« PreviousContinue »
when he smiles, — which assures me that his heart is good. He tells strange stories of himself. horrific
so that they harrow one up; while with his emphatic, but unmodulated, voice, his simple, yet strong language, he portrays the most frightful situations. Then, all these adventures took place between the ages of thirteen and twenty. I believe them now I see the man; and, tired with the every-day sleepiness of human intercourse, I am glad to meet with one who, among other valuable qualities, has the rare merit of interesting my imagination.”
And, in a letter addressed to Mrs. Gisborne on the 9th of February, Mrs. Shelley says :—“Trelawny [is] a
] kind of half-Arab Englishman, whose life has been as changeful as that of Anastasius, and who recounts the adventures of his youth as eloquently and well as the imagined Greek. He is clever; for his moral qualities, I am yet in the dark. He is a strange web, which I am endeavoring to unravel. I would fain learn if generosity is united to impetuousness, nobility of spirit to his assumption of singularity and independence. He is six feet high; raven black hair which curls thickly and shortly like a Moor's; dark gray, expressive eyes; overhanging brows; upturned lips, and a smile which expresses goodnature and kind-heartedness. His voice is monotonous, yet emphatic; and his language, as he relates the events of his life, energetic and simple. Whether the tale be one of blood and horror, or of irresistible comedy, his company is delightful, for he excites me to think, and, if any evil share the intercourse, that time will unveil.”
It was not many months before the writer had a terrible means of judging the sterling worth and kindness of her new friend's character.
The fatal project of the boat was suggested by Mr. Trelawny very early in the year; and, on the 15th of January, as recorded in Williams's journal, the former gentleman brought with him the model of an American schooner, after which design it was proposed that a craft thirty feet long should be built. It appears, however, that ultimately a design to which Williams had taken a fancy was adopted. Mr. Trelawny at once wrote to Captain Roberts, a nautical friend, at Genoa, to commence the work directly. Shelley and Williams were to be the joint proprietors of this boat, which, when completed, was called the “Don Juan.”
On the passage in Williams's diary recording the discussion of the details of the project, Mrs. Shelley has written this note : Thus, on that night — one of gayety and thoughtless
Jane's * and my miserable destiny was decided. We then said, laughing, to each other: “Our husbands decide without asking our consent, or having our concurrence; for, to tell you the truth, I hate this boat, though I say nothing. Said Jane, 'So do I; but speaking would be useless, and only spoil their pleasure.' How well I remember that night! How short-sighted we are !
And now that its anniversary is come and gone, methinks I cannot be the wretch I too truly am."
A mysterious intimation of the great calamity that was
* Mrs. Williams.
fast approaching seems to have hung like a cloud over the spirits of Mrs. Shelley at this time. She records in her diary that, on the evening of February 7th, she went to a ball; and this gives rise to some singular reflections. “During a long, long evening in mixed society," she writes, “ how often do one's sensations change; and, swift as the west wind drives the shadows of clouds across the sunny hills or the waving corn, so swift do sentiments pass, painting, yet not disfiguring the serenity of the mind. It is then that life seems to weigh itself, and hosts of memories and imaginations, thrown into one scale, make the other kick the beam. You remember what you have felt, what you have dreamt; yet you dwell on the shadowy side, and lost hopes and death (such as you have seen it) seem to cover all things with a funeral pall. The time that was, is, and will be, presses upon you, and, standing the centre of a moving circle, you 'slide giddily as the world reels.'* You look to Heaven, and would demand of the everlasting stars, that the thoughts and passions which are your life may be as ever-living as they. You would demand of the blue Empyrean that your mind might be as clear as it, and that the tears which gather in your eyes might be the shower that would drain from its profoundest depths the springs of weakness and sorrow. But a thousand swift, consuming lights supply the place of the eternal ones of Heaven. The enthusiast suppresses her tears, crushes her opening thoughts, and — all is changed. Some word, some look,
* These words are from the Cenci. – ED.
excites the lagging blood — laughter dances in the eyes - and the spirits rise proportionably high.
The Queen is all for revels; her light heart,
Bestows itself upon delightfulness.' “ Sometimes I awaken from my visionary monotony, and my thoughts flow, until, as it is exquisite pain to stop the flowing of the blood, so is it painful to check expression, and make the overflowing mind return to its usual channel. I feel a kind of tenderness to those whoever they may be (even though strangers), who awaken this strain, and touch a chord so full of harmony and thrilling music.”
When this was written, Shelley was away, in company with Williams, on a visit to Spezzia, where they were seeking for a house. They were absent about four days, returning on the 11th of February. Under that date, Mrs. Shelley writes in her journal:
« What a mart this world is! Feelings, sentiments, more invaluable than gold or precious stones, are the coin; and what is bought? Contempt, discontent, and disappointment, if, indeed, the mind be not loaded with drearier memories.
“ And what say the worldly to this ? Use Spartan coin ; pay away iron and lead alone; and store up your precious metal. But, alas ! from nothing, nothing comes ; or, as all things seem to degenerate, give lead, and you will receive clay. The most contemptible of all lives is when you live in the world, and none of your passions or affections are called into action. I am convinced I could
not live thus; and as Sterne says that in solitude he would worship a tree, so, in the world, I should attach myself to those who bore the semblance of those qualities which I admire. But it is not this that I want. love the trees, the skies and the ocean, and that all-encompassing Spirit of which I may soon become a part. Let me, in
my fellow-creature, love that which is, and not fix my affection on a fair form endued with imaginary attributes. Where goodness, kindness, and talent are, let me love and admire them at their just rate, neither adding nor diminishing; and, above all, let me fearlessly descend into the remotest caverns of my own mind, carry the torch of self-knowledge into its dimmest
but too happy if I dislodge any evil spirit, or enshrine a new deity in some hitherto uninhabited nook."
An amusing anecdote is related by Mrs. Shelley in a letter to Mrs. Gisborne, dated March 7th. “So," she exclaims, “H. is shocked that, for good neighborhood's sake, I visited the piano di sotto. Let him reassure himself; instead of a weekly, it was only a monthly, visit. In fact, after going three times, I stayed away. He preached against Atheism, and, they said, against Shelley. As he invited me himself to come, this appeared to me very impertinent; so I wrote to him, to ask him whether he intended any personal allusion. He denied the charge most entirely. This affair, as you may guess, among the English at Pisa made a great noise. Gossip here is of course out of all bounds. Some people have given them something to talk about. I have seen little