« PreviousContinue »
children by death, the youngest of the four. Little Clara, who bore a resemblance to her father, suffered from heat and teething: the parents hurried from Este to Venice for advice—so hastily that they had forgotten to bring their passports, and so impetuously that they made way nevertheless; but to no purpose--Clara died on reaching the city.
The visit to Venice produced one imperishable result-the poem of Julian and Maddalo, which was written, wholly or chiefly, in the villa at Este. Beautiful as is Alastor, and splendid the Revolt of Islam—impossible as it would have been for any but a very great poet in his early prime to produce either of these works-it cannot be said that the one or other is, on its own sole showing, the sufficient basis for such a renown as that of Shelley now is, and will be till the extinction of the English language. Each of them is an expanding of power-each a progression towards a goal : each would be a divine suggestion had no perfect development ensued afterwards, but still a suggestion, and not absolutely a monument. Time, to whom the ruin of an empire is child's-play, and who had lately had his will with that of a Napoleon, might have addressed himself to the rather tougher task of extinguishing the Revolt of Islam, and might possibly have succeeded, had that poem not been followed up by others greater, and in especial more ripe and rounded, than itself. But Julian and Maddalo was the abolition of the anarch's power over Shelley : as he set the finishing hand to that work, he ceased to be a subject of Time, and became a citizen of Eternity.
I shall not here attempt any analysis of the beauties of Julian and Jaddalo, and still less any discussion of such blemishes as criticism can detect in it. But I must point to its position amid the astonishing series of masterpieces which its still very youthful author (twenty-six years of age) now found himself inspired to produce. Along with Prometheus Unbound and The Cenci, Julian and Maddalo appears to me to complete the supreme trine of Shelley's genius.* Prometheus (with which one might associate the Witch of Atlas, as hardly if at all less perfect, and, had it been completed, no doubt the Triumph of Life) represents ideality; The Ceni, tragedy; Julian and Maddalo, a poet's perception of the familiar. The Letter to Maria Gisborne illustrates that same faculty, under more simple conditions : no other poem of Shelley's can be cited in this connexion. It would be a great mistake to regard Julian and Maddalo as simply a familiar poem, such as, from differing points of view, are many of Wordsworth's or (in our own days) the Dora of Tennyson : neither is it an express idealization of the familiar. Were it intended as either of these, it must be called a patchy piece of execution. It is rather (as I have endeavoured above to express the thing) a poet's perception of the familiar : and the deepest property of it is the perfect limpidity of mind and word-I take no count here of mere difficulties of dictionwhereby the poet makes the thing perceptible from his own poetic point of view to others also who are not poets. There is no apparent theory of how to produce such a result, but a concrete production of it. I am not sure that the same thing had ever been exactly attempted before, or has been thoroughly attained since, at least in English. One cannot cite any writing of Shakspeare as a precedent; for, though he is of course quite as familiar and quite as poetic in motive, and even more so in numerous details, there are in him other prominent elements of perception-as the romantic and humorous—which take the result into a different class. The same, mutatis mutandis, may be said of Byron's Don Juan—which was begun just about the same time that Julian and Maddalo was written, but Shelley, I believe, heard nothing of it then.
1.e., confining the question to works of considerable length. If I might venture to express an opinion on the point, I should say that the very finest piece of work Teation and fashioning combined--which he cver produced is the Ode to the West Wind vol. ii. p. 207): but that is short. The Stanzas written in Dejection near Naples, Ode to Liberty, Hymn of Apollo, Skylark, and Lines written on hearing tke Neuls of the Death of Napoleon, are brothers very near the throne-not to speak
The fact is that the range and variety of Shelley's powers have been very much undervalued, and even mis-stated. You talk of Shelley to an ordinary poetic reader, and find that the only common ground of criticism regarding him is his ideality -his flights of speculation, imagination, and imagery, which are regarded (and justly in many particular instances) as merging into the fanciful and dreamlike. You cite The Cenci: it is then unhesitatingly admitted that Shelley demonstrated a tragic power of the first class in recent centuries, but even this does not sink deep into your interlocutor's convictions. In sober truth, Shelley showed his mastery in six several and very diverse lines of poetic faculty ; and was in some of them unprecedented or unparagoned, and in none other than original. I have already specified three phases of his poetry-1, the ideal (Prometheus, Witch of Atlas, Triumph of Life, Epipsychidion, Adonais, and others); 2, the tragic (The Cenci); 3, the poeticfamiliar (Julian and Maddalo). To these must be added-4, the lyric (choruses of Prometheus and Hellas, and a multitude of minor poems); 5, the grotesque (Peter Bell the Third, and, as a less perfect but still very noticeable example, Swellfoot the Tyrant); 6, poetic translation, in which, for uniform and exalted success in varying lines of work, I presume him to be unrivalled among Englishmen-and this may be said without advancing the untenable proposition that he is always absolutely side by side with his original in either spirit or detail. Shelley was decidedly adverse to the general run and mode of translations from the poets; and no wonder he was so, when we consider his own thrilling susceptibility to poetry, and capacity for rendering it into another tongue. It would be only fair to add, as a 7th phase of attainment, the didactic-declamatory, exemplified in Queen Mab; for in that department (as already remarked) this poem, however juvenile and imperfect, and however unsatisfactory the class of work may itself be, stands uncommonly high. I perceive only one sort of thing which Shelley attempted with indifferent success-sustained narrative. That is the main practical ingredient, though not the intellectual motive power, of the three early works, Alastor, the Revolt of Islam, and Rosalind and Helen. In each of these instances, or at any rate the first two, he succeeded well in allying narrative to idealism, but in all three there is a peccant element of unrealism, a slippery hold upon the human, which makes the result approach to the conditions of failure. He is a Jacob wrestling with angels after professedly accepting the challenges of earthly athletes. When we consider that the highly varied and transcendently beautiful poetic result above referred to was all the doing of a young man under thirty, we recognize an intellect only less versatile than sublime; and the mind collapses under the weight of surmise as to what he might have found it possible to achieve had an ordinary span of life, of from fifty to seventy years, been allotted to him. It remains no doubt none the less true that in Shelley the predominant quality of all is the ideal; and that this tinges most of his work, and at times even blemishes it. He was himself particularly attached to the metaphysical element in his poetry, which is of course one
great constituent of its idealism. But to lose sight of the other qualities is to shut our eyes to salient facts and indisputable triumphs. When anybody can point, in English literature, to a better modern tragedy than The Cenci, a predecessor of Julian and Maddalo in the same class of the poetic-familiar, a much choicer bit of intellectual grotesque than Peter Bill the Third, or translations superior to those from Homer, Euripides, and Göthe, let him do so; and then, not before, let him parrot the old cry that the ideal, whether in the way of invention and imagery, or cf lyrical or rhetorical work (though even this would not be so very narrow a field), is the sum and substance of Shelley.
The poet sent Julian and Maddalo to Hunt on the 15th of August 1819, to be published anonymously; but no such publication took place during his lifetime--for what reason I do not find explained. Mr. Ollier appears to have suggested that it should come out in the same volume with the Prometheus, to which Shelley objected on account of the essential difference of style. The non-appearance of Julian and Maddalo, with the poet's name to it, is to be regretted ; as its general tone, and especially the interest which must have attached to it as introducing Byron, would probably have promoted Shelley's repute among ordinary readers beyond what could be hoped for from any of his other works save only The Cenci.
XX.-ROME AND NAPLES. Shelley, with his wife and Miss Clairmont, reached Rome on the 20th of November. “ Since I last wrote to you” (he says to Peacock in a letter of the 22nd of December) “I have seen the ruins of Rome, the Vatican, St Peter's, and all the miracles of ancient and modern art contained in that majestic city. The impression of it exceeds anything I ever experienced in my travels. We stayed there only a week, intending to return at the end of February, and devote two or three months to its mines of inexhaustible contemplation. . . . The Forum is a plain in the midst of Rorne, a kind of desert full of heaps of stones and pits; and, though so near the habitations of men, is the most desolate place you can conceive. The ruins of temples stand in and around it; shattered columns; and ranges of others complete, supporting cornices of exquisite workmanship; and vast vaults of shattered domes distinct with regular com
partments, once filled with sculptures of ivory or brass. The temples of Jupiter, and Concord, and Peace, and the Sun, and the Moon, and Vesta, are all within a short distance of this spot. Behold the wrecks of what a great nation once dedicated to the abstractions of the mind ! Rome is a city, as it were, of the dead-or rather of those who cannot die, and who survive the puny generations which inhabit and pass over the spot which they have made sacred to eternity. .... The English burying-place is a green slope near the walls, under the pyramidal tomb of Cestius, and is, I think, the most beautiful and solemn cemetery I ever beheld. To see the sun shining on its bright grass-fresh, when we first visited it, with the autumnal dews—and hear the whispering of the wind among the leaves of the trees which have overgrown the tomb of Cestius, and the soil which is stirring in the sun-warm earth, and to mark the tombs, mostly of women and young people who were buried there, one might, if one were to die, desire the sleep they seem to sleep. Such is the human mind : and so it peoples with its wishes vacancy and oblivion.”
From Rome the travellers went on to Naples-Shelley preceding the ladies by three days, and arriving on the ist of December. He saw an assassination just as he entered the city*-a young man, pursued by a man and woman out of a shop, being stabbed to death by the former at a blow. The horror which Shelley felt and expressed at this crime met with no response from a Calabrian priest, his fellow-traveller. “ External nature in these delightful regions,” he remarks, “contrasts with and compensates for the deformity and degradation of humanity.” This is only one of many passages in which Shelley intimates a low opinion, sometimes even a positive loathing, of the Italians. The earliest such passage naturally occurs in a letter from Milan (20th April 1818), at the opening of his Italian experiences, which, so far as scenery, climate, and general associations, were concerned, charmed him from the first. “ The people here, though inoffensive enough, seem, both in body and soul, a miserable race. The men are hardly men : they look like a tribe of stupid and shrivelled slaves, and I do not think that I have seen a gleam of intelligence in the coun
* So in Shelley's own letter, 22nd December 1818 (Essays and Letters, vol. ii., P: 139) Mrs. Shelley, in a letter dated in the same month (Shelley Memorials, p. 108) says " between Capua and Naples."