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[Leigh Hunt]
The Quarterly Review and Revolt of Islam (Concluded).
The Examiner  No. 615  (10 October 1819)  652-53.
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No. 615. SUNDAY, OCT. 10, 1819.


[Concluded from last week.]

Failing in the attempt to refute Mr. Shelley’s philosophy*, the Reviewers attack his private life. What is the argument of this? or what right have they to know any thing of the private life of an author? or how would they like to have the same argument used against themselves? Mr. Shelley is now seven and twenty years of age. He entered life about 17; and every body knows, and every candid person will allow, that a young man at that time of life, upon the very strength of a warm and trusting nature, especially with theories to which the world are not accustomed, may render himself liable to the misrepresentation of the worldly. But what have the Quarterly Reviewers to do with this? What is Mr. Shelley’s private life to the Quarterly Review, any more than Mr. Gifford’s, or Mr. Croker’s, or any other Quarterly Reviewer’s private life is to the Examiner, or the Morning Chronicle, or to the Edinburgh Review,—a work, by the bye, as superior to the Quarterly, in all the humanities of social intercourse, as in the liberality of it’s opinions in general. The Reviewer talks of what he “now” knows of Mr. Shelley. What does this pretended judge and actual male-gossip, this willing listener to scandal, this minister to the petty wants of excitement, now know more than he ever knew, of an absent man, whose own side of whatever stories have been told him he has never heard? Suppose the opponents of the Quarterly Review were to listen to all the scandals that have been reported of writers in it, and to proclaim this man by name as a pimp, another as a scamp, and another as a place or pulpit hunting slave made out of a school-boy tyrant? If the use of private matters in public criticism is not to be incompatible with the decencies and charities of life, let it be proved so; and we know who would be the sufferers. We have experienced, in our own persons, what monstrous misrepresentations can be given of a man, even with regard to the most difficult and unselfish actions of his life, and solely because others just knew enough of delicacy, to avail themselves of the inflexible love of it in others.†

We shall therefore respect the silence hitherto observed publicly by Mr. Shelley respecting such matters, leaving him when he returns to England to take such notice or otherwise of his calumniators as may seem best to him. But we cannot resist the impulse to speak of one particular calumny of this Reviewer, the falshood of which is doubly impressed upon us in consequence of our own personal and repeated knowledge of the reverse. He says Mr. Shelley “is shamefully dissolute in his conduct.” We laugh the scandal-monger to scorn. Mr. Shelley has theories, as we have said before, with regard to the regulation of society, very different from those of the Quar-
* There are some further observations on Christianity in our political article in this week, which will apply to the present subject.
† The Reviewer in question, always true to his paltry trade, is pleased, in speaking of the Editor of this paper, to denounce his “bustling vulgarity, the ludicrous affectation, the factious flippancy, and the selfish heartlessness, which it is hard for the Reviewer’s feelings to treat with the mere gentle contempt they merit.” Indeed! The saying is a borrowed one, and much the worse for its shabby wear. Oh, good God! how applicable are all these charges but the political one, to some of those we could tell the world! Applied as they are, they have only excited a contemptuous mirth against the Reviewer among the companions of the Editor, who hereby, with a more than exemplary fairness of dealing, repays his mock-contempt with real.
terly Reviewers, and very like opinions which have been held by some of the greatest and best men, ancient and modern. And be it observed that all the greatest and best men who have ever attempted to alter the condition of sexual intercourse at all have been calumniated as profligates, the devout
Milton not excepted. A man should undoubtedly carry these theories into practice with caution, as well as any other new ones, however good, which tend to hurt the artificial notions of virtue, before reasoning and education have prepared them. We differ with Mr. Shelley in some particulars of his theory, but we agree in all the spirit of it; and the consequence has partly been to us, what it has been to him:—those who have only a belief, or an acquiescence and no real principle at all;—or who prefer being rigid theorists and lax practitioners, with the zest of hypocrisy first and penitence afterwards;—or who love to confound conventional agreements and reputations with all that is to be wished for in human nature, and hate, and persecute, and delight to scandalize any body, who, with the kindest intentions, would win them out of the hard crust of their egotism, however wretched,—or lastly, those who, having acted with the most abominable selfishness and unfeelingness themselves, rejoice in the least opportunity of making a case out to the world against those they have injured,—these, and such persons as these, have chosen to assume from our theories all which they think the world would least like in point of practice; and because we disdained to notice them, or chose to spare not only the best feelings of others, whom they should have been the last to wound, but even their own bad, false, and malignant ones, would have continued to turn that merciful silence against us, had they not unfortunately run beyond their mark, and shown their own fear and horror at being called upon to come forward. But to return to Mr. Shelley.  The Reviewer asserts that he “is shamefully dissolute in his conduct.” We heard of similar assertions, when we resided in the same house with Mr. Shelley for nearly three months; and how was he living all that time? As much like Plato himself, as any of his theories resemble Plato,—or rather still more like a Pythagorean. This was the round of his daily life:—He was up early; breakfasted sparingly; wrote this Revolt of Islam all the morning; went out in his boat or into the woods with some Greek author or the Bible in his hands; came home to a dinner of vegetables (for he took neither meat nor wine); visited (if necessary) “the sick and the fatherless,” whom others gave Bibles to and no help; wrote or studied again, or read to his wife and friends the whole evening; took a crust of bread or a glass of whey for his supper; and went early to bed. This is literally the whole of the life he led, or that we believe he now leads in Italy; nor have we ever known him, in spite of the malignant and ludicrous exaggerations on this point, deviate, notwithstanding his theories, even into a single action which those who differ from him might think blameable. We do not say, that he would always square his conduct by their opinions as a matter of principle: we only say, that he acted just as if he did so square them. We forbear, out of regard for the very bloom of their beauty, to touch upon numberless other charities and generosities which we have known him exercise; but this we must say is general, that we never lived with a man who gave so completely an idea of an ardent and principled aspirant in philosophy as Percy Shelley; and that we believe him, from the bottom of our hearts, to be one of the noblest hearts as well as heads which the world has seen for a long time. We never met in short with a being who came nearer, perhaps so near, to that height of humanity mentioned in the conclusion of an essay of Lord Bacon’s, where he speaks of excess of Charity and of it’s not being in the power of “man or angel to come in danger by it.”

“If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers,” continues this wise man of the world, in opening the final organ-stop of his high worship of a greater and diviner wisdom,—“If a man be gracious towards strangers, it shews he is a citizen of the world, and that his heart is no island cut off from other lands, but a continent that joins to them. If he be compassionate towards the affliction of others, it shews that his heart is like the noble tree that is wounded itself when it gives the balm. If he easily pardons and remits offences, it shew that his mind is planted above injuries, so that he cannot be shot. If he be thankful for small benefits, it shews that he weighs men’s minds, and not their trash. But, above all, if he have St. Paul’s perfection, that he would wish to be an anathema from Christ, for the salvation of his brethren, it shews much of a divine nature, and a kind of conformity with Christ himself.”

We could talk, after this, of the manner in which natures of this kind are ever destined to be treated by the Scribes, Pharisees, and Hypocrites of all times and nations; but what room can we have for further indignation, when the ideas of benevolence and wisdom unite to fill one’s imagination?—Blessings be upon thee, friend; and a part of the spirit which ye profess to serve, upon ye, enemies.