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Percy Bysshe Shelley by John Addington Symonds

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beauty, and seemed to find it under many earthly shapes, yet has he ever
been deluded. At last Emily appears, and in her he recognizes the truth
of the vision veiled from him so many years. She and Mary shall
henceforth, like sun and moon, rule the world of love within him. Then
he calls on her to fly. They three will escape and live together, far
away from men, in an Aegean island. The description of this visionary
isle, and of the life to be led there by the fugitives from a dull and
undiscerning world, is the most beautiful that has been written this
century in the rhymed heroic metre.

It is an isle under Ionian skies,
Beautiful as a wreck of Paradise;
And, for the harbours are not safe and good,
This land would have remained a solitude
But for some pastoral people native there,
Who from the Elysian, clear, and golden air
Draw the last spirit of the age of gold,
Simple and spirited, innocent and bold.
The blue Aegean girds this chosen home,
With ever-changing sound and light and foam
Kissing the sifted sands and caverns hoar;
And all the winds wandering along the shore,
Undulate with the undulating tide.
There are thick woods where sylvan forms abide;
And many a fountain, rivulet, and pond,
As clear as elemental diamond,
Or serene morning air. And far beyond,
The mossy tracks made by the goats and deer,
(Which the rough shepherd treads but once a year,)
Pierce into glades, caverns, and bowers, and halls
Built round with ivy, which the waterfalls
Illumining, with sound that never fails
Accompany the noonday nightingales;
And all the place is peopled with sweet airs.
The light clear element which the isle wears
Is heavy with the scent of lemon-flowers,
Which floats like mist laden with unseen showers,
And falls upon the eyelids like faint sleep;
And from the moss violets and jonquils peep,
And dart the arrowy odour through the brain,
Till you might faint with that delicious pain.
And every motion, odour, beam, and tone,
With that deep music is in unison:
Which is a soul within a soul--they seem
Like echoes of an antenatal dream.
It is an isle 'twixt heaven, air, earth, and sea,
Cradled, and hung in clear tranquillity;
Bright as that wandering Eden, Lucifer,
Washed by the soft blue oceans of young air.
It is a favoured place. Famine or Blight,
Pestilence, War, and Earthquake, never light
Upon its mountain-peaks; blind vultures, they
Sail onward far upon their fatal way.
The winged storms, chanting their thunder-psalm
To other lands, leave azure chasms of calm
Over this isle, or weep themselves in dew,
From which its fields and woods ever renew
Their green and golden immortality.
And from the sea there rise, and from the sky
There fall, clear exhalations, soft and bright,
Veil after veil, each hiding some delight,
Which sun or moon or zephyr draws aside,
Till the isle's beauty, like a naked bride
Glowing at once with love and loveliness,
Blushes and trembles at its own excess:
Yet, like a buried lamp, a soul no less
Burns in the heart of this delicious isle,
An atom of the Eternal, whose own smile
Unfolds itself, and may be felt not seen
O'er the grey rocks, blue waves, and forests green,
Filling their bare and void interstices.

Shelley did not publish "Epipsychidion" with his own name. He gave it to
the world as a composition of a man who had "died at Florence, as he was
preparing for a voyage to one of the Sporades," and he requested Ollier
not to circulate it, except among a few intelligent readers. It may
almost be said to have been never published, in such profound silence
did it issue from the press. Very shortly after its appearance he
described it to Leigh Hunt as "a portion of me already dead," and added
this significant allusion to its subject matter:--"Some of us have in a
prior existence been in love with Antigone, and that makes us find no
full content in any mortal tie." In the letter of June 18, 1822, again
he says:--"The 'Epipsychidion' I cannot look at; the person whom it
celebrates was a cloud instead of a Juno; and poor Ixion starts from the
Centaur that was the offspring of his own embrace. If you are curious,
however, to hear what I am and have been, it will tell you something
thereof. It is an idealized history of my life and feelings. I think one
is always in love with something or other; the error, and I confess it
is not easy for spirits cased in flesh and blood to avoid it, consists
in seeking in a mortal image the likeness of what is, perhaps, eternal."
This paragraph contains the essence of a just criticism. Brilliant as
the poem is, we cannot read it with unwavering belief either in the
author's sincerity at the time he wrote it, or in the permanence of the
emotion it describes. The exordium has a fatal note of rhetorical
exaggeration, not because the kind of passion is impossible, but because
Shelley does not convince us that in this instance he had really been
its subject. His own critique, following so close upon the publication
of "Epipsychidion," confirms the impression made by it, and justifies
the conclusion that he had utilized his feeling for Emilia to express a
favourite doctrine in impassioned verse.

To students of Shelley's inner life "Epipsychidion" will always have
high value, independently of its beauty of style, as containing his
doctrine of love. It is the full expression of the esoteric principle
presented to us in "Alastor", the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty," and
"Prince Athanase." But the words just quoted, which may be compared with
Mrs. Shelley's note to "Prince Athanase," authorize our pointing out
what he himself recognized as the defect of his theory. Instead of
remaining true to the conception of Beauty expressed in the "Hymn,"
Shelley "sought through the world the One whom he may love." Thus, while
his doctrine in "Epipsychidion" seems Platonic, it will not square with
the "Symposium." Plato treats the love of a beautiful person as a mere
initiation into divine mysteries, the first step in the ladder that
ascends to heaven. When a man has formed a just conception of the
universal beauty, he looks back with a smile upon those who find their
soul's sphere in the love of some mere mortal object. Tested by this
standard, Shelley's identification of Intellectual Beauty with so many
daughters of earth, and his worshipping love of Emilia, is a spurious
Platonism. Plato would have said that to seek the Idea of Beauty in
Emilia Viviani was a retrogressive step. All that she could do, would be
to quicken the soul's sense of beauty, to stir it from its lethargy, and
to make it divine the eternal reality of beauty in the supersensual
world of thought. This Shelley had already acknowledged in the "Hymn;"
and this he emphasizes in these words:--"The error consists in seeking
in a mortal image the likeness of what is, perhaps, eternal."

The fragments and cancelled passages published in Forman's edition do
not throw much light upon "Epipsychidion." The longest, entitled "To his
Genius" by its first editor, Mr. Garnett, reads like the induction to a
poem conceived and written in a different key, and at a lower level of
inspiration. It has, however, this extraordinary interest, that it deals
with a love which is both love and friendship, above sex, spiritual,
unintelligible to the world at large. Thus the fragment enables the
student better to realize the kind of worship so passionately expressed
in "Epipsychidion."

The news of Keats's death at Rome on the 27th of December, 1820, and the
erroneous belief that it had been accelerated, if not caused, by a
contemptible review of "Endymion" in the "Quarterly", stirred Shelley to
the composition of "Adonais". He had it printed at Pisa, and sent copies
to Ollier for circulation in London. This poem was a favourite with its
author, who hoped not only that it might find acceptance with the
public, but also that it would confer lustre upon the memory of a poet
whom he sincerely admired. No criticisms upon Shelley's works are half
so good as his own. It is, therefore, interesting to collect the
passages in which he speaks of an elegy only equalled in our language by
"Lycidas", and in the point of passionate eloquence even superior to
Milton's youthful lament for his friend. "The 'Adonais', in spite of its
mysticism," he writes to Ollier, "is the least imperfect of my
compositions." "I confess I should be surprised if that poem were born
to an immortality of oblivion." "It is a highly wrought PIECE OF ART,
and perhaps better, in point of composition, than anything I have
written." "It is absurd in any review to criticize 'Adonais', and still
more to pretend that the verses are bad." "I know what to think of
'Adonais', but what to think of those who confound it with the many bad
poems of the day, I know not." Again, alluding to the stanzas hurled
against the infamous "Quarterly" reviewer, he says:--"I have dipped my
pen in consuming fire for his destroyers; otherwise the style is calm
and solemn."

With these estimates the reader of to-day will cordially agree. Although
"Adonais" is not so utterly beyond the scope of other poets as
"Prometheus" or "Epipsychidion," it presents Shelley's qualities in a
form of even and sustained beauty, brought within the sphere of the
dullest apprehensions. Shelley, we may notice, dwells upon the ART of
the poem; and this perhaps, is what at first sight will strike the
student most. He chose as a foundation for his work those laments of
Bion for Adonis, and of Moschus for Bion, which are the most pathetic
products of Greek idyllic poetry; and the transmutation of their
material into the substance of highly spiritualized modern thought,
reveals the potency of a Prospero's wand. It is a metamorphosis whereby
the art of excellent but positive poets has been translated into the
sphere of metaphysical imagination. Urania takes the place of Aphrodite;
the thoughts and fancies and desires of the dead singer are substituted
for Bion's cupids; and instead of mountain shepherds, the living bards
of England are summoned to lament around the poet's bier. Yet it is only
when Shelley frees himself from the influence of his models, that he
soars aloft on mighty wing. This point, too, is the point of transition
from death, sorrow, and the past to immortality, joy, and the rapture of
the things that cannot pass away. The first and second portions of the
poem are, at the same time, thoroughly concordant, and the passage from
the one to the other is natural. Two quotations from "Adonais" will
suffice to show the power and sweetness of its verse.

The first is a description of Shelley himself following Byron and
Moore--the "Pilgrim of Eternity," and Ierne's "sweetest lyrist of her
saddest wrong"--to the couch where Keats lies dead. There is both pathos
and unconscious irony in his making these two poets the chief mourners,
when we remember what Byron wrote about Keats in "Don Juan", and what
Moore afterwards recorded of Shelley; and when we think, moreover, how
far both Keats and Shelley have outsoared Moore, and disputed with Byron
his supreme place in the heaven of poetry.

Midst others of less note, came one frail Form,
A phantom among men, companionless
As the last cloud of an expiring storm,
Whose thunder is its knell. He, as I guess,
Had gazed on Nature's naked loveliness,
Actaeon-like, and now he fled astray
With feeble steps o'er the world's wilderness,
And his own thoughts, along that rugged way,
Pursued like raging hounds their father and their prey.

A pard-like Spirit beautiful and swift--
A love in desolation masked--a Power
Girt round with weakness; it can scarce uplift
The weight of the superincumbent hour;
Is it a dying lamp, a falling shower,
A breaking billow;--even whilst we speak
Is it not broken? On the withering flower
The killing sun smiles brightly: on a cheek
The life can burn in blood, even while the heart may break.

His head was bound with pansies over-blown,
And faded violets, white and pied and blue;
And a light spear topped with a cypress cone,
Round whose rude shaft dark ivy-tresses grew
Yet dripping with the forest's noon-day dew,
Vibrated, as the ever-beating heart
Shook the weak hand that grasped it. Of that crew
He came the last, neglected and apart;
A herd-abandoned deer, struck by the hunter's dart.

The second passage is the peroration of the poem. Nowhere has Shelley
expressed his philosophy of man's relation to the universe with more
sublimity and with a more imperial command of language than in these
stanzas. If it were possible to identify that philosophy with any
recognized system of thought, it might be called pantheism. But it is
difficult to affix a name, stereotyped by the usage of the schools, to
the aerial spiritualism of its ardent and impassioned poet's creed.

The movement of the long melodious sorrow-song has just been interrupted
by three stanzas, in which Shelley lashes the reviewer of Keats. He now
bursts forth afresh into the music of consolation:--

Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep!
He hath awakened from the dream of life.
'Tis we who, lost in stormy visions, keep
With phantoms an unprofitable strife,
And in mad trance strike with our spirit's knife
Invulnerable nothings. WE decay
Like corpses in a charnel; fear and grief
Convulse us and consume us day by day,
And cold hopes swarm like worms within our living clay.

He has outsoared the shadow of our night;
Envy and calumny, and hate and pain,
And that unrest which men miscall delight,
Can touch him not and torture not again;
From the contagion of the world's slow stain
He is secure, and now can never mourn
A heart grown cold, a head grown grey in vain;
Nor, when the spirit's self has ceased to burn,
With sparkless ashes load an unlamented urn.

He lives, he wakes--'tis Death is dead, not he;
Mourn not for Adonais.--Thou young Dawn,
Turn all thy dew to splendour, for from thee
The spirit thou lamentest is not gone;
Ye caverns and ye forests, cease to moan!
Cease, ye faint flowers and fountains, and thou Air
Which like a mourning veil thy scarf hadst thrown
O'er the abandoned Earth, now leave it bare
Even to the joyous stars which smile on its despair!

He is made one with Nature: there is heard
His voice in all her music, from the moan
Of thunder, to the song of night's sweet bird;
He is a presence to be felt and known
In darkness and in light, from herb and stone,
Spreading itself where'er that Power may move
Which has withdrawn his being to its own;
Which wields the world with never wearied love,
Sustains it from beneath, and kindles it above.

He is a portion of the loveliness
Which once he made more lovely: he doth bear
His part, while the One Spirit's plastic stress
Sweeps through the dull dense world, compelling there
All new successions to the forms they wear;
Torturing th' unwilling dross that checks its flight
To its own likeness, as each mass may bear;
And bursting in its beauty and its might
From trees and beasts and men into the Heaven's light.

But the absorption of the human soul into primeval nature-forces, the
blending of the principle of thought with the universal spirit of
beauty, is not enough to satisfy man's yearning after immortality.
Therefore in the next three stanzas the indestructibility of the
personal self is presented to us, as the soul of Adonais passes into the
company of the illustrious dead who, like him, were untimely slain:--

The splendours of the firmament of time
May be eclipsed, but are extinguished not:
Like stars to their appointed height they climb,
And death is a low mist which cannot blot
The brightness it may veil. When lofty thought
Lifts a young heart above its mortal lair,
And love and life contend in it, for what
Shall be its earthly doom, the dead live there,
And move like winds of light on dark and stormy air.

The inheritors of unfulfilled renown
Rose from their thrones, built beyond mortal thought,
Far in the Unapparent. Chatterton
Rose pale, his solemn agony had not
Yet faded from him; Sidney, as he fought
And as he fell, and as he lived and loved,
Sublimely mild, a Spirit without spot,
Arose; and Lucan, by his death approved:--
Oblivion as they rose shrank like a thing reproved.

And many more, whose names on Earth are dark,
But whose transmitted effluence cannot die
So long as fire outlives the parent spark,
Rose, robed in dazzling immortality.
"Thou art become as one of us," they cry;
"It was for thee yon kingless sphere has long
Swung blind in unascended majesty,
Silent alone amid an Heaven of song.
Assume thy winged throne, thou Vesper of our throng!"

From the more universal and philosophical aspects of his theme, the poet
once more turns to the special subject that had stirred him. Adonais
lies dead; and those who mourn him must seek his grave. He has escaped:
to follow him is to die; and where should we learn to dote on death
unterrified, if not in Rome? In this way the description of Keat's
resting-place beneath the pyramid of Cestius, which was also destined to
be Shelley's own, is introduced:--

Who mourns for Adonais? oh come forth,
Fond wretch! and show thyself and him aright.
Clasp with thy panting soul the pendulous Earth;
As from a centre, dart thy spirit's light
Beyond all worlds, until its spacious might
Satiate the void circumference: then shrink
Even to a point within our day and night;
And keep thy heart light, let it make thee sink
When hope has kindled hope, and lured thee to the brink.

Or go to Rome, which is the sepulchre,
Oh, not of him, but of our joy: 'tis nought
That ages, empires, and religions there
Lie buried in the ravage they have wrought;
For such as he can lend,--they borrow not
Glory from those who made the world their prey;
And he is gathered to the kings of thought
Who waged contention with their time's decay,
And of the past are all that cannot pass away.

Go thou to Rome,--at once the Paradise,
The grave, the city, and the wilderness;
And where its wrecks like shattered mountains rise,
And flowering weeds and fragrant corpses dress
The bones of Desolation's nakedness,
Pass, till the Spirit of the spot shall lead
Thy footsteps to a slope of green access,
Where, like an infant's smile, over the dead
A light of laughing flowers along the grass is spread;

And grey walls moulder round, on which dull Time
Feeds, like slow fire upon a hoary brand;
And one keen pyramid with wedge sublime,
Pavilioning the dust of him who planned
This refuge for his memory, doth stand
Like flame transformed to marble; and beneath,
A field is spread, on which a newer band
Have pitched in Heaven's smile their camp of death,
Welcoming him we lose with scarce extinguished breath.

Here pause: these graves are all too young as yet
To have outgrown the sorrow which consigned
Its charge to each; and if the seal is set,
Here, on one fountain of a mourning mind,
Break if not thou! too surely shalt thou find
Thine own well full, if thou returnest home,
Of tears and gall. From the world's bitter wind
Seek shelter in the shadow of the tomb.
What Adonais is, why fear we to become?

Yet again the thought of Death as the deliverer, the revealer, and the
mystagogue, through whom the soul of man is reunited to the spirit of
the universe, returns; and on this solemn note the poem closes. The
symphony of exultation which had greeted the passage of Adonais into the
eternal world, is here subdued to a graver key, as befits the mood of
one whom mystery and mourning still oppress on earth. Yet even in the
somewhat less than jubilant conclusion we feel that highest of all
Shelley's qualities--the liberation of incalculable energies, the
emancipation and expansion of a force within the soul, victorious over
circumstance, exhilarated and elevated by contact with such hopes as
make a feebler spirit tremble:

The One remains, the many change and pass;
Heaven's light for ever shines, Earth's shadows fly;
Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity,
Until Death tramples it to fragments.--Die,
If thou wouldst be with that which thou dost seek!
Follow where all is fled!--Rome's azure sky,
Flowers, ruins, statues, music, words, are weak
The glory they transfuse with fitting truth to speak.

Why linger, why turn back, why shrink, my Heart?
Thy hopes are gone before: from all things here
They have departed; thou shouldst now depart!
A light is past from the revolving year,
And man and woman; and what still is dear
Attracts to crush, repels to make thee wither.
The soft sky smiles, the low wind whispers near:
'Tis Adonais calls! oh, hasten thither!
No more let Life divide what Death can join together.

That light whose smile kindles the Universe,
That beauty in which all things work and move,
That benediction which the eclipsing curse
Of birth can quench not, that sustaining Love
Which through the web of being blindly wove
By man and beast and earth and air and sea,
Burns bright or dim, as each are mirrors of
The fire for which all thirst, now beams on me,
Consuming the last clouds of cold mortality.

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

It will be seen that, whatever Shelley may from time to time have said
about the immortality of the soul, he was no materialist, and no
believer in the extinction of the spiritual element by death. Yet he was
too wise to dogmatize upon a problem which by its very nature admits of
no solution in this world. "I hope," he said, "but my hopes are not
unmixed with fear for what will befall this inestimable spirit when we
appear to die." On another occasion he told Trelawny, "I am content to
see no farther into futurity than Plato and Bacon. My mind is tranquil;
I have no fears and some hopes. In our present gross material state our
faculties are clouded; when Death removes our clay coverings, the
mystery will be solved." How constantly the thought of death as the
revealer was present to his mind, may be gathered from an incident
related by Trelawny. They were bathing in the Arno, when Shelley, who
could not swim, plunged into deep water, and "lay stretched out at the
bottom like a conger eel, not making the least effort or struggle to
save himself." Trelawny fished him out, and when he had taken breath he
said: "I always find the bottom of the well, and they say Truth lies
there. In another minute I should have found it, and you would have
found an empty shell. Death is the veil which those who live call life;
they sleep, and it is lifted." Yet being pressed by his friend, he
refused to acknowledge a formal and precise belief in the
imperishability of the human soul. "We know nothing; we have no
evidence; we cannot express our inmost thoughts. They are
incomprehensible even to ourselves." The clear insight into the
conditions of the question conveyed by the last sentence is very
characteristic of Shelley. It makes us regret the non-completion of his
essay on a "Future Life", which would certainly have stated the problem
with rare lucidity and candour, and would have illuminated the abyss of
doubt with a sense of spiritual realities not often found in combination
with wise suspension of judgment. What he clung to amid all perplexities
was the absolute and indestructible existence of the universal as
perceived by us in love, beauty, and delight. Though the destiny of the
personal self be obscure, these things cannot fail. The conclusion of
the "Sensitive Plant" might be cited as conveying the quintessence of
his hope upon this most intangible of riddles.

Whether the Sensitive Plant, or that
Which within its boughs like a spirit sat,
Ere its outward form had known decay,
Now felt this change, I cannot say.

I dare not guess; but in this life
Of error, ignorance, and strife,
Where nothing is, but all things seem,
And we the shadows of the dream:

It is a modest creed, and yet
Pleasant, if one considers it,
To own that death itself must be,
Like all the rest, a mockery.

That garden sweet, that lady fair,
And all sweet shapes and odours there,
In truth have never passed away:
'Tis we, 'tis ours, are changed; not they.

For love, and beauty, and delight,
There is no death nor change; their might
Exceeds our organs, which endure
No light, being themselves obscure.

But it is now time to return from this digression to the poem which
suggested it, and which, more than any other, serves to illustrate its
author's mood of feeling about the life beyond the grave. The last lines
of "Adonais" might be read as a prophecy of his own death by drowning.
The frequent recurrence of this thought in his poetry is, to say the
least, singular. In "Alastor" we read:--

A restless impulse urged him to embark
And meet lone Death on the drear ocean's waste;
For well he knew that mighty Shadow loves
The slimy caverns of the populous deep.

The "Ode to Liberty" closes on the same note: --

As a far taper fades with fading night;
As a brief insect dies with dying day,
My song, its pinions disarrayed of might,
Drooped. O'er it closed the echoes far away
Of the great voice which did its flight sustain,
As waves which lately paved his watery way
Hiss round a drowner's head in their tempestuous play.

The "Stanzas written in Dejection, near Naples", echo the thought with a slight variation:--

Yet now despair itself is mild,
Even as the winds and waters are;
I could lie down like a tired child,
And weep away the life of care
Which I have borne, and yet must bear,--
Till death like sleep might steal on me,
And I might feel in the warm air
My cheek grow cold, and hear the sea
Breathe o'er my dying brain its last monotony.

Trelawny tells a story of his friend's life at Lerici, which further
illustrates his preoccupation with the thought of death at sea. he took
Mrs. Williams and her children out upon the bay in his little boat one
afternoon, and starting suddenly from a deep reverie, into which he had
fallen, exclaimed with a joyful and resolute voice, "Now let us together
solve the great mystery!" Too much value must not be attached to what
might have been a mere caprice of utterance. Yet the proposal not
unreasonably frightened Mrs. Williams, for Shelley's friends were
accustomed to expect the realisation of his wildest fancies. It may
incidentally be mentioned that before the water finally claimed its
victim, he had often been in peril of life upon his fatal
element--during the first voyage to Ireland, while crossing the Channel
with Mary in an open boat, again at Meillerie with Byron, and once at
least with Williams.

A third composition of the year 1821 was inspired by the visit of Prince
Mavrocordato to Pisa. He called on Shelley in April, showed him a copy
of Prince Ipsilanti's proclamation, and announced that Greece was
determined to strike a blow for freedom. The news aroused all Shelley's
enthusiasm, and he began the lyrical drama of "Hellas", which he has
described as "a sort of imitation of the 'Persae' of Aeschylus." We find
him at work upon it in October; and it must have been finished by the
end of that month, since the dedication bears the date of November 1st,
1821. Shelley did not set great store by it. "It was written," he says,
"without much care, and in one of those few moments of enthusiasm which
now seldom visit me, and which make me pay dear for their visits." The
preface might, if space permitted, be cited as a specimen of his sound
and weighty judgment upon one of the greatest political questions of
this century. What he says about the debt of the modern world to ancient
Hellas, is no less pregnant than his severe strictures upon the part
played by Russia in dealing with Eastern questions. For the rest, the
poem is distinguished by passages of great lyrical beauty, rising at
times to the sublimest raptures, and closing on the half-pathetic
cadence of that well-known Chorus, "The world's great age begins anew."
Of dramatic interest it has but little; nor is the play, as finished,
equal to the promise held forth by the superb fragment of its so-called
Prologue. (Forman, 4 page 95.) This truly magnificent torso must, I
think, have been the commencement of the drama as conceived upon a
different and more colossal plan, which Shelley rejected for some
unknown reason. It shows the influence not only of the Book of Job, but
also of the Prologue in Heaven to Faust, upon his mind.

The lyric movement of the Chorus from "Hellas", which I propose to
quote, marks the highest point of Shelley's rhythmical invention. As for
the matter expressed in it, we must not forget that these stanzas are
written for a Chorus of Greek captive women, whose creed does not
prevent their feeling a regret for the "mightier forms of an older,
austerer worship." Shelley's note reminds the reader, with
characteristic caution and frankness, that "the popular notions of
Christianity are represented in this Chorus as true in their relation to
the worship they superseded, and that which in all probability they will
supersede, without considering their merits in a relation more

Worlds on worlds are rolling over
From creation to decay,
Like the bubbles on a river
Sparkling, bursting, borne away.
But they are still immortal
Who, through birth's orient portal,
And death's dark chasm hurrying to and fro,
Clothe their unceasing flight
In the brief dust and light
Gathered around their chariots as they go;
New shapes they still may weave,
New gods, new laws receive;
Bright or dim are they, as the robes they last
On Death's bare ribs had cast.

A power from the unknown God,
A Promethan conqueror came;
Like a triumphal path he trod
The thorns of death and shame.
A mortal shape to him
Was like the vapour dim
Which the orient planet animates with light.
Hell, Sin, and Slavery came,
Like bloodhounds mild and tame,
Nor preyed until their Lord had taken flight.
The moon of Mahomet
Arose, and it shall set:
While blazoned as on heaven's immortal noon
The cross leads generations on.

Swift as the radiant shapes of sleep
From one whose dreams are paradise,
Fly, when the fond wretch wakes to weep,
And day peers forth with her blank eyes;
So fleet, so faint, so fair,
The Powers of earth and air
Fled from the folding star of Bethlehem:
Apollo, Pan, and Love
And even Olympian Jove,
Grew weak, for killing Truth had glared on them.
Our hills, and seas, and streams,
Dispeopled of their dreams,
Their waters turned to blood, their dew to tears,
Wailed for the golden years.

In the autumn of this year Shelley paid Lord Byron a visit at Ravenna,
where he made acquaintance with the Countess Guiccoli. It was then
settled that Byron, who had formed the project of starting a journal to
be called "The Liberal" in concert with Leigh Hunt, should himself
settle in Pisa. Leigh Hunt was to join his brother poets in the same
place. The prospect gave Shelley great pleasure, for he was sincerely
attached to Hunt; and though he would not promise contributions to the
journal, partly lest his name should bring discredit on it, and partly
because he did not choose to appear before the world as a hanger-on of
Byron's, he thoroughly approved of a plan which would be profitable to
his friend by bringing him into close relation with the most famous poet
of the age. (See the Letter to Leigh Hunt, Pisa, August 26, 1821.) That
he was not without doubts as to Byron's working easily in harness with
Leigh Hunt, may be seen in his correspondence; and how fully these
doubts were destined to be confirmed, is only too well known.

At Ravenna he was tormented by the report of some more than usually
infamous calumny. What it was, we do not know; but that it made profound
impression on his mind, appears from a remarkable letter addressed to
his wife on the 16th and 17th of August from Ravenna. In it he repeats
his growing weariness, and his wish to escape from society to solitude;
the weariness of a nature wounded and disappointed by commerce with the
world, but neither soured nor driven to fury by cruel wrongs. It is
noticeable at the same time that he clings to his present place of
residence:--"our roots never struck so deeply as at Pisa, and the
transplanted tree flourishes not." At Pisa he had found real rest and
refreshment in the society of his two friends, the Williamses. Some of
his saddest and most touching lyrics of this year are addressed to
Jane--for so Mrs. Williams was called; and attentive students may
perceive that the thought of Emilia was already blending by subtle
transitions with the new thought of Jane. One poem, almost terrible in
its intensity of melancholy, is hardly explicable on the supposition
that Shelley was quite happy in his home. ("The Serpent is shut out from
Paradise.") These words must be taken as implying no reflection either
upon Mary's love for him, or upon his own power to bear the slighter
troubles of domestic life. He was not a spoiled child of fortune, a weak
egotist, or a querulous complainer. But he was always seeking and never
finding the satisfaction of some deeper craving. In his own words, he
had loved Antigone before he visited this earth: and no one woman could
probably have made him happy, because he was for ever demanding more
from love than it can give in the mixed circumstances of mortal life.
Moreover, it must be remembered that his power of self-expression has
bestowed permanent form on feelings which may have been but transitory;
nor can we avoid the conclusion that, sincere as Shelley was, he, like
all poets, made use of the emotion of the moment for purposes of art,
converting an ephemeral mood into something typical and universal. This
was almost certainly the case with "Epipsychidion."

So much at any rate had to be said upon this subject; for careful
readers of Shelley's minor poems are forced to the conviction that
during the last year of his life he often found relief from a
wretchedness, which, however real, can hardly be defined, in the
sympathy of this true-hearted woman. The affection he felt for Jane was
beyond question pure and honourable. All the verses he addressed to her
passed through her husband's hands without the slightest interruption to
their intercourse; and Mrs. Shelley, who was not unpardonably jealous of
her Ariel, continued to be Mrs. Williams's warm friend. A passage from
Shelley's letter of June 18, 1822, expresses the plain prose of his
relation to the Williamses:--"They are people who are very pleasing to
me. But words are not the instruments of our intercourse. I like Jane
more and more, and I find Williams the most amiable of companions. She
has a taste for music, and an eloquence of form and motions that
compensate in some degree for the lack of literary refinement."

Two lyrics of this period may here be introduced, partly for the sake of
their intrinsic beauty, and partly because they illustrate the fecundity
of Shelley's genius during the months of tranquil industry which he
passed at Pisa. The first is an Invocation to Night:--

Swiftly walk over the western wave,
Spirit of Night!
Out of the misty eastern cave,
Where all the long and lone daylight,
Thou wovest dreams of joy and fear,
Which make thee terrible and dear,--
Swift be thy flight!

Wrap thy form in a mantle grey
Blind with thine hair the eyes of day,
Kiss her until she be wearied out.
Then wander o'er city, and sea, and land,
Touching all with thin opiate wand-
Come, long-sought!

When I arose and saw the dawn,
I sighed for thee;
When light rode high, and the dew was gone,
And noon lay heavy on flower and tree,
And the weary Day turned to his rest,
Lingering like an unloved guest,
I sighed for thee.

Thy brother Death came, and cried,
"Wouldst thou me?"
Thy sweet child Sleep, the filmy-eyed,
Murmured like a noon-tide bee,
"Shall I nestle near thy side?
Wouldst thou me?"--and I replied,
"No, not thee!"

Death will come when thou art dead,
Soon, too soon--
Sleep will come when thou art fled;
Of neither would I ask the boon
I ask of thee, beloved Night--
Swift be thine approaching flight,
Come soon, soon!

The second is an Epithalamium composed for a drama which his friend
Williams was writing. Students of the poetic art will find it not
uninteresting to compare the three versions of this Bridal Song, given
by Mr. Forman. (Volume 4 page 89.) They prove that Shelley was no
careless writer.

The golden gates of sleep unbar
Where strength and beauty, met together,
Kindle their image like a star
In a sea of glassy weather!

Night, with all thy stars look down--
Darkness, weep thy holiest dew!
Never smiled the inconstant moon
On a pair so true.
Let eyes not see their own delight;
Haste, swift Hour, and thy flight
Oft renew.

Fairies, sprites, and angels, keep her!
Holy stars, permit no wrong!
And return to wake the sleeper,
Dawn, ere it be long.
O joy! O fear! what will be done
In the absence of the sun!
Come along!

Lyrics like these, delicate in thought and exquisitely finished in form,
were produced with a truly wonderful profusion in this season of his
happiest fertility. A glance at the last section of Mr. Palgrave's
"Golden Treasury" shows how large a place they occupy among the
permanent jewels of our literature.

The month of January added a new and most important member to the little
Pisan circle. This was Captain Edward John Trelawny, to whom more than
to any one else but Hogg and Mrs. Shelley, the students of the poet's
life are indebted for details at once accurate and characteristic.
Trelawny had lived a free life in all quarters of the globe, far away
from literary cliques and the society of cities, in contact with the
sternest realities of existence, which had developed his self-reliance
and his physical qualities to the utmost. The impression, therefore,
made on him by Shelley has to be gravely estimated by all who still
incline to treat the poet as a pathological specimen of humanity. This
true child of nature recognized in his new friend far more than in Byron
the stuff of a real man. "To form a just idea of his poetry, you should
have witnessed his daily life; his words and actions best illustrated
his writings." "The cynic Byron acknowledged him to be the best and
ablest man he had ever known. The truth was, Shelley loved everything
better than himself." "I have seen Shelley and Byron in society, and the
contrast was as marked as their characters. The former, not thinking of
himself, was as much at ease in his own home, omitting no occasion of
obliging those whom he came in contact with, readily conversing with all
or any who addressed him, irrespective of age or rank, dress or
address." "All who heard him felt the charm of his simple, earnest
manner: while Byron knew him to be exempt from the egotism, pedantry,
coxcombry, and more than all the rivalry of authorship." "Shelley's
mental activity was infectious; he kept your brain in constant action."
"He was always in earnest." "He never laid aside his book and magic
mantle; he waved his wand, and Byron, after a faint show of defiance,
stood mute.... Shelley's earnestness and just criticism held him
captive." These sentences, and many others, prove that Trelawny, himself
somewhat of a cynic, cruelly exposing false pretensions, and detesting
affectation in any for, paid unreserved homage to the heroic qualities
this "dreamy bard,"--"uncommonly awkward," as he also called him--bad
rider and poor seaman as he was--"over-sensitive," and "eternally
brooding on his own thoughts," who "had seen no more of the waking-day
than a girl at a boarding-school." True to himself, gentle, tender, with
the courage of a lion, "frank and outspoken, like a well-conditioned
boy, well-bred and considerate for others, because he was totally devoid
of selfishness and vanity," Shelley seemed to this unprejudiced
companion of his last few months that very rare product for which
Diogenes searched in vain--a man.

Their first meeting must be told in Trelawny's own words--words no less
certain of immortality than the fame of him they celebrate. "The
Williamses received me in their earnest, cordial manner; we had a great
deal to communicate to each other, and were in loud and animated
conversation, when I was rather put out by observing in the passage near
the open door, opposite to where I sat, a pair of glittering eyes
steadily fixed on mine; it was too dark to make out whom they belonged
to. With the acuteness of a woman, Mrs. Williams's eyes followed the
direction of mine, and going to the doorway she laughingly said, 'Come
in, Shelley, its only our friend Tre just arrived.' Swiftly gliding in,
blushing like a girl, a tall, thin stripling held out both his hands;
and although I could hardly believe, as I looked at his flushed,
feminine, and artless face, that it could be the poet, I returned his
warm pressure. After the ordinary greetings and courtesies he sat down
and listened. I was silent from astonishment: was it possible this
mild-looking, beardless boy, could be the veritable monster at war with
all the world?--excommunicated by the Fathers of the Church, deprived of
his civil rights by the fiat of a grim Lord Chancellor, discarded by
every member of his family, and denounced by the rival sages of our
literature as the founder of a Satanic school? I could not believe it;
it must be a hoax. He was habited like a boy, in a black jacket and
trousers, which he seemed to have outgrown, or his tailor, as is the
custom, had most shamefully stinted him in his 'sizings.' Mrs. Williams
saw my embarrassment, and to relieve me asked Shelley what book he had
in his hand? His face brightened, and he answered briskly,-

"'Calderon's "Magico Prodigioso"--I am translating some passages in it.'

"'Oh, read it to us.'

"Shoved off from the shore of commonplace incidents that could not
interest him, and fairly launched on a theme that did, he instantly
became oblivious of everything but the book in his hand. The masterly
manner in which he analysed the genius of the author, his lucid
interpretation of the story, and the ease with which he translated into
our language the most subtle and imaginative passages of the Spanish
poet, were marvellous, as was his command of the two languages. After
this touch of his quality I no longer doubted his identity; a dead
silence ensued; looking up, I asked,--

"'Where is he?'

"Mrs. Williams said, 'Who? Shelley? Oh, he comes and goes like a spirit,
no one knows when or where.'"

Two little incidents which happened in the winter of 1821-2 deserve to
be recorded. News reached the Pisan circle early in December that a man
who had insulted the Host at Lucca was sentenced to be burned. Shelley
proposed that the English--himself, Byron, Medwin, and their friend Mr.
Taafe--should immediately arm and ride off to rescue him. The scheme
took Byron's fancy; but they agreed to try less Quixotic measures before
they had recourse to force, and their excitement was calmed by hearing
that the man's sentence had been commuted to the galleys. The other
affair brought them less agreeably into contact with the Tuscan police.
The party were riding home one afternoon in March, when a mounted
dragoon came rushing by, breaking their ranks and nearly unhorsing Mr.
Taafe. Byron and Shelley rode after him to remonstrate; but the man
struck Shelley from his saddle with a sabre blow. The English then
pursued him into Pisa, making such a clatter that one of Byron's
servants issued with a pitchfork from the Casa Lanfranchi, and wounded
the fellow somewhat seriously, under the impression that it was
necessary to defend his master. Shelley called the whole matter "a
trifling piece of business;" but it was strictly investigated by the
authorities; and though the dragoon was found to have been in the wrong,
Byron had to retire for a season to Leghorn. Another consequence was the
exile of Count Gamba and his father from Tuscany, which led to Byron's
final departure from Pisa.

The even current of Shelley's life was not often broken by such
adventures. Trelawny gives the following account of how he passed his
days: he "was up at six or seven, reading Plato, Sophocles, or Spinoza,
with the accompaniment of a hunch of dry bread; then he joined Williams
in a sail on the Arno, in a flat-bottomed skiff, book in hand, and from
thence he went to the pine-forest, or some out-of-the-way place. When
the birds went to roost he returned home, and talked and read until
midnight." The great wood of stone pines on the Pisan Maremma was his
favourite study. Trelawny tells us how he found him there alone one day,
and in what state was the manuscript of that prettiest lyric, "Ariel, to
Miranda take". "It was a frightful scrawl; words smeared out with his
finger, and one upon the other, over and over in tiers, and all run
together in most 'admired disorder;' it might have been taken for a
sketch of a marsh overgrown with bulrushes, and the blots for wild
ducks; such a dashed-off daub as self-conceited artists mistake for a
manifestation of genius. On my observing this to him, he answered, 'When
my brain gets heated with thought, it soon boils, and throws off images
and words faster than I can skim them off. In the morning, when cooled
down, out of the rude sketch as you justly call it, I shall attempt a

A daily visit to Byron diversified existence. Byron talked more sensibly
with Shelley than with his commonplace acquaintances; and when he began
to gossip, Shelley retired into his own thoughts. Then they would go
pistol-shooting, Byron's trembling hand contrasting with his friend's
firmness. They had invented a "little language" for this sport: firing
was called tiring; hitting, colping; missing, mancating, etc. It was in
fact a kind of pigeon Italian. Shelley acquired two nick-names in the
circle of his Pisan friends, both highly descriptive. He was Ariel and
the Snake. The latter suited him because of his noiseless gliding
movement, bright eyes, and ethereal diet. It was first given to him by
Byron during a reading of "Faust". When he came to the line of
Mephistopheles, "Wie meine Muhme, die beruhmte Schlange," and translated
it, "My aunt, the renowned Snake," Byron cried, "Then you are her
nephew." Shelley by no means resented the epithet. Indeed he alludes to
it in his letters, and in a poem already referred to above.

Soon after Trelawny's arrival the party turned their thoughts to
nautical affairs. Shelley had already done a good deal of boating with
Williams on the Arno and the Serchio, and had on one occasion nearly
lost his life by the capsizing of their tiny craft. They now determined
to build a larger yacht for excursions on the sea; while Byron, liking
the project of a summer residence upon the Bay of Spezia, made up his
mind to have one too. Shelley's was to be an open boat carrying sail,
Byron's a large decked schooner. The construction of both was entrusted
to a Genoese builder, under the direction of Trelawny's friend, Captain
Roberts. Such was the birth of the ill-fated "Don Juan", which cost the
lives of Shelley and Willliams, and of the "Bolivar", which carried
Byron off to Genoa before he finally set sail for Greece. Captain
Roberts was allowed to have his own way about the latter; but Shelley
and Williams had set their hearts upon a model for their little yacht,
which did not suit the Captain's notions of sea-worthiness. Williams
overruled his objections, and the "Don Juan" was built according to his
cherished fancy. "When it was finished," says Trelawny, "it took two
tons of iron ballast to bring her down to her bearings, and then she was
very crank in a breeze, though not deficient in beam. She was fast,
strongly built, and Torbay rigged." She was christened by Lord Byron,
not wholly with Shelley's approval; and one young English sailor,
Charles Vivian, in addition to Williams and Shelley, formed her crew.
"It was great fun," says Trelawny, "to witness Williams teaching the
poet how to steer, and other points of seamanship. As usual, Shelley had
a book in hand, saying he could read and steer at the same time, as one
was mental, the other mechanical." "The boy was quick and handy, and
used to boats. Williams was not as deficient as I anticipated, but
over-anxious, and wanted practice, which alone makes a man prompt in
emergency. Shelley was intent on catching images from the ever-changing
sea and sky; he heeded not the boat."



The advance of spring made the climate of Pisa too hot for comfort; and
early in April Trelawny and Williams rode off to find a suitable lodging
for themselves and the Shelleys on the Gulf of Spezia. They pitched upon
a house called the Villa Magni, between Lerici and San Terenzio, which
"looked more like a boat or a bathing-house than a place to live in. it
consisted of a terrace or ground-floor unpaved, and used for storing
boat-gear and fishing-tackle, and of a single storey over it, divided
into a hall or saloon and four small rooms, which had once been
white-washed; there was one chimney for cooking. This place we thought
the Shelleys might put up with for the summer. The only good thing about
it was a verandah facing the sea, and almost over it." When it came to
be inhabited, the central hall was used for the living and eating room
of the whole party. The Shelleys occupied two rooms facing each other;
the Williamses had one of the remaining chambers, and Trelawny another.
Access to these smaller apartments could only be got through the saloon;
and this circumstance once gave rise to a ludicrous incident, when
Shelley, having lost his clothes out bathing, had to cross, in puris
naturalibus, not undetected, though covered in his retreat by the clever
Italian handmaiden, through a luncheon party assembled in the
dining-room. The horror of the ladies at the poet's unexpected
apparition and his innocent self-defence are well described by Trelawny.
Life in the villa was of the simplest description. To get food was no
easy matter; and the style of the furniture may be guessed by Trelawny's
laconic remark that the sea was his only washing-basin.

They arrived at Villa Magni on the 26th of April, and began a course of
life which was not interrupted till the final catastrophe of July 8.
These few weeks were in many respects the happiest of Shelley's life. We
seem to discern in his last letter of importance, recently edited by Mr.
Garnett, that he was now conscious of having reached a platform from
which he could survey his past achievement, and whence he would probably
have risen to a loftier altitude, by a calmer and more equable exercise
of powers which had been ripening during the last three years of life in
Italy. Meanwhile, "I am content," he writes, "if the heaven above me is
calm for the passing moment." And this tranquillity was perfect, with
none of the oppressive sense of coming danger, which distinguishes the
calm before a storm. He was far away from the distractions of the world
he hated, in a scene of indescribable beauty, among a population little
removed from the state of savages, who enjoyed the primitive pleasures
of a race at one with nature, and toiled with hardy perseverance on the
element he loved so well. His company was thoroughly congenial and well
mixed. He spent his days in excursions on the water with Williams, or in
solitary musings in his cranky little skiff, floating upon the shallows
in shore, or putting out to sea and waiting for the landward breeze to
bring him home. The evenings were passed upon the terrace, listening to
Jane's guitar, conversing with Trelawny, or reading his favourite poets
aloud to the assembled party.

In this delightful solitude, this round of simple occupations, this
uninterrupted communion with nature, Shelley's enthusiasms and
inspirations revived with their old strength. He began a poem, which, if
we may judge of its scale by the fragment we possess, would have been
one of the longest, as it certainly is one of the loftiest of his
masterpieces. The "Triumph of Life" is composed in no strain of
compliment to the powers of this world, which quell untameable spirits,
and enslave the noblest by the operation of blind passions and
inordinate ambitions. It is rather a pageant of the spirit dragged in
chains, led captive to the world, the flesh and the devil. The sonorous
march and sultry splendour of the terza rima stanzas, bearing on their
tide of song those multitudes of forms, processionally grand, yet misty
with the dust of their own tramplings, and half-shrouded in a lurid robe
of light, affect the imagination so powerfully that we are fain to
abandon criticism and acknowledge only the daemonic fascinations of this
solemn mystery. Some have compared the "Triumph of Life" to a
Panathenaic pomp: others have found in it a reflex of the burning summer
heat, and blazing sea, and onward undulations of interminable waves,
which were the cradle of its maker as he wrote. The imagery of Dante
plays a part, and Dante has controlled the structure. The genius of the
Revolution passes by: Napoleon is there, and Rousseau serves for guide.
The great of all ages are arraigned, and the spirit of the world is
brought before us, while its heroes pass, unveil their faces for a
moment, and are swallowed in the throng that has no ending. But how
Shelley meant to solve the problems he has raised, by what sublime
philosophy he purposed to resolve the discords of this revelation more
soul-shattering than Daniel's "Mene", we cannot even guess. The poem, as
we have it, breaks abruptly with these words: "Then what is Life? I
cried"--a sentence of the profoundest import, when we remember that the
questioner was now about to seek its answer in the halls of Death.

To separate any single passage from a poem which owes so much of its
splendour to the continuity of music and the succession of visionary
images, does it cruel wrong. Yet this must be attempted; for Shelley is
the only English poet who has successfully handled that most difficult
of metres, terza rima. His power over complicated versification cannot
be appreciated except by duly noticing the method he employed in
treating a structure alien, perhaps, to the genius of our literature,
and even in Italian used with perfect mastery by none but Dante. To
select the introduction and part of the first paragraph will inflict
less violence upon the "Triumph of Life" as a whole, than to detach one
of its episodes.

Swift as a spirit hastening to his task
Of glory and of good, the Sun sprang forth
Rejoicing in his splendour, and the mask

Of darkness fell from the awakened Earth.
The smokeless altars of the mountain snows
Flamed above crimson clouds, and at the birth

Of light, the Ocean's orison arose,
To which the birds tempered their matin lay.
All flowers in field or forest which unclose

Their trembling eyelids to the kiss of day,
Swinging their censers in the element,
With orient incense lit by the new ray,

Burned slow and inconsumably, and sent
Their odorous sighs up to the smiling air;
And, in succession due, did continent,

Isle, ocean, and all things that in them wear
The form and character of mortal mould,
Rise as the Sun their father rose, to bear

Their portion of the toil, which he of old
Took as his own, and then imposed on them.
But I, whom thoughts which must remain untold

Had kept as wakeful as the stars that gem
The cone of night, now they were laid asleep,
Stretched my faint limbs beneath the hoary stem

Which an old chestnut flung athwart the steep
Of a green Apennine. Before me fled
The night; behind me rose the day; the deep

Was at my feet, and Heaven above my head,--
When a strange trance over my fancy grew
Which was not slumber, for the shade it spread

Was so transparent that the scene came through
As clear as, when a veil of light is drawn
O'er evening hills, they glimmer; and I knew

That I had felt the freshness of that dawn
Bathe in the same cold dew my brow and hair,
And sate as thus upon that slope of lawn

Under the self-same bough, and heard as there
The birds, the fountains, and the ocean, hold
Sweet talk in music through the enamoured air.
And then a vision on my brain was rolled.

Such is the exordium of the poem. It will be noticed that at this point
one series of the interwoven triplets is concluded. The "Triumph of
Life" itself begins with a new series of rhymes, describing the vision
for which preparation has been made in the preceding prelude. It is not
without perplexity that an ear unaccustomed to the windings of the terza
rima, feels its way among them. Entangled and impeded by the
labyrinthine sounds, the reader might be compared to one who, swimming
in his dreams, is carried down the course of a swift river clogged with
clinging and retarding water-weeds. He moves; but not without labour:
yet after a while the very obstacles add fascination to his movement.

As in that trance of wondrous thought I lay,
This was the tenour of my waking dream:--
Methought I sate beside a public way

Thick strewn with summer dust, and a great stream
Of people there was hurrying to and fro,
Numerous as gnats upon the evening gleam,

All hastening onward, yet none seemed to know
Whither he went, or whence he came, or why
He made one of the multitude, and so

Was borne amid the crowd, as through the sky
One of the million leaves of summer's bier;
Old age and youth, manhood and infancy,

Mixed in one mighty torrent did appear:
Some flying from the thing they feared, and some
Seeking the object of another's fear;

And others, as with steps towards the tomb,
Pored on the trodden worms that crawled beneath,
And others mournfully within the gloom

Of their own shadow walked and called it death;
And some fled from it as it were a ghost,
Half fainting in the affliction of vain breath.

But more, with motions which each other crossed,
Pursued or spurned the shadows the clouds threw,
Or birds within the noon-day ether lost,

Upon that path where flowers never grew--
And weary with vain toil and faint for thirst,
Heard not the fountains, whose melodious dew

Out of their mossy cells for ever burst;
Nor felt the breeze which from the forest told
Of grassy paths, and wood-lawn interspersed,

With over-arching elms, and caverns cold,
And violet banks where sweet dreams brood;--but they
Pursued their serious folly as of old.

Here let us break the chain of rhymes that are unbroken in the text, to
notice the extraordinary skill with which the rhythm has been woven in
one paragraph, suggesting by recurrences of sound the passing of a
multitude, which is presented at the same time to the eye of fancy by
accumulated images. The next eleven triplets introduce the presiding
genius of the pageant. Students of Petrarch's "Trionfi" will not fail to
note what Shelley owes to that poet, and how he has transmuted the
definite imagery of mediaeval symbolism into something metaphysical and

And as I gazed, methought that in the way
The throng grew wilder, as the woods of June
When the south wind shakes the extinguished day;

And a cold glare, intenser than the noon
But icy cold, obscured with blinding light
The sun, as he the stars. Like the young moon--

When on the sunlit limits of the night
Her white shell trembles amid crimson air,
And whilst the sleeping tempest gathers might,--

Doth, as the herald of its coming, bear
The ghost of its dead mother, whose dim form
Bends in dark ether from her infant's chair;

So came a chariot on the silent storm
Of its own rushing splendour, and a Shape
So sate within, as one whom years deform,

Beneath a dusky hood and double cape,
Crouching within the shadow of a tomb.
And o'er what seemed the head a cloud-like crape

Was bent, a dun and faint ethereal gloom
Tempering the light. Upon the chariot beam
A Janus-visaged Shadow did assume

The guidance of that wonder-winged team;
The shapes which drew it in thick lightnings
Were lost:--I heard alone on the air's soft stream

The music of their ever-moving wings.
All the four faces of that charioteer
Had their eyes banded; little profit brings

Speed in the van and blindness in the rear,
Nor then avail the beams that quench the sun,
Or that with banded eyes could pierce the sphere

Of all that is, has been, or will be done.
So ill was the car guided--but it past
With solemn speed majestically on.

The intense stirring of his imagination implied by this supreme poetic
effort, the solitude of the Villa Magni, and the elemental fervour of
Italian heat to which he recklessly exposed himself, contributed to make
Shelley more than usually nervous. His somnambulism returned, and he saw
visions. On one occasion he thought that the dead Allegra rose from the
sea, and clapped her hands, and laughed, and beckoned to him. On another
he roused the whole house at night by his screams, and remained
terror-frozen in the trance produced by an appalling vision. This mood
he communicated, in some measure, to his friends. One of them saw what
she afterwards believed to have been his phantom, and another dreamed
that he was dead. They talked much of death, and it is noticeable that
the last words written to him by Jane were these:--"Are you going to
join your friend Plato?"

The Leigh Hunts arrived at last in Genoa, whence they again sailed for
Leghorn. Shelley heard the news upon the 20th of June. He immediately
prepared to join them; and on the 1st of July set off with Williams in
the "Don Juan" for Leghorn, where he rushed into the arms of his old
friend. Leigh Hunt, in his autobiography, writes, "I will not dwell upon
the moment." From Leghorn he drove with the Hunts to Pisa, and
established them in the ground-floor of Byron's Palazzo Lanfranchi, as
comfortably as was consistent with his lordship's variable moods. The
negotiations which had preceded Hunt's visit to Italy, raised
forebodings in Shelley's mind as to the reception he would meet from
Byron; nor were these destined to be unfulfilled. Trelawny tells us how
irksome the poet found it to have "a man with a sick wife, and seven
disorderly children," established in his palace. To Mrs. Hunt he was
positively brutal; nor could he tolerate her self-complacent husband,
who, while he had voyaged far and wide in literature, had never wholly
cast the slough of Cockneyism. Hunt was himself hardly powerful enough
to understand the true magnitude of Shelley, though he loved him; and
the tender solicitude of the great, unselfish Shelley, for the smaller,
harmlessly conceited Hunt, is pathetic. They spent a pleasant day or two
together, Shelley showing the Campo Santo and other sights of Pisa to
his English friend. Hunt thought him somewhat less hopeful than he used
to be, but improved in health and strength and spirits. One little touch
relating to their last conversation, deserves to be recorded:--"He
assented warmly to an opinion I expressed in the cathedral at Pisa,
while the organ was playing, that a truly divine religion might yet be
established, if charity were really made the principle of it, instead of

On the night following that day of rest, Shelley took a postchaise for
Leghorn; and early in the afternoon of the next day he set sail, with
Williams, on his return voyage to Lerici. The sailor-boy, Charles
Vivian, was their only companion. Trelawny, who was detained on board
the "Bolivar", in the Leghorn harbour, watched them start. The weather
for some time had been unusually hot and dry. "Processions of priests
and religiosi have been for several days past praying for rain;" so runs
the last entry in Williams's diary; "but the gods are either angry or
nature too powerful." Trelawny's Genoese mate observed, as the "Don
Juan" stood out to sea, that they ought to have started at three a.m.
instead of twelve hours later; adding "the devil is brewing mischief."
Then a sea-fog withdrew the "Don Juan" from their sight. It was an
oppressively sultry afternoon. Trelawny went down into his cabin, and
slept; but was soon roused by the noise of the ships' crews in the
harbour making all ready for a gale. In a short time the tempest was
upon them, with wind, rain, and thunder. It did not last more than
twenty minutes; and at its end Trelawny looked out anxiously for
Shelley's boat. She was nowhere to be seen, and nothing could be heard
of her. In fact, though Trelawny could not then be absolutely sure of
the catastrophe, she had sunk, struck in all probability by the prow of
a felucca, but whether by accident or with the intention of running her
down is still uncertain.

On the morning of the third day after the storm, Trelawny rode to Pisa,
and communicated his fears to Hunt. "I then went upstairs to Byron. When
I told him, his lip quivered, and his voice faltered as he questioned
me." Couriers were despatched to search the sea-coast, and to bring the
"Bolivar" from Leghorn. Trelawny rode in person toward Via Reggio, and
there found a punt, a water-keg, and some bottles, which had been in
Shelley's boat. A week passed, Trelawny patrolling the shore with the
coast-guardsmen, but hearing of no new discovery, until at last two
bodies were cast upon the sand. One found near the Via Reggio, on the
18th of July, was Shelley's. It had his jacket, "with the volume of
Aeschylus in one pocket, and Keats's poems in the other, doubled back,
as if the reader, in the act of reading, had hastily thrust it away."
The other, found near the tower of Migliarino, at about four miles'
distance, was that of Williams. The sailor-boy, Charles Vivian, though
cast up on the same day, the 18th of July, near Massa, was not heard of
by Trelawny till the 29th.

Nothing now remained but to tell the whole dreadful truth to the two
widowed women, who had spent the last days in an agony of alternate
despair and hope at Villa Magni. This duty Trelawny discharged
faithfully and firmly. "The next day I prevailed on them," he says, "to
return with me to Pisa. The misery of that night and the journey of the
next day, and of many days and nights that followed, I can neither
describe nor forget." It was decided that Shelley should be buried at
Rome, near his friend Keats and his son William, and that Williams's
remains should be taken to England. But first the bodies had to be
burned; and for permission to do this Trelawny, who all through had
taken the lead, applied to the English Embassy at Florence. After some
difficulty it was granted.

What remains to be said concerning the cremation of Shelley's body on
the 6th of August, must be told in Trelawny's own words. Williams, it
may be stated, had been burned on the preceding day.

"Three white wands had been stuck in the sand to mark the poet's grave,
but as they were at some distance from each other, we had to cut a
trench thirty yards in length, in the line of the sticks, to ascertain
the exact spot, and it was nearly an hour before we came upon the grave.

"In the meantime Byron and Leigh Hunt arrived in the carriage, attended
by soldiers, and the Health Officer, as before. The lonely and grand
scenery that surrounded us, so exactly harmonized with Shelley's genius,
that I could imagine his spirit soaring over us. The sea, with the
islands of Gorgona, Capraja, and Elba, was before us; old battlemented
watch-towers stretched along the coast, backed by the marble-crested
Apennines glistening in the sun, picturesque from their diversified
outlines, and not a human dwelling was in sight.

"As I thought of the delight Shelley felt in such scenes of loneliness
and grandeur whilst living, I felt we were no better than a herd of
wolves or a pack of wild dogs, in tearing out his battered and naked
body from the pure yellow sand that lay so lightly over it, to drag him
back to the light of day; but the dead have no voice, nor had I power to
check the sacrilege--the work went on silently in the deep and
unresisting sand, not a word was spoken, for the Italians have a touch
of sentiment, and their feelings are easily excited into sympathy. Byron
was silent and thoughtful. We were startled and drawn together by a
dull, hollow sound that followed the blow of a mattock; the iron had
struck a skull, and the body was soon uncovered.... After the fire was
well kindled we repeated the ceremony of the previous day; and more wine
was poured over Shelley's dead body than he had consumed during his
life. This with the oil and salt made the yellow flames glisten and
quiver. The heat from the sun and fire was so intense that the
atmosphere was tremulous and wavy.... The fire was so fierce as to
produce a white heat on the iron, and to reduce its contents to grey
ashes. The only portions that were not consumed were some fragments of
bones, the jaw, and the skull; but what surprised us all was that the
heart remained entire. In snatching this relic from the fiery furnace,
my hand was severely burnt; and had any one seen me do the act, I should
have been put into quarantine."

Shelley's heart was given to Hunt, who subsequently, not without
reluctance and unseemly dispute, resigned it to Mrs. Shelley. It is now
at Boscombe. His ashes were carried by Trelawny to Rome and buried in
the Protestant cemetery, so touchingly described by him in his letter to
Peacock, and afterwards so sublimely in "Adonais". The epitaph, composed
by Hunt, ran thus: "Percy Bysshe Shelley, Cor Cordium, Natus iv. August
MDCCXCII. Obiit VIII Jul. MDCCCXXII." To the Latin words Trelawny,
faithfullest and most devoted of friends, added three lines from Ariel's
song, much loved in life by Shelley:

Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

"And so," writes Lady Shelley, "the sea and the earth closed over one
who was great as a poet, and still greater as a philanthropist; and of
whom it may be said, that his wild spiritual character seems to have
prepared him for being thus snatched from life under circumstances of
mingled terror and beauty, while his powers were yet in their spring
freshness, and age had not come to render the ethereal body decrepit, or
to wither the heart which could not be consumed by fire."



After some deliberation I decided to give this little work on Shelley
the narrative rather than the essay form, impelled thereto by one
commanding reason. Shelley's life and his poetry are indissolubly
connected. He acted what he thought and felt, with a directness rare
among his brethren of the poet's craft; while his verse, with the
exception of "The Cenci", expressed little but the animating thoughts
and aspirations of his life. That life, moreover, was "a miracle of
thirty years," so crowded with striking incident and varied experience
that, as he said himself, he had already lived longer than his father,
and ought to be reckoned with the men of ninety. Through all
vicissitudes he preserved his youth inviolate, and died, like one whom
the gods love, or like a hero of Hellenic story, young, despite grey
hairs and suffering. His life has, therefore, to be told, in order that
his life-work may be rightly valued: for, great as that was, he, the
man, was somehow greater; and noble as it truly is, the memory of him is

To the world he presented the rare spectacle of a man passionate for
truth, and unreservedly obedient to the right as he discerned it. The
anomaly which made his practical career a failure, lay just here. The
right he followed was too often the antithesis of ordinary morality: in
his desire to cast away the false and grasp the true, he overshot the
mark of prudence. The blending in him of a pure and earnest purpose with
moral and social theories that could not but have proved pernicious to
mankind at large, produced at times an almost grotesque mixture in his
actions no less than in his verse. We cannot, therefore, wonder that
society, while he lived, felt the necessity of asserting itself against
him. But now that he has passed into the company of the great dead, and
time has softened down the asperities of popular judgment, we are able
to learn the real lesson of his life and writings. That is not to be
sought in any of his doctrines, but rather in his fearless bearing, his
resolute loyalty to an unselfish and in the simplest sense benevolent
ideal. It is this which constitutes his supreme importance for us
English at the present time. Ours is an age in which ideals are rare,
and we belong to a race in which men who follow them so single-heartedly
are not common.

As a poet, Shelley contributed a new quality to English literature--a
quality of ideality, freedom, and spiritual audacity, which severe
critics of other nations think we lack. Byron's daring is in a different
region: his elemental worldliness and pungent satire do not liberate our
energies, or cheer us with new hopes and splendid vistas. Wordsworth,
the very antithesis to Shelley in his reverent accord with institutions,
suits our meditative mood, sustains us with a sound philosophy, and
braces us by healthy contact with the Nature he so dearly loved. But in
Wordsworth there is none of Shelley's magnetism. $What remains of
permanent value in Coleridge's poetry--such work as "Christabel", the
"Ancient Mariner", or "Kubla Khan"--is a product of pure artistic fancy,
tempered by the author's mysticism. Keats, true and sacred poet as he
was, loved Nature with a somewhat sensuous devotion. She was for him a
mistress rather than a Diotima; nor did he share the prophetic fire
which burns in Shelley's verse, quite apart from the direct enunciation
of his favourite tenets. In none of Shelley's greatest contemporaries
was the lyrical faculty so paramount; and whether we consider his minor
songs, his odes, or his more complicated choral dramas, we acknowledge
that he was the loftiest and the most spontaneous singer of our
language. In range of power he was also conspicuous above the rest. Not
only did he write the best lyrics, but the best tragedy, the best
translations, and the best familiar poems of his century. As a satirist
and humourist, I cannot place him so high as some of his admirers do;
and the purely polemical portions of his poems, those in which he puts
forth his antagonism to tyrants and religions and custom in all its
myriad forms, seem to me to degenerate at intervals into poor rhetoric.

While his genius was so varied and its flight so unapproached in
swiftness, it would be vain to deny that Shelley, as an artist, had
faults from which the men with whom I have compared him were more free.
The most prominent of these are haste, incoherence, verbal carelessness,
incompleteness, a want of narrative force, and a weak hold on objective
realities. Even his warmest admirers, if they are sincere critics, will
concede that his verse, taken altogether, is marked by inequality. In
his eager self-abandonment to inspiration, he produced much that is
unsatisfying simply because it is not ripe. There was no defect of power
in him, but a defect of patience; and the final word to be pronounced in
estimating the larger bulk of his poetry is the word immature. Not only
was the poet young; but the fruit of his young mind had been plucked
before it had been duly mellowed by reflection. Again, he did not care
enough for common things to present them with artistic fulness. He was
intolerant of detail, and thus failed to model with the roundness that
we find in Goethe's work. He flew at the grand, the spacious, the
sublime; and did not always succeed in realizing for his readers what he
had imagined. A certain want of faith in his own powers, fostered by the
extraordinary discouragement under which he had to write, prevented him
from finishing what he began, or from giving that ultimate form of
perfection to his longer works which we admire in shorter pieces like
the "Ode to the West Wind". When a poem was ready, he had it hastily
printed, and passed on to fresh creative efforts. If anything occurred
to interrupt his energy, he flung the sketch aside. Some of these
defects, if we may use this word at all to indicate our sense that
Shelley might by care have been made equal to his highest self, were in
a great measure the correlative of his chief quality--the ideality, of
which I have already spoken. He composed with all his faculties, mental,
emotional, and physical, at the utmost strain, at a white heat of
intense fervour, striving to attain one object, the truest and most
passionate investiture for the thoughts which had inflamed his
ever-quick imagination. The result is that his finest work has more the
stamp of something natural and elemental--the wind, the sea, the depth
of air--than of a mere artistic product. Plato would have said: the
Muses filled this man with sacred madness, and, when he wrote, he was no
longer in his own control. There was, moreover, ever-present in his
nature an effort, an aspiration after a better than the best this world
can show, which prompted him to blend the choicest products of his
thought and fancy with the fairest images borrowed from the earth on
which he lived. He never willingly composed except under the impulse to
body forth a vision of the love and light and life which was the spirit
of the power he worshipped. This persistent upward striving, this
earnestness, this passionate intensity, this piety of soul and purity of
inspiration, give a quite unique spirituality to his poems. But it
cannot be expected that the colder perfections of Academic art should
always be found in them. They have something of the waywardness and
negligence of nature, something of the asymmetreia we admire in the
earlier creations of Greek architecture. That Shelley, acute critic and
profound student as he was, could conform himself to rule and show
himself an artist in the stricter sense, is, however, abundantly proved
by "The Cenci" and by "Adonais". The reason why he did not always
observe this method will be understood by those who have studied his
"Defence of Poetry", and learned to sympathize with his impassioned
theory of art.

Working on this small scale, it is difficult to do barest justice to
Shelley's life or poetry. The materials for the former are almost
overwhelmingly copious and strangely discordant. Those who ought to meet
in love over his grave, have spent their time in quarrelling about him,
and baffling the most eager seeker for the truth. (See Lady Shelley v.
Hogg; Trelawny v. the Shelley family; Peacock v. Lady Shelley; Garnett
v. Peacock; Garnett v. Trelawny; McCarthy v. Hogg, etc., etc.) Through
the turbid atmosphere of their recriminations it is impossible to
discern the whole personality of the man. By careful comparison and
refined manipulation of the biographical treasures at our disposal, a
fair portrait of Shelley might still be set before the reader with the
accuracy of a finished picture. That labour of exquisite art and of
devoted love still remains to be accomplished, though in the meantime
Mr. W.M. Rossetti's Memoir is a most valuable instalment. Shelley in his
lifetime bound those who knew him with a chain of loyal affection,
impressing observers so essentially different as Hogg, Byron, Peacock,
Leigh Hunt, Trelawny, Medwin, Williams, with the conviction that he was
the gentlest, purest, bravest, and most spiritual being they had ever
met. The same conviction is forced upon his biographer. During his four
last years this most loveable of men was becoming gradually riper,
wiser, truer to his highest instincts. The imperfections of his youth
were being rapidly absorbed. His self-knowledge was expanding, his
character mellowing, and his genius growing daily stronger. Without
losing the fire that burned in him, he had been lessoned by experience
into tempering its fervour; and when he reached the age of twenty-nine,
he stood upon the height of his most glorious achievement, ready to
unfold his wings for a yet sublimer flight. At that moment, when life at
last seemed about to offer him rest, unimpeded activity, and happiness,
death robbed the world of his maturity. Posterity has but the product of
his cruder years, the assurance that he had already outlived them into
something nobler, and the tragedy of his untimely end.

If a final word were needed to utter the unutterable sense of waste
excited in us by Shelley's premature absorption into the mystery of the
unknown, we might find it in the last lines of his own "Alastor":--

Art and eloquence,
And all the shows o' the world, are frail and vain
To weep a loss that turns their light to shade.
It is a woe "too deep for tears," when all
Is reft at once, when some surpassing spirit,
Whose light adorned the world around it, leaves
Those who remain behind nor sobs nor groans,
The passionate tumult of a clinging hope;
But pale despair and cold tranquillity,
Nature's vast frame, the web of human things,
Birth and the grave, that are not as they were.


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