This controversy, unfortunately, cannot be managed with the accuracy of a legal trial. Its course, hitherto, has rather resembled the course of a drawing-room scandal, where everyone freely throws in an assertion, with or without proof. In making out my narrative, however, I shall use only certain authentic sources, some of which have for a long time been before the public, and some of which have floated up from the waves of the recent controversy. I consider as authentic sources,—
Moore’s Life of Byron;
Lady Byron’s own account of the separation, published in 1830;
Lady Byron’s statements to me in 1856;
Lord Lindsay’s communication, giving an extract from Lady Anne Barnard’s diary, and a copy of a letter from Lady Byron dated 1818, about three years after her marriage;
Mrs. Mimms’ testimony, as given in a daily paper
published at Newcastle,
And Lady Byron’s letters, as given recently
in the late ’London
All which documents appear to arrange themselves into a connected series.
From these, then, let us construct the story.
According to Mrs. Mimms’ account, which is likely to be accurate, the time spent by Lord and Lady Byron in bridal-visiting was three weeks at Halnaby Hall, and six weeks at Seaham, when Mrs. Mimms quitted their service.
During this first period of three weeks, Lord Byron’s treatment of his wife, as testified to by the servant, was such that she advised her young mistress to return to her parents; and, at one time, Lady Byron had almost resolved to do so.
What the particulars of his conduct were, the servant refuses to state; being bound by a promise of silence to her mistress. She, however, testifies to a warm friendship existing between Lady Byron and Mrs. Leigh, in a manner which would lead us to feel that Lady Byron received and was received by Lord Byron’s sister with the greatest affection. Lady Byron herself says to Lady Anne Barnard, ’I had heard that he was the best of brothers;’ and the inference is, that she, at an early period of her married life, felt the greatest confidence in his sister, and wished to have her with them as much as possible. In Lady Anne’s account, this wish to have the sister with her was increased by Lady Byron’s distress at her husband’s attempts to corrupt her principles with regard to religion and marriage.
In Moore’s Life, vol. iii., letter 217, Lord Byron writes from Seaham to Moore, under date of March 8, sending a copy of his verses in Lady Byron’s handwriting, and saying, ’We shall leave this place to-morrow, and shall stop on our way to town, in the interval of taking a house there, at Colonel Leigh’s, near Newmarket, where any epistle of yours will find its welcome way. I have been very comfortable here, listening to that d—–d monologue which elderly gentlemen call conversation, in which my pious father-in-law repeats himself every evening, save one, when he played upon the fiddle. However, they have been vastly kind and hospitable, and I like them and the place vastly; and I hope they will live many happy months. Bell is in health and unvaried good-humour and behaviour; but we are in all the agonies of packing and parting.’