LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
[John Gibson Lockhart]
Prometheus Unbound.
Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine  Vol. 7  No. 42  (September 1820)  679-87.
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH




Whatever may be the difference of men’s opinions concerning the measure of Mr Shelley’s poetical power, there is one point in regard to which all must be agreed, and that is his Audacity. In the old days of the exulting genius of Greece, Æschylus dared two things which astonished all men, and which still astonish them—to exalt contemporary men into the personages of majestic tragedies—and to call down and embody into tragedy, without degradation, the elemental spirits of nature and the deeper essences of Divinity. We scarcely know whether to consider the Persians or the Prometheus Bound as the most extraordinary display of what has always been esteemed the most audacious spirit that ever expressed its workings in poetry. But what shall we say of the young English poet who has now attempted, not only a flight as high as the highest of Æschylus, but the very flight of that father of tragedy—who has dared once more to dramatise Prometheus—and, most wonderful of all, to dramatise the deliverance of Prometheus—which is known to have formed the subject of a lost tragedy of Æschylus no ways inferior in mystic elevation to that of the Δισμωτης.

Although a fragment of that perished master-piece be still extant in the Latin version of Attius—it is quite impossible to conjecture what were the personages introduced in the tragedy of Æschylus, or by what train of passions and events he was able to sustain himself on the height of that awful scene with which his surviving Prometheus terminates. It is impossible, however, after reading what is left of that famous trilogy,* to suspect that the Greek poet symbolized any thing whatever by the person of Prometheus, except the native strength of human intellect itself-—its strength of endurance above all others—its sublime power of patience. Strength and Force are the two agents who appear on this darkened theatre to bind the too benevolent Titan—Wit and Treachery, under the forms of Mercury and Oceanus, endeavour to prevail upon him to make himself free by giving up his dreadful secret;—but Strength and Force, and Wit and Treason, are all alike powerless to overcome the resolution of that suffering divinity, or to win from him any acknowledgment of the new tyrant of the skies. Such was this simple and sublime allegory in the hands of Æschylus. As to what had been the original purpose of the framers of the allegory, that is a very different question, and would carry us back into the most hidden places of the history of mythology. No one, however, who compares the
* There was another and an earlier play of Æschylus, Prometheus the Fire-Stealer, which is commonly supposed to have made part of the series; but the best critics, we think, are of opinion, that that was entirely a satirical piece.
680Prometheus Unbound.
mythological systems of different races and countries, can fail to observe the frequent occurrence of certain great leading Ideas and leading Symbolisations of ideas too—which Christians are taught to contemplate with a knowledge that is the knowledge of reverence. Such, among others, are unquestionably the ideas of an Incarnate Divinity suffering on account of mankind—conferring benefits on mankind at the expense of his own suffering;—the general idea of vicarious atonement itself—and the idea of the dignity of suffering as an exertion of intellectual might—all of which may be found, more or less obscurely shadowed forth, in the original Μνθος of Prometheus the Titan, the enemy of the successful rebel and usurper Jove. We might have also mentioned the idea of a deliverer, waited for patiently through ages of darkness, and at last arriving in the person of the child of Io—but, in truth, there is no pleasure, and would be little propriety, in seeking to explain all this at greater length, considering, what we cannot consider without deepest pain, the very different views which have been taken of the original allegory by
Mr Percy Bysshe Shelley.

It would be highly absurd to deny, that this gentleman has manifested very extraordinary powers of language and imagination in his treatment of the allegory, however grossly and miserably he may have tried to pervert its purpose and meaning. But of this more anon. In the meantime, what can be more deserving of reprobation than the course which he is allowing his intellect to take, and that too at the very time when he ought to be laying the foundations of a lasting and honourable name. There is no occasion for going round about the bush to hint what the poet himself has so unblushingly and sinfully blazoned forth in every part of his production. With him, it is quite evident that the Jupiter whose downfall has been predicted by Prometheus, means nothing more than Religion in general, that is, every human system of religious belief; and that, with the fall of this, he considers it perfectly necessary (as indeed we also believe, though with far different feelings) that every system of human government also should give way and perish. The patience of the contemplative spirit in Prometheus is to be followed by the daring of the active Demagorgon, at whose touch all “old thrones” are at once and for ever to be cast down into the dust. It appears too plainly, from the luscious pictures with which his play terminates, that Mr Shelly looks forward to an unusual relaxation of all moral rules— or rather, indeed, to the extinction of all moral feelings, except that of a certain mysterious indefinable kindliness, as the natural and necessary result of the overthrow of all civil government and religious belief. It appears, still more wonderfully, that he contemplates this state of things as the ideal summum bonum. In short, it is quite impossible that there should exist a more pestiferous mixture of blasphemy, sedition, and sensuality, than is visible in the whole structure and strain of this poem—which, nevertheless, and notwithstanding all the detestation its principles excite, must and will be considered by all that read it attentively, as abounding in poetical beauties of the highest order—as presenting many specimens not easily to be surpassed, of the moral sublime of eloquence—as overflowing wi th pathos, and most magnificent in description. Where can be found a spectacle more worthy of sorrow than such a man performing and glorying in the performance of such things? His evil ambition,—from all he has yet written, but most of all, from what he has last and best written, his Prometheus,—appears to be no other, than that of attaining the highest place among those poets,—enemies, not friends, of their species,—who, as a great and virtuous poet has well said (putting evil consequence close after evil cause).
“Profane the God-given strength, and mar the lofty line.”

We should hold ourselves very ill employed, however, were we to enter at any length into the reprehensible parts of this remarkable production. It is sufficient to shew, that we have not been misrepresenting the purpose of the poet’s mind, when we mention, that the whole tragedy ends with a mysterious sort of dance, and chorus of elemental spirits, and other indefinable beings, and that the spirit of the hour, one of the most singular of these choral personages, tells us:

I wandering went
Among the haunts and dwellings of mankind,
And first was disappointed not to see
Such mighty change as I had felt within
Prometheus Unbound. 681
Expressed in other things; but soon I looked,
And behold! thrones were kingless, and men walked
One with the other, even as spirits do, &c.


Thrones, altars, judgement-seats, and prisons; wherein,
And beside which, by wretched men were borne
Sceptres, tiaras, swords, and chains, and tomes
Of reasoned wrong, glozed on by ignorance,
Were like those monstrous and barbaric shapes,
The ghosts of a no more remembered fame,
Which, from their unworn obelisks, look forth
In triumph o’er the palaces and tombs
Of those who were their conquerors: mouldering round
Those imaged to the pride of kings and priests,
A dark yet mighty faith, a power as wide
As is the world it wasted, and are now
But an astonishment; even so the tools
And emblems of its last captivity,
Amid the dwellings of the peopled earth,
Stand, not o’erthrown, but unregarded now.
And those foul shapes, abhorred by god and man,
Which, under many a name and many a form
Strange, savage, ghastly, dark, and execrable,
Were Jupiter, the tyrant of the world;
And which the nations, panic-stricken, served
With blood, and hearts broken by long hope, and love
Dragged to his altars soiled and garlandless,
And slain among men’s unreclaiming tears,
Flattering the thing they feared, which fear was hate,
Frown, mouldering fast, o’er their abandoned shrines:
The painted veil, by those who were, called life,
Which mimicked, as with colours idly spread,
All men believed and hoped, is torn aside;
The loathsome mask has fallen, the man remains
Sceptreless, free, uncircumscribed, but man
Equal, unclassed, tribeless, and nationless,
Exempt from awe, worship, degree, the king
Over himself.

Last of all, and to complete the picture :—

And women, too, frank, beautiful, and kind
As the free heaven which rains fresh light and dew
On the wide earth, past; gentle radiant
forms, From custom’s evil taint exempt and pure;
Speaking the wisdom once they dared not think,
Looking emotions once they dared not feel,
And changed to all which once they dared not be,
Yet being now, made earth like heaven; nor pride,
Nor jealousy, nor envy, nor ill shame,
The bitterest of those drops of treasured gall,
Spoilt the sweet taste of the Nepenthe, Love!

It is delightful to turn from the audacious spleen and ill-veiled abomination of such passages as these, to those parts of the production, in which it is possible to separate the poet from the allegorist—where the modern is content to write in the spirit of the ancient—and one might almost fancy that we had recovered some of the lost sublimities of Æschylus. Such is the magnificent opening scene, which represents a ravine of icy rocks in the Indian Caucasus—Prometheus bound to the precipice—Panthea and Ione seated at his feet. The time is night; but, during the scene, morning slowly breaks upon the bleak and desolate majesty of the region.

Pro. Monarch of Gods and Dæmons, and all Spirits
But One, who throng those bright and rolling worlds
Which thou and I alone of living things
Behold with sleepless eyes! regard this Earth
Made multitudinous with thy slaves, whom thou
Requitest for knee-worship, prayer, and praise,
And toil, and hecatombs of broken hearts,
With fear and self-contempt and barren hope.
Whilst me, who am thy foe, eyeless in hate,
Hast thou made reign and triumph, to thy scorn,
O’er mine own misery and thy vain revenge.
Three thousand years of sleep-unsheltered hours,
And moments aye divided by keen pangs
Till they seemed years, torture and solitude,
Scorn and despair,—these are mine empire.
More glorious far than that which thou surveyest
From thine unenvied throne. O, Mighty God!
Almighty, had I deigned to share the shame
Of thine ill tyranny, and hung not here
Nailed to this wall of eagle-baffling mountain,
Black, wintry, dead, unmeasured; without herb,
Insect, or beast, or shape or sound of life.
Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, for ever!
No change, no pause, no hope! Yet I endure.
I ask the Earth, have not the mountains felt?
I ask yon Heaven, the all-beholding Sun,
Has it not seen? The Sea, in storm or calm,
Heaven’s ever-changing Shadow, spread below,
Have its deaf waves not heard my agony?
Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, for ever!
The crawling glaciers pierce me with the spears
Of their moon-freezing crystals, the bright chains
Eat with their burning cold into my bones.
Heaven’s winged hound, polluting from thy lips
682 Prometheus Unbound.
His beak in poison not his own, tears up
My heart; and shapeless sights come wandering by,
The ghastly people of the realm of dream,
Mocking me: and the Earthquake-fiends are charged
To wrench the rivets from my quivering wounds
When the rocks split and close again behind:
While from their loud abysses howling throng
The genii of the storm, urging the rage
Of whirlwind, and afflict me with keen hail.
And yet to me welcome is day and night.
Whether one breaks the hoar frost of the morn,
Or starry, dim, and slow, the other climbs
The leaden-coloured east; for then they lead
The wingless, crawling hours, one among whom
—As some dark Priest hails the reluctant victim—
Shall dreg the cruel King, to kiss the blood
From these pale feet, which then might trample thee
If they disdained not such a prostrate slave.
Disdain! Ah no! I pity thee. What ruin
Will hunt thee undefended thro’ the wide Heaven!
How will thy soul, cloven to its depth with terror,
Gape like a hell within! I speak in grief,
Not exultation, for I hate no more,
As then ere misery made me wise. The curse
Once breathed on thee I would recall. Ye Mountains,
Whose many-voiced Echoes, through the mist
Of cataracts, flung the thunder of that spell!
Ye icy Springs, stagnant with wrinkling frost,
Which vibrated to hear me, and then crept
Shuddering thro’ India! Thou serenest Air,
Thro’ which the Sun walks burning without beams!
And ye swift Whirlwinds, who on poised wings
Hung mute and moveless o’er yon hushed abyss,
As thunder, louder than your own, made rock
The orbed world! If then my words had power,
Though I am changed so that aught evil wish
Is dead within; although no memory be
Of what is hate, let them not lose it now!
What was that curse? for ye all heard me speak.
First Voice: from the mountains.
Thrice three hundred thousand years
O’er the Earthquake’s couch we stood:
Oft, as men convulsed with fears,
We trembled in our multitude.
Second Voice: from the springs.
Thunder-bolts had parched our water,
We had been stained with bitter blood,
And had run mute, ’mid shrieks of slaughter,
Thro’ a city and a solitude.
Third Voice: from the air.
I had clothed, since Earth uprose,
Its wastes in colours not their own,
And oft had my serene repose
Been cloven by many a rending groan.
Fourth Voice: from the whirlwinds.
We had soared beneath these mountains
Unresting ages; nor had thunder.
Nor yon volcano’s flaming fountains,
Nor any power above or under
Ever made us mute with wonder.
First Voice.
But never bowed our snowy crest
As at the voice of thine unrest.
Second Voice.
Never such a sound before
To the Indian waves we bore.
A pilot asleep on the howling sea
Leaped up from the deck in agony,
And heard, and cried, “Ah, woe is me!”
And died as mad as the wild waves be.
Third Voice.
By such dread words from earth to Heaven
My still realm was never riven:
When its wound was closed, there stood
Darkness o’er the day like blood.
Fourth Voice.
And we shrank back: for dreams of ruin
To frozen caves our flight pursuing
Made us keep silence—thus—and thus—
Though silence is a hell to us.
The Earth. The tongueless Caverns of the craggy hills
Cried, ‘Misery!’ then; the hollow Heaven replied,
‘Misery!’ And the Ocean’s purple waves,
Climbing the land, howled to the lashing winds,
And the pale nations heard it, ‘Misery!’
Pro. I heard a sound of voices: not the voice
Which I gave forth. Mother, thy sons and thou
Scorn him, without whose all-enduring will
Beneath the fierce omnipotence of Jove,
Both they and thou had vanished, like thin mist
Unrolled on the morning wind. Know ye not me,
The Titan? He who made his agony
The barrier to your else all-conquering foe?
Oh, rock-embosomed lawns, and snow-fed streams,
Now seen athwart frore vapours, deep below.
Thro’ whose o’ershadowing woods I wandered once
With Asia, drinking life from her loved eyes;
Why scorns the spirit which informs ye, now
To commune with me? me alone, who check’d,
As one who checks a fiend-drawn charioteer.
The falsehood and the force of him who reigns
Prometheus Unbound. 683
Supreme, and with the groans of pining slaves
Fills your dim glens and liquid wildernesses:
Why answer ye not, still? Brethren!
The Earth. They dare not.
Pro. Who dares? for I would hear that curse again.
Ha, what an awful whisper rises up!
’Tis scarce like sound: it tingles thro’ the frame
As lightning tingles, hovering ere it strike.
Speak, Spirit! from thine inorganic voice
I only know that thou art moving near
And love. How cursed I him?
The Earth. How canst thou hear
Who knowest not the language of the dead?
Pro. Thou art a living spirit; speak as they.
The Earth. I dare not speak like life, lest Heaven’s fell King
Should hear, and link me to some wheel of pain
More torturing than the one whereon I roll.
Subtle thou art and good, and though the Gods
Hear not this voice, yet thou art more than God
Being wise and kind: earnestly hearken now.
Pro. Obscurely thro’ my brain, like shadows dim,
Sweep awful thoughts, rapid and thick. I feel
Faint, like one mingled in entwining love;
Yet ’tis not pleasure.
The Earth. No, thou canst not hear:
Thou art immortal, and this tongue is known
Only to those who die.
Pro. And what art thou,
O, melancholy Voice?
The Earth. I am the Earth,
Thy mother; she within whose stony veins,
To the last fibre of the loftiest tree
Whose thin leaves trembled in the frozen air,
Joy ran, as blood within a living frame,
When thou didst from her bosom, like a cloud
Of glory, arise, a spirit of keen joy!
And at thy voice her pining sons uplifted
Their prostrate brows from the polluting dust,
And our almighty Tyrant with fierce dread
Grew pale, until his thunder chained thee here.
Then, see those million worlds which burn and roll
Around us: their inhabitants beheld
My sphered light wane in wide Heaven; the sea
Was lifted by strange tempest, and new fire
From earthquake-rifted mountains of bright snow
Shook its portentous hair beneath Heaven’s frown;
Lightning and Inundation vexed the plains;
Blue thistles bloomed in cities; foodless toads
Within voluptuous chambers panting crawled;
When Plague had fallen on man, and beast, and worm,
And Famine; and black blight on herb and tree;
And in the corn, and vines, and meadow-grass,
Teemed ineradicable poisonous weeds
Draining their growth, for my wan breast was dry
With grief; and the thin air, my breath, was stained
With the contagion of a mother’s hate
Breathed on her child’s destroyer; aye, I heard
Thy curse, the which, if thou rememberest not,
Yet my innumerable seas and streams,
Mountains, and caves, and winds, and yon wide air,
And the inarticulate people of the dead.
Preserve, a treasured spell. We meditate
In secret joy, and hope those dreadful words,
But dare not speak them.
Pro. Venerable mother!
All else who live and suffer take from thee
Some comfort; flowers, and fruits, and happy sounds.
And love, though fleeting; these may not be mine.
But mine own words, I pray, deny me not.
The Earth. They shall be told. Ere Babylon was dust,
The Magus Zoroaster, my dead child,
Met his own image walking in the garden.
That apparition, sole of men, he saw.
For know there are two worlds of life and death:
One that which thou beholdest; but the other
Is underneath the grave, where do inhabit
The shadows of all forms that think and live
Till death unite them and they part no more;
Dreams and the light imaginings of men,
And all that faith creates or love desires,
Terrible, strange, sublime and beauteous
There thou art, and does hang, a writhing shade,
’Mid whirlwind-peopled mountains; all the gods
Are there, and all the powers of nameless worlds,
Vast, sceptred phantoms; heroes, men, and beasts;
And Demogorgon, a tremendous gloom;
And he, the supreme Tyrant, on his throne
Of burning gold. Son, one of these shall utter
The curse which all remember.

Or the following beautiful chorus, which has all the soft and tender gracefulness of Euripides, and breathes, at the same time, the very spirit of one of the grandest odes of Pindar.

semichorus i. of spirits.
The path thro’ which that lovely twain
Have past, by cedar, pine, and yew,
And each dark tree that ever grew,
Is curtained out from Heaven’s wide blue;
684 Prometheus Unbound.
Nor sun, not moon, nor wind nor rain,
Can pierce its interwoven bowers,
Nor aught, save where some cloud of dew,
Drifted along the earth-creeping breeze,
Between the trunks of the hoar trees.
Hangs each a pearl in the pale flowers
Of the green laurel, blown anew;
And bends, and then fades silently.
One frail and fair anemone:
Or when some star of many a one
That climbs and wanders thro’ steep night,
Has found the cleft thro’ which alone
Beams fall from high those depths upon
Ere it is borne away, away,
By the swift Heavens that cannot stay,
It scatters drops of golden light,
Like lines of rain that ne’er unite:
And the gloom divine is all around;
And underneath is the mossy ground.
semichorus ii.
There the voluptuous nightingales,
Are awake thro’ all the broad noon-day.
When one with bliss or sadness fails,
And thro’ the windless ivy-boughs.
Sick with sweet love, droops dying away
On its mate’s music-panting bosom;
Another from the swinging blossom.
Watching to catch the languid close
Of the last strain, then lifts on high
The wings of the weak melody,
’Till some new strain of feeling bear
The song, and all the woods are mute;
When there is heard thro’ the dim air
The rush of wings, and rising there
Like many a lake-surrounding flute.
Sounds overflow the listener’s brain
So sweet, that joy is almost pain.

We could easily select from the Prometheus Unbound, many pages of as fine poetry as this; but we are sure our readers will be better pleased with a few specimens of Mr Shelly’s style, in his miscellaneous pieces, several of which are comprised in the volume. The following is the commencement of a magnificent “vision of the sea.”

’Tis the terror of tempest. The rags of the sail
Are flickering in ribbons within the fierce gale:
From the stark night of vapours the dim rain is driven,
And when lightning is loosed, like a deluge from heaven,
She sees the black trunks of the waterspouts spin,
And bend, as it heaven was raining in,
Which they seem’d to sustain with their terrible mass
As if ocean had sank from beneath them: they pass
To their graves in the deep with an earthquake of sound,
And the waves and the thunders made silent around
Leave the wind to ha echo. The vessel, now toss’d
Through the low-trailing rack of the tempest, is lost
In the skirts of the thunder-cloud: now down the sweep
Of the wind-cloven wave to the chasm of the deep
It sinks, and the walls of the watery vale
Whose depths of dread calm are unmoved by the gale,
Dim mirrors of ruin hang gleaming about;
While the surf, like a chaos of stars, like s rout
Of death-flames, like whirlpools of fire flowing iron
With splendour and terror the black ship environ,
Or like sulphur-flakes hurl’d from a mine of pale fire
In fountains spout o’er it. In many a spire
The pyramid-billows with white points of brine
In the cope of the lightning inconstantly shine,
As piercing the sky from the floor of the sea.
The great ship seems splitting! it cracks as a tree,
While an earthquake is splintering its root, ere the blast
Of the whirlwind that stripped it of branches has past.
The intense thunder-balls which are raining from heaven
Have shatter’d its mast, and it stands black and riven.
The chinks suck destruction. The heavy dead hulk
On the living sea rolls an inanimate bulk,
Like a corpse on the day which is hung’ring to fold
Its corruption around it. Meanwhile, from the hold,
One deck is burst up from the waters below.
And it splits like the ice when the thaw-breezes blow
O’er the lakes of the desart! Who sit on the other?
Is that all the crew that lie burying each other.
Like the dead in a breach, round the foremast? Are those
Twin tygers, who burst, when the waters arose,
In the agony of terror, their chains in the bold;
(What now makes them tame, it what then made them bold;)
Who crouch, side by side, and have driven, like a crank,
The deep grip of their claws through the vibrating plank.
Are these all? Nine weeks the tall vessel had lain
On the windless expanse of the watery plain.
Where the death-darting sun cast no shadow at noon,
And there seem’d to be fire in the beams of the moon,
Prometheus Unbound. 685
Till a lead-colour’d fog gather’d up from the deep
Whose breath was quick pestilence; then, the cold sleep
Crept, like blight through the ears of a thick field of corn,
O’er the populous vessel. And even and morn.
With their hammock for coffins the seamen aghast
Like dead men the dead limbs of their comrades cast
Down the deep, which closed on them above and around.
And the sharks and the dog-fish their grave-clothes unbound.
And were glutted like Jews with this manna rain’d down
From God on their wilderness.

All are dead except a woman and a child; nothing can be more exquisite than that picture.

At the helm sits a woman more fair
Than heaven, when, unbinding its star-braided hair,
It sinks with the sun on the earth and the sea.
She clasps a bright child on her upgather’d knee,
It laughs at the lightning, it mocks the mixed thunder
Of the air and the sea, with desire and with wonder
It is beckoning the tygers to rise and come near,
It would play with those eyes where the radiance of fear
Is outshining the meteors; its bosom beats high.
The heart-fire of pleasure has kindled its eye;
Whilst its mother’s is lustreless. “Smile not, my child,”
But sleep deeply and sweetly, and so be beguiled
Of the pang that awaits us, whatever that be.
So dreadful, since thou must divide it with me!

There is an “Ode to the West-wind,” another “to a Sky-lark,“ and several smaller pieces, all of them abounding in richest melody of versification, and great tenderness of feeling. But the most affecting of all is “The sensitive plant,” which is the history of a beautiful garden, that after brightening and blossoming under the eye of its lovely young mistress, shares in the calamity of her fate, and dies because she is no more there to tend its beauties. It begins thus:

A Sensitive Plant in a garden grew,
And the young winds fed it with silver dew,
And it opened its fan-like leaves to the light,
And closed them beneath the kisses of night.
And the Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt every where;
And each flower and herb on Earth’s dark breast
Rose from the dreams of its wintry rest
But none ever trembled and panted with bliss
In the garden, the field, or the wilderness,
Like a doe in the noon-tide with love’s sweet want,
As the companionless Sensitive Plant
The snow-drop, and then the violet,
Arose from the ground with warm rain wet,
And their breath was mixed with fresh odour, sent
From the turf, like the voice and the instrument.
Then the pied wind-flowers and the tulip tall,
And narcissi, the fairest among them all,
Who gaze on their eyes in the stream’s recess,
Till they die of their own dear loveliness;
And the Naiad-like lily of the vale,
Whom youth makes so fair and passion so pale,
That the li^ht of its tremulous bells is seen.
Through their pavilions of tender green;
And the hyacinth purple, and white, and blue,
Which flung from its bells a sweet peal anew
Of music so delicate, soft, and intense,
It was felt like an odour within the sense;
And the rose like a nymph to the bath addrest,
Which unveiled the depth of her glowing breast,
Till, fold after fold, to the fainting air
The soul of her beauty and love lay bare:
And the wand-like lily, which lifted up,
As a Maniad, its moonlight-coloured cup,
Till the fiery star, which is its eye,
Gazed through clear dew on the tender sky;
And the jessamine faint, and the sweet tube-rose,
The sweetest flower for scent that blows;
And all rare blossoms from every clime
Grew in that garden in perfect prime.

Then for the sad reverse—take the morning of the funeral of the young lady:
* * * The Sensitive Plant
Felt the sound of the funeral chaunt,
And the steps of the bearers, heavy and slow,
And the sobs of the mourners deep and low;
The weary sound and the heavy breath,
And the silent motions of passing death,
And the smell, cold, oppressive, and dank,
Sent through the pores of the coffin plank;
The dark grass, and the flowers among the grass
Were bright with tears as the crowd did pass;
From their sighs the wind caught a mournful tone,
And sate in the pines, and gave groan for groan.
The garden, once fair, became cold and foul,
Like the corpse of her who had been its soul,
Which at first was lively as if in sleep,
Then slowly changed, till it grew a heap
To make men tremble who never weep.
686Prometheus Unbound.
Swift summer into the autumn flowed,
And frost in the mist of the morning rode,
Though the noonday sun looked clear and bright,
Mocking the spoil of the secret night.
The rose leaves, like flakes of crimsons now,
Paved the turf and the moss below.
The lilies were drooping, and white, and wan,
Like the head and the skin of a dying man.
And Indian plants, of scent and hue
The sweetest that ever were fed on dew,
Leaf after leaf, day after day,
Were massed into the common clay.
And the leaves, brown, yellow, and grey, and red,
And white with the whiteness of what is dead,
Like troops of ghosts on the dry wind past;
Their whistling noise made the birds aghast.
And the gusty winds waked the winged seeds,
Out of their birthplace of ugly weeds,
Till they clung round many a sweet flower’s stem,
Which rotted into the earth with them.
The water-blooms under the rivulet
Fell from the stalks on which they were set;
And the eddies drove them here and there
As the winds did those of the upper air.
Then the rain came down, and the broken stalks,
Were bent and tangled across the walks;
And the leafless net-work of parasite bowers
Massed into ruin; and all sweet flowers.
These are passages which we do not scruple to place upon a level with the very happiest productions of the greatest contemporaries of
Mr Shelley.

We cannot conclude without saying a word or two in regard to an accusation which we have lately seen brought against ourselves in some one of the London Magazines; we forget which at this moment. We are pretty sure we know who the author of that most false accusation is—of which more hereafter. He has the audacious insolence to say, that we praise Mr Shelley, although we dislike his principles, just because we know that he is not in a situation of life to be in any danger of suffering pecuniary inconvenience from being run down by critics; and, vice versa, abuse Hunt, Keats, and Hazlitt, and so forth, because we know that they are poor men; a fouler imputation could not be thrown on any writer than this creature has dared to throw on us; nor a more utterly false one; we repeat the word again—than this is when thrown upon us.

We have no personal acquaintance with any of these men, and no personal feelings in regard to any one of them, good or bad. We never even saw any one of their faces. As for Mr Keats, we are informed that he is in a very bad state of health, and that his friends attribute a great deal of it to the pain he has suffered from the critical castigation his Endymion drew down on him in this magazine. If it be so, we are most heartily sorry for it, and have no hesitation in saying, that had we suspected that young author, of being so delicately nerved, we should have administered our reproof in a much more lenient shape and style. The truth is, we from the beginning saw marks of feeling and power in Mr Keats’ verses, which made us think it very likely, he might become a real poet of England, provided he could be persuaded to give up all the tricks of Cockneyism, and forswear for ever the thin potations of Mr Leigh Hunt. We, therefore, rated him as roundly as we decently could do, for the flagrant affectations of those early productions of his. In the last volume he has published, we find more beauties than in the former, both of language and of thought, but we are sorry to say, we find abundance of the same absurd affectations also, and superficial conceits, which first displeased us in his writings;— and which we are again very sorry to say, must in our opinion, if persisted in, utterly and entirely prevent Mr Keats from ever taking his place among the pure and classical poets of his mother tongue. It is quite ridiculous to see how the vanity of these Cockneys makes them overrate their own importance, even in the eyes of us, that have always expressed such plain unvarnished contempt for them, and who do feel for them all, a contempt too calm and profound, to admit of any admixture of any thing like anger or personal spleen. We should just as soon think of being wroth with vermin, independently of their coming into our apartment, as we should of having any feelings at all about any of these people, other than what are excited by seeing them in the shape of authors. Many of them, considered in any other character than that of authors, are, we have no doubt, entitled to be considered as very worthy people in their
Prometheus Unbound.687
own way. Mr Hunt is said to be a very amiable man in his own sphere, and we believe him to be so willingly. Mr Keats we have often heard spoken of in terms of great kindness, and we have no doubt his manners and feelings are calculated to make his friends love him. But what has all this to do with our opinion of their poetry? What, in the name of wonder, does it concern us, whether these men sit among themselves, with mild or with sulky faces, eating their mutton steaks, and drinking their porter at Highgate, Hampstead, or Lisson Green? What is there that should prevent us, or any other person, that happens not to have been educated in the University of Little Britain, from expressing a simple, undisguised, and impartial opinion, concerning the merits or demerits of men that we never saw, nor thought of for one moment, otherwise than as in their capacity of authors? What should hinder us from saying, since we think so, that Mr Leigh Hunt is a clever wrongheaded man, whose vanities have got inwoven so deeply into him, that he has no chance of ever writing one line of classical English, or thinking one genuine English thought, either about poetry or politics? What is the spell that must seal our lips, from uttering an opinion equally plain and perspicuous concerning Mr John Keats, viz. that nature possibly meant him to be a much better poet than Mr Leigh Hunt ever could have been, but that, if he persists in imitating the faults of that writer, he must be contented to share his fate, and be like him forgotten? Last of all, what should forbid us to announce our opinion, that
Mr Shelley, as a man of genius, is not merely superior, either to Mr Hunt, or to Mr Keats, but altogether out of their sphere, and totally incapable of ever being brought into the most distant comparison with either of them. It is very possible, that Mr Shelley himself might not be inclined to place himself so high above these men as we do, but that is his affair, not ours. We are afraid that he shares, (at least with one of them) in an abominable system of belief, concerning Man and the World, the sympathy arising out of which common belief, may pro-bably sway more than it ought to do on both sides. But the truth of the matter is this, and it is impossible to conceal it were we willing to do so, that Mr Shelley is destined to leave a great name behind him, and that we, as lovers of true genius, are most anxious that this name should ultimately be pure as well as great.

As for the principles and purposes of Mr Shelley’s poetry, since we must again recur to that dark part of the subject, we think they are on the whole, more undisguisedly pernicious in this volume, than even in his Revolt of Islam. There is an Ode to Liberty at the end of the volume, which contains passages of the most splendid beauty, but which, in point of meaning, is just as wicked as any thing that ever reached the world under the name of Mr Hunt himself. It is not difficult to fill up the blank which has been left by the prudent bookseller, in one of the stanzas beginning:
O that the free would stamp the impious name,
Of * * * * into the dust! Or write it there
So that this blot upon the page of fame,
Were as a serpent’s path, which the light air
Erases, &c., &c.
but the next speaks still more plainly,
“O that the Wise from their bright minds would kindle
Such lamps within the dome of this wide world,
That the pale name of priest might shrink and dwindle
Into the hell from which it first was hurled!”

This is exactly a versification of the foulest sentence that ever issued from the lips of Voltaire. Let us hope that Percy Bysshe Shelley is not destined to leave behind him, like that great genius, a name for ever detestable to the truly free and the truly wise. He talks in his preface about Milton, as a “Republican,” and a “bold inquirer into Morals and religion.” Could any thing make us despise Mr Shelley’s understanding, it would be such an instance of voluntary blindness as this! Let us hope, that ere long a lamp of genuine truth may be kindled within his “bright mind;” and that he may walk in its light the path of the true demigods of English genius, having, like them, learned to “fear God and honour the king.”