September 17 1814: Lord Byron is Engaged to Miss Milbanke

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On September 17 1814, Lord Byron receives Annabella Milbanke’s letter accepting his marriage proposal. Her letter reads:

I have your second letter—and am almost too agitated to write—but you will understand. It would be absurd to suppress anything—I am and have long been pledged to myself to make your happiness my first object in life. If I can make you happy, I have no other consideration. I will trust to you for all I should look up to—all I can love. The fear of not realizing your expectations is the only one I now feel.

Convince me—it is all I wish—that my affection may supply what is wanting in my character to form your happiness. This is a moment of joy which I have too much despaired of ever experiencing—I dared not believe it possible, and I have painfully supported a determination founded in fact on the belief that you did not wish it removed—that its removal would not be for your good. There has in reality been scarcely a change in my sentiments. More of this I will defer. I wrote by last post—with what different feelings! Let me be grateful for those with which I now acknowledge myself Most affectly yours.
A.I.M.

Benita Eisler, a Byron biographer, in Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame describes how Byron learned that he was engaged:

On September 17, in the late afternoon, Byron and Augusta were having dinner with a guest, the local apothecary,* when they were interrupted by the gardener, who excitedly produced a gold ring. It was Catherine Byron’s wedding band, lost many years before and now unearthed beneath her bedroom window. A moment later, the mail arrived with Annabella’s letter. Seeing her looping hand, Byron declared: “If it contains a consent, I will be married with this ring.” But he turned so pale as he handed the open letter to Augusta that she thought he would faint.

Annabella described herself as “almost too agitated to write,” but in fact she now expressed herself more freely than ever before. Emerging from her protective thicket of wordiness, she told Byron: “It would be absurd to suppress anything. I am and have long been pledged to myself to make your happiness my first object in life. If I can make you happy, I have no other consideration. I will trust to you for all I should look up to—all I can love. The fear of not realizing your expectations is the only one I now feel. Convince me—it is all I wish—that my affection may supply that [which] is wanting in my character to form your happiness. This is a moment of joy which I have too much despaired of ever experiencing. I dared not believe it possible.” Byron’s response gives their exchange the soaring completeness of a Mozart duet. “Your letter has given me a new existence,” he began and, taking up Annabella’s theme, apologized that, in his present state, he, too, was “scarcely collected” enough to write “rationally”: “I have ever regarded you as one of the first of human beings—not merely from my own observation but that of others—as one whom it was as difficult not to love, as scarcely possible to deserve.” But he is honest in what he does not say: Never does he claim a passionate or even romantic attraction to Annabella; he loves and values her moral qualities, trusting in these, together with her love, to change him: “I know your worth, & revere your virtues as I love yourself,” he told her. “It is in your power to render me happy—you have made me so already.” Like all lovers, he joyfully compares his earlier luckless state to his present happiness. He was “on the point of leaving England without hope without fear—almost without feeling,” he wrote, when her acceptance transformed his life.

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