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It was a great effort, and a near approach to a great poem ; clearly, in more senses than one, greater than Alastor, though its vast scale and unmeasured ambition place it still more obviously in the category of imperfect achievements. Gorgeous ideality, humanitarian enthusiasm, and a passionate rush of invention, more especially of the horrible, go hand in hand in the Revolt of Islam. It affects the mind something like an enchanted palace of the Arabian Nights. One is wonderstruck both at the total creation, and at every shifting aspect of it; but one does not expect to find in it any detail of the absolute artistic perfection of a Greek gem, nor any inmate of consummate interest to the heart. Its flashing and sounding chambers are full of everything save what one most loves at last, repose and companionship.
With these few wretchedly inadequate—not to say presumptuous-remarks, I must leave the Revolt of Islam; only further observing that, whatever its imperfections of plan and execution, it is not only a marvellous well-head of poetry, but a remarkably original work: it was greatly unlike any poem that had preceded (so far as I know), and even the demon of imitation has left it solitary
XVIII. -SHELLEY QUITS ENGLAND FOR ITALY ROSALIND
AND HELEN. Another pulmonary attack towards the end of the autumn of 1817 made Shelley think gravely of what it would behove him to do; and he eventually resolved to go to Italy (he and Hogg had studied the Italian language in 1813) with no definite idea of when he would find it practicable to return. He never did return : the archangelic feet and brain and heart which quitted England in the Spring of 1818, were never again to be repelled by that grudging and unwitting stepmother.
Health was the motive put forward by Shelley for his departure; but in all probability the state of his finances also had something to do with it, and more especially the involvements which he was perpetually incurring through his unbounded munificence to others. It is a remark of Mr. Thornton Hunt, and I have no doubt a true and suggestive one, that a fixed characteristic of Shelley was this-that, if he had one sufficient motive for any course of action, he would specify that, and ignore all minor motives; and that he was thus, without any real cause, sometimes regarded as uncandid or reserved. This would explain how he may, with entire personal truth and selfconsistency, have simply alleged health as his reason for leaving England; although, had the motive of health been absent, that of purse would have sufficed.
To give some idea of Shelley in one of the most prominent of his personal traits, I will here cite, regardless of the sequence of date, a few out of the many acts of generosity recorded of him. Some others have been mentioned already, and how many more remain unrecorded! The reader will bear in mind that the income of Shelley and his family was, from 1812 to 1814, something probably like £300 a year ; from 1815 to the middle of 1817, £1000; and from the latter date onwards, after the deduction made under the order in Chancery, about £800.
“ He was able, by restricting himself to a diet more simple than the fare of the most austere anchorite, and by refusing himself horses, and the other gratifications that appear properly to belong to his station (and of which he was in truth very fond), to bestow upon men of letters, whose merits were of too high an order to be rightly estimated by their own generation, donations large indeed if we consider from how narrow a source they flowed."' * He was besides most delicate in the manner of conferring such obligations. He repeatedly gave away all his money before reaching a coach-office, and was consequently obliged to walk to town; and he once entered the grounds of his close neighbour at Marlow, Mr. Maddocks, without shoes, having bestowed his on a poor woman. Almost immediately after his expulsion from Oxford, he offered through his father's solicitor to accept, in lieu of his claim to the entailed estate of £6000 per annum (perhaps he had not then a clear idea of the amount), an annuity of £200, leaving all the residue for his sisters-an act of almost unjustifiably self-oblivious good-nature. He proposed at one time to raise money on a post obit, to settle it on a lady whom Medwin was desirous of marrying ; but this his cousin, with all right feeling, declined. During his stay at Marlow, having written a pamphlet named A Proposal for putting Reform to the Vote throughout the Country,t he prof
Hogy, vol.i., P. 245. I suppose the case more particularly, though not alone, here referred to, is that of Mr. Peacock, already mentioned in our pages.
This is the ute generally given-I have not myself seen the pamphlet. Lowndes registers it by the singular title--"We pity the Plumage, but forget the Dying Bird. An Address to the People on the Death of the Princess Charlotte. By the Hermit of Marlow. (No imprint-1817. 8vo, pp. 16. Privately printed.)"
fered £100, a full tenth of his income for a year, to further the project. In the last four or five years of his life he frequently assisted Leigh Hunt; and in one instance (perhaps towards the end of 1818)* presented him with £1400, which he had raised by an effort with a view to relieving his friend from debt. In Dr. Polidori's diary I find it stated that Shelley paid Godwin's debts somewhere about the time of his falling in love with Mary. The following singular jotting also occurs : “When starving, a friend to whom he had given £2000, though he knew it, would not come near him.” That Shelley was ever starving” is no doubt not true, though it is highly consistent with probability that he sometimes could not count upon daily money to meet daily necessities; the “ £2000" may be mythical in a like degree with the starvation, rather than absolutely so. sonal disinterestedness, apart from liberality to others, was equally marked. Leigh Hunt says, “ He had only to become a yea and nay man in the House of Commons, to be one of the richest men in Sussex. He declined it, and lived upon a comparative pittance. Even the fortune that he would ultimately have inherited, as secured to his person, was petty in the comparison.” I presume that there is substantial truth in this; save that the incident referred to is probably the same which I have already traced elsewhere with a different colouring-the offer of a large fortune on condition that he would entail it on his eldest son. Upon Percy's refusal, the money, it is stated, went to his brother John.t Medwin says also that he refused, at a time of pecuniary straits, an offer of £3000 from Sir John Shelley-Sidney to resign his contingent interest in the Penshurst estate. This is given as an instance of the romantic value he attached to his merely adventitious connexion with the descent from Sir Philip Sydney, and may be a figment.
I have mentioned above a pamphlet on the subject of Parlia
* I found this surmise on an expression in a letter from Hunt, 9th March 1819, “You know the difficulties which I foolishly suffered to remain upon me when Shelley did that noble action." (Hunt's Correspondence, vol. i., p. 126). Medwin, however, puts the affair later, at the time when Hunt was about leaving England, or towards the autumn of 1821. He also introduces into this matter “Horace Smith, who not only advanced the passage-money, but a very considerable sum for the pay. ment of his debts--as much, I think Shelley told me, as £1400." (Life of Shelley, vol. ii. p. 137). Of course we are to understand that, though Smith advanced the money, the donor of it was still Shelley.
+ Biographie des Contemporains, 1834. There are many incorrectnesses in this article about Shelley, and in others in French books: I should therefore regard the statement in the text as merely a rumour requiring verification, were it not that indisputable MS, authority exists for the facts as narrated by me on p. lvii.
mentary Reform. This was published soon after the death of the Princess Charlotte (November 1817), and took immediate occasion from that event. Shelley (as we have seen) did not give his name on the title-page, but figured as “The Hermit of Marlow.” The whirligig of time has brought in many revenges to Shelley; and this among others—that the Tories found it their interest and necessity to pass in 1867 almost the very scheme of Reform which the poet and“ dreamer,” the atheist and democrat, had suggested in 1817; for it makes little difference whether we speak of a payment of money in “ direct taxes” or in "rating." "He disavowed any wish to establish universal suffrage at once, or to do away with monarchy and aristocracy, while so large a proportion of the people remained disqualified by ignorance for sharing in the government of the country, though he looked forward to a time when the world would be enabled to disregard the symbols of its childhood ;' and he suggested that the qualification for the suffrage should be the registry of the voter's name as one who paid a certain small sum in direct taxes."*
After staying in London towards the beginning of 1818 to settle some business, Shelley, with his wife and two children, and Miss Clairmont and her baby, left for Italy on the 11th of March, and proceeded straight to Milan : hence Allegra was sent on to her father at Venice. They spent about a month in Milan, visiting thence the Lake of Como, where they thought of passing the summer ; but this proved unfeasible, and early in May they went on to Pisa.+ Here, on this first visit, they found little satisfaction, and shifted after three or four days to Leghorn; where, in the Via Grande, they stayed till the 5th of June, and made acquaintance with Mr. and Mrs. Gisborne. This lady had been intimate with Mary Wollstonecraft, and was a friend of Godwin's. She was highly amiable and accomplished, and "completely unprejudiced;” and Shelley, though he spoke of her in one instance as “the antipodes of enthusiasm,” found much pleasure and satisfaction in her society both now and afterwards. Mr. Gisborne also was a man of extensive scholarship, and of liberal opinions, which the poet supposed to be the reflex of those of his wife. Shelley thought him dull-an
Shelley Memorials, pp. 87-8. + Many interesting details as to the sojourn and localities in Italy will be found in Mrs. Shelley's notes in these volumes: I therefore touch upon them the more lightly.
opinion from which Mr. Peacock afterwards saw reason to differ, and which does not seem to have affected the pleasantness of Shelley's own intercourse with him.
From Leghorn the Shelleys and Miss Clairmont went to the Bagni di Lucca. Here he finished Rosalind and Helen, a poem which he had begun at Marlow, and laid aside, setting on it only a mediocre value. His wife now prevailed upon him to complete it. Shelley has evidently put a good deal of himself into this poem—the character and broken health of Lionel, his connexion with Helen, and the legal complication whereby Rosalind is bereaved of her children; and, if we were to assess the merits of a poem by the number of beautiful lines and exquisite images it comprises, we should have to accord a very honourable place to Rosalind and Helen. On the whole, however, it may be pronounced a comparative failure, being a somewhat washy performance. We read it because it is Shelley's, and are repaid for the enterprise by its lovely and thick-coming fancies : but, under other circumstances, we should not read it, nor consider its individual charms a sufficient inducement. Shelley published the poem in 1819, but still cared little about it. In July, feeling for the nonce incapable of original composition, he took up the Symposium of Plato, and made in ten mornings' work his beautiful but abridged and not rigidly correct version of it. He also began, but never finished, a prefatory essay to the Symposium, On the Literature, the Arts, and the Manners, of the Athenians, intended to exhibit the diversities between antique and modern life and modes of thought.
XIX.—JULIAN AND MADDALO. On the 17th of August 1818 Shelley and Miss Clairmont went to Venice, where Byron was staying. Mrs. Shelley wrote that they had started “on important business," and one may surmise that this had something to do with Allegra. They arrived at midnight of the 22nd, in a storm of wind, rain, and lightning. Shelley saw Byron on the ensuing day : they rode along the Lido, and repeated this exercise almost every evening. Byron offered Shelley and his family the use of his villa, I Capuccini, near Este, not far off; and they spent a few weeks here, varied by visits to Venice itself. They quitted Este on the 7th of November, going southwards.
During the stay here, Shelley for the first time lost one of his