On any given day if you were to go in search of me and in discovering that my workshop was closed; you would probably find me at home in my ‘Den’ surrounded by piles of books reading yet another book about Byron or scribbling in my research book and always with the radio playing!
Unlike Byron who professed to Lady Melbourne that his friendship with a certain Lady Forbes was formed on a ‘mutual hatred of music’, I love music and I’ve been re-listening to the album The Defamation of Stickland Banks by Plan B on my somewhat dilapidated CD boom box.
The album tells a fictitious tale of Strickland Banks, a sharp-suited British soul singer who has found fame with a bitter-sweet love song Love Goes Down, but then loses everything when he finds himself in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
I have long loved the energy and originality of this album and my favourite song is Stay Too Long and the lyrics remain rather apt at this time for our broken-hearted poet as the turmoil of his marital separation from Annabella continued to dominate his life over 202 years ago.
In January 1816 Annabella left her spouse and returned to the protection of her parents who duly offered their support in her resolution for a legal separation and Byron was never to learn the reason for her refusal to return to him and despite his letters asking her to state the reasons for leaving him; it appears that she never did.
On the charges to be preferred against me – I have twice been refused any information by your father and his advisers: it is now a fortnight – which has been passed in suspense – in humiliation – in obloquy – exposed to the most black and blighting calumnies of every kind – without even the power of contradicting conjecture and vulgar assertion as to the accusations…
John Cam Hobhouse, a life-long friend of Byron remained angered by Annabella’s refusal to state her reasons for leaving her spouse and the separation she had initiated would result in scandal, innuendo and exile for Byron.
Had Lady Byron condescended to state to either of Lord Byron’s intimate associates the general outline of her grievances, or even her resolutions respecting a separation, she would have secured her object without any of those difficulties which were thrown in her way by the violent proceedings of her family and friends.
But this measure would not have coincided with the resolution taken to impress upon the world that his Lordship was a monster.
Hmm! ‘to impress upon the world that his Lordship was a monster’
The wonderful little book by Anne Fleming The Myth of the Bad Lord Byron believes that Annabella was extremely successful in her resolution to portray Byron as a monster as in 1816 he became a popular hate figure in England and even though he is a national hero in Greece and a beloved figure in Albania – the perception still remains of a ‘bad man.’
Claire Clairmont, Byron’s former lover and mother of Allegra was also to describe Byron as a ‘monster’ but that is for another story!
Let us now muse over another possible reason for Annabella leaving her monster of a spouse…
Imagine if you will the delicious idea of Lord and Lady Byron as participants in the Quiz Show Mr & Mrs in which they must each answer 3 questions!
Question 1: Lady Byron, if Lord Byron could choose one of the following for a pet, would he choose:
All of These
Lady Byron would probably hope for none of the above as she was never known to wish for or own any animal throughout the course of her life and in comparison, Byron loved animals and was the master of several strange and large menageries throughout the course of his life that had included ten horses, five cats, a crow, eight dogs and five peacocks!
Question 2: Lady Byron, what would be the perfect supper party for his Lordship:
An intimate supper with his wife
A rowdy supper party with his friends
A formal supper party hosted by Lord Holland
None of these
Lady Byron would answer, more in hope than reality: ‘An intimate supper with his wife?’ despite Byron’s opinion that:
I have prejudices about women: I do not like to see them eat.
Question 3: Lady Byron, his Lordship is busy with writing a new poem and so does he prefer:
The solitude of a quiet, private room
To write his poem while at the Cocoa Tree Club
Use the library of his publisher John Murray
To write at home in a study shared with his wife
I do not like to be interrupted when I am writing. Lady Byron did not attend to these whims of mine.
Lady Byron’s reply is probably NOT to be guessed at!
Question 4: Lord Byron, on any typical morning what does Lady Byron prefer to do:
Make a House call to Lady Melbourne
To write a letter to Lady Caroline Lamb
Drawing a person’s character on paper
Go to Church
She had the habit of drawing people’s characters after she had seen them once or twice. She wrote pages on pages about my character, but it was as unlike as possible.
Should it ever happen that he and I offer a heartfelt worship together – I mean in a sacred spot – my worship will then be almost worthy of the Spirit to whom it ascends…
It is not the poet – it is the immortal Soul lost or saved!
Byron was to later say ‘She married me from vanity and the hope of reforming and fixing me’ and in 1814 upon hearing the news that Byron was to marry; Lady Caroline Lamb remarked that he would:
never be able to pull with a woman who went to church punctually, understood statistics and had a bad figure.
Question 5: Lord Byron, for supper would Lady Byron prefer to eat:
Two or more mutton-chops
None of these
As Lord Byron believed that A woman should never been seen eating…..unless it be lobster sallad’ his answer would be superfluous and we have been reliably informed by her parents that the lady herself would prefer to eat: ‘Two or more mutton-chops and frighten the waiters!’
Question 6: Lord Byron, what of the following does your Ladyship prefer to do for amusement:
To accompany you to Drury Lane Theatre for a performance by Kean
Go to the Opera with Lady Melbourne
‘Collect her sentiments’ on paper
Attend a Morning Waltz Party hosted by Lady Caroline Lamb
Lady Byron was scathing of Byron’s interest and responsibilities of his work at the Drury Lane Theatre referring to him as the ‘Manager’ as she was to write to her father:
I asked Lady Melbourne to go with me – for as the Manager is always trotting about behind the Scenes, I should not like to be alone.
And as she was also to say that ‘I have no love of music’ and that visits to the Opera were ‘a considerable fatigue to me’ and of Lady Caroline’s Waltzing Party in which ‘Waltzing was in vain attempted to give animation; music was listened to as a duty.’
So there you have it! A perfectly incompatible couple!
Ironically, Byron and Annabella had at least two common interests which included a dislike for music and for the Waltz which was the fashionable dance of 1812 and they would meet at a Waltzing Party hosted by Lady Caroline but that is for another story!
And as the negotiations about their separation reached an impasse in March 1816, Annabella was still collecting her sentiments’ on paper:
Well – nothing but war remains. All offers of amicable arrangement have been refused…. They say I shall be justified to the World….
My opinion of the best course to pursue is this – to put in the strongest statement into Court and then to delay proceeding, so as to tire him out –
So I don’t think he can well escape – and yet he is so artfull that I despond about it at times.
Maybe Byron was not so much an ‘artful’ spouse but simply an incompatible one!
TO BE CONTINUED!
Contemporary Account of the Separation of Lord and Lady Byron, John Cam Hobhouse Broughton (Kessinger Publishing 2010)
Lord Byron’s Wife, Malcolm Elwin (London: John Murray 1962)
The Life of Lady Byron, Ethel Colburn Mayne (London: Constable & Company Limited 1929)
The Myth of the Bad Lord Byron, Anne Fleming (Old Forge Press 1998)
The True Story of Lord and Lady Byron, ED J.M (Elibron Classics 2010)
To Lord Byron, George Paston and Peter Quennell (London: John Murray 1939)