« PreviousContinue »
around him happy; no man ever possessed friends more unfeignedly attached to him. The ungrateful world did not feel his loss, and the gap it made seemed to close as quickly over his memory as the murderous sea above his living frame. Hereafter men will lament that his transcendent powers of intellect were extinguished before they had bestowed on them their choicest treasures. To his friends his loss is irremediable : the wise, the brave, the gentle, is gone for ever! He is to them as a bright vision, whose radiant track, left behind in the memory, is worth all the realities that society can afford. Before the critics contradict me, let them appeal to any one who had ever known him. To see him was to love him; and his presence, like Ithuriel's spear, was alone sufficient to disclose the falsehood of the tale which his enemies whispered in the ear of the ignorant world.
His life was spent in the contemplation of nature, in arduous study, or in acts of kindness and affection. He was an elegant scholar and a profound metaphysician; without possessing much scientific knowledge, he was unrivalled in the justness and extent of his observations on natural objects; he knew every plant by its name, and was familiar with the history and habits of every production of the earth; he could interpret without a fault each appearance in the sky; and the varied phenomena of heaven and earth filled him with deep emotion. He made his study and reading-room of the shadowed copse, the stream, the lake, and the waterfall. Ill health and continual pain preyed upon his powers; and the solitude in which we lived, particularly on our first arrival in Italy, although congenial to his feelings, must frequently have weighed upon his spirits; those beautiful and affecting Lines written in dejection near Naples were composed at such an interval; but, when in health, his spirits were buoyant and youthful to an extraordinary degree.
Such was his love for nature that every page of his poetry is associated, in the minds of his friends, with the loveliest scenes of the countries which he inhabited. In early life he visited the most beautiful parts of this country and Ireland. Afterwards the Alps of Switzerland became his inspirers. Prometheus Unbound was written among the deserted and flower-grown ruins
of Rome; and, when he made his home under the Pisan hills, their roofless recesses harboured him as he composed The Witch of Atlas, Adonais, and Hellas. In the wild but beautiful Bay of Spezia, the winds and waves which he loved became his playmates. His days were chiefly spent on the water; the management of his boat, its alterations and improvements, were his principal occupation. At night, when the unclouded moon shone on the calm sea, he often went alone in his little shallop to the rocky caves that bordered it, and, sitting beneath their shelter, wrote The Triumph of Life, the last of his productions. The beauty but strangeness of this lonely place, the refined pleasure which he felt in the companionship of a few selected friends, our entire sequestration from the rest of the world, all contributed to render this period of his life one of continued enjoyment. I am convinced that the two months we passed there were the happiest which he had ever known his health even rapidly improved, and he was never better than when I last saw him, full of spirits and joy, embark for Leghorn, that he might there welcome Leigh Hunt to Italy. I was to have accompanied him; but illness confined me to my room, and thus put the seal on my misfortune. His vessel bore out of sight with a favourable wind, and I remained awaiting his return by the breakers of that sea which was about to engulf him.
He spent a week at Pisa, employed in kind offices toward his friends, and enjoying with keen delight the renewal of their intercourse. He then embarked with Williams, the chosen and beloved sharer of his pleasures and of his fate, to return to us. We waited for them in vain; the sea by its restless moaning seemed to desire to inform us of what we would not learn :but a veil may well be drawn over such misery. The real anguish of those moments transcended all the fictions that the most glowing imagination ever pourtrayed: our seclusion, the savage nature of the inhabitants of the surrounding villages, and our immediate vicinity to the troubled sea, combined to imbue with strange horror our days of uncertainty. The truth was at last known, a truth that made our loved and lovely Italy appear a tomb, its sky a pall. Every heart echoed the deep lament, and my only consolation was in the praise and earnest
love that each voice bestowed and each countenance demonstrated for him we had lost,-not, I fondly hope, for ever; his unearthly and elevated nature is a pledge of the continuation of his being, although in an altered form. Rome received his ashes; they are deposited beneath its weed-grown wall, and "the world's sole monument" is enriched by his remains.
I must add a few words concerning the contents of this volume. Julian and Maddalo, The Witch of Atlas, and most of the Translations, were written some years ago; and, with the exception of The Cyclops, and the Scenes from the Magico Prodigioso, may be considered as having received the author's ultimate corrections. The Triumph of Life was his last work, and was left in so unfinished a state that I arranged it in its present form with great difficulty. All his poems which were scattered in periodical works are collected in this volume, and I have added a reprint of Alastor, or the Spirit of Solitude: the difficulty with which a copy can be obtained is the cause of its republication. Many of the Miscellaneous Poems, written on the spur of the occasion, and never retouched, I found among his manuscript books, and have carefully copied. I have subjoined, whenever I have been able, the date of their composition.
I do not know whether the critics will reprehend the insertion of some of the most imperfect among them; but I frankly own that I have been more actuated by the fear lest any monument of his genius should escape me than the wish of presenting nothing but what was complete to the fastidious reader. I feel secure that the lovers of Shelley's poetry (who know how, more than any poet of the present day, every line and word he wrote is instinct with peculiar beauty) will pardon and thank me: I consecrate this volume to them.
The size of this collection has prevented the insertion of any prose pieces. They will hereafter appear in a separate publication.
MEMOIR OF SHELLEY.
"Let us see the truth, whatever that may be."-SHELLEY, 1822.
"A full Life of Shelley should be written at once, while the materials for it continue in reach; a biography composed in harmony with the present general disposition to have faith in him, yet not shrinking from a candid statement of all ambiguous passages, through a reasonable confidence that the most doubtful of them will be found consistent with a belief in the eventual perfection of his character, according to the poor limits of our humanity."-BROWNING, 1851.
To write the life of Shelley is (if I may trust my own belief) to write the life of the greatest English poet since Milton, or possibly since Shakspeare; and, as the greatest poet must be equal at least to the greatest man of any other order, it must also be to write the life of one of the most illustrious personages, of whatever sort, known to these latter ages. And this is peculiarly the case with Shelley, in whom a truly glorious poetic genius was united with, or was one manifestation of, the most transcendent beauty of character,—flecked, indeed, here and there by semi-endearing perversities, or by some manifest practical aberration. However this may be, he commands into love and homage every emotion of the soul, and every perception of the mind. To be a Shelley enthusiast has been the privilege of many a man in his youth; and he may esteem himself happy who cherishes the same feeling unblunted into the regions of middle or advanced age. A full and genuine life of the sublime poet remains yet to be written the materials for it are ripening, but perhaps even yet not entirely matured. Or the facts of his life, intellect, and character, might be exhibited in a very interesting manner by a proper collation and reproduction of all his known correspondence, combined with all such passages of his poetical or other works as have a distinct personal bearing. Meanwhile it comes to be my good fortune to write
a condensed memoir of Shelley; a memoir in which I find so many facts and details pressing for record that I feel with reluctance compelled to leave very scantily used those treasures of his own correspondence which would give the inner heart of the story so much better than any biographer can do it. But the full facts-the outer phases of incident-of his life from first to last, have never yet been told with the needful combination of sifted and balanced evidence, and of ordered method : different authorities give diverse accounts of almost every particular of his career and belongings, and even of his person. Some of these diversities will be discussed or noted as I proceed: and it is more especially with a view to this result of sifting and certifying as a contribution towards the systematizing of materials for a Life of Shelley-that I plan this memoir. Brief it necessarily is by the conditions of the case. But I shall endeavour to make it the reverse of loose or vague, and to transmit in it to any future biographer a compact cento of facts; while laying claim to only a moderate amount of exclusive information, and conscious of deficiency as regards fullness of presentation, or profound or exhaustive analysis.
I. DESCENT AND FAMILY.
The Shelleys are an ancient and honourable house. The name has been spelled Shelly and Shellie, as well as Shelley. The arms are sable, a fesse engrailed between three whelkshells or; the motto, Fey e Fidalgia. With these whelk-shells legend (or Mr. Jefferson Hogg) connects some story of a paladin, Sir Guyon de Shelley, contemporary with Roland and Charlemagne. Him we may leave to the Ariostean region of history, and contemplate with less blinking eyes a Thomas Shelle as lord, in the time of Edward I., of the manor of Shelley, of Schottis in Nockholt, and of other lands in Kent. There was a Sir Thomas Shelley who fought and died on the scaffold in the cause of Richard II.; and a Sir Richard Shelley, Grand Prior of the English language among the knights of Malta, whose well-proved valour brought him, in extreme old age, to the defence of the island against the Turks in 1565. Somewhat earlier, about the end of the fifteenth century, Edward, the second son of the chief of the house, was settled at Worminghurst Park, and his son Henry married a Sackville; from them descends that branch of the family which has achieved some