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Full text of "Shelley at Oxford"


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English literature 

puvcbased in part 

tbrouflb a contribution to tbe 

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SHELLEY AT OXFORD 





SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

BY 

THOMAS JEFFERSON HOGG 

WITH AN INTRODUCTION 
BY 

R. A. STREATFEILD 



METHUEN & CO. 

36 ESSEX STREET W.C. 

LONDON 

1904 



INTRODUCTION 

THOMAS JEFFERSON HOGG'S 
account of Shelley 'scarcer at Oxford first 
appeared in the form of a series of articles con- 
tributed to the New Monthly Magazine in 1832 
and 1833. It was afterwards incorporated into 
his Life of Shelley, which was published in 
1858. It is by common consent the most life- 
like portrait of the poet left by any of his 
contemporaries. "Hogg," said Trelawny, 
"has painted Shelley exactly as I knew him," 
and Mary Shelley, referring to Hogg's articles 
in her edition of Shelley's poems, bore witness 
to the fidelity with which her husband's 
character had been delineated. In later times 
everyone who has written about Shelley has 
drawn upon Hogg more or less freely, for he is 
practically the only authority upon Shelley's six 
months at Oxford. Yet, save in the extracts 
that appear in various biographies of the poet, 
this remarkable work is little known. Hogg's 



vi INTRODUCTION 

fragmentary Life of Shelley was discredited by 
the plainly-expressed disapproval of the Shelley 
family and has never been reprinted. But 
the inaccuracies, to call them by no harsher 
term, that disfigure Hogg's later production 
do not affect the value of his earlier narrative, 
the substantial truth of which has never been 
impugned. 

In 1832 the New Monthly Magazine was 
edited by the first Lord Lytton (at that time 
Edward Lytton Bulwer), to whom Hogg was 
introduced by Mrs Shelley. Hogg complained 
bitterly of the way in which his manuscript 
was treated. "To write articles in a magazine 
or a review," he observed in the Preface to his 
Life of Shelley^ "is to walk in leading-strings. 
However, I submitted to the requirements and 
restraints of bibliopolar discipline, being con- 
tent to speak of my young fellow-collegian, 
not exactly as I would, but as I might. I 
struggled at first, and feebly, for full liberty 
of speech, for a larger license of commenda- 
tion and admiration, for entire freedom of the 
press without censorship." Bulwer, however, 
was inexorable, and it is owing, no doubt, 
to his salutary influence that the style of 
Hogg's account of Shelley's Oxford days is 



INTRODUCTION vii 

so far superior to that of his later compila- 
tion. Hogg, in fact, tacitly admitted the 
value of Bulwer's emendations by reprinting 
the articles in question in his biography of 
Shelley word for word as they appeared in 
the New Monthly Magazine, not in the form 
in which they originally left his pen. 

Hogg himself was unquestionably a man of 
remarkable powers, though his present fame 
depends almost entirely upon his connection 
with Shelley. He was born in 1792, being 
the eldest son of John Hogg, a gentleman of 
old family and strong Tory opinions, who 
lived at Norton in the county of Durham. 
He was educated at Durham Grammar School, 
and entered University College, Oxford, in 
January 1810, a short time before Shelley. 
The account of his meeting with Shelley and 
of their intimacy down to the day of their 
expulsion is told in these pages. 

On the strength of a remark of Trelawny's 
it has often been repeated that Hogg was a 
hard-headed man of the world who despised 
literature, "he thought it all nonsense and 
barely tolerated Shakespeare." Such is not 
the impression that a reader of these pages will 
retain, nor, I think, will he be inclined to echo 



viii INTRODUCTION 

the opinion pronounced by another critic that 
Hogg regarded Shelley with a kind of amused 
disdain. On the contrary, it is plain that 
Hogg entertained for Shelley a sincere regard 
and admiration, and although himself a man 
of temperament directly opposed to that 
usually described as poetical, he was fully 
capable of appreciating the transcendent 
qualities of his friend's genius. There is 
little to add to the tale of Hogg's and 
Shelley's Oxford life as told in the following 
narrative, but further details as to their 
expulsion and the causes that led to it may 
be read in Professor Dowden's biography 
of the poet. After leaving Oxford, Hogg 
established himself at York, where he was 
articled to a conveyancer. There he was 
visited by Shelley and his young wife, Harriet 
Westbrook, in the course of their wanderings. 
For the latter Hogg conceived a violent 
passion, and during a brief absence of Shelley's 
assailed her with the most unworthy proposals, 
which she communicated to her husband on 
his return. After a painful interview Shelley 
forgave his friend, but left York with his wife 
abruptly for Keswick. Letters passed between 
Hogg and Shelley, Hogg at first demanding 



INTRODUCTION ix 

Harriet's forgiveness under a threat of suicide 
and subsequently challenging Shelley to a duel. 
One of Shelley's replies, characteristically 
noble in sentiment, was printed by Hogg with 
cynical effrontery in his biography of the poet 
many years later as a "Fragment of a Novel." 
After these incidents there was no intercourse 
between the two until, in October 1812, the 
Shelleys arrived in London, whither Hogg had 
moved. From that time until Shelley's final 
departure from England in 1818 his connection 
with Hogg was resumed with much of its old 
intimacy. 

In the year 1813 Hogg produced a 
work of fiction, The Memoirs of Prince Alexy 
Haimatoff) said to be translated from the 
original Latin MSS. under the immediate 
inspection of the Prince, by John Brown, 
Esq. The tale, which is for the most 
part told in stilted and extravagant language, 
can hardly be called amusing, but the dis- 
cussions upon liberty which are a feature of it 
appear to be an echo of Shelley's conversation, 
and the hero himself may possibly be in- 
tended as a portrait of the poet. Certainly 
there are points in the Prince's description of 
himself which seem to be borrowed from 



x INTRODUCTION 

Shelley's physiognomy. " My complexion was 
a clear brown, rather inclining to yellow ; 
my hair a deep and bright black ; my eyes 
dark and strongly expressive of pride and 
anger, . . . my hands very small, and my 
head remarkable for its roundness and 
diminutive size." It would be interesting to 
trace in the other characters the portraits of 
various members of Hogg's circle. Mr 
Garnett identifies Gothon as Dr Lind, the 
Eton tutor whose sympathy and encourage- 
ment did much to alleviate the misery of 
Shelley's school-days. The fair Rosalie ought 
to be Harriet, and certain features of her char- 
acter recall that unhappy damsel, but Rosalie _ 
disliked reading and thought Aristotle an 
"egregious trifler," whereas Harriet's taste in 
literature was of an extreme seriousness, and 
her partiality for reading works of a moral 
tendency to her companions in season and 
out of season was one of the least engaging 
features of her character. 

Shelley reviewed The Memoirs of Prince 
Alexy Haimatoff in the Critical Review of 
December 1814, discussing the talents of the 
author in terms of glowing; eulogy, though he 
found fault with his views on the subject of 



INTRODUCTION xi 

sexual relations. Soon after his York experi- 
ences Hogg had entered at the Middle Temple 
and he was called to the Bar in 1817. He was 
not successful as a barrister, lacking the quick- 
ness and ready eloquence that command success. 
In or about the year 1826 Hogg married Jane, 
the widow of Edward Ellerker Williams, who 
had shared Shelley's fate three years previously. 
It is said that Mrs Williams insisted upon 
Hogg's preparing himself for the union, or 
perhaps we should rather say, proving his 
devotion, by a course of foreign travel. Hogg 
undertook the ordeal, voluntarily depriving 
himself of three things, each of which, to use 
his own words, " daily habit had taught me to 
consider a prime necessary of life law, Greek, 
and an English newspaper." In 1827 he 
published the record of his tour in two volumes, 
entitled Two Hundred and Nine Days ; or, 
The Journal of a Traveller on tine Continent, 
which, so far from illustrating the anguish of 
hope deferred, is a storehouse of shrewd and 
cynical observation. 

In 1833 Hogg was appointed one of the 
Municipal Corporation Commissioners for 
England and Wales, and for many years he 
acted as Revising Barrister for Northumberland, 



xii INTRODUCTION 

Berwick and the Northern Boroughs. About 
1855 he was commissioned by the Shelley 
family to write the poet's biography and was 
furnished with the necessary papers. In 1858 
he produced the two extant volumes, which 
proved so little satisfactory to Shelley's repre- 
sentatives that the materials for the continuation 
of his task were withdrawn and the work 
interrupted, never to be resumed. Hogg died 
in 1862. He was a man of varied culture ; 
in knowledge of Greek few scholars of his 
time surpassed him, and he was well read in 
German, French, Italian and Spanish. He 
was a fair botanist, and rejoiced to think that 
he was born upon the anniversary of the birth 
of Linnaeus, for whose concise and simple style 
he professed a great admiration. Nevertheless 
it is chiefly as the friend and biographer of 
Shelley that he interests the present generation, 
and the re-publication of his account of the 
poet's Oxford experiences can scarcely fail to 
win him new admirers. 

R. A. STREATFEILD 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 



CHAPTER I 

WHAT is the greatest disappoint- 
ment in life ? The question has 
often been asked. In a perfect life that 
is to say, in a long course of various dis- 
appointments, when the collector has com- 
pleted the entire set and series, which 
should he pronounce to be the greatest ? 
What is the greatest disappointment of 
all ? The question has often been asked, 
and it has received very different answers. 
Some have said matrimony ; others, the 
accession of an inheritance that had long 
been anxiously anticipated ; others, the 
attainment of honours ; others, the de- 
liverance from an ancient and intolerable 
nuisance, since a new and more grievous 
one speedily succeeded to the old. Many 



2 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

solutions have been proposed, and each 
has been ingeniously supported. At a 
very early age I had formed a splendid 
picture of the glories of our two Uni- 
versities. My father took pleasure in 
describing his academical career. I 
listened to him with great delight, and 
many circumstances gave additional force 
to these first impressions. The clergy 
and in the country they make one's princi- 
pal guests always spoke of these establish- 
ments with deep reverence, and of their 
academical days as the happiest of their 
lives. 

When I went to school, my prejudices 
were strengthened ; for the master noticed 
all deficiencies in learning as being 
unfit, and every remarkable proficiency as 
being fit, for the University. Such ex- 
pressions marked the utmost limits of 
blame and of praise. Whenever any of 
the elder boys were translated to college 
and several went thither from our school 
every year the transmission was accom- 
panied with a certain awe. I had always 
contemplated my own removal with the 
like feeling, and as the period approached, 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 3 

I anticipated it with a reverent impatience. 
The appointed day at last arrived, and I 
set out with a schoolfellow, about to 
enter the same career, and his father. 
The latter was a dutiful and a most 
grateful son of alma mater ; and the con- 
versation of this estimable man, during 
our long journey, fanned the flame of my 
young ardour. Such, indeed, had been 
the effect of his discourse for many 
years ; and as he possessed a complete 
collection of the Oxford Almanacks, 
and it had been a great and frequent 
gratification to contemplate the engrav- 
ings at the top of the annual sheets 
when I visited his quiet vicarage, I was 
already familiar with the aspect of the 
noble buildings that adorn that famous 
city. After travelling for several days 
we reached the last stage, and soon 
afterwards approached the point whence, 
I was told, we might discern the first 
glimpse of the metropolis of learning. 
I strained my eyes to catch a view of 
that land of promise, for which I had 
so eagerly longed. The summits of 
towers and spires and domes appeared 



4 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

afar and faintly ; then the prospect 
was obstructed. By degrees it opened 
upon us again, and we saw the tall trees 
that shaded the colleges. At three 
o'clock on a fine autumnal afternoon we 
entered the streets of Oxford. Although 
the weather was cold we had let down 
all the windows of our post-chaise, and 
I sat forward, devouring every object 
with greedy eyes. Members of the 
University, of different ages and ranks, 
were gliding through the quiet streets of 
the venerable city in academic costume. 

We devoted two or three days to 
the careful examination of the various 
objects of interest that Oxford con- 
tains. The eye was gratified, for the 
external appearance of the University 
even surpassed the bright picture which 
my youthful imagination had painted. 
The outside was always admirable ; it 
was far otherwise with the inside. It is 
essential to the greatness of a disappoint- 
ment that the previous expectation 
should have been great. Nothing could 
exceed my young anticipations noth- 
ing could be more complete than their 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 5 

overthrow. It would be impossible to 
describe my feelings without speaking 
harshly and irreverently of the venerable 
University. On this subject, then, I 
will only confess my disappointment, 
and discreetly be silent as to its causes. 
Whatever those causes, I grew, at least, 
and I own it cheerfully, soon pleased 
with Oxford, on the whole ; pleased 
with the beauty of the city and its 
gentle river, and the pleasantness of the 
surrroundirig country. 

Although no great facilities were 
afforded to the student, there were the 
same opportunities of solitary study as 
in other places. All the irksome 
restraints of school were removed, and 
those of the University are few and 
trifling. Our fare was good, although 
not so good, perhaps, as it ought to 
have been, in return for the enormous 
cost ; and I liked the few companions 
with whom I most commonly mixed. 
I continued to lead a life of tranquil 
and studious and somewhat melancholy 
contentment until the long vacation, 
which I spent with my family ; and, 



6 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

when it expired, I returned to the 
University. 

At the commencement of Michaelmas 
term that is, at the end of October, in 
the year 1810, I happened one day to 
sit next to a freshman at dinner. It 
was his first appearance in hall. His 
figure was slight, and his aspect remark- 
ably youthful, even at our table, where 
all were very young. He seemed 
thoughtful and absent. He ate little, 
and had no acquaintance with anyone. 
I know not how it was that we fell into 
conversation, for such familiarity was 
unusual, and, strange to say, much 
reserve prevailed in a society where 
there could not possibly be occasion for 
any. We have often endeavoured in 
vain to recollect in what manner our dis- 
course began, and especially by what tran- 
sition it passed to a subject sufficiently 
remote from all the associations we 
were able to trace. The stranger had 
expressed an enthusiastic admiration for 
poetical and imaginative works of the 
German school ; I dissented from his 
criticisms. He upheld the originality 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 7 

of the German writings!; I asserted their 
want of nature. 

" What modern literature," said he, 
* * will you compare to theirs ? " 

I named the Italian. This roused 
all his impetuosity ; and few, as I soon 
discovered, were more impetuous in 
argumentative conversation. So eager 
was our dispute that, when the servants 
came in to clear the tables, we were not 
aware that we had been left alone. I 
remarked that it was time to quit the 
hall, and I invited the stranger to 
finish the discussion at my rooms. He 
eagerly assented. He lost the thread 
of his discourse in the transit, and the 
whole of his enthusiasm in the cause of 
Germany ; for, as soon as he arrived at 
my rooms, and whilst I was lighting the 
candles, he said calmly, and to my great 
surprise, that he was not qualified to 
maintain such a discussion, for he was 
alike ignorant of Italian and German, and 
had only read the works of the Germans 
in translations, and but little of Italian 
poetry, even at second hand. For my 
part, I confessed, with an equal in- 



8 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

genuousness, that I knew nothing of 
German, and but little of Italian ; that 
I had spoken only through others, and, 
like him, had hitherto seen by the 
glimmering light of translations. 

It is upon such scanty data that 
young men reason ; upon such slender 
materials do they build up their 
opinions. It may be urged, however, 
that if they did not discourse freely 
with each other upon insufficient in- 
formation for such alone can be 
acquired in the pleasant morning of 
life, and until they educate themselves 
they would be constrained to observe 
a perpetual silence, and to forego the 
numerous advantages that flow from 
frequent and liberal discussion. 

I inquired of the vivacious stranger, 
as we sat over our wine and dessert, 
how long he had been at Oxford, and how 
he liked it? He answered my ques- 
tions with a certain impatience, and, 
resuming the subject of our discussion, 
he remarked that, " Whether the litera- 
ture of Germany or of Italy be the 
more original, or in a purer and more 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 9 

accurate taste, is of little importance, 
for polite letters are but vain trifling ; 
the study of languages, not only of the 
modern tongues, but of Latin and 
Greek also, is merely the study of 
words and phrases, of the names of 
things ; it matters not how they are 
called. It is surely far better to investi- 
gate things themselves." I inquired, 
a little bewildered, how this was to be 
effected ? He answered, " Through the 
physical sciences, and especially through 
chemistry ; " and, raising his voice, his 
face flushing as he spoke, he discoursed 
with a degree of animation, that far 
outshone his zeal in defence of the 
Germans, of chemistry and chemical 
analysis. Concerning that science, then 
so popular, I had merely a scanty and 
vulgar knowledge, gathered from 
elementary books, and the ordinary 
experiments of popular lecturers. I 
listened, therefore, in silence to his 
eloquent disquisition, interposing a few 
brief questions only, and at long 
intervals, as to the extent of his own 
studies and manipulations. As I felt, 



10 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

in truth, but a slight interest in the 
subject of his conversation, I had 
leisure to examine, and, I may add, to 
admire, the appearance of my very 
extraordinary guest. It was a sum of 
many contradictions. His figure was 
slight and fragile, and yet his bones and 
joints were large and strong. He was 
tall, but he stooped so much that he 
seemed of a low stature. His clothes 
were expensive, and made according to 
the most approved mode of the day, 
but they were tumbled, rumpled, un- 
brushed. His gestures were abrupt, 
and sometimes violent, occasionally 
even awkward, yet more frequently 
gentle and graceful. His complexion 
was delicate and almost feminine, of the 
purest red and white ; yet he was tanned 
and freckled by exposure to the sun, 
having passed the autumn, as he said, in 
shooting. His features, his whole face, 
and particularly his head, were, in fact, 
unusually small ; yet the last appeared 
of a remarkable bulk, for his hair was 
long and bushy, and in fits of absence, 
and in the agonies (if I may use the 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 11 

word) of anxious thought, he often 
rubbed it fiercely with his hands, or 
passed his fingers quickly through his 
locks unconsciously, so that it was 
singularly wild and rough. In times 
when it was the mode to imitate stage- 
coachmen as closely as possible in 
costume, and when the hair was invari- 
ably cropped, like that of our soldiers, 
this eccentricity was very striking. 
His features were not symmetrical 
(the mouth, perhaps, excepted), yet was 
the effect of the whole extremely power- 
ful. They breathed an animation, a 
fire, an enthusiasm, a vivid and preter- 
natural intelligence, that I never met 
with in any other countenance. Nor 
was the moral expression less beautiful 
than the intellectual ; for there was a 
softness, a delicacy, a gentleness, and 
especially (though this will surprise 
many) that air of profound religious 
veneration that characterises the best 
works, and chiefly the frescoes (and 
into these they infused their whole 
souls) of the great masters of Florence 
and of Rome. I recognised the very 



12 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

peculiar expression in these wonderful 
productions long afterwards, and with 
a satisfaction mingled with much 
sorrow, for it was after the decease of 
him in whose countenance I had first 
observed it. I admired the enthusiasm 
of my new acquaintance, his ardour in 
the cause of science and his thirst for 
knowledge. I seemed to have found in 
him all those intellectual qualities which 
I had vainly expected to meet with 
in a University. But there was one 
physical blemish that threatened to 
neutralise all his excellence. ct This is 
a fine, clever fellow ! " I said to myself, 
"but I can never bear his society; I 
shall never be able to endure his voice ; 
it would kill me. What a pity it is ! " 
I am very sensible of imperfections, 
and especially of painful sounds, and 
the voice of the stranger was excruciat- 
ing. It was intolerably shrill, harsh and 
discordant ; of the most cruel intension. 
It was perpetual, and without any 
remission ; it excoriated the ears. He 
continued to discourse on chemistry, 
sometimes sitting, sometimes standing 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 13 

before the fire, and sometimes pacing 
about the room ; and when one of the 
innumerable clocks, that speak in various 
notes during the day and the night at 
Oxford, proclaimed a quarter to seven, 
he said suddenly that he must go to a 
lecture on mineralogy, and declared 
enthusiastically that he expected to 
derive much pleasure and instruction 
from it. I am ashamed to own that 
the cruel voice made me hesitate for a 
moment ; but it was impossible to omit 
so indispensable a civility I invited 
him to return to tea. He gladly 
assented, promised that he would not be 
absent long, snatched his hat, hurried 
out of the room, and I heard his foot- 
steps, as he ran through the silent 
quadrangle and afterwards along High 
Street. 

An hour soon elapsed, whilst the table 
was cleared and the tea was made, and I 
again heard the footsteps of one running 
quickly. My guest suddenly burst into 
the room, threw down his cap, and as he 
stood shivering and chafing his hands 
over the fire, he declared how much 



14 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

he had been disappointed in the lecture. 
Few persons attended ; it was dull and 
languid, and he was resolved never to go 
to another. 

" I went away, indeed, " he added, 
with an arch look, and in a shrill whisper, 
coming close to me as he spoke "I 
went away, indeed, before the lecture was 
finished. I stole away, for it was so 
stupid, and I was so cold that my teeth 
chattered. The Professor saw me, and 
appeared to be displeased. I thought I 
could have got out without being 
observed, but I struck my knee against 
a bench and made a noise, and he looked 
at me. I am determined that he shall 
never see me again." 

" What did the man talk about ? " 
" About stones ! about stones ! " he 
answered, with a downcast look and in 
a melancholy tone, as if about to 
say something excessively profound. 
" About stones ! stones, stones, stones ! 
nothing but stones ! and so drily. 
It was wonderfully tiresome, and stones 
are not interesting things in them- 
selves ! " 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 15 

We took tea, and soon afterwards had 
supper, as was usual. He discoursed 
after supper with as much warmth as before 
of the wonders of chemistry ; of the 
encouragement that Napoleon afforded 
to that most important science ; of 
the French chemists and their glorious 
discoveries, and of the happiness of 
visiting Paris and sharing in their fame 
and their experiments. The voice, how- 
ever, seemed to me more cruel than 
ever. He spoke, likewise, of his own 
labours and of his apparatus, and starting 
up suddenly after supper, he proposed 
that I should go instantly with him to 
see the galvanic trough. I looked at 
my watch, and observed that it was too 
late ; that the fire would be out, and the 
night was cold. He resumed his seat, 
saying that I might come on the 
morrow early, to breakfast, immediately 
after chapel. He continued to declaim 
in his rapturous strain, asserting that 
chemistry was, in truth, the only science 
that deserved to be studied. I sug- 
gested doubts. I ventured to question 
the pre-eminence of the science, and even 



16 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

to hesitate in admitting its utility. He 
described in glowing language some 
discoveries that had lately been made ; 
but the enthusiastic chemist candidly 
allowed that they were rather brilliant 
than useful, asserting, however, that 
they would soon be applied to purposes 
of solid advantage. 

"Is not the time of by far the larger 
proportion of the human species/' he 
inquired, with his fervid manner and in 
his piercing tones, " wholly consumed in 
severe labour ? And is not this devotion 
of our race of the whole of our race, I 
may say (for those who, like ourselves, 
are indulged with an exemption from 
the hard lot are so few in comparison 
with the rest, that they scarcely deserve 
to be taken into account) absolutely 
necessary to procure subsistence, so 
that men have no leisure for recreation 
or the high improvement of the mind ? 
Yet this incessant toil is still inadequate 
to procure an abundant supply of the 
common necessaries of life. Some are 
doomed actually to want them, and 
many are compelled to be content with 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 17 

an insufficient provision. We know 
little of the peculiar nature of those 
substances which are proper for the 
nourishment of animals ; we are 
ignorant of the qualities that make them 
fit for this end. Analysis has advanced 
so rapidly of late that we may con- 
fidently anticipate that we shall soon 
discover wherein their aptitude really 
consists ; having ascertained the cause, 
we shall next be able to command it, and 
to produce at our pleasure the desired 
effects. It is easy, even in our present 
state of ignorance, to reduce our ordinary 
food to carbon, or to lime ; a moderate 
advancement in chemical science will 
speedily enable us, we may hope, to 
create, with equal facility, food from 
substances that appear at present to be 
as ill adapted to sustain us. What is 
the cause of the remarkable fertility of 
some lands, and of the hopeless sterility 
of others? A spadeful of the most 
productive soil does not to the eye 
differ much from the same quantity 
taken from the most barren. The real 
difference is probably very slight ; by 



18 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

chemical agency the philosopher may 
work a total change, and may transmute 
an unfruitful region into a land of 
exuberant plenty. Water, like the 
atmospheric air, is compounded of cer- 
tain gases ; in the progress of scientific 
discovery a simple and sure method of 
manufacturing the useful fluid, in every 
situation and in any quantity, may be 
detected. The arid deserts of Africa 
may then be refreshed by a copious 
supply and may be transformed at once 
into rich meadows and vast fields of 
maize and rice. The generation of heat 
is a mystery, but enough of the theory 
of caloric has already been developed to 
induce us to acquiesce in the notion that 
it will hereafter, and perhaps at no very 
distant period, be possible to produce 
heat at will, and to warm the most 
ungenial climates as readily as we now 
raise the temperature of our apartments 
to whatever degree we may deem 
agreeable or salutary. If, however, it 
be too much to anticipate that we shall 
ever become sufficiently skilful to 
command such a prodigious supply of 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 19 

heat, we may expect, without the fear of 
disappointment, soon to understand its 
nature and the causes of combustion, so far 
at least, as to provide ourselves cheaply 
with a fund of heat that will supersede 
our costly and inconvenient fuel, and 
will suffice to warm our habitations, for 
culinary purposes and for the various 
demands of the mechanical arts. We 
could not determine without actual 
experiment whether an unknown sub- 
stance were combustible ; when we shall 
have thoroughly investigated the pro- 
perties of fire, it may be that we shall 
be qualified to communicate to clay, to 
stones, and to water itself, a chemical 
recomposition that will render them as 
inflammable as wood, coals and oil ; for 
the difference of structure is minute 
and invisible, and the power of feeding 
flame may, perhaps, be easily added to 
any substance, or taken away from it. 
What a comfort would it be to the poor 
at all times, and especially at this season, 
if we were capable of solving this 
problem alone, if we could furnish them 
with a competent supply of heat ! 



20 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

These speculations may appear wild, 
and it may seem improbable that they 
will ever be realised to persons who 
have not extended their views of what 
is practicable by closely watching science 
in its course onward ; but there are 
many mysterious powers, many irresist- 
ible agents with the existence and with 
some of the phenomena of which all are 
acquainted. What a mighty instrument 
would electricity be in the hands of him 
who knew how to wield it, in what 
manner to direct its omnipotent energies, 
and we may command an indefinite 
quantity of the fluid. By means of 
electrical kites we may draw down the 
lightning from heaven ! What a terrible 
organ would the supernal shock prove, if 
we were able to guide it ; how many 
of the secrets of nature would such a 
stupendous force unlock. The galvanic 
battery is a new engine ; it has been 
used hitherto to an insignificant extent, 
yet has it wrought wonders already ; 
what will not an extraordinary combina- 
tion of troughs, of colossal magnitude, 
a well-arranged system of hundreds of 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 21 

metallic plates, effect? The balloon 
has not yet received the perfection of 
which it is surely capable ; the art of 
navigating the air is in its first and most 
helpless infancy ; the aerial mariner still 
swims on bladders, and has not mounted 
even the rude raft ; if we weigh this 
invention, curious as it is, with some of 
the subjects I have mentioned, it will 
seem trifling, no doubt a mere toy, a 
feather in comparison with the splendid 
anticipations of the philosophical chemist ; 
yet it ought not altogether to be con- 
temned. It promises prodigious 
facilities for locomotion, and will enable 
us to traverse vast tracts with ease 
and rapidity, and to explore unknown 
countries without difficulty. Why are 
we still so ignorant of the interior of 
Africa ? why do we not despatch 
intrepid aeronauts to cross it in every 
direction, and to survey the whole 
peninsula in a few weeks ? The shadow 
of the first balloon, which a vertical sun 
would project precisely underneath it, 
as it glided silently over that hitherto 
unhappy country, would virtually 



22 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

emancipate every slave, and would 
annihilate slavery for ever." 

With such fervour did the slender, 
beardless stranger speculate concerning 
the march of physical science ; his 
speculations were as wild as the 
experience of twenty-one years has 
shown them to be ; but the zealous 
earnestness for the augmentation of 
knowledge, and the glowing philan- 
thropy and boundless benevolence that 
marked them, and beamed forth in the 
whole deportment of that extraordinary 
boy, are not less astonishing than they 
would have been if the whole of his 
glorious anticipations had been pro- 
phetic ; for these high qualities at least 
I have never found a parallel. When 
he had ceased to predict the coming 
honours of chemistry, and to promise 
the rich harvest of benefits it was soon 
to yield, I suggested that, although its 
results were splendid, yet for those who 
could not hope to make discoveries 
themselves, it did not afford so valuable 
a course of mental discipline as the 
moral sciences ; moreover, that, if 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 23 

chemists asserted 'that their science 
alone deserved to be cultivated, the 
mathematicians made the same assertion, 
and with equal confidence, respecting 
their studies ; but that I was not 
sufficiently advanced myself in mathe- 
matics to be able to judge how far it 
was well founded. He declared that he 
knew nothing of mathematics, and 
treated the notion of their paramount 
importance with contempt. 

"What do you say of metaphysics?" 
I continued ; " is that science, too, the 
study of words only ? " 

<c Ay, metaphysics," he said, in a 
solemn tone, and with a mysterious air, 
" that is a noble study indeed ! If it 
were possible to make any discoveries 
there, they would be more valuable than 
anything the chemists have done, or 
could do ; they would disclose the 
analysis of mind, and not of mere 
matter ! " Then, rising from his chair, 
he paced slowly about the room, with 
prodigious strides, and discoursed of 
souls with still greater animation and 
vehemence than he had displayed in 



24 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

treating of gases of a future state 
and especially of a former state of 
pre-existence, obscured for a time 
through the suspension of consciousness 
of personal identity, and also of 
ethical philosophy, in a deep and earnest 
tone of elevated morality, until he 
suddenly remarked that the fire was 
nearly out, and the candles were 
glimmering in their sockets, when he 
hastily apologised for remaining so long. 
I promised to visit the chemist in his 
laboratory, the alchemist in his study, 
the wizard in his cave, not at breakfast 
on that day, for it was already one, but 
in twelve hours one hour after noon 
and to hear some of the secrets of 
nature ; and for that purpose he told 
me his name, and described the 
situation of his rooms. I lighted him 
downstairs as well as I could with the 
stump of a candle which had dissolved 
itself into a lump, and I soon heard him 
running through the quiet quadrangle 
in the still night. That sound became 
afterwards so familiar to my ear, that I 
still seem to hear Shelley's hasty steps. 



CHAPTER II 

I TRUST, or I should perhaps rather 
say I hope, that I was as much 
struck by the conversation, the aspect, 
and the deportment of my new acquaint- 
ance, as entirely convinced of the value 
of the acquisition I had just made, and 
as deeply impressed with surprise and 
admiration as became a young student 
not insensible of excellence, to whom a 
character so extraordinary, and indeed 
almost preternatural, had been suddenly 
unfolded. During his animated and 
eloquent discourses I felt a due 
reverence for his zeal and talent, but 
the human mind is capable of a certain 
amount of attention only. I had 
listened and discussed for seven or eight 
hours, and my spirits were totally 
exhausted. I went to bed as soon as 
Shelley had quitted my rooms, and fell 



26 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

instantly into a profound sleep ; and I 
shook off with a painful effort, at the 
accustomed signal, the complete oblivion 
which then appeared to have been but 
momentary. Many of the wholesome 
usages of antiquity had ceased at 
Oxford ; that of early rising, however, 
still lingered. 

As soon as I got up, I applied myself 
sedulously to my academical duties and 
my accustomed studies. The power of 
habitual occupation is great and engross- 
ing, and it is possible that my mind had 
not yet fully recovered from the agree- 
able fatigue of the preceding evening, 
for I had entirely forgotten my en- 
gagement, nor did the thought of my 
young guest once cross my fancy. It 
was strange that a person so remarkable 
and attractive should have thus dis- 
appeared for several hours from my 
memory ; but such in truth was the 
fact, although I am unable to account 
for it in a satisfactory manner. 

At one o'clock I put away my books 
and papers, and prepared myself for my 
daily walk ; the weather was frosty, 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 27 

with fog, and whilst I lingered over the 
fire with that reluctance to venture 
forth into the cold air common to 
those who have chilled themselves by 
protracted sedentary pursuits, the re- 
collection of the scenes of yesterday 
flashed suddenly and vividly across my 
mind, and I quickly repaired to a spot 
that I may perhaps venture to predict 
many of our posterity will hereafter 
reverently visit to the rooms in the 
corner next the hall of the principal 
quadrangle of University College. They 
are on the first floor, and on the right 
of the entrance, but by reason of the 
turn in the stairs, when you reach them 
they will be upon your left hand. I 
remember the direction given at part- 
ing, and I soon found ^the door. It 
stood ajar. I tapped gently, and the 
discordant voice cried shrilly, 

" Come in ! " 

It was now nearly two. I began to 
apologise for my delay, but I was 
interrupted by a loud exclamation of 
surprise. 

" What ! is it one ? I had no notion 



28 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

it was so late. I thought it was about 
ten or eleven." 

"It is on the stroke of two, sir," 
said the scout, who was engaged in the 
vain attempt of setting the apartment in 
order. 

<c Of two ! " Shelley cried with in- 
creased wonder, and presently the clock 
struck, and the servant noticed it, 
retired and shut the door. 

I perceived at once that the young 
chemist took no note of time. He 
measured duration, not by minutes and 
hours, like watchmakers and their 
customers, but by the successive trains 
of ideas and sensations ; consequently, 
if there was a virtue of which he was 
utterly incapable, it was that homely 
but pleasing and useful one punctu- 
ality. He could not tear himself from 
his incessant abstractions to observe at 
intervals the growth and decline of the 
day ; nor was he ever able to set apart 
even a small portion of his mental 
powers for a duty so simple as that of 
watching the course of the pointers on 
the dial. 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 29 

I found him cowering over the fire, 
his chair planted in the middle of the 
rug, and his feet resting upon the 
fender ; his whole appearance was 
dejected. His astonishment at the 
unexpected lapse of time roused him. 
As soon as the hour of the day was 
ascertained he welcomed me, and 
seizing one of my arms with both his 
hands, he shook it with some force, and 
very cordially expressed his satisfaction 
at my visit. Then, resuming his seat 
and his former posture, he gazed fixedly 
at the fire, and his limbs trembled and 
his teeth chattered with cold. I cleared 
the fireplace with the poker and stirred 
the fire, and when it blazed up, he drew 
back, and, looking askance towards the 
door, he exclaimed with a deep sigh, 

"Thank God, that fellow is gone at 
last ! " 

The assiduity of the scout had 
annoyed him, and he presently added, 

" If you had not come, he would 
have stayed until he had put everything 
in my rooms into some place where I 
should never have found it again ! " 



30 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

He then complained of his health, 
and said that he was very unwell ; but 
he did not appear to be affected by any 
disorder more serious than a slight 
aguish cold. I remarked the same 
contradiction in his rooms which I had 
already observed in his person and 
dress. They had just been papered and 
painted ; the carpet, curtains, and 
furniture were quite new, and had not 
passed through several academical 
generations, after the established 
custom of transferring the whole of the 
movables to the successor on payments 
of thirds, that is, of two-thirds of the 
price last given. The general air of 
freshness was greatly obscured, how- 
ever, by the indescribable confusion in 
which the various objects were mixed. 
Notwithstanding the unwelcome exer- 
tions of the officious scout, scarcely a 
single article was in its proper position. 

Books, boots, papers, shoes, philo- 
sophical instruments, clothes, pistols, 
linen, crockery, ammunition and phials 
innumerable, with money, stockings, 
prints, crucibles, bags and boxes were 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 31 

scattered on the floor and in every 
place, as if the young chemist, in order 
to analyse the mystery of creation, had 
endeavoured first to re-construct the 
primeval chaos. The tables, and 
especially the carpet, were already 
stained with large spots of various hues, 
which frequently proclaimed the agency 
of fire. An electrical machine, an air- 
pump, the galvanic trough, a solar 
microscope and large glass jars and 
receivers, were conspicuous amidst the 
mass of matter. Upon the table by his 
side were some books lying open, 
several letters, a bundle of new pens and 
a bottle of japan ink that served as an 
inkstand ; a piece of deal, lately part 
of the lid of a box, with many chips, 
and a handsome razor that had been 
used as a knife. There were bottles of 
soda water, sugar, pieces of lemon, and 
the traces of an effervescent beverage. 
Two piles of books supported the tongs, 
and these upheld a small glass retort 
above an argand lamp. I had not been 
seated many minutes before the liquor 
in the vessel boiled over, adding fresh 



32 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

stains to the table, and rising in fumes 
with a most disagreeable odour. 
Shelley snatched the glass quickly, and 
dashing it in pieces among the ashes 
under the grate, increased the un- 
pleasant and penetrating effluvium. 

He then proceeded with much eager- 
ness and enthusiasm to show me the 
various instruments, especially the 
electrical apparatus, turning round the 
handle very rapidly, so that the fierce, 
crackling sparks flew forth ; and 
presently, standing upon the stool with 
glass feet, he begged me to work the 
machine until he was filled with the 
fluid, so that his long wild locks bristled 
and stood on end. Afterwards he 
charged a powerful battery of several 
large jars ; labouring with vast energy, 
and discoursing with increasing 
vehemence of the marvellous powers of 
electricity, of thunder and lightning ; 
describing an electrical kite that he 
had made at home, and projecting 
another and an enormous one, or 
rather a combination of many kites, 
that would draw down from the sky an 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 33 

immense volume of electricity, the 
whole ammunition of a mighty thunder- 
storm ; and this being directed to some 
point would there produce the most 
stupendous results. 

In these exhibitions and in such con- 
versation the time passed away rapidly, 
and the hour of dinner, approached. 
Having pricked <eger that day, or, in 
other words, having caused his name to 
be entered as an invalid, he was not 
required or permitted to dine in 
hall, or to appear in public within the 
college or without the walls, until a 
night's rest should have restored the 
sick man to health. 

He requested me to spend the 
evening at his rooms ; I consented, nor 
did I fail to attend immediately after 
dinner. We conversed until a late 
hour on miscellaneous topics, I re- 
member that he spoke frequently of 
poetry, and that there was the same 
animation, the same glowing zeal, which 
had characterised his former discourses, 
and was so opposite to the listless 
languor, the monstrous indifference, if 



34 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

not the absolute antipathy to learning, 
that so strangely darkened the collegiate 
atmosphere. It would seem, indeed, 
to one who rightly considered the final 
cause of the institution of a university, 
that all the rewards, all the honours the 
most opulent foundation could accumu- 
late, would be inadequate to remunerate 
an individual, whose thirst for know- 
ledge was so intense, and his activity in 
the pursuit of it so wonderful and so 
unwearied. I participated in his en- 
thusiasm, and soon forgot the shrill and 
unmusical voice that had at first seemed 
intolerable to my ear. 

He was, indeed, a whole university 
in himself to me, in respect of the 
stimulus and incitement which his 
example afforded to my love of study, 
and he amply atoned for the disappoint- 
ment I had felt on my arrival at Oxford. 
In one respect alone could I pretend to 
resemble him in an ardent desire 
to gain knowledge, and, as our tastes 
were the same in many particulars, we 
immediately became, through sympathy, 
most intimate and altogether inseparable 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 35 

companions. We almost invariably 
passed the afternoon and evening to- 
gether ; at first, alternately at our respec- 
tive rooms, through a certain puncti- 
liousness, but afterwards, when we 
became more familiar, most frequently 
by far at his. Sometimes one or two 
good and harmless men of our acquaint- 
ance were present, but we were usually 
alone. His rooms were preferred to 
mine, because there his philosophical 
apparatus was at hand ; and at that 
period he was not perfectly satisfied 
with the condition and circumstances 
of his existence, unless he was able to 
start from his seat at any moment, and 
seizing the air-pump, some magnets, the 
electrical machine, or the bottles con- 
taining those noxious and nauseous 
fluids wherewith he incessantly be- 
smeared and disfigured himself and his 
goods, to ascertain by actual experiment 
the value of some new idea that rushed 
into his brain. He spent much time in 
working by fits and starts and in an 
irregular manner with his instruments, 
and especially consumed his hours and 



36 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

his money in the assiduous cultivation 
of chemistry. 

We have heard that one of the most 
distinguished of modern discoverers 
was abrupt, hasty, and to appearance 
disorderly, in the conduct of his 
manipulations. The variety of the 
habits of great men is indeed infinite. 
It is impossible, therefore, to decide 
peremptorily as to the capabilities of 
individuals from their course of pro- 
ceeding, yet it certainly seemed highly 
improbable that Shelley was qualified 
to succeed in a science wherein a 
scrupulous minuteness and a mechani- 
cal accuracy are indispensable. Hrs 
chemical operations seemed to an 
unskilful observer to promise nothing 
but disasters. His hands, his clothes, 
his books and his furniture were stained 
and corroded by mineral acids. More 
than one hole in the carpet could 
elucidate the ultimate phenomenon of 
combustion ; especially a formidable 
aperture in the middle of the room, 
where the floor also had been burnt by 
the spontaneous ignition, caused by mixing 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 37 

ether with some other fluid in a crucible ; 
and the honourable wound was speedily 
enlarged by rents, for the philosopher, 
as he hastily crossed the room in pursuit 
of truth, was frequently caught in it by 
the foot. Many times a day, but always 
in vain, would the sedulous scout say, 
pointing to the scorched boards with a 
significant look, 

" Would it not be better, sir, for us to 
get this place mended ? " 

It seemed but too probable that in the 
rash ardour of experiment he would some 
day set the college on fire, or that he 
would blind, maim or kill himself by the 
explosion of combustibles. It was still 
more likely, indeed, that he would poison 
himself, for plates and glasses and every 
part of his tea equipage were used indis- 
criminately with crucibles, retorts, and 
recipients, to contain the most deleterious 
ingredients. To his infinite diversion I 
used always to examine every drinking 
vessel narrowly, and often to rinse it 
carefully, after that evening when we 
were taking tea by firelight, and my 
attention being attracted by the sound 



38 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

of something in the cup into which I was 
about to pour tea, I was induced to look 
into it. I found a seven-shilling piece 
partly dissolved by the aqua regia in 
which it was immersed. Although he 
laughed at my caution, he used to speak 
with horror of the consequences of hav- 
ing inadvertently swallowed, through a 
similar accident, some mineral poison 
I think arsenic at Eton, which he 
declared had not only seriously injured 
his health, but that he feared he should 
never entirely recover from the shock it 
had inflicted on his constitution. It 
seemed improbable, notwithstanding his 
positive assertions, that his lively fancy 
exaggerated the recollection of the un- 
pleasant and permanent taste, of the 
sickness and disorder of the stomach, 
which might arise from taking a minute 
portion of some poisonous substance by 
the like chance, for there was no vestige 
of a more serious and lasting injury in 
his youthful and healthy, although some- 
what delicate aspect. 

I knew little of the physical sciences, 
and I felt, therefore, but a slight degree 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 39 

of interest in them. I looked upon his 
philosophical apparatus merely as toys 
and playthings, like a chess-board or a 
billiard table. Through lack of sym- 
pathy, his zeal, which was at first so 
ardent, gradually cooled ; and he applied 
himself to these pursuits, after a short 
time, less frequently and with less 
earnestness. The true value of them 
was often the subject of animated dis- 
cussion ; and I remember one evening 
at my own rooms, when we had sought 
refuge against the intense cold in the 
little inner apartment, or study, I re- 
ferred, in the course of our debate, to 
a passage in Xenophon's Memorabilia, 
where Socrates speaks in disparagement 
of Physics. He read it several times 
very attentively, and more than once 
aloud, slowly and with emphasis, and it 
appeared to make a strong impression 
on him. 

Notwithstanding our difference of 
opinion as to the importance of 
chemistry and on some other questions, 
our intimacy rapidly increased, and we 
soon formed the habit of passing the 



40 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

greater part of our time together ; 
nor did this constant intercourse inter- 
fere with my usual studies. I never 
visited his rooms until one o'clock, 
by which hour, as I rose very early, 
I had not only attended the college 
lectures, but had read in private for 
several hours. I was enabled, more- 
over, to continue my studies afterwards 
in the evening, in consequence of a 
very remarkable peculiarity. My 
young and energetic friend was then 
overcome by extreme drowsiness, which 
speedily and completely vanquished 
him ; he would sleep from two to 
four hours, often so soundly that his 
slumbers resembled a deep lethargy ; 
he lay occasionally upon the sofa, but 
more commonly stretched upon the 
rug before a large fire, like a cat ; 
and his little round head was exposed 
to such a fierce heat, that I used to 
wonder how he was able to bear it. 
Sometimes I have interposed some 
shelter, but rarely with any permanent 
effect ; for the sleeper usually contrived 
to turn himself and to roll again into 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 41 

the spot where the fire glowed the 
brightest. His torpor was generally 
profound, but he would sometimes 
discourse incoherently for a long while 
in his sleep. At six he would suddenly 
compose himself, even in the midst of 
a most animated narrative or of earnest 
discussion ; and he would lie buried 
in entire forgetfulness, in a sweet and 
mighty oblivion, until ten, when he 
would suddenly start up, and rubbing 
his eyes with great violence, and passing 
his fingers swiftly through his long 
hair, would enter at once into a vehe- 
ment argument, or begin to recite 
verses, either of his own composition 
or from the works of others, with a 
rapidity and an energy that were 
often quite painful. During the period 
of his occultation I took tea, and read 
or wrote without interruption. He 
would sometimes sleep for a shorter 
time, for about two hours, postponing 
for the like period the commencement 
of his retreat to the rug, and rising 
with tolerable punctuality at ten ; and 
sometimes, although rarely, he was 



42 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

able entirely to forego the accustomed 
refreshment. 

We did not consume the whole of 
our time, when he was awake, in con- 
versation ; we often read apart, and 
more frequently together. Our joint 
studies were occasionally interrupted 
by long discussions nevertheless, I 
could enumerate many works, and 
several of them are extensive and 
important, which we perused com- 
pletely and very carefully in this 
manner. At ten, when he awoke, he 
was always ready for his supper, which 
he took with a peculiar relish. After 
that social meal his mind was clear 
and penetrating, and his discourse 
eminently brilliant. He was unwilling 
to separate, but when the college 
clock struck two, I used to rise and 
retire to my room. Our conversations 
were sometimes considerably prolonged, 
but they seldom terminated before that 
chilly hour of the early morning ; nor 
did I feel any inconvenience from thus 
reducing the period of rest to scarcely 
five hours. 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 43 

A disquisition on some difficult 
question in the open air was not less 
agreeable to him than by the fireside ; 
if the weather was fine, or rather not 
altogether intolerable, we used to sally 
forth, when we met at one. 

I have already pointed out several 
contradictions in his appearance and 
character. His ordinary preparation for 
a rural walk formed a very remarkable 
contrast with his mild aspect and pacific 
habits. He furnished himself with a 
pair of duelling pistols and a good store 
of powder and ball, and when he came 
to a solitary spot, he pinned a card, or 
fixed some other mark upon a tree or a 
bank, and amused himself by firing at 
it : he was a pretty good shot, and was 
much delighted at his success. He 
often urged me to try my hand and 
eye, assuring me that I was not aware 
of the pleasure of a good hit. One day, 
when he was peculiarly pressing, I took 
up a pistol and asked him what I should 
aim at ? And observing a slab of wood, 
about as big as a hearthrug, standing 
against a wall, I named it as being a 



44 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

proper object. He said that it was 
much too far off; it was better to 
wait until we came nearer. But I 
answered "I may as well fire here as 
anywhere," and instantly discharged my 
pistol. To my infinite surprise the 
ball struck the elm target most ac- 
curately in the very centre. Shelley 
was delighted. He ran to the board, 
placed his chin close to it, gazed at 
the hole where the bullet was lodged, 
examined it attentively on all sides 
many times, and more than once 
measured the distance to the spot where 
I had stood. 

I never knew anyone so prone to 
admire as he was, in whom the principle 
of veneration was so strong. He extolled 
my skill, urged me repeatedly to display 
it again, and begged that I would give 
him instructions in an art in which I so 
much excelled. I suffered him to enjoy 
his wonder for a few days, and then I 
told him, and with difficulty persuaded 
him, that my success was purely acci- 
dental ; for I had seldom fired a pistol 
before, and never with ball, but with 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 45 

shot only, as a schoolboy, in clandestine 
and bloodless expeditions against black- 
birds and yellowhammers. 

The duelling pistols were a most 
discordant interruption of the repose 
of a quiet country walk ; besides, he 
handled them with such inconceivable 
carelessness, that I had perpetually 
reason to apprehend that, as a trifling 
episode in the grand and heroic work of 
drilling a hole through the back of a 
card or the front of one of his father's 
franks, he would shoot himself, or me, 
or both of us. How often have I 
lamented that Nature, which so rarely 
bestows upon the world a creature 
endowed with such marvellous talents, 
ungraciously rendered the gift less 
precious by implanting a fatal taste for 
perilous recreations, and a thoughtless- 
ness in the pursuit of them, that often 
caused his existence from one day to 
another to seem in itself miraculous. I 
opposed the practice of walking armed, 
and I at last succeeded in inducing him 
to leave the pistols at home, and to 
forbear the use of them. I prevailed, I 



46 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

believe, not so much by argument or 
persuasion, as by secretly abstracting, 
when he equipped himself for the field, 
and it was not difficult with him, the 
powder-flask, the flints or some other 
indispensable article. One day, I re- 
member, he was grievously discomposed 
and seriously offended to find, on pro- 
ducing his pistols, after descending 
rapidly into a quarry, where he pro- 
posed to take a few shots, that not only 
had the flints been removed, but the 
screws and the bits of steel at the top of 
the cocks which hold the flints were 
also wanting. He determined to return 
to college for them I accompanied 
him. I tempted him, however, by the 
way, to try to define anger, and to 
discuss the nature of that affection of 
the mind, to which, as the discussion 
waxed warm, he grew exceedingly 
hostile in theory, and could not be 
brought to admit that it could possibly 
be excusable in any case. In the course 
of conversation, moreover, he suffered 
himself to be insensibly turned away 
from his original path and purpose. I 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 47 

have heard that, some years after he left 
Oxford, he resumed the practice of 
pistol-shooting, and attained to a very 
unusual degree of skill in an accom- 
plishment so entirely incongruous with 
his nature. 

Of rural excursions he was at all times 
fond. He loved to walk in the woods, 
to stroll on the banks of the Thames, 
but especially to wander about Shotover 
Hill. There was a pond at the foot of 
the hill, before ascending it and on the 
left of the road ; it was formed by the 
water which had filled an old quarry. 
Whenever he was permitted to shape his 
course as he would, he proceeded to the 
edge of this pool, although the scene 
had no other attractions than a certain 
wildness and barrenness. Here he 
would linger until dusk, gazing in 
silence on the water, repeating verses 
aloud, or earnestly discussing themes 
that had no connection with surround- 
ing objects. Sometimes he would 
raise a stone as large as he could lift, 
deliberately throw it into the water as 
far as his strength enabled him, then 



48 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

he would loudly exult at the splash, and 
would quietly watch the decreasing 
agitation, until the last faint ring and 
almost imperceptible ripple disappeared 
on the still surface. " Such are the 
effects of an impulse on the air," he 
would say ; and he complained of our 
ignorance of the theory of sound that 
the subject was obscure and mysterious, 
and many of the phenomena were contra- 
dictory and inexplicable. He asserted 
that the science of acoustics ought to be 
cultivated, and that by well-devised 
experiments valuable discoveries would 
undoubtedly be made, and he related 
many remarkable stories connected 
with the subject that he had heard or 
read. Sometimes he would busy him- 
self in splitting slaty stones, in selecting 
thin and flat pieces and in giving them 
a round form, and when he had col- 
lected a sufficient number, he would 
gravely make ducks and drakes with 
them, counting, with the utmost glee, 
the number of bounds as they flew 
along, skimming the surface of the pond. 
He was a devoted worshipper of the 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 49 

water-nymphs, for, whenever he found a 
pool, or even a small puddle, he would 
loiter near it, and it was no easy task to 
get him to quit it. He had not yet 
learned that art from which he after- 
wards derived so much pleasure the con- 
struction of paper boats. He twisted a 
morsel of paper into a form that a lively 
fancy might consider a likeness of a 
boat, and, committing it to the water, he 
anxiously watched the fortunes of the 
frail bark, which, if it was not soon 
swamped by the faint winds and minia- 
ture waves, gradually imbibed water 
through its porous sides, and sank. 
Sometimes, however, the fairy vessel 
performed its little voyage, and reached 
the opposite shore of the puny ocean 
in safety. It is astonishing with what 
keen delight he engaged in this singular 
pursuit. It was not easy for an un- 
initiated spectator to bear with tolerable 
patience the vast delay on the brink of 
a wretched pond upon a bleak common 
and in the face of a cutting north-east 
wind, on returning to dinner from a 
long walk at sunset on a cold winter's 



50 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

day ; nor was it easy to be so harsh as 
to interfere with a harmless gratification 
that was evidently exquisite. It was 
not easy, at least, to induce the ship- 
builder to desist from launching his 
tiny fleets, so long as any timber re- 
mained in the dock-yard. I prevailed 
once and once only. It was one of those 
bitter Sundays that commonly receive 
the new year ; the sun had set, and it 
had almost begun to snow. I had 
exhorted him long in vain, with the 
eloquence of a frozen and famished man, 
to proceed. At last I said in despair- 
alluding to his never-ending creations, 
for a paper navy that was to be set 
afloat simultaneously lay at his feet, and 
he was busily constructing more, with 
blue and swollen hands <c Shelley, 
there is no use in talking to you ; you 
are the Demiurgus of Plato ! " He 
instantly caught up the whole flotilla, 
and, bounding homeward with mighty 
strides, laughed aloud laughed like a 
giant as he used to say. So long as his 
paper lasted, he remained riveted to the 
spot, fascinated by this peculiar amuse- 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 51 

ment. All waste paper was rapidly con- 
sumed, then the covers of letters ; next, 
letters of little value ; the most precious 
contributions of the most esteemed 
correspondent, although eyed wistfully 
many times and often returned to the 
pocket, were sure to be sent at last in 
pursuit of the former squadrons. Of 
the portable volumes which were the 
companions of his rambles, and he 
seldom went out without a book, the 
fly-leaves were commonly wanting he 
had applied them as our ancestor Noah 
applied Gopher wood. But learning was 
so sacred in his eyes, that he never 
trespassed farther upon the integrity 
of the copy ; the work itself was always 
respected. It has been said that he 
once found himself oh the north bank 
of the Serpentine river without the 
materials for indulging those inclina- 
tions which the sight of water invari- 
ably inspired, for he had exhausted his 
supplies on the round pond in Kensing- 
ton Gardens. Not a single scrap of 
paper could be found, save only a bank- 
post bill for fifty pounds. He hesitated 



52 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

long, but yielded at last. He twisted it 
into a boat with the extreme refinement 
of his skill, and committed it with the 
utmost dexterity to fortune, watching 
its progress, if possible, with a still more 
intense anxiety than usual. Fortune 
often favours those who frankly and 
fully trust her ; the north-east wind 
gently wafted the costly skiff to the 
south bank, where, during the latter 
part of the voyage, the venturous owner 
had waited its arrival with patient 
solicitude. The story, of course, is a 
mythic fable, but it aptly pourtrays the 
dominion of a singular and most un- 
accountable passion over the mind of 
an enthusiast. 

But to return to Oxford. Shelley 
disliked exceedingly all college meet- 
ings, and especially one which was the 
most popular with others the public 
dinner in the hall. He used often to 
absent himself, and he was greatly 
delighted whenever I agreed to partake 
with him in a slight luncheon at one, 
to take a long walk into the country 
and to return after dark to tea and 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 53 

supper in his rooms. On one of these 
expeditions we wandered farther than 
usual without regarding the distance or 
the lapse of time ; but we had no 
difficulty in finding our way home, for 
the night was clear and frosty, and the 
moon at the full ; and most glorious 
was the spectacle as we approached the 
City of Colleges, and passed through 
the silent streets. It was near ten when 
we entered our college ; not only was it 
too late for tea, but supper was ready, 
the cloth laid, and the table spread. A 
large dish of scalloped oysters had been 
set within the fender to be kept hot for 
the famished wanderers. 

Among the innumerable contradic- 
tions in the character and deportment 
of the youthful poet was a strange 
mixture of singular grace, which mani- 
fested itself in his actions and gestures, 
with an occasional awkwardness almost 
as remarkable. As soon as we entered 
the room, he placed his chair as usual 
directly in front of the fire, and eagerly 
pressed forward to warm himself, for 
the frost was severe and he was very 



54 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

sensible of cold. Whilst cowering over 
the fire and rubbing his hands, he 
abruptly set both his feet at once upon 
the edge of the fender ; it immediately 
flew up, threw under the grate the dish, 
which was broken into two pieces, and 
the whole of the delicious mess was 
mingled with the cinders and ashes, that 
had accumulated for several hours. It 
was impossible that a hungry and frozen 
pedestrian should restrain a strong 
expression of indignation, or that he 
should forbear, notwithstanding the 
exasperation of cold and hunger, from 
smiling and forgiving the accident 
at seeing the whimsical air and aspect 
of the offender, as he held up with the 
shovel the long-anticipated food, de- 
formed by ashes, coals and cinders, 
with a ludicrous expression of exagger- 
ated surprise, disappointment, and con- 
trition. 

It would be easy to fill many 
volumes with reminiscences charac- 
teristic of my young friend, and of 
these the most trifling would perhaps 
best illustrate his innumerable peculiarities. 



SHELLEY AT OXFOED 55 

With the discerning, trifles, although 
they are accounted such, have their 
value. A familiarity with the daily 
habits of Shelley, and the knowledge of 
his demeanour in private, will greatly 
facilitate, and they are perhaps even 
essential to, the full comprehension of 
his views and opinions. Traits that 
unfold an infantine simplicity the 
genuine simplicity of true genius will 
be slighted by those who are ignor- 
ant of the qualities that constitute 
greatness of soul. The philosophical 
observer knows well that, to have 
shown a mind to be original and per- 
fectly natural, is no inconsiderable step 
in demonstrating that it is also great. 

Our supper had disappeared under 
the grate, but we were able to silence 
the importunity of hunger. As the 
supply of cheese was scanty, Shelley 
pretended, in order to atone for his 
carelessness, that he never ate it ; but I 
refused to take more than my share, and, 
notwithstanding his reiterated declara- 
tions that it was offensive to his palate 
and hurtful to his stomach, as I was 



56 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

inexorable, he devoured the remainder, 
greedily swallowing, not merely the 
cheese, but the rind also, after scraping 
it cursorily, and with a certain tender- 
ness. A tankard of the stout brown ale 
of our college aided us greatly in 
removing the sense of cold, and in 
supplying the deficiency of food, so that 
we turned our chairs towards the fire, 
and began to brew our negus as cheer- 
fully as if the bounty of the hospitable 
gods had not been intercepted. 

We reposed ourselves after the fatigue 
of an unusually long walk, and silence 
was broken by short remarks only, and 
at considerable intervals, respecting the 
beauty of moonlight scenes, and 
especially of that we had just enjoyed. 
The serenity and clearness of the night 
exceeded any we had before witnessed ; 
the light was so strong it would have 
been easy to read or write. " How 
strange was it that light, proceeding 
from the sun, which was at such a 
prodigious distance, and at that time 
entirely out of sight, should be reflected 
from the moon, and that was no trifling 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 57 

journey, and sent back to the earth in 
such abundance, and with so great 
force ! " 

Languid expressions of admiration 
dropped from our lips as we stretched 
our stiff and wearied limbs towards the 
genial warmth of a blazing fire. On a 
sudden Shelley started from his seat, 
seized one of the candles, and began to 
walk about the room on tiptoe in 
profound silence, often stooping low, 
and evidently engaged in some mysteri- 
ous search. I asked him what he 
wanted, but he returned no answer, and 
continued his whimsical and secret 
inquisition, which he prosecuted in the 
same extraordinary manner in the 
bedroom and the little study. It had 
occurred to him that a dessert had 
possibly been sent to his rooms whilst 
we were absent, and had been put away. 
He found the object of his pursuit at 
last, and produced some small dishes 
from the study apples, oranges, 
almonds and raisins and a little cake. 
These he set close together at my side 
of the table, without speaking, but with 



58 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

a triumphant look, yet with the air of a 
penitent making restitution and repara- 
tion, and then resumed his seat. The 
unexpected succour was very seasonable ; 
this light fare, a few glasses of negus, 
warmth, and especially rest, restored our 
lost vigour and our spirits. We spoke 
of our happy life, of universities, of 
what they might be, of what they 
were. How powerfully they might 
stimulate the student, how much 
valuable instruction they might impart. 
We agreed that, although the least 
possible benefit was conferred upon us 
in this respect at Oxford, we were 
deeply indebted, nevertheless, to the 
great and good men of former days, 
who founded those glorious institutions, 
for devising a scheme of life, which, 
however deflected from its original 
direction, still tended to study, and 
especially for creating establishments 
that called young men together from all 
parts of the empire, and for endowing 
them with a celebrity that was able to 
induce so many to congregate. With- 
out such an opportunity of meeting we 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 59 

should never have been acquainted with 
each other. In so large a body there 
must doubtless be many at that time 
who were equally thankful for the 
occasion of the like intimacy, and in 
former generations how many friend- 
ships, that had endured through all the 
various trials of a long and eventful life, 
had arisen here from accidental com- 
munion, as in our case. 

If there was little positive encourage- 
ment, there were various negative 
inducements to acquire learning ; there 
were no interruptions, no secular cares ; 
our wants were well supplied without 
the slightest exertion on our part, and 
the exact regularity of academical 
existence cut off that dissipation of the 
hours and the thoughts which so often 
prevails where the daily course is not 
pre-arranged. The necessity of early 
rising was beneficial. Like the 
Pythagoreans of old, we began with the 
gods ; the salutary attendance in chapel 
every morning not only compelled us to 
quit our bed betimes, but imposed 
additional duties conducive to habits of 



60 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

industry. It was requisite not merely to 
rise, but to leave our rooms, to appear 
in public and to remain long enough to 
destroy the disposition to indolence 
which might still linger if we were 
permitted to remain by the fireside. 
To pass some minutes in society, yet in 
solemn silence, is like the Pythagorean 
initiation, and we auspicate the day 
happily by commencing with sacred 
things. I scarcely ever visited Shelley 
before one o'clock ; when I met him in 
the morning at chapel, he used studiously 
to avoid all communication, and, as soon 
as the doors were opened, to effect a 
ludicrously precipitate retreat to his 
rooms. 

"The country near Oxford," he 
continued, as we reposed after our 
meagre supper, "has no pretensions to 
peculiar beauty, but it is quiet, and 
pleasant, and rural, and purely 
agricultural after the good old fashion. 
It is not only unpolluted by manu- 
factures and commerce, but it is exempt 
from the desecration of the modern 
husbandry, of a system which accounts 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 61 

the farmer a manufacturer of hay and 
corn. I delight to wander over it." 
He enlarged upon the pleasure of our 
pedestrian excursions, and added, " I 
can imagine few things that would 
annoy me more severely than to be 
disturbed in our tranquil course. It 
would be a cruel calamity to be inter- 
rupted by some untoward accident, to 
be compelled to quit our calm and 
agreeable retreat. Not only would it be 
a sad mortification, but a real mis- 
fortune, for if I remain here I shall 
study more closely and with greater 
advantage than I could in any other 
situation that I can conceive. Are you 
not of the same opinion ? " 

" Entirely." 

" I regret only that the period of our 
residence is limited to four years. I 
wish they would revive, for our sake, 
the old term of six or seven years. If 
we consider how much there is for us to 
learn," here he paused and sighed 
deeply through that despondency which 
sometimes comes over the unwearied 
and zealous student, " we shall allow 



62 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

that the longer period would still be far 
too short ! " 

I assented, and we discoursed con- 
cerning the abridgement of the ancient 
term of residence, and the diminution of 
the academical year by frequent, pro- 
tracted, and most inconvenient vaca- 
tions. 

"To quit Oxford," he said, "would 
be still more unpleasant to you than to 
myself, for you aim at objects that I do 
not seek to compass, and you cannot fail, 
since you are resolved to place your 
success beyond the reach of chance." 

He enumerated with extreme rapidity, 
and in his enthusiastic strain, some of 
the benefits and comforts of a college 
life. 

" Then the oak is such a blessing," he 
exclaimed, with peculiar fervour, clasp- 
ing his hands, and repeating often, "The 
oak is such a blessing ! " slowly and in a 
solemn tone. " The oak alone goes far 
towards making this place a paradise. 
In what other spot in the world, surely 
in none that I have hitherto visited, can 
you say confidently, it is perfectly 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 63 

impossible, physically impossible, that I 
should be disturbed ? Whether a man 
desire solitary study, or to enjoy the 
society of a friend or two, he is secure 
against interruption. It is not so in a 
house, not by any means ; there is not 
the same protection in a house, even in 
the best-contrived house. The servant 
is bound to answer the door ; he must 
appear and give some excuse ; he may 
betray by hesitation and confusion that 
he utters a falsehood ; he must expose 
himself to be questioned ; he must open 
the door and violate your privacy in 
some degree ; besides, there are other 
doors, there are windows, at least, 
through which a prying eye can detect 
some indication that betrays the mystery. 
How different is it here ! The bore 
arrives ; the outer door is shut ; it is 
black and solemn, and perfectly impene- 
trable, as is your secret ; the doors are 
all alike ; he can distinguish mine from 
yours by the geographical position only. 
He may knock ; he may call ; he may 
kick, if he will ; he may inquire of a 
neighbour, but he can inform him of 



64 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

nothing ; he can only say, the door is 
shut, and this he knows already. He 
may leave his card, that you may rejoice 
over it, and at your escape ; he may 
write upon it the hour when he proposes 
to call again, to put you upon your 
guard, and that he may be quite sure 
of seeing the back of your door once 
more. When the bore meets you and 
says, I called at your house at such a 
time, you are required to explain your 
absence, to prove an alibi, in short, and 
perhaps to undergo a rigid cross- 
examination ; but if he tells you, c I 
called at your rooms yesterday at three, 
and the door was shut,' you have only 
to say, c Did you ? Was it ? ' and there 
the matter ends." 

"Were you not charmed with your 
oak ? Did it not instantly captivate 
you?" 

" My introduction to it was somewhat 
unpleasant and unpropitious. The 
morning after my arrival I was sitting 
at breakfast ; my scout, the Arimaspian, 
apprehending that the singleness of his 
eye may impeach his character for 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 65 

officiousness, in order to escape the 
reproach of seeing half as much only as 
other men, is always striving to prove 
that he sees at least twice as far as the 
most sharp-sighted. After many demon- 
strations of superabundant activity, he 
inquired if I wanted anything more ; I 
answered in the negative. He had 
already opened the door : ' Shall I sport, 
sir ? ' he asked briskly, as he stood upon 
the threshold, He seemed so unlike a 
sporting character that I was curious to 
learn in what sport he proposed to 
indulge. I answered, ' Yes, by all 
means,' and anxiously watched him, but, 
to my surprise and disappointment he 
instantly vanished. As soon as I had 
finished my breakfast, I sallied forth to 
survey Oxford. I opened one door 
quickly and, not suspecting that there 
was a second, I struck my head against 
it with some violence. The blow taught 
me to observe that every set of rooms 
has two doors, and I soon learned that 
the outer door, which is thick and solid, 
is called the oak, and to shut it is 
termed, to sport. I derived so much 



66 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

benefit from my oak that I soon 
pardoned this slight inconvenience. It is 
surely the tree of knowledge." 

" Who invented the oak ? " 

" The inventors of the science of living 
in rooms or chambers the Monks." 

" Ah ! they were sly fellows. None 
but men who were reputed to devote 
themselves for many hours to prayers, 
to religious meditations and holy 
abstractions, would ever have been per- 
mitted quietly to place at pleasure such 
a barrier between themselves and the 
world. We now reap the advantage of 
their reputation for sanctity. I shall 
revere my oak more than ever, since its 
origin is so sacred." 



CHAPTER III 

'THHE sympathies of Shelley were instan- 
A taneous and powerful with those 
who evinced in any degree the qualities, 
for which he was himself so remarkable 
simplicity of character, unaffected 
manners, genuine modesty and an 
honest willingness to acquire knowledge, 
and he sprang to meet their advances 
with an ingenuous eagerness which was 
peculiar to him ; but he was suddenly 
and violently repelled, like the needle 
from the negative pole of the magnet, 
by any indication of pedantry, presump- 
tion or affectation. So much was he 
disposed to take offence at such defects, 
and so acutely was he sensible of them, 
that he was sometimes unjust, through 
an excessive sensitiveness, in his estimate 
of those who had shocked him by sins, of 
which he was himself utterly incapable. 
67 



68 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

Whatever might be the attainments, 
and however solid the merits of the 
persons filling at that time the im- 
portant office of instructors in the 
University, they were entirely destitute 
of the attractions of manner ; their 
address was sometimes repulsive, and 
the formal, priggish tutor was too often 
intent upon the ordinary academical 
course alone to the entire exclusion of 
every other department of knowledge : 
his thoughts were wholly engrossed by 
it, and so narrow were his views, that he 
overlooked the claims of all merit, how- 
ever exalted, except success in the public 
examinations. 

" They are very dull people here," 
Shelley said to me one evening, soon 
after his arrival, with a long-drawn sigh, 
after musing a while. " A little man sent 
for me this morning and told me in an 
almost inaudible whisper that I must 
read. c You must read/ he said many 
times in his small voice. I answered 
that I had no objection. He persisted ; 
so, to satisfy him, for he did not appear 
to believe me, I told him I had some 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 69 

books in my pocket, and I began to take 
them out. He stared at me and said 
that was not exactly what he meant. 
6 You must read Prometheus Vinctus^ and 
Demosthenes De Corona and Euclid/ 
* Must I read Euclid ? ' I asked sorrow- 
fully. c Yes, certainly ; and when you 
have read the Greek I have mentioned, 
you must begin Aristotle's Ethics, and 
then you may go on his other treatises. 
It is of the utmost importance to be 
well acquainted with Aristotle.' This 
he repeated so often that I was quite 
tired, and at last I said, c Must I care 
about Aristotle? What if I do not 
mind Aristotle ? ' I then left him, for he 
seemed to be in great perplexity." 

Notwithstanding the slight he had 
thus cast upon the great master of the 
science that has so long been the staple 
of Oxford, he was not blind to the 
value of the science itself. He took the 
scholastic logic very kindly, seized its 
distinctions with his accustomed quick- 
ness, felt a keen interest in the study 
and patiently endured the exposition of 
those minute discriminations, which the 



70 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

tyro is apt to contemn as vain and 
trifling. 

It should seem that the ancient method 
of communicating the art of syllogising 
has been preserved, in part at least, by 
tradition in this university. I have 
sometimes met with learned foreigners, 
who understood the end and object of 
the scholastic logic, having received 
the traditional instruction in some of 
the old universities on the Continent ; 
but I never found even one of my 
countrymen, except Oxonians, who rightly 
comprehended the nature of the science. 
I may, perhaps, add that, in proportion 
as the self-taught logicians had laboured 
in the pursuit, they had gone far astray. 
It is possible, nevertheless, that those 
who have drunk at the fountain head 
and have read the Organon of Aris- 
totle in the original, may have at- 
tained to a just comprehension by their 
unassisted energies ; but in this age and 
in this country, I apprehend the number 
of such adventurous readers is very con- 
siderable. 

Shelley frequently exercised his ingen- 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 71 

uity in long discussions respecting 
various questions in logic, and more 
frequently indulged in metaphysical 
inquiries. We read several meta- 
physical works together, in whole or 
in part, for the first time, or after a 
previous perusal by one or by both of 
us. 

The examination of a chapter 
of Locke's Essay Concerning Human 
Understanding would induce him, at 
any moment, to quit every other 
pursuit. We read together Hume's 
Essays, and some productions of Scotch 
metaphysicians of inferior ability all 
with assiduous and friendly altercations, 
and the latter writers, at least, with 
small profit, unless some sparks of 
knowledge were struck out in the 
collision of debate. We read also 
certain popular French works that treat 
of man for the most part in a mixed 
method, metaphysically, morally and 
politically. Hume's Essays were a 
favourite book with Shelley, and he was 
always ready to put forward in argu- 
ment the doctrines they uphold. 



72 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

It may seem strange that he should 
ever have accepted the sceptical philo- 
sophy, a system so uncongenial with a 
fervid and imaginative genius, which 
can allure the cool, cautious, abstinent 
reasoner alone, and would deter the 
enthusiastic, the fanciful and the 
speculative. We must bear in mind, 
however, that he was an eager, bold, 
unwearied disputant ; and although the 
position, in which the sceptic and the 
materialist love to entrench themselves, 
offers no picturesque attractions to the 
eye of the poet, it is well adapted for 
defensive warfare, and it is not easy 
for an ordinary enemy to dislodge him, 
who occupies a post that derives 
strength from the weakness of the 
assailant. It has been insinuated that, 
whenever a man of real talent and 
generous feelings condescends to fight 
under these colours, he is guilty of a 
dissimulation, which he deems harmless, 
perhaps even praiseworthy, for the sake 
of victory in argument. 

It was not a little curious to observe 
one, whose sanguine temper led him to 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 73 

believe implicitly every assertion, so 
that it was improbable and incredible, 
exulting in the success of his philo- 
sophical doubts, when, like the calmest 
and most suspicious of analysts, he 
refused to admit, without strict proof, 
propositions that many, who are not 
deficient in metaphysical prudence, 
account obvious and self-evident. The 
sceptical philosophy had another charm ; 
it partook of the new and the wonder- 
ful, inasmuch as it called into doubt, 
and seemed to place in jeopardy during 
the joyous hours of disputation, many 
important practical conclusions. To a 
soul loving excitement and change, 
destruction, so that it be on a grand 
scale, may sometimes prove hardly less 
inspiring than creation. The feat of 
the magician, who, by the touch of his 
wand, could cause the Great Pyramid 
to dissolve into the air and to vanish 
from the sight, would be as surprising 
as the achievement of him, who, by the 
same rod, could instantly raise a similar 
mass in any chosen spot. If the 
destruction of the eternal monument 



74 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

was only apparent, the ocular sophism 
would be at once harmless and in- 
genuous : so was it with the logomachy 
of the young and strenuous logician, 
and his intellectual activity merited 
praise and reward. 

There was another reason, moreover, 
why the sceptical philosophy should be 
welcome to Shelley at that time : he was 
young, and it is generally acceptable to 
youth. It is adopted as the abiding 
rule of reason throughout life, by those 
only who are distinguished by a sterility 
of soul, a barrenness of invention, a 
total dearth of fancy and a scanty stock 
of learning. Such, in truth, although 
the warmth of juvenile blood, the light 
burthen of few years and the precipita- 
tion of inexperience may sometimes 
seem to contradict the assertion, is the 
state of the mind at the commencement 
of manhood, when the vessel has 
as yet received only a small portion of 
the cargo of the accumulated wisdom of 
past ages, when the amount of mental 
operations that have actually been 
performed is small, and the materials 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 75 

upon which the imagination can work 
are insignificant ; consequently, the in- 
ventions of the young are crude and 
frigid. 

Hence the most fertile mind exactly 
resembles in early youth the hopeless 
barrenness of those who have grown 
old in vain as to its actual condition, 
and it differs only in the unseen capacity 
for future production. The philo- 
sopher who declares that he knows 
nothing, and that nothing can be 
known, will readily find followers 
among the young, for they are sensible 
that they possess the requisite qualifica- 
tions for entering his school, and are as 
far advanced in the science of ignorance 
as their master. 

A stranger who should have chanced 
to have been present at some of Shelley's 
disputes, or who knew him only from 
having read some of the short argu- 
mentative essays which he composed as 
voluntary exercises, would have said, 
u Surely the soul of Hume passed by 
transmigration into the body of that 
eloquent young man ; or, rather, he 



76 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

represents one of the enthusiastic and 
animated materialists of the French 
schools, whom revolutionary violence 
lately intercepted at an early age in his 
philosophical career." 

There were times, however, when a 
visitor, who had listened to glowing 
discourses delivered with a more intense 
ardour, would have hailed a young 
Platonist, breathing forth the ideal 
philosophy, and in his pursuit of the 
intellectual world entirely overlooking 
the material or noticing it only to 
contemn it. The tall boy, who is 
permitted for the first season to scare 
the partridges with his new fowling- 
piece, scorns to handle the top or the 
hoop of his younger brother ; thus the 
man, whose years and studies are 
mature, slights the first feeble aspira- 
tions after the higher departments of 
knowledge, that were deemed so im- 
portant during his residence at college. 
It seems laughable, but it is true, that 
our knowledge of Plato was derived 
solely from Dacier's translation of a few 
of the dialogues, and from an English 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 77 

version of the French translation : we 
had never attempted a single sentence 
in the Greek. Since that time, how- 
ever, I believe, few of our countrymen 
have read the golden works of that 
majestic philosopher in the original 
language more frequently and more 
carefully than ourselves ; and few, if 
any, with more profit than Shelley. 
Although the source, whence flowed 
our earliest taste of the divine philo- 
sophy, was scanty and turbid, the 
draught was not the less grateful to our 
lips : our zeal in some measure atoned 
for our poverty. 

Shelley was never weary of reading, or 
of listening to me whilst I read, passages 
from the dialogues contained in this 
collection, and especially from the Phtedo ; 
and he was vehemently excited by the 
striking doctrines which Socrates un- 
folds, especially by that which teaches 
that all our knowledge consists of re- 
miniscences of what we had learned in a 
former existence. He often rose, paced 
slowly about the room, shook his long, 
wild locks and discoursed in a solemn 



78 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

tone and with a mysterious air, speculat- 
ing concerning our previous condition, 
and the nature of our life and occupations 
in that world, where, according to Plato, 
we had attained to erudition, and had 
advanced ourselves in knowledge so far 
that the most studious and the most in- 
ventive, or, in other words, those who 
have the best memory, are able to call 
back a part only, and with much pain 
and extreme difficulty, of what was 
formerly familiar to us. 

It is hazardous, however, to speak of 
his earliest efforts as a Platonist, lest 
they should be confounded with his sub- 
sequent advancement ; it is not easy to 
describe his first introduction to the 
exalted wisdom of antiquity without 
borrowing inadvertently from the know- 
ledge which he afterwards acquired. 
The cold, ungenial, foggy atmosphere of 
northern metaphysics was less suited to 
the ardent temperament of his soul than 
the warm, bright, vivifying climate of 
southern and eastern philosophy. His 
genius expanded under the benign in- 
fluence of the latter, and he derived 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 79 

copious instruction from a luminous 
system, that is only dark through 
excess of brightness, and seems obscure 
to vulgar vision through its extreme 
radiance. Nevertheless, in argument 
and to argue on all questions was his 
dominant passion he usually adopted 
the scheme of the sceptics, partly, 
perhaps, because it was more popular 
and is more generally understood. The 
disputant, who would use Plato as his 
text-book in this age, would reduce his 
opponents to a small number indeed. 

The study of that highest department 
of ethics, which includes all the inferior 
branches and is directed towards the 
noblest and most important ends of 
jurisprudence, was always next my 
heart ; at an early age it attracted my 
attention. 

When I first endeavoured to turn the 
regards of Shelley towards this engaging 
pursuit, he strongly expressed a very 
decided aversion to such inquiries, 
deeming them worthless and illiberal. 
The beautiful theory of the art of right, 
and the honourable office of administer- 



80 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

ing distributive justice, have been 
brought into general discredit, unhappily 
for the best interests of humanity, and 
to the vast detriment of the state, into 
unmerited disgrace in the modern world 
by the errors of practitioners. An in- 
genuous mind instinctively shrinks from 
the contemplation of legal topics, because 
the word law is associated with, and 
inevitably calls up the idea of the low 
chicanery of a pettifogging attorney, of 
the vulgar oppression and gross insolence 
of a bailiff, or at best, of the wearisome 
and unmeaning tautology that distends 
an Act of Parliament, and the dull 
dropsical compositions of the special 
pleader, the conveyancer or other 
draughtsman. 

In no country is this unhappy debase- 
ment of a most illustrious science more 
remarkable than in our own ; no other 
nation is so prone to, or so patient of, 
abuses ; in no other land are posts, in 
themselves honourable, so accessible to 
the meanest. The spirit of trade 
favours the degradation, and every 
commercial town is a well-spring of 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 81 

vulgarity, which sends forth hosts of 
practitioners devoid of the solid and 
elegant attainments which could sustain 
the credit of the science, but so strong 
in the artifices that insure success, as 
not only to monopolise the rewards due 
to merit, but sometimes even to climb 
the judgment-seat. 

It is not wonderful, therefore, that 
generous minds, until they have been 
taught to discriminate, and to distinguish 
a noble science from ignoble practices, 
should usually confound them together, 
hastily condemning the former with the 
latter. Shelley listened with much 
attention to questions of natural law, 
and with the warm interest that he felt 
in all metaphysical disquisitions, after 
he had conquered his first prejudice 
against practical jurisprudence. 

The science of right, like other pro- 
found and extensive sciences, can only 
be acquired completely when the 
foundations have been laid at an early 
age. Had the energies of Shelley's 
vigorous mind taken this direction at 
that time, it is impossible to doubt that 



82 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

he would have become a distinguished 
jurist. Besides that fondness for such 
inquiries which is necessary to success 
in any liberal pursuit, he displayed the 
most acute sensitiveness of injustice, 
however slight, and a vivid perception 
of inconvenience. As soon as a wrong, 
arising from a proposed enactment or a 
supposed decision, was suggested, he in- 
stantly rushed into the opposite extreme ; 
and when a greater evil was shown to 
result from the contrary course which 
he had so hastily adopted, his intellect 
was roused, and he endeavoured most 
earnestly to ascertain the true mean that 
would secure the just by avoiding the 
unjust extremes. 

I have observed in young men that 
the propensity to plunge headlong into 
a net of difficulty, on being startled at an 
apparent want of equity in any rule that 
was propounded, although at first it 
might seem to imply a lack of caution 
and foresight which are eminently the 
virtues of legislators and of judges- 
was an unerring prognostic of a natural 
aptitude for pursuits, wherein eminence 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 83 

is inconsistent with an inertness of the 
moral sense, and a recklessness of the 
violation of rights, however remote and 
trifling. Various instances of such apti- 
tude in Shelley might be furnished, but 
these studies are interesting to a limited 
number of persons only. 

As the mind of Shelley was apt to 
acquire many of the most valuable 
branches of liberal knowledge, so there 
were other portions comprised within 
the circle of science, for the reception of 
which, however active and acute, it was 
entirely unfit. He rejected with mar- 
vellous impatience every mathematical 
discipline that was offered ; no problem 
could awaken the slightest curiosity, nor 
could he be made sensible of the 
beauty of any theorem. The method of 
demonstration had no charm for him. 
He complained of the insufferable pro- 
lixity and the vast tautology of Euclid 
and the other ancient gometricians ; and 
when the discoveries of modern analysts 
were presented, he was immediately dis- 
tracted, and fell into endless musings. 

With respect to the Oriental tongues, 



84 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

he coldly observed that the appearance 
of the characters was curious. Although 
he perused with more than ordinary 
eagerness the relations of travellers in 
the East and the translations of the 
marvellous tales of Oriental fancy, he 
was not attracted by the desire to 
penetrate the languages which veil these 
treasures. He would never deign to 
lend an ear or an eye for a moment to 
my Hebrew studies, in which I had 
made at that time some small progress ; 
nor could he be tempted to inquire into 
the value of the singular lore of the 
Rabbins. 

He was able, like the many, to distin- 
guish a violet from a sunflower and a 
cauliflower from a peony, but his 
botanical knowledge was more limited 
than that of the least skilful of common 
observers, for he was neglectful of 
flowers. He was incapable of appre- 
hending the delicate distinctions of 
structure which form the basis of the 
beautiful classification of modern 
botanists. I was never able to impart 
even a glimpse of the merits of Ray or 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 85 

Linnaeus, or to encourage a hope that he 
would ever be competent to see the 
visible analogies that constitute the 
marked, yet mutually approaching genera, 
into which the productions of nature, 
and especially vegetables, are divided. 

It may seem invidious to notice im- 
perfections in a mind of the highest 
order, but the exercise of a due candour, 
however unwelcome, is required to 
satisfy those who were not acquainted 
with Shelley, that the admiration excited 
by his marvellous talents and manifold 
virtues in all who were so fortunate as 
to enjoy the opportunity of examining 
his merits by frequent intercourse, was 
not the result of the blind partiality that 
amiable and innocent dispositions, attrac- 
tive manners and a noble and generous 
bearing sometimes create. 

Shelley was always unwilling to visit 
the remarkable specimens of architecture, 
the objects of art, and the various 
antiquities that adorn Oxford ; although, 
if he encountered them by accident, and 
they were pointed out to him, he 
admired them more sincerely and 



86 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

heartily than the generality of strangers, 
who, through compliance with fashion, 
ostentatiously sought them out. His 
favourite recreation, as I have already 
stated, was a free, unrestrained ramble 
into the country. 

After quitting the city and its 
environs by walking briskly along the 
highway for several miles, it was his 
delight to strike boldly into the fields, to 
cross the country daringly on foot, as is 
usual with sportsmen when shooting ; to 
perform, as it were, a pedestrian steeple- 
chase. He was strong, light and active, 
and in all respects well suited for such 
exploits, and we used frequently to 
traverse a considerable tract in this 
manner, especially when the frost had 
dried the land, had given complete 
solidity to the most treacherous paths, 
and had thrown a natural bridge over 
spots that in open weather during the 
winter would have been nearly 
impassable. 

By resolutely piercing through a 
district in this manner we often 
stumbled upon objects in our humble 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 87 

travels that created a certain surprise 
and interest ; some of them are still 
fresh in my recollection. My suscept- 
ible companion was occasionally much 
delighted and strongly excited by in- 
cidents that would, perhaps, have seemed 
unimportant trifles to others. 

One day we had penetrated somewhat 
farther than usual, for the ground was 
in excellent order, and as the day was 
intensely cold, although bright and 
sunny, we had pushed on with un- 
common speed. I do not remember the 
direction we took ; nor can I even 
determine on which side of the Thames 
our course lay. We had crossed roads 
and lanes, and had traversed open fields 
and inclosures ; some tall and ancient 
trees were on our right hand ; we 
skirted a little wood, and presently came 
to a small copse. It was guarded by an 
old hedge, or thicket ; we were deflected, 
therefore, from our onward course 
towards the left, and we were winding 
round it, when the quick eye of my 
companion perceived a gap. He instantly 
dashed in with as much alacrity as if he 



88 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

had suddenly caught a glimpse of a 
pheasant that he had lately wounded in 
a district where such game was scarce, 
and he disappeared in a moment. 

I followed him, but with less ardour, 
and, passing through a narrow belt of 
wood and thicket, I presently found 
him standing motionless in one of his 
picturesque attitudes, riveted to the 
earth in speechless astonishment. He 
had thrown himself thus precipitately 
into a trim flower - garden of small 
dimensions, encompassed by a narrow, 
but close girdle of trees and underwood ; 
it was apparently remote from all habita- 
tions, and it contrasted strongly with 
the bleak and bare country through 
which we had recently passed. 

Had the secluded scene been bright 
with the gay flowers of spring, with 
hyacinths and tulips ; had it been 
powdered with mealy auriculas or con- 
spicuous for a gaudy show of all 
anemones and of every ranuculus ; had 
it been profusely decorated by the 
innumerable roses of summer, it would 
be easy to understand why it was so 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 89 

cheerful. But we were now in the very 
heart of winter, and after much frost 
scarcely a single wretched brumal flower 
lingered and languished. There was no 
foliage save the dark leaves of ever- 
greens, and of them there were many, 
especially around and on the edges of 
the magic circle, on which account, 
possibly, but chiefly perhaps through 
the symmetry of the numerous small 
parterres, the scrupulous neatness of the 
corresponding walks, the just ordon- 
nance and disposition of certain benches, 
the integrity and freshness of the green 
trellises, and of the skeletons of some 
arbours, and through every leafless 
excellence which the dried anatomy of a 
flower-garden can exhibit, its past and 
its future wealth seemed to shine forth 
in its present poverty, and its potential 
glories adorned its actual disgrace. 

The sudden transition from the 
rugged fields to this garnished and 
decorated retreat was striking, and held 
my imagination captive a few moments. 
The impression, however, would probably 
have soon faded from my memory, had 



90 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

it not been fixed there by the recollec- 
tion of the beings who gave animation 
and a permanent interest to the polished 
nook. 

We admired the trim and retired 
garden for some minutes in silence, and 
afterwards each answered in mono- 
syllables the other's brief expressions of 
wonder. Neither of us had advanced a 
single step beyond the edge of the 
thicket which we had entered ; but I 
was about to precede, and to walk round 
the magic circle, in order fully to survey 
the place, when Shelley startled me by 
turning with astonishing rapidity, and 
dashing through the bushes and the gap 
in the fence with the mysterious and 
whimsical agility of a kangaroo. Had 
he caught a glimpse of a tiger crouching 
behind the laurels, and preparing to 
spring upon him, he could not have 
vanished more promptly or more 
silently. I was habituated to his abrupt 
movements, nevertheless his alacrity 
surprised me, and I tried in vain to dis- 
cover what object had scared him away. 
I retired, therefore, to the gap, and 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 91 

when I reached it, I saw him already at 
some distance, proceeding with gigantic 
strides nearly in the same route by 
which we came. I ran after him, and 
when I rejoined him, he had halted 
upon a turnpike-road and was hesitating 
as to the course he ought to pursue. It 
was our custom to advance across the 
country as far as the utmost limits of 
our time would permit, and to go back 
to Oxford by the first public road we 
found, after attaining the extreme 
distance to which we could venture to 
wander. 

Having ascertained the route home- 
ward, we pursued it quickly, as we were 
wont, but less rapidly than Shelley had 
commenced his hasty retreat. He had 
perceived that the garden was attached 
to a gentleman's house, and he had con- 
sequently quitted it thus precipitately. 
I had already observed on the right a 
winding path that led through a planta- 
tion to certain offices, which showed 
that a house was about a quarter of a 
mile from the spot where I then stood. 

Had I been aware that the garden 



92 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

was connected with a residence, I 
certainly should not have trespassed 
upon it ; but, having entered uncon- 
sciously, and since the owner was too 
far removed to be annoyed by observing 
the intrusion, I was tempted to remain 
a short time to examine a spot which, 
during my brief visit, seemed so 
singular. The superior and highly 
sensitive delicacy of my companion 
instantly took the alarm on discovering 
indications of a neighbouring mansion ; 
hence his marvellous precipitancy in 
withdrawing himself from the garnished 
retirement he had unwittingly pene- 
trated, and we advanced some distance 
along the road before he had entirely 
overcome his modest confusion. 

Shelley had looked on the ornate 
inclosure with a poet's eye, and as we 
hastily pursued our course towards 
Oxford by the frozen and sounding 
way, whilst the day rapidly declined, he 
discoursed of it fancifully, and with a 
more glowing animation than ordinary, 
like one agitated by a divine fury, and 
by the impulse of inspiring deity. He 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 93 

continued, indeed, so long to enlarge 
upon the marvels of the enchanted 
grove, that I hinted the enchantress 
might possibly be at hand, and since he 
was so eloquent concerning the nest, 
what would have been his astonishment 
had he been permitted to see the bird 
herself. 

He sometimes described, with a 
curious fastidiousness, the qualities 
which a female must possess to kindle 
the fire of love in his bosom. The 
imaginative youth supposed that he was 
to be moved by the most absolute 
perfection alone. It is equally im- 
possible to doubt the exquisite refine- 
ment of his taste, or the boundless 
power of the most mighty of divinities ; 
to refuse to believe that he was a just 
and skilful critic of feminine beauty and 
grace, and of whatever is attractive, or 
that he was never practically as blind, at 
the least, as men of ordinary talent. 
How sadly should we disparage the 
triumphs of Love were we to maintain 
that he is able to lead astray the senses 
of the vulgar alone ! 



94 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

In the theory of love, however, a 
poet will rarely err. Shelley's lively 
fancy had painted a goodly portraiture 
of the mistress of the fair garden, nor 
were apt words wanting to convey to me 
a faithful copy of the bright original. 
It would be a cruel injustice to an 
orator should a plain man attempt, 
after a silence of more than twenty years, 
to revive his glowing harangue from 
faded recollections. I will not seek, 
therefore, to pourtray the likeness of the 
ideal nymph of the flower-garden. 

" Since your fairy gardener," I said, 
" has so completely taken possession of 
your imagination," and he was wonder- 
fully excited by the unexpected scene 
and his own splendid decorations, " it 
is a pity we did not notice the situation, 
for I am quite sure I should not be able to 
return thither, to recover your Eden and 
the Eve, whom you created to till it, and 
I doubt whether you could guide me." 

He acknowledged that he was as 
incapable of finding it again as of lead- 
ing me to that paradise to which I had 
compared it. 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 95 

" You may laugh at my enthusiasm," 
he continued, " but you must allow that 
you were not less struck by the 
singularity of that mysterious corner of 
the earth than myself. You are equally 
entitled, therefore, to dwell there, at 
least, in fancy, and to find a partner 
whose character will harmonise with the 
genius of the place." 

He then declared, that thenceforth it 
should be deemed the possession of two 
tutelary nymphs, not of one ; and he 
proceeded with unabated fervour to 
delineate the second patroness, and to 
distinguish her from the first. 

" No ! " he exclaimed, pausing in the 
rapid career of words, and for a while he 
was somewhat troubled, " the seclusion 
is too sweet, too holy, to be the theatre 
of ordinary love ; the love of the sexes, 
however pure, still retains some taint of 
earthly grossness ; we must not admit 
it within the sanctuary." 

He was silent for several minutes, and 
his anxiety visibly increased. 

" The love of a mother for a child is 
more refined ; it is more disinterested, 



96 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

more spiritual ; but," he added, after 
some reflection, " the very existence of 
the child still connects it with the 
passion which we have discarded," and 
he relapsed into his former musings. 

" The love a sister bears towards a 
sister," he exclaimed abruptly, and with 
an air of triumph, "is unexceptionable." 

This idea pleased him, and as he 
strode along he assigned the trim 
garden to two sisters, affirming, with 
the confidence of an inventor, that it 
owed its neatness to the assiduous culture 
of their neat hands ; that it was their 
constant haunt ; the care of it their 
favourite pastime, and its prosperity, 
next after the welfare of each other, the 
chief wish of both. He described their 
appearance, their habits, their feelings, 
and drew a lovely picture of their amiable 
and innocent attachment ; of the meek 
and dutiful regard of the younger, which 
partook, in some degree, of filial 
reverence, but was more facile and 
familiar ; and of the protecting, in- 
structing, hoping fondness of the elder, 
that resembled maternal tenderness, but 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 97 

had less of reserve and more of 
sympathy. In no other relation could 
the intimacy be equally perfect ; not 
even between brothers, for their life is 
less domestic : there is a separation in 
their pursuits, and an independence in 
the masculine character. The occupa- 
tions of all females of the same age and 
rank are the same, and by night sisters 
cherish each other in the same quiet 
nest. Their union wears not only the 
grace of delicacy, but of fragility also ; 
for it is always liable to be suddenly de- 
stroyed by the marriage of either party, 
or, at least, to be interrupted and sus- 
pended for an indefinite period. 

He depicted so eloquently the ex- 
cellence of sisterly affection, and he drew 
so distinctly and so minutely the image 
of two sisters, to whom he chose to 
ascribe the unusual comeliness of the 
spot into which we had unintentionally 
intruded, that the trifling incident has 
been impressed upon my memory, and 
has been intimately associated in my 
mind, through his creations, with his 
poetic character. 



CHAPTER IV 

THE prince of Roman eloquence 
affirms that the good man alone 
can be a perfect orator, and truly; for with- 
out the weight of a spotless reputation it 
is certain that the most artful and 
elaborate discourse must want authority 
the main ingredient in persuasion. 

The position is, at least, equally true 
of the poet, whose grand strength always 
lies in the ethical force of his composi- 
tions, and these are great in proportion 
to the efficient greatness of their moral 
purpose. If, therefore, we would 
criticise poetry correctly, and from the 
foundation, it behoves us to examine 
the morality of the bard. 

In no individual, perhaps, was the 
moral sense ever more completely de- 
veloped than in Shelley ; in no being 
was the perception of right and of 
98 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 99 

wrong more acute. The biographer 
who takes upon himself the pleasing 
and instructive, but difficult and delicate 
task of composing a faithful history of 
his whole life, will frequently be com- 
pelled to discuss the important questions, 
whether his conduct, at certain periods, 
was altogether such as ought to be pro- 
posed for imitation ; whether he was 
ever misled by an ardent imagination, 
a glowing temperament, something of 
hastiness in choice and a certain con- 
stitutional impatience ; whether, like 
less gifted mortals, he ever shared in 
the common portion of mortality re- 
pentance, and to what extent ? 

Such inquiries, however, do not fall 
within the compass of a brief narrative 
of his career at the University. The 
unmatured mind of a boy is capable of 
good intentions only and of generous 
and kindly feelings, and these were pre- 
eminent in him. It will be proper to 
unfold the excellence of his dispositions, 
not for the sake of vain and empty 
praise, but simply to show his aptitude 
to receive the sweet fury of the Muses. 



100 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

His inextinguishable thirst for know- 
ledge, his boundless philanthropy, his 
fearless, it may be his almost imprudent 
pursuit of truth have been already ex- 
hibited. If mercy to beasts be a cri- 
terion of a good man, numerous instances 
of extreme tenderness would demon- 
strate his worth. I will mention one 
only. 

We were walking one afternoon in 
Bagley wood ; on turning a corner we 
suddenly came upon a boy who was 
driving an ass. It was very young 
and very weak, and was staggering 
beneath a most disproportionate load 
of faggots, and he was belabouring its 
lean ribs angrily and violently with a 
short, thick, heavy cudgel. 

At the sight of cruelty Shelley was 
instantly transported far beyond the 
usual measure of excitement. He sprang 
forward and was about to interpose 
with energetic and indignant vehe- 
mence. I caught him by the arm and 
to his present annoyance held him back, 
and with much difficulty persuaded 
him to allow me to be the advocate of 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 101 

the dumb animal. His cheeks glowed 
with displeasure and his lips murmured 
his impatience during my brief dialogue 
with the young tyrant. 

" That is a sorry little ass, boy," I 
said ; "it seems to have scarcely any 
strength." 

" None at all ; it is good for 
nothing." 

"It cannot get on ; it can hardly 
stand. If anybody could make it go, 
you would ; you have taken great pains 
with it." 

<c Yes, I have ; but it is to no 
purpose ! " 

"It is of little use striking it, I think." 

" It is not worth beating. The stupid 
beast has got more wood now than it 
can carry ; it can hardly stand, you 



see ! " 



" I suppose it put it upon its back 
itself?" 

The boy was silent ; I repeated the 
question. 

" No ; it has not sense enough for 
that," he replied, with an incredulous 
leer. 



102 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

By dint of repeated blows he had 
split his cudgel, and the sound caused 
by the divided portion had alarmed 
Shelley's humanity. I pointed to it and 
said, " You have split your stick ; it is 
not good for much now." 

He turned it, and held the divided 
end in his hand. 

" The other end is whole, I see, but 
I suppose you could split that too on the 
ass's back, if you chose ; it is not so 
thick." 

"It is not so thick, but it is full of 
knots. It would take a great deal of 
trouble to split it, and the beast is not 
worth that ; it would do no good ! " 

" It would do no good, certainly ; and 
if anybody saw you, he might say that 
you were a savage young ruffian and that 
you ought to be served in the same 
manner yourself." 

The fellow looked at me in some 
surprise, and sank into sullen silence. 

He presently threw his cudgel into 
the wood as far as he was able, and 
began to amuse himself by pelting the 
birds with pebbles, leaving my long-eared 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 103 

client to proceed at its own pace, having 
made up his mind, perhaps, to be beaten 
himself, when he reached home, by a 
tyrant still more unreasonable than him- 
self, on account of the inevitable default 
of his ass. 

Shelley was satisfied with the result of 
our conversation, and I repeated to him 
the history of the injudicious and un- 
fortunate interference of Don Quixote 
between the peasant, John Haldudo, and 
his servant, Andrew. Although he re- 
luctantly admitted that the acrimony of 
humanity might often aggravate the 
sufferings of the oppressed by provoking 
the oppressor, I always observed that the 
impulse of generous indignation, on 
witnessing the infliction of pain, was 
too vivid to allow him to pause and 
consider the probable consequences of 
the abrupt interposition of the knight- 
errantry, which would at once redress 
all grievances. Such exquisite sensibility 
and a sympathy with suffering so acute 
and so uncontrolled may possibly be 
inconsistent with the calmness and fore- 
thought of the philosopher, but they 



104 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

accord well with the high temperature 
of a poet's blood. 

As his port had the meekness of a 
maiden, so the heart of the young virgin 
who had never crossed her father's thres- 
hold to encounter the rude world, could 
not be more susceptible of all the sweet 
domestic charities than his : in this re- 
spect Shelley's disposition would happily 
illustrate the innocence and virginity of 
the Muses. 

In most men, and especially in very 
young men, an excessive addiction to 
study tends to chill the heart and to 
blunt the feelings, by engrossing the 
attention. Notwithstanding his extreme 
devotion to literature, and amidst his 
various and ardent speculations, he re- 
tained a most affectionate regard for his 
relations, and particularly for the females 
of his family ; it was not without mani- 
fest joy that he received a letter from his 
mother or his sisters. 

A child of genius is seldom duly ap- 
preciated by the world during his life, 
least of all by his own kindred. The 
parents of a man of talent may claim 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 105 

the honour of having given him birth, 
yet they commonly enjoy but little of 
his society. Whilst we hang with de- 
light over the immortal pages, we are 
apt to suppose that the gifted author was 
fondly cherished ; that a possession so 
uncommon and so precious was highly 
prized ; that his contemporaries anxiously 
watched his going out and eagerly looked 
for his coming in ; for we should our- 
selves have borne him tenderly in our 
hands, that he might not dash his foot 
against a stone. Surely such an one was 
given in charge to angels, we cry. On 
the contrary. Nature appears most un- 
accountably to slight a gift that she gave 
grudgingly, as if it were of small value, 
and easily replaced. 

An unusual number of books, Greek 
or Latin classics, each inscribed with the 
name of the donor, which had been 
presented to him, according to custom, 
on quitting Eton, attested that Shelley 
had been popular among his school- 
fellows. Many of them were then at 
Oxford, and they frequently called at 
his rooms. Although he spoke of them 



106 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

with regard, he generally avoided their 
society, for it interfered with his 
beloved study, and interrupted the 
pursuits to which he ardently and 
entirely devoted himself. 

In the nine centuries that elapsed 
from the time of our great founder, 
Alfred, to our days, there never was a 
student who more richly merited the 
favour and assistance of a learned body, 
or whose fruitful mind would have 
repaid with a larger harvest the labour 
of careful and judicious cultivation. 
And such cultivation he was well 
entitled to receive. Nor did his 
scholar-like virtues merit neglect, still 
less to be betrayed, like the young 
nobles of Falisci, by a traitorous school- 
master to an enemy less generous than 
Camillus. No student ever read more 
assiduously. He was to be found 
book in hand at all hours, reading in 
season and out of season, at table, in 
bed and especially during a walk ; not 
only in the quiet country and in retired 
paths ; not only at Oxford in the 
public walks and High Street, but in 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 107 

the most crowded thoroughfares of 
London. Nor was he less absorbed by 
the volume that was open before him 
in Cheapside, in Cranbourne Alley or 
in Bond Street, than in a lonely lane, or 
a secluded library. 

Sometimes a vulgar fellow would 
attempt to insult or annoy the eccentric 
student in passing. Shelley always 
avoided the malignant interruption by 
stepping aside with his vast and quiet 
agility. 

Sometimes I have observed, as an 
agreeable contrast to these wretched men, 
that persons of the humblest station have 
paused and gazed with respectful wonder 
as he advanced, almost unconscious of 
the throng, stooping low, with bent 
knees and outstretched neck, poring 
earnestly over the volume, which he 
extended before him ; for they knew 
this, although the simple people knew 
but little, that an ardent scholar is 
worthy of deference, and that the man of 
learning is necessarily the friend of 
humanity, and especially of the many. I 
never beheld eyes that devoured the 



108 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

pages more voraciously than his. I am 
convinced that two-thirds of the period 
of the day and night were often employed 
in reading. It is no exaggeration to 
affirm, that out of the twenty-four hours 
he frequently read sixteen. At Oxford 
his diligence in this respect was 
exemplary, but it greatly increased after- 
wards, and I sometimes thought that he 
carried it to a pernicious excess. I am 
sure, at least, that I was unable to keep 
pace with him. 

On the evening of a wet day, when we 
had read with scarcely any intermission 
from an early hour in the morning, I 
have urged him to lay aside his book. 
It required some extravagance to rouse 
him to join heartily in conversation ; to 
tempt him to avoid the chimney-piece on 
which commonly he had laid the open 
volume. 

a If I were to read as long as you 
read, Shelley, my hair and my teeth 
would be strewed about on the floor, and 
my eyes would slip down my cheeks into 
my waistcoat pockets, or, at least, I 
should become so weary and nervous that 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 109 

I should not know whether it were so or 



not." 



He began to scrape the carpet with his 
feet, as if teeth were actually lying upon 
it, and he looked fixedly at my face, and 
his lively fancy represented the empty 
sockets. His imagination was excited, and 
the spell that bound him to his books 
was broken, and, creeping close to the 
fire, and, as it were, under the fireplace, 
he commenced a most animated discourse. 

Few were aware of the extent, 
and still fewer, I apprehend, of the 
profundity of his reading. In his short 
life and without ostentation he had in 
truth read more Greek than many an 
aged pedant, who with pompous parade 
prides himself upon this study alone. 
Although he had not entered critically 
into the minute niceties of the noblest of 
languages, he was thoroughly conversant 
with the valuable matter it contains. A 
pocket edition of Plato, of Plutarch, of 
Euripides, without interpretation or 
notes, or of the Septuagint, was his 
ordinary companion ; and he read the 
text straightforward for hours, if not 



110 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

as readily as an English author, at least 
with as much facility as French, Italian 
or Spanish. 

" Upon my soul, Shelley, your style of 
going through a Greek book is some- 
thing quite beautiful ! " was the wonder- 
ing exclamation of one who was himself 
no mean student. 

As his love of intellectual pursuits was 
vehement, and the vigour of his genius 
almost celestial, so were the purity and 
sanctity of his life most conspicuous. 

His food was plain and simple as that 
of a hermit, with a certain anticipation, 
even at this time, of a vegetable d : et, 
respecting which he afterwards became an 
enthusiast in theory, and in practice an 
irregular votary. 

With his usual fondness for moving 
the abstruse and difficult questions of the 
highest theology, he loved to inquire 
whether man can justify, on the ground 
of reason alone, the practice of taking the 
life of the inferior animals, except in the 
necessary defence of his life and of his 
means of life, the fruits of that field which 
he has tilled, from violence and spoliation. 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 111 

" Not only have considerable sects," 
he would say, u denied the right al- 
together, but those among the tender- 
hearted and imaginative people of 
antiquity, who accounted it lawful to kill 
and eat, appear to have doubted whether 
they might take away life merely for the 
use of man alone. They slew their 
cattle, not simply for human guests, like 
the less scrupulous butchers of modern 
times, but only as a sacrifice, for the 
honour and in the name of the Deity ; 
or, rather, of those subordinate divinities, 
to whom, as they believed, the Supreme 
Being had assigned the creation and con- 
servation of the visible material world. 
As an incident to these pious offerings, 
they partook of the residue of the 
victims, of which, without such sanction 
and sanctification, they would not have 
presumed to taste. So reverent was the 
caution of humane and prudent 
antiquity ! 

Bread became his chief sustenance 
when his regimen attained to that 
austerity which afterwards distinguished 
it. He could have lived on bread alone 



112 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

without repining. When he was walk- 
ing in London with an acquaintance, he 
would suddenly run into a baker's shop, 
purchase a supply, and breaking a loaf he 
would offer half of it to his companion. 

" Do you know," he said to me one 
day, with much surprise, " that such an 
one does not like bread ? Did you ever 
know a person who disliked bread ? " 
And he told me that a friend had refused 
such an offer. 

I explained to him that the individual 
in question probably had no objection to 
bread in a moderate quantity at a proper 
time and with the usual adjuncts, and was 
only unwilling to devour two or three 
pounds of dry bread in the streets, and at 
an early hour. 

Shelley had no such scruple ; his 
pockets were generally well-stored with 
bread. A circle upon the carpet, clearly 
defined by an ample verge of crumbs, 
often marked the place where he had 
long sat at his studies, his face nearly in 
contact with his book, greedily devouring 
bread at intervals amidst his profound 
abstractions. For the most part he took 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 113 

no condiments ; sometimes, however, he 
ate with his bread the common raisins 
which are used in making puddings, and 
these he would buy at little mean shops. 

He was walking one day in London 
with a respectable solicitor who occasion- 
ally transacted business for him. With 
his accustomed precipitation he suddenly 
vanished and as suddenly reappeared : 
he had entered the shop of a little grocer 
in an obscure quarter, and had returned 
with some plums, which he held close 
under the attorney's nose, and the man 
of fact was as much astonished at the 
offer as his client, the man of fancy, at 
the refusal. 

The common fruit of stalls, and 
oranges and apples were always welcome 
to Shelley ; he would crunch the latter as 
heartily as a schoolboy. Vegetables, and 
especially salads, and pies and puddings 
were acceptable. His beverage consisted 
of copious and frequent draughts of cold 
water, but tea was ever grateful, cup 
after cup, and coffee. Wine was taken 
with singular moderation, commonly 
diluted largely with water, and for a 



114 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

long period he would abstain from it al- 
together. He avoided the use of spirits 
almost invariably, and even in the most 
minute portions. 

Like all persons of simple tastes, he 
retained his sweet tooth. He would 
greedily eat cakes, gingerbread and 
sugar; honey, preserved or stewed fruit 
with bread, were his favourite delicacies. 
These he thankfully and joyfully received 
from others, but he rarely sought for 
them or provided them for himself. 
The restraint and protracted duration of 
a convivial meal were intolerable ; he 
was seldom able to keep his seat during 
the brief period assigned to an ordinary 
family dinner. 

These particulars may seem trifling, if 
indeed anything can be little that has 
reference to a character truly great ; but 
they prove how much he was ashamed 
that his soul was in body, and illustrate 
the virgin abstinence of a mind equally 
favoured by the Muses, the Graces and 
Philosophy. It is true, however, that 
his application at Oxford, although 
exemplary, was not so unremitting as it 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 115 

afterwards became ; nor was his diet, 
although singularly temperate, so 
meagre. However, his mode of living 
already offered a foretaste of the studious 
seclusion and absolute renunciation of 
every luxurious indulgence which en- 
nobled him a few years later. 

Had a parent desired that his children 
should be exactly trained to an ascetic 
life and should be taught by an eminent 
example to scorn delights and to live 
laborious days, that they should behold 
a pattern of native innocence and genuine 
simplicity of manners, he would have 
consigned them to his house as to a 
temple or to some primitive and still 
unsophisticated monastery. 

It is an invidious thing to compose 
a perpetual panegyric, yet it is difficult 
to speak of Shelley, and impossible to 
speak justly, without often praising 
him. It is difficult also to divest myself 
of later recollections ; to forget for a 
while what he became in days subse- 
quent, and to remember only what he 
then was, when we were fellow - 
collegians. It is difficult, moreover, 



116 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

to view him with the mind which I 
then bore with a young mind, to 
lay aside the seriousness of old age ; 
for twenty years of assiduous study have 
induced, if not in the body, at least 
within, something of premature old 
age. 

It now seems an incredible thing, 
and altogether inconceivable, when I 
consider the gravity of Shelley and 
his invincible repugnance to the comic, 
that the monkey tricks of the schoolboy 
could have still lingered, but it is certain 
that some slight vestiges still remained. 
The metaphysician of eighteen actually 
attempted once or twice to electrify 
the son of his scout, a boy like a sheep, 
by name James, who roared aloud with 
ludicrous and stupid terror, whenever 
Shelley affected to bring by stealth any 
part of his philosophical apparatus near 
to him. 

As Shelley's health and strength were 
visibly augmented, if by accident he 
was obliged to accept a more generous 
diet than ordinary, and as his mind 
sometimes appeared to be exhausted 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 117 

by never-ending toil, I often blamed 
his abstinence and his perpetual applica- 
tion. It is the office of a University, 
of a public institution for education, 
not only to apply the spur to the 
sluggish, but also to rein in the young 
steed, that, being too mettlesome, 
hastens with undue speed towards the 
goal. 

" It is a very odd thing, but every 
woman can live with my lord and do 
just what she pleases with him, except 
my lady ! " Such was the shrewd 
remark, which a long familiarity taught 
an old and attached servant to utter 
respecting his master, a noble poet. 

We may wonder in like manner, and 
deeply lament, that the most docile, 
the most facile, the most pliant, the 
most confident creature that ever was 
led through any of the various paths on 
earth, that a tractable youth, who was 
conducted at pleasure by anybody that 
approached him it might be occasionally 
by persons delegated by no legitimate 
authority was never guided for a 
moment by those upon whom, fully and 



118 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

without reservation, that most solemn 
and sacred obligation had been imposed, 
strengthened, morever, by every public 
and private, official and personal, moral, 
political and religious tie, which the 
civil polity of a long succession of ages 
could accumulate. Had the University 
been in fact, as in name, a kind nursing- 
mother to the most gifted of her sons, 
to one, who seemed, to those that knew 
him best, 

Heaven's exile straying from the orb of light ; 

had that most awful responsibility, the 
right institution of those, to whom are 
to be consigned the government of the 
country and the conservation of whatever 
good human society has elaborated and 
excogitated, duly weighed upon the 
consciences of his instructors, they would 
have gained his entire confidence by frank 
kindness, they would have repressed his 
too eager impatience to master the sum 
of knowledge, they would have mitigated 
the rigorous austerity of his course of 
living, and they would have remitted 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 119 

the extreme tension of his soul by 
reconciling him to liberal mirth ; con- 
vincing him that, if life be not wholly 
a jest, there are at least many comic 
scenes occasionally interspersed in the 
great drama. Nor is the last benefit 
of trifling importance, for, as an unseemly 
and excessive gravity is usually the sign 
of a dull fellow, so is the prevalence of 
this defect the characteristic of an un- 
learned and illiberal age. 

Shelley was actually offended, and 
indeed more indignant than would 
appear to be consistent with the singular 
mildness of his nature, at a coarse and 
awkward jest, especially if it were im- 
modest or uncleanly ; in the latter case 
his anger was unbounded, and his un- 
easiness pre-eminent. He was, however, 
sometimes vehemently delighted by ex- 
quisite and delicate sallies, particularly 
with a fanciful, and perhaps somewhat 
fantastical facetiousness possibly the 
more because he was himself utterly 
incapable of pleasantry. 

In every free state, in all countries 
that enjoy republican institutions, the 



120 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

view which each citizen takes of politics 
is an essential ingredient in the estimate 
of his ethical character. The wisdom 
of a very young man is but foolishness. 
Nevertheless, if we would rightly com- 
prehend the moral and intellectual con- 
stitution of the youthful poet, it will 
be expedient to take into account the 
manner in which he was affected towards 
the grand political questions, at a period 
when the whole of the civilised world 
was agitated by a fierce storm of excite- 
ment, that, happily for the peace and 
well-being of society, is of rare occur- 
rence. 



CHAPTER V 

" A BOVE all things, Liberty ! " The 
-1* political creed of Shelley may be 
comprised in a few words ; it was, in 
truth, that of most men, and in a peculiar 
manner of young men, during the fresh- 
ness and early springs of revolutions. 
He held that not only is the greatest 
possible amount of civil liberty to be 
preferred to all other blessings, but that 
this advantage is all-sufficient, and com- 
prehends within itself every other desir- 
able object. The former position is as 
unquestionably true as the latter is 
undoubtedly false. It is no small praise, 
however, to a very young man, to say 
that on a subject so remote from the 
comprehension of youth his opinions 
were at least half right. Twenty years 
ago the young men at our Universities 
were satisfied with upholding the political 

121 



122 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

doctrines of which they approved by 
private discussions. They did not venture 
to form clubs of brothers and to move 
resolutions, except a small number of 
enthusiasts of doubtful sanity, who alone 
sought to usurp by crude and premature 
efforts the offices of a matured under- 
standing and of manly experience . 

Although our fellow-collegians were 
willing to learn before they took upon 
themselves the heavy and thankless 
charge of instructing others, there was no 
lack of beardless politicians amongst us. 
Of these, some were more strenuous 
supporters of the popular cause in our 
little circles than others ; but all were 
abundantly liberal. A Brutus or a 
Gracchus would have found many to 
surpass him, and few, indeed, to fall 
short in theoretical devotion to the 
interests of equal freedom. I can scarcely 
recollect a single exception amongst my 
numerous acquaintances. All, I think 
were worthy of the best ages of Greece 
or of Rome ; all were true, loyal citizens, 
brave and free. How, indeed, could it 
be otherwise? Liberty is the morning- 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 123 

star of youth ; and those who enjoy 
the inappreciable blessing of a classical 
education, are taught betimes to lisp its 
praises. They are nurtured in the 
writings of its votaries, and they even 
learn their native tongue, as it were, at 
secondhand, and reflected in the glorious 
pages of the authors, who in the ancient 
languages and in strains of a noble 
eloquence, that will never fail to astonish 
succeeding generations, proclaim unceas- 
ingly, with every variety of powerful and 
energetic phrase, "Above all things, 
Liberty ! " The praises of liberty were 
the favourite topic of our earliest verses, 
whether they flowed with natural ease, or 
were elaborated painfully out of the re- 
sources of art ; and the tyrant was set up 
as an object of scorn, to be pelted with 
the first ink of our themes. How, then, 
can an educated youth be other than 
free? 

Shelley was entirely devoted to the 
lovely theory of freedom ; but he was 
also eminently averse at that time from 
engaging in the far less beautiful practices, 
wherein are found the actual and operative 



124 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

energies of liberty. I was maintaining 
against him one day at my rooms the 
superiority of the ethical sciences over 
the physical. In the course of the debate 
he cried with shrill vehemence for as 
his aspect presented to the eye much of 
the elegance of the peacock, so, in like 
manner, he cruelly lacerated the ear with 
its discordant tones " You talk of the pre- 
eminence of moral philosophy ? Do you 
comprehend politics under that name ? and 
will you tell me, as others do, and as Plato, 
I believe, teaches, that of this philosophy 
the political department is the highest and 
the most important ? " Without expect- 
ing an answer, he continued : c< A certain 
nobleman 9 ' (and he named him) "advised 
me to turn my thoughts towards politics 
immediately. c You cannot direct your 
attention that way too early in this 
country/ said the Duke. c They are the 
proper career for a young man of ability 
and of your station in life. That course 
is the most advantageous, because it is a 
monopoly. A little success in that line 
goes far, since the number of competitors 
is limited; and of those who are admitted 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

to the contest, the greater part are 
altogether devoid of talent or too indolent 
to exert themselves. So many are ex- 
cluded, that, of the few who are per- 
mitted to enter, it is difficult to find any 
that are not utterly unfit for the ordinary 
service of the state. It is not so in the 
church, it is not so at the bar ; there all 
may offer themselves. The number of 
rivals in those professions is far greater, 
and they are, besides, of a more formidable 
kind. In letters, your chance of success 
is still worse. There, none can win gold 
and all may try to gain reputation ; it is a 
struggle for glory the competition is in- 
finite, there are no bounds that is a 
spacious field indeed, a sea without 
shores ! ' The Duke talked thus to me 
many times and strongly urged me to 
give myself up to politics without delay, 
but he did not persuade me. With how 
unconquerable an aversion do I shrink 
from political articles in newspapers and 
reviews? I have heard people talk 
politics by the hour, and how I hated 
it and them ! I went with my father 
several times to the House of Commons, 



126 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

and what creatures did I see there ! 
What faces ! what an expression of 
countenance ! what wretched beings ! " 
Here he clasped his hands, and raised his 
voice to a painful pitch, with fervid dis- 
like. " Good God ! what men did we 
meet about the House, in the lobbies and 
passages ; and my father was so civil to 
all of them, to animals that I regarded 
with unmitigated disgust ! A friend of 
mine, an Eton man, told me that his 
father once invited some corporation to 
dine at his house, and that he was present. 
When dinner was over, and the gentlemen 
nearly drunk, they started up, he said, 
and swore they would all kiss his sisters. 
His father laughed and did not forbid 
them, and the wretches would have done 
it ; but his sisters heard of the infamous 
proposal, and ran upstairs, and locked 
themselves in their bedrooms. I asked 
him if he would not have knocked them 
down if they had attempted such an out- 
rage in his presence. It seems to me that 
a man of spirit ought to have killed them 
if they had effected their purpose." The 
sceptical philosopher sat for several 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 127 

minutes in silence, his cheeks glowing 
with intense indignation. 

" Never did a more finished gentle- 
man than Shelley step across a drawing- 
room ! " Lord Byron exclaimed ; and 
on reading the remark in Mr Moore's 
Memoirs I was struck forcibly by 
its justice, and wondered for a moment 
that, since it was so obvious, it had 
never been made before. Perhaps this 
excellence was blended so intimately with 
his entire nature, and it seemed to con- 
stitute a part of his identity, and being 
essential and necessary was therefore never 
noticed. I observed his eminence in 
this respect before I had sat beside him 
many minutes at our first meeting in the 
hall of University College. Since that 
day I have had the happiness to associate 
with some of the best specimens of 
gentlemen ; but with all due deference 
for those admirable persons (may my 
candour and my preference be pardoned), 
I can affirm that Shelley was almost the 
only example I have yet found that was 
never wanting, even in the most minute 
particular, of the infinite and various 



128 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

observances of pure, entire and perfect 
gentility. Trifling, indeed, and unim- 
portant, were the aberrations of some 
whom I could name ; but in him, during 
a long and most unusual familiarity, I 
discovered no flaw, no tarnish ; the 
metal was sterling, and the polish absolute. 
I have also seen him, although rarely, 
<c stepping across a drawing-room," and 
then his deportment, as Lord Byron 
testifies, was unexceptionable. Such 
attendances, however, were pain and grief 
to him, and his inward discomfort was 
not hard to be discerned. 

An acute observer, whose experience of 
life was infinite, and who had been long 
and largely conversant with the best 
society in each of the principal capitals of 
Europe, had met Shelley, of whom he 
was a sincere admirer, several times in 
public. He remarked one evening, at a 
large party where Shelley was present, his 
extreme discomfort, and added, "It is 
but too plain that there is something 
radically wrong in the constitution of our 
assemblies, since such a man finds not 
pleasure, nor even ease, in them." His 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 129 

speculations concerning the cause were 
ingenious, and would possibly be not 
altogether devoid of interest ; but they 
are wholly unconnected with the object 
of these scanty reminiscences. 

Whilst Shelley was still a boy, clubs 
were few in number, of small dimensions, 
and generally confined to some specific 
class of persons. The universal and 
populous clubs of the present day were 
almost unknown. His reputation has 
increased so much of late, that the honour 
of including his name in the list of 
members, were such a distinction happily 
attainable, would now perhaps be sought 
by many of these societies ; but it is not 
less certain, that, for a period of nearly 
twenty years, he would have been black- 
balled by almost every club in London. 
Nor would such a fate be peculiar to 
him. 

When a great man has attained to a 
certain eminence, his patronage is courted 
by those who were wont carefully to 
shun him, whilst he was quietly and 
steadily pursuing the path that would 
inevitably lead to advancement. It 



130 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

would be easy to multiply instances, if 
proofs were needed, and this remarkable 
peculiarity of our social existence is an 
additional and irrefragable argument that 
the constitution of refined society is 
radically vicious, since it flatters timid, 
insipid mediocrity, and is opposed to the 
bold, fearless originality, and to that 
novelty which invariably characterise true 
genius. The first dawnings of talent are 
instantly hailed and warmly welcomed, as 
soon as some singularity unequivocally 
attests its existence amongst nations 
where hypocrisy and intolerance are less 
absolute. 

If all men were required to name the 
greatest disappointment they had respec- 
tively experienced, the catalogue would be 
very various ; accordingly as the expecta- 
tions of each had been elevated respecting 
the pleasure that would attend the gratifi- 
cation of some favourite wish, would the 
reality in almost every case have fallen 
short of the anticipation. The variety 
would be infinite as to the nature of the 
first disappointment ; but if the same 
irresistible authority could command that 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 131 

\^ 

another and another should be added to the 
list, it is probable that there would be less 
dissimilarity in the returns of the dis- 
appointments which were deemed second 
and the next in the importance to the 
greatest, and perhaps, in numerous in- 
stances, the third would coincide. Many- 
individuals, having exhausted their 
principal private and peculiar grievances 
in the first and second examples, would 
assign the third place to some public and 
general matter. 

The youth who has formed his con- 
ceptions of the power, effects and aspect 
of eloquence from the specimens furnished 
by the orators of Greece and Rome, 
receives as rude a shock on his first visit 
to the House of Commons as can possibly 
be inflicted on his juvenile expectations, 
where the subject is entirely unconnected 
with the interests of the individual. A 
prodigious number of persons would, 
doubtless, inscribe nearly at the top of 
the list of disappointments the deplorable 
and inconceivable inferiority of the actual 
to the imaginary debate. It is not 
wonderful, therefore, that the sensitive, 



132 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

the susceptible, the fastidious Shelley, 
whose lively fancy was easily wound up 
to a degree of excitement incompre- 
hensible to calmer and more phlegmatic 
temperaments, felt keenly a mortification 
that can wound even the most obtuse 
intellects, and expressed with con- 
temptuous acrimony his dissatisfaction at 
the cheat which his warm imagination 
had put upon him. Had he resolved to 
enter the career of politics, it is possible 
that habit would have reconciled him to 
many things which at first seemed to be 
repugnant to his nature. It is possible 
that his unwearied industry, his remark- 
able talents and vast energy would have 
led him to renown in that line as well as 
in another ; but it is most probable that 
his parliamentary success would have 
been but moderate. Opportunities of ad- 
vancement were offered to him, and he 
rejected them, in the opinion of some 
of his friends unwisely and improperly ; 
but, perhaps, he only refused gifts that 
were unfit for him : he struck out a path 
for himself, and, by boldly following his 
own course, greatly as it deviated from 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 133 

that prescribed to him, he became in- 
comparably more illustrious than he 
would have been had he steadily pur- 
sued the beaten track. His memory 
will be green when the herd of every- 
day politicians are forgotten. Ordinary 
rules may guide ordinary men, but the 
orbit of the child of genius is essentially 
eccentric. 

Although the mind of Shelley had 
certainly a strong bias towards democracy, 
and he embraced with an ardent and 
youthful fondness the theory of political 
equality, his feelings and behaviour were 
in many respects highly aristocratical. 
The ideal republic, wherein his fancy 
loved to expatiate, was adorned by all 
the graces which Plato, Xenophon and 
Cicero have thrown around the memory 
of ancient liberty ; the unbleached web 
of transatlantic freedom, and the incon- 
siderate vehemence of such of our 
domestic patriots as would demonstrate 
their devotion to the good cause, by 
treating with irreverence whatever is 
most venerable, were equally repugnant 
to his sensitive and reverential spirit. 



134 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

As a politician Shelley was in theory 
wholly a republican, but in practice, so 
far only as it is possible to be one with 
due regard for the sacred rights of a 
scholar and a gentleman ; and these being 
in his eyes always more inviolable than 
any scheme of polity or civil institution, 
although he was upon paper and in 
discourse a sturdy commonwealth-man, 
the living, moving, acting individual had 
much of the senatorial and conserva- 
tive, and was in the main eminently 
patrician. 

The rare assiduity of the young poet 
in the acquisition of general knowledge 
has been already described ; he had, 
moreover, diligently studied the mechan- 
ism of his art before he came to Oxford. 
He composed Latin verses with singular 
facility. On visiting him soon after his 
arrival at the accustomed hour of one, we 
were writing the usual exercise, which we 
presented, I believe, once a week a Latin 
translation of a paper in the Spectator. 
He soon finished it, and as he held it 
before the fire to dry, I offered to take it 
from him. He said it was not worth 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 135 

looking at ; but as I persisted, through a 
certain scholastic curiosity to examine the 
Latinity of my new acquaintance, he gave 
it to me. The Latin was sufficiently 
correct, but the version was paraphrastic, 
which I observed. He assented, and said 
that it would pass muster, and he felt no 
interest in such efforts and no desire to 
excel in them. I also noticed many 
portions of heroic verses, and even several 
entire verses, and these I pointed out as 
defects in a prose composition. He 
smiled archly, and asked, in his piercing 
whisper, " Do you think they will observe 
them ? I inserted them intentionally to 
try their ears ! I once showed up a 
theme at Eton to old Keate, in which 
there were a great many verses ; but he 
observed them, scanned them, and asked 
why I had introduced them ? I 
answered that I did not know they were 
there. This was partly true and partly 
false ; but he believed me, and immedi- 
ately applied to me the line in which Ovid 
says of himself 

' Et quod tentabam dicere, versus erat.' " 



136 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

Shelley then spoke of the facility with 
which he could compose Latin verses ; 
and, taking the paper out of my hand, he 
began to put the entire translation into 
verse. He would sometimes open at 
hazard a prose writer, as Livy or Sallust, 
and, by changing the position of the 
words and occasionally substituting 
others, he would translate several 
sentences from prose to verse to heroic, 
or more commonly elegiac, verse, for he 
was peculiarly charmed with the graceful 
and easy flow of the latter with surpris- 
ing rapidity and readiness. He was fond 
of displaying this accomplishment during 
his residence at Oxford, but he forgot to 
bring it away with him when he quitted 
the University ; or perhaps he left it 
behind him designedly, as being suitable 
to academic groves only and to the banks 
of the Isis. In Ovid the facility of 
versification in his native tongue was 
possibly in some measure innate, 
although the extensive and various learn- 
ing of that poet demonstrate that the 
power of application was not wanting in 
him ; but such a command over a dead 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 137 

language can only be acquired through 
severe study. 

There is much in the poetry of Shelley 
that seems to encourage the belief, that 
the inspiration of the Muses was seldom 
duly hailed by the pious diligence of the 
recipient. It is true that his compositions 
were too often unfinished, but his example 
cannot encourage indolence in the youth- 
ful writer, for his carelessness is usually 
apparent only. He had really applied 
himself as strenuously to conquer all the 
other difficulties of his art, as he patiently 
laboured to penetrate the mysteries of 
metre in the state wherein it exists entire 
and can alone be attained in one of the 
classical languages. 

The poet takes his name from the 
highest effort of his art creation ; and, 
being himself a maker, he must, of 
necessity, feel a strong sympathy with the 
exercise of the creative energies. Shelley 
was exceedingly deficient in mechanical 
ingenuity ; and he was also wanting in 
spontaneous curiosity respecting the 
operations of artificers. The wonderful 
dexterity of well-practised hands, the 



138 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

long tradition of innumerable ages, and 
the vast accumulation of technical wisdom 
that are manifested in the various handi- 
crafts, have always been interesting to me, 
and I have ever loved to watch the artist 
at his work. I have often induced 
Shelley to take part in such observations, 
and although he never threw himself in 
the way of professors of the manual 
erudition of the workshop, his vivid 
delight in witnessing the marvels of the 
plastic hand, whenever they were brought 
before his eyes, was very striking ; and 
the rude workman was often gratified to 
find that his merit in one narrow field 
was, at once and intuitively, so fully 
appreciated by the young scholar. The 
instances are innumerable that would 
attest an unusual sympathy with the arts 
of construction even in their most simple 
stages. 

I led him one summer's evening into a 
brickfield. It had never occurred to him 
to ask himself how a brick is formed ; 
the secret was revealed in a moment. He 
was charmed with the simple contrivance, 
and astonished at the rapidity, facility 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 139 

and exactness with which it was put in 
use by so many busy hands. An 
ordinary observer would have smiled and 
passed on, but the son of fancy confessed 
his delight with an energy which roused 
the attention even of the ragged throng, 
that seemed to exist only that they might 
pass successive lumps of clay through a 
wooden frame. 

I was surprised at the contrast between 
the general indifference of Shelley for the 
mechanical arts and his intense admira- 
tion of a particular application of one of 
them the first time I noticed the latter 
peculiarity. During our residence at 
Oxford I repaired to his rooms one 
morning at the accustomed hour, and I 
found a tailor with him. He had ex- 
pected to receive a new coat on the pre- 
ceding evening ; it was not sent home 
and he was mortified. I know not 
why, for he was commonly altogether 
indifferent about dress, and scarcely ap- 
peared to distinguish one coat from 
another. He was now standing erect in 
the middle of the room in his new blue 
coat, with all its glittering buttons, and, 



140 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

to atone for the delay, the tailor was 
loudly extolling the beauty of the cloth 
and the felicity of the fit ; his eloquence 
had not been thrown away upon his 
customer, for never was man more easily 
persuaded than the master of persuasion. 
The man of thimbles applied to me to 
vouch his eulogies. I briefly assented to 
them. He withdrew, after some bows, 
and Shelley, snatching his hat, cried with 
shrill impatience, 

" Let us go ! " 

" Do you mean to walk in the fields in 
your new coat ? " I asked. 

" Yes, certainly," he answered, and we 
sallied forth. 

We sauntered for a moderate space 
through lanes and by-ways, until we 
reached a spot near to a farmhouse, where 
the frequent trampling of much cattle 
had rendered the road almost impassable, 
and deep with black mud ; but by cross- 
ing the corner of a stack-yard, from one 
gate to another, we could tread upon 
clean straw, and could wholly avoid the 
impure and impracticable slough. 

We had nearly effected the brief and 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 141 

commodious transit I was stretching 
forth my hand to open the gate that led 
us back into the lane when a lean, 
brindled and most ill-favoured mastiff, 
that had stolen upon us softly over the 
straw unheard and without barking, 
seized Shelley suddenly by the skirts. I 
instantly kicked the animal in the ribs 
with so much force that I felt for some 
days after the influence of his gaunt bones 
on my toe. The blow caused him to 
flinch towards the left, and Shelley, turn- 
ing round quickly, planted a kick in his 
throat, which sent him sprawling, and 
made him retire hastily among the stacks, 
and we then entered the lane. The fury 
of the mastiff, and the rapid turn, had 
torn the skirts of the new blue coat across 
the back, just about that part of the 
human loins which our tailors, for some 
wise but inscrutable purpose, are wont 
to adorn with two buttons. They were 
entirely severed from the body, except a 
narrow strip of cloth on the left side, and 
this Shelley presently rent asunder. 

I never saw him so angry either before 
or since. He vowed that he would 



142 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

bring his pistols and shoot the dog, and 
that he would proceed at law against the 
owner. The fidelity of the dog towards 
his master is very beautiful in theory, and 
there is much to admire and to revere in 
this ancient and venerable alliance ; but, 
in practice, the most unexceptionable dog 
is a nuisance to all mankind, except his 
master, at all times, and very often to 
him also, and a fierce surly dog is the 
enemy of the whole human race. The 
farmyards in many parts of England are 
happily free from a pest that is formid- 
able to everybody but thieves by pro- 
fession ; in other districts savage dogs 
abound, and in none so much, according 
to my experience, as in the vicinity of 
Oxford. The neighbourhood of a still 
more famous city of Rome is likewise 
infested by dogs, more lowering, more 
ferocious and incomparably more power- 
ful. 

Shelley was proceeding home with 
rapid strides, bearing the skirts of his 
new coat on his left arm, to procure his 
pistols that he might wreak his vengeance 
upon the offending dog. I disliked the 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 143 

race, but I did not desire to take an 
ignoble revenge upon the miserable in- 
dividual. 

" Let us try to fancy, Shelley," I said 
to him, as he was posting away in 
indignant silence, " that we have been at 
Oxford, and have come back again, and 
that you have just laid the beast low 
and what then ? " 

He was silent for some time, but I 
soon perceived, from the relaxation of 
his pace, that his anger had relaxed also. 

At last he stopped short, and taking 
the skirts from his arm, spread them 
upon the hedge, stood gazing at them 
with a mournful aspect, sighed deeply 
and, after a few moments, continued his 
march. 

"Would it not be better to take the 
skirts with us ? " I inquired. 

" No," he answered despondingly ; 
"let them remain as a spectacle for men 
and gods ! " 

We returned to Oxford, and made 
our way by back streets to our college. 
As we entered the gates the officious 
scout remarked with astonishment 



144 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

Shelley's strange spencer, and asked for 
the skirts, that he might instantly carry 
the wreck to the tailor. Shelley answered, 
with his peculiarly pensive air, "They 
are upon the hedge." 

The scout looked up at the clock, at 
Shelley and through the gate into the 
street, as it were at the same moment and 
with one eager glance, and would have 
run blindly in quest of them, but I drew 
the skirts 1 from my pocket and unfolded 
them, and he followed us to Shelley's 
rooms. 

We were sitting there in the evening 
at tea, when the tailor, who had praised 
the coat so warmly in the morning, 
brought it back as fresh as ever, and 
apparently uninjured. It had been fine- 
drawn. He showed how skilfully the 
wound had been healed, and he com- 
mended at some length the artist who 
had effected the cure. Shelley was 
astonished and delighted. Had the tailor 
consumed the new blue coat in one of his 
crucibles, and suddenly raised it, by 
magical incantation, a fresh and purple 
Phoenix from the ashes, his admiration 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 145 

could hardly have been more vivid. It 
might be, in this instance, that his joy at 
the unexpected restoration of a coat, for 
which, although he was utterly indifferent 
to dress, he had, through some unac- 
countable caprice, conceived a fondness, 
gave force to his sympathy with art ; but 
I have remarked in innumerable cases, 
where no personal motive could exist, 
that he was animated by all the ardour of 
a maker in witnessing the display of the 
creative energies. 

Nor was the young poet less interested 
by imitation, especially the imitation of 
action, than by the creative arts. Our 
theatrical representations have long been 
degraded by a most pernicious monopoly, 
by vast abuses and enormous corruptions, 
and by the prevalence of bad taste. Far 
from feeling a desire to visit the theatres, 
Shelley would have esteemed it a cruel 
infliction to have been compelled to 
witness performances that less fastidious 
critics have deemed intolerable. He 
found delight, however, in reading the 
best of our English dramas, particularly 
the masterpieces of Shakespeare, and he 



146 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

was never weary of studying the more 
perfect compositions of the Attic 
tragedians. The lineaments of indi- 
vidual character may frequently be traced 
more certainly and more distinctly in 
trifles than in more important affairs ; for 
in the former the deportment,, even of 
the boldest and more ingenuous, is more 
entirely emancipated from every restraint. 
I recollect many minute traits that display 
the inborn sympathy of a brother practi- 
tioner in the mimetic arts. One silly tale, 
because, in truth, it is the most trivial 
of all, will best illustrate the conforma- 
tion of his mind ; its childishness, there- 
fore, will be pardoned. 

A young man of studious habits and 
of considerable talent occasionally derived 
a whimsical amusement, during his 
residence at Cambridge, from entering 
the public-houses in the neighbouring 
villages, whilst the fen- farmers and other 
rustics were smoking and drinking, and 
from repeating a short passage of a play, 
or a portion of an oration, which de- 
scribed the death of a distinguished 
person, the fatal result of a mighty battle, 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 147 

or other important events, in a forcible 
manner. He selected a passage of which 
the language was nearly on a level with 
vulgar comprehension, or he adapted one 
by somewhat mitigating its elevation ; 
and, although his appearance did not 
bespeak histrionic gifts, he was able to 
utter it impressively and, what was most 
effective, not theatrically, but simply and 
with the air of a man who was in earnest ; 
and if he were interrupted or questioned, 
he could slightly modify the discourse, 
without materially changing the sense, to 
give it a further appearance of reality ; 
and so staid and sober was the gravity of 
his demeanour as to render it impossible 
for the clowns to solve the wonder by 
supposing that he was mad. During his 
declamation the orator feasted inwardly on 
the stupid astonishment of his petrified 
audience, and he further regaled himself 
afterwards by imagining the strange con- 
jectures that would commence at his 
departure. 

Shelley was much interested by the 
account I gave him of this curious fact, 
from the relation of two persons, who 



148 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

had witnessed the performance. He 
asked innumerable questions, which I 
was in general quite unable to answer ; 
and he spoke of it as something alto- 
gether miraculous, that anyone should be 
able to recite extraordinary events in 
such a manner as to gain credence. As 
he insisted much upon the difficulty of 
the exploit, I told him that I thought he 
greatly over-estimated it, I was disposed 
to believe that it was in truth easy ; that 
faith and a certain gravity were alone 
needed. I had been struck by the story, 
when I first heard it ; and I had often 
thought of the practicability of imitating 
the deception, and although I had never 
proceeded so far myself, I had once or 
twice found it convenient to attempt 
something similar. At these words 
Shelley drew his chair close to mine, and 
listened with profound silence and intense 
curiosity. 

I was walking one afternoon in the 
summer on the western side of that 
short street leading from Long Acre to 
Covent Garden, wherein the passenger 
is earnestly invited, as a personal favour 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 149 

to the demandant, to proceed straight- 
way to Highgate or to Kentish Town, 
and which is called, I think, James 
Street. I was about to enter Covent 
Garden, when an Irish labourer, whom 
I met, bearing an empty hod, accosted 
me somewhat roughly, and asked why I 
had run against him. I told him briefly 
that he was mistaken. Whether some- 
body had actually pushed the man, or he 
sought only to quarrel and although he 
doubtless attended a weekly row regularly, 
and the week was already drawing to a 
close, he was unable to wait until Sunday 
for a broken head I know not ; but he 
discoursed for some time with the vehe- 
mence of a man who considers himself 
injured or insulted, and he concluded, 
being emboldened by my long silence, 
with a cordial invitation just to push him 
again. Several persons, not very unlike 
in costume, had gathered round him, and 
appeared to regard him with sympathy. 
When he paused, I addressed to him 
slowly and quietly, and it should seem 
with great gravity, these words, as nearly 
as I can recollect them : 



150 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

" I have put my hand into the hamper ; 
; have looked upon the sacred barley ; 
I have eaten out of the drum ! I have 
drunk and was well pleased ! I have said 
Konx ompax, and it is finished ! " 

" Have you, sir ? " inquired the aston- 
ished Irishman, and his ragged friends 
instantly pressed round him with " Where 
is the hamper, Paddy? " " What barley ?" 
and the like. And ladies from his own 
country that is to say, the basket-women, 
suddenly began to interrogate him, " Now, 
I say, Pat, where have you been drinking ? 
What have you had?" 

I turned therefore to the right, leaving 
the astounded neophyte, whom I had thus 
planted, to expound the mystic words of 
initiation as he could to his inquisitive 
companions. 

As I walked slowly under the piazzas, 
and through the streets and courts, towards 
the west, I marvelled at the ingenuity of 
Orpheus if he were indeed the inventor 
of the Eleusinian mysteries that he was 
able to devise words that, imperfectly as 
I had repeated them, and in the tattered 
fragment that has reached us, were able 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 151 

to soothe people so savage and barbarous 
as those to whom I had addressed them, 
and which, as the apologists for those 
venerable rites affirm, were manifestly 
well adapted to incite persons, who hear 
them for the first time, however rude 
they may be, to ask questions. Words, 
that can awaken curiosity, even in the 
sluggish intellect of a wild man, and can 
thus open the inlet of knowledge ! 

" Konx ompax, and it is finished ! " ex- 
claimed Shelley, crowing with enthusiastic 
delight at my whimsical adventure. A 
thousand times, as he strode about the 
house, and in his rambles out of doors, 
would he stop and repeat aloud the 
mystic words of initiation, but always 
with an energy of manner, and a vehe- 
mence of tone and of gesture that 
would have prevented the ready accept- 
ance, which a calm, passionless delivery 
had once procured for them. How often 
would he throw down his book, clasp his 
hands, and starting from his seat, cry 
suddenly, with a thrilling voice, " I have 
said Konx ompax, and it is finished ! " 



CHAPTER VI 

AS our attention is most commonly 
attracted by those departments of 
knowledge which are striking and remark- 
able, rather than by those which are really 
useful, so, in estimating the character 
of an individual, we are prone to admire 
extraordinary intellectual powers and un- 
common energies of thought, and to 
overlook that excellence which is, in 
truth, the most precious his moral 
value. Was the subject of biography 
distinguished by a vast erudition ? Was 
he conspicuous for an original genius ? 
for a warm and fruitful fancy? Such 
are the implied questions which we seek 
to resolve by consulting the memoirs of 
his life. We may sometimes desire to 
be informed whether he was a man of 
nice honour and conspicuous integrity ; 
but how rarely do we feel any curiosity 
152 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 153 

with respect to that quality which is, 
perhaps, the most important to his 
fellows how seldom do we desire to 
measure his benevolence ! It would be 
impossible faithfully to describe the 
course of a single day in the ordinary 
life of Shelley without showing incident- 
ally and unintentionally, that his nature 
was eminently benevolent and many 
minute traits, pregnant with proof, have 
been already scattered by the way ; but 
it would be an injustice to his memory to 
forbear to illustrate expressly, but briefly, 
in leave-taking, the ardent, devoted, and 
unwearied love he bore his kind. 

A personal intercourse could alone 
enable the observer to discern in him a 
soul ready winged for flight and scarcely 
detained by the fetters of body : that 
happiness was, if possible, still more in- 
dispensable to open the view of the 
unbounded expanse of cloudless philan- 
thropy pure, disinterested, and unvaried 
the aspect of which often filled with 
mute wonder the minds of simple people, 
unable to estimate a penetrating genius, a 
docile sagacity, a tenacious memory, or, 



154 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

indeed, any of the various ornaments of 
the soul. 

Whenever the intimate friends of 
Shelley speak of him in general terms, 
they speedily and unconsciously fall into 
the language of panegyric a style of 
discourse that is barren of instruction, 
wholly devoid of interest, and justly 
suspected by the prudent stranger. It 
becomes them, therefore, on discovering 
the error they have committed, humbly 
to entreat the forgiveness of the charit- 
able for human infirmity, oppressed and 
weighed down by the fulness of the 
subject carefully to abstain in future 
from every vague expression of com- 
mendation, and faithfully to relate a plain, 
honest tale of unadorned facts. 

A regard for children, singular and 
touching, is an unerring and most engag- 
ing indication of a benevolent mind. 
That this characteristic was not wanting 
in Shelley might be demonstrated by 
numerous examples which crowd upon 
the recollection, each of them bearing the 
strongly impressed stamp of individu- 
ality ; for genius renders every surround- 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 155 

ing circumstance significant and important. 
In one of our rambles we were traversing 
the bare, squalid, ugly , corn-yielding 
country, that lies, if I remember rightly, 
to the south-west of Oxford. The hollow 
road ascended a hill, and near the summit 
Shelley observed a female child leaning 
against the bank on the right ; it was of 
a mean, dull and unattractive aspect, and 
older than its stunted growth denoted. 
The morning, as well as the preceding 
night, had been rainy ; it had cleared up 
at noon with a certain ungenial sunshine, 
and the afternoon was distinguished by 
that intense cold which sometimes, in the 
winter season, terminates such days. The 
little girl was oppressed by cold, by 
hunger and by a vague feeling of aban- 
donment. It was not easy to draw from 
her blue lips an intelligible history of her 
condition. Love, however, is at once 
credulous and apprehensive ; and Shelley 
immediately decided that she had been 
deserted, and with his wonted precipita- 
tion (for in the career of humanity his 
active spirit knew no pause), he proposed 
different schemes for the permanent relief 



156 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

of the poor foundling, and he hastily in- 
quired which of them was the most 
expedient. I answered that it was desir- 
able, in the first place, to try to procure 
some food, for of this the want was 
manifestly the most urgent. I then 
climbed the hill to reconnoitre, and 
observed a cottage close at hand, on the 
left of the road. With considerable 
difficulty with a gentle violence indeed 
Shelley induced the child to accompany 
him thither. After much delay, we 
procured from the people of the place, 
who resembled the dull, uncouth and 
perhaps sullen rustics of that district, 
some warm milk. 

It was a strange spectacle to watch the 
young poet, whilst, with the enthusiastic 
and intensely earnest manner that 
characterises the legitimate brethren of 
the celestial art the heaven-born and 
fiercely inspired sons of genuine poesy 
holding the wooden bowl in one hand 
and the wooden spoon in the other, and 
kneeling on his left knee, that he might 
more certainly attain to her mouth. He 
urged and encouraged the torpid and 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 157 

timid child to eat. The hot milk was 
agreeable to the girl, and its effects were 
salutary ; but she was obviously uneasy 
at the detention. Her uneasiness in- 
creased, and ultimately prevailed. We 
returned with her to the place where we 
had found her, Shelley bearing the bowl 
of milk in his hand. Here we saw some 
people anxiously looking for the child a 
man and, I think, four women, strangers 
of the poorest class, of a mean but not 
disreputable appearance. As soon as the 
girl perceived them she was content, and 
taking the bowl from Shelley, she finished 
the milk without his help. 

Meanwhile, one of the women explained 
the apparent desertion with a multitude 
of rapid words. They had come from a 
distance, and to spare the weary child the 
fatigue of walking farther, the day being 
at that time sunny, they left her to await 
their return. Those unforeseen delays, 
which harass all, and especially the poor, 
in transacting business, had detained them 
much longer than they had anticipated. 

Such, in a few words, is the story 
which was related in many, and which the 



158 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

little girl, who, it was said, was somewhat 
deficient in understanding as well as in 
stature, was unable to explain. So humble 
was the condition of these poor wayfaring 
folks that they did not presume to offer 
thanks in words ; but they often turned 
back, and with mute wonder gazed at 
Shelley who, totally unconscious that he 
had done anything to excite surprise, 
returned with huge strides to the cottage 
to restore the bowl and to pay for the 
milk. As the needy travellers pursued 
their toilsome and possibly fruitless 
journey, they had at least the satisfaction 
to reflect that all above them were not 
desolated by a dreary apathy, but that 
some hearts were warm with that angelic 
benevolence towards inferiors in which 
still higher natures, as we are taught, 
largely participate. 

Shelley would often pause, halting 
suddenly in his swift course, to admire 
the children of the country people ; and 
after gazing on a sweet and intelligent 
countenance, he would exhibit, in the 
language and with an aspect of acute 
anguish, his intense feeling of the future 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 159 

sorrows and sufferings of all the mani- 
fold evils of life which too often distort, 
by a mean and most disagreeable expres- 
sion, the innocent, happy and engaging 
lineaments of youth. He sometimes 
stopped to observe the softness and 
simplicity that the face and gestures of a 
gentle girl displayed, and he would surpass 
her gentleness by his own. 

We were strolling once in the neigh- 
bourhood of Oxford when Shelley was 
attracted by a little girl. He turned aside, 
and stood and observed her in silence. 
She was about six years of age, small and 
slight, bare-headed, bare-legged, and her 
apparel variegated and tattered. She was 
busily employed in collecting empty snail- 
shells, so much occupied, indeed, that 
some moments elapsed before she turned 
her face towards us. When she did so, 
we perceived that she was evidently a 
young gipsy ; and Shelley was forcibly 
struck by the vivid intelligence of her 
wild and swarthy countenance, and 
especially by the sharp glance of her fierce 
black eyes. " How much intellect is 
here ! " he exclaimed ; " in how humble a 



160 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

vessel, and what an unworthy occupation 
for a person who once knew perfectly the 
whole circle of the sciences ; who has for- 
gotten them all, it is true, but who could 
certainly recollect them, although most 
probably she will never do so, will never 
recall a single principle of all of them ! " 

As he spoke he turned aside a bramble 
with his foot and discovered a large shell 
which the alert child instantly caught up 
and added to her store. At the same 
moment a small stone was thrown from 
the other side of the road ; it fell in the 
hedge near us. We turned round and 
saw on the top of a high bank a boy, 
some three years older than the girl, and 
in as rude a guise. He was looking at us 
over a low hedge, with a smile, but plainly 
not without suspicion. We might be 
two kidnappers, he seemed to think ; he 
was in charge of his little sister, and did 
not choose to have her stolen before his 
face. He gave the signal, therefore, and 
she obeyed it, and had almost joined him 
before we missed her from our side. 
They both disappeared, and we continued 
our walk. 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 161 

Shelley was charmed with the intelli- 
gence of the two children of nature, and 
with their marvellous wildness. He talked 
much about them, and compared them to 
birds and to the two wild leverets, which 
that wild mother, the hare, produces. 
We sauntered about, and, half an hour 
afterwards, on turning a corner, we 
suddenly met the two children again full 
in the face. The meeting was unlocked 
for, and the air of the boy showed that it 
was unpleasant to him. He had a large 
bundle of dry sticks under his arm ; these 
he gently dropped and stood motionless 
with an apprehensive smile a depre- 
catory smile. We were perhaps the lords 
of the soil, and his patience was prepared, 
for patience was his' lot an inalienable 
inheritance long entailed upon his line 
to hear a severe reproof with heavy 
threats, possibly even to receive blows 
with a stick gathered by himself not 
altogether unwittingly for his own back, 
or to find mercy and forbearance. 
Shelley's demeanour soon convinced him 
that he had nothing to fear. He laid a 
hand on the round, matted, knotted, bare 



162 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

and black head of each, viewed their 
moving, mercurial countenances with 
renewed pleasure and admiration, and, 
shaking his long locks, suddenly strode 
away. " That little ragged fellow knows 
as much as the wisest philosopher," he 
presently cried, clapping the wings of his 
soul and crowing aloud with shrill 
triumph at the felicitous union of the true 
with the ridiculous, " but he will not 
communicate any portion of his know- 
ledge. It is not from churlishness, 
however, for of that his nature is plainly 
incapable ; but the sophisticated urchin 
will persist in thinking he has forgotten 
all that he knows so well. I was about 
to ask him myself to communicate some 
of the doctrines Plato unfolds in his 
Dialogues ; but I felt that it would do 
no good ; the rogue would have laughed 
at me, and so would his little sister. I 
wonder you did not propose to them 
some mathematical questions : just a few 
interrogations in your geometry ; for 
that being so plain and certain, if it be 
once thoroughly understood, can never 
be forgotten ! " 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 163 

A day or two afterwards (or it might 
be on the morrow), as we were rambling 
in the favourite region at the foot of 
Shotover Hill, a gipsy's tent by the road- 
side caught Shelley's eye. Men and 
women were seated on the ground in 
front of it, watching a pot suspended 
over a smoky fire of sticks. He cast a 
passing glance at the ragged group, but 
immediately stopped on recognising the 
children, who remembered us and ran 
laughing into the tent. Shelley laughed 
also and waved his hand, and the little 
girl returned the salutation. 

There were many striking contrasts in 
the character and behaviour of Shelley, 
and one of the most remarkable was a 
mixture or alternation of awkwardness 
with agility, of the clumsy with the 
graceful. He would stumble in stepping 
across the floor of a drawing-room ; he 
would trip himself up on a smooth- 
shaven grass-plot, and he would tumble 
in the most inconceivable manner in 
ascending the commodious, facile, and 
well-carpeted staircase of an elegant 
mansion, so as to bruise his nose or his 



164 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

lip on the upper steps, or to tread upon 
his hands, and even occasionally to 
disturb the composure of a well-bred 
footman ; on the contrary, he would 
often glide without collision through a 
crowded assembly, thread with unerring 
dexterity a most intricate path, or securely 
and rapidly tread the most arduous and 
uncertain ways. As soon as he saw the 
children enter the tent he darted after 
them with his peculiar agility, followed 
them into their low, narrow and fragile 
tenement, penetrated to the bottom of the 
tent without removing his hat or striking 
against the woven edifice. He placed a 
hand on each round, rough head, spoke 
a few kind words to the skulking 
children, and then returned not less 
precipitously, and with as much ease and 
accuracy as if he had been a dweller in 
tents from the hour when he first drew 
air and milk to that day, as if he had 
been the descendant, not of a gentle 
house, but of a long line of gipsies. His 
visit roused the jealousy of a stunted, 
feeble dog, which followed him, and 
barked with helpless fury ; he did not heed 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 165 

it nor, perhaps, hear it. The company of 
gipsies were astonished at the first visit 
that had ever been made by a member 
of either University to their humble 
dwelling ; but, as its object was evidently 
benevolent, they did not stir or inter- 
fere, but greeted him on his return with 
a silent and unobserved salutation. He 
seized my arm, and we prosecuted our 
speculations as we walked briskly to our 
college. 

The marvellous gentleness of his 
demeanour could conciliate the least 
sociable natures, and it had secretly 
touched the wild things which he had 
thus briefly noticed. 

We were wandering through the roads 
and lanes at a short distance from the 
tent soon afterwards, and were pursuing 
our way in silence. I turned round at 
a sudden sound the young gipsy had 
stolen upon us unperceived, and with a 
long bramble had struck Shelley across 
the skirts of his coat. He had dropped 
his rod, and was returning softly to the 
hedge. 

Certain misguided persons, who, un- 



166 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

happily for themselves, were incapable 
of understanding the true character of 
Shelley, have published many false and 
injurious calumnies respecting him some 
for hire, others drawing largely out of 
the inborn vulgarity of their own minds, 
or from the necessary malignity of 
ignorance but no one ever ventured to 
say that he was not a good judge of 
an orange. At this time, in his nine- 
teenth year, although temperate, he was 
less abstemious in his diet than he after- 
wards became, and he was frequently 
provided with some fine samples. As 
soon as he understood the rude but 
friendly welcome to the heaths and lanes, 
he drew an orange from his pocket and 
rolled it after the retreating gipsy along 
the grass by the side of the wide road. 
The boy started with surprise as the 
golden fruit passed him, quickly caught 
it up and joyfully bore it away, bending 
reverently over it and carrying it with 
both his hands, as if, together with almost 
the size, it had also the weight of a 
cannon-ball. 

His passionate fondness of the Platonic 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 167 

philosophy seemed to sharpen his natural 
affection for children, and his sympathy 
with their innocence. Every true 
Platonist, he used to say, must be a lover 
of children, for they are our masters and 
instructors in philosophy. The mind of 
a new-born infant, so far from being, as 
Locke affirms, a sheet of blank paper, 
is a pocket edition containing every 
dialogue, a complete Elzevir Plato, if we 
can fancy such a pleasant volume, and 
moreover a perfect encyclopedia, compre- 
hending not only the newest discoveries, 
but all those still more valuable and 
wonderful inventions that will hereafter 
be made. 

One Sunday we had been reading Plato 
together so diligently that the usual hour 
of exercise passed away unperceived. We 
sallied forth hastily to take the air for 
half an hour before dinner. In the 
middle of Magdalen Bridge we met a 
woman with a child in her arms. Shelley 
was more attentive at that instant to our 
conduct in a life that was past or to 
come than to a decorous regulation of 
the present, according to the established 



168 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

usages of society in that fleeting moment 
of eternal duration styled the nineteenth 
century. With abrupt dexterity he 
caught hold of the child. The mother, 
who might well fear that it was about to 
be thrown over the parapet of the bridge 
into the sedgy waters below, held it fast 
by its long train. 

u Will your baby tell us anything 
about pre-existence, madam ? " he asked, 
in a piercing voice and with a wistful 
look. 

The mother made no answer, but, 
perceiving that Shelley's object was not 
murderous but altogether harmless, she 
dismissed her apprehension and relaxed 
her hold. 

" Will your baby tell us anything about 
pre-existence, madam ? " he repeated, with 
unabated earnestness. 

" He cannot speak, sir," said the 
mother, seriously. 

"Worse and worse," cried Shelley, 
with an air of deep disappointment, shak- 
ing his long hair most pathetically about 
his young face ; " but surely the babe 
can speak if he will, for he is only a few 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 169 

weeks old. He may fancy, perhaps, that 
he cannot, but it is only a silly whim. 
He cannot have forgotten entirely the use 
of speech in so short a time. The thing 
is absolutely impossible ! " 

" It is not for me to dispute with you, 
gentlemen," the woman meekly replied, 
her eye glancing at our academical garb, 
c< but I can safely declare that I never 
heard him speak, nor any child, indeed, 
of his age." 

It was a fine, placid boy : so far from 
being disturbed by the interruption, he 
looked up and smiled. Shelley pressed 
his fat cheeks with his fingers ; we com- 
mended his healthy appearance and his 
equanimity, and the mother was permitted 
to proceed, probably to her satisfaction, 
for she would doubtless prefer a less 
speculative nurse. Shelley sighed deeply 
as we walked on. 

" How provokingly close are those new- 
born babes ! " he ejaculated ; " but it is 
not the less certain, notwithstanding the 
cunning attempts to conceal the truth, 
that all knowledge is reminiscence. The 
doctrine is far more ancient than the 



170 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

times of Plato, and as old as the 
venerable allegory that the Muses are the 
daughters of Memory ; not one of the 
nine was ever said to be the child of 
Invention ! " 

In consequence of this theory, upon 
which his active imagination loved to 
dwell, and which he was delighted to 
maintain in argument with the few 
persons qualified to dispute with him on 
the higher metaphysics, his fondness for 
children a fondness innate in generous 
minds was augmented and elevated, and 
the gentle instinct expanded into a pro- 
found and philosophical sentiment. The 
Platonists have been illustrious in all 
ages on account of the strength and per- 
manence of their attachments. In Shelley 
the parental affections were developed at 
an early period to an unusual extent. It 
was manifest, therefore, that his heart 
was formed by nature and by cultivation 
to derive the most exquisite gratification 
from the society of his own progeny, or 
the most poignant anguish from a 
natural or unnatural bereavement. To 
strike him here was the cruel admonition 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 171 

which a cursory glance would at once 
convey to him who might seek where to 
wound him most severely with a single 
blow, should he ever provoke the 
vengeance of an enemy to the active and 
fearless spirit of liberal investigation and 
to all solid learning of a foe to the 
human race. With respect to the theory 
of the pre-existence of the soul, it is not 
wonderful that an ardent votary of the 
intellectual should love to uphold it in 
strenuous and protracted disputation, as 
it places the immortality of the soul in 
an impregnable castle, and not only 
secures it an existence independent of the 
body, as it were, by usage and prescrip- 
tion, but moreover, raising it out of the 
dirt on tall stilts, elevates it far above 
the mud of matter. 

It is not wonderful that a subtle 
sophist, who esteemed above all riches 
and terrene honours victory in well- 
fought debate, should be willing to 
maintain a dogma that is not only of 
difficult eversion by those who, struggling 
as mere metaphysicians, use no other 
weapon than unassisted reason, but which 



172 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

one of the most illustrious Fathers of the 
Church a man of amazing powers and 
stupendous erudition, armed with the 
prodigious resources of the Christian 
theology, the renowned Origen was 
unable to dismiss ; retaining it as not 
dissonant from his informed reason, and 
as affording a larger scope for justice in 
the moral government of the universe. 

In addition to his extreme fondness for 
children, another and a not less un- 
equivocal characteristic of a truly philan- 
throphic mind was eminently and still 
more remarkably conspicuous in Shelley- 
his admiration of men of learning and 
genius. In truth the devotion, the 
reverence, the religion with which he was 
kindled towards all the masters of in- 
tellect, cannot be described, and must be 
utterly inconceivable to minds less deeply 
enamoured with the love of wisdom. 
The irreverent many cannot comprehend 
the awe, the careless apathetic worldling 
cannot imagine the enthusiasm, nor can 
the tongue that attempts only to speak of 
things visible to the bodily eye, express 
the mighty motion that inwardly agitated 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 173 

him when he approached, for the first 
time, a volume which he believed to be re- 
plete with the recondite and mystic philo- 
sophy of antiquity ; his cheeks glowed, 
his eyes became bright, his whole frame 
trembled, and his entire attention was 
immediately swallowed up in the depths 
of contemplation. The rapid and 
vigorous conversion of his soul to in- 
tellect can only be compared with the 
instantaneous ignition and combustion 
which dazzle the sight, when a bundle of 
dry reeds or other inflammable substance 
is thrown upon a fire already rich with 
accumulated heat. 

The company of persons of merit was 
delightful to him, and he often spoke 
with a peculiar warmth of the satisfaction 
he hoped to derive from the society of 
the most distinguished literary and 
scientific characters of the day in 
England, and the other countries of 
Europe, when his own attainments would 
justify him in seeking their acquaintance. 
He was never weary of recounting the 
rewards and favours that authors had 
formerly received ; and he would detail 



174 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

in pathetic language, and with a touching 
earnestness, the instances of that poverty 
and neglect which an iron age assigned 
as the fitting portion of solid erudition 
and undoubted talents. He would 
contrast the niggard praise and the paltry 
payments that the cold and wealthy 
moderns reluctantly dole out, with the 
ample and heartfelt commendation and 
the noble remuneration which were 
freely offered by the more generous but 
less opulent ancients. He spoke with 
an animation of gesture and an elevation 
of voice of him who undertook a long 
journey, that he might once see the 
historian Livy ; and he recounted the 
rich legacies which were bequeathed to 
Cicero and Pliny the younger by 
testators venerating their abilities and 
attainments his zeal, enthusiastic in 
the cause of letters, giving an interest 
and a novelty to the most trite and 
familiar instances. His disposition being 
wholly munificent, gentle and friendly, 
how generous a patron would he have 
proved had he ever been in the actual 
possession of even moderate wealth ! 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 175 

Out of a scanty and somewhat pre- 
carious income, inadequate to allow the 
indulgence of the most ordinary super- 
fluities, and diminished by various casual 
but unavoidable incumbrances, he was 
able, by restricting himself to a diet more 
simple than the fare of the most austere 
anchorite, and by refusing himself horses 
and the other gratifications that appear 
properly to belong to his station, and of 
which he was in truth very fond, to 
bestow upon men of letters, whose merits 
were of too high an order to be rightly 
estimated by their own generation, dona- 
tions large indeed, if we consider from 
how narrow a source they flowed. 

But to speak of this, his signal and 
truly admirable bounty, save only in the 
most distant manner and the most general 
terms, would be a flagrant violation of 
that unequalled delicacy with which it 
was extended to undeserved indigence, 
accompanied by well-founded and most 
commendable pride. To allude to any 
particular instance, however obscurely 
and indistinctly, would be unpardonable ; 
but it would be scarcely less blameable to 



176 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

dismiss the consideration of the character 
of the benevolent young poet without 
some imperfect testimony of this rare 
excellence. 

That he gave freely, when the needy 
scholar asked or in silent, hopeless 
poverty seemed to ask his aid, will be 
demonstrated most clearly by relating 
shortly one example of his generosity, 
where the applicant had no pretensions to 
literary renown, and no claim whatever, 
except perhaps honest penury. It is 
delightful to attempt to delineate from 
various points of view a creature of infinite 
moral beauty, but one instance must 
suffice ; an ample volume might be com- 
posed of such tales, but one may be 
selected because it contains a large 
admixture of that ingredient which is 
essential to the conversion of almsgiving 
into the genuine virtue of charity self- 
denial. 

On returning to town after the long 
vacation at the end of October, I found 
Shelley at one of the hotels in Covent 
Garden. Having some business in hand 
he was passing a few days there alone. 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 177 

We had taken some mutton chops hastily 
at a dark place in one of the minute 
courts of the city at an early hour, and 
we went forth to walk ; for to walk at all 
times, and especially in the evening, was 
his supreme delight. 

The aspect of the fields to the north 
of Somers Town, between that beggarly 
suburb and Kentish Town, has been 
totally changed of late. Although this 
district could never be accounted pretty, 
nor deserving a high place even amongst 
suburban scenes, yet the air, or often the 
wind, seemed pure and fresh to captives 
emerging from the smoke of London. 
There were certain old elms, much very 
green grass, quiet cattle feeding and 
groups of noisy children playing with 
something of the freedom of the village 
green. There was, oh blessed thing ! an 
entire absence of carriages and of blood- 
horses ; of the dust and dress and 
affectation and fashion of the parks ; 
there were, moreover, old and quaint 
edifices and objects which gave character 
to the scene. 

Whenever Shelley was imprisoned in 



178 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

London for to a poet a close and 
crowded city must be a dreary gaol his 
steps would take that direction, unless his 
residence was too remote, or he was 
accompanied by one who chose to guide 
his walk. On this occasion I was led 
thither, as indeed I had anticipated. The 
weather was fine, but the autumn was 
already advanced ; we had not sauntered 
long in these fields when the dusky 
evening closed in, and the darkness 
gradually thickened. 

4 'How black those trees are," said 
Shelley, stopping short and pointing to a 
row of elms. " It is so dark the trees 
might well be houses and the turf 
pavement the eye would sustain no 
loss. It is useless, therefore, to remain 
here ; let us return." He proposed tea 
at his hotel, I assented ; and hastily 
buttoning his coat he seized my arm 
and set off at his great pace, striding 
with bent knees over the fields and 
through the narrow streets. We were 
crossing the New Road, when he said 
shortly, " I must call for a moment, but 
it will not be out of the way at all," and 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 179 

then dragged me suddenly towards the 
left. I inquired whither we were bound, 
and, I believe, I suggested the post- 
ponement of the intended call till the 
morrow. He answered, it was not at all 
out of our way. 

I was hurried along rapidly towards 
the left. We soon fell into an animated 
discussion respecting the nature of the 
virtue of the Romans, which in some 
measure beguiled the weary way. 
Whilst he was talking with much 
vehemence and a total disregard of the 
people who thronged the streets, he 
suddenly wheeled about and pushed me 
through a narrow door ; to my infinite 
surprise I found myself in a pawnbroker's 
shop. It was in the neighbourhood of 
Newgate Street, for he had no idea 
whatever, in practice, either of time or 
space, nor did he in any degree regard 
method in the conduct of business. 

There were several women in the shop 
in brown and grey cloaks, with squalling 
children. Some of them were attempting 
to persuade the children to be quiet, or 
at least to scream with moderation ; the 



180 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

others were enlarging upon and pointing 
out the beauties of certain coarse and 
dirty sheets that lay before them to a 
man on the other side of the counter. 

I bore this substitute for our proposed 
tea some minutes with tolerable patience, 
but as the call did not promise to 
terminate speedily, I said to Shelley, in 
a whisper, " Is not this almost as bad as 
the Roman virtue ? " Upon this he 
approached the pawnbroker ; it was long 
before he could obtain a hearing, and he 
did not find civility. The man was un- 
willing to part with a valuable pledge so 
soon, or perhaps he hoped to retain- it 
eventually ; or it might be that the 
obliquity of his nature disqualified him 
for respectful behaviour. 

A pawnbroker is frequently an im- 
portant witness in criminal proceedings. 
It has happened to me, therefore, after- 
wards to see many specimens of this kind 
of banker. They sometimes appeared not 
less respectable than other tradesmen, 
and sometimes I have been forcibly 
reminded of the first I ever met with, 
by an equally ill-conditioned fellow. I 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 181 

was so little pleased with the introduction 
that I stood aloof in the shop, and did 
not hear what passed between him and 
Shelley. 

On our way to Covent Garden I 
expressed my surprise and dissatisfaction 
at our strange visit, and I learned that 
when he came to London before, in the 
course of the summer, some old man had 
related to him a tale of distress of a 
calamity which could only be alleviated 
by the timely application of ten pounds ; 
five of them he drew at once from his 
pocket, and to raise the other five he had 
pawned his beautiful solar microscope ! 
He related this act of beneficence simply 
and briefly, as if it were a matter of 
course, and such indeed it was to him. 
I was ashamed at my impatience, and we 
strode along in silence. 

It was past ten when we reached the 
hotel. Some excellent tea and a liberal 
supply of hot muffins in the coffee-room, 
now quiet and solitary, were the more 
grateful after the wearisome delay and 
vast deviation. Shelley often turned his 
head and cast eager glances towards the 



182 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

door, and whenever the waiter re- 
plenished our tea-pot or approached 
our box he was interrogated whether 
anyone had yet called. 

At last the desired summons was 
brought. Shelley drew forth some bank- 
notes, hurried to the bar, and returned 
as hastily, bearing in triumph under 
his arm a mahogany box, followed by 
the officious waiter, with whose assistance 
he placed it upon the bench by his 
side. He viewed it often with evident 
satisfaction, and sometimes patted it 
affectionately in the course of calm con- 
versation. The solar microscope was 
always a favourite plaything or instru- 
ment of scientific inquiry. Whenever he 
entered a house his first care was to 
choose some window of a southern aspect, 
and, if permission could be obtained by 
prayer or by purchase, straightway to cut 
a hole through the shutter to receive it. 

His regard for his solar microscope 
was as lasting as it was strong ; for he 
retained it several years after this ad- 
venture, and long after he had parted with 
all the rest of his philosophical apparatus. 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 183 

Such is the story of the microscope, 
and no rightly judging person who hears 
it will require the further accumulation 
of proofs of a benevolent heart ; nor can 
I, perhaps, better close this sketch than 
with that impression of the pure and 
genial beauty of Shelley's nature which 
this simple anecdote will bequeath. 






CHAPTER VII 

THE theory of civil liberty has ever 
seemed lovely to the eyes of a 
young man enamoured of moral and 
intellectual beauty. Shelley's devotion 
to freedom, therefore, was ardent and 
sincere. He would have submitted with 
cheerful alacrity to the greatest sacrifices, 
had they been demanded of him, to 
advance the sacred cause of liberty ; and 
he would have gallantly encountered 
every peril in the fearless resistance to 
active oppression. Nevertheless, in 
ordinary times, although a generous and 
unhesitating patriot, he was little inclined 
to consume the pleasant season of youth 
amidst the intrigues and clamours of 
elections, and in the dull and selfish 
cabals of parties. His fancy viewed from 
a lofty eminence the grand scheme of an 
ideal republic ; and he could not descend 
184 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 185 

to the humble task of setting out the 
boundaries of neighbouring rights, and 
to the uninviting duties of actual ad- 
ministration. He was still less disposed 
to interest himself in the politics of the 
day because he observed the pernicious 
effects of party zeal in a field where it 
ought not to enter. 

It is no slight evil, but a heavy price 
paid for popular institutions, that society 
should be divided into hostile clans to 
serve the selfish purposes of a few 
political adventurers ; and surely to in- 
troduce politics within the calm precincts 
of a University ought to be deemed a 
capital offence a felony without benefit 
of clergy. The undue admission (to 
borrow the language of Universities for 
a moment) is not less fatal to its exist- 
ence as an institution designed for the 
advancement of learning, than the recep- 
tion of the wooden horse within the walls 
of Troy was to the safety of that re- 
nowned city. 

What does it import the interpreters 
of Pindar and Thucydides, the ex- 
positors of Plato and Aristotle, if a few 



186 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

interested persons, for the sake of some 
lucrative posts, affect to believe that it is 
a matter of vital importance to the state 
to concede certain privileges to the 
Roman Catholics ; whilst others, for the 
same reason, pretend with tears in their 
eyes that the concessions would be 
dangerous and indeed destructive, and 
shudder with feigned horror at the harm- 
less proposal? Such pretexts may be 
advantageous and perhaps even honour- 
able to the ingenious persons who use 
them for the purposes of immediate 
advancement ; but of what concernment 
are they to Apollo and the Muses ? 
How could the Catholic question 
augment the calamities of Priam, or 
diminish the misfortunes of the ill-fated 
house of Labdacus? or which of the 
doubts of the ancient philosophers would 
the most satisfactory solution of it 
remove ? Why must the modest student 
come forth and dance upon the tight- 
rope, with the mountebanks, since he is 
to receive no part of the reward, and 
would not emulate the glory of those 
meritorious artists? Yet did this most 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 187 

inapplicable question mainly contribute 
to poison the harmless and studious 
felicity which we enjoyed at Oxford. 

During the whole period of our resi- 
dence there the University was cruelly 
disfigured by bitter feuds, arising out of 
the late election of its Chancellor ; in an 
especial manner was our own most vener- 
able college deformed by them, and by 
angry and senseless disappointment. 

Lord Grenville had just been chosen. 
There could be no more comparison 
between his scholarship and his various 
qualifications for the honourable and use- 
less office, and the claims of his un- 
successful opponent, than between the 
attainments of the best man of the year 
and those of the huge porter, who with 
a stern and solemn civility kept the gates 
of University College the arts of 
mulled-wine and egg-hot being, in the 
latter case, alone excepted. 

The vanquished competitor, however, 
most unfortunately for its honour and 
character, was a member of our college ; 
and in proportion as the intrinsic merits 
of our rulers were small, had the 



188 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

vehemence and violence of electioneering 
been great, that, through the abuse of the 
patronage of the church, they might 
attain to those dignities as the rewards of 
the activity of partisans, which they could 
never hope to reach through the legiti- 
mate road of superior learning and 
talents. 

Their vexation at failing was the more 
sharp and abiding, because the only 
objection that vulgar bigotry could urge 
against the victor was his disposition to 
make concessions to the Roman Catholics ; 
and every dull lampoon about popes and 
cardinals and the scarlet lady had 
accordingly been worn threadbare in vain. 
Since the learned and liberal had con- 
quered, learning and liberality were 
peculiarly odious with us at that epoch. 
The studious scholar, particularly if he 
were of an inquiring disposition, and of a 
bold and free temper, was suspected and 
disliked ; he was one of the enemy's 
troops. The inert and the subservient 
were the loyal soldiers of the legitimate 
army of the faith. The despised and 
scattered nation of scholars is commonly 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 189 

unfortunate ; but a more severe calamity 
has seldom befallen the remnant of true 
Israelites than to be led captive by such 
a generation ! Youth is happy, because 
it is blithe and healthful and exempt 
from care ; but it is doubly and trebly 
happy, since it is honest and fearless, 
honourable and disinterested. 

In the whole body of undergraduates, 
scarcely one was friendly to the holder of 
the loaves and the promiser of the fishes 
Lord Eldon. All were eager all, one 
and all in behalf of the scholar and the 
Liberal statesman ; and plain and loud 
was the avowal of their sentiments. A 
sullen demeanour towards the young 
rebels displayed the annoyance arising 
from the want of success and from our 
lack of sympathy, and it would have 
demonstrated to the least observant that, 
where the Muses dwell, the quarrels and 
intrigues of political parties ought not to 
come. 

By his family and his connections, as 
well as by disposition, Shelley was 
attached to the successful side ; and 
although it was manifest that he was a 



190 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

youth of an admirable temper, of rare 
talents and unwearied industry, and 
likely, therefore, to shed a lustre upon 
his college and the University itself, yet, 
as he was eminently delighted at that 
wherewith his superiors were offended, he 
was regarded from the beginning with a 
jealous eye. A young man of spirit will 
despise the mean spite of sordid minds ; 
nevertheless the persecution which a 
generous soul can contemn, through 
frequent repetition too often becomes a 
severe annoyance in the long course of 
life, and Shelley frequently and most 
pathetically lamented the political divi- 
sions which then harassed the University, 
and were a more fertile source of mani- 
fold ills in the wider field of active life. 
For this reason did he appear to cling 
more closely to our sweet, studious 
seclusion ; and from this cause, perhaps, 
principally arose his disinclination I 
may say, indeed, his intense antipathy 
for the political career that had been 
proposed to him. A lurking suspicion 
would sometimes betray itself that he was 
to be forced into that path, and impressed 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 191 

into the civil service of the state, to 
become, as it were, a conscript legislator. 

A newspaper never found its way to 
his rooms the whole period of his resi- 
dence at Oxford ; but when waiting in 
a bookseller's shop or at an inn he 
would sometimes, although rarely, permit 
his eye to be attracted by a murder or 
a storm. Having perused the tale of 
wonder or of horror, if it chanced to 
stray to a political article, after reading 
a few lines he invariably threw it aside 
to a great distance ; and he started from 
his seat his face flushing, and strode 
about muttering broken sentences, the 
purport of which was always the same : 
his extreme dissatisfaction at the want 
of candour and fairness, and the mon- 
strous disingenuousness which poli- 
ticians manifest in speaking of the 
characters and measures of their rivals. 
Strangers, who caught imperfectly the 
sense of his indistinct murmurs, were 
often astonished at the vehemence of his 
mysterious displeasure. 

Once I remember a bookseller, the 
master of a very small shop in a little 



192 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

country town, but apparently a sufficiently 
intelligent man, could not refrain from 
expressing his surprise that anyone should 
be offended with proceedings that seemed 
to him as much in the ordinary course 
of trade, and as necessary to its due 
exercise, as the red ligature of the bundle 
of quills, or the thin and pale brown 
wrapper which enclosed the quire of 
letter paper we had just purchased of 
him. 

A man of talents and learning, who 
refused to enlist under the banners of 
any party and did not deign to inform 
himself of the politics of the day, or to 
take the least part or interest in them, 
would be a noble and a novel spectacle ; 
but so many persons hope to profit by 
dissensions, that the merits of such a 
steady lover of peace would not be duly 
appreciated, either by the little provincial 
bookseller or the other inhabitants of our 
turbulent country. 

The ordinary lectures in our college 
were of much shorter duration, and 
decidedly less difficult and less instruc- 
tive than the lessons we had received in 



SHELLEF AT OXFORD 193 

the higher classes of a public school ; nor 
were our written exercises more stimulat- 
ing than the oral. Certain compositions 
were required at stated periods ; but, 
however excellent they might be, they 
were never commended ; however de- 
ficient, they were never censured ; and, 
being altogether unnoticed, there was no 
reason to suppose that they were ever 
read. 

The University at large was not less 
remiss than each college in particular ; 
the only incitement proposed was an 
examination at the end of four years. 
The young collegian might study in 
private, as diligently as he would, at 
Oxford as in every other place ; and if 
he chose to submit his pretensions to the 
examiners, his name was set down in the 
first, the second or the third class if I 
mistake not, there were three divisions- 
according to his advancement. This list 
was printed precisely at the moment 
when he quitted the University for ever ; 
a new generation of strangers might read 
the names of the unknown proficients, if 
they would. 



194 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

It was notorious, moreover, that, 
merely to obtain the academical degrees, 
every new-comer, who had passed through 
a tolerable grammar-school, brought with 
him a stock of learning, of which the 
residuum that had not evaporated during 
four years of dissipation and idleness, 
would be more than sufficient. 

The languid course of chartered laziness 
was ill suited to the ardent activity and 
glowing zeal of Shelley. Since those 
persons, who were hired at an enor- 
mous charge by his own family and 
by the State to find due and beneficial 
employment for him, thought fit to 
neglect this, their most sacred duty, he 
began forthwith to set himself to work. 
He read diligently I should rather say 
he devoured greedily, with the voracious 
appetite of a famished man the authors 
that roused his curiosity ; he discoursed 
and discussed with energy ; he wrote, 
he began to print and he designed soon 
to publish various works. 

He begins betimes who begins to 
instruct mankind at eighteen. The 
judicious will probably be of opinion that 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 195 

in eighteen years man can scarcely learn 
how to learn ; and that for eighteen more 
years he ought to be content to learn ; 
and if, at the end of the second period, 
he still thinks that he can impart any- 
thing worthy of attention, it is, at least, 
early enough to begin to teach. The 
fault, however, if it were a fault, was to 
be imputed to the times, and not to the 
individual, as the numerous precocious 
effusions of the day attest. 

Shelley was quick to conceive, and not 
less quick to execute. When I called 
one morning at one, I found him busily 
occupied with some proofs, which he con- 
tinued to correct and re-correct with anxious 
care. As he was wholly absorbed in this 
occupation, I selected a book from the 
floor, where there was always a good store, 
and read in silence for at least an hour. 

My thoughts being as completely 
abstracted as those of my companion, 
he startled me by suddenly throwing a 
paper with some force on the middle 
of the table, and saying, in a penetrating 
whisper, as he sprang eagerly from his chair, 
u I am going to publish some poems." 



196 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

In answer to my inquiries, he put the 
proofs into my hands. I read them 
twice attentively, for the poems were 
very short ; and I told him there were 
some good lines, some bright thoughts, 
but there were likewise many irregularities 
and incongruities. I added that correct- 
ness was important in all compositions, 
but it constituted the essence of short 
ones ; and that it surely would be im- 
prudent to bring his little book out so 
hastily ; and then I pointed out the 
errors and defects. 

He listened in silence with much 
attention, and did not dispute what I 
said, except that he remarked faintly 
that it would not be known that he 
was the author, and therefore the 
publication could not do him any 
harm. 

I answered that, although it might not 
be disadvantageous to be the unknown 
author of an unread work, it certainly 
could not be beneficial. 

He made no reply ; and we immedi- 
ately went out, and strolled about the 
public walks. 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 197 

We dined and returned to his rooms, 
where we conversed on different subjects. 
He did not mention his poems, but they 
occupied his thoughts ; for he did not 
fall asleep as usual. Whilst we were at 
tea, he said abruptly, " I think you 
disparage my poems. Tell me what 
you dislike in them, for I have for- 
gotten." 

I took the proofs from the place where 
I had left them, and looking over them, 
repeated the former objections, and sug- 
gested others. He acquiesced ; and, 
after a pause, asked, might they be 
altered? I assented. 

" I will alter them." 

c< It will be better to re- write them ; a 
short poem should be of the first im- 
pression." 

Some time afterwards he anxiously 
inquired, <c But in their present form 
you do not think they ought to be 
published ? " 

I had been looking over the proofs 
again, and I answered, "Only as 
burlesque poetry ; " and I read a part, 
changing it a little here and there. 



198 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

He laughed at the parody, and begged 
I would repeat it. 

I took a pen and altered it ; and he 
then read it aloud several times in a 
ridiculous tone, and was amused by it. 
His mirth consoled him for the con- 
demnation of his verses, and the intention 
of publishing them was abandoned. 

The proofs lay in his rooms for some 
days, and we occasionally amused our- 
selves during an idle moment by making 
them more and more ridiculous ; by 
striking out the more sober passages ; by 
inserting whimsical conceits, and especi- 
ally by giving them what we called a 
dithyrambic character, which was effected 
by cutting some lines out, and joining the 
different parts together that would agree 
in construction, but were the most dis- 
cordant in sense. 

Although Shelley was of a grave 
disposition, he had a certain sly relish for 
a practical joke, so that it were ingenuous 
and abstruse and of a literary nature. He 
would often exult in the successful 
forgeries of Chatterton and Ireland ; and 
he was especially delighted with a trick 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 199 

that had lately been played at Oxford by 
a certain noble viceroy, at that time an 
undergraduate, respecting the fairness of 
which the University was divided in 
opinion, all the undergraduates account- 
ing it most just, and all the graduates, 
and especially the bachelors, extremely 
iniquitous, and indeed popish and 
Jesuitical. A reward is offered annually 
for the best English essay on a subject 
proposed : the competitors send their 
anonymous essays, each being dis- 
tinguished by a motto ; when the grave 
arbitrators have selected the most worthy, 
they burn the vanquished essays, and 
open the sealed paper endorsed with a 
corresponding motto, and containing the 
name of the victor. 

On the late famous contention, all the 
ceremonies had been duly performed, but 
the sealed paper presented the name of an 
undergraduate, who was not qualified to be 
a candidate, and all the less meritorious 
discourses of the bachelors had been 
burnt, together with their sealed papers 
so there was to be no bachelor's prize 
that year. 



200 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

When we had conferred a competent 
absurdity upon the proofs, we amused 
ourselves by proposing, but without the 
intention of executing our project, divers 
ludicrous titles for the work. Sometimes 
we thought of publishing it in the name 
of some one of the chief living poets, or 
possibly of one of the graver authorities 
of the day ; and we regaled ourselves by 
describing his wrathful renunciations, 
and his astonishment at finding himself 
immortalised, without his knowledge and 
against his will : the inability to die could 
not be more disagreeable even to Tithonus 
himself; but how were we to handcuff 
our ungrateful favourite, that he might 
not tear off the unfading laurel which we 
were to place upon his brow? I hit 
upon a title at last, to which the pre- 
eminence was given, and we inscribed it 
upon the cover. A mad washerwoman, 
named Peg Nicholson, had attempted to 
stab the king, George the Third, with a 
carving-knife ; the story has long been 
forgotten, but it was then fresh in the 
recollection of every one ; it was proposed 
that we should ascribe the poems to her. 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 201 

The poor woman was still living, and in 
green vigour within the walls of Bedlam ; 
but since her existence must be uncom- 
fortable, there could be no harm in 
putting her to death, and in creating a 
nephew and administrator to be the 
editor of his aunt's poetical works. 

The idea gave an object and purpose 
to our burlesque to ridicule the strange 
mixture of sentimentality with the 
murderous fury of the revolutionists, 
that was so prevalent in the compositions 
of the day ; and the proofs were altered 
again to adapt them to this new scheme, 
but still without any notion of publication. 
When the bookseller called to ask for 
the proof, Shelley told him that he had 
changed his mind, and showed them to 
him. 

The man was so much pleased with 
the whimsical conceit that he asked to 
be permitted to publish the book on 
his own account ; promising inviolable 
secrecy, and as many copies gratis as 
might be required : after some hesitation, 
permission was granted, upon the plighted 
honour of the trade. 



202 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

In a few days, or rather in a few hours, 
a noble quarto appeared ; it consisted of 
a small number of pages, it is true, 
but they were of the largest size, of the 
thickest, the whitest and the smoothest 
drawing paper ; a large, clear and hand- 
some type had impressed a few lines with 
ink of a rich, glossy black, amidst ample 
margins. The poor maniac laundress 
was gravely styled "the late Mrs 
Margaret Nicholson, widow ; " and the 
sonorous name of Fitzvictor had been 
culled for her inconsolable nephew and 
administrator. To add to his dignity, the 
waggish printer had picked up some huge 
text types of so unusual a form that even 
an antiquary could not spell the words 
at the first glance. The effect was cer- 
tainly striking ; Shelley had torn open 
the large square bundle before the 
printer's boy quitted the room, and 
holding out a copy with both his hands, 
he ran about in an ecstasy of delight, 
gazing at the superb title-page. 

The first poem was a long one, con- 
demning war in the lump puling 
trash, that might have been written by 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 203 

a Quaker, and could only have been 
published in sober sadness by a society 
instituted for the diffusion of that kind 
of knowledge which they deemed useful 
useful for some end which they have 
not been pleased to reveal, and which 
unassisted reason is wholly unable to 
discover. The MS. had been confided 
to Shelley by some rhymester of the day, 
and it was put forth in this shape to 
astonish a weak mind ; but principally 
to captivate the admirers of philosophical 
poetry by the manifest incongruity of 
disallowing all war, even the most just, 
and then turning sharp round, and re- 
commending the dagger of the assassin 
as the best cure for all evils, and the 
sure passport to a lady's favour. 

Our book of useful knowledge the 
philosopher's own book contained 
sundry odes and other pieces, professing 
an ardent attachment to freedom, and 
proposing to stab all who were less en- 
thusiastic than the supposed authoress. 
The work, however, was altered a little, 
I believe, before the final impression ; 
but I never read it afterwards, for, when 



204 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

an author once sees his book in print, his 
task is ended, and he may fairly leave the 
perusal of it to posterity. I have one 
copy, if not more, somewhere or other, 
but not at hand. There were some 
verses, I remember, with a good deal 
about sucking in them ; to these I 
objected, as unsuitable to the gravity 
of a University, but Shelley declared 
they would be the most impressive of 
all. There was a poem concerning a 
young woman, one Charlotte Somebody, 
who attempted to assassinate Robespierre, 
or some such person ; and there was to 
have been a rapturous monologue to the 
dagger of Brutus. The composition of 
such a piece was no mean effort of the 
Muse. It was completed at last, but not 
in time ; as the dagger itself has probably 
fallen a prey to rust, so the more pointed 
and polished monologue, it is to be 
feared, has also perished through a more 
culpable neglect. 

A few copies were sent, as a special 
favour, to trusty and sagacious friends 
at a distance, whose gravity would not 
permit them to suspect a hoax. They 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 205 

read and admired, being charmed with the 
wild notes of liberty. Some, indeed, pre- 
sumed to censure mildly certain passages 
as having been thrown off in too bold a 
vein. Nor was a certain success wanting 
the remaining copies were rapidly sold 
in Oxford at the aristocratical price of 
half- a -crown for half-a-dozen pages. 
We used to meet gownsmen in High 
Street reading the goodly volume as they 
walked pensive, with a grave and sage 
delight some of them, perhaps, more 
pensive because it seemed to portend the 
instant overthrow of all royalty from a 
king to a court card. 

What a strange delusion to admire 
our stuff the concentrated essence of 
nonsense ! It was indeed a kind of 
fashion to be seen reading it in public, 
as a mark of a nice discernment, of a 
delicate and fastidious taste in poetry, 
and the very criterion of a choice spirit. 

Nobody suspected, or could suspect, 
who was the author. The thing passed 
off as the genuine production of the 
would-be regicide. It is marvellous, in 
truth, how little talent of any kind there 



206 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

was in our famous University in those 
days ; there was no great encourage- 
ment, however, to display intellectual 
gifts. 

The acceptance, as a serious poem, of 
a work so evidently designed for a 
burlesque upon the prevailing notion of 
the day, that revolutionary ruffians were 
the most fit recipients of the gentlest 
passions, was a foretaste of the prodigious 
success that, a few years later, attended 
a still more whimsical paradox. Poets 
had sung already that human ties put 
love at once to flight ; that at the sight 
of civil obligations he spreads his light 
wings in a moment and makes default. 
The position was soon greatly extended, 
and we were taught by a noble poet 
that even the slightest recognition of the 
law of nations was fatal to the tender 
passion. The very captain of a privateer 
was pronounced incapable of a pure and 
ardent attachment ; the feeble control of 
letters of marque could effectually check 
the course of affection ; a complete 
union of souls could only be accom- 
plished under the black flag. Your true 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 207 

lover must necessarily be an enemy of 
the whole human race a mere and 
absolute pirate. It is true that the 
tales of the love-sick buccaneers were 
adorned with no ordinary talent, but the 
theory is not less extraordinary on that 
account. 

The operation of Peg Nicholson was 
bland and innoxious. The next work that 
Shelley printed was highly deleterious, 
and was destined to shed a baneful 
influence over his future progress. In 
itself it was more harmless than the 
former, but it was turned to a deadly 
poison by the unprovoked malice of 
fortune. 

We had read together attentively 
several of the metaphysical works that 
were most in vogue at that time, as 
Locke Concerning Human Understanding, 
and Hume's Essays, particularly the latter, 
of which we had made a very careful 
analysis, as was customary with those 
who read the Ethics and the other 
treatises of Aristotle for their degree. 
Shelley had the custody of these papers, 
which were chiefly in his handwriting, 



208 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

although they were the joint production 
of both in our common daily studies. 
From these, and from a small part of 
them only, he made up a little book, and 
had it printed, I believe, in the country, 
certainly not at Oxford. His motive 
was this. He not only read greedily all 
the controversial writings on subjects 
interesting to him which he could 
procure, and disputed vehemently in 
conversation with his friends, but he had 
several correspondents with whom he 
kept up the ball of doubt in letters ; of 
these he received many, so that the 
arrival of the postman was always an 
anxious moment with him. This practice 
he had learned of a physician, from 
whom he had taken instructions in 
chemistry, and of whose character and 
talents he often spoke with profound 
veneration. It was, indeed, the usual 
course with men of learning formerly, as 
their biographies and many volumes of 
such epistles testify. The physician was 
an old man, and a man of the old school. 
He confined his epistolary discussions to 
matters of science, and so did his disciple 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 209 

for some time ; but when metaphysics 
usurped the place in his affections that 
chemistry had before held, the latter 
gradually fell into discepations, respecting 
existences still more subtle than gases and 
the electric fluid. The transition, how- 
ever, from physics to metaphysics was 
gradual. Is the electric fluid material ? 
he would ask his correspondent ; is light 
is the vital principle in vegetables in 
brutes is the human soul ? 

His individual character had proved 
an obstacle to his inquiries, even whilst 
they were strictly physical. A refuted or 
irritated chemist had suddenly concluded 
a long correspondence by telling his 
youthful opponent that he would write 
to his master, and have him well flogged. 
The discipline of a public school, how- 
ever salutary in other respects, was not 
favourable to free and fair discussions, 
and Shelley began to address inquiries 
anonymously, or rather, that he might 
receive an answer, as Philalethes, and the 
like ; but, even at Eton, the postmen do 
not ordinarily speak Greek. To prevent 
miscarriages, therefore it was necessary 



210 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

to adopt a more familiar name, as John 
Short or Thomas Long. 

When he came to Oxford, he retained 
and extended his former practice without 
quitting the convenient disguise of an 
assumed name. His object in printing 
the short abstract of some of the 
doctrines of Hume was to facilitate his 
epistolary disquisitions. It was a small 
pill, but it worked powerfully. The mode 
of operation was this : he enclosed a 
copy in a letter and sent it by the post, 
stating, with modesty and simplicity, that 
he had met accidentally with that little 
tract, which appeared unhappily to be 
quite unanswerable. Unless the fish was 
too sluggish to take the bait, an answer 
of refutation was forwarded to an ap- 
pointed address in London, and then, in 
a vigorous reply, he would fall upon the 
unwary disputant and break his bones. 
The strenuous attack sometimes pro- 
voked a rejoinder more carefully pre- 
pared, and an animated and protracted 
debate ensued. The party cited, having 
put in his answer, was fairly in court, and 
he might get out of it as he could. The 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 211 

chief difficulty seemed to be to induce 
the person addressed to acknowledge the 
jurisdiction, and to plead ; and this, 
Shelley supposed, would be removed by 
sending, in the first instance, a printed 
syllabus instead of written arguments. 
An accident greatly facilitated his object. 
We had been talking some time before 
about geometrical demonstration ; he 
was repeating its praises, which he had 
lately read in some mathematical work, 
and speaking of its absolute certainty 
and perfect truth. 

I said that this superiority partly arose 
from the confidence of mathematicians, 
who were naturally a confident race, and 
were seldom acquainted with any other 
science than their own ; that they always 
put a good face upon the matter, detail- 
ing their arguments dogmatically and 
doggedly, as if there was no room for 
doubt, and concluded, when weary of 
talking in their positive strain, with 
Q.E.D. : in which three letters there 
was so powerful a charm, that there was 
no instance of anyone having ever dis- 
puted any argument or proposition to 



212 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

which they were subscribed. He was 
diverted by this remark, and often 
repeated it, saying, if you ask a friend to 
dinner, and only put Q.E.D. at the end 
of the invitation, he cannot refuse to 
come ; and he sometimes wrote these 
letters at the end of a common note, in 
order, as he said, to attain to a mathe- 
matical certainty. The potent characters 
were not forgotten when he printed his 
little syllabus ; and their efficacy in 
rousing his antagonists was quite 
astonishing. 

It is certain that the three obnoxious 
letters had a fertilising effect, and raised 
crops of controversy ; but it would be 
unjust to deny that an honest zeal 
stimulated divers worthy men to assert 
the truth against an unknown assailant. 
The praise of good intention must be 
conceded ; but it is impossible to accord 
that of powerful execution also to his 
antagonists ; this curious correspondence 
fully testified the deplorable condition of 
education at that time. A youth of 
eighteen was able to confute men who 
had numbered thrice as many years ; to 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 213 

vanquish them on their own ground, 
although he gallantly fought at a disad- 
vantage by taking the wrong side. 

His little pamphlet was never offered 
for sale ; it was not addressed to an 
ordinary reader, but to the metaphysician 
alone, and it was so short, that it was 
only designed to point out the line of 
argument. It was, in truth, a general 
issue, a compendious denial of every 
allegation, in order to put the whole case 
in proof ; it was a formal mode of saying 
you affirm so and so, then prove it, and 
thus was it understood by his more 
candid and intelligent correspondents. 
As it was shorter, so was it plainer, and, 
perhaps in order to provoke discussion, a 
little bolder, than Hume's Essays a 
book which occupies a conspicuous place 
in the library of every student. The 
doctrine, if it deserves the name, was 
precisely similar ; the necessary and 
inevitable consequence of Locke's philo- 
sophy, and of the theory that all know- 
ledge is from without. I will not admit 
your conclusions, his opponent might 
answer ; then you must deny those of 



214 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

Hume ; I deny them ; but you must 
deny those of Locke also, and we will 
go back together to Plato. Such was 
the usual course of argument. Sometimes, 
however, he rested on mere denial, hold- 
ing his adversary to strict proof, and 
deriving strength from his weakness. 

The young Platonist argued thus 
negatively through the love of argument, 
and because he found a noble joy in the 
fierce shocks of contending minds. He 
loved truth, and sought it everywhere 
and at all hazards frankly and boldly, 
like a man who deserved to find it ; but 
he also loved dearly victory in debate, 
and warm debate for its own sake. 
Never was there a more unexceptionable 
disputant ; he was eager beyond the 
most ardent, but never angry and never 
personal ; he was the only arguer I ever 
knew who drew every argument from the 
nature of the thing, and who could never 
be provoked to descend to personal con- 
tentions. He was fully inspired, indeed, 
with the whole spirit of the true logician ; 
the more obvious and indisputable the 
proposition which his opponent under- 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 215 

took to maintain, the more complete was 
the triumph of his art if he could refute 
and prevent him. 

To one who was acquainted with the 
history of our University, with its 
ancient reputation as the most famous 
school of logic, it seemed that the genius 
of the place, after an absence of several 
generations, had deigned to return at 
last ; the visit, however, as it soon 
appeared, was ill-timed. 

The schoolman of old, who occasion- 
ally laboured with technical subtleties 
to prevent the admission of the first 
principles of belief, could not have been 
justly charged with the intention of 
promoting scepticism ; his was the age of 
minute and astute disceptation, it is true, 
but it was also the epoch of the most 
firm, resolute and extensive faith. I 
have seen a dexterous fencing-master, 
after warning his pupil to hold his 
weapon fast, by a few turns of his wrist 
throw it suddenly on the ground and 
under his feet ; but it cannot be pre- 
tended that he neglected to teach the art 
of self-defence, because he apparently 



216 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

deprived his scholar of that which is 
essential to the end proposed. To be 
disarmed is a step in the science of arms, 
and whoever has undergone it has already 
put his foot within the threshold ; so it 
is likewise with refutation. 

In describing briefly the nature of 
Shelley's epistolary contention, the re- 
collection of his youth, his zeal, his 
activity, and particularly of many 
individual peculiarities, may have tempted 
me to speak sometimes with a certain 
levity, notwithstanding the solemn im- 
portance of the topics respecting which 
they were frequently maintained. The 
impression that they were conducted on 
his part, or considered by him, with 
frivolity or any unseemly lightness, 
would, however, be most erroneous ; his 
whole frame of mind was grave, earnest 
and anxious, and his deportment was 
reverential, with an edification reaching 
beyond the age an age wanting in 
reverence, an unlearned age, a young 
age, for the young lack learning. Hume 
permits no object of respect to remain ; 
Locke approaches the most awful specu- 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 217 

lations with the same indifference as if he 
were about to handle the properties of 
triangles ; the small deference rendered 
to the most holy things by the able 
theologian Paley is not the least remark- 
able of his characteristics. 

Wiser and better men displayed 
anciently, together with a more profound 
erudition, a superior and touching 
solemnity ; the meek seriousness of 
Shelley was redolent of those good old 
times before mankind had been despoiled 
of a main ingredient in the composition 
of happiness a well-directed veneration. 

Whether such disputations were de- 
corous or profitable may be perhaps 
doubtful ; there can be no doubt, 
however, since the sweet gentleness of 
Shelley was easily and instantly swayed 
by the mild influences of friendly 
admonition, that, had even the least 
dignified of his elders suggested the 
propriety of pursuing his metaphysical 
inquiries with less ardour, his obedience 
would have been prompt and perfect. 

Not only had all salutary studies been 
long neglected in Oxford at that time, 



218 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

and all wholesome discipline was decayed, 
but the splendid endowments of the 
University were grossly abused. The 
resident authorities of the college were 
too often men of the lowest origin, of 
mean and sordid souls, destitute of every 
literary attainment, except that brief and 
narrow course of reading by which the 
first degree was attained : the vulgar sons 
of vulgar fathers, without liberality, and 
wanting the manners and the sympathies 
of gentlemen. 

A total neglect of all learning, an un- 
seemly turbulence, the most monstrous 
irregularities, open and habitual drunken- 
ness, vice and violence, were tolerated or 
encouraged with the basest sycophancy, 
that the prospect of perpetual licentious- 
ness might fill the colleges with young men 
of fortune ; whenever the rarely exercised 
power of coercion was extorted, it de- 
monstrated the utter incapacity of our 
unworthy rulers by coarseness, ignorance 
and injustice. 

If a few gentlemen were admitted to 
fellowships, they were always absent ; 
they were not persons of literary preten- 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 219 

sions, or distinguished by scholarship, 
and they had no more share in the govern- 
ment of the college than the overgrown 
guardsmen, who, in long white gaiters, 
bravely protect the precious life of the 
sovereign against such assailants as the 
tenth Muse, our good friend Mrs 
Nicholson. 

As the term was drawing to a close, 
and a great part of the books we were 
reading together still remained unfinished, 
we had agreed to increase our exertions, 
and to meet at an early hour. 

It was a fine spring morning on Lady 
Day, in the year 1811, when I went to 
Shelley's rooms ; he was absent, but 
before I had collected our books he 
rushed in. He was terribly agitated. 
I anxiously inquired what had happened. 

" I am expelled," he said, as soon as he 
had recovered himself a little. " I am 
expelled ! I was sent for suddenly a few 
minutes ago ; I went to the common 
room, where I found our master and two 
or three of the fellows. The master pro- 
duced a copy of the little syllabus, and 
asked me if I were the author of it. He 



220 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

spoke in a rude, abrupt and insolent 
tone. I begged to be informed for what 
purpose he put the question. No answer 
was given ; but the master loudly and 
angrily repeated, c Are you the author of 
this book? ' c If I can judge from your 
manner/ 1 said, ' you are resolved to punish 
me if I should acknowledge that it is my 
work. If you can prove that it is, pro- 
duce your evidence ; it is neither just nor 
lawful to interrogate me in such a case 
and for such a purpose. Such proceed- 
ings would become a court of inquisitors, 
but not free men in a free country/ ' Do 
you choose to deny that this is your 
composition ? ' the master reiterated in 
the same rude and angry voice." 

Shelley complained much of his violent 
and ungentlemanlike deportment, saying, 
" I have experienced tyranny and injustice 
before, and I well know what vulgar 
violence is ; but I never met with such 
unworthy treatment. I told him calmly 
and firmly, that I was determined not to 
answer any questions respecting the publi- 
cation on the table. He immediately 
repeated his demand. I persisted in my 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 221 

refusal, and he said furiously, ' Then you 
are expelled, and I desire you will quit 
the college early to-morrow morning at 
the latest.' One of the fellows took 
up two papers and handed one of 
them to me ; here it is." He produced 
a regular sentence of expulsion, drawn 
up in due form, under the seal of the 
college. 

Shelley was full of spirit and courage, 
frank and fearless ; but he was likewise 
shy, unpresuming and eminently sensi- 
tive. I have been with him in many try- 
ing situations of his after-life, but I never 
saw him so deeply shocked and so cruelly 
agitated as on this occasion. A nice sense 
of honour shrinks from the most distant 
touch of disgrace, even from the insults 
of those men whose contumely can bring 
no shame. He sat on the sofa, repeating 
with convulsive vehemence the words 
" Expelled, expelled ! " his head shaking 
with emotion, and his whole frame 
quivering. The atrocious injustice and 
its cruel consequences roused the indigna- 
tion and moved the compassion of a 
friend who then stood by Shelley. He 



222 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

has given the following account of his 
interference : 

" So monstrous and so illegal did the 
outrage seem, that I held it to be 
impossible that any man, or any body of 
men, would dare to adhere to it ; but, 
whatever the issue might be, it was a 
duty to endeavour to the utmost to assist 
him. I at once stepped forward, there- 
fore, as the advocate of Shelley : such an 
advocate, perhaps, with respect to judg- 
ment, as might be expected at the age of 
eighteen, but certainly not inferior to the 
most practised defenders in good will and 
devotion. I wrote a short note to the 
masters and fellows, in which, as far as I 
can remember a very hasty composition 
after a long interval, I briefly expressed 
my sorrow at the treatment my friend had 
experienced, and my hope that they 
would reconsider their sentence since, by 
the same course of proceeding, myself, or 
any other person, might be subjected to 
the same penalty, and to the imputation 
of equal guilt. The note was despatched ; 
the conclave was still sitting, and in an 
instant the porter came to summon me to 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 223 

attend, bearing in his countenance a 
promise of the reception which I was about 
to find. The angry and troubled air of 
men assembled to commit injustice 
according to established forms was then 
new to me, but a native instinct told me, 
as soon as I had entered the room, that 
it was an affair of party ; that whatever 
could conciliate the favour of patrons was 
to be done without scruple, and whatever 
could tend to impede preferment was 
to be brushed away without remorse. 
The glowing master produced my poor 
note. I acknowledged it, and he forth- 
with put into my hand, not less abruptly, 
the little syllabus. c Did you write this ? ' 
he asked, as fiercely as if I alone stood 
between him and the rich see of Durham. 
I attempted, submissively, to point out 
to him the extreme unfairness of the 
question, the injustice of punishing 
Shelley for refusing to answer it ; that 
if it were urged upon me I must offer 
the like refusal, as I had no doubt every 
man in college would, every gentleman, 
indeed, in the University, which, if such 
a course were adopted with all, and there 



224 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

could not be any reason why it should be 
used with one and not with the rest, would 
thus be stripped of every member. I soon 
perceived that arguments were thrown 
away upon a man possessing no more 
intellect or erudition, and far less renown, 
than that famous ram, since translated to 
the stars, through grasping whose tail less 
firmly than was expedient, the sister of 
Phryxus formerly found a watery grave, 
and gave her name to the broad Helle- 
spont. 

"The other persons present took no 
part in the conversation ; they presumed 
not to speak, scarcely to breathe, but 
looked mute subserviency. The few 
resident fellows, indeed, were but so 
many incarnations of the spirit of the 
master, whatever that spirit might be. 
When I was silent, the master told me 
to retire, and to consider whether I was 
resolved to persist in my refusal. The 
proposal was fair enough. The next day 
or the next week, I might have given 
my final answer a deliberate answer ; 
having in the meantime consulted with 
older and more experienced persons, as to 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 225 

what course was best for myself and for 
others. I had scarcely passed the door, 
however, when I was recalled. The 
master again showed me the book, and 
hastily demanded whether I admitted or 
denied that I was the author of it. I 
answered that I was fully sensible of the 
many and great inconveniences of being 
dismissed with disgrace from the Univer- 
sity, and I specified some of them, and 
expressed a humble hope that they 
would not impose such a mark of discredit 
upon me without any cause. I lamented 
that it was impossible either to admit or 
to deny the publication no man of 
spirit could submit to do so and that 
a sense of duty compelled me respectfully 
to refuse to answer the question which 
had been proposed. ' Then you are ex- 
pelled/ said the master, angrily, in a loud, 
great voice. A formal sentence, duly 
signed and sealed, was instantly put into 
my hand : in what interval the instru- 
ment had been drawn up I cannot imagine. 
The alleged offence was contumacious re- 
fusal to disavow the imputed publication. 
My eye glanced over it, and observing 



226 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

the word contumaciously, I said calmly 
that I did not think that term was 
justified by my behaviour. Before I had 
concluded the remark, the master, lifting 
up the little syllabus, and then dashing it 
on the table and looking sternly at me, 
said, ' Am I to understand, sir, that you 
adopt the principles contained in this 
work ? ' or some such words ; for like 
one red with the suffusion of college port 
and college ale, the intense heat of anger 
seemed to deprive him of the power of 
articulation, by reason of a rude pro- 
vincial dialect and thickness of utterance, 
his speech being at all times indistinct. 
c The last question is still more improper 
than the former/ I replied, for I felt 
that the imputation was an insult ; ' and 
since, by your own act, you have renounced 
all authority over me, our communication 
is at an end.' * I command you to quit 
my college to-morrow at an early hour/ 
I bowed and withdrew. I thank God I 
have never seen that man since ; he is 
gone to his bed, and there let him sleep. 
Whilst he lived, he ate freely of the 
scholar's bread and drank from his cup, 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 227 

and he was sustained, throughout the 
whole term of his existence, wholly and 
most nobly, by those sacred funds that 
were consecrated by our pious forefathers 
to the advancement of learning. If the 
vengeance of the all-patient and long- 
contemned gods can ever be roused, it 
will surely be by some such sacrilege ! 
The favour which he showed to scholars 
and his gratitude have been made mani- 
fest. If he were still alive, he would 
doubtless be as little desirous that his zeal 
should now be remembered as those 
bigots who had been most active in burn- 
ing Archbishop Cranmer could have been 
to publish their officiousness during the 
reign of Elizabeth." 

Busy rumour has ascribed, on what 
foundation I know not, since an active 
and searching inquiry has not hitherto 
been made, the infamy of having 
denounced Shelley to the pert, meddling 
tutor of a college of inferior note, a man 
of an insalubrious and inauspicious aspect. 
Any paltry fellow can whisper a secret 
accusation ; but a certain courage, as 
well as malignity, is required by him 



228 SHELLEY AT OXFORD 

* 

who undertakes to give evidence openly 
against another ; to provoke thereby the 
displeasure of the accused, of his family 
and friends, and to submit his own 
veracity and his motives to public 
scrutiny. Hence the illegal and inquisi- 
torial mode of proceeding by interroga- 
tion, instead of the lawful and recognised 
course by the production of witnesses. 
The disposal of ecclesiastical preferment 
has long been so reprehensible, the 
practice of desecrating institutions that 
every good man desires to esteem most 
holy is so inveterate, that it is needless 
to add that the secret accuser was rapidly 
enriched with the most splendid benefices, 
and finally became a dignitary of the 
Church. The modest prelate did not 
seek publicity in the charitable and 
dignified act of deserving ; it is not 
probable, therefore, that he is anxious at 
present to invite an examination of the 
precise nature of his deserts. 

The next morning at eight o'clock 
Shelley and his friend set out together 
for London on the top of a coach ; and 
with his final departure from the Univer- 



SHELLEY AT OXFORD 229 

sity these reminiscences of his life at 
Oxford terminate. The narrative of the 
injurious effects of this cruel, precipitate, 
unjust and illegal expulsion upon the 
entire course of his subsequent life 
would not be wanting in interest or in- 
struction, when the scene was changed 
from the quiet seclusion of academic 
groves and gardens, and the calm valley 
of our silvery I sis, to the stormy ocean 
of that vast and shoreless world, to the 
utmost violence of which he was, at an 
early age, suddenly and unnaturally 
abandoned. 



THE END 



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