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Shelley had received news on the 20th that Leigh Hunt and his family had reached Genoa. Hunt, after some deliberation, and extraordinary delays in the transit, was come to Italy to join in the project of The Liberal. Shelley had by this time resolved that he could not even so much as act as the link between Lord Byron and Hunt : but he at once prepared to start in the Don Juan to Leghorn, whither the new-comer was proceeding to meet his lordship. After his two months at Lerici, perhaps the happiest he had ever known, and marked by an interval of unusually good health, he went off to Leghorn on the 1st of July, with Williams. He was in high spirits ; Mary, the state of whose health (she had recently had a miscarriage) prevented her accompanying her husband, felt uncommonly depressed, and beset by melancholy forebodings. High spirits were themselves ominous of evil to Shelley ; who “had recently remarked that the only warning he had found infallible was that, whenever he felt peculiarly joyous, he was certain that some disaster was about to ensue.” A wind in the north-west, we are told, no less than extreme heat, was wont to exhilarate him. The last verses which Shelley wrote, and which have not come down to us, consisted of a welcome to Leigh Hunt.
A voyage of seven hours and a half took Shelley to Leghorn, where he greeted Hunt with fervid impetuosity. He rushed into his arms, exclaiming that he was “so inexpressibly delighted-you cannot think how inexpressibly happy it makes me!” He then went on with Hunt to Pisa, where both himself and Byron retained their residences; and he saw his friends settled in their apartments in the Casa Lanfranchi, which Byron, after some friendly debates between himself and Shelley, had fitted up for the family.* Shelley accompanied Hunt about Pisa, still in high spirits, though his friend thought him less hopeful than of old.
A considerable change for the better had, however, taken place in Shelley's exterior during his residence in Italy. He had grown larger and more manly; his chest was perhaps three or four inches fuller in girth ; his voice was stronger, his manner more confident and less changeful. His hair, still youthful in abundance and growth, had at a very early age (I presume as
* Seme accounts say that Shelley was the paymaster : but I suppose his own state. ment (Relics of Shelley, p. 187) in a letter to Hunt must be taken as conclusive: “Lord B. had kindly insisted upon paying the upholsterer's bill."
soon as 1817, or even sooner) begun to turn grey, and this had continued, though not to a very serious extent; but his visage remained unwrinkled, and his general aspect almost boyish (as we have just seen in Trelawny's account). This, however, was very much a matter of varying expression : no face was livelier mirror of the subtle change and play of emotion than Shelley's—and, as the feeling shifted, he might have been taken at this period for nineteen years of age, and immediately afterwards for forty. His countenance took every expression-earnest, joyful, touchingly sorrowful, listlessly weary ; but the predominant aspect was one of promptitude and decision. In describing Shelley's appearance at the threshold of manhood, I said that his features were “in some sort feminine :” Trelawny has employed the same epithet ; and I am told that, on one occasion while out walking with a friend in Italy, Shelley was taken for a woman in man's clothes. But this feminine aspect is liable to be understood in too positive a sense, especially by persons who accept the portraits in good faith. Mr. Thornton Hunt says that the poet was not, properly speaking, feminine-looking ; his shoulders, though not broad, were too square for that, and "the outline of the features and face possessed a firmness and hardness entirely inconsistent with a feminine character : the outline was sharp and firm,”—the beard not strong, but clearly marked.* The general look was delicate, but “the points” (as a grazier has it) showed far more than common masculine vigour. And this was in Shelley's character, as well as his face. With all his tremulous sensibility and superficial shyness, he possessed not only a great power of fascination, but uncommon force of will-to
* Some approach to a pair of moustachios, Trelawny informs me, had about this time been made by Shelley-but they were not much of a pair -As regards his general appearance, I may perhaps as well give here the notes which I roughly jotted down concerning the portrait by Miss Curran (daughter of the Irish statesman) when I saw it in 1868 in the Exhibition of National Portraits at South Kensington, to which it had been contributed by Sir Percy Shelley. My notes were made at a time when the detailed statements left by biographers as to Shelley's appearance were by no means present to my memory; and, by their entire consonance with those statements so far as apparent age and complexion are concerned, may tend to confirm the accuracy of the portrait, with regard to these points at least. The work was painted in 1819, (begun on 7th May, the day after the affair at the Roman Post-Office), when Shelley's real age was twenty-seven. "Small life-size. Age about nineteen. Plain green background. Waved hair, dark or darkening brown. Complexion fair, but as is a good deal exposed to air, giving a rather coppery-red hue.' Eyes quite a dark blue. Mouth entrouvert, with a kind of curl of aspiration and apprehending. Open shirt, blue coat. Quill in hand ; left not seen. Gives a decided impression of a poet, and the bad qualities of the picture are not of an offensive kind. Flat broad painting, very slight but not thin.”– I am told that the late distinguished painter Muiready knew Shelley well, and said it was simply impossible to paint his portrait-he was" too beautiful."
which, indeed, the tenour of his life bears amplest testimony. All who approached him tended to yield to his dictate : "his earnestness was apt to take a tone of command so generous, so free, so simple, as to be utterly devoid of offence, and yet to constitute him a sort of tyrant over all who came within his reach.”
Whatever may have been his mood of the moment, whether “ in high spirits” or “less hopeful than of old,” Shelley took anything but a cheerful view of the prospects of Leigh Hunt in connexion with Lord Byron ; and some effort was needed to control his own indignation at the shiftiness of his lordship. The latter had determined to leave Tuscany in consequence of the exile of the Gambas, and showed little disposition to fashion his plans according to the necessities or conveniences of Hunt with regard to the proposed magazine : moreover Mrs. Hunt, long in bad health, was pronounced by Vacca to be hopelessly consumptive (although in fact she survived to an advanced age).
Two letters dated the 4th of July, one to Mrs. Shelley and the other to Mrs. Williams, are the last lines of writing extant from the hand of Shelley, and prove how acutely he felt for the distresses and uncertainties of his newly arrived friends. The reply of Mrs. Williams, written on the 6th, is also extant, and has been shown to me by Trelawny. It contains a farther singular foreboding: a reference-playful at the moment, but immediately turned into tragic—to Shelley's being about to join Plato in another world. In the poet's own letter to his wife the final words are—“I have found the translation of the Symposium;" which, we may suppose, he was looking up, for insertion in the Liberal. He himself was indeed bidden to another symposium -one which endures through eternity, at which Socrates is a guest once more, with Plato, Dante, Shakspeare, Bacon, and how many others beloved by Shelley, none more exalted than he, none crowned with a purer or more perennial garland.
XXX.--DEATH AND OBSEQUIES. Shelley left Pisa on the night of the 4th of July for Leghorn : where he chiefly remained the next three days, though he was in Pisa again on the 6th and 7th. On this latter day, the last whose evening he was to witness, he said to Mrs. Leigh Hunt : “If I die to-morrow, I have lived to be older than my father ; I am ninety years of age.” Williams at Leghorn was homesick,
short as his absence had been ; Shelley troubled, and anxious to return in consequence of a desponding letter he had received from his wife. On Monday the 8th, about 3 P.M., they set sail from Leghorn for Lerici, taking leave of Trelawny, who was in charge of Byron's yacht, the Bolivar, and who, by a fatality, was prevented from accompanying them owing to the want of a port-clearance, and the consequent prospect of the full term of quarantine. Captain Roberts watched with his glass, from the top of Leghorn light-house, the progress of Shelley and Williams along the waves.
The day was terribly hot, with a dull dense calmness ; clouds were gathering from the south-west, black and ragged. The Genoese mate of the Bolivar remarked too truly to Trelawny that “the devil was brewing mischief.” A sca-fog came up, and wrapped the boat from sight.
“I went down into the cabin,” says Trelawny, “and sank into a slumber. I was roused up by a noise overhead, and went on deck.. It was almost dark, though only half-past six o'clock. The sea was of the colour, and looked as solid and smooth as a sheet of lead, and covered with an oily scum. Gusts of wind swept over without ruffling it ; and big drops of rain fell on its surface, rebounding as if they could not penetrate it. There was a commotion in the air, made up of many threatening sounds coming upon us from the sca. Fishing, craft and coasting vessels under bare poles rushed by us in shoals, running foul of the ships in the harbour. As yet the din and hubbub was that made by men ; but their shrill pipings were suddenly silenced by the crashing voice of a thunder-squall that burst right over our heads. For some time no other sounds were to be heard than the thunder, wind, and rain. When the fury of the storm, which did not last for more than twenty minutes, had abated, and the horizon was in some degree cleared, I looked to seaward anxiously, in the hope of descrying Shelley's boat amongst the many small craft scattered about.” No trace of her was to be seen : she had made Via Reggio by the time the storm burst.
Days ensued of horrible suspense to the wives—alas ! the widows-of Shelley and Williams, and of harrowing search and unremitted exertion to Trelawny. These need not now be
On the 22nd of July two corpses were found washed ashore; that of Shelley near Via Reggio on the Tuscan
coast-that of Williams near the tower of Migliarino, at the Bocca Lericcio, a distance of three miles. This corpse was in a piteous state : of Shelley's “ the face and hands, and parts of the body not protected by the dress, were fleshless.” A volume of Sophocles was in one pocket : Keats's last book, lent to him by Hunt, and doubled back at the Eve of St Agnes, was in the other, as if hastily thrust away when Shelley, absorbed in reading, was suddenly aroused by the bursting squall. Williams had seemingly attempted to swim : Shelley, being unable to do this, had more than once declared that, in any such contingency, he would be no trouble to anybody, but go down at once. It was only a few months before that the poet, inspirited by witnessing Trelawny's ease in swimming, had made a disastrous attempt for himself, and would then have drowned but for his companion's succour : he took it with the utmost coolness, saying—" It's a great temptation ; if old women's tales are true, in another minute I might have been in another planet.” Three weeks later than Shelley and Williams, the sailor-boy Charles Vivian, then a mere skeleton, was also thrown ashore, about four miles off. In September the schooner likewise was found : she had not capsized, but had been swamped in a heavy sea, and sunk in ten to fifteen fathom water; or possibly she had been run down by a felucca from behind. The boat was considerably injured,* especially by a hole in the stern. This it was found somewhat difficult to account for; and a suspicion has been started that some native boat may have tried to board her piratically, tempted by a sum of money in dollars that was on the Don Juan. Immediately after the storm, an Englishmade oar, believed to have belonged to the yacht, was noticed in a fishing-boat; but the crew resolutely denied that it came from that vessel, and the denial, even if untrue, might be accounted for on the ground of the sternness of Italian quarantine regulations. Nothing therefore beyond suspicion points to any
The corpses were in the first instance buried in the sand, and quick-lime was thrown in. But such a process, as a final means of disposing of them, would have been contrary to the Tuscan law, which required any object thus cast ashore to be
"Uninjured,” says Mrs. Shelley (vol. ii. p. 295). But the precise details given by Lady Shelley, from the examination made by Captain Roberts, show this to be a mistake (Shelley Memorials, p. 201).