LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley
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
‣ Epipsychidion
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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Shelley used to say, that every city or town had its Devil or its Diavolessa—we have no word in our language for the fiend feminine. Monk Lewis has shewn us, even when they come in the shape of the Madonna, how much they are to be dreaded, even by an Ambrosio. Byron thought the viaggiatory English old maids, who scour the continent, and fix themselves for the time being in all parts of it, were only incarnations of evil spirits. I am not so ungallant. But of the male devils, Goldoni has given us a specimen in his “Bottega di Caffè,” and Poole in his Paul Pry—two devils who have much in common, and bear a strong family likeness. Their name is Legion, though they differ from each other as much as Asmodeus does from Mephistophiles. The term seccatura, or drying up of all our faculties, mental and bodily, seems to offer an abstract idea of the effects they produce. This preamble brings me to the Devil of Pisa. P——— was about fifty years of age, somewhat above the common height, with a
figure boney and angular, and covered with no more superfluous flesh than a prize-fighter. His face was dark as that of a Moor, his features marked and regular, his eyes black and gloomy. He always reminded me of one of
Titian’s portraits (his family had been Venetians,) stepping out of its frame. Had he lived when Venice was governed by the Tré, he would have made a Loredano, and might have sate to Anne Ratcliffe for a Schedoni; but to descend to modern times, during the reign of Austrian despotism he was admirably calculated for a spy, or calderaio,—perhaps he might be one. “Chi lo sa.” Nature certainly never designed him for a divine. As to his religion, it was about on a par with that of Il Abbate Casti, (Casti a non casto, as lucus a non lucendo,) of whom he was afterwards a worthy successor, in his native city, Florence. But at Pisa, II Signore Professore was the title by which he was generally known; a professor, like many other professors and lecturers, at least in Italy, who had made a
sinecure of his office, that of Belles Lettres, and only mounted the Cathedra once, during the many years that he touched his poor emoluments; for the Transalpine universities are not quite so richly endowed as our own. Not that this neglect of his duties would have affected his appointment, but as he told me, he lost it by an irresistible bon mot. During one of his midnight orgies, which he was in the habit of celebrating with some of the most dissolute of the students, he was interrogated in the darkness, by the patrole in the streets of Pisa, as to who and what he was; to which questioning he gave the following reply: “Son’ un uomo publico, in una strada publica, con una donna publica.” This public avowal cost him his chair. But it gave him eclat, and did not lose him his friends, or exclude him from the houses where he was the spiritual guide and confessor. There were, it is true, two reasons why he was tolerated in good society, (which Casti says is to be found where he places Don Juan, below,)—his pen and his
tongue—the dread of both. His epigrams were sanglantes, and he gave soubriquets the most happy for those who offended him; as an instance of which, he most happily styled a captain of our navy, il dolce capitano; a bye-word that stuck to him through life, and always excited a smile at his expense whenever he appeared. He was a good poet, if one might judge from the quotations he was in the habit of making from his tragedies, which he continually talked about, and which
Madame de Staël, who knew him, used to call his imaginary ones, for not a line of them was-ever published—perhaps written. His talent was conversation—a conversation full of repartee, and sparkling with wit; and his information (he was a man of profound erudition, vast memory, and first-rate talent,) made him almost oracular. Shelley, when P——— first became an habitué at his house, was charmed with him, and listened with rapt attention to his eloquence, which he compared to that of Coleridge. It was a swarm of ideas singularly ex-
ravagant, but which he contrived to weave into his argument with marvellous embroidery. Now he plunged into abysses but to lighten other abysses; and his words, like a torrent— for there was no stopping him when fairly rushing onwards—carried all before them.

It was this gift of eloquence that made him for a time welcome at Shelley’s, where he passed many an evening in the week—(I think I see him now, dissecting the snipes with his long, boney, snuffy fingers—for he never in the operation made use of a knife or fork); at first I say,—for he had in the outset sufficient tact (no one knew mankind better) to keep in the background the revolting vices which were familiar to him and disfigured his character. He had a predilection for our compatriotes, with and without the e, but particularly patronized the Belle Inglese, as he always called English women; and after the Italian fashion, soon familiarly called Mrs. Shelley, La Signora Maria. Wherever “he once got the entrée, he was a sine qua non,
a “fa tout.” He had always some poor devil of low origin, to recommend as a master of his language, receiving under the rose, part of the lesson money. He was never at a loss to find some Palazzo to be let, getting a monthly douceur out of the rent, from the landlord; for a picture fancier, he had always at hand some mysterious Marchese, or Marchesa, ready to part with a
Carlo Dolce or Andrea del Sarto, or Allori—originals of course. He could dilate for hours on the Venus of the Tribune, the Day and Night of Michael Angelo, the Niobe—knew the history of every painter and painting in the galleries of the Uffizii and Pitti, better than Vasari, or his successor Rosini; in short he was a Mezzano, Cicerone, Conosciatore, Dilletante, and, I might add, Ruffiano.

I have perhaps at too great length botched a sketch of the ex Professor, but as the world is indebted to him for the Epipscychidion, I think myself in gratitude bound not to pass him over without a record, and if I had Mrs. Shelley’s
Valperga, I could have spared my readers my own “studio studiato” for he is there drawn to the life.

P—— was amico di casa and confessor to a noble family, one of the most distinguished for its antiquity of any at Pisa, where its head then filled a post of great authority. By his first countess he had two grown-up daughters, and in his old age had the boldness, the audacity I might say, to take unto himself a wife not much older than either. This lady, whose beauty did not rival that of the Count’s children, was naturally jealous of their charms, and deemed them dangerous rivals in the eyes of her Cavaliere; and exerting all her influence over her infatuated husband, persuaded him, though their education was completed, to immure them in two convents (pensions, I should say, or as they are called, conservatorios) in his native city. The Professor who had known them from infancy, and been their instructor in languages and polite literature, made the Contessinas frequent subjects of
conversation. He told us that the father was not over rich, owing to his young wife’s extravagance; that he was avaricious withal, and did not like to disburse their dowries, which, as fixed by law, must be in proportion to the father’s fortune, and was waiting till some one would take them off his hands without a dote. He spoke most enthusiastically of the beauty and accomplishments of
Emilia, the eldest, adding, that she had been confined for two years in the convent of St. A——. “Poverina,” he said, with a deep sigh, “she pines like a bird in a cage—ardently longs to escape from her prison-house,—pines with ennui, and wanders about the corridors like an unquiet spirit; she sees her young days glide on without an aim or purpose. She was made for love. Yesterday she was watering some flowers in her cell—she has nothing else to love but her flowers—‘Yes,’ said she, addressing them, ‘you are born to vegetate, but we thinking beings were made for action—not to be penned up in a corner, or set at a window to blow and
die.’ A miserable place is that convent of St. A——,” he added, “and if you had seen, as I have done, the poor pensionnaires shut up in that narrow, suffocating street, in the summer, (for it does not possess a garden,) and in the winter as now, shivering with cold, being allowed nothing to warm them but a few ashes, which they carry about in an earthen vase,—you would pity them.”

This little story deeply interested Shelley, and P—— proposed that the poet and myself should pay the captive a visit in the parloir.

The next day, accompanied by the priest, we came in sight of the gloomy, dark convent, whose ruinous and dilapidated condition told too plainly of confiscation and poverty. It was situate in an unfrequented street in the suburbs, not far from the walls. After passing through a gloomy portal, that led to a quadrangle, the area of which was crowded with crosses, memorials of old monastic times, we were soon in the presence of Emilia. The fair recluse reminded me (and
with her came the remembrance of Mephisto) of Margaret.
Time seemed to her
To crawl with shackled feet, and at her window
She stands, and watches the heavy clouds on clouds,
Passing in multitudes o’er the old town-walls.
And all the day, and half the night she sings,
“Oh, would I were a Little bird!” At times
She’s cheerful,—but the fit endures not long,
For she is mostly sad,—then she’ll shed tears,—
And after she has wept her sorrows out,
She is as quiet as a child.
Emilia was indeed lovely and interesting. Her profuse black hair, tied in the most simple knot, after the manner of a Greek Muse in the Florence gallery, displayed to its full height, her brow, fair as that of the marble of which I speak. She was also of about the same height as the antique. Her features possessed a rare faultlessness, and almost Grecian contour, the nose and forehead making a straight line,—a style of face so rare, that I remember
Bartolini’s telling Byron that he had scarcely an instance of such
in the numerous casts of busts which his studio contained. Her eyes had the sleepy voluptuousness, if not the colour of
Beatrice Cenci. They had indeed no definite colour, changing with the changing feeling, to dark or light, as the soul animated them. Her cheek was pale, too, as marble, owing to her confinement and want of air, or perhaps “to thought.” There was a lark in the parloir, that had lately been caught. “Poor prisoner,” said she, looking at it compassionately, “you will die of grief! How I pity thee! What must thou suffer, when thou hearest in the clouds, the songs of thy parent birds, or some flocks of thy kind on the wing, in search of other skies—of new fields—of new delights! But like me, thou wilt be forced to remain here always—to wear out thy miserable existence here. Why can I not release thee?”

Might not Shelley have taken from this pathetic lamentation, his—
Poor captive bird I who from thy narrow cage,
Pourest such music as might well assuage
The rugged hearts of those who prisoned thee,
Were they not deaf to thy sweet melody?
and the sequel,—
High spirit-winged heart! who dost for ever
Beat thine unfeeling bars with vain endeavour,
* * Till thy panting, wounded breast,
Stains with dear blood its unmaternal nest.

Such was the impression of the only visit I paid Emilia; but I saw her some weeks after, at the end of a Carnival, when she had obtained leave to visit Mrs. Shelley, companioned by the abbess. In spite of the contessina’s efforts to assume cheerfulness, one might see she was very, very sad; but she made no complaint; she had grown use to suffering. It had become her element.

Mrs. Shelley and Shelley frequently went to the convent, to endeavour by their sympathy to console the unhappy girl. Nor were they her only sympathizers: Lady Charlotte Bury’s daughters visited her also. Her condition was
much aggravated by there being no one within the convent whom she could make a companion or confidante, for her fellow-prisoners were of a low class, and such as a nobleman’s daughter could not associate with. Shelley felt deeply the fate of poor
Emilia, frequently wrote to her, and received from her in reply, bouquets of flowers, in return for one of which he sent her the following exquisite Madrigal.
Madonna! wherefore hast thou sent to me,
Sweet basil, and mignionette,
Embleming Love and Health, which never yet
In the same wreath might be?
Alas! and are they wet!
Is it with thy kisses or thy tears?
For never rain or dew
Such fragrance drew
From plant or flower—the very doubt endears
My sadness ever new—
The sighs I breathe—the tears I shed for you.

In his correspondence, he says, “But Emilia is not merely beautiful, she has cultivated her mind beyond what I have ever met with in
Italian women.” She was well-read in the poets of her land, was made for love, had the purest and most sublime conceptions of the masterpassion, and without having read the
Symposium of Plato, wrote the following Apostrophe to Love, which I have attempted to put into our runic tongue, but which is but a pale reflex of the original.


Amore, alma del mondo, amore sorgente di ogni buono, di ogni bello, che sarebbe l’Universo se ad esso mancasse la tua face creatrice? Un orribile deserto! allora, lungi da esso, anco la sola ombra è del buono e del bello, e d’ogni felicità. Di quell’ amore Io, parlo che impossessandose di tutto il nostro cuore, dell’ intiera volunta nostra, ci sublima, e e’inalza al di sopra di ogni altro individuo dell’ istessa nostra specie, e tutto energetico, tutto immenso, tutto puro, tutto divino, non ci ispira se non, se azioni magnanime, e digne de sequaci di questo soave e omnipotente nume. L’Amante no, non e confuso con gli uomini, non trascina l’anima sua, ma la inalza, la spinge, e la corona di luce, all’ sorriso della Divinita.

Esso doventa un essere sorprendente, e talvolta incomprehensibile. L’Universo, il vasto Universo, non
piu capace a racchiudere le sue idie, i suoi affeti, svanisce a suoi occhi. L’anima amante sdegna essere ristretto, niente può retinerla. Essa si slancia fuori del creato, e si crea nell’ infinito, un mondo, tutto per essa, diverso assai di questo oscuro e pauroso Baratro, assorta di continuo in un estace dolcissima, e veramente beata. Tutto cio che non ha rapporta all’ oggetto di sua tenerezza, tutto cio che non e quell’ oggetto adorato, comparisce un piccolo punto a suoi occhi. Ma dove e colui, suscettivole di tale amore? Dove? chi possa inspirarlo. Oh amore! Io non sono che amore. Io non posso esistere senza amare. La mia anima, il mia corpo, tutti i miei pensieri ed affetti, tutto cio che Io sono, si trasforma in un solo sentimento di amore—e questo sentimento durera in eterno. Senza amare, la vita mi divrebbe insupportabile, il mondo un inospito spaventoso e desolato deserto, sparso soltanto di spettri, si terribili alla mia vista che per fuggerli, io mi getterei nella misteriosa ma tranquilla magione di morte. Ah si, io preferesco le dolce pene dell amore, i continui palpiti che lo accompagnano, il timore di esso inseperable, ad una, per me stupida calma, ed a tutti i piaceri che posson recare tutti le altre passioni sodisfatte, tutti i bene (si senza amore puo essere alcun bene,) cheil mondo apprezza e de quali e avido.

Ma quanto tu seii profanato, O Amore! quali oltraggi fanno i figli della terra al tuo nome divino. Sovente agli affetti i pui illeciti, alle azzioni le piu vitu-
perose, al delitto (oh! attentato esecrando) all’ istesso delitto se da il nome di amore, si osa dire che egli lo ha cagionato. Ahi impi! sacrileghi! inaudita bestemmia! voi non che risenterlo, non comprendete neppure cio che la parola amore significhi. Amore vuol di vertu, amore ispira virtu, ed e la sorgente delle azioni le piu magneanime, della vera felicita. Amore é un fuoco, che brucciando non distrugge, una mista di piacere e di pena, una pena che porta piacere un’ Essenza eterna, spirituale, infinita, pura, celestiale. Questo si e il vero, il solo amore, quell’ sentimento che soltanto puo reimpire intieramente il vuoto dell’ anima, quell’ vuoto orribile peggior della morte. Ogni altro sentimento da questo dissimile, questo’ men puro, non merita il sacro nome di amore, e gli empi che lo profanoro, e lo denigrano, saranno punite da questo potentissimo nume, et meriteranno l’eterna perditione. Ove l’anima che e sensibile, che cerca amore, si trova una volta nell’ abysso della desolazione, e ove il cuore sia deserto di questo dolce fuoco, o trovi infidele l’oggetto di sua tenerezza, questo anima miserabile cerchi, (almeno io gli il consiglio) cerchi almeno, il suo refugio nella tomba, e si pascoli di esso, come dell’ ultima consolazione!


Love! soul of the world! Love, the source of all that is good, of all that is lovely! what would the
universe be, failing thy creative flame? A horrible desert. But far from this, it is the sole shadow of all goodness, of all loveliness, and of all felicity. Of that love I speak, that possessing itself of all our soul, of our entire will, sublimes and raises one, above every other individual of the same species; and all energetic, all pure, all divine, inspires none but actions that are magnanimous, and worthy of the followers of that sweet and omnipotent deity. The lover! no! he is not confounded with the herd of men, he does net degrade his soul, but elevates, drives on, and crowns it with light at the smile of the divinity. He becomes a supereminent being, and as such altogether incomprehensible. The universe—the vast universe, no longer capable of bounding his ideas, his affections, vanishes from before his sight. The soul of him who loves disdains restraint—nothing can restrain it. It lances itself out of the created, and creates in the infinite a world for itself, and for itself alone, how different from this obscure and fearful den!—is in the continued enjoyment of the sweetest extacy, is truly happy. All that has no relation to the object of its tenderness—all that is not that adored object, appears an insignificant point to his eyes. But where is he, susceptible of such love? Where? Who is capable of inspiring it? Oh love! I am all love. I cannot exist without love! My soul—my mortal frame—all my thoughts and affections, all that which I am, transfigures itself into
one sole sentiment of love, and that sentiment will last eternally. Without Love, life would become to me insupportable—the world an inhospitable and desolate desert, only haunted by spectres, so terrible to my sight, that to fly from them, I could cast myself into the mysterious but tranquil abode of death. Ah! yes! I prefer the sweet pains of love, the continual throbbings that accompany, the fear inseparable from it, to a to me stupid calm, and to all the pleasures that can supply the gratification of all other passions, all the goods (if without love there can be any good) which the world prizes and covets.

But how art thou profaned, O Love! what outrages do not the children of the earth commit in thy name divine! Often and often to affections the most illicit, to actions the most vile and degrading, to crime—ah! execrable iniquity! when even to crime itself they give the name of Love, and dare to tax it with the commission of crime! Alas! unheard-of blasphemy. Impious and sacrilegious that ye are, you not only feel it not, but comprehend not even what the word Love signifies. Love has no wish but for virtue—Love inspires virtue—Love is the source of actions the most magnanimous, of true felicity—Love is a fire that burns and destroys not, a mixture of pleasure and of pain a pain that brings pleasure, an essence eternal, spiritual, infinite, pure, celestial. This is the true, the only Love,—that sentiment which can alone entirely
fill up the void of the soul—that horrible void, worse than death. Every other sentiment dissimilar from this, than this less pure, deserves not the sacred name of Love; and they who impiously profane and defile it, shall be punished by that most mighty of Divinities, and shall merit eternal perdition. Where the soul that is feelingly alive seeks for love, and finds itself in the abyss of desolation, and where the heart is divested of this sweet fire, or finds faithless the object of its tenderness,—that miserable soul, let it seek (at least I so counsel it), let it seek, I say, its refuge in the tomb, and feed upon it as its last consolation.

This admirable piece of eloquence was perhaps the source of the inspiration of the Epipsychidion, a poem that combines the pathos of the “Vita Nuova” of Dante with the enthusiastic tenderness of Petrarch. The Epipsychidion is the apotheosis of love—Emilia a mere creature of his imagination, in whom he idealised Love in all its intensity of passion. His feeling towards the Psyche herself, was, as may be seen by Letter LX. of his correspondence, a purely Platonic one. He calls the Epipsychidion a mystery, and says,
“as to real flesh and blood, you know that I do not deal in those articles. Expect nothing human or earthly from me.” &c. His love for Emilia, if such it can in the general acceptation of the term be called, was of the kind described in the
Symposium by Socrates, who defines it “as a desire of generation in the Beautiful.” What is it but a comment on the words of Socrates—“When any one ascending from a correct system of love, begins to contemplate this supreme beauty, he already touches the consummation of his labour. For such as discipline themselves on this system, or are conducted by another beginning to ascend through those transitory objects that are beautiful, towards that which is Beauty itself, proceeding as on steps, from the love of that form to two, and from that of two to all those forms that are beautiful, and from beautiful forms to beautiful habits and institutions, and from institutions to beautiful doctrines, until from the meditation of many doctrines, they arrive at that which is nothing else than the doctrine of the Supreme Beauty itself
and in the contemplation of which at length they repose—no longer unworthily and meanly enslaving themselves to the attractions of one form in love, nor one subject of discipline and science,” &c. We thus better may comprehend a passage, which taken literally may lead to false constructions.
Love is like understanding, that grows bright
Gazing on many truths; ’tis like thy light,
Imagination, that from earth and sky,
And from the depths of human phantasy,
As from a thousand prisms and mirrors, fills
The universe with glorious beams, and kills
Error, the worm, with many a sunlike arrow
Of its reverberated lightnings. Narrow
The heart that loves, the brain that contemplates,
The life that wears, the spirit that creates
One object, and one form, and builds thereby
A sepulchre for its eternity.
And he goes on to say,—
Mind from its object differs most in this:
Evil from good—misery from happiness—
The baser from the nobler; the impure
And frail from what is clear and must endure.


In this doctrine he also developes his favourite doctrine of an antenatal life, of which I have already spoken at some length.
O too late
Beloved! O too soon adored by thee,
For in the fields of Immortality
My spirit should at first have worshipped thine,
A divine presence in a place divine;
Or should have moved beside it on this earth,
A shadow of that substance from its birth.

Coleridge was, as I have said, his precursor in such ideas, and a teacher of the Εν και ταν, the one and all—the all in one.
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting,—
The soul that rises with us, our life’s star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But amid clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.

In accordance with these ideas, Shelley thought that to pass from one state of existence
to another, was not death, but a new development of life; that we must love as we live, through all eternity; and that they who have not this persuasion, know nothing of life, nothing of love; that they who do not make the universe a fountain whence they may literally draw new life and love, know nothing of one or the other, and are not fated to know anything of it. The words are not his, but they shadow out what I heard him better express.

This poem, or rhapsody, incomprehensible to the general class of readers, from a defect in the common organ of perception, for the ideas of which it treats, fell dead from the press. I believe that not a copy of it was sold, not a single review noticed it—One of the many proofs that the public ear is deaf to the finest accords of the lyre.

But Emilia’s term of bondage was about to expire; she was affianced to a man whom she had never seen, and who was incapable of appreciating her talents or her virtues. She was about to be
removed from the scenes of her youth, the place of her birth, her father on whom she doted, and to be buried in the Mahremma. The day of her wedding was fixed, but a short respite took place for a reason mentioned in a letter of
Shelley to Mrs. Shelley (from Ravenna), where he says, “Have you heard anything of my poor Emilia? from whom I got a letter the day of my departure, saying that her marriage was deferred on account of the illness of her sposo!” and in another letter he expresses, what in the fragment of Ginevra, too well typified the fate of that unfortunate lady, the poor sacrificed Emilia,—his fears as to what she was destined to suffer. The sacrifice was at length completed, and she was soon as much forgotten as if she had never existed—though not by Shelley.

I am enabled to detail the consequences of this ill-starred union, to finish her biography. Some years after, P——, who had several times during his feverish existence, been reduced to abject poverty and distress, by his reckless
extravagance, his rage for travelling, though his journies never extended beyond Leghorn on the one hand, and Florence on the other, and where he used to indulge in all manner of excesses, and which brought about the same result, the sequestration of his ecclesiastical preferment, and imprisonment by his creditors till his debts were liquidated—made his appearance at the capital of Tuscany, where I then was. He found at Florence a wider field for his operations, and shewed himself a not less active and busy-bodied Diavolo incarnato. He did not forget our old acquaintanceship at
Shelley’s, and haunted me like an unquiet spirit. One day, when at my house, he said mysteriously,—“I will introduce you to an old friend—come with me.” The coachman was ordered to drive to a part of the city with which I was a stranger, and drew up at a country house in the suburbs. The villa, which had once boasted considerable pretensions, was in great disrepair. The court leading to it, overgrown with weeds, proved that it had been
for some years untenanted. An old woman led us through a number of long passages and rooms, many of the windows in which were broken, and let in the cold blasts from “the wind-swept Apennine;” and opening at length a door, ushered us into a chamber, where a small bed and a couple of chairs formed the whole furniture. The couch was covered with white gauze curtains, to exclude the gnats; behind them was lying a female form. She immediately recognised me—was probably prepared for my visit—and extended her thin hand to me in greeting. So changed that recumbent figure, that I could scarcely recognise a trace of the once beautiful
Emilia. Shelley’s evil augury had been fulfilled, she had found in her marriage all that he had predicted; for six years she led a life of purgatory, and had at length broken the chain, with the consent of her father; who had lent her this long disused and dilapidated Campagne. I might fill many a page by speaking of the tears she shed over the memory of
Shelley,—but enough—she did not long enjoy her freedom. Shortly after this interview, she was confined to her bed; the seeds of malaria, which had been sown in the Mahremma, combined with that all-irremidable malady, broken-heartedness, brought on a rapid consumption.
And so she pined, and so she died forlorn.
The old woman, who had been her nurse, made me a long narration of her last moments, as she wept bitterly. I wept too, when I thought of Shelley’s Psyche, and his