LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley
Naples, Rome: 1819
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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I shall now bring the travellers to Rome.

In his first visit to the capitol of the world, after a hasty glance at its ruins, he passed on to Naples, where he hoped to find in its mild climate, some alleviation of his bodily sufferings, and in the scenery of its bay, a soothing balsam to the wounds of his harassed and weary spirit. But this object was not to be attained. Nor did his excursions to Venice prove a “medicine to
his mind diseased.” I have often heard him dilate with rapture on the beauty of that divine Bay, as he hung over the side of the boat, and gazed on the subaqueous ruins of the wrecked palaces overspread with marine flowering plants and weeds, that grow luxuriantly about them. In speaking of these, he observed that they sympathise, like those on land, with the change of the season.

A singular circumstance occurred to Shelley, which, after his death, I talked over with Lord Byron at Pisa—for he was equally acquainted with the story, as told to us mutually, and which he more than once made a subject of conversation with me.

The night before his departure from London, in 1814, he received a visit from a married lady, young, handsome, and of noble connections, and whose disappearance from the world of fashion, in which she moved, may furnish to those curious in such inquiries a clue to her identity.

The force of love could not go further, when
a person so richly endowed, as he described her, could so far forget the delicacy of her sex, and the regard due to the character of woman, as to make the following confession:—“I have long known you in your
Queen Mab. In the empassioned tenderness of your picture of Ianthe, I have read and understood the heart that inspired it. In your uncompromising passion for liberty—your universal and disinterested benevolence—your aspiring after the amelioration of the state of mankind, and the happiness of your species, and more than all, in your sentiments respecting the equality of conditions, and the unfettered union between the sexes,—your virtues, removed from all selfish considerations, and a total disregard of opinion, have made you in my eyes the beau ideal of what I have long sought for in vain. I long for the realisation of my day and night dream, I come, after many vain and useless struggles with myself, to tell you that I have renounced my husband, my name, my family and friends; and have resolved, after mature delibera-
tion, to follow you through the world, to attach my fortune, which is considerable, to yours, in spite of all the obloquy that be cast on me.”

Shelley was at that moment, on the eve, as I have said, of parting from England with one to whom he was devotedly attached;—none but a perfect gentleman, (and none, as admitted by Byron, surpassed him in the qualities of one,) could have succeeded in acting with a high-born and high-bred woman, a becoming part in such an arduous scene. He could not but feel deep gratitude—admiration without bounds, for that enthusiastic and noble-minded person; who had not shrunk from a confession—a confession hard indeed for her to have made—an avowal of a love that must have cost her so many struggles to have clothed in words.

I shall not endeavour to throw the whole of this interview into dialogue, or to paint the language in which he extricated himself from the painful task of relieving both, by the explanation of his engagement; or in what terms he
endeavoured to infuse a balm into her wounded soul, to soothe her hurt pride,—I had almost said, hurt affection.

Shelley detailed to me at much length, and with more than his accustomed eloquence, their parting; and though I do not pretend to remember his exact words, their purport has not escaped me.

She said she had listened to his explanation with patience; she ought to listen to it with resignation. The pride of a woman—the pride of a ————, might have revolted to acknowledge, much more to feel, that she loved in vain; she said she might conceal all that she endured—might have died under the blow she had received—that death-blow to her heart, and all its hopes, or might spurn him from her with disdain, chase him from her presence with rage, or call to her aid revenge, that cicatrice to a wounded spirit; but that she would rise superior to such littleness. Had she been base—very base—she should no longer have esteemed him,—that she
believed herself worthy of him, and would not prove she was otherwise, by leaving on his memory a feeling towards her of contempt. You are rich, she added, in resources; comfort at least by your pity a heart torn by your indifference; lend me some aid to endure the trial you have brought upon me—the greatest it is allotted to one of us to endure—blighted hopes—a life of loneliness—withered affections.

“Cold indeed would have been my heart,” said Shelley to her, “if I should ever cease to acknowledge with gratitude, the flattering, the undeserved preference you have so nobly confessed to me; the first, the richest gift a woman can bestow—the only one worth having. Adieu, may God protect, support, and bless you! Your image will never cease to be associated in my mind with all that is noble, pure, generous, and lovely. Adieu.”

Thus they parted; but this meeting, instead of extinguishing, only seemed to fan the flame in the bosom of the Incognita. This in-
fatuated lady followed him to the Continent. He had given her a clue to his place of destination, Geneva. She traced him to Secheron—used to watch him with her glass in his water parties on the lake. On his return to England, he thought she had long forgotten him; but her constancy was untired. During his journey to Rome and Naples, she once lodged with him at the same hotel, en route, and finally arrived at the latter city the same day as himself.

He must have been more or less than man, to have been unmoved by the devotedness of this unfortunate and infatuated lady. At Naples, he told me that they met, and when he learnt from her all those particulars of her wanderings, of which he had been previously ignorant; and at Naples—she died.

Mrs. Shelley, who was unacquainted with all those circumstances, in a note to the poems written at Naples, describes what Shelley suffered during this winter, which she attributes solely to physical causes, but which had a far
deeper root. “Constant and poignant physical sufferings,” she says, “exhausted him,and though he preserved the appearance of cheerfulness, and often enjoyed our wanderings in the environs of Naples, and our excursions on its sunny sea, yet many hours were passed when his thoughts, shadowed by illness, became gloomy, and then he escaped to solitude, and in verses which he hid from me, from fear of wounding me, poured forth morbid, but too natural bursts of discontent and sadness;” and she adds, “that it was difficult to imagine that any melancholy he shewed, was aught but the effect of the constant pain to which he was a martyr.

Had she been able to disentangle the threads of the mystery, she would have attributed his feelings to more than purely physical causes. Among the verses which she had probably never seen till they appeared in print, was “The Invocation to Misery,” an idea taken from Shakspeare—Making Love to Misery, betokening his soul lacerated to rawness by the tragic event
above detailed—the death of his unknown adorer. The state of his mind must indeed have been bordering on madness—hanging on the devouring edge of mental darkness, when he could give utterance to those wonderful lines:—
“Hasten to the bridal bed!
Underneath the grave ’tis spread!
In darkness may our love be hid,
Oblivion be our coverlid!
We may rest, and none forbid.
Kiss me! Oh! thy lips are cold!
Round my neck thine arms enfold,
They are soft—yet chill and dead,
And thy tears upon my heart,
Burn like points of frozen lead.

The epithet soft in the last stanza, and burn like points of frozen lead, surpass in the sublimity of horror, anything in our own, or any other language.

This poem was shewn to me by Shelley in 1821, and by his permission, with many others, copied into my common-place book, and appeared for the first time in the Shelley papers in 1833.


Not less affecting are the lines written In Despondency.* How horrible is the calm in the tempest of his affection—how exquisite the pathos conveyed by the closing stanza:—
“Yet now despair itself is mild,
Even as the winds and waters are.
I could lie down like a tired child,
And weep away this life of care,
Which I have borne, and yet must bear,
Till Death like sleep might steal on me,
And I might feel in the warm air,
My heart grow cold, and hear the sea
Breathe o’er my outworn brain its last monotony.”

The line stands thus in my copy—outworn for dying.

And again, after her death, whether a violent or a natural one I know not, what a desolation of spirit there is in—

* Mrs. Shelley has omitted a line in the transcript of a stanza of this poem. It stood thus:—
“Blue hills and snowy mountains wear
The purple moon’s transparent might,—
The breath of the west wind is light,” &c.

“I sit upon the sands alone—
The lightning of the noontide ocean
Is flashing round me—and a tone
Arises from its mingled motion,
How sweet! if any heart could share in my emotion.”

I imagine also that we owe the beautiful gem entitled To a Faded Violet, which made its first appearance anonymously, in, I think, The Indicator, to this occurrence.
“A withered, lifeless, vacant form,
It lies on my abandoned breast,
And mocks the heart that yet is warm,
With cold and silent rest.
I weep—my tears revive it not.
I sigh—it breathes none back to me.
Its mute and uncomplaining lot,
Is such as mine must be.”

Shelley told me that his departure from Naples was precipitated by this event. The letters he wrote from thence furnish another among the many proofs what an imperfect and little-to-be-trusted medium they are for biography. Who would have supposed from their tenor,
that his mind was subject to any extraordinary excitement! Retreading his steps through the Pontine marshes, so graphically described in his
Fragment Mazinghi, as,
“Deserted by the fever-stricken serf,
All overgrown with weeds and long rank grasses,
And where the huge and speckled aole made,
Rooted in stones, a broad and pointed shade,”
he reached Rome for the second time in March, 1819, and there took up his abode, having completed, before his departure, the first Act of his
Prometheus Unbound. His impressions of the City of the World, as contained in his communications to Mr. Peacock, are clothed in such glowing and eloquent language, as to make us regret that their correspondence should so soon have been discontinued; for with the exception of about eighteen letters addressed to that gentleman, although everything he writes is valuable, as tending to develope his life and character, the remaining forty-nine are of very inferior interest.


There is something inspiring in the very atmosphere of Rome. Is it fanciful, that being encircled with images of beauty—that in contemplating works of beauty, such as Rome and the Vatican can only boast—that by gazing on the scattered limbs of that mighty Colossus, whose shadow eclipsed the world,—we should catch a portion of the sublime—become a portion of that around us?

Schiller, in his Don Carlos, makes Posa say,—
“In his Escurial
The Artist sees, and gloats upon some work
Of art divine, till he becomes a part
Of its identity.”
Certain it is, that such produce at Rome, what they are incapable of conceiving elsewhere, and at which they are themselves most sincerely astonished.

No wonder, then, that Shelley should here have surpassed himself in all that he produced. He drenched his spirit to intoxication in the
deep-blue sky of Rome. Among his haunts were the baths of Caracalla. Situate as they are at it considerable distance outside the present walls of Rome, they are but little frequented, and their solitude made them an especial favourite with the poet. He seems to have known “all the intricate labyrinths of the ruins, and to have traced every narrow and ill-defined footpath that winds among their entangled wildernesses of myrtle, myrtelus, and bay, and flowering laurestinus, and a thousand nameless plants, sown by the wandering winds—an undecaying investitute of Nature, to soften down their vast desolation.” Here, he told me, he completed two more acts of his

The chorus in the second act, scene 2, was doubtless inspired by this scene.

“Some cloud of dew
Drifted along the earth-creeping breeze,
Between the trunks of the hoar trees,
Hangs each a pearl on the pale flowers
Of the green laurel, blown anew,
And bends, and then fades silently
One frail and fair anemone.
And when some star of many a one
That climbs and wanders thro’ steep night,
Has found the cleft, through which alone
Beams fall from high those depths upon,
Ere it is borne away, away,
By the swift heavens, that cannot stay,
It scatters drops of golden light,
Like lines of rain that ne’er unite;
And the gloom divine is all around,
And underneath is the mossy ground.

But the Praxitilean shapes of the Vatican and the Capitol, were alike sources whence he drew his inspiration in this truly classical drama; a bold and successful attempt, not so much to revive a lost play of Æschylus, as to make the allegory a peg whereon to hang his abstruse and imaginative theories—an object he never lost sight of in any of his poems. The last Act, a hymn of rejoicing in the fulfilment of the prophecy regarding Prometheus, was not conceived or executed till several months later, at Florence. Mrs. Shelley has given so excellent
an analysis of this drama, that it would be vain for me to attempt it.
Shelley believed, with Schiller, that mankind had only to will, and that there should be no evil, and would be none. That man could be so perfectionised as to be able to expel evil from his own nature, and from the greater part of creation, was the cardinal point of his system; and he had so conquered himself, and his own passions, that he was a living testimony to the truth of his doctrine. Such he had depicted Laon, the enemy and victim of tyranny in the Revolt of Islam, and here took a more idealised image of the same subject in Prometheus, typifying a being full of fortitude and hope, and the spirit of triumph, emanating from a reliance in the ultimate omnipotence of good. There was one point on which I had several discussions with Shelley, his introduction of the Furies into his sublime drama. These allegorical personages of the Greek mythology, I contended ought to have had no place in his Prometheus. Their at-
tributes were widely different from those which should have been called into exercise. They properly formed a prominent feature in the machinery of tbe Orestian story, and Schiller admirably introduces them in his “
Cranes of Ibycchus,” but Jove knew that Prometheus was beyond their power. His conscience must have been at rest, he had nothing to unsay or wish undone; all their tortures must have been ineffectual as against the Firebearer, and well might Earth exclaim, when Prometheus says, “It doth repent me,”—
“Misery! O Misery!
That Jove at length has vanquished thee!”

I cannot help thinking that Bia and Cratos, the agents of the new ruler of Olympus, as employed by Vulcan in the Prometheus Bound, would have been fitter instruments of the tyrant, and much more appropriate engines in the hands of Mercury. One objection certainly is, that after the first scene of that wonderful drama, it would have been an arrant failure, and daring plagia-
rism, to have made them speak; for what words would not have been a pale adumbration of that which
Shelley knew to be inimitable?

Not to dwell on this—I will add, that with all its choral magnificence, a strain of inspiration that is totally unreachable by the greatest spirits of this or any other age, this sublime poem fell almost dead from the press. A literary man, who has without a tythe of his genius obtained a hundredfold more reputation, with a sneer said to me—“Prometheus Unbound. It is well named. Who would bind it?” Such is the kind of criticism with which, even by persons of enlarged education, but most narrow minds, this lyrical drama was received.

But the Thermæ of Caracalla had other haunts to divide Shelley’s affections: he has left us a picture of the Colyseum, which, though in prose, surpasses all lyrical poetry; and here it was that he laid the scene of a tale that promised to rival Corinne. Like Madame de Stael, he meant to idealize himself in the hero; and there were
times when the portrait was not overcharged, and which I shall give in the words of that fragment. “A figure only visible at Rome at night, or in solitude, and then only to be seen amid the dilapidated temples of the Forum, or gliding away through the weed-grown galleries of the Colyseum, crossed their path. His face, though emaciated, displayed the elementary outline of exquisite grace. It was a face once seen never to be forgotten. The mouth and the moulding of the chin resembled the eager and impassioned tenderness of the statues of Antinous, but instead of the effeminate sullenness of the eye, and the narrow smoothness of the forehead, there was an expression of profound and piercing thought. The brow was clear and open, and his eyes deep, like two wells of chrystal water that reflect the all-beholding heavens. Over all was spread a timid expression of diffidence and retirement, that contrasted strangely with the abstract and fearless character which predominated in his form and
gestures. He avoided, in an extraordinary degree, what is called society, but was occasionally seen to converse with some accomplished foreigner, whose appearance might attract him in his solemn haunts. He spoke Italian with fluency, though with a peculiar but sweet accent.”

This fragment he allowed me to copy, and I have always looked upon it as on the Torso of some exquisite statue, and during the visits that at different periods I have made to Rome, I read it as many times, sitting, as he says, “on some isolated capital of a fallen column in the arena,” and ever with a new delight. It is worth all that “Nibbi” and Hobhouse and Eustace with their show-knowledge, the common stuff of the earth, the very slime of pedantry, “have left behind them.”

Shelley’s taste and feeling in works of ancient art, were, as might be supposed, most refined. Statuary was his passion. He contended that “the slaughter-house and the dissecting-room were not the sources whence the Greeks drew
their inspiration. It was to be attributed to the daily exhibitions of the human form in all its ease and symmetry in their gymnasia. The sculptors were not mere mechanicians—they were citizens and soldiers, animated with the love of their country.” “We must rival them in their virtues,” he adds, “before we can come up to them in their compositions.” The hard, harsh, affected style of the French school, and
Canova, he could never endure, and used to contrast what are considered the masterpieces of the latter with those of the age of Pericles, where the outline of the form and features is, as in one of Sir Joshua Reynolds’s pictures, so soft as scarcely to be traceable by the eye. He considered the Perseus so ridiculously overpraised by Forsyth, a bad imitation of the Apollo, and said, after seeing the great conceited figurante of the Pitti, Canova’s Venus, “Go and visit the modest little creature of the Tribune.”