LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Recollections of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron
Chapter XIII.

Chapter I.
Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
Chapter V.
Chapter VI.
Chapter VII.
Chapter VIII.
Chapter IX.
Chapter X.
Chapter XI.
Chapter XII.
‣ Chapter XIII.
Chapter XIV.
Chapter XV.
Chapter XVI.
Chapter XVII.
Chapter XVIII.
Chapter XIX.
Chapter XX.
Chapter XXI.
Chapter XXII.
Chapter XXIII.
Chapter XXIV.
Chapter XXV.
Chapter XXVI.
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An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying king,—
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn—mud from a muddy spring,—
Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know,
But leech-like to their fainting country cling,
Till they drop blind in blood.

When I arrived at Leghorn, as I could not immediately go on to Rome, I consigned Shelley’s ashes to our Consul at Rome, Mr. Freeborn, requesting him to keep them in his custody until my arrival. When I reached Rome, Freeborn told me that to quiet the authorities there, he had been obliged to inter the ashes with the usual ceremonies in the Protestant burying-place. When I came to examine the ground with the man who had the custody of it, I found Shelley’s grave amidst a cluster of others. The old Roman wall partly inclosed the place, and there was a niche in the wall formed by two buttresses—immediately under
an ancient pyramid, said to be the tomb of Caius Cestius. There were no graves near it at that time. This suited my taste, so I purchased the recess, and sufficient space for planting a row of the Italian upright cypresses. As the souls of Heretics are foredoomed by the Roman priests, they do not affect to trouble themselves about their bodies. There was no “faculty” to apply for, nor Bishop’s licence to exhume the body. The custode or guardian who dwelt within the inclosure and had the key of the gate, seemed to have uncontrolled power within his domain, and scudi impressed with the image of Saint Peter with the two keys, ruled him. Without more ado, masons were hired, and two tombs built in the recess. In one of these, when completed, I deposited the box, with Shelley’s ashes, and covered it in with solid stone, inscribed with a Latin epitaph, written by
Leigh Hunt. I received the following note at Leghorn previous to burning the body:—

Pisa, 1st August, 1822.
Dear Trelawny,

“You will of course call upon us in your way to your melancholy task; but I write to say, that
you must not reckon upon passing through Pisa in a very great hurry, as the ladies particularly wish to have an evening, while you are here, for consulting further with us; and I myself mean, at all events, to accompany you on your journey, if you have no objection.

“I subjoin the inscriptions—mere matter-of-fact memorandums—according to the wish of the ladies. It will be for the other inscriptions to say more.

“Yours sincerely,
Leigh Hunt.

“P. S.—Mrs. Shelley wishes very much that Capt. Roberts would be kind enough to write to his uncle about her desk, begging it to be forwarded as speedily as possible. If it is necessary to be opened, the best way will be to buy a key for that purpose; but if a key is not to be had, of course it must be broken open. As there is something in the secret drawers, it will be extremely desirable that as few persons meddle with it as possible.

Percy Bysshe Shelley, Anglus, oram Etruscam legens in navigiolo inter Ligurnum portum et Viam Regiam, procellâ periit viii. Non. Jul. mdcccxxii. Ætat. Suæ xxx.


Edvardus Elliker Williams, Anglica stirpe ortus, India Orientali Natos, A Ligurno portu in Viam Regiam navigiolo proficiscens, tempestate periit viii. Non. Jul. mdcccxxii. Ætat. Suæ xxx.

Io, sottoscritta, prego le Autorità di Via Reggio o Livorno di consegnare al Signore Odoardo Trelawny, Inglese, la Barca nominata Il Don Juan, e tutta la sua carica, appartenente al mio marito, per essere alla sua dispozizione.

Maria Shelley.
Genova, 16 Settbre. 1822.”

To which I added two lines from Shelley’s favourite play “The Tempest,”
“Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea change into something
Rich and strange.”

The other tomb built merely to fill up the recess, was likewise covered in in the same way—but blank without as within. I planted eight seedling cypresses. When I last saw them in 1844, the seven which remained, were about thirty-five feet in height. I added flowers as well. The ground I had purchased, I inclosed, and so ended my task.

Shelley came of a long-lived race, and, barring accidents, there was no reason why he should not have emulated his forefathers in attaining a ripe age. He had no other complaint than occasional spasms,
and these were probably caused by the excessive and almost unremitting strain on his mental powers, the solitude of his life, and his long fasts, which were not intentional, but proceeded from the abstraction and forgetfulness of himself and his wife. If food was near him, he ate it,—if not, he fasted, and it was after long fasts that he suffered from spasms. He was tall, slim, and bent from eternally poring over books; this habit had contracted his chest. His limbs were well proportioned, strong and bony—his head was very small—and his features were expressive of great sensibility, and decidedly feminine. There was nothing about him outwardly to attract notice, except his extraordinarily juvenile appearance. At twenty-nine, he still retained on his tanned and freckled cheeks, the fresh look of a boy—although his long wild locks were coming into blossom, as a polite hairdresser once said to me, whilst cutting mine.

It was not until he spoke that you could discern anything uncommon in him—but the first sentence he uttered, when excited by his subject, riveted your attention. The light from his very soul streamed from his eyes, and every mental emotion
of which the human mind is susceptible, was expressed in his pliant and ever-changing features. He left the conviction on the minds of his audience, that however great he was as a Poet, he was greater as an orator. There was another and most rare peculiarity in
Shelley,—his intellectual faculties completely mastered his material nature, and hence he unhesitatingly acted up to his own theories, if they only demanded sacrifices on his part,—it was where they implicated others that he forbore. Mrs. Shelley has observed, “Many have suggested and advocated far greater innovations in our political and social system than Shelley; but he alone practised those he approved of as just.”

Godwin observed to me,—“that Byron must occasionally have said good things, though not capable, as Shelley was, of keeping up a long conversation or argument; and that Shelley must have been of great use to Byron, as from the commencement of their intimacy at Geneva, he could trace an entirely new vein of thought emanating from Shelley, which ran through Byron’s subsequent works, and was so peculiar that it could not
have arisen from any other source.” This was true. Byron was but superficial on points on which Shelley was most profound—and the latter’s capacity for study, the depth of his thoughts as well as their boldness, and his superior scholarship, supplied the former with exactly what he wanted: and thus a portion of Shelley’s aspirations were infused into Byron’s mind. Ready as Shelley always was with his purse or person to assist others, his purse had a limit, but his mental wealth seemed to have none; for not only to Byron, but to any one disposed to try his hand at literature, Shelley was ever ready to give any amount of mental labour. Every detail of the life of a man of genius is interesting, and Shelley’s was so pre-eminently, as his life harmonised with his spiritual theories. He fearlessly laid bare those mysterious feelings and impulses, of which few dare to speak, but in a form so purified from earthy matter that the most sensitive reader is never shocked. Shelley says of his own writings in the preface to the
Cenci,—“they are little else than visions which impersonate my own apprehensions of the beautiful and the just,—they are dreams of what
ought to be, or may be.” Whilst he lived, his works fell still-born from the press—he never complained of the world’s neglect, or expressed any other feeling than surprise at the rancorous abuse wasted on an author who had no readers. “But for them,” he said, laughing, “I should be utterly unknown.” “But for them,” I observed, “
Williams and I should never have crossed the Alps in chase of you. Our curiosity as sportsmen, was excited to see and have a shot at so strange a monster as they represented you to be.”

It must not be forgotten, that Shelley lived in the good old times, under the paternal government of the Tories, when liberal opinions were prohibited and adjudged as contraband of war. England was then very much like what Naples is now.

Sidney Smith says,—

“From the beginning of the century to the death of Lord Liverpool, was an awful period for any one who ventured to maintain liberal opinions. He was sure to be assailed with all the Billingsgate of the French Revolution; ‘Jacobin,’ ‘Leveller,’ ‘Atheist,’ ‘Incendiary,’ ‘Regicide,’ were the gentlest terms used, and any man who breathed a syllable
against the senseless bigotry of the two Georges, was shunned as unfit for social life. To say a word against any abuse which a rich man inflicted, and a poor man suffered, was bitterly and steadily resented,” and he adds, “that in one year, 12,000 persons were committed for offences against the Game Laws.”

Shelley’s life was a proof that the times in which he lived were awful for those who dared to maintain liberal opinions. They caused his expulsion from Oxford, and for them his parents discarded him, every member of his family disowned him, and the savage Chancellor Eldon deprived him of his children.

Sidney Smith says of this Chancellor, that he was “the most heartless, bigoted, and mischievous of human beings, who passed a long life in perpetuating all sorts of abuses, and in making money of them.”