Obrázky stránek

from the river, with extensive gardens and numerous rooms, well furnished by Shelley, and taken on a lease for twenty-one years. It is still standing, but partly converted into a beershop. Shelley lived here like a country-gentleman on a small scale, and probably. (considering the lavish generosity he was continually exercising in other ways) beyond his means, though he was not either wasteful or unreckoning: friends were continually with him, and he almost kept open house. There were three servants, if not a fourth assistant, including a Swiss nursemaid for the infant William, named Elise. Shelley kept a well-sized boat for either sailing or rowing, but no horse or carriage. The boat had been named by him the Vaga, and so lettered : some humourist added the final syllable bond. It is said that he would frequently go to the woods of Bisham at midnight, and repeat his old process of conjuring the devil—who never came : but it seems more probable that he laughed bores to scorn by saying he had done this in his nocturnal rambles, than that he really did it. His daily routine of life at Marlow has been thus sketched by Leigh Hunt in a passage frequently quoted. “He rose early in the morning; walked and read before breakfast; took that meal sparingly; wrote and studied the greater part of the morning; walked and read again ; dined on vegetables (for he took neither meat nor wine); conversed with his friends, to whom his house was ever open; again walked out; and usually finished with reading to his wife till ten o'clock, when he went to bed.

This was his daily existence. His book was generally Plato or Homer, or one of the Greek tragedians, or the Bible, in which last he took a great (though peculiar) and often admiring interest.” 1 Shelley's charity at Marlow (as it had before been at Tanyrallt) was exemplary. He had a list of weekly pensioners, and exerted himself in all sorts of ways, equally with purse

and person, to relieve the distress of the lacemakers and others in his neighbourhood. In attending some of the poor in their cottages, reckless of infection, he caught a bad attack of ophthalmia. This not only troubled him at the time; but he had a relapse of the malady at the end of the same year, 1817, severe enough to prevent his reading, and again as late as January 1821.

About March 1817, at Hunt's house in Hampstead, Shelley met Keats, and also the brothers James and Horatio Smith,

* Mr. Trelawny tells me that such was Shelley's interest in the Bible—the Old Testament in especial--that he said on one occasion that, if he could save only one book from a general catastrophe of letters, he would select the Bible. What he particularly valued was its historic and poetic antiquity.

wealthy city-men, and authors of the Rejected Addresses and various other witty writings. He became intimate with Horatio, whom he esteemed very highly, and who, when Shelley was at a later date in Italy, transacted many money-matters for him, whether of business or liberality. “Keats did not take to Shelley as kindly as Shelley did to him : being a little too sensitive on the score of his origin, he felt inclined to see in every man of birth a sort of natural enemy;"; and, in his after period of failing health, a certain irritable suspiciousness got possession of him. It seems clear, too, that he set a very mediocre value upon Shelley's poetic performances; indeed, he regarded him apparently as a mere effervescent tyro, to whom a word or two of good advice, but hardly of encouragement, would be appropriate. On his receiving a copy of The Cenci, the only remark he made, having the character of direct criticism, in his letter of acknowledgment, was—“You, I am sure, will forgive me for sincerely remarking that you might curb your magnanimity, and be more of an artist, and load every rift of your subject with ore.” And then further on : “I am in expectation of Prometheus every day. Could I have but my own wish effected, you would have it still in manuscript, or be but now putting an end to the second act."These phrases may have been strictly sincere, and therefore so far proper for Keats to write : but they were certainly grudging, from the still younger author of so imperfect a production (however glorious in poetic potentialities) as Endymion to the author of such a monument of varied power as The Cenci : even Alastor must, in point of maturity, be placed a good deal ahead of Endymion. When we weigh all the habitual jealousies between rival poets, along with the something very like patronizing depreciation vouchsafed by Keats, we shall watch with a warmer glow of sympathy the flood of shining generosity and impetuous loving admiration which the celestial soul of Shelley poured through Adonais. His detailed critical opinion of Keats will be more appositely introduced when we come to speak of that poem.

XVI.—THE CHANCERY SUIT. Meanwhile a Chancery suit had been commenced to determine whether Mr. Percy Bysshe Shelley or Mr. John Westbrook was the more proper person to elicit any intellectual and moral


Leigh Hunt's Autobiography, pp. 266–7.


Shelley Memorials, p. 143.

faculties with which the ruling power of the universe might have gifted the poet's first two children. In the eyes of a bandaged Justice the retired hotel-keeper proved to be clearly better fitted for this function than the author in esse of Alastor, and in posse of the Triumph of Life.

Mr. Westbrook refused to give up, at Shelley's request, the two children to his keeping—and every considerate person will respect the motives and feelings of the father of the unfortunate Harriet in this matter; and in their name he filed a petition in Chancery, alleging that Shelley had deserted his wife, was in opinion an atheist, and intended to bring up the children in accordance with his own views. Queen Mab was cited in proof of the author's condemnable speculations concerning religion and the relation of the sexes. The petition also stated that Mr. Westbrook had lately invested £2000 four per cents in the names of trustees, to be handed over eventually to the children, and the dividends applied meantime to their maintenance and education. Shelley's legal adviser in this suit was Mr. Longdill, and Brougham is stated to have been employed as counsel

on which side I do not find recorded. It would appear that Shelley drew up his own replication to the petition, for he speaks of “my Chancery-paper" as “a cold, forced, unimpassioned, insignificant piece of cramped and cautious argument."

The judgment of Lord Chancellor Eldon was delivered on or about the 23rd of August. The most essential passages run as follows :—“I have carefully looked through the answer of the defendant, to see whether it affects the representation, made in the affidavits filed in support of the petition, and in the exhibits referred to, of the principles and conduct in life of the father in this case. I do not perceive that the answer does affect the representation, and no affidavits are filed against the petition. . . There is nothing in evidence before me sufficient to authorize me in thinking that this gentleman has changed, before he has arrived at twenty-five, the principles he avowed at nineteen; and I think there is ample evidence, in the papers and in conduct, that no such change has taken place.

This is a case in which, as the matter appears to me, the father's principles cannot be misunderstood ; in which his conduct, which I cannot but consider as highly immoral, has been established in

See p. 421.

2 According to Medwin, '17th March; and this date reappears in other publications. But a letter from Mr. Longdill, dated 5th August 1817, cited in the Shelley Memorials, D. 75, proves the earlier date to be incorrect.

proof, and established as the effect of those principles-conduct nevertheless which he represents to himself and to others, not as conduct to be considered as immoral, but to be recommended and observed in practice, and as worthy of approbation. I consider this, therefore, as a case in which the father has demonstrated that he must and does deem it to be a matter of duty which his principles impose on him to recommend, to those whose opinions and habits he may take upon himself to form, that conduct, in some of the most important relations of life, as moral and virtuous, which the law calls upon me to consider as immoral and vicious-conduct which the law animadverts upon as inconsistent with the duties of persons in such relations of life, and which it considers as injuriously affecting both the interests of such persons and those of the community. I cannot therefore think that I shall be justified in delivering over these children, for their education, exclusively to what is called the 'care' to which Mr. Shelley wishes it to be entrusted." ; It is stated that the poet had intended to place the children with a lady thoroughly qualified for such a post, Mrs. Longdill. The order of the Court of Chancery proceeded to restrain the father or his agents from taking possession of the infants, or intermeddling with them till further orders. The case could have been carried by appeal into the House of Lords ; but probably Shelley felt that he should obtain no redress there, and he dropped further proceedings. He did not, however, lose sight of practical contingencies which might affect the case; for we find him, as late as 26th January 1819, and all the way from Naples, writing to Mr. Peacock : “We have reports here of a change in the English ministry. To what does it amount? for, besides my national interest in it, I am on the watch to vindicate my most sacred rights, invaded by the Chancery Court."

The result was that the children were handed over to the guardianship of Mr. and Miss Westbrook, and more immediately to that of a clergyman of the Church of England, Dr. Hume. Shelley, who never saw them again, had to set apart,

1 The judgment of Lord Eldon, it will be observed, says nothing of "desertion Harriet by Shelley. It has been stated to me that his lordship said during the proceed. ings something to the effect that “Shelley had left the children to starve, and the grand. father had taken them up, and had a right to keep them." But, as the written judgment is silent on this point, I should presume that Lord Eldon either spoke loosely or was reported unprecisely.

a I find this name in a letter from Horatio Smith, dated 13th April 1821, given in the Shelley Memorials, p. 168. From the same book, p. 75, it appears that a Mr. Kendall was recommended as a gnardian during the suit : whether he actually obtained the appointment in the first instince I cannot say.

" of

out of his income of £1000 a year, £200 for the children, which sum was regularly deducted by Sir Timothy. At one time, in 1821, some complication ensued ; and Shelley, then in Italy, found himself suddenly without a penny of incomings. The matter, however, was pretty soon set right through the intervention of Horatio Smith, and apparently without Sir Timothy's having been privy to the harsh and unneeded stoppage.

Of all the blows brought down upon Shelley by his conscientious adherence, in word and deed, to sincere convictions, this appears to have been the one which he felt most profoundly. He was at this time almost domesticated with the family of Leigh Hunt, then residing in Lisson Grove; and that affectionate and warmly loved and trusted friend attests that the bereaved father could never afterwards venture so much as to mention the children to him. He had some fears moreover that the son of his second nuptials, William, would also be taken away, and he contemplated leaving England in consequence; but nothing came of this. His indignation winged more than one quivering shaft of verse against Lord Eldon. About the same time he was made answerable for some of Harriet's liabilities, incurred without any knowledge on his part, and was in some danger of arrest : this also passed over.

Mary meanwhile continued to reside at Marlow. Here her third child, Clara, was born on the 3rd of September. Shelley was with her at the time ; and would walk, or perhaps row, down to Egham, a distance of about sixteen miles, to see the surgeon, Mr. Furnivall

, and, on arriving, would take no refreshment beyond a bowl of milk. His exceeding good-nature impressed this gentleman, who considered indeed that Mary was somewhat too free and exacting in ordering her husband about, which he submitted to with the docility of a child. One is more inclined to smile over Shelley's étourderie than to attribute to him anything wilfully amiss, when one learns that the larger part of the obstetrical bill remained unpaid at the time of the family's departure from Marlow to Italy, and for ever afterwards.2

The fewest words should here be hazarded or wasted regarding the rights or wrongs of the Lord Chancellor's decision. I

* These are the sums named in the Shelley Memorials, p. 75. Yet it would seem afterwards, p. 168, that the sum for Shelley's own use was 2880, and for the children only £120 per annum.

? I am indebted to Mr. Furnivall's son for these minor but characteristic details.

« PředchozíPokračovat »