LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley
Taste for the Gothic
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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I now bring Shelley, his school education
completed, back to Field-place. We had always been much together during the vacations, and constantly corresponded, and it is a matter of deep regret to me that I did not preserve those letters, the tenor of which was partly literary, and partly metaphysical. Such literature! and such metaphysics! both rather crude. I have a vivid recollection of the walks we took in the winter of 1809. There is something in a frosty day, when the sun is bright, the sky clear, and the air rarified, which acts like a sort of intoxication. On such days Shelley’s spirits used to run riot, his “sweet and subtle talk” was to me inebriating and electric. He had begun to have a longing for authorship—a dim presentiment of his future fame—an ambition of making a name in the world. We that winter wrote, in alternate chapters, the commencement of a wild and extravagant romance, where a hideous witch played the principal part, and whose portrait—not a very inviting one—is given in the “
Wandering Jew,” of which I shall have occasion to
speak, almost versified from a passage in our Nightmare.
When suddenly, a meteor’s glare
With brilliant flash illumed the air,
Bursting thro’ clouds of sulphurous smoke,
As from a witch’s form it broke:
Of Herculean bulk her frame
Seemed blasted by the lightning’s flame—
Her eyes, that flared with lurid light,
Were now with bloodshot lustre filled,
And now thick rheumy gore distilled;
Black as the raven’s plume, her locks
Loose streamed upon the pointed rocks—
Wild floated on the hollow gale,
Or swept the ground in matted trail:
Vile loathsome weeds, whose pitchy fold
Were blackened by the fire of Hell,
Her shapeless limbs of giant mould
Scarce served to hide, as she the while
Grinned horribly a ghastly smile,
And shrieked with hideous yell.

Shelley having abandoned prose for poetry, now formed a grand design, a metrical romance on the subject of the Wandering Jew, of which the first three cantos were, with a few additions and alterations, almost entirely mine. It was a sort
of thing such as boys usually write, a cento from different favourite authors; the vision in the third canto taken from
Lewis’s Monk, of which, in common with Byron, he was a great admirer; and the Crucifixion scene, altogether a plagiarism from a volume of Cambridge Prize Poems. The part which I supplied is still in my possession. After seven or eight cantos were perpetrated, Shelley sent them to Campbell for his opinion on their merits, with a view to publication. The author of the Pleasures of Hope returned the MS. with the remark, that there were only two good lines in it:
It seemed as if an angel’s sigh
Had breathed the plaintive symphony.*

Lines, by the way, savouring strongly of Walter Scott. This criticism of Campbell’s gave a death

* The passage ran thus:—

She ceased, and on the listening ear
Her pensive accents died—
So sad they were, so softly clear,
It seemed as if an angel’s sigh
Had breathed a plaintive symphony:
So ravishingly sweet their close.
blow to our hopes of immortality, and so little regard did
Shelley entertain for the production, that he left it at his lodgings in Edinburgh, where it was disinterred by some correspondent of Fraser’s, and in whose magazine, in 1831, four of the cantos appeared. The others he very wisely did not think worth publishing.

It must be confessed that Shelley’s contributions to this juvenile attempt were far the best, and those, with my MS. before me, I could, were it worth while, point out, though the contrast in the style, and the inconsequence of the opinions on religion, particularly in the last canto, are sufficiently obvious to mark two different hands, and show which passages were his. There is a song at the end of the fourth canto which is very musical:
See yon opening rose
Spreads its fragrance to the gale!
It fades within an hour!
Its decay is fast—is pale—
Paler is yon maiden,
Faster is her heart’s decay—
Deep with sorrow laden
She sinks in death—away.

The finale of the Wandering Jew is also Shelley’s, and proves that thus early he had imbibed opinions which were often the subject of our controversies. We differed also as to the conduct of the poem. It was my wish to follow the German fragment, and put an end to the Wandering Jew—a consummation Shelley would by no means consent to. Mrs. Shelley is misinformed as to the history of the fragment from the German, which I, not Shelley, picked up in Lincoln’s-Inn-Fields, (as mentioned in my preface to Ahasuerus), and which was not found till some of the cantos had been written. Byron was well acquainted with this fragment,* to be found in one of the notes to Queen Mab, and owes to it the passage in Manfred:

* The Serpent stung but could not destroy me. The Dragon tormented but dared not to devour me. The foaming billows cast me on the shore, and the burning arrows of existence pierced my cold heart again. The restless Curse held mo by the hair, and I could not die.—Notes to Queen Mab, p. 29.

I have affronted Death, but in the storm
Of elements, the water shrunk from me,
And fatal things passed harmless: the cold hand
Of an all-pitiless demon held me back,
Back by a single hair—I could not die.

Ahasuerus ever continued a favourite with Shelley. He introduces him into Queen Mab, where is to be found a passage, but slightly changed, from the original Wandering Jew, which he took as an epigraph of a chapter in his Rosicrucian.
E’en as a giant oak, which Heaven’s fierce flame
Has scathed in the wilderness, to stand
A monument of fadeless ruin there;
Yet powerfully and movelessly it bears
The midnight conflict of the wintry waves.*

* Still like the scathed pine tree’s height,
Braving the tempest of the night;
Have I ’scaped the bickering fire—
Like the scattered pine, which a monument stands
Of faded grandeur, which the brands
Of the tempest-shaken air
Have riven on the desolate heath;
Yet it stands majestic e’en in death,
And raises its wild form there.

Ahasuerus ia also made to figure in Hellas, and we find in Alastor the following aspiration:
O! that God,
Profuse of poisons, would concede the chalice,
Which but one living man has drained, who now,
Vessel of deathless wrath, wanders for ever,
Lone as incarnate Death.

But Shelley was not the first who has been struck with the poetical capabilities of such a character. Voltaire makes him play a part in the Henriade, and says:
C’etoit un de ces Hebreux,
Qui proscrits sur la terre, et citoyens du monde,
Portent de mers en mers leur misere profonde,
Et d’un antique amas de superstitions,
Ont remplis de long temps toutes les nations.

In order to dispose of this subject, I will add, that after Shelley had been matriculated, on his visit to the Bodleian, the first question he put to the librarian, was, whether he had the Wandering Jew. He supposed Shelley meant the
Periodical so entitled, edited, I believe, by the
Marquis d’Argens, who formed one of the wits composing the literary court of Frederick the Great, but told him he knew of no book in German by that name. German was at that time little cultivated in England. There were, I believe, no translations then extant of Schiller. Göthe was only known by the Sorrows of Werther, and Canning and Frere had, in the Antijacobin, thrown ridicule on the poetry of that country, which long lasted. Shelley had imagined that the great Oxford library contained all books in all languages, and was much disappointed. He was not aware that the fragment which I had accidentally found was not a separate publication, but mixed up with the works of some German poet, and had been copied, I believe, from a Magazine of the day.

Shelley’s favourite poet in 1809 was Southey. He had read Thalaba till he almost knew it by heart, and had drenched himself with its metrical beauty.


I have often heard him quote that exquisite passage, where the Enchantress winds round the finger of her victim a single hair, till the spell becomes inextricable—the charm cannot be broken. But he still more doted on Kehamah, the Curse of which I remember Shelley often declaiming:
And water shall see thee!
And fear thee, and fly thee!
The waves shall not touch thee
As they pass by thee!
* * * *
And this curse shall be on thee,
For ever and ever.

I transcribe the passage from memory, for I have never read since, that romance he used to look upon as perfect; and was haunted by the witch Loranite, raving enthusiastically about the lines, beginning:
Is there a child whose little winning ways
Would lure all hearts, on whom its parents gaze
Till they shed tears of tenderest delight,
Oh hide her from the eye of Loranite!


Wordsworth’s writings were at that time by no means to his taste. It was not sufficiently refined to enjoy his simplicity, he wanted something more exciting. Chatterton was then one of his great favourites; he enjoyed very much the literary forgery and successful mystification of Horace Walpole and his contemporaries; and the Immortal Child’s melancholy and early fate often suggested his own. One of his earliest effusions was a fragment beginning—it was indeed almost taken from the pseudo Rowley:
Hark! the owlet flaps his wings
In the pathless dell beneath;
Hark! ’tis the night-raven sings
Tidings of approaching death.

I had had lent me the translation of Burgher’sLeonora,” with Lady Diana Beauclerk’s talented illustrations, which so perfectly breathe the spirit of that wild, magical, romantic, fantastic ballad, perhaps without exception the most stirring in any language. It produced on Shelley a powerful effect; and I have in my possession a
copy of the whole poem, which he made with his own hand. The story is by no means original, if not taken from an old English ballad. For the refrain,
How quick ride the dead,
which occurs in so many stanzas, Burgher is indebted to an old Volkslied, was indeed inspired by hearing in the night sung from the church-yard:
Der mond, der scheint so helle
Die Todten reiten so snelle
Feinliebgchen, graut dir nicht?

Situate as Horsham is on the borders of St. Leonard’s Forest, into which we used frequently to extend our peregrinations,—a forest that has ever been the subject of the legends of the neighbouring peasantry, in whose gloomy mazes
The adders never stynge,
Nor ye nightyngales synge,—
Shelley very early imbibed a love of the marvellous, and, according to one of those legends, “Wo to the luckless wight who should venture to cross it alone on horseback during the night,
for no sooner has he entered its darksome precincts, than a horrible decapitated spectre, disregarding all prayers and menaces, leaps behind him on his good steed, and accompanies the affrighted traveller to the boundaries, where his power ceases.” It was only another, and perhaps a more poetical version of the story of Leonora, and which Shelley had at one time an idea of working out himself. But St. Leonard’s is equally famous for its dragon, or serpent, of which a “
True and Wonderful Discourse” was printed at London in 1614, by John Trundle, and to the truth of which three persons then living affixed their signatures. Who could resist a faith in the being of a monster so well certificated? Certainly Shelley was not inclined to do so, as a boy; and if he had read Schiller’s Fight of the Dragon at Rhodes, where, by the way, one of his ancestors was slain, in the words of the pedigree, “at winning the battle of the said Isle by the Turks,” he would have been still more confirmed in his belief.