Obrázky stránek

laughed heartily at the intellectual nostrum-vendors who abounded in the Newtonian regions. At any rate, Shelley, who, at one time of unprosperous fortune to Mr. Peacock, made him an allowance of £100 a year, continued, as long as he remained in England, to see him with predilection, and kept up with him from Italy a correspondence equally friendly and interesting. He valued his abilities highly, and relished the peculiar tone of witty causticity and badinage in action evidenced in such works as Nightmare Abbey, in which the character of Scythrop presents some traits of Shelley, and was so understood by himself.

About the end of 1813 Shelley was back in London; and early in 1814 he published A Refutation of Deism, a dialogue between Eusebes and Theosophus in 101 pages. The object of the author is to show that there is no tenable medium path between christianity and atheism, coupled with an ironical upholding of the former.

Hitherto nothing appears in the documents of Shelley's life to show that he was on other than affectionate and pleasant terms with Harriet. We find in his published letters the following expressions "My wife is the partner of my thoughts and feelings" (28th January 1812). “I am a young man, not of age, and have been married for a year to a woman younger than myself. Love seems inclined to stay in the prison" (August 1812). “How is Harriet 'a fine lady'? You indirectly accuse her in your letter of this offence—to me the inost unpardonable of all. The ease and simplicity of her habits, the unassuming plainness of her address, the 'uncalculated connection of her thought and speech, have ever formed, in my eyes, her greatest charms; and none of these are compatible with fashionable life, or the attempted assumption of its vulgar and noisy éclat. You have a prejudice to contend with, in making me a convert to this last opinion of yours, which, so long as I have a living and daily witness to its futility before me, I fear will be unsurmountable (to Fanny Godwin, 10th December 1812). “Harriet is very happy as we are, and I am very happy" (27th December 1812). “When I come home to Harriet, I am the happiest of the happy” (7th February 1813). Mrs. Newton writes to Hogg, 21st October 1813 : “ The lady whose welfare must be so important in your estimation [Harriet] was, as usual, very blooming and very happy during the whole of our residence at Bracknell.” The dedication to Queen Mab may also be accepted as evidence


of affection; though (as I have before remarked) I find nothing to show that Shelley ever had a passion for Harriet—w ever thoroughly "in love" with her. But this satisfactory condition of things was now rapidly changing and vanishing. It appears that some estrangements had occurred between Shelley and his wife towards the end of 1813; she had yielded to the suggestions of interested persons, and importuned him to act in ways repugnant to his feelings and convictions, and conjugal quarrels ensued. When they returned to London, Shelley had evidently lost the pleasure he previously took in watching Harriet's studies in Latin and otherwise : (she had, by December 1812, been brought on as far as reading many of Horace's Odes). During the spring of 1814 he was much at Bracknell : staying at Mrs. Boinville's house there, without Harriet, from about the middle of February to the middle of March. His letter of the 16th of March to Mr. Hogg shows that by this time his domestic discomforts were grave indeed, at least in his own eyes, and were hurrying towards a crisis. “I have escaped, in the society of all that philosophy and friendship combine, from the dismaying solitude of myself. . . . My heart sickens at the view of that necessity which will quickly divide me from the delightful tranquillity of this happy home for it has become my home. . . . Eliza is still with us--not here ; but will be with me when the infinite malice of destiny forces me to depart. . . . I have sometimes forgotten that I am not an inmate of this delightful home—that a time will come which will cast me again into the boundless ocean of abhorred society.”. One reads such passages, and looks forward to the rapidly approaching result, with a sensation of pain ; for he must have a hard heart who, after perusing the accounts of Harriet given by Hogg and Peacock from personal knowledge, has not a kindly sympathy for her, and a reluctance to contemplate her as parted from her husband and her better self.

The first incident that now comes before us looks like the direct reverse of separation. On the 24th of March 1814 Shelley and Harriet were remarried at St. George's, Hanover Square, in order to obviate any doubts as to the validity of the previous marriage according to the rites of the Church of Scotland. The fact is that Harriet was again pregnant; and, though there seems to be no real question of any sort as to the binding force of the previous marriage, Shelley may have thought it prudent to make assurance doubly sure for the possible heir to his name and claims. A letter of his dated 21st October 1811 shows that, even at that early date, he was proposing to remarry in England within a month or so. His intention, as expressed in the letter in question, was to settle £700 a year on Harriet in the event of his death.

* This is the statement of Mr. Thornton Hunt. The date, "towards the end of 1813," appears in the Shelley Memorials. It has been vigorously controverted by Mr. Peacock ; but he does not seem to me to have disproved it, and one is left to suppose that Lady Shelley

speaks from documentary or other solid evidence. 2" Abhorred society" means, I think, not the society of Harrior, nor even of Eliza, but general or miscellaneous society.

He saw Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin soon after this renewed marriage-perhaps towards the middle or close of May : and this was the first time he had seen her, except now and then in the autumn of 1812, when she was hardly more than a child. Mr. Hogg records a brief interview “on the day of Lord Cochrane's trial” (this trial lasted two days, 8th and 9th June); and Mr. Peacock exhibits Shelley as helplessly in love with Mary before he had separated from Harriet. "Nothing that I ever read in tale or history could present a more striking image of a sudden, violent, irresistible, uncontrollable passion.” Shelley said on this occasion : “Every one who knows me must know that the partner of my life should be one who can feel poetry and understand philosophy; Harriet is a noble animal, but she can do neither.”

Mary, the only daughter of Godwin by his first wife the celebrated Mary Wollstonecraft, was born on the 30th of August 1797, and was consequently now in her seventeenth year. She was rather short, remarkably fair and light-haired, with brownish-grey eyes, 3 a great forehead, striking features, and a noticeable

* The following is a copy of the certificate in the Register of St. George's Church: - 164. Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Harriet Shelley (formerly Harriet Westbrook, spinster, a minor), both of this Parish, were remarried in this Church by license (the parties having been already married to each other according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of Scotland), in order to obviate all doubts that have arisen, or shall or may arise, touching or concerning the validity of the aforesaid marriage, by and with the consent of John Westbrook, the natural and lawful father of the said minor, this twenty-fourth day of March in the year 1814, by me, Williams, Curate. This marriage was solemnized between us--Percy Bysshe Shelley, Harriet Shelley, formerly Harriet Westbrook-in the presence of John Westbrook, John Stanley."— The phrase "according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of Scotland" strongly confirms, to my mind, the allegation (see p. 45) that in 1813 Shelley and Harriet were remarried in Edinburgh ; for I do not find it anywhere suggested that their first marriage in Edinburgh, in 1811, had been conducted with any ecclesiastical

2 Mr. Peacock says it must have been between 18th April and 8th June that Shelley first saw Mary, and probably much nearer the later of the two dates than the earlier. If so, and if the Stanzas, April 1814 (vol. iii. p. really indicate a clear purpose of separation between Shelley and Harriet, Mary cannot have been primarily responsible as the motive cause for that separation. 3 Shelley ought to have known in 1818, when he wrote (see vol.iii. p. 227)

"O Mary dear, that you were here,

With your brown eyes bright and clear ! "


form whatever.

air of sedateness. Her earliest youth was by no means the period of her best looks—of which probably Mr. Thornton Hunt gives too exalted an idea when he compares her to the antique bust of Clytie. She was a little hot-tempered and peevish in youth (or, as Godwin wrote, “singularly bold, somewhat imperious, and active of mind”), and careless of dress and speech; outspoken and tenacious of her opinions; a faithful friend; with “extraordinary powers of heart as well as head”; truthful and essentially simple, though somewhat anxious to make an impression in company. Shelley, in the last year of his life, said to Trelawny: “She can't bear solitude, nor I society-the quick coupled with the dead.” The daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and of Godwin could not be expected to set any great store by the marriage-tie, considered solely as such, and apart from the question of heartfelt love and voluntary constancy.

X. -THE SEPARATION FROM HARRIET. Somewhere about the 17th of June-not later at any ratethe married life of Shelley with Harriet came to a final close. She returned, with Ianthe, to the care of her father and sister, then living in retirement at Bath. Shelley (it has been said) gave her all the money he possessed, stating to Mr. Westbrook that he was unable for the time to make her such an allowance as he could wish. He did however-at once or afterwards—make provision for her by a sum paid quarterly, which has been termed “sufficient." 3

A great deal in this matter depends on the question of precise dates, which the materials at my command do not enable me to determine. It is certain (for I have it on the most unexceptionable authority) that letters from Harriet are or were in existence, written in moving terms, and marked by all the eloquence of truth, proving that Shelley at some time dis

Yet Mr. Trelawny says "grey eyes." A portrait of Mary Shelley by Miss Curran, belonging to this gentleman, shows eyes that might be more fairly called grey than brown, but which have enough of a brownish tinge to account for Shelley's epithet. -“ Rather short" (as in the text) appears to be accurate, notwithstanding a phrase, "this tall girl," used in a letter of Godwin, dated 21st February 1817 (see Mr. Paul's William Godwin, vol. ii. p. 246). From the context, the epithet appears to refer rather to womando; inaturity than to actual height.

* Mr. Garnett has good grounds for saying this, as he knows that Shelley came to London on 18th June. Mr. Thornton Hunt speaks of the separation as taking place about the 24th of June.

2 Middleton, vol. i. p. 268. The statement as to residence at Bath is taken from printed authorities, but I have some reason for doubting it.

3 1 find this stated in the article on Shelley in the Penny Cyclopædia. That article was, I believe, written by a distinguished man of letters who had at the time carefully investigated the facts of Shelley's life.

[ocr errors]

appeared from her cognizance, without making proper arrangements, or giving any warning or explanation of his intentions. Harriet had, for herself and her child, only fourteen shillings in ready money at the moment. I have some grounds for inferring that these letters date about the end of June. On the other hand, it is no less certain that full forty days elapsed between the separation of Shelley from Harriet, and his departure from London with Mary Godwin; and that Harriet was in personal communication with him fourteen days before the latter event. On or about the 5th of July a letter of her own shows her to have been then at Bath, and to have heard from Shelley about the ist of the same month. It is also plainly presumable that, if Mr. Westbrook made an annual allowance of £200 to Shelley and his family, that source of income would continue accruing to the profit of Harriet when parted from Shelley; and it is known that her husband wrote to her, soon after leaving for the continent at the end of July, telling her “ to take care of her money”—thus manifestly implying that she had then some money to take care of. After weighing all these counteracting and authentic details as well as I am able, I come to the provisional conclusion that Shelley did at some time and in a certain sense “abandon Harriet—though, as likely as not, without any intention, even at that moment, of leaving his absence long unexplained; and that at any rate he came to an explanation, and some sort of arrangement on her behalf, before he left England.

Though I cannot regard Shelley as, in any correct sense of the words, irresponsible for his actions, it is right to add here that I am further informed, and again on excellent authority, that about this period his sufferings from spasmodic attacks, and consequent free use of laudanum, were so extreme that he might have committed any wildness of action without surprising those who were in the habit of seeing him.

He would carry the laudanum-bottle about in his hand, and gulp from it repeatedly as his pangs assailed him. Indeed, in the early part of July, he actually poisoned himself-not, I suppose, in the least accidentally; and Mrs. Godwin had to implore Mrs. Boinville to come over and nurse him, which was done with the desired result, the cure being effected chiefly by walking him incessantly about the room.

The parting from Harriet has been called a separation by mutual consent. Harriet denied to Peacock that there was any consent on her part. There is such a thing as reluctant but

« PředchozíPokračovat »