The liaison which attracted the most attention at this time was that between Byron and Lady Caroline Lamb. Byron has been greatly blamed for his share in it; but there is much to be said on the other side. Lady Caroline was happily married to the Right Hon. William Lamb, afterward Lord Melbourne, and destined to be the first prime minister of Queen Victoria. He was an easy-going, genial man of the world who placed too much confidence in the honor of his wife. She, on the other hand, was a sentimental fool, always restless, always in search of some new excitement. She thought herself a poet, and scribbled verses, which her friends politely admired, and from which they escaped as soon as possible. When she first met Byron, she cried out: “That pale face is my fate!” And she afterward added: “Mad, bad, and dangerous to know!”
It was not long before the intimacy of the two came very near the point of open scandal; but Byron was the wooed and not the wooer. This woman, older than he, flung herself directly at his head. Naturally enough, it was not very long before she bored him thoroughly. Her romantic impetuosity became tiresome, and very soon she fell to talking always of herself, thrusting her poems upon him, and growing vexed and peevish when he would not praise them. As was well said, “he grew moody and she fretful when their mutual egotisms jarred.”
In a burst of resentment she left him, but when she returned, she was worse than ever. She insisted on seeing him. On one occasion she made her way into his rooms disguised as a boy. At another time, when she thought he had slighted her, she tried to stab herself with a pair of scissors. Still later, she offered her favors to any one who would kill him. Byron himself wrote of her:
You can have no idea of the horrible and absurd things that she has said and done.
Her story has been utilized by Mrs. Humphry Ward in her novel, “The Marriage of William Ashe.”
Perhaps this trying experience led Byron to end his life of dissipation. At any rate, in 1813, he proposed marriage to Miss Anne Millbanke, who at first refused him; but he persisted, and in 1815 the two were married. Byron seems to have had a premonition that he was making a terrible mistake. During the wedding ceremony he trembled like a leaf, and made the wrong responses to the clergyman. After the wedding was over, in handing his bride into the carriage which awaited them, he said to her:
“Miss Millbanke, are you ready?”
It was a strange blunder for a bridegroom, and one which many regarded at the time as ominous for the future. In truth, no two persons could have been more thoroughly mismated—Byron, the human volcano, and his wife, a prim, narrow-minded, and peevish woman. Their incompatibility was evident enough from the very first, so that when they returned from their wedding-journey, and some one asked Byron about his honeymoon, he answered: