LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley
Byron and Claire
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
‣ 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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At the end of July, Shelley and his companions made an excursion to Chamouni. At sight of the Mont Blanc, as they approached it from Savoy, he exclaims:—“I never imagined what mountains were before. The immensity of their aerial summits excited, when they first burst upon me, a sentiment of ecstatic wonder, not unallied with madness; and remember,” he

* Since translated by Mr. Hayward,—translated? travestied, I should say,—thus:

My mother, the whore, she was the death of me;
My father, the rogue, he ate me up;
My little sister picked up the bones at a cool place;
There I became a beautiful wood-bird.
Fly away! fly away!
adds, in the letter to his friend, “this was one scene, though it passed home to our regard and our imagination. Though it embraced a vast extent of space, the snowy pyramids which shot into the blue sky, seemed to overhang our path; the ravine clothed with giant pines, and black with its depths below, so deep, that the very roaring of the untameable Arve, which rolled through it, could not be heard above. All was as much our own, as if we had been creators of such impressions in the minds of others, as now occupied our own. Nature was the poet, whose harmony held our spirits more breathless than that of the divinest.”

Of the Mer de Glace, he says,—“I will not pursue Buffon’s grand, but gloomy theory, that this globe that we inhabit, will at some future period be changed into a mass of frost, by the encroachments of the polar ice, and of that produced on the most elevated parts of the earth. Imagine to yourself, Ahriman seated among the
desolating snows, among these palaces of death and frost, so sculptured in their terrible magnificence by the adamantine hand of necessity; and that he casts around him, as the first essays of his final usurpation, torrents, rocks, and glaciers; at once proofs and symbols of his reign; add to this, the degradation of the human species, who in these regions are half deformed and idiotic; and most of whom are deprived of any thing that can excite interest or admiration. This is a part of the subject more mournful than sublime; but such as neither the painter nor the philosopher should disdain to regard.”

Before, however, leaving Chamouni, after visiting the source of the Aveiron, the stream of poetry was unlocked from his breast, and he composed his address to Mont Blanc, written under the immediate impression of the deep and powerful feelings excited by the objects it attempts to describe,—“lines that rest their claim to approbation on an attempt to imitate the wildness and sublimity from which they sprung.” The language
is Titanic. It is a legion of wild thoughts, a scene that makes the brain of the reader dizzy, and his flesh creep to contemplate; so truthful is the picture, so naturally do the gigantic ideas that belong to it, arise, that Prometheus might have thus apostrophised on the Caucasus.

His “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,” commenced during his voyage round the Lake with Lord Byron, was also one of the fruits of his residence at Geneva.

As this poem embodies his peculiar tenets,—system, I might say,—I shall endeavour to shew that it is evidently derived from Plato, with whose Symposium he had been long familiar, but only appears to have commenced translating at Leghorn, in June, 1818. That ode is indeed a comment on the Symposium, as will appear by the discourse therein, of Socrates on Love. He says, “What do you imagine to be the aspect of the Supreme Beauty itself, simple, pure, uncontaminated by the intermixture of human flesh, and colours, and all other idle and unreal shapes,
attendant on humanity? The Monoeidic Beauty itself! What must be the life of him who dwells upon, and gazes on that which it becomes us to seek! Think you not, that to him alone is accorded the prerogative of bringing forth, not images or shadows of virtue, for he is in contact, not with a shadow but with reality, with virtue itself, in the production and nourishment of which he becomes dear to the gods; and if such a privilege is conceded to any human being, immortal.” In another part of this wonderful piece of eloquence, Socrates goes on to say,—“Man would by such contemplations learn to consider the beauty which was in souls, more excellent than that which was in form,” and adds, “he would thus conduct his pupil to science, so that he might look upon the loveliness of wisdom; and that contemplating thus the Universal Beauty, no longer would he unworthily and meanly enslave himself to the attractions of one form in love, nor one subject of discipline in
science; but would turn towards the wide ocean of Intellectual Beauty, and from the sight of the lovely and majestic forms which it contains, would abundantly bring forth its conceptions in philosophy, until, strengthened and confirmed, he should at length steadily contemplate one science, which is the science of Intellectual Beauty.”

Lord Byron seems, while at Geneva, to have been imbued with similar conceptions, doubtless due to Shelley, and which were more fully inculcated during their lake excursion. In a note to Childe Harold, we find, “The feeling with which all around Clarens, and the opposite shores of Meillerie is invested, is of a higher and a more comprehensive order than the mere sympathy with individual passion. It is the sense of the existence of Love in its most extended and sublime capacity, and of our participation in its good and its glory. It is the great principle of the universe, which is the more condensed, but not less manifold; and of which, though know-
ing ourselves a part, we lose our individuality, and mingle in the beauty of the whole.”

This passage bears strong internal evidence of having been dictated, if not written, by Shelley, for Lord Byron was, with the bulk of mankind, a believer in the existence of matter and spirit, which Shelley so far refined, upon the theory of Berkley, as to superadd thereto some abstraction, of which, not as a substitute for Deity, according to Mr. Moore, but as a more exalted idea of the attributes of Deity, the bishop never dreamed; thus differing from the Pantheism of Wordsworth and Coleridge, inasmuch, as on the deification of Nature, found in their early works, Shelley built a deeper and more ethereal philosophy, rendering not only the whole creation into spirit, but worshipping it under the idealism of Intellectual Beauty and Universal Love. And speaking of the Lakists, so successfully imitated by Lord Byron in his third canto of Childe Harold, for he was not very particular from whom he borrowed, Shelley,
“Nullius addictus jurare in verba magistri,”
resolved not to tread in their steps, but to work out for himself, if not a new, certainly an untried system in poetry, which he had conceived at Oxford, on reading
Plato—from a translation, Mr. Hogg says, before he could master the original; a system not built on nonentities, as styled by Mr. Moore, with his materialist ideas, but the types of Him who is all beauty and love—types that are brought home to every deeply thinking mind—a system whose elements are the most comprehensive and spirit-stirring, and to which he ever remained true. Well might he say,—
“I vowed that I would dedicate my powers
To thee and thine—have I not kept the vow?
I call the phantasms of a thousand hours,
Each from his voiceless grave—they have in visioned bowers,
Of studious zeal, or love’s delight,
Outwatched me with the envious night.
They know that never joy illumed my brow,
Unlinked with hope; that thou wouldst free
This world from its dark slavery;
That thou, O, Awful Loveliness!
Wouldst give whate’er these words cannot express.”

Schiller (and it may be fanciful, but I have often, with the Hindoos, and their great lawgiver, Menu, who places great faith in names, thought it a singular coincidence, that three of the greatest poets, Shakspeare, Schiller, and Shelley, should all have theirs commencing with a syllable so indicative, (according to Hemstrius and Walter Whiter, the two profoundest philologists, of force)—Schiller made the basis of his philosophy that of Kant; and dry and abstract as that philosophy is, he, with his great genius, contrived to interweave it into his mighty lyrics, and to turn mathematics into poetry. His “Ideale and Das Laben,” of which I shall speak hereafter, is a proof of the marvellous faculty he possessed of making reality subservient to imagination, and I cannot help thinking that Shelley was well acquainted with this, and other of the odes on
which his system is based. Indeed, the spirit of his Æsthetics has somewhat, though not so much, of the daring of Schiller.
“Aber flüchlet aas der Sinne Schranken,
In die Freiheit der Gedanken.”
&c. &c.
“Mit der Menschen Widerstand, verschwindet
Auch des Gottes Majestat.”

What is this but,
“Till human hearts might kneel alone,
Each before the judgment throne
Of its own aweless soul”?

And is not
“Wenn ihr in der Menscheit traurigen Blesse,
Steht vor des Gesizes Grösse,”—
“Till in the nakedness of false and true,
We stand before our Lord, each to receive his due!”

The twelfth stanza of “The Ideal and Actual,” in which Humanity appeals against the will of Heaven—a stanza audacious in its language as that of a fallen Satan,—has more than
one reflex in passages of
Shelley’s earlier works, that breathe all the sublimity of Prometheus, when bound upon Caucasus, he neither repented his deed nor confessed his wrong. Such outbursts in suffering—and who had suffered more from the world’s wrong than Schiller—are perhaps worthier of Carl Moor than a philosopher; but to poets it may be allowed to dare all things, and not a voice has ever been raised against Schiller by any of his country’s critics, on account of the boldness of this, or other of his lyrical productions. In the present state of society, from the imperfection of education, they are harmless speculations, and no more intelligible to the bulk of mankind than the systems of Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, whose theories are a boundless and troubled ocean, where the navigator is continually fancying that the clouds in the distance are islands of the blest, till he approaches, and finds them but a congregation of vapours. Yet still he sails on with the prospect of land, ever buoyed up with hopes which he
cannot renounce, though they are constantly frustrated,—theories that lead to no other result that scepticism; and hence, the last of these so-called philosophers, carries on the arguments of his predecessors ad absurdum, obliged to assume, that Being and No Being are the same, a verbal sophistry in itself feeble, but as a specimen of logic, pitiable. Well then might Fichte’s pupil, Schelling, say, that “Philosophy commences where common sense terminates.”

The train of ideas by which these misty Transcendentalists arrive at such deductions, would require a volume to trace; but it may be added, that these vain abstractions have plunged many a disciple of the Berlin school in the ocean of doubt and perplexity, and peopled many a madhouse with victims.

In this account of Shelley’s three months residence at Geneva, I cannot pass over in silence a circumstance that occurred there,—Lord Byron’s liaison with Miss Clara C—— a near connection,—not, as Mr. Moore says, a near relative—of
Mrs. Shelley. I remember her in 1820, living en pension at Florence, then twenty-six or twenty-seven years of age. She might have been mistaken for an Italian, for she was a brunette with very dark hair and eyes. Her history was then a profound secret, but as it has been told by Lord Byron’s historian, may find a place here without any indiscretion on my part. As she possessed considerable accomplishments—spoke French and Italian, particularly the latter, with all its nuances and niceties—she was much courted by the Russian coterie, a numerous and fashionable one in that city. Though not strictly handsome at that time, for she had had much to struggle with, and mind makes its ravages in the fairest, most, she was engaging and pleasing, and possessed an esprit de societé rare among our countrywomen. From her personal appearance at that time, I should conceive, that when Byron formed an intimacy with her at Geneva in 1816, she must have been strikingly handsome. It has been supposed that his sonnet to
Genevra was intended for her; and though in some respects the portrait is unlike, in drawing her, the noble poet might not perhaps wish to make it too faithful, to be recognised. She was not altogether a stranger to Byron when they met at Secheron; for, as he was about to quit London for the continent, in the spring of that year, after his mysterious repudiation by
Lady Byron, she had an interview with him, for the purpose of obtaining an engagement at Drury Lane, where I have no doubt she would have distinguished herself as an actress; but which object, his recent resignation of office as chairman of the committee of management, precluded him, as he explained to her, from forwarding. She had accompanied the Shelleys, as may be already conjectured, on this their tour, and passed the summer with them at Mont Allegre; and here it was that Byron’s acquaintance with this lady was renewed. I do not accuse him of any systematic seduction as regards Miss C. She was of a fearless and independent character; despised the
opinion of the world, looking upon the law of marriage as of human invention, having been early imbued with the doctrines of
Mary Wollstonecraft, and entertaining high notions of the rights of women. The sex are fond of rakes: a strange infatuation! It is said that Byron’s attentions were irresistible; and when they were enhanced by verses, the very essence of feeling, Clara’s fall could not be doubtful.

I have reason to believe, however, that this intrigue was carried on with the greatest secrecy; and that neither the Shelleys nor Polidori were for a long time privy to it: perhaps also, it arose out of some momentary frailty and impulse, from some fatal “importunity and opportunity,” in which the senses rather than the heart were engaged—a momentary intoxication, that the dictates of returning reason cooled into indifference on both sides.

The mystery, however, could not be kept—even if at the latter end of August—they landed, I think, in England, on the 6th of September—it
was one; for the mystery soon revealed itself. She gave birth in due time, to a daughter, who was called
Allegra, from Mont Allegre.

Some foul and infamously calumnious slander, relating to this accouchement, gave rise to the dark insinuations afterwards thrown out in the Quarterly Review, by the writer of the critique on the Revolt of Islam, where the lampooner says, at the conclusion of the article, “If we might withdraw the veil of private life, and tell all we know about Shelley, it would be indeed a disgusting picture that we should exhibit; but it would be an unanswerable comment to our text,” for “it is not easy for those who read only, to conceive how much low selfishness, how much unmanly cruelty, are consistent with the laws of this universal and lawless love.”

This prying into private life, and founding on senseless gossip, such foul and infamous accusations, was unworthy of the most scurrilous of those weekly journals that pander to the evil
passions of society; but most disgraceful to a review of so high a character as the
Quarterly. Shelley had been, however, as I have mentioned above, long before the appearance of this article, a victim to the scandal. With his contempt of the world’s opinion, where he felt a consciousness of no wrong, as far as regarded this unfortunate connexion, he bore the obloquy unflinchingly, rather than divulge what he had given his word to Lord Byron to conceal. Allegra, when a few months old, was carried by a Swiss nurse, and delivered to Lord Byron, then at Venice.

No part of Lord Byron’s conduct is more enigmatical than his neglect of this interesting young woman; and the reason of his making no settlement on the mother of his child, after withdrawing it from her care, is one of the problems I leave others to solve in this riddle of a man. I often heard him speak of Allegra as recorded in the Conversations. It is to her Shelley alludes in his Julian and Madalo, where
he says, that whilst waiting in his palace for its lord,
“With his child he played;
A lovelier toy sweet Nature never made,
A serious, subtle—wild, yet gentle being;
Graceful without design, and unforeseeing;
With eyes—Oh speak not of her eyes, they seem
Twin mirrors of Italian heavens—yet gleam
With such deep meaning, as we never see
But in the human countenance. With me
She was a special favourite. I had nursed
Her fine and feeble limbs, when she came first
To this bleak world; and yet she seemed to know
On second sight, her ancient playfellow;
For after the first shyness was worn out,
We sate there rolling billiard balls about,
When the Count entered.”

A regard for children, singular and touching, is an unerring and most engaging indication of a benevolent mind. “That this characteristic was not wanting in Shelley, might be demonstrated,” says his friend Hogg, “by numerous examples, that crowd upon recollection, each of them bearing the strongly impressed stamp of individuality; for genius renders every surround-
ing circumstance significant and important. In one of our rambles we were traversing the bare, squalid, ugly, corn-yielding country, that lies, if I remember rightly, to the south-west. The hollow road ascended a hill, and near the summit, Shelley observed a female child leaning against the bank on the right. It was of a mean, dull, and unattractive aspect, and older than its stunted growth denoted. The little girl was oppressed with cold, by hunger, and by a vague feeling of abandonment. It was not easy to draw from her blue lips an intelligent history of her condition. Love, however, is at once credulous and apprehensive, and Shelley immediately decided that she had been deserted, and with his wonted precipitation, (for in the career of humanity his active spirit knew no pause) he proposed different schemes for the permanent relief of the poor foundling. I answered, that it was desirable in the first place to try to procure some food, for of this the want was manifestly the most urgent. I then climbed the hill to reconnoitre, and ob-
served a cottage close at hand, on the left of the road. With considerable difficulty—with a gentle violence, indeed, Shelley induced the child to accompany him thither. After much delay, we procured from the people of the place some warm milk. It was a strange spectacle to watch the young poet, with the enthusiastic and intensely earnest manner that characterises the legitimate brethren of the celestial art—the heaven-born and finely inspired sons of genuine poesy—holding the wooden bowl in one hand, and the wooden spoon in the other, and kneeling on his left knee, that he might more certainly attain to her mouth. The hot milk was agreeable to the girl, and its effects were salutary, but she was obviously uneasy at the detention.

“Her uneasiness increased, and ultimately prevailed; we returned with her to the place where we had found her, Shelley bearing the bowl of milk in his hand.

“Here we saw some people anxiously looking for the child; as soon as the girl perceived
them, she was content, and taking the bowl from
Shelley, she finished it without his help.”

Several other anecdotes are related of Shelley’s active benevolence to children of the poor people. The passionate fondness of the Platonic philosophy, seemed to sharpen his natural affection for them, and his sympathy with their innocence. “Every true Platonist,” he used to say, “must be a lover of children, for they are our masters and instructors in philosophy; the mind of a new-born infant, so far from being, as Locke affirms, a sheet of blank paper, is a pocket edition, containing every dialogue—a complete Elzivir Plato, if we can fancy such a pleasant volume, and moreover, a perfect encyclopædia, comprehending not only all the newest discoveries, but all those still more valuable and wonderful inventions that will be made hereafter.

“In consequence of this theory, upon which his active imagination loved to dwell, and which he delighted to maintain in argument, with the few persons qualified to dispute with him on the
higher metaphysics; his fondness for children—a fondness innate in generous minds, was augmented and elevated, and the gentle interest expanded into a profound and philosophical sentiment. The Platonists have been illustrious in all ages, on account of the strength and permanence of their attachments.

“In Shelley the parental affections were developed at an early period to an unusual extent; it was manifest, therefore, that his heart was formed by nature and by cultivation to derive the most exquisite gratification from the society of his own progeny, or the most poignant anguish from a natural or unnatural bereavement.” It was his fate, in the most cruel manner, as I have already stated, to endure the last, nor was he to be spared the first of these miseries that flesh is heir to. But that time was yet distant.

Shelley, as was natural, took, we may perceive by the extract from Julian and Madalo, a lively interest in this child of Byron’s; the mother
having been one of the companions of his travels, in his two outwanderings,—and he it was who paid her pension at Florence, and supported her during his life. The little creature, the offspring of his friend’s liaison, took, as I have heard Shelley frequently say, a violent dislike to the father, as it was just it should to one who had so cruelly renounced and injured her who gave birth to it. Nor had Byron much affection for
Allegra; a Mrs. V——n, it appears, saw the infant at Mr. Hoppner’s, the consul’s, at Venice, and being herself childless, wished to adopt it; and Byron would have consented to the proposition, but for Shelley; indeed Lord Byron seems to have been disappointed at the failure of the arrangement; Mr. Moore says, “broken off by his refusing to grant the entire renunciation of his parental authority—but what parental authority could be exercised over a child in a distant country, educated by strangers? Lord Byron expresses his disappointment at the breaking off the negociation, in a letter to Mr. Hoppner, thus:
“I thought you would have an answer from Mrs. V——n. You have had bore enough with me, and mine already;” and on the occasion of the death of Allegra, he seems not to have acquitted himself of some blame, for he thus writes to Shelley on that occasion:—

“April, 1822.

“The blow was stunning, and unexpected, for I thought the danger was over by the long interval between the child’s amelioration, and the arrival of the express. But I have borne up against it as I best can; so far successfully, that I can go about the usual business of life with the same composure, and even greater. There is nothing to prevent your coming here tomorrow; but perhaps to-day and yester evening it was better not to have met. I do not know that I have anything to reproach in my conduct, and certainly nothing in my feelings and intentions towards the dead. But it is a moment, when we are apt to think that if this or that
had been done, (meaning that, contrary to
Shelley’s advice, he had not left the child behind him in the convent,) such an event might have been prevented, though every day and every hour shews us that they are most natural and inevitable. I suppose that time will do its cruel work. Death has done his.

“Yours ever,
N. Byron.”

Many years after, a lady whose talents and accomplishments are thrown into shade by the qualities of her heart, took a great interest in the mother of Allegra, and had obtained for her, or thought she had obtained, a situation as humble companion. Miss C. was too noble to conceal her story from the ear of her intended benefactress, before she entered on her office; and in consequence of her sincerity, the affair was broken off. How applicable are Shelley’s words to this unfortunate lady, whose life before and since this one false step, has never had a shadow of
blame thrown on it, and whose talents, manners, and accomplishments well fitted her for any circle. “Has a woman obeyed the impulse of unerring nature, the world declares against her, pitiless, unceasing war. She must be the tame slave—she must make no reprisals. Theirs is the right of persecution—hers the duty of endurance. She lives a life of infamy—the low and bitter laugh of scorn scares her from all return. She is the criminal, the froward, the untameable child; and society, forsooth, the pure and virtuous matron, casts her as an abortion from her undefiled bosom.”

Should this passage meet the eye of the over-righteous individual to whom it is applied, let her reflect on these words, and blush through her rouge with shame. No! “the cold-hearted worldling” will smile with self-complacency at her own virtue, and deem it one of the proudest and most saving acts of her life, to have repulsed and rejected the frail one. How would morality, dressed in stiff stays and
finery, start from her own disgusting image, could she look in the mirror of Nature.