On our return from Eversley, we arrived at her house in the morning.
It appeared to be one of Lady Byron’s well days. She was up and dressed, and moved about her house with her usual air of quiet simplicity; as full of little acts of consideration for all about her as if they were the habitual invalids, and she the well person.
There were with her two ladies of her most intimate friends, by whom she seemed to be regarded with a sort of worship. When she left the room for a moment, they looked after her with a singular expression of respect and affection, and expressed freely their admiration of her character, and their fears that her unselfishness might be leading her to over-exertion.
After lunch, I retired with Lady Byron; and my sister remained with her friends. I should here remark, that the chief subject of the conversation which ensued was not entirely new to me. In the interval between my first and second visits to England, a lady who for many years had enjoyed Lady Byron’s friendship and confidence, had, with her consent, stated the case generally to me, giving some of the incidents: so that I was in a manner prepared for what followed.
Those who accuse Lady Byron of being a person fond of talking upon this subject, and apt to make unconsidered confidences, can have known very little of her, of her reserve, and of the apparent difficulty she had in speaking on subjects nearest her heart.
Her habitual calmness and composure of manner, her collected dignity on all occasions, are often mentioned by her husband, sometimes with bitterness, sometimes with admiration. He says, ’Though I accuse Lady Byron of an excess of self-respect, I must in candour admit that, if ever a person had excuse for an extraordinary portion of it, she has; as, in all her thoughts, words, and deeds, she is the most decorous woman that ever existed, and must appear, what few I fancy could, a perfectly refined gentlewoman, even to her femme de chambre.’
This calmness and dignity were never more manifested than in this interview. In recalling the conversation at this distance of time, I cannot remember all the language used. Some particular words and forms of expression I do remember, and those I give; and in other cases I give my recollection of the substance of what was said.
There was something awful to me in the intensity of repressed emotion which she showed as she proceeded. The great fact upon which all turned was stated in words that were unmistakable:—
‘He was guilty of incest with his sister!’
She here became so deathly pale, that I feared she would faint; and hastened to say, ‘My dear friend, I have heard that.’ She asked quickly, ‘From whom?’ and I answered, ‘From Mrs. ——;’ when she replied, ’Oh, yes!’ as if recollecting herself.
I then asked her some questions; in reply to which she said, ’I will tell you.’
She then spoke of her first acquaintance with Lord Byron; from which I gathered that she, an only child, brought up in retirement, and living much within herself, had been, as deep natures often were, intensely stirred by his poetry; and had felt a deep interest in him personally, as one that had the germs of all that is glorious and noble.