Mr. Shelley, when he died, was in his thirtieth year. His figure was tail and slight, and his constitution consumptive. He was subject to violent spasmodic pains, which would sometimes force him to lie on the ground till they were over; but he had always a kind word to give to those about him, when his pangs allowed him to speak. In this organization, as well as in some other respects, he resembled the German poet, Schiller. Though well-turned, his shoulders were bent a little, owing to premature thought and trouble. The same causes had touched his hair with grey: and though his habits of temperance and exercise gave him a remarkable degree of strength, it is not supposed that he could have lived many years. He used to say, that he had lived three times as long as the calendar gave out; which he would prove, between jest and earnest, by some remarks on Time, "That would have puzzled that stout Stagyrite."
Like the Stagyrite's, his voice was high and weak. His eyes were large and animated, with a dash of wildness in them; his face small, but well-shaped, particularly the mouth and chin, the turn of which was very sensitive and graceful. His complexion was naturally fair and delicate, with a colour in the cheeks. He had brown hair, which, though tinged with grey, surmounted his face well, being in considerable quantity, and tending to a curl. His side-face upon the whole was deficient in strength, and his features would not have told well in a bust; but when fronting and looking at you attentively, his aspect had a certain seraphical character that would have suited a portrait of John the Baptist, or the angel whom Milton describes as holding a reed "tipt with fire." Nor would the most religious mind, had it known him, have objected to the comparison; for, with all his scepticism, Mr. Shelley's disposition may be truly said to have been any thing but irreligious. A person of much eminence for piety in our times has well observed, that the greatest want of religious feeling is not to be found among the greatest infidels, but among those who never think of religion but as a matter of course. The leading feature of Mr. Shelley's character, may be said to have been a natural piety. He was 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 most 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. An impatience in contradicting worldly and pernicious notions of a supernatural power, led his own aspirations to be misconstrued; for though, in the severity of his dialectics, and particularly in moments of despondency, he sometimes appeared to be hopeless of what he most desired,—and though he justly thought, that a Divine Being would prefer the increase of benevolence and good before any praise, or even recognition of himself, (a reflection worth thinking of by the intolerant,) yet there was in reality no belief to which he clung with more fondness than that of some great pervading "Spirit of Intellectual Beauty;" as may be seen in his aspirations on that subject. He said to me in the cathedral at Pisa, while the organ was playing, "What a divine religion might be found out, if charity were really made the principle of it, instead of faith!"
Music affected him deeply. He had also a delicate perception of the beauties of sculpture. It is not one of the least evidences of his conscientious turn of mind, that with the inclination, and the power, to surround himself in Italy with all the graces of life, be made no sort of attempt that way; finding other use for his money, and not always satisfied with himself for indulging even in the luxury of a boat. When he bought elegancies of any kind, it was to give away. Boating was his great amusement. He loved the mixture of action and repose which he found in it; and delighted to fancy himself gliding away to Utopian isles, and bowers of enchantment. But he would give up any pleasure to do a deed of kindness. "His life," says Mrs. Shelley, "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 the history and habits of every production of the earth: he could interpret, without a fault, each appearance in the sky; and the varied phenomena 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 waterfall."—Preface to his Posthumous Poems, p. 14. "The comparative solitude," observes the same lady, "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. Before the critics contradict me, let them appeal to any one who had ever known him. To see him was to love him."—Ibid. This is a high character, and I, for one, know it was deserved. I should be glad to know, how many wives of Mr. Shelley's calumniators could say as much of their husbands; or how many of the critics would believe them, if they did.
Mr. Shelley's comfort was a sacrifice to the perpetual contradiction between the professions of society and their practice; between "the shows of things and the desires of the mind." Temperament and early circumstances conspired to make him a reformer, at a time of life when few begin to think for themselves; and it was his misfortune, as far as immediate reputation was concerned, that he was thrown upon society with a precipitancy and vehemence, which rather startled them with fear for themselves, than allowed them to become sensible of the love and zeal that impelled him. He was like a spirit that had darted out of its orb, and found itself in another planet. I used to tell him that he had come from the planet Mercury. When I heard of the catastrophe that overtook him, it seemed as if this spirit, not sufficiently constituted like the rest of the world, to obtain their sympathy, yet gifted with a double portion of love for all living things, had been found dead in a solitary corner of the earth, its wings stiffened, its warm heart cold; the relics of a misunderstood nature, slain by the ungenial elements.
That the utility, however, of so much benevolence was not lost to the world, whatever difference of opinion may exist as to its occasional mode of showing itself, will be evinced, I hope, by the following pages.
Mr. Shelley was the eldest son of Sir Timothy Shelley, Bart. of Castle-Goring, in Sussex; and was born at Field Place, in that county, the 4th of August, 1792.
It is difficult, under any circumstances, to speak with proper delicacy of the living connexions of the dead; but it is no violation of decorum to observe (what, indeed, the reader knows already, if he knows any thing of Parliament,) that the family connexions of Mr. Shelley belonged to a small party in the House of Commons, itself belonging to another party. They were Whig Aristocrats; a distinction that, within a late period, has been handsomely merged by some of the bearers of it into the splendour of a more prevailing universality. To a man of genius, 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 among the most respectable of our mere party gentry? Among licensed contradictions of all sorts? among the Christian 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, which have been so admirably exposed by Mr. Bentham, and which he has fortunately helped some of our best living statesmen to leave out of the catalogue of their ambitions.
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 a truth which he was told not to violate, and a colouring and double-meaning of it, which forced him upon the violation.
Doubtless there are numbers of young men who discern nothing of all this; and who, comparatively speaking, become respectable tellers of truth in spite of it. These are the honourable part of the orthodox; good-natured fathers and husbands, conscientious clergymen, respectable men in various walks of life, who, thinking they abide by the ideas that have been set before them, really have very few ideas of any thing, and are only remarkable for affording specimens of every sort of commonplace, comfortable or unhappy. On the other hand, numbers of young men get a sense of this confusion of principles, if not with a direct and logical consciousness, yet with an instinct for turning it to account. Even some of these, by dint of a genial nature, and upon the same principle on which a heathen priest would eschew the vices of his mythology, turn out decent members of society. But how many others are spoilt for ever! How many victims to this confusion of truth and falsehood, apparently flourishing, but really callous or unhappy, are to be found in all quarters of the community; men who profess opinions which contradict their whole lives; takers of oaths, which they dispense with the very thought of; subscribers to articles which they doubt, or even despise; triflers with their hourly word for gain; expedient statesmen; ready hirelings of power; sneering disbelievers in good; teachers to their own children of what has spoilt themselves, and has rendered their existence a dull and selfish mockery.
Whenever a character like Mr. Shelley's appears in society, it must be considered with reference to these systems. Others may consent to be spoilt by them, and to see their fellow-creatures spoilt. He was a looker-on of a different nature.
With this jumble, then, of truth and falsehood in his head, and a genius born to detect it, though perhaps never quite able to rid itself of the injury, (for if ever he deviated into an error unworthy of him, it was in occasionally condescending, though for the kindest purposes, to use a little double-dealing,) Mr. Shelley was sent to Eton, and afterwards to the University of Oxford. At Eton, a Quarterly Reviewer recollects him setting trees on fire with a burning-glass; a proceeding which the critic sets down to his natural taste for destruction. A more impartial and not less philosophic observer might have attributed it to the natural curiosity of genius. Perhaps, if the Reviewer recollected Mr. Shelley, Mr. Shelley no less recollected him as one of the school-tyrants against whom he rose up, in opposition to the system of fagging. Against this custom he formed a conspiracy; and for a time made it pause, at least as far as his own person was concerned. Mr. Shelley's feelings at this period of his life are touchingly and powerfully described in the dedication of the Revolt of Islam.
"Thoughts of great deeds were mine, dear Friend, when first
The clouds which wrap this world from youth did pass.
I do remember well the hour which burst
My spirits 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 one echo from a world of woes—
The harsh and grating strife of tyrants and of foes.
"And then I clasped my hands, and look'd around—
But none was near to mock my streaming eyes,
Which poured their warm drops on the sunny ground.—
So without shame I spake: 'I will be wise,
And just, and free, and mild, if in me lies
Such power; for I grow weary to behold
The selfish and the strong still tyrannise
Without reproach or check.' I then controlled
My tears; my heart grew calm, and I was meek and bold.
"And from that hour did I, with earnest thought,
Heap knowledge from forbidden mines of lore;
Yet nothing that my tyrants knew or taught
I cared to learn; but from that secret store
Wrought linked armour for my soul, before
It might walk forth to war among mankind."
Mr. Shelley retained all his kindness and energy, but corrected, as he here aspires to do, the irritability of his temper. No man, by the account of all who lived with him, ever turned it into greater sweetness. The Reviewer, by the usual process of tyranny, became a slave.
Mr. Shelley, I believe, was taken from Eton before the regular period for leaving school. His unconventional spirit, penetrating, sincere, and demanding the reason and justice of things, was found to be inconvenient. At Oxford it was worse. Logic was there put into his hands; and he used it in the most uncompromising manner. The more important the proposition, the more he thought himself bound to investigate it: the greater the demand upon his assent, the less, upon their own principle of reasoning, he thought himself bound to grant it. The result was expulsion.
Conceive a young man of Mr. Shelley's character, with no better experience of the kindness and sincerity of those whom he had perplexed, thrown forth into society, to form his own judgments, and pursue his own career. It was "Emilius out in the World." but formed by his own tutorship. There is a Novel, under that title, written by the German, La Fontaine, which has often reminded me of him. The hero of another, by the same author, called the "Reprobate," still more resembles him. His way of proceeding was entirely after the fashion of those guileless, but vehement hearts, which not being well replied to by their teachers, and finding them hostile to inquiry, add to a natural love of truth all the passionate ardour of a generous and devoted protection of it. Mr. Shelley had met with Mr. Godwin's "Political Justice;" and he seemed to breathe, for the first time, in an open and bright atmosphere. He resolved to square all his actions by what he conceived to be the strictest justice, without any consideration for the opinions of those, whose little exercise of that virtue towards himself, ill-fitted them, he thought, for better teachers, and as ill warranted him in deferring to the opinions of the world whom they guided. That he did some extraordinary things in consequence, is admitted: that he did many noble ones, and all with sincerity, is well known to his friends, and will be admitted by all sincere persons. Let those who are so fond of exposing their own natures, by attributing every departure from ordinary conduct to bad motives, ask themselves what conduct could be more extraordinary in their eyes, and at the same time less attributable to a bad motive, than the rejection of an estate for the love of a principle. Yet Mr. Shelley rejected one. He had only to become a yea and nay man in the House of Commons, to be one of the richest men in Sussex. He declined it, and lived upon a comparative pittance. Even the fortune that he would ultimately have inherited, as secured to his person, was petty in the comparison.
We will relate another anecdote, which the conventional will not find it so difficult to quarrel with. It trenches upon that extraordinary privilege to indulge one sex at the expense of the other, which they guard with so jealous a care, and so many hypocritical faces. The question, we allow, is weighty. We are far from saying it is here settled: but very far are they themselves from having settled it; as their own writings and writhings, their own statistics, morals, romances, tears, and even jokes will testify. The case, I understood, was this; for I am bound to declare that I forget who told it me; but it is admirably in character, and not likely to be invented. Mr. Shelley was present at a ball, where he was a person of some importance. Numerous village ladies were there, old and young; and none of the passions were absent, that are accustomed to glance in the eyes, and gossip in the tongues, of similar gatherings together of talk and dress. In the front were seated the rank and fashion of the place. The virtues diminished, as the seats went backward; and at the back of all, unspoken to, but not unheeded, sat blushing a damsel who had been seduced. We do not inquire by whom; probably by some well-dressed gentleman in the room, who thought himself entitled nevertheless to the conversation of the most flourishing ladies present, and who naturally thought so, because he had it. That sort of thing happens every day. It was expected, that the young squire would take out one of these ladies to dance. What is the consternation, when they see him making his way to the back benches, and handing forth, with an air of consolation and tenderness, the object of all the virtuous scorn of the room! the person whom that other gentleman, wrong as he had been towards her, and "wicked" as the ladies might have allowed him to be towards the fair sex in general, would have shrunk from touching!—Mr. Shelley, it was found, was equally unfit for school-tyrannies, for universities, and for the chaste orthodoxy of squires' tables. So he went up to town.
The philosophic observer will confess, that our young author's experiences in education, politics, and gentlemanly morality, were not of a nature to divert him from his notions of justice, however calculated to bring him into trouble. Had he now behaved himself pardonably in the eyes of the orthodox, he would have gone to London with the resolution of sowing his wild oats, and becoming a decent member of society; that is to say, he would have seduced a few maidservants, or at least haunted the lobbies; and then bestowed the remnant of his constitution upon some young lady of his own rank in life, and settled into a proper church-and-king man, perhaps a member of the Suppression of Vice. This is the proper routine, and gives one a right to be didactic. Alas! Mr. Shelley did not do so; and bitterly had he to repent, not that he did not do it, but that he married while yet a stripling, and that the wife whom he took was not of a nature to appreciate his understanding, or perhaps to come from contact with it, uninjured in what she had of her own. They separated by mutual consent, after the birth of two children. To this measure his enemies would hardly have demurred; especially as the marriage was disapproved by Mr. Shelley's family, and the lady of inferior rank. It might have been regarded even as something like making amends. But to one thing they would strongly have objected. He proceeded, in the spirit of Milton's doctrines, to pay his court to another lady. We wish we could pursue the story in the same tone: but now came the greatest pang of Mr. Shelley's life. He was residing at Bath, when news came to him that his wife had destroyed herself. It was a heavy blow to him; and he never forgot it. Persons who riot in a debauchery of scandal, delighting in endeavouring to pull down every one to their own standard, and in repeating the grossest charges in the grossest words, have taken advantage of this passage in Mr. Shelley's life, to show their total ignorance of his nature, and to harrow up, one would think, the feelings of every person connected with him, by the most wanton promulgation of names, and the most odious falsehoods. Luckily, the habitual contempt of truth which ever accompanies the love of calumny, serves to refute it with all those whose good opinion is worth having. So leaving the scandal in those natural sinks, to which all the calumnies and falsehoods of the time hasten, we resume our remarks with the honourable and the decent. As little shall we dwell upon the conduct of one or two persons of better repute, who instead of being warned against believing every malignant rumour by the nature of their own studies, and as if they had been jealous of a zeal in behalf of mankind, which they had long been accused of merging in speculations less noble, did not disdain to circulate the gossip of the scandalous as far as other countries, betraying a man to repulses, who was yearning with the love of his species; an confounding times, places, and circumstances, in the eagerness of their paltry credulity. Among other falsehoods it was stated, that Mr. Shelley, at that time living with his wife, had abruptly communicated to her his intention of separating; upon which the other had run to a pond at the end of the garden, and drowned herself. The fact, as we have seen, is, that they had been living apart for some time, during which the lady was accountable to no one but herself. We could relate another story of the catastrophe that took place, did we not feel sincerely for all parties concerned, and wish to avoid every species of heart-burning. Nobody could lament it more bitterly than Mr. Shelley. For a time, it tore his being to pieces; nor is there a doubt, that however deeply he was accustomed to reason on the nature and causes of evil, and on the steps necessary to be taken for opposing it, he was not without remorse for having no better exercised his judgment with regard to the degree of intellect he had allied himself with, and for having given rise to a premature independence of conduct in one unequal to the task. The lady was greatly to be pitied; so was the survivor. Let the school-tyrants, the University refusers of argument, and the orthodox sowers of their wild oats, with myriads of unhappy women behind them, rise up in judgment against him. Honester men will not be hindered from doing justice to sincerity, wherever they find it; nor be induced to blast the memory of a man of genius and benevolence, for one painful passage in his life, which he might have avoided, had he been no better than his calumniators.
On the death of this unfortunate lady, Mr. Shelley married the daughter of Mr. Godwin; and resided at Great Marlow, in Buckinghamshire, where he was a blessing to the poor. His charity, though liberal, was not weak. He inquired personally into the circumstances of the petitioners; visited the sick in their beds, (for he had gone the round of the Hospitals on purpose to be able to practise on occasion); and kept a regular list of industrious poor, whom he assisted with small sums to make up their accounts. At Marlow he wrote the Revolt of Islam. Queen Mab was an earlier production, written at the age of seventeen or eighteen, when he married; and it was never published with his consent. He regretted the publication when it did take place some years afterwards, and stated as much in the newspapers, considering it a crude performance, and as not sufficiently entering into the important questions it handled. Yet upon the strength of this young and unpublished work, he was deprived of his two children.
The reader perhaps is not aware, that in this country of England, where the domestic institutions are boasted of as so perfect, and are apt to be felt as so melancholy, where freedom of opinion is so much cried up, and the tribunals take so much pains to put it down,—where writers and philosophers in short, and what may be called the unconstituted authorities, have done so much for all the world, and the constituted authorities, particularly the lawyers, have done so little for any body but themselves,—the reader is perhaps not aware, that in this extraordinary country, any man's children may be taken from him tomorrow, who holds a different opinion from the Lord Chancellor in faith and morals. Hume's, if he had any, might have been taken. Gibbon's might have been taken. The virtuous Condorcet, if he had been an Englishman and a father, would have stood no chance. Plato, for his Republic, would have stood as little; and Mademoiselle de Gournay might have been torn from the arms of her adopted father Montaigne, convicted beyond redemption of seeing farther than the walls of the Court of Chancery. That such things are not done often, we believe: that they may be done oftener than people suspect, we must unfortunately believe also; for they are transacted with closed doors, and the details are forbidden to transpire. Mr. Shelley was convicted of holding the unpublished opinions, which his public teachers at the University had not thought fit to reason him out of. He was also charged with not being of the received opinions with regard to the intercourse of the sexes; and his children, a girl and a boy, were taken from him. The persons who succeeded in bereaving him, did not succeed in their application to have the children put under their own management. They were transferred to the care of an old, and I dare say respectable, clergyman of the Church of England; and have long received all the helps to sincerity and perfection, which Mr. Bentham has pointed out in his remarks on that establishment. The rest depends on the natural strength of their understandings, and what reflections they may make when they compare their father's practical Christianity with the theories they will see contradicted all round them. The circumstance deeply affected Mr. Shelley: so much so, that he never afterwards dared to trust himself with mentioning his children to the friend who stood at his side throughout the business, and who was the dearest friend that he had. But what additional love it generated in him towards our establishments, and their mode of reasoning, the reader may guess. The friend in question, who had first won his regard by the liberal opinions expressed in the Examiner, and by the unusual mode of advising him not to print a volume of juvenile poems, (an advice which still more unusually was taken,) has given, in that paper, an interesting account of Mr. Shelley's manner of life at this period. I quote from memory, but am correct in the substance. Mr. Shelley, owing to time freedom of his inquiries, as well as to the malignity of his enemies, was said to be keeping a seraglio. His friend, who partook of some of his opinions, partook of the scandal. This keeper of a seraglio, who in fact was extremely difficult to please in such matters, and who had no idea of love unconnected with sentiment, passed his days like a hermit. He rose early in the morning, walked and read before breakfast, took that meal sparingly, wrote and studied the greater part of the morning walked and read again, dined on vegetables (for he took neither meat nor wine,) conversed with his friends (to whom his house was ever open,) again walked out, and usually finished with reading to his wife till ten o'clock, when he went to bed. This was his daily existence. His book was generally Plato, or Homer, or one of the Greek tragedians, or the Bible, in which last he took a great, though peculiar, and often admiring interest. One of his favourite parts was the book of Job. The writings attributed to Solomon he thought too Epicurean, in the modern sense of the word; and in his notions of St. Paul, he agreed with the writer of the work entitled "Not Paul but Jesus." For his Christianity, in the proper sense of the word, he went to the gospel of St. James, and to the sermon on the Mount by Christ himself, for whose truly divine spirit he entertained the greatest reverence. There was nothing which embittered his reviewers against him more than the knowledge of this fact, and his refusal to identify their superstitions and worldly use of the Christian doctrines with the just idea of a great Reformer and advocate of the many; one, whom they would have been the first to cry out against, had he appeared now. His want of faith, indeed, in one sense of the word, and his exceeding faith in the existence of goodness and the great doctrine of charity, formed a comment, the one on the other, very formidable to the less troublesome constructions of the orthodox.
Some alarmists at Marlow said, that if he went on at this rate, he would make all the poor people infidels. He went on, till ill health and calumny, and the love of his children, forced him abroad. During his residence at Marlow, Mr. Shelley published a "Proposal for putting Reform to the Vote" throughout England; for which purpose, as an earnest of his sincerity, he offered to contribute a hundred pounds. This hundred pounds (which owing to his liberal habits he could very ill spare at the time) he would have done his best to supply, by saving and economizing. It was not uncommon with him to give away all his ready money, and be compelled to take a journey on foot or on the top of a stage, no matter during what weather. His constitution, though naturally consumptive, had attained, by temperance and exercise, to a surprising power of resisting fatigue. As an instance of his extraordinary generosity, an acquaintance of his, a man of letters, enjoyed from him at that period a pension of a hundred a-year; and he continued to enjoy it, till fortune rendered it superfluous. But the princeliness of his disposition was seen most in his behaviour to his friend, the writer of this memoir, who is proud to relate, that Mr. Shelley once made him a present of fourteen hundred pounds, to extricate him from debt. I was not extricated, for I had not yet learnt to be careful: but the shame of not being so, after such generosity, and the pain which my friend afterwards underwent, when I was in trouble and he was helpless, were the first causes of my thinking of money-matters to any purpose. His last sixpence was ever at my service, had I chosen to share it: his house in Italy would ever have been shared with me, had I thought it right to go thither. I went at last, with happy views for all; and of the three who set up a work against tyranny, am the only one that survive. It is remarkable that in a poetical epistle written some years ago, and published in the volume of "Posthumous Poems," Mr. Shelley, in alluding to his friend's circumstances, which for the second time were then straitened, only makes an affectionate lamentation that he himself is poor; never once hinting, that he had already drained his purse for his friend.
From Marlow, Mr. Shelley went with his wife and a new family to Italy, where he lived in his usual quiet and retired manner. He had become acquainted with Lord Byron during a former visit to the Continent; and the acquaintance was now renewed. He visited his Lordship at Venice; but it was only latterly that he saw much of him, when they both lived at Pisa. He had the highest admiration of his Lordship's genius; but they differed, as might be expected, on many other points. Lord Byron thought his philosophy too spiritual and romantic. Mr. Shelley thought his Lordship's too material and despairing. The noble Lord often expressed the highest opinion of his companion's virtues, and of his freedom from selfishness. An account has been published of a voyage to Sicily, in which Mr. Shelley is described as behaving with want of courage. To those who knew him, it is unnecessary to repeat, that the whole account is a fabrication, voyage and all. Lord Byron and he never were in Sicily, nor ever sailed together, except on the Lake of Geneva. Mr. Shelley's bravery was remarkable and was the ultimate ruin of him. In a scuffle that took place on horseback, in the streets of Pisa, with a hot-headed dragoon, he behaved with a courage so distinguished, and with so much thought for every body but himself, that Lord Byron wondered upon what principle a man could be induced to prefer any other person's life in that manner, before his own. The solution of the difficulty was to be found in their different views of human nature. Mr. Shelley would have lost his life with pleasure, to set an example of disinterestedness: Lord Byron could do striking public things. Greece, and an admiring public, still re-echo them. But the course of his Lordship's studies had led him to require, that they should be mixed up with other stimulants.
A very melancholy period of my narrative is now arrived. 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. He wrote to me at Genoa to say that he hoped "the waves would never part us again;" 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 be 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. On the present occasion, nothing could surpass his generous and active sympathy. During the whole of the proceedings that took place, Mr. Shelley's and Mr. Williams's friends were indebted to Mr. Trelawney for every kind of attention: the great burden of inquiry fell upon him; and he never ceased his good offices, either then or afterwards, till he had done every thing that could have been expected to be done, either of the humblest or the highest friend.
MR. TRELAWNEY'S NARRATIVE OF THE LOSS OF THE BOAT CONTAINING MR. SHELLEY AND MR. WILLIAMS, ON THE 8TH OF JULY, 1822, OFF THE COAST OF ITALY. (NOW FIRST PUBLISHED.)
"Mr. Shelley, Mr. Williams (formerly of the 8th Dragoons), and one seaman, 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, &c. 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 the 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 be 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 dispatched 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 dispatched 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 Iteggo, 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," &c. 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 in 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 we 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-patrole 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 a 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 generally running right into it. A vessel embayed in this gulf, and overtaken by one of the squalls so common upon the coast of it, is almost certain to be wrecked. The loss of small craft is great; and the shallowness of the water, and breaking of the surf, preventing approach to the shore, or boats 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 up under such a press of canvass, all the sheets fast, the hands unprepared, and only three persons on board, time boat filled to leeward, and having two tons of ballast, and not being decked, went down on the instant; not giving them a moment to prepare themselves by even taking off their boots, or seizing 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 his 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 time 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 as 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, &c. 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, &c. 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. The inaccuracies of Captain Medwin on this subject I have noticed before. On both days, the extraordinary beauty of the flame arising from the funeral pile was noticed. The weather was beautifully fine. The Mediterranean, now soft and lucid, kissed the shore as if to make peace with it. The yellow sand and blue sky intensely contrasted with one another: marble mountains touched the air with coolness, and the flame of the fire bore away towards heaven in vigorous amplitude, waving and quivering with a brightness of inconceivable beauty. It seemed as though it contained the glassy essence of vitality. You might have expected a seraphic countenance to look out of it, turning once more, before it departed, to thank the friends that had done their duty.
Among the various conjectures respecting this lamentable event, a suspicion was not wanting, that the boat had been run down by a larger one, with a view to plunder it. Mr. Shelley was known to have taken money on board. Crimes of that nature had occurred often enough to warrant such a suspicion; and they could be too soon washed out of the consciences of the ignorant perpetrators by confession. But it was lost in the more probable conclusions arising from the weather. One bitter consolation to the friends of Mr. Shelley was, that his death, as far as he alone was concerned, was of a nature he would have preferred to many others, probably to any. A reflection, more pleasing, reminded them, that in the rapid decomposition occasioned by the sea and the fire, the mortal part of him was saved from that gradual corruption, which is seldom contemplated without shuddering by a lively imagination. And yet the same imagination and suffering which make us cling to life at one time, and give us a horror of dissolution, can render the grave desirable and even beautiful at another. 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." A like tenderness of patience, in one who possessed a like energy, made Mr. Keats say on his death-bed that he "seemed to feel the daisies growing over him." These are the feelings that servile critics ridicule, and that all other human beings respect. 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.
The writer who criticised the "Posthumous Poems," in the "Edinburgh Review," does justice to the excellence of Mr. Shelley's intentions, and acknowledges him to be one of those rare persons called men of genius; but accuses him of a number of faults, which he attributes to the predominance of his will, and a scorn of every thing received and conventional. To this cause he traces the faults of his poetry, and what he conceives to be the errors of his philosophy. Furthermore, he charges Mr. Shelley with a want of reverence for antiquity, and quotes a celebrated but not unequivocal passage from Bacon, where the Philosopher, according to the advice of the Prophet, recommends us to take our stand upon the ancient ways, and see what road we are to take for progression. He says Mr. Shelley had "too little sympathy with the feelings of others, which he thought he had a right to sacrifice, as well as his own, to a grand ethical experiment; and asserts that if a thing were old and established, this was with him a certain proof of its having no solid foundation to rest upon: if it was new, it was good and right: every paradox was to him a self-evident truth: every prejudice an undoubted absurdity. The weight of authority, the sanction of ages, the common consent of mankind, were vouchers only for ignorance, error, and imposture. Whatever shocked the feelings of others, conciliated his regard; whatever was light, extravagant, and vain, was to him a proportionable relief from the dulness and stupidity of established opinions." This is caricature; and caricature of an imaginary original.
Alas Mr. Shelley was so little relieved by what was light and vain, (if I understand what the Reviewer means by those epithets,) and so little disposed to quarrel with the common consent of mankind, where it seemed reasonably founded, that at first he could not endure even the comic parts of Lord Byron's writings, because he thought they tended to produce mere volatility instead of good; and he afterwards came to relish them, because he found an accord with them in the bosoms of society. Whatever shocked the feeling of others so little conciliated his regard, that with the sole exception of matters of religion (which is a point on which the most benevolent Reformers, authors of "grand ethical experiments," in all ages, have thought themselves warranted in hazarding alarm and astonishment,) his own feelings were never more violated than by disturbances given to delicacy, to sentiment, to the affections. If ever it seemed otherwise, as in the subject of his tragedy of the Cenci, it was only out of a more intense apprehensiveness, and the right it gave him to speak. He saw, in every species of tyranny and selfish will, an image of all the rest of the generation. That a love of paradox is occasionally of use to remind commonplaces of their weakness, and to prepare the way for liberal opinions, nobody knows better or has more unequivocally shown than Mr. Shelley's critic; and yet I am not aware that Mr. Shelley was at all addicted to paradox; or that he loved any contradiction, that did not directly contradict some great and tyrannical abuse. Prejudices that he thought innocent, no man was more inclined to respect, or even to fall in with. He was prejudiced in favour of the dead languages; he had a theoretical antipathy to innovations in style; he had almost an English dislike of the French and their literature, a philosopher or two excepted: it cost him much to reconcile himself to manners that were not refined; and even with regard to the prejudices of superstition, or the more poetical sides of popular faith, where they did not interfere with the daily and waking comforts of mankind, he was for admitting them with more than a spirit of toleration. It would be hazardous to affirm that he did not believe in spirits and genii. This is not setting his face against "every received mystery, and all traditional faith." He set his face, not against a mystery nor a self-evident proposition, but against whatever he conceived to be injurious to human good, and whatever his teachers would have forced down his throat, in defiance of the inquiries they had suggested. His opposition to what was established, as I have said before, is always to be considered with reference to that feature in his disposition, and that fact in his history. Of antiquity and authority he was so little a scorner, that his opinions, novel as some of them may be thought, are all to be found in writers, both ancient and modern, and those not obscure ones or empirical, but men of the greatest and wisest, and best names,—Plato and Epicurus, Montaigne, Bacon, Sir Thomas More. Nothing in him was his own, but the genius that impelled him to put philosophical speculations in the shape of poetry, and a subtle and magnificent style, abounding in Hellenisms, and by no means exempt (as he acknowledged) from a tendency to imitate whatever else he thought beautiful, in ancient or modern writers.
But Mr. Shelley was certainly definite in his object: he thought it was high time for society to come to particulars: to know what they would have. With regard to marriage, for instance, he was tired with the spectacle continually presented to his eyes, of a community always feeling sore upon that point, and cowed, like a man by his wife, from attempting some real improvement in it. There was no end, he thought, of setting up this new power, and pulling down that, if time one, to all real home purposes, proceeded just as the other did, and nothing was gained to society but a hope and a disappointment. This, in his opinion, was not the kind of will to be desired, in opposition to one with more definite objects. We must not, he thought, be eternally generalizing, shilly-shallying, and coquetting between public submission and private independence; but let a generous understanding and acknowledgment of what we are in want of, go hand in hand with our exertions in behalf of change; otherwise, when we arrive at success, we shall find success itself in hands that are but physically triumphant—hands that hold up a victory on a globe, a splendid commonplace, as a new-old thing for us to worship. This, to be sure, is standing "super vias antiquas;" but not in order to "make progression." The thing is all to be done over again. If there is "something rotten in the state of Denmark," let us mend it, and not set up Sweden or Norway, to knock down this rottenness with rottenness of their own; continually waiting for others to do our work, and finding them do it in such a manner, as to deliver us bound again into the hands of the old corruptions. We must be our own deliverers. An Essay on the Disinterestedness of Human Action is much; but twenty articles to show that the most disinterested person in the world is only a malcontent and a fanatic, can be of no service but to baffle conduct and resolution, in favour of eternal theory and the talking about it.
Mr. Shelley had no doubt a great deal of will; but the mistake of the Reviewer lies in giving it an antipathetical, instead of a sympathetic character. This may be the fault of some reformers. It may also be a fault of others to lament the want of will in their brethren at one time, and the excess of it at another, but particularly the want; satirizing the sparing and fastidious conduct of the better part of the lovers of freedom, "the inconsistent, vacillating good," and bewailing the long misfortunes of the world, which a few energetic persons might put an end to by a resolute and unconditional exercise of their free agency. The writer in question is not exempt from these inconsistencies. I do not accuse him of want of sympathy. On the contrary, I think the antipathies which he has sometimes given way to so strangely, and the will which he at other times recommends, and at all times sets an example of, arise out of the impatience of his very sympathy with mankind. This it is, which together with his own extraordinary amount of talent, and the interesting evidences of it which continually appear, has for so long a time kept his friends in good blood with him, whatever mood he has happened to be in; though he has tried them, of late, pretty hard. But this it is also, which ought to have led him into a different judgment with regard to Mr. Shelley. A greater portion of will among reformers is desirable; but it does not follow that an occasional excess of it (if such) can or does do the mischief he supposes, or furnishes any excuse worth mention for the outcries and pretended arguments of the opposite party. If he will have a good deal of will, he must occasionally have an excess of it. The party in question, that is to say, all the bad systems and governments existing, with all their slaves and dependents, have an infinite will of their own, which they already make use of, with all their might, to put down every endeavour against it: and the world in general is so deafened with the noise of ordinary things, and the great working of the system which abuses it, that an occasional ex-cess in the lifting up of a reforming voice appears to be necessary to make it listen. It requires the example of a spirit not so prostrate as its own, to make it believe that all hearts are not alike kept under, and that the hope of reformation is not everywhere given up. This is the excuse for such productions as Werter, the Stranger, and other appeals to the first principles of sympathy and disinterestedness. This is the excuse for the paradoxes of Rousseau; for the extravagances of some of the Grecian philosophers (which were necessary to call the attention to all parts of a question); and if I did not wish to avoid hazarding misconception, and hurting the feelings, however unreasonably, of any respectable body of men, I might add stronger cases in point; cases, in which principles have been pushed to their greatest and most impracticable excess, for the purpose, we are told, of securing some attention to the reasonable part of them. Mr. Shelley objected to the present state of the intercourse of the sexes, and the vulgar notions of the Supreme Being. He also held with Sir Thomas More, that a community of property was desirable; an opinion, which obtained him more ill-will, perhaps, than any other, at least in the class among which he was born. The Reviewer implies, that he put forth some of these objections alarmingly or extravagantly. Be it so. The great point is to have a question discussed. The advocates of existing systems of all sorts are strong enough to look to the defence whereas, those who suffer by them are so much intimidated by their very sufferings, as to be afraid to move, lest they should be worse off than they are at present. They do not want to know their calamity; they know it well enough. They require to be roused, and not always to sit groaning over, or making despairing jests of their condition. If a friend's excess excites them to differ with him, they are still incited to look at the question. His sympathy moves them to he ashamed of their passiveness, and to consider what may be done. We need not fear, that it will be too much. At the very least, matters will find their level, if we are our own masters under Providence; if Nature works with us for tools, and intends amelioration through the means of our knowledge, we are roused to some purpose. If not, or if we are to go so far and no farther, no farther shall we go. The sweet or bitter waters of humanity will assuredly find where to settle.
The Reviewer, still acknowledging the genius of Mr. Shelley, and his benevolent intentions, finds the same fault with his poetry as with his philosophy, and traces it to the same causes. Of all my friend's writings, the poetical parts are those which I should least conceive to subject him to the charge of want of sympathy. Is the quarrelling with constituted authorities and received calamities, the same thing as scorning the better part of what exists? Is the quitting the real world for the ideal in search of consolation, the same thing as thrusting one's foot against it in contempt, and flying off on the wings of antipathy? And what did Mr. Shelley carry thither when he went? A perpetual consciousness of his humanity; a clinging load of the miseries of his fellow-creatures. The Witch of Atlas, for example, is but a personification of the imaginative faculty in its most airy abstractions; and yet the author cannot indulge himself long in that fairy region, without dreaming of mortal strife. If he is not in this world, he must have visions of it. If fiction is his reality by day, reality will be his fiction during his slumbers. The truth is, Mr. Shelley was in his whole being, mental and physical, of an extreme delicacy and sensibility. He felt every part of his nature intensely; and his impulse, object, and use in this world, was to remind others of some important points touching our common nature and endeavours, by affording a more than ordinary example of their effect upon himself. It may be asked, who are to be reminded? how many? To which we answer, those who have been reminded already, as well as the select portion who remain to be so; never mind how few, provided they are reminded to some purpose. Mr. Shelley's writings, it is admitted, are not calculated to be popular, however popular in their ultimate tendency, or cordial in their origin. They are, for the most part, too abstract and refined. But "fit audience though few," is the motto of the noblest ambition; and it is these audiences that go and settle the world.
Mr. Shelley's poetry is invested with a dazzling and subtle radiance, which blinds the common observer with light. Piercing beyond this, we discover that the characteristics of his poetical writings are an exceeding sympathy with the whole universe, material and intellectual; an ardent desire to benefit his species; an impatience of the tyrannies and superstitions that hold them bound; and a regret that the power of one loving and enthusiastic individual is not proportioned to his will, nor his good reception with the world at all proportioned to his love. His poetry is either made up of all these feelings united, or is an attempt to escape from their pressure into the widest fields of imagination. I say an attempt,—because, as we have seen, escape he does not; and it is curious to observe how he goes pouring forth his baffled affections upon every object he can think of, bringing out its beauties and pretensions by the light of a radiant fancy, and resolved to do the whole detail of the universe a sort of poetical justice, in default of being able to make his fellow-creatures attend to justice political. From this arises the fault of his poetry, which is a want of massiveness,—of a proper distribution of light and shade. The whole is too full of glittering points; of images touched and illustrated alike, and brought out into the same prominence. He ransacks every thing like a bee, grappling with it in the same spirit of penetration and enjoyment; till you lose sight of the field he entered upon, in following him into his subtle recesses. He is also too fond, in his larger works, of repeating the same images drawn from the material universe and the sea. When he is obliged to give up these peculiarities, and to identify his feelings and experience with those of other people, as in his dramatic poems, the fault no longer exists. His object remains,—that of increasing the wisdom and happiness of mankind: but he has laid aside his wings, and added to the weight and purpose of his body: the spiritual part of him is invested with ordinary flesh and blood. In truth, for ordinary or immediate purposes, a great deal of Mr. Shelley's poetry ought to have been written in prose. It consists of philosophical speculations, which required an introduction to the understandings of the community, and not merely, as he thought, a recommendation to their good will. The less philosophic he becomes, reverting to his own social feelings, as in some of the pathetic complaints before us; or appealing to the common ones of mankind upon matters immediately agitating them, as in the "Ode to Naples;" or giving himself fairly up to the sports of fancy, as in the "Witch of Atlas," or "The Translations from Goethe and Homer;" the more he delights and takes with him, those who did not know whether to argue, or to feel, in some of his larger works. The common reader is baffled with the perplexing mixture of passion and calmness; of the severest reasoning, and the wildest fiction; of the most startling appearances of dissent, and the most conventional calls upon sympathy. But in all his writings there is a wonderful sustained sensibility, and a language lofty and fit for it. He has the art of using the stateliest words and the most learned idioms, without incurring the charge of pedantry; so that passages of more splendid and sonorous writing are not to be selected from any writer, since the time of Milton: and yet when he descends from his ideal worlds, and comes home to us in our humbler bowers, and our yearnings after love and affection, he attunes the most natural feelings to a style so proportionate, and withal to a modulation so truly musical, that there is nothing to surpass it in the lyrics of Beaumont and Fletcher.
Let the reader, whom these pages may have rendered more desirous of knowing Mr. Shelley, turn to the volume in question, and judge for himself in what sort of spirit it was that he wrote the "Witch of Atlas," the "Letter" to a Friend at p. 59, part of the "Ode to Naples," the "Song." at p. 141, a "Lament," the "Question," "Lines to an Indian Air," "Stanzas written in dejection near Naples," Lines on a "Faded Violet," "Lines to a Critic," "Tomorrow," "Good Night," "Love's Philosophy," the "Stanzas" at p. 214, and the "Translations from Goethe and Homer." The verses "On the Medusa's Head of Leonardo da Vinci" are perhaps as fine as any thing in the book, for power. The poetry seems sculptured and grinning, like the subject. The words are cut with a knife. But love is the great inspirer of Mr. Shelley. His very abstract ideas are in love.
"The deep recesses of her odorous dwelling
Were stored with magic treasures—sounds of air,
Which had the power all spirits of compelling,
Folded in cells of crystal silence there;
Such as we hear in youth, and think the feeling
Will never die—yet ere we are aware,
The feeling and the sound are fled and gone,
And the regret they leave remains alone.
"And there lay Visions swift, and sweet, and quaint,
Each in its thin sheath like a chrysalis;
Some eager to burst forth, some weak and faint
With the soft burthen of intensest bliss.
We have heard of ladies falling in love with Lord Byron, upon the strength of Don Juan. These must be ladies in towns. If ever a more sequestered heroine could become enamoured of a poet out of the mere force of sentiment, or at least desire to give him exceeding comfort and consolation, it would be such a poet as Mr. Shelley. The most physical part of the passion acquires, from his treatment of it, a grace and purity inexpressible. It is curious to see with what fearlessness, in the conscious dignity of this power, he ventures to speak of things that would defy all mention from a less ingenuous lip. The "Witch of Atlas," will be liked by none but poets, or very poetical readers. Spenser would have liked it: Sir Kenelm Digby would have written a comment upon it. Its meanings are too remote, and its imagery too wild, to be enjoyed by those who cannot put on wings of the most subtle conception, and remain in the uttermost parts of idealism. Even those who can, will think it something too dreamy and involved. They will discover the want of light and shade, which I have before noticed, and which leaves the picture without its due breadth and perspective. It is the fault of some of Mr. Shelley's poems, that they look rather like store-houses of imagery, than imagery put into proper action. We have the misty regions of wide air, "The hills of snow, and lofts of piled thunder,—"which Milton speaks of; but they are too much in their elementary state, as if just about to be used, and moving in their first chaos. To a friend, who pointed out to him this fault, Mr. Shelley said, that he would consider it attentively, and doubted not he should profit by the advice. He scorned advice as little as he did any other help to what was just and good. He could both give and take it with an exquisite mixture of frankness and delicacy, that formed one of the greatest evidences of his superiority to common virtue. I have mentioned before, that his temper was admirable. He was naturally irritable and violent; but had so mastered the infirmity, as to consider every body's inclinations before his own. Mr. Trelawney pronounced him to be a man absolutely without selfishness. In his intercourse with myself, nothing delighted him more than to confound the limits of our respective property, in money-matters, books, apparel, &c. He would help himself without scruple to whatever he wanted, whether a book or a waistcoat; and was never better pleased, than at finding things of his own in his friend's possession.
The way in which Mr. Shelley's eye darted "from heaven to earth," and the sort of call at which his imagination was ever ready to descend, is well exemplified in the following passage of the Letter at p. 59. The unhappy mass of prostitution which exists in England, contrasted with something which seems to despise it, and which, in more opinions than his, is a main cause of it, was always one of the subjects that at a moment's notice would overshadow the liveliest of his moods. The picturesque line in italics is beautifully true. The poet is writing to a friend in London.
"Unpavilioned heaven is fair,
Whether the moon, into her chamber gone,
Leaves midnight to the golden stars, or wan
Climbs with dimnish'd beams the azure steep;
Or whether clouds sail o'er the inverse deep,
Piloted by the many-wandering blast,
And the rare stars rush through them, dim and fast.
All this is beautiful in every land.
But what see you beside? A shabby stand
Of hackney coaches—a brick house or wall,
Fencing some lonely court, white with the scrawl
Of our unhappy politics; or worse.
A wretched woman, reeling by, whose curse
Mix'd with the watchman's, partner of her trade,
You must accept in place of serenade."
These miserable women, sometimes indeed owing to the worst and most insensible qualities on their own parts, but sometimes also to the best and most guileless, are at such a dreadful disadvantage compared with those who are sleeping at such an hour in their comfortable homes, that it is difficult to pitch our imaginations among the latter, for a refuge from the thought of them. Real love, however, even if it be unhappy, provided its sorrow be without contempt and sordidness, will furnish us with a transition less startling. The following Lines to an Indian Air, make an exquisite serenade.
"I arise from dreams of thee
In the first sweet sleep of night,
When the winds are breathing low,
And the stars are shining bright;
I arise from dreams of thee,
And a spirit in my feet
Has led me—who knows how?
To thy chamber-window, sweet!
"The wandering airs they faint
On the dark, the silent stream—
The champak odours fall,
Like sweet thoughts in a dream;
The nightingale's complaint
It dies upon her heart,
As I must upon thine,
Beloved as thou art!
"O lift me from the grass!
I die, I faint, I fail!
Let thy love in kisses rain
On my lips and eyelids pale.
My cheek is cold and white, alas!
My heart beats loud and fast;
Oh! press it close to thine again
Where it will break at last."
I know not that two main parts of Mr. Shelley's poetical genius, the descriptive and the pathetic, ever vented themselves to more touching purpose than in the lines Written in Dejection near Naples. The brilliant yet soft picture with which they commence, introduces the melancholy observer of it in a manner extremely affecting. He beholds what delights others, and is willing to behold it, though it delights him not. He even apologizes for "insulting" the bright day he has painted so beautifully, with his "untimely moan." The stanzas exhibit, at once, minute observation, the widest power to generalize, exquisite power to enjoy, and admirable patience at the want of enjoyment. This latter combination forms the height of the amiable, as the former does of the intellectual character. The fourth stanza will strongly move the reader of this memoir.
"The sun is warm, the sky is clear,
The waves are dancing fast and bright,
Blue isles and snowy mountains wear
The purple moon's transparent light
* * * * * * *
Around its unexpanded buds;
Like many a voice of one delight,
The winds, the birds, the ocean floods,
The City's voice itself is soft, like Solitude's.
"I see the deep's untrampled floor
With green and purple sea-weeds strown;
I see the waves upon the shore,
Like light dissolved in star-showers, thrown.
I sit upon the sands alone;
The lightning of the noon-tide ocean
Is flashing round me, and a tone
Arises from its measured motion,
How sweet! did any heart now share in my emotion.
"Alas! I have nor hope, nor health,
Nor peace within, nor calm around,
Nor that content surpassing wealth,
The sage in meditation found,
And walked with inward glory crowned;
Nor fame, nor power, nor love, nor leisure.
Others I see whom these surround;
Smiling they live, and call life pleasure;—
To me that cup has been dealt in another measure.
"Yet now despair itself is mild,
Ev'n as the winds and waters are;
I could be down like a tired child,
And weep away the life of care
Which I have borne and yet must bear,
Till death, like sleep, might steal on me,
And I might feel in the warm air
My cheek grow cold, and hear the sea
Breathe o'er my dying brain its last monotony.
"Some might lament that I were cold,
As I when this sweet day is done,
Which my lost heart, too soon grown old,
Insults with this untimely moan:
They might lament, for I am one
Whom men love not, and yet regret;
Unlike this day, which, when the sun
Shall on its stainless glory set,
Will linger, though enjoyed, like joy in memory yet."
The pieces, that call to mind Beaumont and Fletcher, are such as the following:—
"Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory;
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken.
"Rose-leaves, when the rose is dead,
Are heap'd for the beloved's bed;
And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
Love itself shall slumber on."
"Love's Philosophy" is another. It has been often printed; but for the same reason will bear repetition. The sentiment must he understood with reference to the delicacy as well as freedom of Mr. Shelley's opinions, and not as supplying any excuse to that heartless libertinism which no man disdained more. The poem is here quoted for its grace and lyrical sweetness.
"The fountains mingle with the river,
And the river with the ocean;
The winds of heaven mix for ever,
With a sweet emotion:
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
In one another's being mingle—
Why not I with thine?
"See the mountains kiss high heaven,
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister flower would be forgiven,
If it disdain'd its brother:
And the sunlight clasps the earth,
And the moonbeams kiss the sea;
What are all these kissings worth,
If thou kiss not me?
Mr. Shelley ought to have written nothing but dramas, interspersed with such lyrics as these. Perhaps had he lived, he would have done so; for, after all, he was but young; and he had friends of that opinion, whom he was much inclined to agree with. The fragment of the tragedy of Charles the First, in this volume, makes us long for more of it. With all his republicanism, he would have done justice to Charles, as well as to Pym and Hampden. His completest production is unquestionably the tragedy of the "Cenci." The objections to the subject are, on the face of them, not altogether unfounded; but they ought not to weigh with those who have no scruple in grappling with any of the subjects of our old English drama; still less, if they are true readers of that drama, and know how to think of the great ends of poetry in a liberal and masculine manner. "Cenci" is the personification of a will, maddened, like a Roman emperor's, by the possession of impunity; deadened to all sense of right and wrong by degrading notions of a Supreme Being; and consequently subjected to the most frightful wants, and knowing no pleasure but in sensuality or malignity. The least of his actions becomes villainous, because he does it in defiance of principle. On the other hand, his death by the hand of his outraged daughter produces a different meeting of extremes, because it results, however madly, from horror at the violation of principle. The reader refuses to think that a daughter has slain a father, precisely because a dreadful sense of what a father ought not to have done has driven her to it, and because he sees that in any other situation she would be the most exemplary of children. This remark is made for the benefit of the curious reader, and to vindicate Mr. Shelley from having taken up a subject out of pure scorn of his feelings: a strange policy in any author, and not surely to be found in him. Considering what an excellent production the Cenci is, it is certainly difficult to help wishing that the subject had been of a nature to startle nobody; but it may be as truly added, that such a subject could have been handled by no other writer in a manner less offensive, or more able to suggest its own vindication.
The Translations that conclude the "Posthumous Poems," are masterly. That of the "Hymn to Mercury," containing the pranks of the Deity when young, abounds in singular animal spirits, a careless yet exuberant feeling of mixed power and indifference, of the zest of newborn life, and a godlike superiority to its human manifestations of it, such as we might suppose to take place before vice and virtue were thought of, or only thought of to afford pastime for mischievous young gods, who were above the necessity of behaving themselves. I will confine myself, however, to the quotation of a passage or two from the scenes out of Goethe's "Faust." They contain the Prologue in Heaven, which Lord Leveson Gower has omitted in his translation, and the May-day Night, which he has abridged, and thought untranslatable. The Prologue in Heaven is remarkable for the liberties which a privy-counsellor and gentleman with a star at his breast (for such the original poet is) may take with the scriptural idea of the Divinity, and yet find readers to eulogize and translate him. It is a parody on the beginning of the Book of Job. Not that I believe the illustrious German intended any disrespect to loftier conceptions of a Deity. The magnificent Hymn that precedes it, shows he can do justice to the noblest images of creation, and improve what other poets have repeated to us of the songs of angels. Mr. Shelley's opinion of the Book of Job (on which he thought of founding a tragedy) was not the less exalted, (nor, I dare say, Goethe's either,) because he could allow himself to make this light and significant comment on the exordium. But it is worth while noticing these sort of discrepancies; and to observe also, how readily they shall be supposed without being comprehended for the sake of one man, and how little comprehended or supposed either for the toleration of another.
SCENE—THE HARTZ MOUNTAIN, A DESOLATE COUNTRY.
Meph. Would you not like a broomstick? As for me,
I wish I had a good stout ram to ride;
For we are still far from th' appointed place.
Faust. This knotted staff is help enough for me,
Whilst I feel fresh upon my legs. What good
Is there in making short a pleasant way?
To creep along the labyrinths of the vales,
And climb those rocks, where ever-babbling springs
Precipitate themselves in waterfalls,
Is the true sport that seasons such a path.
Already Spring kindles the birchen spray,
And the hoar pines already feel her breath
Shall she not work also within our limbs?
Meph. Nothing of such an influence do I feel.
My body is all wintry, and I wish
The flowers upon our path were frost and snow.
But see; how Melancholy rises now
Dimly uplifting her belated beam,
The blank unwelcome round of the red moon,
And gives so bad a light, that every step
One stumbles 'gainst some crag. With your permission,
I'll call an Ignis-Fatuus to our aid;
I see one yonder burning jollily.
Halloo, my friend! may I request that you
Would favour us with your bright company?
Why should you blaze away there to no purpose?
Pray, be so good as light us up this way.
Ignis-Fatuus. With reverence be it spoken, I will try
To overcome the lightness of my nature:
Our course, you know, is generally zig-zag.
Meph. Ha! ha! your worship thinks you have to deal
With men. Go strait on, in the Devil's name,
Or I shall puff your flickering light out.
I see you are the master of the house;
I will accommodate myself to you.
Only consider, that to-night this mountain
Is all enchanted, and if Jack-a-lanthorn
Shows you his way, though you should miss your own,
You ought not to be too exact with him.
Faust, Mephistophiles, and Ignis-Fatuus, in alternate chorus.
The limits of the sphere of dream,
The bounds of true and false, are past.
Lead us on, thou wandering Gleam,
Lead us onward, far and fast,
To the wide, the desert waste.
But see how swift advance and shift
Trees behind trees, row by row,—
How, clift by clift, rocks bend and lift
Their frowning foreheads as we go.
The giant-snouted crags, ho! ho!
How they snort, and how they blow!
Through the mossy sods and stones,
Stream and streamlet hurry down;
A rushing throng! A sound of song
Beneath the vault of heaven is blown!
A profound living critic (I forget his name) has discovered, that the couplet in italics is absurd—crags having no snouts properly so called, and being things by no means alive or blowing! The plot now thickens. Every thing is vivified like the rocks; every thing takes a devilish aspect and meaning; the winds rise; the stragglers of the Devil's festival begin to appear, and the travellers feel themselves in the "witch element."
The children of the wind rage in the air!
With what fierce strokes they fall upon my neck!
* * * * *
Meph. Dost thou not hear?
Strange accents are ringing
Aloft, afar, anear,
The witches are singing
The torrent of the raging wizard song
Streams the whole mountain along.
Chorus of Witches.
The stubble is yellow, the corn is green,
Now to the Brocken the witches go;
The mighty multitude here may be seen
Gathering, wizard and witch, below.
Sir Urean is sitting aloft in the air;
Hey over stock, and hey over stone!
'Twixt witches and incubi what shall be done?
Tell it who dare! tell it who dare!
A Voice. Upon a sow-swine, whose farrows were nine,
Old Baubo rideth alone.
Chorus. Honour her to whom honour is due,
Old Mother Baubo! honour to you!
An able sow, with old Baubo upon her,
Is worthy of glory, and worthy of honour
The legion of witches is coming behind,
Darkening the night, and outspeeding the wind.
A Voice. Which way comest thou?
A Voice. Over Ilsenstein;
The owl was awake in the white moonshine;
I saw her at rest in her downy nest,
And she stared at me with her broad, bright eye.
Voices. And you my now as well take your course on to Hell,
Since you ride by so fast, on the headlong blast.
A Voice. She dropped poison upon me, as I past.
Here are the wounds.
Chorus of Witches. Come away! come along!
The way is wide, the way is long,
But what is that for a Bedlam throng?
Stick with the prong, and scratch with the broom.
The child in the cradle lies strangled at home,
And the mother is clapping her hands.
Semi-chorus of Wizards—lst.—We glide in
Like snails when the women are all away.
From a house once given over to sin,
Woman has a thousand steps to stray.
Semi-chorus—2nd.—A thousand steps must a woman take,
Where a man but a single step will make.
Voices above. Come with us, come with us, from Felsensee!*
Voices below. With what joy would we fly through the upper sky!
We are washed, we are 'nointed, stark naked are we:
But our toil and our pain are for ever in vain.
Both Chorusses. The wind is still, the stars are fled,
The melancholy moon is dead;
The magic notes, like spark on spark,
Drizzle, whistling through the dark.
Voices below. Stay, oh, stay!
Voices above. Out of the crannies of the rocks,
Voice below. Oh let me join your flocks!
I three hundred years have striven
To catch your skirt, and mount to heaven,
And still in vain. Oh, might I be
In company akin with me!
Both Chorusses. Some on a ram, and some on a prong,
On poles and on broomsticks we flutter along;
Forlorn is the wight, who can rise not to-night.
A Half-Witch below. I have been tripping this many an hour;
Are the others already so far before?
No quiet at home, and no peace abroad!
And less methinks is found by the road.
Chorus of Witches. Come onward, away! aroint thee, aroint!
A witch to be strong must anoint, anoint—
Then every trough will be boat enough;
With a rag for a sail, he can sweep through the sky,—
Who flies not to-night, when means he to fly?
Both Chorusses. We cling to the skirt, and we strike on the ground;
Witch 'legions thicken around and around;
Wizard swarms cover the heath all over.
Meph. What thronging, dashing, raging, rustling;
What whispering, babbling, hissing, bustling;
What glimmering, spurting, stinking, burning;
As heaven and earth were overturning.
There is a true witch element about us;
Take hold on me, or we shall be divided:—
Where are you?
Faust.(from a distance.) Here!
I must exert my authority in the house.
Place for young Voland! pray make way, good people.
Take hold on me, Doctor, and with one step
Let us escape from this unpleasant crowd:
They are too mad for people of my sort.
Just there shines a peculiar kind of light—
Something attracts me in those bushes. Come
This way: we shall slip down there in a minute.
Faust. Spirit of Contradiction! Well, lead on—
'Twere a wise feat, indeed, to wander out
Into the Brocken upon May-day night,
And then to isolate oneself in scorn,
Disgusted with the humours of the time.
Meph. See yonder, round a many-coloured flame
A merry club is huddled altogether:
Even with such little people as sit there,
One would not be alone.
Faust. Would that I were
Up yonder in the glow and whirling smoke,
Where the blind million rush impetuously
To meet the evil ones! there might I solve
Many a riddle that torments me.
Many a riddle there is tied anew
Inextricably. Let the great world rage
We will stay here, safe in the quiet dwellings.
It 's an old custom. Men have ever built
Their own small world in the great world of all.
Observe, here, how the author ridicules alike useless inquiries and a selfish passiveness. The great business of life is to be social and beneficent. The witches and their May-game are selfish and vulgar passions of all sorts, hardened into malignity, and believing only in the pleasures of the will. Their turmoil is in vain. Their highest and most superstitious reach, to heaven recoils only into disappointment, and a sense of hell. But the author proceeds to have a gird also at dry, mechanical theorists, unalive to sentiment and fancy. No sophistication escapes him. Take a passage or two, eminently infernal.
Meph. (to Faust, who has seceded from the dance.)
Why did you let that fair girl pass by you,
Who sung so sweetly to you in the dance?
Faust. A red mouse in the middle of her singing
Sprung from her mouth.
Meph. That was all right, my friend;
Be it enough that the mouse was not grey.
Do not disturb your hour of happiness
With close consideration of such trifles.
This is an image of bad and disgusting passions detected in one whom we love, and in the very midst and heart of our passion!—The following may be interpreted to shadow forth either the consequences of seduction, or the miserable regret with which a man of the world calls to mind his first love, and his belief in goodness.
Faust. Then saw I—
Faust. Seest thou not a pale,
Fair girl, standing alone, far, far away
She drags herself now forward with slow steps,
And seems as if she moved with shackled feet:
I cannot overcome the thought that she
Is like poor Margaret.
Meph. Let it be—pass on—
No good can come of it—it is not well
To meet it—it is an enchanted phantom,
A lifeless idol: with its numbing look
It freezes up the blood of man; and they
Who meet its ghastly stare are turned to stone,
Like those who saw Medusa.
Faust. Oh too true!
Her eyes are like the eyes of a fresh corpse
Which no beloved hand has closed, alas!
That is the heart which Margaret yielded to me—
Those are the lovely limbs which I enjoyed!
Meph. It is all magic: poor deluded fool!
She looks to every one like his first love.
Faust. Oh what delight! what woe! I cannot turn
My looks from her sweet piteous countenance.
How strangely does a single blood-red line,
Not broader than the sharp edge of a knife,
Adorn her lovely neck!
Meph. Ay, she can carry
Her head under her arm, upon occasion;
Perseus has cut it off for her. These pleasures
End in delusion.
So do not end the pleasures given us by men of genius with great and beneficent views. So does not end the pleasure of endeavouring to do justice to their memories, however painful the necessity. Some good must be done them, however small. Some pleasure cannot but be realized, for a great principle is advocated, and a deep gratitude felt. I differed with Mr. Shelley on one or two important points; but I agreed with him heartily on the most important point of all,—the necessity of doing good, and of discussing the means of it freely. I do not think the world so unhappy as he did, or what a very different and much more contented personage has not hesitated to pronounce it,—a "vale of blood and tears." But I think it quite unhappy enough to require that we should all set our shoulders to the task of reformation; and this for two reasons: first, that if mankind can effect any thing, they can only effect it by trying, instead of lamenting and being selfish; and second, that if no other good come of our endeavours, we must always be the better for what keeps human nature in hope and activity. That there are monstrous evils to be got rid of, nobody doubts: that we never scruple to get rid of any minor evil that annoys us, any obstacle in our way, or petty want of comfort in our dwellings, we know as certainly. Why the larger ones should be left standing, is yet to be understood. Sir Walter Scott may have no objection to his "vale of blood and tears," provided he can look down upon it from a decent aristocratical height, and a well-stocked mansion; but others have an inconvenient habit of levelling themselves with humanity, and feeling for their neighbours: and it is lucky for Sir Walter himself, that they have so; or Great Britain would not enjoy the comfort she does in her northern atmosphere. The conventional are but the weakest and most thankless children of the unconventional. They live upon the security the others have obtained for them. If it were not for the reformers and innovators of old, the Hampdens, the Miltons, and the Sydneys, life in this country, with all its cares, would not be the convenient thing it is, even for the lowest retainers of the lowest establishment. A feeling of indignation will arise, when we think of great spirits like those, contrasted with the mean ones that venture to scorn their wisdom and self-sacrifice; but it is swallowed up in what absorbed the like emotions in their own minds,—a sense of the many. The mean spirit, if we knew all, need not be denied even his laugh. He may he too much in want of it. But the greatest unhappiness of the noble-minded has moments of exquisite relief. Every thing of beautiful and good that exists, has a kind face for him when he turns to it; or reflects the happy faces of others that enjoy it, if he cannot. He can extract consolation out of discomfiture itself,—if the good he sought otherwise, can come by it. Mr. Shelley felt the contumelies he underwent, with great sensibility; and he expressed himself accordingly; but I know enough of his nature to be certain, that he would gladly have laid down his life to ensure a good to society, even out of the most lasting misrepresentations of his benevolence. Great is the pleasure to me to anticipate the day of justice, by putting an end to this evil. The friends whom he loved may now bid his brave and gentle spirit repose; for the human beings whom he laboured for, begin to know him.