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Title: Shelley
Author: Symonds, John Addington, 1840-1893
Language: English
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English Men of Letters






  _First Edition October 1878
  Reprinted October 1878, 1879, 1881, 1884,
  with many corrections, 1887, 1895, 1902, 1909
  Library Edition 1902, 1907
  Pocket Edition 1909_


This sketch of Shelley’s life was written in the summer of 1878. Since
then Professor Dowden’s _Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley_ (2 vols., Kegan
Paul, Trench, and Co., 1886) has been given to the world. In that
exhaustive work many important documents belonging to the poet’s heirs
have been freely used for the first time. Professor Dowden has thus been
able to elucidate some hitherto obscure points in Shelley’s history, and
to settle several doubtful questions. It is not probable that much more
will be added in the future to our knowledge of his life.

Upon the appearance of Professor Dowden’s biography, I was anxious to
rewrite those portions of my book which required modification by the light
of authentic papers now at length communicated to the public. My
references to the Shelley archives (pp. 81 and 83) in particular required

This, however, would have involved a disproportionate derangement of the
stereotype plates. I am therefore obliged to content myself with minor
alterations. These are of three kinds. In the present volume I have
introduced such verbal changes as could be made upon the plates. I have
also enclosed some passages in brackets, indicating thereby that I should
prefer to omit these altogether. Finally, I have recast the narrative of
Shelley’s separation from his first wife (pp. 79-83), and have placed this
in an Appendix, to which I earnestly call the attention of my readers.


DAVOS PLATZ, _February 1887_.



    BIRTH AND CHILDHOOD                                            1

    ETON AND OXFORD                                               12

    LIFE IN LONDON AND FIRST MARRIAGE                             39


    LIFE AT MARLOW, AND JOURNEY TO ITALY                          95

    RESIDENCE AT PISA                                            131

    LAST DAYS                                                    168

    EPILOGUE                                                     182

  INDEX                                                          199


1. The Poetical and Prose Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, edited by Mrs.
Shelley. Moxon, 1840, 1845. 1 vol.

2. The Poetical Works, edited by Harry Buxton Forman. Reeves and Turner,
1876-7. 4 vols.

3. The Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, edited by W. M. Rossetti. Moxon,
1870. 2 vols.

4. Hogg’s Life of Shelley. Moxon, 1858. 2 vols.

5. Trelawny’s Records of Shelley, Byron, and the Author Pickering, 1878. 2

6. Shelley Memorials, edited by Lady Shelley. Smith and Elder. 1 vol.

7. Medwin’s Life of Shelley. Newby, 1847. 2 vols.

8. Shelley’s Early Life, by D. F. McCarthy. Chatto and Windus. 1 vol.

9. Leigh Hunt’s Autobiography. Smith and Elder.

10. W. M. Rossetti’s Life of Shelley, included in the edition above cited,
No. 3.

11. Shelley, a Critical Biography, by G. B. Smith. David Douglas, 1877.

12. Relics of Shelley, edited by Richard Garnett. Moxon, 1862.

13. Peacock’s Articles on Shelley in _Fraser’s Magazine_, 1858 and 1860.

14. Shelley in Pall Mall, by R. Garnett, in _Macmillan’s Magazine_, June,

15. Shelley’s Last Days, by R. Garnett, in the _Fortnightly Review_, June,

16. Two Lectures on Shelley, by W. M. Rossetti, in the _University
Magazine_, February and March, 1878.

17. The Prose Works of P. B. Shelley, edited by H. B. Forman. Reeves and
Turner, 1880. 4 vols.

18. Shelley, a Poem, etc., by James Thomson. Printed for private
circulation at the Chiswick Press, 1884.

19. The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley, by Edward Dowden, LL.D. Kegan Paul,
Trench, and Co., 1886. 2 vols.




It is worse than useless to deplore the irremediable; yet no man,
probably, has failed to mourn the fate of mighty poets, whose dawning gave
the promise of a glorious day, but who passed from earth while yet the
light that shone in them was crescent. That the world should know Marlowe
and Giorgione, Raphael and Mozart, only by the products of their early
manhood, is indeed a cause for lamentation, when we remember what the long
lives of a Bach and Titian, a Michelangelo and Goethe, held in reserve for
their maturity and age. It is of no use to persuade ourselves, as some
have done, that we possess the best work of men untimely slain. Had
Sophocles been cut off in his prime, before the composition of _Œdipus_;
had Handel never merged the fame of his forgotten operas in the immortal
music of his oratorios; had Milton been known only by the poems of his
youth, we might with equal plausibility have laid that flattering unction
to our heart. And yet how shallow would have been our optimism, how
fallacious our attempt at consolation. There is no denying the fact that
when a young Marcellus is shown by fate for one brief moment, and
withdrawn before his spring-time has brought forth the fruits of summer,
we must bow in silence to the law of waste that rules inscrutably in

Such reflections are forced upon us by the lives of three great English
poets of this century. Byron died when he was thirty-six, Keats when he
was twenty-five, and Shelley when he was on the point of completing his
thirtieth year. Of the three, Keats enjoyed the briefest space for the
development of his extraordinary powers. His achievement, perfect as it is
in some poetic qualities, remains so immature and incomplete that no
conjecture can be hazarded about his future. Byron lived longer and
produced more than his brother poets. Yet he was extinguished when his
genius was still ascendant, when his “swift and fair creations” were
issuing like worlds from an archangel’s hands. In his case we have perhaps
only to deplore the loss of masterpieces that might have equalled, but
could scarcely have surpassed, what we possess. Shelley’s early death is
more to be regretted. Unlike Keats and Byron he died by a mere accident.
His faculties were far more complex, and his aims were more ambitious than
theirs. He therefore needed length of years for their co-ordination; and
if a fuller life had been allotted him, we have the certainty that from
the discords of his youth he would have wrought a clear and lucid harmony.

These sentences form a somewhat gloomy prelude to a biography. Yet the
student of Shelley’s life, the sincere admirer of his genius, is almost
forced to strike a solemn key-note at the outset. We are not concerned
with one whose “little world of man” for good or ill, was perfected, but
with one whose growth was interrupted just before the synthesis of which
his powers were capable, had been accomplished.

August 4, 1792, is one of the most memorable dates in the history of
English literature. On this day Percy Bysshe Shelley was born at Field
Place, near Horsham, in the county of Sussex. His father, named Timothy,
was the eldest son of Bysshe Shelley, Esquire, of Goring Castle, in the
same county. The Shelley family could boast of great antiquity and
considerable wealth. Without reckoning earlier and semi-legendary honours,
it may here be recorded that it is distinguished in the elder branch by
one baronetcy dating from 1611, and by a second in the younger dating from
1806. In the latter year the poet’s grandfather received this honour
through the influence of his friend the Duke of Norfolk. Mr. Timothy
Shelley was born in the year 1753, and in 1791 he married Elizabeth,
daughter of Charles Pilfold, Esquire, a lady of great beauty, and endowed
with fair intellectual ability, though not of a literary temperament. The
first child of this marriage was the poet, named Bysshe in compliment to
his grandfather, the then living head of the family, and Percy because of
some remote connexion with the ducal house of Northumberland. Four
daughters, Elizabeth, Mary, Hellen, and Margaret, and one son, John, who
died in the year 1866, were the subsequent issue of Mr. Timothy Shelley’s
marriage. In the year 1815, upon the death of his father, he succeeded to
the baronetcy, which passed, after his own death, to his grandson, the
present Sir Percy Florence Shelley, as the poet’s only surviving son.

Before quitting, once and for all, the arid region of genealogy, it may be
worth mentioning that Sir Bysshe Shelley by his second marriage with Miss
Elizabeth Jane Sydney Perry, heiress of Penshurst, became the father of
five children, the eldest son of whom assumed the name of Shelley-Sidney,
received a baronetcy, and left a son, Philip Charles Sidney, who was
created Lord De l’Isle and Dudley. Such details are not without a certain
value, inasmuch as they prove that the poet, who won for his ancient and
honourable house a fame far more illustrious than titles can confer, was
sprung from a man of no small personal force and worldly greatness. Sir
Bysshe Shelley owed his position in society, the wealth he accumulated,
and the honours he transmitted to two families, wholly and entirely to his
own exertions. Though he bore a name already distinguished in the annals
of the English landed gentry, he had to make his own fortune under
conditions of some difficulty. He was born in North America, and began
life, it is said, as a quack doctor. There is also a legend of his having
made a first marriage with a person of obscure birth in America. Yet such
was the charm of his address, the beauty of his person, the dignity of his
bearing, and the vigour of his will, that he succeeded in winning the
hands and fortunes of two English heiresses; and, having begun the world
with nothing, he left it at the age of seventy-four, bequeathing
300,000_l._ in the English Funds, together with estates worth 20,000_l._ a
year to his descendants.

Percy Bysshe Shelley was therefore born in the purple of the English
squirearchy; but never assuredly did the old tale of the swan hatched with
the hen’s brood of ducklings receive a more emphatic illustration than in
this case. Gifted with the untameable individuality of genius, and bent on
piercing to the very truth beneath all shams and fictions woven by society
and ancient usage, he was driven by the circumstances of his birth and his
surroundings into an exaggerated warfare with the world’s opinion. His
too frequent tirades against--

                    The Queen of Slaves,
  The hood-winked Angel of the blind and dead,

owed much of their asperity to the early influences brought to bear upon
him by relatives who prized their position in society, their wealth, and
the observance of conventional decencies, above all other things.

Mr. Timothy Shelley was not what the world calls a bad man; but he was
everything which the poet’s father ought not to have been. As member for
the borough of Shoreham, he voted blindly with his party; and that party
looked to nothing beyond the interests of the gentry and the pleasure of
the Duke of Norfolk. His philosophy was limited to a superficial imitation
of Lord Chesterfield, whose style he pretended to affect in his familiar
correspondence, though his letters show that he lacked the rudiments alike
of logic and of grammar. His religious opinions might be summed up in
Clough’s epigram:--

  At church on Sunday to attend
  Will serve to keep the world your friend.

His morality in like manner was purely conventional, as may be gathered
from his telling his eldest son that he would never pardon a
_mésalliance_, but would provide for as many illegitimate children as he
chose to have. For the rest, he appears to have been a fairly good
landlord, and a not unkind father, sociable and hospitable, somewhat vain
and occasionally odd in manner, but qualified for passing muster with the
country gentlemen around him. In the capacity to understand a nature which
deviated from the ordinary type so remarkably as Shelley’s, he was
utterly deficient; and perhaps we ought to regard it as his misfortune
that fate made him the father of a man who was among the greatest portents
of originality and unconventionality that this century has seen. Toward an
ordinary English youth, ready to sow his wild oats at college, and willing
to settle at the proper age and take his place upon the bench of
magistrates, Sir Timothy Shelley would have shown himself an indulgent
father; and it must be conceded by the poet’s biographer that if Percy
Bysshe had but displayed tact and consideration on his side, many of the
misfortunes which signalized his relations to his father would have been

Shelley passed his childhood at Field Place, and when he was about six
years old began to be taught, together with his sisters, by Mr. Edwards, a
clergyman who lived at Warnham. What is recorded of these early years we
owe to the invaluable communications of his sister Hellen. The difference
of age between her and her brother Bysshe obliges us to refer her
recollections to a somewhat later period--probably to the holidays he
spent away from Sion House and Eton. Still, since they introduce us to the
domestic life of his then loved home, it may be proper to make quotations
from them in this place. Miss Shelley tells us that her brother “would
frequently come to the nursery, and was full of a peculiar kind of pranks.
One piece of mischief, for which he was rebuked, was running a stick
through the ceiling of a low passage to find some new chamber, which could
be made effective for some flights of his vivid imagination.” He was very
much attached to his sisters, and used to entertain them with stories, in
which “an alchemist, old and grey, with a long beard,” who was supposed to
abide mysteriously in the garret of Field Place, played a prominent part.
“Another favourite theme was the ‘Great Tortoise,’ that lived in Warnham
Pond; and any unwonted noise was accounted for by the presence of this
great beast, which was made into the fanciful proportions most adapted to
excite awe and wonder.” To his friend Hogg, in after-years, Shelley often
spoke about another reptile, no mere creature of myth or fable, the “Old
Snake,” who had inhabited the gardens of Field Place for several
generations. This venerable serpent was accidentally killed by the
gardener’s scythe; but he lived long in the poet’s memory, and it may
reasonably be conjectured that Shelley’s peculiar sympathy for snakes was
due to the dim recollection of his childhood’s favourite. Some of the
games he invented to please his sisters were grotesque, and some both
perilous and terrifying. “We dressed ourselves in strange costumes to
personate spirits or fiends, and Bysshe would take a fire-stove and fill
it with some inflammable liquid and carry it flaming into the kitchen and
to the back door.” Shelley often took his sisters for long country rambles
over hedge and fence, carrying them when the difficulties of the ground or
their fatigue required it. At this time “his figure was slight and
beautiful,--his hands were models, and his feet are treading the earth
again in one of his race; his eyes too have descended in their wild fixed
beauty to the same person. As a child, I have heard that his skin was like
snow, and bright ringlets covered his head.” Here is a little picture
which brings the boy vividly before our eyes: “Bysshe ordered clothes
according to his own fancy at Eton, and the beautifully fitting silk
pantaloons, as he stood as almost all men and boys do, with their
coat-tails near the fire, excited my silent though excessive admiration.”

When he was ten years of age, Shelley went to school at Sion House,
Brentford, an academy kept by Dr. Greenlaw, and frequented by the sons of
London tradesmen, who proved but uncongenial companions to his gentle
spirit. It is fortunate for posterity that one of his biographers, his
second cousin Captain Medwin, was his schoolfellow at Sion House; for to
his recollections we owe some details of great value. Medwin tells us that
Shelley learned the classic languages almost by intuition, while he seemed
to be spending his time in dreaming, now watching the clouds as they
sailed across the school-room window, and now scribbling sketches of
fir-trees and cedars in memory of Field Place. At this time he was subject
to sleep-walking, and, if we may credit this biographer, he often lost
himself in reveries not far removed from trance. His favourite amusement
was novel-reading; and to the many “blue books” from the Minerva press
devoured by him in his boyhood, we may ascribe the style and tone of his
first compositions. For physical sports he showed no inclination. “He
passed among his schoolfellows as a strange and unsocial being; for when a
holiday relieved us from our tasks, and the other boys were engaged in
such sports as the narrow limits of our prison-court allowed, Shelley, who
entered into none of them, would pace backwards and forwards--I think I
see him now--along the southern wall, indulging in various vague and
undefined ideas, the chaotic elements, if I may say so, of what afterwards
produced so beautiful a world.”

Two of Shelley’s most important biographical compositions undoubtedly
refer to this period of his boyhood. The first is the passage in the
Prelude to _Laon and Cythna_ which describes his suffering among the
unsympathetic inmates of a school--

    Thoughts of great deeds were mine, dear Friend, when first
    The clouds which wrap this world from youth did pass.
    I do remember well the hour which burst
    My spirit’s sleep: a fresh May-dawn it was,
    When I walked forth upon the glittering grass,
    And wept, I knew not why; until there rose
    From the near school-room, voices, that, alas!
    Were but one echo from a world of woes--
  The harsh and grating strife of tyrants and of foes.

    And then I clasped my hands and looked around--
    --But none was near to mock my streaming eyes,
    Which poured their warm drops on the sunny ground--
    So without shame I spake:--“I will be wise,
    And just, and free, and mild, if in me lies
    Such power, for I grow weary to behold
    The selfish and the strong still tyrannize
    Without reproach or check.” I then controlled
  My tears, my heart grew calm, and I was meek and bold.

    And from that hour did I with earnest thought
    Heap knowledge from forbidden mines of lore,
    Yet nothing that my tyrants knew or taught
    I cared to learn, but from that secret store
    Wrought linkèd armour for my soul, before
    It might walk forth to war among mankind.
    Thus power and hope were strengthened more and more
    Within me, till there came upon my mind
  A sense of loneliness, a thirst with which I pined.

The second is a fragment on friendship preserved by Hogg. After defining
that kind of passionate attachment which often precedes love in fervent
natures, he proceeds: “I remember forming an attachment of this kind at
school. I cannot recall to my memory the precise epoch at which this took
place; but I imagine it must have been at the age of eleven or twelve. The
object of these sentiments was a boy about my own age, of a character
eminently generous, brave, and gentle; and the elements of human feeling
seemed to have been, from his birth, genially compounded within him. There
was a delicacy and a simplicity in his manners, inexpressibly attractive.
It has never been my fortune to meet with him since my school-boy days;
but either I confound my present recollections with the delusions of past
feelings, or he is now a source of honour and utility to every one around
him. The tones of his voice were so soft and winning, that every word
pierced into my heart; and their pathos was so deep, that in listening to
him the tears have involuntarily gushed from my eyes. Such was the being
for whom I first experienced the sacred sentiments of friendship.” How
profound was the impression made on his imagination and his feelings by
this early friendship, may again be gathered from a passage in his note
upon the antique group of Bacchus and Ampelus at Florence. “Look, the
figures are walking with a sauntering and idle pace, and talking to each
other as they walk, as you may have seen a younger and an elder boy at
school, walking in some grassy spot of the play-ground with that tender
friendship for each other which the age inspires.”

These extracts prove beyond all question that the first contact with the
outer world called into activity two of Shelley’s strongest moral
qualities--his hatred of tyranny and brutal force in any form, and his
profound sentiment of friendship. The admiring love of women, which marked
him no less strongly, and which made him second only to Shakespere in the
sympathetic delineation of a noble feminine ideal, had been already
developed by his deep affection for his mother and sisters. It is said
that he could not receive a letter from them without manifest joy.

“Shelley,” says Medwin, “was at this time tall for his age, slightly and
delicately built, and rather narrow-chested, with a complexion fair and
ruddy, a face rather long than oval. His features, not regularly handsome,
were set off by a profusion of silky brown hair, that curled naturally.
The expression of his countenance was one of exceeding sweetness and
innocence. His blue eyes were very large and prominent. They were at
times, when he was abstracted, as he often was in contemplation, dull, and
as it were, insensible to external objects; at others they flashed with
the fire of intelligence. His voice was soft and low, but broken in its
tones,--when anything much interested him, harsh and immodulated; and this
peculiarity he never lost. He was naturally calm, but when he heard of or
read of some flagrant act of injustice, oppression, or cruelty, then
indeed the sharpest marks of horror and indignation were visible in his

Such as the child was, we shall find the man to have remained unaltered
through the short space of life allowed him. Loving, innocent, sensitive,
secluded from the vulgar concerns of his companions, strongly moralized
after a peculiar and inborn type of excellence, drawing his inspirations
from Nature and from his own soul in solitude, Shelley passed across the
stage of this world, attended by a splendid vision which sustained him at
a perilous height above the kindly race of men. The penalty of this
isolation he suffered in many painful episodes. The reward he reaped in a
measure of more authentic prophecy, and in a nobler realization of his
best self, than could be claimed by any of his immediate contemporaries.



In 1804 Shelley went from Sion House to Eton. At this time Dr. Goodall was
headmaster, and Shelley’s tutor was a Mr. Bethel, “one of the dullest men
in the establishment.” At Eton Shelley was not popular either with his
teachers or his elder school-fellows, although the boys of his own age are
said to have adored him. “He was all passion,” writes Mrs. Shelley,
“passionate in his resistance to an injury, passionate in his love:” and
this vehemence of temperament he displayed by organizing a rebellion
against fagging, which no doubt won for him the applause of his juniors
and equals. It was not to be expected that a lad intolerant of rule and
disregardful of restriction, who neglected punctuality in the performance
of his exercises, while he spent his leisure in translating half of
Pliny’s history, should win the approbation of pedagogues. At the same
time the inspired opponent of the fagging system, the scorner of games and
muscular amusements, could not hope to find much favour with such
martinets of juvenile convention as a public school is wont to breed. At
Eton, as elsewhere, Shelley’s uncompromising spirit brought him into
inconvenient contact with a world of vulgar usage, while his lively fancy
invested the commonplaces of reality with dark hues borrowed from his own
imagination. Mrs. Shelley says of him, “Tamed by affection, but
unconquered by blows, what chance was there that Shelley should be happy
at a public school?” This sentence probably contains the pith of what he
afterwards remembered of his own school life, and there is no doubt that a
nature like his, at once loving and high-spirited, had much to suffer. It
was a mistake, however, to suppose that at Eton there were any serious
blows to bear, or to assume that laws of love which might have led a
spirit so gentle as Shelley’s, were adapted to the common stuff of which
the English boy is formed. The latter mistake Shelley made continually
throughout his youth; and only the advance of years tempered his
passionate enthusiasm into a sober zeal for the improvement of mankind by
rational methods. We may also trace at this early epoch of his life that
untamed intellectual ambition--that neglect of the immediate and detailed
for the transcendental and universal--which was a marked characteristic of
his genius, leading him to fly at the highest while he overleaped the
facts of ordinary human life. “From his earliest years,” says Mrs.
Shelley, “all his amusements and occupations were of a daring, and in one
sense of the term, lawless nature. He delighted to exert his powers, not
as a boy, but as a man; and so with manly powers and childish wit, he
dared and achieved attempts that none of his comrades could even have
conceived. His understanding and the early development of imagination
never permitted him to mingle in childish plays; and his natural aversion
to tyranny prevented him from paying due attention to his school duties.
But he was always actively employed; and although his endeavours were
prosecuted with puerile precipitancy, yet his aim and thoughts were
constantly directed to those great objects which have employed the
thoughts of the greatest among men; and though his studies were not
followed up according to school discipline, they were not the less
diligently applied to.” This high-soaring ambition was the source both of
his weakness and his strength in art, as well as in his commerce with the
world of men. The boy who despised discipline and sought to extort her
secrets from nature by magic, was destined to become the philanthropist
who dreamed of revolutionizing society by eloquence, and the poet who
invented in _Prometheus Unbound_ forms of grandeur too colossal to be
animated with dramatic life.

A strong interest in experimental science had been already excited in him
at Sion House by the exhibition of an orrery; and this interest grew into
a passion at Eton. Experiments in chemistry and electricity, of the
simpler and more striking kind, gave him intense pleasure--the more so
perhaps because they were forbidden. On one occasion he set the trunk of
an old tree on fire with a burning glass: on another, while he was amusing
himself with a blue flame, his tutor came into the room and received a
severe shock from a highly-charged Leyden jar. During the holidays Shelley
carried on the same pursuits at Field Place. “His own hands and clothes,”
says Miss Shelley, “were constantly stained and corroded with acids, and
it only seemed too probable that some day the house would be burned down,
or some serious mischief happen to himself or others from the explosion of
combustibles.” This taste for science Shelley long retained. If we may
trust Mr. Hogg’s memory, the first conversation which that friend had with
him at Oxford, consisted almost wholly of an impassioned monologue from
Shelley on the revolution to be wrought by science in all realms of
thought. His imagination was fascinated by the boundless vistas opened to
the student of chemistry. When he first discovered that the four elements
were not final, it gave him the acutest pleasure: and this is highly
characteristic of the genius which was always seeking to transcend and
reach the life of life withdrawn from ordinary gaze. On the other hand he
seems to have delighted in the toys of science, playing with a solar
microscope, and mixing strangest compounds in his crucibles, without
taking the trouble to study any of its branches systematically. In his
later years he abandoned these pursuits. But a charming reminiscence of
them occurs in that most delightful of his familiar poems, the _Letter to
Maria Gisborne_.

While translating Pliny and dabbling in chemistry, Shelley was not wholly
neglectful of Etonian studies. He acquired a fluent, if not a correct,
knowledge of both Greek and Latin, and astonished his contemporaries by
the facility with which he produced verses in the latter language. His
powers of memory were extraordinary, and the rapidity with which he read a
book, taking in seven or eight lines at a glance, and seizing the sense
upon the hint of leading words, was no less astonishing. Impatient speed
and indifference to minutiæ were indeed among the cardinal qualities of
his intellect. To them we may trace not only the swiftness of his
imaginative flight, but also his frequent satisfaction with the somewhat
less than perfect in artistic execution.

That Shelley was not wholly friendless or unhappy at Eton may be gathered
from numerous small circumstances. Hogg says that his Oxford rooms were
full of handsome leaving books, and that he was frequently visited by old
Etonian acquaintances. We are also told that he spent the 40_l._ gained
by his first novel, _Zastrozzi_, on a farewell supper to eight school-boy
friends. A few lines, too, might be quoted from his own poem, the _Boat on
the Serchio_, to prove that he did not entertain a merely disagreeable
memory of his school life.[1] Yet the general experience of Eton must have
been painful; and it is sad to read of this gentle and pure spirit being
goaded by his coarser comrades into fury, or coaxed to curse his father
and the king for their amusement. It may be worth mentioning that he was
called “the Atheist” at Eton; and though Hogg explains this by saying that
“the Atheist” was an official character among the boys, selected from time
to time for his defiance of authority, yet it is not improbable that
Shelley’s avowed opinions may even then have won for him a title which he
proudly claimed in after-life. To allude to his boyish incantations and
nocturnal commerce with fiends and phantoms would scarcely be needful,
were it not that they seem to have deeply tinged his imagination. While
describing the growth of his own genius in the _Hymn to Intellectual
Beauty_, he makes the following reference to circumstances which might
otherwise be trivial:--

  While yet a boy, I sought for ghosts, and sped
    Thro’ many a listening chamber, cave, and ruin,
    And starlight wood, with fearful steps pursuing
  Hopes of high talk with the departed dead.
  I call’d on poisonous names with which our youth is fed,
    I was not heard, I saw them not--
    When, musing deeply on the lot
  Of life, at that sweet time when winds are wooing
    All vital things that wake to bring
    News of birds and blossoming,--
    Sudden, thy shadow fell on me;
  I shrieked, and clasped my hands in ecstasy!

Among his friends at Windsor was one whose name will always be revered by
Shelley’s worshippers; for he alone discerned the rare gifts of the
strange and solitary boy, and Shelley loved him. Dr. Lind was an old man,
a physician, and a student of chemistry. Shelley spent long hours at his
house, conversing with him, and receiving such instruction in philosophy
and science as the grey-haired scholar could impart. The affection which
united them must have been of no common strength or quality; for when
Shelley lay ill of a fever at Field Place, and had conceived the probably
ill-founded notion that his father intended to place him in a mad-house,
he managed to convey a message to his friend at Eton, on the receipt of
which Dr. Lind travelled to Horsham, and by his sympathy and skill
restored the sick boy’s confidence. It may incidentally be pointed out
that this story, credited as true by Lady Shelley in her Memorials, shows
how early an estrangement had begun between the poet and his father. We
look, moreover, vainly for that mother’s influence which might have been
so beneficial to the boy in whom “love and life were twins, born at one
birth.” From Dr. Lind Shelley not only received encouragement to pursue
his chemical studies; but he also acquired the habit of corresponding with
persons unknown to him, whose opinions he might be anxious to discover or
dispute. This habit, as we shall see in the sequel, determined Shelley’s
fate on two important occasions of his life. In return for the help
extended to him at Eton, Shelley conferred undying fame on Dr. Lind; the
characters of Zonaras in _Prince Athanase_, and of the hermit in _Laon and
Cythna_, are portraits painted by the poet of his boyhood’s friend.

The months which elapsed between Eton and Oxford were an important period
in Shelley’s life. At this time a boyish liking for his cousin, Harriet
Grove, ripened into real attachment; and though there was perhaps no
formal engagement between them, the parents on both sides looked with
approval on their love. What it concerns us to know about this early
passion, is given in a letter from a brother of Miss Grove. “Bysshe was at
that time (just after leaving Eton) more attached to my sister Harriet
than I can express, and I recollect well the moonlight walks we four had
at Strode and also at St. Irving’s; that, I think was the name of the
place, then the Duke of Norfolk’s, at Horsham.” For some time after the
date mentioned in this letter, Shelley and Miss Grove kept up an active
correspondence; but the views he expressed on speculative subjects soon
began to alarm her. She consulted her mother and her father, and the
engagement was broken off. The final separation does not seem to have
taken place until the date of Shelley’s expulsion from Oxford; and not the
least cruel of the pangs he had to suffer at that period, was the loss of
one to whom he had given his whole heart unreservedly. The memory of Miss
Grove long continued to haunt his imagination, nor is there much doubt
that his first unhappy marriage was contracted while the wound remained
unhealed. [The name of Harriet Westbrook and something in her face
reminded him of Harriet Grove; it is even still uncertain to which Harriet
the dedication of Queen Mab is addressed.][2]

In his childhood Shelley scribbled verses with fluency, by no means
unusual in the case of forward boys; and we have seen that at Sion House
he greedily devoured the sentimental novels of the day. His favourite
poets at the time of which I am now writing, were Monk Lewis and Southey;
his favourite books in prose were romances by Mrs. Radcliffe and Godwin.
He now began to yearn for fame and publicity. Miss Shelley speaks of a
play written by her brother and her sister Elizabeth, which was sent to
Matthews the comedian, and courteously returned as unfit for acting. She
also mentions a little volume of her own verses, which the boy had printed
with the tell-tale name of “H--ll--n Sh--ll--y” on the title-page. Medwin
gives a long account of a poem on the story of the Wandering Jew, composed
by him in concert with Shelley during the winter of 1809-1810. They sent
the manuscript to Thomas Campbell, who returned it with the observation
that it contained but two good lines:--

  It seemed as if an angel’s sigh
  Had breathed the plaintive symphony.

Undeterred by this adverse criticism Shelley subsequently offered _The
Wandering Jew_ to the publishers, Messrs. Ballantyne and Co. of Edinburgh.
It was reviewed in the _Edinburgh Journal_ in 1829; but it remained in MS.
till 1831, when a portion was printed in _Fraser’s Magazine_.

Just before leaving Eton he finished his novel of _Zastrozzi_, which some
critics trace to its source in _Zofloya the Moor_, perused by him at Sion
House. The most astonishing fact about this incoherent medley of mad
sentiment is that it served to furnish forth the 40_l._ Eton supper
already spoken of, that it was duly ushered into the world of letters by
Messrs. Wilkie and Robinson on the 5th of June, 1810, and that it was
seriously reviewed. The dates of Shelley’s publications now come fast and
frequent. In the late summer of 1810 he introduced himself to Mr. J. J.
Stockdale, the then fashionable publisher of poems and romances, at his
house of business in Pall Mall. With characteristic impetuosity the young
author implored assistance in a difficulty. He had commissioned a printer
in Horsham to strike off the astounding number of 1480 copies of a volume
of poems; and he had no money to pay the printer’s bill. Would Stockdale
help him out of this dilemma, by taking up the quires and duly ushering
the book into the world? Throughout his life Shelley exercised a wonderful
fascination over the people with whom he came in contact, and almost
always won his way with them as much by personal charm as by determined
and impassioned will. Accordingly on this occasion Stockdale proved
accommodating. The Horsham printer was somehow satisfied; and on the 17th
of September, 1810, the little book came out with the title of _Original
Poetry, by Victor and Cazire_. This volume has disappeared; and much
fruitless conjecture has been expended upon the question of Shelley’s
collaborator in his juvenile attempt. Cazire stands for some one; probably
it is meant to represent a woman’s name, and that woman may have been
either Elizabeth Shelley or Harriet Grove. The _Original Poetry_ had only
been launched a week, when Stockdale discovered on a closer inspection of
the book that it contained some verses well known to the world as the
production of M. G. Lewis. He immediately communicated with Shelley, and
the whole edition was suppressed--not, however, before about one hundred
copies had passed into circulation. Shelley satisfied Stockdale that this
act of literary larceny was due to his collaborator, who may have been his
intimate friend Edward Graham; and the publisher saw no reason to break
with him. On the 14th of November in the same year he issued Shelley’s
second novel from his press, and entered into negotiations with him for
the publication of more poetry. The new romance was named _St. Irvyne, or
the Rosicrucian_. This tale, no less unreadable than _Zastrozzi_, and even
more chaotic in its plan, contained a good deal of poetry, which has been
incorporated in the most recent editions of Shelley’s works. A certain
interest attaches to it as the first known link between Shelley and
William Godwin, for it was composed under the influence of the latter’s
novel, _St. Leon_. The title, moreover, carries us back to those moonlight
walks with Harriet Grove alluded to above. Shelley’s earliest attempts in
literature have but little value for the student of poetry, except in so
far as they illustrate the psychology of genius and its wayward growth.
Their intrinsic merit is almost less than nothing, and no one could
predict from their perusal the course which the future poet of _The Cenci_
and _Epipsychidion_ was to take. It might indeed be argued that the
defects of his great qualities, the over-ideality, the haste, the
incoherence, and the want of grasp on narrative, are glaringly apparent in
these early works. But while this is true, the qualities themselves are
absent. A cautious critic will only find food in _Zastrozzi_ and _St.
Irvyne_ for wondering how such flowers and fruits of genius could have
lain concealed within a germ apparently so barren. There is even less of
the real Shelley discernible in these productions, than of the real Byron
in the _Hours of Idleness_.

In the Michaelmas Term of 1810 Shelley entered University College, Oxford,
as Leicester scholar; and very soon after his arrival he made the
acquaintance of a man who was destined to play a prominent part in his
subsequent history, and to bequeath to posterity the most brilliant, if
not in all respects the most trustworthy, record of his marvellous youth.
Thomas Jefferson Hogg was unlike Shelley in temperament and tastes. His
feet were always planted on the earth, while Shelley flew aloft to heaven
with singing robes around him, or the mantle of the prophet on his
shoulders.[3] Hogg had much of the cynic in his nature; he was a shrewd
man of the world, and a caustic humorist. Positive and practical, he chose
the beaten path of life, rose to eminence as a lawyer, and cherished the
Church and State opinions of a staunch Tory. Yet, though he differed so
essentially from the divine poet, he understood the greatness of Shelley
at a glance, and preserved for us a record of his friend’s early days,
which is incomparable for the vividness of its portraiture. The chapters
which narrate Shelley’s course of life at Oxford have all the charm of a
romance. No novel indeed is half so delightful as that picture, at once
affectionate and satirical, tender and humorous, extravagant and
delicately shaded, of the student life enjoyed together for a few short
months by the inseparable friends. To make extracts from a masterpiece of
such consummate workmanship is almost painful. Future biographers of
Shelley, writing on a scale adequate to the greatness of their subject,
will be content to lay their pens down for a season at this point, and let
Hogg tell the tale in his own wayward but inimitable fashion. I must
confine myself to a few quotations and a barren abstract, referring my
readers to the ever-memorable pages 48-286 of Hogg’s first volume, for the
life that cannot be transferred to these.

“At the commencement of Michaelmas term,” says this biographer, “that is,
at the end of October, in the year 1810, I happened one day to sit next to
a freshman at dinner; it was his first appearance in hall. His figure was
slight, and his aspect remarkably youthful, even at our table, where all
were very young. He seemed thoughtful and absent. He ate little, and had
no acquaintance with any one.” The two young men began a conversation,
which turned upon the respective merits of German and Italian poetry, a
subject they neither of them knew anything about. After dinner it was
continued in Hogg’s rooms, where Shelley soon led the talk to his
favourite topic of science. “As I felt, in truth, but a slight interest in
the subject of his conversation, I had leisure to examine, and I may add,
to admire, the appearance of my very extraordinary guest. It was a sum of
many contradictions. His figure was slight and fragile, and yet his bones
and joints were large and strong. He was tall, but he stooped so much,
that he seemed of a low stature. His clothes were expensive, and made
according to the most approved mode of the day; but they were tumbled,
rumpled, unbrushed. His gestures were abrupt, and sometimes violent,
occasionally even awkward, yet more frequently gentle and graceful. His
complexion was delicate, and almost feminine, of the purest red and white;
yet he was tanned and freckled by exposure to the sun, having passed the
autumn, as he said, in shooting. His features, his whole face, and
particularly his head, were, in fact, unusually small; yet the last
_appeared_ of a remarkable bulk, for his hair was long and bushy, and in
tits of absence, and in the agonies (if I may use the word) of anxious
thought, he often rubbed it fiercely with his hands, or passed his fingers
quickly through his locks unconsciously, so that it was singularly wild
and rough. In times when it was the mode to imitate stage-coachmen as
closely as possible in costume, and when the hair was invariably cropped,
like that of our soldiers, this eccentricity was very striking. His
features were not symmetrical (the mouth, perhaps, excepted), yet was the
effect of the whole extremely powerful. They breathed an animation, a
fire, an enthusiasm, a vivid and preternatural intelligence, that I never
met with in any other countenance. Nor was the moral expression less
beautiful than the intellectual; for there was a softness, a delicacy, a
gentleness, and especially (though this will surprise many) that air of
profound religious veneration, that characterizes the best works, and
chiefly the frescoes (and into these they infused their whole souls), of
the great masters of Florence and of Rome. I recognized the very peculiar
expression in these wonderful productions long afterwards, and with a
satisfaction mingled with much sorrow, for it was after the decease of him
in whose countenance I had first observed it.”

In another place Hogg gives some details which complete the impression of
Shelley’s personal appearance, and which are fully corroborated by
Trelawny’s recollections of a later date. “There were many striking
contrasts in the character and behaviour of Shelley, and one of the most
remarkable was a mixture, or alternation, of awkwardness with agility--of
the clumsy with the graceful. He would stumble in stepping across the
floor of a drawing-room; he would trip himself up on a smooth-shaven
grass-plot, and he would tumble in the most inconceivable manner in
ascending the commodious, facile, and well-carpeted staircase of an
elegant mansion, so as to bruise his nose or his lip on the upper steps,
or to tread upon his hands, and even occasionally to disturb the composure
of a well-bred footman; on the contrary, he would often glide without
collision through a crowded assembly, thread with unerring dexterity a
most intricate path, or securely and rapidly tread the most arduous and
uncertain ways.”

This word-portrait corresponds in its main details to the descriptions
furnished by other biographers, who had the privilege of Shelley’s
friendship. His eyes were blue, unfathomably dark and lustrous. His hair
was brown; but very early in life it became grey, while his unwrinkled
face retained to the last a look of wonderful youth. It is admitted on all
sides that no adequate picture was ever painted of him. Mulready is
reported to have said that he was too beautiful to paint. And yet,
although so singularly lovely, he owed less of his charm to regularity of
feature or to grace of movement, than to an indescribable personal
fascination. One further detail Hogg pointedly insists upon. Shelley’s
voice “was excruciating; it was intolerably shrill, harsh, and
discordant.” This is strongly stated; but, though the terms are certainly
exaggerated, I believe that we must trust this first impression made on
Shelley’s friend. There is a considerable mass of convergent testimony to
the fact that Shelley’s voice was high pitched, and that when he became
excited, he raised it to a scream. The epithets “shrill,” “piercing,”
“penetrating,” frequently recur in the descriptions given of it. At the
same time its quality seems to have been less dissonant than thrilling;
there is abundance of evidence to prove that he could modulate it
exquisitely in the reading of poetry, and its tone proved no obstacle to
the persuasive charms of his eloquence in conversation. Like all finely
tempered natures, he vibrated in harmony with the subjects of his thought.
Excitement made his utterance shrill and sharp. Deep feeling or the sense
of beauty lowered its tone to richness; but the _timbre_ was always acute,
in sympathy with his intense temperament. All was of one piece in
Shelley’s nature. This peculiar voice, varying from moment to moment and
affecting different sensibilities in divers ways, corresponds to the
high-strung passion of his life, his fine-drawn and ethereal fancies, and
the clear vibrations of his palpitating verse. Such a voice, far-reaching,
penetrating, and unearthly, befitted one who lived in rarest ether on the
topmost heights of human thought.

The acquaintance begun that October evening soon ripened into close
friendship. Shelley and Hogg from this time forward spent a large part of
their days and nights together in common studies, walks, and
conversations. It was their habit to pass the morning, each in his own
rooms, absorbed in private reading. At one o’clock they met and lunched,
and then started for long rambles in the country. Shelley frequently
carried pistols with him upon these occasions, and would stop to fix his
father’s franks upon convenient trees and shoot at them. The practice of
pistol-shooting, adopted so early in his life, was afterwards one of his
favourite amusements in the company of Byron. Hogg says that in his use of
fire-arms he was extraordinarily careless. “How often have I lamented that
Nature, which so rarely bestows upon the world a creature endowed with
such marvellous talents, ungraciously rendered the gift less precious by
implanting a fatal taste for perilous recreations, and a thoughtlessness
in the pursuit of them, that often caused his existence from one day to
another to seem in itself miraculous.” On their return from these
excursions the two friends, neither of whom cared for dining in the
College Hall, drank tea and supped together, Shelley’s rooms being
generally chosen as the scene of their symposia.

These rooms are described as a perfect palace of confusion--chaos on chaos
heaped of chemical apparatus, books, electrical machines, unfinished
manuscripts, and furniture worn into holes by acids. It was perilous to
use the poet’s drinking-vessels, lest perchance a seven-shilling piece
half dissolved in _aqua regia_ should lurk at the bottom of the bowl.
Handsome razors were used to cut the lids of wooden boxes, and valuable
books served to support lamps or crucibles; for in his vehement
precipitation Shelley always laid violent hands on what he found
convenient to the purpose of the moment. Here the friends talked and read
until late in the night. Their chief studies at this time were in Locke
and Hume and the French essayists. Shelley’s bias toward metaphysical
speculation was beginning to assert itself. He read the School Logic with
avidity, and practised himself without intermission in dialectical
discussion. Hogg observes, what is confirmed by other testimony, that in
reasoning Shelley never lost sight of the essential bearings of the topic
in dispute, never condescended to personal or captious arguments, and was
Socratically bent on following the dialogue wherever it might lead,
without regard for consequences. Plato was another of their favourite
authors; but Hogg expressly tells us that they only approached the divine
philosopher through the medium of translations. It was not until a later
period that Shelley studied his dialogues in the original: but the
substance of them, seen through Mdme. Dacier’s version, acted powerfully
on the poet’s sympathetic intellect. In fact, although at this time he had
adopted the conclusions of materialism, he was at heart all through his
life an idealist. Therefore the mixture of the poet and the sage in Plato
fascinated him. The doctrine of _anamnesis_, which offers so strange a
vista to speculative reverie, by its suggestion of an earlier existence in
which our knowledge was acquired, took a strong hold upon his imagination;
he would stop in the streets to gaze wistfully at babies, wondering
whether their newly imprisoned souls were not replete with the wisdom
stored up in a previous life.

In the acquisition of knowledge he was then as ever unrelaxing. “No
student ever read more assiduously. He was to be found, book in hand, at
all hours; reading in season and out of season; at table, in bed, and
especially during a walk; not only in the quiet country, and in retired
paths; not only at Oxford, in the public walks, and High Street, but in
the most crowded thoroughfares of London. Nor was he less absorbed by the
volume that was open before him, in Cheapside, in Cranbourne Alley, or in
Bond Street, than in a lonely lane, or a secluded library. Sometimes a
vulgar fellow would attempt to insult or annoy the eccentric student in
passing. Shelley always avoided the malignant interruption by stepping
aside with his vast and quiet agility.” And again:--“I never beheld eyes
that devoured the pages more voraciously than his; I am convinced that
two-thirds of the period of day and night were often employed in reading.
It is no exaggeration to affirm, that out of the twenty-four hours, he
frequently read sixteen. At Oxford, his diligence in this respect was
exemplary, but it greatly increased afterwards, and I sometimes thought
that he carried it to a pernicious excess: I am sure, at least, that I was
unable to keep pace with him.” With Shelley study was a passion, and the
acquisition of knowledge was the entrance into a thrice-hallowed
sanctuary. “The irreverent many cannot comprehend the awe--the careless
apathetic worldling cannot imagine the enthusiasm--nor can the tongue that
attempts only to speak of things visible to the bodily eye, express the
mighty emotion that inwardly agitated him, when he approached, for the
first time, a volume which he believed to be replete with the recondite
and mystic philosophy of antiquity: his cheeks glowed, his eyes became
bright, his whole frame trembled, and his entire attention was immediately
swallowed up in the depths of contemplation. The rapid and vigorous
conversion of his soul to intellect can only be compared with the
instantaneous ignition and combustion, which dazzle the sight, when a
bundle of dry reeds, or other light inflammable substance, is thrown upon
a fire already rich with accumulated heat.”

As at Eton, so at Oxford, Shelley refused to keep the beaten track of
prescribed studies, or to run in ordinary grooves of thought. The mere
fact that Aristotle was a duty, seems to have disgusted him with the
author of the Organon, from whom, had his works been prohibited to
undergraduates, he would probably have been eager to learn much. For
mathematics and jurisprudence he evinced a marked distaste. The common
business of the English Parliament had no attraction for him, and he read
few newspapers. While his mind was keenly interested in great political
questions, he could not endure the trivial treatment of them in the daily
press, and cared far more for principles than for the incidents of party
warfare. Here again he showed that impatience of detail, and that audacity
of self-reliant genius, which were the source of both his weakness and his
strength. He used to speak with aversion of a Parliamentary career, and
told Hogg that though this had been suggested to him, as befitting his
position, by the Duke of Norfolk, he could never bring himself to mix with
the rabble of the House. It is none the less true, however, that he
entertained some vague notion of eventually succeeding to his father’s

Combined with his eager intellectual activity, there was something
intermittent and fitful in the working of his mental faculties. Hogg, in
particular, mentions one of his habits in a famous passage, which, since
it brings the two friends vividly before us, may here be quoted. “I was
enabled to continue my studies afterwards in the evening, in consequence
of a very remarkable peculiarity. My young and energetic friend was then
overcome by extreme drowsiness, which speedily and completely vanquished
him; he would sleep from two to four hours, often so soundly that his
slumbers resembled a deep lethargy; he lay occasionally upon the sofa, but
more commonly stretched upon the rug before a large fire, like a cat; and
his little round head was exposed to such a fierce heat, that I used to
wonder how he was able to bear it. Sometimes I have interposed some
shelter, but rarely with any permanent effect; for the sleeper usually
contrived to turn himself, and to roll again into the spot where the fire
glowed the brightest. His torpor was generally profound, but he would
sometimes discourse incoherently for a long while in his sleep. At six he
would suddenly compose himself, even in the midst of a most animated
narrative, or of earnest discussion; and he would lie buried in entire
forgetfulness, in a sweet and mighty oblivion, until ten, when he would
suddenly start up, and, rubbing his eyes with great violence, and passing
his fingers swiftly through his long hair, would enter at once into a
vehement argument, or begin to recite verses, either of his own
composition or from the works of others, with a rapidity and an energy
that were often quite painful.”

Shelley’s moral qualities are described, with no less enthusiasm than his
intellectual and physical beauty by the friend from whom I have already
drawn so largely. Love was the root and basis of his nature: this love,
first developed as domestic affection, next as friendship, then as a
youth’s passion, now began to shine with steady lustre as an all-embracing
devotion to his fellow-men. There is something inevitably chilling in the
words “benevolence” and “philanthropy.” A disillusioned world is inclined
to look with languid approbation on the former, and to disbelieve in the
latter. Therefore I will not use them to describe that intense and glowing
passion of unselfishness, which throughout his life led Shelley to find
his strongest interests in the joys and sorrows of his fellow-creatures,
which inflamed his imagination with visions of humanity made perfect, and
which filled his days with sweet deeds of unnumbered charities. I will
rather collect from the pages of his friend’s biography a few passages
recording the first impression of his character, the memory of which may
be carried by the reader through the following brief record of his
singular career:--

“His speculations were as wild as the experience of twenty-one years has
shown them to be; but the zealous earnestness for the augmentation of
knowledge, and the glowing philanthropy and boundless benevolence that
marked them, and beamed forth in the whole deportment of that
extraordinary boy, are not less astonishing than they would have been if
the whole of his glorious anticipations had been prophetic; for these high
qualities, at least, I have never found a parallel.”

“In no individual perhaps was the moral sense ever more completely
developed than in Shelley; in no being was the perception of right and of
wrong more acute.”

“As his love of intellectual pursuits was vehement, and the vigour of his
genius almost celestial, so were the purity and sanctity of his life most

“I never knew any one so prone to admire as he was, in whom the principle
of veneration was so strong.”

“I have had the happiness to associate with some of the best specimens of
gentlemen; but with all due deference for those admirable persons (may my
candour and my preference be pardoned), I can affirm that Shelley was
almost the only example I have yet found that was never wanting, even in
the most minute particular, of the infinite and various observances of
pure, entire, and perfect gentility.”

“Shelley was actually offended, and indeed more indignant than would
appear to be consistent with the singular mildness of his nature, at a
coarse and awkward jest, especially if it were immodest, or uncleanly; in
the latter case his anger was unbounded, and his uneasiness pre-eminent;
he was, however, sometimes vehemently delighted by exquisite and delicate
sallies, particularly with a fanciful, and perhaps somewhat fantastical
facetiousness--possibly the more because he was himself utterly incapable
of pleasantry.”

“I never could discern in him any more than two fixed principles. The
first was a strong irrepressible love of liberty; of liberty in the
abstract, and somewhat after the pattern of the ancient republics, without
reference to the English constitution, respecting which he knew little and
cared nothing, heeding it not at all. The second was an equally ardent
love of toleration of all opinions, but more especially of religious
opinions; of toleration, complete, entire, universal, unlimited; and, as a
deduction and corollary from which latter principle, he felt an intense
abhorrence of persecution of every kind, public or private.”

The testimony in the foregoing extracts as to Shelley’s purity and
elevation of moral character is all the stronger, because it is given by a
man not over-inclined to praise, and of a temperament as unlike the poet’s
as possible. If we were to look only upon this side of his portrait, we
should indeed be almost forced to use the language of his most
enthusiastic worshippers, and call him an archangel. But it must be
admitted that, though so pure and gentle and exalted, Shelley’s virtues
were marred by eccentricity, by something at times approaching madness,
which paralysed his efficiency by placing him in a glaringly false
relation to some of the best men of the world around him. He possessed
certain good qualities in excess; for, though it sounds paradoxical, it is
none the less true that a man may be too tolerant, too fond of liberty:
and it was precisely the extravagance of these virtues in Shelley which
drove him into acts and utterances so antagonistic to society as to be

Of Shelley’s poetical studies we hear but little at this epoch. His genius
by a stretch of fancy might be compared to one of those double stars which
dart blue and red rays of light: for it was governed by two luminaries,
poetry and metaphysics; and at this time the latter seems to have been in
the ascendant. It is, however, interesting to learn that he read and
re-read Landor’s _Gebir_--stronger meat than either Southey’s epics or the
ghost-lyrics of Monk Lewis. Hogg found him one day busily engaged in
correcting proofs of some original poems. Shelley asked his friend what he
thought of them, and Hogg answered that it might be possible by a little
alteration to turn them into capital burlesques. This idea took the young
poet’s fancy; and the friends between them soon effected a metamorphosis
in Shelley’s serious verses, by which they became unmistakably ridiculous.
Having achieved their purpose, they now bethought them of the proper means
of publication. Upon whom should the poems, a medley of tyrannicide and
revolutionary raving, be fathered? Peg Nicholson, a mad washerwoman, had
recently attempted George the Third’s life with a carving-knife. No more
fitting author could be found. They would give their pamphlet to the world
as her work, edited by an admiring nephew. The printer appreciated the
joke no less than the authors of it. He provided splendid paper and
magnificent type; and before long the book of nonsense was in the hands of
Oxford readers. It sold for the high price of half-a-crown a copy; and,
what is hardly credible, the gownsmen received it as a genuine production.
“It was indeed a kind of fashion to be seen reading it in public, as a
mark of nice discernment, of a delicate and fastidious taste in poetry,
and the best criterion of a choice spirit.” Such was the genesis of
_Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson_, edited by John Fitz Victor.
The name of the supposititious nephew reminds us of _Original Poems_ by
Victor and Cazire, and raises the question whether the poems in that lost
volume may not have partly furnished forth this Oxford travesty.

Shelley’s next publication, or quasi-publication, was neither so innocent
in substance nor so pleasant in its consequences. After leaving Eton, he
continued the habit, learned from Dr. Lind, of corresponding with
distinguished persons whom he did not personally know. Thus we find him
about this time addressing Miss Felicia Browne (afterwards Mrs. Hemans)
and Leigh Hunt. He plied his correspondents with all kinds of questions;
and as the dialectical interest was uppermost at Oxford, he now
endeavoured to engage them in discussions on philosophical and religious
topics. We have seen that his favourite authors were Locke, Hume, and the
French materialists. With the impulsiveness peculiar to his nature, he
adopted the negative conclusions of a shallow nominalistic philosophy. It
was a fundamental point with him to regard all questions, however sifted
and settled by the wise of former ages, as still open; and in his
inordinate thirst for liberty, he rejoiced to be the Deicide of a
pernicious theological delusion. In other words, he passed at Oxford by
one leap from a state of indifferentism with regard to Christianity, into
an attitude of vehement antagonism. With a view to securing answers to his
missives, he printed a short abstract of Hume’s and other arguments
against the existence of a Deity, presented in a series of propositions,
and signed with a mathematically important “Q. E. D.” This document he
forwarded to his proposed antagonists, expressing his inability to answer
its arguments, and politely requesting them to help him. When it so
happened that any incautious correspondents acceded to this appeal,
Shelley fell with merciless severity upon their feeble and commonplace
reasoning. The little pamphlet of two pages was entitled _The Necessity of
Atheism_; and its proposed publication, beyond the limits of private
circulation already described, is proved by an advertisement (Feb. 9,
1811) in the _Oxford University and City Herald_. It was suppressed after
being for a few hours offered for sale.

A copy of this syllabus reached a Fellow of another college, who made the
Master of University acquainted with the fact. On the morning of March 25,
1811, Shelley was sent for to the Senior Common Room, and asked whether
he acknowledged himself to be the author of the obnoxious pamphlet. On his
refusal to answer this question, he was served with a formal sentence of
expulsion duly drawn up and sealed. The college authorities have been
blamed for unfair dealing in this matter. It is urged that they ought to
have proceeded by the legal method of calling witnesses; and that the
sentence was not only out of all proportion to the offence, but that it
ought not to have been executed till persuasion had been tried. With
regard to the former indictment, I do not think that a young man still _in
statu pupillari_, who refused to purge himself of what he must have known
to be a serious charge, had any reason to expect from his tutors the
formalities of an English court of law. There is no doubt that the Fellows
were satisfied of his being the real author; else they could not have
ventured on so summary a measure as expulsion. Their question was probably
intended to give the culprit an occasion for apology, of which they
foresaw he would not avail himself. With regard to the second, it is true
that Shelley was amenable to kindness, and that gentle and wise treatment
from men whom he respected, might possibly have brought him to retract his
syllabus. But it must be remembered that he despised the Oxford dons with
all his heart; and they were probably aware of this. He was a dexterous,
impassioned reasoner, whom they little cared to encounter in argument on
such a topic. During his short period of residence, moreover, he had not
shown himself so tractable as to secure the good wishes of superiors, who
prefer conformity to incommensurable genius. It is likely that they were
not averse to getting rid of him as a man dangerous to the peace of their
society; and now they had a good occasion. Nor was it to be expected that
the champion and apostle of Atheism--and Shelley was certainly both, in
spite of Hogg’s attempts to tone down the purpose of his document--should
be unmolested in his propaganda by the aspirants to fat livings and
ecclesiastical dignities. Real blame, however, attaches to these men:
first, for their dulness to discern Shelley’s amiable qualities; and,
secondly, for the prejudgment of the case implied in the immediate
delivery of their sentence. Both Hogg and Shelley accused them, besides,
of a gross brutality, which was, to say the least, unseemly on so serious
an occasion. At the beginning of this century the learning and the manners
of the Oxford dons were at a low ebb; and the Fellows of University
College acted harshly but not altogether unjustly, ignorantly but after
their own kind, in this matter of Shelley’s expulsion. _Non ragionam di
lor, ma guarda e passa._ Hogg, who stood by his friend manfully at this
crisis, and dared the authorities to deal with him as they had dealt with
Shelley, adding that they had just as much real proof to act upon in his
case, and intimating his intention of returning the same answer as to the
authorship of the pamphlet, was likewise expelled. The two friends left
Oxford together by the coach on the morning of the 26th of March.

Shelley felt his expulsion acutely. At Oxford he had enjoyed the
opportunities of private reading which the University afforded in those
days of sleepy studies and innocuous examinations. He delighted in the
security of his “oak,” and above all things he found pleasure in the
society of his one chosen friend. He was now obliged to exchange these
good things for the tumult and discomfort of London. His father, after
clumsily attempting compromises, had forbidden his return to Field Place.
The whole fabric of his former life was broken up. The last hope of
renewing his engagement with his cousin had to be abandoned. His pecuniary
position was precarious, and in a short time he was destined to lose the
one friend who had so generously shared his fate. Yet the notion of
recovering his position as a student in one of our great Universities, of
softening his father’s indignation, or of ameliorating his present
circumstances by the least concession, never seems to have occurred to
him. He had suffered in the cause of truth and liberty, and he willingly
accepted his martyrdom for conscience’ sake.



It is of some importance at this point to trace the growth and analyse the
substance of Shelley’s atheistical opinions. The cardinal characteristic
of his nature was an implacable antagonism to shams and conventions, which
passed too easily into impatient rejection of established forms as worse
than useless. Born in the stronghold of squirearchical prejudices, nursed
amid the trivial platitudes that then passed in England for philosophy,
his keen spirit flew to the opposite pole of thought with a recoil that
carried him at first to inconsiderate negation. His passionate love of
liberty, his loathing for intolerance, his impatience of control for self
and others, and his vivid logical sincerity, combined to make him the
Quixotic champion of extreme opinions. He was too fearless to be wise, too
precipitate to suspend his judgment, too convinced of the paramount
importance of iconoclasm, to mature his views in silence. With the
unbounded audacity of youth, he hoped to take the fortresses of “Anarch
Custom” by storm at the first assault. His favourite ideal was the vision
of a youth, Laon or Lionel, whose eloquence had power to break the bonds
of despotism, as the sun thaws ice upon an April morning. It was enough,
he thought, to hurl the glove of defiance boldly at the tyrant’s face--to
sow the _Necessity of Atheism_ broadcast on the bench of Bishops, and to
depict incest in his poetry, not because he wished to defend it, but
because society must learn to face the most abhorrent problems with
impartiality. Gifted with a touch as unerring as Ithuriel’s spear for the
unmasking of hypocrisy, he strove to lay bare the very substance of the
soul beneath the crust of dogma and the froth of traditional beliefs; nor
does it seem to have occurred to him that, while he stripped the rags and
patches that conceal the nakedness of ordinary human nature, he might drag
away the weft and woof of nobler thought. In his poet-philosopher’s
imagination there bloomed a wealth of truth and love and beauty so
abounding, that behind the mirage he destroyed, he saw no blank, but a new
Eternal City of the Spirit. He never doubted whether his fellow-creatures
were certain to be equally fortunate.

Shelley had no faculty for compromise, no perception of the blended truths
and falsehoods through which the mind of man must gradually win its way
from the obscurity of myths into the clearness of positive knowledge, for
ever toiling and for ever foiled, and forced to content itself with the
increasing consciousness of limitations. Brimming over with love for men,
he was deficient in sympathy with the conditions under which they actually
think and feel. Could he but dethrone the Anarch Custom, the millennium,
he argued, would immediately arrive; nor did he stop to think how
different was the fibre of his own soul from that of the unnumbered
multitudes around him. In his adoration of what he recognized as living,
he retained no reverence for the ossified experience of past ages. The
principle of evolution, which forms a saving link between the obsolete and
the organically vital, had no place in his logic. The spirit of the
French Revolution, uncompromising, shattering, eager to build in a day the
structure which long centuries of growth must fashion, was still fresh
upon him. We who have survived the enthusiasms of that epoch, who are
exhausted with its passions, and who have suffered from its reactive
impulses, can scarcely comprehend the vivid faith and young-eyed joy of
aspiration which sustained Shelley in his flight toward the region of
impossible ideals. For he had a vital faith; and this faith made the
ideals he conceived, seem possible--faith in the duty and desirability of
overthrowing idols; faith in the gospel of liberty, fraternity, equality;
faith in the divine beauty of nature; faith in a love that rules the
universe; faith in the perfectibility of man; faith in the omnipresent
soul, whereof our souls are atoms; faith in affection as the ruling and
co-ordinating substance of morality. The man who lived by this faith was
in no vulgar sense of the word an Atheist. When he proclaimed himself to
be one, he pronounced his hatred of a gloomy religion, which had been the
instrument of kings and priests for the enslavement of their
fellow-creatures. As he told his friend Trelawny, he used the word Atheism
“to express his abhorrence of superstition; he took it up as a knight took
up a gauntlet, in defiance of injustice.” But Shelley believed too much to
be consistently agnostic. He believed so firmly and intensely in his own
religion--a kind of passionate positivism, a creed which seemed to have no
God because it was all God--that he felt convinced he only needed to
destroy accepted figments, for the light which blazed around him to break
through and flood the world with beauty. Shelley can only be called an
Atheist, in so far as he maintained the inadequacy of hitherto received
conceptions of the Deity, and indignantly rejected that Moloch of cruelty
who is worshipped in the debased forms of Christianity. He was an Agnostic
only in so far as he proclaimed the impossibility of solving the
insoluble, and knowing the unknowable. His clear and fearless utterances
upon these points place him in the rank of intellectual heroes. But his
own soul, compact of human faith and love, was far too religious and too
sanguine to merit either epithet as vulgarly applied.

The negative side of Shelley’s creed had the moral value which attaches to
all earnest conviction, plain speech, defiance of convention, and
enthusiasm for intellectual liberty at any cost. It was marred, however,
by extravagance, crudity, and presumption. Much that he would fain have
destroyed because he found it customary, was solid, true, and beneficial.
Much that he thought it desirable to substitute, was visionary, hollow,
and pernicious. He lacked the touchstone of mature philosophy, whereby to
separate the pinchbeck from the gold of social usage; and in his intense
enthusiasm he lost his hold on common sense, which might have saved him
from the puerility of arrogant iconoclasm. The positive side of his creed
remains precious, not because it was logical, or scientific, or coherent,
but because it was an ideal, fervently felt, and penetrated with the whole
life-force of an incomparable nature. Such ideals are needed for
sustaining man upon his path amid the glooms and shadows of impenetrable
ignorance. They form the seal and pledge of his spiritual dignity,
reminding him that he was not born to live like brutes, or like the brutes
to perish without effort.

  Fatti non foste a viver come bruti,
  Ma per seguir virtude e conoscenza

These criticisms apply to the speculations of Shelley’s earlier life, when
his crusade against accepted usage was extravagant, and his confidence in
the efficacy of mere eloquence to change the world was overweening. The
experience of years, however, taught him wisdom without damping his
enthusiasm, refined the crudity of his first fervent speculations, and
mellowed his philosophy. Had he lived to a ripe age, there is no saying
with what clear and beneficent lustre might have shone that light of
aspiration which during his turbid youth burned somewhat luridly, and
veiled its radiance in the smoke of mere rebelliousness and contradiction.

Hogg and Shelley settled in lodgings at No. 15, Poland Street, soon after
their arrival in London. The name attracted Shelley: “it reminded him of
Thaddeus of Warsaw and of freedom.” He was further fascinated by a gaudy
wall-paper of vine-trellises and grapes, which adorned the parlour; and
vowed that he would stay there for ever. “For ever,” was a word often upon
Shelley’s lips in the course of his checquered life; and yet few men have
been subject to so many sudden changes through the buffetings of fortune
from without and the inconstancy of their own purpose, than he was. His
biographer has no little trouble to trace and note with accuracy his
perpetual flittings and the names of his innumerable temporary residences.
A month had not elapsed before Hogg left him in order to begin his own law
studies at York; and Shelley abode “alone in the vine-trellised chamber,
where he was to remain, a bright-eyed, restless fox amidst sour grapes,
not, as his poetic imagination at first suggested, for ever, but a little
while longer.”

The records of this first residence in London are meagre, but not
unimportant. We hear of negotiations and interviews with Mr. Timothy
Shelley, all of which proved unavailing. Shelley would not recede from the
position he had taken up. Nothing would induce him to break off his
intimacy with Hogg, or to place himself under the tutor selected for him
by his father. For Paley’s, or as Mr. Shelley called him “Palley’s,”
Evidences he expressed unbounded contempt. The breach between them
gradually widened. Mr. Shelley at last determined to try the effect of
cutting off supplies; but his son only hardened his heart, and sustained
himself by a proud consciousness of martyrdom. I agree with one of
Shelley’s best biographers, Mr. W. M. Rossetti, in his condemnation of the
poet’s behaviour as a son. Shelley did not treat his father with the
common consideration due from youth to age; and the only instances of
unpardonable bad taste to be found in his correspondence or the notes of
his conversation, are insulting phrases applied to a man who was really
more unfortunate than criminal in his relations to this changeling from
the realms of faëry. It is not too much to say that his dislike of his
father amounted to derangement; and certainly some of his suspicions with
regard to him were the hallucinations of a heated fancy. How so just and
gentle a nature was brought into so false a moral situation, whether by
some sudden break-down of confidence in childhood or by a gradually
increasing mistrust, is an interesting but perhaps insoluble problem. We
only know that in his early boyhood Shelley loved his father so much as to
have shown unusual emotion during his illness on one occasion, but that,
while at Eton, he had already become possessed by a dark suspicion
concerning him. This is proved by the episode of Dr. Lind’s visit during
his fever. Then and ever afterwards he expected monstrous treatment at his
hands, although the elder gentleman was nothing worse than a muddle-headed
squire. It has more than once occurred to me that this fever may have been
a turning point in his history, and that a delusion, engendered by
delirium, may have fixed itself upon his mind, owing to some imperfection
in the process of recovery. But the theory is too speculative and
unsupported by proof to be more than passingly alluded to.

At this time Shelley found it difficult to pay his lodgings and buy food.
It is said that his sisters saved their pocket-money to support him: and
we know that he paid them frequent visits at their school on Clapham
Common. It was here that his characteristic hatred of tyranny displayed
itself on two occasions. “One day,” writes Miss Hellen Shelley, “his ire
was greatly excited at a black mark hung round one of our throats, as a
penalty for some small misdemeanour. He expressed great disapprobation,
more of the system than that one of his sisters should be so punished.
Another time he found me, I think, in an iron collar, which certainly was
a dreadful instrument of torture in my opinion. It was not worn as a
punishment, but because I _poked_; but Bysshe declared it would make me
grow crooked, and ought to be discontinued immediately.” The acquaintance
which he now made with one of his sister’s school friends was destined to
lead to most important results.[4] Harriet Westbrook was a girl of sixteen
years, remarkably good-looking, with a brilliant pink and white
complexion, beautiful brown hair, a pleasant voice, and a cheerful
temper. She was the daughter of a man who kept a coffee-house in Mount
Street, nick-named “Jew” Westbrook, because of his appearance. She had an
elder sister, called Eliza, dark of complexion, and gaunt of figure, with
the abundant hair that plays so prominent a part in Hogg’s relentless
portrait. Eliza, being nearly twice as old as Harriet, stood in the
relation of a mother to her. Both of these young ladies, and the “Jew”
their father, welcomed Shelley with distinguished kindness. Though he was
penniless for the nonce, exiled from his home, and under the ban of his
family’s displeasure, he was still the heir to a large landed fortune and
a baronetcy. It was not to be expected that the coffee-house people should
look upon him with disfavour.

Shelley paid Harriet frequent visits both at Mrs. Fenning’s school and at
Mount Street, and soon began a correspondence with her, hoping, as he
expressly stated in a letter of a later date, by converting her to his
theories, to add his sister and her “to the list of the good, the
disinterested, the free.” At first she seems to have been horrified at the
opinions he expressed; but in this case at least he did not overrate the
powers of eloquence. With all the earnestness of an evangelist, he
preached his gospel of freethought or atheism, and had the satisfaction of
forming his young pupil to his views. He does not seem to have felt any
serious inclination for Harriet; but in the absence of other friends, he
gladly availed himself of her society. Gradually she became more
interesting to him, when he heard mysterious accounts of suffering at home
and tyranny at school. This was enough to rouse in Shelley the spirit of
Quixotic championship, if not to sow the seeds of love. What Harriet’s
ill-treatment really was, no one has been able to discover; yet she used
to affirm that her life at this time was so irksome that she contemplated

During the summer of 1811, Shelley’s movements were more than usually
erratic, and his mind was in a state of extraordinary restlessness. In the
month of May, a kind of accommodation was come to with his father. He
received permission to revisit Field Place, and had an allowance made him
of 200_l._ a year. His uncle, Captain Pilfold of Cuckfield, was
instrumental in effecting this partial reconciliation. Shelley spent some
time at his uncle’s country house, oscillating between London, Cuckfield,
and Field Place, with characteristic rapidity, and paying one brief visit
to his cousin Grove at Cwm Elan, near Rhayader, in North Wales. This visit
is worth mention, since he now for the first time saw the scenery of
waterfalls and mountains. He was, however, too much preoccupied to take
much interest in nature. He was divided between his old affection for Miss
Grove, his new but somewhat languid interest in Harriet, and a dearly
cherished scheme for bringing about a marriage between his sister
Elizabeth and his friend Hogg. The letters written to Hogg at this period
(vol. i. pp. 387-418), are exceedingly important and interesting,
revealing as they do the perturbation of his feelings and the almost
morbid excitement of his mind. Now also appears upon the scene Miss
Hitchener, of whom more will hereafter be recorded. His enthusiasm for
this lady was sudden and extravagant. Shelley’s correspondence with her
offers abundant material for the study of his opinions in early manhood.

Meanwhile his destiny was shaping itself with a rapidity that plunged him
suddenly into decisive and irrevocable action. It is of the greatest
moment to ascertain precisely what his feelings were during this summer
with regard to Harriet. Hogg has printed two letters in immediate
juxtaposition: the first without date, the second with the post-mark of
Rhayader. Shelley ends the first epistle thus: “Your jokes on Harriet
Westbrook amuse me: it is a common error for people to fancy others in
their own situation, but if I know anything about love, I am _not_ in
love. I have heard from the Westbrooks, both of whom I highly esteem.” He
begins the second with these words: “You will perhaps see me before you
can answer this; perhaps not; heaven knows! I shall certainly come to
York, but _Harriet Westbrook_ will decide whether now or in three weeks.
Her father has persecuted her in a most horrible way, by endeavouring to
compel her to go to school. She asked my advice: resistance was the
answer, at the same time that I essayed to mollify Mr. W. in vain! And in
consequence of my advice _she_ has thrown herself upon _my_ protection. I
set off for London on Monday. How flattering a distinction!--I am thinking
of ten million things at once. What have I said? I declare, quite
_ludicrous_. I advised her to resist. She wrote to say that resistance was
useless, but that she would fly with me, and threw herself upon my
protection. We shall have 200_l._ a year; when we find it run short, we
must live, I suppose, upon love! Gratitude and admiration, all demand that
I should love her _for ever_. We shall see you at York. I will hear your
arguments for matrimonialism, by which I am now almost convinced. I can
get lodgings at York, I suppose. Direct to me at Graham’s, 18, Sackville
Street, Piccadilly.” From a letter recently published by Mr. W. M.
Rossetti (the University Magazine, Feb. 1878), we further learn that
Harriet, having fallen violently in love with her preceptor, had avowed
her passion and flung herself into his arms.

It is clear from these documents, first, that Shelley was not deeply in
love with Harriet when he eloped with her; secondly, that he was not
prepared for the step; thirdly, that she and her relatives induced him to
take it; and fourthly, that he took it under a strong impression of her
having been ill-treated. She had appealed to his most powerful passion,
the hatred of tyranny. She had excited his admiration by setting
conventions at defiance, and showing her readiness to be his mistress. Her
confidence called forth his gratitude. Her choice of him for a protector
flattered him: and, moreover, she had acted on his advice to carry
resistance _à outrance_. There were many good Shelleyan reasons why he
should elope with Harriet; but among them all I do not find that
spontaneous and unsophisticated feeling which is the substance of enduring

In the same series of letters, so incoherently jumbled together by Hogg’s
carelessness or caprice, Shelley more than once expresses the utmost
horror of matrimony. Yet we now find him upon the verge of contracting
marriage with a woman whom he did not passionately love, and who had
offered herself unreservedly to him. It is worth pausing to observe that
even Shelley, fearless and uncompromising as he was in conduct, could not
at this crisis practise the principles he so eloquently impressed on
others. Yet the point of weakness was honourable. It lay in his respect
for women in general, and his tender chivalry for the one woman who had
cast herself upon his generosity.[5]

“My unfortunate friend Harriet,” he writes under date Aug. 15, 1811, from
London, whither he had hurried to arrange the affairs of his elopement,
“is yet undecided; not with respect to me, but to herself. How much, my
dear friend, have I to tell you! In my leisure moments for thought, which
since I wrote, have been few, I have considered the important point on
which you reprobated my hasty decision. The ties of love and honour are
doubtless of sufficient strength to bind congenial souls--they are
doubtless indissoluble, but by the brutish force of power; they are
delicate and satisfactory. Yet the arguments of impracticability, and what
is even worse, the disproportionate sacrifice which the female is called
upon to make--these arguments, which you have urged in a manner
immediately irresistible, I cannot withstand. Not that I suppose it to be
likely that _I_ shall directly be called upon to evince my attachment to
either theory. I am become a perfect convert to matrimony, not from
temporizing, but from _your_ arguments; nor, much as I wish to emulate
your virtues and liken myself to you, do I regret the prejudices of
anti-matrimonialism from your example or assertion. No. The _one_
argument, which you have urged so often with so much energy; the sacrifice
made by the woman, so disproportioned to any which the man can give--this
alone may exculpate me, were it a fault, from uninquiring submission to
your superior intellect.”

Whether Shelley from his own peculiar point of view was morally justified
in twice marrying, is a question of casuistry which has often haunted me.
The reasons he alleged in extenuation of his conduct with regard to
Harriet, prove the goodness of his heart, his openness to argument, and
the delicacy of his unselfishness. But they do not square with his
expressed code of conduct; nor is it easy to understand how, having found
it needful to submit to custom, for his partner’s sake, he should have
gone on denouncing an institution which he recognized in his own practice.
The conclusion seems to be that, though he despised accepted usage, his
practical sense was stronger than his theories. In like manner he allowed
his children to be baptized.

A letter from Shelley’s cousin, Mr. C. H. Grove, gives the details of
Harriet’s elopement. “When Bysshe finally came to town to elope with Miss
Westbrook, he came as usual to Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and I was his
companion on his visits to her, and finally accompanied them early one
morning--I forget now the month, or the date, but it might have been
September--in a hackney coach to the Green Dragon, in Gracechurch Street,
where we remained all day, till the hour when the mail-coaches start, when
they departed in the northern mail for York.” From York the young couple
made their way at once to Edinburgh, where they were married upon the 28th
of August, according to the formalities of the Scotch law.

Shelley had now committed that greatest of social crimes in his father’s
eyes--a _mésalliance_. Supplies and communications were at once cut off
from the prodigal; and it appears that Harriet and he were mainly
dependent upon the generosity of Captain Pilfold for subsistence. Even Jew
Westbrook, much as he may have rejoiced at seeing his daughter wedded to
the heir of several thousands a year, buttoned up his pockets, either
because he thought it well to play the part of an injured parent, or
because he was not certain about Shelley’s expectations. He afterwards
made the Shelleys an allowance of 200_l._ a year, and early in 1812
Shelley says that he is in receipt of twice that income. Whence we may
conclude that both fathers before long relented to the extent of the sum
above mentioned.

In spite of temporary impecuniosity, the young people lived happily enough
in excellent lodgings in George Street. Hogg, who joined them early in
September, has drawn a lively picture of their domesticity. Much of the
day was spent in reading aloud; for Harriet, who had a fine voice and
excellent lungs, was never happy unless she was allowed to read and
comment on her favourite authors. Shelley sometimes fell asleep during the
performance of these rites; but when he woke refreshed with slumber, he
was no less ready than at Oxford to support philosophical paradoxes with
impassioned and persuasive eloquence. He began to teach Harriet Latin, set
her to work upon the translation of a French story by Madame Cottin, and
for his own part executed a version of one of Buffon’s treatises. The
sitting-room was full of books. It was one of Shelley’s peculiarities to
buy books wherever he went, regardless of their volume or their cost.
These he was wont to leave behind, when the moment arrived for a sudden
departure from his temporary abode; so that, as Hogg remarks, a fine
library might have been formed from the waifs and strays of his
collections scattered over the three kingdoms. This quiet course of life
was diversified by short rambles in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh, and by
many episodes related with Hogg’s caustic humour. On the whole, the
impression left upon the reader’s mind is that Shelley and Harriet were
very happy together at this period, and that Harriet was a charming and
sweet-tempered girl, somewhat too much given to the study of trite ethics,
and slightly deficient in sensibility, but otherwise a fit and soothing
companion for the poet.

They were not, however, content to remain in Edinburgh. Hogg was obliged
to leave that city, in order to resume his law studies at York, and
Shelley’s programme of life at this period imperatively required the
society of his chosen comrade. It was therefore decided that the three
friends should settle at York, to remain “for ever” in each other’s
company. They started in a post-chaise, the good Harriet reading aloud
novels by the now forgotten Holcroft with untiring energy, to charm the
tedium of the journey. At York more than one cloud obscured their triune
felicity. In the first place they were unfortunate in their choice of
lodgings. In the second Shelley found himself obliged to take an expensive
journey southward, in the fruitless attempt to come to some terms with his
father’s lawyer, Mr. Whitton. Sir Bysshe and Mr. Shelley were anxious to
bind the erratic poet down to a settlement of the estates, which, on their
own death, would pass into the latter’s absolute control. They suggested
numerous arrangements; and not long after the date of Shelley’s residence
in York, it was proposed to make him an immediate allowance of 2000_l._,
if Shelley would but consent to entail the land on his heirs male. This
offer was indignantly refused. Shelley recognized the truth that property
is a trust far more than a possession, and would do nothing to tie up so
much command over labour, such incalculable potentialities of social good
or evil, for an unborn being of whose opinions he knew nothing. This is
only one among many instances of his readiness to sacrifice ease, comfort,
nay, the bare necessities of life, for principle.

On his return to York, Shelley found a new inmate established in their
lodgings. The incomparable Eliza, who was henceforth doomed to guide his
destinies to an obscure catastrophe, had arrived from London. Harriet
believed her sister to be a paragon of beauty, good sense, and propriety.
She obeyed her elder sister like a mother; never questioned her wisdom;
and foolishly allowed her to interpose between herself and her husband.
Hogg had been told before her first appearance in the friendly circle that
Eliza was “beautiful, exquisitely beautiful; an elegant figure, full of
grace; her face was lovely,--dark, bright eyes; jet-black hair, glossy; a
crop upon which she bestowed the care it merited,--almost all her time;
and she was so sensible, so amiable, so good!” Now let us listen to the
account he has himself transmitted of this woman, whom certainly he did
not love, and to whom poor Shelley had afterwards but little reason to
feel gratitude. “She was older than I had expected, and she looked much
older than she was. The lovely face was seamed with the small-pox, and of
a dead white, as faces so much marked and scarred commonly are; as white
indeed as a mass of boiled rice, but of a dingy hue, like rice boiled in
dirty water. The eyes were dark, but dull, and without meaning; the hair
was black and glossy, but coarse; and there was the admired crop--a long
crop, much like the tail of a horse--a switch tail. The fine figure was
meagre, prim, and constrained. The beauty, the grace, and the elegance
existed, no doubt, in their utmost perfection, but only in the imagination
of her partial young sister. Her father, as Harriet told me, was
familiarly called ‘Jew Westbrook,’ and Eliza greatly resembled one of the
dark-eyed daughters of Judah.”

This portrait is drawn, no doubt, with an unfriendly hand; and, in Hogg’s
biography, each of its sarcastic touches is sustained with merciless
reiteration, whenever the mention of Eliza’s name is necessary. We hear,
moreover, how she taught the blooming Harriet to fancy that she was the
victim of her nerves, how she checked her favourite studies, and how she
ruled the household by continual reference to a Mrs. Grundy of her earlier
experience. “What would Miss Warne say?” was as often on her lips, if we
may credit Hogg, as the brush and comb were in her hands.

The intrusion of Eliza disturbed the harmony of Shelley’s circle; but we
know now that there were deeper reasons for the abrupt departure which he
made from York with his wife and her sister in November, 1811. It has
recently been proved beyond all doubt that Shelley had good cause to
resent Hogg’s undue familiarity with Harriet; and though he forgave this
faithless friend, he felt the necessity of removing his wife from
inconvenient surroundings. They quitted York without giving Hogg notice of
their projected departure.[6]

The destination of the travellers was Keswick. Here they engaged lodgings
for a time, and then moved into a furnished house. At Chesnut Cottage
occurred one of those mysterious incidents which perplex Shelley’s
biographers. He declared he had been attacked one night by a man bent on
burglary or murder. Probably Shelley was attracted to the lake country as
much by the celebrated men who lived there, as by the beauty of its
scenery, and the cheapness of its accommodation. He had long entertained
an admiration for Southey’s poetry, and was now beginning to study
Wordsworth and Coleridge. But if he hoped for much companionship with the
literary lions of the lakes, he was disappointed. Coleridge was absent,
and missed making his acquaintance--a circumstance he afterwards
regretted, saying that he could have been more useful to the young poet
and metaphysician than Southey. De Quincey, though he writes ambiguously
upon this point, does not seem to have met Shelley. Wordsworth paid him no
attention; and though he saw a good deal of Southey, this intimacy changed
Shelley’s early liking for the man and poet into something like contempt.
It was not likely that the calm methodical student, the mechanical
versifier, and the political convert, who had outlived all his earlier
illusions, should retain the goodwill of such an Ariel as Shelley, in
whose brain _Queen Mab_ was already simmering. Life at Keswick began to be
monotonous. It was, however, enlivened by a visit to the Duke of Norfolk’s
seat, Greystoke. Shelley spent his last guinea on the trip; but though the
ladies of his family enjoyed the honour of some days passed in ducal
hospitalities, the visit was not fruitful of results. The Duke at this
time kindly did his best, but without success, to bring about a
reconciliation between his old friend, the member for Horsham, and his
rebellious son.

Another important incident of the Keswick residence was Shelley’s letter
to William Godwin, whose work on Political Justice he had studied with
unbounded admiration. He never spoke of this book without respect in
after-life, affirming that the perusal of it had turned his attention from
romances to questions of public utility. The earliest letter dated to
Godwin from Keswick, January 3, 1812, is in many respects remarkable, and
not the least so as a specimen of self-delineation. He entreats Godwin to
become his guide, philosopher, and friend, urging that “if desire for
universal happiness has any claim upon your preference,” if persecution
and injustice suffered in the cause of philanthropy and truth may commend
a young man to William Godwin’s regard, he is not unworthy of this
honour. We who have learned to know the flawless purity of Shelley’s
aspirations, can refrain from smiling at the big generalities of this
epistle. Words which to men made callous by long contact with the world,
ring false and wake suspicion, were for Shelley but the natural expression
of his most abiding mood. Yet Godwin may be pardoned if he wished to know
more in detail of the youth, who sought to cast himself upon his care in
all the panoply of phrases about philanthropy and universal happiness.
Shelley’s second letter contains an extraordinary mixture of truth
willingly communicated, and of curious romance, illustrating his tendency
to colour facts with the hallucinations of an ardent fancy. Of his
sincerity there is, I think, no doubt. He really meant what he wrote; and
yet we have no reason to believe the statement that he was twice expelled
from Eton for disseminating the doctrines of _Political Justice_, or that
his father wished to drive him by poverty to accept a commission in some
distant regiment, in order that he might prosecute the _Necessity of
Atheism_ in his absence, procure a sentence of outlawry, and so convey the
family estates to his younger brother. The embroidery of bare fact with a
tissue of imagination was a peculiarity of Shelley’s mind; and this letter
may be used as a key for the explanation of many strange occurrences in
his biography. What he tells Godwin about his want of love for his father,
and his inability to learn from the tutors imposed upon him at Eton and
Oxford, represents the simple truth. Only from teachers chosen by himself,
and recognized as his superiors by his own deliberate judgment, can he
receive instruction. To Godwin he resigns himself with the implicit
confidence of admiration. Godwin was greatly struck with this letter.
Indeed he must have been “or God or beast,” like the insensible man in
Aristotle’s _Ethics_, if he could have resisted the devotion of so
splendid and high-spirited a nature, poured forth in language at once so
vehement and so convincingly sincere. He accepted the responsible post of
Shelley’s Mentor; and thus began a connexion which proved not only a
source of moral support and intellectual guidance to the poet, but was
also destined to end in a closer personal tie between the two illustrious

In his second letter Shelley told Godwin that he was then engaged in
writing “An inquiry into the causes of the failure of the French
Revolution to benefit mankind,” adding, “My plan is that of resolving to
lose no opportunity to disseminate truth and happiness.” Godwin sensibly
replied that Shelley was too young to set himself up as a teacher and
apostle: but his pupil did not take the hint. A third letter (Jan. 16,
1812) contains this startling announcement: “In a few days we set off to
Dublin. I do not know exactly where, but a letter addressed to Keswick
will find me. Our journey has been settled some time. We go principally
_to forward as much as we can_ the Catholic Emancipation.” In a fourth
letter (Jan. 28, 1812) he informs Godwin that he has already prepared an
address to the Catholics of Ireland, and combats the dissuasions of his
counsellor with ingenious arguments to prove that his contemplated
expedition can do no harm, and may be fruitful of great good.

It appears that for some time past Shelley had devoted his attention to
Irish politics. The persecution of Mr. Peter Finnerty, an Irish journalist
and editor of _The Press_ newspaper, who had been sentenced to eighteen
months’ imprisonment in Lincoln jail (between Feb. 7, 1811, and Aug. 7,
1812) for plain speech about Lord Castlereagh, roused his hottest
indignation. He published a poem, as yet unrecovered, for his benefit; the
proceeds of the sale amounting, it is said, to nearly one hundred
pounds.[7] The young enthusiast, who was attempting a philosophic study of
the French Revolution, whose heart was glowing with universal
philanthropy, and who burned to disseminate truth and happiness, judged
that Ireland would be a fitting field for making a first experiment in
practical politics. Armed with the MS. of his _Address to the Irish
People_,[8] he set sail with Harriet and Eliza on the 3rd of February from
Whitehaven. They touched the Isle of Man; and after a very stormy passage,
which drove them to the north coast of Ireland, and forced them to
complete their journey by land, the party reached Dublin travel-worn, but
with unabated spirit, on the 12th. Harriet shared her husband’s
philanthropical enthusiasm. “My wife,” wrote Shelley to Godwin, “is the
partner of my thoughts and feelings.” Indeed, there is abundant proof in
both his letters and hers, about this period, that they felt and worked
together. Miss Westbrook, meantime, ruled the household; “Eliza keeps our
common stock of money for safety in some nook or corner of her dress, but
we are not dependent on her, although she gives it out as we want it.”
This master-touch of unconscious delineation tells us all we need to know
about the domestic party now established in 7, Lower Sackville Street.
Before a week had passed, the _Address to the Irish People_ had been
printed. Shelley and Harriet immediately engaged their whole energies in
the task of distribution. It was advertised for sale; but that alone
seemed insufficient. On the 27th of February Shelley wrote to a friend in
England: “I have already sent 400 of my Irish pamphlets into the world,
and they have excited a sensation of wonder in Dublin. Eleven hundred yet
remain for distribution. Copies have been sent to sixty public-houses....
Expectation is on the tiptoe. I send a man out every day to distribute
copies, with instructions where and how to give them. His account
corresponds with the multitudes of people who possess them. I stand at the
balcony of our window and watch till I see a man _who looks likely_. I
throw a book to him.”

A postscript to this letter lets us see the propaganda from Harriet’s
point of view. “I am sure you would laugh were you to see us give the
pamphlets. We throw them out of window, and give them to men that we pass
in the streets. For myself, I am ready to die of laughter when it is done,
and Percy looks so grave. Yesterday he put one into a woman’s hood of a

The purpose of this address was to rouse the Irish people to a sense of
their real misery, to point out that Catholic Emancipation and a Repeal of
the Union Act were the only radical remedies for their wrongs, and to
teach them the spirit in which they should attempt a revolution. On the
last point Shelley felt intensely. The whole address aims at the
inculcation of a noble moral temper, tolerant, peaceful, resolute,
rational, and self-denying. Considered as a treatise on the principles
which should govern patriots during a great national crisis, the document
is admirable: and if the inhabitants of Dublin had been a population of
Shelleys, its effect might have been permanent and overwhelming. The
mistake lay in supposing that a people whom the poet himself described as
“of scarcely greater elevation in the scale of intellectual being than
the oyster,” were qualified to take the remedy of their grievances into
their own hands, or were amenable to such sound reasoning as he poured
forth. He told Godwin that he had “wilfully vulgarized the language of
this pamphlet, in order to reduce the remarks it contains to the taste and
comprehension of the Irish peasantry.” A few extracts will enable the
reader to judge how far he had succeeded in this aim. I select such as
seem to me most valuable for the light they throw upon his own opinions.
“All religions are good which make men good; and the way that a person
ought to prove that his method of worshipping God is best, is for himself
to be better than all other men.” “A Protestant is my brother, and a
Catholic is my brother.” “Do not inquire if a man be a heretic, if he be a
Quaker, a Jew, or a heathen; but if he be a virtuous man, if he loves
liberty and truth, if he wish the happiness and peace of human kind. If a
man be ever so much a believer and love not these things, he is a
heartless hypocrite, a rascal, and a knave.” “It is not a merit to
tolerate, but it is a crime to be intolerant.” “Anything short of
unlimited toleration and complete charity with all men, on which you will
recollect that Jesus Christ principally insisted, is wrong.” “Be calm,
mild, deliberate, patient.... Think and talk and discuss.... Be free and
be happy, but first be wise and good.” Proceeding to recommend the
formation of associations, he condemns secret and violent societies; “Be
fair, open, and you will be terrible to your enemies.” “Habits of
SOBRIETY, REGULARITY, and THOUGHT must be entered into and firmly resolved
upon.” Then follow precepts, which Shelley no doubt regarded as practical,
for the purification of private morals, and the regulation of public
discussion by the masses whom he elsewhere recognized as “thousands
huddled together, one mass of animated filth.”

The foregoing extracts show that Shelley was in no sense an inflammatory
demagogue; however visionary may have been the hopes he indulged, he based
those hopes upon the still more Utopian foundation of a sudden ethical
reform, and preached a revolution without bloodshed. We find in them,
moreover, the germs of _The Revolt of Islam_, where the hero plays the
part successfully in fiction, which the poet had attempted without
appreciable result in practice at Dublin. The same principles guided
Shelley at a still later period. When he wrote his _Masque of Anarchy_, he
bade the people of England to assemble by thousands, strong in the truth
and justice of their cause, invincible in peaceful opposition to force.

While he was sowing his Address broadcast in the streets of Dublin,
Shelley was engaged in preparing a second pamphlet on the subject of
Catholic Emancipation. It was entitled _Proposals for an Association_, and
advocated in serious and temperate phrase the formation of a vast society,
binding all the Catholic patriots of Ireland together, for the recovery of
their rights. In estimating Shelley’s political sagacity, it must be
remembered that Catholic Emancipation has since his day been brought about
by the very measure he proposed and under the conditions he foresaw.
Speaking of the English Government in his Address, he used these simple
phrases:--“It wants altering and mending. It will be mended, and a reform
of English Government will produce good to the Irish.” These sentences
were prophetic; and perhaps they are destined to be even more so.

With a view to presenting at one glance Shelley’s position as a practical
politician, I shall anticipate the course of a few years, and compare his
Irish pamphlets with an essay published in 1817, under the title of _A
Proposal for putting Reform to the Vote throughout the Kingdom_. He saw
that the House of Commons did not represent the country; and acting upon
his principle that government is the servant of the governed, he sought
means for ascertaining the real will of the nation with regard to its
Parliament, and for bringing the collective opinion of the population to
bear upon its rulers. The plan proposed was that a huge network of
committees should be formed, and that by their means every individual man
should be canvassed. We find here the same method of advancing reform by
peaceable associations as in Ireland. How moderate were his own opinions
with regard to the franchise, is proved by the following sentence:-“With
respect to Universal Suffrage, I confess I consider its adoption, in the
present unprepared state of public knowledge and feeling, a measure
fraught with peril. I think that none but those who register their names
as paying a certain small sum in _direct taxes_ ought at present to send
members to Parliament.” As in the case of Ireland, so in that of England,
subsequent events have shown that Shelley’s hopes were not exaggerated.

While the Shelleys were in Dublin, a meeting of the Irish Catholics was
announced for the evening of Feb. 28. It was held in Fishamble Street
Theatre; and here Shelley made his _début_ as an orator. He spoke for
about an hour; and his speech was, on the whole, well received, though it
raised some hisses at the beginning by his remarks upon Roman Catholicism.
There is no proof that Shelley, though eloquent in conversation, was a
powerful public speaker. The somewhat conflicting accounts we have
received of this, his maiden effort, tend to the impression that he
failed to carry his audience with him. The dissemination of his pamphlets
had, however, raised considerable interest in his favour; and he was
welcomed by the press as an Englishman of birth and fortune, who wished
well to the Irish cause. His youth told somewhat against him. It was
difficult to take the strong words of the beardless boy at their real
value; and as though to aggravate this drawback, his Irish servant, Daniel
Hill, an efficient agent in the dissemination of the Address, affirmed
that his master was fifteen--four years less than his real age.

In Dublin Shelley made acquaintance with Curran, whose jokes and dirty
stories he could not appreciate, and with a Mr. Lawless, who began a
history of the Irish people in concert with the young philosopher. We also
obtain, from one of Harriet’s letters, a somewhat humorous peep at another
of their friends, a patriotic Mrs. Nugent, who supported herself by
working in a furrier’s shop, and who is described as “sitting in the room
now, and talking to Percy about Virtue.” After less than two months’
experience of his Irish propaganda, Shelley came to the conclusion that he
“had done all that he could.” The population of Dublin had not risen to
the appeal of their Laon with the rapidity he hoped for; and accordingly
upon the 4th of April he once more embarked with his family for Holyhead.
In after-days it was hinted that the police had given him warning that it
would be well for him to leave Dublin; but, though the danger of a
prosecution was not wholly visionary, this intimation does not seem to
have been made. Before he quitted Ireland, however, he despatched a box
containing the remaining copies of his _Address_ and _Proposals_, together
with the recently printed edition of another manifesto, called a
_Declaration of Rights_, to a friend in Sussex. This box was delayed at
the Holyhead custom-house, and opened. Its contents gave serious anxiety
to the Surveyor of Customs, who communicated the astonishing discovery
through the proper official channels to the government. After some
correspondence, the authorities decided to take no steps against Shelley,
and the box was forwarded to its destination.

The friend in question was a Miss Eliza Hitchener, of Hurstpierpoint, who
kept a sort of school, and who had attracted Shelley’s favourable notice
by her advanced political and religious opinions. Though he had barely
made her personal acquaintance, his correspondence with this lady, still
fortunately extant, was enthusiastic and voluminous. How recklessly he
entered into serious entanglements with people whom he had not learned to
know, may be gathered from these extracts:--“We will meet you in Wales,
and never part again. It will not do. In compliance with Harriet’s earnest
solicitations, I entreated you instantly to come and join our circle,
resign your school, all, everything for us and the Irish cause.” “I ought
to count myself a favoured mortal with such a wife and such a friend.”
Harriet addressed this lady as “Portia;” and it is an undoubted fact that
soon after their return to England, Miss Hitchener formed one of their
permanent family circle. Her entrance into it and her exit from it at no
very distant period are, however, both obscure. Before long she acquired
another name than Portia in the Shelley household, and now she is better
known to fame as the “Brown Demon.” Eliza Westbrook took a strong dislike
to her; Harriet followed suit; and Shelley himself found that he had liked
her better at a distance than in close companionship. She had at last to
be bought off or bribed to leave.

The scene now shifts with bewildering frequency; nor is it easy to trace
the Shelleys in their rapid flight. About the 21st of April, they settled
for a short time at Nantgwilt, near Rhayader, in North Wales. Ere long we
find them at Lynmouth on the Somersetshire coast. Here Shelley continued
his political propaganda, by circulating the _Declaration of Rights_,
whereof mention has already been made. It was, as Mr. W. M. Rossetti first
pointed out, a manifesto concerning the ends of government and the rights
of man,--framed in imitation of two similar French Revolutionary
documents, issued by the Constituent Assembly in August, 1789, and by
Robespierre in April, 1793.[9] Shelley used to seal this pamphlet in
bottles and set it afloat upon the sea, hoping perhaps that after this
wise it would traverse St. George’s Channel and reach the sacred soil of
Erin. He also employed his servant, Daniel Hill, to distribute it among
the Somersetshire farmers. On the 19th of August this man was arrested in
the streets of Barnstaple, and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for
uttering a seditious pamphlet; and the remaining copies of the
_Declaration of Rights_ were destroyed. In strong contrast with the
puerility of these proceedings, is the grave and lofty _Letter to Lord
Ellenborough_, composed at Lynmouth, and printed at Barnstaple.[10] A
printer, named D. J. Eaton, had recently been sentenced to imprisonment by
his Lordship for publishing the Third Part of Paine’s _Age of Reason_.
Shelley’s epistle is an eloquent argument in favour of toleration and the
freedom of the intellect, carrying the matter beyond the instance of legal
tyranny which occasioned its composition, and treating it with
philosophic, if impassioned seriousness.

An extract from this composition will serve to show his power of handling
weighty English prose, while yet a youth of hardly twenty. I have chosen a
passage bearing on his theological opinions:--

    Moral qualities are such as only a human being can possess. To
    attribute them to the Spirit of the Universe, or to suppose that it is
    capable of altering them, is to degrade God into man, and to annex to
    this incomprehensible Being qualities incompatible with any possible
    definition of his nature.

    It may be here objected: Ought not the Creator to possess the
    perfections of the creature? No. To attribute to God the moral
    qualities of man, is to suppose him susceptible of passions, which
    arising out of corporeal organization, it is plain that a pure spirit
    cannot possess.... But even suppose, with the vulgar, that God is a
    venerable old man, seated on a throne of clouds, his breast the
    theatre of various passions, analogous to those of humanity, his will
    changeable and uncertain as that of an earthly king; still, goodness
    and justice are qualities seldom nominally denied him, and it will be
    admitted that he disapproves of any action incompatible with those
    qualities. Persecution for opinion is unjust. With what consistency,
    then, can the worshippers of a Deity whose benevolence they boast,
    embitter the existence of their fellow-being, because his ideas of
    that Deity are different from those which they entertain? Alas! there
    is no consistency in those persecutors who worship a benevolent Deity;
    those who worship a demon would alone act consonantly to these
    principles by imprisoning and torturing in his name.

Shelley had more than once urged Godwin and his family to visit him. The
sage of Skinner Street thought that now was a convenient season.
Accordingly he travelled by coach through Bristol and Chepstow to
Lynmouth, where he found that the Shelleys had flitted a few days
previously without giving any notice. This fruitless journey of the poet’s
Mentor is humorously described by Hogg, as well as one undertaken by
himself in the following year to Dublin with a similar result. The
Shelleys were now established at Tan-yr-allt, near Tremadoc, in North
Wales, on an estate belonging to Mr. W. A. Madocks, M.P. for Boston. This
gentleman had reclaimed a considerable extent of marshy ground from the
sea, and protected it with an embankment. Shelley, whose interest in the
poor people around him was always keen and practical, lost no time in
making their acquaintance at Tremadoc. The work of utility carried out by
his landlord aroused his enthusiastic admiration; and when the embankment
was emperilled by a heavy sea, he got up a subscription for its
preservation. Heading the list with 100_l._, how raised, or whether paid,
we know not, he endeavoured to extract similar sums from the neighbouring
gentry, and even ran up with Harriet to London to use his influence for
the same purpose with the Duke of Norfolk. On this occasion he made the
personal acquaintance of the Godwin family.

Life at Tanyrallt was smooth and studious, except for the diversion caused
by the peril to the embankment. We hear of Harriet continuing her Latin
studies, reading Odes of Horace, and projecting an epistle in that
language to Hogg. Shelley, as usual, collected many books around him.
There are letters extant in which he writes to London for Spinoza and
Kant, Plato, and the works of the chief Greek historians. It appears that
at this period, under the influence of Godwin, he attempted to conquer a
strong natural dislike for history. “I am determined to apply myself to a
study which is hateful and disgusting to my very soul, but which is above
all studies necessary for him who would be listened to as a mender of
antiquated abuses,--I mean, that record of crimes and miseries--history.”
Although he may have made an effort to apply himself to historical
reading, he was not successful. His true bias inclined him to metaphysics
coloured by a glowing fancy, and to poetry penetrated with speculative
enthusiasm. In the historic sense he was deficient; and when he made a
serious effort at a later period to compose a tragedy upon the death of
Charles I., this work was taken up with reluctance, continued with effort,
and finally abandoned.

In the same letters he speaks about a collection of short poems on which
he was engaged, and makes frequent allusions to _Queen Mab_. It appears
from his own assertion, and from Medwin’s biography, that a poem on Queen
Mab had been projected and partially written by him at the early age of
eighteen. But it was not taken seriously in hand until the spring of 1812;
nor was it finished and printed before 1813. The first impression was a
private issue of 250 copies, on fine paper, which Shelley distributed to
people whom he wished to influence. It was pirated soon after its
appearance, and again in 1821 it was given to the public by a bookseller
named Clarke. Against the latter republication Shelley energetically
protested, disclaiming in a letter addressed to _The Examiner_, from Pisa,
June 22, 1821, any interest in a production which he had not even seen for
several years. “I doubt not but that it is perfectly worthless in point of
literary composition; and that in all that concerns moral and political
speculation, as well as in the subtler discriminations of metaphysical and
religious doctrine, it is still more crude and immature. I am a devoted
enemy to religious, political, and domestic oppression; and I regret this
publication, not so much from literary vanity as because I fear it is
better fitted to injure than to serve the sacred cause of freedom.” This
judgment is undoubtedly severe; but, though exaggerated in its
condemnation, it, like all Shelley’s criticisms on his own works,
expresses the truth. We cannot include _Queen Mab_, in spite of its
sonorous rhetoric and fervid declamation, in the canon of his
masterpieces. It had a _succès de scandale_ on its first appearance, and
fatally injured Shelley’s reputation. As a work of art it lacks maturity
and permanent vitality.

The Shelleys were suddenly driven away from Tanyrallt by a mysterious
occurrence, of which no satisfactory explanation has yet been given.
According to letters written by himself and Harriet soon after the event,
and confirmed by the testimony of Eliza, Shelley was twice attacked upon
the night of Feb. 26, by an armed ruffian, with whom he struggled in a
hand-to-hand combat. Pistols were fired and windows broken, and Shelley’s
nightgown was shot through: but the assassin made his escape from the
house without being recognized. His motive and his personality still
remain matters of conjecture. Whether the whole affair was a figment of
Shelley’s brain, rendered more than usually susceptible by laudanum taken
to assuage intense physical pain; whether it was a perilous hoax played
upon him by the Irish servant, Daniel Hill; or whether, as he himself
surmised, the crime was instigated by an unfriendly neighbour, it is
impossible to say. Strange adventures of this kind, blending fact and
fancy in a now inextricable tangle, are of no unfrequent occurrence in
Shelley’s biography. In estimating the relative proportions of the two
factors in this case, it must be borne in mind, on the one hand, that no
one but Shelley, who was alone in the parlour, and who for some
unexplained reason had loaded his pistols on the evening before the
alleged assault, professed to have seen the villain; and, on the other,
that the details furnished by Harriet, and confirmed at a subsequent
period by so hostile a witness as Eliza, are too circumstantial to be
lightly set aside.

On the whole it appears most probable that Shelley on this night was the
subject of a powerful hallucination. The theory of his enemies at
Tanyrallt, that the story had been invented to facilitate his escape from
the neighbourhood without paying his bills, may be dismissed. But no
investigation on the spot could throw any clear light on the circumstance,
and Shelley’s friends, Hogg, Peacock, and Mr. Madocks, concurred in
regarding the affair as a delusion.

There was no money in the common purse of the Shelleys at this moment. In
their distress they applied to Mr. T. Hookham, a London publisher, who
sent them enough to carry them across the Irish Channel. After a short
residence in 35, Cuffe Street, Dublin, and a flying visit to Killarney,
they returned to London. Eliza, for some reason as unexplained as the
whole episode of this second visit to Ireland, was left behind for a short
season. The flight from Tanyrallt closes the first important period of
Shelley’s life; and his settlement in London marks the beginning of
another, fruitful of the gravest consequences and decisive for his



Early in April the Shelleys arrived in London, where they were soon joined
by Eliza, from whose increasingly irksome companionship the poet had
recently enjoyed a few weeks’ respite. After living for a short while in
hotels, they took lodgings in Half Moon Street. The house had a projecting
window, where the poet loved to sit with book in hand, and catch,
according to his custom, the maximum of sunlight granted by a chary
English summer. “He wanted,” said one of his female admirers, “only a pan
of clear water and a fresh turf to look like some young lady’s lark,
hanging outside for air and song.” According to Hogg, this period of
London life was a pleasant and tranquil episode in Shelley’s troubled
career. His room was full of books, among which works of German
metaphysics occupied a prominent place, though they were not deeply
studied. He was now learning Italian, and made his first acquaintance with
Tasso, Ariosto, and Petrarch.

The habits of the household were, to say the least, irregular; for Shelley
took no thought of sublunary matters, and Harriet was an indifferent
housekeeper. Dinner seems to have come to them less by forethought than by
the operation of divine chance; and when there was no meat provided for
the entertainment of casual guests, the table was supplied with buns,
procured by Shelley from the nearest pastry-cook. He had already abjured
animal food and alcohol; and his favourite diet consisted of pulse or
bread, which he ate dry with water, or made into panada. Hogg relates how,
when he was walking in the streets and felt hungry, he would dive into a
baker’s shop and emerge with a loaf tucked under his arm. This he consumed
as he went along, very often reading at the same time, and dodging the
foot-passengers with the rapidity of movement which distinguished him. He
could not comprehend how any man should want more than bread. “I have
dropped a word, a hint,” says Hogg, “about a pudding; a pudding, Bysshe
said dogmatically, is a prejudice.” This indifference to diet was highly
characteristic of Shelley. During the last years of his life, even when he
was suffering from the frequent attacks of a painful disorder, he took no
heed of food; and his friend, Trelawny, attributes the derangement of his
health, in a great measure, to this carelessness. Mrs. Shelley used to
send him something to eat into the room where he habitually studied; but
the plate frequently remained untouched for hours upon a bookshelf, and at
the end of the day he might be heard asking, “Mary, have I dined?” His
dress was no less simple than his diet. Hogg says that he never saw him in
a great coat, and that his collar was unbuttoned to let the air play
freely on his throat. “In the street or road he reluctantly wore a hat;
but in fields and gardens, his little round head had no other covering
than his long, wild, ragged locks.” Shelley’s head, as is well known, was
remarkably small and round; he used to plunge it several times a day in
cold water, and expose it recklessly to the intensest heat of fire or
sun. Mrs. Shelley relates that a great part of the _Cenci_ was written on
their house-roof near Leghorn, where Shelley lay exposed to the
unmitigated ardour of Italian summer heat; and Hogg describes him reading
Homer by a blazing fire-light, or roasting his skull upon the hearth-rug
by the hour.

These personal details cannot be omitted by the biographer of such a man
as Shelley. He was an elemental and primeval creature, as little subject
to the laws of custom in his habits as in his modes of thought, living
literally as the spirit moved him, with a natural nonchalance that has
perhaps been never surpassed. To time and place he was equally
indifferent, and could not be got to remember his engagements. “He took
strange caprices, unfounded frights and dislikes, vain apprehensions and
panic terrors, and therefore he absented himself from formal and sacred
engagements. He was unconscious and oblivious of times, places, persons,
and seasons; and falling into some poetic vision, some day-dream, he
quickly and completely forgot all that he had repeatedly and solemnly
promised; or he ran away after some object of imaginary urgency and
importance, which suddenly came into his head, setting off in vain pursuit
of it, he knew not whither. When he was caught, brought up in custody, and
turned over to the ladies, with, Behold, your King! to be caressed,
courted, admired, and flattered, the king of beauty and fancy would too
commonly bolt; slip away, steal out, creep off; unobserved and almost
magically he vanished; thus mysteriously depriving his fair subjects of
his much-coveted, long looked-for company.” If he had been fairly caged
and found himself in congenial company, he let time pass unheeded, sitting
up all night to talk, and chaining his audience by the spell of his
unrivalled eloquence; for wonderful as was his poetry, those who enjoyed
the privilege of converse with him, judged it even more attractive. “He
was commonly most communicative, unreserved, and eloquent, and
enthusiastic, when those around him were inclining to yield to the
influence of sleep, or rather at the hour when they would have been
disposed to seek their chambers, but for the bewitching charms of his

From Half Moon Street the Shelleys moved into a house in Pimlico; and it
was here, according to Hogg, whose narrative can probably be relied on in
this matter, that Shelley’s first child, Ianthe Eliza, was born about the
end of June, 1813. Harriet did not take much to her little girl, and gave
her over to a wet-nurse, for whom Shelley conceived a great dislike. That
a mother should not nurse her own baby was no doubt contrary to his
principles; and the double presence of the servant and Eliza, whom he now
most cordially detested, made his home uncomfortable. We have it on
excellent authority, that of Mr. Peacock, that he “was extremely fond of
it (the child), and would walk up and down a room with it in his arms for
a long time together, singing to it a song of his own making, which ran on
the repetition of a word of his own coining. His song was Yáhmani,
Yáhmani, Yáhmani, Yáhmani.” To the want of sympathy between the father and
the mother in this matter of Ianthe, Mr. Peacock is inclined to attribute
the beginning of troubles in the Shelley household. There is, indeed, no
doubt that the revelation of Harriet’s maternal coldness must have been
extremely painful to her husband; and how far she carried her
insensibility, may be gathered from a story told by Hogg about her conduct
during an operation performed upon the child.

During this period of his sojourn in London, Shelley was again in some
pecuniary difficulties. Yet he indulged Harriet’s vanity by setting up a
carriage, in which they afterwards took a hurried journey to Edinburgh and
back. He narrowly escaped a debtor’s prison through this act of
extravagance, and by a somewhat ludicrous mistake Hogg was arrested for
the debt due to the coachmaker. His acquaintances were few and scattered,
and he saw nothing of his family. Gradually, however, he seems to have
become a kind of prophet in a coterie of learned ladies. The views he had
propounded in _Queen Mab_, his passionate belief in the perfectibility of
man, his vegetarian doctrines, and his readiness to adopt any new nostrum
for the amelioration of the race, endeared him to all manners of strange
people; nor was he deterred by aristocratic prejudices from frequenting
society which proved extremely uncongenial to Hogg, and of which we have
accordingly some caustic sketches from his pen. His chief friends were a
Mrs. Boinville, for whom he conceived an enthusiastic admiration, her
sister Mrs. Newton, and her daughter Cornelia, Mrs. Turner. In order to be
near them he had moved to Pimlico; and his next move, from London to a
cottage named High Elms, at Bracknell, in Berkshire, had the same object.
With Godwin and his family he was also on terms of familiar intercourse.
Under the philosopher’s roof in Skinner Street there was now gathered a
group of miscellaneous inmates--Fanny Imlay, the daughter of his first
wife, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary, his own daughter by the same marriage;
his second wife, and her two children, Claire and Charles Clairmont, the
offspring of a previous union. From this connexion with the Godwin
household events of the most serious import in the future were destined to
arise, and already it appears that Fanny Imlay had begun to look with
perilous approval on the fascinating poet. Hogg and Mr. Peacock, the
well-known novelist, described by Mrs. Newton as “a cold scholar, who, I
think, has neither taste nor feeling,” were his only other intimates.

Mrs. Newton’s unfair judgment of Mr. Peacock marks a discord between the
two main elements of Shelley’s present society; and indeed it will appear
to a careful student of his biography that Hogg, Peacock, and Harriet, now
stood somewhat by themselves and aloof from the inner sphere of his
associates. If we regard the Shelleys as the centre of an extended line,
we shall find the Westbrook family at one end, the Boinville family at the
other, with Hogg and Peacock somewhere in the middle. Harriet was
naturally drawn to the Westbrook extremity, and Shelley to the Boinville.
Peacock had no affinity for either, but a sincere regard for Harriet as
well as for her husband; while Hogg was in much the same position, except
that he had made friends with Mrs. Newton. The Godwins, of great
importance to Shelley himself, exercised their influence at a distance
from the rest. Frequent changes from Bracknell to London and back again,
varied by the flying journey to Edinburgh, and a last visit paid in
strictest secrecy to his mother and sisters, at Field Place, of which a
very interesting record is left in the narrative of Mr. Kennedy, occupied
the interval between July, 1813, and March, 1814. The period was not
productive of literary masterpieces. We only hear of a _Refutation of
Deism_, a dialogue between Eusebes and Theosophus, which attacked all
forms of Theistic belief.

Since we are now approaching the gravest crisis Shelley’s life, it behoves
us to be more than usually careful in considering his circumstances at
this epoch. His home had become cold and dull. Harriet had lost her
interest in his studies. She became more and more an ordinary woman of the
world. Eliza was a source of continual irritation, and the Westbrook
family did its best, by interference and suggestion, to refrigerate the
poet’s feelings for his wife. On the other hand he found among the
Boinville set exactly that high-flown, enthusiastic, sentimental
atmosphere which suited his idealizing temper. Two extracts from a letter
written to Hogg upon the 16th of March, 1814, speak more eloquently than
any analysis, and will place before the reader the antagonism which had
sprung up in Shelley’s mind between his own home and the circle of his new
friends:--“I have been staying with Mrs. B---- for the last month; I have
escaped, in the society of all that philosophy and friendship combine,
from the dismaying solitude of myself. They have revived in my heart the
expiring flame of life. I have felt myself translated to a paradise, which
has nothing of mortality but its transitoriness; my heart sickens at the
view of that necessity, which will quickly divide me from the delightful
tranquillity of this happy home,--for it has become my home. The trees,
the bridge, the minutest objects, have already a place in my affections.”

“Eliza is still with us,--not here!--but will be with me when the infinite
malice of destiny forces me to depart. I am now but little inclined to
contest this point. I certainly hate her with all my heart and soul. It is
a sight which awakens an inexpressible sensation of disgust and horror, to
see her caress my poor little Ianthe, in whom I may hereafter find the
consolation of sympathy. I sometimes feel faint with the fatigue of
checking the overflowings of my unbounded abhorrence for this miserable
wretch. But she is no more than a blind and loathsome worm, that cannot
see to sting.”[11]

[While divided in this way between a home which had become distasteful to
him, and a house where he found scope for his most romantic outpourings of
sensibility. Shelley fell suddenly and passionately in love with Godwin’s
daughter, Mary. Peacock, who lived in close intimacy with him at this
period, must deliver his testimony as to the overwhelming nature of the
new attachment:--“Nothing that I ever read in tale or history could
present a more striking image of a sudden, violent, irresistible,
uncontrollable passion, than that under which I found him labouring when,
at his request, I went up from the country to call on him in London.
Between his old feelings towards Harriet, _from whom he was not then
separated_, and his new passion for Mary, he showed in his looks, in his
gestures, in his speech, the state of a mind ‘suffering, like a little
kingdom, the nature of an insurrection.’ His eyes were bloodshot, his hair
and dress disordered. He caught up a bottle of laudanum, and said, ‘I
never part from this.’”

We may therefore affirm, I think, with confidence that in the winter and
spring of 1814, Shelley had been becoming gradually more and more
estranged from Harriet, whose commonplace nature was no mate for his, and
whom he had never loved with all the depth of his affection; that his
intimacy with the Boinville family had brought into painful prominence
whatever was jarring and repugnant to him in his home; and that in this
crisis of his fate he had fallen in love for the first time seriously with
Mary Godwin. She was then a girl of sixteen, “fair and fair-haired, pale
indeed, and with a piercing look,” to quote Hogg’s description of her, as
she first appeared before him on the 8th or 9th of June, 1814. With her
freedom from prejudice, her tense and high-wrought sensibility, her acute
intellect, enthusiasm for ideas, and vivid imagination, Mary Godwin was
naturally a fitter companion for Shelley than the good Harriet, however

That Shelley early in 1814 had no intention of leaving his wife, is
probable; for he was re-married to her on the 24th of March, eight days
after his impassioned letter to Hogg, in St. George’s, Hanover Square.
Harriet was pregnant, and this ratification of the Scotch marriage was no
doubt intended to place the legitimacy of a possible heir beyond all
question. Yet it seems, if we may found conjecture on “Stanzas, April,
1814,” that in the very month after this new ceremony Shelley found the
difficulties of his wedded life insuperable, and that he was already
making up his mind to part from Harriet. About the middle of June the
separation actually occurred--not by mutual consent, so far as any
published documents throw light upon the matter, but rather by Shelley’s
sudden abandonment of his wife and child.[12] For a short while Harriet
was left in ignorance of his abode, and with a very insufficient sum of
money at her disposal. She placed herself under the protection of her
father, retired to Bath, and about the beginning of July received a letter
from Shelley, who was thenceforth solicitous for her welfare, keeping up a
correspondence with her, supplying her with funds, and by no means
shrinking from personal communications.

That Shelley must bear the responsibility of this separation seems to me
quite clear. His justification is to be found in his avowed opinions on
the subject of love and marriage--opinions which Harriet knew well and
professed to share, and of which he had recently made ample confession in
the notes to _Queen Mab_. The world will still agree with Lord Eldon in
regarding those opinions as dangerous to society, and a blot upon the
poet’s character; but it would be unfair, while condemning them as frankly
as he professed them, to blame him also because he did not conform to the
opposite code of morals, for which he frequently expressed extreme
abhorrence, and which he stigmatized, however wrongly, as the source of
the worst social vices. It must be added that the Shelley family in their
memorials of the poet, and through their friend, Mr. Richard Garnett,
inform us, without casting any slur on Harriet, that documents are extant
which will completely vindicate the poet’s conduct in this matter. It is
therefore but just to await their publication before pronouncing a decided
judgment. Meanwhile there remains no doubt about the fact that forty days
after leaving Harriet, Shelley departed from London with Mary Godwin, who
had consented to share his fortunes. How he plighted his new troth, and
won the hand of her who was destined to be his companion for life, may
best be told in Lady Shelley’s words:--

“His anguish, his isolation, his difference from other men, his gifts of
genius and eloquent enthusiasm, made a deep impression on Godwin’s
daughter Mary, now a girl of sixteen, who had been accustomed to hear
Shelley spoken of as something rare and strange. To her, as they met one
eventful day in St. Pancras Churchyard, by her mother’s grave, Bysshe, in
burning words, poured forth the tale of his wild past--how he had
suffered, how he had been misled, and how, if supported by her love, he
hoped in future years to enrol his name with the wise and good who had
done battle for their fellow-men, and been true through all adverse storms
to the cause of humanity. Unhesitatingly, she placed her hand in his, and
linked her fortune with his own; and most truthfully, as the remaining
portions of these Memorials will prove, was the pledge of both redeemed.
The theories in which the daughter of the authors of _Political Justice_,
and of the _Rights of Woman_, had been educated, spared her from any
conflict between her duty and her affection. For she was the child of
parents whose writings had had for their object to prove that marriage was
one among the many institutions which a new era in the history of mankind
was about to sweep away. By her father, whom she loved--by the writings of
her mother, whom she had been taught to venerate--these doctrines had been
rendered familiar to her mind. It was therefore natural that she should
listen to the dictates of her own heart, and willingly unite her fate with
one who was so worthy of her love.”

Soon after her withdrawal to Bath, Harriet gave birth to Shelley’s second
child, Charles Bysshe, who died in 1826. She subsequently formed another
connexion which proved unhappy; and on the 10th of November, 1816, she
committed suicide by drowning herself in the Serpentine. The distance of
time between June, 1814, and November, 1816, and the new ties formed by
Harriet in this interval, prove that there was no immediate connexion
between Shelley’s abandonment of his wife and her suicide. She had always
entertained the thought of self-destruction, as Hogg, who is no adverse
witness in her case, has amply recorded; and it may be permitted us to
suppose that finding herself for the second time unhappy in her love, she
reverted to a long-since cherished scheme, and cut the knot of life and
all its troubles.

So far as this is possible, I have attempted to narrate the most painful
episode in Shelley’s life as it occurred, without extenuation and without
condemnation. Until the papers, mentioned with such insistence by Lady
Shelley and Mr. Garnett, are given to the world, it is impossible that the
poet should not bear the reproach of heartlessness and inconstancy in this
the gravest of all human relations. Such, however, is my belief in the
essential goodness of his character, after allowing, as we must do, for
the operation of his peculiar principles upon his conduct, that I for my
own part am willing to suspend my judgment till the time arrives for his
vindication. The language used by Lady Shelley and Mr. Garnett justify us
in expecting that that vindication will be as startling as complete. If it
is not, they, as pleading for him, will have overshot the mark of

On the 28th of July, 1814, Shelley left London with Mary Godwin, who up to
this date had remained beneath her father’s roof. There was some secrecy
in their departure, because they were accompanied by Miss Clairmont, whose
mother disapproved of her forming a third in the party. Having made their
way to Dover, they crossed the Channel in an open boat, and went at once
to Paris. Here they hired a donkey for their luggage, intending to perform
the journey across France on foot. Shelley, however, sprained his ancle,
and a mule-carriage was provided for the party. In this conveyance they
reached the Jura, and entered Switzerland at Neufchatel. Brunnen, on the
Lake of Lucerne, was chosen for their residence; and here Shelley began
his romantic tale of _The Assassins_, a portion of which is printed in
his prose works. Want of money compelled them, after two days in Uri, to
turn their steps homeward; and the back journey was performed upon the
Reuss and Rhine. They reached Gravesend, after a bad passage, on the 13th
of September. Mrs. Shelley’s _History of a Six Weeks’ Tour_ relates the
details of this trip, which was of great importance in forming Shelley’s
taste and in supplying him with the scenery of river, rock, and mountain,
so splendidly utilized in _Alastor_.

The autumn was a period of more than usual money difficulty; but on the
6th of January, 1815, Sir Bysshe died, Percy became the next heir to the
baronetcy and the family estates, and an arrangement was made with his
father by right of which he received an allowance of 1000_l._ a year. A
portion of his income was immediately set apart for Harriet. The winter
was passed in London, where Shelley walked a hospital, in order, it is
said, to acquire some medical knowledge that might be of service to the
poor he visited. His own health at this period was very bad. A physician
whom he consulted, pronounced that he was rapidly sinking under pulmonary
disease, and he suffered frequent attacks of acute pain. The consumptive
symptoms seem to have been so marked that for the next three years he had
no doubt that he was destined to an early death. In 1818, however, all
danger of phthisis passed away; and during the rest of his short life he
only suffered from spasms and violent pains in the side, which baffled the
physicians, but, though they caused him extreme annoyance, did not menace
any vital organ. To the subject of his health it will be necessary to
return at a later period of his biography. For the present it is enough to
remember that his physical condition was such as to justify his own
expectation of death at no distant time.[13]

Fond as ever of wandering, Shelley set out in the early summer for a tour
with Mary. They visited Devonshire and Clifton, and then settled in a
house on Bishopsgate Heath, near Windsor Forest. The summer was further
broken by a water excursion up the Thames to its source, in the company of
Mr. Peacock and Charles Clairmont. Peacock traces the poet’s taste for
boating, which afterwards became a passion with him, to this excursion.
About this there is, however, some doubt. Medwin tells us that Shelley
while a boy delighted in being on the water, and that he enjoyed the
pastime at Eton. On the other hand, Mr. W. S. Halliday, a far better
authority than Medwin, asserts positively that he never saw Shelley on the
river at Eton, and Hogg relates nothing to prove that he practised rowing
at Oxford. It is certain that, though inordinately fond of boats and every
kind of water--river, sea, lake, or canal--he never learned to swim.
Peacock also notices his habit of floating paper boats, and gives an
amusing description of the boredom suffered by Hogg on occasions when
Shelley would stop by the side of pond or mere to float a mimic navy. The
not altogether apocryphal story of his having once constructed a boat out
of a bank-post-bill, and launched it on the lake in Kensington Gardens,
deserves to be alluded to in this connexion.

On their return from this river journey, Shelley began the poem of
_Alastor_, haunting the woodland glades and oak groves of Windsor Forest,
and drawing from that noble scenery his inspiration. It was printed with a
few other poems in one volume the next year. Not only was _Alastor_ the
first serious poem published by Shelley; but it was also the first of his
compositions which revealed the greatness of his genius. Rarely has blank
verse been written with more majesty and music: and while the influence of
Milton and Wordsworth may be traced in certain passages, the
versification, tremulous with lyrical vibrations, is such as only Shelley
could have produced.

“Alastor” is the Greek name for a vengeful dæmon, driving its victim into
desert places; and Shelley, prompted by Peacock, chose it for the title of
a poem which describes the Nemesis of solitary souls. Apart from its
intrinsic merit as a work of art, _Alastor_ has great autobiographical
value. Mrs. Shelley affirms that it was written under the expectation of
speedy death, and under the sense of disappointment, consequent upon the
misfortunes of his early life. This accounts for the somewhat unhealthy
vein of sentiment which threads the wilderness of its sublime
descriptions. All that Shelley had observed of natural beauty--in Wales,
at Lynton, in Switzerland, upon the eddies of the Reuss, beneath the oak
shades of the forest--is presented to us in a series of pictures
penetrated with profound emotion. But the deeper meaning of _Alastor_ is
to be found, not in the thought of death nor in the poet’s recent
communings with nature, but in the motto from St. Augustine placed upon
its title-page, and in the _Hymn to Intellectual Beauty_, composed about a
year later. Enamoured of ideal loveliness, the poet pursues his vision
through the universe, vainly hoping to assuage the thirst which has been
stimulated in his spirit, and vainly longing for some mortal realization
of his love. _Alastor_, like _Epipsychidion_, reveals the mistake which
Shelley made in thinking that the idea of beauty could become incarnate
for him in any earthly form: while the _Hymn to Intellectual Beauty_
recognizes the truth that such realization of the ideal is impossible. The
very last letter written by Shelley sets the misconception in its proper
light: “I think one is always in love with something or other; the error,
and I confess it is not easy for spirits cased in flesh and blood to avoid
it, consists in seeking in a mortal image the likeness of what is,
perhaps, eternal.” But this Shelley discovered only with “the years that
bring the philosophic mind,” and when he was upon the very verge of his
untimely death.

The following quotation is a fair specimen of the blank verse of
_Alastor_. It expresses that longing for perfect sympathy in an ideal
love, which the sense of divine beauty had stirred in the poet’s heart:--

  At length upon the lone Chorasmian shore
  He paused, a wide and melancholy waste
  Of putrid marshes. A strong impulse urged
  His steps to the sea-shore. A swan was there,
  Beside a sluggish stream among the reeds.
  It rose as he approached, and, with strong wings
  Scaling the upward sky, bent its bright course
  High over the immeasurable main.
  His eyes pursued its flight:--“Thou hast a home,
  Beautiful bird! thou voyagest to thine home,
  Where thy sweet mate will twine her downy neck
  With thine, and welcome thy return with eyes
  Bright in the lustre of their own fond joy.
  And what am I that I should linger here,
  With voice far sweeter than thy dying notes,
  Spirit more vast than thine, frame more attuned
  To beauty, wasting these surpassing powers
  In the deaf air, to the blind earth, and heaven
  That echoes not my thoughts?” A gloomy smile
  Of desperate hope wrinkled his quivering lips.
  For Sleep, he knew, kept most relentlessly
  Its precious charge, and silent Death exposed,
  Faithless perhaps as Sleep, a shadowy lure,
  With doubtful smile mocking its own strange charms.

William, the eldest son of Shelley and Mary Godwin, was born on the 24th
of Jan., 1816. In the spring of that year they went together, accompanied
by Miss Clairmont, for a second time to Switzerland. They reached Geneva
about the 15th of May, and were soon after joined by Lord Byron and his
travelling physician, Dr. Polidori. Shelley had not yet made Byron’s
acquaintance, though he had sent him a copy of _Queen Mab_, with a letter,
which miscarried in the post. They were now thrown into daily intercourse,
occupying the villas Diodati and Mont Alégre at no great distance from
each other, passing their days upon the lake in a boat which they
purchased, and spending the nights in conversation. Miss Clairmont had
known Byron in London, and their acquaintance now ripened into an
intimacy, the fruit of which was the child Allegra. This fact has to be
mentioned by Shelley’s biographer, because Allegra afterwards became an
inmate of his home; and though he and Mary were ignorant of what was
passing at Geneva, they did not withdraw their sympathy from the mother of
Lord Byron’s daughter. The lives of Byron and Shelley during the next six
years were destined to be curiously blent. Both were to seek in Italy an
exile-home; while their friendship was to become one of the most
interesting facts of English literary history. The influence of Byron upon
Shelley, as he more than once acknowledged, and as his wife plainly
perceived, was, to a large extent, depressing. For Byron’s genius and its
fruits in poetry he entertained the highest possible opinion. He could not
help comparing his own achievement and his fame with Byron’s; and the
result was that in the presence of one whom he erroneously believed to be
the greater poet, he became inactive. Shelley, on the contrary,
stimulated Byron’s productive faculty to nobler efforts, raised his moral
tone, and infused into his less subtle intellect something of his own
philosophical depth and earnestness. Much as he enjoyed Byron’s society
and admired his writing, Shelley was not blind to the imperfections of his
nature. The sketch which he has left us of Count Maddalo, the letters
written to his wife from Venice and Ravenna, and his correspondence on the
subject of Leigh Hunt’s visit to Italy, supply the most discriminating
criticism which has yet been passed upon his brother poet’s character. It
is clear that he never found in Byron a perfect friend, and that he had
not accepted him as one with whom he sympathized upon the deeper questions
of feeling and conduct. Byron, for his part, recognized in Shelley the
purest nature he had ever known. “He was the most gentle, the most
amiable, and least worldly-minded person I ever met; full of delicacy,
disinterested beyond all other men, and possessing a degree of genius
joined to simplicity as rare as it is admirable. He had formed to himself
a _beau ideal_ of all that is fine, high-minded, and noble, and he acted
up to this ideal even to the very letter.”

Toward the end of June the two poets made the tour of Lake Geneva in their
boat, and were very nearly wrecked off the rocks of Meillerie. On this
occasion Shelley was in imminent danger of death from drowning. His one
anxiety, however, as he wrote to Peacock, was lest Byron should attempt to
save him at the risk of his own life. Byron described him as “bold as a
lion;” and indeed it may here be said, once and for all, that Shelley’s
physical courage was only equalled by his moral fearlessness. He carried
both without bravado to the verge of temerity, and may justly be said to
have never known what terror was. Another summer excursion was a visit to
Chamouni, of which he has left memorable descriptions in his letters to
Peacock, and in the somewhat Coleridgian verses on Mont Blanc. The preface
to _Laon and Cythna_ shows what a powerful impression had been made upon
him by the glaciers, and how he delighted in the element of peril. There
is a tone of exultation in the words which record the experiences of his
two journeys in Switzerland and France:--“I have been familiar from
boyhood with mountains and lakes and the sea, and the solitude of forests.
Danger, which sports upon the brink of precipices, has been my playmate. I
have trodden the glaciers of the Alps, and lived under the eye of Mont
Blanc. I have been a wanderer among distant fields. I have sailed down
mighty rivers, and seen the sun rise and set, and the stars come forth,
whilst I have sailed night and day down a rapid stream among mountains. I
have seen populous cities, and have watched the passions which rise and
spread, and sink and change amongst assembled multitudes of men. I have
seen the theatre of the more visible ravages of tyranny and war, cities
and villages reduced to scattered groups of black and roofless houses, and
the naked inhabitants sitting famished upon their desolated thresholds.”

On their return to the lake, the Shelleys found M. G. Lewis established
with Byron. This addition to the circle introduced much conversation about
apparitions, and each member of the party undertook to produce a ghost
story. Polidori’s _Vampyre_ and Mrs. Shelley’s _Frankenstein_ were the
only durable results of their determination. But an incident occurred
which is of some importance in the history of Shelley’s psychological
condition. Toward midnight on the 18th of July, Byron recited the lines
in _Christabel_ about the lady’s breast; when Shelley suddenly started up,
shrieked, and fled from the room. He had seen a vision of a woman with
eyes instead of nipples. At this time he was writing notes upon the
phenomena of sleep to be inserted in his _Speculations on Metaphysics_,
and Mrs. Shelley informs us that the mere effort to remember dreams of
thrilling or mysterious import so disturbed his nervous system that he had
to relinquish the task. At no period of his life was he wholly free from
visions which had the reality of facts. Sometimes they occurred in sleep
and were prolonged with painful vividness into his waking moments.
Sometimes they seemed to grow out of his intense meditation, or to present
themselves before his eyes as the projection of a powerful inner
impression. All his sensations were abnormally acute, and his ever-active
imagination confused the border-lands of the actual and the visionary.
Such a nature as Shelley’s, through its far greater susceptibility than is
common even with artistic temperaments, was debarred in moments of
high-strung emotion from observing the ordinary distinctions of subject
and object; and this peculiar quality must never be forgotten when we seek
to estimate the proper proportions of _Dichtung und Wahrheit_ in certain
episodes of his biography. The strange story, for example, told by Peacock
about a supposed warning he had received in the spring of this year from
Mr. Williams of Tremadoc, may possibly be explained on the hypothesis that
his brooding thoughts had taken form before him, both ear and eye having
been unconsciously pressed into the service of a subjective energy.[14]

On their return to England in September, Shelley took a cottage at Great
Marlow on the Thames, in order to be near his friend Peacock. While it was
being prepared for the reception of his family, he stayed at Bath, and
there heard of Harriet’s suicide. The life that once was dearest to him,
had ended thus in misery, desertion, want. The mother of his two children,
abandoned by both her husband and her lover, and driven from her father’s
home, had drowned herself after a brief struggle with circumstance.
However Shelley may have felt that his conscience was free from blame,
however small an element of self-reproach may have mingled with his grief
and horror, there is no doubt that he suffered most acutely. His deepest
ground for remorse seems to have been the conviction that he had drawn
Harriet into a sphere of thought and feeling for which she was not
qualified, and that had it not been for him and his opinions, she might
have lived a happy woman in some common walk of life. One of his
biographers asserts that “he continued to be haunted by certain
recollections, partly real and partly imaginative, which pursued him like
an Orestes,” and even Trelawny, who knew him only in the last months of
his life, said that the impression of that dreadful moment was still
vivid. We may trace the echo of his feelings in some painfully pathetic
verses written in 1817;[15] and though he did not often speak of Harriet,
Peacock has recorded one memorable occasion on which he disclosed the
anguish of his spirit to a friend.[16]

Shelley hurried at once to London, and found some consolation in the
society of Leigh Hunt. The friendship extended to him by that excellent
man at this season of his trouble may perhaps count for something with
those who are inclined to judge him harshly. Two important events followed
immediately upon the tragedy. The first was Shelley’s marriage with Mary
Godwin on the 30th of December, 1816. [Whether Shelley would have taken
this step except under strong pressure from without, appears to me very
doubtful. Of all men who ever lived, he was the most resolutely bent on
confirming his theories by his practice; and in this instance there was no
valid reason why he should not act up to principles professed in common by
himself and the partner of his fortunes, no less than by her father and
her mother. It is, therefore, reasonable to suppose that he yielded to
arguments; and these arguments must have been urged by Godwin, who had
never treated him with cordiality since he left England in 1816. Godwin,
though overrated in his generation and almost ludicrously idealized by
Shelley, was a man whose talents verged on genius. But he was by no means
consistent. His conduct in money-matters shows that he could not live the
life of a self-sufficing philosopher; while the irritation he expressed
when Shelley omitted to address him as Esquire, stood in comic
contradiction with his published doctrines. We are therefore perhaps
justified in concluding that he worried Shelley, the one enthusiastic and
thoroughgoing follower he had, into marrying his daughter in spite of his
disciple’s protestations; nor shall we be far wrong if we surmise that
Godwin congratulated himself on Mary’s having won the right to bear the
name of a future baronet.]

The second event was the refusal of Mr. Westbrook to deliver up the
custody of his grandchildren. A chancery suit was instituted; at the
conclusion of which, in March, 1817, Lord Eldon deprived Shelley of his
son and daughter on the double ground of his opinions expressed in _Queen
Mab_, and of his conduct toward his first wife. The children were placed
in the hands of a Dr. Hume, to be educated in accordance with principles
diametrically opposed to their parent’s, while Shelley’s income was
mulcted in a sum of 200_l._ for their maintenance. Thus sternly did the
father learn the value of that ancient Æschylean maxim, τῷ δράσαντι
παθεῖν, the doer of the deed must suffer. His own impulsiveness, his
reckless assumption of the heaviest responsibilities, his overweening
confidence in his own strength to move the weight of the world’s opinions,
had brought him to this tragic pass--to the suicide of the woman who had
loved him, and to the sequestration of the offspring whom he loved.

Shelley ought not to be made the text for any sermon; and yet we may learn
from him as from a hero of Hebrew or Hellenic story. His life was a
tragedy; and like some protagonist of Greek drama, he was capable of
erring and of suffering greatly. He had kicked against the altar of
justice as established in the daily sanctities of human life; and now he
had to bear the penalty. The conventions he despised and treated like the
dust beneath his feet, were found in this most cruel crisis to be a rock
on which his very heart was broken. From this rude trial of his moral
nature he arose a stronger being; and if longer life had been granted him,
he would undoubtedly have presented the ennobling spectacle of one who had
been lessoned by his own audacity, and by its bitter fruits, into harmony
with the immutable laws which he was ever seeking to obey. It is just this
conflict between the innate rectitude of Shelley’s over-daring nature and
the circumstances of ordinary existence, which makes his history so
tragic: and we may justly wonder whether, when he read the Sophoclean
tragedies of Œdipus, he did not apply their doctrine of self-will and
Nemesis to his own fortunes.



Amid the torturing distractions of the Chancery suit about his children,
and the still more poignant anguish of his own heart, and with the cloud
of what he thought swift-coming death above his head, Shelley worked
steadily, during the summer of 1817, upon his poem of _Laon and Cythna_.
Six months were spent in this task. “The poem,” to borrow Mrs. Shelley’s
words, “was written in his boat, as it floated under the beech-groves of
Bisham, or during wanderings in the neighbouring country, which is
distinguished for peculiar beauty.” Whenever Shelley could, he composed in
the open air. The terraces of the Villa Cappuccini at Este, and the Baths
of Caracalla were the birthplace of _Prometheus_. _The Cenci_ was written
on the roof of the Villa Valsovano at Leghorn. The Cascine of Florence,
the pine-woods near Pisa, the lawns above San Giuliano, and the summits of
the Euganean Hills, witnessed the creation of his loveliest lyrics; and
his last great poem, the _Triumph of Life_, was transferred to paper in
his boat upon the Bay of Spezia.

If _Alastor_ had expressed one side of Shelley’s nature, his devotion to
Ideal Beauty, _Laon and Cythna_ was in a far profounder sense
representative of its author. All his previous experiences and all his
aspirations--his passionate belief in friendship, his principle of the
equality of women with men, his demand for bloodless revolution, his
confidence in eloquence and reason to move nations, his doctrine of free
love, his vegetarianism, his hatred of religious intolerance and
tyranny--are blent together and concentrated in the glowing cantos of this
wonderful romance. The hero, Laon, is himself idealized, the self which he
imagined when he undertook his Irish campaign. The heroine, Cythna, is the
helpmate he had always dreamed, the woman exquisitely feminine, yet
capable of being fired with male enthusiasms, and of grappling the real
problems of our nature with a man’s firm grasp. In the first edition of
the poem he made Laon and Cythna brother and sister, not because he
believed in the desirability of incest, but because he wished to throw a
glove down to society, and to attack the intolerance of custom in its
stronghold. In the preface, he tells us that it was his purpose to kindle
in the bosoms of his readers “a virtuous enthusiasm for those doctrines of
liberty and justice, that faith and hope in something good, which neither
violence, nor misrepresentation, nor prejudice, can ever wholly extinguish
among mankind;” to illustrate “the growth and progress of individual mind
aspiring after excellence, and devoted to the love of mankind;” and to
celebrate Love “as the sole law which should govern the moral world.” The
wild romantic treatment of this didactic motive makes the poem highly
characteristic of its author. It is written in Spenserian stanzas, with a
rapidity of movement and a dazzling brilliance that are Shelley’s own. The
story relates the kindling of a nation to freedom at the cry of a young
poet-prophet, the temporary triumph of the good cause, the final victory
of despotic force, and the martyrdom of the hero, together with whom the
heroine falls a willing victim. It is full of thrilling incidents and
lovely pictures; yet the tale is the least part of the poem; and few
readers have probably been able either to sympathize with its visionary
characters, or to follow the narrative without weariness. As in the case
of other poems by Shelley--especially those in which he attempted to tell
a story, for which kind of art his genius was not well suited--the central
motive of _Laon and Cythna_ is surrounded by so radiant a photosphere of
imagery and eloquence that it is difficult to fix our gaze upon it,
blinded as we are by the excess of splendour. Yet no one now can read the
terrible tenth canto, or the lovely fifth, without feeling that a young
eagle of poetry had here tried the full strength of his pinions in their
flight. This truth was by no means recognized when _Laon and Cythna_ first
appeared before the public. Hooted down, derided, stigmatized, and howled
at, it only served to intensify the prejudice with which the author of
_Queen Mab_ had come to be regarded.

I have spoken of this poem under its first name of _Laon and Cythna_. A
certain number of copies were issued with this title;[17] but the
publisher, Ollier, not without reason dreaded the effect the book would
make; he therefore induced Shelley to alter the relationship between the
hero and his bride, and issued the old sheets with certain cancelled pages
under the title of _Revolt of Islam_. It was published in January, 1818.
While still resident at Marlow, Shelley began two autobiographical
poems--the one _Prince Athanase_, which he abandoned as too introspective
and morbidly self-analytical, the other _Rosalind and Helen_, which he
finished afterwards in Italy. Of the second of these compositions he
entertained a poor opinion; nor will it bear comparison with his best
work. To his biographer its chief interest consists in the character of
Lionel, drawn less perhaps exactly from himself than as an ideal of the
man he would have wished to be. The poet in _Alastor_, Laon in the _Revolt
of Islam_, Lionel in _Rosalind and Helen_, and Prince Athanase, are in
fact a remarkable row of self-portraits, varying in the tone and scale of
idealistic treatment bestowed upon them. Later on in life, Shelley outgrew
this preoccupation with his idealized self, and directed his genius to
more objective themes. Yet the autobiographic tendency, as befitted a poet
of the highest lyric type, remained to the end a powerful characteristic.

Before quitting the first period of Shelley’s development, it may be well
to set before the reader a specimen of that self-delineative poetry which
characterized it; and since it is difficult to detach a single passage
from the continuous stanzas of _Laon and Cythna_, I have chosen the lines
in _Rosalind and Helen_ which describe young Lionel:

                      To Lionel,
  Though of great wealth and lineage high,
  Yet through those dungeon walls there came
  Thy thrilling light, O Liberty!
  And as the meteor’s midnight flame
  Startles the dreamer, sun-like truth
  Flashed on his visionary youth,
  And filled him, not with love, but faith,
  And hope, and courage mute in death;
  For love and life in him were twins,
  Born at one birth: in every other
  First life, then love its course begins,
  Though they be children of one mother;
  And so through this dark world they fleet
  Divided, till in death they meet:
  But he loved all things ever. Then
  He past amid the strife of men,
  And stood at the throne of arméd power
  Pleading for a world of woe:
  Secure as one on a rock-built tower
  O’er the wrecks which the surge trails to and fro,
  ’Mid the passions wild of human kind
  He stood, like a spirit calming them;
  For, it was said, his words could find
  Like music the lulled crowd, and stem
  That torrent of unquiet dream,
  Which mortals truth and reason deem,
  But is revenge and fear and pride.
  Joyous he was; and hope and peace
  On all who heard him did abide,
  Raining like dew from his sweet talk,
  As where the evening star may walk
  Along the brink of the gloomy seas,
  Liquid mists of splendour quiver.
  His very gestures touch’d to tears
  The unpersuaded tyrant, never
  So moved before: his presence stung
  The torturers with their victim’s pain,
  And none knew how; and through their ears,
  The subtle witchcraft of his tongue
  Unlocked the hearts of those who keep
  Gold, the world’s bond of slavery.
  Men wondered, and some sneer’d to see
  One sow what he could never reap:
  For he is rich, they said, and young,
  And might drink from the depths of luxury.
  If he seeks Fame, Fame never crown’d
  The champion of a trampled creed:
  If he seeks Power, Power is enthroned
  ’Mid ancient rights and wrongs, to feed
  Which hungry wolves with praise and spoil,
  Those who would sit near Power must toil;
  And such, there sitting, all may see

During the year he spent at Marlow, Shelley was a frequent visitor at
Leigh Hunt’s Hampstead house, where he made acquaintance with Keats, and
the brothers Smith, authors of _Rejected Addresses_. Hunt’s recollections
supply some interesting details, which, since Hogg and Peacock fail us at
this period, may be profitably used. Describing the manner of his life at
Marlow, Hunt writes as follows: “He rose early in the morning, walked and
read before breakfast, took that meal sparingly, wrote and studied the
greater part of the morning, walked and read again, dined on vegetables
(for he took neither meat nor wine), conversed with his friends (to whom
his house was ever open), again walked out, and usually finished with
reading to his wife till ten o’clock, when he went to bed. This was his
daily existence. His book was generally Plato, or Homer, or one of the
Greek tragedians, or the Bible, in which last he took a great, though
peculiar, and often admiring interest. One of his favourite parts was the
book of Job.” Mrs. Shelley in her note on the _Revolt of Islam_, confirms
this account of his Bible studies; and indeed the influence of the Old
Testament upon his style may be traced in several of his poems. In the
same paragraph from which I have just quoted, Leigh Hunt gives a just
notion of his relation to Christianity, pointing out that he drew a
distinction between the Pauline presentation of the Christian creeds, and
the spirit of the Gospels. “His want of faith in the letter, and his
exceeding faith in the spirit of Christianity, formed a comment, the one
on the other, very formidable to those who chose to forget what Scripture
itself observes on that point.” We have only to read Shelley’s _Essay on
Christianity_, in order to perceive what reverent admiration he felt for
Jesus, and how profoundly he understood the true character of his
teaching. That work, brief as it is, forms one of the most valuable
extant contributions to a sound theology, and is morally far in advance of
the opinions expressed by many who regard themselves as specially
qualified to speak on the subject. It is certain that, as Christianity
passes beyond its mediæval phase, and casts aside the husk of out-worn
dogmas, it will more and more approximate to Shelley’s exposition. Here
and here only is a vital faith, adapted to the conditions of modern
thought, indestructible because essential, and fitted to unite instead of
separating minds of divers quality. It may sound paradoxical to claim for
Shelley of all men a clear insight into the enduring element of the
Christian creed; but it was precisely his detachment from all its
accidents which enabled him to discern its spiritual purity, and placed
him in a true relation to its Founder. For those who would neither on the
one hand relinquish what is permanent in religion, nor yet on the other
deny the inevitable conclusions of modern thought, his teaching is
indubitably valuable. His fierce tirades against historic Christianity
must be taken as directed against an ecclesiastical system of spiritual
tyranny, hypocrisy, and superstition, which in his opinion had retarded
the growth of free institutions, and fettered the human intellect. Like
Campanella, he distinguished between Christ, who sealed the gospel of
charity with his blood, and those Christians, who would be the first to
crucify their Lord if he returned to earth.

That Shelley lived up to his religious creed is amply proved. To help the
needy and to relieve the sick, seemed to him a simple duty, which he
cheerfully discharged. “His charity, though liberal, was not weak. He
inquired personally into the circumstances of his petitioners, visited
the sick in their beds, ... and kept a regular list of industrious poor,
whom he assisted with small sums to make up their accounts.” At Marlow,
the miserable condition of the lace-makers called forth all his energies;
and Mrs. Shelley tells us that an acute ophthalmia, from which he twice
suffered, was contracted in a visit to their cottages. A story told by
Leigh Hunt about his finding a woman ill on Hampstead Heath, and carrying
her from door to door in the vain hopes of meeting with a man as
charitable as himself, until he had to house the poor creature with his
friends the Hunts, reads like a practical illustration of Christ’s parable
about the Good Samaritan. Nor was it merely to the so-called poor that
Shelley showed his generosity. His purse was always open to his friends.
Peacock received from him an annual allowance of 100_l._ He gave Leigh
Hunt, on one occasion, 1000_l._; and he discharged debts of Godwin,
amounting, it is said, to about 6000_l._ In his pamphlet on _Putting
Reform to the Vote_, he offered to subscribe 100_l._ for the purpose of
founding an association; and we have already seen that he headed the
Tremadoc subscription with a sum of 100_l._ These instances of his
generosity might be easily multiplied; and when we remember that his
present income was 1000_l._, out of which 200_l._ went to the support of
his children, it will be understood not only that he could not live
luxuriously, but also that he was in frequent money difficulties through
the necessity of raising funds upon his expectations. His self-denial in
all minor matters of expenditure was conspicuous. Without a murmur,
without ostentation, this heir of the richest baronet in Sussex
illustrated by his own conduct those principles of democratic simplicity
and of fraternal charity which formed his political and social creed.

A glimpse into the cottage at Great Marlow is afforded by a careless
sentence of Leigh Hunt’s. “He used to sit in a study adorned with casts,
as large as life, of the Vatican Apollo and the celestial Venus.” Fancy
Shelley with his bright eyes and elf-locks in a large, low-roofed room,
correcting proofs of _Laon and Cythna_, between the Apollo of the
Belvedere and the Venus de’ Medici, life-sized, and as crude as casts by
Shout could make them! In this house, Miss Clairmont, with her brother and
Allegra, lived as Shelley’s guests; and here Clara Shelley was born on the
3rd of September, 1817. In the same autumn, Shelley suffered from a severe
pulmonary attack. The critical state of his health and the apprehension,
vouched for by Mrs. Shelley, that the Chancellor might lay his vulture’s
talons on the children of his second marriage, were the motives which
induced him to leave England for Italy in the spring of 1818.[18] He never
returned. Four years only of life were left to him--years filled with
music that will sound as long as English lasts.

It was on the 11th of March that the Shelleys took their departure with
Miss Clairmont and the child Allegra. They went straight to Milan, and
after visiting the Lake of Como, Pisa, the Bagni di Lucca, Venice, and
Rome, they settled early in the following December at Naples. Shelley’s
letters to Peacock form the invaluable record of this period of his
existence. Taken altogether, they are the most perfect specimens of
descriptive prose in the English language; never over-charged with colour,
vibrating with emotions excited by the stimulating scenes of Italy, frank
in criticism, and exquisitely delicate in observation. Their transparent
sincerity and unpremeditated grace, combined with natural finish of
expression, make them masterpieces of a style at once familiar and
elevated. That Shelley’s sensibility to art was not so highly cultivated
as his feeling for nature, is clear enough in many passages: but there is
no trace of admiring to order in his comments upon pictures or statues.
Familiarity with the great works of antique and Italian art would
doubtless have altered some of the opinions he at first expressed; just as
longer residence among the people made him modify his views about their
character. Meanwhile, the spirit of modest and unprejudiced attention in
which he began his studies of sculpture and painting, might well be
imitated in the present day by travellers who think that to pin their
faith to some famous critic’s verdict is the acme of good taste. If there
were space for a long quotation from these letters, I should choose the
description of Pompeii (Jan. 26, 1819), or that of the Baths of Caracalla
(March 23, 1819). As it is, I must content myself with a short but
eminently characteristic passage, written from Ferrara, Nov. 7, 1818:--

    The handwriting of Ariosto is a small, firm, and pointed character,
    expressing, as I should say, a strong and keen, but circumscribed
    energy of mind; that of Tasso is large, free, and flowing, except that
    there is a checked expression in the midst of its flow, which brings
    the letters into a smaller compass than one expected from the
    beginning of the word. It is the symbol of an intense and earnest
    mind, exceeding at times its own depth, and admonished to return by
    the chillness of the waters of oblivion striking upon its adventurous
    feet. You know I always seek in what I see the manifestation of
    something beyond the present and tangible object; and as we do not
    agree in physiognomy, so we may not agree now. But my business is to
    relate my own sensations, and not to attempt to inspire others with

In the middle of August, Shelley left his wife at the Bagni di Lucca, and
paid a visit to Lord Byron at Venice. He arrived at midnight in a
thunderstorm. _Julian and Maddalo_ was the literary fruit of this
excursion--a poem which has rightly been characterized by Mr. Rossetti as
the most perfect specimen in our language of the “poetical treatment of
ordinary things.” The description of a Venetian sunset, touched to sadness
amid all its splendour by the gloomy presence of the madhouse, ranks among
Shelley’s finest word-paintings; while the glimpse of Byron’s life is
interesting on a lower level. Here is the picture of the sunset and the
island of San Lazzaro:--

  How beautiful is sunset, when the glow
  Of heaven descends upon a land like thee,
  Thou paradise of exiles, Italy,
  Thy mountains, seas, and vineyards, and the towers,
  Of cities they encircle!--It was ours
  To stand on thee, beholding it: and then,
  Just where we had dismounted, the Count’s men
  Were waiting for us with the gondola.
  As those who pause on some delightful way,
  Though bent on pleasant pilgrimage, we stood
  Looking upon the evening, and the flood
  Which lay between the city and the shore,
  Paved with the image of the sky. The hoar
  And airy Alps, towards the north, appeared,
  Thro’ mist, a heaven-sustaining bulwark, reared
  Between the east and west; and half the sky
  Was roofed with clouds of rich emblazonry,
  Dark purple at the zenith, which still grew
  Down the steep west into a wondrous hue
  Brighter than burning gold, even to the rent
  Where the swift sun yet paused in his descent
  Among the many-folded hills. They were
  Those famous Euganean hills, which bear,
  As seen from Lido through the harbour piles,
  The likeness of a clump of peaked isles--
  And then, as if the earth and sea had been
  Dissolved into one lake of fire, were seen
  Those mountains towering, as from waves of flame,
  Around the vaporous sun, from which there came
  The inmost purple spirit of light, and made
  Their very peaks transparent. “Ere it fade,”
  Said my companion, “I will show you soon
  A better station.” So, o’er the lagune
  We glided; and from that funereal bark
  I leaned, and saw the city, and could mark
  How from their many isles, in evening’s gleam,
  Its temples and its palaces did seem
  Like fabrics of enchantment piled to heaven.
  I was about to speak, when--“We are even
  Now at the point I meant,” said Maddalo,
  And bade the gondolieri cease to row.
  “Look, Julian, on the west, and listen well
  If you hear not a deep and heavy bell.”
  I looked, and saw between us and the sun
  A building on an island, such a one
  As age to age might add, for uses vile,--
  A windowless, deformed, and dreary pile;
  And on the top an open tower, where hung
  A bell, which in the radiance swayed and swung,--
  We could just hear its coarse and iron tongue:
  The broad sun sank behind it, and it tolled
  In strong and black relief--“What we behold
  Shall be the madhouse and its belfry tower,”--
  Said Maddalo; “and ever at this hour,
  Those who may cross the water hear that bell,
  Which calls the maniacs, each one from his cell,
  To vespers.”

It may be parenthetically observed that one of the few familiar quotations
from Shelley’s poems occurs in _Julian and Maddalo_:--

                        Most wretched men
  Are cradled into poetry by wrong:
  They learn in suffering what they teach in song.

Byron lent the Shelleys his villa of the Cappuccini near Este, where they
spent some weeks in the autumn. Here _Prometheus Unbound_ was begun, and
the _Lines written among Euganean Hills_ were composed; and here Clara
became so ill that her parents thought it necessary to rush for medical
assistance to Venice. They had forgotten their passport; but Shelley’s
irresistible energy overcame all difficulties, and they entered
Venice--only in time, however, for the child to die.

Nearly the whole of the winter was spent at Naples, where Shelley suffered
from depression of more than ordinary depth. Mrs. Shelley attributed this
gloom to the state of his health; but Medwin tells a strange story, which,
if it is not wholly a romance, may better account for the poet’s
melancholy. He says that so far back as the year 1816, on the night before
his departure from London, “a married lady, young, handsome, and of noble
connexions,” came to him, avowed the passionate love she had conceived for
him, and proposed that they should fly together.[19] He explained to her
that his hand and heart had both been given irrevocably to another, and,
after the expression of the most exalted sentiments on both sides, they
parted. She followed him, however, from place to place; and without
intruding herself upon his notice, found some consolation in remaining
near him. Now she arrived at Naples; and at Naples she died. The web of
Shelley’s life was a wide one, and included more destinies than his own.
[Godwin, as we have reason to believe, attributed the suicide of Fanny
Imlay to her hopeless love for Shelley; and the tale of Harriet has been
already told.] Therefore there is nothing absolutely improbable in
Medwin’s story, especially when we remember what Hogg half-humorously
tells us about Shelley’s attraction for women in London. At any rate, the
excessive wretchedness of the lyrics written at Naples can hardly be
accounted for by the “constant and poignant physical sufferings” of which
Mrs. Shelley speaks, since these were habitual to him. She was herself,
moreover, under the impression that he was concealing something from her,
and we know from her own words in another place that his “fear to wound
the feelings of others” often impelled him to keep his deepest sorrows to

All this while his health was steadily improving. The menace of
consumption was removed; and though he suffered from severe attacks of
pain in the side, the cause of this persistent malady does not seem to
have been ascertained. At Naples he was under treatment for disease of the
liver. Afterwards, his symptoms were ascribed to nephritis; and it is
certain that his greater or less freedom from uneasiness varied with the
quality of the water he drank. He was, for instance, forced to eschew the
drinking water of Ravenna, because it aggravated his symptoms; while
Florence, for a similar reason, proved an unsuitable residence. The final
settlement of the Shelleys at Pisa seems to have been determined by the
fact that the water of that place agreed with him. That the spasms which
from time to time attacked him were extremely serious, is abundantly
proved by the testimony of those who lived with him at this period, and by
his own letters. Some relief was obtained by mesmerism, a remedy suggested
by Medwin; but the obstinacy of the torment preyed upon his spirits to
such an extent, that even during the last months of his life we find him
begging Trelawny to procure him prussic acid as a final and effectual
remedy for all the ills that flesh is heir to. It may be added that mental
application increased the mischief, for he told Leigh Hunt that the
composition of _The Cenci_ had cost him a fresh seizure. Yet though his
sufferings were indubitably real, the eminent physician, Vaccà, could
discover no organic disease; and possibly Trelawny came near the truth
when he attributed Shelley’s spasms to insufficient and irregular diet,
and to a continual over-taxing of his nervous system.

Mrs. Shelley states that the change from England to Italy was in all
respects beneficial to her husband. She was inclined to refer the
depression from which he occasionally suffered, to his solitary habits;
and there are several passages in his own letters which connect his
melancholy with solitude. It is obvious that when he found himself in the
congenial company of Trelawny, Williams, Medwin, or the Gisbornes, he was
simply happy; and nothing could be further from the truth than to paint
him as habitually sunk in gloom. On the contrary, we hear quite as much
about his high spirits, his “Homeric laughter,” his playfulness with
children, his readiness to join in the amusements of his chosen circle,
and his incomparable conversation, as we do about his solitary broodings,
and the seasons when pain or bitter memories over-cast his heaven. Byron,
who had some right to express a judgment in such a matter, described him
as the most companionable man under the age of thirty he had ever met
with. Shelley rode and practised pistol-shooting with his brother bard,
sat up late to talk with him, enjoyed his jokes, and even betted with him
on one occasion marked by questionable taste. All this is quite
incompatible with that martyrdom to persecution, remorse, or physical
suffering, with which it has pleased some romantic persons to invest the
poet. Society of the ordinary kind he hated. The voice of a stranger, or a
ring at the house-bell, heard from afar with Shelley’s almost
inconceivable quickness of perception, was enough to make him leave the
house; and one of his prettiest poems is written on his mistaking his
wife’s mention of the Aziola, a little owl common enough in Tuscany, for
an allusion to a tiresome visitor. This dislike for intercourse with
commonplace people was the source of some disagreement between him and
Mrs. Shelley, and kept him further apart from Byron than he might
otherwise have been. In a valuable letter recently published by Mr.
Garnett, he writes:--“I detest all society--almost all, at least--and Lord
Byron is the nucleus of all that is hateful and tiresome in it.” And
again, speaking about his wife to Trelawny, he said:--“She can’t bear
solitude, nor I society--the quick coupled with the dead.”

In the year 1818-19 the Shelleys had no friends at all in Italy, except
Lord Byron at Venice, and Mr. and Mrs. John Gisborne at Leghorn. Mrs.
Gisborne had been a friend of Mary Wollstonecraft and Godwin. She was a
woman of much cultivation, devoid of prejudice, and, though less
enthusiastic than Shelley liked, quite capable of appreciating the
inestimable privilege of his acquaintance. Her husband, to use a now
almost obsolete phrase, was a scholar and a gentleman. He shared his
wife’s enlightened opinions, and remained stanch through good and ill
report to his new friends. At Rome and Naples they knew almost no one.
Shelley’s time was therefore passed in study and composition. In the
previous summer he had translated the _Symposium_ of Plato, and begun an
essay on the Ethics of the Greeks, which remains unluckily a fragment.
Together with Mary he read much Italian literature, and his observations
on the chief Italian poets form a valuable contribution to their
criticism. While he admired the splendour and invention of Ariosto, he
could not tolerate his moral tone. Tasso struck him as cold and
artificial, in spite of his “delicate moral sensibility.” Boccaccio he
preferred to both; and his remarks on this prose-poet are extremely
characteristic. “How much do I admire Boccaccio! What descriptions of
nature are those in his little introductions to every new day! It is the
morning of life stripped of that mist of familiarity which makes it
obscure to us. Boccaccio seems to me to have possessed a deep sense of the
fair ideal of human life, considered in its social relations. His more
serious theories of love agree especially with mine. He often expresses
things lightly too, which have serious meanings of a very beautiful kind.
He is a moral casuist, the opposite of the Christian, stoical, ready-made,
and worldly system of morals. Do you remember one little remark, or rather
maxim of his, which might do some good to the common, narrow-minded
conceptions of love,--‘Bocca baciata non perde ventura; anzi rinnuova,
come fa la luna’?” Dante and Petrarch remained the objects of his lasting
admiration, though the cruel Christianity of the _Inferno_ seemed to him
an ineradicable blot upon the greatest of Italian poems. Of Petrarch’s
“tender and solemn enthusiasm,” he speaks with the sympathy of one who
understood the inner mysteries of idealizing love.

It will be gathered from the foregoing quotations that Shelley,
notwithstanding his profound study of style and his exquisite perception
of beauty in form and rhythm, required more than merely artistic
excellences in poetry. He judged poems by their content and spirit; and
while he plainly expressed his abhorrence of the didactic manner, he held
that art must be moralized in order to be truly great. The distinction he
drew between Theocritus and the earlier Greek singers in the _Defence of
Poetry_, his severe strictures on _The Two Noble Kinsmen_ in a letter to
Mary (Aug. 20, 1818), and his phrase about Ariosto, “who is entertaining
and graceful, and _sometimes_ a poet,” illustrate the application of
critical canons wholly at variance with the “art for art” doctrine.

While studying Italian, he continued faithful to Greek. Plato was often in
his hands, and the dramatists formed his almost inseparable companions.
How deeply he felt the art of the Homeric poems, may be gathered from the
following extract:--“I congratulate you on your conquest of the Iliad. You
must have been astonished at the perpetually increasing magnificence of
the last seven books. Homer there truly begins to be himself. The battle
of the Scamander, the funeral of Patroclus, and the high and solemn close
of the whole bloody tale in tenderness and inexpiable sorrow, are wrought
in a manner incomparable with anything of the same kind. The Odyssey is
sweet, but there is nothing like this.” About this time, prompted by Mrs.
Gisborne, he began the study of Spanish, and conceived an ardent
admiration for Calderon, whose splendid and supernatural fancy tallied
with his own. “I am bathing myself in the light and odour of the starry
Autos,” he writes to Mr. Gisborne in the autumn of 1820. _Faust_, too, was
a favourite. “I have been reading over and over again _Faust_, and always
with sensations which no other composition excites. It deepens the gloom
and augments the rapidity of ideas, and would therefore seem to me an
unfit study for any person who is a prey to the reproaches of memory, and
the delusions of an imagination not to be restrained.” The profound
impression made upon him by Margaret’s story is expressed in two letters
about Retzsch’s illustrations:--“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.”

The fruits of this occupation with Greek, Italian, Spanish, and German
were Shelley’s translations from Homer and Euripides, from Dante, from
Calderon’s _Magico Prodigioso_, and from _Faust_, translations which have
never been surpassed for beauty of form and complete transfusion of the
spirit of one literature into the language of another. On translation,
however, he set but little store, asserting that he only undertook it when
he “could do absolutely nothing else,” and writing earnestly to dissuade
Leigh Hunt from devoting time which might be better spent, to work of
subordinate importance.[21] The following version of a Greek epigram on
Plato’s spirit will illustrate his own method of translation:--

  Eagle! why soarest thou above that tomb?
  To what sublime and star-y-paven home
            Floatest thou?
  I am the image of swift Plato’s spirit,
  Ascending heaven:--Athens does inherit
            His corpse below.

Some time in the year 1820-21, he composed the _Defence of Poetry_,
stimulated to this undertaking by his friend Peacock’s article on poetry,
published in the _Literary Miscellany_.[22] This essay not only sets
forth his theory of his own art, but it also contains some of his finest
prose writing, of which the following passage, valuable alike for matter
and style, may be cited as a specimen:--

    The functions of the poetical faculty are two-fold; by one it creates
    new materials of knowledge, and power, and pleasure; by the other it
    engenders in the mind a desire to reproduce and arrange them according
    to a certain rhythm and order which may be called the beautiful and
    the good. The cultivation of poetry is never more to be desired than
    at periods when, from an excess of the selfish and calculating
    principle, the accumulation of the materials of external life exceed
    the quantity of the power of assimilating them to the internal laws of
    human nature. The body has then become too unwieldy for that which
    animates it.

    Poetry is indeed something divine. It is at once the centre and
    circumference of knowledge; it is that which comprehends all science,
    and that to which all science must be referred. It is at the same time
    the root and blossom of all other systems of thought; it is that from
    which all spring, and that which adorns all; and that which, if
    blighted, denies the fruit and the seed, and withholds from the barren
    world the nourishment and the succession of the scions of the tree of
    life. It is the perfect and consummate surface and bloom of all
    things; it is as the odour and the colour of the rose to the texture
    of the elements which compose it, as the form and splendour of unfaded
    beauty to the secrets of anatomy and corruption. What were virtue,
    love, patriotism, friendship--what were the scenery of this beautiful
    universe which we inhabit; what were our consolations on this side of
    the grave--and what were our aspirations beyond it, if poetry did not
    ascend to bring light and fire from those eternal regions where the
    owl-winged faculty of calculation dare not ever soar? Poetry is not
    like reasoning, a power to be exerted according to the determination
    of the will. A man cannot say, “I will compose poetry.” The greatest
    poet even cannot say it; for the mind in creation is as a fading coal
    which some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens to
    transitory brightness; this power arises from within, like the colour
    of a flower which fades and changes as it is developed, and the
    conscious portions of our natures are unprophetic either of its
    approach or its departure. Could this influence be durable in its
    original purity and force, it is impossible to predict the greatness
    of the results; but when composition begins, inspiration is already on
    the decline, and the most glorious poetry that has ever been
    communicated to the world is probably a feeble shadow of the original
    conceptions of the poet. I appeal to the greatest poets of the present
    day, whether it is not an error to assert that the finest passages of
    poetry are produced by labour and study. The toil and the delay
    recommended by critics, can be justly interpreted to mean no more than
    a careful observation of the inspired moments, and an artificial
    connexion of the spaces between their suggestions by the intertexture
    of conventional expressions; a necessity only imposed by the
    limitedness of the poetical faculty itself; for Milton conceived the
    “Paradise Lost” as a whole before he executed it in portions. We have
    his own authority also for the muse having “dictated” to him the
    “unpremeditated song.” And let this be an answer to those who would
    allege the fifty-six various readings of the first line of the
    “Orlando Furioso.” Compositions so produced are to poetry what mosaic
    is to painting. This instinct and intuition of the poetical faculty is
    still more observable in the plastic and pictorial arts; a great
    statue or picture grows under the power of the artist as a child in
    the mother’s womb; and the very mind which directs the hands in
    formation is incapable of accounting to itself for the origin, the
    gradations, or the media of the process.

    Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest
    and best minds. We are aware of evanescent visitations of thought and
    feeling sometimes associated with place or person, sometimes regarding
    our own mind alone, and always arising unforeseen and departing
    unbidden, but elevating and delightful beyond all expression: so that
    even in the desire and the regret they leave, there cannot but be
    pleasure, participating as it does in the nature of its object. It is
    as it were the interpenetration of a diviner nature through our own;
    but its footsteps are like those of a wind over the sea, which the
    coming calm erases, and whose traces remain only, as on the wrinkled
    sand which paves it. These and corresponding conditions of being are
    experienced principally by those of the most delicate sensibility and
    the most enlarged imagination; and the state of mind produced by them
    is at war with every base desire. The enthusiasm of virtue, love,
    patriotism, and friendship, is essentially linked with such emotions;
    and whilst they last, self appears as what it is, an atom to a
    universe. Poets are not only subject to these experiences as spirits
    of the most refined organization, but they can colour all that they
    combine with the evanescent hues of this ethereal world; a word, a
    trait in the representation of a scene or a passion, will touch the
    enchanted chord, and reanimate, in those who have ever experienced
    these emotions, the sleeping, the cold, the buried image of the past.
    Poetry thus makes immortal all that is best and most beautiful in the
    world; it arrests the vanishing apparitions which haunt the
    interlunations of life, and veiling them, or in language or in form,
    sends them forth among mankind, bearing sweet news of kindred joy to
    those with whom their sisters abide--abide, because there is no portal
    of expression from the caverns of the spirit which they inhabit into
    the universe of things. Poetry redeems from decay the visitations of
    the divinity in man.

In the midst of these æsthetic studies, and while producing his own
greatest works, Shelley was not satisfied that his genius ought to be
devoted to poetry. “I consider poetry,” he wrote to Peacock, January 26th,
1819, “very subordinate to moral and political science, and if I were
well, certainly I would aspire to the latter; for I can conceive a great
work, embodying the discoveries of all ages, and harmonizing the
contending creeds by which mankind have been ruled. Far from me is such an
attempt, and I shall be content, by exercising my fancy, to amuse myself,
and perhaps some others, and cast what weight I can into the scale of that
balance which the Giant of Arthegall holds.” Whether he was right in the
conviction that his genius was no less fitted for metaphysical speculation
or for political science than for poetry, is a question that admits of
much debate.[23] We have nothing but fragments whereby to form a definite
opinion--the unfinished _Defence of Poetry_, the unfinished _Essay on a
Future State_, the unfinished _Essay on Christianity_, the unfinished
_Essay on the Punishment of Death_, and the scattered _Speculations on
Metaphysics_. None of these compositions justify the belief so confidently
expressed by Mrs. Shelley in her Preface to the prose works, that “had not
Shelley deserted metaphysics for poetry in his youth, and had he not been
lost to us early, so that all his vaster projects were wrecked with him in
the waves, he would have presented the world with a complete theory of
mind; a theory to which Berkeley, Coleridge, and Kant would have
contributed; but more simple, unimpugnable, and entire than the systems of
these writers.” Their incompleteness rather tends to confirm what she
proceeds to state, that the strain of philosophical composition was too
great for his susceptible nerves; while her further observation that
“thought kindled imagination and awoke sensation, and rendered him dizzy
from too great keenness of emotion,” seems to indicate that his nature was
primarily that of a poet deeply tinctured with philosophical speculation,
rather than that of a metaphysician warmed at intervals to an imaginative
fervour. Another of her remarks confirms us in this opinion. “He
considered these philosophical views of mind and nature to be instinct
with the intensest spirit of poetry.”[24] This is the position of the poet
rather than the analyst; and, on the whole, we are probably justified in
concluding with Mrs. Shelley, that he followed a true instinct when he
dedicated himself to poetry and trained his powers in that direction.[25]
To dogmatize upon the topic would be worse than foolish. There was
something incalculable, incommensurable, and dæmonic in Shelley’s genius;
and what he might have achieved, had his life been spared and had his
health progressively improved, it is of course impossible to say.

In the spring of 1819 the Shelleys settled in Rome, where the poet
proceeded with the composition of _Prometheus Unbound_. He used to write
among the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla, not then, as now, despoiled of
all their natural beauty, but waving with the Paradise of flowers and
shrubs described in his incomparable letter of March the 23rd to Peacock.
Rome, however, was not destined to retain them long. On the 7th of June
they lost their son William after a short illness. Shelley loved this
child intensely, and sat by his bedside for sixty hours without taking
rest. He was now practically childless; and his grief found expression in
many of his poems, especially in the fragment headed “_Roma, Roma, Roma!
non è più com’ era prima_.” William was buried in the Protestant cemetery,
of which Shelley had written a description to Peacock in the previous
December. “The English burying-place is a green slope near the walls,
under the pyramidal tomb of Cestius, and is, I think, the most beautiful
and solemn cemetery I ever beheld. To see the sun shining on its bright
grass, fresh, when we first visited it, with the autumnal dews, and hear
the whispering of the wind among the leaves of the trees which have
overgrown the tomb of Cestius, and the soil which is stirring in the
sun-warm earth, and to mark the tombs, mostly of women and young people
who were buried there, one might, if one were to die, desire the sleep
they seem to sleep. Such is the human mind, and so it peoples with its
wishes vacancy and oblivion.”

Escaping from the scene of so much sorrow, they established themselves at
the Villa Valsovano, near Leghorn. Here Shelley began and finished _The
Cenci_ at the instance of his wife, who rightly thought that he
undervalued his own powers as a dramatic poet. The supposed portrait of
Beatrice in the Barberini Palace had powerfully affected his imagination,
and he fancied that her story would form the fitting subject for a
tragedy. It is fortunate for English literature that the real facts of
that domestic drama, as recently published by Signor Bertolotti, were then
involved in a tissue of romance and legend. During this summer he saw a
great deal of the Gisborne family. Mrs. Gisborne’s son by a previous
marriage, Henry Reveley, was an engineer, and Shelley conceived a project
of helping him to build a steamer which should ply between Leghorn and
Marseilles. He was to supply the funds, and the pecuniary profit was to be
shared by the Gisborne family. The scheme eventually fell through, though
Shelley spent a good deal of money upon it; and its only importance is the
additional light it throws upon his public and private benevolence. From
Leghorn the Shelleys removed in the autumn to Florence, where, on the 12th
of November, the present Sir Percy Florence Shelley was born. Here Shelley
wrote the last act of _Prometheus Unbound_, which, though the finest
portion of that unique drama, seems to have been an afterthought. In the
Cascine outside Florence he also composed the _Ode to the West Wind_, the
most symmetrically perfect as well as the most impassioned of his minor
lyrics. He spent much time in the galleries, made notes upon the principal
antique statues, and formed a plan of systematic art-study. The climate,
however, disagreed with him, and in the month of January, 1820, they took
up their abode at Pisa.

1819 was the most important year in Shelley’s life, so far as literary
production is concerned. Besides _The Cenci_ and _Prometheus Unbound_, of
which it yet remains to speak, this year saw the production of several
political and satirical poems--the _Masque of Anarchy_, suggested by the
news of the Peterloo massacre, being by far the most important. Shelley
attempted the composition of short popular songs which should stir the
English people to a sense of what he felt to be their degradation. But he
lacked the directness which alone could make such verses forcible, and the
passionate apostrophe to the Men of England in his _Masque of Anarchy_
marks the highest point of his achievement in this style:--

  Men of England, Heirs of Glory,
  Heroes of unwritten story,
  Nurslings of one mighty mother,
  Hopes of her, and one another!

  Rise, like lions after slumber,
  In unvanquishable number,
  Shake your chains to earth like dew,
  Which in sleep had fall’n on you.
  Ye are many, they are few.

_Peter Bell the Third_, written in this year, and _Swellfoot the Tyrant_,
composed in the following autumn, are remarkable as showing with what keen
interest Shelley watched public affairs in England from his exile home;
but for my own part, I cannot agree with those critics who esteem their
humour at a high rate. The political poems may profitably be compared with
his contemporary correspondence; with the letters, for instance, to Leigh
Hunt, November 23rd, 1819; and to Mr. John Gisborne, April 10th, 1822; and
with an undated fragment published by Mr. Garnett in the _Relics of
Shelley_, page 84. No student of English political history before the
Reform Bill can regard his apprehensions of a great catastrophe as
ill-founded. His insight into the real danger to the nation was as
penetrating as his suggestion of a remedy was moderate. Those who are
accustomed to think of the poet as a visionary enthusiast, will rub their
eyes when they read the sober lines in which he warns his friend to be
cautious about the security offered by the English Funds. Another letter,
dated Lerici, June 29, 1822, illustrates the same practical temper of
mind, the same logical application of political principles to questions of
public economy.

That _Prometheus Unbound_ and _The Cenci_ should have been composed in one
and the same year must be reckoned among the greatest wonders of
literature, not only because of their sublime greatness, but also because
of their essential difference. Æschylus, it is well-known, had written a
sequel to his _Prometheus Bound_, in which he showed the final
reconciliation between Zeus, the oppressor, and Prometheus, the champion,
of humanity. What that reconciliation was, we do not know, because the
play is lost, and the fragments are too brief for supporting any probable
hypothesis. But Shelley repudiated the notion of compromise. He could not
conceive of the Titan “unsaying his high language and quailing before his
successful and perfidious adversary.” He, therefore, approached the theme
of liberation from a wholly different point of view. Prometheus in his
drama is the humane vindicator of love, justice, and liberty, as opposed
to Jove, the tyrannical oppressor, and creator of all evil by his selfish
rule. Prometheus is the mind of man idealized, the spirit of our race, as
Shelley thought it made to be. Jove is the incarnation of all that thwarts
its free development. Thus counterposed, the two chief actors represent
the fundamental antitheses of good and evil, liberty and despotism, love
and hate. They give the form of personality to Shelley’s Ormuzd-Ahriman
dualism already expressed in the first canto of _Laon and Cythna_; but
instead of being represented on the theatre of human life, the strife is
now removed into the region of abstractions, vivified by mythopoetry.
Prometheus resists Jove to the uttermost, endures all torments, physical
and moral, that the tyrant plagues him with, secure in his own strength
and calmly expectant of an hour which shall hurl Jove from heaven, and
leave the spirit of good triumphant. That hour arrives; Jove disappears;
the burdens of the world and men are suddenly removed; a new age of peace
and freedom and illimitable energy begins; the whole universe partakes in
the emancipation; the spirit of the earth no longer groans in pain, but
sings alternate love-songs with his sister orb, the moon; Prometheus is
re-united in indissoluble bonds to his old love, Asia. Asia, withdrawn
from sight during the first act, but spoken of as waiting in her exile for
the fated hour, is the true mate of the human spirit. She is the fairest
daughter of Earth and Ocean. Like Aphrodite, she rises in the Ægean near
the land called by her name; and in the time of tribulation she dwells in
a far Indian vale. She is the Idea of Beauty incarnate, the shadow of the
Light of Life which sustains the world and enkindles it with love, the
reality of Alastor’s vision, the breathing image of the awful loveliness
apostrophized in the _Hymn to Intellectual Beauty_, the reflex of the
splendour of which Adonais was a part. At the moment of her triumph she
grows so beautiful that Ione her sister cannot see her, only feels her
influence. The essential thought of Shelley’s creed was that the universe
is penetrated, vitalized, made real by a spirit, which he sometimes called
the Spirit of Nature, but which is always conceived as more than Life, as
that which gives its actuality to Life, and lastly as Love and Beauty. To
adore this spirit, to clasp it with affection, and to blend with it, is,
he thought, the true object of man. Therefore, the final union of
Prometheus with Asia is the consummation of human destinies. Love was the
only law Shelley recognized. Unterrified by the grim realities of pain and
crime revealed in nature and society, he held fast to the belief that, if
we could but pierce to the core of things, if we could but be what we
might be, the world and man would both attain to their perfection in
eternal love. What resolution through some transcendental harmony was
expected by Shelley for the palpable discords in the structure of the
universe, we hardly know. He did not give his philosophy systematic form:
and his new science of love remains a luminous poetic vision--nowhere more
brilliantly set forth than in the “sevenfold hallelujahs and harping
symphonies” of this, the final triumph of his lyrical poetry.

In _Prometheus_, Shelley conceived a colossal work of art, and sketched
out the main figures on a scale of surpassing magnificence. While painting
in these figures, he seems to reduce their proportions too much to the
level of earthly life. He quits his god-creating, heaven-compelling throne
of mythopœic inspiration, and descends to a love-story of Asia and
Prometheus. In other words, he does not sustain the visionary and primeval
dignity of these incarnated abstractions; nor, on the other hand, has he
so elaborated their characters in detail as to give them the
substantiality of persons. There is therefore something vague and hollow
in both figures. Yet in the subordinate passages of the poem, the true
mythopœic faculty--the faculty of finding concrete forms for thought, and
of investing emotion with personality--shines forth with extraordinary
force and clearness. We feel ourselves in the grasp of a primitive
myth-maker while we read the description of Oceanus, and the raptures of
the Earth and Moon.

A genuine liking for _Prometheus Unbound_ may be reckoned the touch-stone
of a man’s capacity for understanding lyric poetry. The world in which the
action is supposed to move, rings with spirit voices; and what these
spirits sing, is melody more purged of mortal dross than any other poet’s
ear has caught, while listening to his own heart’s song, or to the rhythms
of the world. There are hymns in _Prometheus_, which seem to realize the
miracle of making words, detached from meaning, the substance of a new
ethereal music; and yet although their verbal harmony is such, they are
never devoid of definite significance for those who understand. Shelley
scorned the æsthetics of a school which finds “sense swooning into
nonsense” admirable. And if a critic is so dull as to ask what “Life of
Life! thy lips enkindle” means, or to whom it is addressed, none can help
him any more than one can help a man whose sense of hearing is too gross
for the tenuity of a bat’s cry. A voice in the air thus sings the hymn of
Asia at the moment of her apotheosis:--

  Life of Life! thy lips enkindle
    With their love the breath between them;
  And thy smiles before they dwindle
    Make the cold air fire; then screen them
  In those looks where whoso gazes
  Faints, entangled in their mazes.

  Child of Light! thy limbs are burning
    Through the vest which seems to hide them,
  As the radiant lines of morning
    Through the clouds, ere they divide them;
  And this atmosphere divinest
  Shrouds thee wheresoe’er thou shinest.

  Fair are others; none beholds thee.
    But thy voice sounds low and tender,
  Like the fairest, for it folds thee
    From the sight, that liquid splendour,
  And all feel, yet see thee never,
  As I feel now, lost for ever!

  Lamp of Earth! where’er thou movest
    Its dim shapes are clad with brightness,
  And the souls of whom thou lovest
    Walk upon the winds with lightness,
  Till they fail, as I am failing,
  Dizzy, lost, yet unbewailing!

It has been said that Shelley, as a landscape painter, is decidedly
Turneresque; and there is much in _Prometheus Unbound_ to justify this
opinion. The scale of colour is light and aerial, and the darker shadows
are omitted. An excess of luminousness seems to be continually radiated
from the objects at which he looks; and in this radiation of many-coloured
lights, the outline itself is apt to be a little misty. Shelley, moreover,
pierced through things to their spiritual essence. The actual world was
less for him than that which lies within it and beyond it. “I seek,” he
says himself, “in what I see, the manifestation of something beyond the
present and tangible object.” For him, as for the poet described by one of
the spirit voices in _Prometheus_, the bees in the ivy-bloom are scarcely
heeded; they become in his mind,--

  Forms more real than living man,
  Nurslings of immortality.

And yet who could have brought the bees, the lake, the sun, the bloom,
more perfectly before us than that picture does?[26] What vignette is more
exquisitely coloured and finished than the little study of a pair of
halcyons in the third act?[27] Blake is perhaps the only artist who could
have illustrated this drama. He might have shadowed forth the choirs of
spirits, the trailing voices and their thrilling songs, phantasmal
Demogorgon, and the charioted Hour. Prometheus, too, with his “flowing
limbs,” has just Blake’s fault of impersonation--the touch of unreality in
that painter’s Adam.

Passing to _The Cenci_, we change at once the moral and artistic
atmosphere. The lyrical element, except for one most lovely dirge, is
absent. Imagery and description are alike sternly excluded. Instead of
soaring to the empyrean, our feet are firmly planted on the earth. In
exchange for radiant visions of future perfection, we are brought into the
sphere of dreadful passions--all the agony, endurance, and half-maddened
action, of which luckless human innocence is capable. To tell the legend
of Beatrice Cenci here, is hardly needed. Her father, a monster of vice
and cruelty, was bent upon breaking her spirit by imprisonment, torture,
and nameless outrage. At last her patience ended; and finding no redress
in human justice, no champion of her helplessness in living man, she
wrought his death. For this she died upon the scaffold, together with her
step-mother and her brothers, who had aided in the execution of the
murder. The interest of _The Cenci_, and it is overwhelmingly great,
centres in Beatrice and her father; from these two chief actors in the
drama, all the other characters fall away into greater or less degrees of
unsubstantiality. Perhaps Shelley intended this--as the maker of a
bas-relief contrives two or three planes of figures for the presentation
of his ruling group. Yet there appears to my mind a defect of
accomplishment, rather than a deliberate intention, in the delineation of
Orsino. He seems meant to be the wily, crafty, Machiavellian reptile,
whose calculating wickedness should form a contrast to the dæmonic,
reckless, almost maniacal fiendishness of old Francesco Cenci. But this
conception of him wavers; his love for Beatrice is too delicately tinted,
and he is suffered to break down with an infirmity of conscience alien to
such a nature. On the other hand the uneasy vacillations of Giacomo, and
the irresolution, born of feminine weakness and want of fibre, in
Lucrezia, serve to throw the firm will of Beatrice into prominent relief;
while her innocence, sustained through extraordinary suffering in
circumstances of exceptional horror--the innocence of a noble nature
thrust by no act of its own but by its wrongs beyond the pale of ordinary
womankind--is contrasted with the merely childish guiltlessness of
Bernardo. Beatrice rises to her full height in the fifth act, dilates and
grows with the approach of danger, and fills the whole scene with her
spirit on the point of death. Her sublime confidence in the justice and
essential rightness of her action, the glance of self-assured purity with
which she annihilates the cut-throat brought to testify against her, her
song in prison, and her tender solicitude for the frailer Lucrezia, are
used with wonderful dramatic skill for the fulfilment of a feminine ideal
at once delicate and powerful. Once and once only does she yield to
ordinary weakness; it is when the thought crosses her mind that she may
meet her father in the other world, as once he came to her on earth.

Shelley dedicated _The Cenci_ to Leigh Hunt, saying that he had striven in
this tragedy to cast aside the subjective manner of his earlier work, and
to produce something at once more popular and more concrete, more sober in
style, and with a firmer grasp on the realities of life. He was very
desirous of getting it acted, and wrote to Peacock requesting him to offer
it at Covent Garden. Miss O’Neil, he thought, would play the part of
Beatrice admirably. The manager, however, did not take this view; averring
that the subject rendered it incapable of being even submitted to an
actress like Miss O’Neil. Shelley’s self-criticism is always so valuable,
that it may be well here to collect what he said about the two great
dramas of 1819. Concerning _The Cenci_ he wrote to Peacock:--“It is
written without any of the peculiar feelings and opinions which
characterise my other compositions; I having attended simply to the
impartial development of such characters, as it is probable the persons
represented really were, together with the greatest degree of popular
effect to be produced by such a development.” “_Cenci_ is written for the
multitude, and ought to sell well.” “I believe it singularly fitted for
the stage.” “_The Cenci_ is a work of art; it is not coloured by my
feelings, nor obscured by my metaphysics. I don’t think much of it. It
gave me less trouble than anything I have written of the same length.”
_Prometheus_, on the other hand, he tells Ollier, “is my favourite poem; I
charge you, therefore, specially to pet him and feed him with fine ink
and good paper”--which was duly done. Again:--“For _Prometheus_, I expect
and desire no great sale; _Prometheus_ was never intended for more than
five or six persons; it is in my judgment of a higher character than
anything I have yet attempted, and is perhaps less an imitation of
anything that has gone before it; it is original, and cost me severe
mental labour.” Shelley was right in judging that _The Cenci_ would be
comparatively popular; this was proved by the fact that it went through
two editions in his lifetime. The value he set upon _Prometheus_ as the
higher work, will hardly be disputed. Unique in the history of literature,
and displaying the specific qualities of its author at their height, the
world could less easily afford to lose this drama than _The Cenci_, even
though that be the greatest tragedy composed in English since the death of
Shakespere. For reasons which will be appreciated by lovers of dramatic
poetry, I refrain from detaching portions of these two plays. Those who
desire to make themselves acquainted with their author’s genius, must
devote long and patient study to the originals in their entirety.

_Prometheus Unbound_, like the majority of Shelley’s works, fell
still-born from the press. It furnished punsters with a joke, however,
which went the round of several papers; this poem, they cried, is well
named, for who would bind it? Of criticism that deserves the name, Shelley
got absolutely nothing in his lifetime. The stupid but venomous reviews
which gave him occasional pain, but which he mostly laughed at, need not
now be mentioned. It is not much to any purpose to abuse the authors of
mere rubbish. The real lesson to be learned from such of them as may
possibly have been sincere, as well as from the failure of his
contemporaries to appreciate his genius--the sneers of Moore, the
stupidity of Campbell, the ignorance of Wordsworth, the priggishness of
Southey, or the condescending tone of Keats--is that nothing is more
difficult than for lesser men or equals to pay just homage to the greatest
in their lifetime. Those who may be interested in studying Shelley’s
attitude toward his critics, should read a letter addressed to Ollier from
Florence, October 15, 1819, soon after he had seen the vile attack upon
him in the _Quarterly_, comparing this with the fragments of an
expostulatory letter to the Editor, and the preface to _Adonais_.[28] It
is clear that, though he bore scurrilous abuse with patience, he was
prepared if needful to give blow for blow. On the 11th of June, 1821, he
wrote to Ollier:--“As yet I have laughed; but woe to those scoundrels if
they should once make me lose my temper!” The stanzas on the _Quarterly_
in _Adonais_, and the invective against Lord Eldon, show what Shelley
could have done if he had chosen to castigate the curs. Meanwhile the
critics achieved what they intended. Shelley, as Trelawny emphatically
tells us, was universally shunned, coldly treated by Byron’s friends at
Pisa, and regarded as a monster by such of the English in Italy as had not
made his personal acquaintance. On one occasion he is even said to have
been knocked down in a post-office by some big bully, who escaped before
he could obtain his name and address; but this is one of the stories
rendered doubtful by lack of precise details.



On the 26th of January, 1820, the Shelleys established themselves at Pisa.
From this date forward to the 7th of July, 1822, Shelley’s life divides
itself into two periods of unequal length; the first spent at Pisa, the
baths of San Giuliano, and Leghorn; the second at Lerici on the Bay of
Spezia. Without entering into minute particulars of dates or recording
minor changes of residence, it is possible to treat of the first and
longer period in general. The house he inhabited at Pisa was on the south
side of the Arno. After a few months he became the neighbour of Lord
Byron, who engaged the Palazzo Lanfranchi in order to be near him; and
here many English and Italian friends gathered round them. Among these
must be mentioned in the first place Captain Medwin, whose recollections
of the Pisan residence are of considerable value, and next Captain
Trelawny, who has left a record of Shelley’s last days only equalled in
vividness by Hogg’s account of the Oxford period, and marked by signs of
more unmistakable accuracy. Not less important members of this private
circle were Mr. and Mrs. Edward Elleker Williams, with whom Shelley and
his wife lived on terms of the closest friendship. Among foreigners, the
physician Vaccà, the improvisatore Sgricci, and the Greek prince
Mavrocordato, have to be recorded. It will be seen from this enumeration
that Shelley was no longer solitary; and indeed it would appear that now,
upon the eve of his accidental death, he had begun to enjoy an immunity
from many of his previous sufferings. Life expanded before him: his
letters show that he was concentrating his powers and preparing for a
fresh flight; and the months, though ever productive of poetic
masterpieces, promised a still more magnificent birth in the future.

In the summer and autumn of 1820, Shelley produced some of his most genial
poems: the _Letter to Maria Gisborne_, which might be mentioned as a
pendent to _Julian and Maddalo_ for its treatment of familiar things; the
_Ode to a Skylark_, that most popular of all his lyrics; the _Witch of
Atlas_, unrivalled as an Ariel-flight of fairy fancy; and the _Ode to
Naples_, which, together with the _Ode to Liberty_, added a new lyric form
to English literature. In the winter he wrote the _Sensitive Plant_,
prompted thereto, we are told, by the flowers which crowded Mrs. Shelley’s
drawing-room, and exhaled their sweetness to the temperate Italian
sunlight. Whether we consider the number of these poems or their diverse
character, ranging from verse separated by an exquisitely subtle line from
simple prose to the most impassioned eloquence and the most ethereal
imagination, we shall be equally astonished. Every chord of the poet’s
lyre is touched, from the deep bass string that echoes the diurnal speech
of such a man as Shelley was, to the fine vibrations of a treble merging
its rarity of tone in accents super-sensible to ordinary ears. One passage
from the _Letter to Maria Gisborne_ may here be quoted, not for its
poetry, but for the light it casts upon the circle of his English friends.

                          You are now
  In London, that great sea, whose ebb and flow
  At once is deaf and loud, and on the shore
  Vomits its wrecks, and still howls on for more.
  Yet in its depth what treasures! You will see
  That which was Godwin,--greater none than he
  Though fallen--and fallen on evil times--to stand
  Among the spirits of our age and land,
  Before the dread tribunal of _To come_
  The foremost, while Rebuke cowers pale and dumb.
  You will see Coleridge--he who sits obscure
  In the exceeding lustre and the pure
  Intense irradiation of a mind,
  Which, with its own internal lightning blind,
  Flags wearily through darkness and despair--
  A cloud-encircled meteor of the air,
  A hooded eagle among blinking owls.
  You will see Hunt; one of those happy souls
  Which are the salt of the earth, and without whom
  This world would smell like what it is--a tomb;
  Who is, what others seem. His room no doubt
  Is still adorned by many a cast from Shout,
  With graceful flowers tastefully placed about;
  And coronals of bay from ribbons hung,
  And brighter wreaths in neat disorder flung,
  The gifts of the most learn’d among some dozens
  Of female friends, sisters-in-law, and cousins.
  And there is he with his eternal puns,
  Which beat the dullest brain for smiles, like duns
  Thundering for money at a poet’s door;
  Alas! it is no use to say, “I’m poor!”--
  Or oft in graver mood, when he will look
  Things wiser than were ever read in book,
  Except in Shakespere’s wisest tenderness.
  You will see Hogg; and I cannot express
  His virtues, though I know that they are great,
  Because he locks, then barricades the gate
  Within which they inhabit. Of his wit
  And wisdom, you’ll cry out when you are bit.
  He is a pearl within an oyster-shell,
  One of the richest of the deep. And there
  Is English Peacock, with his mountain fair,--
  Turn’d into a Flamingo, that shy bird
  That gleams in the Indian air. Have you not heard
  When a man marries, dies, or turns Hindoo,
  His best friends hear no more of him. But you
  Will see him, and will like him too, I hope,
  With the milk-white Snowdonian antelope
  Match’d with this camelopard. His fine wit
  Makes such a wound, the knife is lost in it;
  A strain too learnèd for a shallow age,
  Too wise for selfish bigots; let his page
  Which charms the chosen spirits of the time,
  Fold itself up for the serener clime
  Of years to come, and find its recompense
  In that just expectation. Wit and sense,
  Virtue and human knowledge; all that might
  Make this dull world a business of delight,
  Are all combined in Horace Smith. And these,
  With some exceptions, which I need not tease
  Your patience by descanting on, are all
  You and I know in London.

Captain Medwin, who came late in the autumn of 1820, at his cousin’s
invitation, to stay with the Shelleys, has recorded many interesting
details of their Pisan life, as well as valuable notes of Shelley’s
conversation. “It was nearly seven years since we had parted, but I should
have immediately recognized him in a crowd. His figure was emaciated, and
somewhat bent, owing to near-sightedness, and his being forced to lean
over his books, with his eyes almost touching them; his hair, still
profuse, and curling naturally, was partially interspersed with grey; but
his appearance was youthful. There was also a freshness and purity in his
complexion that he never lost.” Not long after his arrival, Medwin
suffered from a severe and tedious illness. “Shelley tended me like a
brother. He applied my leeches, administered my medicines, and during six
weeks that I was confined to my room, was assiduous and unintermitting in
his affectionate care of me.” The poet’s solitude and melancholy at this
time impressed his cousin very painfully. Though he was producing a long
series of imperishable poems, he did not take much interest in his work.
“I am disgusted with writing,” he once said, “and were it not for an
irresistible impulse, that predominates my better reason, should
discontinue so doing.” The brutal treatment he had lately received from
the _Quarterly Review_, the calumnies which pursued him, and the coldness
of all but a very few friends, checked his enthusiasm for composition. Of
this there is abundant proof in his correspondence. In a letter to Leigh
Hunt, dated Jan. 25, 1822, he says: “My faculties are shaken to atoms and
torpid. I can write nothing; and if _Adonais_ had no success, and excited
no interest, what incentive can I have to write?” Again: “I write little
now. It is impossible to compose except under the strong excitement of an
assurance of finding sympathy in what you write.” Lord Byron’s company
proved now, as before, a check rather than an incentive to production: “I
do not write; I have lived too long near Lord Byron, and the sun has
extinguished the glow-worm; for I cannot hope, with St. John, that _the
light came into the world and the world knew it not_.” “I despair of
rivalling Lord Byron, as well I may, and there is no other with whom it is
worth contending.” To Ollier, in 1820, he wrote: “I doubt whether I shall
write more. I could be content either with the hell or the paradise of
poetry; but the torments of its purgatory vex me, without exciting my
powers sufficiently to put an end to the vexation.” It was not that his
spirit was cowed by the Reviews, or that he mistook the sort of audience
he had to address. He more than once acknowledged that, while Byron wrote
for the many, his poems were intended for the understanding few. Yet the
συνετοὶ, as he called them, gave him but scanty encouragement. The cold
phrases of kindly Horace Smith show that he had not comprehended
_Prometheus Unbound_; and Shelley whimsically complains that even
intelligent and sympathetic critics confounded the ideal passion described
in _Epipsychidion_ with the love affairs of “a servant-girl and her
sweetheart.” This almost incomprehensible obtuseness on the part of men
who ought to have known better, combined with the coarse abuse of vulgar
scribblers, was enough to make a man so sincerely modest as Shelley doubt
his powers, or shrink from the severe labour of developing them.[29] “The
decision of the cause,” he wrote to Mr. Gisborne, “whether or no _I_ am a
poet, is removed from the present time to the hour when our posterity
shall assemble; but the court is a very severe one, and I fear that the
verdict will be, guilty--death.” Deep down in his own heart he had,
however, less doubt: “This I know,” he said to Medwin, “that whether in
prosing or in versing, there is something in my writings that shall live
for ever.” And again he writes to Hunt: “I am full of thoughts and plans,
and should do something, if the feeble and irritable frame which encloses
it was willing to obey the spirit. I fancy that then I should do great
things.” It seems almost certain that the incompleteness of many longer
works designed in the Italian period, the abandonment of the tragedy on
Tasso’s story, the unfinished state of _Charles I._, and the failure to
execute the cherished plan of a drama suggested by the Book of Job, were
due to the depressing effects of ill-health and external discouragement.
Poetry with Shelley was no light matter. He composed under the pressure of
intense excitement, and he elaborated his first draughts with minute care
and severe self-criticism.

These words must not be taken as implying that he followed the Virgilian
precedent of polishing and reducing the volume of his verses by an anxious
exercise of calm reflection, or that he observed the Horatian maxim of
deferring their publication till the ninth year. The contrary was
notoriously the case with him. Yet it is none the less proved by the state
of his manuscripts that his compositions, even as we now possess them,
were no mere improvisations. The passage already quoted from his _Defence
of Poetry_ shows the high ideal he had conceived of the poet’s duty toward
his art; and it may be confidently asserted that his whole literary career
was one long struggle to emerge from the incoherence of his earlier
efforts, into the clearness of expression and precision of form that are
the index of mastery over style. At the same time it was inconsistent with
his most firmly rooted æsthetic principles, to attempt composition except
under an impulse approaching to inspiration. To imperil his life by the
fiery taxing of all his faculties, moral, intellectual and physical, and
to undergo the discipline exacted by his own fastidious taste, with no
other object in view than the frigid compliments of a few friends, was
more than even Shelley’s enthusiasm could endure. He, therefore, at this
period required the powerful stimulus of some highly exciting cause from
without to determine his activity.

Such external stimulus came to Shelley from three quarters early in the
year 1821. Among his Italian acquaintances at Pisa, was a clever but
disreputable Professor, of whom Medwin draws a very piquant portrait. This
man one day related the sad story of a beautiful and noble lady, the
Contessina Emilia Viviani, who had been confined by her father in a dismal
convent of the suburbs, to await her marriage with a distasteful husband.
Shelley, fired as ever by a tale of tyranny, was eager to visit the fair
captive. The Professor accompanied him and Medwin to the convent-parlour,
where they found her more lovely than even the most glowing descriptions
had led them to expect. Nor was she only beautiful. Shelley soon
discovered that she had “cultivated her mind beyond what I have ever met
with in Italian women;” and a rhapsody composed by her upon the subject of
Uranian Love--Il Vero Amore--justifies the belief that she possessed an
intellect of more than ordinary elevation. He took Mrs. Shelley to see
her, and both did all they could to make her convent-prison less irksome,
by frequent visits, by letters, and by presents of flowers and books. It
was not long before Shelley’s sympathy for this unfortunate lady took the
form of love, which, however spiritual and Platonic, was not the less
passionate. The result was the composition of _Epipsychidion_, the most
unintelligible of all his poems to those who have not assimilated the
spirit of Plato’s _Symposium_ and Dante’s _Vita Nuova_. In it he
apostrophizes Emilia Viviani as the incarnation of ideal beauty, the
universal loveliness made visible in mortal flesh:--

  Seraph of Heaven! too gentle to be human,
  Veiling beneath that radiant form of woman
  All that is insupportable in thee
  Of light, and love, and immortality!

He tells her that he loves her, and describes the troubles and deceptions
of his earlier manhood, under allegories veiled in deliberate obscurity.
The Pandemic and the Uranian Aphrodite have striven for his soul; for
though in youth he dedicated himself to the service of ideal beauty, and
seemed to find it under many earthly shapes, yet has he ever been deluded.
At last Emily appears, and in her he recognizes the truth of the vision
veiled from him so many years. She and Mary shall henceforth, like sun and
moon, rule the world of love within him. Then he calls on her to fly. They
three will escape and live together, far away from men, in an Ægean
island. The description of this visionary isle, and of the life to be led
there by the fugitives from a dull and undiscerning world, is the most
beautiful that has been written this century in the rhymed heroic metre.

  It is an isle under Ionian skies,
  Beautiful as a wreck of Paradise;
  And, for the harbours are not safe and good,
  This land would have remained a solitude
  But for some pastoral people native there,
  Who from the Elysian, clear, and golden air
  Draw the last spirit of the age of gold,
  Simple and spirited, innocent and bold.
  The blue Ægean girds this chosen home,
  With ever-changing sound and light and foam
  Kissing the sifted sands and caverns hoar;
  And all the winds wandering along the shore
  Undulate with the undulating tide.
  There are thick woods where sylvan forms abide,
  And many a fountain, rivulet, and pond,
  As clear as elemental diamond,
  Or serene morning air. And far beyond,
  The mossy tracks made by the goats and deer,
  (Which the rough shepherd treads but once a year,)
  Pierce into glades, caverns, and bowers, and halls
  Built round with ivy, which the waterfalls
  Illumining, with sound that never fails
  Accompany the noonday nightingales;
  And all the place is peopled with sweet airs.
  The light clear element which the isle wears
  Is heavy with the scent of lemon-flowers,
  Which floats like mist laden with unseen showers,
  And falls upon the eyelids like faint sleep;
  And from the moss violets and jonquils peep,
  And dart their arrowy odour through the brain,
  Till you might faint with that delicious pain.
  And every motion, odour, beam, and tone,
  With that deep music is in unison:
  Which is a soul within a soul--they seem
  Like echoes of an antenatal dream.
  It is an isle ’twixt heaven, air, earth, and sea,
  Cradled, and hung in clear tranquillity;
  Bright as that wandering Eden, Lucifer,
  Washed by the soft blue oceans of young air.
  It is a favoured place. Famine or Blight,
  Pestilence, War, and Earthquake, never light
  Upon its mountain-peaks; blind vultures, they
  Sail onward far upon their fatal way.
  The wingèd storms, chanting their thunder-psalm
  To other lands, leave azure chasms of calm
  Over this isle, or weep themselves in dew,
  From which its fields and woods ever renew
  Their green and golden immortality.
  And from the sea there rise, and from the sky
  There fall, clear exhalations, soft and bright,
  Veil after veil, each hiding some delight,
  Which sun or moon or zephyr draws aside,
  Till the isle’s beauty, like a naked bride
  Glowing at once with love and loveliness,
  Blushes and trembles at its own excess:
  Yet, like a buried lamp, a soul no less
  Burns in the heart of this delicious isle,
  An atom of the Eternal, whose own smile
  Unfolds itself, and may be felt not seen
  O’er the grey rocks, blue waves, and forests green,
  Filling their bare and void interstices.

Shelley did not publish _Epipsychidion_ with his own name. He gave it to
the world as the composition of a man who had “died at Florence, as he was
preparing for a voyage to one of the Sporades,” and he requested Ollier
not to circulate it, except among a few intelligent readers. It may almost
be said to have been never published, in such profound silence did it
issue from the press. Very shortly after its appearance he described it to
Leigh Hunt as “a portion of me already dead,” and added this significant
allusion to its subject matter:--“Some of us have in a prior existence
been in love with an Antigone, and that makes us find no full content in
any mortal tie.” In the letter of June 18, 1822, again he says:--“The
_Epipsychidion_ I cannot look at; the person whom it celebrates was a
cloud instead of a Juno; and poor Ixion starts from the Centaur that was
the offspring of his own embrace. If you are curious, however, to hear
what I am and have been, it will tell you something thereof. It is an
idealized history of my life and feelings. I think one is always in love
with something or other; the error, and I confess it is not easy for
spirits cased in flesh and blood to avoid it, consists in seeking in a
mortal image the likeness of what is, perhaps, eternal.” This paragraph
contains the essence of a just criticism. Brilliant as the poem is, we
cannot read it with unwavering belief either in the author’s sincerity at
the time he wrote it, or in the permanence of the emotion it describes.
The exordium has a fatal note of rhetorical exaggeration, not because the
kind of passion is impossible, but because Shelley does not convince us
that in this instance he had really been its subject. His own critique,
following so close upon the publication of _Epipsychidion_, confirms the
impression made by it, and justifies the conclusion that he had utilized
his feeling for Emilia to express a favourite doctrine in impassioned

To students of Shelley’s inner life _Epipsychidion_ will always have high
value, independently of its beauty of style, as containing his doctrine of
love. It is the full expression of the esoteric principle presented to us
in _Alastor_, the _Hymn to Intellectual Beauty_, and _Prince Athanase_.
But the words just quoted, which may be compared with Mrs. Shelley’s note
to _Prince Athanase_, authorize our pointing out what he himself
recognized as the defect of his theory. Instead of remaining true to the
conception of Beauty expressed in the _Hymn_, Shelley “sought through the
world the One whom he may love.” Thus, while his doctrine in
_Epipsychidion_ seems Platonic, it will not square with the _Symposium_.
Plato treats the love of a beautiful person as a mere initiation into
divine mysteries, the first step in the ladder that ascends to heaven.
When a man has formed a just conception of the universal beauty, he looks
back with a smile upon those who find their soul’s sphere in the love of
some mere mortal object. Tested by this standard, Shelley’s identification
of Intellectual Beauty with so many daughters of earth, and his
worshipping love of Emilia, is a spurious Platonism. Plato would have said
that to seek the Idea of Beauty in Emilia Viviani was a retrogressive
step. All that she could do, would be to quicken the soul’s sense of
beauty, to stir it from its lethargy, and to make it divine the eternal
reality of beauty in the supersensual world of thought. This Shelley had
already acknowledged in the _Hymn_; and this he emphasizes in these
words:--“The error consists in seeking in a mortal image the likeness of
what is, perhaps, eternal.”

The fragments and cancelled passages published in Forman’s edition do not
throw much light upon _Epipsychidion_. The longest, entitled _To his
Genius_ by its first editor, Mr. Garnett, reads like the induction to a
poem conceived and written in a different key, and at a lower level of
inspiration. It has, however, this extraordinary interest that it deals
with a love which is both love and friendship, above sex, spiritual,
unintelligible to the world at large. Thus the fragment enables the
student better to realize the kind of worship so passionately expressed in

The news of Keats’s death at Rome on the 27th of December, 1820, and the
erroneous belief that it had been accelerated, if not caused, by a
contemptible review of _Endymion_ in the _Quarterly_, stirred Shelley to
the composition of _Adonais_. He had it printed at Pisa, and sent copies
to Ollier for circulation in London. This poem was a favourite with its
author, who hoped not only that it might find acceptance with the public,
but also that it would confer lustre upon the memory of a poet whom he
sincerely admired. No criticisms upon Shelley’s works are half so good as
his own. It is, therefore, interesting to collect the passages in which he
speaks of an elegy only equalled in our language by _Lycidas_, and in the
point of passionate eloquence even superior to Milton’s youthful lament
for his friend. “The _Adonais_, in spite of its mysticism,” he writes to
Ollier, “is the least imperfect of my compositions.” “I confess I should
be surprised if that poem were born to an immortality of oblivion.” “It is
a highly wrought _piece of art_, and perhaps better, in point of
composition, than anything I have written.” “It is absurd in any review to
criticize _Adonais_, and still more to pretend that the verses are bad.”
“I know what to think of _Adonais_, but what to think of those who
confound it with the many bad poems of the day, I know not.” Again,
alluding to the stanzas hurled against the infamous _Quarterly_ reviewer,
he says:--“I have dipped my pen in consuming fire for his destroyers;
otherwise the style is calm and solemn.”

With these estimates the reader of to-day will cordially agree. Although
_Adonais_ is not so utterly beyond the scope of other poets as
_Prometheus_ or _Epipsychidion_, it presents Shelley’s qualities in a form
of even and sustained beauty, brought within the sphere of the dullest
apprehensions. Shelley, we may notice, dwells upon the _art_ of the poem;
and this, perhaps, is what at first sight will strike the student most. He
chose as a foundation for his work those laments of Bion for Adonis, and
of Moschus for Bion, which are the most pathetic products of Greek idyllic
poetry; and the transmutation of their material into the substance of
highly spiritualized modern thought, reveals the potency of a Prospero’s
wand. It is a metamorphosis whereby the art of excellent but positive
poets has been translated into the sphere of metaphysical imagination.
Urania takes the place of Aphrodite; the thoughts and fancies and desires
of the dead singer are substituted for Bion’s cupids; and instead of
mountain shepherds, the living bards of England are summoned to lament
around the poet’s bier. Yet it is only when Shelley frees himself from the
influence of his models, that he soars aloft on mighty wing. This point
too, is the point of transition from death, sorrow, and the past to
immortality, joy, and the rapture of the things that cannot pass away. The
first and second portions of the poem are, at the same time, thoroughly
concordant, and the passage from the one to the other is natural. Two
quotations from _Adonais_ will suffice to show the power and sweetness of
its verse.

The first is a description of Shelley himself following Byron and
Moore--the “Pilgrim of Eternity,” and Ierne’s “sweetest lyrist of her
saddest wrong”--to the couch where Keats lies dead. There is both pathos
and unconscious irony in his making these two poets the chief mourners,
when we remember what Byron wrote about Keats in _Don Juan_, and what
Moore afterwards recorded of Shelley; and when we think, moreover, how far
both Keats and Shelley have outsoared Moore, and disputed with Byron his
supreme place in the heaven of poetry.

      Midst others of less note, came one frail Form,
      A phantom among men, companionless
      As the last cloud of an expiring storm,
      Whose thunder is its knell. He, as I guess,
      Had gazed on Nature’s naked loveliness,
      Actæon-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.

      A pard-like Spirit beautiful and swift--
      A Love in desolation masked--a Power
      Girt round with weakness; it can scarce uplift
      The weight of the superincumbent hour;
      It is a dying lamp, a falling shower,
      A breaking billow;--even whilst we speak
      Is it not broken? On the withering flower
      The killing sun smiles brightly: on a cheek
  The life can burn in blood, even while the heart may break.

      His head was bound with pansies over-blown,
      And faded violets, white and pied and blue;
      And a light spear topped with a cypress cone,
      Round whose rude shaft dark ivy-tresses grew
      Yet dripping with the forest’s noon-day dew,
      Vibrated, as the ever-beating heart
      Shook the weak hand that grasped it. Of that crew
      He came the last, neglected and apart;
  A herd-abandoned deer, struck by the hunter’s dart.

The second passage is the peroration of the poem. No where has Shelley
expressed his philosophy of man’s relation to the universe with more
sublimity and with a more imperial command of language than in these
stanzas. If it were possible to identify that philosophy with any
recognized system of thought, it might be called pantheism. But it is
difficult to affix a name, stereotyped by the usage of the schools, to the
aerial spiritualism of its ardent and impassioned poet’s creed.

The movement of the long melodious sorrow-song has just been interrupted
by three stanzas, in which Shelley lashes the reviewer of Keats. He now
bursts forth afresh into the music of consolation:--

      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,
      And in mad trance strike with our spirit’s knife
      Invulnerable nothings. _We_ decay
      Like corpses in a charnel; fear and grief
      Convulse us and consume us day by day,
  And cold hopes swarm like worms within our living clay.

      He has outsoared the shadow of our night;
      Envy and calumny, and hate and pain,
      And that unrest which men miscall delight,
      Can touch him not and torture not again;
      From the contagion of the world’s slow stain
      He is secure, and now can never mourn
      A heart grown cold, a head grown grey in vain;
      Nor, when the spirit’s self has ceased to burn,
  With sparkless ashes load an unlamented urn.

      He lives, he wakes--’tis Death is dead, not he;
      Mourn not for Adonais.--Thou young Dawn,
      Turn all thy dew to splendour, for from thee
      The spirit thou lamentest is not gone;
      Ye caverns and ye forests, cease to moan!
      Cease, ye faint flowers and fountains, and thou Air
      Which like a mourning veil thy scarf hadst thrown
      O’er the abandoned Earth, now leave it bare
  Even to the joyous stars which smile on its despair!

      He is made one with Nature: there is heard
      His voice in all her music, from the moan
      Of thunder, to the song of night’s sweet bird;
      He is a presence to be felt and known
      In darkness and in light, from herb and stone,
      Spreading itself where’er that Power may move
      Which has withdrawn his being to its own;
      Which wields the world with never wearied love,
  Sustains it from beneath, and kindles it above.

      He is a portion of the loveliness
      Which once he made more lovely: he doth bear
      His part, while the One Spirit’s plastic stress
      Sweeps through the dull dense world, compelling there
      All new successions to the forms they wear;
      Torturing th’ unwilling dross that checks its flight
      To its own likeness, as each mass may bear;
      And bursting in its beauty and its might
  From trees and beasts and men into the Heaven’s light.

But the absorption of the human soul into primeval nature-forces, the
blending of the principle of thought with the universal spirit of beauty,
is not enough to satisfy man’s yearning after immortality. Therefore in
the next three stanzas the indestructibility of the personal self is
presented to us, as the soul of Adonais passes into the company of the
illustrious dead who, like him, were untimely slain:--

      The splendours of the firmament of time
      May be eclipsed, but are extinguished not:
      Like stars to their appointed height they climb,
      And death is a low mist which cannot blot
      The brightness it may veil. When lofty thought
      Lifts a young heart above its mortal lair,
      And love and life contend in it, for what
      Shall be its earthly doom, the dead live there,
  And move like winds of light on dark and stormy air.

      The inheritors of unfulfilled renown
      Rose from their thrones, built beyond mortal thought,
      Far in the Unapparent. Chatterton
      Rose pale, his solemn agony had not
      Yet faded from him; Sidney, as he fought
      And as he fell and as he lived and loved,
      Sublimely mild, a Spirit without spot,
      Arose; and Lucan, by his death approved:--
  Oblivion as they rose, shrank like a thing reproved.

      And many more, whose names on Earth are dark,
      But whose transmitted effluence cannot die
      So long as fire outlives the parent spark,
      Rose, robed in dazzling immortality.
      “Thou art become as one of us,” they cry;
      “It was for thee yon kingless sphere has long
      Swung blind in unascended majesty,
      Silent alone amid an Heaven of song.
  Assume thy wingèd throne, thou Vesper of our throng!”

From the more universal and philosophical aspects of his theme, the poet
once more turns to the special subject that had stirred him. Adonais lies
dead; and those who mourn him, must seek his grave. He has escaped: to
follow him is to die; and where should we learn to dote on death
unterrified, if not in Rome? In this way the description of Keats’s
resting-place beneath the pyramid of Cestius, which was also destined to
be Shelley’s own, is introduced:--

      Who mourns for Adonais? oh come forth,
      Fond wretch! and show thyself and him aright.
      Clasp with thy panting soul the pendulous Earth;
      As from a centre, dart thy spirit’s light
      Beyond all worlds, until its spacious might
      Satiate the void circumference: then shrink
      Even to a point within our day and night;
      And keep thy heart light, let it make thee sink
  When hope has kindled hope, and lured thee to the brink.

      Or go to Rome, which is the sepulchre,
      Oh, not of him, but of our joy: ’tis nought
      That ages, empires, and religions there
      Lie buried in the ravage they have wrought;
      For such as he can lend,--they borrow not
      Glory from those who made the world their prey;
      And he is gathered to the kings of thought
      Who waged contention with their time’s decay,
  And of the past are all that cannot pass away.

      Go thou to Rome,--at once the Paradise,
      The grave, the city, and the wilderness;
      And where its wrecks like shattered mountains rise,
      And flowering weeds and fragrant copses dress
      The bones of Desolation’s nakedness,
      Pass, till the Spirit of the spot shall lead
      Thy footsteps to a slope of green access,
      Where, like an infant’s smile, over the dead
  A light of laughing flowers along the grass is spread;

      And grey walls moulder round, on which dull Time
      Feeds, like slow fire upon a hoary brand;
      And one keen pyramid with wedge sublime,
      Pavilioning the dust of him who planned
      This refuge for his memory, doth stand
      Like flame transformed to marble; and beneath,
      A field is spread, on which a newer band
      Have pitched in Heaven’s smile their camp of death,
  Welcoming him we lose with scarce extinguished breath.

      Here pause: these graves are all too young as yet
      To have outgrown the sorrow which consigned
      Its charge to each; and if the seal is set,
      Here, on one fountain of a mourning mind,
      Break it not thou! too surely shalt thou find
      Thine own well full, if thou returnest home,
      Of tears and gall. From the world’s bitter wind
      Seek shelter in the shadow of the tomb.
  What Adonais is, why fear we to become?

Yet again the thought of Death as the deliverer, the revealer, and the
mystagogue, through whom the soul of man is reunited to the spirit of the
universe, returns; and on this solemn note the poem closes. The symphony
of exultation which had greeted the passage of Adonais into the eternal
world, is here subdued to a graver key, as befits the mood of one whom
mystery and mourning still oppress on earth. Yet even in the somewhat less
than jubilant conclusion we feel that highest of all Shelley’s
qualities--the liberation of incalculable energies, the emancipation and
expansion of a force within the soul, victorious over circumstance,
exhilarated and elevated by contact with such hopes as make a feebler
spirit tremble:

      The One remains, the many change and pass;
      Heaven’s light for ever shines, Earth’s shadows fly;
      Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
      Stains the white radiance of Eternity,
      Until Death tramples it to fragments.--Die,
      If thou wouldst be with that which thou dost seek!
      Follow where all is fled!--Rome’s azure sky,
      Flowers, ruins, statues, music, words, are weak.
  The glory they transfuse with fitting truth to speak.

      Why linger, why turn back, why shrink, my Heart?
      Thy hopes are gone before: from all things here
      They have departed; thou shouldst now depart!
      A light is past from the revolving year,
      And man and woman; and what still is dear
      Attracts to crush, repels to make thee wither.
      The soft sky smiles, the low wind whispers near:
      ’Tis Adonais calls! oh, hasten thither!
  No more let Life divide what Death can join together.

      That light whose smile kindles the Universe,
      That beauty in which all things work and move,
      That benediction which the eclipsing curse
      Of birth can quench not, that sustaining Love
      Which through the web of being blindly wove
      By man and beast and earth and air and sea,
      Burns bright or dim, as each are mirrors of
      The fire for which all thirst, now beams on me,
  Consuming the last clouds of cold mortality.

      The breath whose might I have invoked in song
      Descends on me; my spirit’s bark is driven
      Far from the shore, far from the trembling throng
      Whose sails were never to the tempest given.
      The massy earth and spherèd skies are riven!
      I am borne darkly, fearfully afar;
      Whilst burning through the inmost veil of Heaven,
      The soul of Adonais, like a star,
  Beacons from the abode where the Eternal are.

It will be seen that whatever Shelley may from time to time have said
about the immortality of the soul, he was no materialist, and no believer
in the extinction of the spiritual element by death. Yet he was too wise
to dogmatize upon a problem which by its very nature admits of no solution
in this world. “I hope,” he said, “but my hopes are not unmixed with fear
for what will befall this inestimable spirit when we appear to die.” On
another occasion he told Trelawny: “I am content to see no farther into
futurity than Plato and Bacon. My mind is tranquil; I have no fears and
some hopes. In our present gross material state our faculties are clouded;
when Death removes our clay coverings, the mystery will be solved.” How
constantly the thought of death as the revealer was present to his mind,
may be gathered from an incident related by Trelawny. They were bathing in
the Arno, when Shelley, who could not swim, plunged into deep water, and
“lay stretched out at the bottom like a conger eel, not making the least
effort or struggle to save himself.” Trelawny fished him out, and when he
had taken breath, he said: “I always find the bottom of the well, and
they say Truth lies there. In another minute I should have found it, and
you would have found an empty shell. Death is the veil which those who
live call life; they sleep, and it is lifted.” Yet being pressed by his
friend, he refused to acknowledge a formal and precise belief in the
imperishability of the human soul. “We know nothing; we have no evidence;
we cannot express our inmost thoughts. They are incomprehensible even to
ourselves.” The clear insight into the conditions of the question conveyed
by the last sentence is very characteristic of Shelley. It makes us regret
the non-completion of his essay on a _Future Life_, which would certainly
have stated the problem with rare lucidity and candour, and would have
illuminated the abyss of doubt with a sense of spiritual realities not
often found in combination with wise suspension of judgment. What he clung
to amid all perplexities, was the absolute and indestructible existence of
the universal as perceived by us in love, beauty, and delight. Though the
destiny of the personal self be obscure, these things cannot fail. The
conclusion of the _Sensitive Plant_ might be cited as conveying the
quintessence of his hope upon this most intangible of riddles.

  Whether the Sensitive Plant, or that
  Which within its boughs like a spirit sat,
  Ere its outward form had known decay,
  Now felt this change, I cannot say.

  I dare not guess; but 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.

But it is now time to return from this digression to the poem which
suggested it, and which, more than any other, serves to illustrate its
author’s mood of feeling about the life beyond the grave. The last lines
of _Adonais_ might be read as a prophecy of his own death by drowning. The
frequent recurrence of this thought in his poetry is, to say the least,
singular. In _Alastor_ we read:--

  A restless impulse urged him to embark
  And meet lone Death on the drear ocean’s waste;
  For well he knew that mighty Shadow loves
  The slimy caverns of the populous deep.

The _Ode to Liberty_ closes on the same note:--

    As a far taper fades with fading night;
      As a brief insect dies with dying day,
    My song, its pinions disarrayed of might,
      Drooped. O’er it closed the echoes far away
  Of the great voice which did its flight sustain,
    As waves which lately paved his watery way
    Hiss round a drowner’s head in their tempestuous play.

The _Stanzas written in Dejection, near Naples_, echo the thought with a
slight variation:--

  Yet now despair itself is mild,
    Even as the winds and waters are;
  I could lie down like a tired child,
    And weep away the life of care
  Which I have borne, and yet must bear,--
    Till death like sleep might steal on me,
  And I might feel in the warm air
    My cheek grow cold, and hear the sea
  Breathe o’er my dying brain its last monotony.

Trelawny tells a story of his friend’s life at Lerici, which further
illustrates his preoccupation with the thought of death at sea. He took
Mrs. Williams and her children out upon the bay in his little boat one
afternoon, and starting suddenly from a deep reverie, into which he had
fallen, exclaimed with a joyful and resolute voice, “Now let us together
solve the great mystery!” Too much value must not be attached to what
might have been a mere caprice of utterance. Yet the proposal not
unreasonably frightened Mrs. Williams, for Shelley’s friends were
accustomed to expect the realization of his wildest fancies. It may
incidentally be mentioned that before the water finally claimed its
victim, he had often been in peril of life upon his fatal element--during
the first voyage to Ireland, while crossing the Channel with Mary in an
open boat, again at Meillerie with Byron, and once at least with Williams.

A third composition of the year 1821 was inspired by the visit of Prince
Mavrocordato to Pisa. He called on Shelley in April, showed him a copy of
Prince Ipsilanti’s proclamation, and announced that Greece was determined
to strike a blow for freedom. The news aroused all Shelley’s enthusiasm,
and he began the lyrical drama of _Hellas_, which he has described as “a
sort of imitation of the _Persae_ of _Æschylus_.” We find him at work upon
it in October; and it must have been finished by the end of that month,
since the dedication bears the date of November 1st, 1821. Shelley did not
set great store by it. “It was written,” he says, “without much care, and
in one of those few moments of enthusiasm which now seldom visit me, and
which make me pay dear for their visits.” The preface might, if space
permitted, be cited as a specimen of his sound and weighty judgment upon
one of the greatest political questions of this century. What he says
about the debt of the modern world to ancient Hellas, is no less pregnant
than his severe strictures upon the part played by Russia in dealing with
Eastern questions. For the rest, the poem is distinguished by passages of
great lyrical beauty, rising at times to the sublimest raptures, and
closing on the half-pathetic cadence of that well-known Chorus, “The
world’s great age begins anew.” Of dramatic interest it has but little;
nor is the play, as finished, equal to the promise held forth by the
superb fragment of its so-called Prologue.[30] This truly magnificent
torso must, I think, have been the commencement of the drama as conceived
upon a different and more colossal plan, which Shelley rejected for some
unknown reason. It shows the influence not only of the Book of Job, but
also of the Prologue in Heaven to Faust, upon his mind.

The lyric movement of the Chorus from _Hellas_, which I propose to quote,
marks the highest point of Shelley’s rhythmical invention. As for the
matter expressed in it, we must not forget that these stanzas are written
for a Chorus of Greek captive women, whose creed does not prevent their
feeling a regret for the “mightier forms of an older, austerer worship.”
Shelley’s note reminds the reader, with characteristic caution and
frankness, that “the popular notions of Christianity are represented in
this Chorus as true in their relation to the worship they superseded, and
that which in all probability they will supersede, without considering
their merits in a relation more universal.”

  Worlds on worlds are rolling ever
    From creation to decay,
  Like the bubbles on a river
    Sparkling, bursting, borne away.
    But they are still immortal
    Who, through birth’s orient portal,
  And death’s dark chasm hurrying to and fro,
    Clothe their unceasing flight
    In the brief dust and light
  Gathered around their chariots as they go;
    New shapes they still may weave,
    New gods, new laws receive;
  Bright or dim are they, as the robes they last
      On Death’s bare ribs had cast.

    A power from the unknown God,
      A Promethean conqueror came;
    Like a triumphal path he trod
      The thorns of death and shame.
        A mortal shape to him
        Was like the vapour dim
  Which the orient planet animates with light.
    Hell, Sin, and Slavery came,
    Like bloodhounds mild and tame,
  Nor preyed until their Lord had taken flight.
        The moon of Mahomet
        Arose, and it shall set:
  While blazoned as on heaven’s immortal noon
      The cross leads generations on.

    Swift as the radiant shapes of sleep
      From one whose dreams are paradise,
    Fly, when the fond wretch wakes to weep,
      And day peers forth with her blank eyes;
        So fleet, so faint, so fair,
      The Powers of earth and air
  Fled from the folding star of Bethlehem:
        Apollo, Pan, and Love,
        And even Olympian Jove
  Grew weak, for killing Truth had glared on them.
    Our hills, and seas, and streams,
    Dispeopled of their dreams,
  Their waters turned to blood, their dew to tears,
        Wailed for the golden years.

In the autumn of this year Shelley paid Lord Byron a visit at Ravenna,
where he made acquaintance with the Countess Guiccioli. It was then
settled that Byron, who had formed the project of starting a journal to be
called _The Liberal_ in concert with Leigh Hunt, should himself settle in
Pisa. Leigh Hunt was to join his brother poets in the same place. The
prospect gave Shelley great pleasure, for he was sincerely attached to
Hunt; and though he would not promise contributions to the journal, partly
lest his name should bring discredit on it, and partly because he did not
choose to appear before the world as a hanger-on of Byron’s, he thoroughly
approved of a plan which would be profitable to his friend by bringing him
into close relation with the most famous poet of the age.[31] That he was
not without doubts as to Byron’s working easily in harness with Leigh
Hunt, may be seen in his correspondence; and how fully these doubts were
destined to be confirmed, is only too well known.

At Ravenna he was tormented by the report of some more than usually
infamous calumny, concerning the position of Miss Clairmont in his
household. That it made profound impression on his mind, appears from a
remarkable letter addressed to his wife on the 16th and 17th of August
from Ravenna. In it he repeats his growing weariness, and his wish to
escape from society to solitude; the weariness of a nature wounded and
disappointed by commerce with the world, but neither soured nor driven to
fury by cruel wrongs. It is noticeable at the same time that he clings to
his present place of residence:--“our roots never struck so deeply as at
Pisa, and the transplanted tree flourishes not.” At Pisa he had found real
rest and refreshment in the society of his two friends, the Williamses.
Some of his saddest and most touching lyrics of this year are addressed to
Jane--for so Mrs. Williams was called; and attentive students may perceive
that the thought of Emilia was already blending by subtle transitions with
the new thought of Jane. One poem, almost terrible in its intensity of
melancholy, is hardly explicable on the supposition that Shelley was quite
happy in his home.[32] These words must be taken as implying no reflection
either upon Mary’s love for him, or upon his own power to bear the
slighter troubles of domestic life. He was not a spoiled child of fortune,
a weak egotist, or a querulous complainer. But he was always seeking and
never finding the satisfaction of some deeper craving. In his own words,
he had loved Antigone before he visited this earth: and no one woman could
probably have made him happy, because he was for ever demanding more from
love than it can give in the mixed circumstances of mortal life. Moreover,
it must be remembered that his power of self-expression has bestowed
permanent form on feelings which may have been but transitory; nor can we
avoid the conclusion that, sincere as Shelley was, he, like all poets,
made use of the emotion of the moment for purposes of art, converting an
ephemeral mood into something typical and universal. This was almost
certainly the case with _Epipsychidion_.

So much at any rate had to be said upon this subject; for careful readers
of Shelley’s minor poems are forced to the conviction that during the last
year of his life he often found relief from a wretchedness, which, however
real, can hardly be defined, in the sympathy of this true-hearted woman.
The affection he felt for Jane was beyond question pure and honourable.
All the verses he addressed to her, passed through her husband’s hands
without the slightest interruption to their intercourse; and Mrs. Shelley,
who was not unpardonably jealous of her Ariel, continued to be Mrs.
Williams’s warm friend. A passage from Shelley’s letter of June 18, 1822,
expresses the plain prose of his relation to the Williamses:--“They are
people who are very pleasing to me. But words are not the instruments of
our intercourse. I like Jane more and more, and I find Williams the most
amiable of companions. She has a taste for music, and an eloquence of form
and motions that compensate in some degree for the lack of literary

Two lyrics of this period may here be introduced, partly for the sake of
their intrinsic beauty, and partly because they illustrate the fecundity
of Shelley’s genius during the months of tranquil industry which he passed
at Pisa. The first is an Invocation to Night:--

  Swiftly walk over the western wave,
                  Spirit of Night!
  Out of the misty eastern cave,
  Where all the long and lone daylight,
  Thou wovest dreams of joy and fear,
  Which make thee terrible and dear,--
                  Swift be thy flight!

  Wrap thy form in a mantle grey,
  Blind with thine hair the eyes of day,
  Kiss her until she be wearied out.
  Then wander o’er city, and sea, and land,
  Touching all with thine opiate wand--
                  Come, long-sought!

  When I arose and saw the dawn,
                  I sighed for thee;
  When light rode high, and the dew was gone,
  And noon lay heavy on flower and tree,
  And the weary Day turned to his rest,
  Lingering like an unloved guest,
                  I sighed for thee.

  Thy brother Death came, and cried,
                  “Wouldst thou me?”
  Thy sweet child Sleep, the filmy-eyed,
  Murmured like a noon-tide bee,
  “Shall I nestle near thy side?
  Wouldst thou me?”--And I replied,
                  “No, not thee!”

  Death will come when thou art dead,
                  Soon, too soon--
  Sleep will come when thou art fled;
  Of neither would I ask the boon
  I ask of thee, beloved Night--
  Swift be thine approaching flight,
                  Come soon, soon!

The second is an Epithalamium composed for a drama which his friend
Williams was writing. Students of the poetic art will find it not
uninteresting to compare the three versions of this Bridal Song, given by
Mr. Forman.[33] They prove that Shelley was no careless writer.

  The golden gates of sleep unbar
    Where strength and beauty, met together,
  Kindle their image like a star
    In a sea of glassy weather!

  Night, with all thy stars look down--
    Darkness, weep thy holiest dew!
  Never smiled the inconstant moon
              On a pair so true.
  Let eyes not see their own delight;
  Haste, swift Hour, and thy flight
              Oft renew.

  Fairies, sprites, and angels, keep her!
    Holy stars, permit no wrong!
  And return to wake the sleeper,
    Dawn, ere it be long.
  O joy! O fear! what will be done
    In the absence of the sun!
              Come along!

Lyrics like these, delicate in thought and exquisitely finished in form,
were produced with a truly wonderful profusion in this season of his
happiest fertility. A glance at the last section of Mr. Palgrave’s _Golden
Treasury_ shows how large a place they occupy among the permanent jewels
of our literature.

The month of January added a new and most important member to the little
Pisan circle. This was Captain Edward John Trelawny, to whom more than to
any one else but Hogg and Mrs. Shelley, the students of the poet’s life
are indebted for details at once accurate and characteristic. Trelawny had
lived a free life in all quarters of the globe, far away from literary
cliques and the society of cities, in contact with the sternest realities
of existence, which had developed his self-reliance and his physical
qualities to the utmost. The impression, therefore, made on him by Shelley
has to be gravely estimated by all who still incline to treat the poet as
a pathological specimen of humanity. This true child of nature recognized
in his new friend far more than in Byron the stuff of a real man. “To
form a just idea of his poetry, you should have witnessed his daily life;
his words and actions best illustrated his writings.” “The cynic Byron
acknowledged him to be the best and ablest man he had ever known. The
truth was, Shelley loved everything better than himself.” “I have seen
Shelley and Byron in society, and the contrast was as marked as their
characters. The former, not thinking of himself, was as much at ease as in
his own home, omitting no occasion of obliging those whom he came in
contact with, readily conversing with all or any who addressed him,
irrespective of age or rank, dress or address.” “All who heard him felt
the charm of his simple, earnest manner: while Byron knew him to be exempt
from the egotism, pedantry, coxcombry, and more than all the rivalry of
authorship.” “Shelley’s mental activity was infectious; he kept your brain
in constant action.” “He was always in earnest.” “He never laid aside his
book and magic mantle; he waved his wand, and Byron, after a faint show of
defiance, stood mute.... Shelley’s earnestness and just criticism held him
captive.” These sentences, and many others, prove that Trelawny, himself
somewhat of a cynic, cruelly exposing false pretensions, and detesting
affectation in any form, paid unreserved homage to the heroic qualities
this “dreamy bard,”--“uncommonly awkward,” as he also called him--bad
rider and poor seaman as he was--“over-sensitive,” and “eternally brooding
on his own thoughts,” who “had seen no more of the waking-day than a girl
at a boarding-school.” True to himself, gentle, tender, with the courage
of a lion, “frank and outspoken, like a well-conditioned boy, well-bred
and considerate for others, because he was totally devoid of selfishness
and vanity,” Shelley seemed to this unprejudiced companion of his last
few months that very rare product for which Diogenes searched in vain--a

Their first meeting must be told in Trelawny’s own words--words no less
certain of immortality than the fame of him they celebrate. “The
Williamses received me in their earnest, cordial manner; we had a great
deal to communicate to each other, and were in loud and animated
conversation, when I was rather put out by observing in the passage near
the open door, opposite to where I sat, a pair of glittering eyes steadily
fixed on mine; it was too dark to make out whom they belonged to. With the
acuteness of a woman, Mrs. Williams’s eyes followed the direction of mine,
and going to the doorway she laughingly said, ‘Come in, Shelley, it’s only
our friend Tre just arrived.’ Swiftly gliding in, blushing like a girl, a
tall, thin stripling held out both his hands; and although I could hardly
believe, as I looked at his flushed, feminine, and artless face, that it
could be the poet, I returned his warm pressure. After the ordinary
greetings and courtesies he sat down and listened. I was silent from
astonishment: was it possible this mild-looking, beardless boy, could be
the veritable monster at war with all the world?--excommunicated by the
Fathers of the Church, deprived of his civil rights by the fiat of a grim
Lord Chancellor, discarded by every member of his family, and denounced by
the rival sages of our literature as the founder of a Satanic school? I
could not believe it; it must be a hoax. He was habited like a boy, in a
black jacket and trousers, which he seemed to have outgrown, or his
tailor, as is the custom, had most shamefully stinted him in his
‘sizings.’ Mrs. Williams saw my embarrassment, and to relieve me asked
Shelley what book he had in his hand? His face brightened, and he answered

“‘Calderon’s _Magico Prodigioso_--I am translating some passages in it.’

“‘Oh, read it to us.’

“Shoved off from the shore of commonplace incidents that could not
interest him, and fairly launched on a theme that did, he instantly became
oblivious of everything but the book in his hand. The masterly manner in
which he analysed the genius of the author, his lucid interpretation of
the story, and the ease with which he translated into our language the
most subtle and imaginative passages of the Spanish poet, were marvellous,
as was his command of the two languages. After this touch of his quality I
no longer doubted his identity; a dead silence ensued; looking up, I

“‘Where is he?’

“Mrs. Williams said, ‘Who? Shelley? Oh, he comes and goes like a spirit,
no one knows when or where.’”

Two little incidents which happened in the winter of 1821-2 deserve to be
recorded. News reached the Pisan circle early in December that a man who
had insulted the Host at Lucca, was sentenced to be burned. Shelley
proposed that the English--himself, Byron, Medwin, and their friend Mr.
Taafe--should immediately arm and ride off to rescue him. The scheme took
Byron’s fancy; but they agreed to try less Quixotic measures before they
had recourse to force, and their excitement was calmed by hearing that the
man’s sentence had been commuted to the galleys. The other affair brought
them less agreeably into contact with the Tuscan police. The party were
riding home one afternoon in March, when a mounted dragoon came rushing
by, breaking their ranks and nearly unhorsing Mr. Taafe. Byron and Shelley
rode after him to remonstrate; but the man struck Shelley from his saddle
with a sabre blow. The English then pursued him into Pisa, making such a
clatter that one of Byron’s servants issued with a pitchfork from the Casa
Lanfranchi, and wounded the fellow somewhat seriously, under the
impression that it was necessary to defend his master. Shelley called the
whole matter “a trifling piece of business;” but it was strictly
investigated by the authorities; and though the dragoon was found to have
been in the wrong, Byron had to retire for a season to Leghorn. Another
consequence was the exile of Count Gamba and his father from Tuscany,
which led to Byron’s final departure from Pisa.

The even current of Shelley’s life was not often broken by such
adventures. Trelawny gives the following account of how he passed his
days: he “was up at six or seven, reading Plato, Sophocles, or Spinoza,
with the accompaniment of a hunch of dry bread; then he joined Williams in
a sail on the Arno, in a flat-bottomed skiff, book in hand, and from
thence he went to the pine-forest, or some out-of-the-way place. When the
birds went to roost he returned home, and talked and read until midnight.”
The great wood of stone pines on the Pisan Maremma was his favourite
study. Trelawny tells us how he found him there alone one day, and in what
state was the MS. of that prettiest lyric, _Ariel, to Miranda take_. “It
was a frightful scrawl; words smeared out with his finger, and one upon
the other, over and over in tiers, and all run together in most ‘admired
disorder;’ it might have been taken for a sketch of a marsh overgrown with
bulrushes, and the blots for wild ducks; such a dashed-off daub as
self-conceited artists mistake for a manifestation of genius. On my
observing this to him, he answered, ‘When my brain gets heated with
thought, it soon boils, and throws off images and words faster than I can
skim them off. In the morning, when cooled down, out of the rude sketch
as you justly call it, I shall attempt a drawing.’”

A daily visit to Byron diversified existence. Byron talked more sensibly
with Shelley than with his commonplace acquaintances; and when he began to
gossip, Shelley retired into his own thoughts. Then they would go
pistol-shooting, Byron’s trembling hand contrasting with his friend’s
firmness. They had invented a “little language” for this sport: firing was
called _tiring_; hitting, _colping_; missing, _mancating_, &c. It was in
fact a kind of pigeon Italian. Shelley acquired two nick-names in the
circle of his Pisan friends, both highly descriptive. He was Ariel and the
Snake. The latter suited him because of his noiseless gliding movement,
bright eyes and ethereal diet. It was first given to him by Byron during a
reading of _Faust_. When he came to the line of Mephistophiles, “Wie meine
Muhme, die berühmte Schlange” and translated it, “My aunt, the renowned
Snake,” Byron cried, “Then you are her nephew.” Shelley by no means
resented the epithet. Indeed he alludes to it in his letters and in a poem
already referred to above.

Soon after Trelawny’s arrival the party turned their thoughts to nautical
affairs. Shelley had already done a good deal of boating with Williams on
the Arno and the Serchio, and had on one occasion nearly lost his life by
the capsizing of their tiny craft. They now determined to build a larger
yacht for excursions on the sea; while Byron, liking the project of a
summer residence upon the Bay of Spezia, made up his mind to have one too.
Shelley’s was to be an open boat carrying sail, Byron’s, a large decked
schooner. The construction of both was entrusted to a Genoese builder,
under the direction of Trelawny’s friend, Captain Roberts. Such was the
birth of the ill-fated _Don Juan_, which cost the lives of Shelley and
Williams, and of the _Bolivar_, which carried Byron off to Genoa before he
finally set sail for Greece. Captain Roberts was allowed to have his own
way about the latter; but Shelley and Williams had set their hearts upon a
model for their little yacht, which did not suit the Captain’s notions of
sea-worthiness. Williams overruled his objections, and the _Don Juan_ was
built according to his cherished fancy. “When it was finished,” says
Trelawny, “it took two tons of iron ballast to bring her down to her
bearings, and then she was very crank in a breeze, though not deficient in
beam. She was fast, strongly built, and Torbay rigged.” She was christened
by Lord Byron, not wholly with Shelley’s approval; and one young English
sailor, Charles Vivian, in addition to Williams and Shelley, formed her
crew. “It was great fun,” says Trelawny, “to witness Williams teaching the
poet how to steer, and other points of seamanship. As usual, Shelley had a
book in hand, saying he could read and steer at the same time, as one was
mental, the other mechanical.” “The boy was quick and handy, and used to
boats. Williams was not as deficient as I anticipated, but over-anxious,
and wanted practice, which alone makes a man prompt in emergency. Shelley
was intent on catching images from the ever-changing sea and sky, he
heeded not the boat.” It ought finally to be added that Shelley and
Williams re-christened the yacht, more to their liking, the _Ariel_.



The advance of spring made the climate of Pisa too hot for comfort; and
early in April Trelawny and Williams rode off to find a suitable lodging
for themselves and the Shelleys on the Gulf of Spezia. They pitched upon a
house called the Villa Magni, between Lerici and San Terenzio, which
“looked more like a boat or bathing-house than a place to live in. It
consisted of a terrace or ground-floor un-paved, and used for storing
boat-gear and fishing-tackle, and of a single storey over it, divided into
a hall or saloon and four small rooms, which had once been white-washed;
there was one chimney for cooking. This place we thought the Shelleys
might put up with for the summer. The only good thing about it was a
verandah facing the sea, and almost over it.” When it came to be
inhabited, the central hall was used for the living and eating room of the
whole party. The Shelleys occupied two rooms facing each other; the
Williamses had one of the remaining chambers, and Trelawny another. Access
to these smaller apartments could only be got through the saloon; and this
circumstance once gave rise to a ludicrous incident, when Shelley, having
lost his clothes out bathing, had to cross, _in puris naturalibus_, not
undetected, though covered in his retreat by the clever Italian
handmaiden, through a luncheon party assembled in the dining-room. The
horror of the ladies at the poet’s unexpected apparition and his innocent
self-defence are well described by Trelawny. Life in the villa was of the
simplest description. To get food was no easy matter; and the style of the
furniture may be guessed by Trelawny’s laconic remark that the sea was his
only washing-basin.

They settled at Villa Magni on the 1st of May, and began a course of life
which was not interrupted till the final catastrophe of July 8. These few
weeks were in many respects the happiest of Shelley’s life. We seem to
discern in his last letter of importance, recently edited by Dr. Garnett,
that he was now conscious of having reached a platform from which he could
survey his past achievement, and whence he would probably have risen to a
loftier altitude, by the firmer and more equable exercise of powers which
had been ripening during the last three years of life in Italy. Meanwhile,
“I am content,” he writes, “if the heaven above me is calm for the passing
moment.” And this tranquillity was perfect, with none of the oppressive
sense of coming danger, which distinguishes the calm before a storm. He
was far away from the distractions of the world he hated, in a scene of
indescribable beauty, among a population little removed from the state of
savages, who enjoyed the primitive pleasures of a race at one with nature,
and toiled with hardy perseverance on the element he loved so well. His
company was thoroughly congenial and well mixed. He spent his days in
excursions on the water with Williams, or in solitary musings in his
cranky little skiff, floating upon the shallows in shore, or putting out
to sea and waiting for the landward breeze to bring him home. The evenings
were passed upon the terrace, listening to Jane’s guitar, conversing with
Trelawny, or reading his favourite poets aloud to the assembled party.

In this delightful solitude, this round of simple occupations, this
uninterrupted communion with nature, Shelley’s enthusiasms and
inspirations revived with their old strength. He began a poem, which, if
we may judge of its scale by the fragment we possess, ought to have been
one of the longest, as it certainly is one of the loftiest of his
masterpieces. The _Triumph of Life_ is composed in no strain of compliment
to the powers of this world, which quell untameable spirits, and enslave
the noblest by the operation of blind passions and inordinate ambitions.
It is rather a pageant of the spirit dragged in chains, led captive to the
world, the flesh, and the devil. The sonorous march and sultry splendour
of the terza rima stanzas, bearing on their tide of song those multitudes
of forms, processionally grand, yet misty with the dust of their own
tramplings, and half-shrouded in a lurid robe of light, affect the
imagination so powerfully that we are fain to abandon criticism and
acknowledge only the dæmonic fascinations of this solemn mystery. Some
have compared the _Triumph of Life_ to a Panathenaic pomp: others have
found in it a reflex of the burning summer heat, and blazing sea, and
onward undulations of interminable waves, which were the cradle of its
maker as he wrote. The imagery of Dante plays a part, and Dante has
controlled the structure. The genius of the Revolution passes by: Napoleon
is there, and Rousseau serves for guide. The great of all ages are
arraigned, and the spirit of the world is brought before us, while its
heroes pass, unveil their faces for a moment, and are swallowed in the
throng that has no ending. But how Shelley meant to solve the problems he
has raised, by what sublime philosophy he purposed to resolve the discords
of this revelation more soul-shattering than Daniel’s _Mene_, we cannot
even guess. The poem, as we have it, breaks abruptly with these words:
“Then what is Life? I cried”--a sentence of profoundest import, when we
remember that the questioner was now about to seek its answer in the halls
of Death.

To separate any single passage from a poem which owes so much of its
splendour to the continuity of music and the succession of visionary
images, does it cruel wrong. Yet this must be attempted; for Shelley is
the only English poet who has successfully handled that most difficult of
metres, _terza rima_. His power over complicated versification cannot be
appreciated except by duly noticing the method he employed in treating a
structure alien, perhaps, to the genius of our literature, and even in
Italian used with perfect mastery by none but Dante. To select the
introduction and part of the first paragraph will inflict less violence
upon the _Triumph of Life_ as a whole, than to detach one of its episodes.

  Swift as a spirit hastening to his task
  Of glory and of good, the Sun sprang forth
  Rejoicing in his splendour, and the mask

  Of darkness fell from the awakened Earth.
  The smokeless altars of the mountain snows
  Flamed above crimson clouds, and at the birth

  Of light, the Ocean’s orison arose,
  To which the birds tempered their matin lay.
  All flowers in field or forest which unclose

  Their trembling eyelids to the kiss of day,
  Swinging their censers in the element,
  With orient incense lit by the new ray

  Burned slow and inconsumably, and sent
  Their odorous sighs up to the smiling air;
  And, in succession due, did continent,

  Isle, ocean, and all things that in them wear
  The form and character of mortal mould,
  Rise as the Sun their father rose, to bear

  Their portion of the toil, which he of old
  Took as his own, and then imposed on them.
  But I, whom thoughts which must remain untold

  Had kept as wakeful as the stars that gem
  The cone of night, now they were laid asleep,
  Stretched my faint limbs beneath the hoary stem

  Which an old chesnut flung athwart the steep
  Of a green Apennine. Before me fled
  The night; behind me rose the day; the deep

  Was at my feet, and Heaven above my head,--
  When a strange trance over my fancy grew
  Which was not slumber, for the shade it spread

  Was so transparent that the scene came through
  As clear as, when a veil of light is drawn
  O’er evening hills, they glimmer; and I knew

  That I had felt the freshness of that dawn
  Bathe in the same cold dew my brow and hair,
  And sate as thus upon that slope of lawn

  Under the self-same bough, and heard as there
  The birds, the fountains, and the ocean, hold
  Sweet talk in music through the enamoured air.
  And then a vision on my brain was rolled.

Such is the exordium of the poem. It will be noticed that at this point
one series of the interwoven triplets is concluded. The _Triumph of Life_
itself begins with a new series of rhymes, describing the vision for which
preparation has been made in the preceding prelude. It is not without
perplexity that an ear unaccustomed to the windings of the _terza rima_,
feels its way among them. Entangled and impeded by the labyrinthine
sounds, the reader might be compared to one who, swimming in his dreams,
is carried down the course of a swift river clogged with clinging and
retarding water-weeds. He moves; but not without labour: yet after a while
the very obstacles add fascination to his movement.

  As in that trance of wondrous thought I lay,
  This was the tenour of my waking dream:--
  Methought I sate beside a public way

  Thick strewn with summer dust, and a great stream
  Of people there was hurrying to and fro,
  Numerous as gnats upon the evening gleam,

  All hastening onward, yet none seemed to know
  Whither he went, or whence he came, or why
  He made one of the multitude, and so

  Was borne amid the crowd, as through the sky
  One of the million leaves of summer’s bier;
  Old age and youth, manhood and infancy,

  Mixed in one mighty torrent did appear:
  Some flying from the thing they feared, and some
  Seeking the object, of another’s fear;

  And others, as with steps towards the tomb,
  Pored on the trodden worms that crawled beneath,
  And others mournfully within the gloom

  Of their own shadow walked and called it death;
  And some fled from it as it were a ghost,
  Half fainting in the affliction of vain breath

  But more, with motions which each other crossed,
  Pursued or spurned the shadows the clouds threw,
  Or birds within the noon-day ether lost,

  Upon that path where flowers never grew,--
  And weary with vain toil and faint for thirst,
  Heard not the fountains, whose melodious dew

  Out of their mossy cells for ever burst;
  Nor felt the breeze which from the forest told
  Of grassy paths, and wood lawn-interspersed,

  With over-arching elms, and caverns cold,
  And violet banks where sweet dreams brood;--but they
  Pursued their serious folly as of old.

Here let us break the chain of rhymes that are unbroken in the text, to
notice the extraordinary skill with which the rhythm has been woven in one
paragraph, suggesting by recurrences of sound the passing of a multitude,
which is presented at the same time to the eye of fancy by accumulated
images. The next eleven triplets introduce the presiding genius of the
pageant. Students of Petrarch’s _Trionfi_ will not fail to note what
Shelley owes to that poet, and how he has transmuted the definite imagery
of mediæval symbolism into something metaphysical and mystic.

  And as I gazed, methought that in the way
  The throng grew wilder, as the woods of June
  When the south wind shakes the extinguished day;

  And a cold glare, intenser than the noon
  But icy cold, obscured with blinding light
  The sun, as he the stars. Like the young moon--

  When on the sunlit limits of the night
  Her white shell trembles amid crimson air,
  And whilst the sleeping tempest gathers might,--

  Doth, as the herald of its coming, bear
  The ghost of its dead mother, whose dim form
  Bends in dark ether from her infant’s chair;

  So came a chariot on the silent storm
  Of its own rushing splendour, and a Shape
  So sate within, as one whom years deform,

  Beneath a dusky hood and double cape,
  Crouching within the shadow of a tomb.
  And o’er what seemed the head a cloud-like crape

  Was bent, a dun and faint ethereal gloom
  Tempering the light. Upon the chariot beam
  A Janus-visaged Shadow did assume

  The guidance of that wonder-wingèd team;
  The shapes which drew it in thick lightnings
  Were lost:--I heard alone on the air’s soft stream

  The music of their ever-moving wings.
  All the four faces of that charioteer
  Had their eyes banded; little profit brings

  Speed in the van and blindness in the rear,
  Nor then avail the beams that quench the sun,
  Or that with banded eyes could pierce the sphere

  Of all that is, has been, or will be done.
  So ill was the car guided--but it past
  With solemn speed majestically on.

The intense stirring of his imagination implied by this supreme poetic
effort, the solitude of Villa Magni, and the elemental fervour of Italian
heat to which he recklessly exposed himself, contributed to make Shelley
more than usually nervous. His somnambulism returned, and he saw visions.
On one occasion he thought that the dead Allegra rose from the sea, and
clapped her hands, and laughed, and beckoned to him. On another he roused
the whole house at night by his screams, and remained terror-frozen in the
trance produced by an appalling vision. This mood he communicated, in some
measure, to his friends. One of them saw what she afterwards believed to
have been his phantom, and another dreamed that he was dead. They talked
much of death, and it is noticeable that the last words written to him by
Jane were these:--“Are you going to join your friend Plato?”

The Leigh Hunts at last arrived in Genoa, whence they again sailed for
Leghorn. Shelley heard the news upon the 20th of June. He immediately
prepared to join them; and on the 1st of July set off with Williams in the
_Don Juan_, for Leghorn, where he rushed into the arms of his old friend.
Leigh Hunt, in his autobiography, writes, “I will not dwell upon the
moment.” From Leghorn he drove with the Hunts to Pisa, and established
them in the ground-floor of Byron’s Palazzo Lanfranchi, as comfortably as
was consistent with his lordship’s variable moods. The negotiations which
had preceded Hunt’s visit to Italy, raised forebodings in Shelley’s mind
as to the reception he would meet from Byron; nor were these destined to
be unfulfilled. Trelawny tells us how irksome the poet found it to have “a
man with a sick wife, and seven disorderly children,” established in his
palace. To Mrs. Hunt he was positively brutal; nor could he tolerate her
self-complacent husband, who, while he had voyaged far and wide in
literature, had never wholly cast the slough of Cockneyism. Hunt was
himself hardly powerful enough to understand the true magnitude of
Shelley, though he loved him; and the tender solicitude of the great,
unselfish Shelley, for the smaller, harmlessly conceited Hunt, is
pathetic. They spent a pleasant day or two together, Shelley showing the
Campo Santo and other sights of Pisa to his English friend. Hunt thought
him somewhat less hopeful than he used to be, but improved in health and
strength and spirits. One little touch relating to their last
conversation, deserves to be recorded:--“He assented warmly to an opinion
I expressed in the cathedral at Pisa, while the organ was playing, that a
truly divine religion might yet be established, if charity were really
made the principle of it, instead of faith.”

On the night following that day of rest, Shelley took a postchaise for
Leghorn; and early in the afternoon of the next day he set sail, with
Williams, on his return voyage to Lerici. The sailor-boy, Charles Vivian,
was their only companion. Trelawny, who was detained on board the
_Bolivar_, in the Leghorn harbour, watched them start. The weather for
some time had been unusually hot and dry. “Processions of priests and
religiosi have been for several days past praying for rain;” so runs the
last entry in Williams’s diary: “but the gods are either angry or nature
too powerful.” Trelawny’s Genoese mate observed, as the _Don Juan_ stood
out to sea, that they ought to have started at three a.m. instead of
twelve hours later; adding “the devil is brewing mischief.” Then a sea-fog
withdrew the _Don Juan_ from their sight. It was an oppressively sultry
afternoon. Trelawny went down into his cabin, and slept; but was soon
roused by the noise of the ships’ crews in the harbour making all ready
for a gale. In a short time the tempest was upon them, with wind, rain,
and thunder. It did not last more than twenty minutes; and at its end
Trelawny looked out anxiously for Shelley’s boat. She was nowhere to be
seen, and nothing could be heard of her. In fact, though Trelawny could
not then be absolutely sure of the catastrophe, she had sunk, struck in
all probability by the prow of a felucca, but whether by accident or with
the intention of running her down, is still uncertain.

On the morning of the third day alter the storm, Trelawny rode to Pisa,
and communicated his tears to Hunt. “I then went upstairs to Byron. When I
told him, his lip quivered, and his voice faltered as he questioned me.”
Couriers were despatched to search the sea coast, and to bring the
_Bolivar_ from Leghorn. Trelawny rode in person toward Via Reggio, and
there found a punt, a water-keg, and some bottles, which had been in
Shelley’s boat. A week passed, Trelawny patrolling the shore with the
coast-guardsmen, but hearing of no new discovery, until at last two bodies
were cast upon the sand. One found near Via Reggio, on the 18th of July,
was Shelley’s. It had his jacket, “with the volume of Sophocles in one
pocket, and Keats’s poems in the other, doubled back, as if the reader, in
the act of reading, had hastily thrust it away.” The other, found near the
tower of Migliarino, at about four miles’ distance, was that of Williams.
The sailor-boy, Charles Vivian, though cast up on the same day, the 18th
of July, near Massa, was not heard of by Trelawny till the 29th.

Nothing now remained but to tell the whole dreadful truth to the two
widowed women, who had spent the last days in an agony of alternate
despair and hope at Villa Magni. This duty Trelawny discharged faithfully
and firmly. “The next day I prevailed on them,” he says, “to return with
me to Pisa. The misery of that night and the journey of the next day, and
of many days and nights that followed, I can neither describe nor forget.”
It was decided that Shelley should be buried at Rome, near his friend
Keats and his son William, and that Williams’s remains should be taken to
England. But first the bodies had to be burned; and for permission to do
this, Trelawny, who all through had taken the lead, applied to the English
Embassy at Florence. After some difficulty it was granted.

What remains to be said concerning the cremation of Shelley’s body on the
16th of August, must be told in Trelawny’s own words. Williams, it may be
stated, had been burned on the preceding day.

“Three white wands had been stuck in the sand to mark the poet’s grave,
but as they were at some distance from each other, we had to cut a trench
thirty yards in length, in the line of the sticks, to ascertain the exact
spot, and it was nearly an hour before we came upon the grave.

“In the meantime Byron and Leigh Hunt arrived in the carriage, attended by
soldiers, and the Health Officer, as before. The lonely and grand scenery
that surrounded us, so exactly harmonized with Shelley’s genius, that I
could imagine his spirit soaring over us. The sea, with the islands of
Gorgona, Capraja, and Elba, was before us; old battlemented watch-towers
stretched along the coast, backed by the marble-crested Apennines
glistening in the sun, picturesque from their diversified outlines, and
not a human dwelling was in sight.

“As I thought of the delight Shelley felt in such scenes of loneliness and
grandeur whilst living, I felt we were no better than a herd of wolves or
a pack of wild dogs, in tearing out his battered and naked body from the
pure yellow sand that lay so lightly over it, to drag him back to the
light of day; but the dead have no voice, nor had I power to check the
sacrilege--the work went on silently in the deep and unresisting sand, not
a word was spoken, for the Italians have a touch of sentiment, and their
feelings are easily excited into sympathy. Byron was silent and
thoughtful. We were startled and drawn together by a dull, hollow sound
that followed the blow of a mattock; the iron had struck a skull, and the
body was soon uncovered.... After the fire was well kindled we repeated
the ceremony of the previous day; and more wine was poured over Shelley’s
dead body than he had consumed during his life. This with the oil and salt
made the yellow flames glisten and quiver. The heat from the sun and fire
was so intense that the atmosphere was tremulous and wavy.... The fire was
so fierce as to produce a white heat on the iron, and to reduce its
contents to grey ashes. The only portions that were not consumed were some
fragments of bones, the jaw, and the skull; but what surprised us all was
that the heart remained entire. In snatching this relic from the fiery
furnace, my hand was severely burnt; and had any one seen me do the act, I
should have been put into quarantine.”

Shelley’s heart was given to Hunt, who subsequently, not without
reluctance and unseemly dispute, resigned it to Mrs. Shelley. It is now at
Boscombe. His ashes were sent by Trelawny to Rome and buried in the
Protestant cemetery, so touchingly described by him in his letter to
Peacock, and afterwards so sublimely in _Adonais_. The epitaph, composed
by Hunt, ran thus: “Percy Bysshe Shelley, Cor Cordium, Natus iv. Aug.
MDCCXCII. Obiit VIII Jul. MDCCCXXII.” To the Latin words Trelawny,
faithfullest and most devoted of friends, added three lines from Ariel’s
song, much loved in life by Shelley:

  Nothing of him that doth fade,
  But doth suffer a sea-change
  Into something rich and strange.

“And so,” writes Lady Shelley, “the sea and the earth closed over one who
was great as a poet, and still greater as a philanthropist; and of whom it
may be said, that his wild spiritual character seems to have prepared him
for being thus snatched from life under circumstances of mingled terror
and beauty, while his powers were yet in their spring freshness, and age
had not come to render the ethereal body decrepit, or to wither the heart
which could not be consumed by fire.”



After some deliberation I decided to give this little work on Shelley the
narrative rather than the essay form, impelled thereto by one commanding
reason. Shelley’s life and his poetry are indissolubly connected. He acted
what he thought and felt, with a directness rare among his brethren of the
poet’s craft; while his verse, with the exception of _The Cenci_,
expressed little but the animating thoughts and aspirations of his life.
That life, moreover, was “a miracle of thirty years,” so crowded with
striking incident and varied experience that, as he said himself, he had
already lived longer than his father and ought to be reckoned with the men
of ninety. Through all vicissitudes he preserved his youth inviolate, and
died, like one whom the gods love, or like a hero of Hellenic story,
young, despite grey hairs and suffering. His life has, therefore, to be
told, in order that his life-work may be rightly valued: for, great as
that was, he, the man, was somehow greater; and noble as it truly is, the
memory of himself is nobler.

To the world he presented the rare spectacle of a man passionate for
truth, and unreservedly obedient to the right as he discerned it. The
anomaly which made his practical career a failure, lay just here. The
right he followed was too often the antithesis of ordinary morality: in
his desire to cast away the false and grasp the true, he overshot the mark
of prudence. The blending in him of a pure and earnest purpose with moral
and social theories that could not but have proved pernicious to mankind
at large, produced at times an almost grotesque mixture in his actions no
less than in his verse. We cannot, therefore, wonder that society, while
he lived, felt the necessity of asserting itself against him. But now that
he has passed into the company of the great dead, and time has softened
down the asperities of popular judgment, we are able to learn the real
lesson of his life and writings. That is not to be sought in any of his
doctrines, but rather in his fearless bearing, his resolute loyalty to an
unselfish and in the simplest sense benevolent ideal. It is this which
constitutes his supreme importance for us English at the present time.
Ours is an age in which ideals are rare, and we belong to a race in which
men who follow them so single-heartedly are not common.

As a poet, Shelley contributed a new quality to English literature--a
quality of ideality, freedom, and spiritual audacity, which severe critics
of other nations think we lack. Byron’s daring is in a different region:
his elemental worldliness and pungent satire do not liberate our energies,
or cheer us with new hopes and splendid vistas. Wordsworth, the very
antithesis to Shelley in his reverent accord with institutions, suits our
meditative mood, sustains us with a sound philosophy, and braces us by
healthy contact with the Nature he so dearly loved. But in Wordsworth
there is none of Shelley’s magnetism. What remains of permanent value in
Coleridge’s poetry--such work as _Christabel_, the _Ancient Mariner_, or
_Kubla Khan_--is a product of pure artistic fancy, tempered by the
author’s mysticism. Keats, true and sacred poet as he was, loved Nature
with a somewhat sensuous devotion. She was for him a mistress rather than
a Diotima; nor did he share the prophetic fire which burns in Shelley’s
verse, quite apart from the direct enunciation of his favourite tenets. In
none of Shelley’s greatest contemporaries was the lyrical faculty so
paramount; and whether we consider his minor songs, his odes, or his more
complicated choral dramas, we acknowledge that he was the loftiest and the
most spontaneous singer of our language. In range of power he was also
conspicuous above the rest. Not only did he write the best lyrics, but the
best tragedy, the best translations, and the best familiar poems of his
century. As a satirist and humourist, I cannot place him so high as some
of his admirers do; and the purely polemical portions of his poems, those
in which he puts forth his antagonism to tyrants and religions and custom
in all its myriad forms, seem to me to degenerate at intervals into poor

While his genius was so varied and its flight so unapproached in
swiftness, it would be vain to deny that Shelley, as an artist, had faults
from which the men with whom I have compared him were more free. The most
prominent of these are haste, incoherence, verbal carelessness,
incompleteness, a want of narrative force, and a weak hold on objective
realities. Even his warmest admirers, if they are sincere critics, will
concede that his verse, taken altogether, is marked by inequality. In his
eager self-abandonment to inspiration, he produced much that is
unsatisfying simply because it is not ripe. There was no defect of power
in him, but a defect of patience; and the final word to be pronounced in
estimating the larger bulk of his poetry is the word immature. Not only
was the poet young; but the fruit of his young mind had been plucked
before it had been duly mellowed by reflection. Again, he did not care
enough for common things to present them with artistic fulness. He was
intolerant of detail, and thus failed to model with the roundness that we
find in Goethe’s work. He flew at the grand, the spacious, the sublime;
and did not always succeed in realizing for his readers what he had
imagined. A certain want of faith in his own powers, fostered by the
extraordinary discouragement under which he had to write, prevented him
from finishing what he began, or from giving that ultimate form of
perfection to his longer works which we admire in shorter pieces like the
_Ode to the West Wind_. When a poem was ready, he had it hastily printed,
and passed on to fresh creative efforts. If anything occurred to interrupt
his energy, he flung the sketch aside. Some of these defects, if we may
use this word at all to indicate our sense that Shelley might by care have
been made equal to his highest self, were in a great measure the
correlative of his chief quality--the ideality, of which I have already
spoken, he composed with all his faculties, mental, emotional, and
physical, at the utmost strain, at a white heat of intense fervour,
striving to attain one object, the truest and most passionate investiture
for the thoughts which had inflamed his ever-quick imagination. The result
is that his finest work has more the stamp of something natural and
elemental--the wind, the sea, the depth of air--than of a mere artistic
product. Plato would have said: the Muses filled this man with sacred
madness, and, when he wrote, he was no longer in his own control. There
was, moreover, ever-present in his nature an effort, an aspiration after a
better than the best this world can show, which prompted him to blend the
choicest products of his thought and fancy with the fairest images
borrowed from the earth on which he lived. He never willingly composed
except under the impulse to body forth a vision of the love and light and
life which was the spirit of the power he worshipped. This persistent
upward striving, this earnestness, this passionate intensity, this piety
of soul and purity of inspiration, give a quite unique spirituality to his
poems. But it cannot be expected that the colder perfections of Academic
art should be always found in them. They have something of the waywardness
and negligence of nature, something of the _asymmetreia_ we admire in the
earlier creations of Greek architecture. That Shelley, acute critic and
profound student as he was, could conform himself to rule and show himself
an artist in the stricter sense, is, however, abundantly proved by _The
Cenci_ and by _Adonais_. The reason why he did not always observe this
method will be understood by those who have studied his _Defence of
Poetry_, and learned to sympathize with his impassioned theory of art.

Working on this small scale, it is difficult to do barest justice to
Shelley’s life or poetry. The materials for the former are almost
overwhelmingly copious and strangely discordant. Those who ought to meet
in love over his grave, have spent their time in quarrelling about him and
baffling the most eager seeker for the truth.[34] Through the turbid
atmosphere of their recriminations it is impossible to discern the whole
personality of the man. By careful comparison and refined manipulation of
the biographical treasures at our disposal, a fair portrait of Shelley
might still be set before the reader with the accuracy of a finished
picture. [That labour of exquisite art and of devoted love still remains
to be accomplished, though in the meantime Mr. W. M. Rossetti’s Memoir is
a most valuable instalment.] Shelley in his lifetime bound those who knew
him with a chain of loyal affection, impressing observers so essentially
different as Hogg, Byron, Peacock, Leigh Hunt, Trelawny, Medwin, Williams,
with the conviction that he was the gentlest, purest, bravest, and most
spiritual being they had ever met. The same conviction is forced upon his
biographer. During his four last years this most loveable of men was
becoming gradually riper, wiser, truer to his highest instincts. The
imperfections of his youth were being rapidly absorbed. His self-knowledge
was expanding, his character mellowing, and his genius growing daily
stronger. Without losing the fire that burned in him, he had been lessoned
by experience into tempering its fervour; and when he reached the age of
twenty-nine, he stood upon the height of his most glorious achievement,
ready to unfold his wings for a yet sublimer flight. At that moment, when
life at last seemed about to offer him rest, unimpeded activity, and
happiness, death robbed the world of his maturity. Posterity has but the
product of his cruder years, the assurance that he had already outlived
them into something nobler, and the tragedy of his untimely end.

If a final word were needed to utter the unutterable sense of waste
excited in us by Shelley’s premature absorption into the mystery of the
unknown, we might find it in the last lines of his own _Alastor_:--

                            Art and eloquence,
  And all the shows o’ the world, are frail and vain
  To weep a loss that turns their light to shade.
  It is a woe “too deep for tears,” when all
  Is reft at once, when some surpassing spirit,
  Whose light adorned the world around it, leaves
  Those who remain behind nor sobs nor groans.
  The passionate tumult of a clinging hope;
  But pale despair and cold tranquillity,
  Nature’s vast frame, the web of human things,
  Birth and the grave, that are not as they were.


(_To replace pages 79-83 in text._)

That Shelley, early in 1814, had formed no intention of abandoning his
wife is certain; for he was re-married to her on the 24th of March (eight
days after the letter I have just quoted) at St. George’s, Hanover Square.
This ratification of the Scotch marriage was no doubt meant to place the
legitimacy of a possible heir beyond all question. Yet, if we may base
conjecture upon “Stanzas, April, 1814,” which undoubtedly refer to his
relations with the Boinville family, it seems that in the very month after
this new ceremony Shelley found the difficulties of his wedded life
intolerable. He had not, however, lost his affection for Harriet. He still
sought to recover her confidence and kindness. In spite of his wife’s
apparent coldness and want of intellectual sympathy, in spite of his own
increasing alienation from the atmosphere in which she now lived, he still
approached her with the feelings of a suitor and a lover. This is proved
beyond all doubt by the pathetic stanzas “To Harriet: May, 1814,” which
have only recently been published. I may add that these verses exist in
Harriet’s own autograph, whence I infer that she, on her side, was not
indifferent to the emotion they express.[35] Shelley begins with this

  Thy look of love has power to calm
    The stormiest passion of my soul;
  Thy gentle words are drops of balm
    In life’s too bitter bowl.

He then immediately adds that his cruellest grief is to have known and
lost “those choicest blessings”; Harriet is proving by her coldness that
she repays his most devoted love with scorn. Nevertheless he will appeal
to her better nature:

  Be thou, then, one among mankind
    Whose heart is harder not for state,
  Thou only virtuous, gentle, kind,
    Amid a world of hate;
  And by a slight endurance seal
  A fellow-being’s lasting weal.

The next stanza paints a moving picture of his own wretchedness, and
beseeches her, before it is too late, to avert the calamity of an open

  In mercy let him not endure
  The misery of a fatal cure.

She has been yielding to false counsels and obeying the impulse of
feelings which represent not her real and nobler, but her artificial and
lower self:

  O trust for once no erring guide!
    Bid the remorseless feeling flee;
  ’Tis malice, ’tis revenge, ’tis pride,
    ’Tis anything but thee;
  O deign a nobler pride to prove,
  And pity if thou canst not love.

Whatever opinion the student of Shelley’s history may form regarding his
previous and his subsequent conduct, due weight must always be given to
the accent of sincerity, of pleading sorrow, of ingenuous
self-humiliation, in these touching lines. It must also be remembered that
Harriet, although she treasured them and copied them in her own
handwriting, apparently turned a deaf ear to their appeal, and that it was
not until several weeks of solitude and misery had passed that Shelley
finally sought the “fatal cure” of separation by flinging himself into the
arms of Mary Godwin.

We may now affirm with confidence that in the winter and spring of 1814 an
estrangement had gradually been growing up between Shelley and Harriet.
Her more commonplace nature, subsiding into worldliness, began to weary
of his enthusiasms, which at the same epoch expanded somewhat unhealthily
under the influences of the Boinville family. That intimacy brought into
painful prominence whatever was jarring and repugnant to him in his home.
While divided in this way between domesticity which had become
distasteful, and the society of friends with whom he found scope for his
most romantic outpourings of sensibility, Shelley fell suddenly and
passionately in love with Godwin’s daughter, Mary. He made her
acquaintance first perhaps in May or at the beginning of June. Peacock,
who lived on terms of the closest familiarity with him at this period,
must deliver his testimony as to the overwhelming nature of the new
attachment:--“Nothing that I ever read in tale or history could present a
more striking image of a sudden, violent, irresistible, uncontrollable
passion, than that under which I found him labouring when, at his request,
I went up from the country to call on him in London. Between his old
feelings towards Harriet, _from whom he was not then separated_, and his
new passion for Mary, he showed in his looks, in his gestures, in his
speech, the state of a mind ‘suffering, like a little kingdom, the nature
of an insurrection.’ His eyes were bloodshot, his hair and dress
disordered. He caught up a bottle of laudanum, and said, ‘I never part
from this.’”

Mary Godwin was then a girl of sixteen, “fair and fair-haired, pale
indeed, and with a piercing look,” to quote Hogg’s description of her, as
she first appeared before him on the 8th or 9th of June, 1814. With her
freedom from prejudice, her tense and high-wrought sensibility, her acute
intellect, enthusiasm for ideas, and vivid imagination, Mary Godwin was
naturally a fitter companion for Shelley than the good Harriet, however
beautiful. How he plighted his new troth, and won the hand of her who was
destined to be his companion for life, may best be told in Lady Shelley’s

“His anguish, his isolation, his difference from other men, his gifts of
genius and eloquent enthusiasm, made a deep impression on Godwin’s
daughter Mary, now a girl of sixteen, who had been accustomed to hear
Shelley spoken of as something rare and strange. To her, as they met one
eventful day in St. Pancras Churchyard, by her mother’s grave, Bysshe, in
burning words, poured forth the tale of his wild past--how he had
suffered, how he had been misled, and how, if supported by her love, he
hoped in future years to enrol his name with the wise and good who had
done battle for their fellow-men, and been true through all adverse storms
to the cause of humanity. Unhesitatingly, she placed her hand in his, and
linked her fortune with his own; and most truthfully, as the remaining
portions of these Memorials will prove, was the pledge of both redeemed.
The theories in which the daughter of the authors of _Political Justice_,
and of the _Rights of Woman_, had been educated, spared her from any
conflict between her duty and her affection. For she was the child of
parents whose writings had had for their object to prove that marriage was
one among the many institutions which a new era in the history of mankind
was about to sweep away. By her father, whom she loved--by the writings of
her mother, whom she had been taught to venerate--these doctrines had been
rendered familiar to her mind. It was therefore natural that she should
listen to the dictates of her own heart, and willingly unite her fate with
one who was so worthy of her love.”

The separation from Harriet, which actually took place about the middle of
July, was not arranged by mutual consent, as some authorities assert, so
much as by Shelley’s deliberate repudiation of his partner. Yet she must
be held to some degree responsible for bringing about the catastrophe by
her own imprudent behaviour. At an uncertain date in the summer she went
to Bath, leaving her husband in London or its neighbourhood. Although he
was now becoming convinced that their union could not be prolonged, he
continued to correspond with her regularly until early in July. A silence
of four days then alarmed her so much that she wrote upon the 6th in great
anxiety to Mr. Hookham, begging to be informed of Shelley’s doings. On the
14th they met again at his request in London. What passed on this occasion
is not known; but it seems tolerably certain that he informed her of his
firm resolve to part from her. On the 28th of that month he departed
secretly for the Continent with Mary Godwin, who had consented to share
his fortunes. It must be added that he passed through a crisis of intense
suffering and excitement, bordering on madness, before he finally
determined to exchange the refrigerated and uncongenial Harriet for the
impassioned and sympathetic Mary.

That Shelley has to bear the burden of this act of separation from his
first wife seems quite clear; nor can I discover anything to justify his
conduct, according to the commonly received opinions of the world, except
incompatibility of aims and interests in 1814 between him and the woman he
so recklessly married in 1811. His own peculiar justification is to be
found in his avowed opinions on the subject of marriage--opinions which
Harriet knew well and professed to share, and of which he had recently
made ample confession in the notes to _Queen Mab_. Men and women in
general, those whom Shelley was wont to style “the vulgar,” will still
agree with Lord Eldon in regarding those opinions as dangerous to society.
But it would be unfair, while condemning them as frankly as Shelley
professed them, to blame him also because he did not conform to the
opposite code of morals, for which he frequently expressed extreme
abhorrence, and which he stigmatized, however wrongly, as the source of
the worst social vices.

What is left of Harriet’s history may be briefly told. She remained in
correspondence with her husband, who showed himself always anxious for her
material and moral welfare. At Bath, upon the 30th of November, 1814, she
gave birth to Shelley’s second child, Charles Bysshe, who eventually died
in 1826. She seems to have formed other connexions at a later date, which
proved unfortunate; and on the 9th of November (?) 1816, she committed
suicide by drowning in the Serpentine. It should be added that, until just
before the end, she continued to live under her father’s protection. The
distance of time between July, 1814, and November, 1816, and the new ties
formed by Harriet in the interval, prove that there was no immediate
relation between Shelley’s abandonment of his wife and her suicide. She
had always entertained the thought of self-destruction, as Hogg, who is no
adverse witness in her case, has amply recorded. It may, indeed, be
permitted us to suppose that, finding herself for the second time unhappy
in her love, she reverted to a long-since cherished scheme, and cut the
knot of life and all its troubles.

So far as this is possible, I have attempted to narrate the most painful
episode in Shelley’s life as I conceive it to have occurred, without
extenuation and without condemnation. But one important point connected
with the chief incident still remains to be examined in detail.

Mr. Dowden says: “From an assurance that she (Harriet) had ceased to love
him, Shelley had passed to a conviction that she had given her heart to
another, and had linked her life to his.”[36] This statement he repeats
without qualification: “He had left her, believing she was unfaithful to
him.”[37] The documents which Mr. Dowden quotes to establish Shelley’s
belief in Harriet’s unfaithfulness before the separation are three in
number.[38] First, a letter from Shelley to his second wife, dated January
11, 1817. Secondly, a letter from Godwin to Mr. W. T. Baxter, dated May
12, 1817. Thirdly, a note appended by Miss Clairmont to transcripts from
her mother’s letters, made some time after 1832. I have enumerated these
in chronological order, because their greater or less remoteness from the
year 1814 considerably affects their value as evidence regarding Shelley’s
belief at that period.

It must be borne in mind that Harriet committed suicide in November, 1816,
and very soon after this event the Westbrook family began a suit in
Chancery with the object of depriving Shelley of the custody of his two
children by her. On the 11th of January, 1817, then, Shelley wrote to
Mary: “I learn just now from Godwin that he has evidence that Harriet was
unfaithful to me _four months_ before I left England with you. If we can
succeed in establishing this, our connexion will receive an additional
sanction, and plea be overborne.”[39] As a matter of fact, when the
pleadings began, he did not establish this, nor did he allude to the
matter in the memorandum he drew up of his case.[40] Godwin writes upon
the 12th of May: “The late Mrs. Shelley has turned out to be a woman of
great levity. I know from unquestionable authority, wholly unconnected
with Shelley (though I cannot with propriety be quoted for this), that she
had proved herself unfaithful to her husband before their separation.” On
the strength of these two passages, the pith and kernel of which is that
Godwin, some months after Harriet’s death, credited a tale told him by an
unknown person, which he repeated to Shelley, we are asked to suppose that
Shelley in July, 1814, two and a half years earlier, was convinced of
Harriet’s infidelity. But Miss Clairmont has still to be heard. She,
writing at some uncertain date subsequently to 1832, and therefore at
least eighteen years after the separation, recorded that: “He (Shelley)
succeeded in persuading her (Mary) by declaring that Harriet did not
really care for him; that she was in love with a Major Ryan; and the child
she would have was certainly not his. This Mary told me herself, adding
that this justified his having another attachment.” When we come to
examine Miss Clairmont’s reminiscences, we find them untrustworthy in so
many instances that her evidence carries no weight.[41] In the second
place it is unquestioned and unquestionable that Shelley firmly believed
the second child he had by Harriet to be his own. He announced the boy’s
birth to his friends, had him named Charles Bysshe, used him in his
efforts to raise money, and passionately claimed him when Harriet’s
relatives refused to give him up. Yet we are invited to accept the
memorandum of an inaccurate woman, penned at least eighteen years after
the event, and including one palpable and serious misstatement, as proof
that Shelley judged his first wife unfaithful before he eloped with Mary.

No one contends that Harriet actually broke her marriage vow before the
separation. What Professor Dowden asks us to believe is that _Shelley
thought_ she was untrue to him at that period. Miss Clairmont’s evidence
I reject as valueless. At the most she only reports something which
Shelley is supposed to have said to Mary with the object of persuading her
to elope with him, and which his subsequent conduct with regard to his son
Charles Bysshe contradicted. The true inference to be drawn from Shelley’s
and Godwin’s far more important letters in 1817 is that it was not until
the latter date that the suspicion of Harriet’s guilt before the
separation arose. This suspicion did not, however, harden into certainty,
nor was it found capable of verification; else why did not Shelley use the
fact, as he proposed, in order to strengthen his case against the
Westbrooks? I admit that his letter to Southey in 1820 supports the view
that, having once begun to entertain the suspicion, he never afterwards
abandoned it.[42]

If now we turn to contemporary records between the dates, June, 1814, and
May, 1815 (at which time Harriet disappears from our ken), we find no
intimation either in Mary’s or Miss Clairmont’s diary, or in Shelley’s
words and writings, or in the conduct of the Shelley-Godwin set, that
Harriet was believed to have broken faith so early with her husband. When
Shelley in the summer of 1814 sought to lower her in the eyes of Mary
Godwin, he did so by hinting that she only cared for his money and his
prospects.[43] Mary talks about her “insulting selfishness,” calls her
“nasty woman,” and exhibits a good deal of resentment at Shelley’s welcome
to his son and heir by her (December 6, 1814).[44] The pained reiteration
of the words _wife_ in her diary on this occasion proves how bitterly she
felt her own position as _mistress_. Shelley invited Harriet to establish
herself in the neighbourhood of Mary and himself. She was visited in
London by the whole party. But while they continued upon awkward terms of
half familiarity and mutual irritation, nothing by word or act implied a
knowledge of her previous infidelity. What is further to the point is that
Mrs. Shelley, in her novel of _Lodore_, which Professor Dowden rightly
judges to be a history of Shelley’s relation to Harriet, painted a wife’s
gradual alienation from her husband without hinting at misconduct.[45]

In conclusion, I am bound to express my opinion that nothing now produced
from the Shelley archives very materially alters the view of the case at
which sane and cautious critics arrived before these were placed in the
hands of his last biographer. We ought, moreover, to remember that
Shelley, of all men, would have most resented anything like an appeal to
popular opinions regarding the marriage tie. His firm conviction was that
when affection ceased between a married couple, or when new loves had
irrevocably superseded old ones, the connexion ought to be broken. In his
own case he felt that Harriet’s emotion towards him had changed, while an
irresistible passion for another woman had suddenly sprung up in his
heart. Upon these grounds, after undergoing a terrible contention of the
soul, he forced on the separation to which his first wife unwillingly


  _Adonais_, 130, 143;
    Shelley’s own criticism of, 144, 153, 180, 186;
    quotations from, 145-151

  _Address to the Irish People_, 59;
    purpose of, 60, 61;
    quotations from, 61

  _Age of Reason_ (Paine’s), 66

  _Alastor_, 84;
    Shelley’s first serious poem, 85;
    its autobiographical value, 86;
    quotations from, 87, 153;
    self-portraiture in, 98;
    last lines quoted, 187-188

  _Anamnesis_, doctrine of, its stronghold upon Shelley’s imagination,

  _Ancient Mariner, The_, allusion to, 183

  Ariosto, Shelley’s first acquaintance with, 72, 111, 112

  Aristotle, 29

  _Assassins, The_, 83

  Bacon, 151

  Bagni di Lucca, 103, 105

  Ballantyne, Messrs. (publishers), 19

  Bath, Harriet Shelley at, 80, 82, 192, 193

  Baxter, Mr. W. T., 194

  Berkeley, 117

  Bernardo (in _The Cenci_), 127

  Bethel, Mr., Shelley’s tutor at Eton, 12

  Bisham, beech-groves of, 95

  Bishopsgate Heath, 85

  Blake, William (artist), 126

  Boccaccio, Shelley’s remarks on, 111

  Boinville, Mrs., 76 _et seq._, 189, 191

  Boscombe, 180

  Bracknell (in Berkshire), 76, 77

  Brentford, 8

  Browne, Miss Felicia (afterwards Mrs. Hemans), 34

  Brunnen (on Lake Lucerne), 83

  Buffon (zoologist), 52

  Byron, Lord, 26;
    joins Shelley at Geneva, 88;
    accident off rocks of Meillerie, 89;
    his description of Shelley, 109, 131, 157, 161, 162, 164;
    visited by Shelley, 166

  Calderon, 112;
    Shelley’s translations from, 113, 164

  Campbell, Thomas, 19, 130

  Caracalla, Baths of, 95, 104, 118

  Castlereagh, Lord, 58

  Catholic Emancipation, 58, 60, 62

  _Cenci, The_, 74, 95, 120, 121, 126 _et seq._, 182, 186

  Chamouni, 90

  Clairmont, Charles, 76, 85

  Clairmont, Claire, 76, 83, 88, 103, 157, 194 _et seq._

  Clapham Common, 45

  Clifton, 85

  Coleridge, 55, 117, 183

  Dante, 111, 113, 138

  _Declaration of Rights_, 64 _et seq._

  _Defence of Poetry_, 112, 113, 117, 137, 186;
    quotation from, 114-116

  De Quincey, 56

  _Don Juan_ (Shelley’s boat), 167

  Eaton, D. J. (printer), 66

  Edinburgh, 51-53, 76

  _Edinburgh Journal_, 19

  Edwards, Mr. (Shelley’s first tutor), 6

  Eldon, Lord, 81, 93, 130, 193

  _Epipsychidion_, 86, 136, 138, 141 _et seq._, 158;
    quotations from, 139-140

  _Essay on a Future State_, 117, 152

  _Essay on Christianity_, 100, 117

  _Essay on the Punishment of Death_, 117

  Este, 95, 107

  Eton, 12 _et seq._

  Fenning, Mrs., 46

  Field Place, 3, 6 _et seq._, 14, 17, 37, 47, 77

  Florence, 95, 108, 119, 130

  France, 83, 90

  _Frankenstein_ (Mrs. Shelley’s story), 90

  _Fraser’s Magazine_, 19, 91 note, 92 note

  Garnett, Mr. Richard, 80 note, 81, 83, 121, 130 note, 143, 169, 186 note

  _Gebir_ (Landor’s), 33

  Geneva, 88;
    Lake of, 89

  Gisborne, Mr., 112, 121, 136

  Gisborne, Mrs., 110, 112, 119

  Godwin, Mary, 76, 79 _et seq._, 85, 88;
    marriage with Shelley, 93, 190 _et seq._

  Godwin, William, 21, 49 note, 56 _et seq._, 67, 76, 77, 85 note, 93,
      107, 110, 191, 194, 195

  Goodall, Dr., 12

  Great Marlow, 92

  Greystoke, 56

  Grove, Harriet, 18, 20, 21, 47

  Grove, Mr. C. H. (Shelley’s cousin), 51

  Guiccioli, Countess, 157

  _Hellas_, 154;
    quotation from, 156-157

  Hemans, Mrs. _See_ Browne, Miss F.

  _History of a Six Weeks’ Tour_ (Mrs. Shelley’s), 84

  Hitchener, Miss Eliza, 47, 65

  Hogg, Thomas Jefferson, 7, 9, 14-16, 21, 22;
    his description of Shelley at Oxford, 23 _et seq._, 33, 37, 43 _et
      seq._, 67, 68, 71 _et seq._, 82, 85, 100, 108, 131, 161, 186 note,
      187, 193

  Homer, 74, 112;
    Shelley’s translations from, 113

  Hookham, Mr. T., 71, 192

  Horsham, 3, 17, 20, 56

  Hume, 27, 35

  Hunt, Leigh, 34, 80 note, 92, 100 _et seq._, 109, 121, 128, 136, 157,
      176, 179, 180, 187

  _Hymn to Intellectual Beauty_, 16, 86, 87, 123

  Imlay, Fanny, 76, 77, 107

  _Invocation to Night_, the, quotation from, 159-160

  Ireland, Shelley in, 58, 59, 63, 64

  Italy, 103, 109, 110, 169

  _Julian and Maddalo_, quotations from, 105-106, 132

  Kant, 68, 117

  Keats, 100, 130, 143, 145, 146;
    description of his resting-place by Shelley, 148-149

  Keswick, 55, 56, 58

  _Laon and Cythna_, 8, 9, 17, 90, 95;
    present title, _The Revolt of Islam_, 97, 98, 103, 122

  Leghorn, 74, 95, 119, 131, 176 _et seq._

  Lerici, 131, 154, 168, 177

  Letters, extracts from Shelley’s, 48, 50, 54 _et seq._, 65, 69, 78, 104,
      110, 112, 116, 118, 128, 129, 130, 135-136, 141, 143, 159

  _Letter to Lord Ellenborough_, 66, 67

  _Letter to Maria Gisborne_, 15, 132;
    quotation from, 133-134

  Lewis, Monk, 19, 20, 90

  Lind, Dr., 17, 34, 44

  _Lines written among Euganean Hills_, 107

  Locke, 27, 35

  _Lodore_ (Mrs. Shelley’s novel), 196

  London, 37, 43, 47, 48, 50, 68, 72, 76, 81, 83, 92, 107, 108, 191, 192

  _Masque of Anarchy_, 120

  Matthews (the comedian), 19

  Medwin, Captain, his description of Shelley, 8, 10-11, 19, 80 note, 85;
    relates incidents in Shelley’s life, 107-108, 134-135

  Meillerie, scene of shipwreck, 89

  Milton, his influence on Shelley, 86

  Moore, 144-145

  Naples, 103, 107, 108, 110

  _Necessity of Atheism, The_, 35, 40, 57

  Nicholson, Peg, 34

  Norfolk, Duke of, 3, 5, 18, 29, 56, 68

  North Wales, 47, 66, 68

  _Ode to a Skylark_, 132

  _Ode to Liberty_, 132, 153

  _Ode to Naples_, 132

  _Ode to the West Wind_, 119, 120, 185

  _Original Poetry_, by Victor and Cazire, 20, 34

  Oxford, 15, 17;
    University College, 21;
    Shelley dismissed from, 36

  Paine, Thomas, 66

  Paris, 83

  Peacock, Mr., 71, 75, 77, 79, 85 _et seq._, 103, 113, 114, 116, 118,
      128, 180, 186 note, 187, 191

  Penshurst, 4

  _Peter Bell the Third_, 120

  Petrarch, 72, 111

  Pilfold, Captain, 47, 51

  Pilfold, Charles, 3

  Pilfold, Elizabeth, 3

  Pisa, 95, 103, 108, 131, 138, 154 _et seq._, 165, 168, 176-178

  Plato, 27, 68, 100, 112, 113, 138, 151, 165, 176, 185

  _Political Justice_ (W. Godwin’s), 56, 57, 82, 192

  _Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson_, 34

  _Prince Athanase_, 17, 97, 98

  _Prometheus Unbound_, 95, 107, 117 note, 118 _et seq._, 128, 129, 136,
    quotation from, 125, 126

  _Proposal for an Association_, 62, 64

  _Proposals for putting Reform to the Vote_, 63

  _Quarterly Review_, 130, 135, 143, 144

  _Queen Mab_, 18, 56, 69, 70, 76, 81, 88, 97, 193

  Radcliffe, Mrs., 19

  Ravenna, 89, 108, 157

  _Refutation of Deism_, 77

  _Rejected Addresses_ (Smith’s), 100

  Retzsch (engraver), 113

  _Revolt of Islam, The_ (_Laon and Cythna_), 8, 9, 17, 90, 95, 97, 98,
      103, 122

  Roberts, Captain, 167

  Rome, 24, 103, 110, 118, 143, 178, 180

  _Rosalind and Helen_, 98

  Rossetti, Mr. W. M., 44, 48, 66, 187

  Ryan, Major, 195

  _Sensitive Plant, The_, 132;
    quotations from, 152-153

  Shelley, Sir Bysshe, 3, 4, 53

  Shelley, Charles Bysshe (second son), 193, 195, 196

  Shelley, Elizabeth, 3, 19, 20, 47

  Shelley, Harriet, 52, 59, 60, 64, 65, 72, 76, 78;
    deserted by Shelley, 79, 80, 81;
    commits suicide, 82, 190, 197

  Shelley, Hellen, 3, 6, 45

  Shelley, Ianthe Eliza, 75

  Shelley, John, 3

  Shelley, Lady, 66 note, 81, 83, 180, 186 note, 191

  Shelley, Margaret, 3

  Shelley, Mary, 79, 111, 112, 154, 158

  Shelley, Mr., 53

  Shelley, Mrs. (second wife), 12, 13, 73, 74, 84, 86, 95, 100, 102,
      108-110, 117, 118, 132, 159, 161, 180, 196

  Shelley, Miss, 14, 19

  Shelley, Percy Bysshe, 2;
    birth of, 3;
    position, 4, 5;
    relations with father, 6;
    sent to Sion House, Brentford, 8;
    subject to sleep-walking, 8;
    distaste for school games, 8;
    goes to Eton (1804), 12;
    life there, 12-13, 15;
    experiments in chemistry and electricity, 14;
    his taste for science, 14-15;
    farewell supper at Eton, 16;
    attachment to Harriet Grove, 18;
    yearns for fame and publicity, 19;
    finishes _Zastrozzi_, 19;
    his literary productions, 19-21;
    enters University College, Oxford, as Leicester Scholar (1810), 21;
    friendship with Hogg, 22-33;
    genesis of _Posthumous Fragments_, 34;
    correspondence with distinguished persons, 34;
    his favourite authors, 35;
    antagonistic to Christianity, 35;
    publication of _The Necessity of Atheism_, 35;
    his expulsion from Oxford with Hogg, 36, 37, 38;
    his atheistical opinions, 39, 40;
    settles with Hogg in London, 43;
    his contempt for Paley’s _Evidences_, 44;
    quarrels with his father, 44;
    his poverty, 45;
    helped by his sisters, 45;
    visits his sisters at Clapham School, meets Harriet Westbrook, 45;
    pays her frequent visits, 46;
    revisits his old home, 47;
    receives allowance of £200 a year, 47;
    elopement and marriage with Harriet, 51;
    life in George Street, Edinburgh, 52;
    removes to York and resides with Hogg, 53;
    arrival of Harriet’s sister Eliza, 53;
    leaves York, 55;
    goes to Keswick, 55;
    visits Duke of Norfolk, 55;
    his friendship with Godwin, 58;
    sets sail for Ireland, 59;
    his _Address to Irish People_ distributed, 59;
    makes his debut as an orator, leaves Ireland, 64;
    corresponds with Eliza Hitchener, 65;
    settles at Nantgwilt, 66;
    his _Letter to Lord Ellenborough_, 67;
    goes to Tanyrallt, 68;
    sudden flight from Tanyrallt, 70;
    subject to hallucinations, 70, 71;
    poverty, 71;
    goes to London and takes rooms in Half-Moon Street, 72;
    habits of his household, 72-73;
    personal details, 73-75;
    friendship with Mrs. Boinville and the Godwins, 76;
    love for Mary Godwin, 79-80;
    remarried to Harriet, 80;
    his separation from Harriet, 80;
    leaves England with Mary, 83;
    return to England, 84;
    walks London Hospital, 84;
    commences poem of _Alastor_, 85;
    birth of William Shelley, 88;
    second journey to Switzerland, 88;
    joined by Byron, 88;
    makes tour to Lake Geneva with Byron, 89;
    excursion to Chamouni, 90;
    hallucinations, 91;
    returns to England and lives at Great Marlow, 91-92;
    hears of Harriet’s death, 92;
    friendship with Leigh Hunt, 92-93;
    Chancery suit _re_ Harriet’s children, 93;
    works steadily at _Laon and Cythna_, 95;
    meets Keats and the brothers Smith at Leigh Hunt’s house, 100;
    his daily routine described, 100;
    leaves England for Italy, 103;
    pays visit to Lord Byron, 105;
    improved health, 108;
    companionship with Byron, 109;
    his ideas on Italian poets, 111;
    begins to study Spanish, 112;
    composes _Defence of Poetry_, 113;
    settles in Rome, 118;
    loss of son William, 118;
    removes to near Leghorn, 119;
    begins and finishes _The Cenci_, 119;
    removes to Florence, 119;
    birth of Sir P. Florence Shelley, 119;
    attitude towards his critics, 130;
    removes to Pisa, 131;
    his high ideal of verse composition, 137;
    visits the Contessina Emilia Viviani, 138;
    sympathy for her, 138;
    his criticisms, 144;
    at work upon _Hellas_, 154;
    visits Byron at Ravenna, 157;
    his affection for Jane Williams, 159;
    first acquaintance with Trelawny at Pisa, 161;
    accident, 165;
    his daily routine, 165;
    daily visit to Byron, 166;
    nautical affairs, 166-167;
    takes a home (Villa Magni) at Spezia, 168-169;
    at Pisa with Leigh Hunt, 176;
    return voyage, 177;
    storm, loss of Shelley’s boat, 177;
    discovery of bodies, 178;
    cremation, 179-180;
    burial at Rome, 180;
    review of life and work, 182;
    his genius, 183-186;
    portrait of, 186-187

    Attachment to his sisters, 6;
    his love of games, 6, 7;
    sensitiveness, 11;
    powers of memory, 15;
    personality, 25;
    his voice, 25;
    his moral character, 32-33;
    love for mankind, 40;
    his faith, 41;
    his creed, 41-42;
    remorse, 92;
    his charity, 101, 119;
    self-denial, 102;
    sensibility to art, 104;
    his melancholy, 107;
    his self-criticism, 128;
    his thoughts of death, 151-152, 154;
    his mental activity, 162;
    the tranquillity in his life, 169;
    his nicknames, 166;
    nervousness, 175;
    somnambulism, 175

    _Life of_, by Professor Dowden, v

  Shelley, Sir Percy Florence, 3, 119

  Shelley, Timothy, 3, 5, 6, 44

  Shelley, William, 88, 118, 178

  Sidney, Philip Charles, 4

  Sion House (Shelley’s school), 6, 8, 12, 14, 18

  Sophocles, 1, 165, 178

  Southey, Shelley’s favourite poet whilst at Sion House, 19, 55, 196

  _Speculations on Metaphysics_, 91, 117

  _St. Irvyne, or the Rosicrucian_, 21

  _Stanzas written in Dejection near Naples_, quotation from, 153-154

  Stockdale, Mr. J. J. (publisher), 19, 20

  _Swellfoot the Tyrant_, 120

  Taafe, Mr., 164

  Tasso, 72, 111, 137

  _To his Genius_, 143

  Trelawny, Captain, 161, 162;
    description of first meeting with Shelley, 163-164;
    meets Shelley in Pisan Maremma, 165 _et seq._, 186 note, 187

  _Triumph of Life_ (Shelley’s last great poem), 95, 170, 171;
    quotations from, 171-175

  _Two Noble Kinsmen_, The (Beaumont and Fletcher’s), 112

  _University Magazine_, letter on Harriet Westbrook, 48, 49

  Venice, 89, 103, 107, 110

  Vivian, Charles (a sailor), 167, 177, 178

  Viviani, Contessina Emilia, 138, 158

  _Wandering Jew_, 19

  Westbrook, Mr., 93

  Westbrook, Eliza, 46, 53 _et seq._, 65, 71 _et seq._

  Westbrook, Harriet, 18, 45;
    first acquaintance with Shelley, 46 _et seq._;
    elopement with Shelley, marriage at Edinburgh, 51.
    _See_ Shelley, Harriet

  Westbrook, “Jew,” 46, 51, 54

  Wilkie and Robinson, Messrs. (publishers), 19

  Williams, Mr., 109, 154, 158 _et seq._, 176-179, 187

  Williams, Mrs. (Jane), 154, 158, 159, 163, 164, 169

  Windsor, 17;
    Forest of, 85

  _Witch of Atlas_, 132

  Wollstonecraft, Mary, 76, 110

  Wordsworth, 55, 56, 86, 130, 183

  York, 48, 51, 53, 55

  _Zastrozzi_, 16;
    reviewed, 19, 21

  _Zofloya the Moor_ (supposed source of _Zastrozzi_), 19


_Printed by_ R. & R. CLARK, LIMITED, _Edinburgh_.


[1] Forman’s edition, vol. iv. p. 115.

[2] See Medwin, vol. i. p. 68.

[3] He told Trelawny that he had been attracted to Shelley simply by his
“rare talents as a scholar;” and Trelawny has recorded his opinion that
Hogg’s portrait of their friend was faithful, in spite of a total want of
sympathy with his poetic genius. This testimony is extremely valuable.

[4] It is probable that he saw her for the first time in January, 1811.

[5] See Shelley’s third letter to Godwin (Hogg, ii. p. 63) for another
defence of his conduct. “We agreed,” &c.

[6] See Dowden’s Life of Shelley, vol. i. pp. 190-194.

[7] McCarthy, p. 255.

[8] It was published in Dublin. See reprint in McCarthy, p. 179.

[9] Reprinted in McCarthy, p. 324.

[10] Reprinted in Lady Shelley’s Memorials, p. 29.

[11] This and the next four pages have to be rewritten since the
appearance of Professor Dowden’s Life. See Appendix.

[12] Leigh Hunt, Autob. p. 236, and Medwin, however, both assert that it
was by mutual consent. The whole question must be studied in Peacock and
in Garnett, Relics of Shelley, p. 147.

[13] See Letter to Godwin in Shelley Memorials, p. 78.

[14] Fraser’s Magazine, Jan., 1860, p. 98.

[15] Forman, iii. 148.

[16] Fraser, Jan., 1860, p. 102.

[17] How many copies were put in circulation is not known. There must
certainly have been many more than the traditional three; for when I was a
boy at Harrow, I picked up two uncut copies in boards at a Bristol
bookshop, for the price of 2_s._ 6_d._ a piece.

[18] See Note on Poems of 1819, and compare the lyric “The billows on the

[19] Medwin’s Life of Shelley, vol. i. 324. His date, 1814, appears from
the context to be a misprint.

[20] Note on the Revolt of Islam.

[21] Letter from Florence, Nov., 1819.

[22] See Letter to Ollier, Jan. 20, 1820, Shelley Memorials, p. 135.

[23] See Mrs. Shelley’s note on the Revolt of Islam, and the whole Preface
to the Prose Works.

[24] Note on Prometheus.

[25] Note on Revolt of Islam.

[26] Forman, vol. ii. p. 181.

[27] Ibid. p. 231.

[28] Shelley Memorials, p. 121. Garnett’s Relics of Shelley, pp. 49, 190.
Collected Letters, p. 147, in Moxon’s Edition of Works in one vol. 1840.

[29] See Medwin, vol. ii. p. 172, for Shelley’s comment on the difficulty
of the poet’s art.

[30] Forman, iv. p. 95.

[31] See the Letter to Leigh Hunt, Pisa, Aug. 26, 1821.

[32] “The Serpent in shut out from Paradise.”

[33] Vol. iv. p. 89.

[34] See Lady Shelley _v._ Hogg; Trelawny _v._ the Shelley family; Peacock
_v._ Lady Shelley; Garnett _v._ Peacock; Garnett _v._ Trelawny; McCarthy
_v._ Hogg, &c., &c.

[35] This poem may be read in full in Professor Dowden’s Life, vol. i. p.

[36] Vol. i. p. 429.

[37] Vol. ii. p. 65.

[38] These three documents will be found in vol. ii. p. 98; vol. i. pp.
424, 425.

[39] Mr. Dowden omits the second sentence in his quotation. Vol. i. p.

[40] Vol. ii. p. 88.

[41] See Mr. Dowden’s own critique of this witness in Appendix B. to vol.
ii. Compare vol. i. p. 440.

[42] Vol. i. p. 428.

[43] Vol. i. p. 415.

[44] Vol. i. p. 465.

[45] Vol. i. pp. 436-438.

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