February 2 1816: Byron Separation!

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On February 2 1816, Annabella’s father  Sir Ralph Noel writes to Byron to demand a separation.

MIVART’S HOTEL, 44 LOWER BROOK STREET February 2, 1816

MY LORD,—— However painful it may be to me, I find myself compelled by every feeling as a parent, and principle as a man, to address your Lordship on a subject which I hardly suppose will be any surprise to you. Very recently, circumstances have come to my knowledge, which convince me, that with your opinions it cannot tend to your happiness to continue to live with Lady Byron, and I am yet more forcibly convinced that after her dismissal from your house, and the treatment she experienced whilst in it, those on whose protection she has the strongest natural claims could not feel themselves justified in permitting her return thither.

It would be idle to recapitulate to your Lordship at this time what is well known to you, though, should it become necessary, I am ready to avow to the public my reasons for this belief, and my motives for acting on it; but satisfied as I am that the measure I am now compelled to suggest is imperiously called for by facts capable of the clearest proof, and that my conduct and that of all those connected with me, will bear the test of the most rigid public investigation, yet as publicity in domestic affairs is never desirable (in which sentiment I apprehend your Lordship must concur), I therefore propose that a professional friend should be fixed on by you to confer with a person of the same description appointed by me, that they may discuss and settle such terms of separation as may be mutually approved. I cannot doubt your Lordship’s concurrence to this proposal from many declarations which you have made, and your avowed intention of going abroad as a single man, or taking a lodging in London and living there as one—therefore hope to have as immediate an answer as possible directed to me at Mivart’s Hotel. I remain, my Lord, Your obedient servt., RA: NOEL. THE RT. HONOURABLE LORD BYRON, PICCADILLY TERRACE

Byron acts as if he does not not know why his wife would possibly want a separation. He writes in response:

February 2, 1816. SIR,—— I have received your letter. To the vague and general charge contained in it I must naturally be at a loss how to answer—I shall therefore confine myself to the tangible fact which you are pleased to alledge as one of the motives for your present proposition. Lady Byron received no dismissal from my house in the sense you have attached to the word. She left London by medical advice. She parted from me in apparent and, on my part, real harmony, though at that particular time, rather against my inclination, for I begged her to remain with the intention of myself accompanying her: when some business necessary to be arranged prevented my departure. It is true that previous to this period I had suggested to her the expediency of a temporary residence with her parents. My reason for this was very simple and shortly stated, viz. the embarrassment of my circumstances, and my inability to maintain our present establishment. The truth of what is thus stated may be easily ascertained by reference to Lady B.— who is truth itself. If she denies it, I abide by that denial.

My intention of going abroad originated in the same painful motive and was postponed from a regard to her supposed feelings on that subject. During the last year I have had to contend with distress without and disease within. Upon the former I have little to say—except that I have endeavoured to remove it by every sacrifice in my power; and the latter I should not mention if I had not professional authority for saying that the disorder that I have to combat, without much impairing my apparent health, is such as to induce a morbid irritability of temper, which without recurring to external causes may have rendered me little less disagreeable to others than I am to myself.

I am, however, ignorant of any particular ill-treatment which your daughter has encountered. She may have seen me gloomy, and at times violent; but she knows the causes too well to attribute such inequalities of disposition to herself, or even to me, if all things be fairly considered. And now, Sir, not for your satisfaction—for I owe you none—but for my own, and in justice to Lady Byron, it is my duty to say that there is no part of her conduct, character, temper, talents, or disposition, which could in my opinion have been changed for the better.

Neither in word or deed, nor (as far as thought can be dived into) thought, can I bring to my recollection a fault on her part, or hardly even a failing. She has ever appeared to me as one of the most amiable of human beings, and nearer to perfection than I had conceived could belong to humanity in its present state of existence. Having said thus much, though more in words, less in substance, than I wished to express, I come to the point—on which subject I must for a few days decline giving a decisive answer. I will not, however, detain you longer than I can help, and as it is of some importance to your family as well as to mine, and a step which cannot be recalled when taken, you will not attribute my pause to any wish to inflict farther pain on you or yours—although there are parts of your letter which, I must be permitted to say, arrogate a right which you do not now possess; for the present at least, your daughter is my wife; she is the mother of my child; and till I have her express sanction of your proceedings, I shall take leave to doubt the propriety of your interference. This will be soon ascertained, and when it is, I will submit to you my determination, which will depend very materially on hers. I have the honour to be, Your most obed. and very humble servt., BYRON.

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