« PředchozíPokračovat »
flickering in the socket. He indeed retained his love for her, and still did retain it for at any rate a month or two to come. But her father, though he had not interdicted the match, was not in favour of it; she herself had been raising objections to the lover's increasingly sceptical opinions ;' and somewhere about August of this year she was the bride of another mana gentleman of property, and inevitably “a clod of earth” in Shelley's eyes. His letters addressed to Mr. Hogg, towards this time of supense and dereliction, expatiate much on his wounded feelings, the atrocities of intolerance, his suicidal proclivities, and the like—and indeed the family did perceive these proclivities to be to some extent real, and used to watch him anxiously when he went out with dog and gun.3 One cannot, however, lay very much stress on his letters of the period in question. They are flighty, scattered, and excitable, in an extreme degree; and lend themselves equally to the supposition that he was thrown off his balance by all sorts of things, or that he overdid in words every passing matter that affected him. That he felt keenly at the time the loss of his beautiful cousin will be believed by every one who reflects on the character and constitution of the youth, and the probabilities of the case: but the biographers who will have it that this proved a lifelong sorrow to him are probably indulging themselves in applying to Shelley one of the pet resources of the memoir-writing tribe. No doubt, however, his disappointment with Miss Grove may have precipitated his dallyings or entanglements with Miss Harriet Westbrook.
Harriet was not only delightful to look at, but altogether most agreeable. She dressed with exquisite neatness and propriety; her voice was pleasant, and her speech cordial ; her spirits were cheerful, and her manners good. She was well educated; a constant and agreeable reader ; adequately accomplished in music. She had great fortitude, if it should not rather be called insensibility, of temperament.' Perfectly frank in character and manner, she became under Shelley's guidance perfectly “unprejudiced” in mind. This, however, took some while : Harriet was a Methodist in bringing-up, and felt at first a lively horror at learning that he was an atheist
1 "She abhors me as a sceptic—as what she was before !" (Letter of Shelley, 3rd January 1811, in Hogg's Life, vol. i. p. 156).
? This date is named to me on good authority and very positively as being about correct : moreover, Lady Shelley says (Shelley Memorials, p. 13) that Miss Grove made another choice after her cousin's expulsion from Oxford. If this is correct, there is something strangely wrong about a letter of Shelley's published by Hogg under the date of with January 1811, in which the marriage of Miss Grove is announced as a fact already accomplished. From various points in connexion with that letter, and others amid which it is inserted, I find it extremely difficult to suppose that there has been, in this instance, any serious misdating on Hogg's part, and cannot account for the discrepancy. Possibly Shelley, in saying “ She is married," meant, “She is engaged to be married, and the marriage is certain to ensue.'
3° I find no hint of any sporting habits of Shelley in after life. He seems, however, to have done some fishing with Williams in the Bay of Lerici-Letter of Williams, 4th May 1822, in the Essays and Letters, vol. ii. p. 282. In the notes to Queen Mab he speaks of "the brutal pleasures of the chase."
. In process of time, ethical ideas had a considerable attraction for her, religious ideas none at all. So far she seemed excellently fitted both to acquire and to retain a hold upon Shelley's affections. Yet there was in reality a fatal deficiency. When we have summed-up all Harriet's attractions and merits—and they were neither few nor unsubstantial—we find that we have described at best a sweet young creature qualified to adorn any ordinary position in life; we have not described a poet's ideal, but only the simulacrum and external imitation of such. Depth of character or of mind—a real distinctive personality of whatever sort
was not included among Harriet Westbrook's qualifications. There was indeed no absolute reason why the void should make itself painfully felt; but, once felt by so ardent and penetrating a nature as Shelley's, it remained, neither to be filled nor forgotten-an aching void, a craving and persecuting want. Harriet was beautiful, amiable, good, accommodating, affectionate ; but-deadly and at last unevadeable discovery-she was commonplace.
Shelley was not ever deeply nor even impulsively in love with Harriet; he never wooed her to be his. He visited at her father's house, and took pleasure in inducing upon her mental faculties something that might be regarded as conformity to his own daring and fervent tone of opinion; he escorted her back to school towards the end of April after an illness which had laid her up; lent a ready ear to tales, more or less genuine, of domestic coercion and incompatibilities. And it is easily open to conjecture that the family, though they may have done nothing underhand or entrapping, seconded to the utmost of their power any uncertain chances of a possible alliance with the grandson and eventual heir of a very wealthy baronet.
The letters of Shelley show that he was now eagerly bent upon promoting a match between Mr. Hogg and his eldest sister Elizabeth. She also wrote verses, of which some specimens, far from good, are preserved, and she painted besides : her mental gifts impressed him intermittently, but at times strongly; at other times he gave her up as a victim of conventionality and prejudice. The project, however, resulted in nothing—Shelley's advocacy being no doubt a minus quantity under the circumstances ; and Elizabeth died unmarried in 1831. By the middle of May the inconvenient son was readmitted to Field Place, and came to an arrangement with his father, under which he was to receive an allowance of £200 per annum, with liberty to choose his own place of abode. His maternal uncle Captain Pilfold, residing at Cuckfield, a naval officer who had seen service under Nelson at the Nile and Trafalgar, exerted a conciliatory influence; he stands out indeed as a very pleasant figure amid the various family complications which Percy's erratic course gave rise to.
* See, in Hogg, vol. ii. p. 509, the account of her impassive demeanour during a surgical operation performed on her infant daughter lanthe.
I can affirm this with certainty, having read and transcribed a letter from Shelley to Miss Hitchener (see p. 38), written almost directly after his marriage: here he gives a somewhat detailed account of his acquaintance with Harriet, and her ultimate and spontaneous avowal of her love for him.
The latter next, from about the beginning of July, paid a visit of two or three weeks to his cousin Mr. Thomas Grove, at Cwm Elan, Rhayader, in Radnorshire.
There was a commotion now in the Westbrook household; and Shelley was made a party to it-not, it might seem, without steady female manipulation. The details appear in print, in letters addressed by Shelley to Hogg from Cwm Elan, undated, and seemingly misplaced in the printing. Presumably they were written towards the middle or end of July.”
During Shelley's stay at Cwm Elan, Eliza and Harriet Westbrook were going to a house of their father at Aberystwith. Percy expected to meet them there, the father having invited him. The letter printed next after the one which names this fact contains the following passage :-“Your jokes on Harriet Westbrook amuse me. It is a common error for people to fancy others in their own situation ; but, if I know anything about love, I am not in love. I have heard from the West
* One of his letters, dated 4th July 1811, printed by Hogg (vol. i. p. 411), claims attentive pondering by the student of Shelley's life. A very grave conjecture might be, and has been, built upon its terms; but I suspect that, owing to Hogg's slovenly editorship, there is a serious misprint in it, and shall leave it without further comment. This course adopt not because the question raised is “ painful,” for that I consider no adequate ground for biographic reticence in the case of so important a man as Shelley; but because the document which raises the question is unsafe-and one cannot afford to rummage cupboards for skeletons, if a strong presumption exists that the skeletons themselves are only plaster of Paris.
Lady Shelley (Shelley Memorials, p. 22) refers to two of these letters, and says she is “not able to guarantee their authenticity. No doubt Lady Shelley speaks advisedly : but a biographer who knows nothing to the contrary must accept as genuine letters printed by Hogg as having been addressed to himself, and by himself received at the date of the transactions.
brooks, both of whom I highly esteem.” The next following letter is momentous. “I shall certainly come to York, but Harriet Westbrook will decide whether now or in three weeks. Her father has persecuted her in a most horrible way by endeavouring to compel her to go to school. She asked my advice. . . . I advised her to resist. She wrote to say that resistance was useless, but that she would fly with me; and threw herself upon my protection. We shall have £200 a-year; when we find it run short, we must live, I suppose, upon love. Gratitude and admiration, all demand that I should love her for ever. We shall see you at York. I will hear your arguments for matrimonialism, by which I am now almost convinced.” The upshot was that Shelley returned to London, where he lodged with his cousin, Mr. Grove, a surgeon ; and about the beginning of September 1811, after some half-dozen stolen interviews with Harriet, eloped with her from her father's house." He had been much moved by finding her pining, and suffering in health ; and learning from her own lips that love for him was the cause. They went off straight to Edinburgh, and there became man and wife according to the law of Scotland.
Thus the advances, immediately leading to elopement, came from Harriet to Shelley, and not from Shelley to Harriet. It might even appear that Harriet (a school-girl of sixteen, hardly more than a child, and lately philosophized out of the ordinary standard of propriety) was ready to be Shelley's mistress, and professedly-not perhaps in truth-aspired to nothing higher; and that it was solely the poet's strong sense of honour which induced him, and this in the teeth of some pet theories of his own, to make her at once his wife.3 Consequently, instead of pulling long faces or shaking middle-aged heads over this escapade of a youth just nineteen years of age, we shall do much better to regard it as a beautiful example of chivalry shining through juvenility; or, if the calculating habit is still strong upon us, we may compute what percentage of faultlessly christian young heirs of opulent baronets would have acted like the atheist Shelley, and married a retired hotelkeeper's daughter obtainable as a mistress. To deny that the act was foolish would be absurd under any circumstances, and doubly so when we reflect upon the ultimate issue of it to Shelley and Harriet themselves : let us then distinctly recognize that it was foolish, and no less distinctly that it was noble.
* I do not find the exact date stated : it was apparently the first week in September : see Hogg, Life, vol. i. p. 425; Mr. C. H. Grove, who saw Shelley and Harriet off from London, consirms the month (vol. ii. p. 554).
a So at least I interpret the phrase "threw herself upon my protection"; which phrase, however, we must in fairness recollect, is at the utmost Shelley's summing-up of Harriet's expressions, and not the ipsissima verba of Harriet herself.
3 The MS. diary of Dr. Polidori, written while he was in habits of daily intercourse with the Shelleys on the shores of the Lake of Geneva in 1816 (30th May) makes a noticeable statement which, though certainly not to be accepted as conclusive, deserves to be borne in mind. The primary likelihood is that the diarist made his jotting direct from what he had heard Shelley say-or at farthest from what Byron reported to him as said by Shelley:-" Gone through much misery, thinking he was dying. Married a girl for the mere sake of letting her have the jointure that would accrue to her. Recovered. Found he could not agree. Separated." The more obvious motive for marrying-that of avoiding obloquy to the woman, and impediments in any future effort to do good-is distinctly put forward in a letter of Shelley to Godwin, 28th January 1812 (Hogg, vol. ii. Pp. 63-4), and in other letters that I have seen, in which Shelley treats the whole affair as natural and right, save only the act of forn:al marriage-a truckling to custom which needs and receives reiterated apology. The statement of Dr. Polidori that the poet in early youth expected a very short lease of life is fully confirmed by a remark made by Mrs. Shelley (p. 250) relative to Queen Mab, and the period, 1812-13, when it was written. “ Ill-health made him believe that his race would soon be run; that a year or two was all he had of life."
VII.-MARRIED LIFE WITH HARRIET. The bridegroom and bride took groundfloor lodgings in George Street, Edinburgh, a handsome house on the left side of the recently built street, and were soon joined there by Hogg. The poet had borrowed £ 25 from Mr. Medwin (his connection by marriage, a solicitor at Horsham, and father of his schoolfellow and subsequent biographer), but without letting him into the secret of the approaching elopement: he was expecting also to receive £75 at the end of the week. All supplies from his father were now cut off. But Mr. Westbrook made some allowance to the young couple, which has been stated at £200 per annum. Besides this, Shelley raised money on his expectaiions from time to time; and must be viewed as now living in a state of permanent embarrassment-not far removed, however, from a modest sufficiency, save at moments of exceptional pressure. In a letter of 5th July 1812 he speaks of himself as having an income of £400 per annum from his relatives.
In October ' Hogg returned to York, and the Shelleys accompanied him : they all three took lodgings with some dingy milliners of advanced age—the Misses Dancer, in Coney Street. Bysshe (he was designated by this name in his own family, and as yet by Harriet) went soon afterwards to London and Cuckfield to negotiate with his father.
I suppose it may have been somewhere towards this time that an incident occurred, worth recording as an evidence of the vehement irritation which Shelley, now and again, felt and showed against the christian religion ; although it should
| Hogg gives the date as “the end of October": I believe it was really the beginning of that month, or perhaps the end of September.