March 25 1812: Caroline, Byron and Annabella

On the morning of March 25 1812, Lord Byron entered Melbourne House at the invitation of Lady Caroline Lamb. Byron will start his affair with Lady Caroline and will see his future wife, Annabella Millbanke (pictured above on the right), for the first time that morning. Byron would later write[1]:"The first time of my seeing Miss Milbanke was at Lady ****'s. It was a fatal day; and I remember, that in going up stairs I stumbled, and remarked to Moore, who accompanied me, that it was a bad omen. I ought to have taken the warning. On entering the room, I observed a young lady more simply dressed than the rest of the assembly sitting alone on a sofa. I took her for a female companion..."

Annabella was also not very impressed with Byron[2]: "Yesterday, I went to a morning party at Lady Caroline Lamb's, where my curiosity was much gratified by seeing Lord Byron, the object at present of universal attention. Lady C. has of course seized on him, notwithstanding the reluctance he manifests to be shackled by her... I did not seek an introduction to him, for all the women were absurdly courting him, and trying to deserve the lash of his Satire. I thought inoffensiveness was the most secure conduct, as I am not desirous of a place in his lays...I made no offering at the shrine of Childe Harold, though I shall not refuse the acquaintance if it comes my way."

That morning Annabella was not the focus of Byron's attention. He had come to see Lady Caroline Lamb at Melbourne House, where she lived with her husband William Lamb, together with her in-laws, in a house dominated by the formidable Lady Melbourne. Lady Caroline was known for her morning dance receptions where the French quadrille was practiced together with the new dance sensation of 1812, the German waltz [3]. Lady Caroline was said to be one of the finest waltzers in London. Byron hated the waltz, because of his club foot, but that morning he was beginning an aristocratic dance of seduction played out against the backdrop of the splendor of Melbourne House. It was a scene that had been set by Lady Caroline including placing ropes on the stairs to help him navigate the steps. Byron's biographer, Benita Eisler [4], describes it this way: 
ON THE MORNING of March 25, Byron mounted the triple parade of steep stairs rising from the rotunda to the reception rooms above. At Caroline’s order, a rope grip had been placed along the side to aid his hesitant climb. At the top, Byron emerged into a suite of three interconnected drawing rooms. Strains of music led him to the salon consecrated to dancing, where, from the sidelines, he could observe Lady Caroline in her glory. If he could not make out what she said, he heard the bursts of laughter that greeted her daring and often risqué sallies. More than anything else, it was her physical grace that affected him—almost viscerally. Aware always of his dragging foot, which made him feel nailed to the floor, he was mesmerised by Caro’s quicksilver presence; she seemed in constant motion, dematerialized, in her clinging, swirling gown. (Caroline was so thin that, as she once lispingly confided to Byron’s friend William Harness, she wore “sixth pair of thick thockings” to give more shape to her legs.) 
Caroline's attraction was palpable which in itself was completely flattering for Byron given her family's status as one of the first families of the land as opposed to Byron's lordship  derived from a near extinct title with its insignificant and indebted estate. Byron's physical attraction to her was more ambiguous. Of Caroline's figure Byron later wrote: “though genteel, too thin" and "wanting that roundness that grace and elegance would vainly supply". However, there was an enticing vitality in her large dark eyes and charm in her soft, low, caressing voice. The slender figure, flaxen curls in hair cut short may also have reminded Byron of his beloved John Edleston, with whom he had an affair in his youth while at Cambridge[5]. Byron may have sensed in Lady Caroline a fellow spirit who enjoyed an unconventional sexual ambiguity and role playing. He did not know then, but probably came to appreciate, her fondness for dressing up as a page. That night or later the seduction would have been complete. Fiona MacCarthy [6] describes it this way: "When the evening of consummation finally came the 'apparatus with which he surrounded the evening was 'almost incredibly absurd- her head resting upon a  skull, a case of loaded pistols between them'. Was Byron's confidence boosted by this setting of Jacobean tragedy?" Benita Eisler [7] describes it in this way:
Behind the high-ceilinged state rooms, Byron was now directed to another narrow set with convex iron balustrades. He needed no rope now to aid his climb as he negotiated the ill-lit steps that led to Caroline’s apartments on the floor above. From these stairs, Melbourne House stands revealed as a theater of intrigue. Backstage scaffolding, they close the space between public and private lives, while providing a series of observation points, of porous spaces between two worlds. On a landing there is a window; only yards away and directly opposite, there is another in the parallel wall of the H-shaped structure. In her apartment on the ground floor, Lady Melbourne, “the Spider,” waited, monitoring all comings and goings; what she did not see would be reported to her. As he climbed, Byron retraced another erotic passage, marking the ascent from his own imperial bedchamber at Newstead to the chilly reaches of the servants’ quarters where Susan Vaughan had waited for him. Now, on the second floor of Melbourne House, the daughter of a countess and niece of a duchess invited him to be her lover. Caroline’s room, like its occupant, was startlingly small. The arched alcove was filled by her bed, and there was space for a writing desk, a love seat, and a chair or two. But her windows opened on the romantic landscape of St. James’s Park, where swans floated on the lake. 
That evening, on March 25, 1812, Byron writes to Tom Moore with the pride of a successful seducer [8]: “Know all men by these presents, that you, Thomas Moore, stand indicted—no—invited, by special and particular solicitation, to Lady C L***’s to-morrow even, at half past nine o’clock, where you will meet with a civil reception and decent entertainment.”  

1.  Benita Eisler,  Byron: Child of Passsion, Fool of Fame (New York, Random House, 1999)

2. Fiona MacCarthy,  Byron: Life and Legend (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002) at 167. 
3.  MacCarthy, Fiona,  page 166.
4. Eisler, Benita, at page 7607 
5. Eisler, Benita  at page 7607
6. MacCarthy,  pages 167-168,
7.Eisler,  Benita at page 7628
8. Eisler, Benitaat page 7628

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