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pleasure to know that any one likes my writings ; but it is objection and enmity alone that rouses my curiosity.” (6th September 1819). “Ifany of the Reviews abuse me, cut them out and send them : if they praise, you need not trouble yourself. I feel ashamed if I could believe that I should deserve the latter : the former, I flatter myself, is no more than a just tribute. If Hunt praises me, send it, because that is of another character of thing." (6th March 1820). “I am, speaking literarily, infirm of purpose. I have great designs, and feeble hopes of accomplishing them. I read books, and, though I am ignorant enough, they seem to teach me nothing. To be sure, the reception the public have given me might go far to damp any man's enthusiasm. They teach may be said, only what is true : very true, I doubt not, and the more true the less agreeable. I can compare my experience in this respect to nothing but a series of wet blankets.” (15th November 1820). “ The reviews of my Cenci (though some of them, and especially that marked ‘John Scott,' are written with great malignity) on the whole give me as much encouragement as a person of my habits of thinking is capable of receiving from such a source-which is inasmuch as they coincide with and confirm my own decisions. My next attempt (if I should write more) will be a drama, in the composition of which I shall attend to the advice of my critics, to a certain degree. But I doubt whether I shall write more. I could be content either with the hell or the paradise of poetry: but the torments of its purgatory vex me, without exciting my powers sufficiently to put an end to the vexation.” (20th January 1821).* " I hear that the abuse against me exceeds all bounds. Pray, if you see any one article particularly outrageous, send it me. As yet, I have laughed : but woe to these scoundrels if they should once make me lose my temper. I have discovered that my calumniator in the Quarterly Review was the Reverend Mr Milman.† Priests have their privilege.” (1th June 1821). “I write nothing, and probably shall write no more. It offends me to see my name classed among those who have no name. If I cannot be something better, I had rather be nothing. My motive was never the infirm desire of fame ; and, if I should
This letter is misdated "1820" in the Shelley Memorials, p. 135. It alludes to the Witch of Atlas, which was written in August 1820,--not to speak of other con
See the note to Adonais (vol, ii, p. 553). The statement in our text applies to the critique of Laon and Cythna in 1819-not to that of Prometheus, which latter review was only printed in October 1821.
continue an author, I feel that I should desire it. This cup is justly given to one only of an age-indeed, participation would make it worthless : and unfortunate they who seek it and find it not.” (10th August 1821). “Do not let my frankness with you, nor my belief that you deserve it more than Lord Byron, * have the effect of deterring you from assuming a station in modern literature which the universal voice of my contemporaries forbids me either to stoop or to aspire to. I am, and I desire to be, nothing." (To Leigh Hunt, with regard to the proposal of The Liberal, 26th August 1821). “The man must be enviably happy whom Reviews can make miserable. I have neither curiosity, interest, pain, nor pleasure, in anything, good or evil, they can say of me. I feel only a slight disgust, and a sort of wonder that they presume to write my name.” (25th January 1822).
These extracts—which could easily be supplemented by the statements of biographers, were it worth while-speak for themselves. They indicate that Shelley was absolutely above the level of criticism, and was, as a poet, his own sufficient law to himself ; but that, at the same time, his comparative languor of production in the last year or so of his life was partly due to the perception that, however much he might exert his poetic powers, their results met with no adequate sympathy or recognition. He would have done nothing to curry favour: being received with disfavour time after time, he was the less inclined to reencounter it once more. Though sometimes despondent, he was by no means unconscious (as how could he be?) of his own powers both of reason and of imagination, of the calibre of his poems, and of their right to appeal to posterity if not to contemporaries. At one time, indeed, he had considered the poetic faculty in himself to be hardly equal to the logical and metaphysical, and perhaps he never definitely reversed this estimate: but he resolved, at an early stage of his career, to use poetry as his means of self-expression, and he directed his studies accordingly.
XXVIII.- RAVENNA TO LERICI. Shelley, as we have seen, arrived on the 6th of August 1821
According to the full context, the thing which Hunt“ deserves more than Lord Byron," is not “station in modern literature” (which would have been a grotesque flattery on Shelley's part), but Shelley's "frankness" in explaining his own relation to the scheme proposed.
on a visit to Byron at Ravenna. The latter was now domesticated with the Countess Guiccioli, whose judicial separation from her husband had been effected; but she was just at present staying at Florence. Shelley considered Byron immensely improved by this connexion : “he is becoming what he should be -a virtuous man.” Yet he soon found that the change of conduct was not exactly the result of a change in ideas,—that the quasi-husband of La Guiccioli was still essentially much the same man as the miscellaneous debauchee of Venice ; and he concluded that the lady, a truly loving and loveable person, would hereafter “have plenty of leisure and opportunity to repent her rashness.” Byron had at Ravenna“ two monkeys,* five cats, eight dogs, and ten horses; all of whom (except the horses) walk about the house like the masters of it. Tita the Venetian [late a gondolier, and afterwards with Byron in Greece up to his death) is here, and operates as my valet; a fine fellow with a prodigious black beard, and who has stabbed two or three people, and is one of the most goodnatured-looking fellows I ever saw.
Among the first things that Shelley heard from Byron was a calumny affecting Shelley himself, in which Mr. and Mrs. Hoppner, whom he had known in Venice, were mixed up. Mr. Hoppner was Consul-General there, his wife was a native of Switzerland ; and the impression which Shelley had received of them in the former instance was peculiarly favourable and sympathetic. He now wrote to Mary, asking her to refute the calumny, which he regarded as a most vile and disgraceful one. "Imagine my despair of good, imagine how is it possible that one of so weak and sensitive a nature as mine can run further the gauntlet through this hellish society of men.” Mary felt as indignant as her husband, and wrote a letter in reply, which Byron engaged to forward to the Hoppners with his own comments. What this calumny was has never yet been distinctly stated. The Hoppners had for a while taken care of little Allegra, who had afterwards, by Byron's choice and with the concurrence of the Shelleys, been placed in a convent for education in the Roman Catholic faith. It is not unnatural to surmise that the libel had something to do with her: perhaps it charged her paternity upon Shelley. That it had some relation Three monkeys, along with ",
'an eagle, a crow, and a falcon," are mentioned in another of Shelley's letters.
to Allegra, or to Miss Clairmont, is indeed pretty clear from references made, in Mrs. Shelley's reply, to “C.'s illness at Naples," and to the last letter of Elise—who, as we have seen, had been a nursemaid in Shelley's family since the time when they were sojourning near Geneva.* A sentence om his answer to Mary is worth extracting. “I do not wonder, my dearest friend, that you should have been moved. I was at first ; but speedily regained the indifference which the opinion of anything and anybody, except our own consciences, amply merits, and day by day shall more receive from me.” The strong expressions used in these letters should not be understood as truly misanthropic: Shelley was to the last quite free from misanthropy, properly so called.
There was a question at this time whether Switzerland or some other place should be selected for the residence of Byron and the Countess Guiccioli. At his friend's request, Shelley wrote to the lady dissuading her and her family from choosing Switzerland ; and she in reply begged Shelley not to leave Ravenna without bringing Byron along with him. Shelley regarded such a request from a lady as a law; and determined therefore not to lose sight of Lord Byron for any time until he should have brought him to Pisa, which his lordship was now minded to select for his sojourn.†
At Ravenna was started, apparently by Byron, the project of a quarterly review or magazine, to be the organ for the author of Cain and Don Juan, and his immediate friends, to express their not invariably well-received sentiments. Shelley conveyed the proposal to Leigh Hunt on the 26th of August; saying that Byron's suggestion was for the three to publish in this magazine all their future original compositions, and to share the profits. Shelley at first opposed Byron's scheme; and, in writing to
* The same fact becomes still clearer from another passage ,in Shelley's letter. “The calumny... is evidently the source of the violent denunciations of the Literary Gasette-in themselves contemptible enough, and only to be regarded as effects, which show us their cause." We turn to the Literary Gazette for 19th May 1821, critique of Queen Mab; and find Shelley (by implication) termed " an incestuous wretch"-and then farther on: “To such [a man] it would be a matter of perfect indifference to rob a confiding father of his daughters, and incestuously to live with all the branches of a family whose morals were ruined by the damned sophistry of the seducer."
+ A very brief record of the opinion which La Guiccioli formed of Shelley may here be preserved. James Smith records of her conversation, not long after the death of Byron, “ Bysshe Shelley she denominates a good man.
i Medwin, however, says that the first suggestion was made by Shelley, with a view to benefiting Leigh Hunt. This is quite conceivable; though the project, as schemed out for taking practical shape, is ascribed to Byron.
Hunt, he expressed in confidence his resolute determination not to accept either any part of the profits, or any lustre that might be reflected on himself, in popular eyes, by so close an association with Byron. Moreover he was afraid of both shackling himself and injuring the other writers by such a joint plan. He did, however, furnish some writings for the magazine, which commenced soon after his death under the name of The Liberal (the title first suggested was The Hesperides); but, even had he survived, he would have had no pecuniary interest in it.
The routine of life at Ravenna is thus described by Shelley. “ Lord Byron gets up at two. I get up, quite contrary to my usual custom (but one must sleep or die, like Southey's seasnake in Kehama), at twelve. After breakfast we sit talking till six.
From six till eight we gallop through the pine-forests which divide Ravenna from the sea; then come home and dine; and sit up gossiping till six in the morning. I do not. think this will kill me in a week or fortnight, but I shall not try it longer.”
The autumn and winter of 1821–2 were spent in Pisa by both Byron and Shelley. The former inhabited the Casa Lanfranchi: Shelley and his wife were in the Tre Palazzi on the opposite side of the Lungarno.* As we have already noted, they had now plenty of society-in fact, more than enough for the poet. Daily meetings with Byron, riding, pistol-practice-at which both the poets were more than fairly good, Shelley's hand being particularly steady-cheered or diverted many hours. Shelley was not a graceful horseman, though he had had considerable practice. The Williamses were now living in their own apartments in the same house with the Shelleys. The poet had about this time a singular plan of life in his head: he wished to obtain political employment at the court of a native Indian prince, and consulted his friend Peacock, who had for some three years held an appointment in the India House, as to the feasibility of the plan. The reply was that such a post was open to none save servants of the East India Company.
About the beginning of 1822 another friend was added to this Pisan circle, and one who soon established a position of great prominence and intimacy-Captain Edward John Trelawny.
* They had been in the Casa Frassi, Lungarno, in 1820--as appears from a letter, of the 7th March in that year, addressed by Mrs. Shelley to Miss Sophia Stacey, Dox Mrs. Catty.