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Between the dates of William's death and Percy's birth the Shelleys had been staying at the Villa Valsovano, between Leghorn and Monte Nero. Here Shelley again saw a great deal of Mrs. Gisborne and her husband ; and was initiated by her into the reading of Spanish, especially Calderon's plays. Mr. Charles Clairmont, who visited Shelley at this time en route to Vienna, having been a year or more in Spain, was also of use to the poet's Spanish studies. We owe to these his fine translation from the Magico Prodigioso: he regarded Calderon as next to Shakspeare among mediæval dramatists, and far superior to the Elizabethans, such as Beaumont and Fletcher. Another and less manifestly congenial matter engaged Shelley much at this period. He started a scheme for a steamer to ply between Marseilles and Leghorn, for the pecuniary benefit of the Gisbornes, and of Mr. Henry Reveley, a son of Mrs. Gisborne by a previous marriage: he was an engineer, and engaged in the building of the steamer, which would have been the first to navigate the Gulf of Lyons. The project, however, after a great deal of interest taken in it by Shelley, and of money supplied by him, broke down-the Gisbornes and Mr. Reveley having found it necessary to return to England: they were afterwards in Italy again for a while.
The Shelleys, still with Miss Clairmont in their company, went on to Florence early in October. The climate of this city was very inimical to Shelley, the keen winds from the Apennines being overmuch for his nerves. Probably also the water, which is here impregnated with lime, disagreed with him. It would be sure to do so if, as Medwin says, he suffered from nephritis ; and we find it recorded in Shelley's letters that the bad water at Ravenna tortured him at a later date, and that the not needing to distil water at Pisa was one serious motive in favour of that city as a residence.*
During his stay in Florence, he was wont to pass several hours daily in th galleries, and made a study of art, more especially sculpture, going a good deal beyond anything he had previously attempted or felt impelled towards. This study so grew upon him that afterwards, in Pisa, he regarded it as a great loss of happiness to be, in comparison with the opportunities of Rome and Florence, cut off from works of art.
Essays and Letters, vol. ä. pp. 259, 261.
XXII. --SHELLEY ON THE FINE ARTS. I will here collect, though in a very summary and imperfect manner, some details of Shelley's feeling concerning the fine arts, not including poetry. He has left, both in letters and in separate memoranda, various observations on the subject, which the student of his opinions should consult for information, and very generally for force and beauty of expression.
In his early youth he was indifferent to the fine arts of form, including architecture : but afterwards he took a deeply admiring interest in sculpture, and at a later date in painting as well. From boyhood, however, he had a habit of sketching or scrawl. ing on books or loose paper—as for instance pines and cedars, in memory of those at Field Place; or afterwards reminiscences of objects of nature at Lymouth, mountains, spectres, or any form, graceful or fantastic, that fitted across his inner eye. I have seen some of these scribblings, proper to 1812 and to his closing years, and discern in them a certain readiness of touch which seems to speak to early training, of the milder“ drawingmaster” kind, neither wholly lost nor much improved upon by after practice. Here it is a tree, in the style of what the drawing-master terms “foliage"; there a church-steeple, with two devils on the balustrade, one of them smoking a pipe ; or again a man straddling with supreme disregard of his vertebral column.
At the period of which we are now speaking, Shelley's sojourn in Italy, he turned his attention seriously to questions of art ; going so far as to say that one of his chief objects in that country was to observe, “in statuary and painting, the degree in which, and the rules according to which, that ideal beauty of which we have so intense yet so obscure an apprehension is realized in external forms." His chief admiration was naturally given to Grecian art : in sculpture as in other manifestations of intellect he found the Greeks to be “the gods whom we should worship.” In painting he placed Raphael highest, and next him (hear it, ye Preraphaelites and Ruskinians!) Guido and Salvator Rosa. The works of these three painters, indeed, he regarded *
as “the only things that sustain the comparison” with the antique. We trace here the wondrous docility of mind with which a sympathetic observer who is no expert can be
Letter of 23d March 1819.
talked into fancying that he sees in particular works the qualities which they are credited with, and which he knows, from his own elevated perceptions, would be the highest of qualities if only they were actually there. All Europe was bedribbled, in Shelley's time, with nonsense about the ideal beauty of Guido, and the titanic sublime of Salvator: and Shelley, who knew the true and incommensurable value of the sublime and ideal, was teachable enough to suppose he really saw them while his sight was engaged upon upturned whites of eyes, posing limbs, and zigzag lightning amid tattered pines. This at least is the only explanation I can offer to myself of the result-intense admiration of Guido and Salvator—arising from these data ; Shelley, who really knew what idealism, beauty, and sublimity, are,and Guido and Salvator, who pretended to embody them upon canvas. And this may be said without denying to those painters such measure of genius and attainment as they assuredly did possess and show forth. But even Shelley “drew the line somewhere”: he drew it above the Carracci and Domenichino, spite of the stertorous applause with which the performances of these artists have always, and especially about his time, been greeted. He also rejected the allurements of the Roman arabesque style.
To Michael Angelo Shelley did no justice—unless perhaps quite towards the last. Here again his opinions were those of a beginner—a quite sincere beginner at any rate, as, instead of chiming in with the real or supposititious connoisseurs, he boldly stood by his own impressions (which are in fact almost universally the veritable impressions on this subject of people who have not largely studied and compared fine art), and avowed himself revolted with the physical grandeur, the colossal externalism, of the Florentine demigod. “He has not only no temperance, no modesty, no feeling for the just boundaries of art (and in these respects an admirable genius may err), but he has no sense of beauty, and to want this is to want the sense of the creative power of mind. . . . But hell and death are his real sphere." If, with respect to Michael Angelo, Shelley had thoroughly laid to heart his own valuable theory "that the canons of taste, if known, are irrefragable, and that these are to be sought in the most admirable works of art," * he would
These terms are not Shelley's own, but Mrs. Shelley's as a summing-up of her husband's views (Preface to the Essays and Letters, p. xvii.)
sooner or later have come to a different or greatly modified conclusion. In fact, he appears finally to have enlarged his perception, for we find in his admirable Defence of Poetry, written in 1821, the following passage : “It exceeds all imagination to conceive what would have been the moral condition of the world if neither Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Chaucer, Shakspeare, Calderon, Lord Bacon, nor Milton, had ever existed ; if Raphael and Michael Angelo had never been born ; if the Hebrew poetry had never been translated ; if a revival of the study of Greek literature had never taken place ; if no monuments of ancient sculpture had been handed down to us; and if the poetry of the religion of the ancient world had been extinguished together with its belief.” The passage in Marenghi relative to the greatness of Florentine sculpture must also be held to include-and even principally to apply toMichael Angelo. This poem was written before Shelley had studied the works of that mighty genius with any amplitude.
His visit to Pompeii was very impressive and delightful to Shelley, partly from the beauty of individual works, and especially from the free play allowed to natural influences. “I now understand why the Greeks were such great poets ; and above all I can account, it seems to me, for the harmony, the unity, the perfection, the uniform excellence, of all their works of art. They lived in a perpetual commerce with external nature, and nourished themselves upon the spirit of its forms. Their theatres were all open to the mountains and the sky :... the odour and the freshness of the country penetrated the cities.” In another connexion, after visiting Ravenna, he observes : “ It seems to have been one of the first effects of the Christian religion to destroy the power of producing beauty in art.”
With respect to architecture, Shelley was greatly struck, besides various antique buildings, with the splendour of Milan Cathedral, more especially its outside. He was no admirer of St Peter's ; and one can see, on more occasions than one, how much less impressed he was by the architectural than by the natural beauties of the scenes he visited—as, for instance, Palestrina and the Baths of Caracalla.
As a boy, he loved music : "he could not bear any turns or twists in music, but liked a tune played quite simply.” This art, indeed, affected him deeply; and, though there is nothing to show that he had any practical knowledge of it, he could go
to the small extent of playing a tune on the piano with one hand (if not possibly somewhat further than this). Yet he had not, properly speaking, “an ear for music,” nor was he at all in the habit of singing or humming tunes. To decidedly ugly sounds he was painfully sensitive ; as for instance the voice of a Scotch servant-girl at his Edinburgh lodgings recorded by Hogg. Yet I think we are scarcely bound to believe that “ whenever she entered the room, or even came to the door, he rushed wildly into a corner, and covered his ears with his hands.” When asked what she had had for dinner, the damsel invariably replied “Sengit heed and bonnocks”; and this produced from Shelley, seemingly with the like constancy, the appeal—“ Send her away, Harriett! oh send her away! for God's sake, send her away!” Shortly before his leaving England in 1818, he became an assiduous frequenter of the Italian opera, luxuriating much in Mozart; and was singularly delighted with one ballet, as danced by Madlle. Milanie. Of ordinary theatres he saw very little: in fact, as far as comedy was concerned, he entertained a strong feeling of moral aversion. " There is comedy in its perfection," he said in one instance. Society grinds down poor wretches into the dust of abject poverty, till they are scarcely recognizable as human beings ; and then-instead of being treated as what they really are, subjects of the deepest pity-they are brought forward as grotesque monstrosities to be laughed at.”
XXIII. -PROMETHEUS AND THE CENCI. We have now come to Shelley's zenith. Like a Dante passing from heaven to heaven under the escort of Beatrice, the poet of Julian and Maddalo stepped at once into another demesne of poetry, and yet into another : in each he plucked and now wears its own peculiar, long-delaying, unperishing laurel.
There is, I suppose, no poem comparable, in the fair sense of that word, to Prometheus Unbound. The immense scale and boundless scope of the conception; the marble majesty and extra-mundane passions of the personages ; the sublimity of ethical aspiration ; the radiance of ideal and poetic beauty which saturates every phase of the subject, and almost (as it were) wraps it from sight at times, and transforms it out of sense into spirit; the rolling river of great sound and lyrical