LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley
Character of 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
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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These Memorabilia would be incomplete, if I did not, in execution of my duty as a biographer, draw up, however imperfect, a summary of Shelley’s character, both as a man and a poet, for which I am partly indebted to some of his contemporaries. I will begin with the last.

Shelley’s poetry is invested with a dazzling and subtle radiance, which blinds the common observer with excess of light. Piercing through this, we discover that the characteristics of his poetic writings are an excessive sympathy with the whole universe, material and intellectual—an
ardent desire to benefit his species, and an impatience of the tyrannies and superstitions that hold them bound. In all his works there is a wonderfully sustained sensibility, and a language lofty and fit for it. His ear was of the finest, and his command of language unrivalled. His mastery of words was so complete, and his majestic and happy combinations so frequent, that the richness is often obscured by the profusion.” Again: “he has the art of using the stateliest words, and the most learned idioms, without incurring the charge of pedantry, so that passages of more splendid and sonorous writing, are not to be selected from any writer since the time of
Milton; and yet when he descends from his ideal world, and comes home to us in our humble bowers and our yearnings after love and affection, he attunes the most natural feelings to a style so proportionate, and withal to a modulation so truly musical, that there is nothing to surpass it in the lyrics of Beaumont and Fletcher.”

“His is the poetry of intellect, not that of the
Lakers—his theme is the high one of intellectual nature and lofty feeling, not of waggoners and idiot children. Like
Milton, he does not love to contemplate clowns and vices, but the loftiest forms of excellence which his fancy can paint. His morality has also reference to the virtues which he admires, and not to the vices of which he is either unconscious, or ashamed. He looks upwards with passionate veneration, and seldom downwards with self-control.”

“The view of external objects suggests ideas and reflections, as if the parting soul had awakened from a slumber, and saw, through a long vista, glimpses of a communion held with them in a distant past. It is like the first awaking of Adam, and the indolent expression of his emotions. Nature is like a musical instrument, whose tones again are keys to higher things in him,—the morning light causing the statue of Memnon to sound: the shadow of some unseen power of intellectual beauty, deriving much of its interest from its invisibility, floats,
though unseen, among his verses, resembling everything unreal and fantastic—the tones and harmonies of evening—the memory of music fled,
Or aught that for its grace may be
Dear, and yet dearer to the memory.

Hear what Gutzkow says of him,—“He had a soul like Ariel’s, and of the same character was his poetry—bright and sylph-like, it flutters like a golden fly over the face of the waters. His thoughts trembled as the flame of light trembles. He was like his own lark, and mounts higher and higher as he sings. He drew forth poetry from all things which lay in his way, that others pass by unheeded and unobserved. His transparent imagination was lit up by thought. Contemplation, reflection lent him the words that he called into his service. All that he wrote sprung from high and noble ideas. Above all others, he knew how to unlock and develope the nature and perfections of his poetry. He
could draw out a life from flowers, and even stones—from all that he saw, he discovered pictures for his poetry,—the loveliest similes stream from him in luxuriant fulness. In these his pictures, he could be as lovely as sublime. It is as though we saw the burning Africa of a
Humboldt, going over the ice of the Alps. His forms of life raised themselves so high, that we could not follow him: but as a balloon by degrees is lost to the eye, though we cannot see it, we know that it is there.” It has been objected by a Scotch philosopher, that Shelley had a passion for reforming the world. To this he replies,—“I acknowledge that I have. But it is a mistake to suppose that I dedicate my poetical compositions solely to the direct enforcement of reform, or that I consider them in any degree as containing a reasoned system of the theory of human life.

“My purpose has hitherto been simply to familiarize the highly refined imagination of the more select classes of poetical readers, with
beautiful idealisms of moral excellence, aware, that until the mind can love and admire, and trust and hope and endure, reasoned principles of moral conduct are seeds cast upon the highway of life, which the unconscious passenger tramples into dust, although they would bear the harvest of his happiness.”

It has been related by an able writer, from whom we have already quoted, that a man can only be understood by his peers, and his peers are few. The great man is also necessarily a reformer in some shape or other. Every reformer has to combat with existing prejudices and deep-rooted passions. To cut his own path, he must displace the rubbish that encumbers it. He is therefore in opposition to his fellow men, and attacks their interests. Blinded by prejudice, by passion, and by interest, they cannot see the excellence of him they oppose, and hence it is, as Heine has admirably said,—“Everywhere that a great soul gives utterance to his thoughts, there is Golgotha.”


It is not to his general system of Æsthetics to which I would extend my remarks, so much as to his theory of Intellectual Beauty and Universal Love, a theory which he interweaves in the woof of his poetry, and that indeed forms the ground-work of the web. Schiller’s Kantism was too cold and obscure—Shelley’s Platonism too mystic and ethereal; it admitted of no demonstration, was too profound and visionary to be reduced to reason, was only to be seized by the spirit, only a glimpse of it to be caught by contemplation and abstraction. Schiller wrote a long treatise, to make intelligible his philosophy, embodied in his Ideal and Actual, of which I subjoin a version—a poem which I never met with more than one German who pretended to explain. Shelley did not condescend to enlighten his readers. Having committed a grave error in penning his Notes to Queen Mab, he never ventured on a second experiment. His great master, Plato, searching after truth in the greatest heights and lowest depths, often but partially
seized it, being defeated by its very vastness; ambitious to reveal it to mankind, he hesitated not to exhibit it in the form, and with the completeness he best could. It was necessary therefore, that what he but half knew himself, should be imperfect and darkly stated, and dimly comprehended by others. For this reason, his writings are obscure. They will always be obscure, in spite of the labours of the commentators; for a commentary can make them plain only by substituting the reveries of the critic, for the inconsequent reasoning of the original. But Plato did not aim at darkness, any more than Shelley. If any one understood Plato, it was Shelley, and that which appears a wordy mist glowing in rainbow clouds, was to his own mind as clear and palpable as the sublimity of such contemplations was capable of being made. But how few can appreciate or comprehend him,—how inadequate and imperfect is all language, to express the subtilty and volatility of such conceptions of the Deity! To the generality of
readers, his Metaphysics are so overlaid and buried beneath a poetic phraseology, that the mind, while it is undoubtedly excited, is left in a pleasing and half bewildered state, with visions of beautiful divine truth floating before it, which it is a vain attempt to arrest and convert to reality.

The fault of his system as the ground-work of life, is, that it requires intellects on a par with his own to revive it.

Platonism, as a poetic medium, as I have already observed, and must be excused for here repeating—very early captivated Shelley. It contains nothing common-place—nothing that has been worn threadbare by others; indeed it was an untried field for poetry, a menstruum from which he hoped to work out pure ore, but the sediment of mortality was left in the crucible. It would in the palmy days of Greece, have pleased a sect—have delighted Plato himself; but even at the period when Athens was in her glory, and the spectators at the theatre could
enjoy the Chorusses of
Sophocles, it would, with all its high qualities, have had, if many admirers, no general popularity. But how speak of Deity and not be lost in the attempt to arrest the slightest shadow of that “Unseen Power,” that Spirit of Love? How can beings, the Infusoria of creation, and inhabiting a world which is in the immensity of space but a grain of sand on an horizonless sea-shore, lift their thoughts to the great Author and Ruler of the universe of suns and stars, much less venture, “plumed with strong desire,” to float above this dull earth, and clothe in words themselves too material,—
That light whose smile kindles the universe;
That beauty in which all things work and move;
That sustaining love,
Which through the web of being, blindly wove
By man and beast, and earth and air and sea,
Burns bright or dim, as each are mirrors of
The fire for which all thirst.

The very vagueness therefore, in which Shelley’s imagination revelled, and for which he is
wrongly blamed, is more the fault of language, than his own—ever the fate of the Finite when speaking of the Infinite. It was a sense of the impossibility, and what he deemed the sacrilege of attempts to materialize God, that made him substitute for the popular representation of a God in the form of man, a pervading principle,—not as
Mr. Moore calls it, “some abstract nonentity of love and beauty, as a substitute for Deity,” but as an attribute of Deity itself, resolving with Berkley, the whole of creation into spirit. For this reason he has been called an Atheist. It is true that in a moment of thoughtless and foolish levity, he in the Album of the Montanvert, wrote under his name a Greek line, which I have forgotten, ending with Αθεοστς, and which Southey, during his excursion in Switzerland,—he might have been better employed,—treasured up and reproached him with ten years after; but such evidence weighs nothing in comparison with the serious and recorded opinions laid down in his works, and to which momentary foolish freak
the purity of his life gave the lie. And speaking of what has been called Atheism,
Lord Bacon, no mean authority, says of it in this sense, adopting the words of Plutarch,—“Atheism leaves to man reason, philosophy, natural piety, laws, reputation, and everything that can serve to conduct him to virtue, but superstition destroys all these, and erects itself into a tyranny over the understandings of men.” I will also quote a passage from Leigh Hunt, on the subject. He says of Spinosa, Giardano Bruno, and other spirits of undoubted genius and integrity, who have been accused of the same opinion,—“that the Atheism of such men is but a vivid sense of the universe about them, trying to distinguish the mystery of its operations from the ordinary, and as they think pernicious Anthropomorphism, in which our egotism envelopes it;” and speaking of Cenci, he adds, “that the Atheism of such men is the only real Atheism; that is to say, it is the only real disbelief in any great and good thing, physical and
moral. For the same reason, there is more Atheism to all intents and purposes of virtuous and useful belief, in some bad religions, however devout, than in some supposed absence of religion; for the good they purpose to themselves does not rise above the level of the world they live in, except in power like a Roman emperor; so that there is nothing to them really outside the world at last. One act of kindness,” he adds, “one impulse of universal benevolence as recommended by the true spirit of Jesus, is more grand and godlike than all the degrading ideas of the Supreme Being, which fear and slavery have tried to build up to heaven. It is a greater going out of ourselves, a higher and wider resemblance to the all-embracing placidity of the universe.”

But whatever might be Shelley’s speculations on the Nature of the Deity, no one was more fully convinced—and how many who affirm and confess, can question their hearts and say the same?—of the existence of a future state. Byron
writing to
Mr. Moore, says, (I have not the passage before me, but I give it with sufficient fidelity,)—“You,” (meaning Moore, Murray, Hobhouse, &c.,) “were mistaken about Shelley; he does believe in an Immortality.” What does Shelley himself say, just before his death, in that sincerity of soul that shines through all his writings?—“Perhaps all discontent with the less, (to use a Platonic sophism,) supposes the sense of a just claim to the greater, and we admirers of Faust are in the right road to Paradise. Such a supposition is not more absurd, and is certainly less demoniacal, than that of Wordsworth, where he says,—
This earth,
Which is the world of all of us, and where
We find our happiness, or not at all.
As if after sixty years suffering here, we were to be roasted alive for sixty millions in Hell, or charitably annihilated.”

Shelley once said to me, that a man was never a Materialist long. That he was much in-
clined to the opinions of the French school of philosophy, will appear by his life at Oxford, as given by
Mr. Hogg; but he was soon dissatisfied (these are his own words,) with such a view of things—with such desolating doctrines, and I regret that Mrs. Shelley should have given publicity to that paper “On a Future State,” written, I doubt not, at a very early period, and before reason and judgment had tended to mature his mind, and led him to the study of Plato, and a firm belief in a blessed futurity. “The cold, ungenial, foggy atmosphere of northern metaphysics, was totally unsuited to the ardent temperature of his soul, that soon expanded in the warm, bright, vivifying climate of the southern and eastern philosophy.” A sufficient answer to the eloquent, but specious reasoning of Mirabeau, the Materialism of the “Système de la Nature,” so unanswerable to the mere matter-of-fact mind, is given in Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound. It is the best practical refutation of the maxim, that “there is nothing in the intellect, that was
not first in the senses,” and of all the sorrowful deductions therefrom; and when we read Shelley’s apocalyptic
Triumph of Life, and the Epipsychidion, we are almost inclined to Plato’s belief, that all knowledge is but a remembrance of a first existence, revealed to us by the concord of poetry, the original form of the soul.

“That fantastic spirit, which would bind all existence in the visionary chain of intellectual beauty, became in Shelley the centre in which his whole intellectual and sensitive powers were united for its formation and embellishment; and although in painting the romance, the conceits and diversities, the workings and meanderings of a heart penetrated with such an ideal passion, drawing less upon our individual sympathies than on those of social life, he may be liable to a charge of a certain mannerism; there is not the less evident, the delicacy, elasticity, and concentration of a gentle and noble mind, a deep scorn of all that is vulgar and base, and a lofty enthusiasm for liberty and the glory of his
country, for science and for letters; and finally, an insatiable longing after an eternal and incorruptible being, which opposed to his persuasion of the misery and nullity of this world, feeds and maintains that tension or struggle, that fire at the core, which is the inheritance of all privileged geniuses, the promoters of their age. Hence that restlessness coupled with the disdain of worldly things, that retirement and misanthropy joined to benevolence, and the yearning after love and affection, the pursuit of fame, and the intolerance of contemporary criticism, in conjunction with real and unaffected modesty; and in fine, that contrast of virtue and weakness, which is the inheritance of flesh, so requisite seemingly to level the more sublime capacity with its fellow-creatures, and to inculcate the religious bond of union which Christian charity ought to inspire.”

The author of these remarks, who I suspect to have been Carlisle, has thus admirably reconciled the seeming contrarities of Shelley’s character.
But in looking back through the long vista of his life,—long I may well say, crowded as it was with so many romantic, so many strange events,—I can call to mind no one of them in which his heart was to blame, though his head might have erred. Three events stand prominently above the rest: his expulsion from Oxford—his disappointment in his first love, and his first unfortunate marriage—a τριχνμια, or triple surf of ills; and from these flowed and ramified all the bitter streams that swelled his onward course of life. I shall not trace them back,—they, like
Dante’s inscription, are marked—“colore oscuro,” in these Memorabilia.

There remains little more to add.

I think it will appear to all unprejudiced minds, that the following portrait of Shelley, by no means the first I have drawn, though all would be imperfect, will not be either over-coloured or over-varnished.

It is to be lamented, as I have already done,
that no good resemblance of
Shelley exists. His features were small—the upper part of his face not strictly regular—the eyes unusually prominent, too much so for beauty. His mouth was moulded after the finest modelling of Greek art, and wore an habitual expression of benevolence, and when he smiled, his smile irradiated his whole countenance. His hands were thin, and expressed feeling to the fingers’ ends, being such as Vandyke would have loved to paint; his hair profuse, silken, and naturally curling, was at a very early period interspersed with grey. His frame was but a tenement for spirit, and in every gesture and lineament showed that he was a portion of that intellectual beauty, which he endeavoured to deify. He did not look so tall as he was, being nearly five feet eleven, for his shoulders were a little bent by study and ill-health, owing to his being near-sighted, and leaning over his books; and which increased the narrownesss of his chest. He had, however, though a delicate, a naturally good constitution, which he
had impaired at one period of his life by an excessive use of opium, and a Pythagorean diet, which greatly emaciated his system and weakened his digestion. He was twenty-nine when he died, and might have been taken for nineteen, for there was in him a spirit that seemed to defy time and suffering and misfortune. But if life is to be measured by events and activity, he had arrived at a very advanced age. He often said “that he had lived to a hundred,” and singularly enough, remarks in one of his books,—“The life of a man of talent who should die in his thirtieth year, is, with regard to his own feelings, longer than that of a miserable priest-ridden slave, who dreams out a century of dulness. The one has perpetually cultivated his mental faculties, has rendered himself master of his thoughts, can abstract and generalise amid the lethargy of every-day business; the other can slumber over the brightest moments of his being, and is unable to remember the happiest hour of his life. Perhaps the perishing ephemeron
enjoys a longer life than the tortoise.”
Schiller, in his “Apportionment of the World,” a poem taken in a ludicrous sense by Sir Edward Bulwer Litton, shews that this world was not made for a poet. If he has, however young, accomplished the task for which he was born,—if he has outworn his earthly clay, and entered into a new state of being here below, then is he ready and fit to depart; and it is best for him—better far than to endure the hollowness, the barrenness, the cold realities of every-day existence. To the poet one day is a thousand years; this little world, of which he himself and his fairy dreams are the sole inhabitants, circles round a sun of his own, brilliant beyond ordinary conceptions, and in an atmosphere to which that of our brightest day here, is but a dim and heavy mist. As he whirls with inconceivable rapidity through immeasurable space, spiritual mysteries are revealed to his view—myriads of spirit-peopled worlds, invisible to others, float far and near in this his own heaven. This Shelley means when he says,—
As from a centre dart thy spirit’s might,
Beyond all worlds—until its spacious might
Satiate the vast circumference—then shrink,
Even as a point within our day and night.

But what succeeds to this unnatural excitement? a prostration, an exhaustion, physical and psychical, like that of one after the paroxysm of a burning fever. It is like the withered bouquet on the bosom of beauty after a ball, or more poetically speaking, in the words of one of the German writers, may be compared, as he compares himself when descending to the realities of life, to a skylark, who when he touches the ground, “grovels in silence and clay.”

Shelley had a glorious imagination, but the fire of his genius burned not peacefully and with a steady flame. It was a glaring and irregular flame, for the branches that it fed it with, were not branches from the tree of life, but from another tree that grew in Paradise. What must he have felt who wrote “The Invocation to Misery?”


Well then might Shelley say that thirty years were a long life to a poet—thirty of such years as had summed up in the course of his.

Like Socrates, he united the gentleness of the lamb with the wisdom of the serpent—the playfulness of the boy with the profoundness of the philosopher.

In common with Bacon, whom he greatly admired and studied, he was endowed with a raciness of wit and a keen perception of the ridiculous, that shewed itself not in what we call humour, that produces a rude and boisterous mirth, but begat a smile of intellectual enjoyment, much more delightful and refined.

In argument—and he loved to indulge in that exercise, that wrestling of the mind—he was irresistible. His voice was low or loud, his utterance slow or hurried, corresponding with the variety in which his thoughts clothed the subject. Byron was so sensible of his inability to cope with him, that he always avoided coming to a trial of their strength in controversy, which he
generally cut off with a joke or pun; for
Shelley was what Byron could not be, a close, logical, and subtle reasoner, much of which he owed to his early habit of disputation at Oxford, and to his constant study of Plato, whose system of getting his adversary into admissions, and thus entangling him in his own web, he followed. He also owed to Plato the simplicity and lucidity of his style, which he used to call a model for prose. In no individual perhaps was the moral sense ever more completely developed than in Shelley,—in no being was the perception of right and wrong more acute.

His friend Mr. H. says, “The biographer,” to repeat the words in my preface, “who would take upon himself the pleasing and instructive, but delicate task of composing a faithful history of his whole life, will frequently be compelled to discuss the important question, whether his conduct at certain periods was altogether such as ought to be proposed for imitation; whether he was ever misled by a glowing temperament,
something of hastiness in choice, and a certain constitutional impatience; whether, like less gifted mortals, he ever shared in the common feature of mortality—repentance; and to what extent.” I think I have in the phases of his history, sufficiently discussed these questions, have shewn how grievously he repented his first hasty marriage—how severely he taxed himself for its melancholy termination—and how much it cankered and festered the wounds which his sensitive spirit received from the shafts of invidious critics and the persecution of the world.

If any human being was possessed of what I have heard Phrenologists say is so rarely found developed in the human head, consciensciousness, it was Shelley; by which is meant, not doing to others as one would be dealt by—not a mere strict regard to right and justice; but where no such claims existed, the exercise, to his own detriment, of an active and unwearied benevolence. He was unselfish, unworldly, disinterested in the highest degree—he despised the universal idol at
which all bow down—gold; he looked upon it as dross, and often and often suffered privations without regret, from his inability to resist appeals to his purse. Indeed he carried his beneficence so far, that
Mrs. Shelley says in other but stronger words, that he damaged by it his fortune, and frequently reduced himself to the greatest pecuniary straits. With a generous regard to the interests of his friends, he not only relieved their necessities, but looked to their future interests. He was, it is true, no very clear-sighted politician, for he says to his friend Mr. Gisborne,—“I wish your money out of the Funds; the middle course you speak of [what that was is unexplained] and which will probably take place, will amount, not to your losing all your income, or retaining all, but having the half taken away!” And again: “What gives me considerable anxiety, is the continuance of your property in the British Funds at this crisis of approaching ” What Shelley means regarding his own affairs is ambiguous. “The best thing we can do, is to
save money, and if things take a decided turn, which I am convinced they will at last, but not perhaps for two or three years, it will be time for me to assert my rights and preserve my annuity.”

All this was written in 1819 and 1820. But there is a passage in one of the last letters he ever wrote, which might have been penned at the present moment.—“England appears,” he says, “to be in a desperate condition—Ireland still worse; and no class of those who subsist on the public labour, will be persuaded that their claims on it must be diminished. But the government must content itself with less taxes, the landowner must submit to receive less rent, and the fund-holder a diminished interest, or they will get nothing;” and he adds,—“I see little public virtue, and foresee that the contest will be one of blood and gold!

The sincerity of Shelley’s speculative opinions was proved by the willingness with which he submitted unflinchingly to obloquy and reproach
in order to inculcate them. “Firmness and gentleness united in him without destroying each other,” and he would have undergone the martyrdom he depicts in
Laon and Cythna, rather than have renounced one tittle of his faith. He attributed “the vice and misery of mankind to the degradation of the many for the benefit of the few—to an unnatural state of society—to a general misgovernment in its rulers,—to the superstition and bigotry of a mercenary and insincere priesthood.” With a poet’s eye he foresaw a millennium, the perfection of the human race, when man would be happy, free, and majestical. Loving virtue for its own sake, and not from fear, he thought with Schiller, no other ties were necessary than the restraint imposed by a consciousness of right and wrong implanted in our natures, and could not, or would not see that in the present condition of the world, and in the default of education, such a system was fallacious. His tenets therefore should have been looked upon as those of Owen
of Lanark with us, of
St. Simon in France, of Paulus and Strauss in Germany, as the aspirations of the philanthropist; and the critic might have said with Byron,
“You talk Utopias,”
instead of calumniating the man, and attributing to his harmless speculations, (harmless from their being beyond the capacities of the Οιπολλοι) the desire of corrupting youth, which could with as little justice have been said of him, as it was untrue of

He was an advocate for the abolition of the punishment of death, and has left us a short treatise on that subject that is of great value; his principal argument is, the bad effect of public executions, the putting to torture for the amusement of those who may or may not have been injured, the criminal; and he contends that “as a measure of punishment strictly so considered, and as an exhibition, which by its known effects on the susceptibility of the sufferer
is intended to intimidate the spectators from incurring a similar liability, it is singularly inadequate, and confirms all the unsocial impulses of men;” and he adds, “that those nations among whom the penal code has been particularly mild, have been distinguished from all others by the rarity of crime, and that governments that derive their institutions from the existence of circumstances of barbarism and violence, with some exceptions, perhaps, are bloody in proportion as they are despotic, and form the manners of their subjects to a sympathy with their own spirit.”

Disheartened as he was by his constant failures, and the disappointment of his efforts for the amelioration of the social condition of the working classes, he did not despond or despair. There was an energy in him that rose with oppression, and his last as well as his first aspiration was for the good of his species.

Unsoured by the ingratitude of the world, he
carried into his solitude no misanthropy, against his persecutors he never breathed a word of resentment or hostility. His critics he despised not, rather he pitied, and said to one, “Grass may grow in wintry weather, as soon as hate in me.”

Suffering at times from tortures the most excruciating, from a complaint that would ultimately have proved fatal, during his worst spasms he never shewed himself peevish, or out of humour.
So good and great, beneficent and wise
On his high throne,
How meekly has he borne his faculties,
How finely shewn A model to the irritable race,
Of generous kindness, courtesy and love.

He was an enemy to all sensuality. The pleasures of the table, that form the summum bonum of the herd, were not his pleasures. His diet was that of a hermit, his drink water, and his principal and favourite food, bread. His
converse was as chaste as his morals—all grossness he abominated.

De Quincey on Gilfillan, says, that “of the darkest beings we are told they believe and tremble, but that Shelley believed and hated. Never was there a more unjust aspersion. He was of all men the most sincere, and nothing ever seduced him into falsehood or dissimulation. He disbelieved, and hated not—not Christ himself, or his doctrines, but Christianity as established in the world, i.e. its teachers. It is also asserted in that review, that when the subject of Christianity was started, Shelley’s total nature was altered and darkened, and transfiguration fell upon him; that he who was so gentle became savage, he that breathed by the very lungs of Christianity, that was so merciful, so full of tenderness and pity of humanity, and love and forgiveness, then raved and screamed like an idiot.” Such might have occurred immediately after his expulsion, when in Cumberland, and when stung to the quick by what he deemed his
cruel wrongs, and when writing the Notes to
Queen Mab, but when I saw him in 1820 and 1821, I can vouch for his betraying no midsummer madness—such exaggerated and frantic paroxysms of rage.

I cannot help thinking, not to speak of his want of religious education at home, that Shelley’s cruel expulsion by the teachers of that gospel which proclaims toleration, and forgiveness of others, produced in a great measure his scepticism, which became more inveterate by the decree of the Court of Chancery, which he calls a “priestly pest;” a decree which severed the dearest tie of humanity—made him childless; that the bitter and merciless review of his Revolt of Islam by a divine, and the persecution of his brethren, including Dr. Nott, who left no stone unturned to malign and vilify and blacken his character, hardened him still more in his unbelief; nor can it be denied, that he blindly attributed the auto da fés, the “Sicilian Vespers,” the “Massacre of St. Bartholemew,” the cruelties inflicted on the
Hugonots, not to mention the horrors committed by Catholics against Protestants, and Protestants against Catholics in our own country, under the name of Christianity,—to Christianity itself. Living for so many years in Italy, did not tend to change his creed. He says in his Preface to the
Cenci, that “in the mind of an Italian, the Catholic religion is adoration, faith, submission, penitence, blind adoration, not a rule for moral conduct, and has no necessary connection with any one virtue;” and adds,—“that intensely pervading the whole frame of society, it is, according to the temper of the mind it inhabits, a passion, a persuasion, an excuse, never a check;” on which Leigh Hunt remarks,—“that such religions, in furnishing men with excuses and absolution, do but behave with something like decent kindness, for they are bound to do what they can for the vices they produce;” and concludes with, “we can say it with gravity too,—Forgiveness will make its way somehow everywhere, and it is lucky that
it will do so. But it would be luckier if systems made less to forgive!”

To such a length did Shelley’s hostility to what he calls the popular religion carry him, that he said, “he had rather be damned with Plato and Lord Bacon, than saved with Paley and Malthus.”* But Shelley by no means stood alone among poets in his principles or infidelity. Milton was engaged with a party in the destruction of the Church and the Monarchy. Schiller introduced on the stage, as we exhibit the priests and incense of the Gods of Greece, the most sacred rite of the church. His æsthetic philosophy was anything but Christian. Göthe never made a mystery of his unbelief. Almost all the great thinkers of Germany are, with the last object of their idolatry, Pantheists. But it was allowed to the poets and painters of Greece and Rome, to dare anything, and shall we in the

* Errare, rehercle, malo cum Platone, quam cum istis sentire.—Cicero.

nineteenth century not be ashamed of intolerance? Is Milton’s Arianism, the Titanic language of his Satan, a reason for our not reading the
Paradise Lost? Are Schiller and Göthe less esteemed, are their works less popular, on account of their persuasions? Has there ever been a finger raised against them in their own or any other country? Are not Joan d’Arc, Marie Stuart, and Faust, still represented on the German stage? Has not the latter drama been translated repeatedly into English in spite of the daring Prologue in Heaven, and the mockery of all things sacred contained in that surprising effort of genius? And shall Shelley be less read because when a boy (what did Moore and Southey write in their youth?) he wrote Queen Mab? What was Byron? Are not Cain and Don Juan in every library? and shall we ostracise from ours, on account of passages which do not square with our own views, the noblest, the sublimest, and sweetest effusions of genius? Let us not stand alone among the nations, or be marked with the
finger of scorn by the Americans and Germans, for refusing our tribute to his genius.

“In my fathers house,” says our Saviour, “are many mansions,” which, though the commentators differ in the interpretation of the text, obviously means, that there are many quiet resting places in heaven, for those differing in opinion on religion, and there it may be hoped with confidence, that Shelley has found “an abode, where the Eternal are.” How sublime are his own words,—
Death is the veil which those who live, call life,
They sleep—and it is lifted.

In having thus summed up my own sentiments on Shelley, if there should be any one who thinks I have taken a too poetical view of his character, let him read, and inwardly digest the following passage of one of the most elegant of the American writers, and who has well studied the human heart. It is worthy of being inscribed in letters of gold.


“Let us tread lightly on the Poet’s grave! For my part I confess that I have not the heart to take him from the general crowd of erring, sinful men, and judge him harshly. The little I have seen of the world, and know of the history of mankind, teaches me to look upon the errors of others in sorrow, and not in anger. When I take the history of one poor heart that has sinned and suffered, and represent to myself the struggles and temptations it has passed, the brief pulsations of joy, the feverish inquietude of hope and fear, the tears of regret, the feebleness of purpose, the pressure of want, the desertion of friends, the scorn of a world that has little charity, the desolation of the soul’s sanctuary, and threatening voices within,—health gone, happiness gone, even hope that stays the longest with us, gone; I would fain leave the erring soul of my fellow man with Him from whose hands it came.”