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Notes to The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley by Mary W. Shelley

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Produced by Sue Asscher







Obstacles have long existed to my presenting the public with a perfect
edition of Shelley's Poems. These being at last happily removed, I
hasten to fulfil an important duty,--that of giving the productions of a
sublime genius to the world, with all the correctness possible, and of,
at the same time, detailing the history of those productions, as they
sprang, living and warm, from his heart and brain. I abstain from any
remark on the occurrences of his private life, except inasmuch as the
passions which they engendered inspired his poetry. This is not the time
to relate the truth; and I should reject any colouring of the truth. No
account of these events has ever been given at all approaching reality
in their details, either as regards himself or others; nor shall I
further allude to them than to remark that the errors of action
committed by a man as noble and generous as Shelley, may, as far as he
only is concerned, be fearlessly avowed by those who loved him, in the
firm conviction that, were they judged impartially, his character would
stand in fairer and brighter light than that of any contemporary.
Whatever faults he had ought to find extenuation among his fellows,
since they prove him to be human; without them, the exalted nature of
his soul would have raised him into something divine.

The qualities that struck any one newly introduced to Shelley
were,--First, a gentle and cordial goodness that animated his
intercourse with warm affection and helpful sympathy. The other, the
eagerness and ardour with which he was attached to the cause of human
happiness and improvement; and the fervent eloquence with which he
discussed such subjects. His conversation was marked by its happy
abundance, and the beautiful language in which he clothed his poetic
ideas and philosophical notions. To defecate life of its misery and its
evil was the ruling passion of his soul; he dedicated to it every power
of his mind, every pulsation of his heart. He looked on political
freedom as the direct agent to effect the happiness of mankind; and thus
any new-sprung hope of liberty inspired a joy and an exultation more
intense and wild than he could have felt for any personal advantage.
Those who have never experienced the workings of passion on general and
unselfish subjects cannot understand this; and it must be difficult of
comprehension to the younger generation rising around, since they cannot
remember the scorn and hatred with which the partisans of reform were
regarded some few years ago, nor the persecutions to which they were
exposed. He had been from youth the victim of the state of feeling
inspired by the reaction of the French Revolution; and believing firmly
in the justice and excellence of his views, it cannot be wondered that a
nature as sensitive, as impetuous, and as generous as his, should put
its whole force into the attempt to alleviate for others the evils of
those systems from which he had himself suffered. Many advantages
attended his birth; he spurned them all when balanced with what he
considered his duties. He was generous to imprudence, devoted to

These characteristics breathe throughout his poetry. The struggle for
human weal; the resolution firm to martyrdom; the impetuous pursuit, the
glad triumph in good; the determination not to despair; --such were the
features that marked those of his works which he regarded with most
complacency, as sustained by a lofty subject and useful aim.

In addition to these, his poems may be divided into two classes,--the
purely imaginative, and those which sprang from the emotions of his
heart. Among the former may be classed the "Witch of Atlas", "Adonais",
and his latest composition, left imperfect, the "Triumph of Life". In
the first of these particularly he gave the reins to his fancy, and
luxuriated in every idea as it rose; in all there is that sense of
mystery which formed an essential portion of his perception of life--a
clinging to the subtler inner spirit, rather than to the outward form--a
curious and metaphysical anatomy of human passion and perception.

The second class is, of course, the more popular, as appealing at once
to emotions common to us all; some of these rest on the passion of love;
others on grief and despondency; others on the sentiments inspired by
natural objects. Shelley's conception of love was exalted, absorbing,
allied to all that is purest and noblest in our nature, and warmed by
earnest passion; such it appears when he gave it a voice in verse. Yet
he was usually averse to expressing these feelings, except when highly
idealized; and many of his more beautiful effusions he had cast aside
unfinished, and they were never seen by me till after I had lost him.
Others, as for instance "Rosalind and Helen" and "Lines written among
the Euganean Hills", I found among his papers by chance; and with some
difficulty urged him to complete them. There are others, such as the
"Ode to the Skylark and The Cloud", which, in the opinion of many
critics, bear a purer poetical stamp than any other of his productions.
They were written as his mind prompted: listening to the carolling of
the bird, aloft in the azure sky of Italy; or marking the cloud as it
sped across the heavens, while he floated in his boat on the Thames.

No poet was ever warmed by a more genuine and unforced inspiration. His
extreme sensibility gave the intensity of passion to his intellectual
pursuits; and rendered his mind keenly alive to every perception of
outward objects, as well as to his internal sensations. Such a gift is,
among the sad vicissitudes of human life, the disappointments we meet,
and the galling sense of our own mistakes and errors, fraught with pain;
to escape from such, he delivered up his soul to poetry, and felt happy
when he sheltered himself, from the influence of human sympathies, in
the wildest regions of fancy. His imagination has been termed too
brilliant, his thoughts too subtle. He loved to idealize reality; and
this is a taste shared by few. We are willing to have our passing whims
exalted into passions, for this gratifies our vanity; but few of us
understand or sympathize with the endeavour to ally the love of abstract
beauty, and adoration of abstract good, the to agathon kai to kalon of
the Socratic philosophers, with our sympathies with our kind. In this,
Shelley resembled Plato; both taking more delight in the abstract and
the ideal than in the special and tangible. This did not result from
imitation; for it was not till Shelley resided in Italy that he made
Plato his study. He then translated his "Symposium" and his "Ion"; and
the English language boasts of no more brilliant composition than
Plato's Praise of Love translated by Shelley. To return to his own
poetry. The luxury of imagination, which sought nothing beyond itself
(as a child burdens itself with spring flowers, thinking of no use
beyond the enjoyment of gathering them), often showed itself in his
verses: they will be only appreciated by minds which have resemblance to
his own; and the mystic subtlety of many of his thoughts will share the
same fate. The metaphysical strain that characterizes much of what he
has written was, indeed, the portion of his works to which, apart from
those whose scope was to awaken mankind to aspirations for what he
considered the true and good, he was himself particularly attached.
There is much, however, that speaks to the many. When he would consent
to dismiss these huntings after the obscure (which, entwined with his
nature as they were, he did with difficulty), no poet ever expressed in
sweeter, more heart-reaching, or more passionate verse, the gentler or
more forcible emotions of the soul.

A wise friend once wrote to Shelley: 'You are still very young, and in
certain essential respects you do not yet sufficiently perceive that you
are so.' It is seldom that the young know what youth is, till they have
got beyond its period; and time was not given him to attain this
knowledge. It must be remembered that there is the stamp of such
inexperience on all he wrote; he had not completed his
nine-and-twentieth year when he died. The calm of middle life did not
add the seal of the virtues which adorn maturity to those generated by
the vehement spirit of youth. Through life also he was a martyr to
ill-health, and constant pain wound up his nerves to a pitch of
susceptibility that rendered his views of life different from those of a
man in the enjoyment of healthy sensations. Perfectly gentle and
forbearing in manner, he suffered a good deal of internal irritability,
or rather excitement, and his fortitude to bear was almost always on the
stretch; and thus, during a short life, he had gone through more
experience of sensation than many whose existence is protracted. 'If I
die to-morrow,' he said, on the eve of his unanticipated death, 'I have
lived to be older than my father.' The weight of thought and feeling
burdened him heavily; you read his sufferings in his attenuated frame,
while you perceived the mastery he held over them in his animated
countenance and brilliant eyes.

He died, and the world showed no outward sign. But his influence over
mankind, though slow in growth, is fast augmenting; and, in the
ameliorations that have taken place in the political state of his
country, we may trace in part the operation of his arduous struggles.
His spirit gathers peace in its new state from the sense that, though
late, his exertions were not made in vain, and in the progress of the
liberty he so fondly loved.

He died, and his place, among those who knew him intimately, has never
been filled up. He walked beside them like a spirit of good to comfort
and benefit--to enlighten the darkness of life with irradiations of
genius, to cheer it with his sympathy and love. Any one, once attached
to Shelley, must feel all other affections, however true and fond, as
wasted on barren soil in comparison. It is our best consolation to know
that such a pure-minded and exalted being was once among us, and now
exists where we hope one day to join him; -- although the intolerant, in
their blindness, poured down anathemas, the Spirit of Good, who can
judge the heart, never rejected him.

In the notes appended to the poems I have endeavoured to narrate the
origin and history of each. The loss of nearly all letters and papers
which refer to his early life renders the execution more imperfect than
it would otherwise have been. I have, however, the liveliest
recollection of all that was done and said during the period of my
knowing him. Every impression is as clear as if stamped yesterday, and I
have no apprehension of any mistake in my statements as far as they go.
In other respects I am indeed incompetent: but I feel the importance of
the task, and regard it as my most sacred duty. I endeavour to fulfil it
in a manner he would himself approve; and hope, in this publication, to
lay the first stone of a monument due to Shelley's genius, his
sufferings, and his virtues:--

Se al seguir son tarda,
Forse avverra che 'l bel nome gentile
Consacrero con questa stanca penna.


In revising this new edition, and carefully consulting Shelley's
scattered and confused papers, I found a few fragments which had
hitherto escaped me, and was enabled to complete a few poems hitherto
left unfinished. What at one time escapes the searching eye, dimmed by
its own earnestness, becomes clear at a future period. By the aid of a
friend, I also present some poems complete and correct which hitherto
have been defaced by various mistakes and omissions. It was suggested
that the poem "To the Queen of my Heart" was falsely attributed to
Shelley. I certainly find no trace of it among his papers; and, as those
of his intimate friends whom I have consulted never heard of it, I omit

Two poems are added of some length, "Swellfoot the Tyrant" and "Peter
Bell the Third". I have mentioned the circumstances under which they
were written in the notes; and need only add that they are conceived in
a very different spirit from Shelley's usual compositions. They are
specimens of the burlesque and fanciful; but, although they adopt a
familiar style and homely imagery, there shine through the radiance of
the poet's imagination the earnest views and opinions of the politician
and the moralist.

At my request the publisher has restored the omitted passages of "Queen
Mab". I now present this edition as a complete collection of my
husband's poetical works, and I do not foresee that I can hereafter add
to or take away a word or line.

Putney, November 6, 1839.



In nobil sangue vita umile e queta,
Ed in alto intelletto un puro core
Frutto senile in sul giovenil fibre,
E in aspetto pensoso anima lieta.--PETRARCA.

It had been my wish, on presenting the public with the Posthumous Poems
of Mr. Shelley, to have accompanied them by a biographical notice; as it
appeared to me that at this moment a narration of the events of my
husband's life would come more gracefully from other hands than mine, I
applied to Mr. Leigh Hunt. The distinguished friendship that Mr. Shelley
felt for him, and the enthusiastic affection with which Mr. Leigh Hunt
clings to his friend's memory, seemed to point him out as the person
best calculated for such an undertaking. His absence from this country,
which prevented our mutual explanation, has unfortunately rendered my
scheme abortive. I do not doubt but that on some other occasion he will
pay this tribute to his lost friend, and sincerely regret that the
volume which I edit has not been honoured by its insertion.

The comparative solitude in which Mr. Shelley lived was the occasion
that he was personally known to few; and his fearless enthusiasm in the
cause which he considered the most sacred upon earth, the improvement of
the moral and physical state of mankind, was the chief reason why he,
like other illustrious reformers, was pursued by hatred and calumny. No
man was ever more devoted than he to the endeavour of making those
around him happy; no man ever possessed friends more unfeignedly
attached to him. The ungrateful world did not feel his loss, and the gap
it made seemed to close as quickly over his memory as the murderous sea
above his living frame. Hereafter men will lament that his transcendent
powers of intellect were extinguished before they had bestowed on them
their choicest treasures. To his friends his loss is irremediable: the
wise, the brave, the gentle, is gone for ever! He is to them as a bright
vision, whose radiant track, left behind in the memory, is worth all the
realities that society can afford. Before the critics contradict me, let
them appeal to any one who had ever known him. To see him was to love
him: and his presence, like Ithuriel's spear, was alone sufficient to
disclose the falsehood of the tale which his enemies whispered in the
ear of the ignorant world.

His life was spent in the contemplation of Nature, in arduous study, or
in acts of kindness and affection. He was an elegant scholar and a
profound metaphysician; without possessing much scientific knowledge, he
was unrivalled in the justness and extent of his observations on natural
objects; he knew every plant by its name, and was familiar with the
history and habits of every production of the earth; he could interpret
without a fault each appearance in the sky; and the varied phenomena of
heaven and earth filled him with deep emotion. He made his study and
reading-room of the shadowed copse, the stream, the lake, and the
waterfall. Ill health and continual pain preyed upon his powers; and the
solitude in which we lived, particularly on our first arrival in Italy,
although congenial to his feelings, must frequently have weighed upon
his spirits; those beautiful and affecting "Lines written in Dejection
near Naples" were composed at such an interval; but, when in health, his
spirits were buoyant and youthful to an extraordinary degree.

Such was his love for Nature that every page of his poetry is
associated, in the minds of his friends, with the loveliest scenes of
the countries which he inhabited. In early life he visited the most
beautiful parts of this country and Ireland. Afterwards the Alps of
Switzerland became his inspirers. "Prometheus Unbound" was written among
the deserted and flower-grown ruins of Rome; and, when he made his home
under the Pisan hills, their roofless recesses harboured him as he
composed the "Witch of Atlas", "Adonais", and "Hellas". In the wild but
beautiful Bay of Spezzia, the winds and waves which he loved became his
playmates. His days were chiefly spent on the water; the management of
his boat, its alterations and improvements, were his principal
occupation. At night, when the unclouded moon shone on the calm sea, he
often went alone in his little shallop to the rocky caves that bordered
it, and, sitting beneath their shelter, wrote the "Triumph of Life", the
last of his productions. The beauty but strangeness of this lonely
place, the refined pleasure which he felt in the companionship of a few
selected friends, our entire sequestration from the rest of the world,
all contributed to render this period of his life one of continued
enjoyment. I am convinced that the two months we passed there were the
happiest which he had ever known: his health even rapidly improved, and
he was never better than when I last saw him, full of spirits and joy,
embark for Leghorn, that he might there welcome Leigh Hunt to Italy. I
was to have accompanied him; but illness confined me to my room, and
thus put the seal on my misfortune. His vessel bore out of sight with a
favourable wind, and I remained awaiting his return by the breakers of
that sea which was about to engulf him.

He spent a week at Pisa, employed in kind offices toward his friend, and
enjoying with keen delight the renewal of their intercourse. He then
embarked with Mr. Williams, the chosen and beloved sharer of his
pleasures and of his fate, to return to us. We waited for them in vain;
the sea by its restless moaning seemed to desire to inform us of what we
would not learn:--but a veil may well be drawn over such misery. The
real anguish of those moments transcended all the fictions that the most
glowing imagination ever portrayed; our seclusion, the savage nature of
the inhabitants of the surrounding villages, and our immediate vicinity
to the troubled sea, combined to imbue with strange horror our days of
uncertainty. The truth was at last known,--a truth that made our loved
and lovely Italy appear a tomb, its sky a pall. Every heart echoed the
deep lament, and my only consolation was in the praise and earnest love
that each voice bestowed and each countenance demonstrated for him we
had lost,--not, I fondly hope, for ever; his unearthly and elevated
nature is a pledge of the continuation of his being, although in an
altered form. Rome received his ashes; they are deposited beneath its
weed-grown wall, and 'the world's sole monument' is enriched by his

I must add a few words concerning the contents of this volume. "Julian
and Maddalo", the "Witch of Atlas", and most of the "Translations", were
written some years ago; and, with the exception of the "Cyclops", and
the Scenes from the "Magico Prodigioso", may be considered as having
received the author's ultimate corrections. The "Triumph of Life" was
his last work, and was left in so unfinished a state that I arranged it
in its present form with great difficulty. All his poems which were
scattered in periodical works are collected in this volume, and I have
added a reprint of "Alastor, or the Spirit of Solitude": the difficulty
with which a copy can be obtained is the cause of its republication.
Many of the Miscellaneous Poems, written on the spur of the occasion,
and never retouched, I found among his manuscript books, and have
carefully copied. I have subjoined, whenever I have been able, the date
of their composition.

I do not know whether the critics will reprehend the insertion of some
of the most imperfect among them; but I frankly own that I have been
more actuated by the fear lest any monument of his genius should escape
me than the wish of presenting nothing but what was complete to the
fastidious reader. I feel secure that the lovers of Shelley's poetry
(who know how, more than any poet of the present day, every line and
word he wrote is instinct with peculiar beauty) will pardon and thank
me: I consecrate this volume to them.

The size of this collection has prevented the insertion of any prose
pieces. They will hereafter appear in a separate publication.


London, June 1, 1824.


Shelley was eighteen when he wrote "Queen Mab"; he never published it.
When it was written, he had come to the decision that he was too young
to be a 'judge of controversies'; and he was desirous of acquiring 'that
sobriety of spirit which is the characteristic of true heroism.' But he
never doubted the truth or utility of his opinions; and, in printing and
privately distributing "Queen Mab", he believed that he should further
their dissemination, without occasioning the mischief either to others
or himself that might arise from publication. It is doubtful whether he
would himself have admitted it into a collection of his works. His
severe classical taste, refined by the constant study of the Greek
poets, might have discovered defects that escape the ordinary reader;
and the change his opinions underwent in many points would have
prevented him from putting forth the speculations of his boyish days.
But the poem is too beautiful in itself, and far too remarkable as the
production of a boy of eighteen, to allow of its being passed over:
besides that, having been frequently reprinted, the omission would be
vain. In the former edition certain portions were left out, as shocking
the general reader from the violence of their attack on religion. I
myself had a painful feeling that such erasures might be looked upon as
a mark of disrespect towards the author, and am glad to have the
opportunity of restoring them. The notes also are reprinted entire--not
because they are models of reasoning or lessons of truth, but because
Shelley wrote them, and that all that a man at once so distinguished and
so excellent ever did deserves to be preserved. The alterations his
opinions underwent ought to be recorded, for they form his history.

A series of articles was published in the "New Monthly Magazine" during
the autumn of the year 1832, written by a man of great talent, a
fellow-collegian and warm friend of Shelley: they describe admirably the
state of his mind during his collegiate life. Inspired with ardour for
the acquisition of knowledge, endowed with the keenest sensibility and
with the fortitude of a martyr, Shelley came among his fellow-creatures,
congregated for the purposes of education, like a spirit from another
sphere; too delicately organized for the rough treatment man uses
towards man, especially in the season of youth, and too resolute in
carrying out his own sense of good and justice, not to become a victim.
To a devoted attachment to those he loved he added a determined
resistance to oppression. Refusing to fag at Eton, he was treated with
revolting cruelty by masters and boys: this roused instead of taming his
spirit, and he rejected the duty of obedience when it was enforced by
menaces and punishment. To aversion to the society of his
fellow-creatures, such as he found them when collected together in
societies, where one egged on the other to acts of tyranny, was joined
the deepest sympathy and compassion; while the attachment he felt for
individuals, and the admiration with which he regarded their powers and
their virtues, led him to entertain a high opinion of the perfectibility
of human nature; and he believed that all could reach the highest grade
of moral improvement, did not the customs and prejudices of society
foster evil passions and excuse evil actions.

The oppression which, trembling at every nerve yet resolute to heroism,
it was his ill-fortune to encounter at school and at college, led him to
dissent in all things from those whose arguments were blows, whose faith
appeared to engender blame and hatred. 'During my existence,' he wrote
to a friend in 1812, 'I have incessantly speculated, thought, and read.'
His readings were not always well chosen; among them were the works of
the French philosophers: as far as metaphysical argument went, he
temporarily became a convert. At the same time, it was the cardinal
article of his faith that, if men were but taught and induced to treat
their fellows with love, charity, and equal rights, this earth would
realize paradise. He looked upon religion, as it is professed, and above
all practised, as hostile instead of friendly to the cultivation of
those virtues which would make men brothers.

Can this be wondered at? At the age of seventeen, fragile in health and
frame, of the purest habits in morals, full of devoted generosity and
universal kindness, glowing with ardour to attain wisdom, resolved at
every personal sacrifice to do right, burning with a desire for
affection and sympathy,--he was treated as a reprobate, cast forth as a

The cause was that he was sincere; that he believed the opinions which
he entertained to be true. And he loved truth with a martyr's love; he
was ready to sacrifice station and fortune, and his dearest affections,
at its shrine. The sacrifice was demanded from, and made by, a youth of
seventeen. It is a singular fact in the history of society in the
civilized nations of modern times that no false step is so irretrievable
as one made in early youth. Older men, it is true, when they oppose
their fellows and transgress ordinary rules, carry a certain prudence or
hypocrisy as a shield along with them. But youth is rash; nor can it
imagine, while asserting what it believes to be true, and doing what it
believes to be right, that it should be denounced as vicious, and
pursued as a criminal.

Shelley possessed a quality of mind which experience has shown me to be
of the rarest occurrence among human beings: this was his UNWORLDLINESS.
The usual motives that rule men, prospects of present or future
advantage, the rank and fortune of those around, the taunts and
censures, or the praise, of those who were hostile to him, had no
influence whatever over his actions, and apparently none over his
thoughts. It is difficult even to express the simplicity and directness
of purpose that adorned him. Some few might be found in the history of
mankind, and some one at least among his own friends, equally
disinterested and scornful, even to severe personal sacrifices, of every
baser motive. But no one, I believe, ever joined this noble but passive
virtue to equal active endeavours for the benefit of his friends and
mankind in general, and to equal power to produce the advantages he
desired. The world's brightest gauds and its most solid advantages were
of no worth in his eyes, when compared to the cause of what he
considered truth, and the good of his fellow-creatures. Born in a
position which, to his inexperienced mind, afforded the greatest
facilities to practise the tenets he espoused, he boldly declared the
use he would make of fortune and station, and enjoyed the belief that he
should materially benefit his fellow-creatures by his actions; while,
conscious of surpassing powers of reason and imagination, it is not
strange that he should, even while so young, have believed that his
written thoughts would tend to disseminate opinions which he believed
conducive to the happiness of the human race.

If man were a creature devoid of passion, he might have said and done
all this with quietness. But he was too enthusiastic, and too full of
hatred of all the ills he witnessed, not to scorn danger. Various
disappointments tortured, but could not tame, his soul. The more enmity
he met, the more earnestly he became attached to his peculiar views, and
hostile to those of the men who persecuted him.

He was animated to greater zeal by compassion for his fellow-creatures.
His sympathy was excited by the misery with which the world is burning.
He witnessed the sufferings of the poor, and was aware of the evils of
ignorance. He desired to induce every rich man to despoil himself of
superfluity, and to create a brotherhood of property and service, and
was ready to be the first to lay down the advantages of his birth. He
was of too uncompromising a disposition to join any party. He did not in
his youth look forward to gradual improvement: nay, in those days of
intolerance, now almost forgotten, it seemed as easy to look forward to
the sort of millennium of freedom and brotherhood which he thought the
proper state of mankind as to the present reign of moderation and
improvement. Ill-health made him believe that his race would soon be
run; that a year or two was all he had of life. He desired that these
years should be useful and illustrious. He saw, in a fervent call on his
fellow-creatures to share alike the blessings of the creation, to love
and serve each other, the noblest work that life and time permitted him.
In this spirit he composed "Queen Mab".

He was a lover of the wonderful and wild in literature, but had not
fostered these tastes at their genuine sources--the romances and
chivalry of the middle ages--but in the perusal of such German works as
were current in those days. Under the influence of these he, at the age
of fifteen, wrote two short prose romances of slender merit. The
sentiments and language were exaggerated, the composition imitative and
poor. He wrote also a poem on the subject of Ahasuerus--being led to it
by a German fragment he picked up, dirty and torn, in Lincoln's Inn
Fields. This fell afterwards into other hands, and was considerably
altered before it was printed. Our earlier English poetry was almost
unknown to him. The love and knowledge of Nature developed by
Wordsworth--the lofty melody and mysterious beauty of Coleridge's
poetry--and the wild fantastic machinery and gorgeous scenery adopted by
Southey--composed his favourite reading; the rhythm of "Queen Mab" was
founded on that of "Thalaba", and the first few lines bear a striking
resemblance in spirit, though not in idea, to the opening of that poem.
His fertile imagination, and ear tuned to the finest sense of harmony,
preserved him from imitation. Another of his favourite books was the
poem of "Gebir" by Walter Savage Landor. From his boyhood he had a
wonderful facility of versification, which he carried into another
language; and his Latin school-verses were composed with an ease and
correctness that procured for him prizes, and caused him to be resorted
to by all his friends for help. He was, at the period of writing "Queen
Mab", a great traveller within the limits of England, Scotland, and
Ireland. His time was spent among the loveliest scenes of these
countries. Mountain and lake and forest were his home; the phenomena of
Nature were his favourite study. He loved to inquire into their causes,
and was addicted to pursuits of natural philosophy and chemistry, as far
as they could be carried on as an amusement. These tastes gave truth and
vivacity to his descriptions, and warmed his soul with that deep
admiration for the wonders of Nature which constant association with her

He never intended to publish "Queen Mab" as it stands; but a few years
after, when printing "Alastor", he extracted a small portion which he
entitled "The Daemon of the World". In this he changed somewhat the
versification, and made other alterations scarcely to be called

Some years after, when in Italy, a bookseller published an edition of
"Queen Mab" as it originally stood. Shelley was hastily written to by
his friends, under the idea that, deeply injurious as the mere
distribution of the poem had proved, the publication might awaken fresh
persecutions. At the suggestion of these friends he wrote a letter on
the subject, printed in the "Examiner" newspaper--with which I close
this history of his earliest work.



'Having heard that a poem entitled "Queen Mab" has been surreptitiously
published in London, and that legal proceedings have been instituted
against the publisher, I request the favour of your insertion of the
following explanation of the affair, as it relates to me.

'A poem entitled "Queen Mab" was written by me at the age of eighteen, I
daresay in a sufficiently intemperate spirit--but even then was not
intended for publication, and a few copies only were struck off, to be
distributed among my personal friends. I have not seen this production
for several years. I doubt not but that it is perfectly worthless in
point of literary composition; and that, in all that concerns moral and
political speculation, as well as in the subtler discriminations of
metaphysical and religious doctrine, it is still more crude and
immature. I am a devoted enemy to religious, political, and domestic
oppression; and I regret this publication, not so much from literary
vanity, as because I fear it is better fitted to injure than to serve
the sacred cause of freedom. I have directed my solicitor to apply to
Chancery for an injunction to restrain the sale; but, after the
precedent of Mr. Southey's "Wat Tyler" (a poem written, I believe, at
the same age, and with the same unreflecting enthusiasm), with little
hope of success.

'Whilst I exonerate myself from all share in having divulged opinions
hostile to existing sanctions, under the form, whatever it may be, which
they assume in this poem, it is scarcely necessary for me to protest
against the system of inculcating the truth of Christianity or the
excellence of Monarchy, however true or however excellent they may be,
by such equivocal arguments as confiscation and imprisonment, and
invective and slander, and the insolent violation of the most sacred
ties of Nature and society.


'I am your obliged and obedient servant,


'Pisa, June 22, 1821.'


"Alastor" is written in a very different tone from "Queen Mab". In the
latter, Shelley poured out all the cherished speculations of his
youth--all the irrepressible emotions of sympathy, censure, and hope, to
which the present suffering, and what he considers the proper destiny of
his fellow-creatures, gave birth. "Alastor", on the contrary, contains
an individual interest only. A very few years, with their attendant
events, had checked the ardour of Shelley's hopes, though he still
thought them well-grounded, and that to advance their fulfilment was the
noblest task man could achieve.

This is neither the time nor place to speak of the misfortunes that
chequered his life. It will be sufficient to say that, in all he did, he
at the time of doing it believed himself justified to his own
conscience; while the various ills of poverty and loss of friends
brought home to him the sad realities of life. Physical suffering had
also considerable influence in causing him to turn his eyes inward;
inclining him rather to brood over the thoughts and emotions of his own
soul than to glance abroad, and to make, as in "Queen Mab", the whole
universe the object and subject of his song. In the Spring of
1815, an eminent physician pronounced that he was dying rapidly of a
consumption; abscesses were formed on his lungs, and he suffered acute
spasms. Suddenly a complete change took place; and though through life
he was a martyr to pain and debility, every symptom of pulmonary disease
vanished. His nerves, which nature had formed sensitive to an unexampled
degree, were rendered still more susceptible by the state of his health.

As soon as the peace of 1814 had opened the Continent, he went abroad.
He visited some of the more magnificent scenes of Switzerland, and
returned to England from Lucerne, by the Reuss and the Rhine. The
river-navigation enchanted him. In his favourite poem of "Thalaba", his
imagination had been excited by a description of such a voyage. In the
summer of 1815, after a tour along the southern coast of Devonshire and
a visit to Clifton, he rented a house on Bishopsgate Heath, on the
borders of Windsor Forest, where he enjoyed several months of
comparative health and tranquil happiness. The later summer months were
warm and dry. Accompanied by a few friends, he visited the source of the
Thames, making a voyage in a wherry from Windsor to Crichlade. His
beautiful stanzas in the churchyard of Lechlade were written on that
occasion. "Alastor" was composed on his return. He spent his days under
the oak-shades of Windsor Great Park; and the magnificent woodland was a
fitting study to inspire the various descriptions of forest scenery we
find in the poem.

None of Shelley's poems is more characteristic than this. The solemn
spirit that reigns throughout, the worship of the majesty of nature, the
broodings of a poet's heart in solitude--the mingling of the exulting
joy which the various aspects of the visible universe inspires with the
sad and struggling pangs which human passion imparts--give a touching
interest to the whole. The death which he had often contemplated during
the last months as certain and near he here represented in such colours
as had, in his lonely musings, soothed his soul to peace. The
versification sustains the solemn spirit which breathes throughout: it
is peculiarly melodious. The poem ought rather to be considered didactic
than narrative: it was the outpouring of his own emotions, embodied in
the purest form he could conceive, painted in the ideal hues which his
brilliant imagination inspired, and softened by the recent anticipation
of death.


Shelley possessed two remarkable qualities of intellect--a brilliant
imagination, and a logical exactness of reason. His inclinations led him
(he fancied) almost alike to poetry and metaphysical discussions. I say
'he fancied,' because I believe the former to have been paramount, and
that it would have gained the mastery even had he struggled against it.
However, he said that he deliberated at one time whether he should
dedicate himself to poetry or metaphysics; and, resolving on the former,
he educated himself for it, discarding in a great measure his
philosophical pursuits, and engaging himself in the study of the poets
of Greece, Italy, and England. To these may be added a constant perusal
of portions of the old Testament--the Psalms, the Book of Job, the
Prophet Isaiah, and others, the sublime poetry of which filled him with

As a poet, his intellect and compositions were powerfully influenced by
exterior circumstances, and especially by his place of abode. He was
very fond of travelling, and ill-health increased this restlessness. The
sufferings occasioned by a cold English winter made him pine, especially
when our colder spring arrived, for a more genial climate. In 1816 he
again visited Switzerland, and rented a house on the banks of the Lake
of Geneva; and many a day, in cloud or sunshine, was passed alone in his
boat--sailing as the wind listed, or weltering on the calm waters. The
majestic aspect of Nature ministered such thoughts as he afterwards
enwove in verse. His lines on the Bridge of the Arve, and his "Hymn to
Intellectual Beauty", were written at this time. Perhaps during this
summer his genius was checked by association with another poet whose
nature was utterly dissimilar to his own, yet who, in the poem he wrote
at that time, gave tokens that he shared for a period the more abstract
and etherealised inspiration of Shelley. The saddest events awaited his
return to England; but such was his fear to wound the feelings of others
that he never expressed the anguish he felt, and seldom gave vent to the
indignation roused by the persecutions he underwent; while the course of
deep unexpressed passion, and the sense of injury, engendered the desire
to embody themselves in forms defecated of all the weakness and evil
which cling to real life.

He chose therefore for his hero a youth nourished in dreams of liberty,
some of whose actions are in direct opposition to the opinions of the
world; but who is animated throughout by an ardent love of virtue, and a
resolution to confer the boons of political and intellectual freedom on
his fellow-creatures. He created for this youth a woman such as he
delighted to imagine--full of enthusiasm for the same objects; and they
both, with will unvanquished, and the deepest sense of the justice of
their cause, met adversity and death. There exists in this poem a
memorial of a friend of his youth. The character of the old man who
liberates Laon from his tower prison, and tends on him in sickness, is
founded on that of Doctor Lind, who, when Shelley was at Eton, had often
stood by to befriend and support him, and whose name he never mentioned
without love and veneration.

During the year 1817 we were established at Marlow in Buckinghamshire.
Shelley's choice of abode was fixed chiefly by this town being at no
great distance from London, and its neighbourhood to the Thames. The
poem was written in his boat, as it floated under the beech groves of
Bisham, or during wanderings in the neighbouring country, which is
distinguished for peculiar beauty. The chalk hills break into cliffs
that overhang the Thames, or form valleys clothed with beech; the wilder
portion of the country is rendered beautiful by exuberant vegetation;
and the cultivated part is peculiarly fertile. With all this wealth of
Nature which, either in the form of gentlemen's parks or soil dedicated
to agriculture, flourishes around, Marlow was inhabited (I hope it is
altered now) by a very poor population. The women are lacemakers, and
lose their health by sedentary labour, for which they were very ill
paid. The Poor-laws ground to the dust not only the paupers, but those
who had risen just above that state, and were obliged to pay poor-rates.
The changes produced by peace following a long war, and a bad harvest,
brought with them the most heart-rending evils to the poor. Shelley
afforded what alleviation he could. In the winter, while bringing out
his poem, he had a severe attack of ophthalmia, caught while visiting
the poor cottages. I mention these things,--for this minute and active
sympathy with his fellow-creatures gives a thousandfold interest to
his speculations, and stamps with reality his pleadings for the human

The poem, bold in its opinions and uncompromising in their expression,
met with many censurers, not only among those who allow of no virtue but
such as supports the cause they espouse, but even among those whose
opinions were similar to his own. I extract a portion of a letter
written in answer to one of these friends. It best details the impulses
of Shelley's mind, and his motives: it was written with entire
unreserve; and is therefore a precious monument of his own opinion of
his powers, of the purity of his designs, and the ardour with which he
clung, in adversity and through the valley of the shadow of death, to
views from which he believed the permanent happiness of mankind must
eventually spring.

'Marlowe, December 11, 1817.

'I have read and considered all that you say about my general powers,
and the particular instance of the poem in which I have attempted to
develop them. Nothing can be more satisfactory to me than the interest
which your admonitions express. But I think you are mistaken in some
points with regard to the peculiar nature of my powers, whatever be
their amount. I listened with deference and self-suspicion to your
censures of "The Revolt of Islam"; but the productions of mine which you
commend hold a very low place in my own esteem; and this reassures me,
in some degree at least. The poem was produced by a series of thoughts
which filled my mind with unbounded and sustained enthusiasm. I felt the
precariousness of my life, and I engaged in this task, resolved to leave
some record of myself. Much of what the volume contains was written with
the same feeling--as real, though not so prophetic--as the
communications of a dying man. I never presumed indeed to consider it
anything approaching to faultless; but, when I consider contemporary
productions of the same apparent pretensions, I own I was filled with
confidence. I felt that it was in many respects a genuine picture of my
own mind. I felt that the sentiments were true, not assumed. And in this
have I long believed that my power consists; in sympathy, and that part
of the imagination which relates to sentiment and contemplation. I am
formed, if for anything not in common with the herd of mankind, to
apprehend minute and remote distinctions of feeling, whether relative to
external nature or the living beings which surround us, and to
communicate the conceptions which result from considering either the
moral or the material universe as a whole. Of course, I believe these
faculties, which perhaps comprehend all that is sublime in man, to exist
very imperfectly in my own mind. But, when you advert to my
Chancery-paper, a cold, forced, unimpassioned, insignificant piece of
cramped and cautious argument, and to the little scrap about
"Mandeville", which expressed my feelings indeed, but cost scarcely two
minutes' thought to express, as specimens of my powers more favourable
than that which grew as it were from "the agony and bloody sweat" of
intellectual travail; surely I must feel that, in some manner, either I
am mistaken in believing that I have any talent at all, or you in the
selection of the specimens of it. Yet, after all, I cannot but be
conscious, in much of what I write, of an absence of that tranquillity
which is the attribute and accompaniment of power. This feeling alone
would make your most kind and wise admonitions, on the subject of the
economy of intellectual force, valuable to me. And, if I live, or if I
see any trust in coming years, doubt not but that I shall do something,
whatever it may be, which a serious and earnest estimate of my powers
will suggest to me, and which will be in every respect accommodated to
their utmost limits.

[Shelley to Godwin.]


"Rosalind and Helen" was begun at Marlow, and thrown aside--till I found
it; and, at my request, it was completed. Shelley had no care for any of
his poems that did not emanate from the depths of his mind, and develop
some high or abstruse truth. When he does touch on human life and the
human heart, no pictures can be more faithful, more delicate, more
subtle, or more pathetic. He never mentioned Love but he shed a grace
borrowed from his own nature, that scarcely any other poet has bestowed
on that passion. When he spoke of it as the law of life, which inasmuch
as we rebel against we err and injure ourselves and others, he
promulgated that which he considered an irrefragable truth. In his eyes
it was the essence of our being, and all woe and pain arose from the war
made against it by selfishness, or insensibility, or mistake. By
reverting in his mind to this first principle, he discovered the source
of many emotions, and could disclose the secrets of all hearts, and his
delineations of passion and emotion touch the finest chords of our

"Rosalind and Helen" was finished during the summer of 1818, while we
were at the Baths of Lucca.


From the Baths of Lucca, in 1818, Shelley visited Venice; and,
circumstances rendering it eligible that we should remain a few weeks in
the neighbourhood of that city, he accepted the offer of Lord Byron, who
lent him the use of a villa he rented near Este; and he sent for his
family from Lucca to join him.

I Capuccini was a villa built on the site of a Capuchin convent,
demolished when the French suppressed religious houses; it was situated
on the very overhanging brow of a low hill at the foot of a range of
higher ones. The house was cheerful and pleasant; a vine-trellised walk,
a pergola, as it is called in Italian, led from the hall-door to a
summer-house at the end of the garden, which Shelley made his study, and
in which he began the "Prometheus"; and here also, as he mentions in a
letter, he wrote "Julian and Maddalo". A slight ravine, with a road in
its depth, divided the garden from the hill, on which stood the ruins of
the ancient castle of Este, whose dark massive wall gave forth an echo,
and from whose ruined crevices owls and bats flitted forth at night, as
the crescent moon sunk behind the black and heavy battlements. We looked
from the garden over the wide plain of Lombardy, bounded to the west by
the far Apennines, while to the east the horizon was lost in misty
distance. After the picturesque but limited view of mountain, ravine,
and chestnut-wood, at the Baths of Lucca, there was something infinitely
gratifying to the eye in the wide range of prospect commanded by our new

Our first misfortune, of the kind from which we soon suffered even more
severely, happened here. Our little girl, an infant in whose small
features I fancied that I traced great resemblance to her father, showed
symptoms of suffering from the heat of the climate. Teething increased
her illness and danger. We were at Este, and when we became alarmed,
hastened to Venice for the best advice. When we arrived at Fusina, we
found that we had forgotten our passport, and the soldiers on duty
attempted to prevent our crossing the laguna; but they could not resist
Shelley's impetuosity at such a moment. We had scarcely arrived at
Venice before life fled from the little sufferer, and we returned to
Este to weep her loss.

After a few weeks spent in this retreat, which was interspersed by
visits to Venice, we proceeded southward.


On the 12th of March, 1818, Shelley quitted England, never to return.
His principal motive was the hope that his health would be improved by a
milder climate; he suffered very much during the winter previous to his
emigration, and this decided his vacillating purpose. In December, 1817,
he had written from Marlow to a friend, saying:

'My health has been materially worse. My feelings at intervals are of a
deadly and torpid kind, or awakened to such a state of unnatural and
keen excitement that, only to instance the organ of sight, I find the
very blades of grass and the boughs of distant trees present themselves
to me with microscopic distinctness. Towards evening I sink into a state
of lethargy and inanimation, and often remain for hours on the sofa
between sleep and waking, a prey to the most painful irritability of
thought. Such, with little intermission, is my condition. The hours
devoted to study are selected with vigilant caution from among these
periods of endurance. It is not for this that I think of travelling to
Italy, even if I knew that Italy would relieve me. But I have
experienced a decisive pulmonary attack; and although at present it has
passed away without any considerable vestige of its existence, yet this
symptom sufficiently shows the true nature of my disease to be
consumptive. It is to my advantage that this malady is in its nature
slow, and, if one is sufficiently alive to its advances, is susceptible
of cure from a warm climate. In the event of its assuming any decided
shape, IT WOULD BE MY DUTY to go to Italy without delay. It is not mere
health, but life, that I should seek, and that not for my own sake--I
feel I am capable of trampling on all such weakness; but for the sake of
those to whom my life may be a source of happiness, utility, security,
and honour, and to some of whom my death might be all that is the

In almost every respect his journey to Italy was advantageous. He left
behind friends to whom he was attached; but cares of a thousand kinds,
many springing from his lavish generosity, crowded round him in his
native country, and, except the society of one or two friends, he had no
compensation. The climate caused him to consume half his existence in
helpless suffering. His dearest pleasure, the free enjoyment of the
scenes of Nature, was marred by the same circumstance.

He went direct to Italy, avoiding even Paris, and did not make any pause
till he arrived at Milan. The first aspect of Italy enchanted Shelley;
it seemed a garden of delight placed beneath a clearer and brighter
heaven than any he had lived under before. He wrote long descriptive
letters during the first year of his residence in Italy, which, as
compositions, are the most beautiful in the world, and show how truly he
appreciated and studied the wonders of Nature and Art in that divine

The poetical spirit within him speedily revived with all the power and
with more than all the beauty of his first attempts. He meditated three
subjects as the groundwork for lyrical dramas. One was the story of
Tasso; of this a slight fragment of a song of Tasso remains. The other
was one founded on the Book of Job, which he never abandoned in idea,
but of which no trace remains among his papers. The third was the
"Prometheus Unbound". The Greek tragedians were now his most familiar
companions in his wanderings, and the sublime majesty of Aeschylus
filled him with wonder and delight. The father of Greek tragedy does not
possess the pathos of Sophocles, nor the variety and tenderness of
Euripides; the interest on which he founds his dramas is often elevated
above human vicissitudes into the mighty passions and throes of gods and
demi-gods: such fascinated the abstract imagination of Shelley.

We spent a month at Milan, visiting the Lake of Como during that
interval. Thence we passed in succession to Pisa, Leghorn, the Baths of
Lucca, Venice, Este, Rome, Naples, and back again to Rome, whither we
returned early in March, 1819. During all this time Shelley meditated
the subject of his drama, and wrote portions of it. Other poems were
composed during this interval, and while at the Bagni di Lucca he
translated Plato's "Symposium". But, though he diversified his studies,
his thoughts centred in the Prometheus. At last, when at Rome, during a
bright and beautiful Spring, he gave up his whole time to the
composition. The spot selected for his study was, as he mentions in his
preface, the mountainous ruins of the Baths of Caracalla. These are
little known to the ordinary visitor at Rome. He describes them in a
letter, with that poetry and delicacy and truth of description which
render his narrated impressions of scenery of unequalled beauty and

At first he completed the drama in three acts. It was not till several
months after, when at Florence, that he conceived that a fourth act, a
sort of hymn of rejoicing in the fulfilment of the prophecies with
regard to Prometheus, ought to be added to complete the composition.

The prominent feature of Shelley's theory of the destiny of the human
species was that evil is not inherent in the system of the creation, but
an accident that might be expelled. This also forms a portion of
Christianity: God made earth and man perfect, till he, by his fall,

'Brought death into the world and all our woe.'

Shelley believed that mankind had only to will that there should be no
evil, and there would be none. It is not my part in these Notes to
notice the arguments that have been urged against this opinion, but to
mention the fact that he entertained it, and was indeed attached to it
with fervent enthusiasm. That man could be so perfectionized as to be
able to expel evil from his own nature, and from the greater part of the
creation, was the cardinal point of his system. And the subject he loved
best to dwell on was the image of One warring with the Evil Principle,
oppressed not only by it, but by all--even the good, who were deluded
into considering evil a necessary portion of humanity; a victim full of
fortitude and hope and the spirit of triumph emanating from a reliance
in the ultimate omnipotence of Good. Such he had depicted in his last
poem, when he made Laon the enemy and the victim of tyrants. He now took
a more idealized image of the same subject. He followed certain
classical authorities in figuring Saturn as the good principle, Jupiter
the usurping evil one, and Prometheus as the regenerator, who, unable to
bring mankind back to primitive innocence, used knowledge as a weapon to
defeat evil, by leading mankind, beyond the state wherein they are
sinless through ignorance, to that in which they are virtuous through
wisdom. Jupiter punished the temerity of the Titan by chaining him to a
rock of Caucasus, and causing a vulture to devour his still-renewed
heart. There was a prophecy afloat in heaven portending the fall of
Jove, the secret of averting which was known only to Prometheus; and the
god offered freedom from torture on condition of its being communicated
to him. According to the mythological story, this referred to the
offspring of Thetis, who was destined to be greater than his father.
Prometheus at last bought pardon for his crime of enriching mankind with
his gifts, by revealing the prophecy. Hercules killed the vulture, and
set him free; and Thetis was married to Peleus, the father of Achilles.

Shelley adapted the catastrophe of this story to his peculiar views. The
son greater than his father, born of the nuptials of Jupiter and Thetis,
was to dethrone Evil, and bring back a happier reign than that of
Saturn. Prometheus defies the power of his enemy, and endures centuries
of torture; till the hour arrives when Jove, blind to the real event,
but darkly guessing that some great good to himself will flow, espouses
Thetis. At the moment, the Primal Power of the world drives him from his
usurped throne, and Strength, in the person of Hercules, liberates
Humanity, typified in Prometheus, from the tortures generated by evil
done or suffered. Asia, one of the Oceanides, is the wife of
Prometheus--she was, according to other mythological interpretations,
the same as Venus and Nature. When the benefactor of mankind is
liberated, Nature resumes the beauty of her prime, and is united to her
husband, the emblem of the human race, in perfect and happy union. In
the Fourth Act, the Poet gives further scope to his imagination, and
idealizes the forms of creation--such as we know them, instead of such
as they appeared to the Greeks. Maternal Earth, the mighty parent, is
superseded by the Spirit of the Earth, the guide of our planet through
the realms of sky; while his fair and weaker companion and attendant,
the Spirit of the Moon, receives bliss from the annihilation of Evil in
the superior sphere.

Shelley develops, more particularly in the lyrics of this drama, his
abstruse and imaginative theories with regard to the Creation. It
requires a mind as subtle and penetrating as his own to understand the
mystic meanings scattered throughout the poem. They elude the ordinary
reader by their abstraction and delicacy of distinction, but they are
far from vague. It was his design to write prose metaphysical essays on
the nature of Man, which would have served to explain much of what is
obscure in his poetry; a few scattered fragments of observations and
remarks alone remain. He considered these philosophical views of Mind
and Nature to be instinct with the intensest spirit of poetry.

More popular poets clothe the ideal with familiar and sensible imagery.
Shelley loved to idealize the real--to gift the mechanism of the
material universe with a soul and a voice, and to bestow such also on
the most delicate and abstract emotions and thoughts of the mind.
Sophocles was his great master in this species of imagery.

I find in one of his manuscript books some remarks on a line in the
"Oedipus Tyrannus", which show at once the critical subtlety of
Shelley's mind, and explain his apprehension of those 'minute and remote
distinctions of feeling, whether relative to external nature or the
living beings which surround us,' which he pronounces, in the letter
quoted in the note to the "Revolt of Islam", to comprehend all that is
sublime in man.

'In the Greek Shakespeare, Sophocles, we find the image,

Pollas d' odous elthonta phrontidos planois:

a line of almost unfathomable depth of poetry; yet how simple are the
images in which it is arrayed!

"Coming to many ways in the wanderings of careful thought."

If the words odous and planois had not been used, the line might have
been explained in a metaphorical instead of an absolute sense, as we say
"WAYS and means," and "wanderings" for error and confusion. But they
meant literally paths or roads, such as we tread with our feet; and
wanderings, such as a man makes when he loses himself in a desert, or
roams from city to city--as Oedipus, the speaker of this verse, was
destined to wander, blind and asking charity. What a picture does this
line suggest of the mind as a wilderness of intricate paths, wide as the
universe, which is here made its symbol; a world within a world which he
who seeks some knowledge with respect to what he ought to do searches
throughout, as he would search the external universe for some valued
thing which was hidden from him upon its surface.'

In reading Shelley's poetry, we often find similar verses, resembling,
but not imitating the Greek in this species of imagery; for, though he
adopted the style, he gifted it with that originality of form and
colouring which sprung from his own genius.

In the "Prometheus Unbound", Shelley fulfils the promise quoted from a
letter in the Note on the "Revolt of Islam". (While correcting the
proof-sheets of that poem, it struck me that the poet had indulged in an
exaggerated view of the evils of restored despotism; which, however
injurious and degrading, were less openly sanguinary than the triumph of
anarchy, such as it appeared in France at the close of the last century.
But at this time a book, "Scenes of Spanish Life", translated by
Lieutenant Crawford from the German of Dr. Huber, of Rostock, fell into
my hands. The account of the triumph of the priests and the serviles,
after the French invasion of Spain in 1823, bears a strong and frightful
resemblance to some of the descriptions of the massacre of the patriots
in the "Revolt of Islam".) The tone of the composition is calmer and
more majestic, the poetry more perfect as a whole, and the imagination
displayed at once more pleasingly beautiful and more varied and daring.
The description of the Hours, as they are seen in the cave of
Demogorgon, is an instance of this--it fills the mind as the most
charming picture--we long to see an artist at work to bring to our view

'cars drawn by rainbow-winged steeds
Which trample the dim winds: in each there stands
A wild-eyed charioteer urging their flight.
Some look behind, as fiends pursued them there,
And yet I see no shapes but the keen stars:
Others, with burning eyes, lean forth, and drink
With eager lips the wind of their own speed,
As if the thing they loved fled on before,
And now, even now, they clasped it. Their bright locks
Stream like a comet's flashing hair: they all
Sweep onward.'

Through the whole poem there reigns a sort of calm and holy spirit of
love; it soothes the tortured, and is hope to the expectant, till the
prophecy is fulfilled, and Love, untainted by any evil, becomes the law
of the world.

England had been rendered a painful residence to Shelley, as much by the
sort of persecution with which in those days all men of liberal opinions
were visited, and by the injustice he had lately endured in the Court of
Chancery, as by the symptoms of disease which made him regard a visit to
Italy as necessary to prolong his life. An exile, and strongly impressed
with the feeling that the majority of his countrymen regarded him with
sentiments of aversion such as his own heart could experience towards
none, he sheltered himself from such disgusting and painful thoughts in
the calm retreats of poetry, and built up a world of his own--with the
more pleasure, since he hoped to induce some one or two to believe that
the earth might become such, did mankind themselves consent. The charm
of the Roman climate helped to clothe his thoughts in greater beauty
than they had ever worn before. And, as he wandered among the ruins made
one with Nature in their decay, or gazed on the Praxitelean shapes that
throng the Vatican, the Capitol, and the palaces of Rome, his soul
imbibed forms of loveliness which became a portion of itself. There are
many passages in the "Prometheus" which show the intense delight he
received from such studies, and give back the impression with a beauty
of poetical description peculiarly his own. He felt this, as a poet must
feel when he satisfies himself by the result of his labours; and he
wrote from Rome, 'My "Prometheus Unbound" is just finished, and in a
month or two I shall send it. It is a drama, with characters and
mechanism of a kind yet unattempted; and I think the execution is better
than any of my former attempts.'

I may mention, for the information of the more critical reader, that the
verbal alterations in this edition of "Prometheus" are made from a list
of errata written by Shelley himself.


The sort of mistake that Shelley made as to the extent of his own genius
and powers, which led him deviously at first, but lastly into the direct
track that enabled him fully to develop them, is a curious instance of
his modesty of feeling, and of the methods which the human mind uses at
once to deceive itself, and yet, in its very delusion, to make its way
out of error into the path which Nature has marked out as its right one.
He often incited me to attempt the writing a tragedy: he conceived that
I possessed some dramatic talent, and he was always most earnest and
energetic in his exhortations that I should cultivate any talent I
possessed, to the utmost. I entertained a truer estimate of my powers;
and above all (though at that time not exactly aware of the fact) I was
far too young to have any chance of succeeding, even moderately, in a
species of composition that requires a greater scope of experience in,
and sympathy with, human passion than could then have fallen to my
lot,--or than any perhaps, except Shelley, ever possessed, even at the
age of twenty-six, at which he wrote The Cenci.

On the other hand, Shelley most erroneously conceived himself to be
destitute of this talent. He believed that one of the first requisites
was the capacity of forming and following-up a story or plot. He fancied
himself to he defective in this portion of imagination: it was that
which gave him least pleasure in the writings of others, though he laid
great store by it as the proper framework to support the sublimest
efforts of poetry. He asserted that he was too metaphysical and
abstract, too fond of the theoretical and the ideal, to succeed as a
tragedian. It perhaps is not strange that I shared this opinion with
himself; for he had hitherto shown no inclination for, nor given any
specimen of his powers in framing and supporting the interest of a
story, either in prose or verse. Once or twice, when he attempted such,
he had speedily thrown it aside, as being even disagreeable to him as an

The subject he had suggested for a tragedy was Charles I: and he had
written to me: 'Remember, remember Charles I. I have been already
imagining how you would conduct some scenes. The second volume of "St.
Leon" begins with this proud and true sentiment: "There is nothing which
the human mind can conceive which it may not execute." Shakespeare was
only a human being.' These words were written in 1818, while we were in
Lombardy, when he little thought how soon a work of his own would prove
a proud comment on the passage he quoted. When in Rome, in 1819, a
friend put into our hands the old manuscript account of the story of the
Cenci. We visited the Colonna and Doria palaces, where the portraits of
Beatrice were to be found; and her beauty cast the reflection of its own
grace over her appalling story. Shelley's imagination became strongly
excited, and he urged the subject to me as one fitted for a tragedy.
More than ever I felt my incompetence; but I entreated him to write it
instead; and he began, and proceeded swiftly, urged on by intense
sympathy with the sufferings of the human beings whose passions, so long
cold in the tomb, he revived, and gifted with poetic language. This
tragedy is the only one of his works that he communicated to me during
its progress. We talked over the arrangement of the scenes together. I
speedily saw the great mistake we had made, and triumphed in the
discovery of the new talent brought to light from that mine of wealth
(never, alas, through his untimely death, worked to its depths)--his
richly gifted mind.

We suffered a severe affliction in Rome by the loss of our eldest child,
who was of such beauty and promise as to cause him deservedly to be the
idol of our hearts. We left the capital of the world, anxious for a time
to escape a spot associated too intimately with his presence and loss.
(Such feelings haunted him when, in "The Cenci", he makes Beatrice speak
to Cardinal Camillo of

'that fair blue-eyed child
Who was the lodestar of your life:'--and say--
All see, since his most swift and piteous death,
That day and night, and heaven and earth, and time,
And all the things hoped for or done therein
Are changed to you, through your exceeding grief.')

Some friends of ours were residing in the neighbourhood of Leghorn, and
we took a small house, Villa Valsovano, about half-way between the town
and Monte Nero, where we remained during the summer. Our villa was
situated in the midst of a podere; the peasants sang as they worked
beneath our windows, during the heats of a very hot season, and in the
evening the water-wheel creaked as the process of irrigation went on,
and the fireflies flashed from among the myrtle hedges: Nature was
bright, sunshiny, and cheerful, or diversified by storms of a majestic
terror, such as we had never before witnessed.

At the top of the house there was a sort of terrace. There is often such
in Italy, generally roofed: this one was very small, yet not only roofed
but glazed. This Shelley made his study; it looked out on a wide
prospect of fertile country, and commanded a view of the near sea. The
storms that sometimes varied our day showed themselves most
picturesquely as they were driven across the ocean; sometimes the dark
lurid clouds dipped towards the waves, and became water-spouts that
churned up the waters beneath, as they were chased onward and scattered
by the tempest. At other times the dazzling sunlight and heat made it
almost intolerable to every other; but Shelley basked in both, and his
health and spirits revived under their influence. In this airy cell he
wrote the principal part of "The Cenci". He was making a study of
Calderon at the time, reading his best tragedies with an accomplished
lady living near us, to whom his letter from Leghorn was addressed
during the following year. He admired Calderon, both for his poetry and
his dramatic genius; but it shows his judgement and originality that,
though greatly struck by his first acquaintance with the Spanish poet,
none of his peculiarities crept into the composition of "The Cenci"; and
there is no trace of his new studies, except in that passage to which he
himself alludes as suggested by one in "El Purgatorio de San Patricio".

Shelley wished "The Cenci" to be acted. He was not a playgoer, being of
such fastidious taste that he was easily disgusted by the bad filling-up
of the inferior parts. While preparing for our departure from England,
however, he saw Miss O'Neil several times. She was then in the zenith of
her glory; and Shelley was deeply moved by her impersonation of several
parts, and by the graceful sweetness, the intense pathos, the sublime
vehemence of passion she displayed. She was often in his thoughts as he
wrote: and, when he had finished, he became anxious that his tragedy
should be acted, and receive the advantage of having this accomplished
actress to fill the part of the heroine. With this view he wrote the
following letter to a friend in London:

'The object of the present letter us to ask a favour of you. I have
written a tragedy on a story well known in Italy, and, in my conception,
eminently dramatic. I have taken some pains to make my play fit for
representation, and those who have already seen it judge favourably. It
is written without any of the peculiar feelings and opinions which
characterize my other compositions; I have attended simply to the
impartial development of such characters as it is probable the persons
represented really were, together with the greatest degree of popular
effect to be produced by such a development. I send you a translation of
the Italian manuscript on which my play is founded; the chief
circumstance of which I have touched very delicately; for my principal
doubt as to whether it would succeed as an acting play hangs entirely on
the question as to whether any such a thing as incest in this shape,
however treated, would be admitted on the stage. I think, however, it
will form no objection; considering, first, that the facts are matter of
history, and, secondly, the peculiar delicacy with which I have treated
it. (In speaking of his mode of treating this main incident, Shelley
said that it might be remarked that, in the course of the play, he had
never mentioned expressly Cenci's worst crime. Every one knew what it
must be, but it was never imaged in words--the nearest allusion to it
being that portion of Cenci's curse beginning--"That, if she have a
child," etc.)

'I am exceedingly interested in the question of whether this attempt of
mine will succeed or not. I am strongly inclined to the affirmative at
present; founding my hopes on this--that, as a composition, it is
certainly not inferior to any of the modern plays that have been acted,
with the exception of "Remorse"; that the interest of the plot is
incredibly greater and more real; and that there is nothing beyond what
the multitude are contented to believe that they can understand, either
in imagery, opinion, or sentiment. I wish to preserve a complete
incognito, and can trust to you that, whatever else you do, you will at
least favour me on this point. Indeed, this is essential, deeply
essential, to its success. After it had been acted, and successfully
(could I hope for such a thing), I would own it if I pleased, and use
the celebrity it might acquire to my own purposes.

'What I want you to do is to procure for me its presentation at Covent
Garden. The principal character, Beatrice, is precisely fitted for Miss
O'Neil, and it might even seem to have been written for her (God forbid
that I should see her play it--it would tear my nerves to pieces); and
in all respects it is fitted only for Covent Garden. The chief male
character I confess I should be very unwilling that any one but Kean
should play. That is impossible, and I must be contented with an
inferior actor.'

The play was accordingly sent to Mr. Harris. He pronounced the subject
to be so objectionable that he could not even submit the part to Miss
O'Neil for perusal, but expressed his desire that the author would write
a tragedy on some other subject, which he would gladly accept. Shelley
printed a small edition at Leghorn, to ensure its correctness; as he was
much annoyed by the many mistakes that crept into his text when distance
prevented him from correcting the press.

Universal approbation soon stamped "The Cenci" as the best tragedy of
modern times. Writing concerning it, Shelley said: 'I have been cautious
to avoid the introducing faults of youthful composition; diffuseness, a
profusion of inapplicable imagery, vagueness, generality, and, as Hamlet
says, "words, words".' There is nothing that is not purely dramatic
throughout; and the character of Beatrice, proceeding, from vehement
struggle, to horror, to deadly resolution, and lastly to the elevated
dignity of calm suffering, joined to passionate tenderness and pathos,
is touched with hues so vivid and so beautiful that the poet seems to
have read intimately the secrets of the noble heart imaged in the lovely
countenance of the unfortunate girl. The Fifth Act is a masterpiece. It
is the finest thing he ever wrote, and may claim proud comparison not
only with any contemporary, but preceding, poet. The varying feelings of
Beatrice are expressed with passionate, heart-reaching eloquence. Every
character has a voice that echoes truth in its tones. It is curious, to
one acquainted with the written story, to mark the success with which
the poet has inwoven the real incidents of the tragedy into his scenes,
and yet, through the power of poetry, has obliterated all that would
otherwise have shown too harsh or too hideous in the picture. His
success was a double triumph; and often after he was earnestly entreated
to write again in a style that commanded popular favour, while it was
not less instinct with truth and genius. But the bent of his mind went
the other way; and, even when employed on subjects whose interest
depended on character and incident, he would start off in another
direction, and leave the delineations of human passion, which he could
depict in so able a manner, for fantastic creations of his fancy, or the
expression of those opinions and sentiments, with regard to human nature
and its destiny, a desire to diffuse which was the master passion of his


Though Shelley's first eager desire to excite his countrymen to resist
openly the oppressions existent during 'the good old times' had faded
with early youth, still his warmest sympathies were for the people. He
was a republican, and loved a democracy. He looked on all human beings
as inheriting an equal right to possess the dearest privileges of our
nature; the necessaries of life when fairly earned by labour, and
intellectual instruction. His hatred of any despotism that looked upon
the people as not to be consulted, or protected from want and ignorance,
was intense. He was residing near Leghorn, at Villa Valsovano, writing
"The Cenci", when the news of the Manchester Massacre reached us; it
roused in him violent emotions of indignation and compassion. The great
truth that the many, if accordant and resolute, could control the few,
as was shown some years after, made him long to teach his injured
countrymen how to resist. Inspired by these feelings, he wrote the "Mask
of Anarchy", which he sent to his friend Leigh Hunt, to be inserted in
the Examiner, of which he was then the Editor.

'I did not insert it,' Leigh Hunt writes in his valuable and interesting
preface to this poem, when he printed it in 1832, 'because I thought
that the public at large had not become sufficiently discerning to do
justice to the sincerity and kind-heartedness of the spirit that walked
in this flaming robe of verse.' Days of outrage have passed away, and
with them the exasperation that would cause such an appeal to the many
to be injurious. Without being aware of them, they at one time acted on
his suggestions, and gained the day. But they rose when human life was
respected by the Minister in power; such was not the case during the
Administration which excited Shelley's abhorrence.

The poem was written for the people, and is therefore in a more popular
tone than usual: portions strike as abrupt and unpolished, but many
stanzas are all his own. I heard him repeat, and admired, those

'My Father Time is old and gray,'

before I knew to what poem they were to belong. But the most touching
passage is that which describes the blessed effects of liberty; it might
make a patriot of any man whose heart was not wholly closed against his
humbler fellow-creatures.


In this new edition I have added "Peter Bell the Third". A critique on
Wordsworth's "Peter Bell" reached us at Leghorn, which amused Shelley
exceedingly, and suggested this poem.

I need scarcely observe that nothing personal to the author of "Peter
Bell" is intended in this poem. No man ever admired Wordsworth's poetry
more; --he read it perpetually, and taught others to appreciate its
beauties. This poem is, like all others written by Shelley, ideal. He
conceived the idealism of a poet--a man of lofty and creative
genius--quitting the glorious calling of discovering and announcing the
beautiful and good, to support and propagate ignorant prejudices and
pernicious errors; imparting to the unenlightened, not that ardour for
truth and spirit of toleration which Shelley looked on as the sources of
the moral improvement and happiness of mankind, but false and injurious
opinions, that evil was good, and that ignorance and force were the best
allies of purity and virtue. His idea was that a man gifted, even as
transcendently as the author of "Peter Bell", with the highest qualities
of genius, must, if he fostered such errors, be infected with dulness.
This poem was written as a warning--not as a narration of the reality.
He was unacquainted personally with Wordsworth, or with Coleridge (to
whom he alludes in the fifth part of the poem), and therefore, I repeat,
his poem is purely ideal; --it contains something of criticism on the
compositions of those great poets, but nothing injurious to the men

No poem contains more of Shelley's peculiar views with regard to the
errors into which many of the wisest have fallen, and the pernicious
effects of certain opinions on society. Much of it is beautifully
written: and, though, like the burlesque drama of "Swellfoot", it must
be looked on as a plaything, it has so much merit and poetry--so much of
HIMSELF in it--that it cannot fail to interest greatly, and by right
belongs to the world for whose instruction and benefit it was written.


We spent the summer of 1820 at the Baths of San Giuliano, four miles
from Pisa. These baths were of great use to Shelley in soothing his
nervous irritability. We made several excursions in the neighbourhood.
The country around is fertile, and diversified and rendered picturesque
by ranges of near hills and more distant mountains. The peasantry are a
handsome intelligent race; and there was a gladsome sunny heaven spread
over us, that rendered home and every scene we visited cheerful and
bright. During some of the hottest days of August, Shelley made a
solitary journey on foot to the summit of Monte San Pellegrino--a
mountain of some height, on the top of which there is a chapel, the
object, during certain days of the year, of many pilgrimages. The
excursion delighted him while it lasted; though he exerted himself too
much, and the effect was considerable lassitude and weakness on his
return. During the expedition he conceived the idea, and wrote, in the
three days immediately succeeding to his return, the "Witch of Atlas".
This poem is peculiarly characteristic of his tastes--wildly fanciful,
full of brilliant imagery, and discarding human interest and passion, to
revel in the fantastic ideas that his imagination suggested.

The surpassing excellence of "The Cenci" had made me greatly desire that
Shelley should increase his popularity by adopting subjects that would
more suit the popular taste than a poem conceived in the abstract and
dreamy spirit of the "Witch of Atlas". It was not only that I wished him
to acquire popularity as redounding to his fame; but I believed that he
would obtain a greater mastery over his own powers, and greater
happiness in his mind, if public applause crowned his endeavours. The
few stanzas that precede the poem were addressed to me on my
representing these ideas to him. Even now I believe that I was in the
right. Shelley did not expect sympathy and approbation from the public;
but the want of it took away a portion of the ardour that ought to have
sustained him while writing. He was thrown on his own resources, and on
the inspiration of his own soul; and wrote because his mind overflowed,
without the hope of being appreciated. I had not the most distant wish
that he should truckle in opinion, or submit his lofty aspirations for
the human race to the low ambition and pride of the many; but I felt
sure that, if his poems were more addressed to the common feelings of
men, his proper rank among the writers of the day would be acknowledged,
and that popularity as a poet would enable his countrymen to do justice
to his character and virtues, which in those days it was the mode to
attack with the most flagitious calumnies and insulting abuse. That he
felt these things deeply cannot be doubted, though he armed himself with
the consciousness of acting from a lofty and heroic sense of right. The
truth burst from his heart sometimes in solitude, and he would write a
few unfinished verses that showed that he felt the sting; among such I
find the following: --

'Alas! this is not what I thought Life was.
I knew that there were crimes and evil men,
Misery and hate; nor did I hope to pass
Untouched by suffering through the rugged glen.
In mine own heart I saw as in a glass
The hearts of others...And, when
I went among my kind, with triple brass
Of calm endurance my weak breast I armed,
To bear scorn, fear, and hate--a woful mass!'

I believed that all this morbid feeling would vanish if the chord of
sympathy between him and his countrymen were touched. But my persuasions
were vain, the mind could not be bent from its natural inclination.
Shelley shrunk instinctively from portraying human passion, with its
mixture of good and evil, of disappointment and disquiet. Such opened
again the wounds of his own heart; and he loved to shelter himself
rather in the airiest flights of fancy, forgetting love and hate, and
regret and lost hope, in such imaginations as borrowed their hues from
sunrise or sunset, from the yellow moonshine or paly twilight, from the
aspect of the far ocean or the shadows of the woods,--which celebrated
the singing of the winds among the pines, the flow of a murmuring
stream, and the thousand harmonious sounds which Nature creates in her
solitudes. These are the materials which form the "Witch of Atlas": it
is a brilliant congregation of ideas such as his senses gathered, and
his fancy coloured, during his rambles in the sunny land he so much


In the brief journal I kept in those days, I find recorded, in August,
1820, Shelley 'begins "Swellfoot the Tyrant", suggested by the pigs at
the fair of San Giuliano.' This was the period of Queen Caroline's
landing in England, and the struggles made by George IV to get rid of
her claims; which failing, Lord Castlereagh placed the "Green Bag" on
the table of the House of Commons, demanding in the King's name that an
enquiry should be instituted into his wife's conduct. These
circumstances were the theme of all conversation among the English. We
were then at the Baths of San Giuliano. A friend came to visit us on the
day when a fair was held in the square, beneath our windows: Shelley
read to us his "Ode to Liberty"; and was riotously accompanied by the
grunting of a quantity of pigs brought for sale to the fair. He compared
it to the 'chorus of frogs' in the satiric drama of Aristophanes; and,
it being an hour of merriment, and one ludicrous association suggesting
another, he imagined a political-satirical drama on the circumstances of
the day, to which the pigs would serve as chorus--and "Swellfoot" was
begun. When finished, it was transmitted to England, printed, and
published anonymously; but stifled at the very dawn of its existence by
the Society for the Suppression of Vice, who threatened to prosecute it,
if not immediately withdrawn. The friend who had taken the trouble of
bringing it out, of course did not think it worth the annoyance and
expense of a contest, and it was laid aside.

Hesitation of whether it would do honour to Shelley prevented my
publishing it at first. But I cannot bring myself to keep back anything
he ever wrote; for each word is fraught with the peculiar views and
sentiments which he believed to be beneficial to the human race, and the
bright light of poetry irradiates every thought. The world has a right
to the entire compositions of such a man; for it does not live and
thrive by the outworn lesson of the dullard or the hypocrite, but by the
original free thoughts of men of genius, who aspire to pluck bright

'from the pale-faced moon;
Or dive into the bottom of the deep
Where fathom-line would never touch the ground,
And pluck up drowned'

truth. Even those who may dissent from his opinions will consider that
he was a man of genius, and that the world will take more interest in
his slightest word than in the waters of Lethe which are so eagerly
prescribed as medicinal for all its wrongs and woe. This drama, however,
must not be judged for more than was meant. It is a mere plaything of
the imagination; which even may not excite smiles among many, who will
not see wit in those combinations of thought which were full of the
ridiculous to the author. But, like everything he wrote, it breathes
that deep sympathy for the sorrows of humanity, and indignation against
its oppressors, which make it worthy of his name.


The South of Europe was in a state of great political excitement at the
beginning of the year 1821. The Spanish Revolution had been a signal to
Italy; secrete societies were formed; and, when Naples rose to declare
the Constitution, the call was responded to from Brundusium to the foot
of the Alps. To crush these attempts to obtain liberty, early in 1821
the Austrians poured their armies into the Peninsula: at first their
coming rather seemed to add energy and resolution to a people long
enslaved. The Piedmontese asserted their freedom; Genoa threw off the
yoke of the King of Sardinia; and, as if in playful imitation, the
people of the little state of Massa and Carrara gave the conge to their
sovereign, and set up a republic.

Tuscany alone was perfectly tranquil. It was said that the Austrian
minister presented a list of sixty Carbonari to the Grand Duke, urging
their imprisonment; and the Grand Duke replied, 'I do not know whether
these sixty men are Carbonari, but I know, if I imprison them, I shall
directly have sixty thousand start up.' But, though the Tuscans had no
desire to disturb the paternal government beneath whose shelter they
slumbered, they regarded the progress of the various Italian revolutions
with intense interest, and hatred for the Austrian was warm in every
bosom. But they had slender hopes; they knew that the Neapolitans would
offer no fit resistance to the regular German troops, and that the
overthrow of the constitution in Naples would act as a decisive blow
against all struggles for liberty in Italy.

We have seen the rise and progress of reform. But the Holy Alliance was
alive and active in those days, and few could dream of the peaceful
triumph of liberty. It seemed then that the armed assertion of freedom
in the South of Europe was the only hope of the liberals, as, if it
prevailed, the nations of the north would imitate the example. Happily
the reverse has proved the fact. The countries accustomed to the
exercise of the privileges of freemen, to a limited extent, have
extended, and are extending, these limits. Freedom and knowledge have
now a chance of proceeding hand in hand; and, if it continue thus, we
may hope for the durability of both. Then, as I have said--in
1821--Shelley, as well as every other lover of liberty, looked upon the
struggles in Spain and Italy as decisive of the destinies of the world,
probably for centuries to come. The interest he took in the progress of
affairs was intense. When Genoa declared itself free, his hopes were at
their highest. Day after day he read the bulletins of the Austrian army,
and sought eagerly to gather tokens of its defeat. He heard of the
revolt of Genoa with emotions of transport. His whole heart and soul
were in the triumph of the cause. We were living at Pisa at that time;
and several well-informed Italians, at the head of whom we may place the
celebrated Vacca, were accustomed to seek for sympathy in their hopes
from Shelley: they did not find such for the despair they too generally
experienced, founded on contempt for their southern countrymen.

While the fate of the progress of the Austrian armies then invading
Naples was yet in suspense, the news of another revolution filled him
with exultation. We had formed the acquaintance at Pisa of several
Constantinopolitan Greeks, of the family of Prince Caradja, formerly
Hospodar of Wallachia; who, hearing that the bowstring, the accustomed
finale of his viceroyalty, was on the road to him, escaped with his
treasures, and took up his abode in Tuscany. Among these was the
gentleman to whom the drama of "Hellas" is dedicated. Prince
Mavrocordato was warmed by those aspirations for the independence of his
country which filled the hearts of many of his countrymen. He often
intimated the possibility of an insurrection in Greece; but we had no
idea of its being so near at hand, when, on the 1st of April 1821, he
called on Shelley, bringing the proclamation of his cousin, Prince
Ypsilanti, and, radiant with exultation and delight, declared that
henceforth Greece would be free.

Shelley had hymned the dawn of liberty in Spain and Naples, in two odes
dictated by the warmest enthusiasm; he felt himself naturally impelled
to decorate with poetry the uprise of the descendants of that people
whose works he regarded with deep admiration, and to adopt the
vaticinatory character in prophesying their success. "Hellas" was
written in a moment of enthusiasm. It is curious to remark how well he
overcomes the difficulty of forming a drama out of such scant materials.
His prophecies, indeed, came true in their general, not their
particular, purport. He did not foresee the death of Lord Londonderry,
which was to be the epoch of a change in English politics, particularly
as regarded foreign affairs; nor that the navy of his country would
fight for instead of against the Greeks, and by the battle of Navarino
secure their enfranchisement from the Turks. Almost against reason, as
it appeared to him, he resolved to believe that Greece would prove
triumphant; and in this spirit, auguring ultimate good, yet grieving
over the vicissitudes to be endured in the interval, he composed his

"Hellas" was among the last of his compositions, and is among the most
beautiful. The choruses are singularly imaginative, and melodious in
their versification. There are some stanzas that beautifully exemplify
Shelley's peculiar style; as, for instance, the assertion of the
intellectual empire which must be for ever the inheritance of the
country of Homer, Sophocles, and Plato:--

'But Greece and her foundations are
Built below the tide of war,
Based on the crystalline sea
Of thought and its eternity.'

And again, that philosophical truth felicitously imaged forth--

'Revenge and Wrong bring forth their kind,
The foul cubs like their parents are,
Their den is in the guilty mind,
And Conscience feeds them with despair.'

The conclusion of the last chorus is among the most beautiful of his
lyrics. The imagery is distinct and majestic; the prophecy, such as
poets love to dwell upon, the Regeneration of Mankind--and that
regeneration reflecting back splendour on the foregone time, from which
it inherits so much of intellectual wealth, and memory of past virtuous
deeds, as must render the possession of happiness and peace of tenfold


The remainder of Shelley's Poems will be arranged in the order in which
they were written. Of course, mistakes will occur in placing some of the
shorter ones; for, as I have said, many of these were thrown aside, and
I never saw them till I had the misery of looking over his writings
after the hand that traced them was dust; and some were in the hands of
others, and I never saw them till now. The subjects of the poems are
often to me an unerring guide; but on other occasions I can only guess,
by finding them in the pages of the same manuscript book that contains
poems with the date of whose composition I am fully conversant. In the
present arrangement all his poetical translations will be placed
together at the end.

The loss of his early papers prevents my being able to give any of the
poetry of his boyhood. Of the few I give as "Early Poems", the greater
part were published with "Alastor"; some of them were written
previously, some at the same period. The poem beginning 'Oh, there are
spirits in the air' was addressed in idea to Coleridge, whom he never
knew; and at whose character he could only guess imperfectly, through
his writings, and accounts he heard of him from some who knew him well.
He regarded his change of opinions as rather an act of will than
conviction, and believed that in his inner heart he would be haunted by
what Shelley considered the better and holier aspirations of his youth.
The summer evening that suggested to him the poem written in the
churchyard of Lechlade occurred during his voyage up the Thames in 1815.
He had been advised by a physician to live as much as possible in the
open air; and a fortnight of a bright warm July was spent in tracing the
Thames to its source. He never spent a season more tranquilly than the
summer of 1815. He had just recovered from a severe pulmonary attack;
the weather was warm and pleasant. He lived near Windsor Forest; and his
life was spent under its shades or on the water, meditating subjects for
verse. Hitherto, he had chiefly aimed at extending his political
doctrines, and attempted so to do by appeals in prose essays to the
people, exhorting them to claim their rights; but he had now begun to
feel that the time for action was not ripe in England, and that the pen
was the only instrument wherewith to prepare the way for better things.

In the scanty journals kept during those years I find a record of the
books that Shelley read during several years. During the years of 1814
and 1815 the list is extensive. It includes, in Greek, Homer, Hesiod,
Theocritus, the histories of Thucydides and Herodotus, and Diogenes
Laertius. In Latin, Petronius, Suetonius, some of the works of Cicero, a
large proportion of those of Seneca and Livy. In English, Milton's
poems, Wordsworth's "Excursion", Southey's "Madoc" and "Thalaba", Locke
"On the Human Understanding", Bacon's "Novum Organum". In Italian,
Ariosto, Tasso, and Alfieri. In French, the "Reveries d'un Solitaire" of
Rousseau. To these may be added several modern books of travel. He read
few novels.


Shelley wrote little during this year. The poem entitled "The Sunset"
was written in the spring of the year, while still residing at
Bishopsgate. He spent the summer on the shores of the Lake of Geneva.
The "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" was conceived during his voyage round
the lake with Lord Byron. He occupied himself during this voyage by
reading the "Nouvelle Heloise" for the first time. The reading it on the
very spot where the scenes are laid added to the interest; and he was at
once surprised and charmed by the passionate eloquence and earnest
enthralling interest that pervade this work. There was something in the
character of Saint-Preux, in his abnegation of self, and in the worship
he paid to Love, that coincided with Shelley's own disposition; and,
though differing in many of the views and shocked by others, yet the
effect of the whole was fascinating and delightful.

"Mont Blanc" was inspired by a view of that mountain and its surrounding
peaks and valleys, as he lingered on the Bridge of Arve on his way
through the Valley of Chamouni. Shelley makes the following mention of
this poem in his publication of the "History of a Six Weeks' Tour, and
Letters from Switzerland": 'The poem entitled "Mont Blanc" is written by
the author of the two letters from Chamouni and Vevai. It was composed
under the immediate impression of the deep and powerful feelings excited
by the objects which it attempts to describe; and, as an undisciplined
overflowing of the soul, rests its claim to approbation on an attempt to
imitate the untamable wildness and inaccessible solemnity from which
those feelings sprang.'

This was an eventful year, and less time was given to study than usual.
In the list of his reading I find, in Greek, Theocritus, the
"Prometheus" of Aeschylus, several of Plutarch's "Lives", and the works
of Lucian. In Latin, Lucretius, Pliny's "Letters", the "Annals" and
"Germany" of Tacitus. In French, the "History of the French Revolution"
by Lacretelle. He read for the first time, this year, Montaigne's
"Essays", and regarded them ever after as one of the most delightful and
instructive books in the world. The list is scanty in English works:
Locke's "Essay", "Political Justice", and Coleridge's "Lay Sermon", form
nearly the whole. It was his frequent habit to read aloud to me in the
evening; in this way we read, this year, the New Testament, "Paradise
Lost", Spenser's "Faery Queen", and "Don Quixote".


The very illness that oppressed, and the aspect of death which had
approached so near Shelley, appear to have kindled to yet keener life
the Spirit of Poetry in his heart. The restless thoughts kept awake by
pain clothed themselves in verse. Much was composed during this year.
The "Revolt of Islam", written and printed, was a great
effort--"Rosalind and Helen" was begun--and the fragments and poems I
can trace to the same period show how full of passion and reflection
were his solitary hours.

In addition to such poems as have an intelligible aim and shape, many a
stray idea and transitory emotion found imperfect and abrupt expression,
and then again lost themselves in silence. As he never wandered without
a book and without implements of writing, I find many such, in his
manuscript books, that scarcely bear record; while some of them, broken
and vague as they are, will appear valuable to those who love Shelley's
mind, and desire to trace its workings.

He projected also translating the "Hymns" of Homer; his version of
several of the shorter ones remains, as well as that to Mercury already
published in the "Posthumous Poems". His readings this year were chiefly
Greek. Besides the "Hymns" of Homer and the "Iliad", he read the dramas
of Aeschylus and Sophocles, the "Symposium" of Plato, and Arrian's
"Historia Indica". In Latin, Apuleius alone is named. In English, the
Bible was his constant study; he read a great portion of it aloud in the
evening. Among these evening readings I find also mentioned the "Faerie
Queen"; and other modern works, the production of his contemporaries,
Coleridge, Wordsworth, Moore and Byron.

His life was now spent more in thought than action--he had lost the
eager spirit which believed it could achieve what it projected for the
benefit of mankind. And yet in the converse of daily life Shelley was
far from being a melancholy man. He was eloquent when philosophy or
politics or taste were the subjects of conversation. He was playful; and
indulged in the wild spirit that mocked itself and others--not in
bitterness, but in sport. The author of "Nightmare Abbey" seized on some
points of his character and some habits of his life when he painted
Scythrop. He was not addicted to 'port or madeira,' but in youth he had
read of 'Illuminati and Eleutherarchs,' and believed that he possessed
the power of operating an immediate change in the minds of men and the
state of society. These wild dreams had faded; sorrow and adversity had
struck home; but he struggled with despondency as he did with physical
pain. There are few who remember him sailing paper boats, and watching
the navigation of his tiny craft with eagerness--or repeating with wild
energy "The Ancient Mariner", and Southey's "Old Woman of Berkeley"; but
those who do will recollect that it was in such, and in the creations of
his own fancy when that was most daring and ideal, that he sheltered
himself from the storms and disappointments, the pain and sorrow, that
beset his life.

No words can express the anguish he felt when his elder children were
torn from him. In his first resentment against the Chancellor, on the
passing of the decree, he had written a curse, in which there breathes,
besides haughty indignation, all the tenderness of a father's love,
which could imagine and fondly dwell upon its loss and the consequences.

At one time, while the question was still pending, the Chancellor had
said some words that seemed to intimate that Shelley should not be
permitted the care of any of his children, and for a moment he feared
that our infant son would be torn from us. He did not hesitate to
resolve, if such were menaced, to abandon country, fortune, everything,
and to escape with his child; and I find some unfinished stanzas
addressed to this son, whom afterwards we lost at Rome, written under
the idea that we might suddenly be forced to cross the sea, so to
preserve him. This poem, as well as the one previously quoted, were not
written to exhibit the pangs of distress to the public; they were the
spontaneous outbursts of a man who brooded over his wrongs and woes, and
was impelled to shed the grace of his genius over the uncontrollable
emotions of his heart. I ought to observe that the fourth verse of this
effusion is introduced in "Rosalind and Helen". When afterwards this
child died at Rome, he wrote, a propos of the English burying-ground in
that city: 'This spot is the repository of a sacred loss, of which the
yearnings of a parent's heart are now prophetic; he is rendered immortal
by love, as his memory is by death. My beloved child lies buried here. I
envy death the body far less than the oppressors the minds of those whom
they have torn from me. The one can only kill the body, the other
crushes the affections.'


We often hear of persons disappointed by a first visit to Italy. This
was not Shelley's case. The aspect of its nature, its sunny sky, its
majestic storms, of the luxuriant vegetation of the country, and the
noble marble-built cities, enchanted him. The sight of the works of art
was full enjoyment and wonder. He had not studied pictures or statues
before; he now did so with the eye of taste, that referred not to the
rules of schools, but to those of Nature and truth. The first entrance
to Rome opened to him a scene of remains of antique grandeur that far
surpassed his expectations; and the unspeakable beauty of Naples and its
environs added to the impression he received of the transcendent and
glorious beauty of Italy.

Our winter was spent at Naples. Here he wrote the fragments of
"Marenghi" and "The Woodman and the Nightingale", which he afterwards
threw aside. At this time, Shelley suffered greatly in health. He put
himself under the care of a medical man, who promised great things, and
made him endure severe bodily pain, without any good results. Constant
and poignant physical suffering exhausted him; and though he preserved
the appearance of cheerfulness, and often greatly enjoyed our wanderings
in the environs of Naples, and our excursions on its sunny sea, yet many
hours were passed when his thoughts, shadowed by illness, became
gloomy,--and then he escaped to solitude, and in verses, which he hid
from fear of wounding me, poured forth morbid but too natural bursts of
discontent and sadness. One looks back with unspeakable regret and
gnawing remorse to such periods; fancying that, had one been more alive
to the nature of his feelings, and more attentive to soothe them, such
would not have existed. And yet, enjoying as he appeared to do every
sight or influence of earth or sky, it was difficult to imagine that any
melancholy he showed was aught but the effect of the constant pain to
which he was a martyr.

We lived in utter solitude. And such is often not the nurse of
cheerfulness; for then, at least with those who have been exposed to
adversity, the mind broods over its sorrows too intently; while the
society of the enlightened, the witty, and the wise, enables us to
forget ourselves by making us the sharers of the thoughts of others,
which is a portion of the philosophy of happiness. Shelley never liked
society in numbers,--it harassed and wearied him; but neither did he
like loneliness, and usually, when alone, sheltered himself against
memory and reflection in a book. But, with one or two whom he loved, he
gave way to wild and joyous spirits, or in more serious conversation
expounded his opinions with vivacity and eloquence. If an argument
arose, no man ever argued better. He was clear, logical, and earnest, in
supporting his own views; attentive, patient, and impartial, while
listening to those on the adverse side. Had not a wall of prejudice been
raised at this time between him and his countrymen, how many would have
sought the acquaintance of one whom to know was to love and to revere!
How many of the more enlightened of his contemporaries have since
regretted that they did not seek him! how very few knew his worth while
he lived! and, of those few, several were withheld by timidity or envy
from declaring their sense of it. But no man was ever more
enthusiastically loved--more looked up to, as one superior to his
fellows in intellectual endowments and moral worth, by the few who knew
him well, and had sufficient nobleness of soul to appreciate his
superiority. His excellence is now acknowledged; but, even while
admitted, not duly appreciated. For who, except those who were
acquainted with him, can imagine his unwearied benevolence, his
generosity, his systematic forbearance? And still less is his vast
superiority in intellectual attainments sufficiently understood--his
sagacity, his clear understanding, his learning, his prodigious memory.
All these as displayed in conversation, were known to few while he
lived, and are now silent in the tomb:

'Ahi orbo mondo ingrato!
Gran cagion hai di dever pianger meco;
Che quel ben ch' era in te, perdut' hai seco.'


Shelley loved the People; and respected them as often more virtuous, as
always more suffering, and therefore more deserving of sympathy, than
the great. He believed that a clash between the two classes of society
was inevitable, and he eagerly ranged himself on the people's side. He
had an idea of publishing a series of poems adapted expressly to
commemorate their circumstances and wrongs. He wrote a few; but, in
those days of prosecution for libel, they could not be printed. They are
not among the best of his productions, a writer being always shackled
when he endeavours to write down to the comprehension of those who could
not understand or feel a highly imaginative style; but they show his
earnestness, and with what heart-felt compassion he went home to the
direct point of injury--that oppression is detestable as being the
parent of starvation, nakedness, and ignorance. Besides these
outpourings of compassion and indignation, he had meant to adorn the
cause he loved with loftier poetry of glory and triumph: such is the
scope of the "Ode to the Assertors of Liberty". He sketched also a new
version of our national anthem, as addressed to Liberty.


We spent the latter part of the year 1819 in Florence, where Shelley
passed several hours daily in the Gallery, and made various notes on its
ancient works of art. His thoughts were a good deal taken up also by the
project of a steamboat, undertaken by a friend, an engineer, to ply
between Leghorn and Marseilles, for which he supplied a sum of money.
This was a sort of plan to delight Shelley, and he was greatly
disappointed when it was thrown aside.

There was something in Florence that disagreed excessively with his
health, and he suffered far more pain than usual; so much so that we
left it sooner than we intended, and removed to Pisa, where we had some
friends, and, above all, where we could consult the celebrated Vacca as
to the cause of Shelley's sufferings. He, like every other medical man,
could only guess at that, and gave little hope of immediate relief; he
enjoined him to abstain from all physicians and medicine, and to leave
his complaint to Nature. As he had vainly consulted medical men of the
highest repute in England, he was easily persuaded to adopt this advice.
Pain and ill-health followed him to the end; but the residence at Pisa
agreed with him better than any other, and there in consequence we

In the Spring we spent a week or two near Leghorn, borrowing the house
of some friends who were absent on a journey to England. It was on a
beautiful summer evening, while wandering among the lanes whose
myrtle-hedges were the bowers of the fire-flies, that we heard the
carolling of the skylark which inspired one of the most beautiful of his
poems. He addressed the letter to Mrs. Gisborne from this house, which
was hers: he had made his study of the workshop of her son, who was an
engineer. Mrs. Gisborne had been a friend of my father in her younger
days. She was a lady of great accomplishments, and charming from her
frank and affectionate nature. She had the most intense love of
knowledge, a delicate and trembling sensibility, and preserved freshness
of mind after a life of considerable adversity. As a favourite friend of
my father, we had sought her with eagerness; and the most open and
cordial friendship was established between us.

Our stay at the Baths of San Giuliano was shortened by an accident. At
the foot of our garden ran the canal that communicated between the
Serchio and the Arno. The Serchio overflowed its banks, and, breaking
its bounds, this canal also overflowed; all this part of the country is
below the level of its rivers, and the consequence was that it was
speedily flooded. The rising waters filled the Square of the Baths, in
the lower part of which our house was situated. The canal overflowed in
the garden behind; the rising waters on either side at last burst open
the doors, and, meeting in the house, rose to the height of six feet. It
was a picturesque sight at night to see the peasants driving the cattle
from the plains below to the hills above the Baths. A fire was kept up
to guide them across the ford; and the forms of the men and the animals
showed in dark relief against the red glare of the flame, which was
reflected again in the waters that filled the Square.

We then removed to Pisa, and took up our abode there for the winter. The
extreme mildness of the climate suited Shelley, and his solitude was
enlivened by an intercourse with several intimate friends. Chance cast
us strangely enough on this quiet half-unpeopled town; but its very
peace suited Shelley. Its river, the near mountains, and not distant
sea, added to its attractions, and were the objects of many delightful
excursions. We feared the south of Italy, and a hotter climate, on
account of our child; our former bereavement inspiring us with terror.
We seemed to take root here, and moved little afterwards; often, indeed,
entertaining projects for visiting other parts of Italy, but still
delaying. But for our fears on account of our child, I believe we should
have wandered over the world, both being passionately fond of
travelling. But human life, besides its great unalterable necessities,
is ruled by a thousand lilliputian ties that shackle at the time,
although it is difficult to account afterwards for their influence over
our destiny.


My task becomes inexpressibly painful as the year draws near that which
sealed our earthly fate, and each poem, and each event it records, has a
real or mysterious connection with the fatal catastrophe. I feel that I
am incapable of putting on paper the history of those times. The heart
of the man, abhorred of the poet, who could

'peep and botanize
Upon his mother's grave,'

does not appear to me more inexplicably framed than that of one who can
dissect and probe past woes, and repeat to the public ear the groans
drawn from them in the throes of their agony.

The year 1821 was spent in Pisa, or at the Baths of San Giuliano. We
were not, as our wont had been, alone; friends had gathered round us.
Nearly all are dead, and, when Memory recurs to the past, she wanders
among tombs. The genius, with all his blighting errors and mighty
powers; the companion of Shelley's ocean-wanderings, and the sharer of
his fate, than whom no man ever existed more gentle, generous, and
fearless; and others, who found in Shelley's society, and in his great
knowledge and warm sympathy, delight, instruction, and solace; have
joined him beyond the grave. A few survive who have felt life a desert
since he left it. What misfortune can equal death? Change can convert
every other into a blessing, or heal its sting--death alone has no cure.
It shakes the foundations of the earth on which we tread; it destroys
its beauty; it casts down our shelter; it exposes us bare to desolation.
When those we love have passed into eternity, 'life is the desert and
the solitude' in which we are forced to linger--but never find comfort

There is much in the "Adonais" which seems now more applicable to
Shelley himself than to the young and gifted poet whom he mourned. The
poetic view he takes of death, and the lofty scorn he displays towards
his calumniators, are as a prophecy on his own destiny when received
among immortal names, and the poisonous breath of critics has vanished
into emptiness before the fame he inherits.

Shelley's favourite taste was boating; when living near the Thames or by
the Lake of Geneva, much of his life was spent on the water. On the
shore of every lake or stream or sea near which he dwelt, he had a boat
moored. He had latterly enjoyed this pleasure again. There are no
pleasure-boats on the Arno; and the shallowness of its waters (except in
winter-time, when the stream is too turbid and impetuous for boating)
rendered it difficult to get any skiff light enough to float. Shelley,
however, overcame the difficulty; he, together with a friend, contrived
a boat such as the huntsmen carry about with them in the Maremma, to
cross the sluggish but deep streams that intersect the forests,--a boat
of laths and pitched canvas. It held three persons; and he was often
seen on the Arno in it, to the horror of the Italians, who remonstrated
on the danger, and could not understand how anyone could take pleasure
in an exercise that risked life. 'Ma va per la vita!' they exclaimed. I
little thought how true their words would prove. He once ventured, with
a friend, on the glassy sea of a calm day, down the Arno and round the
coast to Leghorn, which, by keeping close in shore, was very
practicable. They returned to Pisa by the canal, when, missing the
direct cut, they got entangled among weeds, and the boat upset; a
wetting was all the harm done, except that the intense cold of his
drenched clothes made Shelley faint. Once I went down with him to the
mouth of the Arno, where the stream, then high and swift, met the
tideless sea, and disturbed its sluggish waters. It was a waste and
dreary scene; the desert sand stretched into a point surrounded by waves
that broke idly though perpetually around; it was a scene very similar
to Lido, of which he had said--

'I love all waste
And solitary places; where we taste
The pleasure of believing what we see
Is boundless, as we wish our souls to be:
And such was this wide ocean, and this shore
More barren than its billows.'

Our little boat was of greater use, unaccompanied by any danger, when we
removed to the Baths. Some friends lived at the village of Pugnano, four
miles off, and we went to and fro to see them, in our boat, by the
canal; which, fed by the Serchio, was, though an artificial, a full and
picturesque stream, making its way under verdant banks, sheltered by
trees that dipped their boughs into the murmuring waters. By day,
multitudes of Ephemera darted to and fro on the surface; at night, the
fireflies came out among the shrubs on the banks; the cicale at noon-day
kept up their hum; the aziola cooed in the quiet evening. It was a
pleasant summer, bright in all but Shelley's health and inconstant
spirits; yet he enjoyed himself greatly, and became more and more
attached to the part of the country were chance appeared to cast us.
Sometimes he projected taking a farm situated on the height of one of
the near hills, surrounded by chestnut and pine woods, and overlooking a
wide extent of country: or settling still farther in the maritime
Apennines, at Massa. Several of his slighter and unfinished poems were
inspired by these scenes, and by the companions around us. It is the
nature of that poetry, however, which overflows from the soul oftener to
express sorrow and regret than joy; for it is when oppressed by the
weight of life, and away from those he loves, that the poet has recourse
to the solace of expression in verse.

Still, Shelley's passion was the ocean; and he wished that our summers,
instead of being passed among the hills near Pisa, should be spent on
the shores of the sea. It was very difficult to find a spot. We shrank
from Naples from a fear that the heats would disagree with Percy:
Leghorn had lost its only attraction, since our friends who had resided
there were returned to England; and, Monte Nero being the resort of many
English, we did not wish to find ourselves in the midst of a colony of
chance travellers. No one then thought it possible to reside at Via
Reggio, which latterly has become a summer resort. The low lands and bad
air of Maremma stretch the whole length of the western shores of the
Mediterranean, till broken by the rocks and hills of Spezia. It was a
vague idea, but Shelley suggested an excursion to Spezia, to see whether
it would be feasible to spend a summer there. The beauty of the bay
enchanted him. We saw no house to suit us; but the notion took root, and
many circumstances, enchained as by fatality, occurred to urge him to
execute it.

He looked forward this autumn with great pleasure to the prospect of a
visit from Leigh Hunt. When Shelley visited Lord Byron at Ravenna, the
latter had suggested his coming out, together with the plan of a
periodical work in which they should all join. Shelley saw a prospect of
good for the fortunes of his friend, and pleasure in his society; and
instantly exerted himself to have the plan executed. He did not intend
himself joining in the work: partly from pride, not wishing to have the
air of acquiring readers for his poetry by associating it with the
compositions of more popular writers; and also because he might feel
shackled in the free expression of his opinions, if any friends were to
be compromised. By those opinions, carried even to their outermost
extent, he wished to live and die, as being in his conviction not only
true, but such as alone would conduce to the moral improvement and
happiness of mankind. The sale of the work might meanwhile, either
really or supposedly, be injured by the free expression of his thoughts;
and this evil he resolved to avoid.


This morn thy gallant bark
Sailed on a sunny sea:
'Tis noon, and tempests dark
Have wrecked it on the lee.
Ah woe! ah woe!
By Spirits of the deep
Thou'rt cradled on the billow
To thy eternal sleep.

Thou sleep'st upon the shore
Beside the knelling surge,
And Sea-nymphs evermore
Shall sadly chant thy dirge.
They come, they come,
The Spirits of the deep,--
While near thy seaweed pillow
My lonely watch I keep.

From far across the sea
I hear a loud lament,
By Echo's voice for thee
From Ocean's caverns sent.
O list! O list!
The Spirits of the deep!
They raise a wail of sorrow,
While I forever weep.

With this last year of the life of Shelley these Notes end. They are not
what I intended them to be. I began with energy, and a burning desire to
impart to the world, in worthy language, the sense I have of the virtues
and genius of the beloved and the lost; my strength has failed under the
task. Recurrence to the past, full of its own deep and unforgotten joys
and sorrows, contrasted with succeeding years of painful and solitary
struggle, has shaken my health. Days of great suffering have followed my
attempts to write, and these again produced a weakness and languor that
spread their sinister influence over these notes. I dislike speaking of
myself, but cannot help apologizing to the dead, and to the public, for
not having executed in the manner I desired the history I engaged to
give of Shelley's writings. (I at one time feared that the correction of
the press might be less exact through my illness; but I believe that it
is nearly free from error. Some asterisks occur in a few pages, as they
did in the volume of "Posthumous Poems", either because they refer to
private concerns, or because the original manuscript was left imperfect.
Did any one see the papers from which I drew that volume, the wonder
would be how any eyes or patience were capable of extracting it from so
confused a mass, interlined and broken into fragments, so that the sense
could only be deciphered and joined by guesses which might seem rather
intuitive than founded on reasoning. Yet I believe no mistake was made.)

The winter of 1822 was passed in Pisa, if we might call that season
winter in which autumn merged into spring after the interval of but few
days of bleaker weather. Spring sprang up early, and with extreme
beauty. Shelley had conceived the idea of writing a tragedy on the
subject of Charles I. It was one that he believed adapted for a drama;
full of intense interest, contrasted character, and busy passion. He had
recommended it long before, when he encouraged me to attempt a play.
Whether the subject proved more difficult than he anticipated, or
whether in fact he could not bend his mind away from the broodings and
wanderings of thought, divested from human interest, which he best
loved, I cannot tell; but he proceeded slowly, and threw it aside for
one of the most mystical of his poems, the "Triumph of Life", on which
he was employed at the last.

His passion for boating was fostered at this time by having among our
friends several sailors. His favourite companion, Edward Ellerker
Williams, of the 8th Light Dragoons, had begun his life in the navy, and
had afterwards entered the army; he had spent several years in India,
and his love for adventure and manly exercises accorded with Shelley's
taste. It was their favourite plan to build a boat such as they could
manage themselves, and, living on the sea-coast, to enjoy at every hour
and season the pleasure they loved best. Captain Roberts, R.N.,
undertook to build the boat at Genoa, where he was also occupied in
building the "Bolivar" for Lord Byron. Ours was to be an open boat, on a
model taken from one of the royal dockyards. I have since heard that
there was a defect in this model, and that it was never seaworthy. In
the month of February, Shelley and his friend went to Spezia to seek for
houses for us. Only one was to be found at all suitable; however, a
trifle such as not finding a house could not stop Shelley; the one found
was to serve for all. It was unfurnished; we sent our furniture by sea,
and with a good deal of precipitation, arising from his impatience, made
our removal. We left Pisa on the 26th of April.

The Bay of Spezia is of considerable extent, and divided by a rocky
promontory into a larger and smaller one. The town of Lerici is situated
on the eastern point, and in the depth of the smaller bay, which bears
the name of this town, is the village of San Terenzo. Our house, Casa
Magni, was close to this village; the sea came up to the door, a steep
hill sheltered it behind. The proprietor of the estate on which it was
situated was insane; he had begun to erect a large house at the summit
of the hill behind, but his malady prevented its being finished, and it
was falling into ruin. He had (and this to the Italians had seemed a
glaring symptom of very decided madness) rooted up the olives on the
hillside, and planted forest trees. These were mostly young, but the
plantation was more in English taste than I ever elsewhere saw in Italy;
some fine walnut and ilex trees intermingled their dark massy foliage,
and formed groups which still haunt my memory, as then they satiated the
eye with a sense of loveliness. The scene was indeed of unimaginable
beauty. The blue extent of waters, the almost landlocked bay, the near
castle of Lerici shutting it in to the east, and distant Porto Venere to
the west; the varied forms of the precipitous rocks that bound in the
beach, over which there was only a winding rugged footpath towards
Lerici, and none on the other side; the tideless sea leaving no sands
nor shingle, formed a picture such as one sees in Salvator Rosa's
landscapes only. Sometimes the sunshine vanished when the sirocco
raged--the 'ponente' the wind was called on that shore. The gales and
squalls that hailed our first arrival surrounded the bay with foam; the
howling wind swept round our exposed house, and the sea roared
unremittingly, so that we almost fancied ourselves on board ship. At
other times sunshine and calm invested sea and sky, and the rich tints
of Italian heaven bathed the scene in bright and ever-varying tints.

The natives were wilder than the place. Our near neighbours of San
Terenzo were more like savages than any people I ever before lived
among. Many a night they passed on the beach, singing, or rather
howling; the women dancing about among the waves that broke at their
feet, the men leaning against the rocks and joining in their loud wild
chorus. We could get no provisions nearer than Sarzana, at a distance of
three miles and a half off, with the torrent of the Magra between; and
even there the supply was very deficient. Had we been wrecked on an
island of the South Seas, we could scarcely have felt ourselves farther
from civilisation and comfort; but, where the sun shines, the latter
becomes an unnecessary luxury, and we had enough society among
ourselves. Yet I confess housekeeping became rather a toilsome task,
especially as I was suffering in my health, and could not exert myself

At first the fatal boat had not arrived, and was expected with great
impatience. On Monday, 12th May, it came. Williams records the
long-wished-for fact in his journal: 'Cloudy and threatening weather. M.
Maglian called; and after dinner, and while walking with him on the
terrace, we discovered a strange sail coming round the point of Porto
Venere, which proved at length to be Shelley's boat. She had left Genoa
on Thursday last, but had been driven back by the prevailing bad winds.
A Mr. Heslop and two English seamen brought her round, and they speak
most highly of her performances. She does indeed excite my surprise and
admiration. Shelley and I walked to Lerici, and made a stretch off the
land to try her: and I find she fetches whatever she looks at. In short,
we have now a perfect plaything for the summer.'--It was thus that
short-sighted mortals welcomed Death, he having disguised his grim form
in a pleasing mask! The time of the friends was now spent on the sea;
the weather became fine, and our whole party often passed the evenings
on the water when the wind promised pleasant sailing. Shelley and
Williams made longer excursions; they sailed several times to Massa.
They had engaged one of the seamen who brought her round, a boy, by name
Charles Vivian; and they had not the slightest apprehension of danger.
When the weather was unfavourable, they employed themselves with
alterations in the rigging, and by building a boat of canvas and reeds,
as light as possible, to have on board the other for the convenience of
landing in waters too shallow for the larger vessel. When Shelley was on
board, he had his papers with him; and much of the "Triumph of Life" was
written as he sailed or weltered on that sea which was soon to engulf

The heats set in in the middle of June; the days became excessively hot.
But the sea-breeze cooled the air at noon, and extreme heat always put
Shelley in spirits. A long drought had preceded the heat; and prayers
for rain were being put up in the churches, and processions of relics
for the same effect took place in every town. At this time we received
letters announcing the arrival of Leigh Hunt at Genoa. Shelley was very
eager to see him. I was confined to my room by severe illness, and could
not move; it was agreed that Shelley and Williams should go to Leghorn
in the boat. Strange that no fear of danger crossed our minds! Living on
the sea-shore, the ocean became as a plaything: as a child may sport
with a lighted stick, till a spark inflames a forest, and spreads
destruction over all, so did we fearlessly and blindly tamper with
danger, and make a game of the terrors of the ocean. Our Italian
neighbours, even, trusted themselves as far as Massa in the skiff; and
the running down the line of coast to Leghorn gave no more notion of
peril than a fair-weather inland navigation would have done to those who
had never seen the sea. Once, some months before, Trelawny had raised a
warning voice as to the difference of our calm bay and the open sea
beyond; but Shelley and his friend, with their one sailor-boy, thought
themselves a match for the storms of the Mediterranean, in a boat which
they looked upon as equal to all it was put to do.

On the 1st of July they left us. If ever shadow of future ill darkened
the present hour, such was over my mind when they went. During the whole
of our stay at Lerici, an intense presentiment of coming evil brooded
over my mind, and covered this beautiful place and genial summer with
the shadow of coming misery. I had vainly struggled with these
emotions--they seemed accounted for by my illness; but at this hour of
separation they recurred with renewed violence. I did not anticipate
danger for them, but a vague expectation of evil shook me to agony, and
I could scarcely bring myself to let them go. The day was calm and
clear; and, a fine breeze rising at twelve, they weighed for Leghorn.
They made the run of about fifty miles in seven hours and a half. The
"Bolivar" was in port; and, the regulations of the Health-office not
permitting them to go on shore after sunset, they borrowed cushions from
the larger vessel, and slept on board their boat.

They spent a week at Pisa and Leghorn. The want of rain was severely
felt in the country. The weather continued sultry and fine. I have heard
that Shelley all this time was in brilliant spirits. Not long before,
talking of presentiment, he had said the only one that he ever found
infallible was the certain advent of some evil fortune when he felt
peculiarly joyous. Yet, if ever fate whispered of coming disaster, such
inaudible but not unfelt prognostics hovered around us. The beauty of
the place seemed unearthly in its excess: the distance we were at from
all signs of civilization, the sea at our feet, its murmurs or its
roaring for ever in our ears,--all these things led the mind to brood
over strange thoughts, and, lifting it from everyday life, caused it to
be familiar with the unreal. A sort of spell surrounded us; and each
day, as the voyagers did not return, we grew restless and disquieted,
and yet, strange to say, we were not fearful of the most apparent

The spell snapped; it was all over; an interval of agonizing doubt--of
days passed in miserable journeys to gain tidings, of hopes that took
firmer root even as they were more baseless--was changed to the
certainty of the death that eclipsed all happiness for the survivors for

There was something in our fate peculiarly harrowing. The remains of
those we lost were cast on shore; but, by the quarantine-laws of the
coast, we were not permitted to have possession of them--the law with
respect to everything cast on land by the sea being that such should be
burned, to prevent the possibility of any remnant bringing the plague
into Italy; and no representation could alter the law. At length,
through the kind and unwearied exertions of Mr. Dawkins, our Charge
d'Affaires at Florence, we gained permission to receive the ashes after
the bodies were consumed. Nothing could equal the zeal of Trelawny in
carrying our wishes into effect. He was indefatigable in his exertions,
and full of forethought and sagacity in his arrangements. It was a
fearful task; he stood before us at last, his hands scorched and
blistered by the flames of the funeral-pyre, and by touching the burnt
relics as he placed them in the receptacles prepared for the purpose.
And there, in compass of that small case, was gathered all that remained
on earth of him whose genius and virtue were a crown of glory to the
world--whose love had been the source of happiness, peace, and good,--to
be buried with him!

The concluding stanzas of the "Adonais" pointed out where the remains
ought to be deposited; in addition to which our beloved child lay buried
in the cemetery at Rome. Thither Shelley's ashes were conveyed; and they
rest beneath one of the antique weed-grown towers that recur at
intervals in the circuit of the massy ancient wall of Rome. He selected
the hallowed place himself; there is

'the sepulchre,
Oh, not of him, but of our joy!--
And gray walls moulder round, on which dull Time
Feeds, like slow fire upon a hoary brand;
And one keen pyramid with wedge sublime,
Pavilioning the dust of him who planned
This refuge for his memory, doth stand
Like flame transformed to marble; and beneath,
A field is spread, on which a newer band
Have pitched in Heaven's smile their camp of death,
Welcoming him we lose with scarce extinguished breath.'

Could sorrow for the lost, and shuddering anguish at the vacancy left
behind, be soothed by poetic imaginations, there was something in
Shelley's fate to mitigate pangs which yet, alas! could not be so
mitigated; for hard reality brings too miserably home to the mourner all
that is lost of happiness, all of lonely unsolaced struggle that
remains. Still, though dreams and hues of poetry cannot blunt grief, it
invests his fate with a sublime fitness, which those less nearly allied
may regard with complacency. A year before he had poured into verse all
such ideas about death as give it a glory of its own. He had, as it now
seems, almost anticipated his own destiny; and, when the mind figures
his skiff wrapped from sight by the thunder-storm, as it was last seen
upon the purple sea, and then, as the cloud of the tempest passed away,
no sign remained of where it had been (Captain Roberts watched the
vessel with his glass from the top of the lighthouse of Leghorn, on its
homeward track. They were off Via Reggio, at some distance from shore,
when a storm was driven over the sea. It enveloped them and several
larger vessels in darkness. When the cloud passed onwards, Roberts
looked again, and saw every other vessel sailing on the ocean except
their little schooner, which had vanished. From that time he could
scarcely doubt the fatal truth; yet we fancied that they might have been
driven towards Elba or Corsica, and so be saved. The observation made as
to the spot where the boat disappeared caused it to be found, through
the exertions of Trelawny for that effect. It had gone down in ten
fathom water; it had not capsized, and, except such things as had
floated from her, everything was found on board exactly as it had been
placed when they sailed. The boat itself was uninjured. Roberts
possessed himself of her, and decked her; but she proved not seaworthy,
and her shattered planks now lie rotting on the shore of one of the
Ionian islands, on which she was wrecked.)--who but will regard as a
prophecy the last stanza of the "Adonais"?

'The breath whose might I have invoked in song
Descends on me; my spirit's bark is driven,
Far from the shore, far from the trembling throng
Whose sails were never to the tempest given;
The massy earth and sphered skies are riven!
I am borne darkly, fearfully, afar;
Whilst burning through the inmost veil of Heaven,
The soul of Adonais, like a star,
Beacons from the abode where the Eternal are.'

Putney, May 1, 1839.

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