Biographical SketchIn a small southwestern room of the old-fashioned country house named Field Place, in Sussex, there stands over the fireplace this inscription:--
Shrine of the dawning speech and thought
Of Shelley, sacred be
To all who bow where Time has brought
Gifts to Eternity.'
Here Percy Bysshe Shelley was born, on Saturday, August 4, 1792. He was the eldest child of Timothy and Elizabeth (Pilfold) Shelley. In this home he had for playmates, as he grew up, four younger sisters, and a brother the youngest of all: and on their memories were imprinted some scenes of his early days. He was fond of them, and as a schoolboy, when they came in to dessert, would take them on his knee and tell them romantic stories out of books on which his own imagination was fed; or he would declaim Latin for his father's pleasure; sometimes he led them on tramps through the fields, dropping his little sister over inconvenient fences, or he romped with them in the garden, not without accident, upsetting his baby brother in the strawberry bed, and being reproached by him as 'bad Bit.' St. Leonard's Wood, off to the northeast of the house, was traditionally inhabited by an old Dragon and a headless Spectre, and there was a fabulous Great Tortoise in Warnham Pond, which he made creatures in their children's world; nearer home was the old Snake, the familiar of the garden, unfortunately killed by the gardener's scythe; and, these not being marvels enough, a gray alchemist resided in the garret. He once dressed his sisters to impersonate fiends, and ran in front with a fire-stove flaming with magical liquids,--a sport that readily developed with schoolboy knowledge into rude and startling experiments with chemicals and electricity. Altogether he was an amiable brother, mingling high animal spirits with a delightful imagination and a gentle manner. His young pranks were numerous. He delighted in mystification, both verbal and practical; he invented incidents which he told for truth, and he especially enjoyed the ruse of a disguise. A single childish answer survives in the anecdote that when he set the fagot-stack on fire and was rebuked, he explained that he wanted 'a little hell of his own.' He also wished to adopt a child,--a fancy which lasted late into life,--and thought a small Gypsy tumbler at the door would serve. As child or boy, all our recollections of him are pleasant and natural, with touches of harmless mischief and vivid fancy. There was a spirit of wildness in him. Even before he went away to school, while still a fair, slight boy, with long, bright hair and full, blue eyes, running about or riding on his pony in the lanes,--where, after spending his own, he would stop and borrow money of the servant to give the beggars,--he attracted the notice of the villagers at Horsham as a madcap. Toward the end of his boyhood he liked to wander out alone at night, but the servant sent to watch him reported that he only 'took a walk and came back again.' Of all the scenes of this early home life, while it was still untroubled, the most attractive is the picture impressed on his five-year-old sister, Margaret, whose closest childish memory of him was of the day when, being home ill from Eton, he first went out again, and, coming up to the window where she was, pressed his face against the pane and gave her a kiss through the glass.
His education began at the age of six, when he went for the rudiments of Latin and Greek to the Rev. Mr. Edwards, a Welsh parson at Warnham, and got traditional Welsh instruction from the old man. At ten he was sent away from home to Sion House Academy, near Brentford, under Dr. Greenlaw, whom he afterward spoke of 'not without respect,' says Hogg, as 'a hard-headed Scotchman, and a man of rather liberal opinions.' Shelley was then tall for his years, with a pink and white complexion, curling brown hair in abundance, large, prominent blue eyes,--dull in reverie, flashing in feeling,--and an expression of countenance, says his cousin and schoolfellow, Medwin, 'of exceeding sweetness and innocence.' He was met in the playground, shut in by four stone walls with a single tree in it, by some sixty scholars drawn from the English middle class, who, writes Medwin, pounced on every new boy with a zest proportioned to the ordeal each had undergone in his turn. The new boy in this case knew nothing of peg-top, leapfrog, fives, or cricket. One challenged him to spar, and another to race. His only welcome was 'a general shout of derision.' To all this, continues Medwin, 'he made no reply, but with a look of disdain written in his countenance, turned his back on his new associates, and, when he was alone, found relief in tears.' It was but a step from the boys to the masters. If he idled over his books and watched the clouds, or drew those rude pines and cedars which he used to scrawl on his manuscripts to the end of his life, a box on the ear recalled him; and under English school discipline he had his share of flogging. 'He would roll on the floor,' says Gellibrand, another schoolmate, 'not from the pain, but from a sense of indignity.' He was a quick scholar, but he did not relish the master's coarseness in Virgil, and though he was well grounded in his classics, he owed little to such a moral discipline as he there received. He was very unhappy, and Medwin does not scruple to describe Sion House as 'a perfect hell' to him. He kept much to himself, but he had pleasures of his own. He formed a taste for the wild sixpenny romances of the time, full of ghosts, bandits, and enchantments; and his curiosity in the wonders of science was awakened by a travelling lecturer, Adam Walker, who exhibited his Orrery at the school. He and Medwin boated together on the river, and ran away at times to Kew and Richmond, where Shelley saw his first play, Mrs. Jordan in the 'Country Girl.' Sport, however, played a small part in such a boyhood. 'He passed among his schoolfellows,' says Medwin, 'as a strange and unsocial being, for when a holiday relieved us from our tasks, and the other boys were engaged in such sports as the narrow limits of our prison court allowed, Shelley, who entered into none of them, would pace backwards and forwards,--I think I see him now,--along the southern wall.' Rennie, another schoolmate, from whom comes the anecdote that Shelley once threw a small boy at his tormentors, adds that, 'if treated with kindness he was very amiable, noble, high-spirited, and generous.' It is noteworthy that at Sion House he first developed the habit of sleepwalking, for which he was punished.
A single fragment of autobiography softens the harshness of these two years. It is Shelley's description of his first boy friendship:-
'I remember forming an attachment of this kind at school. I cannot recall to my memory the precise epoch at which this took place; but I imagine that it must have been at the age of eleven or twelve. The object of these sentiments was a boy about my own age, of a character eminently generous, brave and gentle; and the elements of human feeling seem to have been, from his birth, genially compounded within him. There was a delicacy and simplicity in his manners inexpressibly attractive. It has never been my fortune to meet with him since my schoolboy days; but either I confound my present recollection with the delusions of past feelings, or he is now a source of honor and utility to every one around him. The tones of his voice were so soft and winning that every word pierced into my heart; and their pathos was so deep that in listening to him the tears have involuntarily gushed from my eyes. Such was the being for whom I first experienced the sacred sentiments of friendship. I remember in my simplicity writing to my mother a long account of his admirable qualities and my own devoted attachment. I suppose she thought me out of my wits, for she returned no answer to my letter. I remember we used to walk the whole play-hours up and down by some moss-covered palings, pouring out our hearts in youthful talk. We used to speak of the ladies with whom we were in love, and I remember that our usual practice was to confirm each other in the everlasting fidelity in which we had bound ourselves toward them and toward each other. I recollect thinking my friend exquisitely beautiful. Every night when we parted to go to bed we kissed each other like children, as we still were.'
Shelley went up to Eton, July 29, 1804, being then almost twelve. Dr. Goodall, an amiable and dignified gentleman, was Head Master, and was succeeded in 1809 by Dr. Keate, renowned for flogging, who was previously Master of the Lower School. Shelley went into the house of a writing master, Hecker, and later into that of George Bethel, remembered as the dullest tutor of the school. He found a larger body of scholars, some five hundred, a more regulated fagging system, and a change of masters; but if he was better off than before, it was because of his own growth and of the greater scale of the school, which afforded more freedom and variety and better companionship. He refused to fag, and he brought into the world of boyhood a compound of tastes and qualities that made him strange. 'He stood apart from the whole school,' says one of his mates, 'a being never to be forgotten.' In particular the union in him of natural gentleness with a high spirit that could be exasperated to the point of frenzy exposed him to attack; but he was dangerous, and once, according to his own account, struck a fork through the hand of a boy,--an act which he spoke of in after-life as 'almost involuntary,' and 'done on the spur of anguish.' He was called 'Mad Shelley' by the boys, who banded against him. Dowden describes their fun:--
'Sometimes he would escape by flight, and before he was lost sight of the gamesome youths would have chased him in full cry and have enjoyed the sport of a "Shelley-bait" up town. At other times escape was impossible, and then he became desperate. "I have seen him," wrote a schoolfellow, "surrounded, hooted, baited like a maddened bull, and at this distance of time I seem to hear ringing in my ears the cry which Shelley was wont to utter in his paroxysm of revengeful anger." In dark and miry winter evenings it was the practice to assemble under the cloisters previous to mounting to the Upper School. To surround "Mad Shelley" and "nail" him with a ball slimy with mud, was a favorite pastime; or his name would suddenly be sounded through the cloisters, in an instant to be taken up by another and another voice, until hundreds joined in the clamor, and the roof would echo and reëcho with "Shelley! Shelley! Shelley!" Then a space would be opened, in which as in a ring or alley the victim must stand to endure his torture; or some urchin would dart in behind and by one dexterous push scatter at Shelley's feet the books which he had held under his arm; or mischievous hands would pluck at his garments, or a hundred fingers would point at him from every side, while still the outcry "Shelley! Shelley!" rang against the walls. An access of passion--the desired result--would follow, which, declares a witness of these persecutions, "made his eyes flash like a tiger's, his cheeks grow pale as death, his limbs quiver."'
Shelley, however, though private, was not a recluse. He took part in the school life on its public side as well as in his studies. He boated, marched in the Montem procession as pole-bearer or corporal, and declaimed a speech of Cicero on an Election Monday. He once appeared in the boys' prize ring, but panic surprised him in the second round. He became an excellent Latin versifier and began that thoughtful acquaintance with Lucretius and Pliny's Natural History, which afterwards showed its effect in his early writings, and he learned something of Condorcet, Franklin and Godwin. Why he was called the 'atheist,' as the tradition is, cannot be made out, as there is no other trace of the word in the Eton vocabulary. His scientific interest was reinforced by a visit of the same itinerary Adam Walker who first revealed the mechanism of the heavens to him; and he bought an electrical machine from the philosopher's assistant, which the dull tutor, Bethel, unexpectedly felt the force of, when he undertook to investigate his lodger's instruments for 'raising the devil,' as Shelley boldly proclaimed his occupation to be at the moment. The willow stump which he set on fire with gunpowder and a burning glass is still shown, and there are other waifs of legend or anecdote which show his divided love for the ghosts of the cheap romances and incantations of his own invention. Chemistry, his favorite amusement, was forbidden him, and from these escapades of a youthful search for knowledge, doubtless, some of his undefined troubles with the masters arose. In the six years he passed at Eton his native intellectual impulse was the strongest element in his growth. He began authorship, and there wrote 'Zastrozzi,' his first published story, and with the proceeds of that romance he is said to have paid for the farewell breakfast he gave to his Eton friends at the same time that he presented them with books for keepsakes.
The reminiscences of these friends, several of whom have spoken of him, relieve the wilder traits of his Eton career. Halliday's description is the most full and heartfelt:--
'Many a long and happy walk have I had with him in the beautiful neighborhood of dear old Eton. We used to wander for hours about Clewer, Frogmore, the Park at Windsor, the Terrace; and I was a delighted and willing listener to his marvellous stories of fairyland and apparitions and spirits and haunted ground; and his speculations were then (for his mind was far more developed than mine) of the world beyond the grave. Another of his favorite rambles was Stoke Park, and the picturesque graveyard, where Gray is said to have written his "Elegy," of which he was very fond. I was myself far too young to form any estimate of character, but I loved Shelley for his kindliness and affectionate ways. He was not made to endure the rough and boisterous pastime of Eton, and his shy and gentle nature was glad to escape far away to muse over strange fancies; for his mind was reflective, and teeming with deep thought. His lessons were child's play to him.... His love of nature was intense, and the sparkling poetry of his mind shone out of his speaking eyes when he was dwelling on anything good or great. He certainly was not happy at Eton, for his was a disposition that needed especial personal superintendence to watch and cherish and direct all his noble aspirations and the remarkable tenderness of his heart. He had great moral courage and feared nothing but what was base, and false, and low.'
Such guidance as he had he received from Dr. Lind, a physician of Windsor, a man of humane disposition and independent thought, but of unconventional ways. Shelley always spoke of him in later years with veneration, and idealized him in his verse, but his influence can be traced only slightly in the habit Shelley learned from him of addressing letters to strangers. At one time, when Shelley was recovering from a fever at Field Place, and thought, on the information of a servant, that his father was contemplating sending him to an asylum, he sent for Dr. Lind, who came, and, at all events, relieved him of his fears.
While Shelley was still an Eton schoolboy Medwin spent the Christmas vacation of 1809 at Field Place, and recalls walks with him in St. Leonard's Wood, and snipe-shooting at Field Place Pond. He envied the marksmanship of Shelley, who was a good shot, pistol-shooting being a favorite amusement with him through life. Shelley was already in the full flow of his early literary faculty, which was first practised in collaboration with his friends. At Eton he at one time composed dramatic scenes with a schoolmate, and acted them before a third lower-form boy in the same house. His sister Helen says that he also sent an original play to Mathews, the comedian. He had written 'Zastrozzi,' and he now began a similar romance with Medwin, 'The Nightmare,' and also a story, having the Wandering Jew for its hero, which was immediately reworked by the joint authors into the juvenile poem of that title. By April 1, 1810, he had completed his second published romance, 'St. Irvyne,' and before fall came he had, in company with his sister Elizabeth, produced the poems of 'Victor and Cazire,' of which he had 1480 copies printed at Horsham. Sir Bysshe, his grandfather, is said to have given him money to pay this village printer, but just how Shelley used this liberality is unknown. Shelley was always in haste to publish. He had sent 'The Wandering Jew' to Campbell, who returned it with discouragement, but the manuscript was, nevertheless, put into the hands of Ballantyne & Co., of Edinburgh. Shelley had begun, too, his knight-errantry in behalf of poor and oppressed authors, and while at Eton had accepted bills for the purpose of bringing out a work on Sweden, by a Mr. Brown, who, to take his own account, had been forced to leave the navy in consequence of the injustice of his superior officers. He undertook also on Medwin's introduction a correspondence with Felicia Brown, afterwards well known as Mrs. Hemans, but it was stopped on the interference of her mother, who was alarmed by its skeptical character. These were all noticeable beginnings, marking traits and habits that were to continue in Shelley's life; but the most important of all the events of the year was the attachment which was formed between him and his cousin, Harriet Grove, during a summer visit of the Grove family to Field Place, and a continuance of the intimacy at London, where the whole party, excepting Shelley's father, immediately went. Shelley's attraction toward his cousin, who is described as a very beautiful girl, amiable and of a lively disposition, was sincere if not deep. The match was seriously considered by the two families, and at first no hindrance was thrown in its way.
Shelley went up to Oxford in the fall of 1810 at the age of eighteen, with a cheerful and happy mind. He had signed his name in the books of University College, where his father had been before him, on April 10, and, returning to Eton, had finished there in good standing. His father accompanied him to his old college and saw him installed; and Mr. Slatter, then just beginning business as an Oxford publisher, a son of Timothy's old host at the Inn, remembered a kindly call from him in company with Shelley, in the course of which he said: 'My son here has a literary turn. He is already an author, and do, pray, indulge him in his printing freaks.' Shelley had already a publisher in London, Stockdale, afterwards notorious, whom he had induced to take the 1480 copies of the poems of 'Victor and Cazire' off the hands of the Horsham printer; but Stockdale, however, undertook 'St. Irvyne,' and brought it out at the end of the year, and he considered 'The Wandering Jew,' which Ballantyne had declined; but events moved too rapidly to admit of his issuing the poem.
Shelley found at Oxford the liberty and seclusion best fitted for his active and exploring mind. There is no safer place than college for a youth whose mind is confused and excited by the crude elements of new knowledge; the chaos of thought, on which Shelley's genius sat on brood, would naturally take form and order there, in the slow leisure of four years of mingled acquisition, reflection and growth; but such fortune was denied to him. He maintained friendly relations with his old Eton companions, though he was intimate with none of them; but he was absorbed in the first revelation of dawning thought and knowledge, and needed an intellectual auditor. He found his listener in Hogg,--'a pearl within an oyster shell,' he afterwards called him,--a fellow-student from York, destined for the law. Hogg developed into a cynical humorist; but to his gross nature and more worldly experience, Shelley was the one flash, in a lifetime, of the ideal. He always regarded him as a spirit from another world, whose adventures in his journey through mortal affairs necessarily took on the aspect of a tragi-comedy. Yet he was devoted to him to a point singular in so opposite a character, and he told his story of Shelley out of real elements, with fidelity to his own impression, though touching it with a grotesqueness that is, in its effect, not far from caricature. Hogg first met Shelley in the common dining-hall. They fell into talk, as strangers, over the comparative merits of German and Italian literature; and the conversation, being carried on with such animation that they were left alone before they were aware of it, Hogg invited his interlocutor to continue the discussion at his room, where the subject was at once dropped on their mutual confession that one knew as little of the German as the other of the Italian which he was defending. Shelley, however, was furnished with large discourse, and led the talk on to the wonders of science while Hogg scanned his guest.
'His figure was slight and fragile, and yet his bones and joints were large and strong. He was tall, but he stooped so much that he seemed of a low stature. His clothes were expensive, and made according to the most approved mode of the day; but they were tumbled, rumpled and unbrushed. His gestures were abrupt, and sometimes violent, occasionally even awkward, yet more frequently gentle and graceful. His complexion was delicate and almost feminine, of the purest red and white; yet he was tanned and freckled by exposure to the sun, having passed the autumn, as he said, in shooting. His features, his whole face, and particularly his head, were in fact unusually small; yet the last appeared of a remarkable bulk, for his hair was long and bushy, and in fits of absence, and in the agonies (if I may use the word) of anxious thought, he often rubbed it fiercely with his hands, or passed his fingers quickly through his locks unconsciously, so that it was singularly wild and rough.... His features were not symmetrical (the mouth perhaps excepted), yet was the effect of the whole extremely powerful. They breathed an animation, a fire and enthusiasm, a vivid and preternatural intelligence that I never met with in any other countenance. Nor was the moral expression less beautiful than the intellectual.'
The one blemish was the shrill, harsh, discordant voice, which ceased when the speaker hurried away to attend a lecture on mineralogy,--'About stones, about stones,' he said, with downcast look and melancholy tones, on his return at the end of the hour. The evening continued with talk on chemistry, and at last on metaphysics and the problems of the soul, says such youthful college talks will do. 'I lighted him downstairs,' as Hogg, 'and soon heard him running through the quiet quadrangle in the still night. The sound became afterwards so familiar to my ear that I still seem to hear Shelley's hasty steps.'
Such was Hogg's first night, and the others were like it, and are told with similar graphic power. Peacock corrects the detail of Shelley's shrill voice, while acknowledging the defect, which was 'chiefly observable when he spoke under excitement. Then his voice was not only dissonant, like a jarring string, but he spoke in sharp fourths, the most unpleasing sequence of sound that can fall on the human ear; but it was scarcely so when he spoke calmly, and not at all when he read. On the contrary, he seemed then to have his voice under perfect command; it was good both in time and tone; it was low and soft, but clear, distinct and expressive.' The matchless disorder of Shelley's room, with its various studious interests of books and apparatus betraying the self-guided seeker in knowledge, though similarly overcharged in the description, reflects the state of Shelley's mind. He was completely absorbed in the intellectual life. He read incessantly, as was his custom throughout life, at all times and in all places,--in bed, at meals, or in the street, threading even the crowds of London thoroughfares with a book before his eyes. His faith in great minds was an intense feeling. When he took up a classic for the first time 'his cheeks glowed, his eyes became bright, his whole frame trembled.' He approached Hume and Locke in the same way. What he read was thought over and discussed in the long evenings. Life went on with him, however, as it does even in revolutionary periods, with much matter of fact. He was indifferent to his meals, and showed already that abstemiousness which characterized him. Bread was his favorite food; perhaps because it was handiest, and could be eaten with least interruption to his pursuits. In London he would go into a shop and return with a loaf, which he broke in two, giving the fragment to his astonished companion. Sweets, fruits and salads were relished, but he cared less for animal food, which he afterwards gave up wholly in his vegetarian days. Wine he took rarely, and much diluted, and, indeed, he had no taste for it. In his morals he was pure, and he was made uneasy by indelicacy, which he always resented with a maiden feeling. He was given to a bizarre kind of fun in high spirits, and occasionally to real gayety. He was always capable of a childlike lightheartedness, and from his boyhood he would sing by himself. These traits, which Hogg describes, are gathered from a longer period than their college days. At Oxford his physical régime was sufficient, if not hearty. He was well and strong.
Every afternoon the friends took a long walk across country, and Shelley always carried his pistols for practice in shooting. Several of their adventures on these walks are recorded, and are too characteristic to be wholly passed over. The picture of him feeding a little girl, mean, dull and unattractive, whom he found oppressed by cold and hunger and the vague feeling of abandonment, and drew, not without a gentle violence, to a cottage near by to get some milk for her, is one of the most vivid. 'It was a strange spectacle to watch the young poet whilst... holding the wooden bowl in one hand and the wooden spoon in the other, and kneeling on his left knee, that he might more certainly attain to her mouth, he urged and encouraged the torpid and timid child to eat.' His adventure with the gypsy boy and girl, also, is pretty. He had met them a day or two before, and, on seeing him again, the children, with a laughing salutation, darted back into the tent and Shelley after them. 'He placed a hand on each round, rough head, spoke a few kind words to the skulking children, and then returned not less precipitately, and with as much ease and accuracy as if he had been a dweller in tents from the hour when he first drew air and milk to that day.' As he walked off he rolled an orange under their feet. On returning from these excursions Shelley would curl up on the rug, with his head to the fire where the heat was hottest, and sleep for three or four hours; then he woke and took supper and talked till two, which Hogg had sternly fixed as the hour to retire.
Hogg describes Shelley's figure rather than his life. He had come up to Oxford with many plans already on foot, but he constantly found something new to do. The practical instinct in him was as strong as the intellectual. He was in haste to act, and not merely from that necessity for expression which belongs to literary genius, but with that passion for realizing ideas which belongs to the reformer. In his early career the latter quality seems to predominate because its effects were obvious, and, besides, literary progress is a slower matter; but both elements worked together equally in developing his character and determining his career. Stockdale had withdrawn the poems of 'Victor and Cazire,' but he was publishing 'St. Irvyne,' and considering 'The Wandering Jew.' The Oxford printers undertook 'The Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson,' a new collection of poems, and published it. These verses, in which only the slight burlesque element, due to Hogg, was contemporary, represent the results on Shelley's imagination and taste of a really earlier period, and belong with 'Zastrozzi,' and 'St. Irvyne.' His poetic taste was improving, but the ferment of his mind was now mainly intellectual, and the new elements showed their influence principally in the propagandism of his speculative opinions, his sympathy with the agitators for political reform, and his efforts to be of service to obscure writers. He continued to be interested in Brown's 'Sweden,' and on his last day at Oxford, became joint security with the publishers for L800--a loss which fell upon them--to bring out the work. He also encouraged the publication (and may have undertaken to help pay for it) of a volume of poems by Miss Janetta Phillips, in whom he thought he had discovered a schoolgirl genius like Felicia Brown. He was more deeply interested in the case of Finnerty, an Irish agitator imprisoned for political publications, and published a poem, now lost, for his benefit, and subscribed his guinea to the fund for his relief; and, in connection with this case also he first addressed Leigh Hunt, urging an association of men of liberal principles for mutual protection. His acquaintance with Hume and Locke, and the writings of the English reformers, led him to skeptical views. He informed Stockdale of a novel (presumably 'Leonora,' which was printed but not published, and is now unknown, in which Hogg may have had the principal share) 'principally constructed to convey metaphysical and political opinions by way of conversation,' and also of 'A Metaphysical Essay in support of Atheism, which he intended to promulgate throughout the University.' The most important expression of these new views was made in his letters to his cousin, Harriet Grove, to the alarm of herself and her parents, who communicated with Shelley's father, and broke off the match. Stockdale, also, found it to be his duty to inform Shelley's father of his son's dangerous principles, and at the same time to express injurious ideas of Hogg's influence and character. When Shelley returned home at Christmas, between the anxiety of his family over his state of mind and his own feeling of exasperation and sense of injustice in the check given to his love, he had little enjoyment. On his return to Oxford his intellectual life reached a climax in the publication of his tract, 'The Necessity of Atheism,' which he seems to have intended as a circular letter for that irresponsible correspondence with strangers of which he had learned the habit from Dr. Lind. He strewed copies of this paper in Slatter's bookstore, where they remained on sale twenty minutes before discovery; but the friends who at once summoned him to remonstrate were shocked when he told them that he had sent copies to every bishop on the bench, to the vice-chancellor, and to each of the Heads of Houses. The college authorities did not at once act, but on March 25, they assembled and summoned him. Hogg describes what followed:--
'It was a fine spring morning, on Lady Day, in the year 1811, when I went to Shelley's room. He was absent, but before I had collected our books he rushed in. He was terribly agitated. I anxiously inquired what had happened. "I am expelled," he said, as soon as he had recovered himself a little, "I am expelled! I was sent for suddenly a few minutes ago. I went to our common room, where I found our Master and two or three of the Fellows. The Master produced a copy of the little syllabus, and asked me whether I was the author of it. He spoke in a rude, abrupt and insolent tone. I begged to be informed for what purpose he put the question. No answer was given, but the Master loudly and angrily repeated, 'Are you the author of this book?' 'If I can judge from your manner,' I said, 'you are resolved to punish me if I should acknowledge that it is my work. If you can prove that it is, produce your evidence. It is neither just nor lawful to interrogate me in such a case and for such a purpose. Such proceedings would become a court of inquisitors, but not free men in a free country.' 'Do you choose to deny that this is your composition?' the Master reiterated in the same rude and angry voice." Shelley complained much of his violence and ungentlemanly deportment, saying, "I have experienced tyranny and injustice before, and I well know what vulgar violence is, but I never met with such unworthy treatment. I told him calmly, but firmly, that I was determined not to answer any questions respecting the publication. He immediately repeated his demands. I persisted in my refusal, and he said furiously, 'Then you are expelled, and I desire that you will quit the college early to-morrow morning at the latest.' One of the Fellows took up two papers and handed one of them to me,--here it is." He produced a regular sentence of expulsion drawn up in due form, under the seal of the college.... I have been with Shelley in many trying situations of his after-life, but I never saw him so deeply shocked or so cruelly agitated as on this occasion.... He sat on the sofa, repeating with convulsive vehemence the words "expelled! expelled!" his head shaking with emotion, and his whole frame quivering.'
Hogg immediately sent word that he was as much concerned in the affair as Shelley, and received straightway the same sentence. In the afternoon a notice was publicly posted on the hall door, announcing the expulsion of the two students 'for contumaciously refusing to answer questions proposed to them, and for also repeatedly declining to disavow a publication entitled "Necessity of Atheism."' That afternoon Shelley visited his old Eton friend, Halliday, saying, 'Halliday, I am come to say good-by to you, if you are not afraid to be seen with me.' The next morning the two friends left Oxford for London. Medwin tells how, a day or two later, at four o'clock in the morning, Shelley knocked at his door in Garden Court in the Temple. 'I think I hear his cracked voice, with his well-known pipe, "Medwin, let me in! I am expelled!" Here followed a loud half-hysteric laugh, and the repetition of the words, "I am expelled," with the addition of "for atheism."' He and Hogg took lodgings in London, but in a few weeks the latter went home and left Shelley alone.
If Shelley was shocked, Field Place was troubled. His father demanded that he should return home, place himself submissively under a tutor, give up all connection with Hogg, apologize to the authorities at Oxford, and profess conformity to the church; otherwise he should have neither home nor money. Timothy Shelley was not a harsh man or an unfeeling father; he was kind-hearted, irascible and obstinate, inconsequential in his talk, and destitute of tact, with character and principles neither better nor worse than respectability required. He received the world from Providence, and his opinions from the Duke of Norfolk, and was content. He was a country squire and satisfied his constituents, his tenants, his family, and his servants, and all that was his except his father and his eldest son. It is pleasant to recall the fact that long after Shelley was dead his old nurse received her Christmas gift at the homestead to the end of her days. Timothy Shelley was both alarmed and scandalized by his son's conduct, and he was evidently sincerely concerned. He did not understand it, and he did not know what to do. At this time, too, Shelley was an important person to his family, which had recently obtained wealth and title. He was looked to, as the heir, to maintain and secure its position, and the entail was already made for a large portion of the estate,--L80,000, although a remainder of L120,000 was still unsettled. Old Sir Bysshe who had been made a baronet in 1806, was the founder of this prosperity. If he was an abler man than Timothy, whom he was accustomed to curse roundly to his face, he was a worse man. He was miserly, sordid, and vulgar in his tastes. He professed himself an atheist, and though he appears to have favored his grandson, when young, he had set an example which profited him ill. He was born in America, where his father had emigrated early in the last century and had married with a stock not now traceable, so that there were some drops of American blood in Shelley's veins. On his father's return to England, owing to the lunacy of his elder brother, to take charge of the small family place at Fen Place, Bysshe, then eighteen years old, went with him, and began the career of a fortune-hunter. He twice eloped with wealthy heiresses, and their property was the nucleus of the estate he built up. Two of his daughters followed his example in their mode of marrying. He had devoted himself to founding a family and had succeeded, and at the end of his days he was deeply concerned in the fate of the settlements. There were reasons, therefore, for making Shelley take a view of his place more in harmony with family expectations.
Shelley, on his side, was not lacking in family affection. He was tenderly attached to his sisters, and Hogg relates that at Oxford he never received a letter from them or his mother without manifest pleasure. He certainly left in their minds only pleasant memories of himself. He had a boy's regard for his father in early years, and his letters are, if firm, not deficient in respect. The only sign of distrust up to this period was the suspicion, already mentioned, that his father intended sending him to a lunatic asylum at the time when he was home from Eton ill with fever. But, however warm his home affections were, he was not, at the age of eighteen, prepared to abandon on command his mind and what was to him moral duty; and he declined to accede to his father's terms. His relatives, the Medwins and Groves, helped him in London, and his sisters, who were at school, sent him their pocket money by a schoolmate. In the course of six weeks, after several ineffectual letters and interviews, a settlement was brought about, apparently through a maternal uncle, Captain Pilfold, who lived near Field Place and was always Shelley's friend; and it was agreed that Shelley should have L200 a year and entire freedom. This was toward the middle of May, and early in June he returned home, where he was well received, though he found his favorite sister, Elizabeth, whom he hoped Hogg might marry, less confiding in her brother than before these events. He was especially struck by the fact that the principles of his parents were social conventions, and that conflict with his own ideas did not proceed from any real convictions.
In Shelley's enforced absence from his family an unknown opportunity had been given for blasting their hopes more effectual than any concession that could have been made which would have kept him near them. He had become acquainted with Harriet Westbrook in the Christmas vacation before he left Oxford. She was a schoolmate of his sisters at Mrs. Fenning's, Clapham, like Sion House a middle-class school; and he had been commissioned to take her a gift. A correspondence sprang up, which, like all of Shelley's correspondences, was confined to his opinions, as he was still in the missionary stage of conviction. When he was living in London, it was she who acted between him and his sister and brought him their savings. There was also an elder Miss Westbrook, Eliza, thirty years old, who was very kind to Shelley; she took him to walk with Harriet, invited him to call, and was on all occasions ready to bring them together, guided the conversation upon love, and left them alone. Mr. Westbrook, Shelley noticed, was very civil. He was a retired tavern-keeper. Shelley's interest was the more engaged, because Harriet was reproached at school for being friendly with a youth of his principles, and suffered petty annoyances. She was a pretty, bright, amiable girl, sixteen, slightly formed, with regular features, a pink and white complexion uncommonly brilliant, and pure, brown hair--'like a poet's dream,' says Helen; and with this youthful bloom she had a frank air, grace, and a pleasant lively laugh. But Shelley, though interested in his 'little friend,' as he called her, was untouched; and when he went down to his uncle Pilfold's in May, in search of reconciliation with his father, he there met another to admire, Miss Hitchener, a school-teacher of twenty-nine, who was to hold a high place in his esteem, and with whom he began his customary correspondence on metaphysics, education, and the causes that interested him. He remained at home a month, and wrote apparently his lost poem on the fête at Carlton House, and in July went to Wales to visit his cousins, the Groves. He was taken soon after his arrival with a brief though violent nervous illness, but recovered, and was greatly delighted with the mountain scenery, then new to him. In his rambles in the neighborhood he met with that adventure with the beggar which seems to have impressed him deeply. He gave the man something and followed him a mile, trying to enter into talk with him. Finally the beggar said, 'I see by your dress that you are a rich man. They have injured me and mine a million times. You appear to me well intentioned, but I have no security of it while you live in such a house as that, or wear such clothes as those. It would be charity to quit me.'
The Westbrooks also were in Wales, and letters came from Harriet, who wrote despondently, complained of unhappiness at home, dwelt upon suicide, and at last asked Shelley's protection. 'Her letters,' says Shelley, writing two months later to Miss Hitchener, 'became more and more gloomy. At length one assumed a tone of such despair, as induced me to leave Wales precipitately. I arrived in London. I was shocked at observing the alteration in her looks. Little did I divine its cause. She had become violently attached to me, and feared that I should not return her attachment. Prejudice made the confession painful. It was impossible to avoid being much affected; I promised to unite my fate to hers. I stayed in London several days, during which she recovered her spirits. I promised at her bidding to come again to London.' This was in the early part of August. He wrote to Hogg, whom he had previously told that he was not in love, detailing the affair, and discussed with him whether he should marry Harriet, or, as she was ready to do, should disregard an institution which he had learned from Godwin to consider irrational. He went home and did not anticipate that any decision would be necessary at present. Within a week Harriet called him back because her father would force her to return to school. He went to her, took the course of honor, and in the last week of August went with her to Edinburgh, where they were married, August 28. He was nineteen, and she sixteen years of age.
Shelley was no sooner married than he began to feel the pecuniary embarrassments which were to become familiar to him. He had never been without money, except for the six weeks in London after leaving Oxford, and he did not anticipate that his father would cut him off. He had borrowed the money for his journey from the elder Medwin, and now, his quarterly allowance not being paid, he was kept from want only by a kindly remittance from his uncle Pilfold. Hogg had joined them at Edinburgh, but Shelley was anxious to make a settlement, and early in October the party went to York, where Shelley left Harriet in Hogg's charge while he went on to his uncle's to seek some communication with his father. Within a week he returned, unsuccessful, to York, whither Harriet's elder sister, Eliza, had preceded him. He found on his arrival that Hogg had undertaken to intrigue with Harriet. A month later, in a letter to Miss Hitchener he gave an account of the interview he had with him:--
'We walked to the fields beyond York. I desired to know fully the account of this affair. I heard it from him and I believe he was sincere. All that I can recollect of that terrible day is that I pardoned him,--fully, freely pardoned him; that I would still be a friend to him, and hoped soon to convince him how lovely virtue was; that his crime, not himself, was the object of my detestation; that I value a human being not for what it has been, but for what it is; that I hoped the time would come when he would regard this horrible error with as much disgust as I did. He said little. He was pale, terror-struck, remorseful.'
After this incident Shelley remained in York but a few days, and in November left without giving Hogg any intimation of his intentions. 'I leave him,' wrote Shelley, 'to his fate. Would that I could rescue him.'
He took a cottage at Keswick. He had already written to the Duke of Norfolk, who had before been brought in as a peacemaker between father and son, soliciting his intervention, and was invited to Greystoke by the duke, where he spent with his family a few days at the expense of almost his last guinea. He wrote to the elder Medwin: 'We are now so poor as to be actually in danger of every day being deprived of the necessaries of life.' In December Mr. Westbrook allowed Harriet L200 a year, and in January Shelley's father made an equal allowance to him, to prevent 'his cheating strangers.' At Greystoke he had met Calvert, who introduced him to Southey. 'Here is a man at Keswick,' wrote Southey, 'who acts upon me as my own ghost would do; he is just what I was in 1794.' Shelley had long regarded Southey with admiration, and 'Thalaba' remained a favorite book with him. But, although Southey was kind to him, contributing to his domestic comfort in material ways, the acquaintance resulted in a diminution of Shelley's regard. On January 2 he introduced himself to Godwin by letter, according to his custom, having only then heard that the writer whom he really revered was still alive, and he interested the grave philosopher very earnestly in his welfare. Meanwhile he had not been idle. Through all these events, indeed, he must have kept busy with his pen. He designed a poem representing the perfect state of man, gathered his verses to make a volume, worked on his metaphysical essays, and, especially, composed a novel, 'Hubert Cauvin,' to illustrate the causes of the failure of the French Revolution. At Keswick, too, occurred the first of the personal assaults on Shelley, which tried the belief of his friends. He had begun the use of laudanum, as a relief from pain, but he had recovered from the illness which discloses this fact, before the incident occurred. On January 19, at seven o'clock at night, Shelley, hearing an unusual noise, went to the door and was struck to the ground and stunned by a blow. His landlord, alarmed by the noise, came to the scene, and the assailant fled. The affair was published in the local paper, and is spoken of by Harriet as well as Shelley. Some of the neighbors disbelieved in it, but his simple chemical experiments had excited their minds and made him an object of suspicion, and it is to be said that the country was in a disturbed state. Shelley's thoughts were already turned to Ireland as a field of practical action, and, his private affairs being now satisfactorily settled, he determined to go there and work for the cause of Catholic emancipation. At Keswick he wrote his 'Address to the Irish People,' and in spite of the dissuasion of Calvert and Godwin he started with his wife in the first days of February, 1812, and arrived in Dublin on the 12th.
Shelley sent his 'Address' to the printer, and within two weeks had fifteen hundred copies on hand, which he distributed freely, sending them to sixty coffee-houses, flinging them from his balcony, giving them away on the street, and sending out a man with them. He wrote also 'Proposals for an Association,' published March 2. He had presented a letter from Godwin to Curran, and made himself known to the leaders. On February 28, at a public meeting which O'Connell addressed, Shelley also spoke for an hour, and received mingled hisses and applause,--applause for the wrongs of Ireland, hisses for his plea for religious toleration. He also became acquainted with Mr. Lawless, a follower of Curran, and wrote passages of Irish history for a proposed work by him. Meanwhile Godwin sent letters dissuading him from his course, and finally wound up,--'Shelley, you are preparing a scene of blood.' Shelley's Irish principles were but remotely connected with the practical politics of the hour, and consisted, in the main, of very general convictions in regard to equality, toleration, and the other elements of republican government. He did compose, out of French sources, a revolutionary 'Declaration of Rights.' He was soon discouraged by the character of the men and of the situation. His heart, too, was touched by the state of the people, for he engaged at once in that practical philanthropy which was always a large part of his personal life. 'A poor boy,' he writes, 'whom I found starving with his mother, in a hiding place of unutterable filth and misery,--whom I rescued and was about to teach, has been snatched on a charge of false and villainous effrontery to a Magistrate of Hell, who gave him the alternative of the tender or of military servitude.... I am sick of this city, and long to be with you and peace.' At last he gave up, sent forward a box filled with his books, which was inspected by the government and reported as seditious, and on April 4 left Ireland. He settled ten days later at Nantgwilt, near Cwm Elan, the seat of his cousins, the Groves, and there remained until June. In this period he appears to have met Peacock, through whom he was probably introduced to his London publisher, Hookham. In June he again migrated to Lynmouth in Devon. Here he wrote his 'Letter to Lord Ellenborough,' defending Eaton, who had been sentenced for publishing Paine's 'Age of Reason' in a periodical. He amused himself by putting copies of the 'Declaration of Rights' and a new satirical poem, 'The Devil's Walk,' in bottles and fire balloons, and setting them adrift by sea and air; but a more mundane attempt to circulate the 'Declaration of Rights' resulted unfortunately for his servant, Dan Healy, who had become attached to him and followed him from Ireland, and was punished in a fine of L200 or eight months' imprisonment for posting it on the walls of Barnstable. Shelley could not pay the fine, but he provided fifteen shillings a week to make the prisoner's confinement more comfortable. The government now put Shelley under surveillance, and he was watched by Leeson, a spy. At Lynmouth 'Queen Mab' is first heard of. In September he removed to Tanyrallt, near Tremadoc, in Wales, where he became deeply interested in a scheme of Mr. Maddock's for reclaiming some waste land by an embankment. It was a large, practical enterprise, which engaged both Shelley's imagination and his spirit of philanthropy. He subscribed L100, and on October 4, went to London, seeking to interest others in this undertaking. Here he first met Godwin, through whom he became acquainted with the Newtons, of vegetarian fame, but before this, while in Dublin, he had himself adopted that way of life. It is uncertain whether at this time he saw Godwin's daughter Mary. He renewed his acquaintance with Hogg, in whose narrative scenes of Shelley's life at this period, presented with the same vigor and vivacity as in the Oxford time, occur. None of them are more humorous than such as describe the appearance of Miss Hitchener, who, yielding to Shelley's long expressed wish, had joined the family before they left Wales and was now an inmate of the household. Shelley had idealized her at a distance, but her near neighborhood was disenchantment. Hogg's description of his walk with the 'Brown Demon,' as he called her, on one arm, and the 'Black Diamond,' as he nicknamed Eliza, on the other, has given her an unenviable figure. She was finally got rid of, and a stipend paid her to make good the loss she had suffered by giving up her school-teaching; but in her after-life she was much respected by those with whom she lived; and she appears to have remained very loyal to the poet, whose correspondence for nearly two years was so large a part of her life.
Shelley returned to Wales on November 13, going to Tanyrallt. There he worked very constantly at his essays, an unpublished collection of 'Biblical Extracts' for popular distribution, and 'Queen Mab.' There also occurred the second assault upon him, which has been received with more distrust than any other event in his life. On February 26, between ten and eleven o'clock, Shelley, after retiring, was alarmed by a noise in the parlor below. He went down with two loaded pistols to the billiard room, and followed the sound of retreating footsteps into a small office, where he saw a man passing, through a glass window. The man fired, and Shelley's pistol flashed, on which the man knocked Shelley down, and, while they struggled, Shelley fired his second pistol, which he thought took effect. The man arose with a cry and said, 'By God, I will be revenged! I will murder your wife! I will ravish your sister! By God, I will be revenged!' He then fled. The servants were still up, and the whole family assembled in the parlor and remained for two hours. Shelley and his servant, Dan, who had that day returned from prison, sat up. At four o'clock, Harriet heard a pistol shot, and on going down, found that Shelley's clothes and the window curtain had been shot through. Dan had left the room to see what time it was, when Shelley heard a noise at the window; as he approached it, a man thrust his arm through the glass and fired. Shelley's pistol again missed fire, and he struck at the man with an old sword; while they were still struggling, Dan came back, and the man escaped. Peacock was there the next summer, and heard that persons, who examined the premises in the morning, found the grass trampled and rolled on, but there were no footprints except toward the house, and the impression of the ball on the wainscot showed that the pistol had been fired toward the window and not from it. There are other accounts of what Shelley said. In after years he ascribed the spasms of pain, from which he suffered, to the pressure of the man's knee on his body. It is not unlikely, as Dowden remarks, that Dan Healy had been followed by a spy, and it is known that Shelley was dogged by Leeson, whom he feared long afterwards. If the affair is regarded as an illusion of the sort to which Shelley was said to be subject, the material circumstances show that the event was one of intense reality to Shelley, and it is not strange that he immediately left the neighborhood, finding life there insupportable. He made a short journey to Ireland, where he arrived March 9, visited the Lakes of Killarney, and returned to Dublin, March 21. Early in April he was back in London.
On returning to London, Shelley entered again into negotiations with his father for a further settlement. He would soon be of age, and it was necessary to make some terms to prevent the loss the estate would suffer by raising money on post-obit bonds. He was much harassed by his creditors, and his father is said privately to have taken measures to relieve him from their persecutions without his knowledge. It is uncertain whether he lived in a hotel or in lodgings. His first child, Ianthe Eliza, was born in June. At the end of July he was settled at Bracknell, near the Boinvilles, who were connected with the Newtons. Here Peacock visited him, and from this time became intimate. Peacock's cold judgment, notwithstanding his frequent skepticism and imperfect knowledge of Shelley's affairs, makes his impressions valuable. To him, more than to any other external influence, is to be attributed the devotion of Shelley, which now began, to Greek studies. In the first week of October Peacock joined the family in a journey to Edinburgh, taken in a private carriage which Shelley had bought for Harriet. Nothing noteworthy occurred except that Shelley made a new convert, Baptista, a young Brazilian, who corresponded with him and partly translated 'Queen Mab,' which had been printed in the late spring, into Portuguese; but he died while young. Shelley returned to London in December.
Two years and a half had now passed since Shelley's marriage, and the union, in which love upon his part had not originally been an element, had become one of warm affection. Through all the vicissitudes of his wandering life it was a main source of Shelley's happiness. Time now began to disclose those limitations of character and temperament which were to be anticipated. The last pleasant scene in this early married life is Peacock's description of Shelley's pleasure in his child:--
'He was extremely fond of it, and would walk up and down the room with it in his arms for a long time together, singing to it a monotonous melody of his own making, which ran on the repetition of a word of his own making. His song was, "Yáhmani, Yáhmani, Yáhmani, Yáhmani." It did not please me; but, what was more important, it pleased the child, and lulled it when it was fretful. Shelley was extremely fond of his children. He was preëminently an affectionate father. But to the firstborn there were accompaniments which did not please him. The child had a wet nurse, whom he did not like, and was much looked after by his wife's sister, whom he intensely disliked. I have often thought that if Harriet had nursed her own child, and if this sister had not lived with them, the link of their married love would not have been so readily broken.'
In the autumn of 1813, on coming to London, Harriet began to vary from that description of her which Shelley had written to Fanny Godwin in December, 1812:--
'How is Harriet a fine lady? You indirectly accuse her of this offence,--to me the most unpardonable of all. The ease and simplicity of her habits, the unassuming plainness of her address, the uncalculated connection of her thought and speech, have ever formed in my eyes her greatest charm; and none of these are compatible with fashionable life, or the attempted assumption of its vulgar and noisy éclat.'
It was to please her that he then bought a carriage and a quantity of plate, and she displayed a taste for expensive things. On the birth of the child her intellectual sympathy with him seems to have ended. Afterwards she neither read nor studied. She was disenchanted of his views, which, Peacock mentions, she joined with him in not taking seriously; she was disenchanted, too, of the wandering life and recurring poverty to which they led.
Her sister's presence in the household became a cause of difference between her and her husband. The first expressed sign of domestic unhappiness occurs in Shelley's melancholy letter to Hogg, March 22, 1814. He had then been staying for a month with Mrs. Boinville, and looked forward with regret to ending his visit. He thus refers to Eliza:--
'Eliza is still with us, not here, but will be with me when the infinite malice of destiny forces me to depart. I am now but little inclined to contest this point. I certainly hate her with all my heart and soul. It is a sight which awakens an inexpressible sensation of disgust and horror to see her caress my poor little Ianthe, in whom I may hereafter find the consolation of sympathy. I sometimes feel faint with the fatigue of checking the overflowing of my unbounded abhorrence for this miserable wretch. But she is no more than a blind and loathsome worm that cannot see to sting.'
Shelley felt keenly the contrast of the peaceful home in which he was staying with his own. Some years afterwards, in 1819, he wrote to Peacock:--
'I could not help considering Mrs. B. when I knew her as the most admirable specimen of a human being I had ever seen. Nothing earthly ever appeared to me more perfect than her character and manners. It is improbable that I shall ever meet again the person whom I so much esteem and still admire. I wish, however, that when you see her you would tell her that I have not forgotten her, nor any of the amiable circle once assembled around her; and that I desired such remembrances to her as an exile and a Pariah may be permitted to address to an acknowledged member of the community of mankind.'
With Mrs. Boinville and her daughter, Mrs. Turner, he now made his first acquaintance with Italian. On March 26 he remarried Harriet, who had not been with him for the previous month, in St. George's Church, London, in order to place beyond doubt the validity of the Scotch marriage and the rights of his children. Shortly afterwards, in April, Harriet again left him, and to this month belongs the poem, 'Stanza, April, 1814,' the most melancholy verses he had yet written, in which he speaks of his 'sad and silent home,' and 'its desolated hearth.' During the next month Harriet was still away; and, at some time in it, he addressed to her the stanzas, 'To Harriet, May, 1814,' in which he appeals to her to return to him and restore his happiness, tells her that her feeling is 'remorseless,' that it is 'malice,' 'revenge,' 'pride,' and begs her to 'pity if thou canst not love.' There is no evidence that Harriet rejoined Shelley, and, when her residence is next discovered, in July, she was living at Bath apparently with her sister. The story of Harriet's voluntarily leaving Shelley may have sprung from this protracted absence.
Meanwhile Shelley had met Godwin's daughter, Mary, a girl of sixteen, who is described as golden-haired, with a pale, pure face, hazel eyes, a somewhat grave manner, and strength both of mind and will. Early in June he was feeling a strong attraction toward her. He confided in her, and out of their intimacy, through her sympathy, sprang that mutual love which soon became passion. The stanzas 'To Mary, June, 1814,' show deep feeling and a sense of doubtfulness in their position, but do not disclose any thought or suggestion of a relation other than friendship. But to Shelley, who was suffering deeply and was indeed wretched, it was not unnatural that he should reflect whether this was not one of those occasions justifying separation, which he had always held should be met by putting an end to a relation which had become false. This was his view of marriage, well known to Harriet at the time that he married her, when he had observed the ceremony for her sake, and openly repeated in his writings dedicated to her within a year. Shelley would not violate his principles by such an action; nor could it be pleaded that he had taken up with this view after obligations already incurred or subsequent to the incidents which made him desire a change. Harriet probably did not realize what Shelley's convictions were, and may have been deceived by her experience of his disposition. The natural inference from the state of the facts, which, at best, are imperfectly known, is that, as Shelley had now come of age and was in a position to make his rights of property felt, Harriet, under the guidance of her sister, who had been the intriguer from the start, desired such a settlement as would put her in possession of the social position and privileges which were at Shelley's command; that differences arose in the home, possibly on the comparatively slight question whether Eliza should continue to live with them; and that Harriet, swayed by her sister, was endeavoring to subdue Shelley to her way by a certain hardness in her conduct, and by if not refusing to live with him, refraining from doing so. But Shelley, on his part, in Harriet's absence, had come to love Mary, and to see in following that love the way of escape from his troubles. The time was one of intense mental excitement to him, especially when the crisis came early in July. He secured Mary's consent. She was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and of Godwin, and derived from both parents the same principles of marriage, both by practice and precept, that Shelley held. In their own eyes neither of them was committing a wrong. Shelley sent for Harriet. She came to London, and he told her his determination. She was greatly shocked and made ill by the disclosure. Shelley acted with a certain deliberation as well as with openness. He directed settlements to be made for Harriet's maintenance, and saw that she was supplied with money for the present. At the same time his state of mind was one of conflict and distress. Peacock describes his appearance:--
'Nothing that I ever read in tale or history could present a more striking image of a sudden, violent, irresistible, uncontrollable passion, than that under which I found him laboring, when, at his request, I went up from the country to call on him in London. Between his old feelings toward Harriet, from whom he was not then separated, and his new passion for Mary, he showed in his looks, in his gestures, in his speech, the state of a mind "suffering like a little kingdom the nature of an insurrection." His eyes were bloodshot, his hair and dress disordered. He caught up a bottle of laudanum and said, "I never part from this." He added, "I am always repeating to myself your lines from Sophocles:--
'"'Man's happiest lot is not to be:
And when we tread life's thorny steep
Most blest are they who earliest free
Descend to death's eternal sleep.'"'
Mary appears to have been determined at last by fears for Shelley's life, and on July 28 she left England with him.
It is unfortunately necessary to notice another element in the situation. It is the testimony of the common friends of Harriet and Shelley--Hogg, Peacock, and Hookham--that, up to the period of their parting, she was pure. It is said, indeed, on what must be regarded as the very doubtful authority of Miss Clairmont, that Shelley persuaded Mary to go by asserting Harriet's unfaithfulness. What is certain is that, after Harriet's death, he wrote to Mary, January 11, 1817, 'I learned just now from Godwin that he has evidence that Harriet was unfaithful to me four months before I left England with you.' That Godwin had such a story is known by his own evidence. The name of an obscure person, Ryan, who was acquainted with the family as early as the summer of 1813, was brought into connection with the affair. Shelley at one time doubted the paternity of his second child, Charles Bysshe, born in November, 1814, but he was afterwards satisfied that he was in error. I do not find any reliable evidence that Shelley ever maintained that he was convinced in July, 1814, of Harriet's infidelity. He afterwards believed that she had been in fault, as is shown by his letter to Southey in 1820, in which he maintains the rightfulness of his conduct: 'I take God to witness, if such a being is now regarding both you and me; and I pledge myself, if we meet, as perhaps you expect, before Him after death, to repeat the same in his presence--that you accuse me wrongfully. I am innocent of ill, either done or intended. The consequence you allude to flowed in no respect from me.' At the time of the event itself, it was not necessary to Shelley's mind to have a justification which would appeal to all the world and ordinary ways of thinking; but, when time disclosed such justification, he made use of it to strengthen his action in his own eyes and the eyes of Mary, and, though only by implication, in Southey's judgment. He appears never to have mentioned the matter to others. Shelley's habitual reticence was far greater than he has ever received credit for.
Shelley and Mary had for a companion on their voyage Miss Clairmont, a daughter of the second Mrs. Godwin by her first marriage. They visited Paris, crossed France, and stopped on the shores of Lake Lucerne, near Brunnen. There they remained but a short time, and, descending the Rhine to Cologne, journeyed by Rotterdam to England, where they arrived September 13. Peacock describes the following winter as the most solitary period of Shelley's life. He settled in London, and was greatly embarrassed with his affairs, endeavoring to raise money and to keep out of the way of creditors. He had written to Harriet during his journey, often saw her in London, and seems to have been upon pleasant terms with her. Godwin, who had at first been very angry, renewed his relations under the stress of his own financial difficulties, and the money to be had from Shelley. In January, 1815, old Sir Bysshe's death greatly improved Shelley's position by making him the immediate heir. He went home, and was refused admittance by his father; but negotiations could not be long delayed. They lasted for eighteen months. He was given the choice of entailing the entire estate, L200,000, surrendering his claim to that part of the property, L80,000, which could not be taken from him, and accepting a life interest, on which condition he should receive the whole; or, refusing this, he should be deprived of the L120,000, which would go to his younger brother, John. Shelley refused to execute the entail, which he thought wrong, and yielded the larger part of the property. To pay his immediate debts he sold his succession to the fee-simple of a portion of the estate, valued at L18,000, to his father for L11,000, in June, 1815, and by the same agreement received a fixed annual allowance of L1,000, and also a considerable sum of money. He sent Harriet L200 for her debts, and directed his bankers to pay her L200 annually from his allowance. Mr. Westbrook also continued to his daughter his allowance of L200, so that she now had L400 a year.
Early in this year Shelley was told that he was dying rapidly of consumption. His health was certainly broken before this time, but every symptom of pulmonary disease suddenly and completely passed away. In February Mary's first child was born, but died within a fortnight. In the spring he settled at Bishopgate and there wrote 'Alastor.' In 1816, Mary's second child, William, was born. In May, Shelley, with Mary and Miss Clairmont, left England for the Continent, and within two weeks arrived at Lake Geneva. There he became acquainted with Byron, and spent the summer boating with him. Unknown to Shelley or Mary, Miss Clairmont, before leaving London, had become Byron's mistress, and the intrigue went on at Geneva without their knowledge. There Shelley also met Monk Lewis. On returning to England, where he arrived September 7, he settled at Bath for some months. The two incidents that saddened the year occurred in quick succession. On October 8, Mary's half-sister Fanny, daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and Imlay, committed suicide by taking laudanum at an inn in Swansea. Shelley was much shocked by this event, but another blow was in store for him. He seems to have lost sight of Harriet during his residence abroad, and it is doubtful whether he saw her after reaching England. She had received her allowances regularly. In November Shelley sought for and could not find her. It is affirmed that she was living under the protection of her father until shortly before her death. She was in lodgings, however, in that month, and did not return to them after November 9. On December 10 her body was found in the Serpentine River. Of the two suicides, he said that he felt that of Fanny most acutely; but it is plain that, while he said at a later time she had 'a heart of stone,' the fate of Harriet brought a melancholy that was not to pass away, though he had ceased to love her. Unfortunately there is no doubt that she had erred in her life after leaving his protection, but the letters she wrote to an Irish friend excite pity and sympathy with her.
Shelley was married to Mary December 30, in St. Mildred's Church. He immediately undertook to recover his children from the Westbrooks. These children had been placed, before Harriet's death, under the care of the Rev. John Kendall, at Budbrooke. The Westbrooks were determined to contest Shelley's possession of them. The affair was brought into the Chancery Court. It was set forth that Shelley was a man of atheistical and immoral principles, and 'Queen Mab,' which had been distributed only in a private way, was offered in proof. The case was heard early in 1817 before Lord Eldon. Shelley was represented by his lawyers. On March 27 Lord Eldon gave judgment against Shelley, basing it on his opinions as affecting his conduct. The children were not placed in the hands of the Westbrooks, but were made wards, and the persons nominated by Shelley, Dr. and Mrs. Hume, were appointed guardians. Shelley was to be allowed to visit them twelve times in the year, but only in the presence of their guardians, and the Westbrooks were given the same privilege without that restriction.
Shelley settled at Marlow early in 1817, having with him Miss Clairmont and her newborn child Allegra, and his own two children, William and Clara. In the summer he wrote 'The Revolt of Islam,' besides prose pamphlets upon politics; but he had now really begun his serious life as a poet. The only cloud on his happiness was the separation from his children, which his poems sufficiently illustrate. Hunt, with whom he was now intimate, says, that after the decision Shelley 'never dared to trust himself with mentioning their names in my hearing, though I had stood at his side throughout the business.' He was in fear lest his other children should be taken from him; and he finally determined to leave England and settle in Italy, being partly led thereto by the state of his health, for which he was advised to try a warm climate.
The private and intimate view of Shelley, from the time of his union with Mary in the summer of 1814 to that of his final departure from England in the spring of 1818, is given by Peacock and Hunt. Peacock had become his familiar friend, though Shelley was less confidential with him than Peacock supposed. In the solitary winter of 1814-15, which was spent drearily in London, Peacock saw him often; and in the next summer, during his residence at Bishopgate, the pleasant voyage up the Thames to Lechlade was taken. It was on this excursion that Peacock's favorite prescription for Shelley's ills--'three mutton chops well peppered'--effected so sudden a cure. Peacock attributes much of Shelley's physical ills to his vegetarian diet. He observes that whenever Shelley took a journey and was obliged to live 'on what he could get,' as Shelley said, he became better in health, so that his frequent wanderings were beneficial to him. On these journeys, he notes, too, Shelley always took with him pistols for self-defence, and laudanum as a resource from the extreme fits of pain to which he was subject. Shelley was apprehensive of personal danger, and he had a vague fear, till he left England, that his father would attempt to restrain his liberty on a charge of madness. He also had at one time the suspicion that he was afflicted with elephantiasis. Peacock took these incidents more seriously than is at all warranted. Shelley's mind was, in general, strong, active and sound; his industry, both in acquisition and creation, was remarkable; and the theory that he was really unbalanced in any material degree is not in harmony with his constant intellectual power, his very noticeable practical sense and carefulness in such business as he had to execute, and his adherence to fact in those cases where his account can be tested by another's. He had visions, both waking and sleeping; he had wandering fears that became ideas temporarily, perhaps approaching the point of hallucination; but to give such indicents, which are not extraordinary, undue weight is to disturb a just impression of Shelley's mind and life, as a whole, which were singularly distinguished by continual intellectual force, tenacity and consistency of principle, and studies and moral aims maintained in the midst of confusing and annoying affairs, perpetual discouragement, and bodily weariness and pain. The excess of ideality in him disturbed his judgment of women, but in other relations of life, except at times of illness, he did not vary from the normal more than is the lot of genius.
Peacock brings out, more than other friends, the manner of Shelley, his temperance in discussion, especially when his own affairs were concerned, and his serene demeanor. One anecdote is illustrative of this courtesy, and at the same time indicates that limitation under which his friendship with Peacock went on:--
'I was walking with him in Bisham Wood, and we had been talking in the usual way of our ordinary subjects, when he suddenly fell into a gloomy reverie. I tried to rouse him out of it, and made some remarks which I thought might make him laugh at his own abstraction. Suddenly he said to me, still with the same gloomy expression: "There is one thing to which I have decidedly made up my mind. I will take a great glass of ale every night." I said, laughingly, "A very good resolution, as the result of a melancholy musing." "Yes," he said, "but you do not know why I take it. I shall do it to deaden my feelings; for I see that those who drink ale have none." The next day he said to me, "You must have thought me very unreasonable yesterday evening?" I said, "I did, certainly." "Then," he said, "I will tell you what I would not tell any one else. I was thinking of Harriet." I told him I had no idea of such a thing; it was so long since he had named her.'
This is the single instance of expression of the remorse which Shelley felt for Harriet's fate.
Peacock mentions the heartiness of Shelley's laughter, in connection with his failure to cultivate a taste for comedy in him, for Shelley felt the pain of comedy and its necessary insensibility to finer humane feeling; but this did not make him enjoy less his familiar, harmless humor, in which there was a dash of his early wild spirits. He was always fond of amusements of a childlike sort. Peacock thought that it was from him Shelley learned the sport of sailing paper-boats, happy if he could load them with pennies for the boys on the other side of stream or pond. At Marlow he used to play with a little girl who had attracted him, pushing a table across the floor to her, and when he went away he gave her nuts and raisins heaped on a plate, which she kept through life in memory of him, and on her death willed it, so that it is now among the few personal relics of the poet. At Marlow, too, he visited the poor in their homes, as his custom was, helping and advising. His house there was a large one with many rooms, and handsomely furnished, the library being large enough for a ball-room, and the garden pleasant. Peacock's last service was to introduce him to the Italian opera, of which he became fond, just before leaving England.
Hunt had once seen Shelley in earlier years, and in prison had received letters of admiration and encouragement from him; but he did not really know him until the end of 1816, just at the time of Harriet's death. He is more evenly appreciative, and no such allowances as are made for Hogg and Peacock have to be observed in his case. Shelley was especially fond of Hunt's children, and would play with them to their great delight. The anecdote of their begging him 'not to do the horn' (meaning that he should not twist his hair on his forehead in acting the monster) is well known. It had been the temptation of setting off fireworks with the Newton children that took Shelley away from Godwin on his first night with the philosopher and introduced him to the vegetarian circle. Hunt was in many ways more fitted by nature to enter into sympathy with Shelley than any one he had known; the friendship they formed was delightful to both, and Shelley's part in it caused him to show some of his finest qualities of tact, toleration and service, that asked no thanks and knew no bounds. On the other hand, Hunt several times defended Shelley's good name under virulent and slanderous attacks, and after his death was one of those who repeatedly spoke out for him. Hunt ascribes Shelley's disrepute in England in considerable measure to the effect of the Lord Chancellor's decree depriving him of his children. He says:--
'He was said to be keeping a seraglio at Marlow, and his friends 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 tragedies, or the Bible, in which last he took a great, though peculiar, and often admiring interest.'
Hunt notices, as others have done, the great variability of Shelley's expression, due to his responsiveness to the scenes about him or his own memories, and in particular the suddenness with which he would droop into an aspect of dejection. He admired his character, and did not distrust his temperament because some of his moods might seem at the time inexplicable. He especially praises his generosity, and the noble way of it, as he had reason to do, having at one time received L1,400 from him, besides the loans (which were the same as gifts) in the ordinary course of affairs; and, indeed, nothing but its emptiness ever closed Shelley's purse to any of his friends, who, it must be said, availed themselves somewhat freely of his liberal nature. One anecdote told by Hunt brings Shelley before the eye better than pages of description, and with it he closes his reminiscences of the Marlow period:--
'Shelley, in coming to our house that night, had found a woman lying near the top of the hill in fits. It was a fierce winter night, with snow upon the ground; and winter loses nothing of its fierceness at Hampstead. My friend, always the promptest as well as most pitying on these occasions, knocked at the first houses he could reach, in order to have the woman taken in. The invariable answer was that they could not do it. He asked for an outhouse to put her in, while he went for a doctor. Impossible. In vain he assured them that she was no impostor. They would not dispute the point with him; but doors were closed, and windows shut down.... Time flies. The poor woman is in convulsions; her son, a young man, lamenting over her. At last my friend sees a carriage driving up to a house at a little distance. The knock is given; the warm door opens; servants and light pour forth. Now, thought he, is the time. He puts on his best address.... He tells his story. They only press on the faster. "Will you go and see her?" "No, sir; there is no necessity for that sort of thing, depend on it. Impostors swarm everywhere. The thing cannot be done. Sir, your conduct is extraordinary." "Sir," cried Shelley, assuming a very different manner and forcing the flourishing householder to stop out of astonishment, "I am sorry to say that your conduct is not extraordinary, and if my own seems to amaze you, I will tell you something which will amaze you more, and I hope will frighten you. It is such men as you who madden the spirits and the patience of the poor and wretched; and if ever a convulsion comes in this country (as is very probable) recollect what I tell you: you will have your house, that you refuse to put the miserable woman into, burnt over your head." "God bless me, sir! Dear me, sir!" exclaimed the poor, frightened man, and fluttered into his mansion. The woman was then brought to our house, which was at some distance and down a bleak path; and Shelley and her son were obliged to hold her till the doctor could arrive. It appeared that she had been attending this son in London, on a criminal charge made against him, the agitation of which had thrown her into fits on her return. The doctor said that she would have perished, had she remained there a short time longer. The next day my friend sent mother and son comfortably home to Hendon, where they were known, and whence they returned him thanks full of gratitude.'
Shelley left England for the last time on March 12, 1818, and travelled by the way of Paris and Mont Cenis to Milan. Thenceforth he resided in Italy, with frequent changes of abode at first, but finally at Pisa and its neighborhood. He had now matured, and his intimate life, his nature, and his character, are disclosed by himself in the rapidly produced works on which his fame rests. From this time it is not necessary to seek in others' impressions that knowledge of himself which is the end of biography; and the singular consistency and self-possession of his character and career, as shown in his poetry and prose, and in his familiar letters, bearing out as they do the permanent traits of his disposition already known, and correcting or shedding light upon what was extraordinary in his personality, give the best reason for belief that much in Shelley's earlier career which seems abnormal is due to the misapprehension and the misinterpretation of him by his friends. It was the life of a youth, impulsive and self-confident, and, moreover, it is the only full narrative of youth which our literature affords. If the thoughts and actions of first years were more commonly and minutely detailed, there might be less wonder, less distrust, less harsh judgment upon what seems erratic and foolish in Shelley's early days. His misfortune was that immaturity of mind and judgment became fixed in imprudent acts; his practical responsibility foreran its due time. Yet the story, as it stands, demonstrates generous aims, a sense of human duty, an interest in man's welfare, and a resolution to serve it, as exceptional as Shelley's poetic genius, intimate as the tie was between the two; for he was right in characterizing his poetic genius as in the main a moral one. The latter years, during which his life is contained and expressed in his works, require less attention to such details as have been followed thus far; his life in manhood must be read in his poetry and prose, and especially in his letters, but some account of external affairs is still necessary.
He had taken Miss Clairmont and her child with him, but at Milan the baby, Allegra, was sent to Byron, who undertook her bringing up and education. He enjoyed the opera at Milan, and made an excursion to Como in search of a house, but finally decided to go further south, and departed, on May 1, for Leghorn, where the party arrived within ten days. The presence there of the Gisbornes, old friends of Godwin, drew him to that city, which became, with Pisa, his principal place of residence. Mrs. Gisborne was a middle-aged woman of sense and experience, and possessed of much literary cultivation. She had been brought up as a girl, in the East, and had married Reveley, the student of Athenian antiquities, in Rome. He was a Radical, and on returning to England became associated with Godwin, Holcroft, and others of the group of reformers; and in this way it happened that when Mary's mother died at her child's birth, Mrs. Reveley took the babe home and cared for it. Two years later, when Reveley died, Godwin proposed marriage to her, but was refused; and afterwards she married Mr. Gisborne, with whom she had lived in Italy for some years. She welcomed Mary with great cordiality, and the pleasantest relations, which were only once broken, sprang up between the families. She introduced Shelley to Calderon, and read Spanish with him, as time went on, greatly to his pleasure; and, on his side, he became attached to her son, Henry Reveley, a young engineer, and especially assisted him in the scheme of putting a steamboat on the Mediterranean; but the plan, in which Shelley had embarked capital, failed. It was in the financial complications springing out of this affair that opportunity was given for the breach of confidence which then occurred, as Shelley thought he was to be defrauded; but the trouble between them was amicably settled. These events took place at a later time.
Shelley did not at once settle in Leghorn, but took a house at the Baths of Lucca, where he spent a quiet period, pleased with the scene, his walks and rides, the bath under the woodland waterfall, and all the first delights of Italy, while he was not blind to its miseries. He finished 'Rosalind and Helen,' which he had begun at Marlow, and translated Plato's 'Symposium.' Miss Clairmont had already begun to be discontented at the separation from Allegra, and was far from comforted by what news reached her of Byron's life at Venice. Shelley yielded to her anxiety and, on August 19, accompanied her by Florence to Venice, where Byron received him cordially, and offered him his villa at Este, where her mother, whose presence in Venice was concealed, would be permitted to see Allegra. Shelley wrote to Mary, who left Lucca August 30, and the family was soon settled at Este. Here their youngest child, Clara, sickened, and, on their taking her at once to Venice for advice, she died in that city, September 24. The loss made the autumn lonely at Este, but there, except for brief visits to Byron, Shelley remained, writing the 'Lines on the Euganean Hills,' 'Julian and Maddalo,' and the first act of 'Prometheus Unbound.' His poetic genius had come somewhat suddenly to its mastery, and his mind was full of great plans, keeping it restless and absorbed, while his melancholy seemed to deepen. On November 5 they departed for the south, Miss Clairmont still accompanying them, and she continued to live with them. They arrived at Rome November 20, and, remaining only a week, were settled at Naples December 1. Here Shelley was intoxicated with the beauty of Italy; he visited Pompeii, ascended Vesuvius, and went south as far as Paestum, and in his letters gives marvellously beautiful descriptions of these scenes; but he was, for causes which remain obscure, deeply dejected and unhappy to such a degree that he hid his verses from Mary and disclosed no more of his grief than he could help. She ascribed his melancholy to physical depression, but there were other reasons, never satisfactorily made out. He worked but little, only at finishing and remodelling old poems, except that he wrote the well-known personal poems of that winter.
On March 5 they returned to Rome, and there he plucked up courage again, and finished three acts of 'Prometheus Unbound,' writing in that wilderness of beauty and ruin which he describes with a sad eloquence. Here the most severe domestic sorrow they were to undergo came upon them in the death of their boy, William, on June 7. Shelley watched by him for sixty hours uninterruptedly, and immediately was called on to forget his grief and sustain Mary, who sank under this last blow. 'Yesterday,' he wrote to Peacock, 'after an illness of only a few days, my little William died. There was no hope from the moment of the attack. You will be kind enough to tell all my friends, so that I need not write to them. It is a great exertion to me to write even this, and it seems to me as if, hunted by calamity as I have been, that I should never recover any cheerfulness again.' He removed with Mary at once to Leghorn, that she might have Mrs. Gisborne's company, and there spent the summer. 'The Cenci' was the work of these months, written in a tower on the top of his house overlooking the country. On October 2 they went to Florence, where his last child, Percy, was born November 12. The galleries were a perpetual delight to him, and especially the sculptures, on which he made notes and from which he derived poetic stimulus. Here he wrote the fourth act of 'Prometheus Unbound,' finishing that poem.
On January 27 they removed to Pisa, where they found a friend in Mrs. Mason, one of the Earl of Kingston's daughters whom Mary Wollstonecraft had once in charge. She was one of their set of acquaintances from this time. Shelley was much troubled in the opening months of this year, 1820, by Godwin's complaints and embarrassments, but as he had already given Godwin L4,000 or L5,000, and in order to do it had divested himself, as he reminded Godwin, of four or five times this amount, which he had raised from money-lenders, and as he was really unable to accomplish anything by such sacrifices, he receded from the impossible task of extricating him from debt. Miss Clairmont, too, toward whom Shelley's conduct is tenderly considerate and manly, caused him trouble by her anxiety about Allegra, and her inability to keep on good terms with Mary, who was now unwilling that she should continue with them. His discharged servant, Paolo, also was a source of uneasiness and exasperation, as he first attempted to blackmail Shelley and then spread scandals about his private life, which were taken up in Italy and echoed in England. On June 15 they again removed to Leghorn, taking the house of the Gisbornes, and on August 5 went for the summer to the Baths of San Giuliano near Pisa. To these months belong 'The Witch of Atlas,' and 'Oedipus Tyrannus;' but Shelley's principal works were the occasional pieces. He had become greatly discouraged by the continued neglect of the public, and by the personal attacks to which his character was subjected in England. He certainly felt keenly his position as an outcast, and though his enthusiasm for political causes was undiminished and flamed up in 'The Mask of Anarchy,' and the 'Odes,' his spirit was depressed and hopeless. Miss Clairmont left them at the end of the summer, and became a private governess in Florence, though from time to time she visited them. On October 22 Medwin joined them for some months, and directly after, on October 29, they returned from the Baths to Pisa for the winter. Here their circle of acquaintance was now large, and included Professor Pacchiani, Emilia Viviani, Prince Mavrocordato, the Princess Argiropoli, Sgricci, Taaffe,--new names, but, excepting two, of minor importance. Emilia Viviani was a young lady who interested Mary and Miss Clairmont as well as Shelley in her misfortunes. She was the occasion of 'Epipsychidion,' in writing which Shelley expressed his full idealization of woman as the object of love and in so doing broke the charm of this last object of his idolatry. The event ended in exciting a certain jealousy in Mary, who was soon disenchanted of the distressed maiden; but she continued to be treated by all with the greatest kindness. Mavrocordato was the occasion of Shelley's keener interest in the Greek revolt, which was expressed in 'Hellas,' an improvisation of 1821, and he was welcome also to Mary, who read Greek with him. The most important addition to the circle was Edward Williams and his wife, Jane, who came on January 13, 1821, and were Shelley's constant and most prized companions, from this time to the end. The summer was spent at the Baths of Giuliano, where 'Adonais' was composed, except that Shelley went to Ravenna to see Byron in August; and the winter was passed at Pisa, where Byron settled in November with the Countess Guiccioli. Medwin also returned and joined the circle. It was proposed, too, to invite Hunt, who was in straits, to Italy, and a plan was made for him to join with Byron in issuing 'The Liberal' there, and in consequence of this arrangement, and by Shelley's free but self-denying material aid, he was enabled to come, but did not arrive so soon as was hoped.
Such, in rapid outline, was the external course of Shelley's life in these four Italian years up to the spring of 1822. He had accomplished his poetic work, though it remained in large part unpublished, and he looked upon himself as having failed,--not that he did not know that his work was good, but that it had received no recognition. In private life he had continued to meet with grave misfortune, and his character still stood blackened and traduced in the eyes of the world. His life with Mary had been a happy one, but he had early learned that it was his part to deny himself and contain his own moods and sorrows. It is plain that he felt a lack of perfect sympathy between them, a certain coldness, and something like fault-finding with him because of his persistent difference from the world and its ways. He was pained by this, and made solitary, and Mary afterwards was aware of it, as her self-reproaches show; but the union, notwithstanding, was one of tender affection in the midst of many circumstances that might have disturbed it. To Shelley's continued loneliness must be ascribed the deep melancholy of his verses to Mrs. Williams, the sheaf of poems that was the last of all. Edward Williams, who had been at Eton in Shelley's time, may have had some knowledge of him, but he was practically a new acquaintance. He was manly and generous by nature, and had a taste for literature, though his previous life had been an active one. Shelley became much attached to him, and found in his company, as they boated on the Serchio together, great enjoyment. Both he and Mary express warm admiration for their friend. Mrs. Williams suffered the same idealization that Shelley had wrought about every woman who attracted him at all; and the peace and happiness of her life with her husband especially won upon him. The verses he wrote her were kept secret from Mary, and have the personal and intimate quality of poems meant for one alone to read. This friendship was the last pleasure that Shelley was to know, and Williams was to be his companion in death.
Trelawny, from whom the true description of Shelley at the end of life comes, joined the circle January 14, 1822. He had led a romantic life as a sailor, and was now twenty-eight years old when he sought out Shelley, and made friends with Byron, and through these friendships became an interesting character to the world. The scene of his introduction to Shelley has been often quoted:--
'The Williamses received me in their earnest, cordial manner. We had a great deal to communicate to each other, and were in loud and animated conversation, when I was rather put out by observing in the passage near the open door opposite to where I sat a pair of glittering eyes steadily fixed on mine. It was too dark to make out whom they belonged to. With the acuteness of a woman, Mrs. Williams's eyes followed the direction of mine, and going to the doorway she laughingly said, "Come in, Shelley; it's only our friend Tre, just arrived." Swiftly gliding in, blushing like a girl, a tall, slim stripling held out both his hands; and, although I could hardly believe, as I looked at his flushed, feminine and artless face, that it could be the poet, I returned his warm pressure. After the ordinary greetings and courtesies he sat down and listened. I was silent from astonishment. Was it possible this mild-looking, beardless boy could be the veritable monster at war with all the world?--excommunicated by the Fathers of the Church, deprived of his civil rights by the fiat of a grim Lord Chancellor, discarded by every member of his family, and denounced by the rival sages of our literature as the founder of a Satanic school? I could not believe it; it must be a hoax.... He was habited like a boy in a black jacket and trousers, which he seemed to have outgrown, or his tailor, as is the custom, had most shamefully stinted him in his "sizings." Mrs. Williams saw my embarrassment and, to relieve me, asked Shelley what book he had in his hand. His face brightened, and he answered briskly, "Calderon's 'Magico Prodigioso.' I am translating some passages in it." "Oh, read it to us!" Shoved off from the shore of commonplace incidents, that could not interest him, and fairly launched on a theme that did, he instantly became oblivious of everything but the book in his hand. The masterly manner in which he analyzed the genius of the author, his lucid interpretation of the story, and the ease with which he translated into our language the most subtle and imaginative passages of the Spanish poet were marvellous, as was his command of the two languages. After this touch of his quality I no longer doubted his identity. A dead silence ensued. Looking up I asked, "Where is he?" Mrs. Williams said, "Who? Shelley? Oh, he comes and goes like a spirit, no one knows when or where." Presently he reappeared with Mrs. Shelley.'
Trelawny's whole narrative is very vivid and clear, and, in particular, he renders the boyishness of Shelley better than Hogg or Peacock, who turned it to ridicule. He found in him the old qualities, however, and many of the old habits. He still read or wrote incessantly, and could close his senses to the world around, even at Byron's dinner-parties, and withdraw to his own thoughts. He had no regular habits of eating, and lived on water and bread,--'bread literally his staff of life.' He could jump into the water, on being told to swim, and lie quiet on the bottom till 'fished out,'--an incident that would have read very differently in Hogg or Peacock, but is here told with perfect nature. He was self-willed. 'I always go on till I am stopped, and I never am stopped,' he said. He had filled Williams with enthusiasm for self-improvement, and won him over wholly to books and thought and poetizing, just as he always sought to do with his friends, men or women. He was as passionately fond of boating as ever and eager for the craft he had ordered for the summer, which they were to spend in the Gulf of Spezia, as had been decided; and he wandered out alone into the Pine Forest to write, as when he composed 'Alastor.' The same features, the same traits, are here as of old,--with the difference that they are told naturally without the suggestion of grotesqueness on one side or of incipient lunacy on the other. This sustains our belief in Shelley's always having been a natural being, subject to no more of eccentricity or disease than exists within the bounds of an ordinary healthy nature. 'He was like a healthy, well-conditioned boy,' says Trelawny. The gentle timidity is here, too, the half ludicrous fear of a 'party' with which Mary had 'threatened' him, and similar shynesses that existed in his temperament, with the openness that knew no wrong where no wrong was meant. His dislike of Byron, mixed with admiration of his genius and discouragement in its presence, is not concealed, and the vigor and brilliancy of his talk, its eloquent flow, together with his spells of sadness and the physical spasms that made him roll on the floor, but with self-command and words of unforgetting kindness for those about him who were obliged to look on, and also the constant discouragement of his spirits in respect to himself and his life,--are all spread on these pages, which are biographically of the highest value. It is fortunate that there is so faithful a witness of these last days; but this memoir must draw to a close without lingering over the last portrait.
The plan to pass the summer on the Gulf of Spezia was carried out. On May 1, after some difficulties in finding a place of abode, Shelley was settled in the Casa Magni, a lonely house on the edge of the sea, under steep and wooded slopes, beneath which rocky footpaths wound to Lerici on the south and to the near village of San Terenzo on the north. The Williamses were with him, and, temporarily, Miss Clairmont, to whom in the first days he there broke the news of the death of Allegra. The spot is one of indescribable beauty, with lovely views, both near and distant, wherever the eye wanders or rests; but it had also an aspect of wildness and strangeness, which depressed Mary's spirits. 'The gales and squalls,' she says, 'that hailed our first arrival surrounded the bay with foam. The howling winds swept round our exposed house, and the sea roared unremittingly.... The natives were wilder than the place. Our near neighbors of San Terenzo were more like savages than any people I ever before lived among. Many a night they passed on the beach singing, or rather howling, the women dancing about among the waves that broke at their feet, the men leaning against the rocks and joining in their loud, wild chorus.' It was among these villagers that Shelley's last offices of charity were done, as he visited them in their houses, and helped the sick and the poor as he was able. On May 12 arrived the boat which Shelley christened the Ariel,--'a perfect plaything for the summer,' Williams said. They made also a shallop of canvas and reeds, and in one or the other of these crafts he incessantly boated. He wrote 'The Triumph of Life,' going off by himself in his shallop in the moonlight. Mary thought it was the happiest period in his life. 'I still inhabit this divine bay,' he wrote, 'reading Spanish dramas, and sailing and listening to the most enchanting music.' Again he says, 'If the past and future could be obliterated, the present would content me so well that I could say with Faust to the passing moment,--"Remain thou, thou art so beautiful."' Mary unfortunately was not so happy, and she says, took no pleasure excepting when 'sailing, lying down with my head on his knee, I shut my eyes and felt the wind and our swift motion alone.' She was also at one time dangerously ill, and Shelley himself was far from well. The house was a place of visions. One night, when with Williams, he saw Allegra as a naked child rise from the waves, clapping her hands; again he saw the image of himself, who asked him, 'How long do you mean to be content?' And Mrs. Williams twice saw Shelley when he was not present.
Two months passed by in this retreat, and it was now time for Leigh Hunt to arrive. Shelley set off to meet him at Leghorn, taking Williams and the sailor-boy, Charles Vivian, with him. Mary called Shelley back two or three times and told him that if he did not come soon she should go to Pisa, with their child Percy, and cried bitterly when he went away. The next day he arrived at Leghorn. Thornton Hunt always remembered the cry with which Shelley rushed into his father's arms, saying, 'I am inexpressibly delighted! you cannot think how inexpressibly happy it makes me.' He saw the Hunts settled, and arranged affairs between Hunt and Byron; but both he and Williams were anxious to return to their families in their lonely situation. On July 8 they set sail in the Ariel, not without warning of risk. The weather was threatening, and in a few moments they were lost in a sea-fog. Trelawny describes the scene:--
'Although the sun was obscured by mists it was oppressively sultry. There was not a breath of air in the harbor. The heaviness of the atmosphere and an unwonted stillness benumbed my senses. I went down into the cabin and sank into a slumber. I was roused up by a noise overhead, and went on deck. The men were getting up a chain cable to let go another anchor. There was a general stir amongst the shipping; shifting berths, getting down yards and masts, veering out cables, hauling in of hawsers, letting go anchors, hailing from the ships and quays, boats sculling rapidly to and fro. It was almost dark, although only half past six. The sea was of the color and looked as solid and smooth as a sheet of lead, and covered with an oily scum; gusts of wind swept over without ruffling it, and big drops of rain fell on its surface, rebounding, as if they could not penetrate it. There was a commotion in the air, made up of many threatening sounds, coming upon us from the sea. Fishing craft and coasting vessels under bare poles rushed by us in shoals, running foul of the ships in the harbor. As yet the din and hubbub was that made by men, but their shrill pipings were suddenly silenced by the crashing voice of a thunder squall that burst right over our heads. For some time no other sounds were to be heard than the thunder, wind and rain. When the fury of the storm, which did not last for more than twenty minutes, had abated, and the horizon was in some degree cleared, I looked to seaward anxiously, in the hope of descrying Shelley's boat amongst the many small crafts scattered about. I watched every speck that loomed on the horizon, thinking that they would have borne up on their return to the port, as all the other boats that had gone out in the same direction had done. I sent our Genoese mate on board some of the returning crafts to make inquiries, but they all professed not to have seen the English boat.... During the night it was gusty and showery, and the lightning flashed along the coast; at daylight I returned on board and resumed my examinations of the crews of the various boats which had returned to the port during the night. They either knew nothing or would say nothing. My Genoese, with the quick eye of a sailor, pointed out on board a fishing-boat an English-made oar that he thought he had seen in Shelley's boat, but the entire crew swore by all the saints in the calendar that this was not so. Another day was passed in horrid suspense. On the morning of the third day I rode to Pisa. Byron had returned to the Lanfranchi Palace. I hoped to find a letter from the Villa Magni; there was none. I told my fears to Hunt, and then went upstairs to Byron. When I told him his lip quivered, and his voice faltered as he questioned me.'
Trelawny sent a courier to Leghorn and Byron ordered the Bolivar to cruise along the coast. He himself took his horse and rode. At Via Reggio he recognized a punt, a water keg, and some bottles that had been on Shelley's boat, and his fears became almost certainties. To quicken their watchfulness he promised rewards to the coast-guard patrol. On July 18 two bodies were found. 'The tall, slight figure, the jacket, the volume of Aeschylus in one pocket, and Keats's poems in the other, doubled back as if the reader in the act of reading had hastily thrust it away, were all too familiar to me to leave a doubt on my mind that this mutilated corpse was any other than Shelley's.' The second body was that of Williams. A few days later, the body of the sailor-boy, Charles Vivian, was also found. Trelawny went on to Lerici and broke the news to the two widows there, who, after suffering great suspense, and going to Pisa and returning, still hoped against hope through these days.
There was nothing more to be done except that the last offices must be discharged. The bodies had been buried in the sand, but permission was obtained from the authorities to burn them. Trelawny took charge. He had a furnace made, and provided what else was necessary. On the first day Williams's body was burned, and on the second, August 18, Shelley's. Three white wands had been stuck in the sand to mark the grave, but it was nearly an hour before his body was found. The preparations were then completed. Only Byron and Hunt besides Trelawny and some natives of the place were present. 'The sea,' says Trelawny, 'with the islands of Gorgona, Capraja and Elba, was before us. Old battlemented watch towers stretched along the coast, backed by the marble-crested Apennines glistening in the sun, picturesque from their diversified outlines, and not a human dwelling was in sight.' And Hunt takes up the description: 'The beauty of the flame arising from the funeral pile was extraordinary. 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 were intensely contrasted with one another; marble mountains touched the air with coolness, and the flame of the fire bore away toward heaven in vigorous amplitude wavering and quivering with a brightness of inconceivable beauty.' Wine, oil and salt were thrown on the pile, and with them the volume of Keats, and all was slowly consumed. Trelawny snatched the heart from the flames. Hunt and Byron hardly maintained themselves, but at last all was over, and they rode away. The ashes were deposited in the English burying ground at Rome, in the now familiar spot where Trelawny placed a slab in the ground and inscribed it:--
PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY
NATUS IV AUG. MDCCXCII
OBIIT VIII JUL. MDCCCXXII
'Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea change
Into something rich and strange.'
G. E. W.
Contributed by Woodberry, George Edward
26 May 2006