Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Atlantic Monthly, Vol. XI., February, 1863, No. LXIV. by Various

Part 2 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download Atlantic Monthly, Vol. XI., February, 1863, No. LXIV. pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

struggle. One had the advantage of distance and imagination,--one of
presence, and of the magnetism of eye and lip.

"I am a wicked, wicked girl!" said she, as she stood before the glass,
and loosened the locks that fell like sunshine over her shoulders. But
this confession, with true New-England reticence, was uttered only to
one listener,--herself.

Then, she recalled, for it was Monday night once more, the frank and
noble nature of Henry: how he had not asked her to promise him, but
seemed to take for granted her truth and faith; how he had looked so
fondly, so clearly into her eyes, not for what he might find there,
but to show the transparent goodness and sincerity of his own; and
how he had told her of all his plans and hopes, of his wish and her
father's intention that they should be married that very fall; how
little he had said of his own overflowing affection, only that "he had
never thought of anybody else." Dorcas only felt, without putting the
sense into language, that in this life-boat there was safety. But
then had she not sent her heart on a venture in the other,--that other
which even now was tossing on the waves of a future, full-freighted
with hope, and faith in her truth?

She opened the little box again, and looked at the ring and painted
pin. How sorrowfully she looked at them now, seen through tears of
conscious experience! How mournful seemed the ground hair, and
the tints woven of so many broken hopes, sad thoughts, and wrecked
expectations! the hair, kissed so many times in the weary years of
waiting, and then wept over in the drearier desolation, when the sight
could only bring thoughts of the salt waves dashing amongst it in the
deep sea! What a life that had been of poor Aunt Dorcas! Then came
across her busy thought the words of her mother,--"It's 'most always

Swan sailed very far away, in these tearful reveries, and took hope
and life with him.

When the next Sunday evening came, and the next, and the next,--and
when Dorcas had ceased to say, blushing and smiling,--"Don't, Henry!
you know I should make such a poor kind of a wife for you! and your
mother wouldn't think anything of me!"--and when, Henry had had an
offer to go to Western New York, where there were nobody knew how many
beautiful girls, all waiting to pounce on the tall, fine-looking
young farmer,--when Colonel Fox forgot he was a deacon, and swore
that Dorcas was undeserving of such a happy lot as was offered to
her,--when the tears, and the reveries, and the pictures of far-away
lands, and the hopes that might wither with long years of waiting,
were all merged and effaced in the healthy happiness of the
present,--Dorcas dried her tears, and applied herself diligently to
building up her flaxen _trousseau_, and smothered in her heart the
image of dark and brilliant beauty that had for a time occupied it.

"She waited--a long time!--years--and years!" murmured Dorcas,
sorrowfully, as she looked at the pin and ring, which in her mind were
associated strongly with only one person,--and that one hereafter to
be dead to her. As soon as events clearly defined her duties, Dorcas
had no further questions with herself. If the box had been Pandora's,
not the less resolutely would she have shut it forever, and so crushed
the hope that it could never have leaped out.

So, with choking tears, and throbbing pulses, she followed many
brilliant fancies and hopes to their last resting-place. Henceforth
her path was open and clear, her duties defined, and with daily
occupation of hand and thought she strove to displace all that had
ever made her other than the cheerful and busy Dorcas. For the last
time, she closed and put away the box.

* * * * *


[Among the imprinted papers of the author of "Charles Auchester" and
"Counterparts" was found this poem, addressed to a father on the death
of a favorite son, whose noble disposition and intellectual gifts were
all enlisted on the side of suffering humanity.]

O mourner by the ever-mourning deep,
Full as the sea of tears! imperial heart,
King in thy sorrow over all who weep!
O wrestler with the darkness set apart

In clouds of woe whose lightnings are the throb
Of thy fast-flashing pulses! pause to hear
The lullabies of many an alien sob,
A storm of alien sighs,--so far! so near!

Oh that our vigils with thy gentle dead
Could charm thee from thy night-long agonies,
Could steep thy brain in slumber mild, and shed
Elysian dreams upon thy closing eyes!

In vain! all vain!--'tis yet the feast of tears;
Sorrow for sorrow is the only spell;
Nor wanders yet to melt in unspent years
The wringing murmur of our fresh farewell!

Thousands bereft strew wide the ashes dim;
Rich hearts, poor hands, the lovely, the unlearned,
Bemoan the angel of the age in him,
A star unto its starlight strength returned,

The City of Delights hath lost its gem,
The Sea the changeful glance so like its own,
Genius the darling of her diadem,
Whose smile made moonlight round her awful throne.

Those elfin steps their music moves no more
Beneath light domes to tune the festal train,
Nor at the moony eves along the shore
To brim with fairy forms that wizard brain.

Cold rocks, wild winds, and ever-changing waves,
Sad rains that fret the sea and drown the day,
We hail,--well pleased that stricken Autumn raves,
Though not with Winter shall our griefs decay.

On lurid mornings, when the lustrous sea
Is violet-shadowed from the warm blue air,
When the dark grasses brighten over thee,
And the winged sunbeams flutter golden there,--

Then to the wild green slope, thy chosen rest,
The blossoms of our spirits we will bring,
(Again a babe upon thy mother's breast,
An infant seed of the eternal Spring,)--

Thoughts bright and dark as violets in their dew,
Unfading memories of a smile more sweet
Than perfume of pale roses, hopes that strew
Ethereal lilies on those silent feet

The ghost of Pain haunts not that garden-land
Where Passion's phantom is so softly laid;
But Charity beside that earth doth stand,
Most lovely left of all, thy sister-shade.

Her baby-loves like trembling snowdrops lean
Above thy calm hands and thy quiet head,
When morn is fair, or noonday's glory keen
Or the white star-fire glistens on thy bed.

Her eyes of heaven upon thy slumbers brood,
Her watch is o'er thy pillow, and her breath
Tells every breeze that stirs thy solitude
How thou didst earn that rest on earth called Death,--

Earned in such quickening youth and brilliant years!
For us too early, not too soon for thee!--
So may we rest, when Death shall dry our tears,
Till everlasting Morning makes us free!


The best aphorisms are pointed expressions of the results of
observation, experience, and reflection. They are portable wisdom,
the quintessential extracts of thought and feeling. They furnish the
largest amount of intellectual stimulus and nutriment in the smallest
compass. About every weak point in human nature, or vicious spot
in human life, there is deposited a crystallization of warning and
protective proverbs. For instance, with what relishing force such
sayings as the following touch the evil resident in indolence and
delay!--"An unemployed mind is the Devil's workshop"; "The industrious
tortoise wins the race from the lagging eagle"; "When God says,
To-day, the Devil says, To-morrow." In like manner, another cluster
of adages depict the certainty of the detection and punishment of
crime:--"Murder will out"; "Justice has feet of wool, but hands of
iron"; "God's mills grind slow, but they grind sure." So in relation
to every marked exposure of our life, there will be found in the
records of the common thought of mankind a set of deprecating

The laconic compactness of these utterances, their constant
applicability, the pungent patness with which they hit some fact of
experience, principle of human nature, or phenomenon of life, the ease
with which their racy sense may be apprehended and remembered, give
them a powerful charm for the popular fancy. Accordingly, a multitude
of proverbs are afloat in the writings and in the mouths of every
civilized people. Groups of national proverbs exist in most of the
languages of the world, each family of apothegms revealing the
chief traits of the people who gave them birth. In these collective
expressions of national mind, we can recognize--if so incomplete a
characterization may be ventured--the indrawn meditativeness of the
Hindu, the fiery imagination of the Arab, the devout and prudential
understanding of the Hebrew, the aesthetic subtilty of the Greek,
the legal breadth and sensual recklessness of the Roman, the martial
frenzy of the Goth, the chivalric and dark pride of the Spaniard,
the treacherous blood of the Italian, the mercurial vanity of the
Frenchman, the blunt realism of the Englishman.

It is obvious enough that the masses of moral statements or standing
exhortations composing the aphorisms of a language cannot mix in the
daily minds of men without deep cause and effect. It will be worth our
while to inquire into the bearings of this matter; for, though many a
gatherer has carried his basket through these diamond districts of the
mind, we do not remember that any one has sharply examined the value
of the treasures so often displayed, set forth the methods of their
influence and its qualifications, and determined the respective limits
of their use and their worthlessness. Undertaking this task, we must,
in the outset, divide aphorisms into the two classes of proverbs
and maxims, plebeian perceptions and aristocratic conclusions, moral
axioms and philosophic rules. This distinction may easily be made
clear, and will prove useful.

Popular proverbs are national, or cosmopolitan, and they are
anonymous,--rising from among the multitude, and floating on their
breath. They are generalizations of the average observation of a
people. Undoubtedly, as a general thing, each one was first struck
out by some superior mind. But usually this happened so early that
the name of the author is lost. Proverbs--as the etymology hints--are
words held before the common mind, words in front of the public. Wise
maxims, on the contrary, are individual, may more commonly be traced
to their origin in the writings of some renowned author, and are
more limited in their audience. They are the results of comprehensive
insight, the ripened products of searching meditation, the weighty
utterances of weighty minds. The proverb, "A burnt child dreads the
fire," flies over all climes and alights on every tongue. The maxim,
"All true life begins with renunciation," appeals to comparatively
few, and tarries only in prepared and thoughtful minds. Proverbs
are often mere statements of facts, barren truisms, too obvious to
instruct our thought, affect our feeling, or in any way change our
conduct, though the accuracy with which the arrow is shot fixes our
attention. Notice a few examples of this sort:--"A friend in need is
a friend indeed"; "Many a little makes a mickle"; "Anger is a brief
madness"; "It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good." Such
affirmations are too general and obvious to be provocative awakeners
of original reflection, sentiment, or will. Maxims, on the other hand,
instead of being general descriptions or condensed common-places, are
usually definite directions, discriminative exhortations. Notice such
specimens as these:--"Take care of the pence, and the pounds will take
care of themselves"; "When angry, count ten before you speak"; "Do the
duty nearest your hand, and the next will already have grown clearer";
"Remember that a thing begun is half done." Proverbs, then, are
results of observation, often affirmations of quite evident facts,
as, "Necessity is the mother of invention," or, "Who follows the
river will arrive at the sea." Maxims, in distinction, are results
of reflection. They are experience generalized into rules for the
guidance of action, as, "Think twice before you speak once," or,
"Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will
not depart from it." Proverbs are statical; maxims are dynamic. Those
are wisdom embalmed; these wisdom vitalized. The former are literary
fodder; the latter are literary pemmican.

The commonest application of proverbs is as mental economics,
_substitutes for thought_. They are constantly employed by the
ordinary sort of persons as provisions to avoid spiritual exertion,
artifices to dispose of a matter with the smallest amount of
intellectual trouble, as when one ends a controversy with the adage,
"Least said, soonest mended." The majority of people desire to get
along with the least possible expenditure of thinking. To many a
hard-headed laborer, five minutes of girded and continuous thinking
are more exhaustive than a whole day of muscular toil. No fact is more
familiar than that illiterate minds are furnished with an abundance of
trite sayings which they readily cite on all occasions. They thus
hit, or at least fancy they hit, the principle which applies to the
exigency, without the trouble of extemporaneously thinking it out
for themselves on the spot. Such saws as, "The pot must not call the
kettle black," "One swallow does not make a Spring," "Nought is never
in danger," "Out of sight, out of mind," often give employment to an
otherwise freightless tongue, and serve as excusing makeshifts for a
mind incompetent, from ignorance, indolence, or fatigue, to discharge
the duty of furnishing its own thought and expression for the

Proverbs are more frequently used as _explanations_ than as _guides_
of conduct, as the reason why we _have_ acted in a certain manner than
as a reason why we _should_ act so. "Look before you leap," is usually
said _after_ we have leaped. When a miserly man refuses to give
anything in behalf of some distant object, his refusal is not prompted
by the remembrance of the proverb, "Charity begins at home"; but the
stingy propensity first stirs in the man and actuates him, and then he
expresses his motive, or evades the true issue, by quoting the selfish
old saw ever ready at his hand. In such cases the axiom is not the
forerunning cause of the action, but its justifying explanation.
Sometimes, undeniably, an applicable proverb coming to mind does
influence a man and decide his conduct. Coming at the right moment, in
the wavering of his will, it suggests the principle which determines
him, lends the needful balance of impulse for which he waited. An old
proverb, indorsed by the usage of generations, strikes on the ear like
a voice falling from the heights of antiquity; it is clothed with
a kind of authority. Doubtless many a poor boy has received a sound
flogging which he would have escaped, had not his father happened
to recall the somewhat cruel and questionable aphorism of Solomon,
currently abbreviated into "Spare the rod and spoil the child."
When Charles IX. was hesitating as to the enactment of the Saint
Bartholomew Massacre, his bigoted mother, infuriated with sectarian
hate, whispered in his ear, "Clemency is sometimes cruelty, and
cruelty clemency,"--and the fatal decree was sealed. But such
instances are exceptional, and partly deceptive, too. Man is usually
governed by his own passions, his own circumstances, or his own
reason, not by any verbal propositions. And when an apt and timely
adage seems to determine him, it is, for the most part, because
it acts upon responsive feelings preexistent in him and already
struggling to express themselves. And thus, upon the whole, it is
to be concluded that proverbs are the children of Epimetheus, or
afterthought, rather than of Prometheus, or forethought. They are
rather products than producers,--intellectual forms rather than
intellectual forces. The prevalent notion of their influence is a
huge and singular error. One of our wisest authors, himself a great
aphorist, says,--"Proverbs are the sanctuaries of the intuitions." But
the intuitions, for the very reason that they are intuitive, need no
advisory guidance, and admit of no verbal help.

But when we turn from the aphoristic proverbs of the people to
the aphoristic maxims of the wise, a deep distinction and contrast
confront us. These, so far from being evasions of effort or
substitutes for thought, are direct stimulants to thought, provocative
summonses to more earnest mental application. Seneca says, "Wouldst
thou subject all things to thyself? Subject thyself to reason." A
modern writer says, "They are not kings who have thrones, but they who
know how to govern." Now any one meeting these maxims, if they have
any effect on him, will be set a-thinking to discover the principle
contained in them. He will feel that there is a profound significance
in them; and his curiosity will be awakened, his intellect fired, to
find out the grounds and bearings of the law they denote. In this way
the words of the wise are goads to prick and urge the faculties of
inferior minds. Pointed expressions of the experience of the sovereign
masters of life and the world impel feebler and less agile natures to
follow the tracks of light and emulate the choice examples set before
them, with swifter movements and with richer results than they could
ever have attained, if not thus encouraged. Proverbial axioms flourish
copiously in the idiomatic ground and vernacular climate of unlearned,
undisciplined, unreflective minds, as thistles on the highway where
every ass may gather them. But precious maxims, those "short sentences
drawn from a long experience," as Cervantes calls them, are found
mostly in the writings of the greatest geniuses, Solomon, Aristotle,
Shakspeare, Bacon, Goethe, Richter, Emerson: and they appeal
comparatively but to a select class of minds, kindred in some degree
to those that originated them.

To appreciate and use correctly a valuable maxim requires a genius,
a vital appropriating exercise of mind, closely allied to that which
first created it. In order to secure genuine profit here, the disciple
must for himself repeat the processes of the teacher, reach the same
conclusion, see the same truth. Wisdom cannot be mechanically taken,
but must be spiritually assimilated,--cannot be put on as a coat or
hat, used as a hammer or a sling, but must be intelligently grasped,
digested, and organized into the mental structure and habits. The
truth of this is at once so palpable and so important that it has
found embodiment in numerous proverbs known to almost every one: "An
ounce of mother-wit is worth a pound of school-wit"; "A pennyweight of
your own wit is worth a ton of other people's"; "Who cannot work out
his salvation by heart will never do it by book."

For the reason just indicated, we think the common estimate of
the actual influence of even the costliest preceptive sayings is
monstrously exaggerated. That an aphorism should really be of use, it
must virtually be reproduced by the faculties of your own soul. But
the mental energy and acquirement which thus recreate it in a great
degree supersede the necessity of it, render it an expression not of
a guidance you need from without, but of an insight and force already
working within. Your character determines what maxims you will select
or create far more than the maxims you choose or make determine what
your character will be. Herbart says, "Characters with ruling plans
are energetic; characters with ruling maxims are virtuous." This is
true, since a continuous plan subsidizes the forces that would without
it run to waste, and a deliberately chosen authority girds and guides
the soul from perilous dallying and dissipation. Nevertheless, it is
not so much that characters are energetic or virtuous because they
have ruling plans or maxims as it is that they have ruling plans or
maxims because they are energetic or virtuous. Say to a penurious,
hard, grumpy man, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Will
you thus make him liberal, sympathetic, affable? No, his character
will neutralize your precept, as vinegar receiving the sunshine into
its bosom becomes more sour. Some persons seem to imagine that a wise
maxim is a sort of fairy's wand, one touch of which will transform the
loaded panniers of a donkey into the fiery wings of a Pegasus. Surely,
it is a great error. Trench says, with an amusing _naivete_, "There is
scarcely a mistake which in the course of our lives we have committed,
but some proverb, _had we known and attended to its lesson_, might
have saved us from it." The two comprehensive conditions, "had we
known and attended to its lesson," are discharging conductors, that
empty the sentence of all proper meaning, and leave only a rank of
hollow words behind. He might as well say, "Had we never been tempted,
we had never fallen,--had we possessed all wisdom, we had never
committed an error," The best maxim that ever was made cannot directly
impart or create knowledge or virtue or spiritual force. It can only
give a voice to those qualities where they already exist, and so set
in motion a strengthening interchange of action and reaction. Though a
fool's mouth be stuffed with proverbs, he still remains as much a fool
as before. He is past preaching to who does not care to mend. As the
brave Schiller affirms, "Heaven and earth fight in vain against a
dunce." Eternal contact with nutritious wisdom can teach no lesson,
nor profit at all one who has not a cooeperative and assimilative
mind. The anchor is always in the sea, but it never learns to swim.
Philosophic precepts address the reason; but the springs of motive and
regeneration are in the sentiments. To attempt the reformation of
a bad man by means of fine aphorisms is as hopeless as to bombard
a fortress with diamonds, or to strive to exhilarate the brain by
pelting the forehead with grapes.

And yet, notwithstanding these large limitations and abatements, it
is not to be denied that both proverbs and maxims, when habitually
recalled, generally have some effect, often are strongly influential,
and may, by a faithful observance of the conditions, be made extremely
efficacious. What, then, are the conditions of deriving profit from
the contemplation of aphorisms? How can we make their futility end,
their utility begin? The first, ever indispensable condition is fresh
discrimination. There are false, cynical, mean, devilish aphorisms, as
well as sound and worthy ones. Each style of character, kind and grade
of experience breathes itself out in corresponding expressions. "Self
is the man"; "Look out for Number One"; "Devil take the hindmost";
"One for me is as good as two for you"; "Every man has his price";
"Draw the snake from its hole by another man's hand"; "Vengeance is
a feast fit for the gods." The fact that such infernal sentiments are
proverbs must be no excuse for not trampling them out of sight with
disgust and scorn. Discrimination is needed not only to reject bad
sayings, but also to correct incomplete or extravagant ones. The
maxim, "Never judge by appearances," must be modified, because in
reality appearances are all that we have to judge from. Its true
rendering is, "Judge cautiously, for appearances are often deceptive."
A proverb is almost always partial, presenting one aspect of the
matter,--or excessive, making no allowance for exceptions. Here
independent insight is requisite, that we may not err. As a general
thing, aphorisms are particular truths put into forms of universality,
and they must be severely scrutinized, lest a mere characteristic
of the individual be mistaken for a normal faculty of the race. For
instance, it is said, "A reconciled friend is an enemy in disguise."
Not always, by any means; it depends greatly on the character of
the man, "Forewarned is forearmed." Generally this is true, but not
invariably; as sometimes a man, by being forewarned of danger, is
unnerved with terror, and undone. So the two maxims, "Never abandon
a certainty for an uncertainty," "Nothing venture, nothing have,"
destroy each other. Whether you shall give up the one bird in the hand
and try for the two in the bush depends on the relative worth of the
one and the two, and the probabilities of success in the trial.
No abstract maxim can help solve that problem: it requires living
intelligence. To follow a foreign rule empirically will often be to
fare as the monkey fared, who, undertaking to shave, as he had seen
his master do, gashed his face and paws. Fearful incisions of the soul
will he get who accepts unqualifyingly the class of impulsive proverbs
with their enormously overdrawn inferences: such as that of David,
when he said in his haste, "All men are liars"; or that of Moore,
when he said in his song, "The world is all a fleeting show, for man's
illusion given"; or that maxim of Schopenhauer, so full of deadly
misanthropy and melancholy that one would gladly turn his back on a
world in which he believed such a rule necessary, "Love no one, hate
no one, is the first half of all worldly wisdom; say nothing, believe
nothing, is the other half."

The first condition of a profitable use of maxims being a thorough
mastery of the rule proposed, with its limits, the next condition
is an accurate self-knowledge. Know yourself, your weaknesses, your
aptitudes, your exposures, your gifts and strength, in order that you
may know what to seek or avoid, what to cherish or spurn, what to spur
or curb, what to fortify or assail. For example, if your head is made
of butter, it is clear that it will not do for you to be a baker. If
you are a coward, you must not volunteer to lead a forlorn hope. The
advantage of self-knowledge is that it enables us to prescribe for
ourselves the contemplation of such principles and motives as we
need. If our thought is narrow and our fancy cold, we should study the
maxims that instruct,--as, "Joys are wings, sorrows are spurs." If
our heart is faint and our will weak, we should study the maxims that
inspire,--as, "The reward of a thing well done is to have done it."
The instructive maxim opens a vista of truth to the intellect, as when
Goethe said, "A man need not be an architect in order to live in a
house." The inspiring maxim strikes a martial chord in the soul,
as when Alexander said to his Greeks, shrinking at the sight of
the multitudinous host of Persians, "One butcher does not fear many
sheep." The evil of self-ignorance is, that it permits men to choose
as their favorite and guiding maxims those adages which express and
foster their already rampant propensities, leaving their drooping
deficiencies to pine and cramp in neglect. The miser pampers his
avarice by repeating a hundred times a day, "A penny saved is a penny
gained": as if that were the maxim _he_ needed! The spend-thrift
comforts and confirms himself in his prodigality by saying, "God
loveth a cheerful giver": as if that were not precisely the saying
he ought never to recall! Audacity and arrogance constantly say to
themselves, "Be bold, be bold, and evermore be bold." Timidity and
distrust are ever whispering, "Be not too bold." Thus what would be
one man's meat proves another man's poison; whereas, were it rightly
distributed, both would be nourished into healthy development. The
over-reckless should restrain himself by remembering that "Fools
rush in where angels fear to tread." The over-cautious should animate
himself with the reflection that "The coward dies a thousand deaths,
the brave man only one." A man who, with deep self-knowledge,
carefully chooses and perseveringly applies maxims adapted to check
his excess and arouse his defect may derive unspeakable profit from

To do this with full success, however, he must have a discriminating
knowledge of the circumstances as well as of the rule, and of himself.
"Circumstances alter cases." What applies happily in one exigency may
be perfectly absurd or ruinous in a different situation. The mule,
loaded with salt, waded through a brook, and, as the salt melted,
the burden grew light. The ass, loaded with wool, tried the same
experiment; but the wool, saturated with water, was twice as heavy as
before. So the Satyr, in AEsop's fable, asked the man coming in from
the cold, "Why he blew on his fingers?" and was told, "To warm them."
Soon after he asked, "Why he blew in his soup?" and was told, "To
cool it." Whereupon he rushed on the man with a club and slew him as a
liar. The ramifications of truth in varying emergencies are infinitely
subtile and complicated, and often demand the very nicest care
in distinguishing. Good advice, when empirically taken and rashly
followed, is as an eye in the hand, sure to be put out the first thing
on trying to use it. "Advice costs nothing and is good for nothing,"
it is often said. But that depends on the quality of the advice, on
the circumstances, and on what kind of persons impart and receive the
counsel. Advice given with earnestness and wisdom, and applied with
docility and discrimination, may cost a great deal and be invaluable.
Competence and aptness, or folly and heedlessness, make a world of
difference. The great difficulty in regard to the fruitfulness of
advice is the universal readiness to impart, the usual unwillingness
to accept it. We give advice by the bucket, take it by the grain. For
these reasons the world is yet surfeited with precept and starving for
example: and the applicability is by no means exhausted of the
fable of Brabrius, who tells how when an old crab said to her child,
"Awkward one, walk not so crookedly!" he replied, "Mother, walk you
straight, I will watch and follow." Verbal wisdom would direct us;
exemplified wisdom draws us.

The first danger, then, from aphorisms is, that they may enable us
to evade, instead of helping us to fulfil, the duty of meeting and
solving for ourselves each mental exigency as it arises. In such a
case, educative discipline and growth are forfeited. The other danger
from them is, that they may be applied mechanically, without a just
understanding of them, and thus that grievous mistakes may be made.
Their genuine use is to excite our own minds to master the principles
which their authors have set forth in them. Fresh honesty of personal
thought, aspiration, and patience, is the spiritual talisman wherewith
alone we can vivify truisms into truths, and transmute noble maxims
into flesh and blood, nay, into immortal mind. The master-thinkers aid
us to do this by the quickening power of their suggestions,--the great
critic not only giving his readers direction, but also helping them to

To traverse the works of some authors is like going through a
carefully arranged herbarium, where every specimen is lifeless,
shrivelled, dusty, crumbling to the touch. The writings of genuine men
of genius are like a conservatory, where every plant of thought and
sentiment, whether indigenous or exotic, is alive, full of bloom and
fragrance, the sap at work in its veins. Verbal statements which are
petrifactions of wisdom can neither stimulate nor nourish; but verbal
statements which are vital concentrations of wisdom do both. He
has learned one of the most important lessons in human life who
understands adequately the difference between formal perception and
organic experience, contrasting the futility of detached and deathly
proverbs with the utility of nutritious and electrical maxims.
A mechanical teacher crowds the ear with mummified precepts and
exhortations; an inspired teacher brings surcharged examples and
rules into contact with the mind. The distinction is world-wide and

* * * * *



If photography had existed during the lifetime of Shelley, it alone
would have sufficed to correct many a misconception of his character
founded upon imperfect portraiture; and even the most boyish
recollections of him, matter-of-fact as they are, may help to solve
the problem upon which many minds have been engaged without yet
having finished the work. For Shelley still remains before the
world misconceived because misdescribed; and if society is
gradually clearing its ideas of the man, it is not only because
the preconceptions of that multitudinous authority are themselves
gradually drifting away, but also because substantial facts are slowly
coming into view. Their development has been hindered by obstacles
which will be understood when I have proceeded a little farther, and
even within the compass of this brief sketch I hope that I shall be
able to make readers on both sides of the Atlantic work their own way
a little closer to the truth.

Shelley is still regarded by the majority, either as a victim of
persecution, or a rebel against authority, or both,--his friends
probably inclining to hold him up as a philosopher-patriot, whose
resistance to intellectual oppression placed him in the condition of
a martyr and robbed him of his fair share of life. My own earliest
memory presents him very much in that aspect. I first recall him
pale and slender, worn with anxiety, openly alluding to the marks of
premature age in his own aspect, bursting with aspirations against
tyranny of all kinds, and yielding to fits of dreadful despondency
under sufferings inflicted by the dignitaries of the land at the
instance of his own family. The circumstances by which he was
surrounded contributed to this guise of martyrdom.

My own earliest recollections began in prison, where my father[A]
was incarcerated for critical remarks which at the present day would
scarcely attract attention, and which were put forth in no impulse of
personal hostility, but under the strongest sense of duty, with the
desire to vindicate the constitutional freedom of England against the
perverted control of faction and the influences of a corrupt court. At
that time my father was accounted a man prone to mutiny against "the
powers that be," although his political opinions belonged to a class
which would now be regarded as too moderate for popular liberalism.
He has been censured for literary affectation and for personal
improvidence, but only by those who do not understand the real
elements of his character. The leading ideas of his mind were,
first, earnest duty to his country at any cost to himself; next, the
sacrifice of any ordinary consideration to personal affection and
friendship; and lastly, the cultivation of "the ideal," especially as
it is developed in imaginative literature. His life was passed in an
absolute devotion to these three principles. A one-sided frankness has
blazoned to the world the sacrifices which he accepted from friends,
but has whispered nothing of the more than commensurate sacrifices
made on his side; and the simplicity that rendered him the creature of
the library in which he lived entered into the expression of all his
thoughts and feelings.

[Footnote A: Leigh Hunt.]

Although I can remember some of the most eminent men who visited us
in prison, Shelley I cannot; but I can well recall my father's
description of the young stranger who came to him breathing the
classic thoughts of college, ardent with aspirations for the
emancipation of man from intellectual slavery, and endowed by Nature
with an aspect truly "angelic."

In the interval before his next visit to us, Shelley had passed
through the first serious passion of his youth, had married Harriet
Westbrooke, had become the father of two children, and had thus to all
appearance secured the transmission of the estates strictly entailed
with the baronetcy,--but had also been exiled from his family-home,
as well as from college, for his revolutionary and infidel principles,
had gone through a course of domestic disappointment, had separated
from his wife, and was threatened with the removal of his children,
on the ground of the impious and "immoral" training to which they were
destined under his guardianship. He came to our house for support and
consolation; he found in it a home for his intellect as well as for
his feelings, and he was as strictly a part of the family as any of
our blood-relations, for he came and went at pleasure. I can remember
that I performed his bidding equally with that of my father; and as to
personal deference or regard, the only distinction which my memory
can discover is, that I found in Shelley a companion whom I better
understood, and whose country rambles I was more pleased to share. For
this there were many reasons, and amongst them that Shelley entered
more unreservedly into the sports and even the thoughts of children.
I had probably awakened interest in him, not only because I was my
father's eldest child, but still more because I had already begun to
read with great avidity, and with an especial sense of imaginative
wonders and horrors; and, familiarized with the conversation amongst
literary men, I had really been able to understand something of his
position, insomuch that no doubt he saw the intense interest I took in
himself and his sufferings.

The emotions that he underwent were but too manifest in the
unconcealed anxiety and the eager recital of newly awakened hopes,
with intervals of the deepest depression. He suffered also from
physical causes, which I then only in part understood. This suffering
was traced to the attack made upon him at Tanyralt, in Wales, when, on
the night of February the 26th, 1813, some man who had been prowling
about the house in which he lived first fired at him through the
window, and then entered the room, escaping when the man-servant was
called in by the tumult and the screams of Mrs. Shelley. The whole
incident has been doubted,--why, I can hardly understand, unless the
reason is that some of the conjectures in which Mrs. Shelley indulged
were over-imaginative. She mentions by name a political opponent who
had said that "he would drive them out of the country." My own weak
recollections point to reasons more personal. But what I do know is,
that Shelley himself ascribed the injury from which he suffered to
a pressure of the assassin's knee upon him in the struggle. The
complaint was of long standing; the attacks were alarmingly severe,
and the seizure very sudden. I can remember one day at Hampstead: it
was soon after breakfast, and Shelley sat reading, when he suddenly
threw up his book and hands, and fell back, the chair sliding sharply
from under him, and he poured forth shrieks, loud and continuous,
stamping his feet madly on the ground. My father rushed to him, and,
while the women looked out for the usual remedies of cold water and
hand-rubbing, applied a strong pressure to his side, kneading it with
his hands; and the patient seemed gradually to be relieved by that
process. This happened about the time when he was most anxious for the
result of the trial which was to deprive him of his children. In
the intervals he sought relief in reading, in conversation,--which
especially turned upon classic literature,--in freedom of thought and
action, and in play with the children of the house. I can remember
well one day when we were both for some long time engaged in gambols,
broken off by my terror at his screwing up his long and curling
hair into a horn, and approaching me with rampant paws and frightful
gestures as some imaginative monster.

It was at this time that the incident happened which has been
mentioned by my father. A poor woman had been attending her son before
a criminal court in London. As they were returning home at night,
fatigue and anxiety so overcame her that she fell on the ground in
convulsions, where she was found by Shelley. He appealed to a very
opulent person, who lived on the top of the hill, asking admission for
the woman into the house, or the use of the carriage, which had just
set the family down at the door. The stranger was repulsed with
the cold remark that impostors swarmed everywhere, and that his own
conduct was "extraordinary." The good Samaritan, whom the Christian
would not help, warned the uncharitable man that such treatment of the
poor is sometimes chastised by hard treatment of the rich in days
of trouble; and I heard Shelley describe the manner in which the
gentleman retreated into his mansion, exclaiming, "God bless me, Sir!
dear me, Sir!" In the account of the occurrence given by my father,
he has omitted to mention that Shelley and the woman's son, who had
already carried her a considerable way up the main hill of Hampstead,
brought her on from the inhospitable mansion to our house in their
arms; and I believe, that, the son's strength failing, for some way
down the hill into the Vale of Health Shelley carried her on his back.
I cannot help contrasting this action of the wanderer with the careful
self-regard of another friend who often came to see us, though I do
not remember that any of us were ever inside his doors. He was, I
believe, for some time actually a pensioner on Shelley's generosity,
though he ultimately rose to be comparatively wealthy. One night, when
he had been visiting us, he was in trouble because no person had been
sent from a tavern at the top of the hill to light him up the pathway
across the heath. That same self-caring gentleman afterwards became
one of the apologists who most powerfully contributed to mislead
public opinion in regard to his benefactor.

Shelley often called me for a long ramble on the heath, or into
regions which I then thought far distant; and I went with him rather
than with my father, because he walked faster, and talked with
me while he walked, instead of being lost in his own thoughts and
conversing only at intervals. A love of wandering seemed to possess
him in the most literal sense; his rambles appeared to be without
design, or any limit but my fatigue; and when I was "done up,"
he carried me home in his arms, on his shoulder, or pickback. Our
communion was not always concord; as I have intimated, he took a
pleasure in frightening me, though I never really lost my confidence
in his protection, if he would only drop the fantastic aspects that
he delighted to assume. Sometimes, but much more rarely, he teased me
with exasperating banter; and, inheriting from some of my progenitors
a vindictive temper, I once retaliated severely. We were in the
sitting-room with my father and some others, while I was tortured. The
chancery-suit was just then approaching its most critical point, and,
to inflict the cruellest stroke I could think of, I looked him in the
face, and expressed a hope that he would be beaten in the trial and
have his children taken from him. I was sitting on his knee, and as
I spoke, he let himself fall listlessly back in his chair, without
attempting to conceal the shock I had given him. But presently he
folded his arms round me and kissed me; and I perfectly understood
that he saw how sorry I was, and was as anxious as I was to be friends
again. It was not very long after that we were playing with paper
boats on the pond in the Vale of Health, watching the way in which the
wind carried some of them over, or swamped most of them before they
had surmounted many billows; and Shelley then playfully said how
much he should like it, if we could get into one of the boats and be
shipwrecked,--it was a death he should like better than any other.

After the death of Harriet, Shelley's life entirely changed; and I
think I shall be able to show in the sequel that the change was far
greater than any of his biographers, except perhaps one who was most
likely to know, have acknowledged. Conventional form and Shelley are
almost incompatible ideas; as his admirable wife has said of him, "He
lived to idealize reality,--to ally the love of abstract truth, and
adoration of abstract good, with the living sympathies. And long as he
did this without injury to others, he had the reverse of any respect
for the dictates of orthodoxy or convention." As soon, therefore,
as the obstacle to a second marriage was removed, he and Mary
Wollstonecraft Godwin were regularly joined in matrimony, and retired
to Great Marlow, in Buckinghamshire. A brief year Shelley passed in
the position of a country-gentleman on a small scale. His abode was
a rough house in the village, with a garden at the back and nothing
beyond but the country. Close to the house there was a small
pleasure-ground, with a mound at the farther end of the lawn slightly
inclosing the view. Behind the mound there was a kitchen-garden, not
unintermixed with flowers and ornamental vegetation; and farther still
was a piece of ground traversed by a lane deeply excavated in the
chalk soil. At that time Shelley had a thousand a year allowed to
him by his father; but although he was in no respect the unreckoning,
wasteful person that many have represented him to be, such a sum must
have been insufficient for the mode in which he lived. His family
comprised himself, Mary, William their eldest son, and Claire
Claremont,--the daughter of Godwin's second wife, and therefore
the half-sister of Mary Shelley,--a girl of great ability, strong
feelings, lively temper, and, though not regularly handsome, of
brilliant appearance. They kept three servants, if not a fourth
assistant: a cook; Elise, a Swiss _gouvernante_ for the child; and
Harry, a man who did the work of gardener and man-servant in general.
He kept something like open house; for while I was there with my
father and mother, there also came, for a short time, several other
friends, some of whom stopped for more than a passing visit. He played
the Lord Bountiful among his humbler neighbors, not only helping them
with money or money's-worth, but also advising them in sickness; for
he had made some study of medicine, in part, I suspect, to be the more

I have already intimated that he had assisted certain of his
companions; and I am convinced that these circumstances contributed to
the resolution which Shelley formed to leave England for Italy in
the year 1818, although he then ascribed his doing so to the score of
health,--or rather, as he said, of life. He then believed himself
to be laboring under a tendency to consumption, not without medical
warnings to that effect, although there were strong reasons for
doubting the validity of the belief, which was based upon less precise
grounds before the introduction of auscultation and the careful
examinations of our day. It was, however, characteristic of Shelley
to rest his actions upon the dominant motive; so that, if several
inducements operated to the same end, he absolutely discarded the
minor considerations, and acted solely upon the grand one. I can well
remember, that, when other persons urged upon him cumulative reasons
for any course of action, whether in politics, or morality, or
trifling personal matters of the day, he indignantly cast aside all
such makeweights, and insisted upon the one sufficient motive. I
mention this the more explicitly because the opposite course is the
most common, and some who did not sympathize with his concentration
of purpose afterwards imputed the suppression of all but one, out of
several apparent motives, to reserve, or even to a want of candor.
The accusation was first made by some of Shelley's false
friends,--creatures who gathered round him to get what they could, and
afterwards made a market of their connection, to his disadvantage. But
I was shocked to find a sanction for the notion under the hand of one
of Shelley's first and most faithful friends, and I discovered it,
too, when death had barred me from the opportunity of controverting
the mistake. It was easily accounted for. The writer to whom I allude
was himself a person whose scrupulous conscience and strong mistrust
of his own judgment, unless supported on every side, induced him to
accumulate and to avow as many motives as possible for each single
act. He could scarcely understand or believe the existence of a
mind which, although powerful and comprehensive in its grasp, should
nevertheless deliberately set aside all motives but one, and actually
proceed upon that exclusive ground without regard to the others.

Both Shelley and his friends seem to have underrated his strength, and
one little incident will illustrate my meaning. He kept no horse or
carriage; but in accordance with his ruling passion he had a boat on
the river of sufficient size to carry a numerous party. It was made
both for sailing and rowing; and I can remember being one of an
expedition which went some distance up the Thames, when Shelley
himself towed the boat on the return home, while I walked, by his
side. His health had very much improved with the change that had
taken place in his mode of life, his more settled condition, and the
abatement of anxiety, with the absolute removal of some of its causes.
I am well aware that he _had_ suffered severely, and that he continued
to be haunted by certain recollections, partly real and partly
imaginative, which pursued him like an Orestes. He frequently talked
on such subjects; but it has always appeared to me that those who
have reported what he said have been guilty of a singular confusion in
their interpretations. As I proceed, you will find that certain facts
in his life have never yet been distinctly related, and I have a
strong reason for believing that some circumstances of which I became
accidentally aware were never disclosed at all, except to Mary; while
in her writings I can trace allusions to them, that remind me of
passages in ancient authors,--in Ovid, for instance,--which would have
been absolutely unintelligible, except for accidental references. In
spite, however, of the rude trials to which his constitution had
been subjected, and of new symptoms supposed to indicate pulmonary
weakness, there was a marked improvement in his aspect since he had
visited London. He still had that ultra-youthful figure that partook
the traits of the hobbledehoy, arrived at man's stature, but not yet
possessing the full manly proportions. His extremities were large, his
limbs long, his face small, and his thorax very partially developed,
especially in girth. An habitual eagerness of mood, thrusting forward
his face, made him stoop, with sunken chest and rounded shoulders; and
this was even more apparent in the easy costume of the country than
in London dress. But in his countenance there was life instead of
weariness; melancholy more often yielded to alternations of bright
thoughts; and paleness had given way to a certain freshness of color,
with something like roses in the cheeks. Notwithstanding the sense of
weakness in the chest, which attacked him on any sudden effort,
his power of exertion was considerable. Once, returning from a long
excursion, and entering the house by the back way, up a precipitous,
though not perpendicular bank, the women of the party had to be
helped; and Shelley was the most active in rendering that assistance.
While others were content to accomplish the feat for one, he, I think,
helped three up the bank, sliding in a half-sitting posture when he
returned to fetch a new charge. I well remember his shooting past me
in a cloud of chalk-dust, as I was slowly climbing up. He had a fit
of panting after it, but he made light of the exertion. I can also
recollect, that, although he frequently preferred to steer rather than
to put forth his strength, yet, if it were necessary, he would take
an oar, and could stick to his seat for any time against any force of
current or of wind, not only without complaining, but without being
compelled to give in until the set task was accomplished, though it
should involve some miles of hard pulling. These facts indicate the
amount of "grit" that lay under the outward appearance of weakness and
excitable nerves.

Shelley's fulness of vitality did not at that time seem to be shared
by the partner of his life. Mary's intellectual powers had already
been manifested. He must to some extent have known the force of her
affection, and the tenderness of her nature; but it is remarkable that
her youth was not the period of her greatest beauty, and certainly at
that date she did not do justice to herself either in her aspect or in
the tone of her conversation. She was singularly pale. With a figure
that needed to be set off, she was careless in her dress; and the
decision of purpose which ultimately gained her the playful title of
"Wilful Woman" then appeared, at least in society, principally in the
negative form,--her temper being easily crossed, and her resentments
taking a somewhat querulous and peevish tone. Both of the pair were
still young, and their ideas of education were adverse to the
received doctrines of the day, rather than substantive; and their
own principles in this matter were exemplified somewhat perversely by
little William. Even at that early age the child called forth frequent
and poignant remonstrances from his _gouvernante_, and occasionally
drew perplexed exclamations or desponding looks from his father, who
took the child's little perversities seriously to heart, and sometimes
vented his embarrassment in generalized remarks on human nature.

Some years elapsed between the night when I saw Shelley pack up his
pistols--which he allowed me to examine--for his departure for
the South, and the moment when, after our own arrival in Italy, my
attention was again called to his presence by the shrill sound of
his voice, as he rushed into my father's arms, which he did with an
impetuousness and a fervor scarcely to be imagined by any who did
not know the intensity of his feelings and the deep nature of his
affection for that friend. I remember his crying out that he was "so
_inexpressibly_ delighted!--you cannot think how _inexpressibly_ happy
it makes me!"

The history of Shelley's brief visit to Pisa has been related by many,
and is, I believe, told in his published letters; but it appears to me
that those who have recounted it have in some respects fallen short.
Excepting Mary Shelley, the best-informed spoke too soon after the
event. Shelley's own letters are slightly misleading, from a very
intelligible cause. After he had encouraged, if he did not suggest,
the enterprise of "The Liberal,"--and I believe it would be nearly
impossible for any one of the three men interested in that venture to
ascertain exactly who was its author,--his mind misgave him. He knew
my father's necessities and his childish capacities for business. With
a keen sense of the power displayed in "Don Juan," and even in more
melodramatic works, Shelley had acquired a full knowledge of the
singularly licentious training from which Byron had then scarcely
emerged, and of the vacillating caprice which enfeebled all his
actions. His own ability to grapple with practical affairs was very
great; but he himself had scarcely formed a sufficient estimate of it.
Determined to maintain a thorough equality and freedom with the noble
bard in their social relations, he shrank from any position which
might raise in Byron's jealous and unstable mind the idea that he was
under pressure; yet he was anxious to prevent disappointment for Leigh
Hunt. He dreaded failure, and resolved that he would do his best to
prevent it; and yet again he scarcely anticipated success.

As early as the end of 1818, he described the way in which Byron spent
his life, after he had been partly exiled, partly emancipated from the
ordinary restraints of society. At that time, "the Italian women were
the most contemptible of all who existed under the moon,--an ordinary
Englishman could not approach them"; "but," writes Shelley, "Lord
Byron is familiar with the lowest sort of these women,--the people
his _gondolieri_ pick up in the streets." Byron's curiosity, indeed,
tempted him to learn something of vice in its most revolting aspects.
"He has," writes Shelley, "a certain degree of candor, while you talk
to him, but unfortunately it does not outlast your departure." I am
sure that before 1821 Byron had risen in his friend's estimation, or
the "Liberal" scheme would never have been contemplated; and there
were excellent reasons for the change. It is only by degrees that men
have learned to appreciate at once the extraordinary nature and force
of Byron's genius and the equally monstrous and marvellous nature
of the evil training by which he was "dragged up." In the midst
of extravagant license he gained experiences which might have
extinguished his mind, but which, as they did not have that effect,
added to his resources. In the process some of his personal qualities
as a companion suffered severely. Very few grown men have been so
extravagantly sensitive to personal approbation; and he was anxious
to conciliate the liking of all who approached him, however foreign
to his own set, however humble, or however insignificant. He was as
mistrustful as a greedy child. He could be extravagant, but he was not
open-handed; and yet he would give up what he coveted for himself,
if he were urged by those whose esteem he desired to win. Now, of
all persons who came near him, Shelley was the one that combined the
greatest number of qualities calculated to influence a creature like
Byron. He was of gentle blood; he was as resolute as he was able to
maintain what is popularly called an independent position; he was
truly sincere; and his way of life displayed a purity which Byron
admired, though he fell from it so lamentably. On the other hand,
Shelley was at odds with society on the very same questions of morals;
he possessed all the philosophy for understanding the complicated
perplexities of aberrant genius; did actually make allowances for
Byron; estimated his powers more accurately, and therefore more
highly, than any other person who came near him; and thus commanded at
once his sympathies, his ambition, and his confidence. Everybody
knows that in the interval between 1818 and the date of his death at
Missolonghi, Byron's discipline of life had undergone a marked
and beneficial change, and many agencies have been mentioned as
contributing to that result, but I am sure that no one was so
all-sufficient as the personal association with Shelley. Nothing of
this is gainsaid by the fact that the greater part of this improvement
was displayed after Shelley's death. Change of scene, intercourse with
others, opportunities for acting upon his new principles, all helped,
together, probably, with the graver sense of counsel bequeathed by
the friend whom he had lost. Certain it is that Byron never mentioned
Shelley in my hearing without a peculiarly emphatic manner. I know
that to more than one person he performed acts of kindness and
friendly aid as tributes to the memory of Shelley; and if any action
were urged upon him as worthy of his own genius and dignity, nothing
clenched the appeal like the name of Shelley. But if you will for a
moment compare the characters of the two men,--if you will contrast
the large self-sacrifice of the one with the self-indulgence of the
other, the independence of the one with the craving of the other for
approval, the absolute trust in human hope and goodness of Shelley
with the _blase_ cynicism of Byron, I think two conclusions must
instantly strike you,--first, that Shelley must have possessed almost
unequalled power of influence over those who surrounded him, and,
secondly, that Byron himself must have been a much better man, or
possessing much more in common with Shelley than society or some of
his most intellectual companions at all imagined. Part of the facts
bearing upon the subject have come out since the death of both. My own
attention was drawn to the point by the striking discord between the
way in which other people speak of their relations and the manner of
Shelley and Byron towards each other, and especially Byron's way in
speaking of Shelley. It is not probable that Shelley formed to himself
any such idea of his own power; yet you will find hints at it in his
letters, you will see, curious traces of it in the letters of others,
and nothing else will fully explain the change in Byron's life.
Moreover, it reconciles the apparent inconsistencies of Shelley's
reservations in talking about Byron with his manifest and practical
confidence in the result of their joint working.

When I met Shelley again in Italy, it was easy to see that a grand
change had come over his appearance and condition. The Southern
climate had suited him, and the boat which caused his death had in the
mean while been instrumental in developing his life. His retirement
from painful personal conflict had given him greater ease; intercourse
with Mary had made his life better; and, not to overlook one important
fact, he had _grown_ since he left England. For physiologists attest
the truth, that growth continues throughout human existence, even
until after decay begins; and Shelley's constitution was of that
kind--strong in some of its developments, slow in others--which needed
longer time than many to arrive at its full proportions. For instance,
in the interval since I had seen him his chest had manifestly become
of a larger girth. I am speaking only upon distant recollection; but
I should judge it to have been three or four inches larger round, or
perhaps more. His voice was stronger, his manner more confident
and downright, and, although not less emphatic, yet decidedly less
impulsively changeful. I can recall his reading from an ancient
author, translating as he went, a passage about the making of the
first man; and I remember it from the subject and from the easy
flow of his translation, but chiefly from the air of strength and
cheerfulness which I noticed in his voice and manner. In nothing,
however, does Shelley appear to me to have been so misdescribed as
in the outward man,--partly, as usual, from overstatement of
peculiarities, and partly because each artist has painted the portrait
from his own favorite view. Many, through exaggeration, or imperfect
knowledge, have equally misconstrued his moral character, and have
omitted to report the real conduct of his understanding as he advanced
towards "the middle of the way of life."

From the story of his life after I first saw him, as well as from
many things that I have heard him say of his family, and the strange
recollections that he had of home, it is easy to understand the
general tenor of his early life. Through some caprice in genealogical
chemistry, in Percy the Shelley race struck out an entirely new idea:
an apparent caprice in the sequence of houses that has often been
noticed. For how often may we observe that the union of the most
remarkable intellects produces a _tertium quid_ which is the reverse
of an equivalent to the combined totals, representing only a fraction
of their qualities, and that fraction in its negative aspect; while,
on the other hand, rivulets of blood which have gained for themselves
no name upon earth may combine to form a river illustrious to the
whole world. In the latter case, not an unusual effect is that those
who are charged with the infancy of the new type in the family are
incompetent to their duty; and accordingly Shelley was regarded merely
as "a strange boy," wayward, mutinous, and to be severely chastised
into obedience. It has been said that he attracted no particular
notice at school; but this is not true. At Eton his resentment of
tyrannical authority displayed itself not only against the masters,
but against the privileges of young patricians. He refused to be
"fag"; and on one occasion he so braved the youthful public-opinion,
that, on being dared to the act by the surrounding boys, he pinned
a companion's hand to the table with a fork. According to my
recollection, the immediate provocative was that he was dared to
do it; but the incident arose out of his resistance to the seniors
amongst the scholars and to the customs of the school. It was evident
that the masters had their eye upon him. Such a youth, with a command
of language that was a born faculty and not simply acquired, _must_
have attracted very positive attention on the part of the teachers;
but it was certain, that, with the tendencies of those days, they
would have thought it discreet to say as little as possible about the
slender mutineer. It is equally well known, that, notwithstanding his
youth, religious opinions caused his expulsion from college; and when
we turn to the earliest of his writings which assumed anything like a
complete shape, we discover at once the nature of those powers
which could not have been overlooked,--we detect the genius, the
revolutionary ideas, and the extraordinary command which he had
acquired over the subject-matter of much that is taught in schools
and colleges. Amid the orthodox reaction that followed upon the French
Revolution, he was struck with the excesses to which despotic power
could be carried. He read history with sympathies for the natural
impulses and aspirations of the race, as opposed to the small circles
which comprise established authorities. He looked upon knowledge as
the means of serving, not enslaving the race. And therefore, while he
excused the crimes of the Revolution, on the score of the ignorance
in which the people had been kept, their sufferings, and the natural
revulsion against such painful down-treading, he regarded the counter
acts of authority as a treachery to wisdom itself. He says,--

"Hath Nature's soul,
That formed this world so beautiful....
And filled the meanest worm that crawls in dust
With spirit, thought, and love, on Man alone,
Partial in causeless malice, wantonly
Heaped ruin, vice, and slavery?
Kings, priests, and statesmen blast the human flower
Even in its tender bud; their influence darts
Like subtle poison through the bloodless veins
Of desolate society."

The pretension of authority to speak with a supernatural warrant
provoked him to deny the warrant itself, or the sources from which it
was said to emanate.

"Is there a God?--ay, an almighty God,
And vengeful as almighty? Once his voice
Was heard on earth; earth shuddered at the sound,
The fiery-visaged firmament expressed
Abhorrence, and the grave of Nature yawned
To swallow all the dauntless and the good
That dared to hurl defiance at his throne,
Girt as it was with power. None but slaves
Survived,--cold-blooded slaves, who did the work
Of tyrranous omnipotence."

To these superstitious and ambitious pretensions he traced the
corruption which disorganized society, leading it down even to the
very worst immoralities.

"All things are sold: the very light of heaven
Is venal....
Those duties which heart of human love
Should urge him to perform instinctively
Are bought and sold as in a public mart.

* * * * *

Even love is sold; the solace of all woe
Is turned to deadliest agony, old age
Shivers in selfish beauty's loathing arms,
And youth's corrupted impulses prepare
A life of horror from the blighting bane
Of commerce; whilst the pestilence that springs
From unenjoying sensualism has filled
All human life with hydra-headed woes."

"Shelley," says Mary, in her note on the poem, "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." The wife-editor refers to a series of
articles published in the "New Monthly Magazine" for 1832 by a
fellow-collegian, a warm friend of Shelley's, touching upon his
school-life, and describing the state of his mind at college. The
worst of all these biographical sketches of remarkable men is, that
delicacy, discretion, or some other euphemistically named form of
hesitancy, induces writers to suppress the incidents which supply the
very angles of the form they want to delineate; and it is especially
so in Shelley's case. I am sure, that, if Mary, or my father, or any
of those with whom Shelley conversed most thoroughly, had related some
of the more extravagant incidents of his early life exactly as they
occurred, we should better understand the tenor of his thought,--and
we should also have the most valuable complement to that part of
his intellectual progress which stands in contrast with the earlier
portion. Now, as I have said, at school Shelley was a more practical
and impracticable mutineer than his friends have generally allowed.
They have been anxious to soften his "faults"; and the consequence
is, that we miss the force of the boy's logic and the vigor of his
Catonian experiments.

Again, accident has made me aware of facts which give me to
understand, that, in passing through the usual curriculum of a college
life in all its paths, Shelley did not go scathless,--but that, in
the tampering with venal pleasures, his health was seriously, and not
transiently, injured. The effect was far greater on his mind than on
his body; and the intellectual being greater than the physical
power, the healthy reaction was greater. But that reaction was
also, especially in early youth, principally marked by horror and
antagonism. Conscientious, far beyond even the ordinary maximum
amongst ordinary men, he felt bound to denounce the mischief from
which he saw others suffer more severely than himself, since in them
there was no such reaction. I have no doubt that he himself would have
spoken even plainer language, though to me his language is perfectly
transparent, if he had not been restrained by a superstitious notion
of his own, that the true escape from the pestilent and abhorrent
brutalities which he detected around him in "real" life is found in
"the ideal" form of thought and language. Ardent and romantic, he was
eager to discover beauty "beneath" every natural aspect. Of all men
living, I am the one most bound to be aware of the inconsistency; but
you will see it reconciled a little later.

Shelley left college prone "to fall in love,"--having already, indeed,
gone through some very slight experiences of that process. In his
wanderings, in a humble position which conciliated rather than
repelled him, he met with Harriet Westbrooke, a very comely, pleasing,
and simple type of girlhood. She was at some disadvantage, under some
kind of domestic oppression; so she served at once as an object for
his disengaged affection, and a subject for his liberating theories,
and as a substratum for the idealizing process upon which he
constructed a fictitious creation of Harriet Westbrooke. His dreams
bearing but a faint and controversial resemblance to the Harriet
Westbrooke of daily life, the fictitious image prevented him from
knowing her, until the reality broke through the poetical vision only
to shock him by its inferiority or repulsiveness. As to the poor girl
herself, she never had the capacity for learning to know him. In the
sequel she proved to be the not unwilling slave of a petty domestic
intrigue,--oppression from which he would have rescued her. Married
life enabled him to discover that she was the reverse of the being
that he had fancied. They were first married in Scotland in 1811.
Shelley made acquaintance with the Godwins in 1812, before his eldest
child was born. I am not sure whether he was acquainted with Mary at
that time; but some circumstances which I cannot verify make me doubt
it. Harriet's daughter was born early in the summer of 1813, and it
was before the close of that year that the couple began to disagree.
The wife was evidently under the dominion of a relative whose
influence was injurious to her. I do not find a hint of any imputation
upon what is usually called her "fidelity"; but the relative
manifestly desired to show her power over both. It is probable that at
an early day Shelley's disposition to see "sermons in stones and good
in everything" made him think better of that interloping lady than she
deserved,--and that consequently he not only gave her encouragement,
but committed himself to something which, to Harriet's mind, justified
her deference for ill-considered advice. It is very likely that she
was counselled to extend her power over Shelley in a manner which her
own simple nature would not have suggested; but, being as foolish as
it was cunning and vulgar, such conduct could no result but that of
repelling a man like Shelley. That he acquired a detestation of the
relative is a certain fact. He must have been expecting a second child
when he formally remarried Harriet in England on the twenty-fourth of
March, 1814; and that ceremony has been mentioned by several writers
to prove the most opposite conclusions,--that Shelley was devoted to
his first wife, and that he behaved to her with the basest hypocrisy.
It proves nothing but his desire to place the hereditary rights of the
second child, who might be a boy, beyond doubt; and the precaution
was justified by the event. Before the close of the same year Harriet
returned to her father's house, and there she gave birth to a son,
Charles, who would have inherited the baronetcy, if he had not died
in 1826, after his father's death. The parting took place about the
twenty-fourth of June, 1814; and at the same time Shelley wrote a
poem, of which fragments are given in the recently published "Relics."
The verse shows, first, that Shelley was suffering severely from the
chronic conflict which he had undergone, and, secondly, that he had
found some novel comfort in the intercourse with Mary.

"To sit and curb the soul's mute rage,
Which preys upon itself alone;
To curse the life which is the cage
Of fettered grief that dares not groan,
Hiding from many a careless eye
The scorned load of agony.

"Upon my heart thy accents sweet
Of peace and pity fell like dew
On flowers half dead....

"We are not happy, sweet! our state
Is strange and full of doubt and fear;
More need of words that ills abate;--
Reserve or censure come not near
Our sacred friendship, lest there be
No solace left for thee and me."

It is obvious that considerably after the date of this poem, Harriet
remained in amicable correspondence with Shelley; and not only so,
but, while she altogether abstained from opposing his new connection,
she was actually on friendly terms with Mary. It is easy to understand
how a limited nature like Harriet's should be worn out by the
exaction and impracticability of one like Shelley; for to her most
impracticable would seem his lofty and ideal requirements. On the
other hand, it is evident that Shelley regarded the unfortunate girl
with feelings of deep commiseration; and I know that he not only
pitied her, but felt strong compunctions for the share which his own
mistaken conduct at the beginning, even more than at the end, had had
in drawing her aside from what would have been her natural course in
ordinary life. Mary, I believe, clearly understood the whole case,
and felt nothing but compassion for one who was a "victim to

The sequel has been alluded to in several publications, but so
obscurely as to be more than unintelligible; for the reader is led to
conclusions the reverse of the fact. In the "Memorials," at page 63,
the subject is barely touched upon. I take the whole passage.

"Towards the close of 1813, estrangements, which for some time had
been slowly growing between Mr. and Mrs. Shelley, came to a crisis.
Separation ensued; and Mrs. Shelley returned to her father's house.
Here she gave birth to her second child,--a son, who died in 1826.

"The occurrences of this painful epoch in Shelley's life, and the
causes which led to them, I am spared from relating. In Mary Shelley's
own words:--'This is not the time to relate the truth; and I should
reject any coloring of the truth.'

* * * * *

"Of those remaining who were intimate with Shelley at this time, each
has given us a different version of this sad event, colored by his own
views and personal feelings. Evidently, Shelley confided to none of
these friends. We, who bear his name and are of his family, have in
our possession papers written by his own hand, which, in after-years,
may make the story of his life complete, and which few now living,
except Shelley's own children, have ever perused.

"One mistake which has gone forth to the world we feel ourselves
called upon positively to contradict. Harriet's death has sometimes
been ascribed to Shelley. This is entirely false. There was no
immediate connection whatever between her tragic end and any conduct
on the part of her husband."

At the end of the "Relics" is a memorandum entitled, "Harriet
Shelley and Mr. Thomas Love Peacock." Mr. Peacock had been writing in
"Fraser's Magazine" a series of articles on Shelley; in "Macmillan's
Magazine" for June, 1866, was an article by Mr. Richard Garnet,
entitled, "Shelley in Pall-Mall"; to this Mr. Peacock replied in
"Percy Bysshe Shelley: Supplementary Notice"; and Mr. Garnet rejoined
in the new little volume which he ha; edited. The main purpose of
this last notice is, to show that Mr. Peacock was not accurate in his
chronology or in his interpretation of the severance between Shelley
and Harriet. Alluding either to the discretion which prevented Shelley
from making a confidant of Mr. Peacock, or to his grief occasioned by
the fate of Harriet, the writer refers to "the proof which exists in a
series of letters written by Shelley at this very time to one in whom
he had confidence, and at present in possession of his family," and
then proceeds thus:--"Nothing more beautiful or characteristic ever
proceeded from his pen; and they afford the most unequivocal testimony
of the grief and horror occasioned by the tragical incident to which
they bear reference. Yet self-reproach formed no element of his
sorrow, in the midst of which he could proudly say, '------, ------,'
(mentioning two dry, unbiased men of business,) 'every one, does me
full justice, bears testimony to the uprightness and liberality of my
conduct to her.'"

In the "Memorials" and the "Relics" there is no further allusion to
the circumstances which preceded Harriet's suicide; but it appears to
me very desirable that the whole story should be brought out much more
distinctly, and I can at least show why I say so. The correspondence
in question took place in the middle of December, 1816. Shelley was
married to Mary about a fortnight later; and in the most emphatic
terms he alluded not only to the solace which he derived from the
conversation of his host, but to the manner in which my father spoke
of Mary. My own recollection goes back to the period, and I have
already testified to the state of Shelley's mind. He was just then
instituting the process to recover the children, and he caught at
an opinion that had been expressed, that, in the event of his again
becoming contracted in marriage, there would be no longer any pretence
to deprive him of the children.

Let me for a moment pause on this incident, as it establishes two
facts of some interest. In the first place, it shows some of the
grounds of the very strong and unalterable friendship which subsisted
between my father and Mary,--a friendship which stood the test of many
vicissitudes, and even of some differences of opinion; both persons
being very sensitive in feeling, quick in temper, thoroughly
outspoken, and obstinately tenacious of their own convictions.
Secondly, it corroborates what I have said with regard to the
community of spirit that Shelley found in his real wife,--the woman
who became the companion of his fortunes, of his thoughts, of his
sufferings, and of his hopes. It will be seen, that, even before
marriage with his second wife, he was counting upon Mary's help in
preventing his separation from the two children already born to him.
She was a woman uniting intellectual faculties with strong ambitions
of affection as well as intellect; and esteem thus substantially
shown, at that early age, by two such men as Percy Shelley and Leigh
Hunt, must have conveyed the deepest gratification.

Throughout these communications Shelley evinced the strong pity that
he felt for the unhappy being whom he had known. Circumstances had
come to his knowledge which had thrown considerable light upon his
relations with Harriet. There can be no doubt that one member of the
family had hoped to derive gain from the connection with himself, as a
person of rank and property. There seems also reason to suppose, that,
about the same time, Harriet's father, an aged man, became so ill that
his death might be regarded as approaching, and he had something to
leave. Poor, foolish Harriet had undoubtedly formed an attachment to
Shelley, whom she had been allowed to marry; but she had then
suffered herself to become a tool in the hands of others, and the fact
accounted for the idle way in which she importuned him to do things
repugnant to his feelings and convictions. She thus exasperated his
temper, and lost her own; they quarrelled, in the ordinary conjugal
sense, and, from all I have learned, I am induced to guess, that, when
she left him, it was not only in the indulgence of self-will, but also
in the vain hope that her retreating would induce him to follow her,
perhaps in a more obedient spirit. She sought refuge in her father's
house, where she might have expected kindness; but, as the old man
bent towards the grave, with rapid loss of faculties, he became more
severe in his treatment of the poor woman; and she was driven from the
paternal roof. This Shelley did not know at the time; nor did he until
afterwards learn the process by which she arrived at her fate.
Too late she became aware how fatal to her interests had been the
intrigues of which she had been the passive instrument; and I suspect
that she was debarred from seeking forgiveness and help partly by
false shame, and partly by the terrible adaptability of weak natures
to the condition of the society in which they find themselves. I have
said that there is not a trace of evidence or a whisper of scandal
against her before her voluntary departure from Shelley, and I have
indicated the most probable motives of that step; but subsequently she
forfeited her claim to a return, even in the eye of the law. Shelley
had information which made him believe that she fell even to the depth
of actual prostitution. If she left him, it would appear that she
herself was deserted in turn by a man in a very humble grade of life;
and it was in consequence of this desertion that she killed herself.

The change in his personal aspect that showed itself at Marlow
appeared also in his writings,--the most typical of his works for this
period being naturally the most complete that issued from his pen, the
"Revolt of Islam." We find there identically the same doctrine that
there is in "Queen Mab,"--a systematic abhorrence of the servility
which renders man captive to power, denunciation of the love of gain
which blinds his insight and destroys his energy, of the prostitution
of religious faith, and, above all, of the slavery of womanhood. But
by this time the doctrine has more distinct in its expression, and far
more powerful in its utterance.

"Man seeks for gold in mines, that he may weave
A lasting chain for his own slavery;
In fear and restless care that he may live,
He toils for others, who must ever be
The joyless thralls of like captivity;
He murders, for his chiefs delight in ruin;
He builds the altar, that its idol's fee
May be his very blood; he is pursuing,
O blind and willing wretch! his own obscure undoing.

"Woman!--she is his slave, she has become
A thing I weep to speak,--the child of scorn,
The outcast of a desolated home.
Falsehood and fear and toil, like waves, have worn
Channels upon her cheek, which smiles adorn,
As calm decks the false ocean. Well ye know
What woman is; for none of woman born
Can choose but drain the bitter dregs of woe,
Which ever from the oppressed to the oppressors flow."

The indignation against the revolting subjugation of womanhood comes
out still more distinctly in the preceding canto, where Cythna relates
the horrors to which she was subjected.

"One was she among the many there, the thralls
Of the cold tyrant's cruel lust; and they
Laughed mournfully in those polluted halls;
But she was calm and sad, musing alway
On loftiest enterprise, till on a day

* * * * *

She told me what a loathsome agony
Is that when selfishness mocks love's delight,
Foul as in dreams' most fearful imagery
To dally with the mowing dead;--that night
All torture, fear, or horror made seem light
Which the soul dreams or knows."

The poet bears testimony to the spiritual power which rules throughout
Nature; the monster recovering his dignity while he is under the
higher influence.

"Even when he saw her wondrous loveliness,
One moment to great Nature's sacred power
He bent and was no longer passionless;
But when he bade her to his secret bower
Be borne a loveless victim, and she tore
Her locks in agony, and her words of flame
And mightier looks availed not, then he bore
Again his load of slavery, and became
A king, a heartless beast, a pageant and a name.

...."When the day
Shone on her awful frenzy, from the sight,
Where like a spirit in fleshly chains she lay
Struggling, aghast and pale the tyrant fled away.

"Her madness was a beam of light, a power
Which dawned through the rent soul; and words it gave,
Gestures and looks, such as in whirlwinds bore
Which might not be withstood."

The doctrine involved in this passage is very clear, and it marks a
decided progress since the days of "Queen Mab." It will be observed
that Shelley's mind had become familiarized with the idea of a spirit
ruling throughout Nature, obedience to which constitutes human power.
Most remarkable is the passage in which the tyrant recovers his
faculties through his subjection to this spirit; because it indicates
Shelley's faithful adhesion to the universal, though oft obscurely
formed belief, that the ability to _receive_ influence is the most
exalted faculty to which human nature can attain, while the exercise
of an arbitrary power centring in self is not only debasing, but is an
actual destroyer of human faculty.

There can be no doubt that he had profited greatly in his moral
condition, as well as in his bodily health, by the greater
tranquillity which he enjoyed in the society of Mary, and also by the
sympathy which gave full play to his ideas, instead of diverting and
disappointing them. She was, indeed, herself a woman of extraordinary
power, of heart as well as head. Many circumstances conspired to
conceal some of her natural faculties. She lost her mother very young;
her father--speaking with great diffidence, from a very slight and
imperfect knowledge--appeared to me a harsh and ungenial man. She
inherited from him her thin voice, but not the steel-edged sharpness
of his own; and she inherited, not from him, but from her mother, a
largeness of heart that entered proportionately into the working
of her mind. She had a masculine capacity for study; for, though I
suspect her early schooling was irregular, she remained a student all
her life, and by painstaking industry made herself acquainted with
any subject that she had to handle. Her command of history and
her imaginative power are shown in such books as "Valperga" and
"Castruccio"; but the daring originality of her mind comes out most
distinctly in her earliest published work, "Frankenstein." Its leading
idea has been ascribed to her husband, but, I am sure, unduly; and the
vividness with which she has brought out the monstrous tale in all its
horror, but without coarse or revolting incidents, is a proof of the
genius which she inherited alike from both her parents. It is clear,
also, that the society of Shelley was to her a great school, which she
did not appreciate to the full until most calamitously it was taken
away; and yet, of course, she could not fail to learn the greater part
of what it had become to her. This again showed itself even in her
appearance, after she had spent some years in Italy; for, while she
had grown far more comely than she was in her mere youth, she had
acquired a deeper insight into many subjects that interested Shelley,
and some others; and she had learned to express the force of natural
affection, which she was born to feel, but which had somehow been
stunted and suppressed in her youth. In the preface to the collected
edition of his works, she says: "I have 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 endeavor 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." And in the postscript, written in
November, 1839, she says: "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." So
writes the wife-editor; and then "The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe
Shelley" begin with a dedication to Harriet, restored to its place
by Mary. While the biographers of Shelley are chargeable with
suppression, the most straightforward and frank of all of them is
Mary, who, although not insensible to the passion of jealousy, and
carrying with her the painful sense of a life-opportunity not fully
used, thus writes the name of Harriet the first on her husband's
monument, while she has nobly abstained from telling those things that
other persons should have supplied to the narrative. I have heard her
accused of an over-anxiety to be admired; and something of the sort
was discernible in society: it was a weakness as venial as it was
purely superficial. Away from society, she was as truthful and simple
a woman as I have ever met,--was as faithful a friend as the world
has produced,--using that unreserved directness towards those whom she
regarded with affection which is the very crowning glory of friendly
intercourse. I suspect that these qualities came out in their greatest
force after her calamity; for many things which she said in her
regret, and passages in Shelley's own poetry, make me doubt whether
little habits of temper, and possibly of a refined and exacting
coquettishness, had not prevented him from acquiring so full a
knowledge of her as she had of him. This was natural for many reasons,
and especially two. Shelley had not the opportunity of retrospectively
studying her character, and his mind was by nature more constructed
than hers was to be preoccupied. If the reader desires a portrait
of Mary, he has one in the well-known antique bust sometimes called
"Isis" and sometimes "Clytie": a woman's head and shoulders rising
from a lotus-flower. It is most probably the portrait of a Roman lady,
is in some degree more elongated and "classic" than Mary; but, on the
other hand, it falls short of her, for it gives no idea of her
tall and intellectual forehead, nor has it any trace of the bright,
animated, and sweet expression that so often lighted up her face.

Attention has often been concentrated on the passage in
"Epipsychidion" which appears to relate Shelley's experiences from
earliest youth until he met with the noble and unfortunate "Lady
Emilia V., now imprisoned in the convent of--," whose own words form
the motto to the poem, and a key to the sympathy which the writer felt
for her:--"The loving soul launches itself out of the created, and
creates in the infinite a world all its own, far different from this
dark and fearful abysm." The passage begins,--

"There was a being whom my spirit oft
Met on its visioned wanderings, far aloft,
In the clear golden prime of my youth's

And this being was the worshipped object of Shelley's adoring
aspirations in extreme youth; but it passed by him as a vision,

"And as a man with mighty loss dismayed,
I would have followed, though the grave between
Yawned like a gulf whose spectres are unseen:
When a voice said,--'O thou of hearts the weakest,
The phantom is beside thee whom thou seekest.'
Then I,--'Where?' The world's echo answered, 'Where'!"

She ever remained the veiled divinity of thoughts that worshipped her,
while he went forth into the world with hope and fear,--

"Into the wintry forest of our life;
And struggling through its error with vain strife,
And stumbling in my weakness and my haste,
And half bewildered by new forms, I passed
Seeking among those untaught foresters
If I could find one form resembling hers
In which she might have masked herself from me."

The passage grows more and more intelligible. Hitherto he has been
simply a dreamy seeker; but now, at last, he thinks that Fate has
answered his questioning exclamation, "Where?"

"There, one whose voice was venomed melody
Sat by a well, under the nightshade bowers;
The breath of her false mouth was like faint flowers;
Her touch was as electric poison; flame
Out of her looks into my vitals came;
And from her living cheeks and bosom flew
A killing air which pierced like honey-dew
Into the core of my green heart, and lay
Upon its leaves,--until, as hair grown gray
O'er a young brow, they hid its unblown prime
With ruins of unseasonable time."

This is a plain and only too intelligible reference to the college
experiences to which I have alluded. The youth for the moment thought
that he had encountered her whom he was seeking, but, instead of the
Florimel, he found her venal, hideous, and fatal _simulacrum_; and
he indicates even the material consequences to himself in his injured
aspect and hair touched with gray. He continues his search.

"In many mortal forms I rashly sought
The shadow of that idol of my thought:
And some were fair,--but beauty dies away;
Others were wise,--but honeyed words betray;
And one was true,--oh! why not true to me?
Then, as a hunted deer that could not flee,
I turned upon my thoughts and stood at bay."

"Oh! why not true to me?" has been taken by some very few who were
cognizant of the facts as constituting an imputation on the one whom
he first married; but I am convinced that the interpretation is wrong,
although the surmise on which that interpretation is based was partly
correct. Nothing is more evident than the fact that Harriet possessed
rather an unusual degree of ability, but enormously less than Shelley
desired in the being whom he sought, and equally less than his
idealizing estimate originally ascribed to her. It is also plain, from
her own letters, that she courted his approval in a way far too common
with the wives of the artist-tribe, and perhaps with most wives: not
being exactly what he wished her to be, and lacking the faculties to
become so, she tried to seem it. The desire was partly sincere, partly
an affectation, as we discern in such little trifles as her suddenly
using the word "thou" in a letter to Hookham where she had previously
been using the ordinary colloquial "you." That she was not quite
ingenuous we also detect in the fast-and-loose conduct which enabled
her, while affecting to become what Shelley deemed her to be, also to
play into the hands of very inferior people, who must sometimes have
counselled her against him behind his back; and this, I am sure, is
what he means by "Oh! why not true to me?" though he may include
in the question a fervent regret for the fate which attended her
wandering from him. "Then like a hunted deer he turned upon his
thoughts and stood at bay," until

"The cold day
Trembled, for pity of my strife and pain,
When, like a noonday dawn, there shone again
Deliverance. One stood on my path who seemed
As like the glorious shape that I had dreamed
As is the Moon, whose changes ever run
Into themselves, to the eternal Sun."

"The cold chaste moon" fails to satisfy the longing of his soul.
"At her silver voice came death and life"; hope and despondency,
expectation from her noble qualities, disappointment at the failure
of response, were feelings that sprang from the exaggerations of his
ideal longings.

"What storms then shook the ocean of my sleep,
Blotting that Moon whose pale and waning lips
Then shrank as in the sickness of eclipse!"

The whole passage is worth perusing; and again wrong interpretation
has been given to this portion of his writing. I am still more firmly
convinced that in the other case, when he says, "The planet of that
hour was quenched," he alludes to nothing more than the partial
failure of his own ideal requirements. At length into the obscure
forest came

"The vision I had sought through grief and shame.

* * * * *

I stood and felt the dawn of my long night
Was penetrating me with living light:
I knew it was the vision veiled from me
So many years,--that it was Emily."

To grasp the entire meaning of this autobiographical episode, we must
remember the extent to which Shelley idealizes. "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." The heroine of the
"Epipsychidion" is an imagination; a creature, like Raphael's Galatea,
copied from no living model, but from "_una certa idea_"; a thing
originally created by himself, and suggested only by the living
portrait, as each one of the admired had previously suggested its
ideal counterpart. Emilia, then, was the bride of a dream, and, in the
indulgence of disappointed longing for a fuller satisfaction of his
soul, Shelley mournfully contrasts this vision, who had so eloquently
responded to his idealizing through her convent-bars, with Mary, whose
stubborn, independent realism had checked and daunted him.

But the last year of Shelley's life had involved a very considerable
progress in the formation of his intellectual character. The
"Prometheus Unbound," perhaps at once the most characteristic and the
most perfect of all his works, is identical in spirit and tendency
even with the earliest, "Queen Mab"; but a re-perusal of it in
comparison with the other writings, even the "Revolt of Islam," will
show a more distinct presentment of the original ideas, coupled with
a much more measured suggestion for acting on them, and a far less
bitter allusion to the obstacles; while the charity and love are more
all-embracing and apparent than ever. Imperfect as it is for dramatic
representation, shortcoming even in the power to trace the working
of emotions and ideas in utterly diverse characters, the "Cenci" does
indicate a stronger aptitude for sympathy with other creatures
on their own terms than any other of the poet's writings. He had,
therefore, sobered in judgment, without declining in his inborn
genius; but, on the contrary, with a clearer sense of the limits
placed upon individual action, he had gained strength; and I feel
certain that a corresponding change had taken place in his perception
of the true import and value of characters unlike his own. The last
few months of his life at Lerici had very materially contributed to
this change. Although I cannot recall any distinct statement to that
effect by Mary Shelley, her conversation had left that impression on
me; it is also suggested by the way in which he himself spoke of it,
and is fully confirmed by the tone of the letters addressed to her
from Pisa.

All who have attempted to portray Shelley, either intellectually or
physically, have done so from some appreciable, almost personal point
of view. When many eyes see one object, it presents itself in as many
different aspects, and the description given by each bears often a
slight resemblance to that of others. So it has been with Shelley. The
artistic portraits of him have happened to be particularly imperfect.
I remember seeing a miniature by an amateur friend which actually
suggested a form broad and square. The ordinarily received miniature
is like almost all of its tribe, and resembles Shelley about as
much as a lady in a book of fashions resembles real women; and it
constitutes evidence all the more detrimental and misleading, since it
appears to give as well as to receive a color of verisimilitude from
the usual written description, which represents Shelley as "feminine,"
"almost girlish," "ideal," "angelic," and so forth. The accounts of
him by firmer hands are still cramped by the individuality of the

His school-friend, Hogg, is a gentleman of independent property;
Shelley detected the sensitiveness of his nature; and I know that the
man has been capable of truly generous conduct. How is it, then, that
he has written such utterly unintelligible stuff, and has descended to
such evasions as to insert initials, lest people should detect amongst
Shelley's correspondents a most admirable friend, who happened, it
is supposed, to be of plebeian origin? Mr. Thomas Jefferson Hogg,
I surmise, was conscious, somewhat early in life, that his better
qualities were not fully appreciated; and his love of ease, his wit,
his perception of the ludicrous, made him take refuge in cynicism
until he learned almost to forget the origin of the real meaning of
the things he talked about. His account of Shelley is like a figure
seen through fantastically distorting panes of glass.

Thomas Love Peacock, again, is a man to whose extraordinary powers
Shelley did full justice. He has worked through a long official career
without losing his very peculiar dry wit; but a dry wit was not the
man exactly to discern the form of Shelley's mind, or to portray it
with accuracy and distinctness.

Few men knew the poet better than my father; but a mind checked by
"over-refinement," excessive conscientiousness, and an irresistible
tendency to find out niceties of difference,--a mind, in short, like
that of Hamlet, cultivated rather than corrected by the trials
of life, was scarcely suited to comprehend the strong instincts,
indomitable will, and complete unity of idea which distinguished
Shelley. Accordingly we have from my father a very doubtful portrait,
seldom advancing beyond details, which are at once exaggerated and
explained away by qualifications.

Byron, I suspect, through the natural strength of his perceptive
power, was likely to have formed a better design; but the two were
separated soon after he had begun to learn that such a man as Shelley
might be found on the same earth with himself.

One or two others that have written have been mere tourists or
acquaintances. Unquestionably the companion who knew him best of all
was Mary; and although she lacked the power of distinct, positive, and
absolute portraiture, her writings will be found to contain, together
with his own, the best materials for forming an estimate of his
natural character.

The real man was reconcilable with all these descriptions. His traits
suggested everything that has been said of him; but his aspect,
conformation, and personal qualities contained more than any one has
ascribed to him, and more indeed than all put together. A few plain
matters-of-fact will make this intelligible. Shelley was a tall
man,--nearly, if not quite, five feet ten in height. He was peculiarly
slender, and, as I have said already, his chest had palpably
enlarged after the usual growing period. He retained the same kind
of straitness in the perpendicular outline on each side of him; his
shoulders were the reverse of broad, but yet they were not sloping,
and a certain squareness in them was naturally incompatible with
anything feminine in his appearance. To his last days he still
suffered his chest to collapse; but it was less a stoop than a
peculiar mode of holding the head and shoulders,--the face thrown a
little forward, and the shoulders slightly elevated; though the whole
attitude below the shoulders, when standing, was unusually upright,
and had the appearance of litheness and activity. I have mentioned
that bodily vigor which he could display; and from his action when I
last saw him, as well as from Mary's account, it is evident that he
had not abandoned his exercises, but the reverse. He had an oval face
and delicate features, not unlike those given to him in the well-known
miniature. His forehead was high. His fine, dark brown hair, when not
cut close, disposed itself in playful and very beautiful curls over
his brows and round the back of his neck. He had brown eyes, with
a color in his cheek "like a girl's"; but as he grew older, his
complexion bronzed. So far the reality agrees with the current
descriptions; nevertheless they omit material facts. The outline of
the features and face possessed a firmness and _hardness_ entirely
inconsistent with a feminine character. The outline was sharp and
firm; the markings distinct, and indicating an energetic _physique_.
The outline of the bone was distinctly perceptible at the temples, on
the bridge of the nose, at the back portion of the cheeks, and in the
jaw, and the artist could trace the principal muscles of the face.
The beard also, although the reverse of strong, was clearly marked,
especially about the chin. Thus, although the general aspect was
peculiarly slight, youthful, and delicate, yet, when you looked to
"the points" of the animal, you saw well enough the indications of a
masculine vigor, in many respects far above the average. And what I
say of the physical aspect of course bears upon the countenance. That
changed with every feeling. It usually looked earnest,--when
joyful, was singularly bright and animated, like that of a gay young
girl,--when saddened, had an aspect of sorrow peculiarly touching, and
sometimes it fell into a listless weariness still more mournful; but
for the most part there was a look of active movement, promptitude,
vigor, and decision, which bespoke a manly, and even a commanding

The general tendency that all who approached Shelley displayed to
yield to his dictate is a practical testimony to these qualities;
for his earnestness was apt to take a tone of command so generous,
so free, so simple, as to be utterly devoid of offence, and yet to
constitute him a sort of tyrant over all who came within his reach.

The weakness ascribed to Shelley's voice was equally taken from
exceptional instances, and the account of it usually suggests the idea
that he spoke in a falsetto which might almost be mistaken for the
"shriek" of a harsh-toned woman. Nothing could be more unlike the
reality. The voice was indeed quite peculiar, and I do not know where
any parallel to it is likely to be found unless in Lancashire. Shelley
had no ear for music,--the words that he wrote for existing airs
being, strangely enough, inappropriate in rhythm and even in cadence;
and though he had a manifest relish for music and often talked of it,
I do not remember that I ever heard him sing even the briefest snatch.
I cannot tell, therefore, what was the "register" of his singing
voice; but his speaking voice unquestionably was then of a high
natural counter-tenor. I should say that he usually spoke at a pitch
somewhere about the D natural above the base line; but it was in no
respect a falsetto. It was a natural chest-voice, not powerful, but
telling, musical, and expressive. In reading aloud, the strain was
peculiarly clear, and had a sustained, song-like quality, which came
out more strongly when, as he often did, he recited verse. When he
called out in pain,--a very rare occurrence,--or sometimes in comic
playfulness, you might hear the "shrillness" of which people talk; but
it was only because the organ was forced beyond the ordinary effort.
His usual speech was clear, and yet with a breath in it, with an
especially distinct articulation, a soft, vibrating tone, emphatic,
pleasant, and persuasive.

It seems to me that these physical characteristics forcibly illustrate
the moral and intellectual genius of the man. The impulsiveness which
has been ascribed to him is a wrong expression, for it is usually
interpreted to mean the action of sudden motives waywardly,
capriciously, or at least intermittingly working; whereas the
character which Shelley so constantly displayed was an overbearing
strength of conviction and feeling, a species of audacious, but
chivalrous readiness to act upon conviction as promptly as possible,
and, above all, a zealous disposition to say out all that was in his
mind. It is better expressed by the word which some satirist put
into the mouth of Coleridge, speaking of himself, and, instead of
impulsiveness, it should have been called an "utterancy," coupled with
decision and promptitude of action. The physical development of the
man with the progress of time may be traced in the advancement of his
writings. The physical qualities which are equally to be found in his
poetry and prose were quite as manifest in his aspect, and not less
so in his conduct of affairs. It must be remembered that his life
terminated long before he had arrived half-way, "_nel mezzo del cammin
di nostra vita_," when more than one other great intellect has been
but commencing its true work. I believe, that, if Shelley had lived,
he would himself have been the most potent and useful commentator on
his own writings, in the production of other and more complete works.
But meanwhile the true measure of his genius is to be found in the
influence which he has had, not only over those who have proclaimed
their debt to him, but over numbers who have mistrusted and even
denounced him.


"Farewell awhile, my bonnie darling!
One long, close kiss, and I depart:
I hear the angry trumpet snarling,
The drum-beat tingles at my heart."

Behind him, softest flutes were breathing
Across the vale their sweet recall;
Before him burst the battle, seething
In flame beneath its thunder-pall.

All sights and sounds to stay invited;
The meadows tossed their foam of flowers;
The lingering Day beheld, delighted,
The dances of his amorous Hours.

He paused: again the fond temptation
Assailed his heart, so firm before,
And tender dreams, of Love's creation,
Persuaded from the peaceful shore.

"But no!" he sternly cried; "I follow
The trumpet, not the shepherd's reed:
Let idlers pipe in pastoral hollow,--
Be mine the sword, and mine the deed!

"Farewell to Love!" he murmured, sighing:
"Perchance I lose what most is dear;
But better there, struck down and dying,
Than be a man and wanton here!"

He went where battle's voice was loudest;
He pressed where danger nearest came;
His hand advanced, among the proudest,
Their banner through the lines of flame.

And there, when wearied Carnage faltered,
He, foremost of the fallen, lay,
While Night looked down with brow unaltered,
And breathed the battle's dust away.

There lying, sore from wounds untended,
A vision crossed the starry gleam:
The girl he loved beside him bended,
And kissed him in his fever-dream.

"Oh, love!" she cried, "you fled, to find me;
I left with you the daisied vale;
I turned from flutes that wailed behind me,
To hear your trumpet's distant hail.

"Your tender vows, your peaceful kisses,
They scarce outlived the moment's breath;
But now we clasp immortal blisses
Of passion proved on brinks of Death!

"No fate henceforward shall estrange her
Who finds a heart more brave than fond;
For Love, forsook this side of danger,
Waits for the man who goes beyond!"


Sitting in my New-England study, as do so many of my tribe, to peruse
the "Atlantic," I wonder whether, like its namesake, hospitable to
many persons and things, it will for once let me write as well as
read, and launch from my own calling a theme on its bosom. Our cloth
has been worn so long in the world, I doubt how far it may suit with
new fashions in fine company-parlors; but, seeing room is so cordially
made for some of my brethren, as the Reverend Mr. Wilbur and "The
Country Parson," to keep up the dignity of the profession, I am
emboldened to come for a day with what the editorial piety may accept,
"rejected article" as it might be elsewhere.

The pulpit has lost something of its old sacredness in the general
mind. There is little popular superstition to endure its former
dictation. No exclusive incarnate theocracy in any particular persons
is left, Leviticus and the Hebrew priesthood are gone. Church,
ministry, and Sabbath are the regular targets taken out by our moral
riflemen and archers, though so seldom to hit fair in the centre, that
we may find ourselves, like spectators at the match, respecting the
old targets more than we do the shots. Yet homilies and exporters are
thought fair game. I have even heard splendid lecturers whose wit
ran so low or who were so pushed for matter as to talk of what
divinity-students wear round their necks, which seems a superficial
consideration. The anciently venerated desk has two sharp enemies,
the radical and the conservative, aiming their artillery from opposite
sides, putting it somewhat in the position of the poor fish who is in
danger from diverse classes of its fellow-creatures, one in the air
and one in the water, and knows not whether to dive or rise to the
surface, till it can conclude which is the more pleasant exit from
life, to be hawked at or swallowed outright.

While, however, critics and reformers fail to furnish a fit substitute
for the sermon, and the finest essays show not only Bacon's "dry
light," but a very cold one too, and the wit and humor of the lyceum
fall short of any mark in the conscience of mankind, and philanthropy
uses stabbing often instead of surgery, a clerical institution, on
whose basis direct admonition can be administered by individuals
without egotism or impertinence, maintains an indefeasible claim.
Indeed, as was fancied of the innocent in the ordeal by fire, or like
the children from the furnace, it comes out the other side of all
censure, with some odor of sanctity yet on its unsinged robes and new
power in higher quarters in its hands. Defective, indeed, it is. If
some of its organs could speak a little more in their natural voice,
and could, moreover, wash off the deformity of this Indian war-paint
of high-wrought rhetoric,--if they could use a little more of the
colloquial earnestness of the street and table in their style, instead
of those freaks of eloquence which, among all our associations,
there ought to be a society to put down,--they would more honor their
vocation, and effect its purpose of saving human souls. Let us not be
so loudmouthed, or bluster as we do. Our declamation will have to hush
its barbarian noise some time. Nothing but conversation will be
left in heaven; and it were well, could we have on earth sober and
thoughtful assemblies, at blood-warmth instead of fever-heat, rather
than those over-crowded halls from which _hundreds go away unable to
obtain admission_.

Facebook Google Reddit Twitter Pinterest