February 5 1816: A Day of Letters

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On February 5 1816 John Cam Hobhouse becomes involved with separation of Byron and Annabella. He writes in his diary.

Called on Lord Byron, and finding him very low indeed, he at last told me with great agitation that he had received a letter from Sir Ralph Noel in London, demanding a separation between him and his daughter – on general grounds of ill-treatment, dismissal from his house, and avowed intent of going abroad and living in London as a single man. Amicable arrangement he offered – but if not, hinted at legal measures. Lord Byron replied very properly that he should give no answer till he knew whether his daughter authorised him to take such a step. He received the letter on Friday. Mrs Leigh wrote to Lady Byron the same day, and Lord Byron the next. Byron showed me a letter of Lady Byron’s to him dated the 16th of January last, beginning My dearest duck!! couched in most playful affectionate terms, telling him there is a large room for him to sit and sulk in, saying she wants nothing but her dearest Byron, and signing herself pip–ip–p., a nick name of hers, given her by Byron, of pippin. This I thought inexplicable. Byron had received no answer from Kirkby – he was completely knocked up. He instantly accepted my offer to write to Lady Byron, which I did in great agitation, conjuring her not to take such a step, reminding her when she promised me to be happy at handing her into the carriage at Seaham, &c. In short, just what the moment of this dreadful news prompted. At the same time Byron wrote, and either by my advice or Mrs Leigh’s, put the letter under cover to her maid – Fletcher’s wife – Byron told me he could make no sort of guess at the cause of this measure – that they parted good friends, and that he was thinking of going down the following (last) Sunday. George Byron had been down at Keeble [for Kirkby], and found Lady Noel like a fury … Byron confessed he had been often out of temper with her, refused to live with her friends, told her she was in his way – but then he had a liver complaint, and from one to four executors in his house at a time. I never saw him so much affected in my life – it is a terrible blow indeed, and as he told me this day, quite unexpected. I took leave of him in a little less better state than himself … and rode home to Whitton – at night I told Sophy the story.

Hobhouse writes to Lady Bryon, at Byron’s urging, to try and have her return home. The letter is embarrassing, and dishonest.

My dear Lady Byron Pray excuse this great liberty in consideration of the occasion. Without more apology let me express at once the surprise the grief (I know of no word strong enough) with which I have been overwhelmed by a visit just made to Piccadilly. Indeed, indeed dear Lady Byron you are mistaken—some fatal misapprehension must have occasioned a measure of which I cannot yet bring myself to believe that you can be a participator. I shall say nothing of all I have formerly heard from or seen in my friend, as that would be only to repeat such expressions of love esteem and admiration as were familiar to the ears of the happy party at Seaham. Only let me assure you upon my honour that one single glance at the man with whom you promised me when handing you into your carriage to be so happy, would convince you that the step now threatened if carried into execution, would deprive him of all chance of future tranquillity. For God’s sake trust nothing that you hear nor read, no, not even the style of your husband’s letters, if it is not with the tone of regret and even despair. On other occasions heaven knows I should have no confidence in my power of persuasion, but in this instance I feel secure that five minutes conversation with you would convince you that the extremity meditated is not the treatment that either the former or present feelings of your husband can be said to deserve. I will not trouble you here with particulars, but I cannot refrain from saying that one of the imputations that of any travelling scheme in which I am concerned is totally void of foundation. Dear Lady Byron come up to London—if you are well enough—if not, suffer me to come down and speak to you at Kirkby— this dreadful thing must not be done—the whole must be misunderstanding. Believe me truly your most faithful J. Hobhouse.

Byron has also written to Annabella:

Dearest Bell―No answer from you yet―perhaps it is as well―but do recollect that all is at stake―the present―the future & even the colouring of the past. The whole of my errors―or what harsher name you choose to give them―you know; but I loved you, & will not part from you without your own most express & expressed refusal to return to or receive me. Only say the word – that you are still mine in your heart―and “Kate!―I will buckler thee against a million.”

Mrs. Fletcher is requested to deliver the enclosed with her own hands to Lady Byron.

Byron also receives word from his lawyer:

 MY DEAR LORD,―Most truly distressed have I been with the Perusal of the Letters which Mrs. Leigh left with me, and which I now return. I recommend it to you in the strongest Terms not to acquiesce in the Measure proposed by Sir Ralph Noel: you would repent it all your Life. Surely there is nothing but what through the Mediation of respectable Friends might be amicably adjusted; at least it should be tried. But Separation is the last Expedient, and I never can think that Lady Byron wishes it; but even if it were her Ladyship’s Desire, by no Means accede to it. 267: Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, III ii 234-5. 116 Nothing could be more proper than your Lordship’s Answer to Sir Ralph. If your Lordship wishes to see me, I will call upon you Tomorrow at any Hour you like. Believe me, my dear Lord, your truly faithful J. HANSON.

Finally, Lady Melbourne writes to Lord Byron.

Ld. B — there is a report about you so much believed in Town, that I think you should be informed of it. They say you & Annabella are parted & even state ye authority upon which this is founded — in general when reports are as false as I know this to be, I think the best way is to despise them & to take no measures to contradict them – but really this is so much talk’d about & believed, notwithstanding my contradictions, yt I think you ought to desire her to come to Town or go {to} her Yourself. –– I am still confined but ye . first time I go out I will call upon Mrs. L – I should like to see you then, & tell you several things which I do not like to write & I can not see you at Home Yrs. Ever E. M. I wish you would write me a Line —

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