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xrbe dilettante Xlbtatg* 

1. DANTE AND ms IDEAL. By Herbert Baynes. 

M.R.A.S. With a Portrait. 


Dr. Edward Berdob. With a Portrait and Fac- 
simile Letters. 


T. E. Browne, M.A., of Clifton College, Author of 
" Fo'c's'le Yams." In one vol., y. 6d. 

. 5. GOETHE. By Oscar Browning, M.A., Fellow 
of King's College, Cambridge. With a Portrait. 

/6. DANTE. By Oscar Browning, M.A. With a 
V Frontispiece. 

Nos. 5 and 6 are enlarged from the articles in the 
" Encycloptrdia Britannica" 

^ I 7. HENRIX IBSEN. By the Rev. Philip H. Wick- 

■« STEED, M A. 




Revell, Member of the London Browning Society. 






Butler A Takker. 

The Selwooo Printiko Works. 

Promb. and Lonook. 


This sketch of the chief scenes of 
Shelley's life has been written with the 
desire of exhibiting his opinions and 
actions as they appear to a sympathetic, 
instead of a hostile or indifferent, 
observer. Shelley's writings are now 
held in great and growing esteem by 
a considerable number of earnest 
thinkers; yet it so happens that none 
of his biographers, with the possible 
exception of Leigh Hunt, have been 
heartily in accord with his social and 
moral doctrines, however sincerely they 




have admired his character and poetical 
genius. The inevitable consequence 
has been that Shelley's story has seldom 
or never been told in such a manner as 
to do justice to the real significance of 
his ethical creed, and the principles by 
which his conduct was directed. 

Assuming that most readers are 
acquainted with at least the main 
outline of Shelley's life, I have em- 
ployed what has been styled the 
"scenical" method of narration, omit- 
ting, as far as possible, the dry details 
of dates and places, and avoiding the 
mass of controversial matter with which 
the whole subject is unfortunately over- 
laid. Nor have I scrupled, in dealing 
with the conflicting and_ never wholly 
reliable accounts left us by Hogg, 


Peacock, Medwin, and Trelawny, to 
use my own judgment in accepting 
some statements and rejecting others. 
** The rule of criticism/* says Shelley 
himself in one of his prose essays, " to 
be adopted in judging of the life, 
actions, and words of a man who has 
acted any conspicuous part in the 
revolutions of the world, ought not to 
be narrow. We ought to form a 
general image of his character and 
doctrines, and refer to this whole the 
distinct portions of action and speech 
by which they are diversified." I have 
tried to keep this principle in view in 
the following study of Shelley's life. 



I. The Elf-child . . . 1 

II. The Education op a Gentleman — at 

Eton 15 

III. The Education of a Gentleman — at 

Oxford 28 

IV. Marriage without Love . . 51 
V. At War with Intolerance . 65 

VI. Darkness before Dawn ... 84 

VII. Love without Marriage . . 99 

VIII. Work at Marlow .... 116 

IX. Wanderings in Italy . 137 

X. Life at Pisa • 156 

XI. Life at Pisa (continued) .175 

XII. The Storm at Spezzia . . . 191 

XIII. " Cor Cordium " . .211 

XIV. Epilogue 224 

Appendix 237 


Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase !) 
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace. 
And saw, within the moonlight in his room. 
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom, 
An angel writing in a book of gold : — 
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold. 
And to the presence in the room he said, 
" What writest thou ? " — The vision rais'd its head, 
And with a look made all of sweet accord, 
Answer'd, " The names of those who love the Lord." 
" And is mine one ? " said Abou. " Nay, not so," 
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low. 
But cheerly still ; and said, " I pray thee then, 
Write me as one that loves his fellow-men." 

The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night 

It came again with a great wakening light, 

And show'd the names whom love of God hath 

And lo ! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest. 

Leigh Hunt 



••C9 » 



On August 4th, 1792, there was pro- 
bably no country gentleman in England 
who was better satisfied with himself, 
his position, and his prospects, than 
Mr. Timothy Shelley, of Field Place, 
Horsham, Sussex. For on that day the 
felicity of his marriage with the beauti- 
ful Elizabeth Pilfold was crowned by 
the birth of a son, who was to all ap- 
pearances destined to maintain the time- 

' B 


honoured traditions of the Shelley house 
and property. The heir of a wealthy 
landowner, the child of a father who 
studied the interests of the Whig party 
in politics and the precepts of the ac- 
complished Lord Chesterfield in private 
life, could scarcely fail to follow duti- 
fully in the course which Providence 
had evidently marked out for him. It 
was gratifying also to reflect that the 
boy's mother was a lady not only of 
faultless bearing, but of keen observa- 
tion and sound common sense, and 
quite free from any womanish sentimen- 
tality or morbid enthusiasm. 

In addition to the family name of 
Percy, the child was called Bysshe, 
after his grandfather, Mr, Bysshe Shel- 
ley; though of course it was not for a 


moment to be imagined that he would 
in any degree resemble that rather 
eccentric old gentleman, who, after 
leading a strange and chequered Ufe, 
and eloping with two heiresses, was 
now living in a cottage at Horsham, 
where he set all propriety at defiance, 
and spent his time in talking politics 
at the " Swan Inn." Very different 
had been Mr. Timothy Shelley's well- 
ordered career; and very different — 
such was his confident anticipation — 
would be the career of his son. It 
could not be doubted that if he lived 
to manhood he would be a sturdy 
country squire of the old-fashioned 
sort, fond of his bottle of wine, de- 
voted to field sports, and, above all, 
a determined upholder of all orthodox 


and constitutional principles. Mr. 
Timothy Shelley, well-meaning and 
kind-hearted man that he was, felt 
that he could be the best of fathers to 
the son who promised to be so close 
a likeness of himself. 

But as years passed by and By s she 
grew into a tall, slim boy, with large 
dreamy eyes and long curling hair, 
Mr. Shelley found himself less and less 
able to forecast with positive certainty 
the future bent of his son's character. 
There was something strange and elfish 
about his manner which seemed to be 
out of harmony with the ordinary 
course of life at Field Place, and made 
him a puzzle and enigma to his anxious. 
and disappointed relatives. 

Can it be that there is some truth in 


the old belief that infants are some- 
times stolen away from their cradles 
by mischief-loving fairies, and elfish 
changelings deposited in their stead? 
If we incline to the notion that Mr. 
Timothy Shelley was the victim of a 
fraud of this kind, we must further 
conclude that the exchange was effected 
before September 7th, 1792, for that is 
the date on which the child's christen- 
ing is registered, and it has always been 
understood that the fairies have no 
power to carry off any but unchristened 
babes. Had this explanation of the 
boy's conduct been adopted, it would at 
least have saved his parents much disap- 
pointment and heart-burning ; as it was, 
they were loth to admit the possibility 
of their son growing up otherwise than 


as they had anticipated, and they were 
consequently not a little perplexed and 
annoyed as his aberrations became 
more and more pronounced. 

It was naturally disquieting to a 
country gentleman's mind to hear that 
his son and heir, instead of employing 
his holidays learning the art of killing 
pheasants and partridges, was in the 
habit of playing familiarly with a large 
snake on the lawn ; or entertaining his 
infant sisters with idle stories of an 
aged alchemist, said to have his abode 
in certain disused garrets and passages 
of Field Place; or, worse still, endan- 
gering his own safety and that of the 
household by the recklessness of his 
chemical experiments. It was an un- 
healthy sign, too, that an English boy 


should care less for the society of 
grooms and gamekeepers than for soli- 
tary rambles about the Sussex lanes 
and mysterious nocturnal wanderings 
in which neither sense nor purpose 
could be discovered. 

Then, again, the reports from Dr. 
Grreenlaw, of whose school at Brentford 
Bysshe had now become an inmate, 
were far from satisfactory. If Tom 
Medwin, his cousin and school-fellow, 
could get on well with masters and 
boys, why could not Bysshe do the 
same, since he might be presumed to be 
Tom's equal in ability? It was pro- 
voking to the father to learn that his 
son was ridiculed and teased by his 
school-fellows, since, being a man of the 
world, he knew well that in such cases 


it is the victim himself who is to blame ; 
nor was he any better pleased by a 
letter which Mrs. Shelley received from 
Bysshe, giving a long account of a senti- 
mental attachment to one particular 
school-fellow, whose admirable qualities 
were described with much emphasis and 
exaggeration. Mrs. Shelley wisely de- 
cided to return no answer to this 
letter, in the hope that her silence might 
administer the most forcible reproof to 
this sentimental tendency, which was 
probably fostered by the boy's unfortu- 
nate habit of reading volume after 
volume of sensational romances. 

But of all Bysshe's singularities, the 
most alarming to his parents was his 
strange and reprehensible habit of re- 
counting imaginary scenes and conversa- 


tions; for they clearly saw that this con- 
fusion of the boundary-line between fact 
and fiction was a symptom of an intellec- 
tual and moral laxity especially deplor- 
able in a boy of Bysshe's position. Such 
eccentricities might be smiled at or par- 
doned in the case of a poor aspirant in 
art or literature ; but they could not be 
tolerated ' in one who was destined to 
be a county magnate and Whig member 
for the borough of Shoreham. 

What did it all portend — snakes, al- 
chemists, star-gazings, romance-read- 
ings, and inflammable liquids? These 
things were little to the liking of a 
sober-minded country gentleman such 
as Mr. Timothy Shelley, who, being 
by nature somewhat irascible and do- 
mineering, would occasionally speak 


out rather strongly on the subject of 
Bysshe's misdemeanours, never for a 
moment thinking of that more chari- 
table explanation of the mystery — that 
the lad was not responsible for his 
actions, being, in reality, a poor fairy 
changeling, instead of a hearty English 

On the other hand, there were occa- 
sions when Mr. Shelley was incUned to 
feel proud of his son, and to become 
reconciled to the idea that he was going 
to be clever like his grandfather. Sir 
Bysshe, who at that very time was 
about to receive a baronetcy from his 
leader, the Duke of Norfolk, in return 
for his services to the Whig cause. 
Could it be that the boy was likely to 
Drove what is called a genius ? We are 


not told whether Mr. Shelley ever specu- 
lated on this point; but we may be 
quite sure that, if he did so, he looked 
forward with some complacency to the 
enlistment of Bysshe's powers on the 
side of social order and respectability, 
which were already threatened by the 
insidious and pernicious doctrines of the 
revolutionary party. Whigs and Tories 
were at least agreed upon one point — 
that the strongholds of constitutional- 
ism and religion must be henceforth 
defended with no imcertain hand against 
the increasing assaults of democracy 
and free-thought. 

It was a time when revolution was 
" in the air." The example of France 
and America had already given the sig- 
nal for other national uprisings ; Ireland 


was in a state of chronic commotion and 
overt rebellion; while in England certain 
mischievous agitators were busily en- 
gaged in setting class against class, and 
were striving to impress the labourers 
and artisans with the wild notion that 
they were the victims of social injustice 
and oppression. One William Grodwin 
had lately published a book named 
** Political Justice," which Mr. Shelley 
doubtless heard spoken of as particu- 
larly dangerous and seditious; and it 
was possibly reported at Field Place, 
as an instance of the extreme depravity 
of the times, that a woman of the name 
of WoUstonecraft had been wicked 
enough to write a vindication of the 
supposed ** Rights" of her sex. The 
good old cause of the throne and the 


constitution evidently needed a cham- 
pion ; and if Bysshe, who seemed to be 
so unlike boys of his own age, should 
turn out to have talent, here was a fit- 
ting object for his ambition. 

At any rate, Mr. Shelley now looked 
forward to his clever son gaining aca- 
demical distinction, and hereafter filling 
his seat in Parliament with honour and 
success ; and to gain this end, he was of 
opinion that he must at once give him 
the advantage of the best school educa- 
tion which it was in his power to secure. 
Himself a disciple of Chesterfield, he 
knew the paramount importance of an 
easy grace of manner and elegance 
of bearing ; he therefore determined to 
send the boy to Eton, where, in the con- 
tact with others of his own social posi- 


tion, he would rapidly lose those very 
unfortunate and unaccountable eccen- 
tricities by which his character was at 
present deformed. 

So at twelve years of age the unlucky 
elf-child — who, being himself ignorant 
of his own origin, was not able to ex- 
plain or protest — found himself sub- 
jected to no less an ordeal than that 
of undergoing the education of a gentle- 




Ant one visiting Eton College, that 
venerable seat of learning, during the 
rather numerous play-hours of the 
students (I am speaking of a time some 
eighty years ago), might have chanced 
to be a witness of a strange and sug- 
gestive spectacle, illustrative in a re- 
markable degree of the temper and 
manners of the average English school- 
boy in his gregarious condition. 

A crowd of lads of various sorts and 
sizes, but almost all enlisted from those 



two great divisions of the genus boy 
described by a humorous observer as 
the " beef -faced '* and the "mealy- 
faced," might have been seen encircling, 
jeering, hooting, pelting, and in every 
conceivable way annoying and perse- 
cuting a solitary individual, whose 
appearance seemed to indicate that he 
differed in some essential points of 
character from the mass of his school- 
fellows. He was slight and graceful 
in stature, and in the expression of 
his face there was something wild and 
spiritual, yet at the same time full of 
" exceeding sweetness and sincerity " ; 
the other features that immediately 
arrested attention were the long dark- 
brown hair and the large, blue, earnest- 
looking eyes. In spite of his occasional 


brief paroxysms of rage, caused by the 
attacks of his tormentors, he did not 
look like one who had been guilty of 
any very heinous offence. What then 
was the crime for which he had been 
outlawed from the good- will of his 
fellows ? 

Alasl it was a serious one; it was 
none other than the unpardonable sin 
of rebelling against that great deity of 
boys and men — custom. This elfish 
changeling, who answered to the name 
of Percy Bysshe Shelley, had already 
commenced, to his infinite discredit and 
discomfort, to hold and advance certain 
opinions of his own on the subject of 
the society in which his life was cast; 
and these opinions by no means co- 
incided with the established Etonian 


creed, the full acceptance of which was 
an indispensable condition of school-boy 

In the first place, he had audaciously- 
violated the fundamental doctrine of 
the Etonian constitution — he had re- 
fused to fag. 

Secondly, he had been guilty of the 
high crime and misdemeanour of neg- 
lecting and despising the lawful and 
necessary practice of athletic games 
and exercise, and of occupying himself 
in various frivolous and contemptible 
amusements ; as, for instance, in dab- 
bling and messing with all sorts of 
chemical compounds, or floating paper 
boats on ponds in the neighbourhood of 
Eton, or reading strange books which 
were wholly unintelligible to his more 


sensible school-fellows, or, worst of all 
— incorrigible milk-sop that he was — in 
taking solitary walks, and even — so it 
was whispered — visiting a churchyard at 
Stoke Park, where some poet or other 
had written an elegy. 

The third count in the indictment 
was that the offender had shown himself 
indifferent to the amenities of personal 
adornment, as then practised at Eton, 
and had often been known to go out 
without a hat. 

It was naturally felt that this re- 
bellion against all that is most sacred 
to the school- boy mind was an act of 
positive madness and flagrant atheism. 
A decree, therefore, had gone forth that 
the criminal should be known by the 
name of "Mad Shelley" and '^ The 


Atheist/' and should be subjected to a 
course of that vigorous but wholesome 
treatment which the faithful have so 
often found effective for the reclamation 
of those who wander from the fold of 
orthodoxy. Who shall blame the Eton 
boys for acting as they did ? A public 
school in such matters is but a micro- 
cosm — a reflection of the greater world 
that lies around it and beyond; and 
when a herd of school-boys thinks fit to 
tease and slander one who differs from 
his fellows, such conduct is but typical 
of that of the overgrown school-boys of 
mature life. 

But at any rate, it may be thought, 
the boy might have turned, for the 
necessary consolation and protection, to 
the masters who had undertaken the 


duty of educating him. Unfortunately, 
there was little or no sympathy with 
Shelley in that quarter. Why should 
busy men take any special interest in an 
apparently half-crazy boy whose Latin 
verses, although fluently written, were 
often defective in metrical correctness, 
and who, instead of seeking distinction 
in the ordinary channels, persisted in 
following a line of study of his own, 
such as translating Pliny's "Natural 
History," and reading Grodwin*s " Poli- 
tical Justice." To burn down willow- 
stumps with gunpowder; to keep an 
electric battery in one's room, and to 
send up fire-balloons by night — these, 
too, are proceedings which are not 
exactly calculated to win the hearty 
approbation of a schoolmaster ; and it 


is no wonder that Shelley's tutors, in 
their dislike of the eccentricities that 
lay on the surface of his nature, should 
have failed to discover the underlying 

So the poor elf -child, whose heart 
even now was full of love for every 
living being, and whose mind was aglow 
with the divine thirst for knowledge, 
could find no favour with either masters 
or boys, but pined in vain for the se- 
clusion of his green Sussex lanes and 
the more congenial society of the 
friendly snake that haunted the lawn 
of Field Place. Sadly and slowly it 
dawned upon his mind that this life, 
which had seemed at first to be all fresh 
and pure and fair, was blighted by 
a withering curse — the curse of the 


tjxanny which selfish and sordid natures 
inflict on the gentle and harmless. 

It was in this mood and under these 
influences that Shelley, as he stood 
alone one May morning on the " glitter- 
ing grass " of the Eton Playing Fields, 
was visited by one of those sudden and 
Divine impulses by which many a 
high heroic spirit has been summoned, 
in the lightning-flash of a moment's 
inspiration, to take his part, once and 
for ever, in the battle of life. To be 
wise, and just, and free, and mild, and 
by the power thus acquired to help the 
oppressed to shake off the tyranny of 
the oppressor — ^^this was the life-work 
to which he solemnly dedicated himself 
— he, the shy, gentle, shrinking boy, 
who had been sent to Eton to acquire 



that external polish wliicli his father 
judged to be the chief characteristic of 
a gentleman I 

Never was vow more nobly made, and 
never was vow more nobly kept. We 
all know the saying of the Duke of 
Wellington (it matters little whether it 
be authentic or apocryphal), that the 
battle of Waterloo was won in the 
Playing Fields of Eton. But we have 
not all laid to heart the fact that a still 
nobler victory was won in the same 
fields on that bright spring morning 
when Shelley, in the first flush of youth- 
ful enthusiasm, received, if ever human 
soul received, a revelation from above, 
and pledged himself to devote the whole 
strength of his being to the sacred 
cause of suffering humanity. Well 


might his school-fellows call him ^^ Mad 
Shelley '* and " the Atheist " ; for such 
is the charge, the old, immemorial accu- 
sation, that selfish and worldly minds 
have ever brought against those who 
refuse to bow the knee in the great 
temple of hypocrisy and custom. 

So the rapturous moments passed, and 
the darkness of the school life, with its 
petty tyrannies and wretched mean- 
nesses, again settled down on Shelley. 
But henceforth there was a brighter side 
to his existence ; he had a hope, a faith, 
an object before him; and he could 
bear with greater constancy the many 
trials that daily befell him during his 
stormy passage through that great edu- 
cational establishment, where it is 
probable that he alone, of boys or 


masters, was possessed of any absolute 
love of knowledge, any thorough desire 
for education. Even in these early 
days he was an indefatigable reader; 
and though his course of study did not 
lead him in the direction of scholastic 
honours, he nevertheless acquired a 
knowledge of Greek and Latin almost 
by intuition, and rose steadily in the 
school during the six years he remained 
there, till he was eventually in the sixth 

Nor was he destitute of friends, few 
but affectionate, won from among the 
mass of school-fellows who for the most 
part misunderstood him ; while in Dr. 
Lind, a retired physician then living in 
Windsor, he found what he could find 
in none of the Eton masters — at once a 


friend and a teacher, with whom he 
might hold free intellectual converse 
without shame or fear of reproof. The 
elf-child's dream of a hoary-headed 
alchemist, who would be able to sym- 
pathize with the feelings on which 
others frowned, was thus realized in 
actual life; and the contrast between 
the ruflfianly bearing of Dr. Keate, the 
Etonian archimage, whose magic wand 
was the rod, and whose altar the 
flogging block, and the gentle benevo- 
lence of Dr. Lind, of whom Shelley 
never spoke in after-life without grati- 
tude and veneration, may suggest some 
serious thoughts to us, as it doubtless 
did to Shelley, as to the relative value 
of fear and love in the process of edu- 




Having now reaped the benefits of a 
great public school, Shelley had still to 
attain the fuller and maturer culture of 
a great University ; accordingly, we find 
him entered, in the autumn of 1810, as 
a member of University College, Ox- 

At this time his prospects looked 
brighter, when judged from the ordinary 
worldly standpoint, than at any other 
period of his life; and his father had 
as yet perceived no incontestable proofs 



of the threatened failure of his hopes 
for the boy's advancement. When he 
left Eton, he had already done two 
things, both of which have been known 
to be done by other school-boys before 
and since, — ^he had written an exceed- 
ingly worthless novel, and he had fallen 
desperately in love with his beautiful 
cousin, Harriet G-rove; but, on the 
other hand, unlike the generality of 
school-boys, he had further managed to 
secure the publication of his book, and 
to win the consent of the young lady, 
and the sanction of her parents and 
his own, to a sort of prospective en- 

He had now escaped from the tedious 
thraldom and innumerable persecutions 
of school life to the comparative 


freedom of the University, where 
he enjoyed ample time for reading, 
writing, conversing, arguing, and 
following, to the uttermost, the bent 
of his own inclinations. At home 
he was on cordial, if not on affec- 
tionate, terms with his father, who had 
learnt to look with equanimity, and, 
perhaps, with a sort of qualified admira- 
;lj; tion, on that strong tendency towards 

;;f}i authorship which he noted, even at this 

early stage, as a distinctive feature of 
!' his son's character, and was even heard 

to speak with paternal pride of the 
"literary turn" and "printing freaks" 
of the promising youth. 

It almost seemed as if the career 
which his relatives had sketched out 
for him by anticipation was likely to be 




'.'■■ I 


in some measure fulfilled, and as if 
Slielley, after going through Oxford in 
the usual manner, would marry his fair 
cousin, and settle down at Horsham 
to the honourable duties of a county 
gentleman and heir to large estates. 
The wild, strange boy, with dreamy 
eyes and flowing locks, would then be 
forgotten in the respectability of the 
Whig member for Shoreham; the **Mad 
Shelley" and^ "Atheist" of Etonian 
notoriety would be sanctified by the un- 
questionable orthodoxy of the owner of 
many acres. It was a comforting pros- 
pect for Mr. Shelley to dwell on, and it 
was subject only to one disadvantage 
and limitation, which was — that it was 
not destined to be realized. 

The proverb that if a thing ts to be 


done well, it must be done by the parties 
most interested, had been recognised by 
the Oxford authorities of those days as 
the guiding principle of liberal educa- 
tion. The undergraduates were there- 
fore permitted to enjoy to the full the 
advantages of this voluntary system, 
undisturbed by any undue interference 
from those who were nominally their 
instructors, with the result that while 
the majority sunk into a condition of 
helpless sloth and sensuality — for which 
they were of course themselves alone ta 
blame, since no obstruction whatever 
was put in the way of their self-educa- 
tion — there were a few who made a 
good use of the leisure thus obtained for 
intellectual purposes. 

It is recorded of Shelley that he often 


devoted sixteen hours out of the twenty- 
four to reading; classics and modern 
languages, poetry and prose, science 
and metaphysics — ^nothing seemed to 
come amiss. When "a little man," 
presumably one of the college tutors, 
informed Shelley one morning that ** he 
must read," the pupil was able to answer, 
without any scruple or hesitation, that 
" he had no objection." Day after day 
Shelley, with one familiar friend, used 
to read or discuss all sorts of subjects 
connected or not connected with the 
academic course of study, notable 
among these, on account of their special 
influence on his. mind, being the essays 
of Locke and Hume. Moreover, he was 
still greatly interested in the study of 
chemistry ; and his rooms at Oxford, as 






at Eton, were strewn with crucibles, 
phials, galvanic batteries, air-pumps, 
microscopes, and all the apparatus of 
the chemist, which continued to excite 
in him a wild and lawless delight. Re- 
turning fresh from some dull and weari- 
some lecture on mineralogy, where a 
learned pedant had discoursed heavily 
" about stones, about stones," the 
youthful enthusiast would dilate to his 
wondering friend on the " mysteries of 
matter, '* and the glorious future in 
store for the human race when the 
dream of Bacon's **New Atlantis" 
should be realized, and the powers of 
nature should be organized and enlisted 
in the service of man. 

But the ** mysteries of mind '' now 
began to claim a still larger share of his 


attention, poetry and philosophy being 
the two great objects to which the 
thoughts of this strange, self-educated 
youth were steadily and intuitively at- 
tracted. At first it was philosophy to 
which he felt the stronger inclination ; 
and as if to verify the nomenclature 
of his Etonian school-fellows, he had 
already adopted the materialistic and 
atheistic doctrines of the eighteenth 
century writers, and hence regarded 
religion "as hostile instead of friendly 
to the cultivation of virtue." 

The dolorous tone of regret often 
employed by Shelley's apologists con- 
cerning this early line of reading shows 
an inability to grasp the full meaning of 
his career. It is true that he was by 
nature an idealist, and that the philo- 


sophy of negation is not consonant with 
the higher creed of idealism; yet, for 
all that, this initial phase of keen and 
trenchant scepticism was a valuable and 
even indispensable preparation in the 
case of one whose special mission was 
to overthrow the tyranny of con- 
ventional methods of thought. Had it 
not been for this sharp brushing away 
of intellectual cobwebs, Shelley's genius, 
always dangerously prone to mysticism 
and metaphysical subtleties, might have 
lost itself, like that of Swedenborg or 
Coleridge, in a labyrinth of dreams and 
phantasies, and thus have wasted and 
misdirected its store of moral enthu* 

It is important, too, to notice that the 
materialism of which Shelley became an 


adherent during his residence at Oxford 
was not, in his case, the mere cold pro- 
fession of intellectual scepticism, but 
went hand in hand (fortunately, though 
perhaps illogically) with a remarkable 
ardour in the cause of gentleness and 
humanity. Even as a boy, in Sussex, 
he had been keenly aflfected by the sight 
of want and suffering among the poor ; 
and his reading of Godwin's works, by 
which he was profoundly moved at some 
early period of his life, had doubtless 
already set him thinking, not only on 
the contrast, but also on the connection 
between poverty and wealth. His chi- 
valrous knight-errantry on behalf of the 
down-trodden and oppressed, whether 
it were a starved child or an over-driven 
beast, had more than once brought won- 


der to the mind of the more phlegmatic 
companion of his daily rambles round 
Oxford and its neighbourhood. 

This chosen companion was Thomas 
Jefferson Hogg, the Boswell of 
Shelleyan biography, destined to be 
remembered by succeeding generations 
of Shelley students with mingled feel- 
ings of gratitude, amusement, and dis- 
gust. By nature and disposition he 
was a hard-headed, cynical man of the 
world, regarding all sentiment and 
enthusiasm with a kind of tolerant con- 
tempt, and firmly convinced that the 
great object of life is to be prosperous, 
comfortable, and sarcastic. But at the 
time when he first met Shelley, his 
worldly propensities were not yet fully 
developed, and his character was re- 


deemed by a touch of literary taste and 
a love of intellectual liberty which were 
the chief bonds of the friendship that 
was soon established between the two 
undergraduates, one of whom was now 
preparing for the career of a philan- 
thropist, the other for that of a lawyer. 

The force of the strange influence 
which the shy and gentle idealist ex- 
ercised over the mind of the shrewd and 
confident cynic may be measured by the 
warmth of the praise bestowed by Hogg 
on Shelley in the record of their life 
at Oxford, which he published more 
than twenty years later. It was the 
first instance of the homage which was 
so often paid to Shelley's elfish and 
mysterious personality by such rough, 
busy, matter-of-fact men as chanced to 











be brought in contact with it ; it was, 
as Carlyle has written of the devotion 
of the true Boswell, " a genuine rever- 
ence for excellence; a worship for 
heroes, at a time when neither heroes 
nor worship were surmised to exist.'* 
But in Hogg's case the hero-worship 
was further set off and enhanced by the 
sense of amazement and pity aroused in 
his breast at the sight of Shelley's un- 
businesslike habits and quixotic tem- 
peranaent. How would "his poor 
friend" have fared — so Hogg often 
thought — had not he been present to 
advise and assist him with his keen, 
practical sense and shrewd insight into 
human character. 

Those were pleasant days when the 
two friends devoted the autumn after- 


noons to long country rambles, in the 
course of which Shelley would indulge 
his liking for such pastimes as ducks- 
and-drakes and pistol practice, and 
when their after-supper conversations 
were prolonged until the College clock 
struck two. 

But already, at the close of Shelley's 
first term at Oxford, signs were not 
wanting that this happiness would be 
but short-lived. His father's suspicions 
had been aroused on the subject of his 
heterodox opinions, and the Christmas 
vacation spent by Shelley at Field 
Place was a time of mutual distrust 
and recrimination. Now there are some 
youthful aberrations which may be 
overlooked or condoned in respectable 
English households; there are others 


which cannot be overlooked, and un- 
fortunately Shelley's belonged to the 
latter class. If it had been merely a 
propensity to gambling, swearing, 
drinking, or some of the youthful in- 
discretions not uncommon among 
Oxford students at that date, Mr. 
Timothy Shelley would not have quite 
despaired of his son, and perhaps Miss 
Harriet Grrove would not have withheld 
all hopes of forgiveness from her lover* 
But when a young man, in all simplicity 
and good faith, sets himself to test 
and examine and inquire into the truth 
of certain doctrines, which, according 
to the established code of religion and 
morality, he is bound to take for 
granted, then it is clear that such an 
offender must be denounced and dis- 


owned until he sees the necessity of 
repenting his errors. Unhappily this 
was a necessity that Shelley, in spite 
of his excellent education at Eton and 
Oxford, could not be brought to under- 
stand; and it must, I suppose, be at- 
tributed to his elfish origin that instead 
of recognising the force of Mr. Timothy 
Shelley's lucid and cogent arguments, 
he actually had the temerity to attempt 
to " illuminate '* his father. 

The result was as might have been 
foreseen by a youth of more reasonable 
disposition. At the end of the vacation 
Shelley returned to Oxford in disfavour 
with both his parents ; while his happi- 
ness was completely shattered by the 
breaking off of his engagement with his 
cousin ; and he was thrown into a rest- 


less and excited frame of mind. "I 
will crush intolerance; I will at least 
attempt it." Such was his spirit early 
in 1811, and he already hoped "to 
gratify some of this insatiable feeling 
in poetry.*' No doubt the cynical Hogg 
had smiled on receiving the letters from 
his " poor friend," which conveyed the 
news of this daring resolution, expressed 
in the exaggerated language of youthful 
emotion; yet the vow, like all those 
made by Shelley, was faithfully kept, 
and had serious consequences, not only 
for Shelley himself, but also for his 
friend Hogg, and possibly for a good 
many other people besides. 

In March, 1811, Shelley and Hogg, 
still inseparable in their studies, and 
eager in the pursuit of knowledge, had 


come to the conclusion that they must 
henceforth devote a still larger portion 
of their time to their joint reading; 
both of them being quite unaware that 
the attention of the College authorities, 
which had for some time been attracted 
by their singularity of dress and general 
eccentricity of conduct, was now centred 
on a small pamphlet, entitled, " The 
Necessity of Atheism," which Shelley 
had lately written and circulated, and 
to which Hogg had contributed a pre- 
face. With that childlike simplicity, 
which could not, or would not, realize 
that learned men are actuated by other 
motives than a desire to investigate the 
truth, the youthful disputant had for- 
warded copies of his pamphlet to 
various dignitaries of the University 


and the Church, inviting free discus- 
sion, criticism, and, if possible, refu- 
tation of the principles enunciated. 

The matter was brought under the 
cognisance of the Master and Fellows 
of University College, and after some 
previous consideration they summoned 
Shelley before them on March 25th, an 
oflficial instinct perhaps suggesting to 
them that Lady Day would be a fit 
and proper date for the vacation of cer- 
tain premises in their great quadrangle. 
The aspect of the culprit who had thus 
attempted to undermine the pillars of the 
English Church was not such as would 
have been expected from the desperate 
nature of the deed. It is true that 
the wildness of his long hair and the 
lack of spruceness in his costume con- 


stituted a breach of etiquette on which 
the authorities necessarily looked with 
disfavour; yet there was something in 
the vivid animation of his expressive 
features, the mingled firmness and 
gentleness of his manner and gestures, 
and his tall, yet bent and fragile figure, 
that would have been distinctly pre- 
possessing and attractive, even to the 
minds of college deans and proctors, 
could it have been dissociated from 
their abhorrence of his pernicious views. 
As he would neither disown the author- 
ship of the obnoxious publication, nor 
answer any questions on the subject, 
a sentence of expulsion was at once 
pronounced ; and Hogg's generous in- 
tervention only resulted in his sharing 
the same fate. 


The two friends left Oxford for Lon- 
don on the next morning, and it has 
been significantly recorded by one who 
was present on the occasion that "no 
one regretted their departure/' It was 
a departure that has been regretted by 
many persons in later years; but at 
the time it must have seemed almost 
unavoidable, and no blame can fairly 
be cast on those by whom it was de- 
creed. They merely registered in their 
individual capacity one of those many 
sentences of anathema, which established 
and dominant Churchdom has so often 
fulminated, and still continues to ful- 
minate in one form or another, against 
the great cr ime o f inquiry. 

Thus terminated Shelley's experiences 
of the education of a gentleman. Let 


US hope that, though he lost the crown- 
ing advantages of that highly valued 
process, he had gained some other in- 
struction in the course of his boyhood 
and youth, which exercised a beneficial 
influence on his after career. But the 
disappointment at the time was none 
the less a bitter one, and the blow was 
severely felt. " It would seem, indeed,'' 
wrote Hogg in his " Shelley at Oxford," 
" to one who rightly considered the final 
cause of the institution of an University 
that all the rewards, all the honours, 
the most opulent foundation could ac- 
cumulate would be inadequate to re- 
munerate an individual whose thirst 
for knowledge was so intense, and his 
activity in the pursuit of it so wonder- 
ful and so unwearied." Shelley cer- 



tainly looked for no reward for what 
was in him a natural instinct rather 
than a deliberate effort ; but he equally 
little anticipated that these very qual- 
ities would bring about his expulsion. 



It was not until the middle of May, 
1811, or nearly two months after the 
expidsion from Oxford; that Shelley's 
father, finding him deaf to threats and 
expostulations, consented to receive him 
at Field Place, and to make him an al- 
lowance of £200 a year, with permission 
to live where and how he liked. On 
his reappearance at Field Place, Shelley 
was doubtless regarded by his relatives 
much in the light of a prodigal son, 
though he himself was so far from ad- 



mitting that he had sinned before 
Heaven, that we find him on May 19th 
successfully " illuminating *' his uncle 
with the very pamphlet which had been 
the cause of his present troubles. 

Nevertheless, his position at this 
time was especially lonely and dis- 
heartening, and had not his nature^ 
though sensitive and impressionable in 
the extreme, possessed also a singular 
faculty of hopefulness and recovery, he 
could hardly have persevered longer in 
what must have seemed a vain and 
useless struggle. He had long passed 
that point which is often reached in 
the early stage of independent thought, 
where young gentlemen may yet dis- 
cover that they have made an error 
of judgment, and may make their way 


back to the fold of propriety and 
affluence. He had completely lost the 
affections of his cousin; he had for- 
feited his bright prospect at the Uni- 
versity, and . the goodwill of his 
parents. What was he to do in life, 
and what hope could he entertain of 
carrying out any of the numerous 
philanthropic schemes on which he had 
set his heart ? He had thought at one 
time of studying medicine, but that plan 
did not commend itself to his advisers. 
His father urged him to become a Whig 
politician, but Whiggism was not exactly 
congenial to Shelley's tastes. 

In this restless and unsettled state 
he found a temporary consolation in his 
correspondence with his friend Hogg, 
who was now studying for the legal 



profession at York, and thither he ac- 
cordingly despatched a series of letters, 
written in alternate moods of gloomy 
depression and nervous excitement. 
Always quick to magnify and idealize 
what interested and affected him, he 
had now conceived an exalted notion of 
Hogg's virtues and magnanimity, and 
he devoted himself eagerly to the con- 
sideration of a plan for the union of 
that " noble being '' with his sister 

Miss Hitchener, a Sussex schoolmis- 
tress of advanced views, whose ac- 
quaintance he had recently made, was 
another correspondent to whom Shelley 
freely unburdened his mind on contro- 
versial subjects, and whom he regarded 
at thifi^ time as the ideal of female 


excellence. Then, again, there were 
letters to be exchanged, chiefly on re- 
ligious questions, with Miss Harriet 
Westbrook, a school-fellow of his sisters, 
to whom he had been introduced during 
his recent stay in London ; but his in- 
terest in this correspondence did not 
at all equal that which he felt in the 
two former. Harriet Westbrook was a 
charming and good-natured girl; but 
Shelley* s mind was still too full of 
another and yet more beautiful Harriet 
for him to be in any danger of again 
falling in love. 


Yet this Westbrook family was fated 
within a short time to have a most 
powerful and malignant influence on 
the course of Shelley*s life, or rather 
on his chances of personal happiness. 


Eliza Westbrook, Harrietts elder sister, 
a grown-up woman of unprepossessing 
appearance and character that corre- 
sponded to her features, was evidently 
interested and attracted by the young 
enthusiast who preached the regenera- 
tion of society, and was heir to Field 
Place. When she invited Shelley to 
the house of her father, a wealthy 
retired hotel-keeper, and talked to him 
of love, and (to quote Shelley's own 
words) was " too civil by half," was it 
her sole object that Shelley and Harriet 
should be brought together, or was she 
herself in love with him, and using her 
more youthful and engaging sister as 
the readiest means of securing and 
prolonging her opportunities of enjoy- 
ing his society ? The exact truth about 


these matters will probably never be 
published, even if any record survives ; 
but those who read the various accounts 
of Shelley's life can hardly doubt that 
Eliza Westbrook was playing some deep 
game at this time, and that Harriet 
was a mere tool and instrument in her 

How could it be otherwise ? Harriet 
was a school-girl of only sixteen, pretty 
and pleasing in appearance and manner, 
but utterly destitute of any real 
strength of character — the mere reflex 
of the surroundings in which her lot 
was cast; at first a methodist in re- 
ligious creed, and looking forward to 
some day marrying a clergyman, though 
at the same time confessing in her own 
mind that the military were the most 


fascinating of men — afterwards an easy 
convert to Shelley's revolutionary 
arguments and social heresies. It is 
true that she was far from being 
actually illiterate; but her interest in 
literature was a mere phantom and 
simulacrum^ derived at second-hand 
from the opinions which she chanced 
to hear expressed around her. Neither 
in religion nor in culture had she any 
fixed principle or intellectual power 
which might prove a support and 
guidance. But though at this early 
age she was bright, winning, and 
compliant, there was a fibre of coarse- 
ness and worldliness in her nature 
which was destined to make itself felt 
as the years went on. Philanthropic 
schemes, simplicity of living, and 


theories of universal freedom might 
charm her fancy for awhile, but she 
was not one who would endure to make 
sacrifices for notions which could only 
affect her superficially, or dedicate a 
lifetime to a work for which in her 
heart she cared not at all. 

This was the girl who was corre- . 
spending with Shelley in the early 
summer of 1811, until, in August of 
the same year, under the stress of her 
father's real or pretended tyranny, she 
threw herself on Shelley's protection, 
confessed her secret affection, and so 
aroused the sympathy and pity of one 
who, *' if he knew anything about love> 
was not in love," that the affair ended 
in their elopement and marriage. 

"Foolish, but noble," seems to be 


the usual verdict of Shelley's critics 
and biographers, regarding this mo- 
mentous act, the unhappy consequences 
of which were apparent to the last day 
of his life. I think, however, it should 
be recognised that the folly was greatly 
in excess of the nobility. In sacrificing 
the strong objections which he felt 
to the ceremony of marriage out of 
consideration for Harriet's personal 
interests, Shelley undoubtedly acted 
with his natural unselfishness ; but 
otherwise we look in vain for that 
clear-sighted and faithful adhesion to 
rational principles which was conspicu- 
ous in all the other great turning- 
points of his life. 

Had it not been for the restless, 
excited condition of his mind at this 


time, he would have seen, as he saw 
afterwards, that it could be no duty 
of his to devote himself to a girl whom 
he did not love, and of whose fitness 
to be his permanent companion he had 
by no means satisfied himself. From 
such a blunder there could only ensue 
a painful crop of lifelong calamity, 
which, though insufficient to warp the 
main purpose of his strong and in- 
domitable will, would yet have the 
power to cause him and others much 
acute sufl^ering and domestic misery. 
Unfortunately, in the low state of his 
spirits at that time, it seemed to Shelley 
that "the only thing worth living for | / 
was self-sacrifice," and this self-sacrifice 
took the form of becoming the brother- 
in-law of Eliza Westbrook. 


It is odd that the hostile critics who 
have been at pains to rake up every 
fault and foible of Shelley's career 
should, as a rule, have looked com- 
placently on this one great error of 
his lifetime ; but no doubt their leniency 
is chiefly due to the tranquillizing effect 
of the marriage ceremony performed 
at Edinburgh on August 28th, 1811. 
That Shelley himself was soon a wiser 
and severer judge of his own conduct 
is proved by the tone of his letters to 
Miss Hitchener in October of the same 
year. " In one short week," he writes, 
referring to his marriage with Harriet, 
** how changed were all my prospects I 
How are we the slaves of circumstances! 
How bitterly I curse their bondage! 
Yet this was unavoidable." And again. 


** Blame me if thou wilt, dearest friend, 
for still thou art dearest to me; yet 
pity even this error if thou blamest 

Soon after their arrival in Edinburgh, 
Shelley and Harriet were joined by the 
admirable Hogg, in whose company 
they returned after a few weeks to 
York. There the party was further 
reinforced by the presence of Eliza 
Westbrook, who was henceforth to be 
a constant inmate of Shelley's house- 
hold, and to exercise complete control 
over Harriet in all domestic matters — 
an infliction which Shelley, for pecuniary 
reasons, was unable to resent as he 
might otherwise have done. It was 
under these auspices that Shelley, 
whose age was then nineteen, com« 

— —k 


menced that crusade against tyranny 
and intolerance which, in one form or 
another, was always the main object of 
his life. 

It is no part of our purpose to follow 
him step by step through all his early 
wanderings during this most confused 
and restless period, in which he served 
a trying but perhaps useful apprentice- 
ship before entering on a greater and 
more serious warfare; it will be suffi- 
cient to note the position in which he 
found himself two years after his 
marriage, and to view from his own 
standpoint that retrospect of his past 
life which must have forced itself on 
his mind about that time. 



We do not read that there were any- 
great or memorable rejoicings at Field 
Place when Shelley came of age in 
August, 1813. Mr. Timothy Shelley, 
presumably, did not regard the event 
as one that called for any festive 
celebration; while the Sussex farmers 
doubtless shook their heads porten- 
tously over the doings of the young 
heir, whose escapades were rumoured 
to be so wild and incomprehensible. 
The eccentricities of the younger 


Bysshe certainly seemed likely, to 
surpass those of the elder. On an 
occasion when most young men of his 
position and expectations would have 
been receiving congratulatory addresses 
from their fathers' tenants, and making 
polite speeches in return, this mis- 
guided youth was residing in a cottage 
in a Berkshire village, with his wife and 
an infant daughter, receiving nothing 
in the way of congratulation, and 
brooding over schemes in which polite 
speeches had no part. 

If he looked to the future, his pros- 
pects were far from encouraging; if he 
looked to the past, he could find little 
comfort or reassurance in the retro- 
spect of his two years of married life. 
His campaign against social and re- 


ligious intolerance had failed to produce 
the slightest mitigation of the evils 
which he sought to cure, its only- 
apparent result being to embitter his 
own relations with society, and thereby 
to disturb his security and peace of 
mind. His early ideals of personal 
excellence had been in some cases 
rudely shaken — in others entirely de- 
stroyed. If there was one plan which, 
above all others, had been often present 
in his mind after the elopement with 
Harriet, it was to choose some beautiful 
yet unpretentious home, and there, in 
the neighbourhood of friends and sym- 
pathizers, to dwell '*for ever," and 
devote his powers to the study of poetry 
and philosophy. Yet, instead of se- 
curing this blissful home of rest, he 


had roamed for two years from place 
to place, and led a life like that of the 
wandering Jew, whose character he was 
already fond of introducing in his 

The sojourn at York, short as it was, 
had been long enough to disillusion 
Shelley's mind respecting the virtues 
of his friend Hogg, whose conduct to 
Harriet had necessitated a sudden 
departure to Keswick; the "noble 
being," whose lifelong companionship 
Shelley had so ardently desired, being 
now left behind to pursue his legal 
duties in solitude and remorse, while 
Shelley himself found material for 
much sorrowful reflection in this un- 
suspected baseness on the part of his 
first and most trusted friend. At 


Keswick, Shelley made the acquaintance 
of Southey, for whose writings he had 
long felt a strong admiration, and in 
whom he now thought to find a kindred 
spirit, inspired by the same passionate 
enthusiasm for intellectual freedom ; he 
found instead a kindly, middle-aged 
gentleman, who could not always see 
the point of a discussion, and whose 
mainstay in argument was his "Ah, 
when you are as old as I am ! " 

Disappointed in these personal ex- 
periences, Shelley had then begun to 
turn his eyes towards the field of 
politics, and his interest had been 
naturally directed to Ireland as the 
scene which illustrated most forcibly 
and unmistakably the fatal effects of 
a policy of tyranny and repression. 


Yet what benefit could he conceive to 
have resulted from his two months' 
visit to Dublin in the early part of 
1812 ? He might indeed feel confident 
in his own heart of the justice and 
truth of the opinions set forth in his 
" Address to the Irish People," but he 
could not be unaware that the publi- 
cation of the patnphlet had failed to 
produce the immediate effect which he 
anticipated for it, nor could he foresee, 
by way of comfort for temporary 
failure, that the history of the next 
half-century would amply illustrate 
the essential wisdom of his views. 
At Dublin, too, as at Keswick, his 
youth had been much against hiiri; 
and, as if nineteen were not an early 
enough age at which to begin the work 


of reforming the world, his Irish 
servant had given out that he was only 
fifteen, thus throwing an increased 
appearance of juvenility over an enter- 
prise which had been undertaken in a 
very serious spirit. 

Moved by the remonstrances of the 
veteran and cautious philosopher, God- 
win, with whom he had commenced a 
correspondence, he had presently with- 
drawn from further interference in Irish 
affairs, and wandered for a time through 
the picturesque parts of Wales and the 
coast of North Devon, amusing himself 
meanwhile by sending forth copies of 
his " Declaration of Rights," and other 
revolutionary documents enclosed in 
floating bottles, or attached to fire- 
balloons, or engaged in the more serious 



occupation of writing his ** Queen 

During these wanderings Shelley had 
been reluctantly compelled to sacrifice 
another of his youthful ideals of hunnan 
excellence. As he had once mistaken 
Hogg for the paragon of manly virtue, 
so for a longer time did he idealize his 
correspondent, Miss Hitchener, until 
she became, to his imagination, " a 
mighty intellect which may one day 
enlighten thousands." The addition of 
her presence to Shelley's household had 
long been looked forward to as an event 
of blissful augury ; but when it had be- 
come a reality, a sad disappointment 
had ensued, with the result that the 
" Portia," whose genius Shelley had 
invoked to stimulate his own, was dis- 


covered to be "a woman of desperate 
views and dreadful passions," and was 
induced after a few months to return to 
her Sussex home, to the unspeakable 
relief of her former friend and fellow- 

As he looked back in 1813 over this \ 
restless period of desultory schemes and 
broken ideals, Shelley's heart must i 
sometimes have been filled with a feel- / 
ing akin to despair. It was indeed a ; 
strange and chequered experience that/ 
had been amassed by a youth of twenty- 
one. Well might he point out in his 
" Notes to Queen Mab " that time is 
not to be measured only by its duration, 
nor length of life merely by number of 
years, and that " the life of a man of 
virtue and talent, who should die in his 


thirtieth year," may be, by comparisoD, 
a long one. 

It was, however, in his domestic affairs, 
that about this time Shelley began to 
find his chief cause for disquietude. 
His money troubles, the result in part of 
the small allowance made him by his 
father, in part of his own lavish gene- 
rosity and total inability to economize, 
were now beginning to press heavily on 
his mind. But this was not the worst 
of his anxieties. 

Hitherto his marriage with Harriet 
had perhaps been a happier one than its 
origin could have warranted him in ex- 
pecting, a sincere affection having gradu- 
ally grown up between them, owing in 
great measure to Harriet's easy good 
temper and ready compliance with her 


husband's habits and opinions. But 
the fatal seed of disunion was already 
sown in the fact that those revolutionary 
speculations, which were the life and 
soul of Shelley's being, were to Harriet 
nothing more than a matter of passing 
interest and temporary excitement. As 
she grew up to full womanhood, the 
true bent of her character, latent hitherto 
and merged in Shelley's stronger person- 
ality, was slowly but surely developed 
and manifested. In addition to the 
disenchantment of his boyish ideals, arid 
the failure of his philanthropic crusade, 
it was becoming evident to Shelley that 
he was soon likely to lose even the 
consolation of home sympathies and 
domestic tranquillity. There was a trait 
of coldness and insensibility in Harriet's 


nature which was in painful contrast 
with the impassioned warmth and loving 
earnestness of his own ; while the pre- 
sence of Eliza Westbrook, at first 
tolerated as a necessity, was every day 
becoming a more insufferable burden 
and annoyance. 

Small wonder, then, that Shelley was 
dejected and despondent during the 
days which he spent in his cottage at 
Bracknell, for he must have felt that a 
sharp crisis was approaching in his fate. 
He was destined yet to rise to nobler 
efforts, and wiser methods of warfare; 
but first there was a valley of deep 
humiliation to be crossed, and a heavy 
penalty to be paid for the error which 
he had committed two years before. 
Whatever some men of the world may 


do, a champion of humanity and free- ^ 
dom cannot, with impunity, yoke him- 
self to that most galling of social bon- 
dages — marriage without love — which 
has given the death-blow to many lofty - 
aspirations. Shelley had already learnt 
the force of this lesson, or was about to 
learn it very shortly. 

In the meantime the years had not 
passed without their natural pleasures 
and consolations. Through all the 
vicissitudes of his wanderings, through 
all the embarrassments of his pecuniary 
anxieties, he had contrived to satisfy 
that innate love of reading and craving 
for self-instruction which were to him 
a lifelong instinct and positive necessity 
of his existence. What matter if he 
had not " completed his education " ? 



For what more could Oxford have 
taught him than to read as he had 
always read from the beginning ? 
Scarcely less powerful, even at this 
early age, was that other instinctive 
desire which prompted him to give Ids 
own thoughts and opinions to the world. 
Even as a schoolboy, Shelley had found 
his way to the publishers, and the 
speedy publication of his writings was 
naturally an aim and object of one 
whose idealistic speculations went side 
by side with a singularly practical dis- 
position, and by whom theory was 
regarded as almost identic al with per - 

Among the various productions of 
this youthful period, the majority of 
which Shelley could jj^p.t but acknow- 



ledge to be failures, ** Queen Mab," at 
any rate, must have given some satis- 
faction to its author, who could not 
have been left quite in ignorance that 
a few sympathetic hearts had here and 
there been thrilled by this eloquent 
expression of the gospel of free thought 
and humanity. Whatever else he had 
done, or failed to do, this strange youth 
of one-and-twenty had penned the most 
notable and spirited protest of his 
generation against that religious^^igotry ^ 
which stifles and stunts the fair growth 
of the human intellect, and against that 
moral d epravity which tramples out all 
the gentler instincts of life. Never 
before in English poetry had the 
tyranny of the rich over the poor, of 
the strong over the weak, been so in- 


dignantly, and, withal, so truthfully, 
denounced. Never before had such 
consistent and eloquent witness been 
borne against the heedless cruelty of 
man, who " slays the lamb that looks 
him in the face," in order to satisfy a 
gluttonous appetite at the cost of his 
humble fellow-creatures. 

The vigorous enthusiasm which had 
inspired " Queen Mab " was a proof 
that Shelley possessed that happy union 
, of sensibility and , determination which ^ 
1 alone could enaole nim to go through • 
the trials and troubles of life without 
either abating the keenness of his 
sympathies, or withdrawing in despair 
from a crusade which might well have 
seemed to be hopeless and quixotic. In 
a word, his chief support in this darkest 


period of his lifetime was to be found 
in the inflexible tenacity with which he 
still clung to his early boyish vow — to 
be wise and just, and free and mild. 

To the comforts thus derived from 
a single-hearted integrity of purpose 
were added those of friendship. Shelley 
was soon reconciled to his old college 
comrade; and though their intimacy 
could never be restored on the former 
confident footing, Hogg was a frequent 
and welcome visitor both at Bracknell 
and in London. In the novelist Pea- 
cock SheUey had lately made another 
friend, a man of more literary and 
cultured tastes than Hogg, but fully 
as sarcastic and cynical, and furnishing 
an equally striking illustration of the 
singular attraction which Shelley could 



exercise on minds of a wholly alien cast 
from his own. By this time, too, the 
correspondence with William Godwin 
had led to a personal acquaintance, and 
Shelley frequently enjoyed the conversa- 
tion of the philosopher whose moral and 
political writings had influenced him so 

But the friendship in which, above 
all others, Shelley found a solace and 
delight at this period of his life, 
was that of the New tons and Boin- 
villes, two families whose humane and 
refined tastes were in close accordance 
with his own, and who undoubtedly 
stimulated him very strongly in the 
direction of that simplicity of living 
and vegetarian diet to which he had 
long been inclined, and which he had 


now actually adopted. To such con- 
finned mockers and hon vivants as 
Peacock and Hogg the principles of 
the reformed diet were necessarily un- 
intelligible ; and it must often have 
been a relief to Shelley to turn from 
their sarcasms and witticisms to the 
congenial society where he met with a 
more liberal and sympathetic intelli- 
gence. Mrs. Boinville, the sister of 
Mrs. Newton, had a house at Brack- 
nell, and it was for this reason that 
Shelley was staying in that neighbour- 
hood in 1813. 

Such was his position at the close of 
his first campaign against intolerance. 



Ox\ March 24th, 1814, Shelley and 
Harriet were remarried in London, the 
object of this second ceremony being 
simply to establish beyond doubt the 
legitimacy of their child, as the validity 
of the Scotch marriage was considered 
to be open to question. 

Seldom, if ever, has a marriage been 
celebrated under such gloomy and de- 
pressing circumstances. In one of 
Nathaniel Hawthorne's " Twice - told 
Tales " there is a description of 
the wedding of an aged couple, once 



lovers, but now long separated by years 
of misunderstanding, at which the usual 
marriage rites were replaced by funereal 
solemnities, typical of a lifetime lost in 
emptiness and despair. "The train of 
withered mourners, the hoary bride- 
groom in his shroud, the pale features 
of the aged bride, and the death-bell 
tolling through the whole, till its deep 
voice overpowered the marriage words, 
all marked the funeral of earthly 
hopes." Scarcely less portentous to 
Shelley's imaginative mind must have 
appeared the solemn mockery of this 
second union with Harriet; it was 
a veritable "wedding -knell," which 
sounded the approaching extinction of 
his early aspirations and youthful 
dreams of happiness. 


Towards the end of the previous year 
grave discussions had arisen between 
Shelley and his wife ; and he was now 
face to face with the alternative of 
living on in a state of continual do- 
mestic disagreement, or cutting the 
knot of his own troubles, and not less, 
as he might well believe, of Harriet's, 
by a bold and decisive step. ** The 
institutions and opinions of all ages 
and countries have admitted in various 
degrees the principle of divorce." So 
wrote Shelley in his Chancery paper 
three years later, and the desire to 
obtain release from the matrimonial 
bond, practically if not legally, must 
certainly have existed in Shelley's mind 
in the spring of 1814, although, for 
his children's sake, he was even then 


willing to be nominally bound. If so 
many persons of ordinary temperament 
have found it an almost intolerable bur- 
den to be yoked throughout life to an 
unsympathetic companion, we can judge 
what a death-in-life such an existence 
must have been to Shelley, whose quick 
and emotional disposition the more 
eagerly craved rest and sympathy at 
home, in proportion to the strength of 
bis declared hostility against the outer 
world. " In looking back to this 
marriage," says his cousin and bio- 
grapher, Medwin, " it is surprising, 
not that it should have ended in a 
separation, but that for so long a 
time he should have continued to 
drag on a chain, every link of which 
was a protraction of torture." 


It might have been foretold that a 
girl who always looked " as if she had 
just that moment stepped out of a 
glass case'' could not be a fit com- 
panion for one whose mind was set on 
wholly other objects than personal 
elegance; but though Shelley, as I 
have said, must himself bear the blame 
of having married one whom he did 
not love, and whose character he had 
not rightly fathomed, he might be par- 
doned for not foreseeing that Harriet's 
easy good temper would be replaced, 
as the years went on, by hardness and 
cold insensibility, which would not only 
cause a division between husband and 
wife, but would render vain all attempts 
at reconciliation. For, through all the 
conflicting and perplexing records of 


this period of Shelley's life, one fact 
is distinctly evident, that it was Har riet 
and not Shelley who took up an atti- 
tude of deliberate coldness and es- 

When we seek to go a step further, 
and to inquire into the precise origin 
of the discord, and the reason of 
Harriet's inflexibility, we find that the 
whole subject is shrouded in a mystery, 
which none of Shelley's biographers 
have been able, or willing, to dispel. 
*' We who bear his name," wrote the 
authoress of the " Shelley Memorials," 
in 1859, **we who bear his name, and 
are of his family, have in our possession 
papers written by his own hand, which 
in after years may make the story of his 
life complete, and which few now living, 


except Shelley's own children, have 
ever perused/' We look in vain for 
these papers in the latest and most 
authentic " Life of Shelley," which has 
been generally understood to be the 
full and final account of his career — 
the only clue to the mystery which is 
there indicated being the statement 
that Shelley, rightly or wrongly, was 
firmly convinced that Harriet had been 
unfaithful to him at this time. 

It so happens, however, that in his 
poem of " Julian and Maddalo," Shelley 
himself left a sketch of a character, — 
that of a deserted and distracted lover, 
— which was certainly meant to be an 
idealized record of this passage of his 
life, though the true import of the 
poem has been generally overlooked. 


The impression conveyed by the poe- 
tical autobiography of "Julian and 

Maddalo " is that the gradual aliena- 
tion of Shelley's affections from his 
wife was due— or at any rate was sup- 
posed by the writer to be due— to some 
coarse tendency, some nloral grossness, 
in Harriet's character, which shocked 
and outraged Shelley's finer suscepti- 
bilities. If there be any truth in this 
view of the case, we can well believe 
that the influence of the ever-present 
Eliza Westbrook was not exercised with 
the object of allaying the dissensions 
that had now sprung up between her 
sister and her sister's husband. 

This, then, was Shelley's position in 
the early months of 1814. There was 
a hopeless lack of sympathy between 


himself and his wife, but the barrier 
that separated them was not of his 
making; for, however great the mea- 
sure of his folly in originally allowing 
himself to be entrapped into the 
marriage, his conscience acquitted him 
of any guilt in his after-conduct to- 
wards Harriet, who had coldly rejected 
his oflFers of renewed affection. What, 
then, was it his duty to do ? Was he 
to sacrifice happiness to respectability, 
and drag on a weary existence until 
death should relieve him or his wife 
from their loveless and hypocritical 
union ? In the opinion of the orthodox 
worid he was bound to do this ; but in 
his own opinion, as expressed in his 
Notes to "Queen Mab," the opposite 
course was far more in accordance with 


true morality, " A husband and wife," 
he had written, "ought to continue so 
long united as they love each other." 

Conscientiously holding these views, 
he looked upon his marriage with 
Harriet as already at an end. To his 
protection, support, and assistance she 
had still, and would always have, a 
right; but their closer union must 
henceforth be as irrevocably dissolved 
as if the divorce court had pronounced 
a formal decree of judicial separation. 

It was at this critical period of his 
affairs that Shelley first became ac- 
quainted with the noble woman whose 
life and fortunes were soon to be in- 
dissolubly blended with his own. We 
have seen how he sought relief from 
the dull monotony of his domestic 


troubles in the pleasant conversation 
and congenial society of his friends at 
Bracknell and elsewhere — one of the 
houses at which he was always sure of 
a kindly welcome being that of William 
Godwin, who was now carrying on the 
trade of a bookseller in Skinner Street, 
Godwin himself had long exercised a 
moderating and, on the whole, beneficial 
influence on the eager mind of his 
youthful pupil and admirer, while on 
his part Shelley was doing his best to 
assist the veteran philosopher in the 
vV^ pecuniary embarrassments ^hich were 
' already embittering his declining years ; 
they were thus drawn somewhat closely 
together when Shelley was in London 
in the early part of 1,814. 

In this way an intimacy arose be* 


tween Shelley and Mary Godwin, then 
in her seventeenth year, the daughter 
of the famous Mary WoUstonecraft, 
Godwin's first wife ; and the friendship 
thus formed soon ripened into love — a 
love, be it remembered, which was 
not the cause but the consequence of 
Shelley's estrangement from Harriet. 

Before passing judgment on Shelley 
and Mary for their conduct in this 
matter, it would be well if orthodox 
moralists would bring themselves to 
view what happened from the stand- 
point of those whom they condemn, 
and to remember that both Shelley and 
Mary, and, indeed, Harriet also, be- 
longed to that not inconsiderable class of 
social heretics who see in the marriage- 
bond nothing more than a conventional 


institution, devoid alike of moral sanc- 
tity and true utility. Shelley's union 
with Harriet being practically, if not 
legally, at an end, neither he nor Mary 
could reasonably be blamed for not 
conforming to a standard of morality 
from which they conscientiously and 
emphatically dissented. It was in no 
reckless or immoral spirit, but with a 
/ / deep and earnest conviction of the es- 
j / sential innocence and rightness of their 
act, that they plighted their love as they 
stood by Mary WoUstonecraft's grave, 
in the old St. Pancras' churchyard. As 
the spot was full of sacred memories, 
so the vow there made was full of 
solemn and loyal intent. 

On the 28th of July, some two or 
three weeks after this event, Shelley 


and Mary left England for the Conti- 
nent. About the middle of the pre- 
ceding month Harriet had gone to live 
with her father and sister at Bath ; and 
before his departure from England, 
Shelley, after a final interview, had 
been careful to provide that she should 
be in no want of money. If there was 
one crime of which he was by his very 
nature absolutely and specially incap- 
able, it was that of a cruel and selfish 
desertion ; and he therefore appears to 
have had no sort of apprehension that 
in thus gravely, deliberately, and deter- 
minately separating himself from his 
wife, he would incur the odious charge 
of having wantonly deserted her. With 
all his early experience of intolerance, 
he had yet to realize that calumny is 
' — H 


the most effective weapon of religious 
bigotry, and that the social Pharisaism 
which can look complacently on mar- 
riage without love can never forget or 
forgive the far less reprehensible prac- 
tice of love without marriage. 



It was a strange party that started 
from Godwin's house in the early dawn 
of that memorable summer morning- 
Shelley, with his eager eyes and wild 
elfish appearance; Mary, even at that 
early age, calm and sedate in manner, 
and noticeable for her fair hair and 
high, tablet-like forehead; and Claire 
Clair mont, Godwin's stepdaughter, a 
lively, quick-eyed brunette, whose whim 
it was to accompany them in their 
adventures abroad, 



To baffle pursuit by driving in a fleet 
post-chaise to Dover; to cross the 
channel in an open boat, at the immi- 
nent risk of their lives; to purchase 
an ass at Paris, on which they might 
ride in turn during the onward journey 
to Switzerland; to despatch a letter 
to Harriet, with a suggestion, made 
in all sincerity and good faith, that 
she too should join the party as 
a friend and guest; to hire a 
house for six months on the shore 
of the lake of Lucerne, and then 
to leave it after two days' sojourn; to 
travel homewards in public boats and 
fragile canoes down the Reuss and the 
Rhine; and to reach England with 
scarcely a crown in their purse after 
a "six weeks' tour" — these were a 


few of the incidents in what was per- 
haps the strangest and most romantic 
honeymoon ever vouchsafed by guar- 
dian sprites to mortal lovers. 

But the months that followed this 
brief dream of happiness were, like 
those that had preceded it, a time of 
trouble and anxiety; and it may be 
doubted if Shelley could ever have 
fought his way through the dreary 
close of this most trying year, had he 
not now been cheered and supported 
by the knowledge that he possessed the 
love and sympathy of a gifted and 
intellectual woman. It was this that 
alone could compensate him for the 
changed looks of shocked and alienated 
friends; for the coldness of Godwin, 
who bitterly resented the step his 


daughter had taken in connecting 
herself with Shelley ; for the accumula- 
tion of debts, and the persecution of 
duns, which rendered life in London 
almost unbearable towards the end of 
the year; and, above all, for the pain 
of the occasional interviews with 
Harriet, whom he still continued to 
visit and advise. 

Yet, in spite of the many trials which 
had to be undergone during this period 
of probation, Shelley's alliance with 
Mary Grodwin was nothing less to him 
than the beginning of a new moral and 
intellectual life. It was not merely 
that through Mary's companionship 
and inspiration, his mind, which was 
always delicately balanced between 
hopefulness and despondency, was now 


again filled with reviving hope; but 
henceforth, partly from the experience 
gained in the past, and partly from the 
more stimulating influence of his new 
surroundings, he seemed to have en- 
tered on a larger and fuller existence, 
with wider views of man and nature, 
and more wisdom in his manner of 
promoting the doctrines which he still 
had at heart. 

Repeated failure and disappointment 
had made him realize the folly of ex- 
pecting that any immediate and tangible 
success would crown his appeal from 
Prejudice to Reason; yet his en- 
thusiasm, so far from being dimmed 
and lessened by this knowledge, was, 
on the contrary, clarified and elevated. 
Instead of trusting to the barren study 


of argumentation and dialectics, he now 
made love and humanity the watch- 
words of his faith ; and by a natural 
connection it was about this period 
that he finally abandoned the cold 
tenets of the materialistic creed, and 
adopted the ideal philosophy of Plato 
and Berkeley. Very important, too, 
in the strong impression left on 
Shelley's mind, and powerfully affect- 
ing his subsequent writings, was his 
recent visit, in the six weeks' tour, to 
the mighty mountains and rivers of 
the Continent, the first sight of the 
Alps and the Rhine being to him a 
new revelation of the holiness and 
majesty of Nature. 

With the opening of the new year, 
Shelley was relieved from the pressing. 


pecuniary cares by which he had so 
long been harassed. At the death of 
his grandfather, old Sir Bysshe, on 
January 6th, 1815, he became the 
immediate heir to the estates, and 
henceforth received an annual income 
of £1000. He had, moreover, the 
option of largely increasing the 
property to which he would succeed 
on his father's death, if he were now 
willing to agree to a perpetual entail; 
but he refused this, as he had refused 
a similar offer three years previously, 
on the ground that he could not fairly 
and conscientiously entail so great a 
'* command over labour " on those who 
might use the power thus given for 
purposes of injustice or oppression. 
In the summer and autumn of 1815 


we see him settled awhile at Bishops- 
gate, on the border of Windsor Forest, 
and within reach of the Thames, 
where he enjoyed a period of greater 
happiness and tranquillity than had 
fallen to his lot for a long time past; 
and accordingly he now began once 
more to devote himself to literary 
work. His poem "Alastor," written 
under the oaks of Windsor Forest, 
was the first proof that he undoubtedly 
possessed the essential qualities of a 
great poet; he was also busy about 
this time with a series of prose writ- 
ings, of which the "Essay on Christi- 
anity" is the most important, as 
showing the profound respect felt for 
the teaching of Christ by one who 
believed the spirit of established Chris- 


tianity to be wholly at variance with 
that of its founder. N 

But it is noticeable that a tone of 
pensive melancholy pervades most of 
Shelley's writings of this date; his 
sufferings, physical and mental, had 
seriously undermined his health, and 
in the eariy months of this year 
the danger of consumption had com- 
pelled him to look death closely in 
the face. A sorrowful reminiscence, 
a legacy of despondency left from 
past calamities, was thus found to 
give a slightly morbid tinge to work 
which was in reality done under 
circumstances of unusual restfulness 
and prosperity; but this dejection 
was soon to pass away, together 
with the particular symptoms of ill- 


health in which it originated. The 
close of Shelley's and Mary's stay at 
Bishopsgate was made memorable to 
them by the birth of their son William, 
the "delightful child" to whom some 
of Shelley's most beautiful and pathetic 
verses were afterwards dedicated. 

At the approach of the next summer, 
Shelley and Mary, again accompanied 
by Claire Clairmont, started on a second 
visit to Switzerland, and there spent 
■*M>hree months in the neighbourhood of 
Geneva. Here they became closely 
associated with Byron, with whom 
Claire, unknown to her friends, had 
already formed an acquaintance in 
London during the previous year; and 
the two poets, unlike in all else, but 
sworn allies in their revolt against the 


formalities of society, spent many long 
days together in the region which 
Rousseau's genius had immortalized. 
Water- excursions by day, in which 
Shelley gratified to the full that 
passion for boating which he had 
already acquired on the Thames, and 
the telling of ghost-stories by night, 
from which Mary Shelley's novel, 

" Frankenstein," originated, made the 

^^^^— I"'— — ■ - "- — -. -> 

months pass pleasantly enough until 
their return to England in September. 

Then again, as after their six weeks' 
tour in 1814, there awaited them a 
time of sorrow and calamity, two 
heavy blows falling in rapid succession. 
The first of these was the suicide of 
Fanny Imlay (known as Fanny Godwin 
in her step-father's household), the 


daughter of Mary WoUstonecraft by 
a previous marriage, and therefore the 
half-sister of Mary Shelley. Her 
gentle and unselfish disposition had 
endeared her greatly to Shelley as well 
as to Mary, and her death was long 
a severe grief to him, not to be 
obliterated by the still heavier shock 
that was to follow. *'My airy elf, 
how unlucky you are!" wrote Mary 
to Shelley, during a brief absence in 
December of the same year; but the 
writer of these words little knew that 
Fanny's suicide had already been 
followed by that of Harriet Shelley. 
At the very time when Shelley was 
vainly searching for her in London, 
Harriet had drowned herself in the 
Serpentine, thus realizing in sad earnest 


a suicidal purpose of which she had 
been iu the habit of speaking Hgbttj 
in her youthful days. 

It was a dark and terrible eodmg lo 
that ill-omened marriage^ for th<6: eom^ 
mencement of which Shellej wa^g^ irj 
part, though not wholly, to hlsaae ; bar. 
unless we are prepared to hrAd that aa 
acquiescence in one rash and foolhh 
act involves a resportsibility fior trjuer 
whole train of conseqFienc€:S that ne^ilt^ 
therefrom, we cannot fix any guilt on 
Shelley's head for the eonelosion of the 
tragedy. In the whole matter of the 
separaDon from Harriet he had acted 
oooseientiously, deliberately, and with 
doe consideration for Harriet's interests 
as wen as his own. He had sacrificed 
his own wish to keep the two children. 


out of deference to her earnest entreaty 
that they should be left with her; he 
had visited her from time to time, and 
made her an ample pecuniary provision. 
Cruelly, then, though he felt the shock 
of this death, which, as Leigh Hunt has 
recorded, ** tore his being to pieces," he 
yet had the consolation of knowing that 
his own conscience acquitted him of 
any sense of guilt. " I am innocent," 
he solemnly declared in a letter written 
four years later, " of ill either done or 
intended; the consequences you allude 
to flowed in no respect from me." 

It is obvious that the maxim de 
mortuis nil nisi bonum has been 
stretched to the utmost in the case of 
Harriet Shelley, and that there has been 
too much disposition on the part of 


Shelley's biographers to overlook the 
truth, well stated by De Quincey, that 
" on this principle, in cases innumerable, 
tenderness to the dead would become 
the ground of cruel injustice to the 
living; nay, the maxim would con- 
tinually counterwork itself, for too 
inexorable a forbearance with regard 
to one dead person would oftentimes 
effectually close the door to the vindica- 
tion of another." 

Let Shelley take his just share of the 
blame, whatever that may be; but let 
us not be so hypocritical as to affect 
to believe that the conduct of Harriet 
after the separation has no bearing on 
the vexed question as to her conduct 
before it. Pity we must all feel for her 
sad fate ; but it cannot be denied that 



the adverse view of her character, which 
is suggested by Shelley's veiled re- 
ferences to the cause of the separation, 
and by his conviction of her unfaithful- 
ness, receives additional significance 
from the ascertained fact that she sank 
into a degraded and vicious way of 
living at a time when she was quite^ 
secure from^^ecuniary want, when she 
had her children with her, and could 
count on the protection of both her 
husband and her father. 

It was owing to the remorse that 
sprang from this self-inflicted degrada- 
tion, and the knowledge that her 
father's doors would henceforth be 
closed against her, that, in a fit of 
desperation, she put an end to her life. 
So good an opportunity for blasting the 


reputation of one who was in revolt 
against society was not likely to be 
lost. Malignant slanders were soon 
afloat, and sedulously propagated by 
respectable and venerable calumniators. 
Hence arose the lying fiction, long pre- 
valent and not yet wholly extinct, that 
Shelley, by his cruel desertion and 
shameless immorality, had caused the 
death of an innocent and affectionate 



On the outskirts of the town of Great 
Mario w there is a small, quaint-looking 
house, with an inscription on the outer 
wall which commemorates the fact that 
Percy Bysshe Shelley there " lived and 
wrote." It is further recorded that 
Shelley was there visited by Lord 
Byrou, and that the mural tablet was 
erected " at the instance of Sir William 
Robert Clayton, Bart. ; " but of these 
two statements the former must be 
regarded as inaccurate, and the latter 



as superfluous. Here, however, during 
tlie greater part of the year 1817, lived 
Shelley and Mary, with their son 
William, and here another child, a 
daughter, was bom in September, 
while Claire Clairmont, with her infant 
daughter, AUegra, of whom Byron was 
the father, was again an inmate of their 

Shelley and Mary had been married 
at the close of the preceding year, and 
though their own union of hearts had 
long before been complete, yet the 
ceremony, " so magical in its effects," 
as Shelley wrote of it, was fortunately 
instrumental in bringing about a re- 
conciliation with Godwin and other 
alienated friends. Now at last Shelley 
was able to settle down to something 


like an uninterrupted spell of thinking, 
reading, and writing ; and the time 
spent at Marlow is therefore found to 
be one of the most interesting and im- 
portant periods of his life, a year of 
mingled happiness and sorrow, made 
memorable by the acquisition of life- 
long friendships and the creation of 
great and characteristic works in poetry 
and prose. The situation and nature of 
his new home were altogether favour- 
able to the peculiarities of his mind and 
genius ; for living close to the best 
scenery of the Thames, and yet within 
easy reach of London, he had always 
the choice of complete solitude or con- 
genial conversation. At no other time 
did he enjoy such free scope for carry- 
ing into efEect his ideals of private life, 


aud for giving expression to his 
opinions on public policy. He was 
never more active, more enthusiastic — 
in a word, more thoroughly himself — 
than during this final and crowning 
year of his residence in England. 

Early in March, 1817, the good people 
of Marlow were somewhat scandalized by 
the news that Albion House was now 
tenanted by a strange family, the mem- 
bers of which were rumoured to have 
announced an impious determination 
never to go to church or mix in the 
ordinary local society. All sorts of un- 
favourable reports were quickly current 
respecting Mr. Shelley's antecedents, 
and these were in great measure con- 
firmed, shortly after his arrival, by the 
statement that, at the instance of the 


relatives of his former wife, he had just 
been deprived of the custody of her two 
children, no less eminent a personage 
than Lord Chancellor Bldon having 
declared Mr. Shelley's conduct to have 
been so "highly immoral" as to in- 
capacitate him for the duty of taking 
charge of his own offspring. Much 
interest was accordingly excited in the 
quiet little town by the advent of this 
dangerous and unprincipled young man, 
and some surprise was doubtless ex- 
pressed that such-respectable inhabitants 
as Mr. Peacock and Mr. Madocks should 
tolerate the acquaintance of one who, as 
it was sometimes darkly whispered, had 
come to Marlow with the purpose of 
keeping a seraglio. 

The appearance, however, of the new- 


comer, odd though it was, did not con- 
vey the impression of any extreme 
wickedness or depravity to those who 
marked him as he hurriedly returned, 
bare-throated and sometimes bare- 
headed, from his expeditions to wood 
or river; indeed, there were some who 
descried a singular and striking be- 
nignity in his firm yet gentle bearing, 
and eyes bright and wild as those of a 
deer. The lady, too, by whom he was 
often accompanied, seemed fair, and 
innocent and young. Then again, his 
extreme kindness to the distressed lace- 
makers of Marlow and his instant 
generosity to those who claimed his 
help soon created a strong reaction in his 
favour — at any rate, among the poorer 
classes of the town. It was felt that a 


gentleman who had been seen to come 
home bare-footed, having given his 
shoes to a poor woman whom he had 
met limping along the stony road, 
could not be altogether wicked, however 
gravely the parson might shake his 
head. " Every spot is sacred that he 
visited," — so wrote an inhabitant of 
Marlow forty years after Shelley's 
sojourn there, and the words are a 
worthy testimony to the utter unselfish- 
ness of his disposition and the lasting 
impression left by his frank and 
gracious benevolence. 

The decision of Lord Bldon in the 
Chancery suit by which the Westbrooks 
had succeeded in depriving Shelley of 
the care of his daughter lanthe and 
his son Charles, was, perhaps, the 


heaviest blow of all that Shelley had 
to bear on account of his heretical 
opinions. It was a subject on which he 
could not easily trust himself to speak 
even to his nearest and dearest friends. 
But when the judgment of the court 
had been delivered, and the wretched 
suspense of the preceding weeks was at 
an end, he sought and found the best 
and surest consolation in those literary 
labours to which he was ever eager to 
devote himself, forgetting his private 
sorrows in his anxiety for the welfare 
of a cause. It was foreseen by Shelley, 
with a sagacity of political instinct 
which deserves to be clearly recognised 
at the present day, that the two great 
questions which must, above all others, 
engage the earnest attention of all 


lovers of liberty, were the improvement 
of the condition of the working classes 
and the social and intellectual emancipa- 
tion of women. 

The state of the English poor during 
the early years of the nineteenth century, 
and especially after the conclusion of 
the war in 1815, was in many ways 
pitiable, and Shelley, with his keen 
sympathies, clear intellect, and strong 
sense of justice, was the last man to 
shut his eyes to the true causes of 
social inequality and distress, as several 
anecdotes recorded by Hogg and other 
friends testify very distinctly. When 
he adopted the socialistic doctrines of 
Godwin's " Political Justice," and gave 
new expi'ession to the same in his own 
" Notes to Queen Mab," he did this in 


no spirit of mere boyish bravado, but 
with a clear conviction from which 
he never afterwards swerved, although 
these heterodox views on the subject 
of property obtained him more ill-will, 
according to one of his biographers, 
than any other of his heresies. 

In the two political pamphlets which 
he published during his residence at 
Marlow he now reverted to these social 
topics of which he had treated in 
" Queen Mab,'* and though he had long 
outgrown those errors of style from 
which his youthful poem was not wholly 
free, he could conscientiously assert that 
his opinions had been strengthened 
and confirmed by the experience that 
the years had brought him. However 
statesmen might temporize and learned 


economists split straws in their par- 
tiality for the established order of 
society, one writer, at any rate, the 
despised and calumniated " Hermit of 
Marlow," would go to the root of the 
matter in his plea for justice and free- 
dom. " I put the thing," he wrote, " in 
its simplest and most intelligible shape. 
/ The labourer — he that tills the ground 


and manufactures cloth — is the man who 
has to provide, out of what he would 
bring home to his wife and children, 
for the luxuries and comforts of those 
whose claims are represented by an 
annuity of forty-four millions a year 
levied upon the English nation." 

This fact, according to the upshot of 
Shelley's teaching, is the key to the 
right understanding of the great social 


problem, and until this fact is recognised 
and clearly faced, no true solution will 
be found. But, while thus insisting on 
the supreme importance of the question 
of property, Shelley was in other re- 
spects an ardent upholder of the or- 
dinary programme of political reform 
then advocated by Leigh Hunt and the 
Radical party of the day; though he 
was strongly convinced of the necessity 
of proceeding with caution, and asserted 
in these same Marlow pamphlets that 
the enfranchisement of the people and 
the consequent abolition of aristocracy 
must be carried out by a prudent and 
gradual process of change. 

It was in poetry, however, and not 
in prose, that Shelley's chief work at 
Marlow was effected. For now it was 


that he wrote his " Laon and Cythna," 
that great epic of free thought and free 
love, in which the revolutionary opinions 
advanced in " Queen Mab '* were further 
developed, and the doctrine of human 
perfectibility, which Shelley had adopted 
from Godwin, was set forth in narrative 
and poetical form. In the character of 
Cythna, the heroine of the story, we 
have Shelley's ideal of woman as she 
might be in the perfect state — the free, 
equal, fearless companion of man, no 
longer the slave of religious and con- 
ventional superstitions, but saving and 
cherishing all that is innocent and beau- 
tiful in life by her gospel-message of 
liberty and redeeming love. 

It is no wonder that Shelley, with his 
lofty conception of the purity of woman's 


nature and the holiness of her mission, 
should have been, by a sort of magnetic 
attraction, an object of interest and 
affection to all women with whom he 
became acquainted. We are told by 
Hogg, who, it may be surmised, was 
the more impressed by the treatment 
Shelley received, owing to the contrast 
afforded by his own experiences, that, 
fjpom the moment the poet entered a 
house, he excited the liveliest and 
warmest solicitude of all female in- 
mates from the highest to the lowest, 
and that he was " often called by names 
of endearment as Ariel, Oberon, and 
spoken of by the ladies of his acquaint- 
ance as the Elfin King, the King of 
Faery, and under other affectionate 



And it is certain that the elfish 
traits in Shelley's youthful character 
had not been obliterated by the maturer 
qualities of philanthropist and poet; 
the hermit of Marlow was still essen- 
tially the same person as the elf-child 
of Field Place. "He took strange 
caprices," says the same friend and 
biographer, " unfounded frights and 
dislikes, vain apprehensions and panic 
terrors, and therefore he absented him- 
self from formal and sacred engage- 
ments. He was unconscious and ob- 
livious of times, places, persons, and 
seasons; and falling into some poetic 
vision, some day-dream, he quickly and 
completely forgot all that he had re- 
peatedly and solemnly promised ; or he 
;ran away after some object of imaginary 


urgency and importance, which suddenly 
came into his head, setting ofE in vain 
pursuit of it, he knew not whither." 
At Marlow he would sometimes play- 
fully account for these strange absences 

and disappearances by saying that he 


had been raising the devil in Bisham 
woods; and the simple country folk 
might be pardoned for believing that 
there was something unearthly about 
this solitary haunter of waters and 
woodland places, when even his intimate 
friends felt a strong suspicion that he 
"came from the planet Mercury," or 
some other mysterious quarter. 

It was known, too, that to escape an 
unwelcome visitor, or any of the weari- 
some ordinances of what mortals call 
"society," he did not hesitate to leap 


through an open window, or to sit a 
whole day with barricaded doors ; since, 
as he himself expressed it, he was not 
"wretch enough" to tolerate a mere 
acquaintance. But there was some 
society of which he never tired : that 
of children, for instance, with whom he 
was always and instantly in sympathy ; 
and especially that of the few congenial 
and intellectual friends who frequently 
visited him. First and foremost among 
these was the warm-hearted, noble- 
minded Leigh Hunt, who was linked to 
Shelley by a close bond of true and 
lasting friendship ; Peacock, Hogg, and 
Godwin were also visitors at Marlow; 
while in Leigh Hunt's house at Hamp- 
stead ^ Shelley became acquainted with 
Hazlitt, Keats, and Horace Smith, for 


the last-named of. wliom he conceived 
a sincere aflFection. 

Yet, dear as his friends were, there 
were times when, like all other men of 
great and original genius, Shelley felt 
a sense of loneliness and despondency. 
*' I know not," he wrote in his essay on 
Love, " the internal constitution of other 
men, I see that in some external attri- 
butes they resemble me ; but when, mis- 
led by that appearance, I have thought 
to appeal to something in common, and 
unburthen my inmost soul to them, I 
have found my language misunderstood, 
like one in a distant and savage land." 
It had been the same at Eton, at Ox- 
ford, and during the period of his first 
marriage, and it was destined to be the 
same to the end of his life. An Ariel 


cannot readily be comprehended by or- 
dinary mortals, even though he preach 
the gospel of love, and live according 
to its strictest precepts. 

For it should be clearly noted, that 
Shelley gave expression to his doctrines 
in practice and not only in theory, being 
strongly of opinion that individual self- 
reform is no less necessary than the 
abolition of legalized injustice. Sim- 
plicity of living was an essential feature 
of the creed which asserted that "all 
men are called to participate in the 
community of nature's gifts." To rise 
early ; to spend the mornings in study, 
and the evenings in social converse ; to 
write his poem as he drifted in his boat, 
or sat in some leafy haunt ; to walk now 
and then in Peacock's company from 


Marlow to London, a distance of over 
thirty miles; to live frugally and 
healthily on a diet from which flesh 
and wine were excluded — such was 
Shelley's course of life during the year 
he spent at Marlow, and it seems a 
matter for regret that his stay there 
could not have been further prolonged. 

But towards the end of 1817 a variety 
of reasons determined Shelley and Mary 
to make another change of residence 
early in the new year. The chief cause 
of their desertion of a home which they 
had once thought would be permanent, 
was probably their fear that their chil- 
dren, William and Clara, might be taken 
from them by another high-handed act 
of despotic bigotry ; for they had learnt 
by bitter experience that " in this extra- 



ordinary country/' as Leigh Hunt ex- 
pressed it, " any man's children may be 
taken from him to-morrow, who holds 
a different opinion from the Lord 
Chancellor in faith and morals." ' They 
desired also to migrate to a warmer 
climate for the sake of Shelley's health, 
and by withdrawing for a time to a 
more secluded region, to be able to 
curtail their expenses, which had been 
rendered heavy of late by the too 
numerous loans to friends an d rela- 
Jives ; while a further object was to aid 
Claire Clairmont in taking her child 
Allegra to Byron. 

After much consideration, it was de- 
cided that all these conditions would 
be best fulfilled by their undertaking a 
journey to Italy. 



At Venice, in the autumn of 1818, two 
English poets, each of whom oflFered 
very striking points of contrast to the 
other in appearance, character, opinions, 
and mode of life, were spending much 
time together in daily conversations and 
rides along the sandy flat of the Lido. 
These poets were Byron and Shelley, 
the former of whom was then living in 
a palace on the Grand Canal, while the 
latter was on a visit to Venice, having 
preceded his wife in their wanderings 



through Northern Italy. Both poets 
were exiles from their native land on 
account of their insults to the great 
social fetich of Eespectability, but ex- 
cept for this bond of union there was 
little in common between them — the 
one a professed cynic, a votary of pride, 
scepticism, and libertinism; the other 
an enthusiastic believer in the perfecti- 
bility of man and the gospel of purity, 
gentleness, and love. 

" In the forehead and head of Byron," 
says the author of a description which 
has been often and deservedly quoted, 
" there was a more massive power and 
breadth ; Shelley's had a smooth, arched, 
spiritual expression ; wrinkles there 
seemed none on his brow ; .it was as if 
perpetual youth had there dropped its 


freshness. Byron's eye seemed the 
focus of lust and pride; Shelley's 
was mild, pensive, fixed on you, but 
seeing through the mist of its own 
idealism. Defiance curled Byron's nos- 
tril, and sensuality steeped his full, 
large lips; the lower portions of 
Shelley's face were frail, feminine, and 
flexible. Byron's head was turned up- 
wards, as if, having proudly risen above 
his contemporaries, he were daring to 
claim kindred or to demand a contest 
with a superior order of beings ; Shelley's 
was half bent in reverence and humility 
before some vast vision seen by his eye 
alone. In the portrait of Byron, taken 
at the age of nineteen, you see the un- 
natural age of premature passion; his 
hair is grey, his dress is youthful, but 


his face is old. In Shelley you see the 
eternal child, none the less because the 
hair is grey, and that sorrow seems half 
his immortality." 

It might well have been thought that 
Byron, the haughty misanthrope and 
man of the world, would scorn the 
gentle and disinterested idealist whose 
creed must have seemed to him so 
strange and unintelligible. But this 
was not the case; for Byron had dis- 
covered two years before in Switzerland 
what he now again realized at Venice, 
that there was a strength and sincerity 
in Shelley's nature, — " genius joined to 
simplicity " was his own expression, — 
which was quite unlike anything he had 
seen in other men, and against which 
he felt neither inclination nor power to 


employ the shafts of ill-natured sarcasm 
or invective. It was not Byron's habit 
to be too sparing or scrupulous in his 
remarks on friend or foe ; but it is said 
that against Shelley he never uttered a 
word of detractation ; while in their 
personal intercourse he treated his 
opinion with marked and unusual de- 
ference. It was a notable tribute of 
admiration and respect, paid almost 
unconsciously by a proud and faulty 
spirit to one whom he secretly and in- 
stinctively felt to be his own superior, 
whatever might be the verdict of con- 
temporary opinion. " If people only 
appreciated Shelley, where should / 
be?" was Byron's remark; and the 
words spoken playfully at the time of 
utterance have much significance when 


looked back to by later generations of 

With the exception of this visit to 
Byron, of which " Julian and Maddalo " 
was the poetical record, Shelley's first 
year in Italy was a time of comparative 
loneliness and temporary cessation from 
literary labour. Accompanied by Mary 
and Claire, whose daughter Allegra was 
transferred to Byron's charge soon after 
their arrival in Italy, he visited Milan, 
Leghorn, Lucca, Rome, Naples, and 
other cities, but found no congenial 
resting-place in which to make a home 
such as that he had made at Marlow. 
The winter, which was spent at Naples, 
left Shelley in a state of unusual de- 
jection and despondency. His daughter 
Clara had died in the preceding autumn; 


and at Naples there died also, if report 
be true, a certain mysterious and en- 
amoured lady, who had made avowal 
of her love for the author of "Queen 
Mab '* on the eve of his departure for 
Switzerland in 1816, and had since fol- 
lowed him from place to place with 
faithful but hopeless affection. 

Such anecdotes as this, amounting to 
quite a list of secret perils, attempted 
assassinations, strange occurrences, and 
supernatural portents, of which the 
authenticity can neither be proved nor 
disproved, must be classed among the 
apocrypha rather than the history of 
Shelley's life ; but they at least indicate 
the sense of romance with which that 
Ufe was surrounded, and the inclination 
of Shelley's intimate friends to regard 


him as an incomprehensible being, 
scarcely subject to the usual laws of 
space and time, of whom many things 
might be credited which are held to be 
incredible in the case of. ordinary men. 

There was, unhappily, no doubt about 
the reality of the blow which overtook 
Shelley and Mary on their visit to Rome 
in the following year; for in the early 
summer their only remaining child, 
William, died of a fever. This crown- 
ing sorrow, coming at a time when 
Shelley regarded himself, not without 
reason, as " hunted by calamity," " an 
exile and a Pariah," who could name^ 
at the most^five individuals to whom he 
did not appear a prodigy of crime, might 
well have been expected to put a final 
close to all literary hopes and aspira- 


tions. But it was not so ; for the same 
indomitable spirit which had carried him 
through the chancery suit, by which he 
had suffered an even heavier loss — the 
loss inflicted by the tyranny of man 
being more grievous than that dealt by 
the mysterious providence of nature — 
did not desert him now. The life in 
Italy, lonely, unhappy, almost desultory 
though it had hitherto been, was never- 
theless acting like the summer warmth 
to ripen and bring to maturity the 
thoughts that were germinating in his 
mind ; and the year 1819 accordingly 
witnessed the creation of his most 
characteristic and triumphant works. 
It was not as an idle tourist that Shelley 
had become familiar with the aspect of 
Alps and Apennines, with the Italian 



sky and the Italian waters, and with 
the glories of such cities as Milan, 
Venice, Naples, and Borne; the land 
of ideal scenery could not fail to foster 
and stimulate the most idealistic genius 
with which poet was ever endowed. 

Now were written the best and most 
vivid of the letters from Italy, which, 
for richness of colour, combined with 
perfect grace and naturalness of ex- 
pression, have never been surpassed by 
those of any Englishman who has taken 
up his pen in a foreign land to describe 
what he saw and felt; now, too, was 
written the great tragedy of " The 
Oenci," pre-eminently the finest and 
most remarkable of all modern English 
dramas. But the chief production of 
this period, and, indeed, of Shelley's 


manhood, was the lyrical drama entitled 
"Prometheus Unbound/' that splendid 
vision of the ultimate emancipation of 
humanity from the oppression of cus- 
tom ; the third and crowning part of 
that glorious trinity of poems which 
Shelley devoted to the purpose of 
showing how the world may be re- 
generated by the power of love. The 
sonorous rhetoric of " Queen Mab," and 
the polemic narrative of " Laon and 
Oythna, " were now succeeded and 
perfected by the solemn idealistic 
harmonies of " Prometheus Unbound." 

There is a legend told of one of 
Shelley's ancestors, which may perhaps 
be considered as allegorical and pre- 
figurative of this great humanitarian 
trilogy. " Sir Guyon de Shelley," 


says Hogg, "one of the most famous 
of the Paladins, carried about with him 
at all times three conchs, fastened to 
the inside of his shield, tipt respectively 
with brass, with silver, and with gold. 
When he blew the first shell, all giants, 
however huge, fled before him. When 
he put the second to his lips, all 
spells were broken, all enchantments 
dissolved ; and when he made the third 
conch, the golden one, vocal, the law of 
God was immediately exalted, and the 
law of the devil annulled and abrogated, 
wherever the potent sound reached." 

Was Shelley thinking of this golden 
conch when he described, in his great 
poem, that " mystic shell " from which 
is sounded the trumpet-blast of uni- 
versal freedom? For truly such a 


trampet-blast, to those who have ears 
to hear and hearts to nnderstand it, may 
be said to ring through every passage 
of " Prometheus Unbound." 

It was in the autumn of this same 
year, after the completion of his great 
work, that Shelley once more reverted 
to those political subjects of which he 
had treated in his Marlow pamphlets, 
deserting, to quote his own words, 
** the odorous gardens of literature, to 
journey across the great sandy desert 
of politics." The time was an anxious 
and critical one, the bitter class-strife 
under which England had long been 
suffering having culminated on August 
16th in the famous " Peterloo " mas- 
sacre, when the soldiers fired on the 
unarmed people at a reform meeting 


near Manohester — the darkest hoar, 
perhaps, of all the dark and disgraceful 
period of the Regency. Shelley, who, in 
spite of his absence in Italy, continued 
throughout to take a deep interest in 
English politics, now conceived the 
notion of writing a series of political 
poems ; but though some of these were 
written and even forwarded to Leigh 
Hunt, they were not published till many 
years afterwards; while his "Philoso- 
phical View of Reform," a prose essay 
written about the same time, is to this 
day known only by excerpts and para- 

In all these writings Shelley never 
fails to enforce what he regarded as 
the central fact of the situation, that 
it is social and not only political reform 


that is needed to avert a terrible revolu- 
tion ; wealth on the one hand and want 
on the other being the two fertile causes 
of discord and misery. In the ** Masque 
of Anarchy," that "flaming robe of 
verse," as Leigh Hunt called it, he 
distinctly asserted that real liberty 
cannot exist in a country where there 
is penury and starvation ; while in the 
stirring lines, ^* To the Men of England," 
we find the true socialist doctrine thus 
admirably and tersely expressed : — 


" The seed ye sow another reaps ; 
The wealth ye find another keeps ; 
The robes ye weave another wears ; 
The arms ye forge another bears. 



Sow seed — but let no tyrant reap ; 
Find wealth — let no impostor heap ; 
Weave robes — let not the idle wear ; \ 

Forge arms — in your defence to bear." j 


But this defence was to be, according 
to Shelley's teaching, as far as possible 
a passive and constitutional protest. 
He had imbibed Godwin's strong ab- 
horrence of any violent or revolutionary 
outbreak, and believed that it would be 
better and wiser to postpone even the 
attainment of reforms which are other- 
wise desirable, such as universal 
suffrage and the abolition of aristocracy, 
rather than to risk the stability of a 
righteous cause by any immature at- 
tempt at establishing a republic. It 
was because he aimed at a complete but 
bloodless revolution that he distrusted 
and deprecated much of the teaching 
of Cobbett and his followers, in whose 
speeches he detected too many traces 
of the spirit of revenge. 


On the other hand, he did not dis- 
guise the fact that if the aristocracy 
and plutocracy set themselves stub- 
bornly and persistently against the gra- 
dual introduction of reforms, a forcible 
reformation would eventually become 
both necessary and justifiable. "I 
imagine," he says, " that before the 
English nation shall arrive at that point 
of moral and political degradation now 
occupied by the Chinese, it will be 
necessary to appeal to an exertion of 
physical strength." The reforms to 
which Shelley pointed as most essential 
to further progress are the abolition of 
the national debt, the disbanding of the 
regular army, the institution of a sys- 
tem of freejuatice instead of the present 
legal anomalies, and the concession of 


complete liberty of thought and lan- 

During the latter half of 1819, the 
year in which these various works were 
produced, Shelley and Mary, having left 
Rome after the death of their child, were 
living at Leghorn and Florence, with 
Claire Clairmont still in their company. 
At Florence another son was born on 
November 12th, and was named Percy 
Florence. This event did much to raise 
the drooping spirits of both parents; 
and as it was felt that a more settled 
mode of life was now desirable, both 
for the infant's sake and for Shelley's 
health, which was affected by severe 
periodical attacks of spasms, the exact 
cause of which was never satisfactorily 
determined, they decided to take up 


their abode at Pisa, that place being 
especially recommended on account of 
the purity of the water. They accord- 
ingly left Florence early in the new- 
year, and journeyed by boat down the 
river Arno to Pisa. 



Pisa soon became to Shelley in Italy 
what Marlow had been to him in Eng- 
land. He came there out of health and 
out of spirits, depressed by the apparent 
failure of his literary hopes, and dis- 
gusted by the coldness or insolence of 
the Englishmen he met abroad. Hither- 
to he and Mary had been leading a 
solitary and cheerless life among people 
with whom they were wholly out of 
sympathy; being, in fact, as Shelley had 
himself described it, "like a family of 



Wahabee Arabs, pitching their tent in 
the midst of London "; but at Pisa they 
found health and repose, and gradually 
gathered around them quite a circle 
of congenial and sympathetic friends. 
They stayed there during the whole of 
1820 and 1821, with the exception of 
visits occasionally made to Leghorn, and 
more frequently to the baths of San 
Griuliano — a village distant about four 
miles; so that there was truth in 
Shelley's words when he wrote on a later 
occasion to Mary, " Our roots never 
struck so deeply as at Fisa, and the 
transplanted tree flourishes not." 

The manner of Shelley's life at Pisa 
was much the same as at Marlow. He 
was up early, and was busily engaged 
in reading or writing till two o'clock, 


with a hunch of dry bread beside him 
for food, and water for drink. Among 
his favourite books were Plato, the 
Greek dramatists, the Bible, Dante, 
Petrarch, Calderon, Goethe, Schiller, 
Shakespeare, Lord Bacon, Spinoza, 
and Milton. In the afternoon he would 
sail in his skiff on the Arno, or go off*, 
book in hand, to the solitary pine- 
forests by the shore. In the evening 
he would again read, or devote the time 
to conversing with friends. Next to 
his books and his boat, Shelley's chief 
source of delight was, perhaps, in the 
numerous plants which he and Mary 
gathered round them in their Pisan 
home, and which throve well in that 
mild and equable climate; hence, per- 
haps, originated the idea of " The Sen- 


sitive Plant," which was written at this 

To society, in the conventional sense 
of the word, he was still as averse as 
ever, finding "saloons and compli- 
ments " too great bores to be endur- 
able, and having the same horror 
as at Marlow of the wearisome and 
oflBcious visits of "idle ladies and 
gentlemen." " The few people we see," 
so he informed Medwin, " are those who 
suit us — and, I believe, nobody but us/ ' 
He was also equally disinclined to dress 
in the approved fashion of society, de- 
claring a hat to be little better than " a 
crown of thorns," and a stiff collar a 
halter. " I bear what I can, and suffer 
what I must," he groaned on one occa- 
sion, when compliance was absolutely 


demanded of hiin ; but the Ariel in his 
nature could not often be induced thus 
to shackle itself in the prison-house of 
decorous costume. 

At the beginning of their residence 
at Pisa, the only families with which 
the Shelleys were intimate were the 
Gisbornes, who had a house at Leghorn, 
and the Tighes, who lived at Pisa under 
the assumed name of Mr. and Mrs. 
Mason; in both of which households 
Shelley found enlightened views and 
opinions to a great extent in accord- 
ance with his own. Maria Gisborne, 
once the intimate friend of Godwin and 
Mary WoUstonecraft, was a woman of 
quick intelligence and keen sensibility, 
in whose society and conversation 
Shelley took much pleasure, and by 


whom he was first introduced to the 
study of the Spanish language, .and 
especially the works of Calderon. Mrs. 
Mason was a still more remarkable 
character. As a girl she had been the 
pupil of Mary WoUstonecraft, and had 
then become the wife of Lord Mount- 
cashell, from whom she was afterwards 
separated ; she was famous also as 
being an ardent democrat, although a 
countess, and a thoroughly patriotic 
Irishwoman, until all her hopes were 
dashed by the disastrous Act of Union 
in 1800. It is, no wonder that Shelley 
and Mary spent much time at the 
Masons' house at Fisa, and that they 
valued the society of such friends 
with whom they could freely exchange 
opinionfi on social and political topics 



without being looked on with aversion 
or mistrust. The correspondence with 
the Gisbornes was also a pleasure to 
Shelley, and he took great interest in 
a scheme originated by Henry Reveley, 
Mrs. Gisborne's son by a former mar- 
riage, for starting a steamer to ply 
between Leghorn and Marseilles. 

In the autumn of 1820 Claire Clair - 
mont ceased to be a regular inmate of 
Shelley's family, her misunderstandings 
with Mary rendering a change advisable. 
Sisters by connection and not by birth, 
and differing widely in character and 
temperament, Mary and Claire were not 
likely to be drawn so closely together 
as to make it possible that they should 
always share the same home. Claire was 
excitable, quick-tempered, and prone to 


take offence on slight provocation; and 
this accorded ill with Mary's calm, 
sedate, and somewhat exacting habit of 
mind. It was agreed, therefore, that 
Claire should take the post of governess 
in a family at Florence. Shelley, who 
was better able than Mary to sympathize 
with Claire, and who was full of pity for 
her on account of the harsh treatment 
she received from Byron, and the pro- 
longed separation from her child AUegra, 
did all he could to cheer and comfort 
her in her new position. Friendly cor- 
respondence was also maintained with 
Mary, and it was not long before Claire 
again visited the Shelleys at Pisa. 

We have seen how, in the preceding 
year, Shelley's interest had been specially 
aroused by the social condition of the 


English working classes ; it was now to 
be arrested by the movements in favour 
of national independence, by which the 
South of Europe was agitated in 1820 
and 1821. Spain was in arms against 
the tyranny of Ferdinand VII.; there 
was an insurrection at Naples against 
the dynasty of the Bourbons; and 
Greece was already on the point of 
proclaiming its independence of Turkish 
misrule. Shelley, the determined and 
consistent enemy of oppression in all its 
forms and phases, was, of course, deeply 
interested in the cause of these rising 
nationalities, and it was his good for- 
tune at this time to number among his 
friends some sincere and earnest-minded 
patriots. Vacca, his medical adviser at 
Pisa, was not only a skilful and eminent . 


physician, but an enthusiastic advocate 
of Italian freedom, and his professional 
visits to his friend and patient were the 
more helpful and beneficial alike to body 
and mind, since he wisely forbore to 
afflict Shelley with drugs, but was 
always ready to engage in a ^* profound 
and atheistical " conversation. Still 
more stimulating to Shelley's zeal was 
his friendship with Mavrocordato, the 
exiled Greek prince who afterwards 
became a leader in the Greek revolution, 
and who even now, under the inspira- 
tion of Shelley's prophetic spirit, was 
plotting revolt, and looking forward to 
the emancipation of his fellow-country- 

It was at this time, and under these 
circumstances, that Shelley wrote his 


splendid odes "To Liberty" and ''To 
Naples," which were followed, in 1821, 
by the still loftier and more ambitious 
" Hellas," a poetic vision of the delivery 
of Greece, which was to a great extent 
realized by the result of the war of inde- 

It is here worthy of note that Shelley's 
detestation of tyranny was not of that 
partial and intermittent kind which has 
sometimes been exhibited by certain 
English politicians and poets, who have 
sympathized warmly with the national 
aspirations of foreign and remote coun- 
tries, while they have been hostile or 
indifferent to the progress of equally 
important and equally justifiable move- 
ments at home. " There is no such 
thing as a rebellion in Ireland," he 


wrote, in 1821, "nor anything that 
looks like it. The people are indeed 
stung to madness by the oppression of 
the Irish system, and there is no such 
tiling as getting rents or taxes, even at 
the point of the bayonet, throughout the 
southern provinces. But there are no 
regular bodies of men in opposition to 
the Government, nor have the people 
any leaders." If the Irish people had 
then found leaders, as they have since 
done, there can be little question where 
Shelley's sympathies would have been. 

'* Now has descended a serener hour, 
And with inconstant fortune friends return." 

So wrote Shelley of his Marlow home 
in 1817, and the same was true to a 
still greater degree of his residence at 


Pisa. Immediately after Claire's de- 
parture to Florence, who should arrive 
at Pisa but Shelley's cousin and old 
school acquaintance, Tom Medwin, 
whom he had not seen for at least 
seven years. Since that time Medwin 
had become a captain in the cavalry, 
and bad travelled in the East; but he 
still retained his habit of dabbling in 
poetry, and was soon as eager as ever 
to resume his joint literary labours with 
the fellow-poet who had assisted him, 
nine years before, in such juvenile pro- 
ductions as " The Wandering Jew." 
After the first pleasure of the reunion 
was over, Medwin's visit was found to 
give more gratification to himself than 
to his host; for, apart from the fact 
that he fell sick and had to be nursed 


through a severe illness, during which, 
as he tells us, Shelley tended him like 
a brother, his vanity and dilettanteism 
made his prolonged society somewhat 
of an infliction. 

Yet, in spite of all his shortcomings, 
and in spite of the literary sins of 
carelessness and inaccuracy which he 
committed at a later date as a bio- 
grapher, Tom Medwin deserves to be 
kindly thought of by all students of 
Shelley's life. Vain and self-complacent 
though he was, he was profoundly im- 
pressed by the greatness of Shelley's 
genius and the nobility of his character, 
which in many ways he was better 
qualified to understand than were Hogg 
and Peacock, since he was at least free 
from the coldness and cynicism which 


made them blind to much that far less 
clever men could perceive and appre- 

Among other acquaintances who 
occasionally figured in Shelley's literary 
circle were Sgricci, the famous Italian 
improvisatorey whose unpremeditated 
utterances in the theatre at Pisa greatly 
surprised and delighted Shelley; Count 
Taaffe, an eccentric Irishman, whose 
poetical pretensions caused much amuse- 
ment to his audience; and Pacchiani, 
a disreputable professor, who made 
himself useful to the Shelleys by 
introducing them to more worthy 
friends, — above all, to Emilia Viviani, 
a name for ever immortalized in English 
literature by the rapturous verses of the 
" Epipsychidion." 


That was a strange and memorable 
meeting, in the Pisan convent of St. 
Anne, between the beautiful and 
passionate-souled Italian girl, whose 
life was wasting away under the con- 
straint of her enforced seclusion, and 
the young English poet, himself not 
unacquainted with tyranny and mis- 
fortune, who had devoted his whole 
being to the quest after that ideal 
beauty, which, if it could be embodied 
in any earthly shape, might most surely, 
he thought, be found in the form of 
womanly perfection. It seemed to 
Shelley that in Emilia Viviani he had 
at last discovered a visible image and 
personification of that divine spirit of 
love, that "dim object of his soul's 
idolatry," which he had long wor- 


shipped by intuition, and to which he 
had always appealed as the one redeem- 
ing power by which a sorrowful world 
might be regenerated. 

Nor was Emilia on her part less 
affected by the apparition of so strange 
a visitor on the gloomy threshold of her 
prison-house. "Yesterday night,'* she 
wrote to Mary, when the acquaintance 
with her English friends had ripened 
into intimacy, " Claire narrated to me 
a part of his history. His many mis- 
fortunes, - his unjust persecutions, and 
his firm and innate virtue in the midst 
of these terrible and unmerited sorrows, 
filled my heart with admiration and 
affection, and made me think, and 
perhaps not untruly, that he is not a 
human creature; he has only a human 


exterior, but the interior is all divine. 
The Being of all beings has doubt- 
less sent him to earth to accredit 
virtue, and to give an exact image of 

So thought Emilia of Shelley, and so 
thought Shelley of Emilia, and from 
this spiritualized union of hearts sprang 
the rhapsody of the " Epipsychidion," a 
poem ever sacred to the *^ esoteric few " 
for whom it was written, while, as 
Shelley remarked in his Preface, " to a 
certain other class it must ever remain 
incomprehensible . ' ' 

Years later, when Emilia had broken 
the bonds of an unhappy marriage — 
that still worse slavery for which she 
had been compelled to exchange her con- 
vent life — Med win saw her at Florence 


shortly before her death. " I might fill 
many a page," he says, "by speaking 
of the tears she shed over the memory 
of Shelley.'' 


LIFE AT PISA (continued). 

In the autumn of 1821, after a pleasant 
summer spent chiefly at the baths of 
San Giuliano, where they had a boat on 
the canal that united the streams of the 
Amo and the Serchio, the Shelleys once 
more found themselves settled at Pisa, 
again surrounded by a considerable 
circle of friends. , Claire, it is true, was 
no longer of their party; and Prince 
Mavrocordato had already sailed for 
Greece, to take part in the war of 
independence which was even now 



commencing; while Emilia Viviani had 
exchanged her Pisan conyent, or was 
just about to exchange it, for a love- 
less union with the husband whom her 
father and step-mother had selected. 
But the Masons were still living at Pisa, 
and Medwin returned there towards 
the close of the year ; more important 
actors had also begun to appear on the 

Byron, to whom Shelley had paid a 
visit at Ravenna in August, had now 
transferred his household to Pisa for 
the winter months, and the friendly 
intercourse between the two poets was 
continued, until a coldness sprang up 
between them owing to the indignation 
felt by Shelley at Byron's conduct to 
Claire, whose daughter Allegra had 


been left, against the mother's wishes, 
in a convent near Ravenna* In the 
meantime a scheme had been started 
for the establishment of a new liberal 
periodical, to which Byron, Shelley, and 
Leigh Hunt should be the joint con- 
tributors ; and in order to carry out this 
idea, it was arranged that Leigh Hunt 
should shortly set out with his family 
and take up his abode at Pisa. 

Vague hopes also floated through 
Shelley's mind of forming a still larger 
colony of select spirits in his Italian 
home; he would be like Lucifer, and 
"seduce a third part of the starry 
flock." " I wish you, and Hogg, and 
Hunt," — so he had written to Peacock in 
the preceding year, — " and I know not 
who besides, would come and spend some 



months with me together in this won- 
derful land." These wishes, however, 
were not fated to be realized. Peacock, 
who was now married, showed no 
inclination to leave his native country ; 
and though a visit from Hogg was 


talked of, it was never carried out; 
while Horace Smith, a true friend, for 
whom Shelley always had a deep re- 
gard, was compelled to give up his 
intended journey on account of his 
wife's health; and Keats, another old 
acquaintance whom Shelley had earnestly 
hoped to see at Pisa, had died at Rome 
early in 1821, a loss commemorated by 
Shelley in the splendid elegy of the 
" Adonais." 

But, as a set-off against these losses 
and disappointments, Shelley and Mary 


had lately formed the closest and most 
intimate friendship of their married life, 
a friendship which was of special value 
to Shelley as affording him the solace of 
congenial companionship in his fits of 
dejection, and stimulating that passion 
for lyric composition to which his mind 
was now chiefly directed. It was by 
Medwin that the long-promised intro- 
duction was given; but when Shelley, 
writing in 1820, before Medwin's visit 
to Pisa, had expressed the hope of 
seeing "the lovely lady'* and her 
husband on their arrival in Italy, and 
the conviction that such society would 
be of more benefit to his health than 
any medical treatment, he little thought 
how amply his words would be fulfilled. 
Who could have anticipated that the 


outcast poet, in his distant place of 
sojourn, would find a devoted friend 
and admirer in a retired lieutenant of 
the 8th Dragoons, who, sixteen years 
before this time, had been his school- 
fellow at Eton, and possibly a witness of 
the " Shelley-baits " that were then in 
vogue ; and, further, that the wife of 
this friend would be discovered by 
Shelley to be the " exact antitype " of 
the guardian spirit of his own ** Sen- 
sitive Plant " ; 

" A lady, the wonder of her kind, 
Whose form was upborne by a lovely mind." 

Yet so in reality it turned out; for 
none of Shelley's friends — Leigh Hunt 
perhaps alone excepted — proved to be 
so true and sympathetic as Edward 


Williams; while Jane, with her sweet 
voice and gentle manner, soon became 
to the Pisan company, and to Shelley in 
particular, ** a sort of embodied peace 
in the midst of their circle of tem- 
pests." They had spent the summer 
of 1821 in a village in the neighbour- 
hood of San Giuliano, where Williams 
and Shelley had been constantly to- 
gether on the waters of the Serchio 
Canal, and they were now living in the 
same house with the Shelleys at Pisa, 
opposite the mansion occupied by Byron 
on the Lung'Amo. 

Thither came also, before the winter 
was far advanced, the latest, but not 
least memorable, of Shelley's friends, a 
man "of savage, but noble, nature" — 
the tall, dark, handsome Trelawny, 


whose contempt for orthodox opinions 
and conventional habits, together with 
the adventurous sea-faring experiences 
of his early manhood, seemed to in- 
dicate a mixture in his nature of pagan 
and pirate. Like all who were brought 
into close connection with Shelley, he 
soon became conscious of the indefin- 
able charm of the poet's character and 

And, indeed, very impressive was the 
figure of this young man of twenty-nine, 
who was commonly regarded by those 
who knew him only by hearsay as a 
monster of wickedness, while those im- 
mediately around him were convinced 
that he was the gentlest and least selfish 
of men. His bent and emaciated form, 
his features, which betrayed signs of 


acute mental suffering, and his hair, 
already interspersed with grey, gave 
him at times the appearance of prema- 
ture age; yet the spirit of triumphant 
energy and indomitable youth which 
had sustained him, and still sustained 
him, through all his misfortunes, was 
never wholly absent from his counte- 
nance and demeanour. He was still 
the unwearied student, the eager con- 
troversialist, and 'the enthusiastic votary 
of liberty of speech and action ; yet he 
was subject now, perhaps, more than in 
his earlier years, to moods of despon- 
dency, which his friends regarded as 
" a melancholy too sacred to notice." 

Nor was it surprising that he was 
thus affected ; for he had, indeed, " run 
the gauntlet," to quote his own words. 


" through a hellish society of men." 
The religious, ethical, and political 
speculations which he had advanced in 
" Queen Mab," " Laon and Cythna," 
" Prometheus Unbound," and his other 
writings, had brought down on him a 
very storm of obloquy and misrepresen- 
tation ; he who above all men was filled 
with love, reverence, and natural piety 
was branded as a desperate atheist and 
wanton blasphemer; while the most 
wild and ludicrous calumnies respecting 
the conduct of his life were freely cir- 
culated and credited. 

In 1819 the Quarterly Review ^ in 
those days the great organ of religious 
intolerance and social respectability, had 
published a criticism of " Laon and 
Cythna," and the writer had not 


scrupled to lend himself to the basest 
and most reckless insinuations on 
Shelley's private character, assuming 
the tone of one who was behind the 
scenes on subjects of which it is now 
evident that he was almost entirely 
ignorant. " If we might withdraw the 
veil of private life," so wrote this pious 
and conscientious moralist, "and tell 
what we now know about him, it would 
be indeed a disgusting picture that we 
should exhibit, but it would be an un- 
answerable comment on our text ; it is 
not easy for those who read only to 
conceive how much low pride, how 
much cold selfishness, how much un- 
manly cruelty are consistent with the 
laws of this universal and lawless love." 
Ridiculous as such assertions as this 


were seen to be when the true outlines 
of Shelley's life were published, they 
constituted at the time a very grave 
annoyance and even danger, since they 
were widely disseminated and almost 
universally believed. It is said that 
Shelley, during his residence in Eng- 
land, contemplated the possibility of 
being some day condemned to the 
public pillory; and who can say that 
in that age of tyrannical prosecutions 
such a fear was altogether groundless ? 
In Italy he more than once met with 
rudeness, or even violent insult, at the 
hands of his fellow-countrymen, whose 
minds were vehemently prejudiced 
against him by the reports published 
in the press. " The calumnies, the 
sources of which are probably deeper 


than we perceive, have ultimately for 
object the depriving us of the means of 
security and subsistence/' So Shelley 
wrote to Mary from Kavenna in 1821, 
with reference to a newly discovered 
piece of slander, of which he and 
Claire were the victims; and though 
he doubtless deceived himself as to the 
existence of any concerted and pre- 
meditated attack of so serious a nature, 
he had ample reason for looking with 
some apprehension both on his present 
position and his prospects in the 

But these anxieties, keenly as they 
were sometimes felt, could not appre- 
ciably diminish Shelley's intellectual 
activity nor his delight in open-air 
pursuits. After devoting a long morn- 


ing to that love of study which even 
the least literary of his friends found 
to be infectious in his company, he 
would be off with Edward Williams to 
breast the current of the Arno in his 
light skiff, his passion for boating still 
remaining as strong as ever; or he 
would join Byron's party in riding or 
pistol-practice, his skill in the latter 
pastime giving proof that the imagin- 
ative temperament of an idealist is not 
incompatible with the possession of a 
steady eye and hand ; or he would walk 
abroad with Trelawny and other com- 
panions, all of whom he could distance 
by his long stride across broken ground. 
But his favourite haunts were the soli- 
tary sandy flats and the wild pine- 
forests that bordered the coast near 


the estuary of the Arno, where, as in 
the Bisham woods at Marlow, he could 
sit and write in complete quietude and 
seclusion, with no fear of human inter- 
ruption to the visions that passed be- 
fore him. 

Here were written some of the most 
beautiful poems in that well-known 
series of lyrics addressed to Jane 
Williams, which was the chief produc- 
tion of Shelley's genius in the winter 
of 1821-22. These lyrics, in the di- 
rectness and simplicity of their style 
and the predominance of the personal 
element, reflect faithfully the feelings 
and workings of the mind of the revo- 
lutionary enthusiast, when, after giving 
expression to the doctrines which he 
believed to be of vital importance to 


the welfare of mankind, and reaping, 
the consequent harvest of hatred and 
misrepresentation, he paused awhile in 
his " passion for reforming the world," 
and solaced himself in the sweet as- 
surance of the sympathy and friendship 
accorded him in all frankness and sin- 
cerity by a gentle and tender-hearted 



Before the commencemeiit of the hot 
weather in 1822, Shelley and Mary had 
moved their household from Pisa to the 
neighbourhood of Lerici, a small town 
on the Gulf of Spezzia, where they pur- 
posed spending the summer months. 
Edward and Jane Williams were again 
of the party, and Claire Clairmont, 
saddened now and subdued by the re- 
cent death of her child Allegra, was a 
visitor from time to time ; but Trelawny 
still remained at Pisa in Byron's com- 



pany, and with Byron Shelley henceforth 
held but little communication, being 
desirous to withdraw himself as much 
as possible from a society in which he 
had ceased to take pleasure. 

The Casa Magni, the house occupied 
by the Shelleys and Williamses, was a 
solitary and desolate-looking building, 
standing amid the wildest scenery of 
the Gulf of Spezzia, with a precipitous 
wooded slope behind it, and the sea in 
front. So close was it to the shore 
that the plash and moan of the waves 
could be heard in all the rooms, so that 
the inmates almost fancied themselves 
to be on board a ship in mid - sea, 
rather than housed in a durable dwell- 
ing. At the very door of the house, 
or even within the large unpaved en- 


trance hall, was kept the light skiff, 
made of canvas and reeds, in which 
Shelley, fond as ever of the paper 
boats of his boyhood, delighted to float 
on the waters of the bay, to the no 
slight apprehension of his friends and 
neighbours. In addition to this fragile 
toy-i)oat, he was now the possessor of 
a small undecked yacht, the Ariel^ 
lately built for him at Genoa, in which 
he and Edward Williams could sail to 
Leghorn and other neighbouring ports, 
and even meditated still longer voyages 
along the Mediterranean coasts. 

It was a pleasant change to Shelley 
— this relapse into wild, unconventional 
life, after the comparatively large de- 
mands made on his time by his ac- 
quaintances at Pisa; and he was never 



happier than when sailing in his Ariel 
under the blazing Italian sun, or listen- 
ing to the music of Jane's guitar on 
the terrace of the Casa Magni by moon- 
light. He was in no mood at this 
time for any great creative work, or 
for any close co-operation in the joint 
literary enterprise, for which Leigh 
Hunt was already on his way to meet 
Byron at Pisa. To Mary, who was in 
weak health when they came to Lerici, 
there was something ominous and dis- 
quieting in the " unearthly beauty " of 
the place, and the savage wildness of 
its scenery; but Shelley only felt the 
influence of these surroundings in a 
sense of temporary suspension and 
mental passiveness. " I stand, as it 
were, upon a precipice," — so he wrote 


in June, — " which I have ascended with 
great, and cannot descend without 
greater, peril ; and I am content if the 
heaven above me is calm for the pass- 
ing moment." 

For the moment the heaven was calm, 
but the calmness was of that kind which 
too often precedes and prognosticates 
the storm. The droughts of the early 
summer were followed by a period of 
fierce heat and sultry splendour; day 
after day the sun blazed down with un- 
abated fury on sea and land, while 
prayers were offered up in churches 
for the rain that was still withheld. 
There was something expectant and 
portentous in the season, and this, 
perhaps, awoke a similar feeling in the 
minds of the two families at the Casa 


Magni. Shelley himself, though he did 
not share Mary's vague apprehensions 
and distrust of Lerici and its wild 
neighbourhood, was haunted by strange 
visions, which surprised those to whom 
he told them at the time, and were 
afterwards recalled with increased in- 
terest and attention. On one occasion 
it was the face of his former child- 
friend, AUegra, that looked forth and 
smiled on him from the waves; on 
another it was his own wraith that 
met him, cloaked and hooded, on the 
terrace of the Casa Magni; on a third 
it was the figure of Edward Williams, 
pale and dying, that appeared to him 
in a dream, with the tidings that the 
sea was even then flooding the house 
in which they were sleeping. Nor was 


it only the vivid imagination of the 
poet that was thus disturbed, for Jane 
Williams was also troubled with the 
apparition of what she took to be 
Shelley, at times when Shelley himself 
was far absent and out of sight ; while, 
in addition to these mysterious day- 
dreams and midnight panics, there was 
always present to the minds of Shelley's 
friends the real fear that his life might 
some day be the penalty paid for the 
rashness with which he ventured on 
the element which he loved so well, 
but which had so often threatened to 
engulf him. 

But still the heaven remained calm, 
and still Shelley was happy while he 
basked in the full heat of the Italian 
summer, writing his poem on "The 


Triumpli of Life " as he cruised in his 
yacht along the picturesque windings ot 
the coast, or drifted in the little skiff 
across the land-locked waters of the 
bay. In " The Triumph of Life," which 
caught its tone and colour as much from 
the scenery and season in which it was 
written as from the transient mood of 
its author, we have a mystical descrip- 
tion of the pomp and pageantry of 
that triumphal procession in which 
the spirit of Man is dragged captive 
behind the chariot of Life. It is no 
recantation of idealism, — as some 
readers, misled by the despondent spirit 
of the poem, have been too quick to 
assume, — ^but rather, like "Alastor," a 
recognition of the price that even the 
greatest idealists must pay to reality; 


it is the cost, not the failure, of the 
ideal philosophy that is here allegori- 
cally represented; and it is probable 
that if the poem, which was left a 
fragment, had been completed by 
Shelley, it would have dealt with the 
saving influence and regenerating power 
of love. 

It is scarcely credible that Shelley 
could have given up his ideal faith 
without his friends noticing and record- 
ing so momentous a change ; indeed, the 
evidence of his biographers, so far as it 
goes, points to exactly the opposite 
conclusion. Speaking of his writings 
of the previous autumn, Mary Shelley 
afterwards recorded that his opinions 
then remained unchanged. "By those 
opinions," she said, " carried even to 


their utmost extent, he wished to live 
and die, as being in his conviction not 
only true, but such as alone would 
conduce to the moral improvement and 
happiness of mankind." But though 
Shelley's ideal faith in love and liberty 
was still unshaken, he had learnt by 
long and bitter experience that it can 
only be upheld at the cost of much 
personal error and painful collision with 
the established system of society. Now, 
as at previous periods of his life, the 
ill-will and hostility of his calumniators 
had wrought a temporary discourage- 
ment — a disposition to look on the 
darker rather than the brighter aspect 
of his fortunes, to contemplate the loss 
incurred rather than the success 


Can it be wondered that so sensi- 
tive a nature as Shelley's should at 
times have shrunk instinctively from 
further contact with this world of men 
by whom he seemed destined to be for 
ever misunderstood, even as their 
motives were to him unintelligible? 
Some months before the time of which 
I speak, his eager fancy had pictured 
the relief of retiring with those he loved 
to some solitary island, — a Greek island, 
perhaps, and part of a free Hellas re- 
deemed from the Turkish oppressor, — 
and there dwelling in blissful seclusion, 
far from the miserable jealousies and 
contagion of the world. Then the 
dream had taken the still stranger form 
of a desire to obtain political employ- 
ment at the court of some Indian 


poteDtate, sucli as those of whom he 
had heard Williams and Medwin dis- 
course; he would be an Avatar, and 
dispense his blessings in the far regions 
of the East, instead of casting his 
poems before the cold, ungrateful West, 
as "jingliDg food for the hunger of 
oblivion." And now, at Lerici, when 
the balance of the season and of his 
own destiny seemed to be hanging in 
suspense, the thought even of suicide 
was not wholly absent from his mind 
as a dim possibility of the future; at 
any rate, it comforted him to feel that 
he might possess this " golden key to 
the chamber of perpetual rest." 

Yet it must not be supposed that 
these despondent meditations had made 
Shelley morbid in his habits or less 


helpful and kindly to those around him ; 
on the contrary, he impressed those who 
saw him at this time with the belief that 
he was now physically and intellectually 
as strong and healthy as at any other 
period of his life; and the visits and 
assistance which he rendered to his 
poverty-stricken neighbours in the 
cottages near the Casa Magni were long 
gratefully remembered. The gentleness 
and benevolence of this supposed enemy 
of mankind were still written very 
legibly in his features. " If he is not 
pure and good," said a lady who had 
met Shelley at Pisa, " then there is no 
truth and goodness in this world ; " and 
even a hostile reviewer in a London 
periodical was fain to admit that it was 
** not in his outer semblance, but in his 


inner man, that the explicit demon was 
seen." To his intimate friends no 
traces of this " explicit demon '* were 
discoverable; but they did feel that 
there was something in Shelley's nature 
too subtle and spiritual to be gauged by 
the ordinary estimate of humanity ; and 
their feelings found expression in such 
nicknames as "Ariel" and "The Snake," 
as he came and went like a spirit, 
with glittering eyes and noiseless step, 
an enigma and a mystery even to those 
who were nearest and dearest to him. 
In the meantime no calmness of sky 
or sea could allay Mary Shelley's un- 
accountable but persistent anxiety. 
"During the whole of our stay at 
Lerici," — so she afterwards wrote, — " an 
intense presentiment of coming evil 


brooded over my mind, and covered 
this beautiful place and genial summer 
with the shadow of coming misery.'* 
Constitutionally prone to fits of despon- 
dency and dejection, she had meditated 
long before on the solemn and pathetic 1 
subject of the flight of time, how swiftly / 
the future becomes the present, and the/ 
present the past, and how in the last 
moment of life all is found to be but a . 


dream. Her life with Shelley had now 
extended over almost eight years — years 
full of strange vicissitudes and mingled 
happiness and sorrow, but cheered . 
throughout by the sense of the mutual I 
love and respect that existed between , 
them . "^ '^' 

For, in spite of the natural dis- 
similarity in character between the 


most enthusiastic of idealists and one 
who, in manner and sentiment, was, 
above all things, the daughter of 
William Godwin, that calmest and most 
passionless of philosophers ; in spite of 
Mary's occasional coldness of bearing, 
and her greater regard for conven- 
tionalities and the opinion of society — 
" that mythical monster, Everybody," 
as Shelley called it; and, finally, in 
spite of temporary misunderstandings 
caused between them by the presence 
in their household of Claire Clairmont, 
a domestic firebrand idealized in 
Shelley's " Epipsychidion " as a 
" comet, beautiful but fierce," — the 
union of Shelley and Mary had been 
a true union of hearts. What if this 
bond, that had survived the shock and 


strain of so many troubles and 
calamities, were now about to be 
severed ? 

Such was the dim, unformed thought 
that darkened Mary's mind when, on 
the 1st of July, Shelley left Lerici in 
company with Edward Williams, and 
sailed in the Ariel to Leghorn, in 
order to greet Leigh Hunt, who had 
now arrived in Italy. 

Very cordial and affectionate was the 
meeting between the two friends, who 
had not seen each other for more than 
four years, and had much to talk over 
and communicate. The next few days 
were spent by Shelley at Pisa, and were 
devoted chiefly to arranging Leigh 
Hunt's affairs and negotiating with 
Byron on his friend's behalf respecting 


the forthcoming periodical. On the 
following Sunday, these affairs being 
settled, Shelley and Leigh Hunt visited 
the chief buildings of Pisa, among them 
the cathedral, where, as they listened 
to the rolling tones of the organ, Shelley 
warmly assented to Leigh Hunt's 
remark that the world might yet see a 
divine religion, of which the principle 
would be sought, not in faith, but in 
love. The same evening he bid fare- 
well to the Hunts, Mrs. Mason, and 
other friends in Pisa, and returned to 
Leghorn, in order to sail homewards 
with Edward Williams on the follow- 
ing day. 

It was the early afternoon of Mon- 
day, the 8th of July, when the Ariel 
sailed out of Leghorn harbour on its 


computed journey of seven or eight 
hours. On the same afternoon the long 
tension of the oppressive summer 
weather was relaxed; the sultry spell 
was at last broken; and the dull, 
ominous calm of the preceding weeks 
found voice and spoke its secret in a 
single burst of sudden and irresistible 
storm. That night the thunder pealed 
loudly along the Italian coast, and the 
din of winds and waves and rain carried 
doubt and terror to several anxious 
English hearts. In the lonely house 
by the Gulf of Spezzia the two wives 
were eagerly expecting their husbands' 
return; at Pisa, Mrs. Mason dreamed 
that Shelley was dead, and awoke 
weeping bitterly; while at Leghorn, 
Trelawny was awaiting the dawn with 



grave anxiety, for the last that had been 
seen of Shelley's boat was its entry into 
the dense sea-fog that preceded the rush- 
ing tempest. 

" The massy earth and sphered skies are riven ; 
I am borne darkly, fearfully afar." 

So Shelley had written, as if by some 
prophetic instinct, in the concluding 
stanza of his "Adonais"; and who 
shall say that so swift and mysterious 
a death was not the fittest ending to a 
life so full of wonder and mystery? 
The elf-child's task on earth was now 
accomplished ; his message of love was 
now delivered; and the pure spirit, 
purged of the last dross of mortality, 
was now summoned " back to the burn- 
ing fountain whence it came." 




After ten days of cruel suspense, two 
bodies were cast up by the sea on the 
coast between Pisa and Spezzia, and 
were identified as those of Shelley and 
Williams. The Italian quarantine laws 
for the prevention of plague being most 
strictly enforced, the bodies were at 
once buried in the sands, — ^in those very 
sands over which Shelley had but lately 
ridden in company with Byron and 
other friends,— until arrangements had 
been made with the authorities at 



Florence for their disinterment and 
cremation. This ceremony took place 
on the 15th and 16th of August, the 
body of Williams being burned on the 
former day, and that of Shelley on 
the latter, in the presence of numerous 
spectators, among whom were Byron, 
Leigh Hunt, and Trelawny. 

It was a scene that impressed itself 
ineffaceably on the memory of those 
who witnessed it — ^the vast expanse of 
yellow sand, unbroken by sign of human 
habitation ; the blue and cloudless sky ; 
the sea calm and smiling; the distant 
outline of marble-crested Apennines ; 
and, in the centre of the group of by- 
standers, the fierce flame that rose 
from the funeral-pile, quivering with 
extraordinary clearness from the frank- 


incense, oil^ and wine that were plen- 
tifully poured over it, while close above, 
in the tremulous and glassy atmosphere, 
a solitary curlew wheeled and circled 
with strange pertinacity. "One might 
have expected," said Leigh Hunt, " a 
sun-bright countenance to look out of 
the flame, coming once more before it 
departed, to thank the friends who had 
done their duty." There was, indeed, 
something in the nature of the wild 
scene and the pagan ceremony that was 
appropriate to the obsequies of one who 
was himself a Greek in his instinctive 
reverence for the elemental purity of 
sea and fire. 

It was Trelawny who had undertaken 
and faithfully discharged the duty of 
conducting the search for the bodies 


of Shelley and Williams, and of carry- 
ing the news to the two widows. It 
was he, too, who, at the end of the cre- 
mation, snatched Shelley's heart, which 
remained unconsumed, from the flames, 
and collected the ashes in a coffer, in 
order that they might be buried at 
Rome in the same Protestant burying- 
place where Shelley's child, William, 
had been laid — a spot which Shelley 
had long before described as "the 
most beautiful and solemn cemetery" 
he ever beheld. To Leigh Hunt be- 
longs the honour of having suggested 
the inscription on the tombstone of the 
words Gov Cordium — a perfect tribute of 
reverence and affection to the memory 
of that heart of hearts, whose over- 
mastering passion, the source of all its 

""COR cordium:* 215 

strengtli and all its weakness, had been 
the love of humankind. 

Nor was it only Trelawny and Hunt 
and Byron who thus gave proof of their 
respect for the dead. A week after the 
burning of the bodies, the lonely house 
at Lerici, now unfurnished and deserted 
by its former inhabitants, was visited 
by a solitary traveller, who had turned 
out of his course, as he journeyed from 
Pisa to Genoa, to perform this last act 
of melancholy pilgrimage. It was 
" poor Tom Medwin," as Shelley had 
called him, who, poetaster and dilettante 
though he was, could yet feel keenly 
the supreme sadness of gazing on those 
empty and silent rooms that had so 
lately been filled with the voices of life 
and happiness, and of standing on the 


seaward-^cing terrace where Shelley 
had 80 often listened witiii delight to 
Jane Williams's simple melodies. As 
he passed through the rude entrance- 
hall on the groimd floor, Medwin no- 
ticed oars and fi:^gments of spars lying 
scattered in confusion, and among them 
the broken frame of Shelley's favourite 
skiff, destined never again to find so 
venturesome a pilot. 

And where, meantime, was the 
Ariel herself? She was discovered 
by some sailors, employed by Trelawny 
for that purpose, sunk in ten or fifteen 
fathoms of water, about two miles off 
the coast, and being raised in the fol- 
lowing September, was found to have 
her gunwale stove in, as if she had been 
run down by an Italian felucca during 

''COR CORDIUM/* 217 

the squall ; whence arose the suspicioD, 
which has never been satisfactorily 
proved or disproved, that there was an 
intent to plunder the vessel of some 
money which was known to be on 
board. Having been repaired and 
rigged afresh, the Ariel was again 
sent to sea, but she proved unsea- 
worthy, and a second time suffered 
shipwreck. "Her shattered planks," 
wrote Mrs. Shelley in 1839, " now lie 
rotting on the shore of one of the Ionian 
islands on which she was wrecked." 
Strange that the ArieVs existence should 
have ended on one of those very Greek 
islands to which Shelley's fancy had so 
often been attracted as a possible home 
and place of refuge from the calamities 
that beset him I 


For a year after her husband's death, 
Mary Shelley remained in Italy, unable 
to tear herself away from the land of 
their adoption, in spite of the many 
painful memories it awakened. In all 
the records of fact and fiction it would 
be difficult to find anything more truly 
pathetic and heart-rending than the 
published extracts from the journal she 
kept during those first dreary months 
of bereavement and solitude. The 
thought and image of Shelley were 
ever present to her mind; now it was 
the tone of Byron's voice that, by sheer 
force of old association, would make 
her listen for that other voice which, 
when Byron spoke, had ever been wont 
to ^reply; now, as she mused and read 
in a fit of deep abstraction, it was 

''COR cordium:' 219 

Shelley himself who seemed to call 
her, as a sudden voice cried " Mary ! '* 
The sense of utter loneliness was only 
relieved by the confident expectation 
of hereafter rejoining, in another ex- 
istence, that swift and gentle soul, who, 
in this earthly prison-house, had been 
like a caged spirit, " an elemental being, 
enshrined in a frail image." But this 
desire for death was not yet to be 
gratified ; there was first a long course 
of widowhood to be bravely encoun- 
tered and lived through ; her aged 
father to be cheered and tended; her 
child to be educated ; and, most sacred 
duty of all, her husband's writings to 
be collected, edited, and given to the 

Meanwhile, in stolid contrast to these 


shiftiDg scenes of life and deaths grief 
and pleasure, rapturous aspiration and 
heavy despondency, Sir Timothy Shelley, 
now an old man of seventy years of age, 
still lived on, as stem and unyielding 
as ever. Eton, Oxford, London, Edin- 
burgh, Ireland, Wales, Switzerland, 
Marlow, Venice, Naples, Florence, Pisa, 
Spezzia, and Rome — these were the 
places at which were enacted the 
strangest events of that strange drama 
of a lifetime, that " miracle of thirty 
years," of which the secret and motive 
power were love; but Field Place still 
remained as it had been when its doors 
were first closed against the youthful 
offender who, by his reprehensible thirst 
for knowledge, had incurred the anger 
of the learned men entrusted with his 

''COR cordium:* 221 

religious and intellectual education. V 
Eleven years had now passed since Sir 
Timothy, writing to the father of 
Shelley's college friend and fellow 
sufferer, had insisted on the necessity 
of keeping ** my young man " and 
" your young man " apart. And now 
" my young man " had run a desperate 
and erratic career, in which a few mis- 
guided people affected to see a subject 
for interest and approval, but which 
had brought down on him the unsparing / 
condemnation of the Lord Chancellor, j 
the Quarterly Review^ and all that Eng- 
land possessed of wealth, orthodoxy, 
and respectability. 

The dishonour to Field Place was 
deep and indelible; there was one 
thing, however, which was still within 


Sir Timothy Shelley's power, as it was 
clearly his duty, to do. He could take 
advantage of his control of the purse 
to forbid his son's widow writing a life 
of the poet, and thus further disgracing 
the Shelley family by the publication of 
deeds which it was far wiser to consign 
to a charitable f orgetfulness. Moreover, 
that an innocent child might not suffer 
for the offences of guilty parents. Sir 
Timothy offered to imdertake the main- 
tenance of his infant grandson, on con- 
/ dition that he was wholly taken from 
1 his mother's charge ; but this offer, it 
is. needless to say, was refused by Mary 
. Shelley. "Why, I live only to keep 
/ him from their hands," was the entry 
in her journal. 

So Sir Timothy Shelley, by no means 

''COR cordium:' 223 

breathing reconciliation, lived on till he 
had completed his ninetieth year, a life 
three times the length of that of his 
undutiful son ; and when he died, no 
Got Cordium, but a flattering inscrip- 
tion of the conventional kind was set 
to blazen his virtues on the walls of 
Horsham Church. It may be, however, 
that those who thoughtfully ponder the 
contrast between these two lives, and 
the lessons conveyed by each, will see 
in the contrast a striking instance of 
the truth of an old poet's words : — 

" Circles are praised, not that abound 
In largeness, but the exactly round; 
So life we praise that does excel 
Not in much time, but living well." 



It has been the main object of the fore- 
going chapters to depict Shelley not, 
according to the common notion, as 
merely an impassioned singer and wild- 
hearted visionary, full of noble though 
misdirected enthusiasm, and giving 
promise of better things if his brief 
life had been prolonged; but rather as 
one who was charged with a sacred 
and indispensable mission, which was 
seriously undertaken and faithfully ful- 
filled. His life and writings were a 


EPILOGUE. . 225 

mirror held up to our present social 
system from without; he came like a 
messenger from another planet to de- 
nounce and expose the anomalies that 
exist on this terrestrial globe, to show 
the glaring contrast between might and 
right, law and justice, ephemeral cus- 
tom and essential piety. 

It was formerly the humour of im- 
aginative moralists to illustrate this 
contrast between the conventional and 
the natural by the narration of a 
supposed visit to some fabled " Utopia " 
or " Oceana " or " New Atlantis '' ; but 
in later times the process has been re- 
versed, and the follies and frailties of 
artificial society have been pointed out 
through the medium of some " Chinese 
Philosopher," or " New Adam and Eve," 



or intelligent " traveller from New Zea- 
land." But Shelley actually embodied 
in his own person and feelings what 
other writers have only fancifully sug- 
gested, and the moral at which they 
vaguely hinted was by him directly and 
persistently enforced. He was himself 
the visitor from another region, but the 
Utopia from which he came was tem- 
poral rather than geographical, being, 
indeed, nothing else than a future 
phase of our own civilized society. 
He anticipates in his ethical teaching 
the next period of social and moral 
evolution ; his gospel of humanity is 
the creed of the new era that slowly, 
but surely, is dawning on mankind. 

It is a mistake to suppose that 
Shelley's moral and ethical opinions 


are incompatible with the scientific 
theory of evolution; for though he 
sometimes sings, as all poets have 
sung, of a golden age in the past, 
there is ample evidence in his writings 
to show that he knew this to be merely 
a poetical legend, and the exact contrary 
of the truth. " Their doctrine," he 
says (speaking of the poets who had 
celebrated this Saturnian age), "was 
philosophically false. Later and more 
correct observations have instructed us 
that uncivilized man is the most per- 
nicious and miserable of beings. . . , 
Man was once a wild beast; he has 
become a moralist, a metaphysician, a 
poet, and an astronomer." In fact, 
Shelley's doctrine of the perfectibility 
of man, so far from being antagonistic 


to evolution, is as fully in harmony with 
it as any pre-Darwinian utterance could 
be, being based on the intuitive belief 
that man's progress in the future will 
be not less amazing than his progress 
in the past. 

Shelley himself, as I have already 
said, might almost be regarded as a 
representative of the future and nobler 
social state, a prophet and forerunner 
of the higher intellectual development, 
a soul sent on earth before its due 
season by some strange freak of des- 
tiny, or rather, let us say, by some 
benignant disposition of^ Providence. 
The religion which he preached, with 
love for its faith, and natural piety 
towards all living things for its com- 
mandment, has this supreme advantage 


over the creed of the theologian — that 
it can look with confidence, instead of 
suspicion, on the advance of science, 
and find a friend instead of an enemy 
in time. 

But this religion, being a religion of 
the future, is for that very reason un- 
intelligible and unacceptable to those 
who, by sentiment or circumstances, 
are upholders of the present order of 
things — that is to say, the great bulk 
of society. Many people are naturally 
incapable of sympathizing with Shelley's 
ideal philosophy and humanitarian en- 
thusiasm, perceiving in it nothing but 
a cold and brilliant display of intel- 
lectual subtleties ; while others are 
roused to positive hostility by their 
dislike of his revolutionary opinions 


and aggressive attitade. All this is 
natural and inevitable; for it was not 
to be expected tbat tbe full significance 
of Shelley's career should be appreciated 
by that very society whose displacement 
he heralded, since the prophet is pro- 
verbially without honour among the 
mass of his own generation. Shelley's 
good fame, both as regards the right- 
ness of his personal conduct and the 
soundness of his views, can afford to 
wait till the new wave of social evolu- 
tion has swept away the present barriers 
of prejudice and intolerance. 

In the meanwhile, he will not be un- 
honoured of the discerning few, who, 
reading the signs of the times, can 
already perceive that the great social 
and ethical questions, which are grad* 


ually being reoogaised as of primary 
importance to the welfare of the com^ 
munity, are precisely those on which 
Shelley instinctively fixed his attention. 
It is for this reason, and not only be- 
cause he is our greatest lyric poet, 
that Shelley's life and doctrines are. de- 
serving of more general study than is 
at present accorded them; and those 
who love and admire him are not likely 
to be affected by the idle taunt, so often 
levelled at them by their opponents 
that they are attributing an absurd 
infallibility to his opinions, and an 
absurd perfection to his character. 
Shelley, the votary of liberty and free- 
thought, who, in spite of his wide 
' reading, was so entirely devoid of the 
academic spirit, was the last person in 


the world who would have wished to 
found a " school '' and be regarded as 
a " master " ; and the respect that is 
now felt for his writings is not based 
on any superstitious or sentinoiental 
reverence for the ipse dixit of the poet, 
but simply on the belief that his 
opinions are being more and more cor- 
roborated by time and experience. 

In the same way not even the most 
uncompromising admirers of Shelley's 
character and conduct need be sus- 
pected of the intent to endow him with 
an unnatural and impossible perfection, 
merely because they decline to subscribe 
to that modern fear of hero-worship, 
which makes most of our critics, dis- 
believing in the existence of any truly 
heroic figure in this age of mediocrity, 


SO careful to mete out praise and blame 
in nicely balanced portions, like a grocer 
dealing out his wares in a succession of 
sweets and acids. However justifiable 
our dread of mere sentimental eulogy, 
we may surely venture to speak gener- 
ously and unreservedly in our praise of 
a man whose great primary qualities of 
unworldliness and sincerity drew un- 
stinted tributes of admiration from those 
who knew him personally, whether 
they chanced to be cynical lawyers, 
satirical novelists, ardent reformers, 
misanthropic poets, dilettante dawdlers, 
bluff sailors, or retired cavalry oflBcers. 

Such homage paid to such a charac- 
ter does not imply that we are blind to 
the many foibles, eccentricities, and 
minor blemishes by which even the 


noblest nature may be crossed and 
chequered, and from which Shelley was 
certainly not exempt. We are well 
aware that his life, except in its one 
dominant feature, was a strange mix- 
ture of contrary tendencies and varying 
moods. He was hopeful and despon- 
dent; strong and weak; graceful and 
awkward; frugal and lavish; serious 
and playful; wise and whimsical; for- 
bearing and charitable to a singular 
degree in his intercourse with friend or 
foe, yet on rare occasions hasty and un- 
just in his judgments ; by habit candid 
and trustworthy, yet sometimes led on 
by a predilection for mystery, and by an 
extreme dislike of causing pain or disap- 
pointment, to be evasive and circuitous 
in his dealings. But while he was thus. 


to some extent, the creature of conflict- 
ing moods and circumstances, " chased 
by the spirit of his destiny," as he him- 
self expressed ifc, " from purpose to 
purpose, like clouds by the wind," it is 
important to remember that these* con- 
tradictions and weaknesses lay, so to 
speak, on the surface of his nature, and 
not at its core ; for his character, in all 
vital and essential points, was strikingly 
firm and consistent, his innate and solid 
virtues standing him in good stead in 
all the great and fateful crises of his 
mature life. 

Few lives have been subjected to 
such a searching scrutiny as that which 
Shelley's has undergone, and still fewer 
have come forth from the ordeal so 
nearly unscathed. 


But, as I have insisted all along, he 
must, in common honesty, be judged by 
his own standard of morality, and not 
by that which it was his special object 
to discredit and overthrow. This is the 
only key to a right understanding of 
Shelley's career, and if this rational 
principle be adopted, it will be found 
to explain much that has hitherto 
seemed unaccountable to many readers. 
Difficulties there must always be in 
estimating so subtle and complex a 
character; but, whatever mystery may 
still hang over certain isolated episodes 
and scenes, the general effect and 
leading purpose of Shelley's life will 
be seen to be singularly harmonious and 



" I do remember well the hour which burst 
My spirit's sleep. A fresh May-dawn it was, 
When I walked forth npon the glittering grass, 
And wept I knew not why ; until there rose 
From the near schoolroom voices that, alas ! 
Were but one echo from a world of woes — 
The harsh and grating strife of tyrants and of foes." 

Tuis incident of Shelley's moral and intellectual 
awakening, recorded in the introductory stanzas of 
"Laonand Cythna," is referred by Professor Dowden 
and all recent authorities to the period of Shelley's 
life at Sion House Academy , and not at Eton. I 
venture, however, to think that Lady Shelley was 
right, when, in the " Shelley Memorials," she indicated 
Eton as the scene of Shelley's vow. It is in the 
highest degree improbable that any boy, even such a 

1 Cf. Chap. II., p. 23. 



boj as Sbellej, would have experienced such emotions 
before the age of twelve ; but this difficulty vanishes 
if we suppose the vow to have been made at Eton, 
where Shelley stayed till he was eighteen. It is 
significant, too, that in his letter to Godwin, dated 
Jan. 10, 1812, Shelley distinctly attributes the 
awakening of his moral sense to his reading of 
Godwin's "Political Justice; " and there is evidence 
ill the same letter that he first read this book some- 
where about the year 1809, It would seem pro- 
bable therefore, that the vow was made at Eton, and 
when Shelley was in his seventeenth or eighteenth 

The arguments on which the contrary view is based 
do not seem to me to be of much weight. They are, 
briefly, the authority of Medwin, who, in his " Shelley 
Papers,'' refers to the incident as having happened at 
Sion House, and secondly, the idea that the mention 
of ** the near schoolroom " precludes the possibility 
of Eton being the locality indicated, as the Eton 
schoolrooms do not immediately adjoin the Playing 
Fields. But it should be remembered that Medwin, 
never a very reliable biographer, was especially in- 
clined to assign undue importance to those parts of 
Shelley's career which had come under his own cog- 
nizance, and therefore, having been Shelley's school- 
fellow at Sion House, but not at Eton, he was likely 
enough to exalt the former period at the expense of 


the latter bj representing it as the scene of Shelley's 
early awakening. As to the second argument— the 
distance of the Eton Playing Fields from the school 
buildings — it is snrely rather dangerous to take the 
words of so imaginative a poet as Shelley in such a 
literal sense, and to reject the most natural inter- 
pretation of a lyrical passage, which was written, be 
it noted, at least eight years later than the incident 
recorded, because it does not precisely tally with the 
acoustics and measuring-rod of the critic. Shelley, 
coming straight from the strife of the schoolroom to 
the ** glittering grass" of the play-ground, still heard, 
or seemed to hear, the sounds he had such good 
cause to remember ; nor, as a matter of fact, is there 
really any reason why he should not actually have 
heard them, for the distance is not so great that the 
shouts of an unruly class of boys would not be easily 
audible. If the critics will go into every detail, let 
them also consider the laxity of discipline which then 
obtained in public schools, and is even now not alto- 
gether unknown. I can testify, from personal know- 
ledge of Eton, that the " harsh and grating strife of 
tyrants and of foes," may often be heard at a con- 
siderable distance, especially when it is the boys who 
are the tyrants, and not the masters. 

In the " Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,'* there is 
another reference to this early vow. Professor 
Dowden, however, is inclined to regard the incident 


there mentioned as a second and intellechial awaken- 
ing, not to be identified with the moral awakening 
described in *' Laon and Cjthna." This seems to me 
to be jui entirely arbitrary and unproved distinction; 
indeed, the internal evidence goes directly to disprove 
Professor Dowden's supposition, since in both 
passages the vow is said to have been made in 
the season of spring. It is worth noting that in 
" Julian and ^laddalo," there is a third reference to 
the same event; but this has generally been over- 
lookeil, on account of the passage in which it occnrs 
(the soliloquy of the ** Maniac*') not being recognised 
as autobiographical. 

I think that the three passages above mentioned, 
and possibly also the letter to Godwin, the more care- 
fully they are examined, will be found to refer to one 
and the same event, and that the balance of proba- 
bality will incline us to regard that event as having 
taken place at Eton, rather than at Sion House. 


TuE importance of a man's dietetic tastes and habits 
in their bearing on his intellectual development and 
moral character is too often overlooked or under- 
estimated by critics and biographers. We hear much 

1 Cf. Chap, v., pp. 82, 83. 


interesting speoalation on the hereditary characteris- 
tics of men of genius, and on the inflaenoe of events 
contemporary with their birth and education; as, 
for instance, that Shelley's ancestors were ''con- 
spicuous by their devotion to falling or desperate 
causes/' or that on the day of his birth the French 
National Assembly decreed " that all religions houses 
should be sold for the benefit of the nation." But 
the significance of the fact that the most ethereal of 
English lyrists and one of the most unselfish of 
English reformers was a bread-eater and a water- 
drinker is allowed to pass unnoticed, or, at any rate, 
nnemphasized ; Shelley's humanitarian instincts and 
consequent inclination to extreme simplicity of diet 
being regarded as a mere crotchet and harmless 
eccentricity — and this, too, by those very writers who 
praise his gospel of gentleness and universal love ! 
I think that on this point some of Shelley's detrac- 
tors have done him more justice than some of his 
admirers; for the former have at least been con- 
sistent and logical in arguing that his vegetarian 
proclivities were all of a piece with his " pernicious " 
views on social and religious subjects, and with his 
" Utopian " belief in the ultimate perfectibility of 
man. This is not the place to discuss the rights or 
wrongs of vegetarianism ; but we may at least assert 
that Shelley's dietetic tastes must have had some 
influence both on the doctrines advanced in his 



longer poems and on that spiritaalifcy of lyrical tone 
which makes him unique among singers. " What 
one eats, that one t^/' says a German writer, and it 
cannot be without interest, and even importance, to 
those who would read Shelley's character aright, to 
note to what extent he adopted and advocated a 
vegetarian diet. 

We find that Shelley first adopted vegetarianism 
in 1812, when in his twentieth year, though even 
at Oxford, in 1810, his food, according to the testi- 
mony of his biographer Hogg, was "plain and 
Kimplo as that of a hermit, with a certain anticipa- 
tion, even at this time, of a vegetable diet," In 1813, 
when he spent the spring in London, and the 
summer at Bracknell, Berks, he saw much of the 
Newton family, who were strict vegetarians, and was 
strongly influenced by their views and example. On 
the other hand, his friends Hogg and Peacock, 
especially the latter, who looked upon the Newtons 
as foolish crotchet-mongers, did their best to laugh 
him out of his new system of diet, though Hogg 
was on friendly terms with the Newton circle, and 
speaks ap{)rovingly, in his " Life of Shelley," of their 
vegetarian repasts. At this time, as always, bread 
was his favourite food, and Hogg tells us how he 
would buy a loaf at a bakcr*s shop, and eat it as he 
dodged the foot-passengers on aXondou pavement.' 
During his residence at Bishopsgate in 1815, and at 


Marlow in 1817, we find Shelley still persevering in 
the reformed diet, though not withont occasional 
lapses, if we are to believe his biographers Hogg 
and Peacock. The former gives a humorous account 
of an occasion when, in the dearth of other food, 
Shelley was induced to try fried bacon, and found it 
very good ; and Peacock asserts that during a boat- 
ing excursion, in 1815, his prescription of ** three 
mutton chops, well peppered," was of great service 
to Shelley's health. Nevertheless, Leigh Hunt re- 
ports him in 1817, when living at Marlow, as 
"coming home to a dinner of vegetables, for he took 
neither meat nor wine." In 1818 he left England, 
and spent the short remainder of his life in Italy. 
During this time he seems to have given up his 
vegetarianism to some slight extent, not from any 
want of faith in its principles, but simply from the 
inconvenience caused to his non-vegetarian house- 
hold. (Cy. the poetic " Letter to Maria Gisborne," 
written in 1820— "Though we eat little flesh, and 
drink no wine.") His forgetfulness and indiflerence 
about his food became still more marked during his 
later years, and Trelawny relates how his dinner 
would often stand unnoticed and neglected while he 
was engaged in writing. But now, as before, bread 
remained literally his " staff of life," and he always 
preferred simple food to costly. 
The state of Shelley's health has given rise to 


mnch discussion among his biographers; bat, in spite 
of some assertions to the contrary, it seems toler- 
ably established that he had an early tendency 
towards consumption, and suffered latterly from 
spasms and some nervous affliction, of which the 
precise nature is unknown. How far his health was 
affected by his diet is an interesting point which it 
is easier to raise than to decide. Hogg and Peacock, 
of course, lay his maladies to the charge of vege- 
tarianism. "When he was fixed in a place," says 
Peacock, " he adhered to this diet consistently and 
conscientiously, but it certainly did not agree with 
him;" and he adds that when he travelled, and was 
obliged to transgress, he got well. It seems more 
possible that, as Trelawny hints, the irregularity of 
Shelley's diet had a bad effect on his health ; but 
Leigh Hunt's testimony on this subject is valuable 
and explicit. "His constitution, though naturally 
consumptive, had attained, by temperance and exer- 
cise, to a surprising flower of resisting fatigue." 

The passages in which Shelley advances vege- 
tarian doctrines are briefly these: (1) The well- 
known lines in " Queen Mab," commencing " No 
longer now, he slays the lamb that looks him in the 
face." (2) The still more remarkable note to "Queen 
Mab," afterwards issued as a separate pamphlet 
under the title of " A Vindication of Natural Diet." 
(3) A passage in " A Eefutation of Deism," a prose 


work published in 1814. (4) The lyric poem in- 
serted between stanzas 51 and 52 of the 5th canto 
of '* Laon and Gjthna," which has been called " The 
Lyric of Vegetarianism." There is also a reference 
to Shelley's humanitarian creed in the opening lines 
of "Alastor," where, in his invocation of earth, 
ocean, air, the beloved " brotherhood " of nature, the 
poet bases his appeal to their favour on the ground 
of his own habit of gentleness and humanity. 

It appears, therefore, that Shelley was a vegetarian 
at heart and by conviction, and, in the main, in 
practice also, though, for the reasons I have men- 
tioned, he was not invariably consistent in his 
practice. There are many signs that his simple diet 
was in keeping with his whole character, and 
essential to his imaginative style of thought and 
writing.— T^ Vegetarian Annual, 1887. 


It is to be regretted that Professor Dowden's ** Life 
of Shelley," excellent and copious work that it is, has 
not thrown a fuller light on some of those mysterious 
passages in the poet's life and writings which have 

» Cf. Chap. VI., pp. 90, 91. 


long been a pazzle to Shelley students. Among 
these must be included that portion of " Julian and 
Maddalo " which deals with the story of the maniac 
or deserted lover. 

The poem of " Julian and Maddalo/' as all readers 
of Shelley are aware, was the outcome of Shellej's 
visit to Byron at Yenice in 1818; and gives us a 
familiar, yet at the same time poetical, description 
of the rides, conversations, and friendly intercourse 
of the two poets. Of the two chief characters who 
give their names to the " Conversation," Julian is 
evidently a sketch of Shelley, and Maddalo of Byron; 
but there is also a third personage, to whose history 
at least two-thirds of the poem are devoted. This is 
the maniac, whom Maddalo and Julian go to visit in 
their gondola, and whose soliloquy occupies some two 
hundred lines of the narrative. In what light are we 
to regard this character p '* We cannot guess in this 
instance," says Professor Dowden, " of what original 
the painting presents an idealization" — a reticence 
on the part of Shelley's latest and fullest biographer, 
which is the more disappointing because there are 
several indications in Shelley's letters, and in the 
poem itself, that this part of Julian and Maddalo" 
ought to be read and studied in connection with the 
history of certain passages in his life. The character 
of the maniac is, I believe, like most of Shelley's 
sketches, a piece of poetical autobiography. We 


have, in fact, tvoo pictures of Shelley ia this poem : 
in Jaliaa we see him as he was in 1818 ; in the dis- 
tracted lover we see him as ho had been, or as he 
conceived himself to have been, four years earlier. 

There is a sort of humorous significance in 
Shelley's own references to this mysterious char- 
acter, which makes it seem strange that the true- 
import of the story should have been generally over- 
looked in the numerous essays that have been written 
concerning Shelley's poems, with the exception, I 
think, of Dr. Todhunter's *' Study of Shelley." " Of 
the maniac," he says in his preface, *' I can give no 
information. He seems by his own account to have 
been disappointed in love." In the letter to Leigh 
Hunt, in which the manuscript of '* Julian and 
Maddalo " was enclosed, there is a still more striking 
remark. "Two of the characters," says Shelley, 
" you will recognise, and the third is also in some 
degree a painting from nature, but, with respect to 
time and place, ideal." Once again, in a letter to 
the publisher Oilier, dated December 15tb, 1819, he 
refers to this subject, when he states that he intends 
to write three other poems, " the subjects of which 
will be all drawn from dreadful or beautiful realities, 
as that of this [t.d., of * Julian and Maddalo'] was." 
Thus we have it distinctly stated by Shelley that the 
subject of " Julian and Maddalo " was drawn from a 
reality, and that the character of the maniac is a 


painting from nature. Who but Shelley himself 
could have been the original of this sketch P There 
is no mention in any of Shelley's letters of his ac- 
companying Byron on a visit to a Venetian mad- 
house, or of his meeting any one who could possibly 
have suggested the incident of the distracted and 
'deserted lover. The inference would be inevitable, 
even apart from the internal evidence of the poem, 
that this is another of Shelley's many subjective and 
autobiographical studies, of course idealized, as he 
says, with respect to time and place, but neverthe- 
less in the main '* a painting from nature." 

"When we proceed to examine the poem itself, our 
previous conviction is still further strengthened. " I 
know one like yon," says Maddalo to Julian, as he 
tells him something of the maniac's story before they 
set out to visit him ; and when he relates how he 
had fitted up rooms for the sufferer, with busts, 
books, flowers, and instruments of music, we cannot 
help noting the similarity to a passage in '* Epipsy- 
chidion," where Shelley imagines himself to be pos- 
sessed of just such a dwelling in some Ionian isle. 
The whole description of the maniac in " Julian and 
Maddalo," should be compared with the account given 
in the " Advertisement " of " Epipsychidion *' of the 
writer to whom that poem is playfully attributed, a 
character obviously meant for that of Shelley him- 
self. When we come to the maniac's soliloquy, we 


find thafc, obscure as it is in parts, it becomes to 
some extent intelligible, when we recognise in it an 
idealized description of Shelley's disastrous marriage 
with Harriet West brook. Imagination carries him 
back to the death- in-life of those terrible days at the 
beginning of 1814, when he found that love had de- 
parted from the home where it was once present, and 
when his only consolation was the knowledge that 
his own conscience absolved him of any sense of 
guilt. In the lines — 

" I am prepared, in truth, with no proud joy, 
To do or suffer aught, as when a boy 
I did devote to justice and to love 
My nature, worthless now ** — 

we see a distinct reference to that youthful awaken- 
ing, in the school-days at Sion House or Eton, which 
is mentioned in the introductory stanzas of " The 
Revolt of Islam " and in the *' Hymn to Intelleotoal 
Beauty." To what, again, can the following lines 
refer, unless to the marriage with Harriet P — 

'' Nay, was it I who wooed thee to this breast 
Which like a serpent thou envenomest. 
As in repayment of the warmth it lent ? 
Bidst thou not seek me for thine own content ? 
Bid not thy love awaken mine ? *' 

Particular passages of this kind (and there are 
others equally significant which a careful reader can 


scarcely fail to note), taken in conjunction with the 
general tone of this part of the poem, and with the 
remarks in Shelley's Preface and letters, seem to 
leave little room for doubt that the maniac's story 
is a poetical description of Shelley's bewildered feel- 
ings shortly before or after his separation from 
Harriet. It is certainly strange that he should have 
chosen, four years later, to recur in his writings to 
that most painful period of his life. "We might even 
have deemed it impossible he should do so ; but here 
again his own lines are significant : 

" How vain 
Are words ! I never thought to speak again, 
Not even in secret — not to my own heart ; 
But from my lips the unwilling accents start, 
And from my pen the words flow as I write. 
Dazzling my eyes with scalding tears." 

From wJiose pen, it may be asked, did the words 
flow P And would Shelley thus have forgotten that 
the maniac in his poem was speaking, and not 
writing, unless he had to a great extent identified 
the character and the story with his own P 

In the more mysterious and terrible passages of 
the madman's soliloquy, ** the unconnected exclama- 
tions of his agony," as Shelley calls them in his 
Preface, it is of course easier to suspect than to 
prove that there are any traces of personal reference. 


We naturally wonder if the real history of Shelley's 
first marriage could have famished material for the 
shuddering reminiscence and tragic horror of which 
this part of ** Julian and Maddalo " is full. The full 
story will probably never be known ; bat those who 
read between the lines in the various records of 
Shelley's life, can see indications of the existence 
of some still graver breach of sympathy between 
Shelley and Harriet than such as coald be ac- 
counted for by mere divergence of tastes, or even by 
that suspicion of his wife's infidelity which Shelley, 
rightly or wrongly, entertained to the end of his life. 
In the statement drawn up at the time of the Chan- 
cery suit, Shelley thus alluded to his parting from 
Harriet : " Delicacy forbids me to say more than that 
we were disunited by incurable dissensions." " It is 
certain," says Professor Dowden, "that some cause or 
causes of deep division between Shelley and his wife 
were in operation during the early part of 1814. To 
guess at the precise nature of these causes, in the 
absence of definite statement, were useless." It may 
not fall within the province of a biographer to follow 
up speculations such as these ; yet the question of a 
possible connection between the story told in broken 
utterances by the distracted lover in '^ Julian and 
Maddalo,'' and that unknown passage in Shelley's 
life, is one of peculiar interest to Shelley students. 
At any rate, it seems clear that the last part of 


Shelley's ]ife with Harriet was to him, if uot to her, 
a time of horror and despair ; and this lends some 
colour to the supposition that the passages above 
referred to were more or less a reflex of the poet's 
own experiences. It might even be conjectured that 
the manaic's soliloquy was written independently, or 
at an earlier period than the rest of the poem with 
which it is incorporated ; but I doubt if the internal 
evidence of style and structure would bear out this 

In giving directions for the publication of " Julian 
and Maddalo," Shelley gave special and urgent in- 
junctions that his name was not to be put to it. As 
it turned out, however, the poem, for some unex- 
plained reason, was not issued during Shelley's 
life- time. Mr. Buxton For man suggests that Leigh 
Hunt, to whom the MS. was entrusted, "probably 
thought it well to stop the issue on account of the 
unmistakable personality of two of the characters 
depicted — Byron and Shelley." But, on the other 
hand, it might have been supposed that Shelley's 
friends would be glad to publish a poem which, as 
Mr. Eossetti has pointed out, would probably have 
increased its author's reputation among ordinary 
readers, by the interest excited through the intro- 
duction of Byron's character. Is it not more pro- 
bable that Shelley's wish to publish the poem anony- 
mously, was due to the &ict that in the character of 


the raaniao he had partially unveiled his own inmosfc 
life and feeling, while for the same reason Leigh 
Hunt, who presumably recognised the true import 
of this part of the poem, thought it wiser to with- 
hold it altogether from immediate publication ? " If 
you were my friend," wrote Shelley to Soubhey in 
1820, on the subject of his first marriage, ** I could 
tell you a history that would make you open your 
eyes; but I shall certainly never make the public 
my familiar confidant." This characteristic remark 
may be compared with the closing lines of "Julian 
and Maddalo " — 

** I urged and questioned still ; she told me how 
All happened — but the cold world shall not know." 

—The Academy, March 26th, 1887. 


The utterances of the Quarterly Review on the sub- 
ject of Shelley's life, character, poetry, and opinions, 
afibrd a striking instance of the strange shifts to 
which a periodical may be driven, when it under- 

» Cf. Chap. XI., pp. 184-187. 


takes the task of defending, throagh thick and thin, 
the ataiiM quo of a particular religion or social 
system, and when it entrusts this solemn charge to 
the care of certain anonymous, and therefore, as 
far as the public is concerned, irresponsible writers. 
What was to be expected when this champion of 
rigid orthodoxy and constitutionalism in poetry, 
politics, and ethics, first felt it to be its duty to 
throw light on the poems and doctrines of a revolu- 
tionary enthusiast such as Shelley; and further, 
when subsequent writers in the same Review were 
compelled, if only for consistency's sake, and out of 
regard for that sequence of judgment which such 
periodicals afi*ect, to follow in the same strain, and 
put a bold face on the unhappy blunders of their 
predecessors ! Four times has this inspired oracle 
now uttered its portentous verdict on the Shelleyan 
heresy, and each separate utterance has been a veri- 
table 1)08 locutus ; yet all the time Shelley's character 
and genius have been steadily rising higher and 
higher in general estimation. ^ 

It was in 1819, the year after that in which Shelley 
left England for Italy, that the Quarterly Review 
first addressed itself to the attack, in an article which 
was read by Shelley in a newsroom at Florence, and 
drew from him a loud peal of " convulsive laughter," 
according to the testimony of one who happened to 
be present. The article was, from the Quarterly 


standpoiat, one of the right sort. It purported to 
deal with the " Eevolt of Islam," which had been 
published early in the preceding year; but the re- 
viewer had also before him a copy of '' Laon and 
Cythna," the more outspoken form in which the 
poem liad been first issued, and almost immediately 
withdrawn. Dismissing the poetry as of no real 
value, and as at best containing only a few beantifal 
passages, the writer devoted himself to a forioas 
attack on Shelley's ethical opinions and moral char- 
acter — "these are indeed bold convictions," he wrote, 
" for a young and inexperienced man, imperfectly 
educated, irregular in his application, and shamefully 
dissolute in his conduct." The charge of personal 
immorality is freely used throughout; indeed, it is 
this significant shake of the head, this solemn as- 
sumption of the position of one who knows, that lent 
the article its chief weight at the time, and makes 
it appear to us, in the light of fuller knowledge, so 
singularly unfair and disingenuous. The reviewer 
nnhesitatingly charges Shelley with insincerity in 
his views and with vanity in his ambitions attempt 
to advertise himself before the world. "We will 
frankly confess," he says, " that with every disposi- 
tion to judge him charitably, we find it hard to con- 
vince ourselves of his belief in his own conclasions ; " 
and, again, '* he is too young, too ignorant, too inex- 
perienced, and too vicions, to undertake the task of 


reforming any world but the little world within his 
own breast." After prophesying that, like "the 
Egyptian of old," Shelley would shortly be over- 
whelmed by the mighty waters of oblivion, the 
writer concluded with a masterpiece of malignant 
innuendo which can be surpassed by nothing to be 
found in the pages of the Quartei-ly Review from the 
time of its institution to the present day.^ It is not 
surprising that Shelley, in his letter to the editor of 
the Quarterly Review on the subject of Keats's " En- 
dymion " should have referred to this article as " a 
slanderous paper," and to its anthor as " the wretch 
who wrote it," for it must always stand conspicuous 
as one of the lasting disgraces of literary criticism. 
It was written by John Taylor Coleridge, and not, 
as Shelley wrongly suspected, by Southey or Mil- 
man ; and it is curious to reflect that its writer owes 
his only remembrance by posterity to the very poet 
whose speedy extinction he so confidently pro- 

In 1821 the Quarterly deemed it necessary to re- 
turn to the attack, after the manner of an angry 
bull which detects signs of recovery and renewed 
vitality in the victim which it has recently mangled. 
This time it was Shelley's poetry rather than opinions 
on which the reviewer exercised his ingenuity ; and 

^ Quoted on p. 185. 


from the remark that "of Mr. Shelley himself we 
know uothing, and we desire to know nothing," it 
may be inferred that the article did not emanate 
from the same source as that of 1819. In his own 
way, however, this writer must be admitted to have 
fully equalled Mr. J. T. Coleridge's performance. 
The two fatal defects which he points out in Shelley's 
poetry (the volume under examination being "Prome- 
theus Unbound" and the lyrics published at the 
same time) are the want of music and the want of 
moaning. *' The rhytlim of the verse is often harsh 
and unmusical," is his first complaint; and he pro- 
ceeds to insist that "the predominating character of 
Mr. Shelley's poetry is its frequent and total want 
of meaning." Among instances adduced of this 
unintelligibility, are *' something that is done by a 
Cloud," reference being made to the last and most 
beautiful stanza of the lyric of that name ; the "debut 
of the Spirit of the Earth," in Act 3 of " Prometheus 
Unbound " ; the comparison of a poet to a chameleon, 
which is shewn to have " no more meaning than the 
jingling of the bells of a fool's cap, and far less 
music " ; and the stanza of the " Sensitive Plant," 
concerning *'the hyacinth purple, and white, and 
blue," which is held up to special ridicule. "In 
short," says the reviewer, summing up the qualities 
of the most splendid volume of lyrics that Shelley 
ever published, "it is not too much to affirm, that 



in the whole volume there is not one original image 
of nature, one simple expression of human feeling, 
or one new association of the appearances of the 
moral with those of the material world," the sole 
merit that could be allowed the poet being "con- 
siderable mental activity." In conclusion, this 
brilliant critic, chuckling at his own humour, quotes 
the final passage of Act 3 of ** Prometheus Un- 
bound," printing it like prose in continuous sen- 
tences, and then gaily informs his readers that it 
was meant by its author for verse, since " Mr. Shel- 
ley's poetry is, in sober sadness, drivelling prose run 

Thus tbese two Quarterly reviewers of 1819 and 
1821 did their utmost to darken Shelley's fame; the 
one stating that not only were his opinions perni- 
cious, but that he was personally licentious, vain, 
selfish, cruel, and unmanly; the other demonstrating 
the utter worthlessness of his poetry; while both 
scoffed at the mere idea of his gaining a permanent 
place in literature. There has never been a more 
significant illustration of the perils of prophecy ; for 
though the writers themselves were protected by 
their anonymity from being personally confronted 
with the non-fulfilment of their predictions, they left 
an extremely awkward and compromising legacy to 
the succeeding generation of Quarterly critics. Their 
conduct was as inconsiderate as that of the rash 


merchant, who commits himself to some wild specu- 
lation without reflecting that, though he may himself 
abscond in case of failure, he may leave to his em- 
barrassed kinsmen the unpleasant duty of liquidating 
his debts. For forty years the great oracle observed 
a discreet silence; and watched the increasing repu- 
tation of that " shamefully dissolute " poet, whose 
poetry did not contain " one original image of 
nature." Between 1847 and 1860 no less than six 
Lives or Memoirs of Shelley had been published, 
and it had become sufficiently evident, even to 
Quarterly reviewers, that his poems were not des- 
tined to be speedily forgotten. Accordingly, in 
1861, there appeared a new article, dealing afresh 
with Shelley's life, character, and writings, and 
taking note of the editions issued by Mrs. Shelley, 
and the lives by Hogg, Trelawny, Peacock, and Lady 
Shelley, which are referred to as ** a Shelley litera- 
ture quite extensive enough for a modest English 
poet." The writer evidently felt that his task was 
far from being an easy one, and to some extent the 
article is apologetic rather than actively hostile, the 
line taken being to modify the judgment expressed 
in 1821 as regards the value of Shelley's writings, 
while repeating and emphasizing the condemnation 
of his opinions and conduct. The lyrics, which once 
had less music than the bells of a fool's cap, arc now 
praised as " moving and exquisite poetry " ; even the 



*' Prometheas Unbound," though still found to have 
some unintelligible passage?, is spoken of as '*a 
grand conception *' and a " great work/' " We are 
far from sajing," confesses the reviewer, *' that the 
criticisms of forty years ago contain a full and just 
estimate of Shelley's genius/' But on the subject of 
the review of **The Eevolt of Islam" in 1819, and 
the strictures on Shelley's ethical theories, the 
Qnarterhj moralist remains as obdurate as ever. 
" We cannot look back," he says, " on that matter, 
with the humiliation which, if we believed the par- 
tisans of Shelley, it would become us to feel "; he is, 
however, judiciously silent regarding the memorable 
passage in which his predecessor had hinted that he 
could tell dreadful things of Shelley's disgusting 
wickedness, but for his delicate reluctance to with- 
draw the veil of private life. On the whole, it must 
be gratefully recognised that this reviewer of 1861 
wrote in a somewhat milder and humaner mood than 
that which is traditionally manifested by contribu- 
tors to the Quarterly; indeed, in one noticeable 
passage, to be presently quoted, he set an example 
which his successor of 1887 would have done wisely 
to follow. The rest of his article was chiefly oc- 
cupied with a sketch of Shelley's life; a defence of 
Harriet's conduct in the separation, and of Lord 
' Eldon's judgment in the Chancery suit ; and a sug- 
gestion that the pantheism expressed by Shelley in 


tho '* Adonais," might in time have ripeued into a 
belief in the doctrines of Christianity. 

In the qaarter of a century that has elapsed since 
this third ukase was issued by the imperial despot 
of criticism, who had vainly condemned Shelley to 
the Siberia of neglected authors, the Shelley cult is 
found to have made still more remarkable progress. 
Browning, Swinburne, Thomson, Bossetti, Garnett, 
Forman, Dowden, Symonda, Stopford Brooke — these 
are the leading names of those who have done hom- 
age to the '* considerable mental activity " of the 
" imperfectly educated '* young man whose vanity 
"had been his ruin." The publication of Prof. 
Dowden's ** Life of Shelley," towards the close of 1886, 
marked a now epoch in the appreciation of Shelley's 
genius; and the Quarterly Bevietu, like the bungling 
headsman who causes a shudder to the reader of 
English history, was again under the uncomfortable 
necessity of taking up its axe for the purpose of 
slaying the slain. There is a terrible story of Edgar 
Poes, entitled " The Tell-Tale Heart/' in which a mur- 
derer who hap, as he thinks, securely disposed of his 
victim under the flooring of his room, is driven to 
desperation by the continued and audible beating of 
the heart of the supposed dead man. Equally em- 
barrassing had become the position of the Quarterly 
towards the cor cordium, that heart of hea.ts to 
whose melodies it had been so strangely deaf, and 


whose motives it had so grosslj maligDed. What. 
was to be done? The re viewer of 1887 found he had 
no course open to him bat to follow still farther the 
path on which his foreronner of 1861 had entered, 
and to entirely disavow the early criticism by which 
it had been sought to destroy Shelley's poetical 
reputation. The " driTelling prose run mad " is now 
transfigured into " the statuesque and radiant beaaty 
of • Prometheus Unbound/ " which drama is farther 
described as ''a dizzy summit of Ijric inspiration, 
where no foot but Shelley's ever trod before." Even 
the " Cloud," whose metamorphoses so severely puz- 
zled the wiseacre of 1821, is declared to be inspired 
by "the essential spirit of classic poets"; and we 
learn with a sati^ faction enhanced by the source of 
the confession that " there are but two or three poets 
at the most, whom literature could less afford to lose 
than this solitary master of ethereal verse." -After 
such praise, from such a quarter, the question of 
Shelley's poetical genius may well be considered to 
be settled. The Canute of literature has discovered 
that on this point the tides of thought are not subject 
to his control. 

But there remained the further question of S bel- 
ief's life, character, and ethical creed, on which the 
opinions of thinking men are still sharply divided, 
and where it was possible for the Qiiarterly Review 
to make amends to its wounded amour projpre by the 


reiteration of some of its ancient aud characteristic 
calumnies. Here it was that the modern reviewer 
proved himself to be a man after Gifford's own heart, 
a chip of the old block (or blockhead) of 1819, and 
showed conclusively that though times change, and 
manners of speech are modified, the spirit that ani- 
mates the stafi* of the Quarterly does not greatly 
degenerate. There is no need to follow the full 
course of this latest attack on Shelley's " supposed 
ethical wisdom/' the upshot of the argument being 
that *' as the apostle of incest, adultery, and deser- 
tion, his life and principles merit the strongest 
reprobation." But the master-stroke of the article 
is undoubtedly the charge which the reviewer brings 
against Sbelley of meditating incest with his sister 
in 1811; a charge which Prof. Dowden* has since 
shown to be absolutely groundless, being founded on 
a complete misreading of one of Shelley's letters, 
published by Hogg. The intellect which could put 
such a monstrous interpretation on a letter which, 
though hurriedly and excitedly written, is perfectly 
innocent and intelligible in its main purport, will 
bear comparison with the literary acumen which, 
sixty years ago, could detect no meaning in the 
"Cloud" and "Sensitive Plant"; and the fact that the 
full exposition of this savoury morsel of criticism 

1 Athenceum^ May 14, 1887. 


should have been reserved for so late a generation of 
Quarterly reviewers may convince us that there is 
no substantial falling off in the vigour of the race, 
and that there are still as good fish in the Qiyjbrt&rly 
as ever came out of it. The remarkable thing is 
that, on this particular point, the critic of to-day 
has scorned the comparative moderation and delicacy 
evinced by the critic of a quarter of a century ago; 
for in the article published in 1861, the writer ex- 
pressly blamed Hogg for publishing those of Shel- 
ley's letters which were written in an incoherent and 
excited mood after his expulsion from Oxford, and 
seems to foresee that they might be put to an evil 
use by an unscrupulous interpreter. "Mr. Hogg," 
he said, ** gives us pages of rhapsody from which it 
would be easy for a little hostile ingenuity to extract 
worse meanings than we believe the writer ever 
dreamed. He has not condescended to guard against 
such an injustice by the smallest commentary of his 
own. For the purposes of biography the letters are 
all but valueless. If there were any motive for so 
using them, they would be fatal weapons in the hand 
of calumny." A Quarterly reviewer may be supposed 
to be proof against all external remonstrance, but he 
must surely feel some filial respect for the solemn 
adjurations of his own literary forefathers, and the 
passage just quoted from the anonymous, but not 
wholly unscrupulous, writer of 1861 may therefore be 


confidently commended to the serious attention of 
the anonymous and very unscrupuloas calumniator 
of 1887. 

It seems, then, that there is still a certain amount 
of trath in the remark made by Shelley in one of 
his cancelled prefaces, that ''reviewers, with some 
rare exceptions, are a most stupid and malignant 
race/* The Quarterly Review claimed to be able to 
instruct the general public on points of literary 
taste ; and we have seen that in its estimate of Shel- 
ley's poems it has been at least a quarter of a century 
behind the rest of the world, and has at last been 
compelled entirely to recant its earlier opinions. 
The attempt now made to excuse the former unjust 
depreciation of Shelley's literary genius, because of 
his social heresies, is singularly pointless and feeble; 
for though an ordinary reader might be pardoned for 
not discovering the poetical value of writings which 
for other reasons he disliked, this oould be no valid 
excuse for the blindness of a professed reviewer, 
whose special duty it was to separate the g^d from 
the bad. Yet we find the latest Qaarterly reviewer 
complacently remarking that *' the attitude in which 
Shelley stands towards the past, the present, and 
the future, explains the unreasoning neglect of his 
poetic genius during his life." True, it explains it, 
but it does not on that account justify it. On the 
contrary, it suggests the thought that the same 



odiu7}i theologicum which so long retarded the recog- 
nition of Shelley's poetical powers may still be a 
fertile cause of the obloqay and misrepresentation 
often cast on his character and opinions. But this, 
too, will pass. It has taken the Quarterly Review 
close on seventy years to discover that Shelley is a 
great poet ; seventy years more, and it will perhaps 
think fit to rescind its present verdict that he was 
''in mind a genius, in moral character and per- 
ception, a child.'* — To-day f Jan., 1888. 


Among all the fallacies current respecting Shelley's 
character, none perhaps is so remarkable as the idea 
that if his life hud been prolonged he would have 
adopted the tenets of the Christian religion. At first 
sight there seems to be something so paradoxical in 
this theory, that it might be thought to be pro- 
pounded on the lucus a non lucendo principle, to wit, 
the assumption that a man's nature is to be estimated, 
not from what he is, but from what he is not. Bat, 
on second thoughts, it is less difiicult to discover the 
origin of this disposition to recognise a possible friend 

1 Cf. Chap. XII., p. 199. 


in an avowed foe. The natural piety and unaOected 
sincerity of Shelley's character attracted the admira- 
tion of all who knew him. Even the anonymous 
" Newspaper Editor/' who published his '^ Beminis- 
cences" in Fraser in 1841, though hostile to Shelley 
on most points, condescended to make an exception 
on this. " When I remember," wrote this acute 
moralist, ** how kind he was to his friends, how 
charitable to the unfortunate, I feel inclined to exclaim 
that infidelity does not necessarily make a man a 

It is not surprising, therefore, that a number of 
Christian writers, who could admire the practice of 
virtue apart from the profession of religion, were 
inclined to treat Shelley with indulgence, and almost 
with tenderness. Hence arose what may be called 
the " poor, poor Shelley " theory, by which it was 
pleaded on the poet's behalf that this erring lamb 
would eventually have developed into a respectable 
sheep of the orthodox fold. I believe this notion 
rests on a serious misconception of Shelley's char- 
acter and mental abilities. It is the more necessary 
it should be controverted, since otherwise, having 
been held and advanced by men who were in the 
main sincere admirers of Shelley's genius, it is likely 
to be accepted as an undeniable estimate of what his 
position would have been, had he lived the full term 
of life ; whereas it is really nothing more than a mere 


sapposition, in which the irish is obrioaalj father to 
the tboaght. 

We find that the idea of Shelley's possible con- 
version to the Christian faith had been advanced bj 
some of his readers even in his life-time. In a letter 
written in 1820, he alludes to an article in OUier't 
Literary MiscelUiny,written by Archdeacon Hare^whoy 
as we are told in the " Shelley Memorials," "despite 
his orthodoxy, was a great admirer of Shelley's 
genius." In this article the hope was expressed that 
Sbelley woald in time hamble his soul, and " receive 
the spirit into him ; " a suggestion which caused him 
irreverently to inquire " wliat he means by receiving 
the spirit into me, and (if really it is any good) how 
one is to get at it/' 

But it was not until after Shelley's death that the 
theory of ultimate reconciliation was very seriously 
propounded. Coleridge's fine remark on the subject 
is well known. "His (Shellej's) discussion, tending 
towards Atheism of a certain sort, would not have 
scared m^; for me it would have been a semi-trans- 
parent larva, soon to be glorified, and through which 
I should have seen the true image, the final meta- 
morphosis. Besides, I have ever thought that sort 
of Atheism the next best religion to Christianity; 
nor does the better faith I have learnt from Paul and 
John interfere with the cordial reverence I feel for 
Benedict Spinoza." It may well be that Coleridge, 


if he had conversed with Shelley at the time of the 
writing of " Queen Mab," would have foreseen the 
true image of his later ideal philosophy through the 
"semi-transparent larva "of his early materialism; 
but to become a follower of Plato is not the same 
thing as to accept the Christian dogma. Profound 
thinker as he was, Coleridge was conspicuously 
destitute of that moral enthusiasm which was the 
chief motive-power in Shelley's character ; it is not 
surprising, therefore, that he should have partly mis- 
judged him, especially as they had never personally 

Yet Coleridge's opinion of the change that might 
have been wrought in Shelley's creed has been un- 
hesitatingly accepted by many other writers. In Gil- 
fillan's " Gallery of Literary Portraits," we find it sug- 
gested that *' had pity and kindhearted expostulation 
been tried, instead of reproach and abrupt expulsion, 
they (i.e., the Oxford authorities) might have weaned 
Shelley from the dry dugs of Atheism to the milky 
breast of the faith and ' worship of sorrow,' and the 
touching spectacle had been renewed of the demoniac 
sitting, clothed and in his right mind, at the feet of 
Jesus." It seems to me that this "literary portrait," 
kindly and well-meant as it was, would have appeared 
to Shelley, could he have seen it, as " immeasurably 
amusing" as the hope expressed by Archdeacon 



Nevertheless the same idea is stated, though in a 
more weighty manner, and without any admixture of 
the grotesque, both in Frederick Robertson's address 
to the Brighton " Working Men's Institute," and in 
Robert Browning's "Preface to Shelley's Letters." 
Keferring specially to " Queen Mab," Kobertson 
speaks as follows : " Poor, poor Shelley ! All that 
he knew of Christianity was as a system of exclusion 
and bitterness which was to drive him from his 
country. . . . Yet I cannot help feeling that there 
was a spirit in poor Shelley's mind which might have 
assimilated with the spirit of his Redeemer — nay, 
which I will dare to say was kindred with that 
spirit, if only his Redeemer had been differently 
imaged to him." Robert Browning's view is very 
similar : '* I shall say what I think ; had Shelley 
lived he would have finally ranged himself with the 
Christians ; his very instinct for helping the weaker 
side (if numbers make strength) ; his very * hate of 
hate,' which at first mistranslated itself into delirious 
* Queen Mab' notes, and the like, would have got 
clearer-sighted by exercise." Elsewhere in the same 
essay he speaks of Shelley " mistaking Churchdom 
for Christianity," and for marriage " the sale of love 
and the law of sexual oppression." 

Last, but not least, in this list of authorities (a for- 
midable list it must be confessed) who are inclined 
to see the potential Christian in the actual heretic. 


I must mention Hawthorne's very characteristic 
reference to Shelley in the second series of his 
'* Mosses from an Old Manse." " P's Correspondence " 
professes to be a letter received from a lunatic friend 
who, " without once stirring from his little white- 
washed, iron-grated room, is nevertheless a great 
traveller, and meets in his wanderings a variety of 
personages who have long ceased to be visible to any 
eye save his own." Shelley, now well advanced in 
years, is one of these imaginary personages. The 
writer, *'P.," describes how, on his first introduction 
to the author of " Queen Mab," who had now become 
reconciled to the Church of England and had lately 
taken orders, he felt considerable embarrassment, 
but was speedily reassured by Shelley's perfect self- 
possession. The poet pointed out to him that in all 
his works, from the juvenile *' Queen Mab," to his 
recently-published volume treating of the " Proofs 
of Christianity on the Basis of the Thirty-nine 
Articles," there was a logical sequence and natural 
progression. "They are like the successive steps of 
a staircase, the lowest of which, in the depth of chaos, 
is as essential to the support of the whole as the 
highest and final one resting upon the threshold of 
the heavens." It is difficult to judge how far there 
is serious intent in this imaginary sketch of Shelley's 
later life ; for the passage is veiled in that cloak of 
fantastic humour in which Hawthorne delighted to 


envelop hia writings. For mj ovrn part I should be 
inclined to regard it as a delicate satire on the theory 
of Shelley's probable conversion to orthodoxy, were 
it not that Hawthorne, whose genius was so diverse 
from that of the yonthfal poet, woald be natorally 
prone to nnder-valoe Shelley's mental powers and 
the stability of his philosophic creed. Believing 
that Shelley's revolntionary doctrines were all moon- 
shine, he probably thoaght they would have dis- 
appeared with the advent of matnrer years, thus 
making way for the adoption of the established 

It may seem presumptuous to question the pro- 
bability of a theory which can boast among its sup- 
porters such names as those of Coleridge, Browning, 
and Hawthorne ; but it must be remembered, on the 
other hand, that this view of Shelley's character is 
not one which has found favour among the earnest 
group of Shelley students who during the last ten or 
twelve years have thrown so much new light on the 
subject of his life and writings. Even De Quincey, 
who of course differed toio coelo from Shelley on 
religious questions, long ago saw the absurdity of 
Gilfillan's "portrait" of Shelley as the converted 
" demoniac." ** I am not of that opinion," he wrote, 
hi his essay on Shelley, '* and it is an opinion which 
seems to question the sincei'ity of Shelley, that quality 
which in him was deepest so as to form the basis of 


his uature, if we allow ourselves to think that by 
personal irritation he had been piqued into in- 
fidelity, or that by flattering conciliation he could 
have been bribed back into a profession of Chris- 
tianity. Like a wild horse of the Pampas, he would 
have thrown up his heels, and whinnied his dis- 
dain of any man coming to catch liim with a bribe 
of oats." 

Those again, who argue that because Shelley died 
young, his doctrines were necessarily crude and im- 
mature, forget that life is not measured by years, but 
experience. Shelley is reported to have said on the 
day before his death — " If I die to-morrow, I have 
lived to be older than my father; I am ninety years 
of age ; " and the more one considers his character 
the more untenable seems the contention that his 
opinions were the outcome of mere thoughtlessness 
and immaturity. Whether he was right or wrong in 
his conclusions is another question ; but his con- 
victions were certainly formed and held both rationally 
and conscientiously, and up to the date of his death 
there is no sign that he had changed, was changing, 
or was likely to change, in the determined hostility 
which he always felt and expressed against the 
Christian dogma. 

Frederick Robertson's remark that Shelley knew 
nothing of Christianity bat as *' a system of exclusion 
and bitterness " was only partly correct. It is true 



that Shelley had not carefully studied the historical 
development of Chrifltianity ; but he was very far 
from beiii^ the bigoted opponent for which Robert- 
son mistook him. The Bible was one of the books 
tliat were most often in his hands, and his intimate 
love and knowledge of the Old and New Testaments 
might have put to sliame many of those religions 
peryoiis who regarded him as a scoflRng infidel. But 
the most important point of all to notice, in the con- 
sider.ktion of this question, is that Shelley drew a 
strong lino of distinction between the character of 
Christ and the character of Christianity; so that 
those who claim him as a possible convert to Chris- 
tianity are laying stress on what tells against their 
own theory, when they point out his affinity to the 
spiiit of Christ. 

Shelley's views on this subject may be seen in 
various passages of his writings, especially in the 
" Letter to Lord Ellenborough," the " Essay on 
Christianity," and the ** Notes to Hellas." In the 
last-mentioned work, written in the full maturity of 
his powers, he thus states his opinion of the contrast 
between Christ and Christian. ** The sublime human 
character of Jesus Christ was deformed by an im- 
puted identification with a power who tempted, be- 
betrayed, and punished the innocent beings who 
were called into existence by his sole will ; and for 
the period of a thousand years the spirit of this most 


just, wise and benevoleut of men has been propiti- 
ated with myriads of hecatombs of those who ap- 
proached the nearest to his innocence and wisdom, 
sacrificed under every aggravation of atrocity and 
variety of torture.'*" When we are told that Shelley, 
holding these Views, would have ultimately embraced 
the Christian religion because of his sympathy with 
its founder, we can only reply that such an argu- 
ment (to quote Shelley's own words) ** presupposes 
that he who rejects Christianity must be utterly 
divested of reason and feeling." 

It may be said that the gospel preached by Shelley 
was, like that of Christianity, a gospel of love. But 
here again the distinction between the teaching of 
Christ and the teaching of his followers is a vital 
point. And it must be noted that the love which 
Shelley inculcates is represented by him as resulting 
from the innate goodness, the natural benevolence of 
mankind, and not from any sense of religions obliga- 
tion. Free-thought and liberty are the very basis 
of the Shelleyan morality, it being Shelley's conten- 
tion that virtue results from the intuitive desire to 
promote the happiness of others, and that morality 
must languish in proportion as freedom of thought 
and action is withdrawn. Whatever may be the 
merits or demerits of this code of morals, it can 
scarcely be held to be compatible with the doc- 
trines of established Christianity. If Shelley had 


been merely sceptical and irreligious, if his character 
had in the slightest degree resembled that of Byron, 
there would have been some colonr for the notion 
that he would not have always remained a recusant ; 
but so far was he from being simply an " honest 
doubter/' on the look-out for a religious creed, that 
he must be regarded as an enthusiast of the strongest 
type, with a mission to perform and a message 
to deliver to the world; above all, with a firm faith 
in the truth of what he was preaching. 

It would perhaps be an exaggeration to say that 
the idea of Shelley's conversion to Christianity is 
inconceivable ; but it is simple truth to say that, had 
such an event taken place, he would no longer have 
been Shelley, but a wholly different person, — whether 
better or worse it is not within my province to 
determine, but certainly wholly different in nature, 
character, and habits of thought. Whether it is 
likely that such a transformation would have taken 
place if Shelley's life had been prolonged, is a point 
which every Shelley student will determine for him- 
self; but, the likelihood once granted, I myself 
should find no diflficulty in further believing (with 
the madman of Hawthorne's story) that Shelley 
would have ** applied his fine powers to the vindica- 
tion of the Christian faith," and, having taken orders, 
would have been " inducted to a small country living 
in the gift of the Lord Chancellor." This would 


indeed have been a gratifying realiBation of Gilfillan'H 
picture of the demoniac, " clothed and in his right 
mind." — Progress, April, 1887. 

Butler A Tanner, The Helwood Printing Wurks, Frome, und Loudon.