SHELLEY'S \ PRINCIPE r c / T nr i SHELLEY'S PRINCIPLES HAS TIME REFUTED OR CONFIRMED THEM? A Retrospect and Forecast. HENRY S. SALT. LONDON : WILLIAM REEVES, 185, FLEET STREET, E.G. CONTENTS. CHAPTER PAGE Prefatory Note . . . v. — viii. I. Retrospect .... i — 6 II. Three Stages of Shelley Criticism .... 7 — 33 III. Shelley's Principles . . 34 — 63 IV. Shelley's Ideals . . . 64 — 75 V. Conclusion and Forecast . 76 — 82 PREFATORY NOTE, The following essay on ** Shelley's Principles," which has been read, under a different title, at one of the Shelley Society's meetings, was indirectly the outcome of a friendly challenge from Professor Dowden, to the effect that he, **as a lover of Shelley, should like to see someone who places him in the first rank of poets, other than lyrical, show where he is original in his body of thought." Now with regard to Shelley's ** origin- ality" as a thinker, I have clearly V. B vi. Prefatory Note, indicated in what limited, though not unimportant sense that quality is claimed for him. Certainly he is to be ranked among our greatest poets for other reasons than his supreme lyrical genius. The excellence of his poetry, at first strenuously denied, is now un- reservedly admitted ; arguing from the past to the future, I assert that what Time has done for him as a poet, it will also do for him as a man, inasmuch as his great poetry is indissolubly bound up with the great message that inspired it. The Centenary of Shelley's birth seems a fit date for the publication of this retrospect and forecast. I am under no illusions as to the reception that awaits this estimate of Shelley from those who sit in the reputable places of criticism. It is Prefatory Note. vii. true that Mrs Grundy has now sub- stituted for the grim old notion of a diaboHcal Shelley that pleasanter pic- ture of an ** ineffectual angel," which one of her own special artists so felicitously designed for her ; but it is also a fact that she strongly resents being reminded that the later theory is every bit as nonsensical as the earlier. To present the Shelleyan view of Shelley, instead of Mrs. Grundy's view, is therefore to experience, in a modified form, those amenities of criticism of which Shelley himself was so notable a victim, and to which even the obscurest of his followers may not unreasonably aspire. For example, I was informed a few years ago, by the Westminster Review, that I was one of those writers who viii. Prefatory Note, grub amongst *' the offensive matter " of Shelley's life '^with gross minds and grunts of satisfaction," and that my monograph on Shelley was * 'an impudent endeavour to gain the notoriety of a social iconoclast amongst social heretics with immoral tendencies and depraved desires." There is the true old genuine ring about such words as these ; and I was greatly encouraged by the thought that to have elicited quite a number of such criticisms was in itself a proof of being on the right track as a Shelley student. I inscribe this essay to those who know, and appreciate, and reverence Shelley, not as poet only, but as poet and man in one. H. S. S. SHELLEY'S PRINCIPLES. I . — Retrospect. F it be true, as we are often assured, that literary criticism IS ''science," and if its professors cherish, as their position requires that they should cherish, a sense of historical continuity and editorial succession, then, I submit, the Shelley Centenary of this year should be observed by the recognised guardians of our literature as a season of self-abasement and mortification. On August 4, 1892, our chief critics, with the editor of the Quarterly Review at their head, should march in penitential '^a^ 2 Shelley's Principles, procession to Shelley's birth-place in Sussex, there to expiate and formally recant the monstrous blunders of their literary forefathers, and perhaps, if the suggestion may be ventured, to medi- tate also on certain not inconsider- able errors of their own. Seventy years ago, it was the almost unanimous opinion of the most eminent and respected reviewers that Shelley was a wretched poetaster of the most worthless kind*; now it is admitted * There were, however, a few exceptions to this judgment. "The disappearance of Shelley from the world," wrote T. L. Beddoes in 1824 *' seems, like the tropical setting of that luminary to which his poetical genius can alone be compared, with reference to the companions of his day, to have been followed by instant darkness and owl-season." Shelley's high poetical gift was freely recognised by Macaulay and a small but brilliant circle of Cam- bridge students. Moultrie's poem *♦ The Witch of the North," 1824, contains passages which are direct imitations of Shelley's " Witch of Atlas," Retrospect, 3 with equal unanimity that he is the greatest lyric poet whom England has yet seen. There is no need to labour this point, for the Quarterly has itself cried pecoavi as regards Shelley's literary genius Hear the oracular verdict of 1822 as compared with that of 1887. "The predominant characteristic of Kr. Shelley's poetry," said the earlier reviewer, '* is its frequent and total want of meaning. We fear that his notions of pcetry are fundamentally erroneous. . . Mr. Shelley's poetry is, in sober sadness, dr veiling prose run mad.'' ** Language bends and plays beneath his hand, "says the lineal descendant of this man after Gfford's heart ; *' the greatest power is ccmbined with the greatest ease, the perfection of art with the entire absence 4 Shelley's Principles. of conscious display. . . Shelley shows himself to be the unrivalled lord and master of lyric song." Truly, in this case, Time has proved to be a signal avenger, since less than a century has witnessed the ignominious reversal of the most approved critical judg- ments ! \ Nor is it only the literary qualities of Shelley that have thus been vindicated — there is another and still more importafit appreciation even now in process, which the next century will in all probability see fulfilled. The recognition of Shelfey the man is beginning to follow hard bn that of Shelley the poet ; and thoum there is little doubt that those criticslof the present day who deprecate anything more than *' the very baldest and brief- est statement of the facts of the poef s Retrospect. 5 life,"* are truly expressing the natural disinclination of the privileged classes to hear more than they are obliged to hear of this most persistent prophet of social reformation, yet it must be already apparent that this naive injunction of silence, wherein the v^^ish is obviously father to the thought, will produce ex- actly as much impression on the study of Shelley as did Canute's imperial prohibition on the flowing tide. If the present century has had much to say about Shelley, the next will have still more, and the critics who would mini- mise the growing interest in his life, personality, and principles, will only succeed in exhibiting their own com- *" I would confine the critic or editor of Shelley, it I had my way, to the very baldest and briefest state- ment of the facts of the poet's life." — H. D. Traill, Macmillan^s Magazine, July, 1887. 6 Shelley^ s Principles. plete inability to understand the spirit and tendency of the age in which they live. II. — Three Stages of Shelley Criti- cism. THE Abusive, the Apolo- getic, THE Appreciative. T is very instructive to note the series of changes which public opinion has under- gone, or is undergoing, with regard to Shelley's character. During the poet's life and for some time after, his detractors had the field almost entirely to themselves, the voices raised on his behalf being those of a few personal friends or literary enthusiasts who could scarcely make themselves heard amid the general chorus of 7 8 Shelley^s Principles. detestation.''' It is only by a study of the contemporary criticism of Shelley's poems that we can realise the intensity of the feeling aroused by his attacks on the established code of religion and ethics, which seem to have filled his readers with a conviction that he was a monster of abnormal and almost superhuman wickedness. "We feel" wrote one of these out- raged moralists in reference to Queen Mabjf '* as if one of the darkest of the fiends had been clothed with a human body to enable him to gratify his enmity against the human race, and as if the supernatural atrocity of his hate were only heightened by his power to do * Leigh Hunt, in particular, deserves grateful mention for his early recognition of Shelley's noble qualities. f Literary Gazette^ May 19, 1821. Three Stages of Shelley Criticism. g injury. So strongly has this impression dwelt upon our minds that we absolutely asked a friend, who had seen this individual, to describe him to us — as if a cloven foot, or horn, or flames from the mouth, must have marked the external appearance of so bitter an enemy to mankind." In the same article, Shelley is variously alluded to as "the fiend- writer," " the blaster of his race,'' and * ' the demoniac proscriber of his species." The Englishman who, meeting the poet in an Italian post-office, asked whether he was" that damned atheist, Shelley," and unceremoniouslyknocked him down, was merely translating into action the al- most unanimous sentimentof his fellow- countrymen concerning the author of Queen Mah, Those were the true old Tory days, when the insidious growth of 10 Shelley's Principles. Shelleyism had not yet been developed. But as time went on, bringing with it a period of poHtical reform instead of govermental repression, and as the disinterested nobleness of Shelley's character was vindicated in the narra- tives of Hogg, Medwin, and other biographers, while the high value of his poetry was recognised — slowly and reluctantly at first — by the more dis- cerning critics, it gradually came about that he was viewed in a milder light by the succeeding generation of readers. A kindly though somewhat sorrowful tone was now adopted towards him, a real admiration for his poetical genius and personal sincerity being tempered by a stern censure, more in grief than anger, of the misguided principles on which his life was framed. Three Stages of Shelley Criticism. ii Thus he no longer figured as a deUberate scoundrel, fired with infernal animosity against the salvation of man- kind, but as a wild enthusiast, possessed of many noble instincts, though un- happily warped and perverted by the sophisms of Godwin and other mis- chievous innovators. Had religion been differently represented to him ; had he been more wisely educated by those who had charge of him in his youth ; had he studied history more carefully ; or conversed with Samuel Taylor Coleridge ; or enjoyed this, that, or the other advantage which his fate with- held, — then, it was argued, Shelley's career would have been a wholly different one, and to quote the words of Gilfillan, we should have seen the demoniac " clothed, and in his right 12 Shelley's Principles. mind, sitting at the feet of Jesus." '* Poor, poor Shelley," exclaimed Frederick Robertson, when he medi- tated on these touching possibilities ; and his words give us the keynote of this apologetic phase of sentimental patronage. The age of abuse and vilification had now become obsolete, and the "poor, poor Shelley" era had succeeded it.* This, it is important to note, has been the prevailing conception of Shelley's character for the last forty years, though there have not been wanting signs that it is destined to be replaced in its turn by a new and more accurate interpreta- tion. Meantime, Mr. Cordy Jeaffreson's * It was delightful to find Mr. W. T. Stead alluding, quite as a matter of course, to ** poor Shelley," in a passing reference in his Christmas "Ghost Stories." Three Stages of Shelley Criticism. 13 book, and the occasional splenetic out- bursts of the Saturday Review and other crabbed periodicals, should be regarded as a survival or recrudescence of the abusive period — a few belated bottles of a sour old vintage, which, in the changed atmosphere of a later day, go pop from time to time, and sprinkle some musty literary cellar with their pent-up remnant of superannuated bitterness. The main tendency of the age has been distinctly towards a more genial esti- mate of Shelley, a view which has been fully, and perhaps finally, expressed in the thoroughly representative work of Professor Dowden, whose opinion of Shelley's ethics may be summed up in the judgment he pronounces on Queen Mab, that '* such precipitancy may con- stitute a grave offence against social c 14 Shelley's Principles. morality, yet we may dare to love the offender." Professor Dowden is the authorised exponent of what I have called the apologetic Shelleyism, which asks that the poet's social heresies may be for- given him in consideration of the beauty ot his poems and the devoted though mistaken earnestness of his life. But, like all transitional ideas, this view of Shelley, when strictly examined, will be found to be an untenable one, however gracious and welcome it maybe (and the spirit of Professor Dowden's work is especially generous and liberal) when contrasted with the old contumely of seventy years back, since it rests on the assumption that ennobHng poetry can result from an immoral and therefore pernicious ideal. In estimating the life- Three Stages of Shelley Criticism. 15 work of such a character as Shelley's, it must surely be an error to set aside as valueless the central underlying convic- tions, while professing admiration for the poetry which resulted therefrom, as if the proverb ''by their fruits ye shall know them " did not hold good in literature as elsewhere. Now there can be no mistake what- ever about the attitude which Shelley took up, not in Queen Mab only, but in the whole body of his writings, towards the established system of society, which, as he avowed in one of his later letters, he wished to see " overthrown from the foundations, with all its superstructure of maxims and forms." The principles which he inculcated are utterly subver- sive of all that orthodoxy holds most sacred, whether in ethics or religion ; 1 6 Shelley's Principles, if he was wrong in them, he is deserving of the severest possible condemnation ; if right, of equally unstinted praise — in neither event is there any sound basis for the apologetic theory, which, by its vague and vacillating attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable, has made an enigma out of a personality which is singularly intelligible and clear. And if this is true of Shelley's bio- graphers, much more is it true of his critics. Why is it that so many dis- tinguished and learned men, from Carlyle and Ruskin to Kingsley and Matthew Arnold, who have undertaken to enlighten the world concerning Shelley, have failed so grotesquely that even the efforts of the Quarterly Re- viewers seem successful by comparison ? Simply because, with every intention to Three Stages of Shelley Criticism. 17 be just, they were devoid of that sym- pathy with the objects of Shelley's vision which is absolutely essential to a right understanding of the meaning of his life. Wanting this sympathy, they have seen only chaos and indecision in a career which was remarkable for its pertinacious directness of aim, and have heard only what Carlyle described as " inarticulate wail," in the clearest trumpet-call that ever poet sounded ; 9.nd having thus created, out of the dust of their own minds, a mythical personage every whit as unreal as the ''Real Shelley" of Mr. Cordy JeafFreson, they have proceeded to express their virtuous astonishment at the perplexing and contradictory nature of this phantom of their own imagining. i8 Shelley's Principles, Mr Walter Bagehot,* for example, was so amazed at the perversities of Shelley's intellect, as viewed from the Bagehottian standpoint, that he set him down as actuated by mere impulse rather than by a reasoning faculty. Mr. Leslie Stephen, t again, having no sympathy with revolutionary ideas, will not allow Shelley credit for even average powers of thought, finding "the crude incoherence of his whole system too obvious to require exposition," and asserting that '' that which is really admirable is not the vision itself, but the pathetic sentiment caused by Shelley's faint recognition of its obstin- ate insubstantiality." Even Mr. J. A. Symonds, whose * " Estimates of some Englishmen," 1858. f *' Godwin and Shelley," Cornhill^ vol 39. Three Stages of Shelley Criticism, ig delightful monograph is valued by all Shelley students, has been misled by the same social prejudice, when he states that " the blending in him of a pure and earnest purpose with moral and social theories that could not but have proved pernicious to mankind at large, produced at times an almost grotesque mixture in his actions no less than in his verse." But how if these theories should not be proved so per- nicious as Mr. Symonds confidently assumes them to be ? And, in that case what becomes of the '* grotesque mixture " in Shelley's actions and char- acter ? In this connection it may be per- tinent to quote some highly suggestive lines on Shelley which deserve to be far more widely known. 20 Shelley's Principles. Holy aad mighty Poet of the Spirit That broods and breathes along the Universe ! In the least portion of whose starry verse Is the great breath the sphered heavens inherit, No human song is eloquent as thine ; For, by a reasonmg instinct all divine, Thou feel'st the soul of things ; and thereof singing, With all the madness of a skylark, springing From earth to heaven, the intenseness of thy strain, Like the lark's music all around us ringing, Laps us in God's own heart, and we regain Our primal life ethereal ! Men profane Blaspheme thee; I have heard thee Dreamer styled — I've mused upon their wakefulness — and smiled. Thomas Wade's " Poems and Sonnets, 1835. The fact is, the exponents of the apologetic theory, while doing honour to Shelley's poetical genius and exalted enthusiasm, have altogether underrated the keenness of his intellectual insight into the vexed problems of modern times. Being accustomed, by the force of class tradition, to ignore the Shelleyan ideals — that is, the fountain- Three Stages of Shelley Criticism. 21 head of the poet's singing — as chimerical fancies derived at second-hand from the fanatics of the French Revolution, they have inevitably failed to enter into the spirit of his song. His book of prophecy lies open before them, but must remain in great part unintelligible, until sympathy, the sole clue to the understanding of a new gospel, shall enable their eyes to decipher the cryptogram of those revolutionary pages, which, once mastered, will put an end to the idle talk about the incoherence of Shelley's message and the hallucinations of his brain. Without at all forgetting the great literary services that have been rendered to Shelley's writings during the past quarter-century, I venture to doubt whether he can be fully appreciated, 22 Shelley's Principles, even as a poet, under the present form of society, unless by those (and scarcely even by those) who look for the changes which he looked for, and desire to hasten that bloodless revolution which was at once the theme and the inspira- tion of his poetical masterpieces. As the number of such reformers increases, and it is increasing very sensibly at the the present time, the apologetic view of Shelley, that kindly but unscientific product of a confused transitional period, will gradually pass away, and in its place we shall have the new, the appreciative estimate, which will honour England's greatest lyric poet, not on the absurd ground that he sang beauti- fully and pathetically on behalf of a thoroughly foolish and pernicious theory, but because, seeing clearly that the Three Stages of Shelley Criticism. 23 current forms of religion and morals would have to be revolutionised, he expressed that conviction, which each succeeding year is proving to be a true conviction, in words of consummate tenderness and power. This new method of Shelley criticism is not merely in prospect, but has already commenced. It was heralded by James Thomson's remarkable article contributed to the National Reformer in i860, and by the memoir which Mr. W. M. Rossetti prefixed to his edition of the poems ten years later — a strong and sensible piece of writing which deserves the gratitude of all who believe in the ultimate recognition of Shelley's true greatness. I do not mean to imply that Mr. Rossetti necessarily subscribed to the bulk of Shelley's social opinions; 24 Shelley's Principles, but his memoir was, as far as I know, the first considerable contribution to Shelleyan hterature in which not the poetry only, but the conceptions that determined the poetry, were treated with due seriousness, and without a word of that infelicitous extenuation or apology which strikes so false a note in so many other essays. As to the valuable critical work, done in late years by Mr. Rossetti, Mr. Forman, Dr. Garnett, Professor Dowden, Mr. Stopford Brooke and others, it may truly be said to have been largely instrumental in preparing the way for a better understanding of Shelley in his ethical as well as his literary capacity. So, too, of much that has been done by the Shelley Society ; for though I do not insinuate that the members of that Three Stages of Shelley Criticism, 25 very reputable body are deliberate abettors of Shelley's revolutionary doc- trines, I have yet in mind the remark made by Mr. H. M. Stanley to one of the Society's officers. '' You are a funny people, you Shelleyites," said the famous explorer, with a perspicacity which suggests that Livingstone and Emin are not the only persons who have been found out by him, "you are playing, — at a safe distance yourselves, maybe — with fire. In spreading Shelley you are indirectly helping to stir up the great socialist question, the great ques- tion of the needs, and wants and wishes of unhappy men ; the one question which bids fair to swamp you all for a bit." Precisely so. The fuller appreciation of Shelley's character, will be found to keep pace with the progress of social 26 Shelley's Principles, reform, or if you will, of social revolu- tion. In saying this, I wish to guard myself at the outset against the charge of '' idolatry" which is generally brought against those whose opinion of a great writer happens to be in advance of the popular estimate. To assert that the Shelleyan creed is nobler and saner than the so-called morality which it is destined to replace does not imply a belief that it is itself a perfect creed, or that it will not ultimately be succeeded by something still better. But ninety- nine out of a hundred of the objections at present made against the doctrines of Shelley are quite beside the mark, sim- ply because they are the result, not of a clear-eyed, large-minded survey of those doctrines, but of narrow and prejudiced Three Stages of Shelley Criticism. 27 environments. It may sound para- doxical, but it is a fact that a new idea must be appreciated before it can be criticised — you must know what a man means and feels, in other words you must sympathise with him, before you will comprehend either the merits or the defects of his system. The object of this essay is not to attribute to Shelley an impossible per- fection, but to point out that, so far from being the pitiable compound of im- pulsive benevolence and crack-brained fanaticism which his apologists have represented him to be, he was a pioneer of a definite intellectual and social movement, which, whether right or wrong, is steadily advancing in interest and importance. *' The devotees of some of Shelley's pet theories," com- 28 Shelley's Principles, plains Mr. Leslie Stephen, apparently without at all perceiving the signi- ficance of his remark, *' have become much noisier than they were when the excellent Godwin ruled his little clique." True ; and the inference seems to be that Shelle3''s vision was a good deal more penetrating than that of some of his most intolerant and self-satisfied critics. Do we claim, then, it is sometimes asked, that Shelley was an ''original'* thinker ? Certainly not — in that sense which implies the contribution of brand- new ideas to philosophy or ethics. Shelley's social views, as everyone knows, were largely drawn from Rousseau and the French school, from Tom Paine, William Godwin, and Mary Wollstonecraft. But while borrowing Three Stages of Shelley Criticism, 29 freely, he could also freely assimilate and vitalize ; and it has been well said of him than ''he was Paine and Godwin, with a large heart added.'' This is an addition which amounts to little less than a new creation, for, as a stroll through our Universities will show, it is unfortunately rare to find the perfect balance and conjunction of intellect and feeling. There is an originality in the selection and treatment, as well as in the promulgation, of ideas, and this faculty — this " reasoning instinct all divine" — Shelley possessed in an emi- nent degree. He intuitively grasped and assimilated those democratic con- ceptions which were destined to survive the violence of tyrannical oppression and the slower but more searching ordeal of time ; and if his ethical creed 30 Shelley's Principles. be compared with that of the other poets and thinkers of his age, in the Hght of the history of the past half-century, it is not Shelley who will be found deficient in sagacity and foresight. But though inspired by these philo- sophical ideas, Shelley was by nature and temperament essentially a poet. He was the poet-prophet of the great humanitarian revival (in his own words, " the most unfailing herald, companion, and follower of the awakening of a great people to work a beneficial change in opinion or institution, is poetry"), and as he sang of the future rather than of the present, and of a distant future rather than of a near one, there is oi necessity a vagueness in many of his poetical utterances, though this is for- tunately to a great extent corrected and Three Stages of Shelley Criticism. 31 counterbalanced by the clearness of his prose essays. An attempt is sometimes made to discount the effect of his writings on the score of his youthfulness ; he had not time, it is said, to mature his own thoughts, much less to instruct those ot other people. This objection, however, can hardly be taken very seriously, for, in the first place, opinions must stand or fall by their intrinsic worth and not by the age of their advocate ; and secondly, as Shelley himself said to Trelawny, *' the mind of man, his brain, and nerves, are a truer index of his age than the calendar." I shall speak in this essay of Shelley^s views as a whole, and I may here paren- thetically remark that I do not propose to follow Mr. Buxton Forman's ex- ample of relegating Queen Mab to the 32 Shelley's Principles, juvenilia^ as if it were unworthy of the serious attention of Shelley students, I am, of course, aware, that it is in many ways a crude and ill-considered performance, but its defects lie far more in the style than in the conception — to repeat what Shelley said of it in later years, " the matter is good, but the treatment is not equal." The views expressed in Queen Mab on religious and social topics are practically the same as those held by Shelley to the last day of his life, and, as Mr. Forman himself tells us, "the poem and its notes have played a considerable part in the growth of free-thought in England and America, especially among the working classes"; for both of which reasons it seems to me that Queen Three Stages of Shelley Criticism, 33 Mab will always maintain an honour- able place in the record of its author's achievements. III. — Shelley's Principles. ET us now proceed to consider how far Shelley's principles have anticipated those of a later date, and with what justice he may be called a forerunner of the cause of intellectual and social freedom. The enormous progress made by free- thought during the seventy years that have passed since Shelley's death would in itself be sufficient refutation, if any were needed, of the assertion that he wrecked his judgment and good fame by his deliberate adoption of atheistic principles. He was from 34 Shelley's Principles. 35 first to last an '* atheist," in the special sense that he denied the existence of the personal deity of the theologians ; though it is important to note, that, as he himself says in the preface to Laon and Cythnaj the object of his attack was '' the erroneous and degrading idea which men have conceived of a Supreme Being, but not the Supreme Being itself" — it was not the presence, but the absence of spirituality in the established creed that made Shelley an unbeliever.* * I regard Shelley's early " atheism " and later *' pantheism " as simply the negative and the affirmative sides of the same progressive but un- changmg life-creed. In his earlier years, his dispo- sition was towards a vehement denial of a theology which he never ceased to detest ; in his maturer years, he made more frequent reference to the great World Spirit whom he had from the first believed in. He grew wiser in the exercise of his religious faith, but the faith was the same through- out; there was progression, but no essential change. 36 Shelley's Principles. For holding and publishing these views, he was ostracised and insulted ; and now the same views are held as a matter of course by a vast number, probably a vast majority, of earnest and thoughtful men, the only difference being that the colourless title of ** agnosticism " has been substituted for the more expressive word which Shelley with characteristic ardour, ** took up and wore as a gauntlet." It is the habit of Shelley's apologetic admirers to minimise the fact of his departure from the orthodox faith, and even to suggest that, had he lived longer, he might, by some unexplained process of reasoning, have found him- self at one with Christianity, perhaps, according to Nathaniel Hawthorne's ironical suggestion, to the extent of Shelley^ s Principles. 37 taking holy orders, and being " inducted to a small country living in the gift of the lord chancellor." * The new criticism bluntly declares that this idea is nonsensical ; and recognising that Shelley's belief, whether for good or ill, was in direct antagonism to established religion, points further to the fact that the verdict of time, so far as it has yet been delivered, is strongly in favour of free-thought which Shelley so strenu- ously asserted. But the religious question, it may be said, no longer occupies its former dominant position ; it is round soci- ology, no less than theology, that the *It is gravely stated, in Mr. H. B. Cotterill's "Introduction to the Study of Poetry," 1882, that Shelley " saw the beauty of true Christianity, and accepted the gospel of Christ as the one true gospel." 38 Shelley's Principles. battle of freedom has now to be fought and won. It is generally recognised that two of the most momentous social problems which will press for solution in the coming century are the condition of the working classes and the emanci- pation of women ; and the supreme proof of the shrewdness of Shelley's instinct is that he, alone among the poets of his era, strongly emphasised these two questions, anticipating in his conclusions the general principles, if not the particular methods, of the policy to which modern reformers incline. It is true that like Godwin, and indeed like all contemporary thinkers, with the possible exception of Robert Owen, he was unable to grasp the full significance, in its bearing on social Shelley's Principles. 39 questions, of the great industrial devel- opment which the introduction of machinery has brought about ; we can- not expect from Shelley an accurate knowledge of an economic change which in his time could be only very imperfectly understood. But that he had a singularly clear perception of the cardinal fact by which the relations of labour and capital are characterised — the fact that the poor workers support the lazy rich, and that industry is taxed for the maintenance of idleness — is obvious from many passages in his writings. Here, jfor example, is a reference to the land-question, which states the case with admirable incisiveness and vigour. *' English reformers exclaim against sinecures, but the true pension- 40 Shelley's Principles. list is the rent-roll of the landed pro- prietors." And again, of the extortions of the fund-holders, those nouveaux riches whose heartless vulgarity Shelley more than once condemns: '*I put the thing in its simplest and most intelligible shape. The labourer, he that tills the ground and manufactures cloth, is the man who has to provide, out ot what he would bring home to his wife and children, for the luxuries and comforts of those whose claims are represented by an annuity of forty-four millions a year levied upon the English nation." Nor, while thus pointing out the actual dependence of the so-called independent classes, did Shelley evade the consideration that he too, the scion of a wealthy house, was a debtor in like Shelley's Principles. 41 manner ; he "shuddered to think " that the roof which covered him and the bed on which he slept were provided from the same source. We see, therefore, that Shelley was well aware that pauperism is no spora- dic, unaccountable phenomenon, but the necessary and logical counterpart of wealth, and that the footsteps of luxury are forever dogged by the grim nemesis of destitution. Never perhaps has this terrible truth been more power- fully stated than in the description of the court masque in Charles the First. '* Ay, there they are — Nobles, and sons ot nobles, patentees, Monopolists, and stewards of this poor farm, On whose lean sheep sit the prophetic crows. Here is the pomp that strips the houseless orphan, Here is the pride that breaks the desolate heart. These are the lilies glorious as Solomon, Who toil not, neither do they spin — unless 42 Shelley's Principles. It be the webs they catch poor rogue? withal. Here is the surfeit which to them who earn The niggard wages ot the earth, scarce leaves The tithe that will support them till they crawl Back to its cold hard bosom. Here is health Followed by grim disease, glory by shame, Waste by lank famine, wealth by squalid want, And England's sm by England's punishment." The question whether Shelley was, or was not, a "socialist," is one that scarcely admits of any definite conclu- sion, since there is no universally ac- cepted definition of what socialism means. It may be urged, on the one hand, that he cannot be given a title which did not come into use till some years after his death, and which is now often restricted — unwisely, perhaps — to the acceptance of a purely economic formula of which he knew nothing. Shelley, like Godwin, was a communist rather than socialist ; and though he by Shelley's Principles. 43 no means shared Godwin's extreme repugnance to legislative action, he still laid far more stress on moral and intel- lectual improvement than on the inter- vention of the State. On the other hand, if the term socialism be inter- preted in a wider sense, it may fairly be made to include such a pioneer as Shelley, who was certainly a socialist in spirit, if not in the letter. An interesting saying of Karl Marx's — true of Shelley, though unjust to Byron — has been recorded in this connection. ^' The real difference between Byron and Shelley is this: those who under- stand them and love them rejoice that Byron died at thirty-six, because if he had lived he would have become a reactionary bourgeois ; they grieve that Shelley died at twenty-nine, because 44 Shelley's Principles, he was essentially a revolutionist, and he would always have been one of the advanced guard of socialism."* Shelley's views on the woman ques- tion are too well known to need more than a brief reference; it is sufficient for my purpose to point out that they are practically identical with those now held by advanced thinkers. There is plenty of evidence in Laon and Cythna that Shelley recognised and deplored the social subjection of woman, and the evil consequences that result therefrom to the other sex and to humanity in general. **Can man be free," he asks, "if woman be a slave ? " And again : Woman ! — She is his slave, she has become A thing I weep to speak — the child of scorn, The outcast of a desolated home. * " Shelley and Socialism," by Edward and Eleanor Marx Aveling, To- Day, April, 1888. Shelley's Principles, 45 Falsehood and fear and toil, like waves, have worn Channels upon her cheek, which smiles adorn As calm decks the false ocean : well ye know What woman is, for none of woman born Can choose but drain the bitter dregs of woe, Which ever from the oppressed to the oppressor flow. It perhaps has not been as widely noticed as it deserves to be, that in the character of Cythna, as drawn in this poem, Shelley has created a type. Cythna is the first idealisation in litera- ture ot the revolutionary woman — swift and fearless, tender and pitying ; above all, the free, confident, equal companion of intellectual and socialised man. The compulsion of the marriage-bond, which in Shelley's opinion militates against that free and natural relation of the sexes which he so strongly approved, is explicitly condemned in the well-known Notes to Queen Mab, on 46 Shelley's Principles. the ground that, as the very essence of love is freedom of choice, society is not justified in imposing this restriction on the judgment of the individual. That Shelley's views remained unchanged to the end may be gathered from the kindred, but maturer, passage ofEpipsy- chidiouj which makes one regret that he did not deal more directly and fully with this subject in his later life, though it is easy to surmise the personal and private reasons that would then have withheld him. As it is, the Shelleyan advocacy of free love has been much misrepresented, being often absurdly identified, whether through ignorance or prejudice, with a heartless libertinism to which it is utterly alien. The essence of Shelley's belief was that, unless human passion Shelley's Principles. 47 is to be debased and brutalised, the spiritual and higher elements of love must always be present ; for this reason he condemned the stereotyped and love- less institution of marriage, but he did not stultify his own contention by sanc- tioning an equally dull and loveless sensuality. On this point it is worth while to note what he says in a short prose essay, written soon after Queen Mab — the review of his friend Hogg's novel, Prince Alexy Haimatoff. ''The author," says Shelley, ''appears to deem the loveless intercourse of brutal appetite a venial offence against delicacy and virtue ! He asserts that a transient connection with a cultivated female may contribute to form the heart without essentially vitiating the sensibilities. It is our 48 Shelley's Principles. duty to protest against so pernicious and disgusting an opinion. No man can rise pure from the poisonous em- braces of a prostitute, or sinless from the desolated hopes of a confiding heart." 1 purposely abstain, in'this essay, from touching on what has been called " the Harriet problem," not because I am at all indisposed to '' chatter about Shelley," but because I am here speak- ing less of the story of his life than of the principles to which his life was devoted. ^^' But I must, in passing, make * It is very instructive to note the exact period at which our orthodox critics conceived their present marked distaste for what they have styled " the Harriet problem" and " chatter about Shelley." They had no scruple whatever, during half-a-century of vilification, in utilising, on every possible oppor- tunity, a false and calumnious story as a means of blackening bhelley's name; but when once it began to appear that the facts might wear another aspect, and that the "chatter" would henceforth not be Shelley's Principles. 49 a brief protest against the extraordinary plea put forward by a well-known novel- ist, ostensibly on behalf of the fair fame of Shelley, though I doubt if his worst enemy has ever said anything which he would have more strenuously resented — I refer to Ouida's contention * that the possession of genius releases a man from the ordinary claims of morality. The idea is quite foreign to the whole spirit of Shelley's writings. He claimed no special exemption from the estab- entirely one-sided, these precious moralists were smitten with a sudden naive aversion for the very controversy which they had themselves provoked! I would now suggest to them that if they are indeed so weary of ' ' the Harriet question '' (and no one will deny that Shelley has been the subject of unneces- sary, as well as necessary, contention), the remedy is in their own hands. Let them cease to calum- niate ; and we shall cease to explain. ''■Que messieurs Us assassins y commencent." * North American Review, Feb. i8go. 50 Shelley's Principles, lished code of ethics, but directly chal- lenged that code as an obsolete and in fact immoral piece of superstition. He may have been right, or he may have been wrong in this opinion, but his standpoint is a quite unmistakable one, and therein lies the only possible justification of his conduct. And for every person who held such views at the beginning of the century, there are a hundred who hold them now. Shelley's socialistic sympathies have already been mentioned ; a word must now be said of his not less remarkable insight into those matters where, to quote his own expression, *' every man possesses the power to legislate for himself." His communism, like that of Godwin and other anarchist writers, was mingled with a very strong measure of Shelley's Principles. 51 intellectual individualism^ ; he believed that self-reform must precede, or at any rate accompany, all legislative enact- ments. ''Reform yourselves" is the chief lesson enforced in the Address to the Irish People, and in the Essay on Chris- tianity the failure of the early Christian communism is attributed to the lack of a sufficient moral improvement. The modes of self-reform which Shelley most persistently advocated may be summed up in the word simplicity ; his healthy natural instincts towards pure food and fresh air, together with his keen sense of the serfdom which luxury inflicts on its drudges, made * I advisedly write intellectual to distinguish it from the other, the commercial *' individualism," which consists in sacrificing all true individuality of character in the dead level of industrial competi- tion. 52 Shelley's Principles, him look with distaste on many of the so-called comforts of civilization. ** Decrease your physical wants," he says, 'Mearn to live, so far as nourish- men and shelter are concerned, like the beasts of the forest and the birds of the air ; ye will need not to complain that other individuals of your species are surrounded by the diseases of luxury and the vices of subserviency and oppression. Himself a bread-eater and water- drinker, with a strong tendency in all respects to a frugal and hardy way of living, he instinctively felt the rightness of that gospel of simplicity of which Rosseau had been a prophet, and saw what Thoreau has since demonstrated with greater insistence, that a com- plexity of artificial comforts is not a Shelley's Principles. 53 necessary accompaniment of intellectual refinement. *' Your physical wants," says Shelley, '' are few, whilst those of your mind and heart cannot be num- bered or described, from their multitude and complication. To secure the gratifi- cation of the former, ye have made your- selves the bondslaves of each other." Last, but not least, among these Shelleyan principles which may claim to have been strengthened and not negatived by time, are his humanitarian views, which include and underlie the rest. The crowning word both of his communism and individualism is Love, which is again and again inculcated in his writings as the one supreme remedy for human suffering, the charm without which all else is unavailing and unprofitable. 54 Shelley's Principles. To feel the peace of self-contentment's lot, To own all sympathies and outrage none, And in the inmost bowers of sense and thought, Until life's sunny day is quite gone down, To sit and smile with joy, or, not alone. To kiss salt tears from the worn cheek of woe ; To live as if to love and live were one — This is not faith or law, nor those who bow Tothrones on heaven or earth such destiny may know." ^'To live as if to love and live were one" — that is a true summary of Shel- ley's ethics. In accordance with this spirit of unremitting gentleness, he de- plored the many acts of ferocious bar- barism which disgraced (and in great measure still disgrace) our boasted civil- ization—the savagery of modern warfare, the scarcely less savage competition of commerce, the inhumanities of our penal code, and the legalised murder known as capital punishment. He also followed Godwin in deprecating all Shelley's Principles. 55 insurrectionary violence, and repeatedly inveighed against the wickedness of retaliation. " In recommending a great and important change in the spirit which animates the social institutions of mankind," thus he writes in the preface to Laon and Cythna, " I have avoided all flattery to those violent and mahgnant passions which are ever on the watch to mingle with and to alloy the most beneficial innovations. There is no quarter given to Revenge or Envy, or Prejudice. Love is cele- brated everywhere as the sole law which should govern the moral world." Now other poets have sung, before and after, of humanity and brotherhood ; but there is just this peculiarity about Shelley's method of handling these great themes. He does not, as so many 56 Shelley's Principles. writers have done, sentimentally eulogise these virtues in the abstract, while shutting his eyes to the iniquities per- petrated on ''the lower classes," which, albeit sanctioned by respectability and custom, render real brotherhood impos- sible — on the contrary, he goes to the heart of the matter, and denounces those evils which are the most deadly sources of cruelty and oppression. The true rufhan was to him (I quote his own words) ''the respectable man — the smooth, smiling, polished villain, whom all the city honours, whose very trade is lies and murder ; who buys his daily bread with the blood and tears of men." In similar manner, when touching on our relations with "the lower animals," he did not, like our modern school of sentimentalists, prate of men's benevo- Shelley's Principles. 57 lent feelings towards the objects of their gluttony, and preach peace under con- ditions where peace does not exist, but boldly and consistently arraigned the prime cause of animal suffering, the removal of which must precede the establishment of a genuine human sym- pathy with the lower races. Those who have knowledge of the recent progress of vegetarianism are aware that here too, in his condemnation of flesh-eating, Shelley was a precursor of a vital and growing reform. =^ Shelley's principles, as has now been sufficiently shown, were those of a thorough revolutionist, and it is by * And I would suggest to those who have not any knowledge of the food question that in writing Shelley down a *' sentimentalist," for his " Vindica- tion of Natural Diet." they may perhaps be writing themselves down — something else. 58 Shelley's Principles, principles that a man's character is best understood; immediate pohtics are necessarily of less permanent interest, relating as they do to ephemeral matters which are sooner superseded and for- gotten. It is worth noting, however, that in his practical politics Shelley was very far from being swayed by that irreconcilable fanaticism which is often supposed to be an unfaihng character- istic of enthusiasts, for while always^ maintaining that ** politics are only sound when conducted on principles of morality," he was shrewd enough to see that half a loaf is better than no bread. ** Nothing is more idle," he says in the Philosophical View of Reform^ ''than to reject a limited benefit because we cannot without great sacrifices obtain an unlimited one." "You know," he Shelley's Principles. 59 wrote to Leigh Hunt in i8ig, *' my principles incite me to take all the good I can get in politics, for ever aspiring to something more. I am one of those whom nothing will fully satisfy, but who are ready to be partially satisfied in all that is practicable." That Shelley should, on some subjects, have been over cautious and moderate, may seem surprising; yet it is a fact that he pleaded for slowness and deliberation in cases where the ad- vanced radical opinion of to-day would hardly be so long-suffering. He depre- cated the abolition of the crown and aris- tocracy until " the public mind, through many gradations of improvement, shall have arrived at the maturity which can disregard these symbols of its child- hood." He objected to the ballot as 6o Shelley's Principles, being too mechanical a process of voting. He disapproved of universal suffrage and of female suffrage as ''somewhat imma- ture," though he intimated that he was open to conviction on these points. Nevertheless, the temporary expe- dients which Shelley suggested were sufficiently drastic, when regarded from a purely political standpoint. ''To abolish the national debt; to disband the standing army ; to abolish tithes, due regard being had to vested interests ; to grant complete freedom to thought and its expression ; to render justice cheap, speedy, and secure — these measures, Shelley believed, would together constitute a reform which we might accept as sufficient for a time."* ^ Professor Dowden's epitome of the Philosophical View of Reform, Shelley's Principles. 6i On national questions Shelley's sym- pathies were altogether with the party of freedom, and this not only when the struggle was located abroad, (most poets and men of letters are enthusiastic over insurrections which are comfort- ably remote), but also when it was nearer home, let us say in Ireland, which is sometimes found to be a more searching test of a true passion for freedom. Hellas, the preface and notes of which are scarcely less remarkable for political insight than the poem itself for lyrical splendour, is a proof of Shelley's ardour in the Greek cause. ** The wise and generous policy of England," he writes, *' would have consisted in establishing the independence of Greece, and in maintaining it both against Russia and the Turks; — but 62 Shelley's Principles. when was the oppressor generous or just?" The Dublin pamphlets, immature and almost boyish though they are in some respects, contain some wise forecasts ; and it is noticeable, as Mr. J. A. Symonds says, that '' Catholic Emancipation has since Shelley's day been brought about by the very measure he proposed and under the conditions he foresaw." The Union, again, was declared by Shelley to be a worse evil for Ireland than even the disqualifica- tion of Catholics ; '^ the latter," he said, *' affects few, the former affects thou- sands : the one disqualifies the rich from power, the other impoverishes the pea- sant and adds beggary to the city." Here, too, is Shelley's opinion on the subject of political ** criminals " ; Shelley's Principles. 63 *' Though the Parliament of England were to pass a thousand bills to inflict upon those who determined to utter their thoughts a thousand penalties, it could not render that criminal which was in its nature innocent before the passing of such a bill." After nearly a century of compulsory union and coercive legislation, the wisdom of the view which Shelley intuitively adopted is being slowly and painfully recognised by English politicians. IV. — Shelley's Ideals. HAVE now mentioned certain of Shelley's revolutionary prin- ciples which seem to be already on the road to fulfilment, distant though the goal may still be ; and I have shown that, judged simply by the hard test of history and experience, such principles can no longer be contemptu- ously dismissed as visionary and unsubstantial. But what of those more prophetic yearnings and aspirations — those mystic ideal glimpses into the equal and glorified humanity of the future — which, to those who canunder- 64 Shelley's Ideals. 65 stand and sympathise with Shelley, are the very soul of his creed ? A learned and cultured critic has dogmatically asserted that Shelley's " abstract im- agination set up arbitary monstrosities of ' equality ' and * love,' which never will be realised among the children of men." * But then, by the very nature of the case, it is not to the learned and cultured classes that Shelley's gospel will appeal, but rather to those whose conditions and surroundings have not incapacitated them for that most vital learning and only true culture — a con- ception of the essential equality and brotherhood of mankind. The ideal anarchism of which Shelley IS the herald is a state of equality founded not on the competitive or * Walter Bagehot. 66 Shelley's Principles, baser element of human nature, but on the higher and ultimately more power- ful element, which is love. ** If there be no love among men," he says, ** whatever institutions they may frame must be subservient to the same pur- pose — to the continuance of inequality. The only perfect and genuine republic is that which comprehends every living being." Nor is this beatified republic of Shelley's prophecy to be confined exclusively to the human race ; it is all gentle and loving life, not human life only, that is the theme of his song : '* No longer now the winged inhabitants, That in the woods their sweet lives sing away, Flee from the form of man ; but gather round, And prune their sunny feathers on the hands Which little children stretch in friendly sport Towards these dreadless partners of their play. All things are void of terror ; n:an has lost His terrible prerogative, and stands An equal amidst equals." Shelley's Ideals. 67 The fact that this distant vision of a golden age, of man "equal, unclassed, tribeless and nationless," takes no account of the intervening obstacles between the actual state and the ideal, is by no means a valid proof that the vision is a deceptive one. The traveller who discerns from afar the mountain- top which is the object of his pilgrimage, cannot correctly calculate the many minor ridges, which, though at the moment they make but little show in the landscape, must be laboriously and patiently surmounted before his ambi- tion can be satisfied; he knows that these difficulties are real, but he knows that the summit is real also. It was inevitable that Godwin and Shelley, living before the age of evolu- tionary science, should under-estimate 68 Shelley's Principles. the vast scope and tenacity of heredi- tary forces in the moral, as well as in the physical world, and should be over-sanguine as to the power of in- dividual self- regeneration. But it is an absurd error to suppose that Shelley expected a sudden miraculous change in the nature of man — a sort of cosmic transformation scene, which should usher in the final harlequinade of humanity. It is true that in Laon and Cythna and Prometheus Unbound he used, as he was quite entitled to use, the license of a poet, by concentrating into brief compass a revolution which must have demanded a long period for its accomplishment, little suspecting that his critics would attribute to him the almost incredible folly of a literal belief in the sudden extirpation of evil ; Shelley's Ideals. 69 a misconception which is the more astonishing because his utterances on this point are sufficiently numerous and conclusive. In the Preface to Laon and Cythna itself, he notes, as one of the errors of the French Revolution which should henceforth be avoided, an expectation of *'such a degree of unmingled good as it was impossible to realise," "Can he,'* says Shelley, *' who the day before was a trampled slave, suddenly become liberal-minded, forbearing, and inde- pendent ? . . . . But mankind appear to me to be emerging from their trance. I am aware, methinks, of a slow, gra- dual, silent change. In that belief I have composed the following poem.'* And again, in the Irish pamphlet ; '* we can expect little amendment in our own 70 Shelley's Principles. time, and we must be content to lay the foundation of liberty and happiness by virtue and wisdom." And yet again, in the Philosophical View of Reform ; **it is no matter how slow, gradual, and cautious be the change." There are one or two other prevalent misunderstandings of the Shelleyan ideals which could never have existed if his prose works had been read with any sort of attention, and if critics had taken ordinary trouble to distinguish Shelley the lyric poet and myth-maker from Shelley the philosopher and essayist. It has been assumed, on the strength of passages in Queen Mab and elsewhere, that he literally believed in a past golden age, from which Man, the one outcast of Nature, had miser- ably fallen ; whereas in the Essay on Shelley's Ideals. 71 Christianity he expressly declares that this notion, though ideahsed by poets, is ** philosophically false." ** Later and more correct observa- tions," he says, '* have instructed us that uncivilised man is the most per- nicious and miserable of beings, and that the violence and injustice, which are the genuine indications of real in- equality, obtain in the society of these beings without palliation. . . . Man was once as a wild beast ; he has become a moralist, a metaphysician, a poet, and an astronomer." Surely, with this passage in evidence, it should be im- possible to misapprehend Shelley's position on this point. Then, again, as regards the external origin of evil, let us beware of a too literal interpretation of passages which 72 Shelley's Principles. are by their very nature poetical. Shelley delights to personify the Mani- chsean doctrine of a good and an evil spirit, under the forms of the serpent and the eagle, Prometheus and Jupiter; but we shall do him gross injustice if we suppose him unaware of the subtle mixture of the two elements in the human mind — to quote his own words, of '*that intertexture of good and evil with which Nature seems to have clothed every form of individual ex- istence." Still less is it the case, that he re- garded kings and priests as the origi- nators of human wretchedness, however deliberately he might charge them with fostering and perpetuating it. * * Govern- ment," he distinctly says, ** is in fact the mere badge of men's depravity. Shelley's Ideals. 73 They are so little aware of the inestim- able benefits of mutual love as to in- dulge, without thought and almost without motive, in the worst excesses of selfishness and malice. Hence, without graduating human society into a scale of empire and subjection, its very existence has become impossible."* That Shelley had a hearty detestation of priestcratt and kingship, as types of intellectual and temporal despotism, is beyond doubt ; but he was not moved against them by any such unreasoning antipathy as that with which he is often accredited. The truth is, that so far from being, as his apologists have represented him, at once the advocate and the victim of certain benevolent but illusory ideas, * Essay on Christianity. 74 Shelley's Prijtciples. which fall to pieces the moment they are brought into contact with the facts of science, Shelley was well in accord with the most advanced knowledge of his age. The doctrine of Perfectibility is an assertion not of a future sudden perfection, but of the unlimited pro- gressive tendency of mankind, and, as such, is distinctly a scientific doctrine. It has been excellently said* that " by instinct, intuition, whatever we have to call that fine faculty that feels truths before they are put into definite shape, Shelley was an evolutionist. He trans- lated into his own pantheistic language the doctrine of the eternity of matter and the eternity of motion, of the in- finite transformation of the different -'' " Shelley and Socialism," by Edward and Eleanor Marx Aveling, To-Day, April 1888. Shelley's Ideals. 75 forms of matter into each other, with- out any creation or destruction of either matter or motion." It is certain that the same testimony could not be paid, with equal truth, to the writings of any other poet of the first twenty years of .this century. V. — Conclusion and Forecast. E have now seen what were in fact Shelley's ideals, as con- trasted with the imaginary absurdities which critics have invented for him, to the utter distortion of his views and to their own exceeding be- wilderment ; we have seen also how marked has been the progress made by these Shelleyan opinions since the time when a contemporary reviewer pro- nounced Prometheus Unbound, the poem which we now begin to recognise as the great modern epic of humanity, to be the " stupid trash of a delirious 76 Conclusion and Forecast. 77 dreamer," and accounted for the severity of this judgment by remarking that it was ''for the advantage of steding productions to discourage counterfeits." Shelley was heart and soul a free- thinker ; and free-thought is now in the ascendant wherever men think at all. He was an advocate of free love ; and the failure of marriage has become a common-place of journalists and novel-writers. He was a pioneer of communism; and the vast spread of socialist doctrines is the every-day complaint of a capitalist press. He was a humanitarian ; and humani- tarianism, having survived the phase of ridicule and misrepresentation, is taking its place among the chief motive- powers of civilised society. 78 Shelley's Principles. Of Shelley's personal character I have said little, and only this much shall now be said — that the increasing in- fluence which it has exercised on succes- sive generations of readers tells its own tale. If certain critics cannot under- stand the unspeakable charm which others have felt so keenly, a charm which for some of us has sweetened life and strengthened all our hopes for mankind, they will perhaps do wisely not to proclaim their own deficiencies by declaring Shelley to be unintelligible. To the sympathetic reader, Shelley's moral nature is as little an enigma as his writings ; to the unsympathetic it is very enigmatical indeed ; but it does not follow that Shelley is the party to be commiserated on that account — there is an alternative which the hos- Conclusion and Forecast. 79 tile critic should introspectively ponder before pronouncing adverse judgment on the accused poet. I do not of course mean to suggest that Shelley was a faultless being (to mention one obvious reason to the con- trary, he was unfortunate enough to be brought up in affluence and saved the necessity of earning his own living), or that it is desirable that anybody should pay him unwilling homage. I merely point out that his character is a typical one — typical of certain revolutionary conceptions by the rightness or wrong- ness of which it will ultimately stand or fall. The present course of events seems to indicate the probability of the former conclusion. For all which reasons, is it not about time that we finally divested ourselves 8o Shelley's Principles of the notion of that weak, amiable, unscientific Shelley, that brilliant but eccentric visionary, with an exalted enthusiasm, a genius for lyric poetry, and a foolish aversion to priests and kings ? The view each generation takes of a revolutionary writer is in- evitably formed and coloured in great measure by the ethical and religious convictions prevalent for the time being. By the old-fashioned, uncom- promising, brutal Toryism of seventy years back, a poet like Shelley could hardly have been regarded otherwise than as the foe of all that is respectable, the ''fiend-writer" to whom con- temporary critics ascribed a super- human malignity. To the milder-mannered, but some- what inconsistent and invertebrate Conclusion and Forecast. 8i Liberalism of the succeeding transi- tional period, he became a grotesque mixture of good and evil qualities ; no longer a demon downright, but a semi- celestial nondescript, " a beautiful but ineffectual angel, beating in the void his luminous wings in vain." By the full-fledged democracy of the socialised republic on whose threshold we now stand, he will at length be seen in his true human character, as the inspired prophet of a larger, saner morality, which will bring with it the realisation of the equality and freedom to which his whole life was so faithfully and ungrudingly devoted. And as for the years, or may be the centuries, innumerable but not illimit- able, that must still elapse, before the world shall see the fulfilment of those 82 Shelley's Principles. remoter Shelleyan ideals, of that splendid vision of the ultimate regene- ration of mankind — does it behove us to be despondent ? Must we not rather say of them, in the v^ords of Prometheus himself, "Perchance no thought can count them, yet they pass." Printed by William Reeves, 185, Fleet Street, London, EC. WORKS BY HENRY S. SALT. A SHELLEY PRIMER, 1887, 2/6, Reeves & Turner. "Mr. Salt shows critical judgrr ent in the way he analyses the component elements of imaginati:n and intellect which went to form Shelley's genius." — Athcnceuvi, PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY, A MONOGRAPH, 1888 2/6, Swan Sonnenschein. "A thoughtful and really service.xble essay, written from the point ot view of intimate sympathy with the poet's doctrines and personal character." — Athenceum. " Blasphemous drivel." — Catholi: paper. GODWIN'S POLITICAL fUSTICE, the Essay on Property, Edited by H. S. Salt, 1890, 2/6, Swan Sonnenschein. " Few, very few, are the people A-ho are likely to read Political Justice as a whole now. But anybody who has any interest in political things may be expected to read a book which is of the size and shape of an ordinary ' series ' book." — Satwday Review. THE LIFE OF JAMES THOMSON. "B.V." 1889 7/6, Reeves & Turner. "As a critic of life we think Mr. Salt even less successful than as a critic of literature." — Saturday Review. THE LIFE OF HENRY D. THOREAU, 1890, 14/- Richard Bentley & Son. " Ample room was left for a capable writer who could sympathise and yet discriminate, who would patiently search out details, and give unity by deep penetration to the springs of character and motive. It is not too much to say that Mr. Salt has done this."— Spectator. THOREAU'S ANTI-SLAVERY AND REFORM PAPERS, Edited by H. S. Salt, 1890, 2/6, Swan Sonnenschein. 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