Even though we are now only in the second day of February, there is already an abundance of red hearts of all sizes adorning the windows of the local shops and restaurants and there are even ‘Edible Love Hearts’ on offer as a Valentine’s Day treat for our local pooches!
Yes, February is THE month for a profusion of chocolates, expensive red roses and some very dubious Valentine’s cards but oh, what a month of anticipation as Cupid’s Arrow flies forth!
However, sadly not for our poet as February 1816 would be the month that his wife Lady Byron, the former Annabella Milbanke would ditch him!
She had left him in their huge rented house at 13 Piccadilly Terrace on a freezing cold January day taking their month old daughter Ada on a journey that would take two days by carriage to visit her parents at the Noel family home in Kirkby Mallory, Leicestershire.
And even though Byron’s Pippin was to write a couple of affectionate letters to her Dearest Duck to remind him to lay off the brandy, stop the naughty behaviour and the dreadful job of ‘versifying’, she seems to have momentarily forgotten that she had in fact married a rather famous poet and that ‘versifying’ was and is intrinsic to the said poet’s trade; however ‘abominable.’
The fact that Pippin had signed off with a ‘Ever thy most loving’; her Dearest Duck could be forgiven for believing that all was well. However, it clearly wasn’t for it seems that Pippin had left without any intention of ever returning to her Dearest Duck.
As divorce in 1816 was an extremely complex and expensive form of litigation overseen by the Church of England and Parliament and the judgement was usually in favour of the man; Pippin would have to resort to other means!
A Claim of Desertion:
She would have to tick NO to this one as technically she had now deserted him.
I wonder if Pippin recollected the numerous times that her Dearest Duck had threatened to clear off abroad during the fifty-four weeks of their marriage for he was even trying to convince his fellow poet Tom Moore to go to Italy with him one month after his marriage:
I have a plan of travel to Italy, which we will discuss. And then, think of the posey wherewithal we should overflow, from Venice to Vesuvius, to say nothing of Greece, through all which – God willing – we might perambulate in one twelve-months.
If I take my wife, you can take yours; and if I leave mine, you may do the same.
Perhaps in hindsight Pippin should have consented and then she could have made a valid Claim for Desertion and saved herself the trouble of all that nagging about the ‘abominable trade of versifying.’
A Wife Sale:
Given the scale of her Dearest Duck’s debts in 1816 of thirty grand and counting and that he would soon have to sell off his library – perhaps the sale of his Pippin might have been the more attractive option and at least his books would have been safe!
However, I can’t really see Byron’s Pippin been exactly thrilled at the idea of being sold off so that would be another tick in the NO box.
Declaration of Nullity, Annulment and Divorce a Mensa et Thoro by the Church Courts:
Pippin could in theory obtain a divorce if she could prove that her Dearest Duck was indeed ‘Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know’ and she had already been very busy consulting various doctors about his ‘Ennui’ and believing him to be insane what with his horrid moods, his drinking, his illness, his huge debts and with a bailiff moving in.
She next decided he was only bad…..
In an ideal world, Pippin would prefer her Dearest Duck to be committed but unfortunately as the doctors did not agree with her prognosis that her Dearest Duck was a lunatic; it would have to be another tick in the NO box!
A Private Separation:
Now, this was definitely, a tick in the YES box!
For what could be better than an amicable and civilised arrangement with a parting of the ways for Dearest Duck would get to keep his debts and as a bonus Pippin could have their daughter made a Ward of Chancery!
Well, hadn’t Dearest Duck called her baby Ada ‘an implement of torture’?
As Pippin and her parents made plans for her future life as a single mother with the countless depositions made about the horrors of her marriage with Dearest Duck and with the daily bulletins by Augusta the Good Goose who was now the anxious chatelaine of the martial abode at 13 Piccadilly Terrace; the poor Dearest Duck would have to remain in a blissful, albeit an alcohol fueled ignorance.
Pippin had left her Dearest Duck on a cold Monday on January 15 and on an equally cold Friday on this very day; Pippin’s father delivered a ‘Dear Sir’ letter to 13 Piccadilly Terrace by hand.
And although Dearest Duck would reply with his own ‘Dear Sir’ letter to Pippin’s father in a very gracious and humble manner,; he was angry and shocked at the suggestion that he should separate from his Pippin and what’s more, he demanded his Pippin back!
February 5th. 1815
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 and 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”
Alas, Pippin did not relent and maybe IF her Dearest Duck had not quoted the line from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew – she might well have had a change of heart.
Byron’s Letters and Journals, Ed. Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray, 1973-97)
The Works of Lord Byron (Wordsworth Editions Ltd, 1994)