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Alastor, written in 1815 at some time after the Lechlade excursion, was published in the succeeding year in a small volume containing also the bulk of the short pieces classed in our edition as Early Poems. In Alastor we at last have the genuine, the immortal Shelley. It may indeed be said that the poem, though singularly lovely and full-charged with meaning, has a certain morbid vagueness of tone, a want of firm human body : and this is true enough. Nevertheless, Alastor is proportionately worthy of the author of Prometheus Unbound and The Cenci, the greatest Englishman of his age; which cannot fully be said even of Queen Mab, and must be peremptorily denied of any preceding attempts. It may well be supposed that the genial atmosphere of domestic love and intellectual sympathy in which Shelley was now living with Mary contributed to the kindly development of his poetic power.
XIII.-SECOND CONTINENTAL TRIP :- BYRON. At the beginning of May 1816 Shelley and Mary, with her infant son William, born on the 24th of January, and Miss Clairmont, again went abroad, reaching Paris on the 8th of the month. The practical reason for the trip was probably the obvious one-that they felt inclined for it: but Shelley somehow conceived that there was a more abstruse reason- viz., that his father and uncle (meaning, no doubt, Sir John Shelley-Sidney, not Captain Pilfold) were laying a trap for him with the view of locking him up, and that Mr. Williams, the agent of Mr. Madocks of Tanyrallt, had come down to Bishopgate, and given him warning of this plot, which the poet believed to be only one out of many that his father had schemed for the same purpose. That Shelley made such an allegation is certain from the testimony of Mr. Peacock; and that the allegation was untrue is convincingly represented on the same testimony. How this new delusion got into Shelley's head it is difficult to conceive—the objectlessness of inventing such a tale for Mr. Peacock's sole behoof being patent, not to speak of the lofty veracity of Shelley's character in essentials. We must remember that a poet is “of imagination all compact ;” and, as no one had a better right than Shelley to the name of poet, none consequently had a readier store of imaginations which he propounded as realities. But even this was not the last mysterious transaction which beset his departing footsteps. The very night before his leaving London for the continent, a married lady of fashion, young, handsome, rich, and nobly connected, called upon him, and avowed that the author of Queen Mab, hitherto personally unknown to her, was her ideal of everything exalted in man, and that she had come to be the partner of his life. Shelley could do no other than explain that he was already provided in that line; and, with much effusion and magnanimity on both sides, they parted. But the lady followed him to the continent, and many a time watched him, herself unseen, on the Lake of Geneva. The sequel of this story belongs to a later date. Such is the narrative which Shelley, not very long before his death, detailed to Medwin and Byron, and which the former has handed down to us with no lack of embellishing touches. Byron disbelieved the story, attributing all to “ an overwrought imagination”; and everybody since seems to have agreed with him-Lady Shelley, for instance, saying that no sort of confirmatory evidence appears in the family papers. Medwin, however, is a believer.
The tourists reached Sécheron, near Geneva, on the 17th of May. On the 25th Lord Byron, with his travelling physician Dr. Polidori, arrived at the same hotel; and the two parties encountered on the 27th, if not before. Byron and Shelley had not previously met : they now found themselves in daily and intimate intercourse. One of the Shelley party, however, Miss Clairmont, was already known to Byron, for she had not long before called upon him as connected with the management of Drury Lane Theatre, and had sought an engagement on the stage, which did not take effect. Byron possibly--indeed, probably—had then admired her : if not then, he did so now. The result was the birth, in the following January, of the daughter known to Byronic biographers as Allegra, or Alba.* Shelley and Mary knew nothing of this fleeting outburst of passion at the time, and were by no means pleased when its results became apparent. But they acted with perfect good feeling, and did everything for Allegra and her mother. For the latter, Byron, from first to last, did nothing ; a shameful blot on his honour, unless indeed we surmise that neither Miss Clairmont nor her friends would accede to any proffer on his part.
The feelings of Shelley for Byron were at all periods of a
• For some reason which I do not find explained, Mrs. Shelley applied the name Albe to Byron.
very mixed kind. He admired intensely his poetic genius, and most intensely some of his performances—in especial Cain and certain sections of Don Juan (both of them works of a later date than 1816). He was totally destitute of uneasy personal vanity as a poet; and, so far from feeling any jealousy of Byron's splendid success both with cultivated judges and with ordinary readers, he very greatly undervalued himself in comparison, though on the other hand he was resolved not to be or appear in any way a literary satellite of the great luminary. At the present day we see all these things with very different eyes ; and have to reason ourselves into believing that, while the author of Childe Harold and Don Juan was an intellectual power throughout Europe, and divided the laurel of poetry with Göthe, the author of Prometheus Unbound and Epipsychidion was almost“ nowhere,” save only in the laudations of a few partisans,* and in the foul mouths and hypocritical hysterics of quarterly or other orthodox calumniators, heirs to all dearest traditions of scribes and phari
Queen Mab and The Cenci may have been partial exceptions. The former made some stir, in which its audacities of opinion count no doubt for almost everything: The Cenci went through two English editions in a short while. But, as regards the other poems, I presume it is no exaggeration to say that hardly one of them sold, during Shelley's lifetime, to the extent of a hundred copies, in the open market of literature ;I and perhaps even ten copies would be a bold guess with respect to Epipsychidion and Adonais. Thus far as regards Shelley's literary relation to Byron. As to his personal relation, he saw much to fascinate him in the poet's company, and was always eagerly susceptible to the finer points of his character; but he bitterly censured his promiscuous and lowering immoralities, and found him, on more grounds and occasions than one, a difficult man to keep friends with. “The canker of aristocracy wants to be cut out ” was one of his observations; and perhaps nothing could be said in so small a space going equally close to the substructure of all that was worst in Byron. The reader should turn to Julian and Maddalo, to refresh at the fountain-head his recollection of what Shelley thought of his brother poet.
Some notices of Shelley in Blackwood's Magazine should be excepted, as neither cliqueish nor abusive : see those of Alastor, Rosalind and Helen, and Promethe:45, in the volumes for 1819-20. They show-especially the first-sincere admiration and personal kindliness of feeling, though there is more than enough about Shelley's portentous religious and other opinions. One of them, probably the critique of Alustor, was at the time attributed by Shelley to Walter Scott. The review of Prometheus is certainly not unmixed praise: we read that "it is quite impossible that there should exist a more pestiferous mixture of blasphemy, sedition, and sensuality." The later review of Adonais in Blackwood is most outrageous-a tissue of scurrilous sneers and (as regards Keats) of low callousness. The critic finds in the poem “iwo sentences of pure nonsense out of every three : a more faithful calculation would bring us to ninety-nine out of every hundred.”
+ I follow other writers in mentioning The Cenci as a moderate success. Yet Shelley had no reason to think it such up to 15th February 1821, at any rate, when he wrote to Mr. Peacock (Fraser's Magazine, March 1860, “Nothing is more difficult and unwelcome than to write without a confidence of finding readers; and, if my play of The Cenci found none or few, I despair of ever producing anything that shall merit them."
“I hope Ollier has told you that Shelley's book sells more and more" is an expression of Leigh Hunt in a letter dated 12th November 1818. This book must be the Revolt of Islam, which may possibly have failed rather less manifestly than some other volumes : yet Medwin says it " fell alınost still-born from the press.' He uses a like phrase with regard to Prometheus Unbound.
For his part, Byron had a most genuine regard for 'Shelley, and a sincere relish for his society. He set great store by his critical opinion, and admired his poetry very highly, though perhaps not with much of the insight of sympathy. On one occasion he went so far as to say, “ If people only appreciated Shelley, where should I be?” Some of his own works, such as Manfred and the fourth canto of Childe Harold, are understood to owe something to the influence and suggestions of Shelley : others were shown to the latter day by day as written. A few of Byron's remarks upon his friend may here be not inappropriately cited. “You are all mistaken about Shelley. You don't know how mild, how tolerant, how good, he was in society, and as perfect a gentleman as ever crossed a drawing-room, when he liked and where liked.”* “He is, to my knowledge, the least selfish and the mildest of men-a man who has made more sacrifices of his fortune and feelings for others than any I ever heard of.” “ You should have known Shelley to feel how much I must regret him. He was the most gentle, the most amiable and least worldly-minded person I ever met; full of delicacy, disinterested beyond all other men, and possessing a degree of genius joined to simplicity as rare as it is admirable. He had formed to himself a beau idéal of all that is fine, highminded, and noble, and he acted up to this ideal even to the very letter. He had a most brilliant imagination, but a total want of worldly wisdom. I have seen nothing like him, and never shall again, I am certain.” Another statement made by Byron, very characteristic of himself, and placing Shelley in a
So in Moore's Life of Byron, vol. ii. p. 622; not “where he liked,” as I have mostly seen in quotations.
light somewhat different from that in which one is wont to contemplate him, is that he was the only thoroughly companionable man under thirty years of age whom Byron knew. The following also deserves to be borne in mind; though we must assuredly not interpret it so as to infer that there was the slightest taint of insincerity in Shelley's professions of extreme opinions or of personal friendship : Medwin understands it as referring more especially to Leigh Hunt's translations from Homer.* Byron is writing to Murray on the 25th October 1822, and Hunt is the main topic. “Alas, poor Shelley! How he would have laughed had he lived ! and how we used to laugh now and then at various things which are grave in the suburbs!” But perhaps the strongest of all evidences of the unique regard in which Lord Byron held Shelley, when we consider his lordship’s habit of running down all his acquaintances from time to time, is that which I learn from Mr. Trelawny—that no word of detraction of Shelley ever issued from Byron's lips, within Trelawny's experience or belief. The assertion above quoted that Shelley had “ a total want of worldly wisdom” must be understood with some qualification, as implying rather a contempt of self-seeking than any real inaptitude for the ordinary business of life. Byron himself clearly did not undervalue Strelley in this respect, having (besides other proof to the contrary) entrusted to him, along with Mr. Kinnaird, the negotiations for the publishing of the third canto of Childe Harold, the Prisoner of Chillon, and Manfred; while Leigh Hunt states that Shelley had more capacity than himself for business (which is not indeed saying much), and Medwin speaks of him as very sagacious and rational in practical affairs, especially in the interest of his friends. Mr. Thornton Hunt also regards Shelley as having had very great ability to grapple with such affairs, though his own appreciation of his powers in that line was inadequate; and Mr. Trelawny tells me that Shelley could do what few Englishmen can- 1-hold his own perfectly well in personal bargaining with Italian tradesmen. In fact, while he would sacrifice anything for a principle, would fly in the face of all sorts of opinions and conventions, and would incur any amount of personal inconvenience to do a generous act, there is nothing, in Shelley's career as a grown man, to show that he was ill-fitted to cope with the world on its own terms. Not honesty alone,
* Medwin's Life, vol. ii. p. 36.