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Shelley by One Who Knew Him - The Atlantic

If photography had existed during the lifetime of Shelley, it alone would have sufficed to correct many a misconception of his character founded upon imperfect portraiture; and even the most boyish recollections of him, matter-of-fact as they are, may help to solve the problem upon which many minds have been engaged without yet having finished the work. For Shelley still remains before the world misconceived because misdescribed; and if society is gradually clearing its ideas of the man, it is not only because the preconceptions of that multitudinous authority are themselves gradually drifting away, but also because substantial facts are slowly coming into view. Their development has been hindered by obstacles which will be understood when I have proceeded a little farther, and even within the compass of this brief sketch I hope that I shall be able to make readers on both sides of the Atlantic work their own way a little closer to the truth.

Shelley is still regarded by the majority, either as a victim of persecution, or a rebel against authority, or both,—his friends probably inclining to hold him up as a philosopher-patriot, whose resistance to intellectual oppression placed him in the condition of a martyr and robbed him of his fair share of life. My own earliest memory presents him very much in that aspect. I first recall him pale and slender, worn with anxiety, openly alluding to the marks of premature age in his own aspect, bursting with aspirations against tyranny of all kinds, and yielding to fits of dreadful despondency under sufferings inflicted by the dignitaries of the land at the instance of his own family. The circumstances by which he was surrounded contributed to this guise of martyrdom.

My own earliest recollections began in prison, where my father[A] was incarcerated for critical remarks which at the present day would scarcely attract attention, and which were put forth in no impulse of personal hostility, but under the strongest sense of duty, with the desire to vindicate the constitutional freedom of England against the perverted control of faction and the influences of a corrupt court. At that time my father was accounted a man prone to mutiny against "the powers that be," although his political opinions belonged to a class which would now be regarded as too moderate for popular liberalism. He has been censured for literary affectation and for personal improvidence, but only by those who do not understand the real elements of his character. The leading ideas of his mind were, first, earnest duty to his country at any cost to himself; next, the sacrifice of any ordinary consideration to personal affection and friendship; and lastly, the cultivation of "the ideal," especially as it is developed in imaginative literature. His life was passed in an absolute devotion to these three principles. A one-sided frankness has blazoned to the world the sacrifices which he accepted from friends, but has whispered nothing of the more than commensurate sacrifices made on his side; and the simplicity that rendered him the creature of the library in which he lived entered into the expression of all his thoughts and feelings.

[Footnote A: Leigh Hunt.]

Although I can remember some of the most eminent men who visited us in prison, Shelley I cannot; but I can well recall my father's description of the young stranger who came to him breathing the classic thoughts of college, ardent with aspirations for the emancipation of man from intellectual slavery, and endowed by Nature with an aspect truly "angelic."

In the interval before his next visit to us, Shelley had passed through the first serious passion of his youth, had married Harriet Westbrooke, had become the father of two children, and had thus to all appearance secured the transmission of the estates strictly entailed with the baronetcy,—but had also been exiled from his family-home, as well as from college, for his revolutionary and infidel principles, had gone through a course of domestic disappointment, had separated from his wife, and was threatened with the removal of his children, on the ground of the impious and "immoral" training to which they were destined under his guardianship. He came to our house for support and consolation; he found in it a home for his intellect as well as for his feelings, and he was as strictly a part of the family as any of our blood-relations, for he came and went at pleasure. I can remember that I performed his bidding equally with that of my father; and as to personal deference or regard, the only distinction which my memory can discover is, that I found in Shelley a companion whom I better understood, and whose country rambles I was more pleased to share. For this there were many reasons, and amongst them that Shelley entered more unreservedly into the sports and even the thoughts of children. I had probably awakened interest in him, not only because I was my father's eldest child, but still more because I had already begun to read with great avidity, and with an especial sense of imaginative wonders and horrors; and, familiarized with the conversation amongst literary men, I had really been able to understand something of his position, insomuch that no doubt he saw the intense interest I took in himself and his sufferings.

The emotions that he underwent were but too manifest in the unconcealed anxiety and the eager recital of newly awakened hopes, with intervals of the deepest depression. He suffered also from physical causes, which I then only in part understood. This suffering was traced to the attack made upon him at Tanyralt, in Wales, when, on the night of February the 26th, 1813, some man who had been prowling about the house in which he lived first fired at him through the window, and then entered the room, escaping when the man-servant was called in by the tumult and the screams of Mrs. Shelley. The whole incident has been doubted,—why, I can hardly understand, unless the reason is that some of the conjectures in which Mrs. Shelley indulged were over-imaginative. She mentions by name a political opponent who had said that "he would drive them out of the country." My own weak recollections point to reasons more personal. But what I do know is, that Shelley himself ascribed the injury from which he suffered to a pressure of the assassin's knee upon him in the struggle. The complaint was of long standing; the attacks were alarmingly severe, and the seizure very sudden. I can remember one day at Hampstead: it was soon after breakfast, and Shelley sat reading, when he suddenly threw up his book and hands, and fell back, the chair sliding sharply from under him, and he poured forth shrieks, loud and continuous, stamping his feet madly on the ground. My father rushed to him, and, while the women looked out for the usual remedies of cold water and hand-rubbing, applied a strong pressure to his side, kneading it with his hands; and the patient seemed gradually to be relieved by that process. This happened about the time when he was most anxious for the result of the trial which was to deprive him of his children. In the intervals he sought relief in reading, in conversation,—which especially turned upon classic literature,—in freedom of thought and action, and in play with the children of the house. I can remember well one day when we were both for some long time engaged in gambols, broken off by my terror at his screwing up his long and curling hair into a horn, and approaching me with rampant paws and frightful gestures as some imaginative monster.

It was at this time that the incident happened which has been mentioned by my father. A poor woman had been attending her son before a criminal court in London. As they were returning home at night, fatigue and anxiety so overcame her that she fell on the ground in convulsions, where she was found by Shelley. He appealed to a very opulent person, who lived on the top of the hill, asking admission for the woman into the house, or the use of the carriage, which had just set the family down at the door. The stranger was repulsed with the cold remark that impostors swarmed everywhere, and that his own conduct was "extraordinary." The good Samaritan, whom the Christian would not help, warned the uncharitable man that such treatment of the poor is sometimes chastised by hard treatment of the rich in days of trouble; and I heard Shelley describe the manner in which the gentleman retreated into his mansion, exclaiming, "God bless me, Sir! dear me, Sir!" In the account of the occurrence given by my father, he has omitted to mention that Shelley and the woman's son, who had already carried her a considerable way up the main hill of Hampstead, brought her on from the inhospitable mansion to our house in their arms; and I believe, that, the son's strength failing, for some way down the hill into the Vale of Health Shelley carried her on his back. I cannot help contrasting this action of the wanderer with the careful self-regard of another friend who often came to see us, though I do not remember that any of us were ever inside his doors. He was, I believe, for some time actually a pensioner on Shelley's generosity, though he ultimately rose to be comparatively wealthy. One night, when he had been visiting us, he was in trouble because no person had been sent from a tavern at the top of the hill to light him up the pathway across the heath. That same self-caring gentleman afterwards became one of the apologists who most powerfully contributed to mislead public opinion in regard to his benefactor.

Shelley often called me for a long ramble on the heath, or into regions which I then thought far distant; and I went with him rather than with my father, because he walked faster, and talked with me while he walked, instead of being lost in his own thoughts and conversing only at intervals. A love of wandering seemed to possess him in the most literal sense; his rambles appeared to be without design, or any limit but my fatigue; and when I was "done up," he carried me home in his arms, on his shoulder, or pickback. Our communion was not always concord; as I have intimated, he took a pleasure in frightening me, though I never really lost my confidence in his protection, if he would only drop the fantastic aspects that he delighted to assume. Sometimes, but much more rarely, he teased me with exasperating banter; and, inheriting from some of my progenitors a vindictive temper, I once retaliated severely. We were in the sitting-room with my father and some others, while I was tortured. The chancery-suit was just then approaching its most critical point, and, to inflict the cruellest stroke I could think of, I looked him in the face, and expressed a hope that he would be beaten in the trial and have his children taken from him. I was sitting on his knee, and as I spoke, he let himself fall listlessly back in his chair, without attempting to conceal the shock I had given him. But presently he folded his arms round me and kissed me; and I perfectly understood that he saw how sorry I was, and was as anxious as I was to be friends again. It was not very long after that we were playing with paper boats on the pond in the Vale of Health, watching the way in which the wind carried some of them over, or swamped most of them before they had surmounted many billows; and Shelley then playfully said how much he should like it, if we could get into one of the boats and be shipwrecked,—it was a death he should like better than any other.

After the death of Harriet, Shelley's life entirely changed; and I think I shall be able to show in the sequel that the change was far greater than any of his biographers, except perhaps one who was most likely to know, have acknowledged. Conventional form and Shelley are almost incompatible ideas; as his admirable wife has said of him, "He lived to idealize reality,—to ally the love of abstract truth, and adoration of abstract good, with the living sympathies. And long as he did this without injury to others, he had the reverse of any respect for the dictates of orthodoxy or convention." As soon, therefore, as the obstacle to a second marriage was removed, he and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin were regularly joined in matrimony, and retired to Great Marlow, in Buckinghamshire. A brief year Shelley passed in the position of a country-gentleman on a small scale. His abode was a rough house in the village, with a garden at the back and nothing beyond but the country. Close to the house there was a small pleasure-ground, with a mound at the farther end of the lawn slightly inclosing the view. Behind the mound there was a kitchen-garden, not unintermixed with flowers and ornamental vegetation; and farther still was a piece of ground traversed by a lane deeply excavated in the chalk soil. At that time Shelley had a thousand a year allowed to him by his father; but although he was in no respect the unreckoning, wasteful person that many have represented him to be, such a sum must have been insufficient for the mode in which he lived. His family comprised himself, Mary, William their eldest son, and Claire Claremont,—the daughter of Godwin's second wife, and therefore the half-sister of Mary Shelley,—a girl of great ability, strong feelings, lively temper, and, though not regularly handsome, of brilliant appearance. They kept three servants, if not a fourth assistant: a cook; Élise, a Swiss gouvernante for the child; and Harry, a man who did the work of gardener and man-servant in general. He kept something like open house; for while I was there with my father and mother, there also came, for a short time, several other friends, some of whom stopped for more than a passing visit. He played the Lord Bountiful among his humbler neighbors, not only helping them with money or money's-worth, but also advising them in sickness; for he had made some study of medicine, in part, I suspect, to be the more useful.

I have already intimated that he had assisted certain of his companions; and I am convinced that these circumstances contributed to the resolution which Shelley formed to leave England for Italy in the year 1818, although he then ascribed his doing so to the score of health,—or rather, as he said, of life. He then believed himself to be laboring under a tendency to consumption, not without medical warnings to that effect, although there were strong reasons for doubting the validity of the belief, which was based upon less precise grounds before the introduction of auscultation and the careful examinations of our day. It was, however, characteristic of Shelley to rest his actions upon the dominant motive; so that, if several inducements operated to the same end, he absolutely discarded the minor considerations, and acted solely upon the grand one. I can well remember, that, when other persons urged upon him cumulative reasons for any course of action, whether in politics, or morality, or trifling personal matters of the day, he indignantly cast aside all such makeweights, and insisted upon the one sufficient motive. I mention this the more explicitly because the opposite course is the most common, and some who did not sympathize with his concentration of purpose afterwards imputed the suppression of all but one, out of several apparent motives, to reserve, or even to a want of candor. The accusation was first made by some of Shelley's false friends,—creatures who gathered round him to get what they could, and afterwards made a market of their connection, to his disadvantage. But I was shocked to find a sanction for the notion under the hand of one of Shelley's first and most faithful friends, and I discovered it, too, when death had barred me from the opportunity of controverting the mistake. It was easily accounted for. The writer to whom I allude was himself a person whose scrupulous conscience and strong mistrust of his own judgment, unless supported on every side, induced him to accumulate and to avow as many motives as possible for each single act. He could scarcely understand or believe the existence of a mind which, although powerful and comprehensive in its grasp, should nevertheless deliberately set aside all motives but one, and actually proceed upon that exclusive ground without regard to the others.

Both Shelley and his friends seem to have underrated his strength, and one little incident will illustrate my meaning. He kept no horse or carriage; but in accordance with his ruling passion he had a boat on the river of sufficient size to carry a numerous party. It was made both for sailing and rowing; and I can remember being one of an expedition which went some distance up the Thames, when Shelley himself towed the boat on the return home, while I walked, by his side. His health had very much improved with the change that had taken place in his mode of life, his more settled condition, and the abatement of anxiety, with the absolute removal of some of its causes. I am well aware that he had suffered severely, and that he continued to be haunted by certain recollections, partly real and partly imaginative, which pursued him like an Orestes. He frequently talked on such subjects; but it has always appeared to me that those who have reported what he said have been guilty of a singular confusion in their interpretations. As I proceed, you will find that certain facts in his life have never yet been distinctly related, and I have a strong reason for believing that some circumstances of which I became accidentally aware were never disclosed at all, except to Mary; while in her writings I can trace allusions to them, that remind me of passages in ancient authors,—in Ovid, for instance,—which would have been absolutely unintelligible, except for accidental references. In spite, however, of the rude trials to which his constitution had been subjected, and of new symptoms supposed to indicate pulmonary weakness, there was a marked improvement in his aspect since he had visited London. He still had that ultra-youthful figure that partook the traits of the hobbledehoy, arrived at man's stature, but not yet possessing the full manly proportions. His extremities were large, his limbs long, his face small, and his thorax very partially developed, especially in girth. An habitual eagerness of mood, thrusting forward his face, made him stoop, with sunken chest and rounded shoulders; and this was even more apparent in the easy costume of the country than in London dress. But in his countenance there was life instead of weariness; melancholy more often yielded to alternations of bright thoughts; and paleness had given way to a certain freshness of color, with something like roses in the cheeks. Notwithstanding the sense of weakness in the chest, which attacked him on any sudden effort, his power of exertion was considerable. Once, returning from a long excursion, and entering the house by the back way, up a precipitous, though not perpendicular bank, the women of the party had to be helped; and Shelley was the most active in rendering that assistance. While others were content to accomplish the feat for one, he, I think, helped three up the bank, sliding in a half-sitting posture when he returned to fetch a new charge. I well remember his shooting past me in a cloud of chalk-dust, as I was slowly climbing up. He had a fit of panting after it, but he made light of the exertion. I can also recollect, that, although he frequently preferred to steer rather than to put forth his strength, yet, if it were necessary, he would take an oar, and could stick to his seat for any time against any force of current or of wind, not only without complaining, but without being compelled to give in until the set task was accomplished, though it should involve some miles of hard pulling. These facts indicate the amount of "grit" that lay under the outward appearance of weakness and excitable nerves.

Shelley's fulness of vitality did not at that time seem to be shared by the partner of his life. Mary's intellectual powers had already been manifested. He must to some extent have known the force of her affection, and the tenderness of her nature; but it is remarkable that her youth was not the period of her greatest beauty, and certainly at that date she did not do justice to herself either in her aspect or in the tone of her conversation. She was singularly pale. With a figure that needed to be set off, she was careless in her dress; and the decision of purpose which ultimately gained her the playful title of "Wilful Woman" then appeared, at least in society, principally in the negative form,—her temper being easily crossed, and her resentments taking a somewhat querulous and peevish tone. Both of the pair were still young, and their ideas of education were adverse to the received doctrines of the day, rather than substantive; and their own principles in this matter were exemplified somewhat perversely by little William. Even at that early age the child called forth frequent and poignant remonstrances from his gouvernante, and occasionally drew perplexed exclamations or desponding looks from his father, who took the child's little perversities seriously to heart, and sometimes vented his embarrassment in generalized remarks on human nature.

Some years elapsed between the night when I saw Shelley pack up his pistols—which he allowed me to examine—for his departure for the South, and the moment when, after our own arrival in Italy, my attention was again called to his presence by the shrill sound of his voice, as he rushed into my father's arms, which he did with an impetuousness and a fervor scarcely to be imagined by any who did not know the intensity of his feelings and the deep nature of his affection for that friend. I remember his crying out that he was "so inexpressibly delighted!—you cannot think how inexpressibly happy it makes me!"

The history of Shelley's brief visit to Pisa has been related by many, and is, I believe, told in his published letters; but it appears to me that those who have recounted it have in some respects fallen short. Excepting Mary Shelley, the best-informed spoke too soon after the event. Shelley's own letters are slightly misleading, from a very intelligible cause. After he had encouraged, if he did not suggest, the enterprise of "The Liberal,"—and I believe it would be nearly impossible for any one of the three men interested in that venture to ascertain exactly who was its author,—his mind misgave him. He knew my father's necessities and his childish capacities for business. With a keen sense of the power displayed in "Don Juan," and even in more melodramatic works, Shelley had acquired a full knowledge of the singularly licentious training from which Byron had then scarcely emerged, and of the vacillating caprice which enfeebled all his actions. His own ability to grapple with practical affairs was very great; but he himself had scarcely formed a sufficient estimate of it. Determined to maintain a thorough equality and freedom with the noble bard in their social relations, he shrank from any position which might raise in Byron's jealous and unstable mind the idea that he was under pressure; yet he was anxious to prevent disappointment for Leigh Hunt. He dreaded failure, and resolved that he would do his best to prevent it; and yet again he scarcely anticipated success.

As early as the end of 1818, he described the way in which Byron spent his life, after he had been partly exiled, partly emancipated from the ordinary restraints of society. At that time, "the Italian women were the most contemptible of all who existed under the moon,—an ordinary Englishman could not approach them"; "but," writes Shelley, "Lord Byron is familiar with the lowest sort of these women,—the people his gondolieri pick up in the streets." Byron's curiosity, indeed, tempted him to learn something of vice in its most revolting aspects. "He has," writes Shelley, "a certain degree of candor, while you talk to him, but unfortunately it does not outlast your departure." I am sure that before 1821 Byron had risen in his friend's estimation, or the "Liberal" scheme would never have been contemplated; and there were excellent reasons for the change. It is only by degrees that men have learned to appreciate at once the extraordinary nature and force of Byron's genius and the equally monstrous and marvellous nature of the evil training by which he was "dragged up." In the midst of extravagant license he gained experiences which might have extinguished his mind, but which, as they did not have that effect, added to his resources. In the process some of his personal qualities as a companion suffered severely. Very few grown men have been so extravagantly sensitive to personal approbation; and he was anxious to conciliate the liking of all who approached him, however foreign to his own set, however humble, or however insignificant. He was as mistrustful as a greedy child. He could be extravagant, but he was not open-handed; and yet he would give up what he coveted for himself, if he were urged by those whose esteem he desired to win. Now, of all persons who came near him, Shelley was the one that combined the greatest number of qualities calculated to influence a creature like Byron. He was of gentle blood; he was as resolute as he was able to maintain what is popularly called an independent position; he was truly sincere; and his way of life displayed a purity which Byron admired, though he fell from it so lamentably. On the other hand, Shelley was at odds with society on the very same questions of morals; he possessed all the philosophy for understanding the complicated perplexities of aberrant genius; did actually make allowances for Byron; estimated his powers more accurately, and therefore more highly, than any other person who came near him; and thus commanded at once his sympathies, his ambition, and his confidence. Everybody knows that in the interval between 1818 and the date of his death at Missolonghi, Byron's discipline of life had undergone a marked and beneficial change, and many agencies have been mentioned as contributing to that result, but I am sure that no one was so all-sufficient as the personal association with Shelley. Nothing of this is gainsaid by the fact that the greater part of this improvement was displayed after Shelley's death. Change of scene, intercourse with others, opportunities for acting upon his new principles, all helped, together, probably, with the graver sense of counsel bequeathed by the friend whom he had lost. Certain it is that Byron never mentioned Shelley in my hearing without a peculiarly emphatic manner. I know that to more than one person he performed acts of kindness and friendly aid as tributes to the memory of Shelley; and if any action were urged upon him as worthy of his own genius and dignity, nothing clenched the appeal like the name of Shelley. But if you will for a moment compare the characters of the two men,—if you will contrast the large self-sacrifice of the one with the self-indulgence of the other, the independence of the one with the craving of the other for approval, the absolute trust in human hope and goodness of Shelley with the blasé cynicism of Byron, I think two conclusions must instantly strike you,—first, that Shelley must have possessed almost unequalled power of influence over those who surrounded him, and, secondly, that Byron himself must have been a much better man, or possessing much more in common with Shelley than society or some of his most intellectual companions at all imagined. Part of the facts bearing upon the subject have come out since the death of both. My own attention was drawn to the point by the striking discord between the way in which other people speak of their relations and the manner of Shelley and Byron towards each other, and especially Byron's way in speaking of Shelley. It is not probable that Shelley formed to himself any such idea of his own power; yet you will find hints at it in his letters, you will see, curious traces of it in the letters of others, and nothing else will fully explain the change in Byron's life. Moreover, it reconciles the apparent inconsistencies of Shelley's reservations in talking about Byron with his manifest and practical confidence in the result of their joint working.

When I met Shelley again in Italy, it was easy to see that a grand change had come over his appearance and condition. The Southern climate had suited him, and the boat which caused his death had in the mean while been instrumental in developing his life. His retirement from painful personal conflict had given him greater ease; intercourse with Mary had made his life better; and, not to overlook one important fact, he had grown since he left England. For physiologists attest the truth, that growth continues throughout human existence, even until after decay begins; and Shelley's constitution was of that kind—strong in some of its developments, slow in others—which needed longer time than many to arrive at its full proportions. For instance, in the interval since I had seen him his chest had manifestly become of a larger girth. I am speaking only upon distant recollection; but I should judge it to have been three or four inches larger round, or perhaps more. His voice was stronger, his manner more confident and downright, and, although not less emphatic, yet decidedly less impulsively changeful. I can recall his reading from an ancient author, translating as he went, a passage about the making of the first man; and I remember it from the subject and from the easy flow of his translation, but chiefly from the air of strength and cheerfulness which I noticed in his voice and manner. In nothing, however, does Shelley appear to me to have been so misdescribed as in the outward man,—partly, as usual, from overstatement of peculiarities, and partly because each artist has painted the portrait from his own favorite view. Many, through exaggeration, or imperfect knowledge, have equally misconstrued his moral character, and have omitted to report the real conduct of his understanding as he advanced towards "the middle of the way of life."

From the story of his life after I first saw him, as well as from many things that I have heard him say of his family, and the strange recollections that he had of home, it is easy to understand the general tenor of his early life. Through some caprice in genealogical chemistry, in Percy the Shelley race struck out an entirely new idea: an apparent caprice in the sequence of houses that has often been noticed. For how often may we observe that the union of the most remarkable intellects produces a tertium quid which is the reverse of an equivalent to the combined totals, representing only a fraction of their qualities, and that fraction in its negative aspect; while, on the other hand, rivulets of blood which have gained for themselves no name upon earth may combine to form a river illustrious to the whole world. In the latter case, not an unusual effect is that those who are charged with the infancy of the new type in the family are incompetent to their duty; and accordingly Shelley was regarded merely as "a strange boy," wayward, mutinous, and to be severely chastised into obedience. It has been said that he attracted no particular notice at school; but this is not true. At Eton his resentment of tyrannical authority displayed itself not only against the masters, but against the privileges of young patricians. He refused to be "fag"; and on one occasion he so braved the youthful public-opinion, that, on being dared to the act by the surrounding boys, he pinned a companion's hand to the table with a fork. According to my recollection, the immediate provocative was that he was dared to do it; but the incident arose out of his resistance to the seniors amongst the scholars and to the customs of the school. It was evident that the masters had their eye upon him. Such a youth, with a command of language that was a born faculty and not simply acquired, must have attracted very positive attention on the part of the teachers; but it was certain, that, with the tendencies of those days, they would have thought it discreet to say as little as possible about the slender mutineer. It is equally well known, that, notwithstanding his youth, religious opinions caused his expulsion from college; and when we turn to the earliest of his writings which assumed anything like a complete shape, we discover at once the nature of those powers which could not have been overlooked,—we detect the genius, the revolutionary ideas, and the extraordinary command which he had acquired over the subject-matter of much that is taught in schools and colleges. Amid the orthodox reaction that followed upon the French Revolution, he was struck with the excesses to which despotic power could be carried. He read history with sympathies for the natural impulses and aspirations of the race, as opposed to the small circles which comprise established authorities. He looked upon knowledge as the means of serving, not enslaving the race. And therefore, while he excused the crimes of the Revolution, on the score of the ignorance in which the people had been kept, their sufferings, and the natural revulsion against such painful down-treading, he regarded the counter acts of authority as a treachery to wisdom itself. He says,—

                 "Hath Nature's soul,
  That formed this world so beautiful….
  And filled the meanest worm that crawls in dust
  With spirit, thought, and love, on Man alone,
  Partial in causeless malice, wantonly
  Heaped ruin, vice, and slavery?
                          Nature?—no!
  Kings, priests, and statesmen blast the human flower
  Even in its tender bud; their influence darts
  Like subtle poison through the bloodless veins
  Of desolate society."

The pretension of authority to speak with a supernatural warrant provoked him to deny the warrant itself, or the sources from which it was said to emanate.

  "Is there a God?—ay, an almighty God,
  And vengeful as almighty? Once his voice
  Was heard on earth; earth shuddered at the sound,
  The fiery-visaged firmament expressed
  Abhorrence, and the grave of Nature yawned
  To swallow all the dauntless and the good
  That dared to hurl defiance at his throne,
  Girt as it was with power. None but slaves
  Survived,—cold-blooded slaves, who did the work
  Of tyrranous omnipotence."

To these superstitious and ambitious pretensions he traced the corruption which disorganized society, leading it down even to the very worst immoralities.

  "All things are sold: the very light of heaven
  Is venal….
  Those duties which heart of human love
  Should urge him to perform instinctively
  Are bought and sold as in a public mart.

  Even love is sold; the solace of all woe
  Is turned to deadliest agony, old age
  Shivers in selfish beauty's loathing arms,
  And youth's corrupted impulses prepare
  A life of horror from the blighting bane
  Of commerce; whilst the pestilence that springs
  From unenjoying sensualism has filled
  All human life with hydra-headed woes."

"Shelley," says Mary, in her note on the poem, "was eighteen when he wrote 'Queen Mab.' He never published it. When it was written, he had come to the decision that he was too young to be a judge of controversies." The wife-editor refers to a series of articles published in the "New Monthly Magazine" for 1832 by a fellow-collegian, a warm friend of Shelley's, touching upon his school-life, and describing the state of his mind at college. The worst of all these biographical sketches of remarkable men is, that delicacy, discretion, or some other euphemistically named form of hesitancy, induces writers to suppress the incidents which supply the very angles of the form they want to delineate; and it is especially so in Shelley's case. I am sure, that, if Mary, or my father, or any of those with whom Shelley conversed most thoroughly, had related some of the more extravagant incidents of his early life exactly as they occurred, we should better understand the tenor of his thought,—and we should also have the most valuable complement to that part of his intellectual progress which stands in contrast with the earlier portion. Now, as I have said, at school Shelley was a more practical and impracticable mutineer than his friends have generally allowed. They have been anxious to soften his "faults"; and the consequence is, that we miss the force of the boy's logic and the vigor of his Catonian experiments.

Again, accident has made me aware of facts which give me to understand, that, in passing through the usual curriculum of a college life in all its paths, Shelley did not go scathless,—but that, in the tampering with venal pleasures, his health was seriously, and not transiently, injured. The effect was far greater on his mind than on his body; and the intellectual being greater than the physical power, the healthy reaction was greater. But that reaction was also, especially in early youth, principally marked by horror and antagonism. Conscientious, far beyond even the ordinary maximum amongst ordinary men, he felt bound to denounce the mischief from which he saw others suffer more severely than himself, since in them there was no such reaction. I have no doubt that he himself would have spoken even plainer language, though to me his language is perfectly transparent, if he had not been restrained by a superstitious notion of his own, that the true escape from the pestilent and abhorrent brutalities which he detected around him in "real" life is found in "the ideal" form of thought and language. Ardent and romantic, he was eager to discover beauty "beneath" every natural aspect. Of all men living, I am the one most bound to be aware of the inconsistency; but you will see it reconciled a little later.

Shelley left college prone "to fall in love,"—having already, indeed, gone through some very slight experiences of that process. In his wanderings, in a humble position which conciliated rather than repelled him, he met with Harriet Westbrooke, a very comely, pleasing, and simple type of girlhood. She was at some disadvantage, under some kind of domestic oppression; so she served at once as an object for his disengaged affection, and a subject for his liberating theories, and as a substratum for the idealizing process upon which he constructed a fictitious creation of Harriet Westbrooke. His dreams bearing but a faint and controversial resemblance to the Harriet Westbrooke of daily life, the fictitious image prevented him from knowing her, until the reality broke through the poetical vision only to shock him by its inferiority or repulsiveness. As to the poor girl herself, she never had the capacity for learning to know him. In the sequel she proved to be the not unwilling slave of a petty domestic intrigue,—oppression from which he would have rescued her. Married life enabled him to discover that she was the reverse of the being that he had fancied. They were first married in Scotland in 1811. Shelley made acquaintance with the Godwins in 1812, before his eldest child was born. I am not sure whether he was acquainted with Mary at that time; but some circumstances which I cannot verify make me doubt it. Harriet's daughter was born early in the summer of 1813, and it was before the close of that year that the couple began to disagree. The wife was evidently under the dominion of a relative whose influence was injurious to her. I do not find a hint of any imputation upon what is usually called her "fidelity"; but the relative manifestly desired to show her power over both. It is probable that at an early day Shelley's disposition to see "sermons in stones and good in everything" made him think better of that interloping lady than she deserved,—and that consequently he not only gave her encouragement, but committed himself to something which, to Harriet's mind, justified her deference for ill-considered advice. It is very likely that she was counselled to extend her power over Shelley in a manner which her own simple nature would not have suggested; but, being as foolish as it was cunning and vulgar, such conduct could no result but that of repelling a man like Shelley. That he acquired a detestation of the relative is a certain fact. He must have been expecting a second child when he formally remarried Harriet in England on the twenty-fourth of March, 1814; and that ceremony has been mentioned by several writers to prove the most opposite conclusions,—that Shelley was devoted to his first wife, and that he behaved to her with the basest hypocrisy. It proves nothing but his desire to place the hereditary rights of the second child, who might be a boy, beyond doubt; and the precaution was justified by the event. Before the close of the same year Harriet returned to her father's house, and there she gave birth to a son, Charles, who would have inherited the baronetcy, if he had not died in 1826, after his father's death. The parting took place about the twenty-fourth of June, 1814; and at the same time Shelley wrote a poem, of which fragments are given in the recently published "Relics." The verse shows, first, that Shelley was suffering severely from the chronic conflict which he had undergone, and, secondly, that he had found some novel comfort in the intercourse with Mary.

  "To sit and curb the soul's mute rage,
  Which preys upon itself alone;
  To curse the life which is the cage
  Of fettered grief that dares not groan,
  Hiding from many a careless eye
  The scorned load of agony.

  "Upon my heart thy accents sweet
  Of peace and pity fell like dew
  On flowers half dead….

  "We are not happy, sweet! our state
  Is strange and full of doubt and fear;
  More need of words that ills abate;—
  Reserve or censure come not near
  Our sacred friendship, lest there be
  No solace left for thee and me."

It is obvious that considerably after the date of this poem, Harriet remained in amicable correspondence with Shelley; and not only so, but, while she altogether abstained from opposing his new connection, she was actually on friendly terms with Mary. It is easy to understand how a limited nature like Harriet's should be worn out by the exaction and impracticability of one like Shelley; for to her most impracticable would seem his lofty and ideal requirements. On the other hand, it is evident that Shelley regarded the unfortunate girl with feelings of deep commiseration; and I know that he not only pitied her, but felt strong compunctions for the share which his own mistaken conduct at the beginning, even more than at the end, had had in drawing her aside from what would have been her natural course in ordinary life. Mary, I believe, clearly understood the whole case, and felt nothing but compassion for one who was a "victim to circumstances."

The sequel has been alluded to in several publications, but so obscurely as to be more than unintelligible; for the reader is led to conclusions the reverse of the fact. In the "Memorials," at page 63, the subject is barely touched upon. I take the whole passage.

"Towards the close of 1813, estrangements, which for some time had
been slowly growing between Mr. and Mrs. Shelley, came to a crisis.
Separation ensued; and Mrs. Shelley returned to her father's house.
Here she gave birth to her second child,—a son, who died in 1826.

"The occurrences of this painful epoch in Shelley's life, and the causes which led to them, I am spared from relating. In Mary Shelley's own words:—'This is not the time to relate the truth; and I should reject any coloring of the truth.'

"Of those remaining who were intimate with Shelley at this time, each has given us a different version of this sad event, colored by his own views and personal feelings. Evidently, Shelley confided to none of these friends. We, who bear his name and are of his family, have in our possession papers written by his own hand, which, in after-years, may make the story of his life complete, and which few now living, except Shelley's own children, have ever perused.

"One mistake which has gone forth to the world we feel ourselves called upon positively to contradict. Harriet's death has sometimes been ascribed to Shelley. This is entirely false. There was no immediate connection whatever between her tragic end and any conduct on the part of her husband."

At the end of the "Relics" is a memorandum entitled, "Harriet Shelley and Mr. Thomas Love Peacock." Mr. Peacock had been writing in "Fraser's Magazine" a series of articles on Shelley; in "Macmillan's Magazine" for June, 1866, was an article by Mr. Richard Garnet, entitled, "Shelley in Pall-Mall"; to this Mr. Peacock replied in "Percy Bysshe Shelley: Supplementary Notice"; and Mr. Garnet rejoined in the new little volume which he ha; edited. The main purpose of this last notice is, to show that Mr. Peacock was not accurate in his chronology or in his interpretation of the severance between Shelley and Harriet. Alluding either to the discretion which prevented Shelley from making a confidant of Mr. Peacock, or to his grief occasioned by the fate of Harriet, the writer refers to "the proof which exists in a series of letters written by Shelley at this very time to one in whom he had confidence, and at present in possession of his family," and then proceeds thus:—"Nothing more beautiful or characteristic ever proceeded from his pen; and they afford the most unequivocal testimony of the grief and horror occasioned by the tragical incident to which they bear reference. Yet self-reproach formed no element of his sorrow, in the midst of which he could proudly say, '———, ———,' (mentioning two dry, unbiased men of business,) 'every one, does me full justice, bears testimony to the uprightness and liberality of my conduct to her.'"

In the "Memorials" and the "Relics" there is no further allusion to the circumstances which preceded Harriet's suicide; but it appears to me very desirable that the whole story should be brought out much more distinctly, and I can at least show why I say so. The correspondence in question took place in the middle of December, 1816. Shelley was married to Mary about a fortnight later; and in the most emphatic terms he alluded not only to the solace which he derived from the conversation of his host, but to the manner in which my father spoke of Mary. My own recollection goes back to the period, and I have already testified to the state of Shelley's mind. He was just then instituting the process to recover the children, and he caught at an opinion that had been expressed, that, in the event of his again becoming contracted in marriage, there would be no longer any pretence to deprive him of the children.

Let me for a moment pause on this incident, as it establishes two facts of some interest. In the first place, it shows some of the grounds of the very strong and unalterable friendship which subsisted between my father and Mary,—a friendship which stood the test of many vicissitudes, and even of some differences of opinion; both persons being very sensitive in feeling, quick in temper, thoroughly outspoken, and obstinately tenacious of their own convictions. Secondly, it corroborates what I have said with regard to the community of spirit that Shelley found in his real wife,—the woman who became the companion of his fortunes, of his thoughts, of his sufferings, and of his hopes. It will be seen, that, even before marriage with his second wife, he was counting upon Mary's help in preventing his separation from the two children already born to him. She was a woman uniting intellectual faculties with strong ambitions of affection as well as intellect; and esteem thus substantially shown, at that early age, by two such men as Percy Shelley and Leigh Hunt, must have conveyed the deepest gratification.

Throughout these communications Shelley evinced the strong pity that he felt for the unhappy being whom he had known. Circumstances had come to his knowledge which had thrown considerable light upon his relations with Harriet. There can be no doubt that one member of the family had hoped to derive gain from the connection with himself, as a person of rank and property. There seems also reason to suppose, that, about the same time, Harriet's father, an aged man, became so ill that his death might be regarded as approaching, and he had something to leave. Poor, foolish Harriet had undoubtedly formed an attachment to Shelley, whom she had been allowed to marry; but she had then suffered herself to become a tool in the hands of others, and the fact accounted for the idle way in which she importuned him to do things repugnant to his feelings and convictions. She thus exasperated his temper, and lost her own; they quarrelled, in the ordinary conjugal sense, and, from all I have learned, I am induced to guess, that, when she left him, it was not only in the indulgence of self-will, but also in the vain hope that her retreating would induce him to follow her, perhaps in a more obedient spirit. She sought refuge in her father's house, where she might have expected kindness; but, as the old man bent towards the grave, with rapid loss of faculties, he became more severe in his treatment of the poor woman; and she was driven from the paternal roof. This Shelley did not know at the time; nor did he until afterwards learn the process by which she arrived at her fate. Too late she became aware how fatal to her interests had been the intrigues of which she had been the passive instrument; and I suspect that she was debarred from seeking forgiveness and help partly by false shame, and partly by the terrible adaptability of weak natures to the condition of the society in which they find themselves. I have said that there is not a trace of evidence or a whisper of scandal against her before her voluntary departure from Shelley, and I have indicated the most probable motives of that step; but subsequently she forfeited her claim to a return, even in the eye of the law. Shelley had information which made him believe that she fell even to the depth of actual prostitution. If she left him, it would appear that she herself was deserted in turn by a man in a very humble grade of life; and it was in consequence of this desertion that she killed herself.

The change in his personal aspect that showed itself at Marlow appeared also in his writings,—the most typical of his works for this period being naturally the most complete that issued from his pen, the "Revolt of Islam." We find there identically the same doctrine that there is in "Queen Mab,"—a systematic abhorrence of the servility which renders man captive to power, denunciation of the love of gain which blinds his insight and destroys his energy, of the prostitution of religious faith, and, above all, of the slavery of womanhood. But by this time the doctrine has more distinct in its expression, and far more powerful in its utterance.

  "Man seeks for gold in mines, that he may weave
  A lasting chain for his own slavery;
  In fear and restless care that he may live,
  He toils for others, who must ever be
  The joyless thralls of like captivity;
  He murders, for his chiefs delight in ruin;
  He builds the altar, that its idol's fee
  May be his very blood; he is pursuing,
  O blind and willing wretch! his own obscure undoing.

  "Woman!—she is his slave, she has become
  A thing I weep to speak,—the child of scorn,
  The outcast of a desolated home.
  Falsehood and fear and toil, like waves, have worn
  Channels upon her cheek, which smiles adorn,
  As calm decks the false ocean. Well ye know
  What woman is; for none of woman born
  Can choose but drain the bitter dregs of woe,
  Which ever from the oppressed to the oppressors flow."

The indignation against the revolting subjugation of womanhood comes out still more distinctly in the preceding canto, where Cythna relates the horrors to which she was subjected.

  "One was she among the many there, the thralls
  Of the cold tyrant's cruel lust; and they
  Laughed mournfully in those polluted halls;
  But she was calm and sad, musing alway
  On loftiest enterprise, till on a day

  She told me what a loathsome agony
  Is that when selfishness mocks love's delight,
  Foul as in dreams' most fearful imagery
  To dally with the mowing dead;—that night
  All torture, fear, or horror made seem light
  Which the soul dreams or knows."

The poet bears testimony to the spiritual power which rules throughout Nature; the monster recovering his dignity while he is under the higher influence.

  "Even when he saw her wondrous loveliness,
  One moment to great Nature's sacred power
  He bent and was no longer passionless;
  But when he bade her to his secret bower
  Be borne a loveless victim, and she tore
  Her locks in agony, and her words of flame
  And mightier looks availed not, then he bore
  Again his load of slavery, and became
  A king, a heartless beast, a pageant and a name.

                       …."When the day
  Shone on her awful frenzy, from the sight,
  Where like a spirit in fleshly chains she lay
  Struggling, aghast and pale the tyrant fled away.

  "Her madness was a beam of light, a power
  Which dawned through the rent soul; and words it gave,
  Gestures and looks, such as in whirlwinds bore
  Which might not be withstood."

The doctrine involved in this passage is very clear, and it marks a decided progress since the days of "Queen Mab." It will be observed that Shelley's mind had become familiarized with the idea of a spirit ruling throughout Nature, obedience to which constitutes human power. Most remarkable is the passage in which the tyrant recovers his faculties through his subjection to this spirit; because it indicates Shelley's faithful adhesion to the universal, though oft obscurely formed belief, that the ability to receive influence is the most exalted faculty to which human nature can attain, while the exercise of an arbitrary power centring in self is not only debasing, but is an actual destroyer of human faculty.

There can be no doubt that he had profited greatly in his moral condition, as well as in his bodily health, by the greater tranquillity which he enjoyed in the society of Mary, and also by the sympathy which gave full play to his ideas, instead of diverting and disappointing them. She was, indeed, herself a woman of extraordinary power, of heart as well as head. Many circumstances conspired to conceal some of her natural faculties. She lost her mother very young; her father—speaking with great diffidence, from a very slight and imperfect knowledge—appeared to me a harsh and ungenial man. She inherited from him her thin voice, but not the steel-edged sharpness of his own; and she inherited, not from him, but from her mother, a largeness of heart that entered proportionately into the working of her mind. She had a masculine capacity for study; for, though I suspect her early schooling was irregular, she remained a student all her life, and by painstaking industry made herself acquainted with any subject that she had to handle. Her command of history and her imaginative power are shown in such books as "Valperga" and "Castruccio"; but the daring originality of her mind comes out most distinctly in her earliest published work, "Frankenstein." Its leading idea has been ascribed to her husband, but, I am sure, unduly; and the vividness with which she has brought out the monstrous tale in all its horror, but without coarse or revolting incidents, is a proof of the genius which she inherited alike from both her parents. It is clear, also, that the society of Shelley was to her a great school, which she did not appreciate to the full until most calamitously it was taken away; and yet, of course, she could not fail to learn the greater part of what it had become to her. This again showed itself even in her appearance, after she had spent some years in Italy; for, while she had grown far more comely than she was in her mere youth, she had acquired a deeper insight into many subjects that interested Shelley, and some others; and she had learned to express the force of natural affection, which she was born to feel, but which had somehow been stunted and suppressed in her youth. In the preface to the collected edition of his works, she says: "I have the liveliest recollection of all that was done and said during the period of my knowing him. Every impression is as clear as if stamped yesterday, and I have no apprehension of any mistake in my statements, as far as they go. In other respects I am, indeed, incompetent; but I feel the importance of the task, and regard it as my most sacred duty. I endeavor to fulfil it in a manner he would himself approve; and hope in this publication to lay the first stone of a monument due to Shelley's genius, his sufferings, and his virtues." And in the postscript, written in November, 1839, she says: "At my request, the publisher has restored the omitted passages of 'Queen Mab.' I now present this edition as a complete collection of my husband's poetical works, and I do not foresee that I can hereafter add to or take away a word or line." So writes the wife-editor; and then "The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley" begin with a dedication to Harriet, restored to its place by Mary. While the biographers of Shelley are chargeable with suppression, the most straightforward and frank of all of them is Mary, who, although not insensible to the passion of jealousy, and carrying with her the painful sense of a life-opportunity not fully used, thus writes the name of Harriet the first on her husband's monument, while she has nobly abstained from telling those things that other persons should have supplied to the narrative. I have heard her accused of an over-anxiety to be admired; and something of the sort was discernible in society: it was a weakness as venial as it was purely superficial. Away from society, she was as truthful and simple a woman as I have ever met,—was as faithful a friend as the world has produced,—using that unreserved directness towards those whom she regarded with affection which is the very crowning glory of friendly intercourse. I suspect that these qualities came out in their greatest force after her calamity; for many things which she said in her regret, and passages in Shelley's own poetry, make me doubt whether little habits of temper, and possibly of a refined and exacting coquettishness, had not prevented him from acquiring so full a knowledge of her as she had of him. This was natural for many reasons, and especially two. Shelley had not the opportunity of retrospectively studying her character, and his mind was by nature more constructed than hers was to be preoccupied. If the reader desires a portrait of Mary, he has one in the well-known antique bust sometimes called "Isis" and sometimes "Clytie": a woman's head and shoulders rising from a lotus-flower. It is most probably the portrait of a Roman lady, is in some degree more elongated and "classic" than Mary; but, on the other hand, it falls short of her, for it gives no idea of her tall and intellectual forehead, nor has it any trace of the bright, animated, and sweet expression that so often lighted up her face.

Attention has often been concentrated on the passage in "Epipsychidion" which appears to relate Shelley's experiences from earliest youth until he met with the noble and unfortunate "Lady Emilia V., now imprisoned in the convent of—," whose own words form the motto to the poem, and a key to the sympathy which the writer felt for her:—"The loving soul launches itself out of the created, and creates in the infinite a world all its own, far different from this dark and fearful abysm." The passage begins,—

  "There was a being whom my spirit oft
  Met on its visioned wanderings, far aloft,
  In the clear golden prime of my youth's
          dawn."

And this being was the worshipped object of Shelley's adoring aspirations in extreme youth; but it passed by him as a vision, though—

  "And as a man with mighty loss dismayed,
  I would have followed, though the grave between
  Yawned like a gulf whose spectres are unseen:
  When a voice said,—'O thou of hearts the weakest,
  The phantom is beside thee whom thou seekest.'
  Then I,—'Where?' The world's echo answered, 'Where'!"

She ever remained the veiled divinity of thoughts that worshipped her, while he went forth into the world with hope and fear,—

  "Into the wintry forest of our life;
  And struggling through its error with vain strife,
  And stumbling in my weakness and my haste,
  And half bewildered by new forms, I passed
  Seeking among those untaught foresters
  If I could find one form resembling hers
  In which she might have masked herself from me."

The passage grows more and more intelligible. Hitherto he has been simply a dreamy seeker; but now, at last, he thinks that Fate has answered his questioning exclamation, "Where?"

  "There, one whose voice was venomed melody
  Sat by a well, under the nightshade bowers;
  The breath of her false mouth was like faint flowers;
  Her touch was as electric poison; flame
  Out of her looks into my vitals came;
  And from her living cheeks and bosom flew
  A killing air which pierced like honey-dew
  Into the core of my green heart, and lay
  Upon its leaves,—until, as hair grown gray
  O'er a young brow, they hid its unblown prime
  With ruins of unseasonable time."

This is a plain and only too intelligible reference to the college experiences to which I have alluded. The youth for the moment thought that he had encountered her whom he was seeking, but, instead of the Florimel, he found her venal, hideous, and fatal simulacrum; and he indicates even the material consequences to himself in his injured aspect and hair touched with gray. He continues his search.

  "In many mortal forms I rashly sought
  The shadow of that idol of my thought:
  And some were fair,—but beauty dies away;
  Others were wise,—but honeyed words betray;
  And one was true,—oh! why not true to me?
  Then, as a hunted deer that could not flee,
  I turned upon my thoughts and stood at bay."

"Oh! why not true to me?" has been taken by some very few who were cognizant of the facts as constituting an imputation on the one whom he first married; but I am convinced that the interpretation is wrong, although the surmise on which that interpretation is based was partly correct. Nothing is more evident than the fact that Harriet possessed rather an unusual degree of ability, but enormously less than Shelley desired in the being whom he sought, and equally less than his idealizing estimate originally ascribed to her. It is also plain, from her own letters, that she courted his approval in a way far too common with the wives of the artist-tribe, and perhaps with most wives: not being exactly what he wished her to be, and lacking the faculties to become so, she tried to seem it. The desire was partly sincere, partly an affectation, as we discern in such little trifles as her suddenly using the word "thou" in a letter to Hookham where she had previously been using the ordinary colloquial "you." That she was not quite ingenuous we also detect in the fast-and-loose conduct which enabled her, while affecting to become what Shelley deemed her to be, also to play into the hands of very inferior people, who must sometimes have counselled her against him behind his back; and this, I am sure, is what he means by "Oh! why not true to me?" though he may include in the question a fervent regret for the fate which attended her wandering from him. "Then like a hunted deer he turned upon his thoughts and stood at bay," until

                            "The cold day
  Trembled, for pity of my strife and pain,
  When, like a noonday dawn, there shone again
  Deliverance. One stood on my path who seemed
  As like the glorious shape that I had dreamed
  As is the Moon, whose changes ever run
  Into themselves, to the eternal Sun."

"The cold chaste moon" fails to satisfy the longing of his soul. "At her silver voice came death and life"; hope and despondency, expectation from her noble qualities, disappointment at the failure of response, were feelings that sprang from the exaggerations of his ideal longings.

  "What storms then shook the ocean of my sleep,
  Blotting that Moon whose pale and waning lips
  Then shrank as in the sickness of eclipse!"

The whole passage is worth perusing; and again wrong interpretation has been given to this portion of his writing. I am still more firmly convinced that in the other case, when he says, "The planet of that hour was quenched," he alludes to nothing more than the partial failure of his own ideal requirements. At length into the obscure forest came

"The vision I had sought through grief and shame.

  I stood and felt the dawn of my long night
  Was penetrating me with living light:
  I knew it was the vision veiled from me
  So many years,—that it was Emily."

To grasp the entire meaning of this autobiographical episode, we must remember the extent to which Shelley idealizes. "More popular poets clothe the ideal with familiar and sensible imagery; Shelley loved to idealize the real,—to gift the mechanism of the material universe with a soul and a voice, and to bestow such also on the most delicate and abstract emotions and thoughts of the mind. Sophocles was his great master in this species of imagery." The heroine of the "Epipsychidion" is an imagination; a creature, like Raphael's Galatea, copied from no living model, but from "una certa idea"; a thing originally created by himself, and suggested only by the living portrait, as each one of the admired had previously suggested its ideal counterpart. Emilia, then, was the bride of a dream, and, in the indulgence of disappointed longing for a fuller satisfaction of his soul, Shelley mournfully contrasts this vision, who had so eloquently responded to his idealizing through her convent-bars, with Mary, whose stubborn, independent realism had checked and daunted him.

But the last year of Shelley's life had involved a very considerable progress in the formation of his intellectual character. The "Prometheus Unbound," perhaps at once the most characteristic and the most perfect of all his works, is identical in spirit and tendency even with the earliest, "Queen Mab"; but a re-perusal of it in comparison with the other writings, even the "Revolt of Islam," will show a more distinct presentment of the original ideas, coupled with a much more measured suggestion for acting on them, and a far less bitter allusion to the obstacles; while the charity and love are more all-embracing and apparent than ever. Imperfect as it is for dramatic representation, shortcoming even in the power to trace the working of emotions and ideas in utterly diverse characters, the "Cenci" does indicate a stronger aptitude for sympathy with other creatures on their own terms than any other of the poet's writings. He had, therefore, sobered in judgment, without declining in his inborn genius; but, on the contrary, with a clearer sense of the limits placed upon individual action, he had gained strength; and I feel certain that a corresponding change had taken place in his perception of the true import and value of characters unlike his own. The last few months of his life at Lerici had very materially contributed to this change. Although I cannot recall any distinct statement to that effect by Mary Shelley, her conversation had left that impression on me; it is also suggested by the way in which he himself spoke of it, and is fully confirmed by the tone of the letters addressed to her from Pisa.

All who have attempted to portray Shelley, either intellectually or physically, have done so from some appreciable, almost personal point of view. When many eyes see one object, it presents itself in as many different aspects, and the description given by each bears often a slight resemblance to that of others. So it has been with Shelley. The artistic portraits of him have happened to be particularly imperfect. I remember seeing a miniature by an amateur friend which actually suggested a form broad and square. The ordinarily received miniature is like almost all of its tribe, and resembles Shelley about as much as a lady in a book of fashions resembles real women; and it constitutes evidence all the more detrimental and misleading, since it appears to give as well as to receive a color of verisimilitude from the usual written description, which represents Shelley as "feminine," "almost girlish," "ideal," "angelic," and so forth. The accounts of him by firmer hands are still cramped by the individuality of the authorship.

His school-friend, Hogg, is a gentleman of independent property; Shelley detected the sensitiveness of his nature; and I know that the man has been capable of truly generous conduct. How is it, then, that he has written such utterly unintelligible stuff, and has descended to such evasions as to insert initials, lest people should detect amongst Shelley's correspondents a most admirable friend, who happened, it is supposed, to be of plebeian origin? Mr. Thomas Jefferson Hogg, I surmise, was conscious, somewhat early in life, that his better qualities were not fully appreciated; and his love of ease, his wit, his perception of the ludicrous, made him take refuge in cynicism until he learned almost to forget the origin of the real meaning of the things he talked about. His account of Shelley is like a figure seen through fantastically distorting panes of glass.

Thomas Love Peacock, again, is a man to whose extraordinary powers Shelley did full justice. He has worked through a long official career without losing his very peculiar dry wit; but a dry wit was not the man exactly to discern the form of Shelley's mind, or to portray it with accuracy and distinctness.

Few men knew the poet better than my father; but a mind checked by "over-refinement," excessive conscientiousness, and an irresistible tendency to find out niceties of difference,—a mind, in short, like that of Hamlet, cultivated rather than corrected by the trials of life, was scarcely suited to comprehend the strong instincts, indomitable will, and complete unity of idea which distinguished Shelley. Accordingly we have from my father a very doubtful portrait, seldom advancing beyond details, which are at once exaggerated and explained away by qualifications.

Byron, I suspect, through the natural strength of his perceptive power, was likely to have formed a better design; but the two were separated soon after he had begun to learn that such a man as Shelley might be found on the same earth with himself.

One or two others that have written have been mere tourists or acquaintances. Unquestionably the companion who knew him best of all was Mary; and although she lacked the power of distinct, positive, and absolute portraiture, her writings will be found to contain, together with his own, the best materials for forming an estimate of his natural character.

The real man was reconcilable with all these descriptions. His traits suggested everything that has been said of him; but his aspect, conformation, and personal qualities contained more than any one has ascribed to him, and more indeed than all put together. A few plain matters-of-fact will make this intelligible. Shelley was a tall man,—nearly, if not quite, five feet ten in height. He was peculiarly slender, and, as I have said already, his chest had palpably enlarged after the usual growing period. He retained the same kind of straitness in the perpendicular outline on each side of him; his shoulders were the reverse of broad, but yet they were not sloping, and a certain squareness in them was naturally incompatible with anything feminine in his appearance. To his last days he still suffered his chest to collapse; but it was less a stoop than a peculiar mode of holding the head and shoulders,—the face thrown a little forward, and the shoulders slightly elevated; though the whole attitude below the shoulders, when standing, was unusually upright, and had the appearance of litheness and activity. I have mentioned that bodily vigor which he could display; and from his action when I last saw him, as well as from Mary's account, it is evident that he had not abandoned his exercises, but the reverse. He had an oval face and delicate features, not unlike those given to him in the well-known miniature. His forehead was high. His fine, dark brown hair, when not cut close, disposed itself in playful and very beautiful curls over his brows and round the back of his neck. He had brown eyes, with a color in his cheek "like a girl's"; but as he grew older, his complexion bronzed. So far the reality agrees with the current descriptions; nevertheless they omit material facts. The outline of the features and face possessed a firmness and hardness entirely inconsistent with a feminine character. The outline was sharp and firm; the markings distinct, and indicating an energetic physique. The outline of the bone was distinctly perceptible at the temples, on the bridge of the nose, at the back portion of the cheeks, and in the jaw, and the artist could trace the principal muscles of the face. The beard also, although the reverse of strong, was clearly marked, especially about the chin. Thus, although the general aspect was peculiarly slight, youthful, and delicate, yet, when you looked to "the points" of the animal, you saw well enough the indications of a masculine vigor, in many respects far above the average. And what I say of the physical aspect of course bears upon the countenance. That changed with every feeling. It usually looked earnest,—when joyful, was singularly bright and animated, like that of a gay young girl,—when saddened, had an aspect of sorrow peculiarly touching, and sometimes it fell into a listless weariness still more mournful; but for the most part there was a look of active movement, promptitude, vigor, and decision, which bespoke a manly, and even a commanding character.

The general tendency that all who approached Shelley displayed to yield to his dictate is a practical testimony to these qualities; for his earnestness was apt to take a tone of command so generous, so free, so simple, as to be utterly devoid of offence, and yet to constitute him a sort of tyrant over all who came within his reach.

The weakness ascribed to Shelley's voice was equally taken from exceptional instances, and the account of it usually suggests the idea that he spoke in a falsetto which might almost be mistaken for the "shriek" of a harsh-toned woman. Nothing could be more unlike the reality. The voice was indeed quite peculiar, and I do not know where any parallel to it is likely to be found unless in Lancashire. Shelley had no ear for music,—the words that he wrote for existing airs being, strangely enough, inappropriate in rhythm and even in cadence; and though he had a manifest relish for music and often talked of it, I do not remember that I ever heard him sing even the briefest snatch. I cannot tell, therefore, what was the "register" of his singing voice; but his speaking voice unquestionably was then of a high natural counter-tenor. I should say that he usually spoke at a pitch somewhere about the D natural above the base line; but it was in no respect a falsetto. It was a natural chest-voice, not powerful, but telling, musical, and expressive. In reading aloud, the strain was peculiarly clear, and had a sustained, song-like quality, which came out more strongly when, as he often did, he recited verse. When he called out in pain,—a very rare occurrence,—or sometimes in comic playfulness, you might hear the "shrillness" of which people talk; but it was only because the organ was forced beyond the ordinary effort. His usual speech was clear, and yet with a breath in it, with an especially distinct articulation, a soft, vibrating tone, emphatic, pleasant, and persuasive.

It seems to me that these physical characteristics forcibly illustrate the moral and intellectual genius of the man. The impulsiveness which has been ascribed to him is a wrong expression, for it is usually interpreted to mean the action of sudden motives waywardly, capriciously, or at least intermittingly working; whereas the character which Shelley so constantly displayed was an overbearing strength of conviction and feeling, a species of audacious, but chivalrous readiness to act upon conviction as promptly as possible, and, above all, a zealous disposition to say out all that was in his mind. It is better expressed by the word which some satirist put into the mouth of Coleridge, speaking of himself, and, instead of impulsiveness, it should have been called an "utterancy," coupled with decision and promptitude of action. The physical development of the man with the progress of time may be traced in the advancement of his writings. The physical qualities which are equally to be found in his poetry and prose were quite as manifest in his aspect, and not less so in his conduct of affairs. It must be remembered that his life terminated long before he had arrived half-way, "nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita," when more than one other great intellect has been but commencing its true work. I believe, that, if Shelley had lived, he would himself have been the most potent and useful commentator on his own writings, in the production of other and more complete works. But meanwhile the true measure of his genius is to be found in the influence which he has had, not only over those who have proclaimed their debt to him, but over numbers who have mistrusted and even denounced him.