« PředchozíPokračovat »
understand that its legal validity has never been overruled, but that probably it would not now be allowed to count as a pre
Previous writers have, with befitting fairness, pointed out that it proceeds on the grounds not solely nor strictly of speculative opinion, but of conduct framed according to opinion unrecanted. Without over-refining upon this point, we may say that logical minds which accept as a principle "saving faith,” with practice not disjoined therefrom, are entitled, in the ratio of their logicality, to accept Lord Eldon's judgment as righteous; logical minds which affirm this to be unrighteous will, in the like ratio, demur to the theory of the saving faith. It is a very spacious arena for discussion; and he who denounces the judgment or the judge in this English “ Mortara case," without going several steps further, is presumably at least as much of a partisan as of a reasoner.
XVII. -THE REVOLT OF ISLAM. His reverses did not depress Shelley, but nerved him to greater exertions. While the Lord Chancellor was about to brand him as less fit for the most rudimentary duties of social life than any other man in England, he was preparing to prove himself one of the few men then living in the world predestined to immortality. Laon and Cythna, now known as The Revolt of Islam, was written in the summer and early autumn of 1817. It was composed chiefly as the poet was seated on a high promontory of Bisham Wood, or was drifting in his boat. The principal particulars regarding the genesis of the poem are to be found in its preface, dedication, and notes; to these therefore I refer the reader.
Some copies of Laon and Cythna were ready for delivery by Christmas 1817; but, after a very few had been issued—it is generally said, only three, but one finds reason to believe there were rather more than this)—the publisher, Mr. Ollier, became alarmed at the audacities of the poem, especially its main incident of conjugal love between a brother and sister; and, under strong pressure from him, Shelley reluctantly consented to make some modifications. It has been said that he was at last “convinced of the propriety": of so doing : at any rate, he did it. The changes are not numerous, affecting only fiftyfive lines besides the title-page and some sentences in the preface. Captain Medwin-so he informs us—was told by Shelley that this poem, and the Endymion of Keats, were written in friendly rivalry; and that the compact was to produce both works within six months, which Shelley at all events very nearly managed.
* Shelley Memorials, p. 83.
It was a great effort, and a near approach to a great poem ; clearly, in more senses than one, greater than Alastor, though its vast scale and unmeasured ambition place it still more obviously in the category of imperfect achievements. Gorgeous ideality, humanitarian enthusiasm, and a passionate rush of invention, more especially of the horrible, go hand in hand in the Revolt of Islam. It affects the mind something like an enchanted palace of the Arabian Nights. One is wonderstruck both at the total creation, and at every shifting aspect of it; but one does not expect to find in it any detail of the absolute artistic perfection of a Greek gem, nor any inmate of consummate interest to the heart. Its flashing and sounding chambers are full of everything save what one most loves at last, repose and companionship.
With these few wretchedly inadequate-not to say presumptuous-remarks, I must leave the Revolt of Islam; only further observing that, whatever its imperfections of plan and execution, it is not alone a marvellous well-head of poetry, but, in conception and tone, and in its womanly ideal embodied in Cythna, a remarkably original work : it was greatly unlike any poem that had preceded (so far as I know), and even the demon of imitation has left it solitary.
XVIII. -SHELLEY QUITS ENGLAND FOR ITALY :-ROSALIND
AND HELEN. Another pulmonary attack towards the end of the autumn of 1817 made Shelley think gravely of what it would behove him to do; and he eventually resolved to go to Italy (he and Hogg had studied the Italian language in 1813), with no definite idea of when he would find it practicable to return. He never did return : the prophet who, in the spring of 1818, quitted England, a grudging and unwitting stepmother, was never again to encounter in person dishonour from his own country and his own people.
Health was the motive put forward by Shelley for his departure; perhaps the state of his finances also had something to do with it, and more particularly the involvements which he was perpetually incurring through his unbounded munificence to others, and in especial he had to consign the infant Allegra to the care of her father, Byron, at his requisition. It is a remark of Mr. Thornton Hunt, and I have no doubt a true and suggestive one, that a fixed characteristic of Shelley was this—that if he had one sufficient cause for any action, he would specify that, and ignore all minor motives ; and that he was thus, without any real foundation, sometimes regarded as uncandid or reserved. This would explain how he may, with entire personal truth and self-consistency, have simply alleged health as his reason for leaving England ; although, had the motive of health been absent, other causes also would have sufficed.
To give some idea of Shelley in one of the most prominent of his personal traits, I will here cite, regardless of the sequence of date, a few out of the many acts of generosity recorded of him. Some others have been mentioned already, and how many more remain unrecorded! The reader will bear in mind that the income of Shelley and his family was, from 1812 to 1814, something like £400 a year; from 1815 to the middle of 1817, £1000; and from the latter date onwards, after the deduction made under the order in Chancery, about £800.
“He was able, by restricting himself to a diet more simple than the fare of the most austere anchorite, and by refusing himself horses, and the other gratifications that appear properly to belong to his station (and of which he was in truth very fond), to bestow upon men of letters, whose merits were of too high an order to be rightly estimated by their own generation, donations large indeed if we consider from how narrow a source they flowed :”; he was besides most delicate in the manner of conferring such obligations. He repeatedly gave away all his money before reaching a coach-office, and was consequently obliged to walk to town; and he once entered the grounds of his close neighbour at Marlow, Mr. Maddocks, without shoes, having bestowed his on a poor woman. Almost immediately after his expulsion from Oxford, he offered through his father's solicitor to accept, in lieu of his claim to the entailed estate of £6000 per annum (perhaps he had not then a clear idea of the amount), an annuity of £200, leaving all the residue for his sisters—an act of almost unjustifiably self-oblivious good-nature. He proposed at one time to raise money on a post obit, to settle it on a lady whom Medwin was desirous of marrying; but this his cousin, with all right feeling, declined. During his stay at Marlow, having written a pamphlet named A Proposal for
* Hogg, vol. i. p. 245. I suppose the case more particularly, though not alone, here Jeferred to, is that of Mr. Peacock, already mentioned in our pages.
putting Reform to the Vote throughout the Country,' he proffered £100, a full tenth of his income for a year, to further the project. In the last four or five years of his life he frequently assisted Leigh Hunt; and in one instance (perhaps towards the end of 1818) presented him with £1400, which he had raised by an effort with a view to relieving his friend from debt. He produced large sums—I believe about £600o in all-to pay off Godwin's debts. The following singular jotting occurs in Dr. Polidori's diary: "When starving, a friend to whom he had given £2000, though he knew it, would not come near him." That Shelley was ever "starving ” is no doubt not true, though it is highly consistent with probability that he sometimes could not count upon daily money to meet daily necessities; the “ £2000” may be mythical in a like degree with the starvation, rather than absolutely so. His personal disinterestedness, apart from liberality to others, was equally marked. Leigh Hunt says, “He had only to become a yea-and-nay man in the House of Commons, to be one of the richest men in Sussex. He declined it, and lived upon a comparative pittance. Even the fortune that he would ultimately have inherited, as secured to his person, was petty in comparison.” I presume that there is substantial truth in this ; save that the incident referred to is probably the same which I have already traced elsewhere with a different colouring—the offer of a large fortune on condition that he would entail it on his eldest son. Upon Percy's refusal, the money, it is stated, went to his brother John.3 Medwin says also that he refused, at a time of pecuniary straits, an offer of £3000 from Sir John Shelley-Sidney to resiga his contingent interest in the Penshurst estates. This is given as an instance of the romantic value he attached to his indirect connection with the descent from Sir Philip Sidney, and may be a figment.
There was also a second pamphlet written at Marlow, relative to some recent political executions-"We pity the Plumage, but forget the Dying Bird, An Address to the People on the Death of the Princess Charlotte. By the Hermit of Marlow." (Privately printed, and also reprinted of late years.)
2 I found this surmise on an expression in a letter from Hunt, 9th March 1819, “You know the difficulties which I foolishly suffered to remain upon me when Shelley did that noble action. (Hunt's Correspondence, vol. i. p. 126.) Medwin, however, puts the affair later, at the time when Hunt was about leaving England, or towards the autumn of 1821. He also introduces into this matter “Horace Smith, who not only advanced the passage-money, but a very considerable sum for the payment of his debts-as much, I Think Shelley told me, as £1400.". (Life of Shelley, vol. i. p. 137:) Of course we are to understand that, though Smith advanced the money, the donor of it was still Shelley.
3 Biographie des Contemporains, 1834. There are many incorrectnesses in this article about Shelley, and in others in French books. I should therefore regard the statement in the text as merely a rumour requiring, verification, were it not that indisputable MS. authority exists for the facts as narrated by me on p. 32.
I have mentioned above a pamphlet on the subject of Parliamentary Reform. Shelley (as we have seen) did not give his name on the title-page, but figured as “ The Hermit of Marlow." The whirligig of time has brought-in many revenges to Shelley, and this among others—that the Tories found it their interest and necessity to pass in 1867 almost the very scheme of Reform which the poet and “ dreamer," the atheist and democrat, had suggested in 1817; for it makes little difference whether we speak of a payment of money in “direct taxes” or in "rating." “He disavowed any wish to establish universal suffrage at once, or to do away with monarchy and aristocracy, while so large a proportion of the people remained disqualified by ignorance for sharing in the government of the country, though he looked forward to a time when the world would be enabled to 'disregard the symbols of its childhood;' and he suggested that the qualificationfor the suffrage should be the registry of the voter's name as one who paid a certain small sum in direct taxes.'
After staying in London towards the beginning of 1818 to settle some business, Shelley, with his wife and Miss Clairmont, left for Italy on the 11th of March, and proceeded straight to Milan. The infants followed on from England in due course. The party spent about a month in Milan, visiting thence the Lake of Como, where they thought of passing the summer; but this proved unfeasible, and early in May they went
to Pisa.? Here, on this first visit, they found little satisfaction, and shifted after three or four days to Leghorn; where, in the Via Grande, they stayed till the 5th of June, and made acquaintance with Mr. and Mrs. Gisborne. This lady had been intimate with Mary Wollstonecraft, and was a friend of Godwin, who indeed had wished to marry her after Mary's death. She was highly amiable and accomplished, and “completely unprejudiced;" and Shelley, though he spoke of her in one instance as “the antipodes of enthusiasm,” found much pleasure and satisfaction in her society both now and afterwards. Mr. Gisborne also was a man of extensive scholarship and of liberal views, which the poet supposed to be the reflex of those of his wife. Shelley thought him dull—an opinion from which Mr. Peacock afterwards saw reason to differ, and which
1 Shelley Memorials, pp. 87-8. Condensed from the final paragraph of the pamphlet.
Many interesting details as to the sojourn and localities in Italy will be found in Mrs. Shelley's notes in these volumes. I therefore touch upon them the more lightly.