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´╗┐Title: Shelley
Author: Waterlow, Sydney, 1878-1944
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Shelley" ***

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SHELLEY

By Sydney Waterlow


     Published London: T. C. & E. C. Jack
     67 Long Acre, W.C., and Edinburgh
     New York: Dodge Publishing Co.
     1913.



Contents

       I. SHELLEY AND HIS AGE
      II. PRINCIPAL WRITINGS
     III. THE POET OF REBELLION, OF NATURE, AND OF LOVE
          BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE



Chapter I. Shelley and His Age

In the case of most great writers our interest in them as persons is
derived from out interest in them as writers; we are not very curious
about them except for reasons that have something to do with their
art. With Shelley it is different. During his life he aroused fears and
hatreds, loves and adorations, that were quite irrelevant to literature;
and even now, when he has become a classic, he still causes excitement
as a man. His lovers are as vehement as ever. For them he is the "banner
of freedom," which,

   "Torn but flying,
   Streams like a thunder-cloud against the wind."

He has suffered that worst indignity of canonisation as a being saintly
and superhuman, not subject to the morality of ordinary mortals. He
has been bedaubed with pathos. Nevertheless it is possible still to
recognise in him one of the most engaging personalities that ever lived.
What is the secret of this charm? He had many characteristics that
belong to the most tiresome natures; he even had the qualities of the
man as to whom one wonders whether partial insanity may not be his
best excuse--inconstancy expressing itself in hysterical revulsions of
feeling, complete lack of balance, proneness to act recklessly to the
hurt of others. Yet he was loved and respected by contemporaries of
tastes very different from his own, who were good judges and intolerant
of bores--by Byron, who was apt to care little for any one, least of
all for poets, except himself; by Peacock, who poured laughter on all
enthusiasms; and by Hogg, who, though slightly eccentric, was a Tory
eccentric. The fact is that, with all his defects, he had two qualities
which, combined, are so attractive that there is scarcely anything they
will not redeem--perfect sincerity without a thought of self, and vivid
emotional force. All his faults as well as his virtues were, moreover,
derived from a certain strong feeling, coloured in a peculiar way
which will be explained in what follows--a sort of ardour of universal
benevolence. One of his letters ends with these words: "Affectionate
love to and from all. This ought to be not only the vale of a letter,
but a superscription over the gate of life"--words which, expressing not
merely Shelley's opinion of what ought to be, but what he actually felt,
reveal the ultimate reason why he is still loved, and the reason, too,
why he has so often been idealised. For this universal benevolence is
a thing which appeals to men almost with the force of divinity, still
carrying, even when mutilated and obscured by frailties, some suggestion
of St. Francis or of Christ.

The object of these pages is not to idealise either his life, his
character, or his works. The three are inseparably connected, and to
understand one we must understand all. The reason is that Shelley is one
of the most subjective of writers. It would be hard to name a poet who
has kept his art more free from all taint of representation of the real,
making it nor an instrument for creating something life-like, but a more
and more intimate echo or emanation of his own spirit. In studying his
writings we shall see how they flow from his dominating emotion of love
for his fellow-men; and the drama of his life, displayed against the
background of the time, will in turn throw light on that emotion.
His benevolence took many forms--none perfect, some admirable, some
ridiculous. It was too universal. He never had a clear enough perception
of the real qualities of real men and women; hence his loves for
individuals, as capricious as they were violent, always seem to lack
something which is perhaps the most valuable element in human affection.
If in this way we can analyse his temperament successfully, the process
should help us to a more critical understanding, and so to a fuller
enjoyment, of the poems.

This greatest of our lyric poets, the culmination of the Romantic
Movement in English literature, appeared in an age which, following on
the series of successful wars that had established British power all
over the world, was one of the gloomiest in our history. If in some ways
the England of 1800-20 was ahead of the rest of Europe, in others it
lagged far behind. The Industrial Revolution, which was to turn us from
a nation of peasants and traders into a nation of manufacturers, had
begun; but its chief fruits as yet were increased materialism and
greed, and politically the period was one of blackest reaction. Alone
of European peoples we had been untouched by the tide of Napoleon's
conquests, which, when it receded from the Continent, at least left
behind a framework of enlightened institutions, while our success in the
Napoleonic wars only confirmed the ruling aristocratic families in their
grip of the nation which they had governed since the reign of Anne.
This despotism crushed the humble and stimulated the high-spirited to
violence, and is the reason why three such poets as Byron, Landor, and
Shelley, though by birth and fortune members of the ruling class, were
pioneers as much of political as of spiritual rebellion. Unable to
breathe the atmosphere of England, they were driven to live in exile.

It requires some effort to reconstruct that atmosphere to-day. A
foreign critic [Dr. George Brandes, in vol. iv. of his 'Main Currents of
Nineteenth Century Literature'] has summed it up by saying that England
was then pre-eminently the home of cant; while in politics her native
energy was diverted to oppression, in morals and religion it took the
form of hypocrisy and persecution. Abroad she was supporting the Holy
Alliance, throwing her weight into the scale against all movements for
freedom. At home there was exhaustion after war; workmen were thrown out
of employment, and taxation pressed heavily on high rents and the high
price of corn, was made cruel by fear; for the French Revolution had
sent a wave of panic through the country, not to ebb until about 1830.
Suspicion of republican principles--which, it seemed, led straight to
the Terror--frightened many good men, who would otherwise have been
reformers, into supporting the triumph of coercion and Toryism.
The elder generation of poets had been republicans in their youth.
Wordsworth had said of the Revolution that it was "bliss to be alive" in
that dawn; Southey and Coleridge had even planned to found a communistic
society in the New World. Now all three were rallied to the defence of
order and property, to Church and Throne and Constitution. From their
seclusion in the Lakes, Southey and Wordsworth praised the royal family
and celebrated England as the home of freedom; while Thomson wrote
"Rule, Britannia," as if Britons, though they never, never would be
slaves to a foreigner, were to a home-grown tyranny more blighting,
because more stupid, than that of Napoleon. England had stamped out the
Irish rebellion of 1798 in blood, had forced Ireland by fraud into the
Union of 1800, and was strangling her industry and commerce. Catholics
could neither vote nor hold office. At a time when the population of the
United Kingdom was some thirty millions, the Parliamentary franchise was
possessed by no more than a million persons, and most of the seats
in the House of Commons were the private property of rich men.
Representative government did not exist; whoever agitated for some
measure of it was deported to Australia or forced to fly to America.
Glasgow and Manchester weavers starved and rioted. The press was gagged
and the Habeas Corpus Act constantly suspended. A second rebellion
in Ireland, when Castlereagh "dabbled his sleek young hands in Erin's
gore," was suppressed with unusual ferocity. In England in 1812 famine
drove bands of poor people to wander and pillage. Under the criminal
law, still of medieval cruelty, death was the punishment for the theft
of a loaf or a sheep. The social organism had come to a deadlock--on
the one hand a starved and angry populace, on the other a vast
Church-and-King party, impregnably powerful, made up of all who had
"a stake in the country." The strain was not to be relieved until the
Reform Act of 1832 set the wheels in motion again; they then moved
painfully indeed, but still they moved. Meanwhile Parliament was the
stronghold of selfish interests; the Church was the jackal of the
gentry; George III, who lost the American colonies and maintained negro
slavery, was on the throne, until he went mad and was succeeded by his
profligate son.

Shelley said of himself that he was

     "A nerve o'er which do creep
     The else unfelt oppressions of this earth,"

and all the shades of this dark picture are reflected in his life and
in his verse. He was the eldest son of a Sussex family that was loyally
Whig and moved in the orbit of the Catholic Dukes of Norfolk, and the
talk about emancipation which he would hear at home may partly explain
his amazing invasion of Ireland in 1811-12, when he was nineteen years
old, with the object of procuring Catholic emancipation and the repeal
of the Union Act--subjects on which he was quite ignorant. He addressed
meetings, wasted money, and distributed two pamphlets "consisting of
the benevolent and tolerant deductions of philosophy reduced into the
simplest language." Later on, when he had left England for ever, he
still followed eagerly the details of the struggle for freedom at home,
and in 1819 composed a group of poems designed to stir the masses from
their lethargy. Lord Liverpool's administration was in office, with
Sidmouth as Home Secretary and Castlereagh as Foreign Secretary, a pair
whom he thus pillories:

    "As a shark and dog-fish wait
      Under an Atlantic Isle,
    For the negro ship, whose freight
    Is the theme of their debate,
      Wrinkling their red gills the while--

     Are ye, two vultures sick for battle,
       Two scorpions under one wet stone,
     Two bloodless wolves whose dry throats rattle,
     Two crows perched on the murrained cattle,
       Two vipers tangled into one."

The most effective of these bitter poems is 'The Masque of Anarchy',
called forth by the "Peterloo Massacre" at Manchester on August 16,
1819, when hussars had charged a peaceable meeting held in support
of Parliamentary reform, killing six people and wounding some seventy
others. Shelley's frenzy of indignation poured itself out in the
terrific stanzas, written in simplest language so as to be understood by
the people, which tell how

     "I met a murder on the way--
     He had a mask like Castlereagh--
     Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
     Seven blood-hounds followed him."

The same year and mood produced the great sonnet, 'England in 1819'--

     "An old, mad, blind, despised and dying king,
     Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
     Through public scorn,--mud from a muddy spring."

and to the same group belongs that not quite successful essay in
sinister humour, 'Swellfoot the Tyrant' (1820), suggested by the
grunting of pigs at an Italian fair, and burlesquing the quarrel between
the Prince Regent and his wife. When the Princess of Wales (Caroline of
Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel), after having left her husband and perambulated
Europe with a paramour, returned, soon after the Prince's accession as
George IV, to claim her position as Queen, the royal differences became
an affair of high national importance. The divorce case which followed
was like a gangrenous eruption symptomatic of the distempers of the age.
Shelley felt that sort of disgust which makes a man rave and curse under
the attacks of some loathsome disease; if he laughs, it is the laugh of
frenzy. In the slight Aristophanic drama of 'Swellfoot', which was
sent home, published, and at once suppressed, he represents the men of
England as starving pigs content to lap up such diluted hog's-wash as
their tyrant, the priests, and the soldiers will allow them. At the end,
when the pigs, rollicking after the triumphant Princess, hunt down their
oppressors, we cannot help feeling a little sorry that he does not glide
from the insistent note of piggishness into some gentler mood: their is
a rasping quality in his humour, even though it is always on the side of
right. He wrote one good satire though. This is 'Peter Bell the Third'
(1819), an attack on Wordsworth, partly literary for the dulness of
his writing since he had been sunk in clerical respectability, partly
political for his renegade flunkyism.

In 1820 the pall which still hung over northern Europe began to lift in
the south. After Napoleon's downfall the Congress of Vienna (1814-16)
had parcelled Europe out on the principle of disregarding national
aspirations and restoring the legitimate rulers. This system,
which could not last, was first shaken by revolutions that set up
constitutional governments in Spain and Naples. Shelley hailed these
streaks of dawn with joy, and uttered his enthusiasm in two odes--the
'Ode to Liberty' and the 'Ode to Naples'--the most splendid of those
cries of hope and prophecy with which a long line of English poets has
encouraged the insurrection of the nations. Such cries, however, have no
visible effect on the course of events. Byron's jingles could change the
face of the world, while all Shelley's pure and lofty aspirations left
no mark on history. And so it was, not with his republican ardours
alone, but with all he undertook. Nothing he did influenced his
contemporaries outside his immediate circle; the public only noticed him
to execrate the atheist, the fiend, and the monster. He felt that "his
name was writ on water," and languished for want of recognition. His
life, a lightning-flash across the storm-cloud of the age, was a brief
but crowded record of mistakes and disasters, the classical example of
the rule that genius is an infinite capacity for getting into trouble.

Though poets must "learn in suffering what they teach in song," there is
often a vein of comedy in their lives. If we could transport ourselves
to Miller's Hotel, Westminster Bridge, on a certain afternoon in
the early spring of 1811, we should behold a scene apparently swayed
entirely by the Comic Muse. The member for Shoreham, Mr. Timothy
Shelley, a handsome, consequential gentleman of middle age, who
piques himself on his enlightened opinions, is expecting two guests to
dinner--his eldest son, and his son's friend, T. J. Hogg, who have just
been sent down from Oxford for a scandalous affair of an aesthetical
squib. When the young men arrive at five o'clock, Mr. Shelley receives
Hogg, an observant and cool-headed person, with graciousness, and an
hour is spent in conversation. Mr. Shelley runs on strangely, "in an
odd, unconnected manner, scolding, crying, swearing, and then weeping
again." After dinner, his son being out of the room, he expresses his
surprise to Hogg at finding him such a sensible fellow, and asks him
what is to be done with the scapegoat. "Let him be married to a girl who
will sober him." The wine moves briskly round, and Mr. Shelley becomes
maudlin and tearful again. He is a model magistrate, the terror and the
idol of poachers; he is highly respected in the House of Commons, and
the Speaker could not get through the session without him. Then he
drifts to religion. God exists, no one can deny it; in fact, he has the
proof in his pocket. Out comes a piece of paper, and arguments are read
aloud, which his son recognises as Palley's. "Yes, they are Palley's
arguments, but he had them from me; almost everything in Palley's book
he had taken from me." The boy of nineteen, who listens fuming to this
folly, takes it all with fatal seriousness. In appearance he is no
ordinary being. A shock of dark brown hair makes his small round head
look larger than it really is; from beneath a pale, freckled forehead,
deep blue eyes, large and mild as a stag's, beam an earnestness which
easily flashes into enthusiasm; the nose is small and turn-up, the
beardless lips girlish and sensitive. He is tall, but stoops, and has an
air of feminine fragility, though his bones and joints are large. Hands
and feet, exquisitely shaped, are expressive of high breeding. His
expensive, handsome clothes are disordered and dusty, and bulging with
books. When he speaks, it is in a strident peacock voice, and there is
an abrupt clumsiness in his gestures, especially in drawing-rooms, where
he is ill at ease, liable to trip in the carpet and upset furniture.
Complete absence of self-consciousness, perfect disinterestedness, are
evident in every tone; it is clear that he is an aristocrat, but it is
also clear that he is a saint.

The catastrophe of expulsion from Oxford would have been impossible in
a well-regulated university, but Percy Bysshe Shelley could not have
fitted easily into any system. Born at Field Place, Horsham, Sussex, on
August 4, 1792, simultaneously with the French Revolution, he had more
than a drop of wildness in his blood. The long pedigree of the Shelley
family is full of turbulent ancestors, and the poet's grandfather, Sir
Bysshe, an eccentric old miser who lived until 1815, had been married
twice, on both occasions eloping with an heiress. Already at Eton
Shelley was a rebel and a pariah. Contemptuous of authority, he had gone
his own way, spending pocket-money on revolutionary literature, trying
to raise ghosts, and dabbling in chemical experiments. As often happens
to queer boys, his school-fellows herded against him, pursuing him with
blows and cries of "Mad Shelley." But the holidays were happy. There
must have been plenty of fun at Field Place when he told his sisters
stories about the alchemist in the attic or "the Great Tortoise that
lived in Warnham Pond," frightened them with electric shocks, and taught
his baby brother to say devil. There is something of high-spirited fun
even in the raptures and despairs of his first love for his cousin,
Harriet Grove. He tried to convert her to republican atheism, until
the family, becoming alarmed, interfered, and Harriet was disposed of
otherwise. "Married to a clod of earth!" exclaims Shelley. He spent
nights "pacing the churchyard," and slept with a loaded pistol and
poison beside him.

He went in to residence at University College, Oxford, in the Michaelmas
term of 1810. The world must always bless the chance which sent Thomas
Jefferson Hogg a freshman to the same college at the same time, and made
him Shelley's friend. The chapters in which Hogg describes their live at
Oxford are the best part of his biography. In these lively pages we see,
with all the force of reality, Shelley working by fits in a litter of
books and retorts and "galvanic troughs," and discoursing on the vast
possibilities of science for making mankind happy; how chemistry will
turn deserts into cornfields, and even the air and water will year fire
and food; how Africa will be explored by balloons, of which the shadows,
passing over the jungles, will emancipate the slaves. In the midst he
would rush out to a lecture on mineralogy, and come back sighing that it
was all about "stones, stones, stones"! The friends read Plato together,
and held endless talk of metaphysics, pre-existence, and the sceptical
philosophy, on winter walks across country, and all night beside the
fire, until Shelley would curl up on the hearthrug and go to sleep.
He was happy because he was left to himself. With all his thoughts and
impulses, ill-controlled indeed, but directed to the acquisition of
knowledge for the benefit of the world, such a student would nowadays be
a marked man, applauded and restrained. But the Oxford of that day was
a home of "chartered laziness." An academic circle absorbed in intrigues
for preferment, and enlivened only by drunkenness and immorality, could
offer nothing but what was repugnant to Shelley. He remained a solitary
until the hand of authority fell and expelled him.

He had always had a habit of writing to strangers on the subjects next
his heart. Once he approached Miss Felicia Dorothea Browne (afterwards
Mrs. Hemans), who had not been encouraging. Now half in earnest, and
half with an impish desire for dialectical scores, he printed a pamphlet
on 'The Necessity of Atheism', a single foolscap sheet concisely proving
that no reason for the existence of God can be valid, and sent it to
various personages, including bishops, asking for a refutation. It fell
into the hands of the college authorities. Summoned before the council
to say whether he was the author, Shelley very properly refused to
answer, and was peremptorily expelled, together with Hogg, who had
intervened in his behalf.

The pair went to London, and took lodgings in a house where a wall-paper
with a vine-trellis pattern caught Shelley's fancy. Mr. Timothy Shelley
appeared on the scene, and, his feelings as a Christian and a father
deeply outraged, did the worst thing he could possibly have done--he
made forgiveness conditional on his son's giving up his friend. The next
step was to cut off supplies and to forbid Field Place to him, lest he
should corrupt his sisters' minds. Soon Hogg had to go to York to
work in a conveyancer's office, and Shelley was left alone in London,
depressed, a martyr, and determined to save others from similar
persecution. In this mood he formed a connection destined to end in
tragedy. His sisters were at a school at Clapham, where among the
girls was one Harriet Westbrook, the sixteen-year-old daughter of a
coffee-house keeper. Shelley became intimate with the Westbrooks, and
set about saving the soul of Harriet, who had a pretty rosy face, a neat
figure, and a glib school-girl mind quick to catch up and reproduce his
doctrines. The child seems to have been innocent enough, but her elder
sister, Eliza, a vulgar woman of thirty, used her as a bait to entangle
the future baronet; she played on Shelley's feelings by encouraging
Harriet to believe herself the victim of tyranny at school. Still, it
was six months before he took the final step. How he could save Harriet
from scholastic and domestic bigotry was a grave question. In the first
place, hatred of "matrimonialism" was one of his principles, yet it
seemed unfair to drag a helpless woman into the risks of illicit union;
in the second place, he was at this time passionately interested in
another woman, a certain Miss Hitchener, a Sussex school mistress of
republican and deistic principles, whom he idealised as an angel, only
to discover soon, with equal falsity, that she was a demon. At last
Harriet was worked up to throw herself on his protection. They fled by
the northern mail, dropping at York a summons to Hogg to join them, and
contracted a Scottish marriage at Edinburgh on August 28, 1811.

The story of the two years and nine months during which Shelley
lived with Harriet must seem insane to a rational mind. Life was one
comfortless picnic. When Shelley wanted food, he would dart into a shop
and buy a loaf or a handful of raisins. Always accompanied by Eliza,
they changed their dwelling-place more than twelve times. Edinburgh,
York, Keswick, Dublin, Nantgwillt, Lynmouth, Tremadoc, Tanyrallt,
Killarney, London (Half Moon Street and Pimlico), Bracknell, Edinburgh
again, and Windsor, successively received this fantastic household.
Each fresh house was the one where they were to abide for ever, and
each formed the base of operations for some new scheme of comprehensive
beneficence. Thus at Tremadoc, on the Welsh coast, Shelley embarked on
the construction of an embankment to reclaim a drowned tract of land;
'Queen Mab' was written partly in Devonshire and partly in Wales; and
from Ireland, where he had gone to regenerate the country, he opened
correspondence with William Godwin, the philosopher and author of
'Political Justice'. His energy in entering upon ecstatic personal
relations was as great as that which he threw into philanthropic
schemes; but the relations, like the schemes, were formed with no notion
of adapting means to ends, and were often dropped as hurriedly. Eliza
Westbrook, at first a woman of estimable qualities, quickly became "a
blind and loathsome worm that cannot see to sting", Miss Hitchener, who
had been induced to give up her school and come to live with them "for
ever," was discovered to be a "brown demon," and had to be pensioned
off. He loved his wife for a time, but they drifted apart, and he found
consolation in a sentimental attachment to a Mrs. Boinville and her
daughter, Cornelia Turner, ladies who read Italian poetry with him
and sang to guitars. Harriet had borne him a daughter, Ianthe, but she
herself was a child, who soon wearied of philosophy and of being taught
Latin; naturally she wanted fine clothes, fashion, a settlement. Egged
on by her sister, she spent on plate and a carriage the money that
Shelley would have squandered on humanity at large. Money difficulties
and negotiations with his father were the background of all this period.
On March 24, 1814, he married Harriet in church, to settle any possible
question as to the legitimacy of his children; but they parted soon
after. Attempts were made at reconciliation, which might have succeeded
had not Shelley during this summer drifted into a serious and relatively
permanent passion. He made financial provision for his wife, who gave
birth to a second child, a boy, on November 30, 1814; but, as the months
passed, and Shelley was irrevocably bound to another, she lost heart for
life in the dreariness of her father's house. An Irish officer took her
for his mistress, and on December 10, 1816, she was found drowned in the
Serpentine. Twenty days later Shelley married his second wife.

This marriage was the result of his correspondence with William Godwin,
which had ripened into intimacy, based on community of principles, with
the Godwin household. The philosopher, a short, stout old man, presided,
with his big bald head, his leaden complexion, and his air of a
dissenting minister, over a heterogeneous family at 41 Skinner Street,
Holborn, supported in scrambling poverty by the energy of the second
Mrs. Godwin, who carried on a business of publishing children's books.
In letters of the time we see Mrs. Godwin as a fat little woman in
a black velvet dress, bad-tempered and untruthful. "She is a very
disgusting woman, and wears green spectacles," said Charles Lamb.
Besides a small son of the Godwins, the family contained four other
members--Clara Mary Jane Clairmont and Charles Clairmont (Mrs. Godwin's
children by a previous marriage), Fanny Godwin (as she was called), and
Mary Godwin. These last two were the daughters of Mary Wollstonecraft,
the author of 'The Rights of Women', the great feminist, who had been
Godwin's first wife. Fanny's father was a scamp called Imlay, and Mary
was Godwin's child.

Mary disliked her stepmother, and would wander on fine days to read
beside her mother's grave in Old St. Pancras Churchyard. This girl of
seventeen had a strong if rather narrow mind; she was imperious, ardent,
and firm-willed. She is said to have been very pale, with golden hair
and a large forehead, redeemed from commonplace by hazel eyes which had
a piercing look. When sitting, she appeared to be of more than average
height; when she stood, you saw that she had her father's stumpy legs.
Intellectually, and by the solidity of her character, she was better
fitted to be Shelley's mate than any other woman he ever came across.
It was natural that she should be interested in this bright creature,
fallen as from another world into their dingy, squabbling family. If
it was inevitable that her interest, touched with pity (for he was in
despair over the collapse of his life with Harriet), should quickly warm
to love, we must insist that the rapture with which he leaped to meet
her had some foundation in reality. That she was gifted is manifest in
her writings--chiefly, no doubt, in 'Frankenstein', composed when she
had Shelley to fire her imagination; but her other novels are competent,
and her letters are the work of a vigorous intellect. She had her
limitations. She was not quite so free from conventionality as either he
or she believed; but on the whole they were neither deceiving themselves
nor one another when they plighted faith by Mary Wollstonecraft's grave.
With their principles, it was nothing that marriage was impossible.
Without the knowledge of the elder Godwins, they made arrangements to
elope, and on July 28, 1814, crossed from Dover to Calais in an open
boat, taking Jane Clairmont with them on the spur of the moment. Jane
also had been unhappy in Skinner Street. She was about Mary's age, a
pert, olive-complexioned girl, with a strong taste for life. She changed
her name to Claire because it sounded more romantic.

Mrs. Godwin pursued the fugitives to Calais, but in vain. Shelley
was now launched on a new life with a new bride, and--a freakish
touch--accompanied as before by his bride's sister. The more his life
changed, the more it was the same thing--the same plunging without
forethought, the same disregard for all that is conventionally deemed
necessary. His courage is often praised, and rightly, though we
ought not to forget that ignorance, and even obtuseness, were large
ingredients in it. As far as they had any plan, it was to reach
Switzerland and settle on the banks of some lake, amid sublime mountain
scenery, "for ever." In fact, the tour lasted but six weeks. Their
difficulties began in Paris, where only an accident enabled Shelley to
raise funds. Then they moved slowly across war-wasted France, Mary and
Claire, in black silk dresses, riding by turns on a mule, and Shelley
walking. Childish happiness glows in their journals. From Troyes Shelley
wrote to the abandoned Harriet, in perfect good faith, pressing her
to join them in Switzerland. There were sprained ankles, dirty inns,
perfidious and disobliging drivers--the ordinary misadventures of
the road, magnified a thousand times by their helplessness, and all
transfigured in the purple light of youth and the intoxication of
literature. At last they reached the Lake of Lucerne, settled at
Brunnen, and began feverishly to read and write. Shelley worked at a
novel called 'The Assassins', and we hear of him "sitting on a rude pier
by the lake" and reading aloud the siege of Jerusalem from Tacitus. Soon
they discovered that they had only just enough money left to take them
home. Camp was struck in haste, and they travelled down the Rhine.
When their boat was detained at Marsluys, all three sat writing in the
cabin--Shelley his novel, Mary a story called 'Hate', and Claire a
story called 'The Idiot'--until they were tossed across to England, and
reached London after borrowing passage-money from the captain.

The winter was spent in poverty, dodging creditors through the
labyrinthine gloom of the town. Chronic embarrassment was caused by
Shelley's extravagant credulity. His love of the astonishing, his
readiness to believe merely because a thing was impossible, made him the
prey of every impostor. Knowing that he was heir to a large fortune, he
would subsidise any project or any grievance, only provided it were wild
enough. Godwin especially was a running sore both now and later on; the
philosopher was at the beginning of that shabby 'degringolade' which was
to end in the ruin of his self-respect. In spite of his anti-matrimonial
principles, he was indignant at his disciple's elopement with his
daughter, and, in spite of his philosophy, he was not above abusing and
sponging in the same breath. The worst of these difficulties, however,
came to an end when Shelley's grandfather died on January 6, 1815, and
he was able, after long negotiations, to make an arrangement with his
father, by which his debts were paid and he received an income of 1000
pounds a year in consideration of his abandoning his interest in part of
the estate.

And now, the financial muddle partly smoothed out, his genius began to
bloom in the congenial air of Mary's companionship. The summer of 1815
spent in rambles in various parts of the country, saw the creation
of Alastor. Early in 1816 Mary gave birth to her first child, a boy,
William, and in the spring, accompanied by the baby and Claire, they
made a second expedition to Switzerland. A little in advance another
poet left England for ever. George Gordon, Lord Byron, loaded with fame
and lacerated by chagrin, was beginning to bear through Europe that
"pageant of his bleeding heart" of which the first steps are celebrated
in 'Childe Harold'. Unknown to Shelley and Mary, there was already
a link between them and the luxurious "pilgrim of eternity" rolling
towards Geneva in his travelling-carriage, with physician and suite:
Claire had visited Byron in the hope that he might help her to
employment at Drury Lane Theatre, and, instead of going on the stage,
had become his mistress. Thus united, but strangely dissimilar, the two
parties converged on the Lake of Geneva, where the poets met for the
first time. Shelley, though jarred by Byron's worldliness and pride, was
impressed by his creative power, and the days they spent sailing on the
lake, and wandering in a region haunted by the spirit of Rousseau,
were fruitful. The 'Hymn to Intellectual Beauty' and the 'Lines on Mont
Blanc' were conceived this summer. In September the Shelleys were back
in England.

But England, though he had good friends like Peacock and the Leigh
Hunts, was full of private and public troubles, and was not to hold
him long. The country was agitated by riots due to unemployment. The
Government, frightened and vindictive, was multiplying trials for
treason and blasphemous libel, and Shelley feared he might be put in the
pillory himself. Mary's sister Fanny, to whom he was attached, killed
herself in October; Harriet's suicide followed in December; and in the
same winter the Westbrooks began to prepare their case for the Chancery
suit, which ended in the permanent removal of Harriet's children from
his custody, on the grounds that his immoral conduct and opinions
unfitted him to be their guardian. His health, too, seems to have been
bad, though it is hard to know precisely how bad. He was liable to
hallucinations of all kinds; the line between imagination and reality,
which ordinary people draw quite definitely, seems scarcely to have
existed for him. There are many stories as to which it is disputed
how far, if at all, reality is mixed with dream, as in the case of the
murderous assault he believed to have been made on him one night of wind
and rain in Wales; of the veiled lady who offered to join her life
to his; of the Englishman who, hearing him ask for letters in the
post-office at Pisa or Florence, exclaimed, "What, are you that damned
atheist Shelley?" and felled him to the ground. Often he would go half
frantic with delusions--as that his father and uncle were plotting to
shut him up in a madhouse, and that his boy William would be snatched
from him by the law. Ghosts were more familiar to him than flesh and
blood. Convinced that he was wasting with a fatal disease, he would
often make his certainty of early death the pretext for abandoning some
ill-considered scheme; but there is probably much exaggeration in the
spasms and the consumptive symptoms which figure so excitedly in his
letters. Hogg relates how he once plagued himself and his friends by
believing that he had elephantiasis, and says that he was really very
healthy The truth seems to be that his constitution was naturally
strong, though weakened from time to time by neurotic conditions,
in which mental pain brought on much physical pain, and by irregular
infrequent, and scanty meals.

In February 1817 he settled at Marlow with Mary and Claire. Claire, as
a result of her intrigue with Byron--of which the fruit was a daughter,
Allegra, born in January--was now a permanent charge on his affectionate
generosity. It seemed that their wanderings were at last over. At Marlow
he busied himself with politics and philanthropy, and wrote 'The Revolt
of Islam'. But, partly because the climate was unsuitable, partly from
overwork in visiting and helping the poor, his health was thought to
be seriously endangered. In March 1818, together with the five souls
dependent on him--Claire and her baby, Mary and her two babies (a
second, Clara, had been born about six months before)--he left England,
never to return.

Mary disliked hot weather, but it always put Shelley in spirits, and his
best work was done beneath the sultry blue of Italian skies, floating in
a boat on the Serchio or the Arno, baking in a glazed cage on the roof
of a Tuscan villa, or lying among the ruins of the Coliseum or in the
pine-woods near Pisa. Their Italian wanderings are too intricate to be
traced in detail here. It was a chequered time, darkened by disaster
and cheered by friendships. Both their children died, Clara at Venice in
1818, and William at home in 1819. It is impossible not to be amazed at
the heedlessness--the long journeys in a rough foreign land, the absence
of ordinary provision against ailments--which seems to have caused the
death of these beloved little beings. The birth in 1819 of another son,
Percy (who survived to become Sir Percy Shelley), brought some comfort.
Claire's troubles, again, were a constant anxiety. Shelley worked hard
to persuade Byron either to let her have Allegra or to look after his
daughter properly himself; but he was obdurate, and the child died in a
convent near Venice in 1822. Shelley's association with Byron, of whom,
in 'Julian and Maddalo' (1818), he has drawn a picture with the darker
features left out, brought as much pain as pleasure to all concerned.
No doubt Byron's splenetic cynicism, even his parade of debauchery,
was largely an assumption for the benefit of the world; but beneath
the frankness, the cheerfulness, the wit of his intimate conversation,
beneath his careful cultivation of the graces of a Regency buck, he was
fundamentally selfish and treacherous. Provided no serious demands were
made upon him, he enjoyed the society of Shelley and his circle, and the
two were much together, both at Venice and in the Palazzo Lanfranchi
at Pisa, where, with a menagerie of animals and retainers, Byron had
installed himself in those surroundings of Oriental ostentation which it
amused him to affect.

A more unalloyed friendship was that with the amiable Gisborne family,
settled at Leghorn; its serene cheerfulness is reflected in Shelley's
charming rhymed 'Letter to Maria Gisborne'. And early in 1821 they were
joined by a young couple who proved very congenial. Ned Williams was a
half-pay lieutenant of dragoons, with literary and artistic tastes, and
his wife, Jane, had a sweet, engaging manner, and a good singing voice.
Then there was the exciting discovery of the Countess Emilia Viviani,
imprisoned in a convent by a jealous step-mother. All three of
them--Mary, Claire, and Shelley--at once fell in love with the dusky
beauty. Impassioned letters passed between her and Shelley, in which he
was her "dear brother" and she his "dearest sister"; but she was soon
found to be a very ordinary creature, and is only remembered as the
instrument chosen by chance to inspire 'Epipsychidion'. Finally there
appeared, in January 1822, the truest-hearted and the most lovable
of all Shelley's friends. Edward John Trelawny, a cadet of a
Cornish family, "with his knight-errant aspect, dark, handsome, and
moustachioed," was the true buccaneer of romance, but of honest English
grain, and without a trace of pose. The devotion with which, though he
only knew Shelley for a few months, he fed in memory on their friendship
to the last day of his life, brings home to us, as nothing else can, the
force of Shelley's personal attraction; for this man lived until 1881,
an almost solitary survivor from the Byronic age, and his life contained
matter enough to swamp recollection of half-a-dozen poets. It seems
that, after serving in the navy and deserting from an East Indiaman at
Bombay, he passed, in the Eastern Archipelago, through the incredible
experiences narrated in his 'Adventures of a Younger Son'; and all this
before he was twenty-one, for in 1813 he was in England and married.
Then he disappeared, bored by civilisation; nothing is known of him
until 1820, when he turns up in Switzerland in pursuit of sport and
adventure. After Shelley's death he went to Greece with Byron, joined
the rebel chief Odysseus, married his sister Tersitza, and was nearly
killed in defending a cave on Mount Parnassus. Through the subsequent
years, which included wanderings in America, and a narrow escape from
drowning in trying to swim Niagara, he kept pressing Shelley's widow to
marry him. Perhaps because he was piqued by Mary's refusal, he has left
a rather unflattering portrait of her. He was indignant at her desire
to suppress parts of 'Queen Mab'; but he might have admired the honesty
with which she retained 'Epipsychidion', although that poem describes
her as a "cold chaste moon." The old sea-captain in Sir John Millais'
picture, "The North-West Passage," now in the Tate Gallery in London, is
a portrait of Trelawny in old age.

To return to the Shelleys. It was decided that the summer of 1822 should
be spent with the Williamses, and after some search a house just capable
of holding both families was found near Lerici, on the east side of the
Bay of Spezzia. It was a lonely, wind-swept place, with its feet in
the waves. The natives were half-savage; there was no furniture, and no
facility for getting provisions. The omens opened badly. At the moment
of moving in, news of Allegra's death came; Shelley was shaken and saw
visions, and Mary disliked the place at first sight. Still, there was
the sea washing their terrace, and Shelley loved the sea (there is
scarcely one of his poems in which a boat does not figure, though it
is usually made of moonstone); and, while Williams fancied himself as a
navigator, Trelawny was really at home on the water. A certain Captain
Roberts was commissioned to get a boat built at Genoa, where Byron also
was fitting out a yacht, the 'Bolivar'. When the 'Ariel'--for so they
called her--arrived, the friends were delighted with her speed and
handiness. She was a thirty-footer, without a deck, ketch-rigged. (1)
Shelley's health was good, and this June, passed in bathing, sailing,
reading, and hearing Jane sing simple melodies to her guitar in the
moonlight, was a gleam of happiness before the end. It was not so happy
for Mary, who was ill and oppressed with housekeeping for two families,
and over whose relations with Shelley a film of querulous jealousy had
crept.

      (1 Professor Dowden, 'Life of Shelley', vol. ii., p. 501,
     says "schooner-rigged."  This is a landsman's mistake.)

Leigh Hunt, that amiable, shiftless, Radical man of letters, was coming
out from England with his wife; on July 1st Shelley and Williams
sailed in the 'Ariel' to Leghorn to meet them, and settle them into the
ground-floor of Byron's palace at Pisa. His business despatched, Shelley
returned from Pisa to Leghorn, with Hunt's copy of Keats's 'Hyperion'
in his pocket to read on the voyage home. Though the weather looked
threatening, he put to sea again on July 8th, with Williams and an
English sailor-boy. Trelawny wanted to convoy them in Byron's yacht, but
was turned back by the authorities because he had no port-clearance. The
air was sultry and still, with a storm brewing, and he went down to his
cabin and slept. When he awoke, it was to see fishing-boats running into
harbour under bare poles amid the hubbub of a thunder-squall. In that
squall the 'Ariel' disappeared. It is doubtful whether the unseaworthy
craft was merely swamped, or whether, as there is some reason to
suppose, an Italian felucca ran her down with intent to rob the
Englishmen. In any case, the calamity is the crowning example of that
combination of bad management and bad luck which dogged Shelley all
his life. It was madness to trust an open boat, manned only by the
inexperienced Williams and a boy (for Shelley was worse than useless),
to the chances of a Mediterranean storm. And destiny turns on trifles;
if the 'Bolivar' had been allowed to sail, Trelawny might have saved
them.

He sent out search-parties, and on July 19th sealed the despairing
women's certainty of disaster by the news that the bodies had been
washed ashore. Shelley's was identified by a copy of Sophocles in one
coat-pocket and the Keats in another. What Trelawny then did was an
action of that perfect fitness to which only the rarest natures are
prompted: he charged himself with the business of burning the bodies.
This required some organisation. There were official formalities to
fulfil, and the materials had to be assembled--the fuel, the improvised
furnace, the iron bars, salt and wine and oil to pour upon the pyre.
In his artless 'Records' he describes the last scene on the seashore.
Shelley's body was given to the flames on a day of intense heat, when
the islands lay hazy along the horizon, and in the background the
marble-flecked Apennines gleamed. Byron looked on until he could stand
it no longer, and swam off to his yacht. The heart was the last part to
be consumed. By Trelawny's care the ashes were buried in the Protestant
cemetery at Rome.

It is often sought to deepen our sense of this tragedy by speculating
on what Shelley would have done if he had lived. But, if such a question
must be asked, there are reasons for thinking that he might not have
added much to his reputation. It may indeed be an accident that his last
two years were less fertile in first-rate work than the years 1819 and
1820, and that his last unfinished poem, 'The Triumph of Life', is even
more incoherent than its predecessors; yet, when we consider the nature
of his talent, the fact is perhaps significant. His song was entirely an
affair of uncontrolled afflatus, and this is a force which dwindles in
middle life, leaving stranded the poet who has no other resource. Some
men suffer spiritual upheavals and eclipses, in which they lose their
old selves and emerge with new and different powers; but we may be
fairly sure that this would not have happened to Shelley, that as he
grew older he would always have returned to much the same impressions;
for his mind, of one piece through and through, had that peculiar
rigidity which can sometimes be observed in violently unstable
characters. The colour of his emotion would have fluctuated--it took on,
as it was, a deepening shade of melancholy; but there is no indication
that the material on which it worked would have changed.



Chapter II. Principal Writings

The true visionary is often a man of action, and Shelley was a very
peculiar combination of the two. He was a dreamer, but he never dreamed
merely for the sake of dreaming; he always rushed to translate his
dreams into acts. The practical side of him was so strong that he
might have been a great statesman or reformer, had not his imagination,
stimulated by a torrential fluency of language, overborne his will.
He was like a boat (the comparison would have pleased him) built for
strength and speed, but immensely oversparred. His life was a scene
of incessant bustle. Glancing through his poems, letters, diaries, and
pamphlets, his translations from Greek, Spanish, German, and Italian,
and remembering that he died at thirty, and was, besides, feverishly
active in a multitude of affairs, we fancy that his pen can scarcely
ever have been out of his hand. And not only was he perpetually writing;
he read gluttonously. He would thread the London traffic, nourishing his
unworldly mind from an open book held in one hand, and his ascetic body
from a hunch of bread held in the other. This fury for literature seized
him early. But the quality of his early work was astonishingly bad. An
author while still a schoolboy, he published in 1810 a novel, written
for the most part when he was seventeen years old, called 'Zastrozzi',
the mere title of which, with its romantic profusion of sibilants, is
eloquent of its nature. This was soon followed by another like it,
'St. Irvyne, or the Rosicrucian'. Whether they are adaptations from
the German (2) or not, these books are merely bad imitations of the
bad school then in vogue, the flesh-creeping school of skeletons and
clanking chains, of convulsions and ecstasies, which Miss Austen, though
no one knew it, had killed with laughter years before. (3) "Verezzi
scarcely now shuddered when the slimy lizard crossed his naked and
motionless limbs. The large earthworms, which twined themselves in
his long and matted hair, almost ceased to excite sensations of
horror"--that is the kind of stuff in which the imagination of the
young Shelley rioted. And evidently it is not consciously imagined; life
really presented itself to him as a romance of this kind, with himself
as hero--a hero who is a hopeless lover, blighted by premature decay,
or a wanderer doomed to share the sins and sorrows of mankind to all
eternity. This attitude found vent in a mass of sentimental verse and
prose, much of it more or less surreptitiously published, which the
researches of specialists have brought to light, and which need not be
dwelt upon here.

     (2 So Mr. H. B. Forman suggests in the introduction to his
     edition of Shelley's Prose Works.  But Hogg says that he did
     not begin learning German until 1815.)

     (3 'Northanger Abbey', satirising Mrs. Radcliffe's novels,
     was written before 1798, but was not published until 1818.)

But very soon another influence began to mingle with this feebly
extravagant vein, an influence which purified and strengthened, though
it never quite obliterated it. At school he absorbed, along with the
official tincture of classical education, a violent private dose of the
philosophy of the French Revolution; he discovered that all that
was needed to abolish all the evil done under the sun was to destroy
bigotry, intolerance, and persecution as represented by religious and
monarchical institutions. At first this influence combined with his
misguided literary passions only to heighten the whole absurdity, as
when he exclaims, in a letter about his first disappointed love, "I
swear, and as I break my oaths, may Infinity, Eternity, blast me--never
will I forgive Intolerance!" The character of the romance is changed
indeed; it has become an epic of human regeneration, and its emotions
are dedicated to the service of mankind; but still it is a romance. The
results, however, are momentous; for the hero, being a man of action, is
no longer content to write and pay for the printing: in his capacity of
liberator he has to step into the arena, and, above all, he has to think
out a philosophy.

An early manifestation of this impulse was the Irish enterprise already
mentioned. Public affairs always stirred him, but, as time went on, it
was more and more to verse and less to practical intervention, and after
1817 he abandoned argument altogether for song. But one pamphlet, 'A
Proposal for putting Reform to the Vote' (1817), is characteristic of
the way in which he was always labouring to do something, not merely
to ventilate existing evils, but to promote some practical scheme for
abolishing them. Let a national referendum, he says, be held on the
question of reform, and let it be agreed that the result shall be
binding on Parliament; he himself will contribute 100 pounds a year
(one-tenth of his income) to the expenses of organisation. He is in
favour of annual Parliaments. Though a believer in universal suffrage,
he prefers to advance by degrees; it would not do to abolish aristocracy
and monarchy at one stroke, and to put power into the hands of men
rendered brutal and torpid by ages of slavery; and he proposes that the
payment of a small sum in direct taxes should be the qualification for
the parliamentary franchise. The idea, of course, was not in the sphere
of practical politics at the time, but its sobriety shows how far
Shelley was from being a vulgar theory-ridden crank to whom the years
bring no wisdom.

Meanwhile it had been revealed to him that "intolerance" was the cause
of all evil, and, in the same flash, that it could be destroyed by
clear and simple reasoning. Apply the acid of enlightened argument, and
religious beliefs will melt away, and with them the whole rotten fabric
which they support--crowns and churches, lust and cruelty, war and
crime, the inequality of women to men, and the inequality of one man to
another. With Shelley, to embrace the dazzling vision was to act upon it
at once. The first thing, since religion is at the bottom of all force
and fraud, was to proclaim that there is no reason for believing
in Christianity. This was easy enough, and a number of impatient
argumentative pamphlets were dashed off. One of these, 'The Necessity
of Atheism', caused, as we saw, a revolution in his life. But, while
Christian dogma was the heart of the enemy's position, there were
out-works which might also be usefully attacked:--there were alcohol
and meat, the causes of all disease and devastating passion; there
were despotism and plutocracy, based on commercial greed; and there was
marriage, which irrationally tyrannising over sexual relations, produces
unnatural celibacy and prostitution. These threads, and many others,
were all taken up in his first serious poem, 'Queen Mab' (1812-13), an
over-long rhapsody, partly in blank verse, partly in loose metres. The
spirit of Ianthe is rapt by the Fairy Mab in her pellucid car to the
confines of the universe, where the past, present, and future of the
earth are unfolded to the spirit's gaze. We see tyrants writhing upon
their thrones; Ahasuerus, "the wandering Jew," is introduced; the
consummation on earth of the age of reason is described. In the end the
fairy's car brings the spirit back to its body, and Ianthe wakes to find

  "Henry, who kneeled in silence by her couch,
   Watching her sleep with looks of speechless love,
     And the bright beaming stars
     That through the casement shone."

Though many poets have begun their careers with something better than
this, 'Queen Mab' will always be read, because it gives us, in embryo,
the whole of Shelley at a stroke. The melody of the verse is thin and
loose, but it soars from the ground and spins itself into a series
of etherial visions. And these visions, though they look utterly
disconnected from reality, are in fact only an aspect of his passionate
interest in science. In this respect the sole difference between 'Queen
Mab' and such poems as 'The West Wind' and 'The Cloud' is that, in the
prose of the notes appended to 'Queen Mab', with their disquisitions on
physiology and astronomy, determinism and utilitarianism, the scientific
skeleton is explicit. These notes are a queer medley. We may laugh at
their crudity--their certainty that, once orthodoxy has been destroyed
by argument, the millennium will begin; what is more to the purpose is
to recognise that here is something more than the ordinary dogmatism of
youthful ignorance. There is a flow of vigorous language, vividness of
imagination, and, above all, much conscientious reasoning and a passion
for hard facts. His wife was not far wrong when she praised him for a
"logical exactness of reason." The arguments he uses are, indeed, all
second-hand, and mostly fallacious; but he knew instinctively something
which is for ever hidden from the mass of mankind--the difference
between an argument and a confused stirring of prejudices. Then, again,
he was not content with abstract generalities: he was always trying to
enforce his views by facts industriously collected from such books of
medicine, anatomy, geology, astronomy, chemistry, and history as he
could get hold of. For instance, he does not preach abstinence from
flesh on pure a priori grounds, but because "the orang-outang perfectly
resembles man both in the order and number of his teeth." We catch
here what is perhaps the fundamental paradox of his character--the
combination of a curious rational hardness with the wildest and most
romantic idealism. For all its airiness, his verse was thrown off by a
mind no stranger to thought and research.

We are now on the threshold of Shelley's poetic achievement, and it will
be well before going further to underline the connection, which persists
all through his work and is already so striking in 'Queen Mab', between
his poetry and his philosophical and religious ideas.

Like Coleridge, he was a philosophical poet. But his philosophy was much
more definite than Coleridge's; it gave substance to his character and
edge to his intellect, and, in the end, can scarcely be distinguished
from the emotion generating his verse. There is, however, no trace of
originality in his speculative writing, and we need not regret that,
after hesitating whether to be a metaphysician or a poet, he decided
against philosophy. Before finally settling to poetry, he at one time
projected a complete and systematic account of the operations of the
human mind. It was to be divided into sections--childhood, youth, and so
on. One of the first things to be done was to ascertain the real nature
of dreams, and accordingly, with characteristic passion for a foundation
of fact, he turned to the only facts accessible to him, and tried to
describe exactly his own experiences in dreaming. The result showed
that, along with the scientific impulse, there was working in him a more
powerful antagonistic force. He got no further than telling how once,
when walking with Hogg near Oxford, he suddenly turned the corner of a
lane, and a scene presented itself which, though commonplace, was yet
mysteriously connected with the obscurer parts of his nature. A windmill
stood in a plashy meadow; behind it was a long low hill, and "a grey
covering of uniform cloud spread over the evening sky. It was the
season of the year when the last leaf had just fallen from the scant and
stunted ash." The manuscript concludes: "I suddenly remembered to have
seen that exact scene in some dream of long--Here I was obliged to leave
off, overcome with thrilling horror." And, apart from such overwhelming
surges of emotion from the depths of sub-consciousness, he does not seem
ever to have taken that sort of interest in the problems of the universe
which is distinctive of the philosopher; in so far as he speculated
on the nature and destiny of the world or the soul, it was not from
curiosity about the truth, but rather because correct views on these
matters seemed to him especially in early years, an infallible method of
regenerating society. As his expectation of heaven on earth became less
confident, so the speculative impulse waned. Not long before his death
he told Trelawny that he was not inquisitive about the system of the
universe, that his mind was tranquil on these high questions. He seems,
for instance, to have oscillated vaguely between belief and disbelief in
personal life after death, and on the whole to have concluded that there
was no evidence for it.

At the same time, it is essential to a just appreciation of him, either
as man or poet, to see how all his opinions and feelings were shaped
by philosophy, and by the influence of one particular doctrine. This
doctrine was Platonism. He first went through a stage of devotion to
what he calls "the sceptical philosophy," when his writings were full
of schoolboy echoes of Locke and Hume. At this time he avowed himself
a materialist. Then he succumbed to Bishop Berkeley, who convinced him
that the nature of everything that exists is spiritual. We find him
saying, with charming pompousness, "I confess that I am one of those
who are unable to refuse their assent to the conclusions of those
philosophers who assert that nothing exists but as it is perceived."
This "intellectual system," he rightly sees, leads to the view that
nothing whatever exists except a single mind; and that is the view which
he found, or thought that he found, in the dialogues of Plato, and which
gave to his whole being a bent it was never to lose. He liked to call
himself an atheist; and, if pantheism is atheism, an atheist no doubt he
was. But, whatever the correct label, he was eminently religious. In
the notes to 'Queen Mab' he announces his belief in "a pervading Spirit
co-eternal with the universe," and religion meant for him a "perception
of the relation in which we stand to the principle of the universe"--a
perception which, in his case, was accompanied by intense emotion.
Having thus grasped the notion that the whole universe is one spirit,
he absorbed from Plato a theory which accorded perfectly with his
predisposition--the theory that all the good and beautiful things that
we love on earth are partial manifestations of an absolute beauty or
goodness, which exists eternal and unchanging, and from which everything
that becomes and perishes in time derives such reality as it has. Hence
our human life is good only in so far as we participate in the eternal
reality; and the communion is effected whenever we adore beauty, whether
in nature, or in passionate love, or in the inspiration of poetry. We
shall have to say something presently about the effects of this Platonic
idealism on Shelley's conception of love; here we need only notice that
it inspired him to translate Plato's 'Symposium', a dialogue occupied
almost entirely with theories about love. He was not, however, well
equipped for this task. His version, or rather adaptation (for much is
omitted and much is paraphrased), is fluent, but he had not enough Greek
to reproduce the finer shades of the original, or, indeed, to avoid
gross mistakes.

A poet who is also a Platonist is likely to exalt his office; it is
his not merely to amuse or to please, but to lead mankind nearer to the
eternal ideal--Shelley called it Intellectual Beauty--which is the
only abiding reality. This is the real theme of his 'Defence of Poetry'
(1821), the best piece of prose he ever wrote. Thomas Love Peacock,
scholar, novelist, and poet, and, in spite of his mellow worldliness,
one of Shelley's most admired friends, had published a wittily perverse
and paradoxical article, not without much good sense, on 'The Four Ages
of Poetry'. Peacock maintained that genuine poetry is only possible in
half-civilised times, such as the Homeric or Elizabethan ages, which,
after the interval of a learned period, like that of Pope in England,
are inevitably succeeded by a sham return to nature. What he had in mind
was, of course, the movement represented by Wordsworth, Southey, and
Coleridge, the romantic poets of the Lake School, whom he describes as
a "modern-antique compound of frippery and barbarism." He must have
greatly enjoyed writing such a paragraph as this: "A poet in our times
is a semi-barbarian in a civilised community. ... The march of his
intellect is like that of a crab, backward. The brighter the light
diffused around him by the progress of reason, the thicker is the
darkness of antiquated barbarism in which he buries himself like a mole,
to throw up the barren hillocks of his Cimmerian labours." These gay
shafts had at any rate the merit of stinging Shelley to action. 'The
Defence of Poetry' was his reply. People like Peacock treat poetry, and
art generally, as an adventitious seasoning of life--ornamental perhaps,
but rather out of place in a progressive and practical age. Shelley
undermines the whole position by asserting that poetry--a name which
includes for him all serious art--is the very stuff out of which all
that is valuable and real in life is made. "A poem is the very image
of life expressed in its eternal truth." "The great secret of morals
is love, or a going out of our own nature, and an identification of
ourselves with the beautiful that exists in thought, action, or person,
not our own. A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and
comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many
others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own. The
great instrument of moral good is the imagination." And it is on the
imagination that poetry works, strengthening it as exercises strengthen
a limb. Historically, he argues, good poetry always coexists with good
morals; for instance, when social life decays, drama decays. Peacock had
said that reasoners and mechanical inventors are more useful than poets.
The reply is that, left to themselves, they simply make the world
worse, while it is poets and "poetical philosophers" who produce "true
utility," or pleasure in the highest sense. Without poetry, the progress
of science and of the mechanical arts results in mental and moral
indigestion, merely exasperating the inequality of mankind. "Poetry and
the principle of Self, of which money is the visible incarnation, are
the God and mammon of the world." While the emotions penetrated by
poetry last, "Self appears as what it is, an atom to a universe."
Poetry's "secret alchemy turns to potable gold the poisonous waters
which flow from death through life." It makes the familiar strange,
and creates the universe anew. "Poets are the hierophants of an
unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which
futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they
understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not what
they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves. Poets are the
unacknowledged legislators of the world."

Other poets besides Shelley have seen

  "Through all that earthly dress
   Bright shoots of everlastingness,"

and others have felt that the freedom from self, which is attained
in the vision, is supremely good. What is peculiar to him, and
distinguishes him from the poets of religious mysticism, is that he
reflected rationally on his vision, brought it more or less into harmony
with a philosophical system, and, in embracing it, always had in
view the improvement of mankind. Not for a moment, though, must it
be imagined that he was a didactic poet. It was the theory of the
eighteenth century, and for a brief period, when the first impulse of
the Romantic Movement was spent, it was again to become the theory
of the nineteenth century, that the object of poetry is to inculcate
correct principles of morals and religion. Poetry, with its power of
pleasing, was the jam which should make us swallow the powder unawares.
This conception was abhorrent to Shelley, both because poetry ought not
to do what can be done better by prose, and also because, for him,
the pleasure and the lesson were indistinguishably one. The poet is to
improve us, not by insinuating a moral, but by communicating to others
something of that ecstasy with which he himself burns in contemplating
eternal truth and beauty and goodness.

Hitherto all the writings mentioned have been, except 'The Defence of
Poetry', those of a young and enthusiastic revolutionary, which might
have some interest in their proper historical and biographical setting,
but otherwise would only be read as curiosities. We have seen that
beneath Shelley's twofold drift towards practical politics and
speculative philosophy a deeper force was working. Yet it is
characteristic of him that he always tended to regard the writing
of verse as a 'pis aller'. In 1819, when he was actually working on
'Prometheus', he wrote to Peacock, "I consider poetry very subordinate
to moral and political science," adding that he only wrote it because
his feeble health made it hopeless to attempt anything more useful. We
need not take this too seriously; he was often wrong about the reasons
for his own actions. From whatever motive, write poetry he did. We will
now consider some of the more voluminous, if not the most valuable,
results.

'Alastor, or the Spirit of Solitude,' (4) is a long poem, written in
1815, which seems to shadow forth the emotional history of a young and
beautiful poet. As a child he drank deep of the beauties of nature and
the sublimest creations of the intellect, until,

  "When early youth had past, he left
   His cold fireside and alienated home,
   To seek strange truths in undiscovered lands."

He wandered through many wildernesses, and visited the ruins of Egypt
and the East, where an Arab maiden fell in love with him and tended him.
But he passes on, "through Arabie, and Persia, and the wild Carmanian
waste," and, arrived at the vale of Cashmire, lies down to sleep in
a dell. Here he has a vision. A "veiled maid" sits by him, and, after
singing first of knowledge and truth and virtue, then of love, embraces
him. When he awakes, all the beauty of the world that enchanted and
satisfied him before has faded:

  "The Spirit of Sweet Human Love has sent
   A vision to the sleep of him who spurned
   Her choicest gifts,"

and he rushes on, wildly pursuing the beautiful shape, like an eagle
enfolded by a serpent and feeling the poison in his breast. His limbs
grow lean, his hair thin and pale. Does death contain the secret of his
happiness? At last he pauses "on the lone Chorasmian shore," and sees a
frail shallop in which he trusts himself to the waves. Day and night the
boat flies before the storm to the base of the cliffs of Caucasus, where
it is engulfed in a cavern. Following the twists of the cavern, after a
narrow escape from a maelstrom, he floats into a calm pool, and lands.
Elaborate descriptions of forest and mountain scenery bring us, as the
moon sets, to the death of the worn-out poet--

  "The brave, the gentle, and the beautiful,
   The child of grace and genius!  Heartless things
   Are done and said i' the world, and many worms
   And beasts and men live on... but thou art fled."

     (4 "Alastor" is a Greek word meaning "the victim of an
     Avenging Spirit.")

In 'Alastor' he melted with pity over what he felt to be his own
destiny; in 'The Revolt of Islam' (1817) he was "a trumpet that sings to
battle." This, the longest of Shelley's poems (there are 4176 lines of
it, exclusive of certain lyrical passages), is a versified novel with
a more or less coherent plot, though the mechanism is cumbrous, and any
one who expects from the title a story of some actual rebellion against
the Turks will be disappointed. Its theme, typified by an introductory
vision of an eagle and serpent battling in mid-sky, is the cosmic
struggle between evil and good, or, what for Shelley is the same thing,
between the forces of established authority and of man's aspiration for
liberty, the eagle standing for the powerful oppressor, and the snake
for the oppressed.

  "When round pure hearts a host of hopes assemble
   The Snake and Eagle meet--the world's foundations tremble."

This piece of symbolism became a sort of fixed language with him; "the
Snake" was a name by which it amused him to be known among his friends.
The clash of the two opposites is crudely and narrowly conceived, with
no suggestion yet of some more tremendous force behind both, such as
later on was to give depth to his view of the world conflict. The loves
and the virtues of Laon and Cythna, the gifted beings who overthrow the
tyrant and perish tragically in a counter-revolution, are too bright
against a background that is too black; but even so they were a good
opportunity for displaying the various phases through which humanitarian
passion may run--the first whispers of hope, the devotion of the
pioneer, the joy of freedom and love, in triumph exultation tempered by
clemency, in defeat despair ennobled by firmness. And although in this
extraordinary production Shelley has still not quite found himself, the
technical power displayed is great. The poem is in Spenserian stanzas,
and he manages the long breaking wave of that measure with sureness and
ease, imparting to it a rapidity of onset that is all his own. But there
are small blemishes such as, even when allowance is made for haste of
composition (it was written in a single summer), a naturally delicate
ear would never have passed; he apologises in the preface for one
alexandrine (the long last line which should exceed the rest by a foot)
left in the middle of a stanza, whereas in fact there are some eight
places where obviously redundant syllables have crept in. A more serious
defect is the persistence, still unassimilated, of the element of the
romantic-horrible. When Laon, chained to the top of a column, gnaws
corpses, we feel that the author of Zastrozzi is still slightly
ridiculous, magnificent though his writing has become. It is hard,
again, not to smile at this world in which the melodious voices of young
eleutherarchs have only to sound for the crouching slave to recover his
manhood and for tyrants to tremble and turn pale. The poet knows, as he
wrote in answer to a criticism, that his mission is "to apprehend minute
and remote distinctions of feeling," and "to communicate the conceptions
which result from considering either the moral or the material universe
as a whole." He does not see that he has failed of both aims, partly
because 'The Revolt' is too abstract, partly because it is too definite.
It is neither one thing nor the other. The feelings apprehended are,
indeed, remote enough; in many descriptions where land, sea, and
mountain shimmer through a gorgeous mist that never was of this earth,
the "material universe" may perhaps be admitted to be grasped as a
whole; and he has embodied his conception of the "moral universe" in a
picture of all the good impulses of the human heart, that should be so
fruitful, poisoned by the pressure of religious and political authority.
It was natural that the method which he chose should be that of the
romantic narrative--we have noticed how he began by trying to write
novels--nor is that method essentially unfitted to represent the
conflict between good and evil, with the whole universe for a stage;
instances of great novels that are epics in this sense will occur to
every one. But realism is required, and Shelley was constitutionally
incapable of realism The personages of the story, Laon and the Hermit,
the Tyrant and Cythna, are pale projections of Shelley himself; of Dr.
Lind, an enlightened old gentleman with whom he made friends at Eton;
of His Majesty's Government; and of Mary Wollstonecraft, his wife's
illustrious mother. They are neither of the world nor out of it, and
consequently, in so far as they are localised and incarnate and their
actions woven into a tale, 'The Revolt of Islam' is a failure. In his
next great poem he was to pursue precisely the same aims, but with
more success, because he had now hit upon a figure of more appropriate
vagueness and sublimity. The scheme of 'Prometheus Unbound' (1819) is
drawn from the immortal creations of Greek tragedy.

He had experimented with Tasso and had thought of Job; but the
rebellious Titan, Prometheus, the benefactor of mankind whom Aeschylus
had represented as chained by Zeus to Caucasus, with a vulture gnawing
his liver, offered a perfect embodiment of Shelley's favourite subject,
"the image," to borrow the words of his wife, "of one warring with the
Evil Principle, oppressed not only by it, but by all--even the good,
who are deluded into considering evil a necessary portion of humanity;
a victim full of fortitude and hope and the Spirit of triumph, emanating
from a reliance in the ultimate omnipotence of Good." In the Greek play,
Zeus is an usurper in heaven who has supplanted an older and milder
dynasty of gods, and Prometheus, visited in his punishment by the nymphs
of ocean, knows a secret on which the rule of Zeus depends. Shelley took
over these features, and grafted on them his own peculiar confidence in
the ultimate perfection of mankind. His Prometheus knows that Jupiter
(the Evil Principle) will some day be overthrown, though he does not
know when, and that he himself will then be released; and this event
is shown as actually taking place. It may be doubted whether this
treatment, while it allows the poet to describe what the world will be
like when freed from evil, does not diminish the impressiveness of
the suffering Titan; for if Prometheus knows that a term is set to his
punishment, his defiance of the oppressor is easier, and, so far,
less sublime. However that may be, his opening cries of pain have much
romantic beauty:

  "The crawling glaciers pierce me with the spears
   of their moon-freezing crystals, the bright chains
   Eat with their burning cold into my bones."

Mercury, Jupiter's messenger, is sent to offer him freedom if he will
repent and submit to the tyrant. On his refusal, the Furies are let
loose to torture him, and his agony takes the form of a vision of all
the suffering of the world. The agony passes, and Mother Earth calls up
spirits to soothe him with images of delight; but he declares "most vain
all hope but love," and thinks of Asia, his wife in happier days. The
second act is full of the dreams of Asia. With Panthea, one of the ocean
nymphs that watch over Prometheus, she makes her way to the cave of
Demogorgon, "that terrific gloom," who seems meant to typify the Primal
Power of the World. Hence they are snatched away by the Spirit of the
Hour at which Jove will fall, and the coming of change pulsates through
the excitement of those matchless songs that begin:

  "Life of life!  thy lips enkindle
   With their love the breath between them."

In the third act the tyrant is triumphing in heaven, when the car of the
Hour arrives; Demogorgon descends from it, and hurls him to the abyss.
Prometheus, set free by Hercules, is united again to Asia. And now, with
the tyranny of wrongful power,

  "The loathsome mark has fallen, the mall remains
   Sceptreless, free, uncircumscribed, but man
   Equal, unclassed, tribeless, and nationless,
   Exempt from awe, worship, degree, the king
   Over himself; just, gentle, wise."

The fourth act is an epilogue in which, to quote Mrs. Shelley again,
"the poet gives further scope to his imagination.... Maternal Earth, the
mighty parent, is superseded by the Spirit of the Earth, the guide
of our planet through the realms of sky; while his fair and weaker
companion and attendant, the Spirit of the Moon, receives bliss from
the annihilation of evil in the superior sphere." We are in a strange
metaphysical region, an interstellar space of incredibly rarefied fire
and light, the true home of Shelley's spirit, where the circling
spheres sing to one another in wave upon wave of lyrical rapture, as
inexpressible in prose as music, and culminating in the cry:

  "To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
   To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;
     To defy Power which seems omnipotent;
   To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates
   From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;
     Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent;
   This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be
   Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;
   This is alone Life, Joy, Empire and Victory."

On the whole, Prometheus has been over-praised, perhaps because the
beauty of the interspersed songs has dazzled the critics. Not only
are the personages too transparently allegorical, but the allegory is
insipid; especially tactless is the treatment of the marriage between
Prometheus, the Spirit of Humanity, and Asia, the Spirit of Nature, as
a romantic love affair. When, in the last of his more important poems,
Shelley returned to the struggle between the good and evil principles,
it was in a different Spirit. The short drama of 'Hellas' (1821) was "a
mere improvise," the boiling over of his sympathy with the Greeks, who
were in revolt against the Turks. He wove into it, with all possible
heightening of poetic imagery, the chief events of the period of
revolution through which southern Europe was then passing, so that it
differs from the Prometheus in having historical facts as ostensible
subject. Through it reverberates the dissolution of kingdoms in feats
of arms by land and sea from Persia to Morocco, and these cataclysms,
though suggestive of something that transcends any human warfare, are
yet not completely pinnacled in "the intense inane." But this is not
the only merit of "Hellas;' its poetry is purer than that of the earlier
work, because Shelley no longer takes sides so violently. He has
lost the cruder optimism of the 'Prometheus', and is thrown back for
consolation upon something that moves us more than any prospect of
a heaven realised on earth by abolishing kings and priests. When the
chorus of captive Greek women, who provide the lyrical setting, sing
round the couch of the sleeping sultan, we are aware of an ineffable
hope at the heart of their strain of melancholy pity; and so again when
their burthen becomes the transience of all things human. The sultan,
too, feels that Islam is doomed, and, as messenger after messenger
announces the success of the rebels, his fatalism expresses itself as
the growing perception that all this blood and all these tears are but
phantoms that come and go, bubbles on the sea of eternity. This again is
the purport of the talk of Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew, who evokes
for him a vision of Mahmud II capturing Constantinople. The sultan is
puzzled:

  "What meanest thou?  Thy words stream like a tempest
   Of dazzling mist within my brain";

but 'we' know that the substance behind the mist is Shelley's
"immaterial philosophy," the doctrine that nothing is real except the
one eternal Mind. Ever louder and more confident sounds this note, until
it drowns even the cries of victory when the tide of battle turns in
favour of the Turks. The chorus, lamenting antiphonally the destruction
of liberty, are interrupted by repeated howls of savage triumph:
"Kill! crush! despoil! Let not a Greek escape'" But these discords are
gradually resolved, through exquisitely complicated cadences, into the
golden and equable flow of the concluding song:

  "The world's great age begins anew,
     The golden years return,
   The earth doth like a snake renew
     Her winter weeds outworn:
   Heaven smiles, and faiths and empires gleam,
   Like wrecks of a dissolving dream."

Breezy confidence has given place to a poignant mood of disillusionment.

  "Oh, cease! must hate and death return?
     Cease! must men kill and die?
   Cease! drain not to its dregs the urn
     Of bitter prophecy.
   The world is weary of the past,
   Oh, might it die or rest at last!"

Perhaps the perfect beauty of Greek civilisation shall never be
restored; but the wisdom of its thinkers and the creations of its
artists are immortal, while the fabric of the world

  "Is but a vision;--all that it inherits
   Are motes of a sick eye, bubbles and dreams."

It is curious that for three of his more considerable works Shelley
should have chosen the form of drama, since the last thing one would say
of him is that he had the dramatic talent. 'Prometheus' and 'Hellas',
however, are dramas only in name; there is no thought in them of scenic
representation. 'The Cenci' (1819), on the other hand, is a real play;
in writing it he had the stage in view, and even a particular actress,
Miss O'Neil. It thus stands alone among his works, unless we put beside
it the fragment of a projected play about Charles I (1822), a theme
which, with its crowd of historical figures, was ill-suited to his
powers. And not only is 'The Cenci' a play; it is the most successful
attempt since the seventeenth century at a kind of writing, tragedy in
the grand style, over which all our poets, from Addison to Swinburne,
have more or less come to grief. Its subject is the fate of Beatrice
Cenci, the daughter of a noble Roman house, who in 1599 was executed
with her stepmother and brother for the murder of her father. The
wicked father, more intensely wicked for his grey hairs and his immense
ability, whose wealth had purchased from the Pope impunity for a long
succession of crimes, hated his children, and drove them to frenzy by
his relentless cruelty. When to insults and oppression he added the
horrors of an incestuous passion for his daughter, the cup overflowed,
and Beatrice, faced with shame more intolerable than death, preferred
parricide. Here was a subject made to Shelley's hand--a naturally pure
and gentle soul soiled, driven to violence, and finally extinguished, by
unnameable wrong, while all authority, both human and divine, is on the
side of the persecutor. Haunted by the grave, sad eyes of Guido Reni's
picture of Beatrice, so that the very streets of Rome seemed to echo her
name--though it was only old women calling out "rags" ('cenci')--he
was tempted from his airy flights to throw himself for once into
the portrayal of reality. There was no need now to dip "his pen in
earthquake and eclipse"; clothed in plain and natural language, the
action unfolded itself in a crescendo of horror; but from the ease with
which he wrote--it cost him relatively the least time and pains of all
his works--it would be rash to infer that he could have constructed an
equally good tragedy on any other subject than the injured Beatrice and
the combination, which Count Francesco Cenci is, of paternal power with
the extreme limit of human iniquity.

With the exception of 'The Cenci', everything Shelley published
was almost entirely unnoticed at the time. This play, being more
intelligible than the rest, attracted both notice and praise, though it
was also much blamed for what would now be called its unpleasantness.
Many people, among them his wife, regretted that, having proved his
ability to handle the concrete, he still should devote himself to ideal
and unpopular abstractions, such as 'The Witch of Atlas' (1821), a
fantastical piece in rime royal, which seems particularly to have
provoked Mrs. Shelley. A "lady Witch" lived in a cave on Mount Atlas,
and her games in a magic boat, her dances in the upper regions of space,
and the pranks which she played among men, are described in verse of a
richness that bewilders because it leads to nothing. The poet juggles
with flowers and gems, stars and spirits, lovers and meteors; we
are constantly expecting him to break into some design, and are as
constantly disappointed. Our bewilderment is of a peculiar kind; it is
not the same, for instance, as that produced by Blake's prophetic
books, where we are conscious of a great spirit fumbling after the
inexpressible. Shelley is not a true mystic. He is seldom puzzled, and
he never seems to have any difficulty in expressing exactly what he
feels; his images are perfectly definite. Our uneasiness arises from
the fact that, with so much clear definition, such great activity in
reproducing the subtlest impressions which Nature makes upon him,
his work should have so little artistic purpose or form. Stroke is
accumulated on stroke, each a triumph of imaginative beauty; but as they
do not cohere to any discoverable end, the total impression is apt to be
one of effort running to waste.

This formlessness, this monotony of splendour, is felt even in 'Adonais'
(1821), his elegy on the death of Keats. John Keats was a very different
person from Shelley. The son of a livery-stable keeper, he had been an
apothecary's apprentice, and for a short time had walked the hospitals.
He was driven into literature by sheer artistic passion, and not at all
from any craving to ameliorate the world. His odes are among the chief
glories of the English language. His life, unlike Shelley's, was devoted
entirely to art, and was uneventful, its only incidents an unhappy
love-affair, and the growth, hastened by disappointed passion and the
'Quarterly Review's' contemptuous attack on his work, of the consumption
which killed him at the age of twenty-six. He was sent to Italy as a
last chance. Shelley, who was then at Pisa, proposed to nurse him back
to health, and offered him shelter. Keats refused the invitation, and
died at Rome on February 23, 1821. Shelley was not intimate with Keats,
and had been slow to recognise his genius; but it was enough that he was
a poet, in sympathy with the Radicals, an exile, and the victim of
the Tory reviewers. There is not ill Adonais that note of personal
bereavement which wails through Tennyson's 'In Memoriam' or Cowley's
'Ode on the Death of Mr. Hervey'. Much, especially in the earlier
stanzas, is common form. The Muse Urania is summoned to lament, and a
host of personified abstractions flit before us, "like pageantry of mist
on an autumnal stream"--


   "Desires and Adorations,
   Winged Persuasions, and veiled Destinies,
   Splendours and Glooms, and glimmering Incarnations
   Of Hopes and Fears, and twilight Fantasies."

At first he scarcely seems to know what it is that he wants to say, but
as he proceeds he warms to his work. The poets gather round Adonais'
bier, and in four admirable stanzas Shelley describes himself as "a
phantom among men," who

    "Had gazed on Nature's naked loveliness,
   Actaeon-like; and now he fled astray
     With feeble steps o'er the world's wilderness,
   And his own thoughts along that rugged way
   Pursued, like raging hounds, their father and their prey."

The Quarterly Reviewer is next chastised, and at last Shelley has found
his cue. The strain rises from thoughts of mortality to the consolations
of the eternal:

  "Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep!
     He hath awakened from the dream of life.
   'Tis we, who, lost in stormy visions, keep
     With phantoms an unprofitable strife."

Keats is made "one with Nature"; he is a parce of that power

  "Which wields the world with never wearied love,
   Sustains it from beneath, and kindles it above."

It is once more the same conviction, the offspring of his philosophy
and of his suffering, that we noticed in Hellas, only here the pathos is
more acute. So strong is the sense of his own misery, the premonition of
his own death, that we scarcely know, nor does it matter, whether it
is in the person of Keats or of himself that he is lamenting the
impermanence of earthly good. His spirit was hastening to escape from
"the last clouds of cold mortality"; his bark is driven

  "Far from the shore, far from the trembling throng
   Whose sails were never to the tempest given."

A year later he was drowned.

While the beauty of Adonais is easily appreciated, 'Epipsychidion',
written in the same year, must strike many readers as mere moonshine
and madness. In 'Alastor', the poet, at the opening of his career, had
pursued in vain through the wilderness of the world a vision of ideal
loveliness; it would now seem that this vision is at last embodied in
"the noble and unfortunate Lady Emilia Viviani," to whom 'Epipsychidion'
is addressed. Shelley begins by exhausting, in the effort to express her
perfection, all the metaphors that rapture can suggest. He calls her
his adored nightingale, a spirit-winged heart, a seraph of heaven, sweet
benediction in the eternal curse, moon beyond the clouds, star above
the storm, "thou Wonder and thou Beauty and thou Terror! Thou Harmony
of Nature's art!" She is a sweet lamp, a "well of sealed and secret
happiness," a star, a tone, a light, a solitude, a refuge, a delight, a
lute, a buried treasure, a cradle, a violet-shaded grave, an antelope,
a moon shining through a mist of dew. But all his "world of fancies" is
unequal to express her; he breaks off in despair. A calmer passage of
great interest then explains his philosophy of love:

    "That best philosophy, whose taste
   Makes this cold common hell, our life, a doom
   As glorious as a fiery martyrdom,"

and tells how he "never was attached to that great sect," which requires
that everyone should bind himself for life to one mistress or friend;
for the secret of true love is that it is increased, not diminished, by
division; like imagination, it fills the universe; the parts exceed the
whole, and this is the great characteristic distinguishing all things
good from all things evil. We then have a shadowy record of love's
dealings with him. In childhood he clasped the vision in every natural
sight and sound, in verse, and in philosophy. Then it fled, this "soul
out of my soul." He goes into the wintry forest of life, where "one
whose voice was venomed melody" entraps and poisons his youth. The ideal
is sought in vain in many mortal shapes, until the moon rises on him,
"the cold chaste Moon," smiling on his soul, which lies in a death-like
trance, a frozen ocean. At last the long-sought vision comes into the
wintry forest; it is Emily, like the sun, bringing light and odour and
new life. Henceforth he is a world ruled by and rejoicing in these twin
spheres. "As to real flesh and blood," he said in a letter to Leigh
Hunt, "you know that I do not deal in those articles; you might as well
go to a gin-shop for a leg of mutton as expect anything human or earthly
from me." Yet it is certain that the figures behind the shifting web of
metaphors are partly real--that the poisonous enchantress is his first
wife, and the moon that saved him from despair his second wife. The last
part of the poem hymns the bliss of union with the ideal. Emily must fly
with him; "a ship is floating in the harbour now," and there is "an isle
under Ionian skies," the fairest of all Shelley's imaginary landscapes,
where their two souls may become one. Then, at the supreme moment, the
song trembles and stops:

    "Woe is me!
   The winged words on which my soul would pierce
   Into the heights of love's rare universe,
   Are chains of lead around its flight of fire--
   I pant, I sink, I tremble, I expire."

We have now taken some view of the chief of Shelley's longer poems.
Most of these were published during his life. They brought him little
applause and much execration, but if he had written nothing else his
fame would still be secure. They are, however, less than half of the
verse that he actually wrote. Besides many completed poems, it remained
for his wife to decipher, from scraps of paper, scribbled over,
interlined, and erased, a host of fragments, all valuable, and many of
them gems of purest ray. We must now attempt a general estimate of this
whole output.



Chapter III The Poet of Rebellion, of Nature, and of Love

It may seem strange that so much space has been occupied in the last
two chapters by philosophical and political topics, and this although
Shelley is the most purely lyrical of English poets. The fact is that
in nearly all English poets there is a strong moral and philosophical
strain, particularly in those of the period 1770-1830. They are deeply
interested in political, scientific, and religious speculations in
aesthetic questions only superficially, if at all Shelley, with the
tap-roots of his emotions striking deep into politics and philosophy,
is only an extreme instance of a national trait, which was unusually
prominent in the early part of the nineteenth century owing to the state
of our insular politics at the time though it must be admitted that
English artists of all periods have an inherent tendency to moralise
which has sometimes been a weakness, and sometimes has given them
surprising strength.

Like the other poets of the Romantic Movement Shelley expended his
emotion on three main objects--politics, nature, and love. In each of
these subjects he struck a note peculiar to himself, but his singularity
is perhaps greatest in the sphere of politics. It may be summed up in
the observation that no English imaginative writer of the first rank
has been equally inspired by those doctrines that helped to produce
the French Revolution. That all men are born free and equal; that by
a contract entered into in primitive times they surrendered as much of
their rights as was necessary to the well-being of the community, that
despotic governments and established religions, being violations of the
original contract, are encroachments on those rights and the causes
of all evil; that inequalities of rank and power can be abolished by
reasoning, and that then, since men are naturally good, the golden
age will return--these are positions which the English mind, with
its dislike of the 'a priori', will not readily accept. The English
Utilitarians, who exerted a great influence on the course of affairs,
and the classical school of economists that derived from them, did
indeed hold that men were naturally good, in a sense. Their theory was
that, if people were left to themselves, and if the restraints imposed
by authority on thought and commerce were removed, the operation of
ordinary human motives would produce the most beneficent results. But
their theory was quite empirical; worked out in various ways by Adam
Smith, Bentham, and Mill, it admirably suited the native independence of
the English character, and was justified by the fact that, at the end of
the eighteenth century, governments were so bad that an immense increase
of wealth, intelligence, and happiness was bound to come merely from
making a clean sweep of obsolete institutions. Shelley's Radicalism
was not of this drab hue. He was incapable of soberly studying the
connections between causes and effects an incapacity which comes out
in the distaste he felt for history--and his conception of the ideal
at which the reformer should aim was vague and fantastic. In both
these respects his shortcomings were due to ignorance of human nature
proceeding from ignorance of himself.

And first as to the nature of his ideals. While all good men must
sympathise with the sincerity of his passion to remould this sorry
scheme of things "nearer to the heart's desire," few will find the
model, as it appears in his poems, very exhilarating. It is chiefly
expressed in negatives: there will be no priests, no kings, no marriage,
no war, no cruelty--man will be "tribeless and nationless." Though the
earth will teem with plenty beyond our wildest imagination, the general
effect is insipid; or, if there are colours in the scene, they are
hectic, unnatural colours. His couples of lovers, isolated in bowers of
bliss, reading Plato and eating vegetables, are poor substitutes for
the rich variety of human emotions which the real world, with all its
admixture of evil, actually admits. Hence Shelley's tone irritates when
he shrilly summons us to adore his New Jerusalem. Reflecting on the
narrowness of his ideals we are apt to see him as an ignorant and
fanatical sectary, and to detect an unpleasant flavour in his verse. And
we perceive that, as with all honest fanatics, his narrowness comes from
ignorance of himself. The story of Mrs. Southey's buns is typical. When
he visited Southey there were hot buttered buns for tea, and he so much
offended Mrs. Southey by calling them coarse, disgusting food that she
determined to make him try them. He ate first one, then another,
and ended by clearing off two plates of the unclean thing. Actively
conscious of nothing in himself but aspirations towards perfection,
he never saw that, like everyone else, he was a cockpit of ordinary
conflicting instincts; or, if this tumult of lower movements did emerge
into consciousness, he would judge it to be wholly evil, since it had
no connection, except as a hindrance, with his activities as a reformer.
Similarly the world at large, full as it was of nightmare oppressions
of wrong, fell for him into two sharply opposed spheres of light and
darkness on one side the radiant armies of right, on the other the
perverse opposition of devils.

With this hysterically over-simplified view of life, fostered by lack of
self-knowledge, was connected a corresponding mistake as to the means
by which his ends could be reached. One of the first observations which
generous spirits often make is that the unsatisfactory state of society
is due to some very small kink or flaw in the dispositions of the
majority of people. This perception, which it does not need much
experience to reach, is the source of the common error of youth that
everything can be put right by some simple remedy. If only some tiny
change could be made in men's attitude towards one another and towards
the universe, what a flood of evil could be dammed; the slightness
of the cause is as striking as the immensity of the effect. Those who
ridicule the young do not, perhaps, always see that this is perfectly
true, though of course they are right in denouncing the inference
so often drawn--and here lay Shelley's fundamental fallacy--that the
required tiny change depends on an effort of the will, and that the
will only does not make the effort because feeling is perverted
and intelligence dimmed by convention traditions, prejudices, and
superstitions. It is certain, for one thing, that will only plays a
small part in our nature, and that by themselves acts of will
cannot make the world perfect. Most men are helped to this lesson
by observation of themselves; they see that their high resolves are
ineffective because their characters are mixed. Shelley never learnt
this. He saw, indeed, that his efforts were futile even mischievous;
but, being certain, and rightly, of the nobility of his aims, he could
never see that he had acted wrongly, that he ought to have calculated
the results of his actions more reasonably. Ever thwarted, and never
nearer the happiness he desired for himself and others, he did not, like
ordinary men attain a juster notion of the relation between good and
ill in himself and in the world; he lapsed into a plaintive bewildered
melancholy, translating the inexplicable conflict of right and wrong
into the transcendental view that

  "Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
   Stains the white radiance of Eternity."

But his failure is the world's gain, for all that is best in his poetry
is this expression of frustrated hope. He has indeed, when he is moved
simply by public passion, some wonderful trumpet-notes; what hate and
indignation can do, he sometimes does. And his rapturous dreams of
freedom can stir the intellect, if not the blood. But it must be
remarked that poetry inspired solely by revolutionary enthusiasm is
liable to one fatal weakness: it degenerates too easily into rhetoric.
To avoid being a didactic treatise it has to deal in high-flown
abstractions, and in Shelley fear, famine, tyranny, and the rest,
sometimes have all the emptiness of the classical manner. They appear
now as brothers, now as parents, now as sisters of one another; the task
of unravelling their genealogy would be as difficult as it is pointless.
If Shelley had been merely the singer of revolution, the intensity and
sincerity of his feeling would still have made him a better poet than
Byron; but he would not have been a great poet, partly because of the
inherent drawbacks of the subject, partly because of his strained and
false view of "the moral universe" and of himself. His song, in treating
of men as citizens, as governors and governed, could never have touched
such a height as Burns' "A man's a man for a' that."

Fortunately for our literature, Shelley did more than arraign tyrants.
The Romantic Movement was not merely a new way of considering
human beings in their public capacity; it meant also a new kind of
sensitiveness to their environment. If we turn, say, from Pope's 'The
Rape of the Lock' to Wordsworth's 'The Prelude', it is as if we have
passed from a saloon crowded with a bewigged and painted company,
wittily conversing in an atmosphere that has become rather stuffy, into
the freshness of a starlit night. And just as, on stepping into the open
air, the splendours of mountain, sky, and sea may enlarge our feelings
with wonder and delight, so a corresponding change may occur in our
emotions towards one another; in this setting of a universe with which
we feel ourselves now rapturously, now calmly, united, we love with less
artifice, with greater impetuosity and self-abandonment. "Thomson and
Cowper," says Peacock, "looked at the trees and hills which so many
ingenious gentlemen had rhymed about so long without looking at them,
and the effect of the operation on poetry was like the discovery of a
new world." The Romantic poets tended to be absorbed in their trees and
hills, but when they also looked in the same spirit on their own
hearts, that operation added yet another world to poetry. In Shelley the
absorption of the self in nature is carried to its furthest point. If
the passion to which nature moved him is less deeply meditated than
in Wordsworth and Coleridge, its exuberance is wilder; and in his best
lyrics it is inseparably mingled with the passion which puts him among
the world's two or three greatest writers of love-poems.

Of all his verse, it is these songs about nature and love that every one
knows and likes best. And, in fact, many of them seem to satisfy what is
perhaps the ultimate test of true poetry: they sometimes have the
power, which makes poetry akin to music, of suggesting by means of words
something which cannot possibly be expressed in words. Obviously the
test is impossible to use with any objective certainty, but, for a
reason which will appear, it seems capable of a fairly straightforward
application to Shelley's work.

First we may observe that, just as the sight of some real scene--not
necessarily a sunset or a glacier, but a ploughed field or a
street-corner--may call up emotions which "lie too deep for tears" and
cannot be put into words, this same effect can be produced by unstudied
descriptions. Wordsworth often produces it:

  "I wandered lonely as a cloud
     That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
   When all at once I saw a crowd,
     A host of golden daffodils."

Now, in the description of natural scenes that kind of effect is beyond
Shelley's reach, though he has many pictures which are both detailed
and emotional. Consider, for instance, these lines from 'The Invitation'
(1822). He calls to Jane Williams to come away "to the wild woods and
the plains,"

  "Where the lawns and pastures be,
   And the sandhills of the sea;--
   Where the melting hoar-frost wets
   The daisy-star that never sets,
   And wind-flowers, and violets,
   Which yet join not scent to hue,
   Crown the pale year weak and new;
   When the night is left behind
   In the deep east, dun and blind,
   And the blue moon is over us,
   And the multitudinous
   Billows murmur at our feet,
   Where the earth and ocean meet,
   And all things seem only one
   In the universal sun."

This has a wonderful lightness and radiance. And here is a passage of
careful description from 'Evening: Ponte a Mare, Pisa':

  "The sun is set; the swallows are asleep;
     The bats are flitting fast in the gray air;
   The slow soft toads out of damp corners creep,
     And evening's breath, wandering here and there
   Over the quivering surface of the stream,
   Walkes not one ripple from its summer dream.

  There is no dew on the dry grass to-night,
     Nor damp within the shadow of the trees;
   The wind is intermitting, dry and light;
     And in the inconstant motion of the breeze
   The dust and straws are driven up and down,
   And whirled about the pavement of the town."

Evidently he was a good observer, in the sense that he saw details
clearly--unlike Byron, who had for nature but a vague and a preoccupied
eye--and evidently, too, his observation is steeped in strong feeling,
and is expressed in most melodious language. Yet we get the impression
that he neither saw nor felt anything beyond exactly what he has
expressed; there is no suggestion, as there should be in great poetry,
of something beyond all expression. And, curiously enough, this seems
to be true even of those fanciful poems so especially characteristic of
him, such as 'The Cloud' and 'Arethusa', where he has dashed together
on his palette the most startling colours in nature, and composed out of
them an extravagantly imaginative whole:

  "The sanguine sunrise, with his meteor eyes,
     And his burning plumes outspread,
   Leaps on the back of my sailing rack,
     When the morning star shines dead,
   As on the jag of a mountain crag
     Which an earthquake rocks and swings,
   An eagle alit one moment may sit
     In the light of its golden wings.
   And, when sunset may breathe, from the lit sea beneath,
     Its ardours of rest and of love,
   And the crimson pall of eve may fall
     From the depths of heaven above,
   With wings folded I rest, on my airy nest,
     As still as a brooding dove."

Can he keep it up, we wonder, this manipulation of eagles and rainbows,
of sunset and moonshine, of spray and thunder and lightning? We hold our
breath; it is superhuman, miraculous; but he never falters, so vehement
is the impulse of his delight. It is only afterwards that we ask
ourselves whether there is anything beyond the mere delight; and
realising that, though we have been rapt far above the earth, we have
had no disturbing glimpses of infinity, we are left with a slight
flatness of disappointment.

But disappointment vanishes when we turn to the poems in which ecstasy
is shot through with that strain of melancholy which we have
already noticed. He invokes the wild West Wind, not so much to exult
impersonally in the force that chariots the decaying leaves, spreads the
seeds abroad, wakes the Mediterranean from its slumber, and cleaves the
Atlantic, as to cry out in the pain of his own helplessness and failure:

  "Oh life me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
     I fall upon the thorns of life!  I bleed!
   A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed
   One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud."

Or an autumn day in the Euganean hills, growing from misty morning
through blue noon to twilight, brings, as he looks over "the waveless
plain of Lombardy," a short respite:

  "Many a green isle needs must be
   In the deep wide sea of misery;
   Or the Mariner, worn and wan,
   Ne'er thus could voyage on."

The contrast between the peaceful loveliness of nature and his own
misery is a piteous puzzle. On the beach near Naples

  "The sun is warm, the sky is clear,
     The waves are dancing fast and bright,
   Blue isles and snowy mountains wear
     The purple noon's transparent might."

But

    "Alas!  I have nor hope nor health,
       Nor peace within nor calm around,
     Nor that content surpassing wealth
       The sage in meditation found,
     And walked with inward glory crowned--
       Nor fame, nor power, nor love, nor leisure.
     Others I see whom these surround--
       Smiling they live, and call life pleasure;--
     To me that cup has been dealt in another measure";

so that

    "I could lie down like a tired child,
     And weep away the life of care."

The aching weariness that throbs in the music of these verses is not
mere sentimental self-pity; it is the cry of a soul that has known
moments of bliss when it has been absorbed in the sea of beauty that
surrounds it, only the moments pass, and the reunion, ever sought, seems
ever more hopeless. Over and over again Shelley's song gives us both the
fugitive glimpses and the mystery of frustration.

  "I sang of the dancing stars,
     I sang of the daedal Earth,
   And of Heaven--and the giant wars,
     And Love, and Death, and Birth,--
       And then I changed my pipings,--
   Singing how down the vale of Menalus
     I pursued a maiden and clasp'd a reed:
   Gods and men, we are all deluded thus!
     It breaks in our bosom and then we bleed:
   All wept, as I think both ye now would,
   If envy or age had not frozen your blood,
     At the sorrow of my sweet pipings."

Why is it that he is equal to the highest office of poetry in these sad
'cris de coeur' rather than anywhere else? There is one poem--perhaps
his greatest poem--which may suggest the answer. In the 'Sensitive
Plant' (1820) a garden is first described on which are lavished all his
powers of weaving an imaginary landscape out of flowers and light and
odour. All the flowers rejoice in one another's love and beauty except
the Sensitive Plant,

  "For the Sensitive Plant has no bright flower;
   Radiance and odour are not its dower;
   It loves, even like Love, its deep heart is full,
   It desires what it has not, the beautiful."

Now there was "a power in this sweet place, an Eve in this Eden." "A
Lady, the wonder of her kind," tended the flowers from earliest spring,
through the summer, "and, ere the first leaf looked brown, she died!"
The last part of the poem, a pendant to the first, is full of the
horrors of corruption and decay when the power of good has vanished and
the power of evil is triumphant. Cruel frost comes, and snow,

  "And a northern whirlwind, wandering about
   Like a wolf that had smelt a dead child out,
   Shook the boughs thus laden, and heavy and stiff,
   And snapped them off with his rigid griff.

  When winter had gone and spring came back
   The Sensitive Plant was a leafless wreck;
   But the mandrakes, and toadstools, and docks, and darnels,
   Rose like the dead from their ruined charnels."

Then there is an epilogue saying quite baldly that perhaps we may
console ourselves by believing that

  "In this life   Of error, ignorance, and strife,
   Where nothing is, but all things seem,
   And we the shadows of the dream,
   It is a modest creed, and yet
   Pleasant if one considers it,
   To own that death itself must be,
   Like all the rest, a mockery.

  That garden sweet, that lady fair,
   And all sweet shapes and odours there,
   In truth have never passed away:
   'Tis we, 'tis ours, are changed; not they.

  For love, and beauty, and delight,
   There is no death nor change: their might
   Exceeds our organs which endure
   No light, being themselves obscure."

The fact is that Shelley's melancholy is intimately connected with his
philosophical ideas. It is the creed of the student of Berkeley, of
Plato, of Spinoza. What is real and unchanging is the one spirit
which interpenetrates and upholds the world with "love and beauty and
delight," and this spirit--the vision which Alastor pursued in vain, the
"Unseen Power" of the 'Ode to Intellectual Beauty'--is what is always
suggested by his poetry at its highest moments. The suggestion, in
its fulness, is of course ineffable; only in the case of Shelley some
approach can be made to naming it, because he happened to be steeped in
philosophical ways of thinking. The forms in which he gave it expression
are predominantly melancholy, because this kind of idealism, with its
insistence on the unreality of evil, is the recoil from life of an
unsatisfied and disappointed soul.

His philosophy of love is but a special case of this all-embracing
doctrine. We saw how in 'Epipsychidion' he rejected monogamic principles
on the ground that true love is increased, not diminished, by division,
and we can now understand why he calls this theory an "eternal law."
For, in this life of illusion, it is in passionate love that we most
nearly attain to communion with the eternal reality. Hence the more of
it the better. The more we divide and spread our love, the more nearly
will the fragments of goodness and beauty that are in each of us find
their true fruition. This doctrine may be inconvenient in practice, but
it is far removed from vulgar sensualism, of which Shelley had not a
trace. Hogg says that he was "pre-eminently a ladies' man," meaning that
he had that childlike helplessness and sincerity which go straight to
the hearts of women. To this youth, preaching sublime mysteries, and
needing to be mothered into the bargain, they were as iron to the
magnet. There was always an Eve in his Eden, and each was the "wonder
of her kind"; but whoever she was--Harriet Grove, Harriet Westbrook,
Elizabeth Hitchener, Cornelia Turner, Mary Godwin, Emilia Viviani,
or Jane Williams--she was never a Don Juan's mistress; she was an
incarnation of the soul of the world, a momentary mirror of the eternal.
Such an attitude towards the least controllable of passions has several
drawbacks: it involves a certain inhumanity, and it is only possible for
long to one who remains ignorant of himself and cannot see that part of
the force impelling him is blind attraction towards a pretty face. It
also has the result that, if the lover is a poet, his love-songs will be
sad. Obsessed by the idea of communion with some divine perfection, he
must needs be often cast down, not only by finding that, Ixion-like,
he has embraced a cloud (as Shelley said of himself and Emilia), but
because, even when the object of his affection is worthy, complete
communion is easier to desire than to attain. Thus Shelley's love-songs
are just what might be expected. If he does strain to the moment of
ingress into the divine being, it is to swoon with excess of bliss, as
at the end of 'Epipsychidion', or as in the 'Indian Serenade':

  "Oh lift me from the grass!
   I die!  I faint!  I fail!"

More often he exhales pure melancholy:

  "See the mountains kiss high heaven
     And the waves clasp one another;
   No sister-flower would be forgiven
     If it disdained its brother.
   And the sunlight clasps the earth,
     And the moonbeams kiss the sea:
   What is all this sweet work worth
     If thou kiss not me?"

Here the failure is foreseen; he knows she will not kiss him. Sometimes
his sadness is faint and restrained:

  "I fear thy kisses, gentle maiden,
     Thou needest not fear mine;
   My spirit is too deeply laden
     Ever to burthen thine."

At other times it flows with the fulness of despair, as in

  "I can give not what men call love,
     But wilt thou accept not
   The worship the heart lifts above
     And the Heavens reject not,
   The desire of the moth for the star,
     Of the night for the morrow,
   The devotion to something afar
     From the sphere of our sorrow?"

or in

    "When the lamp is shattered
   The light in the dust lies dead--
      When the cloud is scattered
   The rainbow's glory is shed.
      When the lute is broken,
   Sweet tones are remembered not;
      When the lips have spoken,
   Loved accents are soon forgot."

The very rapture of the skylark opens, as he listens, the wound at his
heart:

    "We look before and after,
    And pine for what is not:
    Our sincerest laughter
    With some pain is fraught
    Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought."

Is the assertion contained in this last line universally true? Perhaps.
At any rate it is true of Shelley. His saddest songs are the sweetest,
and the reason is that in them, rather than in those verses where he
merely utters ecstatic delight, or calm pleasure, or bitter indignation,
he conveys ineffable suggestions beyond what the bare words express.

It remains to point out that there is one means of conveying such
suggestions which was outside the scope of his genius. One of the
methods which poetry most often uses to suggest the ineffable is by
the artful choice and arrangement of words. A word, simply by being
cunningly placed and given a certain colour, can, in the hands of a good
craftsman, open up indescribable vistas. But Keats, when, in reply to a
letter of criticism, he wrote to him, "You might curb your magnanimity,
and be more of an artist, and load every rift of your subject with ore,"
was giving him advice which, though admirable, it was impossible that he
should follow. Shelley was not merely not a craftsman by nature, he
was not the least interested in those matters which are covered by the
clumsy name of "technique." It is characteristic of him that, while most
great poets have been fertile coiners of new words, his only addition to
the language is the ugly "idealism" in the sense of "ideal object."
He seems to have strayed from the current vocabulary only in two
other cases, both infelicitous--"glode" for "glided," and "blosmy" for
"blossomy." He did not, like Keats, look on fine phrases with the eye of
a lover. His taste was the conventional taste of the time. Thus he said
of Byron's 'Cain', "It is apocalyptic, it is a revelation not before
communicated to man"; and he thought Byron and Tom Moore better poets
than himself. As regards art, he cheapened Michael Angelo, and the only
things about which he was enthusiastic in Italy, except the fragments of
antiquity which he loved for their associations, were the paintings of
Raphael and Guido Reni. Nor do we find in him any of those new metrical
effects, those sublime inventions in prosody, with which the great
masters astonish us. Blank verse is a test of poets in this respect, and
Shelley's blank verse is limp and characterless. Those triumphs, again,
which consist in the beauty of complicated wholes, were never his. He is
supreme, indeed, in simple outbursts where there is no question of form,
but in efforts of longer breath, where architecture is required, he too
often sprawls and fumbles before the inspiration comes.

Yet his verse has merits which seem to make such criticisms vain. We
may trace in it all kinds of 'arrieres pensees', philosophical and
sociological, that an artist ought not to have, and we may even dislike
its dominating conception of a vague spirit that pervades the universe;
but we must admit that when he wrote it was as if seized and swept away
by some "unseen power" that fell upon him unpremeditated. His emotions
were of that fatal violence which distinguishes so many illustrious but
unhappy souls from the mass of peaceable mankind. In the early part
of last century a set of illustrations to Faust by Retzch used to be
greatly admired; about one of them, a picture of Faust and Margaret in
the arbour, Shelley says in a letter to a friend: "The artist makes one
envy his happiness that he can sketch such things with calmness, which
I only dared look upon once, and which made my brain swim round only
to touch the leaf on the opposite side of which I knew that it was
figured." So slight were the occasions that could affect him even to
vertigo. When, from whatever cause, the frenzy took him, he would write
hastily, leaving gaps, not caring about the sense. Afterwards he would
work conscientiously over what he had written, but there was nothing
left for him to do but to correct in cold blood, make plain the meaning,
and reduce all to such order as he could. One result of this method was
that his verse preserved an unparallelled rush and spontaneity, which
is perhaps as great a quality as anything attained by the more bee-like
toil of better artists.



BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

The literature dealing with Shelley's work and life is immense, and no
attempt will be made even to summarise it here. A convenient one-volume
edition of the poems is that edited by Professor Edward Dowden for
Messrs. Macmillan (1896); it includes Mary Shelley's valuable notes.
There is a good selection of the poems in the "Golden Treasury Series,"
compiled by A. Stopford Brooke. The Prose Works have been collected
and edited by Mr. H. Buxton Forman in four volumes (1876-1880). Of
the letters there is an edition by Mr. Roger Ingpen (2 vols., 1909). A
number of letters to Elizabeth Hitchener were published by Mr. Bertram
Dobell in 1909.

For a first-hand knowledge of a poet's life and character the student
must always go to the accounts of contemporaries. In Shelley's case
these are copious. There are T. L. Peacock,s 'Memoirs' (edited by E. F.
B. Brett-Smith, 1909); Peacock's 'Nightmare Abbey' contains an amusing
caricature of Shelley in the person of Scythrops; and in at least two
of her novels Mary Shelley has left descriptions of her husband: Adrian
Earl of Windsor, in 'The Last Man', is a portrait of Shelley, and
'Lodore' contains an account of his estrangement from Harriet. His
cousin Tom Medwin's 'Life' (1847) is a bad book, full of inaccuracies.
But Shelley had one unique piece of good fortune: two friends wrote
books about him that are masterpieces. T. J. Hogg's 'Life' is especially
valuable for the earlier period, and E. J. Trelawny's 'Records of
Shelley, Byron, and the Author', describes him in the last year before
his death. Hogg's 'Life' has been republished in a cheap edition by
Messrs. Routledge, and there is a cheap edition of Trelawny's 'Records'
in Messrs. Routledge's "New Universal Library." But both these books,
while they give incomparably vivid pictures of the poet, are rambling
and unconventional, and should be supplemented by Professor Dowden's
'Life of Shelley' (2 vols., 1886), which will always remain the standard
biography. Of other recent lives, Mr. A. Clutton-Brock's 'Shelley: the
Man and the Poet' (1910) may be recommended.

Of the innumerable critical estimates of Shelley and his place in
literature, the most noteworthy are perhaps Matthew Arnold's Essay in
his 'Essays in Criticism', and Francis Thompson's 'Shelley' (1909). Vol.
iv. "Naturalism in England," of Dr. George Brandes' 'Main Currents in
Nineteenth Century Literature' (1905), may be read with interest, though
it is not very reliable; and Prof. Oliver Elton's 'A Survey of English
Literature', 1780-1830 (1912), should be consulted.

Whoever wishes to follow the fortunes, after the fire of their lives was
extinguished by Shelley's death, of Mary Shelley, Claire Clairmont, and
the rest, should read, besides Trelawny's 'Records' already mentioned,
'The Life and Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley', by Mrs. Julian
Marshall (2 vols., 1889), and '_The Letters of E. J. Trelawny_, edited by
Mr. H. Buxton Forman (1910).





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