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[Horace Smith]
A Graybeard’s Gossip. No. VIII.
New Monthly Magazine  Vol. 81  (October 1847)  227-40.
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Forsan et hæc olim meminisse juvabit.

James and Horace Smith—Dinner at Sir Humphrey Davy’s—A Comedy hissed by its Author—A Farce repeated after its signal Condemnation—Percy Bysshe Shelley—His Life—Writings—Death.

As every thing is now assigned to some mysterious sympathy, I may presume that some Adelphian association has guided my pen from the Hunt brothers to the two Smiths. These gentlemen, when first they
228A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.
mingled in the Sydenham festivities, had not written the fortunate “
Rejected Addresses;” but they had commenced their literary career by contributing their “Imitations of Horace” to the Monthly Mirror. Nor had the elder brother then begun to write and sing the comic songs which, in addition to his fascinating qualities as a companion, and his distinguished personal appearance, subsequently made him so great a favourite in the circles of fashion. His contributions of many years, to various periodicals, were collected and published by his brother, in 1840. Besides these fugitive pieces, he wrote three of the Entertainments for Mr. Mathews’sAt Home;” and continued to enliven the world by occasional epigrams and jeux d’esprit, up to the time of his death, in December, 1839, when I followed his remains, as I had done those of poor John Scott, to their final resting-place in the vaults of Saint Martin’s church.

Horace Smith, devoting himself more exclusively to literature, became a writer of novels, and as he took leave of the public in the preface to “Love and Mesmerism,” published in 1845, announcing it as his last work of fiction, it was fully expected, in accordance with established usage, that another would have speedily made its appearance. Such, however, has not hitherto been the case, nor have I heard that he meditates any violation of his promise. As I can reckon more than fifty volumes in prose and verse which may claim him as author, besides others which he has edited, he was probably sincere in exclaiming with his Roman namesake, “Ohe, jam satis est;” nor is it impossible that advancing years and diminished powers may have warned him against repeating the self-delusion of the Archbishop of Grenada. If I mistake not, however, I can still occasionally trace his pen in the pages of the New Monthly Magazine, to which, I believe, he has been a contributor from its first establishment in 1821.

In accordance with the anecdotical and gossiping character of these notices, I shall record such notabilia touching the two brothers, as still linger in my memory. At our earlier Sydenham gatherings they used to recite a dialogue written by themselves, a farrago of mere nonsense, abounding in solecisms and absurdities, yet bearing throughout such a close approximation to a rational and argumentative discourse, as might easily deceive a careless or obtuse listener. Fully had they obeyed the mandate in Shakspeare—“Speak what terrible language you will; though you understand it not yourselves, no matter. Chough’s language, gabble enough and good enough.” As it was most gravely delivered, the interlocutors appearing to be deeply interested, and even at times to become highly excited; and as we know, moreover, that “True no-meaning puzzles more than wit,” it became really difficult to discover that the whole was a piece of solemn Tomfoolery. Hill’s habitual guests, who were much too sharp-witted to be themselves entrapped, were only the more willing, by their serious looks, to assist in hoaxing others, an object which I once saw them accomplish to their heart’s content. A merchant who had lately come to the village, and who possessed more money than wit, having listened very attentively to this gallimaufry, and being asked his opinion of it, looked very wise, and then pronounced this sapient judgment.

“Why, to confess the truth, there were two or three things that I did not fully comprehend, but I give my implicit assent to the greater portion of the propositions, while I find the whole very interesting, and beautifully written.”

A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance. 229

A general shout of laughter attended the success of the joke, and utterly bewildered the bamboozled merchant, who seemed to think that he had been invited to meet a party of lunatics. If there be any truth in the saying, that “Great wits to madness often are allied,” he was not, perhaps, very widely mistaken.

Soon after the appearance of the “Rejected Addresses,” the authors were invited to meet a large dinner-party at the house of Sir Humphrey and Lady Davy. During a momentary silence, a deaf old lady, who had not caught any of the names, called out to the hostess, from the further end of the table,

Lady Davy! I’m told the writers of the ‘Rejected Addresses’ have just brought out a new work called ‘Horace in London,’ which is uncommonly stupid.”

To drown this ill-timed escapade, and at the same time to make a cover for the parties compromised, the company immediately began to talk very loudly and merrily, just as the French, during the late war, would sometimes fire a feu de joie to conceal a defeat; while the hostess, leaning across to the elder brother, exclaimed,

“Poor old lady! I hope you’ll excuse her. I have no doubt she was told that the work in question was uncommonly clever, not stupid. But her ears are always playing at cross purposes.”

“Yes, yes, I understand it all,” was the reply. “She hears upon the same principle as the Irish echo, which if you shout, ‘How d’ye do, Pat?’ replies, ‘Indeed, I’m mighty bad.’ And so is our ‘Horace in London,’—mighty bad indeed. Your friend’s informant was quite correct in saying it is uncommonly stupid; but there’s nothing new in the remark, for we ourselves have always maintained the same opinion, and I’m glad to find we have got the public with us.”

The following anecdote I am enabled to state on the authority of one of the parties concerned. In the year 1813, Horace Smith wrote a comedy in five acts, entitled, “First Impressions; or, Trade in the West,” the authorship of which he had carefully concealed from all but his friend Barron Field, at whose chambers in the Temple he had agreed to dine on the night of the first representation, that they might proceed to the theatre together. One other person was present, a Mr. Langsdorff, a young German, attached to the Bavarian or some German embassy, in whose presence the friends took good care not to betray their special reasons for drinking success to the new play: after which ceremony they proceeded all three to Drury Lane, and took their places next to each other in the pit. Anxious as he must naturally have been for the fate of his first dramatic attempt, the author, deeming himself as safe in his incognito as Gyges in his brazen ring, suppressed, nevertheless, every remark or emotion that might have excited suspicion in his neighbour.

All went on smoothly until the delivery of a claptrap speech by one of the actors, to the effect that the money raised in England for a single charity, often exceeded the revenues of a whole German principality. “Vot is dat?” whispered Langsdorff to the author; “does he loff at de Jairmans? den I sall damn his blay.” Whereupon, and in spite of the eager deprecations of Field, he set up a low hiss, which presently awakened sympathising though not very alarming echoes in various parts of the house. Every play-goer knows that a sound of this sort, like a snow-ball, vires acquirit eundo, and that even an individual goose seldom fails to obtain
230A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.
consonant responses from a more or less numerous flock. His first hostile attempt produced no great effect, but the patriotic and unpacified German, renewing the experiment on every reappearance of a certain character, that proved unpalatable to a portion of the audience, succeeded at length in establishing a decided opposition. The unfortunate author, sitting upon thorns, but endeavouring to look particularly comfortable, had sought to avoid suspicion, when the fate of the comedy seemed doubtful, by venturing now and then on a gentle sibillation, delivered sotto voce, more in sorrow than in anger, and with the natural tenderness of a father correcting his own child. But as the clamour became louder, and the failure of the play appeared more certain, his anxiety to escape detection was pushed to such a nervous excess, that he hissed totis viribus, and even commenced a vociferous cry of “Off! off!” A change, however, presently came over the spirit of the house: the objectionable character had disappeared, two or three scenes in succession had won manifest favour, and when the author, still more excited by some fresh but very partial signs of disapprobation, would have renewed the cry, which Langsdorff was ever ready to commence, it was put down by still louder and more clamorous exclamations of “Silence! turn them out! turn them out!” Peremptory and angry as was the mandate, it was most gratefully obeyed by the playwright: even his German neighbour was at length compelled to hold his tongue; the piece was given out for repetition without a dissentient voice; it was acted twenty nights successively; and though it possesses but little merit, for I have lately reperused it, it may claim the distinction of being the first instance, since the days of the
Countess of Macclesfield and Savage, where the condemnation of the offspring has been eagerly sought by its own parent.

On equally good authority I can relate another theatrical anecdote, applicable to the same writer, but which did not terminate quite so pleasantly. He was about to bring out a farce, the great success of which was so confidently predicted by the performers during the rehearsals, and more especially by his friend Tom Dibdin, himself an experienced dramatist, that the author, in an unlucky hour, consented to the insertion of a paragraph in the Morning Chronicle, assigning to him the paternity of the forthcoming piece, which was entitled “The Absent Apothecary.” That he might witness his anticipated triumph in comfort, without being seen, Mr. Raymond gave him admission to his own private box, which adjoined the corner of the two-shilling gallery, where the playwright took his seat, presently to find that the foretold glory was like Johnny Gilpin’s “luckless boast, for which he paid full dear.” A furious contest arose between the supporters and the assailants of the new piece, in a momentary lull of which he had the pleasure of hearing a savage-looking fellow in the gallery, close to his elbow, exclaim to a friend of the same stamp, “I say, Jack, if I could get hold of the precious ass that wrote this rubbish, I’m blessed if I wouldn’t take and chuck him right over!” Not having the least wish to be thrown overboard by the gallery gods, like his great ancestor Vulcan (for I believe all the Smiths lay claim to this genealogical descent) the author quietly left the box, and stole down stairs, verily believing that if he were discovered, he would be torn to pieces by the dissentients, so furiously had they become excited by the struggle for victory. On reaching the outside of the theatre, and finding himself shrouded in friendly darkness
A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.231
(there were no gas-lights in those days), he felt as if he had just saved his life, and was hastening away in the pleasant conviction of his escape, when an irrepressible anxiety to learn the final fate of his bantling, drew his steps backwards to the stage-door. Nobody being near it, he crept in unobserved, and stealing to the rear of the building, where a solitary lamp just served to make the darkness visible, stationed himself beneath it, listening to the loud conflict that agitated the invisible audience. While thus occupied, two scene-shifters approached his retreat, and recognising him, for they had frequently seen him at the rehearsals, one said to the other, in a pitying and patronising tone, “Tell you what, mate; I shouldn’t mind betting a pot of porter that this here farce looks up a’ter all.” So far from being consoled by the opinion of these discriminating critics, the author felt so completely humiliated by their commiseration, that he again left the theatre, and betook himself to the coffee-room of the Hummums, where his
brother had appointed to meet him, and communicate the decision of the audience. Soon did the herald appear, but with such a sinister and flushed expression,
That Priam found his tale ere he his tongue.
The farce had been most unequivocally condemned!

Well might it have been thought that the author’s mortification was bitter and deep enough to have ended here; but no such thing. Next morning, as he was threading his way through unfrequented streets, for fear of encountering any of his acquaintance, his eyes glanced upon a huge play-bill enlivening a dead wall, before which he stood transfixed, for it announced a second performance of “The Absent Apothecary.” There it glared at him; its huge red letters, frightfully legible, appearing to grow upon his vision, as he rubbed his eyes and looked again and again. Though the spectacle was scarcely less hateful than if it had been the head of Medusa, it neither transfixed nor petrified him, but rather winged his feet, as he ran to Golden-square, the residence of the stage-manager, whom he luckily found at home.

“Surely, sir, this must be some dreadful mistake,” was his ejaculation, as soon as he recovered breath enough for speech.

“No, indeed, my good friend—no mistake whatever—all right, all right.”

“All right! I thought my unfortunate farce was unequivocally condemned last night?”

“So it was. With all my experience, I have seldom seen a hostile opinion so very decidedly and generally expressed.”

“In the name of Heaven, then, why have you announced it for repetition?”

“On that very account: for the public will be so indignant at seeing it brought forward again, that they will come by hundreds to confirm their sentence—there will be a famous uproar as soon as it begins—I shall then go forward, as manager, and pledge myself to its withdrawal and by this means, you see, we shall be sure of a bumper house.”

“And so, for your bumper house, by which I don’t get a farthing, I am to undergo a second martyrdom!”

The manager gave a shrug of the shoulders, not less significant than Burleigh’s celebrated shake of the head. It was a silent, humeral quota-
232A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.
tion of
Dr. Johnson’s well-known ejaculation, “Don’t tell me of Garrick’s feelings—Punch’s feelings!”

The manager’s victim took his departure, vowing that he would never again attempt to write for the stage—and he has kept his word.

“Strike, but hear!” said the ancient orator, when his angry opponent, substituting violence for argument, threatened to smite him, and such are the preliminary words we would address to the reader should he lift up his hand in condemnation when apprised that he is about to read a vindicatory notice of Percy Bysshe Shelley,* who has perchance never been presented to his imagination otherwise than as
A bold bad man, who scrupled not to name
Gorgon, the prince of darkness and deep night,
At which Cocytus quakes, and Styx is put to flight.
In the dark ages of the present century religious and political bigots baited him with a coalesced cry of horror and execration, stigmatising him with every term of vulgar and scurrilous vituperation, from “a monster” to the somewhat incompatible one of “a worm;” and finally damning him with the great irrevocable curse of Anathema Maranatha! Under this blatant ban his very name became a bye-word and an opprobrium; under a decree of the
lord chancellor, which pronounced him to have forfeited the most sacred rights of nature, his beloved children were torn from his guardianship; under a social excommunication more cruel than was ever inflicted by Papal tyranny, he was driven from his native land to be prematurely snatched, by a fatal accident, from the fellow creatures whom he loved so dearly, even to the last, though they had repaid his affectionate devotion even from the first, with slander, proscription, and outrage. To win candour from others we must evince it ourselves. Let it therefore frankly be confessed that this singular being, infinitely the most extraordinary character that my long life has known, was in religion a conscientious sceptic; in politics a republican; a condemner of some of our social institutions and conventional morality; always, however, avoiding taunt and ridicule or any unfair mode of warfare in his discussions; always propounding his opinions, some of which are admitted to have been highly objectionable, with a temperance, a solemnity, and a boldness, that showed his own true Christianity of spirit, his deep sense of the responsibility he was incurring, as well as his philosophic readiness to encounter martyrdom in the assertion of those doctrines which, after long, patient, and profound inquiry, he firmly believed conducive to the welfare and the boundless elevation of his species. And now, ingenuous reader, if you will verify this epithet and accompany me in a cursory sketch of Shelley’s life and writings, and of the motives by which both were governed—for if had motives can aggravate offence, good ones may certainly extenuate it,—I think you will agree that the ruthless, the unparalleled animosity with which he was pursued, not for any misdeed, but for a calm expression of

* Since this article was written a “Life of Shelley” has appeared by his friend Captain Medwin. It could not possibly have fallen into more competent hands. His name alone gives assurance that the work will be executed in a kindly and enlightened spirit.
A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.233
opinions, however wrong and mischievous they might be deemed, is infinitely more discreditable to the victimisers than to their victim.

A few preliminary remarks may perhaps enable us to form a more dispassionate judgment upon the subject. Can any one assign a satisfactory reason why England, which modestly deems itself the most enlightened nation in the world, should be so much behind all other countries, ancient or modern, in religious toleration? We boast of our personal liberty; even in cases of committal to gaol for high treason and felony, we have our Habeas Corpus, which entitles us to public trial or emancipation; but where is our Habeas Mentem which gives thought a right to be delivered from the prison of the body that it may openly and safely come into court to defend itself? Alas! if it be not orthodox, it has no such privilege. The propounder of sceptical theories may indeed be brought into court, not to be afforded an opportunity of defending them, but to be told, as decided by the judges in the case of Curl, that—“Religion is part of the common law, and therefore whatever is an offence against that is an offence against the common law,”—a decision which subjects unorthodox transgressors to severe and ignominious punishments. A better discretion has lately checked such state prosecutions, but private inquisitors eagerly adopting what the public ones have given up, and betaking themselves to the best substitute they can find for the extinguished fires of Smithfield, subject the free-thinker to a social tyranny not less atrocious, by bespattering him with the foulest calumnies, and gibbeting him as a monster who deserves the execration of the whole indignant world. Strange inconsistency! Unbelievers are punishable by law, yet we elect Jews to assist in making our laws. Strange inconsistency again! The law declares that if a mother conceal the birth of her body she is a malefactor; if she strangle it she is a felon: yet this same law wields its pains and penalties for the express purpose of concealing and strangling the offspring of the mind. Our law, both written and social, is a system of mental infanticide. One portion therefore of our English world are fanatics and persecutors, and the remainder are obliged to be hypocrites to avoid being victims. Shelley acted upon the conviction that the awakening intellect of the age is cowed by the hereditary superstition of the age: that the strong are gagged by the weak, and that if we wish to escape from this worse than Egyptian bondage, if we desire to win a Magna Charta for thought, if we could break asunder the chains which, fettering the diviner part of our nature, lower us to the level of the brutes, we must at all hazards dare to assert ourselves. Even for the sake of the bigots themselves he thought it well that we should do so, for as morality never becomes so thoroughly corrupt as when united with superstition, the unresisted tyranny of zealots might again hurry them into the ruthless excesses of the barbarous ages.

It has been said that the heart of every man contains a chained devil, but the malice and fury of the fanatic’s devil is the most diabolical of all. Nor is the Reformed Church more reformed, in point of toleration, than any of its adversaries. When Servetus was burnt, all the Protestant churches offered thanks to Calvin, and the church of Geneva, for burning him. “Even in their ashes live their wonted fires;” and, in the spirit of real Christianity, which is love to all, all theological enthusiasts should endeavour to beware of their own hearts. If there be any one truth which
234A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.
the perusal of the Scriptures should inculcate, it is the duty of universal brotherhood and toleration. If there be any one point in which all sects agree, it is in the feeling of mutual hatred, and the practice of intolerance.

Mark the contrast afforded by the ancient nations, whose most despotic governments rarely interfered with the freedom of religious thought. Among the Jews, the Sadducees, rejecting the traditionary doctrines of the Scribes, which constituted a large portion of the established religion, taught that man ought to serve God out of pure love, not from the hope of reward or fear of punishment; and, consequently, maintained that there was no future state of rewards and punishments. Notwithstanding the multiplicity of typical deities adapted to the comprehension, or rather addressed to the senses, of the million, the philosophers of Greece evidently believed in one God and one truth; that truth, whatever form it might assume, being sanctified in the intention, which made all varieties of sincere worship equally acceptable to the Supreme Being. The dramatists, despising while they tolerated the objects of vulgar homage, were always opposed in heart to the popular divinities; Euripides, in particular, seizes every opportunity of indulging an innuendo against the gods; and how Aristophanes delighted to ridicule them must be well known to every classical reader. Convinced that genuine piety was manifested in the heart and the intention, even although the Deity might not come within their knowledge, the Athenians erected an altar “To the unknown God.”

So totally free were the ancient Romans from any fanatical proselytism, or bigotry and intolerance, that they incorporated with their own the religion of all the nations they subdued; until it might almost he said that the conquerors became converts to the conquered. Their authors, writing under the most despotic emperors, who were also chief priests, might profess themselves religious free-thinkers, without fear of the state inquisition, of spiritual tyranny, or even of social persecution. Hear how Seneca, in his tragedy of the “Troas,” demolishes the whole national mythology at one fell swoop.

Post mortem nihil est; ipsaque mors nihil.
Quaeris quo jaceas post obitum loco?
Quo non nata jacent.
Tænera, et aspero
Regnum sub domino, limen et obsidens
Custos non facili Cerberus ostio,
Rumores vacui, verbaque inania,
Et par sollicito fabula somnio.

History does not inform us that any one of these sceptical writers was prosecuted by the attorney-general upon the ground of his being an offender against the common law.

Methinks I hear a hundred voices angrily ejaculating, “Ay, but all these were false religions which were not worth defending, whereas ours is the true religion, which it is impious to disbelieve.” Most zealous, but not most logical of objectors! will you favour me with an answer to Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” Nay, you need not reply. I can tell you beforehand. Were it possible that ye could have been born in remote centuries and in various quarters of the earth, these would be
A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.235
your respective responses, “Paganism is the truth—Druidism is the truth—Popery is the truth—Protestantism is the truth,” and this last has undergone fifty modifications, every one of which ye would, at different times, have maintained to be the truth. In short, ye discriminating believers according to latitude and longitude and acts of parliament, ye would have afforded a fresh proof that
Religion is the mind’s complexion,
Govern’d by birth, not self-election;
We all and each of us adore
Just as our parents did before.
Why should we then ourselves exalt,
For what we happen to inherit,
Or view in others as a fault,
What in ourselves we deem a merit?

Not to encourage a wanton impeachment of established creeds—not to sanction perilous innovations upon our social habits, has this long preamble been written; but to assert the world’s right to an unrestricted and unpunishable discussion of theological questions, and more especially to bespeak a patient hearing in behalf of one who encountered the privation of fortune, birthright, country, children, friends, society—trials which would have rendered life itself intolerable, had he not been sustained by the conscientious conviction that the doctrines for which he was thus cruelly persecuted had truth for their basis, and the welfare of his fellow-creatures for their object.

Percy Bysshe Shelley was born at Warnham, in Sussex, on the 4th of August, 1792. Of his boyish days not much has been made known, but by the following extract from one of his poems it appears that at a very early age the young enthusiast resolving that his mind should not be cast in the hereditary educational mould to which other boys are subjected, solemnly devoted his future life to the great and holy cause of human improvement. In his dedication to the “Revolt of Islam” the juvenile visionary has recorded the moment of his making this philanthropic vow—

“Thoughts of great deeds were mine, dear friend, when first
The clouds which wrap this world from youth did pass.—
I do remember well the hour which burst
My spirit’s sleep; a fresh May morn it was,
When I walk’d forth upon the glittering grass,
And wept, I knew not why; until there rose
From the near school-room, voices, that alas!
Were but one echo from a world of woes,
The harsh and grating strife of tyrants and of foes.
And then I clasp’d my hands and looked around,
But none was near to mock my streaming eyes,
Which pour’d their warm drops on the sunny ground—
So without shame I spoke—“I will be wise,
And just, and free, and mild, if in me lies
Such power, for I grow weary to behold
The selfish and the strong still tyrannise
Without reproach or check.”—I then controlled
My tears, my heart grew calm, and I was meek and bold.
And from that hour did I with earnest thought
Heap knowledge from forbidden mines of lore,
236 A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.
Yet nothing that my tyrants knew or taught
I cared to learn, but from that sacred store
Wrought linked armour for my soul, before
It might walk forth to war among mankind.*

Many a so-called saint, under the influence of a misanthropical bigotry, aggravated by unsocial wanderings in “deserts drear, and shaggy caves forlorn,” has devoted himself to a monastic cell, or hermit’s lonely den, that so he might obtain, by the sacrifice of a few years’ pleasure, canonisation in this world, and an eternity of enjoyment m the next. In other words, he has attempted to cajole the Deity into a most exorbitant compact, founded on an intense selfishness, and an utter disregard for the interests of the whole human race, except those of the individual usurer. Contrast, with this picture, the noble-hearted schoolboy, letting fall his tears upon the sunny grass of May, and swearing upon that altar to be just, and free, and mild, and to devote his whole soul, with a magnanimous chivalry, to the defence of the weak and the oppressed, against the tyrannous and the strong:—remember that this was not a momentary ebullition, or transient consecration of his powers, but that, through a life of struggle and persecution, he performed his self-sacrificing mission with the persevering courage of a hero; and then pronounce which made the holier vow; which best deserves the reverence and admiration of mankind.

A child-man rather than a man-child, young Shelley fed too intensely upon his own lofty thoughts, to mix much in the recreations of his companions at the first school to which he was sent, or even to exhibit any indication of the marvellous genius which he subsequently displayed. What Wordsworth says of Milton might already be applied to him—
His soul was as a star, and dwelt apart.

At the age of thirteen he was removed to Eton, where his initiation was signalised by an incident that rendered still more eminent the precocious grandeur of his character. If any remaining relic of cruelty and demoralisation be more atrocious than another, it is the system of fagging, still preserved in our public schools; a practice which reconciles the junior to an abject slavishness at one period, in order that he may take a future revenge by inflicting upon another the tyranny to which he himself had been subjected. These are strong, but not innpplicable terms, for all boys are cruel, from innate wantonness of power, from mutual encouragement in despotism, from irresponsibility, from want of reflection. A school in which this Helotism prevails, has all the vices of a slave colony, aggravated by the reckless inhumanity of youth; a state so diametrically opposed to Shelley’s notions of right and wrong, that, in obedience to his vow, he instantly proclaimed his determination never to become a fag. This was, indeed, to deny Diana at Ephesus. The young revolutionist had rebelled against one of the time-honoured institutions of our ancestors; he had made personal enemies of several hundred boys—for every actual as well as prospective Nero, considered his vested rights to be endangered—and he had even offended the

* The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Moxon, 1840. This, the only complete edition of his poems, is rendered profoundly interesting by the copious biographical and critical notes of Mrs. Shelley.
A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.237
masters, who were staunch advocates (proh pudor!) for the maintenance of this cruel and corrupting system.

What a scene is here presented to us! On one side a fair, slight, blue-eyed stripling, of thirteen, in delicate health, for he was already threatened with pulmonary complaint; on the other the scowling masters and hundreds of infuriated boys, menacing him with every torment that their malice could invent, if he still clung to his audacious resolve. But he had already “wrought linked armour for his soul,” and he remained indomitable, although the contest must have inflicted many a pang upon his all-loving heart. Vainly might we ransack history for an instance of similar fortitude and magnanimity in one so young. True, there have been juvenile martyrs; but what is the momentary pang of a death martyrdom, compared to that which is unflinchingly endured, every day and all day long, for a series of years?

This revolting cruelty roused instead of taming his spirit; and as he denied the duty of obedience when enforced by menaces and punishment instead of reason and argument, we need little marvel that frequent breaches of school discipline occasioned him to be removed in October, 1810, to University College, Oxford. Before this period, however, and when he was only fifteen years of age, he is stated to have written two novels, “Justrozzi,” and the “Rosicrucian,” which were severely reprobated by the reviewers for their new and objectionable views of morality, with what justice I cannot say, as I never saw either of these works. At Eton he devoted himself to the pursuit of chemistry, but, as usual with him, his zeal outstripped his discretion, for upon one occasion he was nearly blown up by an accidental explosion; and upon another, he unconsciously swallowed some mineral poison, which increased the natural weakness of his constitution.

For the full particulars of his college life, the reader is referred to a series of papers, admirably written by his friend and brother-collegian, Captain Medwin, which first appeared in the pages of this magazine.* At the end of his second term, in 1811, he published an irreligious pamphlet, and completed his folly by circulating copies among the bench of bishops. The result was a summons, on the 25th of March, before the heads of the college. The master produced a copy of the syllabus, and asked if Shelley was the author of it, in a rude, abrupt, and insolent tone. Shelley complained much of his violent and ungentlemanlike deportment, saying, “I have experienced tyranny and injustice before, and I well know what vulgar insolence is, but I never met with such unworthy treatment. I am determined not to answer any questions respecting the publication on the table.” He immediately repeated his demand; I persisted in my refusal; and he said furiously, “Then you are expelled; and I desire that you will quit the college early to-morrow morning at the latest.”† The manner of its execution may have been harsh, but the sentence itself, provoked by such a rash and wanton outrage, might well have been anticipated.

His father, irritated by the disgrace his son had incurred, refused, for some weeks after his expulsion, to receive him within his doors; and when, at last, he gained admission, the coolness of his reception deter-

* Vols. xxxiv. and xxxv. † History of Sussex, vol. ii. p. 270.
238A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.
mined him to quit his home privately and repair to London. “Can this be wondered at?” asks
Mrs. Shelley.* “At the age of seventeen, fragile in health and frame, of the purest habits in morals, full of devoted generosity and universal kindness, glowing with ardour to attain wisdom, resolved, at every personal sacrifice, to do right, burning with a desire for affection and sympathy, he was treated as a reprobate, cast forth as a criminal. The cause was that he was sincere; that he believed the opinions which he entertained to be true; and he loved truth with a martyr’s love.“

Respecting his first adventures in London, the most painful statements are current. Pride and a sense of injury preventing him from making any applications to his family, his pecuniary means quickly became exhausted, and he sought employment from the booksellers, forlornly wandering up and down Paternoster-row, and offering to translate from any of the various languages of which he was master. After having visited Ireland, he returned, at the end of 1812, to England, and devoting himself to poetry, composed, at the age of eighteen, his crude and most intemperate poem of “Queen Mab,” never publishing it, however, but distributing copies among his friends. Lord Byron, in his notes on “The Two Foscari,” thus alludes to it.

“I showed it to Mr. Sotheby, as a poem of great power and imagination. No one knows better than the author, that his opinions and mine differ very materially upon the metaphysical portion of that work; though, in common with all who are not blinded by baseness and bigotry, I might admire the poetry of that and his other productions.” Some years afterwards a bookseller in the Strand surreptitiously published an edition of “Queen Mab,” which untoward occurrence being immediately communicated to Shelley, then in Italy, by the writer of these notices, he wrote a letter to the editor of the Examiner, from which the following are extracts;—“I have not seen this production for several years; I doubt not but that it is perfectly worthless in point of literary composition; and that in all that concerns moral and political speculation, as well as in the subtler discriminations of metaphysical and religious doctrine, it is still more crude and immature. I am a devoted enemy to religious, political, and domestic oppression; and I regret this publication, not so much from literary vanity, as because I fear it is better fitted to injure than to serve the sacred cause of freedom. I have directed шy solicitor to apply to Chancery for an injunction to restrain the sale.”

“Whilst I exonerate myself from all share in having divulged opinions hostile to existing sanctions, under the form, whatever it may be, which they assume in this poem, it is scarcely necessary for me to protest against the system of inculcating the truth of Christianity or the excellence of monarchy, however true, or however excellent they may be, by such equivocal arguments as confiscation and imprisonment, and invective and slander, and the insolent violation of the most sacred ties of nature and society.”

In the year 1816, at the house of our mutual friend Leigh Hunt, then residing at Hampstead, I made my first personal acquaintance with this remarkable man. Punishments disproportionately severe always excite sympathy for their victim, rather than condemnation of his offence. In

A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.239
the midst of all the reckless enthusiasm that prompted
Shelley, like a moral Quixote, to run atilt at whatever he considered an abuse, I felt convinced that his aims were pure and lofty, that he was solely animated by an impassioned philanthropy, in the prosecution of which he was ready to sacrifice his life; and such being his motives, I thought it most cruel and unjust that he should be proscribed as a reprobate, and be made the butt of the most malignant invectives. Having long compassionated him as a grievously over-punished man, and having recently read his poems with a profound admiration of his genius, I had looked forward to our first meeting with no common interest. He was not in the cottage when I arrived, but I was introduced to another young poet of no common talent—Keats, who was destined, alas! ere many years had flown, to meet the same premature death, and to lie in the same cemetery, with Shelley, beneath the ruined walls of Rome. Keats has been described by Coleridge in his “Table Talk,” as “a loose, slack, not well-dressed youth;” and to an observant eye his looks and his attenuated frame already foreshadowed the consumption that had marked him for its prey. His manner was shy, and embarrassed, as of one unused to society, and he spoke little.

In a short time Shelley was announced, and I beheld a fair, freckled, blue-eyed, light-haired, delicate-looking person, whose countenance was serious and thoughtful; whose stature would have been rather tall had he carried himself upright; whose earnest voice, though never loud, was somewhat unmusical. Manifest as it was that his pre-occupied mind had no thought to spare for the modish adjustment of his fashionably-made clothes, it was impossible to doubt, even for a moment, that you were gazing upon a gentleman; a first impression which subsequent observation never failed to confirm, even in the most exalted acceptation of the term, as indicating one that is gentle, generous, accomplished, brave. “Never did a more finished gentleman than Shelley step across a drawing-room,” was the remark of Lord Byron; and Captain Medwin, writing after several years’ acquaintance with Shelley and an extensive intercourse with the polite world, thus expresses a similar opinion—“I can affirm that Shelley was almost the only example I have yet found that was never wanting, even to the most minute particular, in the infinite and various observances of pure, entire, and perfect gentility.”

Two or three more friends presently arriving, the discourse, under the inspiration of our facetious host, assumed a playful and bantering character, which Shelley by his smiles appeared to enjoy, but in which he took no part, and I then surmised, as I found afterwards, that it might be said of him, as of Demosthenes,—“Non displicuisse illi jocos, sed non contigisse.” Young as he was, a mind so deeply impressed with the sense of his own wrongs, and sobered by his solemn vow to redress, if possible, the wrongs of his fellow-creatures, was naturally more disposed to seriousness than to levity. The weather being fine, the whole party sallied forth to stroll upon the Heath, where I attached myself to Shelley, and gradually drawing him apart, enjoyed with him a long and uninterrupted conversation. Well may I say enjoyed, for to talk with a man of extensive reading and undoubted genius, who felt such a devout reverence for what he believed to be the truth, and was so fearless in its assertion that he laid his whole many-thoughted mind bare before you, was indeed a treat to one whose chief social intercourse had been with
240A Graybeard’s Gossip about his Literary Acquaintance.
minds all stamped in the same established educational mould, or conforming to it with that plastic conventional hypocrisy which the worldly-wise find so exceedingly convenient. My companion, who, as he became interested in his subjects, talked much and eagerly, seemed to me a psychological curiosity infinitely more curious than
Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, to which strange vision he made reference. His principal discourse, however, was of Plato, for whose character, writings, and philosophy he expressed an unbounded admiration,* dwelling much on the similarity of portions of his doctrines to those of the New Testament, and on the singular accordance between the scriptural narrative of the birth of Christ and the miraculous nativity attributed to Plato, 420 years before our era. On my confessing that I could not manage so subtle a thinker in the original Greek, but that I possessed Dacier’s translation, Shelley replied,—“Then you have seen him by moonlight, instead of in the sunshine; the closeness of his logic, and the splendour of his diction, cannot be transferred into another language.”

* In Shelley’sEssays and Letters from Abroad” will be found translations of Plato’s “Banquet”—of his “Ion,” as well as some fragments from “The Republic,” all evincing his perfect mastery of both the Greek and English languages.