

 

 

A.R.M.:

Byron changed his mind but I don't think he ever lied ----- using Childe Harold as evidence ---- he stated in stanza LV of Canto III “though unwed, That  love was pure” of his love for his sister ---- so I've always believed it WAS so, and probably she was deprived, poor thing !  ! ! !  It's always the unconsummated loves that burn into the soul. In which case, what DID bother him and Lady M. in the summer of 1813?

 

B.B.

I don't see that 'That love was pure' necessarily implies the absence of sexual relations. He may simply have meant 'wholly meant', 'not lustful' 'still continuing' 'bound up with an idea of purity'.

In the ‘Thyrza’ poems he talks of a pure kiss which forbore the warmer wish.

I suppose that tells for you since it may imply that the warmer wish would not be pure but it could imply the possibility of the conjunction of purity and intercourse. Byron calls (I think, doesn't he?) the love of Juan and Haidee 'pure' but that is certainly sexual.

So the argument still has to be made there.

 

A.R.M.

Maybe so -  but I think that Juan and Haidee have 'pure hearts' not a 'pure love'.

In my edition of C.H.[Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage] the word 'That' is italicised - indicating a difference from other loves that were not 'pure'.  He would have been well aware at that time that many people believed the opposite of his love for Augusta and may have been trying to put a 'spin' on things. He was usually, however, painfully truthful to the point of masochism.

Of all men I doubt Byron would separate lust and physical intercourse.  He seems very clear about it, and not very troubled by it. 

Lust and love, on the other hand really screwed him up (pun intended). He loved John Edelston emotionally, physically, but apparently not “warmly “(meaning 'carnal knowledge'?). He "esteemed" Annabella and 'had her on the sofa before dinner' then got her with child in no time ('pure' because married?).  He went to Venice and (calling a whore a whore) indulged in his hobby of 'carnal recreation' - and then along came Teresa who wouldn't even accept a brooch, but jumped him as fast as she could - and inventively too - and he found himself very close to becoming the whore in that relationship himself. But he loved her and that made it all right - but definitely not 'pure' in any way.

 

B.B.

The present Pope annoyed lots of people by saying that some marital intercourse was lustful and some wasn't. He wasn't saying anything new. Aquinas argues with great perspicacity that it would be very difficult to get rid of an intrinsically separable concupiscence in love-making though you could very nearly do so (before the Fall, concupiscence would be wholly incorporated into amor, and sex would be much better-- i.e. more pleasurable).

I suspect Lord B would agree with this. Probably he entertained contradictory views on the coincidence of purity and sexual love (or took the advantage of available rhetorical forms of expression).

So the argument still has to be made there.

 

A.R.M.

I'm trying ! ! !

 When it gets down to defining 'the conjunction of purity and intercourse' you have an argument to make too ! ! ! ! with every prude and puritan in the world on the other side. What then would be impure? sexual contact without love I suppose - like Byron with his wife (at least at first).

The Pope's observation mystifies me - I can't comprehend pleasurable lust free 'amor'ous sexual intercourse in or out of marriage. What would this loving but cold sex be like? What do they DO of an evening?  If it exists it seems ghoulish - and deviant.  It doesn't sound as if old St. Thomas A. managed it, either.

Why are the Fathers of the Church (Augustine, St. Tom, His Current Holiness) so disturbed by lust anyway?  To be upset by it, it must not be godly, if not godly then of evil, if of evil then of the Devil.

If one believes in the personification of evil as having concrete or even psychological powers then monotheism has to be abandoned and with it the teachings of Christ.  This would seem a greater danger than ecstasy of the flesh.

Bernini did a nice job of summing it all up in his altar piece of St. Teresa. Have you read that stuff of the ecstatic nuns? - decidedly concupiscent - all about dissolving into the body of Christ as his bride. (a metaphor? - balderdash ! ! ! )

Love without lust is easy - and everywhere - many women claim to prefer it. Lust without love? I think our hero called it 'carnal recreation'- In my opinion, he was comfortably consistent in his paradoxical views.

 

B.B.

See above. Neuha in The Island is, if not pure in the sense of Aurora, certainly not impure. cf Angiolina in Marino Faliero (despite Steno's accusation). Parisina's love is not pure cf. Paolo and Francesca. an example that influenced Byron a lot (I think) is Dryden's version of Boccaccio's 'Sigismonda and Guiscardo' (Boccaccio in Dryden's Fables). Sigismonda is a model for Marina in The Two Foscari. She is both pure and aggressively sexual.

 

A.R.M.

I am nervous analysing the MAN's opinions by analysing the POET's characters.

I much prefer to rely on letters and journals to get at his (personal) thoughts. My reasons are exactly those 'rhetorical forms of expression' you referred to above.

Hasn't our discussion of "pure" deteriorated into semantics?  Denotations and connotations shift with the wind.

 

B.B.

I don't agree with you about connotations. WE disagree. It's not a matter of psyche (connotations, different experience) but of possible argument-- we don't get into the merely subjective that quick.

I don't agree also, I'm afraid, that we get at Byron's views more exactly from his prose rather than his poetry. Of course, poetry is not the straight expression of his views. But conversely, the straight expression of views,-for anyone but especially Byron--is itself stylised and extremely limited it only uses a small bit of him. Poetry uses more and reveals more.

I've always thought this. We should read his prose in the light of his poetry and not the other way round.

 

A.R.M.

I am a painter. I have strong opinions of the relationship between artists, their creations and their audience. My work, if done to be sold, is not the same as work done for myself. It takes the audience into account, even if only unconsciously.  When we approach a work of art, as audience, we bring along our vocabulary - and read into it what we can.

The essence of genius, to me, is the ability to create works that resonate with many audiences.  Byron was - is - a genius.  I 'know' what he meant by 'That love was pure', and so do you, but we disagree about it because our connotations are different. I think the only word of those four that can be easily agreed on is 'was' ! ! ! ! ! !

But for me, as a lover of Lord Byron the man, not the poet, those words are a message across the centuries.  The same words about 'Thyrsa' are too. He is fiercely proud, and does not want to be misunderstood.

 

B.B.

I seem to have become ultra rational in a way. Yes language is slippery and resonates differently but the relativism you imply is simply not so -language can't work at all if we were to take that absolutely seriously.

Thus now there is a that in which we talk (can't point to it but if it wasn't there there could not even be a talk which claimed to be relativist and connotatory). The old word for this 'that in which' was 'truth' and I don't see that we can do without it. Byron, especially in Don Juan, insists on the slippery doubt-filled procedures of thought and language but, equally, he insists on the truth of his poetry and is careful to relate imagination to fact. He detested Wordsworth and distrusted Shelley and Keats's poetry because they drove a wedge between these things. He did not like an appeal to art which implied simple subjectivity or the unmitigated play of connotation.

So I suppose that does get us back to where we started. . . But in the process we seem to have blundered into a larger question about Byron and other things.


 

 

e-mail conversation January 1997

 

 


 

Byronic Calendars

“The Summer of His Discontent

 

June, July, August

and

September

1813

 

June 1813

 

Sun

Mon

Tue

Wed

Thu

Fri

Sat

 Where he is

Who he loves

What he is writing

What he is doing

Where he plans to go

How he feels

 

1

4 Bennet Street, London

Lady Oxford

The Giaour

first edition about to be printed

Naples

with the Oxfords

 

2

4 Bennet Street

Lady Oxford

The Giaour

Naples

 

3

to Salthill

Lady Oxford

The Giaour

revisions

Naples

 

4

Salthill

Lady Oxford

The Giaour

Naples

 

5

Salthill

Lady Oxford

The Giaour

Naples

 

6

Salthill

Lady Oxford

The Giaour

Naples

 

 

 

7

Salthill

Lady Oxford

The Giaour

Naples

 

8

4 Bennet Street

Lady Oxford

The Giaour

Naples

 

robust health

“fattening on misfortune”

 

9

Salthill

Lady Oxford

Naples

10

Salthill

Lady Oxford

Naples

 

 

11

Salthill

Lady Oxford

Naples

 

 

12

Salthill

Lady Oxford

Naples

with the Oxfords

selling his books

 

13

Maidenhead

Lady Oxford

Naples

 

14

Portsmouth

Lady Oxford

Naples

 

15

Portsmouth

Lady Oxford

Naples

 

16

Portsmouth

Lady Oxford

Naples

 

17

4 Bennet Street

Lady Oxford

The Levant

with Dr William Clark anatomist at Cambridge

18

4 Bennet Street

Lady Oxford

The Levant

 

19

4 Bennet Street

Lady Oxford

The Giaour

revisions

The Levant

20

4 Bennet Street

Lady Oxford

The Giaour

The Levant

21

4 Bennet Street

Mme De Stael

met at dinner

 

22

4 Bennet Street

Lady Oxford

The Giaour

The Levant

23

4 Bennet Street

Lady Oxford

The Levant

to Ly Westmorland

defends himself against accusations by Caroline Lamb

24

4 Bennet Street

Lady Oxford

 

 

25

4 Bennet Street

Lady Oxford

 

26

4 Bennet Street

 Phillips

sitting for his portrait

 

27

4 Bennet Street

Augusta Leigh

comes to London goes to Lady Davy’s with Byron meets Mme de Stael

28

4 Bennet Street

Lady Oxford

sails for Italy

 

29

4 Bennet Street

Lady Oxford

feels “Carolinish” about her

The Levant

agitated and upset

30

4 Bennet Street

Lady Oxford

The Levant

 

 

 

 

 

 

July 1813

 

Sun

Mon

Tue

Wed

Thu

Fri

Sat

 Where he is

Who he loves

What he is writing

What he is doing

Where he plans to go

How he feels

 

 

 

1

4 Bennet Street

Lady Oxford

The Giaour

The Levant

To Ldy Melbourne

“I have got to stand for my picture - & sit with my sister .  .  . I wish she were not married .  .  . Pour soul she likes her husband .  .  .   now she is married I trust she will remain so”

2

4 Bennet Street

Almack’s Masque with Augusta

3

4 Bennet Street

 

4

4 Bennet Street

 

5

4 Bennet Street

Ldy Caroline Lamb threaten’s Byron and cuts herself at Ldy Heathcote’s waltzing party

6

4 Bennet Street

to Ly Melbourne

about Caroline Lamb

 

agitated and upset

7

4 Bennet Street

 

8

4 Bennet Street

to Tom Moore

“my sister is in town which is a great comfort - for never having been much together we are naturally more attached to each other”

9

4 Bennet Street

 

10

4 Bennet Street

 

11

4 Bennet Street

Dr. William Clark

“Our sailing day is the 30th .. . . we should leave London on the 25th”

12

4 Bennet Street

 

13

4 Bennet Street

Ldy Adelaide Forbes

to Thomas Moore

“I am inclined ... to be seriously enamoured of Ly A.F.

“ Remember you must edite my posthumous works, with a Life of the Author”

to John Wilson Croker

asking for passage on a “ship of war”

14

4 Bennet Street

 

15

4 Bennet Street

trouble with debts

16

4 Bennet Street

 

17

4 Bennet Street

 

18

4 Bennet Street

to Hanson and Ly M

to refute rumours that Claughton is a young man ruined by  litigation over the Newstead contract

reported from Annabella Milbanke to Byron by Ly M

19

4 Bennet Street

 

20

4 Bennet Street?

or somewhere past Epping Forest

21

4 Bennet Street?

or somewhere past Epping Forest

 

 

22

4 Bennet Street?

 

23

4 Bennet Street?

 

24

4 Bennet Street?

 

25

4 Bennet Street

to Tom Moore

“I have been dining like the dragon of Wantley for this last week .  .  . the season has closed with a Dandy Ball

Since I wrote last [July 13] I have been into the country .  .  . crossing Epping Forest

26

4 Bennet Street

 

27

4 Bennet Street

 

28

4 Bennet Street

to Tom Moore

“I am in training to dine with Sheridan and Rogers this evening .  .

Perhaps I may wait a few weeks for Sligo; but not if I can help it

29

4 Bennet Street

 

30

4 Bennet Street

to Ly Melbourne

“Augusta . . .  writes today &the last thing she says - is ‘this must not go to Ly Me - & to punish you it shant”

31

4 Bennet Street

to Dr Willian Clark

“I am going out of town for a week .  .  . Six Mile Botm where I shall be for some days” “I leave town early tomorrow”

 

 

August 1813

 

Sun

Mon

Tue

Wed

Thu

Fri

Sat

1

Out of Town?

2

4 Bennet Street?

the Levant

with Dr Clark

“We sail on board the Boyne & must be at Portsmouth Saturday next

3

4 Bennet Street?

 

4

4 Bennet Street?

 

5

4 Bennet Street

the Levant

with Augusta, Dr Clark

to Ly Melbourne

My sister who  is going abroad with me is now in town.  .  . Ly. C may do as she pleases - if Augusta likes to take her she may - but in that case she travels by herself

6

4 Bennet Street

Second to Scrope Davies

in a gambling duel settled without fighting

7

4 Bennet Street

 

8

4 Bennet Street

 

9

4 Bennet Street

 

10

4 Bennet Street

The Giaour

revisions and additions

of 33 lines

11

4 Bennet Street

to Ly Melbourne

“how to untie two or three “Gordian Knots tied round me - I shall cut them without consulting anyone - though some are rather closely twisted round my heart-if you will allow me to wear one. .   perhaps I shall not see you again”

 

12

near London

to Wedderburn Webster

“I am going very soon- & if you would do the same thing - as far as Sicily- I am sure you would not be sorry - my Sister, Mrs. L goes with me - her spouse is obliged to retrench for a few years (but he stays at home)”

13

4 Bennet Street?

 

14

4 Bennet Street

 

15

4 Bennet Street

to Samuel Pratt

(Cobbler-poet Blacket’s sponsor)

a sombre, honest and reflective letter on his and his relations’ financial difficulties

[explaining to a stranger why he can’t give him money]

16

4 Bennet Street

 

17

4 Bennet Street

 

18

4 Bennet Street

to Ly Melbourne

“I am “a very weak person”

[a rambling and irrelevant letter that avoids what he wants to say]

19

4 Bennet Street

 

20

4 Bennet Street

to Ly Melbourne

“I have been eating and drinking - which I always do when wretched for then I grow fat and don’t show it - & now that I am in very good plight and spirits - I can’t leave off the custom”

“I have great hopes of sailing soon - for Cadiz I believe first”

21

4 Bennet Street

to Ly Melbourne

“She [Augusta] wants to go with me to Sicily or elsewhere - & I wish it also - but the intelligence of the plague is really too serious - & she would take one of the children . . .

after all I shall probably go alone”

 

22

4 Bennet Street

to Tom Moore

“the fact is, I am, at this moment, in a far more serious, and entirely new, scrape than any of the last twelvemonths, - and that is saying a good deal *** we can neither live with nor without these women” .

23

4 Bennet Street

to Ly Melbourne

“I have to write . . . a soothing letter to C a sentimental one to XYZ”

 

24

4 Bennet Street

 

 

25

4 Bennet Street

to Annabella Milbanke

“I preferred you to all others - it was then the fact - it is so still . . . I doubt whether I could help loving you . . . it is a difficult task for me to write to you at all - I have left many things unsaid - & have said others I did not mean to utter”

26

4 Bennet Street

The Giaour

“this snake of a poem”

4th and 5th editions

with additions grew to 1200 lines

27

4 Bennet Street

to Tom Moore

“I would incorporate with any woman of decent demeanor tomorrow - that is I would a month ago, but, at present, ***

28

4 Bennet Street

 

 

29

4 Bennet Street

 

30

4 Bennet Street

 

31

4 Bennet Street

to Ly Melbourne

“Your kind letter is unanswerable . . . I am still in town so that it has had all the effect you wish”

 

 

 

 

Where he is

Who he loves

What he is writing

What he is doing

Where he plans to go

How he feels

 

 

 

 

September 1813

 

Sun

Mon

Tue

Wed

Thu

Fri

Sat

 

 

 

1

4 Bennet Street

to Tom Moore

“I send you . . . a curious letter from a friend of mine which will let you into the origin of “the Giaour”. . . on account of a different story circulated by some gentlewoman of our acquaintance, [Caroline Lamb] a little too close to the text”

2

4 Bennet Street

to Wedderburn Webster

“My ship is not settled - my passage in the Boyne was for onle one servant - and would not do of course”

3

4 Bennet Street

 

4

4 Bennet Street

 

5

4 Bennet Street

to Ly Melbourne

“I return you the plan of Annabella’s spouse elect . . .  I do not understand it. . . she seems to have been spoiled . . . into an awkward kind of correctness”

to Tom Moore

“I quite sigh for a cider-cellar, or a cruise in a smuggler’s sloop”

 

6

4 Bennet Street

to Annabella Milbanke

“I look upon myself as a most facetious personage. . . nobody laughs more”

to Wedderburn Webster

“Have you ever a mansion untenanted in a decent situation within ten miles of your neighborhood?”

7

4 Bennet Street

to Ly Melbourne

“I dine out & am afraid I shall hardly be in time - but I will doubtless endeavour to have the pleasure of seeing you - I have a great many things to say”

8

4 Bennet Street

to Ly Melbourne

“I leave town tomorrow for a few days - come what may . . . you will probably hear of but not from me (of course) again . . . whatever I am -whatever & wherever I may be - believe me most truly your obliged & faithful B”

9

4 Bennet Street

to Thomas Phillips

“if I leave town it will only be for a few days . . . I do not expect to sail before October”

to Ly Melbourne

“Something has occurred which prevents my leaving town till Saturday perhaps till Sunday -”

 

10

4 Bennet Street

11

out of town?

12

out of town?

13

Cambridge

drank six bottles of burgundy and claret between eight and eleven in the evening tete a tete with Scrope Davies [from a letter to Augusta dated Sept 15]

 

 

 

feverish

14

to 4 Bennet Street at night -arrived at three in the morning

 

15

4 Bennet Street

to Augusta

“tonight I shall leave . . . again - perhaps for Aston - or Newstead - I have not determined - When my departure is arranged - & I can get this long- evaded  passage - you will be able to tell me whether I am to expect a visit or not - I can come for or meet you”

 

16

4 Bennet Street

to John Murray

“enquire after any ship with a convoy taking passengers  . . . I have a friend & 3 servants”

to Wedderburn Webster

“shortly after the receipt of this you may expect me . . . tomorrow or the next day”.

17

to Aston Hall Rotherham

 

18

Aston Hall Rotherham

19

Aston Hall Rotherham

 

20

Aston Hall Rotherham

 

21

Aston Hall Rotherham

to Ly Melbourne

“My stay at Cambridge was very  short. . . . W[ebster] has been lately at Newstead & wants to go again . . . a foolish nymph of the Abbey . . . was the attraction”

22

Aston Hall Rotherham

 

23

Aston Hall Rotherham

 

24

Aston Hall Rotherham

 

25

Stilton

to Wedderburn Webster

“I send you a cheese of 13 lbs. . . my love to the faithless Nettle [a poodle]”

26

to 4 Bennet Street

to Annabella Milbanke

“if I do not at present place implicit faith on tradition and revelation of any  human creed I hope it is not from a want of reverence for the Creator but the Created”

 

Met Southey at Holland House

27

4 Bennet Street

28

4 Bennet Street

to Ly Melbourne

“as innocently at Aston  - as during the “week” of immaculate memory last autumn at Middleton . . . ye. Giaour . . . .additions . . . you who know how my thoughts were occupied . . . will percieve in parts a coincidence in my own state of mind with that of my hero . . . I have tried & hardly too to vanquish my demon . . .  hereI am - what I am you know already - the epistles of your mathematician (A would now be ambiguous) continue-

29

4 Bennet Street

the Giaour

additions

Augusta

to Ly Melbourne

“I have been signing my will today”

[half his property willed to Augusta]

30

4 Bennet Street

Augusta

to Wedderburn Webster

I have not yet had my sister’s answer to Lady Frances’s very kind invitation . . .

on Sunday I shall leave town and mean to join you immediately”

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

The Summer of His Discontent:

The Case Against It Having Been Augusta

 

The Byron investigator suffers from an embarrassment of riches.  We have Byron’s self-referential poetry, twelve volumes of his letters and journals and, as he seems to have never thrown away a scrap of paper, even his childish notebooks and his laundry bills have been collected and published.  There are reminiscences and publications about him by intimate friends, lovers, literary rivals and his wife and descendants.  We can know his thoughts, his fears, his needs, his passions, what medicines he took, what jewelry he bought and what he ate for breakfast.  Its’ a rich, exciting and overwhelming resource.

 But, what about the “nil set”?  What’s missing?  Didn’t he manage to keep any secrets? 

The assumption has been that he was totally incapable of discretion based upon the incredible level of frankness in his speech and writing. However, he was well aware that in addition to the autobiographical passages in his poetry, his letters and journals were going be read by others.  He stated that some of his secrets would “paralyze posterity” - so he kept them.

One of his methods of achieving this was “mystifying” - the telling and implying of outrageous stories about himself.  These were elaborated and embellished by contemporary rumour and the nineteenth century cult of romantic “genius”.

Twentieth century scholarship has been an attempt to clear all this mythic confusion away through searches for supportable evidence.

 

In the summer of 1813, in July and August, something happened in Byron’s life that he believed had blighted it.  In 1814, he wrote to his friend Lady Melbourne and expressed disappointment that her niece, Annabella Milbanke, who had accepted his second proposal of marriage had not accepted his first one, made in 1812.

 

It might have been two years ago - and if it had would have saved me a world of trouble.

I am quite horrified in casting up my moral accounts. .. all of which would have been prevented and the heartache into the bargain[i]

 

my only regret is her having taken so long a period to decide upon a very simple proposition - when had she said the same thing 2 years - even a year ago - what confusions and embarrassments good & bad might have been prevented - there are three or four which you know - and one or two you do not... in my pursuit of strong emotions & mental drams I found them to be sure and intoxicated myself accordingly - but now I am sobered my head aches and my heart too. [ii]

 

His journals and letters of the time, indicate this crisis was a love affair, and with a woman.  He confessed some of it to his good friend Thomas Moore.

The fact is, I am, at this moment, in a far more serious, and entirely new, scrape than any of the last twelvemonths, and that is saying a good deal... It’s unlucky we can’t live with or without these women.[iii]

 

 ‘ I would incorporate with any woman of decent demeanor tomorrow - that is, I would a month ago, but, at present * * * * * *[Moore’s asterisks][iv]

  

Who was she?

When thinking about “her” Byron wrote in his journal:

 “Dear sacred name, rest ever unreveal’d” At least, even here, my hand would tremble to write it [v]

 

 What or who, would or could inhibit Byron? Whose love could he not admit, even to himself?  His confidantes, Lady Melbourne and Thomas Moore, and possibly Francis Hodgson, knew who it was.  From evidence in his letters to Lady Melbourne, the gossip circulated during the break up of his marriage and inferences in various poetry (not to mention his wife’s conviction passed down to his grandson and so on to the present century) it is accepted that this was incestuous “carnal connexion” with his half -sister, Augusta Leigh.  

 

Byron had been occupied over the winter of 1812 - 1813 in a cozy love affaire with Lady Oxford. At the end of June, she left with her husband and family on a trip to Sicily.  It is very odd that Byron did not go with them as he had been reiterating his intention to escape England again since the day he had returned from Greece in 1811. His lack of funds to pay for the journey has been offered as an explanation for this, but Lady Oxford  could easily have had her satisfying and satisfied live-in lover included as a family member  if she had so wished.

He had told Lady Melbourne that he was planning to go back to Athens with the Marquis of Sligo[vi] or ‘Levanting’[vii] with Hobhouse, but on July 11,1813, he wrote to a Dr. William Clark that their sailing date was to be July 30th.

 On July 31, they hadn’t left, and Byron wrote to him again.  He said that he would be staying a few days at Six Mile Bottom, Augusta’s home, and to address any letters to him there. 

On August 2, he wrote to a Captain Croker on a ship leaving England at the end of the week, to assure him  that he would sail with him, and then quickly alerted Dr. Clark to make ready to leave on  the ship, the Boyne, by being at Portsmouth by Saturday.

Clark was an anatomist at Cambridge and there is absolutely nothing of an intimate nature in Byron’s notes to him that have survived, nor,  apparently, much connection with him, but as Cambridge seems to  be somehow involved in Byron’s crisis of the heart, this man may be connected with it.  

This trip aborted, as so many others did, although Byron wrote on September 15, asking his publisher, Murray, to get passage ‘- I have a friend & 3 servants.  - Gibraltar - or Minorca - or Zante[viii], so the plans of escape continued as late as mid-September.  

 

On August 21, Byron joyfully told Lady Melbourne that his sister  “wants to go with me to Sicily or elsewhere- and I wish it also ‘. This trip has been seen as an elopement, and the event that would cause Lady Melbourne to hear ‘of me but not from me (of course) again’[ix]  and to ‘close our correspondence and acquaintance at once.’ [x]

I find it difficult to believe that elopement, even an incestuous elopement, would interfere with correspondence between Byron and Lady Melbourne. Why would a journey to Sicily with his sister, particularly when Lady Oxford had preceded them, be considered an elopement?

On August 5, Byron had written to Lady Melbourne that, ‘Ly. C. may do as she pleases - if Augusta likes to  take her she may - but in that case she will travel by herself.’ This implies that “Ly. C” wishes to go with them, too. But by August 21, Byron admitted,  ‘after all, I shall probably go alone’ because Augusta wanted to ‘take one of the children and the intelligence of the plague is really too serious’. 

If “Ly. C.” refers to Lady Caroline Lamb (as it usually does in their correspondence) the possibility of an obsessive former lover and one of Augusta’s children coming along on this journey makes it sound like a  very unusual elopement!   The assumption that Augusta was his lover, with the hindsight available to biographers, has overshadowed the possibility that someone else was his “new scrape”.

Whatever it was, and whoever it involved, Lady Melbourne did not approve of Byron’s relationship.  He wrote sadly and as if he expected her approval when he stayed in London, away from temptation, in August, even though ‘it costs me some struggles.  - It is the misery of my situation - to see it as I see it - & to feel it as I feel it - on her account.[xi]

Why would Lady Melbourne discourage Byron from being with any lover?  Their correspondence had begun because she was attempting to discourage Byron from running away with Caroline Lamb, who was her daughter in law.  The scandal would have been damaging to her son, William, who was beginning a political career and ultimately  became Prime Minister of Britain

Clandestine adultery was commonplace (another of Lady Melbourne’s sons, George Lamb, was confidently rumoured to be the Prince Regent’s child), but an adulterous couple could not openly live together without serious social repercussions.[xii]  Even so, Byron claimed in letters, to have unsuccessfully proposed elopement to Caroline Lamb, Frances Webster and Teresa Guiccioli.  Particularly in the case of Caroline, he reports it with the air of a man sacrificing himself to the expectations of society, of making a somewhat “honest woman” of his lover.[xiii]

In the  summer of 1813, as Caroline was still pursuing him, much to his irritation and Lady  Melbourne’s concern, it would seem to have fulfilled her purposes to have Byron emotionally involved with anyone else, even if it was his sister. 

However, Lady Melbourne was, by this time, as charmed as most women were by Byron and he was sufficiently attracted by her to express regret at coming along too late in her life to be her lover.  His mother in law, Judith Milbanke, in a letter to Mrs. Clermont in 1816, says she believed he had had ‘absolute criminal connexion with an old lady, at the same time as with her Daughter in Law’[xiv].  This referred to Caroline and her mother in  law, Lady Melbourne, who it happened, was Judith’s detested sister in law.  No gossip was too far fetched to be believed!

Because Lady Melbourne cared for him, she advised him to break off the shocking relationship, and to avoid the woman.  But, Lady Melbourne did not succeed.  In fact they were still corresponding about his “passion” a year later. 

Who was this woman? 

Well, her name probably began with “A” (as did many women important in Byron’s life  - Annabella Milbanke, Lady Adelaide Forbes, Augusta Leigh).  In a letter to Lady Melbourne on September 28th he referred to Annabella as “your mathematician” because “A would now be ambiguous” and after that he clarified by writing “your ‘A’” and “my ‘A’”.

 

There are some good reasons for not believing it was his sister.  He says some things about the loved one utterly inconsistent with his ideas about Augusta.

 As for your A - I don’t know what to make of her - I enclose her last but one - - and my A’s last but one - from which you may form your conclusions on both - I think you must allow mine to be a very extraordinary person in point of talent. [xv] 

 

No-one ever described Augusta Leigh as talented, certainly not Byron. Although he probably called her Goose as a play on the pronunciation of her name, he considered her silly and fun, someone to laugh with.

 she surely is very clever - and not only so - but in some things of good judgement - her expressions about Aa [Annabella] are exactly your own - and these most certainly without being aware of the coincidence [xvi]  

 

Augusta Leigh clever?  ! ! ! ! ! My Stars ! ! ! !

  

Byron had a special way of tailoring his letters to the temperament and interests of  the recipient in a way that is a revealing reflection of Byron’s mental image of his  correspondents and his relationship with them.  Byron’s letters to Augusta are filled with extravagant assurances of love for her, his intention to protect and provide for her and with gossip about his love affairs. 

He was a man who suffered from jealousy, never accepting the slightest deviation from constancy.  He was agonized when Caroline Lamb waltzed with someone else.  I don’t believe he would have subjected Augusta to the pain of jealousy by telling her about his other women if he believed she loved him in an other than a sisterly manner.  He often wrote to her about his loves, expecting her to be pleased at his happiness, but with a sort of brotherly expectation that she would  disapprove of his fickle behaviour.  Augusta ‘s gift to Byron when he left England was a Bible - which he treasured.

 

Most of the evidence that physical love for Augusta may have caused his “ intoxicating” heart ache is a series of Byron’s letters to Lady Melbourne written between April and November 1814 and used by Byron’s grandson, Lord Lovelace, to document the incest.  He had been raised by his grandmother, Annabella, Lady Byron, who became utterly convinced of her husband’s love for his half-sister.  She blamed Augusta for the break up of her marriage and informed Augusta’s daughter, Elizabeth Medora, that she was Byron’s illegitimate child. She and Lord Lovelace apparently considered incest more socially acceptable than Byron’s other unconventional sexual practices.  These letters were in the possession of the family until very recently.

In these letters Augusta is referred to as “+”, a love symbol Byron used extensively later in letters to his lover Teresa, Countess Guiciolli. [xvii]On October 9, in a  letter to Lady Melbourne, there is even an “A+”.

 Enclosed are two letters one from A. and the other from A+ - I wish to convince you of the disposition of the one +  & to ask your opinion[xviii] 

 

 As I have not seen the manuscripts, I have to accept the inclusion of all the cross marks (or “x”s) to be found in these letters but am skeptical about their authenticity.   Byron used so many dashes in his letters that anyone who wished to tamper with them by adding a crossing line could do so very easily. 

There are, though, some letters with crosses which undoubtedly refer to Augusta. On October 4,1814, he wrote to Lady Melbourne about Augusta’s attitude to his engagement, in a letter that included nine crosses.

 + never threw any obstacles in the way. .. she wished me much to marry -

 

+ has written to A  to express how much all my relatives are pleased[xix] 

 

So - What are we to make of it?

 

Annabella’s source for the idea that Byron and Augusta shared more than a fraternal love was Lady Caroline Lamb, who intrigued and guessed and paid servants to spy on Byron as early as 1812.  She related her suspicions and discoveries to Annabella in an interview after the separation.  Caroline’s letter reviewing the essential gossip was kept by Lady Byron, even though Caroline requested her to burn it.[xx]

Byron loved Augusta and relied on his belief that she loved him.  He wrote passionate letters to her from Italy in 1819 and 1820, not knowing she was reporting to Annabella and showing her their correspondence.

Many years after Byron’s death, Annabella arranged for Augusta to meet with her and a priest to hear her confession of her great sin.  Augusta was aging and ill, and Annabella wished to give her an opportunity to beg forgiveness before she had to face Eternity.  Augusta was a devout and believing Christian.  She did not confess to incest, much to Annabella’s irritation.

 

So - who was his passion in the summer of 1813?  Who was his fatal love?

 

More in the next edition of    Byronmania.

Anne Ridsdale Mott



[i]BLJ, 4. p. 176

[ii]Ibid. p. 217

[iii] Ibid. p. 217

 

[iv] Ibid. p. 217

 

[v]Ibid. p.205

[vi]BLJ, 3. p.90

[vii]BLJ, 2. p. 258

[viii]BLJ, 3. p. 115

[ix]Ibid. p. 112

[x]Ibid. p. 113

[xi]BLJ, 4. p. 69

[xii]Hugh  Farmer. A Regency Elopement. (London: Michael Joseph, 1969) This is a fascinating account of the emotional, social, and legal results of the elopement of Lady Anne Abdy, a niece of the Duke of Wellington, with Lord Charles Bentinck in 1815

[xiii]BLJ, 2. p. 200

[xiv]Malcolm Elwin. Lord Byron’s Wife. (London: MacDonald, 1962)p. 387

[xv]BLJ, 4. p. 110

[xvi]Ibid. p. 11

[xvii]Iris 0rigo. The Last Attachment. (Oxford: Alden, 1949) p.436,450 Crosses appear as marks of love following the salutation and as a signature in Byron’s letters in Italian to Teresa beginning on August 7th, 1819 and frequently in July 1820 after she had received her Papal separation.  In particular on August 7, 1819 he writes Ti amo t m’intendi?  Per noi - si debbono essere poche croci piu sante che queste.  [I love you + + + + + + + do you understand me?  For us there can be few  crosses holier than these] On July 15, part of the postscript is translated: ‘Very naughty 0. + + + + + + Be very careful!  ! - ‘ on July 26: This separation from you inconveniences me greatly - you understand. .. Yes my Duck - I have understood you - with all your + + +  poor child!  I hope we shall fulfill all these wishes of ours very soon - have a little more patience.  Teresa calls him ‘my naughty Ducky 0X ‘ in a letter of September 7,1820 quoted on page 217 

[xviii]BLJ, 4. p. 204

[xix]BLJ, 4. p. 191

[xx]Malcolm Elwin. Lord Byron’s Wife. (London: MacDonald, 1962)p. 455

 

 

 

Newstead Abbey

 

Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire, England

 the ancestral home

of the poet and freedom fighter

Lord Byron.

 

 

 

 

 

Byronmania

 

Volume one, number one

January 22, 1998

 

 

To be published January 22, April 19 and December 10

 

Subscriptions to the e-mailed editions are $5 each

 or $15 for the year

Anne Ridsdale Mott, B Ed., M Ed.

Douglas College, New Westminster, B.C. Canada

 

Questions? Comments? byronmania [at] shaw [dot] ca