LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley
Florence: 1819
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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The poet, in the latter part of the year, mi-
grated to Florence. Here, after his severe mental sufferings, though his physical ones were unabated, he enjoyed some repose, and luxuriated in the divine creations of Grecian art.

He was a constant visitor to the Uffizii gallery. Schiller has left us, in the Brief eines residentes Danes, a sketch, and a valuable one, of many antiques. “An invisible hand,” he says, “lifts the veil of the past, and thou standest in the midst of smiling, beautiful Greece, and wanderest among bowers and groves, and worshippest, as it, the Gods of romance.” But the German poet’s descriptions of the Niobe and the Apollo, and the Dancing Faun, and the Medician Venus, are pale and lifeless, compared with those which may be found in Shelley’s Posthumous Works. But there are two groups which Mrs. Shelley has omitted in her Work of Love, and which I shall give in his own words—premising them by saying that these notes were written in pencil, and thrown off in the gallery, in a burst
of enthusiasm, proving that thoughts struck out in the fire of the moment, have a more inherent force of truth—give birth to a natural eloquence that defies all that study and after meditation can produce.

Of the Laocoon he says,—“The subject of the Laocoon is a disagreeable one, but whether we consider the grouping, or the execution, nothing that remains to us of antiquity can surpass it. It consists of a father and his two sons. Byron thinks that Laocoon’s anguish is absorbed in that of his children, that a mortal’s agony is blending with an immortal’s patience. Not so. Intense physical suffering, against which he pleads with an upraised countenance of despair, and appeals with a sense of its injustice, seems the predominant and overwhelming emotion, and yet there is a nobleness in the expression, and a majesty that dignifies torture.

“We now come to his children. Their features and attitudes indicate the excess of the filial love and devotion that animates them, and swal-
lows up all other feelings. In the elder of the two, this is particularly observable. His eyes are fixedly bent on Laocoon—his whole soul is with—is a part of that of his father. His arm extended towards him, not for protection, but from a wish as if instinctively to afford it, absolutely speaks. Nothing can be more exquisite than the contour of his form and face, and the moulding of his lips, that are half open, as if in the act of—not uttering any unbecoming complaint, or prayer or lamentation, which he is conscious are alike useless—but addressing words of consolatory tenderness to his unfortunate parent. The intensity of his bodily torments is only expressed by the uplifting of his right foot, which he is vainly and impotently attempting to extricates from the grasp of the mighty folds in which it is entangled.

“In the younger child, surprise, pain, and grief seem to contend for mastery. He is not yet arrived at an age when his mind has sufficient self-possession, or fixedness of reason, to analyse
the calamity that is overwhelming himself and all that is dear to him. He is sick with pain and horror. We almost seem to hear his shrieks. His left hand is on the head of the snake, that is burying its fangs in his side, and the vain and fruitless attempt he is making to disengage it, increases the effect. Every limb, every muscle, every vein of Laocoon expresses, with the fidelity of life, the working of the poison, and the strained girding round of the inextricable folds, whose tangling sinuosities are too numerous and complicated to be followed. No chisel has ever displayed with such anatomical fidelity and force, the projecting muscles of the arm, whose hand clenches the neck of the reptile, almost to strangulation, and the mouth of the enormous asp, and his terrible fangs widely displayed, in a moment to penetrate and meet within its victim’s heart, make the spectator of this miracle of sculpture, turn away with shuddering and awe, and doubt the reality of what he sees.”


Not less charming are Shelley’s remarks on the group of the Bacchus and Ampelus in the same gallery.

“Look! the figures are walking as it were with a sauntering and idle pace, and talking to each other as they walk, and this is expressed in the motion of their delicate and glowing forms. One arm of Bacchus rests with its entire weight on the shoulder of Ampelus, the other, the fingers being gently curved, as with the living spirit that animates the flexible joints, is gracefully thrown forward to correspond with the advance of the opposite leg. He has sandals, and buskins clasped with two serpents’ heads, and his leg is cinctured with their skins. He is crowned with vine-leaves, laden with their crude fruit, and the crisp leaves hang with the inertness of a faded leaf over his neck and massy, profuse, down-hanging hair, which gracefully divided on his forehead, falls in delicate wreaths on each side his neck, and curls upon the breast. Ampelus, with a young lion’s or lynx’s skin over his
shoulders, holds a cap in his right hand, and with his left half encircles Bacchus, as you may have seen a younger and an elder boy at school, walking in some grassy spot of the playground, with that tender friendship for each other that the age inspires. The countenance of Bacchus is sublimely sweet and lovely, taking a shade of gentle and playful tenderness from the arch looks of Ampelus, whose cheerful face turned towards him, expresses the suggestion of some droll and merry device. It has a divine and supernatural beauty, as one who walks through the world untouched by its corrupting cares. It looks like one who unconsciously confers pleasure and peace. The countenance of Ampilus is in some respects boyish and inferior, that of Bacchus expresses an imperturbable and godlike self-possession—he seems in the enjoyment of a calm delight, that nothing can destroy. His is immortal beauty.”

In this city he saw one of those republics that opposed for some time a systematic and effectual
resistance to all the surrounding tyranny of popedom and despotism. “The Lombard League,” he says, “defeated the arms of the despot in the field, and until Florence was betrayed into the hands of those polished tyrants the Medici, freedom had one citadel, where it could find refuge from a world that was its foe.” To this cause he attributed the undisputed superiority of Italy in literature and the arts, above all its contemporaries; the union and energy and beauty which distinguish from all other poets the writings of
Dante; the restlessness of fervid power which surpassed itself in painting and sculpture, and from which Raphael and Michael Angelo drew their inspiration.

It was during his stay in Florence, that he first saw the critique in the Quarterly Review of 1818, on his Laon and Cythna, or a Revolution of the Golden City, a Vision of the Nineteenth Century, as it was first entitled; better known as the Revolt of Islam: a review, be it here said, that has always endeavoured to crush rising
talent—never done justice to one individual, whose opinions did not square with its own in religion or politics.

A friend of mine, the late Lord Dillon, mentioned to me an anecdote of Shelley, with reference to the article in question, which is too characteristic to be passed over in silence. His lordship observed at Delesert’s reading-room, a young man very earnestly bent over the last Quarterly. It was Shelley, and when he came to the end of the paper, to the irresistibly ludicrous comparison of himself to Pharaoh, where the Crispinus pompously says, “Like the Egyptians of old, the wheels of his chariot are broken, the path of mighty waters closes in from behind, a still deepening ocean is before him, for a short time are seen his impotent struggles against a resistless power, his blasphemous execrations are heard, his despair, but he poorly assumes the tone of triumph and defiance, and he calls ineffectually on others to follow him in the same ruin, finally he sinks like lead to be
forgotten.” When he came to this specimen of bathos, this stick after the explosion of the rocket, Shelley burst into a convulsive laughter, closed the book with an hysteric laugh, and hastily left the room, his Ha! ha’s ringing down the stairs.

As the Edinburgh Review was unprophetic as to Byron, its great rival’s predictions about Shelley were equally falsified. It has been the crying evil of all times, that early genius has been ever depressed. There is scarcely a great poet from the time of Milton, down to the present day, who has not proved a mark for the invidious malice of his contemporaries. But among all authors of a past or present age, none has been more unjustly handled than Shelley, as this April number before me testifies. If it was written, as Byron supposed, by one who afterwards borrowed most largely from him whom he vituperates, and who has been raised far above his petty standard—elevated on stilts—in the pages of that very veridical review which assumes
to be the oracle and guide of literature, his depreciation of one whom he feared might one day make him hide his own diminished head, will be more easily intelligible, though the condemnation of his scepticism came with an ill grace from an individual, and
that person* a priest, who has since endeavoured in a more systematic way, to sap the very foundations of Christianity, by depriving of its prophetic character, the Old Testament, and resolving all its miracles into the effects of natural causes; for which he was visited, and justly, with the loss of his professorial chair in Divinity. Poetry—at least poetry

* An anonymous libeller in Blackwood, who signs himself “Hanoveriensis,” (quære John Cam Hobhouse.) says, “He (Lord Byron) represents Milman as the author on Shelley in the Quarterly Review. This must be a vague guess of Captain Medwin’s, for Lord Byron knew from the best authority, that it was written by a nephew of Coleridge.” This is one of Hobhouse’s knock-me-down assertions, and probably as false as most of them. Did he never see the Don Juan expunged stanzas, about “a priest almost a priest”? Lord Byron frequently expressed to Shelley and myself a different conviction. How much, if Hobhouse is right about the paternity, must the great Coleridge have blushed at his degenerate relative!

of so high and metaphysical a kind as that of Shelley—his idealisms of Intellectual Beauty and Universal Love, his Speculations respecting the Misgovernment of the World, and the Causes of the existing Evils in the Institutions of Society, however founded on his own construction of the Necessity of a Change—A Revolt of Islam—were, as the reviewer himself confesses, harmless; for he admits, “that of all his brethren, Mr. Shelley carries to the greatest length the doctrines of his sect,” and he adds, “that he is, from this, and other reasons, by far the least pernicious of them, indeed that there is a naiveté and an openness in his manner of laying down the most extraordinary positions, which in some degree deprive them of their venom; and when he enlarges on what are but necessary results of systems more gradually detailed by others, he might almost be mistaken for an artful advocate of civil order and religious institutions.”

“And yet, with this admission of the uninjurious tendency of this poem, and the unwillingly
extorted admission of its beauty, he endeavours to persuade himself that it can never become popular, on the ground that its merits and faults equally conspire against it, for it has not much ribaldry or voluptuousness for prurient imaginations, and no personal scandal for the malicious.” High merits, at all events. But it is clear that
The Divine is not quite satisfied in his own mind, that his leaden shafts will be effectual to crush his formidable rival, and thinks the most effectual way of preventing his book from getting into the hands of readers, is to calumniate the man—and no one knew him less; to begin by saying, “He was a very vain man, that his speculations and disappointments began in early childhood, and that even from that period he carried about with him a soured and discontented spirit—in boyhood unamiable, in youth querulous, and unmanly in manhood. Singularly unhappy in all three.” Adding, “He speaks of his school as a world of woes, of his masters as tyrants, of his schoolfellows as enemies. Alas!
what is this but to bear evidence against himself? Every one who knows what a public school must be, will only trace in these lines an insubordinate, a vain, and mortified spirit.”

If there be any fidelity in the picture which I have drawn of Shelley, from his childhood through his boyhood, and up to his manhood, the falsehood of this summing up of his character will be self-apparent. Shelley does not so much speak of the public school of Eton, when he alludes to his world of woes, tyrants and enemies, but of another establishment. He never carried about with him a soured or discontented spirit. His melancholy was that of meditation and abstraction, not misanthropy. He was not unteachable as a boy, or how did he acquire his knowledge; he was not unamiable, no boy was ever more affectionate; and although he entered into no manly sports, from the delicacy of his constitution, no one was more playful and sportive; nor was he querulous and unmanly in manhood.


As Æschylus makes Prometheus pathetically say,—
“’Tis easy
For one whose path of life is free from cares
And sorrows, to give counsel, and find words
Of sharp reproof to tax with evil those
Who walk in misery.”
It is a passage I have often heard him quote, on realising the evil augury, that in his seventeenth year inspired the following
“’Tis mournful when the deadliest hate
Of friends and fortune and of fate,
Is levelled at one fated head.”
His first ill-assorted and ill-judged marriage brought with it miseries, and left behind it wounds, that smarted indeed, but never festered his spirit. Misery was to him a crucible for purifying the ore of humanity. It begat in him a more exceeding love for all that was lovely—an universal philanthropy. Even for the author of this unworthy and disgraceful lampoon, he
entertained no hatred, and says in some
lines addressed to the reviewer,—
“Alas! good friend, what profit can you see,
In hating such a hateless thing as me?
There is no spirit in hate, when all the rage
Is on one side—in vain would you assuage
Your frowns upon an unresisting smile,
In which not even contempt lurks,” &c.
And in other stanzas, entitled “
To a Critic,” he ends with—
“I hate the want of truth, and love—
How should I then hate thee!”

How forcibly does Shelley remind us of Plato, who when written to by Dionysius to spare him,—that Dionysius who had sold him for a slave, replied, that he had no time to think of Dionysius.

To the effect of this attack on Shelley’s life and prospects, I shall hereafter allude. Its venom was scattered far and wide. It worked well. The detractor knew what he was about. The moral
English public are apt to associate the man with his works; and the consequence was, that this sublime poem, published at Shelley’s own expense, fell almost still-born from the press.

On the eve of my departure from Bombay, in October 1818, I met in the bazaar, at a Parsee book-stall, with a copy of the Revolt of Islam. It had been shipped with other unsaleable literary commodities—for it is the habit of the purchasers at the trade sales, to send out such wares to the colonies,—and I purchased it for little more than its value in waste paper, with which it was its fate to line many a trunk, and furnish wrappers for the grocer. Young men on quitting school and college, lead a life of so much adventure, are so much absorbed in the pursuits and occupations of active life, that they know not till some circumstance brings back the past, how much regard they entertain for each other. I had, it is true, heard of the result of his first unhappy marriage, but his second union was new to me, and the Introduction, full of beauty and feeling,
and the allusions in it to his school life, reawakened my sympathies, and revived all my dormant affections. But if I yearned to see him again, and anticipated the period of our meeting once more with delight, I was astonished at the greatness of his genius, and made the volume the companion of my journey, delighting to trace in it the elements of his young mind down to their complete development, as in a chart we love to follow the course of some river whose source we have visited. On my return he was the first person I wrote to, and found that he had not forgotten the companion of his boyhood. His letters breathed the same warmth of regard which he had ever entertained for me, and they contained an invitation to visit him at Florence, where I at first addressed him, he having quitted England little more than a year before I landed at Liverpool. How much do I regret the loss of these letters!

I will beg the reader to excuse this extraneous matter, and take up the thread of Shelley’s
wanderings—returning to Florence, where he passed the autumn and part of the winter of 1819.

Florence the magnificent, with its fortressed palaces—its Piazza Vecchia, crowded with statues, its Santa Croce, and Cascine and Gardens, and splendid galleries, realized all Shelley’s dreams; and here probably he would have taken up his permanent residence, but for the climate, which he considered highly detrimental to his health. Those who know that city, will have experienced the keen, dry, piercing winds, that sweep down from the Apennines, interpenetrate, and pierce like a sword through the system, tearing every house to tatters. They acted on Shelley’s sensitive frame most prejudicially.

On the 25th of January, having completed a third act to his Prometheus, and written his Ode to the West Wind, and the sublime stanzas on the Medusa shield, he embarked for Pisa,—a most original way of making
the journey, which by the tortuous Arno must have been very slow and tedious. His love of boating, however, prevailed over considerations of comfort in travelling, and he thought that, suffering as he was from his complaint, he could better bear the motion of a boat, than of a carriage, and he anticipated, even at that season, “the delights of the sky, the river, and the mountains.”

His first impression of Pisa, as appears by one of his letters, was not very favourable, but it being in a hollow, and sheltered from the Tramontana, he found so great a relief, that he decided to make it hereafter his winter place of abode. Another inducement was the water—the best in Italy, which is brought from the mountains by an aqueduct, whose long line of arches reminded him of the Campagna.

In the spring he stopped a week or two near Leghorn, with his friends the Gisbornes, and it was on a beautiful evening, while wandering among the lanes, where myrtle hedges were the
bowers of the fire-flies, that he heard the carolling of the skylark, which inspired one of his most beautiful

They spent the summer at the baths of St. Julien, four miles from Pisa, at the foot of the mountains, which Dante says—
“I Pisan veder Lucca non ponno.”

I shall now bring myself in near contact with him, hoping to be excused any autobiographical matter that may creep into my narrative.