LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley
Williams, Hunt, Byron
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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On quitting Shelley, I left him with less regret, from thinking that in introducing him to the Williams’s, they would form the charm of his solitary life, and it is a satisfaction to me to think that I conferred a mutual benefit on both. Williams and myself had hunted the tiger in another hemisphere, had been constant correspondents in India, and on my return home took a campagne together at Geneva, and revived a friendship such as I have never felt for any other individual. A more noble, unworldly being never existed than Williams. He had been educated at Eton, was originally in the navy, and afterwards entered the 8th Dragoons, and unlike
most officers, had highly cultivated his mind, and possessed considerable dramatic talent, and a deep insight into the workings of human nature. During the spring he had written a play, taken from the interweaving of two stories in
Boccaccio, and Shelley had assisted him in the work, and supplied him with an epithalamium for music, since incorrectly published, and which I give in its original form.

Night, with all thine eyes look down!
Darkness shed its holiest dew!
When ever smiled the inconstant moon
On a pair so true?
Hence, coy hour! and quench thy light,
Lest eyes see their own delight!
Hence, swift hour! and thy loved flight
Oft renew.
Oh joy! oh fear! what may be done
In the absence of the sun?
Come along!
The golden gates of sleep unbar!
When strength and beauty meet together,
Kindles their image like a star
In a sea of glassy weather.
Hence, coy hour! and quench thy light,
Let eyes see their own delight!
Hence, swift hour! and thy loved flight
Oft renew.
Oh joy! oh fear! what may be done
In the absence of the sun?
Come along!
Fairies! sprites! and angels keep her!
Holiest powers, permit no wrong!
And return, to wake the sleeper,
Dawn, ere it be long.
Hence, swift hour! and quench thy light,
Lest eyes see their own delight!
Hence, coy hour! and thy loved flight
Oft renew.
Boys and Girls.
Oh joy! oh fear! what will be done
In the absence of the sun?
Come along!

Williams (who was, by the way, a lineal descendant from one of Cromwell’s daughters) had, with his moderate wishes, what might be considered a sufficiency, but unhappily, a great part of his fortune was swallowed up in the bankruptcy of a house in Calcutta, where it was lodged. Another misfortune attended him, soon after taking up his abode in Pisa; he was seized with a pulmonary complaint, which he attributed to sleeping in a bed where a consumptive patient had died. The Italians, and still more the Spanish, consider the atmosphere of rooms to be infected by such patients, and the laws (though the regulations of the police are sometimes infringed, which did not occur in Keats’s case) strictly enjoin that all the furniture in the apartments of those who have died of the complaint, is to be destroyed. Williams certainly when he came to Pisa never showed any symptoms of phthisis, which soon took deep root in his constitution, and as appears by a letter of Shelley’s, where he says, “Williams must go on
with the Doccia,” excited great alarm in Shelley, who soon learnt to love him with the tenderest regard. Pisa was full of victims to this insidious disease, and I have often observed Shelley in our walks made deeply melancholy by the sight of a lovely and interesting girl, crawling along—
A dying lady, lean and pale,
Tottering forth,
and basking in the sun, like a half-animated butterfly escaped untimely from its shell, whose wings had no power to raise it,—those beautiful wings flapping impotently in the dust. Williams also (as Keats had been on board of the ship,) was deeply affected by the spectacle. He had also a great taste for drawing; his sketches were spirited and masterly; he could illustrate happily from the ideas of others, and took likenesses in general very striking, and it is to him that we are indebted for the only semblance of Shelley that exists. It was not a very happy miniature,
but I should conceive no one so difficult to pourtray, the expression of his countenance being ever flitting and varied,—now depressed and melancholy, now lit up like that of a spirit,—making him look one moment forty and the next eighteen. It is said that
Mr. Severn has made a portrait of Shelley from memory, as Count d’Orsay had done of Byron; but I have never seen the former, hoping it may be as valuable as the accomplished foreigner’s. Williams’s sketch has been, it strikes me, greatly altered for the worse in the engraving; the face is too full and oval, the nose too straight and regular,—the whole wanting in that fire which in moments of inspiration animated him. But to have arrested the smallest shadow of resemblance of that great genius is something.

The mutual delicacy of health of Shelley and Williams drew them closer to each other, and the similarity of their traits and pursuits served to rivet still more the tie of friendship. Williams soon learned to understand Shelley—to
appreciate him as a poet and a man—and Shelley found in him one who could sympathise with his sufferings, and to whom he could lay open his heart.
Mrs. Shelley, speaking of Williams, says, “that he was her husband’s favourite companion, that his love of adventure and manly exercise also corresponded with Shelley’s taste.” She calls him in another place, “the chosen and beloved sharer of his pleasures,—and alas! his fate.”

These manly exercises, to which she alludes, were practice with a pistol, and boating. Williams, from his early sea-life, was an excellent sailor, and knew all the mysteries of the craft, could cut out sails, make blocks, &c. The Arno has no pleasure-boats, and its shallowness rendered it difficult to get any that drew little water enough to float. They, however, overcame the difficulty, and constructed one, such as the huntsmen carry about with them in the Mahremma, something like a Welch coracle; and in this they ventured down to Leghorn, returning
to Pisa by the canal, when missing the direct cut, they got entangled among the weeds, and upset. This boat was a great amusement to them during their villagiatura this summer (1821).
Shelley fixed himself again at the baths of St. Julian, and Williams at Pagnano, four miles distant. I have heard Shelley often speak with rapture of the excursions they made together. The canal fed by the Serchio, of the clearest water, is so rapid, that they were obliged to tow the boat up against the current; but the swift descent, through green banks enamelled with flowers and overhung with trees, that mirrored themselves on its glassy surface, gave him a wonderful delight. He has left a record of these trips in a poem entitled “The Boat on the Serchio,” and calls Williams and himself, Melchior and Lionel.

The chain is loosed, the sails are spread,
The living breath is fresh behind,
As with dews and sunrise fed,
Comes the laughing morning wind.
The sails are full, the boat makes head
Against the Serchio’s torrent fierce,
Then flags with intermitting course,
And hangs upon the wave,
Which fervid from its mountain source,
Shallow, smooth, and strong doth come;
Swift as fire, tempestuously
It sweeps into the affrighted sea.
In morning’s smile its eddies coil,
Its billows sparkle, toss, and boil,
Torturing all its quiet light
Into columns pure and bright.

A boat was to Shelley, what a plaything is to a child. I have mentioned that he early acquired the taste when a boy, his father having one at Warnham pond, a lake of considerable extent, or rather two connected by a draw-bridge, which led to a pleasure-garden and boat-house. He was nineteen when he used to float paper flotillas at Oxford,—older when he made a sail of a ten-pound note on the Serpentine, and I have no doubt would, with any boy, at twenty-eight, have done the same. The water was his fatal element. He crossed the Channel to Calais in
an open boat, a rash experiment; when at school, the greatest pleasure he enjoyed was an excursion we made to Richmond from Brentford—a pleasure perhaps the more sweet, being a stolen one. He descended the Rhine on a sort of raft. He made a voyage in a wherry from Windsor to Crickdale; was nearly lost in coming from the Isle of Man; at Geneva, past days and nights on the lake: and now, reader, excuse this recapitulation, though imperfect,—behold him on the Serchio.

If there was anything in Thalaba that delighted him above the rest, it was the fairy boat that figures in that interesting tale. Shelley made a chaloupe enter into the scenery of most of his poems, from Queen Mab down to the Witch of Atlas. More beautiful passages cannot be found in any writer than those in which he treats of this subject. In Alastor, the boat is “a thing of life,” is part of the man, and we take a lively interest in its dangers.
A little shallop floating near the shore,
Caught the impatient wandering of his gaze.
It had been long abandoned, for its sides
Gaped wide with many a rift, and its frail joints
Swayed with the undulations of the tide.
A restless impulse urged him to embark,
And meet lone Death on the drear ocean’s waste,
For well he knew that mighty shadow loves
The slimy caverns of the populous deep.
* * * A whirlwind swept it on
With fierce gusts, and precipitating force,
Through the white ridges of the chafed sea.
The waves arose,—higher and higher still
Their fierce necks writhed beneath the tempest’s scourge,
Like serpents struggling in a vulture’s grasp.
* * *
Now pausing on the edge of the riven wave.
And we breathe again when we come to—
safely fled.”

The Revolt of Islam owes much of its charm to the boat of pearl in which Laon and Cythna made their voyage. I refer to the end of the poem, from the 32nd to the 41st stanza.


Alas! the subject is not yet exhausted.

This his second summer at the baths of St. Julian was perhaps one of the happiest Shelley ever spent abroad. The charm of Mrs. Williams’s society, and of their children (they had two), served also to heighten its agreeableness. She was an accomplished and elegant woman, not only a superior player on the harp and guitar, but had a sweet and cultivated voice. Shelley was particularly fond of music, and delighted in her simple airs, some of which she had brought with her, in memory, from the East. For her were composed the exquisite lines, “I arise from dreams of thee,” adapted to the celebrated Persian air sung by the Knautch girls, “Tazee be tazee no be no,” and the Arietto which has been admirably set by an English composer,—
The keen stars are twinkling!
And the moon rising brightly among them,
Dear Jane!
and that gem of genius, entitled “
With a Guitar;” in the Introduction to which, the names of Miranda and Ferdinand were meant to typify that lady and her husband—himself Ariel. Many other of the lyrical pieces written about this time, such as “The Magnetic Lady to her Patient,” “The Invitation,” “The Recollection,” “When the Lamp is shattered,”—were addressed to Mrs. Williams.

The sympathy of these gifted persons contributed much to exorcise from Shelley the demon of despondency, that often lay on him like a nightmare; and in them he found a refuge and shelter from the world that never ceased to be his foe. The cold, censorious, formal, conventional world, often puts interpretations the most unworthy on the friendship between two persons of different sexes; but a purer being than Mrs. Williams cannot exist. Not a breath of scandal could possibly attach to her fame. The verses addressed to her always passed through the hands of Williams himself, and who had too much con-
fidence in the virtue of one devotedly his, to harbour for a moment any jealousy of an attachment the most innocent and disinterested. Effusions such as these must not be interpreted literally. Should we allow ourselves to put wrong constructions on such outpourings of the soul, such Platonic aspirations, what are we to say for those of the
L. E. L.s, and Lady Emilias of the day! “By the intercourse with—the very touch of that which is beautiful, the poet brings forth and produces what he formerly conceived.” We must look upon such compositions as possessing little or nothing of the actual—as (like the Epipsychidion) mere idealisms,—as “exercises on amatory matters,” such as Diotima instructs Socrates to employ himself in, adding, that “Love, and everything else that desires anything, desires that which is absent, and beyond its reach,—that which it has not itself, that which it wants; such are things of which there are desire and love.” These counsels, Shelley, whose hand-
book was
Plato, constantly followed. As another specimen of this state of his mind, this yearning after a love that, alas! continued to elude his grasp, I might point out “The Zucca,” written at this very period, and—
“I loved.—O no! I mean not one of ye!
Or any earthly one; though ye are dear
As human heart to human heart may be,
I loved—I know not what—but this low sphere,
And all that it contains, contains not thee!
Thou whom seen nowhere, I feel everywhere,
Dim object of my soul’s idolatry.”
And in “
The Question,” where he dreams of having made a nosegay, he ends with—
I hastened to the spot whence I had come,
That I might there present it. Oh! to whom?

In August, leaving Mrs. Shelley at the Baths, Shelley, at the request of Lord Byron, travelled to Ravenna, there to meet and consult with him on the critical posture of his affairs. He had, as Shelley says, “formed a permanent sort of liaison with the Countess Guiccioli,”—who with
her father and brother, had made a hasty retreat from Romagna, and were then at Florence waiting for Lord Byron to join them. I say a hasty retreat, as applied to the fair countess; for her lord, the
Count Guiccioli, had devised measures for shutting her up in a convent, and which she narrowly escaped. Lord Byron’s situation at Ravenna was also far from a pleasant one. A contributor to the Westminster Review, among numerous other falsehoods, asserts that Lord Byron took no part in that abortive attempt at a revolution in the Papal territories. He says in his journal, “They mean to insurrect here, and are to honour me with a call thereupon. I shall not fall back;” and, “my life was not supposed to be particularly safe.” Confirmations of his words to me,—“Had it not been for the Pope’s minister, Cardinal Gonsalvo, perhaps the stiletto, had I not been openly assassinated, would have ended my days.” Many months after I had known him, in speaking of his love for Italy, and abhorrence of papal and
Austrian despotism, he pointed to some saddlebags lying on the floor of his room, and said, “There lies the firebrand. Those bags contain all the secrets of the conspiracy in Romagna. The names of—” there he stopped and turned the subject. His having these important documents in his possession, explains what Shelley says.—“The interest he took in the politics of Italy, and the actions he performed in consequence of it, are subjects not fit to be written.”

That Lord Byron should have resorted to Shelley in his difficulties, who says,—“It is destined that I should have some active part in everybody’s affairs whom I approach,” shews great confidence in his judgment, and reliance on his advice. And strange to say, that ill-judging as he always was in his own affairs, no one in those of others was more to be relied on. After canvassing the comparative merits and demerits, (not to mention Switzerland,) of Geneva, Lucca, Florence, Sienna, Prato, Pistoia and Pisa, the latter was eventually
fixed on. So much did the
Countess Guiccioli build on Shelley, and his influence with Lord Byron, founded on his often expressed appreciation of his worth, that she writes to him, “Signore.—La vostra bonta mi fa ardita di chiedervi un favore. Non lo accordate voi? Non partite da Ravenna senza milordo.” “Of course,” remarks Shelley, “being now by all the laws of knighthood, captive to a lady’s request, I shall not be at liberty on my parole, until Lord Byron is settled at Pisa.”

It would seem that Shelley’s peace of mind at Ravenna was troubled by scandal and malevolence. He says, “Lord Byron told me of a circumstance that shocks me exceedingly, because it exhibits a degree of desperate and wicked malice, for which I am at a loss to account. When I hear such things, my patience and my philosophy are put to a severe proof, whilst I refrain from seeking out some obscure hiding place, where the countenance of man may never meet me more.” Whatever this
dark charge might have been, I know not; but one thing is clear, that Lord Byron disbelieved its truth.

It was with this foul calumny festering in his soul, that he goes on to say to Mrs. Shelley,—“My great content would be to desert all human society—I would retire with you and our child, to a solitary isle in the sea,—would build a boat, and shut upon my retreat the flood-gates of the world. I would read no reviews, and talk with no authors. If I dare trust my imagination, it would tell me, that there are one or two chosen companions beside yourself whom I should desire. The other side of the alternative, for a medium ought not to be adopted, is to form ourselves a society of our own class, as much as possible in intellect or in feelings. Our roots never struck so deeply as at Pisa, and the transplanted tree flourishes not. The calumnies, the sources of which are deeper than we perceive, have ultimately for object the depriving us of the means of security
and subsistence. You will easily perceive the gradations by which calumny proceeds to pretext, pretext to persecution, and persecution to the ban of fire and water. It is for this, and not because this or that fool, or the whole universe of fools, curse and rail, that calumny is worth repeating or chastising.”

How appropriately might be inscribed on Shelley’s tomb, the pathetic Italian epitaph so common,—“Implora pace. Implora eterna quiete.

It was on his arrival at Pisa, where Mrs. Shelley had domiciled herself, that he first wrote to Leigh Hunt, with a proposal respecting the so-much-discussed “Liberal.” “He (Byron) purposes,” Shelley says, in a letter dated 26th of August, 1821, “that you should come and go shares with him and me in a periodical work, to be conducted here, in which each of the contracting parties shall publish all their original compositions, and share the profits. He proposed it to Moore, but for some reason he was never
brought to bear.” The reason, Mr. Moore gives, in the
Life of Byron, as appears by the following extract from a letter to the noble poet.

“I heard some days ago that Leigh Hunt was on his way to you with his family, and the idea seems to be, that you and Shelley and he are to conspire together with the Examiner. I cannot believe this, and deprecate such a plan with all my might. I tremble even for you, with such a bankrupt Co. as * * * *;” (the asterisks might be filled up with Shelley, Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt.) He calls them “an unholy alliance;” and adds, “recollect, the many buildings about St. Peter’s almost overtop it.”

In another letter, Moore says,—“I could not become a partner in this miscellaneous pot au feu, where the bad flavour of one ingredient is sure to taint all the rest.”

Shelley, to return to his letter, says,—“Nothing should induce me to join in the profits. I did not ask Lord Byron to assist me in sending a remittance for your journey, because there are
men, however excellent, from whom we would never receive an obligation in the worldly sense of the word, and I am as jealous for my friend as myself; but I suppose I shall at last make an impudent face, and ask
Horace Smith to add to the many obligations he has conferred on me. I know I need only ask.”

Of Horace Smith I have often heard Shelley speak in terms of unqualified regard and attachment; indeed we have but to refer to his letters and lines addressed to Mrs. Gisborne, as a proof how much he esteemed his friendship—shewn to Shelley on all occasions, in kind offices, not less than in the liberal assistance he never refused him in his pecuniary distresses and straits, brought about, not by his own extravagance, for no man was more economical in his domestic arrangements, or more moderate in his expences; but by his excessive generosity, a generosity to imprudence—a reckless expenditure of his income for others, as lamented by Mrs. Shelley in the strongest terms.


Shelley possessed the quality of conferring benefits with such delicacy, that those benefited could not feel the weight of the obligation; falsifying the proverb, that benefits are easier to forgive than injuries.

On the occasion of his friend Leigh Hunt’s leaving England, he, as proposed in the letter quoted, did apply to Horace Smith, who not only advanced the passage money for his friend and his family, but a very considerable sum for the payment of his debts; as much, I think Shelley told me, as £1400. The passage money was unhappily forfeited, though I know not from what cause, and Leigh Hunt’s friends, I have heard, raised a sufficient sum by a subscription to his poems, to enable him to execute his project; Shelley lamenting that he had not the means of making a second time the requisite advance for the voyage.

As to the controversy between Leigh Hunt and Lord Byron, that arose out of the Liberal, I shall not allude to it; and end this part of
the subject by quoting a letter from
Shelley, dated some months after.

My Dear Byron,—

“I enclose you a letter from Leigh Hunt, which annoys me on more than one account. You will observe the P.S., and you know me well enough to feel how painful the task is set me in commenting upon it. Hunt has urged me more than once to lend him this money. My answer consisted in sending him all I could spare, which I have now literally done. Your kindness in fitting up a part of your rooms for his accommodation, I sensibly feel, and willingly accepted from you on his part; but believe me, without the slightest intention of imposing, or, if I could help it, allowing to be imposed, any heavier task on your purse. As it has come to this, in spite of my exertions, I will not conceal from you the low ebb of my own money affairs, at the pre-
sent moment; that is, my utter incapacity of assisting Hunt further.

“I do not think poor Hunt’s promise to pay in a given time is worth much; but mine is less subject to uncertainty, and I should be happy to be responsible for any engagement he may have proposed to you. I am so much annoyed by this subject, that I hardly know what to write, and much less what to say; and I have need of all your indulgence in judging of both my feelings and expressions.

“Yours most faithfully and sincerely,
P. B. Shelley.”

I quote this letter, not contained in the collection of Shelley’s letters, published by Mrs. Shelley, in order to shew the extreme delicacy of feeling that reigns in it,—the active benevolence that overcame the repugnance with which he naturally sat down to pen such a letter. What must it not have cost him!

Change we the subject.