March 30 1816: Byron’s ‘A Sketch from Private Life’


On March 30 1816  Lord Byron completes his poem ‘A Sketch from Private Life’ another poem about the dissolution of his marriage. It will be printed privately on April 4 1816, and later a copy will find itself to the The Champion on April 14 1816. The public reaction to the poems was not favourable to Byron and helped ruin his reputation further. The end of a marriage was not a fit subject for a gentleman, which Byron must have known, but may have not cared.

The image above is from the print by Isaac Robert Cruikshank entitled: “The separation, a sketch from the private life of Lord Iron who panegyrized his wife, but satirized her confidante!!”


“Honest – Honest Iago!

If that thou be’st a devil, I cannot kill thee.”
Born in the garret, in the kitchen bred,
Promoted thence to deck her mistress’ head;
Next – for some gracious service unexprest,
And from its wages only to be guess’d –
Rais’d from the toilet to the table, – where 5
Her wondering betters wait behind her chair,
With eye unmoved, and forehead unabash’d,
She dines from off the plate she lately wash’d.
Quick with the tale, and ready with the lie –
The genial confidante, and general spy – 10
Who could, ye gods! her next employment guess –
An only infant’s earliest governess!10
She taught the child to read, and taught so well,
That she herself, by teaching, learn’d to spell.
An adept next in penmanship she grows, 15
As many a nameless slander deftly shows:
What she had made the pupil of her art,
None know – but that high Soul secur’d the heart,
And panted for the truth it could not hear,
With longing breast and undeluded ear. 20
Foil’d was perversion by that youthful mind,
Which Flattery fooled not – Baseness could not blind,
Deceit infect not – near Contagion soil –
Indulgence weaken – nor Example spoil –
Nor master’d Science tempt her to look down 25
On humbler talents with a pitying frown –
Nor Genius swell – nor Beauty render vain –
Nor Envy ruffle to retaliate pain –
Nor Fortune change – Pride raise – nor Passion bow,
Nor Virtue teach austerity – till now. 30
Serenely purest of her sex that live,
But wanting one sweet weakness – to forgive,
Too shock’d at faults her soul can never know,
She deems that all could be like her below:
Foe to all Vice, yet hardly Virtue’s friend, 35
For Virtue pardons those she would amend.

But to the theme: – now laid aside too long
The baleful burthen of this honest song –
Though all her former functions are no more,
She rules the circle which she served before. 40

If mothers – none know why – before her quake;
If daughters dread her for the mother’s sake;
If early habits – those false links, which bind
At times the loftiest to the meanest mind –
Have given her power too deeply to instil 45
The angry essence of her deadly will;
If like a snake11 she steals within your walls,
Till the black slime betray her as she crawls;
If like a viper to the heart she wind,
And leave the venom there she did not find; – 50
What marvel that this hag of hatred works
Eternal evil latent as she lurks
To make a Pandemonium12 where she dwells,
And reign the Hecate13 of domestic Hells?
Skill’d by a touch to deepen scandal’s tints 55
With all the kind mendacity of hints14
While mingling truth with falsehood – sneers with smiles –
A thread of candour with a web of wiles;
A plain blunt show of briefly-spoken seeming,
To hide her bloodless heart’s soul-hardened scheming; 60
A lip of lies – a face formed to conceal;
And, without feeling, mock at all who feel:15
With a vile mask the Gorgon16 would disown;
A cheek of parchment – and an eye of stone.17
Mark, how the channels of her yellow blood 65
Ooze to her skin, and stagnate there to mud,

Cased like the centipede in saffron mail,
Or darker greenness of the scorpion’s scale –
(For drawn from reptiles only we may trace
Congenial colours in that soul or face) – 70
Look on her features! and behold her mind
As in a mirror of itself defined:
Look on the picture! deem it not o’ercharged –
There is no trait which might not be enlarged:
Yet true to “Nature’s journeymen”,18 who made 75
This monster when their mistress left off trade, –
This female dog-star of her little sky,
Where all beneath her influence droop or die.19
Oh! wretch without a tear – without a thought,
Save joy above the ruin thou hast wrought – 80
The time shall come, nor long remote, when thou
Shalt feel far more than thou inflictest now;
Feel for thy vile self-loving self again,
And turn thee howling in unpitied pain.
May the strong curse of crush’d affections light 85
Back on thy bosom with reflected blight!
And make thee in thy leprosy of mind
As loathsome to thyself as to mankind!
Till all thy self-thoughts curdle into hate,
Black – as thy will for others would create: 90
Till thy hard heart be calcined into dust,
And thy soul welter in its hideous crust.
Oh, may thy grave be sleepless as thy bed, –
The widow’d couch of fire, that thou hast spread!
Then, when thou fain would’st weary Heaven with prayer, 95
Look on thy earthly victims – and despair!
Down to the dust! – and, as thou rott’st away,
Even worms shall perish on thy poisonous clay.
But for the love I bore, and still must bear,
To her thy malice from all ties would tear – 100
Thy name – thy human name – to every eye
The climax of all scorn should hang on high,
Exalted o’er thy less abhorred compeers –
And festering in the infamy of years.

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