LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley
Casa Magni
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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But to return to Shelley.—He, after my de-
parture from Pisa, had employed himself in translating some scenes of
Faust, being led thereto by Retchs’s Outlines, of which he says,—“What etchings! I am never satisfied with looking at them, and I fear it is the only sort of translation of which Faust is susceptible. I never perfectly understood the Hartz mountain scene until I saw the etching; and then Margaret in the summer house with Faust! The artist makes me envy his happiness, that he can sketch such things with calmness, which I only dare look upon once, and which made my brain swim round, only to touch the leaf on the opposite side of which I knew it was figured. Whether it be that the artist has surpassed Faust, or that the pencil surpasses language in some subjects, I know not; or that I am more affected by a visible image, but the etching certainly excited me far more than the poem it illustrated.” “Do you remember,” he adds, “the 54th Letter of the first part of La Nouvelle Heloise? Göthe in a subsequent scene undoubtedly had that let-
ter in his mind, and this etching is an idealism of it. So much for the world of shadows!”

Shelley also found, as already mentioned in “The Conversations,” (for what Byron said there was derived from him,) a striking resemblance between Faust and Cypriano, and says in one of his letters,—“If I were to acknowledge Coleridge’s distinction, I should say Göthe was the greater philosopher, and Calderon the greater poet. Cyprian evidently furnished the germ of Faust, as Faust may furnish the germ of other poems, although it is as different from it in the structure as the acorn is from the oak. I have, imagine my presumption,” (the letter is dated April 10, 1822,) “translated several scenes from both, as the basis of a paper for our journal. I am,” he adds, “well content with those from Calderon, which, in fact, gave me but little trouble, but those from Faust I feel how imperfect a representation, even with all the licence I assume, to figure to myself, how Göthe would have written in English, my words convey. No one but Coleridge is capable of the work.”


These scenes of Shelley’s, which were originally destined for the new publication, afterwards appeared in the Liberal. The translation has been unmercifully handled by Mr. Hayward. Of our gifted poet’s “Prologue in Heaven,” Mr. Hayward says, “it has no great merits, and some mistakes.” Had he compared, unblinded by prejudice, his own bald and bare version, a sacrilege to the memory of Göthe, of—
Es wechselt Paradeise helle
Mit teifer schauervoller nacht,—
with Shelley’s poetical one,—
Alternating Elysian brightness
With deep and dreadful night,—
he would have seen that Shelley really did understand and feel the beauty of the passage.

“Adornment” also for Pracht is quite as good as “pomp,” though neither express its full meaning, and Mr. Hayward is very partial to himself when he thinks his own “deep base of the rocks”
better than
Shelley’s—“The sea foams in broad waves from its deep bottom.”

For my part, I cannot consider Shelley so “monstrous a malefactor” as Mr. Hayward calls him; and one thing is certain, that the adoption of our great poet’s words—aye, sometimes of whole lines,—has infused into Mr. Hayward’s “Prolog in Himmel,” and Scene in the Hartz Mountains, a spirit vainly looked for elsewhere.

Those who think “My Cousin the Snake” better than “My Old Paramour the Snake,” are at liberty to adopt Mr. Hayward’s literal reading, in which he so much prides himself,—and his vanity is egregious. But in rendering Æschylus’s χασις πηλου χονις, who would spoil a fine passage by translating it, “Dust, Sister of Mud?” The four lines beginning Das Werdende, are perhaps among the most difficult in the drama; but Das Werdende is not as Mr. Hayward gives it,—“The Creative Essence.” Das Werdende is “that which commences to exist—
that which the actual moment produces.”
“Let that which ever operates and lives,
Clasp you within the limits of its love,
And seize with sweet and melancholy thoughts,
The floating phantoms of its loveliness,”
is to my mind satisfactory. Mr. Hayward had many coadjutors in his task, Shelley none; but surely his high authorities never could have agreed in making Margaret say,—“she gave her little sister suck,” or have been satisfied with such expressions as these in a chorus of angels: “Joy to the mortal, whom the perishable, sneaking, hereditary imperfections enveloped;” or, “thou hast destroyed it, this beautiful world, with thy strong fist!” It is no unfair retaliation on Mr. Hayward thus to criticise his labours.

Notwithstanding his captious objections, Shelley’s translations are of the highest order,—so high, that all must regret they were so few. He alone of all men that the present age has produced, was fitted to take up Göthe’s mantle.
But the best proof of the excellency of Shelley’s version, is, that Göthe himself expressed his entire approbation of these scenes of Shelley’s.

The rock on which all have split who have attempted to render Faust, has been an over-scrupulous regard to metrical arrangement, which he, with his exquisite taste, avoided. Others do not seem to have been aware that the genius of German and English poetry is so widely different, that what produces a magical effect in the metre of one language, appears namby-pamby and puerile in the other. Milton made the experiment in Horace’s Ode to Phyrra,—failed, and never made a second attempt. Bulwer tried to render Schiller line by line, which has given not only a stiffness to his version, but renders much of it obscure, not to say unintelligible. In his “Ideale and das Leben,” I was at a loss to find the original. But I have been led too far out of my way. Shelley needs no justification. Faust yet remains to be translated; but who would venture to put anything he could produce
in competition with Shelley’s Hartz Mountain scene. “There is no greater mistake than to suppose,”—I use Shelley’s own words,—“that the knowledge of a language is all that is required in a translator. He must be a poet, and as great a one as his original, in order to do justice to him.” Hence the wretched plaister casts of Faust, more especially
Anster’s, so bepuffed into celebrity by Blackwood.

Shelley’s translation from Calderon is equally a masterpiece, rendering the force and colour of the first part of the “Magico Prodigioso,” with surpassing truth. There must have been something “rotten” indeed in the Liberal, not to be saved by these Versions, and the Vision of Judgment.

Previous to Lord Byron’s temporary migration to Leghorn, Shelley had broken up his establishment at Pisa, and on the 28th April, writes to Mrs. Shelley, then at Spezzia, with the Williams’s:—

“I am at this moment,” he says, “arrived at
Lerici, where I am necessarily detained, waiting the furniture, which left Pisa last night. It would not do to leave affairs here in an impiccio, great as is my anxiety to see you. How are you, my best love? how have you sustained the trials of the journey? Answer me this question, and how my little babe and
C—— are?”

After overcoming the difficulties of the Dogana, they took the Casa Magni, near Sarzana, of which I shall hereafter give a description. On the 12th May, Williams, in a journal that is very interesting, records the arrival of the long-expected boat. “While walking with the harbour-master of Lerici on the terrace,” he says, “we descried a strange sail coming round the point of Porto Venese, which proved at length to be Shelley’s boat. She had left Genoa on Thursday, but had been driven back by the prevailing head winds; a Mr. Hislop, and two English seamen brought her round, and speak most highly of her performance. She does indeed excite my surprise and admiration. She
fetches whatever she looks at. Shelley and I made a stretch off the land to try her. In short, we have now,” he concludes, “a perfect plaything for the summer.”

On June 12th, Williams says in the same journal,—“Saw a vessel between the straits of Porto Venese, like a man-of-war-brig; she proved to be the Bolivar, (Lord Byron’s yacht.) Sailed to try the vessels. In speed, no chance with her; but I think we keep our wind as well. This is the most beautiful craft I ever saw for the size.”

“Thursday, June 20th.

Shelley hears from Hunt, that he is arrived at Genoa, having sailed from England on the 13th May.” I have said that I shall not enter into any remarks on Mr. L. Hunt’s grievances. Shelley seems to have foreseen that the periodical would fail. “Between ourselves,” he says to C. T., “I greatly fear that this alliance will not succeed, for I who have never been regarded as more than a link of the two
thunderbolts, cannot now consent to be even that; and how long the alliance may continue, I will not prophecy. Pray do not hint my doubts on the subject to any one, or they may do harm to Hunt, and they may be groundless.”

Shelley,” says Mrs. Shelley in one of her notes, “was eager to see him. I was confined to my room with severe illness, and could not move. It was agreed, that Shelley and Williams should go to Leghorn in the boat. Strange that no fear of danger crossed our minds. Living on the sea-shore, the ocean became a plaything; as a child may play with a lighted stick, till a spark enflames a forest, and spreads destruction over all, so did we fearlessly and blindly tamper with danger, and make a game of the dangers of the ocean;” and adds, “that the running down the line of coast to Leghorn, gave no more notion of peril, than a fair-weather inland navigation would have done to those who had never seen the sea.”


On the 1st July, they parted. “If ever shadow of future ill darkened the present hour, such,” remarks Mrs. Shelley, “came over my mind, when they went. During the whole of our stay at Lerici, an intense presentiment of coming evil brooded over my mind, and covered this beautiful place, and genial summer, with the shadow of coming misery. I had vainly struggled with these emotions—they seemed accounted for by my illness; but at this hour of separation, they recurred with renewed violence. I did not anticipate danger from them, but a vague expectation of evil shook me to agony, and I could scarcely bring myself to let them go. The day was calm and clear, and a breeze rising at twelve o’clock, they weighed for Leghorn. They made the run in seven hours and a half. I have heard that Shelley all the time was in brilliant spirits. Not long before, talking of presentiments, he had said the only one he had ever found infallible, was the certain event of some evil fortune when he felt particularly joyous.
Yet if ever fate whispered of coming disasters, such inaudible, but not unfelt prognostics hovered around us. The beauty of the place seemed unearthly in its excess; the distance we were from all signs of civilisation, the sea at our feet, its murmurs and its roaring ever in our ears, all these things led the mind to brood over strange things, and lifting it from every-day life, caused it to be familiar with the unreal!”

That Shelley was not free from these presentiments, which shook Mrs. Shelley, is evident from lines which he wrote almost immediately before this fatal voyage, beginning,—
the lamp is shattered,
and ending—
Its passions will rock thee,
As the storms rock the ravens on high;
Bright reason will mock thee,
Like the sun from a wintry sky,
From thy roof every rafter
Will rot; and thine eagle home
Leave the naked to laughter,
When leaves fall, and cold winds come.


The only two letters which Shelley wrote during his absence, were addressed, one to Mrs. Shelley, and the other to Mrs. Williams. His indecision about his own plans, caused by a fresh exile of the Gambas, and by the tracasserie respecting the Liberal and Hunt’s affairs, on which he placed his whole dependence, detained Shelley unwillingly; and he says, that Lord Byron must of course furnish the funds, as he cannot, and that he cannot depart without the necessary explanations and arrangements due to such a situation as Hunt’s (aggravated as it was, by Mrs. Hunt’s desperate state of health.) These, he concludes by saying, he must procure, and that Lord Byron offers him the copyright of the Vision of Judgment for the first number. This offer, if sincere, he prognosticates, “is more than enough to set up the journal, and if sincere, will set everything right!” How much he erred in this anticipation was seen by the sequel; but the tide of cant was at that time running so strong, that perhaps all the
talent in the world would only have prolonged the fate of that periodical. It seems, however, that Shelley had on mature reflection abandoned the idea of joining in it, “partly from pride, not wishing to have the air of acquiring readers for his poetry, by associating it with the compositions of more popular writers, or because he might feel shackled in the free expression of his opinions, if any friends were to be compromised. By those opinions, carried even to their utmost extent, he wished to live and die, as being in his conviction not only true, but such as would conduce to the moral improvement and happiness of mankind.” Mrs. Shelley adds that “the sale of the work might meanwhile either really or supposedly be injured by the free expression of his thoughts, and this evil he resolved to avoid.”

His letter to Mrs. Williams closes with the following passages, the last of which may be considered a singular prognostic.

“I fear you are solitary and melancholy at
Villa Magni, and in the intervals of the greater and more serious distress in which I am compelled to sympathize here, I figure to myself the countenance which has been the source of such consolation to me, shadowed by a veil of sorrow. How soon those hours passed, and how slowly they return to pass so soon away, perhaps for ever, in which we have lived together so intimately, so happily!” And speaking of these strange, ominous forebodings and fears, although I am no doater on dreams, to use the words of
Southey, “there are dreams which are monitory above the power of fancy, and impressed on us by some superior influence;” and of such were the presentiments to which Shelley was subject.

His thoughtful regard for, and sacrifice of his own happiness, to that of others, is also made manifest in this letter, in which he says, “I shall urge Williams to sail with the first fair wind, without expecting me. I have thus the pleasure of contributing to your happiness, when deprived of every other, and of leaving you no other sub-
ject of regret but the absence of one scarcely worth regretting!!”

This half-formed plan of making Williams his forerunner, it seems, was abandoned, and on the 8th day of July, the friends, whose epitaph Shelley had written, got under weigh for St. Arengo.
They were two friends, whose life was undivided.
So let them mingle. Sweetly they had glided
Under the grave. Let not their dust be parted,
For their two hearts in life were single-hearted.

How prophetic was that epitaph! and well might he have apostrophised the ocean with—
Unfathomable sea!
That sick of prey, yet howlest on for more,
Vomiting thy wrecks on its inhospitable shore,
Treacherous in calm, and terrible in storm,
Who shall put forth on thee,
Inhospitable sea?