We have simply to ask the reader whether a life like this was not the best, the noblest answer that a woman could make to a doubting world.
CHAPTER V. THE ATTACK ON LADY BYRON’S GRAVE.
We have now brought the review of the antagonism against Lady Byron down to the period of her death. During all this time, let the candid reader ask himself which of these two parties seems to be plotting against the other.
Which has been active, aggressive, unscrupulous? which has been silent, quiet, unoffending? Which of the two has laboured to make a party, and to make that party active, watchful, enthusiastic?
Have we not proved that Lady Byron remained perfectly silent during Lord Byron’s life, patiently looking out from her retirement to see the waves of popular sympathy, that once bore her up, day by day retreating, while his accusations against her were resounding in his poems over the whole earth? And after Lord Byron’s death, when all the world with one consent began to give their memorials of him, and made it appear, by their various ‘recollections of conversations,’ how incessantly he had obtruded his own version of the separation upon every listener, did she manifest any similar eagerness?
Lady Byron had seen the ‘Blackwood’ coming forward, on the first appearance of ‘Don Juan,’ to rebuke the cowardly lampoon in words eloquent with all the unperverted vigour of an honest Englishman. Under the power of the great conspirator, she had seen that ‘Blackwood’ become the very eager recipient and chief reporter of the stories against her, and the blind admirer of her adversary.
All this time, she lost sympathy daily by being silent. The world will embrace those who court it; it will patronise those who seek its favour; it will make parties for those who seek to make parties: but for the often accused who do not speak, who make no confidants and no parties, the world soon loses sympathy.
When at last she spoke, Christopher North says ’she astonished the world.’ Calm, clear, courageous, exact as to time, date, and circumstance, was that first testimony, backed by the equally clear testimony of Dr. Lushington.
It showed that her secret had been kept even from her parents. In words precise, firm, and fearless, she says, ’If these statements on which Dr. Lushington and Sir Samuel Romilly formed their opinion were false, the responsibility and the odium should rest with me only.’ Christopher North did not pretend to disbelieve this statement. He breathed not a doubt of Lady Byron’s word. He spoke of the crime indicated, as one which might have been foul as the grave’s corruption, unforgivable as the sin against the Holy Ghost. He rebuked the wife for bearing this testimony, even to save the memory of her dead father and mother, and, in the same breath, declared that she ought now to go farther, and speak fully the one awful word, and then—’a mitigated sentence, or eternal silence!’