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Byron by Richard Edgcumbe

BYRON: THE LAST PHASE

BYRON: THE LAST PHASE

BY RICHARD EDGCUMBE

NEW YORK CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 153-157 FIFTH AVENUE 1909

TO MRS. CHARLES CALL, DAUGHTER OF EDWARD TRELAWNY, BYRON'S COMPANION IN GREECE, I DEDICATE THIS WORK AS A MARK OF AFFECTION AND ESTEEM

PREFACE

This book has no pretensions; it is merely a record of events and impressions which nearly forty years of close study have accumulated. There seems to be a general agreement that the closing scenes of Byron's short life have not been adequately depicted by his biographers. From the time of Byron's departure from Ravenna, in the autumn of 1821, his disposition and conduct underwent a transformation so complete that it would have been difficult to recognize, in the genial, unselfish personality who played so effective a role at Missolonghi, the gloomy misanthrope of 1811, or the reckless libertine of the following decade.

The conduct of Byron in Greece seems to have come as a revelation to his contemporaries, and his direction of complex affairs, in peculiarly trying circumstances, certainly deserves more attention than it has received. Records made on the spot by men whose works are now, for the most part, out of print have greatly simplified my task, and I hope that the following pages may be acceptable to those who have not had an opportunity of studying that picturesque phase of Byron's career. I should have much preferred to preserve silence on the subject of his separation from his wife. Unfortunately, the late Lord Lovelace, in giving his sanction to the baseless and forgotten slanders of a bygone age, has recently assailed the memory of Byron's half-sister, and has set a mark of infamy upon her which cannot be erased without referring to matters which ought never to have been mentioned.

In order to traverse statements made in 'Astarte,' it was necessary to reveal an incident which, during Byron's lifetime, was known only by those who were pledged to silence. With fuller knowledge of things hidden from Byron's contemporaries, we may realize the cruelty of those futile persecutions to which Mrs. Leigh was subjected by Lady Byron and her advisers, under the impression that they could extract the confession of a crime which existed only in their prurient imaginations. Mrs. Leigh, in one of her letters to Hobhouse, says, 'I have made it a rule to be silent--that is to say, AS LONG AS I CAN.' Although the strain must have been almost insupportable she died with her secret unrevealed, and the mystery which Byron declared 'too simple to be easily found out' has hitherto remained unsolved. I regret being unable more precisely to indicate the source of information embodied in the concluding portions of this work. The reader may test the value of my statements by the light of citations which seem amply to confirm them. At all events, I claim to have shown by analogy that Lord Lovelace's accusation against Mrs. Leigh is groundless, and therefore his contention, that Byron's memoirs were destroyed _because they implicated Mrs. Leigh_, is absolutely untenable. Those memoirs were destroyed, as we now know, because both Hobhouse and Mrs. Leigh feared possible revelations concerning another person, whose feelings and interests formed the paramount consideration of those who were parties to the deed. Lord John Russell, who had read the memoirs, stated in 1869 that Mrs. Leigh was _not_ implicated in them, a fact which proves that they were not burned for the purpose of shielding _her_.


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