Keats was the martyr of poetry, but Shelley was the martyr of opinion. Keats dared to write in a new vein, to disregard all the old canons of criticism, to pour out his heart, and all his fancies, in that way only which seemed naturally to belong to them, and this was cause enough to bring down upon him the vengeance of all the rule-and-line men of literature. But besides this, Keats kept suspicious company. Hunt and Shelley were notorious radicals; and Hunt and Shelley were his friends. "Tell me what company you keep and I will tell you what you are," is an old proverb, and was in John Keats's case most promptly applied. But Shelley was perhaps the most daring as he was the most splendid offender of modern times. Born of a good family, educated in the highest schools of orthodoxy, it was to the public, which looked for a new champion of the old state of things, a most exasperating circumstance that, in his very teens, he should set all these expectations, and all the prospects of his own worldly advantage, at defiance, and boldly avow himself the champion of atheism. The fact is every way to be deplored. It became the source of blight and misery to himself through his whole life. It alienated his friends and family; it occasioned an excitement of fiery bigotry and party wrath, which, in their united virulence, were poured upon his head, and destroying the sale of his works, greatly dispirited him, and so diminished the amount, and perhaps in no slight degree, the joyous and buoyant spirit of what he did write. Who shall say, wonderful as are the works of Shelley, all accomplished amid ill-health, and the bitterest persecutions, before the age of thirty, and most of them before the age of twenty-six, what he would have produced, had he written with the encouraging feeling of a generous public with him? And when we regard the whole affair impartially, it was the public which was really the greatest offender after all. On the part of Shelley, it was a rash and boyish action. It was the act of a really fine and noble spirit led away, and so far led wrong, by its impetuous indignation against popular delusions and impositions. He was not the first man, nor will he be the last, whom the spirit of a virtuous zeal precipitates into an offence against virtue itself. In him, it was meant to be no such thing. He was honest as he was zealous, and the world ought to have respected his honesty if it could not his opinions. It should have endeavoured to show him by calm and sound reason, that he was wrong as to the existence of a God, and by its charity and forbearance, that Christianity was true. There can be little doubt what effect a wise conduct like this would have had on a nature like his. As it was, spite of all the outrageous cries of infidel, blasphemer, and atheistic wretch, with which he was pursued, time showed a wonderful change in his opinions on these matters.
The world should have recollected that it professed to be a Christian world, and it should not have let the spirit and conduct of the infidel put it to shame by its superior liberality and goodness. Our Saviour nowhere preached or commanded persecution, but to bless those who curse us, and do good to those who hate us and despitefully use us. The world did not do thus, it left poor Shelley to show this conduct to it. Christ left a glorious example to all time — why is the Christian world blind to it? He declared a glorious doctrine on the treatment of unbelievers — why is the world deaf to it? He declared that he was come to seek and save that which was lost, and to die for the conversion of those who mocked and denied him. He nowhere left us the whip, the gag, or the sword of extermination. He brought no such things with him out of heaven, but the great corrector — patience — the great weapon — charity. When his disciples ran and called upon him to silence those who performed miracles, and yet did not follow him, he gave a reply which never should be forgotten while the sun rises and sets; — "Let them alone; ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of."
It was Shelley who showed the spirit of the Christian, and the so-called Christian world, the spirit of the infidel. It was infidel. It did not trust to the sublime toleration of Christ, but fell to the dark, bitter paganism of curses and hatred.
There was another particular too, which the virtuous world should here bear in mind. It was priestcraft, which had so disguised Christianity with the trappings of gentileism, that it had reduced it to the level of a pagan system. It had introduced so much mummery, so many pagan fables, so many false doctrines, that it had taught thousands and millions, and does still, to confound it with the selfish impostures of heathenism itself. No man who does not go much amongst the people can tell the extent to which infidelity, and even atheism, has spread amongst them from this cause. They see the great and groaning oppressions which are done under the sun, and which endure from age to age, and they begin to doubt a Providence which can permit this. They see the selfish arts, the pride and luxury of pastors, and the misery of the many, and they say, these men do not believe what they teach — they know it to be a fable. When our countrymen travel into Catholic countries, and see millions of deluded wretches, streaming up from all quarters to adore the so-called coat of Christ, at Metz, or to have a cross touched with the Virgin Mary's chemise, the swaddling clothes, and the grave clothes of Jesus, hoisted aloft in the cathedral of Aix-la-Chapelle, they say, what is this Christianity but old paganism under another name? These are the things which make infidels. These are the men, who by their impious greed mocking God and man at once, under the garb of teachers, stab religion to the heart, murder faith, strangle charity, and spread moral death from end to end of Christendom. These are they against whom the holy anger of the zealous should be turned. The mocking devil in the tabernacle, who for the bread and wine of the hour, scatter perdition through descending centuries. These are the men and things who convert the most beautiful spirits into apostles of unbelief — who make Shelleys, aye, and far worse men.
Shelley, indeed, was a good and noble creature. He had spite of his scepticism, clearly and luminously stamped on his front, the highest marks of a Christian; for the grand distinction appointed by Christ was — love. Shelley was a Christian spite of himself. We learn from all who knew him that the Bible was his most favourite book. He venerated the character of Christ, and no man more fully carried out his precepts. His delight was to do good, to comfort and assist the poor. It was his zeal for truth and for the good of mankind, which led him, in his indignation against those who oppressed them, and imposed upon them, to leap too far in his attack on those enemies, and pass the borders which divide truth from error. For his conscientious opinion, he sacrificed ease, honour, the world's esteem, fortune and friendship. Never was there so generous a friend, so truly and purely poetical a nature. Others are poets in their books and closets; the poet's soul in him was the spirit of all hours and all occasions. His conduct to his friend Hunt, was a magnificent example of this. Mr. Hunt himself tells us that he at once presented him with fourteen hundred pounds to free him from embarrassments, and he meant to do more, an intention which his son has nobly remembered. Where are the censorious zealots who can show like deeds? "He was," says Mr. Hunt, "pious towards nature, towards his friends, towards the whole human race, towards the meanest insect of the forest. He did himself an injustice with the public, in using the popular name of the Supreme Being inconsiderately. He identified it solely with the vulgar and tyrannical notions of a God, made after the worst human fashion, and did not sufficiently reflect that it was often used by a juster devotion to express a sense of the great Mover of the universe."
The same generous, enthusiastic spirit, was the living and glowing principle of his poetry. With an imagination capable of soaring into the highest and most ethereal regions, and drawing thence most gorgeous colours, and most sublime, spiritual, and beautiful imagery, he preached love and tenderness to the whole family of man, except to tyrants and impostors. For liberty of every kind he was ready to die. For knowledge, and truth, and kindness, he desired only to live. He was a rare instance of the union of the finest moral nature and the finest genius. If he erred, the world took ample vengeance upon him for it; while he conferred in return his amplest blessing on the world. It was long a species of heresy to mention his name in society — that is passing fast away. It was next said that he never could become popular, and therefore the mischief he could do was limited. He is become popular, and the good that he is likely to do will be unlimited. The people read him; though we may wonder at it, they comprehend him — at least so far as the principles of freedom and progress are concerned; and in these he will not lead them astray. He is the herald of advance, and every year must fix him more widely and firmly in men's hearts. How truly does he describe himself and his mission in Laon, the poet of the Revolt of Islam:—
Yes , from the records of my youthful state,
And from the lore of bards and sages old,
From whatsoe'er my wakened thoughts create,
Out of the hopes of thine aspirings bold,
Have I collected language to unfold
Truth to my countrymen; from shore to shore
Doctrines of human power my words have told
They have been heard, and men aspire to more
Than they have ever gained, or ever lost of yore.
In secret chambers parents read, and weep,
My writings to their babes, no longer blind;
And young men gather when their tyrants sleep,
And vows of faith each to the other hind;
And marriageable maidens, who have pined
With love, till life seemed melting through their look,
A warmer zeal, a nobler hope now find;
And every bosom thus is rapt and shook,
Like autumn's myriad leaves in one swoln mountain brook.
Kind thoughts, and mighty hopes, and gentle deeds,
Abound, for fearless love, and the pure law
Of mild equality and peace succeeds
To faiths which long had held the world in awe,
Bloody, and false, and cold: — as whirlpools draw
All wrecks of ocean to their chasm, the sway
Of thy strong genius, Laon, which foresaw
This hope, compels all spirits to obey,
Which round thy secret strength now throng in wide array.
This extraordinary man, and most purely poetic genius of his age, this great and fearless, and yet benign apostle of freedom, whose influence on succeeding ages it is impossible to calculate, or calculating, perhaps, to overrate, mixed it is true with a sceptical leaven deeply to he deplored, was a descendant of a true poetic line, that of Sir Philip Sidney. He was born at Field-place, in Sussex, on the 4th of August, 1792. He was the eldest son of Sir Timothy Shelley, Bart., of Castle-Goring in that county; and his son, Percy Florence Shelley, now bears the family title. His family connexions belonged to the Whig aristocrats of the House of Commons; and Mr. Hunt has, in the circumstances of such birth and connexion, hit perhaps upon the fact which solves the mystery of a mind like Shelley's rushing into the extreme course he did. "To a man of genius," he observes, "endowed with a metaphysical acuteness to discern truth and falsehood, and a strong sensibility to give way to his sense of it, such an origin, however respectable in the ordinary point of view, was not the very luckiest that could have happened for the purpose of keeping him within ordinary bounds. With what feelings is truth to open its eyes upon this world, amongst the most respectable of our mere party gentry? Among licensed contradictions of all sorts? Among the Christian's doctrines, and the worldly practices? Among fox-hunters and their chaplains? Among beneficed loungers, noli-episcoparian bishops, rakish old gentlemen, and more startling young ones, who are old in the folly of knowingness? In short, among all those professed demands of what is right and noble, mixed with real inculcations of what is wrong and full of hypocrisy? ... Mr. Shelley began to think at a very early age, and to think too of these anomalies, he saw that at every step in life some compromise was expected between the truth which he was told he was not to violate, and a colouring and a double meaning of it, which forced him upon the violation."
This is, no doubt, the great secret of both the noble resolve of Shelley to burst at once loose from this conventional labyrinth, and of the length to which the impetus of his effort carried him. He saw that truth and falsehood were so intimately mixed in all the education, life, and purposes of the class by which he was surrounded, that he suspected the same mixture in everything; and the very effort necessary to clear himself of this state of things, plunged him into the natural result of rejecting indiscriminately, in the case of Christianity, the grain with the chaff. At every school to which he was sent, he found the same system existing. Education was moulded to a great national plan, to a future support of a church and a party. The noble heart of the boy rebelled against this sacrifice of truth to interest, and I believe at every school to which he went, showed a firm resolve never to bend to it. He was brought up for the first seven or eight years in the retirement of Field-place with his sisters, receiving the same education as they — and hence, it is stated, he never showed the least taste for the sports or amusements of boys. Captain Medwin tells us that it was not Eton, but Sion House, Brentford, to which he alludes in his introductory stanzas to the Revolt of Islam, where he says—
From the near school-room, voices, that alas!
Were but an echo from a world of woes,
The harsh and grating strife of tyrants and of foes.
Captain Medwin, who is a relative, was Shelley's school-fellow there, and says, "this place was a perfect hell to Shelley. His pure and virgin mind was shocked by the language and manners of his new companions; but though forced to be with them, he was not of them. Methinks I see him now, pacing with rapid strides a favourite and remote spot of the play-ground, generally alone, and where, he says, he formed these resolutions:—
To 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.
"Tyranny," continues Captain Medwin, "generally produces tyranny in common minds, — not so with Shelley. Doubtless much of his hatred of oppression may be attributed to what he saw and suffered at this school; and so odious was the recollection of the place to both of us, that we never made it a subject of conversation in after life. He was, as a schoolboy, exceedingly shy, bashful, and reserved; indeed, though peculiarly gentle and elegant and refined in his manners, he never entirely got rid of his diffidence — and who would have wished he should? With the character of true genius, he was ever modest, humble, and prepared to acknowledge merit wherever he found it, without any desire to shine himself by making a foil of others."
Yet it was this gentle and shy boy, who had so early resolved to be "just, and free, and mild," that was roused by his sense of truth, and his abhorrence of oppression, to make the most bold and determined stand against unjust and degrading customs, however sanctioned by time, place, or persons. At Eton, whither he went at the age of thirteen, he rose up stoutly in opposition to the system of fagging. He organized a conspiracy against it, and for a time compelled it to pause. While thus resisting school tyranny, he was reading deeply of German romances and poetry; and to Burger's Leonora, and the ghost stories and legends of the Black Forest, has been traced his fondness for the romantic, the marvellous, and the mystic. his mind was rapidly unfolding, and to the high pitch of his moral nature and aims, these stanzas from the dedication to the Revolt of Islam bear touching testimony:—
Thoughts of great deeds were mine, dear friend, when first
The clouds that wrap this world from youth did pass.
I do remember well the hour which burst
My spirit's sleep: a fresh May-day 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 an 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 mark my streaming eyes,
Which poured their drops on the sunny ground.—
So without shame I spoke, "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 tyrant 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.
This war began in earnest at Oxford. He had left Eton, it is understood, before the usual time, and in consequence of his resistance to the practices which he there found inconsistent with his ideas of self-respect: what was to be hoped from Oxford? The contest into which he soon fell with the Principal of University College, on theological and metaphysical questions, quickly led to his expulsion. No circumstance in his history has made so much noise as this; on it turned the whole character of his destiny. He was expelled on a charge of atheism. In the New Monthly Magazine for 1833, is given "The History of Shelley's Expulsion from Oxford." From this account, nothing could have been more barbarous, unfeeling, and tyrannical than the conduct of the Principal on this occasion. It appears that Shelley and some of his companions had indulged themselves in puzzling the logicians. They had made a careful analysis of Locke on the Human Understanding, and Hume's Essays, particularly the latter, as was customary with those who read the Ethics, and other treatises of Aristotle, for their degrees. They printed a syllabus of these, and challenged, not only the heads of houses, but others to answer them. "It was," says the writer, "never offered for sale; it was not addressed to the general reader, but to the metaphysician alone; and it was so short, that it only designed to point out the line of argument. It was, in truth, a general issue; a compendious denial of every allegation, in order to put the whole case in proof. It was a formal mode of saying, — you offer so and so, then prove it; and thus was it understood by his more candid and intelligent correspondents. As it was shorter, so it was plainer, and perhaps, in order to provoke discussion, a little bolder than Hume's Essays, a book which occupies a conspicuous place in the library of every student. The doctrine, if it deserve the name, was precisely similar; the necessary and inevitable consequence of Locke's philosophy, and of the theory that all knowledge is from without. I will not admit your conclusions, his opponent might say; then you must deny those of Hume; I deny them; but you must deny those of Locke also; and we will go back together to Plato. Such was the usual course of argument; sometimes, however, he rested on mere denial, holding his adversary to strict proof, and deriving strength from his weakness. The young Platonist argued thus negatively through the love of argument, and because he found a noble joy in the fierce shock of contending minds. He loved truth, and sought it everywhere, and at all hazards, frankly and boldly, like a man who deserved to find it; but he also dearly loved victory in debate, and warm debate for its own sake. Never was there a more unexceptionable disputant. He was eager beyond the most ardent, but never angry and never personal; he was the only arguer I ever knew who drew every argument from the nature of the thing, and who never could be provoked to descend to personal contentious." — p. 26 of Part II.
This is a very different thing to the foul and offensive statement put forth to the world, that Shelley avowedly, with his name, put forth a pamphlet on atheism, challenging the whole bench of bishops to refute it, for the sake and from the mere love of atheism. Not less disgraceful was the manner of his expulsion. He was suspected of thus pamphlet; it is said that "a pert, meddling tutor of a college of inferior note, a man of an insalubrious and inauspicious aspect," had secretly denounced him to the master as the author of it; and that, for this piece of treason, he was, as he hoped, speedily enriched with the most splendid benefices, and finally made a bishop! The master himself is described by a third party, as "a man possessing no more intellect or erudition than that famous rant since translated to the stars, through grasping whose tail less fervently than was expedient, the sister of Phryxus formerly found a watery grave, and gave her name to the broad Hellespont." He adds — "I thank God I have never seen that man since; he is gone to his bed, and there let him sleep. While he lived he ate freely of the scholar's bread, and drank freely of his cup; and he was sustained throughout the whole term of his existence, wholly and most nobly, by those sacred funds that were consecrated by our pious forefathers to the advancement of learning. If the vengeance of the all-patient and long-contemned God can ever be roused, it will surely be by some such sacrilege!"
But let us see in what manner this swollen Boeotian ox dealt with this ardent yet gentle stripling of seventeen — for let it be remembered he was only of that age, — and let us first see what was the condition of the university at that time, in which it was made a mortal offence in a young and zealous spirit to dispute metaphysical points.
"Whether such disputations," says the writer in the New Monthly, "were decorous or profitable may be perhaps doubtful; there can be no doubt, however, since the sweet gentleness of Shelley was easily and instantly swayed by the mild influences of friendly admonition, that had even the least dignified of his elders suggested the propriety of pursuing his metaphysical inquiries with less ardour, his obedience would have been prompt and perfect. Not only had all salutary studies been long neglected at Oxford at that time, and all wholesome discipline fallen into decay, but the splendid endowments of the university were grossly abused. The resident authorities of the college were, too often, men of the lowest origin; of mean and sordid souls; destitute of every literary attainment, except that brief and narrow course of reading by which the degree was attained; the vulgar sons of vulgar fathers; without liberality, and wanting the manners and sympathies of gentlemen. A total neglect of all learning, an unseemly turbulence, the most monstrous irregularities, open and habitual drunkenness, vice, and violence, were tolerated or encouraged, with the basest sycophancy that the prospect of perpetual licentiousness might fill the colleges with young men of fortune. Whenever the rarely-exercised power of coercion was exercised, it demonstrated the utter incapacity of our unworthy rulers, by coarseness, ignorance, and injustice. If a few gentlemen were admitted to fellowships, they were always absent; they were not persons of literary pretensions, or distinguished by scholarship, and they had no share in the government of the college." — p. 26.
It is fitting that the world should know out of what a sty, and by what swine, Shelley was expelled from Oxford. It seems that any crime or licentiousness might be practised — nay, was encouraged, — so that no question of learning was provokingly pushed forward that show the ignorance, and thus wound the brutal pride of the fellows. Let us now see the manner in which it was done.
"As the term was drawing to a close, and a great part of the books we were reading together still remained unfinished, we had agreed to increase our exertions, and to meet at an early hour. It was a fine spring morning on Lady-day in the year 1811, when I went to Shelley's rooms: he was absent but before I had collected our books, he rushed in. He was terribly agitated. I anxiously inquired what had happened. 'I am expelled,' he said, as soon as he had recovered himself a little. 'I am expelled! I was sent for suddenly a few minutes ago; I went to the common room, where I found our master, and two or three of the fellows. The master produced a copy of the little syllabus, and asked me if I were the author of it. He spoke in a rude, abrupt, and insolent tone. I begged to be informed for what purpose they put the question. No answer was given; but the master loudly and angrily repeated — 'Are you the author of this book? 'If I can judge from your manner,' I said, 'you are resolved to punish me, if I should acknowledge that it is my work. If you can prove that it is, produce your evidence; it is neither just nor lawful to interrogate me in such a case and for such a purpose. Such proceedings would become a court of inquisitors, but not free men in a free country.' 'Do you choose to deny that this is your composition?' the master reiterated, in the same rude and angry voice.
"Shelley complained much of his violent and ungentleman-like deportment, saying, 'I have experienced tyranny and injustice before, and I well know what, vulgar insolence is; but I never met with such unworthy treatment. I told him calmly, but firmly, that I was resolved not to answer any questions respecting the publication on the table.' 'Then,' said he, furiously, 'You are expelled; and I desire you will quit the college early tomorrow morning at the latest.'"
A regular sentence of expulsion, ready drawn up in due form, was handed to him, under the seal of the college. So monstrous and illegal did the outrage seem to one of Shelley's fellow-students, that he immediately wrote a remonstrance to the master and fellows against it, declaring that he himself, or any one else in that college might just as well be treated in the same manner. The consequence was that he was immediately treated in the same manner. He was called before this tribunal. "The angry and troubled air," he says, in a statement communicated to the writer of the article, "of men assembled to commit injustice, according to established forms, was new to me; but a native instinct told me, as soon as I entered the room, that it was an affair of party; that whatever could conciliate the favour of patrons was to be done without scruple; and whatever could tend to prevent preferment was to be brushed away without remorse." The same question was put to him, he refused to answer it, and he was also expelled with the same summary violence.
Thus were Shelley and another youth of eighteen expelled and branded for life with the stigma of atheism, to serve the sordid ends of those greedy preferment-seeking fellows. They were expelled simply because they refused to criminate themselves, and the boast of a virtuous zeal against atheism was trumpeted abroad, which soon raised one man to a bishopric, and others, no doubt, to what they wanted. So are sacrificed the rare spirits of the earth for the worldly benefit of the hogs of Epicurus. If all youths were treated thus brutally at that age when doubts beset almost every man, and more especially the earnest and inquiring, what would become of our finest and noblest characters. When men begin to study the grounds of theology, they must study too what is advanced by the opposers. The consequence is at once, that all that has been received as fact by unquestioning boyhood, falls to the ground, and they have to begin again, and test through doubts and anxieties, and amid the menaces of despair, all the evidence on which our faith is built. Seize on any one of these inquirers at this peculiar crisis, and expel him for atheism, and, if he be a man of quick feelings, and a high spirit, you will pretty certainly make him that for which you have stigmatized him. His pride will unite with his doubts to fix him, to petrify him, as it were, into incurable unbelief. It would be a brutal and murderous procedure. Such procedure had the worst effect on Shelley. The consequences were a sort of repudiation of him by his father and family, who had built the highest worldly hopes on his talents. There was a fierce hue and cry set up after him in the world, and the very next year saw him sit down and write Queen Mab. The actions of this portion of his life are the least defensible of any portion of it. He seemed restless, unhappy, and put into a more antagonistic temperament by his public expulsion from college, which he felt more deeply than was natural to him, or could have arisen, had he been treated differently. At this period he made his first unfortunate marriage, with a young woman of humble station, and, as it proved, of very uncongenial mind. They separated, and in her distress she, some time afterwards, drowned herself. Differing as I do most widely from Shelley, both in his ideas regarding Christianity and marriage, it is but just to say that they who knew him best, and his second wife, the celebrated daughter of celebrated parents, Godwin and Mary Wolstancroft, most emphatically assert their assurances that "in all he did, at the time of doing it, he believed himself justified to his conscience, while the various ills of poverty, and the loss of friends, brought home to him the sad realities of life." My opinion is, that at this period the state of excitement into which so gross an outrage nit his sensitive nature had thrown him, is to be regarded as the most palliating cause of anything in Shelley which was not in perfect harmony with the general tone of his benign spirit. For his errors at thus period, though they never could be run into by Shelley wilfully, and with a consciousness of error, he suffered deeply and severely. One of his biographers says, "Nobody could lament the catastrophe of his wife's death more bitterly than he did. For a time it tore his being to pieces."
For about two years after his wife's death, he seemed to be wandering about in quest of rest, and not finding it. He was at one time at the Lakes on a pilgrimage to Southey, which, when Coleridge heard of, he said, "Why did he not come to me? I should have understood him." Most true. He was in London, and 90, Great Russell-street, oddly enough kept by a person named Godwin, and in Mabledon-place, a corner house next to Hastings-street, are known as lodgings of his. He was also in Dublin, and in North Wales, where, in the absence of his landlord, Mr. Maddocks, an extraordinary tide menacing his embankment against the sea, Shelley put his name at the head of a subscription paper for £500, and, carrying it round the neighbourhood, raised a sum sufficient to prevent this truly Roman work being destroyed. In 1814 he made a tour on the continent, visiting France. Switzerland, the Reuss, and the Rhine, the magnificent scenery of which produced the most striking effects on his mind. In 1815 he made a tour along the southern coast of Devonshire, and then renting a house on Bishopsgate heath, on the borders of Windsor forest, he spent the summer months in ruminating over the scenes he had visited, and produced there his poem of Alastor, or the Spirit of Solitude. The next year he again visited the continent. He was now married to Mary Wolstancroft Godwin, who accompanied him. They fixed their residence for a time on the banks of the Lake of Geneva.
Here Shelley and Lord Byron first met; they had corresponded before, but here began that friendship which contributed so palpably to the purification and elevation of tone in the higher poetry of Byron. They seemed equally pleased with each other. Byron was occupying the Villa Diodati; a name connected with Milton, and perhaps one of the noble poet's reasons for choosing it as a residence: Shelley engaged one just below it, in a most sequestered spot. There was no access to it in a carriage, it stood only separated from the lake by a small garden, much overgrown by trees, and a pathway through the vineyard of Diodati communicated with it. The two poets entered deeply into poetical disquisition. Nothing could be more opposite than their natures, and their poetic tendencies. Shelley was all imagination; Byron had a strong tendency to the actual, or to that which must tell upon the general mind: Shelley was purely spiritual; Byron had much of the world in him; Shelley was all generosity; Byron, with a great show of it, had a tremendous dash of the selfish. Still, they had many things in common. They were fond of boating and pistol shooting; they were persecuted by public opinion; they had broken from all bonds of ordinary faith, and were free in discussion and speculation, as the birds were in their flight over their heads. They rowed together round the lake, and were very near being lost in a storm upon it. They visited together Meillerie and Clarens; and the effect of the scenery on Shelley, with the Nouvelle Heloise in his hand, was entrancing. He visited also Lausanne, and while walking in the Acacia walk belonging to Gibbon's house, he could not help saying, "Gibbon had a cold and unimpassioned spirit. I never felt more inclination to rail at the prejudices which clung to such a thing, than now that Julie and Clarens, Lausanne and the Roman Empire, compel me to a contrast between Rousseau and Gibbon." His lines on the Bridge of Arve and his Hymn to intellectual Beauty were written at this time.
The poets and Mrs. Shelley were constantly together, out in the air amid that sublime scenery in fine weather, and in the evenings at each other's houses; and during a week of rain, they horrified themselves with German ghost stories, and gave a mutual challenge to write each one of their own. To this we owe the Vampire, which was, on its first appearance, attributed to Lord Byron, but was in reality, written by his vain satellite of a physician, Polidori. Byron wrote a story called The Marriage of Belphegor, which was to narrate the circumstances of his own, — as he was now smarting under the recent refusal of his wife to live with him; but on hearing from England that Lady Byron was ill, with an impulse that did him honour, he thrust it into the fire. What Shelley did does not appear, but the production of Mrs. Shelley was Frankenstein.
On his return to England in the autumn of that year, he had to endure the misery of his two children being taken from him by the Court of Chancery, on the ground of his disbelief of revealed religion, and the authorship of Queen Mab, a work published without his consent. It was at this period that he went to live at Great Marlowe, in Buckinghamshire. Mrs. Shelley says — "Shelley's choice of abode was fixed chiefly by this town being at no great distance from London, and its neighbourhood to the Thames. The poem of the Revolt of Islam 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 its peculiar beauty. The chalk hills break into cliffs that overhang the Thames, or form valleys clothed with beech. The wilder portion of the country is rendered beautiful by exuberant vegetation; and the cultivated part is particularly fertile. With all this wealth of nature, which, either in the form of gentlemen's parks, or soil dedicated to agriculture, flourishes around, Marlowe was inhabited — I hope it is altered now — by a very poor population. The women are lace-makers, and lose their health by sedentary labour, for which they are very ill paid. The poor-laws ground to the dust not only the paupers, but those who had risen just above that state, and were obliged to pay poor-rates. The change produced by peace following a long war, and a bad harvest, brought with them the most heart-rending evils to the poor. Shelley afforded what alleviation he could. In winter, while bringing out his poem, he had a severe attack of opthalmia, caught while visiting the cottages. I mention these things — for this minute and active sympathy with his fellow-creatures gives a thousand-fold interest to his speculations, and stamps with reality his pleadings for the human race."
Shelley does not seem to have had any acquaintance at Marlowe or in the neighbourhood; it was simply the charm of the country and the river here which attracted him; but his friend Mr. Peacock, of the India House, was residing there at the time, either drawn there by Shelley, or Shelley by him. Marlowe stands in a fine open valley, on the banks of the Thames. The river here is beautiful, running bankful through the most beautiful meadows, level as a bowling green, of the richest verdure, and of a fine, ample, airy extent. Beyond the river these meadows are bounded by steep hills clothed with noble woods, and a more charming scene for boating cannot be imagined. The grass and flowers on the river margin overhang and dip lovingly into the waters, which, from running over a chalk bottom, are as transparent nearly as the air itself; and at the various turns of the river new features of beauty salute you. Impending woods, which invite you to land and stroll away into them; solitary valleys, where house or man is not seen; and then again cultivated farms, and hills covered with flocks. No wonder that Shelley was all summer floating upon this fine river, and luxuriating in the composition of his splendid poem. A little below the town stands the village of Little Marlowe, with its grey church, and old manor-house, called Bisham Abbey, amid its fine trees; and around, a lovely scene of the softly flowing beautiful river, the level meads, and the hills and woods. On the other side of the town, the country is of that clear, bright aspect, with its tillage firms and isolated clumps of beech on swelling hills, which always marks a chalk district. The town itself is small, and intensely quiet. The houses are low and clean looking, as if no smoke ever fell on them from the pure diaphanous air. It consists of three principal streets, something in the shape of the letter T, with some smaller ones. In passing along it, you would not suspect it of that intense poverty which Mrs. Shelley speaks of, though, from the wretched depression of the hand lace weaving, it may exist. The houses have a neat miniature look, and the people look cheerful, healthy, and the women of a very agreeable expression of countenance.
Such was the spot where Shelley resided, eight and twenty years ago. His house was in the main street, — a long stuccoed dwelling, of that species of nondescript architecture which once was thought Gothic, because it had pointed windows, and battlements. It must have been, then, a spacious and a very pleasant residence. It is now, as is the lot of most places in which poets have lived, desolated and desecrated. It is divided into three tenements, a school, a private house, and a pothouse. I entered the latter, and with a strange feeling. In a large room with a boarded floor, and which had probably been Shelley's dining-room, was a sort of bar partitioned off, and a number of visitors were drinking on benches along the walls, which still bore traces, amid disfigurement and stains, of former taste. The garden behind had evidently been extensive, and very pleasant. There were remains of fine evergreen trees, and of a mound on which grew some deciduous cypresses, where had evidently stood a summer-house. This was gone. The garden was divided into as many portions as there were now tenants, and all evidences of care had vanished from it. Along the side of it, however, lay a fine open meadow, and the eye ran across this to some sweetly wooded hills. It was a melancholy thing to go back to the time when Shelley and his wife and friends walked in this garden, enjoying it and its surrounding quiet scenery, and to reflect what had been the subsequent fate of it and him.
Amongst the poor of the town the remembrance of his benevolence and unassuming kindness had still chroniclers; but from the other classes little could be learned, and that not what the memory of such a man deserves. One old shopkeeper, not far from his house, remembered him, and "hoped his children did not take after him." "Why?" "Oh! he was a very bad man?" "Indeed! what bad actions did he do?" "Oh! I beg your pardon! he did no bad actions that I ever heard of; but on the contrary, he was uncommonly good to the poor; but then —" "But then, what?" "Why, he did not believe in the devil!" Such are the fruits of bigot teaching. Christ says, "By their fruits shall ye know" men; but those calling themselves his followers say, "No;" no matter what good fruits men produce, they are all doomed to perdition if they cast a single aspersion on that very favourite personage — Satan. I begged the poor man, of whom I found Shelley bought no groceries, to at least leave Shelley to the judgment of his God and of Christ, who came to seek and to save all that were lost; and to believe those great assurances of the gospel, that the prodigal, when he had committed all kind of crimes, found not only a pacified but a fond father; that he that hath not charity is as a sounding brass, and a tinkling cymbal; and that he that loveth intensely, though he may think very erroneously, will stand a very fair chance with the Father of love himself.
"But pray what has become of this Mr. Shelley, then?" asked the man's wife, who had come from an inner room. "He was drowned," I replied. "Oh! that's just what one might have expected. Drowned! Lud-a-mercy! ay, just what we might ha' said he'd come to. He was always on the water, always boating, boating, — never easy but when he was in that boat. Do you know what a trick was played him by some wag?" "No." "He called his boat 'Vaga,' and one morning he found the name lengthened by a piece of chalk, with the word 'bond' — Vagabond. There are clever fellows here, as well as in London, mind you. But Mr. Shelley was not offended. He only laughed; for, you see, he did not believe in a devil, and so he thought there could be nothing wrong. He used to say, when he heard of any wickedness, 'Ah, poor people! it's only ignorance; if they knew better, they'd do better!' Oh! what darkness and heathenry! to excuse sin, and feel no godly jealousy against wickedness!" I found that the crabbed creedsman had been there too long before me. My hint about charity was thrown away, and I moved off, lest both myself and Jesus Christ, who would not condemn even the adulteress at the desire of the vengeful and the sensual, should be found wanting in holy indignation too.
It was in vain that I inquired amongst the class of little gentry in the place for information about Shelley — they knew nothing of any such person. At length, after much research, and the running to and fro of waiters from the inn, I was directed to an ancient surgeon who had attended almost everybody for the last half-century. I found him an old man of nearly ninety. He recollected Shelley; had attended him, but knew little about him. He was a very unsocial man, he said; kept no company but Mr. Peacock's, and that of his boat, and was never seen in the town but he had a book in his hand, and was reading as he went along. The old gentleman, however, kindly sent his servant to point out Shelley's house to me, and as I returned up the street, I saw him standing bare-headed on the pavement before his door, in active discourse with various neighbours. My inquiries had evidently aroused the Marlowean curiosity. On coming up, the old gentleman inquired eagerly if I wanted to learn more yet about Mr. Shelley. — I had learned little or nothing. I replied that I should be very happy. "Then," said he, "come in, Sir, for I have sent for a gentleman who knows all about him." I entered, and found a tall, well-dressed man, with a very solemn aspect. "It is the squire of the place," said I to myself. With a very solemn bow he arose, and with very solemn bows we sat down opposite to each other. "I am happy to hear," I said, "that you knew Mr. Shelley, and can give me some particulars regarding his residence here." "I can, Sir," he replied, with another solemn bow. I waited to hear news — but I waited in vain. That Mr. Shelley had lived there, and that he had long left there, and that his house was down the street, and that he was a very extraordinary man — he knew, and I knew; but that was all: not a word of his doings or his sayings at Marlowe came out of the solemn brain of that large solemn man. But at length a degree of interest appeared to gather in his cheeks and brighten in his eyes. "Thank God!" I exclaimed, inwardly. "The man is slow, but it is coming now." His mouth opened, and he said, "But pray, Sir, what became of that Mr. Shelley?"
"Good gracious!" I exclaimed. "What, did you never hear? Did it never reach Marlowe — but thirty miles from London — that sad story of his death, which created a sensation throughout the civilized world?" No, the thing had never penetrated into the Boeotian denseness of that place! I rose up, and now bowed solemnly too. "And pray what family might he leave?" asked the solemn personage, as I was hasting away. "You will learn that," I said, still going away, "in the Baronetage, if such a book ever reaches Marlowe."
I hastened to the inn where my chaise was standing ready for my departure, and was just in the act of entering it, when I heard a sort of outcry, perceived a sort of bustle behind me, and turning my head, saw the tall and solemn man hasting with huge and anxious strides after me.
"You'll excuse me, Sir; you'll excuse me, I think; but I could relate to you a fact, and I think I will venture to relate to you a fact connected with the late Mr. Shelley." "Do," said I. "I think I will," replied the tall stout man, heaving a deep sigh, and erecting himself to his full height, far above my head, and casting a most awful glance at the sky. "I think I will, — I think I may venture." "It is certainly something very sad and agonizing," I said to myself, "but I wish he would only bring it out." "Well, then," continued he, with another heave of his capacious chest, and another great glance at the distant horizon, "I certainly will mention it. It was this. When Mr. Shelley left Marlowe, he ordered all his bills to be paid, most honourably, certainly, most honourably; and they were paid — all — except — mine! There, Sir! it is out; excuse it — excuse it; but I am glad it is out."
"What! a bill!" I exclaimed, in profoundest astonishment — "a bill! — was that all?"
"All, Sir! all! everything of the sort; every shilling, I assure you, has been paid, but my little account; and it was my fault; I don't know how in the world I forgot to send it in."
"What," said I, "are you not the squire here? What are you?"
"Oh, Lord! no, Sir! I am no squire here! I am a tradesman! I am — in the general way!"
"Drive on!" I said, springing into the carriage, "drive like the Dragon of Wantley out of this place — Shelley is remembered in Marlowe because there was one bill left unpaid!"
There again is fame. It would be a curious thing if the man who deems himself most thoroughly and universally famous, and walks about in the comfortable persuasion of it, could see his fame mapped upon the country. What an odd figure it would make! A few feeble rays shooting here and there, but all around what vast patches of unvisited country, what unilluminated regions, what deserts of oblivion of his name! Shelley lived, and suffered, and spent himself for mankind, and in the place where he last lived in England, within thirty miles of the great metropolis of genius and knowledge, he is only remembered by a bad joke on his boat, by his disbelief of the devil, and by a forgotten bill. Were it not forgotten, he had been so! "Eheu! jam satis."
On the 12th of March, 1818, Shelley quitted England once more. He was never to return. His own fate and that of Byron were wonderfully alike. The two greatest, most original, most powerful, and influential poets of the age, were driven into exile by the public feeling of their country. They could not bring themselves to think on political questions with a large party, nor on religious ones with a still larger; and every species of vituperation and insult was let loose upon them. As if charity and forbearance had been heathen qualities, and wrath and calumny Christian virtues, the British public most loftily resolved not to do as Christ required them — to love those who hated them and despitefully used them, but to hate those who loved them, and had noble virtues, though they had their errors. Their errors should have been lamented, and their doctrines refuted as much as possible; but there is no law, human or divine, that can release us from the law of love, and the command of seventy times seven forgiveness of injuries. Both these great men died in their exile of hatred — the world had its will for the time, and the spirits of these dead outcasts must now have their will, in their deathless volumes, to the end of time.
If any one would know what sort of a man this moral monster, Shelley, was, let him read the eloquent account of him and his life at Oxford, in the New Monthly Magazine for 1832, written by one who was his friend and companion, and who, Mrs. Shelley says, has described him most faithfully. There we find him full of zeal for learning; most zealous in accumulating knowledge; overflowing in kindness; indignant against all oppression to man or to animals. Never failing to rush in on witnessing any cruelty, or hearing of any calamity, to stop the one, and alleviate the other. Full of gaiety and fun as a child, sailing his paper boats on every pool and stream, or rambling far and wide over the country in earnest talk and deep love of all nature. He was ready to caress children, to smile on even gipsies and beggars, to run for refreshment for starving people by the way side, pledging even his favourite microscope, his daily means of recreation, to assist a poor old man. Such was the dreadful creature that must he expelled from colleges, have his children torn from him to prevent the contamination of his virtues, and to be hooted out of his native land. Yet amid all the anguish that this inflicted on him, he was ever ready still to do a sublime good, or enter with the most boyish relish into the merest joke. Nothing can convey a more vivid idea of the latter disposition-which is not that of a man systematically malicious, which is the true spirit of wickedness — than to quote a joke related to him by the writer of these articles, and see the manner in which it was enjoyed.
"I was walking one afternoon, in the summer, on the western side of that short street leading from Long Acre to Covent-garden, where the passenger is earnestly invited, as a personal favour to the demandant, to proceed straightway to Highgate or Kentish town, and which is called, I think, James-street. I was about to enter Covent-garden, when an Irish labourer, whom I met bearing an empty hod, accosted me somewhat roughly, and asked why I had run against him. I told him briefly that he was mistaken. Whether somebody had actually pushed the man, or he only sought to quarrel, and although he, doubtless, attended a weekly row regularly, and the week was already drawing to a close, he was unable to wait till Sunday for a broken head, I know not, but he discoursed for some time with the vehemence of a man who considers himself injured or insulted, and he concluded, being emboldened by my long silence, with a cordial invitation just to push him again. Several persons, not very unlike in costume, had gathered round him, and appeared to regard him with sympathy. When he paused, I addressed to him, slowly and quietly, and it should seem with great gravity, these words, as nearly as I can recollect them. — 'I have put my hand into the hamper; I have looked upon the sacred barley; I have eaten out of the drum! I have drunk, and was well pleased; I have said, [Greek characters], and it is finished!' 'Have you, Sir?' inquired the astonished Irishman; and his ragged friends instantly pressed round him with, — 'Where is the hamper, Paddy?' — 'What barley?' and the like. And ladies from his own country, that is to say, the basket-women, suddenly began to interrogate him: — 'Now, I say, Pat, where have you been drinking? — What have you had?' I turned, therefore, to the right, leaving the astounded neophyte, whom I had thus planted, to expound the mystic words of initiation as he could to his inquisitive companions. As I walked slowly under the piazzas, and through the streets and courts towards the West, I marvelled at the ingenuity of Orpheus, — if he were indeed the inventor of the Eleusinian mysteries; that he was able to devise words that, imperfectly as I had repeated them, and in the tattered fragment that has reached us, were able to soothe people so savage and barbarous as those to whom I had addressed them, and which, as the apologists for those venerable rites affirm, were manifestly well adapted to incite persons who hear them for the first time, however rude they may be, to ask questions. Words that can awaken curiosity even in the sluggish intellect of a wild man, and can open the inlet of knowledge!"
"Konx ompax; and it is finished!" exclaimed Shelley, crowing with enthusiastic delight at my whimsical adventure. A thousand times as he strode about the house, and in his rambles out of doors, would he stop and repeat the mystic words of initiation, but always with an energy of manner, and a vehemence of tone and gesture, that would have prevented the ready acceptance which a calm, passionless delivery had once procured for them. How often would he throw down his book, clasp his hands, and starting from his seat, cry suddenly, with a thrilling voice, "I have said Konx ompax; and it is finished!"
This child-like, this great, and greatly kind, and if men would have let him, this light-hearted man, thus then quitted England. Like Byron, he sought a home in Italy. He lived in various cities, and wrote there his very finest works, amongst them Prometheus Unbound; The Cenci; Hellas; part of Rosalind and Helen; his Ode to Liberty, perhaps the very finest ode in the language, and certainly in its description of Athens never excelled in any piece of description in any language; Adonais, an elegy on the death of Keats, and those very melancholy verses written in the Bay of Naples. He was drowned, as is well known, by the sinking of his boat in a squall, in the Gulph of Spezia, in the summer of 1822, at the age of thirty.
Shelley must have enjoyed this portion of his life beyond all others, had he been in health and spirits. He was united to a woman worthy of him, and who could partake of all his intellectual pleasures. Children were growing around him, and he was living in that beautiful country, surrounded by the remains of former art and history, and under that fine sky, pouring out from heart and brain, glorious, and impassioned, and immortal works. But his health failed him, and the darts of calumny were rankling in his bosom, depressing his spirits, and sapping his constitution. I can only allow myself a few passing glances at his homes in Italy, of which Mrs. Shelley has given us such delightful sketches in the notes to her edition of her husband's poems.
They went direct to Milan, and visited the Lake of Como; then proceeding to Pisa, Leghorn, the baths of Lucca, Venice, Este, Rome, Naples, and back to Rome for the winter. There he chiefly wrote his Prometheus. In 1818, they were at the baths of Lucca, where Shelley finished Rosalind and Helen. Thence he visited Venice, and occupied a house lent him by Lord Byron at Este. "I Capucini was a villa built on the site of a Capuchin convent, demolished when the French suppressed religious houses. It was situated on the very overhanging brow of a low hill, at the foot of a range of higher ones. The house was cheerful and pleasant; a vine trellised walk, or pergola, as it is called in Italian, led from the hall door to a summer-house at the end of the garden, which Shelley made his study, and in which he began the Prometheus; and here also, as he mentioned in a letter, he wrote Julian and Maddalo. A slight ravine, with a wood in its depth, divided the garden from the hill, on which stood the ruins of the ancient castle of Este, whose dark massive wall gave forth an echo, and from whose ivied crevices owls and bats flitted forth at night, as the crescent moon sunk behind the black and heavy battlements. We looked from the garden over the wide plain of Lombardy, bounded to the west by the far Apennines; while to the east, the horizon was lost in misty distance. After the picturesque but limited view of mountain, ravine, and chestnut wood at the Baths of Lucca, there was something infinitely gratifying to the eye in the wide range of prospect commanded by our new abode."
Here they lost a little girl, and quitting the neighbourhood of Venice, they proceeded southward. Shelley was delighted beyond expression with the scenery and antiquities of Italy. "The aspect of its nature, its sunny sky, its majestic streams; the luxuriant vegetation of the country, and the noble marble-built cities, enchanted him. The first entrance to Rome opened to him a scene of remains of ancient grandeur that far surpassed his expectations; and the unspeakable beauty of Naples and its environs added to the impression he received of the transcendent and glorious beauty of Italy."
The winter was spent at Naples, where they lived in utter solitude, yet greatly enjoyed their excursions along its sunny sea, or into its beautiful environs. From Naples they returned to Rome, where they arrived in March, 1819. Here they had the old MS. account of the story of the Cenci put into their bands, and visited the Doria and Colonna palaces, where the portraits of Beatrice were to be found. Her beauty cast the reflection of its grace over her appalling story, and Shelley conceived the subject of his masterly drama. In Rome they lost their eldest child, a very lovely and engaging boy, and quitting the eternal city, took the villa, Valsovano, between Leghorn and Monte Nero, where they resided during the summer. "Our villa," says Mrs. Shelley, "was situated in the midst of a podere; the peasants sang as they worked beneath our windows, during the heat of a very hot season; and in the evening the waterwheel creaked as the progress of irrigation went on, and the fire-flies flashed among the myrtle hedges; — nature was bright, sunshiny and cheerful, or diversified by storms of a majestic terror, such as we had never before witnessed.
"At the top of the house there was a sort of terrace. There is often such in Italy, generally roofed. This one was very small, yet not only roofed, but glazed. This Shelley made his study; it looked out on a wide prospect of fertile country, and commanded a view of the near sea. The storms that sometimes varied our day, showed themselves most picturesquely as they were driven across the ocean. Sometimes the dark, lurid clouds dipped towards the waves, and became water-spouts, that churned up the waters beneath, as they were chased onwards, and scattered by the tempest. At other times the dazzling sunlight and heat made it almost intolerable to every other; but Shelley basked in both, and his health and spirits revived under their influence. In this airy cell he wrote the principal part of the Cenci."
They spent part of the year 1819 in Florence, where Shelley passed several hours daily in the Gallery, studying the works of art, and making notes. The summer of 1820 was spent chiefly at the baths of Guiliano, near Pisa, where Shelley made a solitary journey on foot during some of the hottest weather of the season to the summit of Monte San Pelegrino, — a mountain on which stands a pilgrimage chapel, much frequented: and during this expedition he conceived the idea of The Witch of Atlas; and immediately on his return sate down and wrote it in three days. An overflowing of the Serchio inundated the house, and caused them to quit San Guiliano: they returned to Pisa.
In 1821, the Spanish revolution excited throughout Italy a similar spirit. In Naples, Genoa, Piedmont, almost everywhere, the spirit of revolt showed itself; and Shelley, still at Pisa, sympathized enthusiastically with these movements. Then came the news of the Greek insurrection, and the battle of Navarino, which put the climax to his joy; and in this exultation he wrote Hellas. These circumstances seem to have given a new life to him. He had now his new boat, and was sailing it on the Arno. It was a pleasant summer, says Mrs. Shelley, bright in all but Shelley's health; yet he enjoyed himself greatly. He was in high anticipation of the arrival of Leigh Hunt; and at this juncture, the now happy poet and his family made their last remove. Let us give the deeply interesting picture of Shelley's last home, in the words of his gifted wife.
"The bay of Spezia is of considerable extent, and is divided by a rocky promontory into a larger and a smaller one. The town of Lerici is situated on the eastern point, and in the depth of the smaller bay, which bears the name of this town, is the village of Sant Arenzo. Our house, Casa Magni, was close to this village; the sea came up to the door, a steep hill sheltered it behind. The proprietor of the estate was insane; he had begun to erect a large house at the summit of the hill behind, but his malady prevented its being finished, and it was falling into ruin. He had, and this to the Italians seemed a glaring symptom of decided madness, rooted up the olives on the hill-side, and planted forest trees. These were mostly young; but the plantation was more in English taste than I ever saw elsewhere in Italy. Some fine walnut and ilex trees intermingled their dark, massy foliage, and formed groups which still haunt my memory, as then they satiated the eye with a sense of loveliness. The scene was, indeed, of unimaginable beauty; the blue extent of waters, the almost land-locked bay, the near castle of Lerici, shutting it in to the east, and distant Porto Venere to the west; the various forms of precipitous rocks, that bound in the beach, near which there was only a winding rugged path towards Lerici, and none on the other side; the tideless sea, leaving no sands nor shingle, — formed a picture such as one sees in Salvator Rosa's landscapes only. Sometimes the sunshine vanished when the sirocco raged, — the ponente, the wind was called on that shore. The gales and squalls that hailed our first arrival, surrounded the bay with foam; the howling wind swept round our exposed house, and the sea roared unremittingly, so that we almost fancied ourselves on board ship. At other times sunshine and calm invested sea and sky, and the rich tints of Italian heaven bathed the scene in bright and ever-varying hues.
"The natives were wilder than the place. Our near neighbours, of Sant Arenzo, were more like savages than any people I ever before lived among. Many a night they passed on the beech, singing, or rather howling; the women dancing about among the waves that broke at their feet, the men leaning against the rocks, and joining in their loud, wild chorus. We could get no provisions nearer than Sarzana, at a distance of three miles and a half off, with the torrent of the Margra between; and even there the supply was deficient. Had we been wrecked on an island of the South Seas, we could scarcely have felt ourselves further from civilization and comfort; but where the sun shines, the latter becomes an unnecessary luxury, and we had enough society among ourselves. Yet, I confess house-keeping became rather a toilsome task, especially as I was suffering in my health, and could not exert myself actively."
To this wild region they had come to indulge Shelley's passion for boating. News came of Leigh Hunt having arrived at Pisa. Shelley, and his friend Captain Ellerker Williams, set out to welcome him, and were on their return to Lerici, when the fatal squall came on, and they went down in a moment. The particulars of that event, and the singular scene of the burning of the body by his friends, Byron, Hunt, Trelawney, and Captain Shenley, have been so vividly related by Mr. Hunt, as to be familiar to every one. Shelley had gone down with the last volume of Keats, the Lamia, etc., in his jacket pocket, where it was found open. The bodies came on shore near Via Reggio; but had been so long in the sea as to be much decomposed. Wood was, therefore, collected on the strand, and they were burnt in the old classical style. The magnificent bay of Spezia, says Mr. Hunt, 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 generally running right into it.
So ended this extraordinary man his short, but eventful and influential life; and his ashes were buried near his friend John Keats, under a beautiful ruined tower in the English burial-ground at Rome. It was remarkable, that Shelley always said that no presentiment of evil ever came to him, except as an unusual elevation of spirits. When he was last seen, just before his embarking for his return, he was said to be in most brilliant spirits. On the contrary, Mrs. Shelley says, — "If ever shadow of evil darkened the present hour, such was over my mind when they went. During the whole of our stay at Lerici an intense presentiment of coming evil brooded over my mind, and covered this beautiful place and genial summer with the shadow of coming misery. A vague expectation of evil shook me to agony, and I could scarcely bring myself to let them go." The very beauty of the place, she says, seemed unearthly in its excess; the distance they were from all signs of civilization, the sea at their feet, its murmurings or its roarings for ever in their ears, led the mind to brood over strange thoughts, and lifting it from every-day life, caused it to be familiar with the unreal.
"Shelley," she adds, "had now, as it seemed, almost anticipated his own destiny; and when the mind figures his skiff wrapped from sight by the thunder-storm, as it was last seen upon the purple sea, and then as the cloud of the tempest passed away, no sign remained of where it had been, — who but will regard as a prophecy the last stanza of the Adonais? — The breath, whose might I have invoked in song,
Descends upon me my spirit's hark 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."