LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley
The Cenci
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 have not yet spoken of the work which occupied him at Rome—the greatest tragedy of
modern times,
the Cenci. A writer in the Edinburgh Review has said that Shelley “selected the story on account of its horrors, and that he found pleasure in dwelling on those horrors.” Never did a reviewer more thoroughly misunderstand or misinterpret an author. Shelley’s loadstar was the Barbarini Beatrice. The tragedy ought to have been entitled Beatrice Cenci, for this is the prominent character. The Cenci himself, his atrocious crimes and abhorrent vices, are treated as if he shrunk from, as though there was almost a pollution, not in the mention of, but the bare thought of them. It cannot be denied also, that in the Cenci he found materials for developing his system, so forcibly dilated on in the preface,—The Spirit of Romanism. Whilst writing it, he told me that he heard in the street the oft-repeated cry, “Cenci, Cenci,” which he at first thought the echo of his own soul, but soon learnt was one of the cries of Rome—Cenci meaning old rags.

But to be serious,—a MS. containing an ac-
count of this cause celèbre had been seen by Shelley, it appears, before he came to Rome. There is scarcely a public library in Italy that does not contain such a MS. I found it in the Berio at Genoa, bound up. with another almost as remarkable trial, that of Mascalbruni, the Treasurer of
Innocent X.—and in that pope we see the reflex of Clement VIII. in his corruption, and more still in his peculiar profligacy; and to those who wish to make a good magazine article, I would recommend them the perusal of this latter process. The church of Rome, and God’s vicegerent upon earth, are not spared in the Narrative.

To return to the Cenci.—Just as I was about to speak of Shelley’s Cenci, was placed in my hand an Indicator of July 26, 1820; and when I had read that masterly critique, one of the noblest pieces of writing in our language, I abandoned as hopeless the task of analysing it myself. Almost every line of that tragedy might be quoted, and indeed very many have been, but there
is a passage which was pointed out to me by a great writer, which escaped
Leigh Hunt’s observation, and strikes me as most profound. It is Cenci’s first speech to the Cardinal emissary of the pope.
“The third of my possessions—
Aye, I have heard the nephew of the pope
Had sent his architect to view the ground,
Meaning to build a villa on my vines,
The next time I compounded with his uncle,—
I little thought he should outwit me so.”

Leigh Hunt, the theatrical critic, Χαί έξοχην, sums up his paper with,—“Mr. Shelley in this work reminds us of some of the most strenuous and daring of our old dramatists,—not by any means as an imitator, though he has studied them, but as a bold, elemental imaginator, and a framer of mighty lines. He possesses also, moreover, what those to whom we more particularly allude, did not possess, great sweetness of nature, and enthusiasm for good, and his style is as it ought to be, the offspring of the high
mixtures. It disproves the adage of the Latin poet. Majesty and love do sit on one throne in the lofty buildings of his poetry, and they will be found there at a late, and we trust happier day, on a seat immortal as themselves.”

Words written with the prophetic confidence of their truth.

Shelley had formed strong hopes of getting this play performed at Covent Garden, and that Miss O’Neale, whom he had seen before leaving London, and often spoke of as his beau ideal of female actors, would take the part of Beatrice. His disappointment was therefore great, when Mr. Harris pronounced the subject so objectionable that he could not submit the part to that gifted lady, but expressed a desire that the author should write a tragedy on some other subject, which he would gladly accept. The manager was right in thinking that the Cenci was unadapted for the stage. If no one can read it without shedding abundant tears, who could have endured the representation of the character of Beatrice
by Miss O’Neale? Of this Shelley himself seems to have been conscious, when he says, “God forbid I should ever see her play it—it would tear my nerves to tatters.” Who could have borne to listen to—
“Here, mother! tie
This girdle for me—and bind up this hair
In any simple knot. Aye! that does well—
And yours I see is coming down. How often
Have we done this for one another, now
We shall not do it any more.”

The play was so disfigured by the mistakes that had crept into it in the London edition, that he reprinted it at Leghorn, and sent me a copy, which I received in Switzerland.

Mrs. Shelley says, “it is to be lamented that he did not employ himself on subjects whose interest depended on character and incident, and leave the delineation of human passion, which he could depict in such an able manner, for fantastic creations, or the expression of those
opinions and sentiments with regard to human nature, and its destiny, a desire to diffuse which was the master-passion of his soul.” I cannot agree with her. It would have been a vain attempt to turn his mind from the bent of its natural inclinations. He told me, that it was with the greatest possible effort, and struggle with himself, that he could be brought to write
the Cenci; and great as is that tragedy, his fame must rest not on it, but on his mighty Rhymes, the deep-felt inspiration of his Choral Melodies. I shall hereafter have to speak of his Charles I., which at the earnest request of others he commenced, but which nothing could so far conquer his repugnance as to accomplish.

The Shelleys suffered a severe affliction at Rome, by the death of their son William. His love, and regret for the loss of this child, may be seen by a fragment which he epigraphs with “Roma, Roma, Roma, non e piu come era prima;” and he alludes to this interesting boy in the Cenci.—
“That fair blue-eyed child,
Who was the loadstar of our life—
All see since his most piteous death,
That day and night, and heaven and earth and time,
And all the things hoped for and done therein,
Are changed to you through your exceeding grief.”
Rome was, as he says, become no longer Rome to him, and he was anxious to escape a spot associated too intimately with his child’s presence and loss. Some friends of theirs being resident in the neighbourhood of Leghorn, they took a small house, Villa Valsavano, about half way between that town and Monte Nero, where they remained during the summer.
Mrs. Shelley gives a very interesting picture of the manner of life and study which her husband pursued at this villa, where he put a finishing hand to the Cenci, and studied Calderon, from whose El Purgatorio de San Patricio, the description of the mountain pass, where the murder was to have been committed—(none could be more adapted for such a purpose) was taken.