Thursday, 25 January 2018

A Cup of Kindness Yet for Burn's Night?

January 25 is the celebration of Burns Night and last year although I enjoyed a fabulous a supper of Haggis; I had to refuse the 'wee dram' of fine Scotch whiskey that had been offered and yes, I did join in with the hearty rendition of "Should auld acquaintance be forgot" which nicely wrapped up the evening.

Robert Burns born on January 25 1759 remains Scotland's best loved 'Bard' and has been described as a womaniser, poetical genius, a hard drinker who experienced poverty, sudden fame, debt, and an early death; which interestingly reminds me of someone that I have been known to write about!

And although Lord Byron was to make a number of references to Burns in his letters and journals; I can find no mention of the most famous of Burn's songs, you know, the one about holding hands, sharing peace and fond memory.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!"
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne

However, after the fall-out of one of his most famous love affairs, it would be difficult to imagine Byron singing 'We'll take a cup of kindness yet' no matter how special the blend to the subject of today's post, Lady Caroline Lamb!

For not is January 25 Burn's Night, it is also the day that Lady Caroline died in 1828 at the age of forty two and it's probably kind to say that opinion remains as divided about her in death, as it was in life!

For some she has been portrayed as the archetypal 'Bunny Boiler', a Regency 'Alex Forrest' character who stalked and terrorised poor Byron through the streets of London in the style of Fatal Attraction and yet for others she remains completely misunderstood; a talented 'Lady of Letters', a whimsical artist and poetess all wrapped up with a hint of fragility.

Byron was to use a number of adjectives in which to describe Caro Lamb with some of the most notable being that she was in equal terms: perplexing, absurd, agreeable, fascinating, dangerous, amiable... 

The word monster was the one that he was to use much later!

They had met in the heady month of March in 1812 as Byron had woken to find himself 'famous' and brief though their affair was, they remained intertwined throughout history like Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy.

But as history as shown, Caro's statement about Byron's 'beautiful, pale face' being her 'fate' has undoubtedly been uniquely prophetic and of course the fact that not only was she the cousin by marriage of Byron's estranged spouse but also the wife of the indomitable Lady Melbourne's favoured son only adds to the frisson about the life of Lady Caroline Lamb.

For the shrewd Lady M became a discreet confidant of Byron and as the recipient of his most witty and outrageous letters, she encouraged his courtship of her niece Annabella Milbanke while seeking to destroy his love affair with her volatile daughter in law.

Believing that a woman's duty was to provide her husband with his heir and that monogamy within marriage was not the natural state; it was Caro Lamb's blatant lack of discretion and not the affair with Byron that encouraged the Lady M to become her severest critic and traitor.

For as Caro was to write to Byron in June 1814, Think of my situation how extraordinary! - my mother in law actually in the place I held - her ring instead of mine - her letters instead of mine - her heart - but do you believe either she or any others feel for you what I felt...

It would appear that she never fully recovered from Byron's rejection and by 1816 during the aftermath of Byron's disastrous marriage and subsequent exile abroad, the isolated Caro in an act of revenge and duplicity created yet more mischief with the publication of her novel Glenarvon and the tale of a tempestuous love affair with a thinly disguised Byronic character.

Caro's cuckold of a spouse was a rising political star who would eventually serve as Prime Minister to the young Queen Victoria but who now found himself increasingly under the pressure of his family to separate or have her committed to a lunatic asylum.

It was in desperation that Caro was to now write to her exasperated mother in law that she was "on the brink of another ruin. Half my friends cut me, all my acquaintances are offended - your protection may save - but I shall never ask for it unless freely offered..

I will never do any thing more that can harm William but when you turn us out of doors which Lord Melbourne has pledged himself to do... I owe it all to publish as far as I can without involving those I love a full explanation of my conduct, a full refutation of the calumnies that have been spread against me & my infamous book - and an exact account of Lord Byron's conduct for the last four years..." 

The hand of friendship was extended to Caro but that protection would cease with the death of Lady M on Saturday April 6 1818 at Melbourne House in London and she became more dangerously isolated and indiscreet.

In the years following although she was to lovingly attend to her only son Augustus and create her exquisite sketches with water colour; the fights with William would continue as her passion for mischief remained undiminished and eventually she was exiled to Brocket Hall where she became increasingly ill, the cause of which would be eventually diagnosed as "dropsy"; although having "drunk a whole bottle of wine which I bought for myself all at once..." will not have helped matters!

In a desperate attempt to help her, Caro was brought to Melbourne House where less than sixteen years earlier she had presided over the court of Childe Harold as London's most 'correct waltzer' during those halcyon, dreamy days of 1812 and it was at Melbourne House that she died on Friday January 25 1828 after an emotional reunion with William and her adored Augustus who had only recently arrived from Dublin.

She was reunited with the other star player in the drama of 1812 as she was laid to rest in the Lamb family crypt at St Ethelreda's Church in Hatfield along side the remains of Lady M and one of her final letters had been to Lady Holland who had also enjoyed something of a walk-on part during the course of that first Byronic season; "I can only write one line to thank you for your generous conduct - will you accept from my heart my deep regret for the past - it makes me most unhappy now..."

However, for all of the anguish, violence and mischief that resulted from their brief affair, one would hope that with the passing of time, Byron could now enjoy a hearty rendition of "Should auld acquaintance be forgot" and that Caro would be happy to echo that sentiment.

Now here's to a wonderful plate of delicious Haggis and Tatties and the large helping of Tipsy Laird I simply must finish!

Sources Used:
Byron's Letters and Journals, Ed. Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray, 1973-97)
The Whole Disgraceful Truth Selected Letters of Lady Caroline Lamb Paul Douglass (Palgrave Macmillan 2006)

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