On 23rd April 1816, Byron left London for the last time. In a grand dramatic gesture he had ordered a huge travelling-coach modelled on one that had belonged to his hero Napoleon. You sent Napoleon to distant and lonely exile last year; now look at me, forced to do the same!
London Society, pretending to have turned its back on its prodigal son, was still watching him closely. He had written a final poem to his estranged wife, Fare thee well!, a desperate cry from the heart.
Fare thee well! and if forever,
Still for ever, fare thee well:
Even though unforgiving, never
‘Gainst thee shall my heart rebel….
Fare thee well! Thus disunited,
Torn from every nearer tie,
Sear’d in heart, and lone, and blighted,
More than this I scarce can die.
Foolishly, he had circulated copies to close friends. A “friend” had made sure that the poem was published in a newspaper, and now the entire press was cheerfully publishing lurid old gossip and hearsay.
No sooner had his heavy coach trundled out of London than the bailiffs took possession of all that remained in Piccadilly Terrace. Byron’s English life was at an end.
On 25th April Byron set sail from Dover, accompanied by a Swiss courier, his valet William Fletcher (who was leaving behind a wife and two sons rather than abandon the man he had cared for since Byron was eighteen) and his doctor, Dr Polidori: specially hired for the journey, and already keeping a journal with an eye to publication. Thus we owe to Dr. Polidori the knowledge that, exactly two hundred years ago today, on 26th April 1816, Byron arrived at the Hotel Cour Imperiale in Ostend, where he
…fell like a thunderbolt on the chambermaid.