Field-Place, in the county of Sussex, was the spot where Percy Bysshe Shelley first saw the light. He was born on the 4th of August, 1792; and was the eldest son of Sir Timothy Shelley, Bart. of Castle-Goring. His family is an ancient one, and a branch of it has become the representative of the house of the illustrious Sir Philip Sidney of Penshurst. Despising honours which only rest upon the accidental circumstances of birth, Shelley was proud of this connection with an immortal name. At the customary age, about thirteen, he was sent to Eton School, and before he had completed his fifteenth year, he published two novels, The Rosicrucian, and Zasterozzi. From Eton he removed to University College, Oxford, to mature his studies, at the age of sixteen, an earlier period than is usual. At Oxford he was, according to custom, imbued with the elements of logic; and he ventured, in contempt of the fiat of the University, to apply them to the investigation of questions which it is orthodox to take for granted. His original and uncompromising spirit of inquiry could not reconcile the limited use of logical principles. He boldly tested, or attempted to test, propositions which he imagined, the more they were obscure, and the more claim they had upon his credence, the greater was the necessity for examining them.
His spirit was an inquiring one, and he fearlessly sought after what he believed to be truth, before, it is probable, he had acquired all the information necessary to guide him, from collateral sources—a common error of headstrong youth. This is the more likely to be the case, as when time had matured his knowledge, he differed much on points upon which, in callow years and without an instructor flung upon the world to form his own principles of action, guileless, and vehement, he was wont to advocate strongly. Shelley possessed the bold quality of inquiring into the reason of every thing, and of resisting what he could not reconcile to be right according to his conscience. In some persons this has been denominated a virtue, in others a sin—just as it might happen to chime in with worldly custom or received opinion. At school he formed a conspiracy for resistance to that most odious and detestable custom of English seminaries, fagging, which pedagogues are bold enough to defend openly at the present hour.
At Oxford he imprudently printed a dissertation on the being of a God, which caused his expulsion in his second term, as he refused to retract any of his opinions; and thereby incurred the marked displeasure of his father. This expulsion arising, as he believed conscientiously, from his avowal of what he thought to be true, did not deeply affect him. His mind seems to have been wandering in a maze of doubt at times between truth and error, ardently desirous of finding the truth, warm in its pursuit, but without a pole-star to guide him in steering after it. In this state of things he met with the Political Justice of Godwin, and read it with eagerness and delight. What he had wanted he had now found; he determined that justice should he his sole guide, and justice alone. He regarded not whether what he did was after the fashion of the world; he pursued the career he had marked out with sincerity, and excited censure for some of his actions and praise for others, bordering upon wonder, in proportion as they were singular, or as their motives could not he appreciated. His notions at the University tended to atheism; and in a work which he published entitled Queen Mab, it is evident that this doctrine had at one time a hold upon his mind. This was printed for private circulation only, and was pirated by a knavish bookseller and given to the public, long after the writer had altered many of the opinions expressed in it, disclaimed it, and lamented its having been printed. He spoke of the commonly-received notions of God with contempt; and hence the idea that he denied the being of any superintending first cause. He was not on this head sufficiently explicit. He seemed hopeless, in moments of low spirits, of there being such a ruling power as he wished, yet he ever clung to the idea of some "great spirit of intellectual beauty" being throughout all things. His life was inflexibly moral and benevolent. He acted up to the theory of his received doctrine of justice; and, after all the censures that were cast upon him, who shall impugn the man who thus acts and lives?
Shelley married at an early age a Miss Harriet Westbrooke, a very beautiful girl, much younger than himself, daughter of a coffeehouse-keeper, retired from business. By this marriage he so irritated his father, that he was entirely abandoned by him; but the lady's father allowed them £200 per annum, and they resided some time in Edinburgh and then in Ireland. The mach was a Gretna-green one, and did not turn out happily. By this connection he had two children, the youngest of whom, born in 1815, is since dead. Consistent with his own views of marriage and its institution, Shelley paid his addresses to another lady, Miss Godwin, with whom, in July, 1814, he fled, accompanied by Miss Jane Claremont, her sister-in-law, to Uri, in Switzerland, from whence, after a few days' residence, they suddenly quitted suspecting they were watched by another lodger; they departed for Paris on foot, and there found that the person to whom they had confided a large trunk of clothes, had absconded with them: this hastened their return to England. A child was the fruit of this expedition. Shortly after they again quitted England and went to Geneva, Como and Venice. In a few months, they revisited England, and took up their abode in Bath, from whence Shelley was suddenly called by the unexpected suicide of his wife, who destroyed herself on the 10th November, 1816. Her fate hung heavy on the mind of her husband, who felt deep self-reproach that he had not selected a female of a higher order of intellect, who could appreciate better the feelings of one constituted as he was. Both were entitled to compassion, and both were sufferers by this unfortunate alliance. Shortly after the death of his first wife, Shelley, at the solicitation of her father, married Mary Wolstonecraft Godwin, daughter of the celebrated authoress of the Rights of Woman; and went to reside at Great Marlow in Buckinghamshire. That this second hymen was diametrically opposed to his own sentiments will he apparent from the following letter, addressed to Sir James Lawrence, on the perusal of one of that gentleman's works:—
"Lymouth, Barnstaple, Devon, August 17, 18!2.
Sir, — I feel peculiar satisfaction its seizing the opportunity which your politeness places in my power, of expressing to you personally (as I may say) a high acknowledgement of my sense of your talents and principles, which, before I conceived it possible that I should ever know you, I sincerely entertained. Your Empire of the Nairs, which I read this spring, succeeded in making me a perfect convert to its doctrines. I then retained no doubts of the evils of marriage; Mrs. Wolstonecraft reasons too well for that; but I had been dull enough not to perceive the greatest argument against it, until developed in the Nairs, viz. prostitution both legal and illegal.
"I am a young man, not of age, and have been married a year to a woman younger than myself. Love seems inclined to stay in the prison, and my only reason for putting him in chains, whilst convinced of the unholiness of the act, was a knowledge, that in the present state of society, if love is not thus villainously treated, she, who is most loved, will be treated worse by a misjudging world. In short, seduction, which term could have no meaning in a rational society, has now a most tremendous one; the fictitious merit attached to chastity has made that a forerunner to the most terrible ruins, which in Malabar would be a pledge of honour and homage. If there is any enormous and desolating crime of which I should shudder to be accused, it is seduction. I need not say how I admire 'Love' and little as a British public seems to appreciate its merit, in not permitting it to emerge from a first edition, it is with satisfaction I find, that justice had conceded abroad what bigotry has denied at home. I shall take the liberty of sending you any little publication I may give to the world. Mrs. S. joins with myself in hoping, if we come to London this winter, we may be favoured with the personal friendship of one whose writings we have learnt to esteem.
Yours, very truly, PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY."
A circumstance arose out of his first marriage which attracted a good deal of notice from the public. As we have already mentioned, there were two children left, whom the Lord Chancellor Eldon took away from their father by one of his own arbitrary decrees, because the religious sentiments of Shelley were avowedly heterodox. No immorality of life, no breach of parental duty was attempted to be proved; it was sufficient that the father did not give credit to religion as established by act of parliament, to cause the closest ties of nature to be rent asunder, and the connection of father and child to be for ever broken. This despotism of a law-officer has since been displayed in another case, where immorality of the parent was the alleged cause. Had the same law-officer, unhappily for England, continued to preside, no doubt the political sentiments of the parent would by and by furnish an excuse for such a monstrous tyranny over the rights of nature.
Shelley for ever sought to make mankind and things around him in harmony with a better state of moral existence. He was too young and inexperienced when he first acted upon this principle too perceive the obstacles which opposed the progress of his views, arising out of the usages and customs which rule mankind, and which, from the nature of things, it takes a long time to overcome. Ardent in the pursuit of the good he sought, he was always ready to meet the consequences of his actions; and it any condemn them for their mistaken views, they ought to feel that charity should forbid their arraigning motives, when such proofs of sincerity were before them. The vermin who, under the specious title of reviewers, seek in England to crush every bud of genius that appears out of the pale of their own party, fell mercilessly upon the works of Shelley. The beauty and profundity which none but the furious zealots of a faction could deny — these were passed over in a sweeping torrent of vulgar vituperation by the servile and venal Quarterly.
During his residence at Great Marlow, he composed his Revolt of Islam. In 1817 he left England, never to return to it, and directed his steps Italy, where he resided partly at Venice, partly at Pisa near his friend Byron, and on the neighbouring coast. In the month of June 1822 he was temporarily a resident in a house situated on the Gulf of Lerici. Being much attached to sea-excursions, he kept a boat, in which he was in the habit of cruising along the coast. On the 7th of July, he set sail from Leghorn, where he had been to meet Mr. Leigh Hunt, who had just then arrived in Italy, intending to return to Lerici. But he never reached that place; the boat in which he set sail was lost in a violent storm, and all on board perished. The following particulars of that melancholy event are extracted from the work of Mr. Leigh Hunt, entitled, Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries.
"In June 1822, I arrived in Italy, in consequence of the invitation to set up a work with my friend and Lord Byron. Mr. Shelley was passing the summer season at a house he had taken for that purpose on the Gulf of Lerici; and on, hearing of my arrival at Leghorn, came thither, accompanied by Mr. Williams, formerly of the 8th Dragoons, who was then on a visit to him. He came to welcome his friend and family, and see us comfortably settled at Pisa. He accordingly went with us to that city, and after remaining in it a few days, took leave on the night of the 7th July, to return with Mr. Williams to Lerici, meaning to come back to us shortly. In a day or two the voyagers were missed. The afternoon of the 8th had been stormy, with violent squalls from the southwest. A night succeeded, broken up with that tremendous thunder and lightning, which appals the stoutest seaman in the Mediterranean, dropping its bolts in all directions more like melted brass, or liquid pillars of fire, than any thing we conceive of lightning in our northern climate. The suspense and anguish of their friends need not he dwelt upon. A dreadful interval took place of more than a week, during which every inquiry and every fond hope were exhausted. At the end of that period our worst fears were confirmed. The following narrative of the particulars is from the pen of Mr. Trelawney, a friend of Lord Byron's, who had not long been acquainted with Mr. Shelley, but entertained the deepest regard for him:—
"'Mr. Shelley, Mr. Williams (formerly of the 8th Dragroons), and one seamen, Charles Vivian, left Villa Magni near Lerici, a small town situate in the Bay of Spezia, on the 30th of June, at twelve o'clock, and arrived the same night at Leghorn. Their boat had been built for Mr. Shelley at Genoa by a captain in the navy. It was twenty-four feet long, eight in the beam, schooner-rigged, with gaft topsails, etc. and drew four feet water. On Monday, the 8th of July, at the same hour, they got under weigh to return home having on board a quantity of household articles, four hundred dollars, a small canoe, and some books and manuscripts. At half past twelve they made all sail out of the harbour with a light and favourable breeze, steering direct for Spezia. I had likewise weighed anchor to accompany them a few miles out in Lord Byron's schooner, the Bolivar; but there was some demur about papers from the guard-boat; and they, fearful of losing the breeze, sailed without me. I re-anchored, and watched my friends, till their boat became a speck on the horizon, which was growing thick and dark, with heavy clouds moving rapidly, and gathering in the south-west quarter. I then retired to the cabin, where I had not been half an hour, before a man on deck told me a heavy squall had come on. We let go another anchor. The boats and vessels in the roads were scudding past us in all directions to get into harbour; and in a moment, it blew a hard gale from the south-west, the sea, from excessive smoothness, foaming, breaking, and getting up into a very heavy swell. The wind, having shifted, was now directly against my friends. I felt confident they would he obliged to bear off for Leghorn; and being anxious to hear of their safety, stayed on board till a late hour, but saw nothing of them. The violence of the wind did not continue above an hour; it then gradually subsided; and at eight o'clock, when I went on shore, it was almost a calm. It, however, blew hard at intervals during the night, with rain, and thunder and. lightning. The lightning struck the mast of a vessel close to us, shivering it to splinters, killing two men, and wounding others. From these circumstances, becoming greatly alarmed for the safety of the voyagers, a note was despatched to Mr. Shelley's house at Lerici, the reply to which stated that nothing had been heard of him and his friend, which augmented our fears to such a degree, that couriers were despatched on the whole line of coast from Leghorn to Nice, to ascertain if they had put in any where, or if there had been any wreck, or indication of losses by sea. I immediately started for Via Reggio, having lost sight of the boat in that direction. My worst fears were almost confirmed on my arrival there. by news that a small canoe, two empty water-barrels, and a bottle, had been found on the shore, which things I recognised as belonging to the boat. I had still, however, warm hopes that these articles had been thrown overboard to clear them from useless lumber in the storm; and it seemed a general opinion that they had missed Leghorn, and put into Elba or Corsica, as nothing more was heard for eight days. This state of suspense becoming intolerable, I returned from Spezia to Via Reggio, where my worst fears were confirmed by the information that two bodies had been washed on shore, one on that night very near the town, which, by the dress and stature, I knew to be Mr. Shelley's. Mr. Keats's last volume of Lamia, Isabella etc. being open in the jacket pocket, confirmed it beyond a doubt. The body of Mr. Williams was subsequently found near a tower on the Tuscan shore, about four miles from his companion. Both the bodies were greatly decomposed by the sea, but identified beyond a doubt. The seaman, Charles Vivian, was not found for nearly three weeks afterwards: — his body was interred on the spot on which a wave had washed it, in the vicinity of Massa.
"'After a variety of applications to the Lucchese and Tuscan governments, and our ambassador at Florence, I obtained, from the kindness and exertions of Mr. Dawkins, an order to the officer commanding the tower of Migliarino (near to which Lieutenant Williams had been cast, and buried in the sand), that the body should be at my disposal. I likewise obtained an order to the same effect to the commandant at Via Reggio, to deliver up the remains of Mr. Shelley, it having been decided by the friends of the parties that the bodies should be reduced to ashes by fire, as the readiest mode of conveying them to the places where the deceased would have wished to repose, as well as of removing all objections respecting the quarantine laws, which had been urged against their disinterment. Every thing being prepared for the requisite purposes, I embarked on board Lord Byron's schooner with my friend Captain Shenley, and sailed on the 13th of August. After a tedious passage of eleven hours, we anchored off Via Reggio, and fell in with two small vessels, which I had hired at Leghorn some days before for the purpose of ascertaining, by the means used to recover sunken vessels, the place in which my friend's boat had foundered. They had on board the captain of a fishing-boat, who, having been overtaken in the same squall, had witnessed the sinking of the boat, without (as he says) the possibility of assisting her. After dragging the bottom, in the place which he indicated, for six days without finding her, I sent them back to Leghorn, and went on shore. The major commanding the town, with the captain of the port, accompanied me to the governor. He received us very courteously, and did not object to the removal of our friend's remains, but to burning them, as the latter was not specified in the order. However, after some little explanation, he assented, and gave the necessary directions for making every preparation to commence our painful undertaking next morning.'"
"It was thought that the whole of these melancholy operations might have been performed in one day: but the calculation turned out to be erroneous. Mr. Williams's remains were commenced with. Mr. Trelawney and Captain Shenley were at the tower by noon, with proper persons to assist, and were joined shortly by Lord Byron and myself. A portable furnace and a tent had been prepared. "Wood," continues Mr. Trelawney "we found in abundance on the beach, old trees and parts of wrecks. Within a few paces of the spot where the body lay, there was a rude-built shed of straw, forming a temporary shelter for soldiers at night, when performing the coast-patrol duty. The grave was at high-water mark some eighteen paces from the surf, as it was then breaking, the distance about four miles and half from Via Reggio. The magnificent bay of Spezia is on the right of this spot, Leghorn on the left, at equal distances of about twenty-two miles. The headlands, projecting boldly and far into the sea, form a deep and dangerous gulf, with a heavy swell and a strong current general running right into it. A vessel embayed in this gulf, and overtaken by one of the squalls so common upon time coast of it, is almost certain to be wrecked. The loss of small craft is great; the shallowness of the water, and breaking of the surf, preventing approach to the shore, or boat going out to assist, the loss of lives is in proportion. It was in the centre of this bay, about four or five miles at sea, in fifteen or sixteen fathom water, with a light breeze under a crowd of sail that the boat of our friends was suddenly taken clap aback by a sudden and very violent squall; and it is supposed that in attempting to bear under such a press of canvas, all the sheets fast, the hands unprepared, and only three persons on board, the boat filled to leeward, and having two tons of ballast, and not being worked, went down on the instant; not giving them a moment to prepare themselves by even taking off their boots, or an oar. Mr. Williams was the only one who could swim, and he but indifferently. The spot where Mr. Williams's body lay was well adapted for a man of imaginative cast of mind, and I wished his remains to rest undisturbed; but it was willed otherwise. Before us was the sea, with islands; behind us the Apennines; beside us, a large tract of thick wood, stunted and twisted into fantastic shapes by the sea-breeze. — The heat was intense, the sand being so scorched to render standing on it painful.'
"Mr. Trelawney proceeds to describe the disinterment and burning of Mr. Williams's remains. Calumny, which never shows itself grosser than in its charges of want of refinement, did not spare even these melancholy ceremonies. The friends of the deceased, though they took no pains to publish the proceeding, were accused of wishing to make a sensation; of doing a horrible and unfeeling thing, etc. The truth was, that the nearest connexions, both of Mr. Shelley and Mr. Williams, wished to have their remains interred in regular places of burial; and that for this purpose they could be removed in no other manner. Such being the case, it is admitted that the mourners did not refuse themselves the little comfort of supposing that lovers of books and antiquity, like Mr. Shelley and his friend, would not have been sorry to foresee this part of their fate. Among the materials for burning, as many of the gracefuller and more classical articles as could be procured,—frankincense, wine, etc. — were not forgotten.
"The proceedings of the next day, with Mr. Shelley's remains, exactly resembled those of the foregoing, with the exception of there being two assistants less. On both days, the extraordinary beauty of the flame arising from the funeral pile was noticed. Mr. Shelley's remains were taken to Rome, and deposited in the Protestant burial-ground, near those of a child he had lost in that city, and of Mr. Keats. It is the cemetery he speaks of in the preface to his Elegy on the death of his young friend, as calculated to make one in love with death, to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place. The generous reader will be glad to hear, that the remains of Mr. Shelley were attended to their final abode by some of the most respectable English residents in Rome. He was sure to awaken the sympathy of gallant and accomplished spirits wherever he went, alive or dead. The remains of Mr. Williams were taken to England. Mr. Williams was a very intelligent, good-hearted man, and his death was deplored by friends worthy of him.—"
Shelley was thirty years old when he died. He was tall and slender in his figure, and stooped a little in the shoulders, though perfectly well made. The expression of his features was mild and good. His complexion was fair, and his cheeks coloured. His eyes were large and lively; and the whole turn of his face, which was small, was graceful and full of sensibility. He was subject to attacks of a disorder which forced him to lie down (if in the open air, upon the ground) until they were over; yet he bore them kindly and without a murmur. His disposition was amiable, and even the word pious has been applied to his conduct as regarded others, to his love of nature and to his ideas of that power which pervades all things. He was very fond of music; frugal in all but his charities, often to considerable self-denial, allowed to do acts of generosity and kindness. He was a first-rate scholar; and besides the languages of antiquity, weIl understood the German, Italian and French tongues. He was an excellent metaphysician, and was no slight adept its natural philosophy. He loved to study in the open air, in the shadow of the wood, or by the side of the water-fall. In short, he was a singular illustration of the force of natural genius, bursting the bonds of birth and habit, and the conventional ties of the circle in which he was born, and soaring high, under the direction of his own spirit, chartless and alone. He steered by his own ideas of justice; hence he was ever at war with things which reason and right had no hand in establishing, — radically wrong in themselves perhaps, or to be changed for the better, but by usage become second nature to society, or at least to that far larger proportion of it which lives by custom alone. He had no value for what the mass of men estimate as desirable; a seat in the senate he declined, though he might have enriched himself by its acceptance. He seemed to commit the mistake of others before him, in dreaming of the perfectibility of man. An anecdote is related of him that, at a ball of fashion where he was a leading character, and the most elegant ladies of the crowd expected the honour of being led out by him, he selected a friendless girl for a partner under the imputation of an unlucky mishap some time preceding.
The books in which he commonly read were the Greek writers; in the tragedians particularly, he was deeply versed. The Bible was a work of great admiration with him, and his frequent study. For the character of Christ and his doctrines he had great reverence, the axiom of the founder of Christianity being that by which he endeavoured to shape his course in despite of all obstacles. In pecuniary matters he was liberal. Uncharitable indeed must that man have been who doubted the excellence of his intentions, or charged him with wilful error: who then shall judge a being of whom this may be said, save his Creator — who that lives in the way he sees others live without regard to the mode being right or wrong, shall charge him with crime, who tries to reconcile together his life and his aspirations after human perfectibility? Shelley had his faults as well as other men, but on the whole it appears that his deviations from the vulgar routine form the great sum of the charges made against him. His religious sentiments were between him and his God.
The writings of Shelley are too deep to be popular, but there is no reader possessing taste and judgment who will not do homage to his pen. He was a poet of great power, he felt intensely, and his works every where display the ethereal spirit of genius of a rare order — abstract, perhaps, but not less powerful; his is the poetry of intellect, not that of the Lakers; his theme is the high one of intellectual nature and lofty feeling, not of waggoners or idiot children. His faults in writing are obvious, but equally so are his beauties. He is too much of a philosopher, and dwells too much upon favourite images, that draw less upon our sympathies than those of social life. His language is lofty, and no one knows better how to cull, arrange, and manage the syllables of his native tongue. He thoroughly understood metrical composition.
Shelley began to publish prematurely, as we have already stated, at the early age of 15; but it was not till about the year 1811 or 1812 that he seems first to have devoted his attention to poetical composition. To enumerate his poetical works here would be a useless task, as they will be found in the collection of his poems appended. His Prometheus Unbound is a noble work; his Cenci, and Adonais, are his principal works in point of merit. Love was one of his favourite themes, as it is with all poets, and he has ever touched it with a master-hand. The subject of the Cenci is badly selected, but it is nobly written, and admirably sustained. Faults it has, but they are amply redeemed by its beauties, it is only from the false clamour raised against him during his life-time, that his poems have not been more read. No scholar, no one having the slightest pretensions to true taste in poetry can be without them. It may be boldly prophesied that they will one day be more read than they have ever yet been, and more understood. In no nation but England do the reading public suffer others to judge for them, and pin their ideas of the defects or beauties of their national writers upon the partial diatribes of hired pens, and the splenetic out-pourings of faction. It is astonishing how the nation of Newton and Locke is thus contented to suffer itself to be deceived and misled by literary Machiavelism.
The following preface to the author's Posthumous Poems contains match in interest the admirers of his genius. The circumstance of its being from the pen of Mrs. Shelley will still farther recommend it:—
"It had been my wish, on presenting the public with the Posthumous Poems of Mr. Shelley, to have accompanied them by a biographical notice; as it appeared to me, that at this moment a narration of the events of my husband's life would come more gracefully from other hands than mine, I applied to Mr. Leigh Hunt. The distinguished friendship that Mr. Shelley felt for him, and the enthusiastic affection with which Mr. Leigh Hunt clings to his friend's memory, seemed to point him out as the person best calculated for such an undertaking. His absence from this country, which prevented our mutual explanation, has unfortunately tendered my scheme abortive. I do not doubt but that, on some other occasion, he will pay this tribute to his lost friend, and sincerely regret that the volume which I edit has not been honoured by its insertion.
"The comparative solitude in which Mr. Shelley lived, was the occasion, that he was personally known to few; and his fearless enthusiasm in the cause, which he considered the most sacred upon earth, the improvement of the moral and physical state of mankind, was, the chief reason why he, like other illustrious reformers, was pursued by hatred and calumny. No man was ever more devoted than he, to the endeavour of making those around him happy; no man ever possessed friends more unfeignedly attached to him. The ungrateful world did not feel his loss, and the gap it made seemed to close as quickly over his memory as the murderous sea above his living frame. Hereafter, men will lament that his transcendent powers of intellect were extinguished before they had bestowed on them their choicest treasures. To his friends his loss is irremediable: the wise, the brave, the gentle, is gone for ever! He is to them as a bright vision, whose radiant track, left behind in the memory, is worth all the realities that society can afford. Before the critics contradict me, let them appeal to any one who had ever known him to see him was to love him; and his presence, like Ithuriel's spear, was alone sufficient to disclose the falsehood of the tale, which his enemies whispered in the ear of the ignorant world.
"His life was spent in the contemplation of nature, in arduous study, or in acts of kindness and affection. He was an elegant scholar and a profound metaphysician: without possessing much scientific knowledge, he was unrivalled in the justness and extent of his observations on natural objects; he knew every plant by its name, and was familiar with their history and habits of every production of the earth; he could interpret without a fault each appearance in the sky, and the varied phaenomena of heaven and earth filled him with deep emotion. He made his study and reading-room of the shadowed copse, the stream, the lake and the water-fall. Ill health and continual pain preyed upon his powers; and the solitude in which we lived, particularly on our first arrival in Italy, although congenial to his feelings, must frequently have weighed upon his spirits: those beautiful and affecting Lines, written in dejection at Naples, were composed at such an interval; but when in health, his spirits were buoyant and youthful to an extraordinary degree.
"Such was his love for nature, that every page of his poetry is associated in the minds of his friends with the loveliest scenes of the countries which he inhabited. In early life he visited the most beautiful parts of this country and Ireland. Afterwards the Alps of Switzerland became his inspirers. Prometheus Unbound was written among the deserted and flower-grown ruins of Rome; and when he made his home under the Pisan hills, their roofless recesses harboured him as he composed The Witch of Atlas, Adonais, and Hellas. In the wild but beautiful Bay of Spezia, the winds and waves which he loved became his playmates. His days were chiefly spent on the water; the management of his boat, its alterations and improvements, were his principal occupation. At night, when the unclouded moon shone on the calm sea, he often went alone in his little shallop to the rocky caves that bordered it, and sitting beneath their shelter wrote The Triumph of Life, the last of his productions. The beauty but strangeness of this lonely place, the refined pleasure which he felt in the companionship of a few selected friends, our entire sequestration from the rest of the world, all contributed to render this period of his life one of continued enjoyment. I am convinced that the two months we passed there were the happiest he had ever known: his health even rapidly improved, and he was never better than when I last saw him, full of spirits and joy, embark for Leghorn, that he might there welcome Leigh Hunt to Italy. I was to have accompanied him, but illness confined me to my room, and thus put the seal on my misfortune. His vessel bore out of sight with a favourable wind, and I remained awaiting his return by the breakers of that sea which was about to engulf him.
"He spent a week at Pisa, employed in kind offices towards his friend, and enjoying with keen delight the renewal of their intercourse. He then embarked with Mr. Williams, the chosen and beloved sharer of his pleasures and of his fate, to return to us. We waited for them in vain: the sea by its restless moaning seemed to desire to inform us of what we would not learn: — but a veil may well be drawn over such misery. The real anguish of these moments transcended all the fictions that the most glowing imagination ever pourtrayed: our seclusion, the savage nature of the inhabitants of the surrounding villages, and our immediate vicinity to the troubled sea, combined to embue with strange horror our days of uncertainty. The truth was at last known, — a truth that made our loved and lovely Italy appear a tomb, its sky a pall. Every heart echoed the deep lament; and my only consolation was in the praise and earnest love that each voice bestowed and each countenance demonstrated for him we had lost, — not, I fondly hope, for ever: his unearthly and elevated nature is a pledge of the continuation of his being, although in an altered form. Rome received his ashes; they are deposited beneath its weed-grown wall, and 'the world's sole monument' is enriched by his remains.
"Julian and Maddalo, The Witch of Atlas, and most of the Translations, were written some years ago, and, with the exception of The Cyclops, and the Scenes from the Magico Prodigioso, may be considered as having received the author's ultimate corrections. The Triumph of Life was his last work, and was left in so unfinished a state, that I arranged it in its present form with great difficulty. Many of the Miscellaneous Poems, written on the spur of the occasion, and never retouched, I found among his manuscript books, and have carefully copied: I have subjoined, whenever I have been able, the date of their composition.
"I do not know whether the critics will reprehend the insertion of some of the most imperfect among these; but I frankly own, that I have been more actuated by the fear lest any monument of his genius should escape me, than the wish of presenting nothing but what was complete to the fastidious reader. I feel secure that the Lovers of Shelley's Poetry (who know how more than any other poet of the present day every line and word he wrote is instinct with peculiar beauty) will pardon and thank me: I consecrate this volume to them.
MARY W. SHELLEY.
London, June 1st, 1824."