Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

faculty. The true author or authors remained unsuspected, and had a right to chuckle over so daring and undetected an experiment on academic credulity. Beyond the circle of university men the book probably never went

Shelley appears to have published anonymously, during his studentship in Oxford, yet another volume of verse, now untraceable. It was named A Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things; and the profits of sale were assigned to the benefit of an Irish patriot and journalist, Mr. Peter Finnerty, then incarcerated in Lincoln Castle. It was stated in print, in 1812, presumably on Shelley's own authority, that the profits amounted to nearly £100; an allegation which, considering the various circumstances of the case, and especially the total oblivion which has overtaken the poem, rather taxes one's powers of belief."

“Stupendous felicity," along with next to no supervision or guidance, was the lot of Shelley and Hogg at Oxford-so the latter informs us. That career and that felicity were rapidly approaching their term. Shelley had been initiated by Dr. Lind into a habit of corresponding under some pseudonym with a number of people personally unknown to him on a variety of subjects—at first scientific, then metaphysical, moral, or what not. One of the persons he addressed was Felicia Browne, afterwards Mrs. Hemans, whose first volume of poems had attracted his admiration. He retained at Oxford the habit he had formed at Eton. In the course of their studies, Shelley and Hogg had made an abstract from Hume's Essays; a portion of which abstract Shelley got printed at Brighton early in 1811, and, in keeping up his speculative correspondence on questions of theology, was wont to enclose it in his letter, using it as a nucleus for further discussion. He would in fact profess to have come casually across the paper, and to be unable to refute its arguments: it was headed The Necessity of Atheism, and ended with a Q.E.D. It is reprinted, either verbatim or substantially, in the notes to Queen Mab (pp. 229–231). Such is the general purport of what Hogg says concerning this audacious pamphlet : but I think that he clearly pares the thing down rather too close, and that Shelley circulated his syllabus less with a view to mere convenience as a disputant, and more because he believed in and meant to champion the arguments it contained, than Mr. Hogg is willing to admit. Else why did he republish it in Queen Mab, with implied and indisputable adhesion to its terms? In this case as in others the honestest and boldest course is also the safest; and we shall do well to understand once for all that Percy Shelley had as good a right to form and expound his opinions on theology as the Archbishop of Canterbury had to his. Certainly Shelley differed from the Archbishop, and from several other students of and speculators on the subject, past and present; but, as there was no obligation on him to agree with all or any of them, so is there nothing to be explained away or toned down when we find that in fact he dissented. Except indeed that any man of mature years and reflection will admit that Shelley, aged eighteen and a half, showed a certain amount of youthful presumption in obtruding upon other people, known to be of a contrary and even bitterly contrary opinion, his then notions on subjects unfathomable by either himself or them. Shelley did not avow the authorship of The Necessity of Atheism, but neither did he take any great pains to conceal it; he circulated the production among the college authorities—and it has eve: been said that he sent it to the Bench of Bishops with his name, but that is transparently improbable or impossible.

aܙܙ

1 We are indebted to Mr. MacCarthy for the discovery of the facts which go to prove the existence of the Poetical Essay (See Shelley's Early Life, pp. 3, 100, &c.) The evidence may be thus briefly summarized:

(1.) During Shelley's sojourn in Dublin, in 1812, a newspaper, the Dublin Weekly Messenger, of 7th March, contained the following statement, written probably by the young poet's acquaintance, Mr. John Lawless :-"Mr. Shelley, commiserating the suffer. 'ngs of our distinguished countryman, Mr. Finnerty, whose exertions in the cause of political freedom he much admired, wrote a very beautiful poem, the profits of the sale of which, we understand from undoubted authority, Mr. Shelley remitted to Mr. Finnerty. We have heard they amounted to nearly an hundred pounds."

(2.) The poem was advertised for publicat on as follows, in the Oxford University and City Herald for 9th March 1811 :-“ Just published, price two shillings, A Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things, by a Gentleman of the University of Oxford. For assisting to maintain in prison Mr. Peter Finnerty, imprisoned for a libel. London: sold by B. Crosby & Co., and all other booksellers. 1811." A quotation from Southey's Curse of Kehama was added in the advertisement,

(3.) (Observed by myself, and published in The Academy for 19th December 1874.) A work published in 1838, named A Diary Illustrative of the Times of George IV., contains the following statement, written on 15th March 1811 by a fellow-student of Shelley at Oxford, known (as I have since been apprised) to be Mr. Kirkpatrick Sharpe :-". Mr. Shelley, of University College, hath published what he terms the Posthumous Poems (of Margaret Nicholson), printed for the benefit of Mr. Peter Finnerty.. Shelley's last exhibition is a poem on the state of public affairs.". The context clearly, indicates that the last-named " poem" is not the same thing as the "Posthumous Poems.' Whether both were really published for the benefit of Finnerty may be questioned: probably Mr. Sharpe was not accurately informed on this point,

Considering the bearing of these items of evidence, the one upon the other, it is difficult co doubt that a composition named A Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things was actually published, and that the author of it was Shelley. Mr. MacCarthy has searched for a copy high and low, but has not as yet discovered one.

2 The letters published by Hogg show, however, that Shelley had, during his Oxford time, much mental suffering in connection with Miss Grown-See p. 26.

On the 25th of March 1811 Shelley was summoned before the authorities, our Master and two or three of the Fellows; ”

[blocks in formation]

the pamphlet was produced to him; and he was required to declare whether or not he had written it. A tutor of a different college is supposed to have denounced him. He asked why such a question was put. The Master simply repeated his former enquiry, and Shelley declined to answer it, insisting that it lay with his accusers to bring the charge home to him if they could “ Then you are expelled,” replied the Master ; "and I desire you will quit the college early to-morrow morning at the latest.” A regular sentence of expulsion, readywritten, under the seal of the college (the university was not directly concerned in the act), was then handed to him, and he departed. This is the substance of the account which Shelley gave to Hogg immediately after the event: to Peacock, at a later date, he said that he had made a defence, or denial of jurisdiction, in due elocutionary form, and (what is singular) he produced an Oxford newspaper containing the speech. The probability is that he (or else Hogg) used the license of a Thucydides or a Livy; and, not having delivered the oration at the time, invented it afterwards, and furnished the newspaper with the entire report. There is yet another account of the matter. This purports that the interrogator, after sternly denouncing The Necessity of Atheism, suggested to Shelley, with more of good-nature than of uprightness, to disavow it, and no harm would ensue to him. Shelley, however, replied, “I did write the work,” and absolutely refused to make any recantation; and thereupon his expulsion ensued."

Percy was greatly agitated and distressed when he narrated the case to Hogg, although he appears almost directly afterwards to have consoled himself with the distinction of martyrdom. The warmth of Hogg's feelings and friendship appeared conspicuously on this occasion. He wrote a short note to the Master and Fellows, demurring to their decision ; was forthwith summoned to appear; was asked whether he had written the atheistic pamphlet (a question which could hardly have been put, had Shelley already confessed the authorship); declined to reply, on the general ground of self-respect and resistance to browbeating; and was himself also expelled by a ready-written document. “ The alleged offence was a contumacious refusal to disavow the imputed publication.” On the following morning the two young men left Oxford.

1 This is the statement made by Shelley himself to the “ Newspaper Editor" (see P. 14), according to that writer. He avowedly speaks only from memory, and at a distance of about thirty years from the event; but he adds that he is confident of being correct, as Shelley's narrative made a strong impression on him, and had in the interim been frequently repeated by the Editor to others.

Strong language has been used in condemnation of the college authorities; but he who, on the broad ground of freedom of opinion, claims latitude of thought and action for the atheist Shelley, will not deny the same to the christian regulators of University College, Oxford. It appears to me clear that Shelley, known to be the author of The Necessity of Atheism, and refusing to recant, could not be allowed to remain a member of the college: a mild measure would have been to rusticate him, and to expel him was nothing extraordinarily harsh. The necessary subordination of a pupil to his teachers, moreover, makes it difficult to conclude that the authorities had no sort of right to require Shelley to affirm whether or not he had written the pamphlet; or that his refusal to say yes or no (if indeed he did refuse, as seems most probable) barred, in the absence of direct evidence against him, all further action on the part of the college. So far for the substance of what the authorities did : the manner is a different thing. All we know about the manner is what Shelley and Hogg respectively say of that which happened to themselves. If we could which we cannot-assume these ex parte statements to be final and incapable of correction in detail, we should have to say that the manner was overbearing and precipitate, and probably it was so in very deed; and, as regards Hogg, there seems to have been no fair ground either for the severe sentence or for the summary procedure.

VI.-SHELLEY MARRIES HARRIET WESTBROOK. Shelley and Hogg came up to London, and took lodgings at No. 15 Poland Street, Oxford Street. At the end of about a month Hogg left for York, where he studied with a conveyancer. Of course consternation reigned in Field Place at the news of the expulsion. His father offered Percy a qualified sort of forgiveness, on condition that he should reside at Field Place, drop all intercourse with Hogg for a while, and place himself under the control and instructions of some gentleman to be named by paternal authority. The precise answer returned is not on record; but the terms of capitulation failed -chiefly, it would seem, because unrestrained correspondence by letter between the two young men was their sine quâ non ; and Percy, greatly to his concern, was excluded from his natural home, and left without any definite means of support. His sisters, for whom he had always shown much brotherly affection, mitigated his embarrassments by saving up pocketmoney, and transmitting it to him; and he managed to rub on somehow. It was probably about this time that Shelley, with exquisite audacity, wrote to the Rev. Rowland Hill in an assumed name, proposing to preach to his congregation at Surrey Chapel. The eminent divine did not reply.

A young girl named Harriet Westbrook, a fellow-pupil of the Misses Shelley at a school at Clapham,” was in the habit of bringing round to Percy their sisterly remittances. She was not, however, altogether unknown to Shelley even before his expulsion from Oxford; he saw her first in January 1811, having taken her a present from his sister Mary, and a letter of introduction. This was at any rate as early as the 11th of that month, for he then ordered a copy of St. Irvyne to be sent to her at her lather's address, 10 Chapel Street, Grosvenor Square.?

Harriet was a charming girl, even a beauty ; beauty enough to be designated for the part of Venus in some school fête champêtre—" with a complexion brilliant in pink and white, with hair quite like a poet's dream, and Bysshe's peculiar admiration,” colour light brown. She was small and delicately made, and was now nearly or quite sixteen. Her father, Mr. John Westbrook, had been a hotel-keeper, and had for some years past retired from the business, with competent

His house of entertainment, a place of some fashionable resort, was named “The Mount Street Coffee-house," but was in fact a tavern. He looked Jewish; and both aspect and character co-operated in procuring him the nickname of " Jew Westbrook.” The mother was a nonentity. Besides Harriet, there was an unmarried sister, perhaps nearly twice as old, named Eliza; with dark eyes, dark and much-brushed hair, marks of the smallpox, and meagre figure. She also had a Jewish aspect.

Shelley's first flame for his cousin Miss Grove was

means.

now

* Clapham, according to Shelley; Brompton, according to Lady Shelley ; Wandsworth, according to Mr. Hogg ; Balham Hill, ording to Mr. Middleton, who terms the establishment "a second-rate boarding-school." Mr. MacCarthy has fixed the precise locality. The school was named Church House, facing Trinity Church, Clapham Common : the site is now occupied by Nelson Terrace. Mrs. Fenning was the school mistress. As everything however remotely connected with Shelley is contested, even such a point as the spelling of Harriet's name has had its pros and cons. Perhaps a business-letter from Shelley (Medwin, Life, vol. i. p. 373) may be taken as conclusive : “The maiden name is Harriett Westbrook, with two is-Harriett.”. Hogs, however, is positive that she habitually signed only one t; and, as that spelling is adopted by other writers, Shelley himself included, I also adhere to it.

2 This is the number, 10, given in Shelley's letter. Elsewhere it is 23 Chapel Street, and that is probably correct.

« PředchozíPokračovat »