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Title: Percy Bysshe Shelley
Author: Symonds, John Addington, 1840-1893
Language: English
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1.  The Poetical and Prose Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, edited by Mrs.
    Shelley. Moxon, 1840, 1845. 1 volume.

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

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

4.  Hogg's Life of Shelley. Moxon, 1858. 2 volumes.

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

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

7.  Medwin's Life of Shelley. Newby, 1847. 2 volumes.

8.  Shelley's Early Life, by D.F. McCarthy. Chatto and Windus. 1 volume.

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

10. W.M. Rossetti's Life of Shelley, included in the edition above
    cited, Number 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, 1860.

15. Shelley's Last Days, by R. Garnett, in the "Fortnightly Review,"
    June, 1878.

16. Two Lectures on Shelley, by W.M. Rossetti, in the "University
    Magazine," February and March, 1878.




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 "Oedipus"; 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 springtime has
bought forth the fruits of summer, we must bow in silence to the law of
waste that rules inscrutably in nature.

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 Pilford, 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 pounds in the English Funds,
together with estates worth 20,000 pounds a year to his descendents.

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 in no sense of the word 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
mesalliance, 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 avoided.

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 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

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 school-fellows 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 linked 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 pace; 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

"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 countenance."

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 1805 Shelley went from Sion House to Eton. At this time Dr. Keate 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

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 minutiae 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

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 spend the
40 pounds 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. (Forman's edition,
volume 4 page 115.) 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 the Eton tutors 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. (See Medwin, volume 1 page 68.)

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 two publishers, Messrs. Ballantyne and Co. of
Edinburgh, and Mr. Stockdale of Pall Mall; but it remained in MS. at
Edinburgh till 1831, when a portion was printed in "Fraser's Magazine."

Just before leaving Eton he finished a 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-pound 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. To which of the collaborators this daring act of petty
larceny was due, we know not; but we may be sure that Shelley satisfied
Stockdale on the point of piracy, since 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 was matriculated as a Commoner of
University College, Oxford; 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 mantel of the
prophet on his shoulders. (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.) 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 pages 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 fits 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 of 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 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, less 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 the 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 the day and night were often
employed in reading. It is no exaggeration to affirm, that out of
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 seat.

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
enable 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 page 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 conspicuous."

"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 could never 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 his eccentricity, by something at times approaching
madness, which paralyzed his efficiency by placing him in a glaringly
false relation to some of the best men in 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 intolerable.

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.
The 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 (February 9, 1811) in the
"Oxford University and City Herald". It was not, however, actually
offered for sale.

A copy of this syllabus reached a Fellow of another college, who made
the Master of the 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 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 ragionem 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 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 enthusiasm 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. The 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 chequered 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 Shelley's
last and best biographer, 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 faery. 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 to 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 that 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. (It is probable that he saw her for the first time in January,
1811.) 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 and 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 suicide.

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 pounds 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
flying 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 (volume 1 pages 387-418) are exceedingly important
and interesting, revealing as they do the perturbation of his feelings
and the almost morbid excitement of his mind. But they are unluckily so
badly edited, whether designedly or by accident, that it would be
dangerous to draw minute conclusions from them. As they stand, they
raise injurious suspicions, which can only be set at rest by a proper
assignment of dates and explanation.

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 pounds 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, February 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 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 a
outrance. There are 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 love.

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 in his
tender chivalry for the one woman who had cast herself upon his
generosity. (See Shelley's third letter to Godwin (Hogg 2 page 63) for
another defence of his conduct. "We agreed," etc.)

"My unfortunate friend Harriet," he writes under date August 15, 1811,
from London, whether 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, and would fain have fashioned the world afresh to suit
his heart's desire, the instincts of a loyal gentleman and his practical
good sense were stronger than his theories.

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 according to the formalities of the Scotch law.

Shelley had now committed that greatest of social crimes in his father's
eyes--a mesalliance. 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 pounds 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 to London, in the fruitless attempt to come to some
terms with his father's lawyer, Mr. Whitton. Mr. Timothy Shelley was
anxious to bind his erratic son down to a settlement of the estates,
which, on his own death, would pass into the poet's absolute control. He
suggested numerous arrangements; and not long after the date of
Shelley's residence in York, he proposed to make him an immediate
allowance of 2000 pounds, 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 smallpox, 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 a 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 it
is possible that there were deeper reasons for the abrupt departure
which he made from York with his wife and her sister in November, 1811.
One of his biographers asserts with categorical precision that Shelley
had good cause to resent Hogg's undue familiarity with Harriet, and
refers to a curious composition, published by Hogg as a continuation of
Goethe's "Werther", but believed by Mr. McCarthy to have been a letter
from the poet to his friend, in confirmation of his opinion. (McCarthy's
Shelley's Early Life, page 117.) However this may be, the precipitation
with which the Shelleys quitted York, scarcely giving Hogg notice of
their resolution, is insufficiently accounted for in his biography.

The destination of the travellers was Keswick. Here they engaged
lodgings for a time, and then moved into a furnished house. 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 absolute contempt. It was not
likely that the cold methodical student, the mechanical versifier, and
the political turncoat, who had outlived all his earlier illusions,
should retain the good-will 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 men.

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 (January
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 (January 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

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 February 7,
1811, and August 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. (McCarthy, page 255.) 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 manuscript of his "Address to the Irish People" (It was published in
Dublin. See reprint in McCarthy, page 179.), 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 the 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 cloak."

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

While he was sowing his Address broadcast in the streets of Dublin,
Shelley was engaged in printing 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
moderated 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 February 28. It was held in Fishamble
Street Theatre; and here Shelley made his debut 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 7th of April he once more embarked
with his family for Holyhead. In after-days he used to hint 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. He does not
seem to have made her personal acquaintance; but some of his most
interesting letters from Ireland are addressed to her. 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 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

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. (Reprinted in McCarthy,
page 324.) 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.
(Reprinted in Lady Shelley's Memorials, page 29.) 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 left London, and travelled by coach 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 500 pounds, 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 of 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 succes 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 February 24 by an armed ruffian, with whom he
struggled in 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 of his future.



Early in May 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

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 discourse."

From Half Moon Street the Shelleys moved into a house in Pimlico; and it
was here, according to Hogg, or at Cooke's Hotel in Dover Street
according to other accounts, 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 coach-maker. 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 his 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, and her daughter Cornelia, married to a
vegetarian, Mr. Newton. 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 gravest importance 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 intimates.

Mrs. Newton's unfair judgment of Mr. Peacock marks a discord between the
two chief 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
circle 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 change 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 in 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
did not love her child, and spent her time in a great measure with her
Mount Street relations. 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."

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. (The date at which he first made Mary's
acquaintance is uncertain. Peacock says that it was between April 18 and
June 8.) 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 beautiful.

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 on the matter, but rather by Shelley's
sudden abandonment of his wife and child. (Leigh Hunt, Autobiography
page 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 Shelly, page 147.) 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 the 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

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
period 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 prudence.

On the 28th of July 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 soon
to think of turning 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
Week's 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

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 pounds 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
anguish, did not menace any vital organ. To the subject of his health it
will be necessary to return at a later period of this 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. (See Letter
to Godwin in Shelley's Memorials, page 78.)

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 a 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 daemon, 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

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

    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 January, 1816. In the spring of that year they went together,
accompanied by Miss Clairmont, for a second time to Switzerland. They
reached Geneva on the 17th 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 Mount Alegre, 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 great 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
when 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 and Wahreit 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. (Fraser's Magazine, January, 1860, page 98.)

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 (Forman, 3 148.); 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. (Fraser, January, 1860, page 102.)

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 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
thorough-going 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 August, 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 clergyman, to be educated in accordance with
principles diametrically opposed to their parent's, while Shelley's
income was mulcted in a sum of 200 pounds for their maintenance. Thus
sternly did the father learn the value of that ancient Aeschylean maxim,
to drasanti pathein, 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 is too great to serve as 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 Oedipus, 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 Guiliano, 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 (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 shillings and 6 pence a piece.); 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 armed 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 mediaeval
phase, and casts aside the husk of outworn 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
pounds. He gave Leigh Hunt, on one occasion, 1400 pounds; and he
discharged debts of Godwin, amounting, it is said, to about 6000 pounds.
In his pamphlet on "Putting Reform to the Vote", he offered to subscribe
100 pounds for the purpose of founding an association; and we have
already seen that he headed the Tremadoc subscription with a sum of 500
pounds. These instances of his generosity might be easily multiplied;
and when we remember that his present income was 1000 pounds, out of
which 200 pounds 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 tiny, low-roofed room,
correcting proofs of "Laon and Cythna", between the Apollo of the
Belvedere and 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. (See Note on Poems of 1819, and compare the lyric "The billows on
the beach.") 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 their 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 (January 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 Ferrarra, November 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 them."

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 seem 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 the 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 in 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. (Medwin's Life of Shelley, volume 1 324. His date, 1814,
appears from the context to be a misprint.) 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
already been 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 with 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 himself. (Note on the Revolt of Islam.)

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, Vacca, 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 a 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 staunch through good and ill
report to his new friends. At Rome and Naples they knew absolutely 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 rinnouva, 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 is 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 (August 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. (Letter from Florence,
November 1819.) 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. (See Letter to Ollier,
January 20, 1820, Shelley Memorials, page 135.) 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
intermixture 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 aesthetic 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. (See Mrs. Shelley's note on the
Revolt of Islam, and the whole Preface to the Prose Works.) 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, and 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." (Note on Prometheus.)
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. (Note on Revolt of Islam.) To
dogmatize upon the topic would be worse than foolish. There was
something incalculable, incommensurable, and daemonic 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

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 e piu 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 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. Aeschylus, 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 human 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 reign 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 Aegean 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 mythopoeic 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 mythopoeic 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 aesthetics 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

    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 whereso'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? (Forman, volume 2 page
181.) What vignette is more exquisitely coloured and finished than the
little study of a pair of halcyons in the third act? (Forman, volume 2
page 231.) 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 Demorgorgon, 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

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 daemonic, 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 characterize 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 Shakespeare. 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 the 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".
(Shelley Memorials, page 121. Garnett's Relics of Shelley, pages 49,
190. Collected Letters, page 147, in Moxon's Edition of Works in one
volume 1840.) 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 the lack of precise



On the 26th of January, 1820, the Shelley's 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 it 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 Italians, the physician Vacca, the improvisatore
Sgricci, and Rosini, the author of "La Monaca di Monza", 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 Snowdownian antelope
    Match'd with this camelopard. His fine wit
    Makes such a wound, the knife is lost in it;
    A strain too learned 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
January 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.
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 sunetoi, 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. (See Medwin, volume 2 page
172, for Shelley's comment on the difficulty of the poet's art.) "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 aesthetic 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

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 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 delicate
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 Aegean 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 Aegean 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 the 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 winged 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 a 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 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 verse.

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 "Epipsychidion."

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

    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;
    Is it 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. Nowhere 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 winged 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 Keat'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 corpses 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 if 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 sphered 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 realisation 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 Aeschylus." 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. (Forman, 4 page 95.) 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

    Worlds on worlds are rolling over
    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 Promethan 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 Guiccoli. 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. (See the Letter to Leigh Hunt, Pisa, August 26, 1821.) 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. What it was, we do not know; but 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. ("The Serpent is shut out from
Paradise.") 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 refinement."

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 thin 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. (Volume 4 page 89.) 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 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 for, 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 man.

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, its 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 briskly,--

"'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 asked,--

"'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 manuscript 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

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, etc. 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
Mephistopheles, "Wie meine Muhme, die beruhmte 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 Willliams, 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."



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 a bathing-house than a place to live in. It
consisted of a terrace or ground-floor unpaved, 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 arrived at Villa Magni on the 26th of April, 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 Mr.
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 a calmer 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, would 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 daemonic 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 the 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 chestnut 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 mediaeval symbolism into something metaphysical and

    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-winged 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 the 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 arrived at last 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

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 after the storm, Trelawny rode to Pisa,
and communicated his fears 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 the Via Reggio, on the
18th of July, was Shelley's. It had his jacket, "with the volume of
Aeschylus 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 6th 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 carried 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. August
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 him is

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 rhetoric.

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
always be 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. (See Lady Shelley v.
Hogg; Trelawny v. the Shelley family; Peacock v. Lady Shelley; Garnett
v. Peacock; Garnett v. Trelawny; McCarthy v. Hogg, etc., etc.) 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.


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