Le corbeau blanc
- There was something about it; I couldn't tell what. Throughout the time
that Lady Melbourne was said to be aware of the incest she does not seem
to dread the association of Byron and Augusta, as she might if she knew
about any incestuous relationship. Yet she knew about Byron's secret
love. I don't read in her any dislike of Augusta, on the contrary she
advises Byron "for Augusta's shake" and teases Byron about naming his
sister + (in some versions denoted also as X).
On the 25th of April, Lady Melbourne writes:
"..you are fair, & do not try to deceive me & in that you have great
merit, I confess, - but on the other points- xxx I wish I could flatter
myself I had the least influence (You say I put too many of these
hieroglyphics in but as your one puzzles me I think it is a proper return
to puzzle you three times as much) for I could talk & reason with you for
two Hours, so many objections have I to urge, & after all, for what - for
the shake of Augusta- is it worthwhile! and to involve _______ ________
indeed, indeed if I had powers of persuasion on this Subject and could use
them with effect you should fall down and adore me. When you return from
A. (Byron NO longer calls his sister A. in his letters, but he does call
his love so- and he was at Augusta's in the beginning of the month not
when this letter was written or after) I shall not dare to make use of
Such a term you will deem it irreligious (according to the well-known
religion of incest?). By ye bye did you promise to deceive me -I hope so-
What a Medley it all is. You talk of Laughing - is it possible to think
of it all and not laugh (laugh about INCEST and an APE? Ch, ch, ch...) -
supposing they (and who is they?) were all brought together as people at
ye end of the fifth act in a play. What a confusion it would make -& what
explanations would come, & how you would be put to shame- write one- You
have the materials quite ready it can give you no trouble."
To this letter Byron anwswered with the all too familiar to us Ape
On 18th November perhaps we get a glimpse to what the hieroglyphics really
" I met with a person who had seen A- answer to +"
A- is Anabella as opposed to +, Augusta. A mathematical joke and a
reference to their contrasting natures. Both religious, pious, one a
stiff, one warm.
Many of Lady Melbourne's letters to Byron are not available. Perhaps
they have been destroyed. In some of them is written in her son's hand
"keep" or "free". Free of what, I wonder.
On the 10th of June, 1814 Lady Melbourne says:
"...I am shock'd at some of the things you sd to me last Night, & think
the easy manner in which two people have accustom'd themselves to
consider, their situation quite terrible (so it wasn't that terrible after
all? and how about that ape Medora?) - but I shall say not more at
present, as I see it is so useless. I can not reproach myself with having
ommited any thing in my power to prevent the mischief and calimitys that
must happen, I fear - but I will not croak (LIKE a CORBEAU) or prophessy
misfortunes - tho' I am very melancholy."
Next letter is of the 13th of July and is solely dedicated to Princess
Charlotte's elopement. A misfortune, a calamity, quite a terrible event
resulting to the practical imprisonement of the Princess but gets rid of
the Prince of Orange.
And now to the "Corbeau" mystery. After the wedding to A-.
31st of January, 1815
"I must thank you for saying you forgive (what you are pleased to call) my
doubts, & for not allowing my sincerity to prevent yr. still having
confidence inme; I willingly accept the office, in which you have
install'd me & hope always to be your Corbeau blanc. (you remember
Voltaire's tale) I wish you may hit as justly upon the corbeau Noir and
avoid her -..."
Jonathan David Gross, editor of Lady Melbourne's letters claims this is a
reference to "Le Toreau Blanc" where a raven is a bull's guide. The Bull
mind you is the metamorhosed and persecuted Lover of a Princess whose love
her father wishes to destroy. In talking to the raven and trying to
make it carry out his wishes the father, or King reminds the raven that
she turned black for turning in Coronis for adultery. Now this story
would not suit me badly since the bull (Byron)more beautiful than the one
that enchanted Pasiphae or stole Europe was in love with the heiress to
the most powerful state in the world (Princess Charlotte) and she
reciprocated. But this raven, the guardian, was supposed to take the
Bull's eyes out and was considering being sold to the King. I don't read
Lady Melboune's letter that way. She is happy to be in Byron's confidence
as his corbeau blanc.
There is another story that Byron will verify for
you after I tell it. The most obvious reference to white and black is in
Voltaire's story "Le blanc et le noir". There is a nobleman Rustan, could
be a Marquis or a Baron, falls in love with the Princess of Cashmere. And
so does she. Rustan has two favourites: a white and a black advisor (who
function as secretaries, errand boys etc.). Rustan is decided to ask for
the hand of his Princess and has to journey to Cashmere. No, caution
advises the white servant. Yes, charge! advises the black. The journey
begins and the servants disappear. Only thing found when they're called:
a vulture fighting with an eagle. Tons of fantastic adventures ensue and
when Rustan reaches Cashemere he has to compete for his Princess's hand
for her father is giving her to another against her will. and she is in
her castle crying. "Fight with me" says the rival. "Don't" says the
Griffin. "Do" says the corbeau. Rustan fights, as a result they all die.
Before Rustan's death the servants show up and expleain they have been his
good (blanc) and bad (noir) "genies" that had been fighting over his fate
all the way to Cashmere. Rustan dies. Then he wakes up to find it was all
Byron's answer to lady Melbourne's letter:
"...I suppose your Corbeau noir is + but if + were a Raven OR A GRIFFIN I
must still take my omens from her flight - I can't help loving her tho- I
have quite enough at home to prevent me from loving any one essentially
for some time to come-"
There is no Griffin in "Le Toreau Blanc". From these two letters + is not
the Lover but the advisor and somehow she's found in antithetical position
with Lady Melbourne.
"...I am laughing now at your essentially -essentiellement- par nature-
par Essence. I had never heard of it before, but as essentially worse or
better - or serving any one Essentially &c.,&c. to me it was quite a new
reading. I am going on changing Pens & each of them worse than the last
- never mind, you must have time enough upon your hands to decypher what
ever is written to you - I did not mean yt any favourite of yours, was
Synonymous to yt term when you talk of the Grand Signiors, but I have no
objection to her or any other person entrapping his Grace, but like a good
politician I had rather he would form an Alliance with some person
hostile to ye present System. You wrong me about X on one subject.
THEY are as black, and as hideous as any Phantasm of a distempered brain
can imagine - but that "Essential" x out of the way, I don't know any one
more fitted for your Corbeau blanc, from cleverness, Good - humour & a
thousand agreeable qualitys - not forgetting the interest they take in You
& the knowledge they have of you, which renders them more able to manage
and advise - does this satisfy you?"
One could take the THEY to mean "the omens". "The omens are black
hideous, Phantasms of the brain". "You wrong me": doesn't that sound
apologetic? And this time Lady Melbourne says that since Augusta is out
of the way ie not in London she herself is the best for B's corbeau
blanc. But one can imagine that the attributes she ascribes to herself
could be applied to Augusta if one is "to satisfy" Byron. As for
Ldy Me's laughing at the "essentially" the OXYMORON is the most laughable
aspect. He cannot mean "by Nature" ie "carnally" for at home he will be
getting Anabella pregnant shortly.
So this is my Corbeau blanc story...
> Before Rustan's death the servants show up and expleain they have been hisThe "advisors" had assumed the forms of the vulture and the eagle and
> good (blanc) and bad (noir) "genies" that had been fighting over his fate
> all the way to Cashmere.
Corbeau and Griffin among other things, during their fight over Rustan's
Byron going to A. might have refered to Anabella's invitation to Seaham
which was oout of etiquette. Or maybe not.