Page images
PDF
EPUB

ve to this gentleman one of the best books extant regardne poet, whom he understood and loved at once. The

,ine worshiper of Shelley will always entertain a respectful anuction for Trelawny, still happily among us; not to speak of the singular interest attaching to his own career in Greece, and previously in a wandering sea-life shadowed forth with more or less accuracy in that fascinating book, The Adventures of a Younger Son. The first meeting with Shelley must be told in Trelawny's own words. “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 thin 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 trowsers which he seemed to have outgrown-or his tailor, as is the custom, had most shamefully stinted him in his 'sizings.' (The jacket was an object of some scorn to Mrs. Shelley). Mrs. Williams saw my embarrassment, and, to relieve me, asked Shelley what book he had in his hand. - 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 analysed 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."

The translation which he was now making from Calderon was almost contemporaneous with that, still finer and more difficult, from Göthe's Faust; a work which he read about this time “over and over again, and always with sensations which no other composition excites : it deepens the gloom and augments the rapidity of ideas.” Shelley had, however, been familiar with Faust for years past. Mr. Peacock says that Brockden “Brown's four novels (Wieland, Ormond, Edgar Huntly, and Arthur Mervyn], Schiller's Robbers, and Göthe's Faust (which last he began reading in 1815], were, of all the works with which he was familiar, those that took the deepest root in his mind, and had the strongest influence in the formation of his character.” The translation from Faust appeared in the first number of the Liberal; both this and the Calderon translation had been done to serve as the basis of a paper which Shelley meant to write. Göthe became acquainted with the former, and expressed his hearty approbation of it.

The poet thought Trelawny noble and generous; and Mrs. Shelley soon-too soon—had reason to regard him as the only quite disinterested friend she had at hand. He it was who, at a very early date of the acquaintanceship, suggested the idea of the boat which was to prove so ill-omened. On the 15th of January he offered the model of an American schooner ; but this design was over-ruled by Williams, who proposed another that he had brought from England, done by a naval friend, the reverse of perfectly safe. This Trelawny got an intimate acquaintance at Genoa, Captain Daniel Roberts, R.N., to undertake. The boat was named the Don Juan, and was to be the property of Shelley and Williams jointly. Captain Roberts remonstrated against the design, but could not dissuade Williams from it.

Two singular incidents, which threatened serious consequences but came to little, marked the close of Shelley's stay in Pisa.

In December he learned that a man had been condemned to be burned to death at Lucca for an act of sacrilege-the scattering of the eucharistic wafers off an altar. One less inimical than Shelley to intolerance and the modes of “ Iberian priests” might well have felt some measure of indignant horror at such a sentence. He forthwith proposed to Byron and Medwin that they and himself should arm, rescue the man at all costs on his coming forth for execution, and carry him off to the Tuscan frontier. He also communicated with Lord Guilford, the English minister at Florence, and was preparing to promote a general memorial to the Grand Duke. It soon turned out, however, that the judicial atrocity was not to be perpetrated : the prisoner had had his sentence commuted to labour at the galleys.

On the 24th of March occurred a fracas much talked of in books relating to Lord Byron, but which must here be dismissed with brevity. Byron, Shelley, Count Pietro Gamba (brother of La Guiccioli), Captain Hay, Trelawny, and Mr. Taafe, an Irish gentleman, were riding near the gate termed Le Piagge, with the ladies following in a carriage, when a serjeant-major of hussars, named Masi, dashed through them, disconcerting Mr. Taase, who was not a good rider. He appealed to Byron, who, along with Shelley, rode after the serjeant-major. A disturbance ensued; Masi slashed about with his sword, and made some show of ordering out the guard at the gate, to arrest the party ; Byron and Gamba spurred on towards the Casa Lanfranchi. The serjeant-major now assaulted Trelawny; when Shelley interposed his body, and received a smart blow with the hilt of the sword, which knocked him off his horse, and was sufficiently severe to turn him sick. Some further incidents led up to the crowning feat—which was a stab with a pitchfork administered to the hussar by a servant of Byron or of the Gambas. The wound was of some gravity, but not mortal ; Shelley spoke of the whole affair as “a trifling piece of business enough.” It sufficed, however, along with some other quarrels and deeperlying political causes, to make the government send out of Tuscany Count Pietro Gamba and his father, and hence also to abridge the stay in Pisa of Lord Byron, who moved off to Leghorn, and soon afterwards to Genoa.

XXIX.-SHELLEY AT LERICI, On the 26th of April the Shelleys and Williamses left Pisa for the Casa Magni, a house situated on the very edge of the seashore, between the villages of Lerici and Sant' Arenzo, in the Genoese territory. The poet had made a casual visit to this coast in the preceding summer, and had ever since pondered its attractions of land and sea for a residence during the hot season. The house, a white building with arches, had once been a Jesuit convent, and was perfectly lonely; the scenery was soft and sublime; the natives were semi-savages; provisions had to be fetched from Sarzana, at a distance of three miles and a half, and the general means of comfort were scanty, like the victuals. A dining-room and four bed-rooms composed the establishment, which the wives did not greatly relish, but made extremely pleasant with music, conversation, and tender domesticities. Shelley's constant habits of benevolence did not abate in this wild and half-inhabited region : wherever there was sickness in a house within his range, there would he be found, nursing and advising. *

The small schooner, the Don Juan, arrived on the 12th of May. Shelley and Williams retained a sailor-boy named Charles Vivian, who was expert at managing her; and her first performances filled them with satisfaction. Of course they were now continually out on the sea, and the milder pleasures of inland navigation sank into insignificance. Shelley, according to the skilled evidence of Trelawny, was extremely awkward at sea, besides having his mind continually elsewhere; Williams was not unpromising, but inexperienced. Both were far more confident than cautious, and disinclined to submit to the warnings addressed to them by Trelawny as to the great difference between the chances well out at sea and those of the land-locked bay close to their residence. It was a season of sultry heat and long drought : but this was, to Shelley, small objection or none, for he revelled in heat, and would court any amount of scorching, whether from the sun of summer abroad, or from the winter fire within-doors. There was something portentous, a kind of ominous and trance-like splendour, in the scene and the season. We hear its echoes in the Triumph of Life; a poem whose long processional suspense, and full-charged visionary mysticism, might seem to derive from days muttering with low thunder, and heavy with unrelaxed glare and gathering densities of

* I give this interesting fact from the statement of a friend, who stayed some little while on the spot a few years ago, and there met an old man who recollected Shelley and his ways-and this one among them. VOL. I.

k

cloud. In his boat or in some sea-cave, in oppression of sunlight or tremulous softness of moonlight, Shelley continued this astonishing poem. He had begun it in Pisa, after throwing aside the drama of Charles the First-an undertaking which he mentions now and again with a strong feeling of its lofty requirements, but no great personal relish for the work. Probably, among friends and acquaintances at Pisa, and with more than enough to fritter away his time, he found it difficult to concentrate his mind and hand for so grave and unaccustomed an effort. “A devil of a nut it is to crack,” he said in a letter to Mr. Peacock, dated in January 1822.

Nor were portents wanting of another kind than those of sea, sky, and climate. Here are three curious stories, pertaining to the last couple of months of Shelley's life, and of which the reader may make what he pleases.

On the 6th of May Shelley and Williams were walking on the terrace of the house in a moonlight evening, when the poet grasped his companion's arm violently, and stared hard at the surf, exclaiming “There it is again-there!” He ultimately “ declared that he saw, as plainly as he then saw me [Williams), a naked child rise from the sea, and clap its hands as in joy, smiling at him." This child was Allegra, who had died of fever in the Convent of Bagnacavallo on the 20th of April.

About the same time (I presume some few days later, but it is not clearly defined) he was heard screaming at midnight in the saloon. The Williamses ran in, and found him staring on vacancy. He had had a vision of a cloaked figure which came to his bedside, and beckoned him to follow. He did so; and, when they had reached the sitting-room, the figure lifted the hood of his cloak, disclosed Shelley's own features, and, saying “Siete soddisfatto," vanished. This vision is accounted for on the ground that Shelley had been reading a drama attributed to Calderon, named El Embozado, ó El Encapotado; in which a mysterious personage, who has been haunting and thwarting the hero all his life, and is at last about to give him satisfaction in a duel, finally unmasks, and proves to be the hero's own wraith. He also asks “ Art thou satisfied ?”—and the haunted man dies of horror.

On the 29th of June some friends distinctly saw Shelley walk into a little wood near Lerici, when in fact he was in quite a different direction. This was related by Byron to Mr. Cowell.

« PreviousContinue »