LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley
‣ Preface
Family History
Shelley at Eton
Taste for the Gothic
Shelley’s Juvenilia
Queen Mab
Shelley at Oxford
First Marriage
Death of Harriet
Chancery Suit
Switzerland: 1814
Alastor; Geneva: 1816
Byron and Claire
At Marlow: 1817
Italy: 1818
Naples, Rome: 1819
The Cenci
Florence: 1819
Vol I Appendix
Vol II Front Matter
Pisa: 1820
Poets and Poetry
Pisa: 1821
Shelley and Keats
Williams, Hunt, Byron
Shelley and Byron
Poetry and Politics
Byron and his Friends
The Pisan Circle
Casa Magni
Death of Shelley
Lerici: 1822
Burial in Rome
Character of Shelley
Vol II Appendix
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 VOL. I.






Twenty-four years have elapsed since Shelley was withdrawn from the world, and no “record” of him “remains,” save a few fugitive notices scattered about in periodicals. The Notes, it is true, appended to the last edition of his works, are highly valuable, and full of eloquence and feeling, but they relate rather to the “origin and history” of those works, than of the poet, and date only from 1814; leaving his life up to that period a blank, that imperatively requires to be filled up.

Mrs. Shelley, in January, 1839, says, “this is not the time to tell the truth, and I should
reject any colouring of the truth,” and adds, that “the errors of action committed by a man as noble and generous as
Shelley, may, as far only as he is concerned, be fearlessly avowed by those who loved him, in the firm conviction, that were they judged impartially, his character would stand fairer and brighter than that of any of his contemporaries.”

The long interval which has transpired since the writing of this passage, makes me conclude that the amiable and gifted person who penned it, has abandoned, if she had ever formed, the intention of executing this “labour of love;” and the more so, as in 1824, she points out Leigh Hunt as “the person best calculated for such an undertaking.”

“The distinguished friendship that Shelley felt for him, and the enthusiastic affection with which he clings to the memory of his friend,” no doubt well qualified him, on those two grounds, for Shelley’s biographer; but he doubtless felt that an acquaintance of nine or ten years, most
of which were passed by Shelley abroad, furnished him with very inadequate materials.

Sensible how much more fitted he would have been to have performed this office than myself, I should have been happy to have supplied him with data absolutely requisite for tracing Shelley’s genius from its first germs up to its maturity, and forming an impartial judgment of his character—data which no one but myself could have supplied, inasmuch as I knew him from childhood—as, we were at school together, continually together during the vacations, corresponded regularly, and although I lost sight of him for a few years when in the East, because our intimacy was renewed on my return; and, more than all, because I passed the two last winters and springs of his existence, one under his roof, and the other with him, without the interruption of a single day.

It may be objected that these memorabilia are imperfect, from the almost total want of letters. Unhappily all those—and they would have formed
volumes—which I received from him in early youth, were lost, from my not having the habit, at that time, of preserving letters, and that those which passed between us from 1819 to 1822, were lent, and never returned.

Mrs. Shelley has, in one of the volumes containing her lamented husband’s Prose Works, given the world the letters she could collect; but, precious as they are in a literary point of view, particularly those to Mr. Peacock, they throw but little light on his life or pursuits. Those letters also are few in number. After the appearance of the Quarterly Review article, in 1818, many of his friends appear to have fallen off—at least discontinued writing to him, and he limits them to “three or four, or even less.”

But are letters the best media for developing character? Judging from Byron’s, I should certainly answer in the negative. In his epistolary correspondence, a man always adapts his style and sentiments to the capacity and ways of thinking of those with whom the interchange is
carried on; besides, that a person must be intimate indeed with another to lay bare his heart to him; to disclose unreservedly what can only be unfolded in the confidentiality of social intercourse.

It was my determination, on commencing this work, to have differed from all writers of Memoirs, in stating what Shelley’s actions and opinions were, and letting the world judge them; but I soon found that such ground was untenable, and was dissatisfied with making myself a mere chronicler; besides that with a knowledge of the motives of his actions, it would have been a gross injustice to have suppressed them. I was strengthened in this resolution by the advice of the author of “Shelley at Oxford,” to whom I am much indebted in these pages, who says, “The biographer who would take upon himself the pleasing and instructing, but difficult and delicate task of composing a faithful history of his whole life, will frequently be compelled to discuss the important questions, whether his conduct at cer-
viii PREFACE.  
tain periods was altogether such as ought to be proposed for imitation; whether he was ever misled by a glowing temperament, something of hastiness in choice, and a certain constitutional impatience; whether, like less gifted mortals, he ever shared in the common feature of mortality, repentance,—and to what extent.”

These questions I have fully discussed. How painfully interesting is his Life! With so many weaknesses—with so much to pardon—so much to pity—so much to admire—so much to love—there is no romance, however stirring, that in abler hands might not have paled before it. Such as it is, I throw it on the indulgence of his friends and the public. It has been written with no indecorous haste—by one sensible of the difficulty of the task—of his inadequacy to do it justice—of his unworthiness to touch the hem of Shelley’s garment, but not by one unable to appreciate the greatness of his genius, or to estimate the qualities of his heart. I was the first to turn the tide of obloquy, to familiarize the world with
traits, that by a glimpse, however slight and fleeting, could not but make a favourable impression, and now elaborate a more finished portrait, reflected in the mirror of memory, which distance renders more distinct and faithful, and in the words of
Salvator Rosa, may add,—
Dica poi quanto sa rancor severe,
Contra le sue saette ho doppio usbergo,
Non conosio interesse, e son’ sincero.



With agony of thought, intensely striving
To work out God, his God was doubly dear:
A faith more firm had never poet here,
A brighter pledge of bliss immortal giving:
With all his pulses throbbing for his kind,
Hope steered his course thro’ the world’s stormy wave
If anger moved, but ruffled his calm mind,
A hatred of the tyrant and the slave.
In form of man a subtle elfin sprite—
From Nature’s altar pure a hallowed fire—
A mark for every canting hypocrite—
Yearning for Heaven with all his soul’s desire—
Cursed by his father—a fond wife’s delight—
Starlike in a wild ocean to expire!
The Author.

“Three poets in three different ages born.”

Stars of a later age, two poets shine,
And with a radiance scarcely less divine:
This waged with human systems deathless strife,
War with himself consumed the other’s life:
One died for Greece, her freedom both had sung,
And perished, as the great should perish, young.
The Author.

Thou wert a morning-star among the living,
Ere thy fair light was fled;
Now having died, thou art as Hesperus, giving
New splendour to the dead.

Tu vivens, vivis, fers lucem, ut stella diei,
Ast nunc, heu! moriens, Hesperus, Aster eris.
The Author.