LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley
Family History
Shelley at Eton
Taste for the Gothic
Shelley’s Juvenilia
Queen Mab
Shelley at Oxford
First Marriage
Death of Harriet
Chancery Suit
Switzerland: 1814
Alastor; Geneva: 1816
‣ Frankenstein
Byron and Claire
At Marlow: 1817
Italy: 1818
Naples, Rome: 1819
The Cenci
Florence: 1819
Vol I Appendix
Vol II Front Matter
Pisa: 1820
Poets and Poetry
Pisa: 1821
Shelley and Keats
Williams, Hunt, Byron
Shelley and Byron
Poetry and Politics
Byron and his Friends
The Pisan Circle
Casa Magni
Death of Shelley
Lerici: 1822
Burial in Rome
Character of Shelley
Vol II Appendix
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During his stay at Poligny, he formed no acquaintance with the Genevans. He had not had sufficient opportunities of rightly estimating their character, when he says, that “there is more equality of classes than in England.” Nowhere did at that time castes prevail to such an extent. No talent, no wealth, no merit could break down the barrier of birth—yes! strange enough, as in the republic of the Nairs, a female could ennoble. If she made a mesalliance, she could elevate her husband into sufferance, but if a patrician married a plebeian, he was for ever excluded from society, a murus aheneus was raised against him, that nothing could break down. The rue basse and the Treile might as well attempt to form a junction. Lord Byron knew the Genevese better than Shelley: he knew they courted him, not because he was a poet, but because he was a lord. Nobility being the
golden calf at which, like most republicans, they fall down and worship.

Among the most interesting of Shelley’s prose remains, is the account given of the tour du lac, which he made in company with Byron. The Nouvelle Heloise, which he styles, “an overflowing of sublimest genius, and more than mortal sensibility,” was his Manuel de Voyage. The scene so graphically painted by Rousseau, Clarens, the Rochet de Julie, and especially Meillerie, awakened in him all his poetical enthusiasm, and were to him haunted ground, an enchanted land. The Savoy side of the lake, which they coasted, and where they landed, particularly pleased him; and lovely it indeed is! “Groves of pine, chesnuts, and walnuts, overshadow its magnificent and unbounded forests, to which England has no parallel—for in the midst of the woods, are indeed dells of lawney expanse, immeasurably verdant, adorned with a thousand of the rarest flowers and odorous with thyme.” During this excursion, which at least is not unattended with danger in
such a craft as they possessed—totally unfitted, from its drawing too much water, and other causes, for the purpose—they were nearly lost. “The wind increased in violence,” he says, “till it blew tremendously, and as it came from the remotest extremity of the lake, produced waves of frightful height, and covered the whole surface with a chaos of foam. One of our boatmen, who was a dreadfully stupid fellow, persisted in holding the sail, when the boat was in danger of being driven under water by the hurricane. On discovering his error he let it entirely go, and the boat for a moment refused to obey the helm; in addition, the rudder was so broken as to render the management of it very difficult. One wave fell in, and then another.”

Shelley never showed more nobleness of character, disinterestedness, and presence of mind, than on this trying occasion.

Byron, in one of his letters, says, “We were in the boat,—imagine five in such a boat. The sail was mismanaged—the boat filling fast. He
Shelley) can’t swim.—I slipped off my coat, made him slip off his, and take hold of an oar, telling him I thought, being an expert swimmer, I could save him, if he would not struggle when he kept hold of me; unless we got smashed against the rocks, which were high, and sharp, with an arched roof on them at that minute. We were then about a hundred yards from shore, and the boat in great peril. He answered me with great coolness, that he had no notion of being saved, and that I should have enough to do to save myself.”

Shelley, in speaking of this scene, says: “I felt in this near prospect of death, a mixture of sensations, among which terror entered but subordinately. My feelings would have been less painful, had I been alone, but I knew that my companion would have attempted to save me, and I was overcome with humiliation, when I thought that his life might have been risked to save mine.”

This scene occurred off the rocks of Meillerie,
Byron remarked,—“It would have been very classical to have gone to the bottom there, but not very agreeable.”

On visiting Clarens, Shelley, thinking of the loves of St. Prieux and Julie, says,—“Why did the cold maxims of the world compel me, at this moment, to repress the tears of melancholy transport, which it would have been so sweet to indulge, immeasurably, until the darkness of night had swallowed up the objects that excited them?” At Lausanne, whilst walking on the acacia-shaded terrace of Gibbon’s house, and which the historian of the “Rise and Fall” had so often paced, he observes: “Gibbon had a cold and unimpassioned spirit. I never felt more inclination to rail at the prejudices which cling to such a thing, than now, that Julie and Clarens, Lausanne, and the Roman Empire, compel me to a contrast between Rousseau and Gibbon.”

On their return from this store of memories for after days, Lord Byron was visited by Monk
Lewis, that strange and eccentric genius, who met with so unsentimental a death—exhaustion by sea-sickness. Lewis’s love of the wild and marvellous, which he had imbibed from the legends of Germany, where he had travelled in early life, communicated itself in some degree to his companions, and they were in the habit of passing their evenings in narrating ghost stories, in which, as it may be supposed, Lewis distinguished himself the most; and told, among many others, that of Minna, which first appeared in “The Conversations of Lord Byron;” and one also sketched there, which is more stirring, of a haunted house, at Mannheim, which he had inhabited, that had belonged to a widow, who to prevent the marriage of her only son with a poor but honest maiden, had sent him to sea, where he perished in a wreck. Remorse and sorrow for her irreparable loss, and the reproaches of the girl, crazed the mother’s brain, and whose occupation became turning over the pages of newspapers, in order to find tidings
of him. At last she died of a broken heart, and continued her employment after her death, which accounted for Lewis’s hearing every night at a certain hour, as he lay in bed, the rustling and crackling of paper. What an admirable subject for a ballad! The anecdote was communicated to me from a memorandum taken down after an evening at Diodati.

Shelley’s imagination, excited by this, and other tales, told with all the seriousness that marked a conviction of belief—though it seems from Mr. Moore, that the author of the Monk placed no faith in the magic wonders he related,—one evening produced a singular scene. Shelley had commenced a story, and in the midst of it, worked up to an extraordinarily painful pitch, was compelled to break the thread of his narration, by a hasty retreat. Some of the party followed him, and found him in a trance of horror, and when called upon after it was overpast, to explain the cause, he said that he had had a vision of a beautiful woman, who was leaning
over the balustrade of a staircase, and looking down on him with four eyes, two of which were in the centre of her uncovered breasts.

It appears from Mr. Moore, that the Vampire, the fragment of which was afterwards published among Byron’s works, had been sketched previously to Monk Lewis’s arrival, and that the same soiree gave rise to Frankenstein.

The creation of a man-monster is to be found in Paracelsus,* though by a very different pro-

* Paracelsus de Natura Rerum, lib. 1, De Generations Rerum Naturalium. §. Homunculi Generatio Artificialis. Opp. ed. Genev. (1658,) vol. ii. p. 86 b. “Sed nec generations Homunculorum ullo modo obliviscendum est. Est enim hujus rei aliqua Veritas, quanquam diu in magno occultatione et secretò hoc habitum sit, et.non parva dubitatio est quæstio inter aliquos ex antiquis Philosophis fuerit, an naturæ et arti possibile esset, hominem gigni extra corpus muliebre et matricem naturalem. Ad hoc respondeo, quod id arti Spagyricæ et naturæ nullo modo repugnet, imò benè possibile sit. Ut autem id fiat, hoc modo procedendum est: Sperma viri per se in cucurbita sigillata putrefiat summa putrefactione ventris equini per quadraginta dies, aut tandiu donec incipiat vivere et moveri ac agitari, quod facilè videri potest. Post hoc tempus aliquo modo homini simile erit, at tamen pellucidum et sine corpore. Si jam posthac quotidie Arcano sanguinis humani cautè et prudenter nutriatur et pascatur, et per quad-

cess, without doubt, from that which suggested itself to the mind of
Mrs. Shelley. This wild and wonderful romance, which has furnished a subject for the stage, not only in England, but in France, has been quoted in parliament, and

raginta septimanas in parpetuo et æquabili calore ventris equini conservetur, fit inde verus et vivus infans, habens omnia membra infantis, qui ex muliere natus est, sed longè minor. Hunc nos Homunculum vocamus et is postea eo modo diligentia et studio educandus est, donec adolescat et sapere et intelligere incipiat. Hoc jam est unum ex maximis secretis, quae Deus mortali et peccatis obnoxio homini patefecit. Est enim miraculum et magnale Dei, et arcanum super omnia arcana, et meritò in secretis servari debet usque ad extrema tempore, quando nihil erit reconditi, sed omnia manifestabuntur, etc. Et quanquam hoc hactenus, hominibus notum non fuerit, fuit tamen Sylyestribus et Nymphis et Gigantibus ante multa tempore cognitum, quia inde etiam orti sunt. Quoniam ex talibus Homunculis cum ad astatem virilem perveniunt, fiunt gigantes, pygmæi, et alii homines magni miraculosi, qui instrumenta sunt magnarum rerum, qui magnas victorias, contra suos hostes obtinent et omnia secreta et abscondita noverunt: quoniam arte acquirunt suam vitam: arte acquirunt corpus, camera, ossa et sanguinem: arte nascuntur, quare etiam ars ipsis incorporatur et connascitur, et à nullo opus est ipsis discere, sed alii coguntur ab ipsis discere, quoniam ab arte orti sunt et existunt, ut rosa aut flos in horto, et vocantur Sylvestrium et Nympharum liberi, ob id quod ut et virtute sua non hominibus, sed spiritibus similes sint, &c.”

whose hero has become a byeword, was one of those conceptions that take hold of the public mind at once and for ever. It was an astonishing effort of genius in a person of her age,—for she was scarcely eighteen,—not nineteen, as
Byron said. I have heard it asserted that the idea was Shelley’s, and that he assisted much in the development of the plot; but there is no good ground for this supposition. The best proof of the contrary, is his review of the novel, which no one who knew him would accuse him of having written, had he had any share in the authorship; and as that admirable piece of criticism is not included, from modesty, doubtless, on the part of Mrs. Shelley, among his Prose Works, I shall give the greater part of it a place here.

“The novel of Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, is undoubtedly, as a mere story, one of the most complete and original productions of the day. We debate with ourselves in wonder, as we read it, what could have been the
series of thoughts, what could have been the peculiar experiences that awakened them,—which conduced in the author’s mind, to the astonishing combinations of motives and incidents, and the startling catastrophe, which compose this tale. There are, perhaps, some points of subordinate importance, which prove that it is the author’s first attempt. But in the judgment, which requires a very nice discrimination, we may be mistaken; for it is conducted throughout with a firm and steady hand. The interest gradually accumulates, and advances towards the conclusion, with the accelerated rapidity of a rock rolled down a mountain. We are led breathless with suspense and sympathy, and the heaping up of incident on incident, and the working of passion out of passion. We cry ‘hold—hold, enough!’ but yet there is something to come; and like the victim, whose history it relates, we think we can bear no more, and yet more is to be borne. Pelion is heaped on Ossa, and Ossa on Olympus.
We climb Alp upon Alp, until the horizon is seen, blank, vacant, and limitless; and the head turns giddy, and the ground seems to fail under our feet.

“This novel rests its claim on being a source of powerful and profound emotion. The elementary feelings of the human mind are exposed to view, and those who are accustomed to reason deeply on their origin and tendency, will perhaps be the only persons who can sympathise, to the full extent, in the interest of the actions which are their result. But founded on nature as they are, there is perhaps no reader who can endure any thing besides a mere love story, who will not feel a responsive string touched in his inmost soul. The sentiments are so affectionate and innocent, the characters of the subordinate agents in this strange drama are clothed in the light of such a mild and gentle mind. The pictures of domestic manners are of the most simple and attaching character; the father’s is irresistible and deep. Nor are the crimes and malevolence
of the simple Being, though indeed withering and tremendous, the offspring of any unaccountable propensity to evil, but flow irresistibily from certain causes fully adequate to their production. They are all children as it were of Necessity and Human Nature. In this the direct moral of the book consists, and it is perhaps the most important and the most universal application of any moral that can be enforced by example. Treat a person ill, and he will become wicked. Requite affection with scorn; let one being be selected, for whatsoever cause, as the refuse of his kind,—divide him, a social being, from society, and you impose upon him the irresistible obligations, malevolence and selfishness. It is thus that too often in society, those who are best qualified to be its benefactors and its ornaments, are branded by some accident with scorn, and changed by neglect and solitude of heart into a scourge and a curse.

“The Being in Frankenstein is no doubt a tremendous creature. It was impossible that he
should not have received among men that treatment which led to the consequences of his being a social nature. He was an abortion and an anomaly, and though his mind was such as its first impressions framed it, affectionate and full of moral sensibility, yet the circumstances of his existence are so monstrous and uncommon, that, when the consequences of them became developed in action, his original goodness was gradually turned into misanthropy and revenge. The scene between the Being and the blind De Lacey in the cottage, is one of the most profound and extraordinary instances of passion that we ever recollect. It is impossible to read this dialogue, and indeed many others of a somewhat similar nature, without feeling the heart suspend its pulsations with wonder, and the ‘tears stream down the cheeks.’ The rencounter and arguments between Frankenstein and the Being on the sea of ice,* almost approaches, in effect, to the ex-

* Chamisso owes much in his Peter Schlemihl to this novel, especially in this part of the catastrophe.

postulations of Caleb Williams with Falkland. It reminds us, indeed, somewhat of the style and character of that admirable
writer, to whom the author has dedicated his work, and whose productions he seems to have studied.

“There is only one instance, however, in which we detect the least approach to imitation, and that is, the conduct of the incident of Frankenstein’s landing in Ireland. The general character of the tale indeed resembles nothing that ever preceded it. After the death of Elizabeth, the story, like a stream which grows at once more rapid and profound as it proceeds, assumes an irresistible solemnity, and the magnificent energy and swiftness of a tempest.

“The churchyard scene, in which Frankenstein visits the tombs of his family; his quitting Geneva, and his journey through Tartary, to the shores of the Frozen Ocean, resemble at once the terrible reanimation of a corpse, and the supernatural career of a spirit. The scene in the
cabin of Walton’s ship—the more than mortal enthusiasm and grandeur of the Being’s speech over the dead body of his victim, is an exhibition of intellectual and imaginative power, which we think the reader will acknowledge has never been surpassed.”

I mistook Byron’s words, when he said, he made a tour of the lake with Shelley and Hobhouse. He must have alluded to his voyage on two different occasions. That with Mr. Hobhouse occurred at a later period. I might have known, had I reflected on the circumstance, that it could not have taken place in company with Shelley; for Hobhouse, of whom more hereafter, was one of Shelley’s most inveterate enemies, and never ceased to poison Lord Byron’s mind against him, being jealous of the growing intimacy of the two poets, and thinking with Gay, that
“friendship is but a name,
Unless to one you stint the flame,”
—Number One being with him all in all.


With Shelley, Byron disagreed in many essential points, but they never came to a difference, which was the case with few of his pseudo friends. Mr. Hobhouse and himself were always best apart, and it was a relief to him when they finally parted, not on the best terms, in Greece. A cold, uncongenial, mathematical man, like Hobhouse, could have little in common with Byron. But Shelley was an Eldorado, an inexhaustible mine. Byron (as in the case of Charles Skinner Matthews, of whom he used to talk so much, and regretted too so deeply) not being, though he pretends to have been a great reader, a great thinker, liked the company of those who were, for thus he obtained both the matter and spirit through the alembic of others’ brains. His admiration of Shelley’s talents and acquirements only yielded to an esteem for his character and virtues; and to have past a day without seeing him, would have seemed a lost day. No wonder, then, that in this absolute retirement, they were inseparable.


Shelley used to say, that reading Dante produced in him despair. Might not also the third Canto of Childe Harold, and Manfred, have engendered a similar feeling? Certain it is, that he wrote little at Geneva. He read incessantly. His great studies at this time were the Greek dramatists, especially Æschylus’s Prometheus, whom he considered the type of Milton’s Satan. He read this greatest of tragedies to Byron, a very indifferent Greek scholar, which produced his sublime ode on Prometheus, and occasionally rendered for him passages out of Faust, which it appears Monk Lewis afterwards entirely translated to him, and from which Göthe assumes Manfred to be taken; but in the treatment of the subject I can find no trace of plagiarism. Byron, with more reason and justice, retorted on Göthe such a charge; and he might have added, that Margaret’s madness, as I have heard Shelley observe, bore a strong resemblance to Ophelia’s; and that the song, “Mein
,*” &c., is a bad version of Mactuadel Borne, “the Holly-tree,” which runs thus:
“Mein Moder de mi schlacht,
Mein fater de mi att,
Mein Swister, de Madkoniken,
Söcht alle meine Beeniken.”