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
‣ Expulsion
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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To return, however, to Shelley and Oxford. “It is hazardous to speak of his earlier efforts as a Platonist, lest they should be confounded with his subsequent advancement; it is not easy to describe his first introduction to the exalted wisdom of antiquity, without borrowing inadvertently from the knowledge which he afterwards acquired. The cold, ungenial, foggy atmosphere of northern metaphysics was less suited to the ardent temperament of his soul than the warm, vivifying climate of the southern and eastern philosophy. His genius expanded under the benign influence of the latter, and he derived copious instruction from a luminous system that
is only dark through excess of brightness, and seems obscure to vulgar vision through its extreme radiance.” On this subject I shall have hereafter much to say. Nevertheless, for the present I will repeat, that “in argument, and to argue on all questions was his dominant passion. He usually adopted the scheme of the Sceptics; partly because it was more popular, and is more generally understood. The disputant who would use
Plato as a text-book in this age, would reduce his opponents to a small number indeed.” It was in this spirit, that, in conjunction with his friend (for it was the production of both), in their everyday studies they made up a little book entitled, “The Necessity of Atheism,” and had it printed, I believe in London—certainly not at Oxford. This little pamphlet was never offered for sale. It was not addressed to an ordinary reader, but to the metaphysical alone; and it was so short, that it was only designed to point out the line of argument. It was, in truth, a general issue, a compendious denial of every al-
legation in order to put, the whole case in proof. It was a formal mode of saying,—“You affirm so and so,—then prove it.” And thus was it understood by his more candid and intelligent correspondents. As it was shorter, so was it plainer, and perhaps, in order to provoke discussion, a little bolder than
Hume’s Essays—a book which occupies a conspicuous place in the library of every student. The doctrine, if not deserving the name, was precisely similar—the necessary and inevitable consequence of Locke’s philosophy, and the theory, that all knowledge is from without.

I will not admit your conclusions, his opponent might answer.—Then you must deny those of Hume.—I deny them.—But you must deny those of Locke also; and we will go back together to Plato. Such was the usual course of argument. Sometimes, however, he rested on mere denial, holding his adversary to strict proof, and deriving strength from his weakness. But those who are anxious to see this syllabus, may
find it totidem verbis in the notes to
Queen Mab.

This syllabus he sent to me among many others, and circulated it largely among the heads of colleges, and professors of the university, forwarding copies it is said to several of the bishops. The author of The Opium Eater says that Shelley put his name to the pamphlet, and the name of his college. The publication was anonymous; but the secret (scarcely made a secret) of the authorship soon transpired. I wish I could also confirm Mr. De Quincy’s observation, that Shelley had but just entered his sixteenth year; he was in his nineteenth. Still, however, Shelley was a thoughtless boy at this era, and not a man. The promulgation of this syllabus was a reckless—a mad act.

The consequence might be anticipated. “It was a fine spring morning, on Lady-day, in the year 1811, when,” says Mr. H. “I went to Shelley’s rooms; he was absent; but before I had collected our books, he rushed in. He was
terribly agitated.* I anxiously enquired what had happened: ‘I am expelled!’ he said, as soon as he had recovered himself a little,—‘I am expelled! I was sent for suddenly, a few minutes ago,—I went to the common room, where I found our master and two or three of his fellows. The master produced a copy of the little
syllabus, and asked me if I was the author of it; he spoke in a rude, abrupt, and insolent tone; I begged to be informed for what purpose they put the question,—no answer was given, but the master loudly and angrily repeated, ‘Are you the author of this

* A pendent to this inquisitorial conduct, may be found in the case of Ronge, the new Reformer, who wrote an article in the “Annales de la Patrie,” proclaiming the most ardent sympathy for liberty; and an admiration without bounds for the French revolution. Ronge was summoned by a letter of the Vicar-General of Silesia, to declare whether or not he was the author of the paper in question. Throwing himself on the protection of Prussian laws, that interdict the prosecution of an anonymous author,—at least, where his writings contain no personal scandal, or attacks on the state that may be dangerous,—the curate of Grolkan made this laconic reply, “that his conscience enjoined him silence.” Yet without any proof or trial, Ronge was suspended, and condemned to imprisonment.

book?’ ‘If I can judge from your manner, I said, ‘you are resolved to punish me, if I should acknowledge that it is my work. If you can prove that it is, produce your evidence; it is neither just nor lawful to interrogate me in such a case, and for such a purpose. Such proceedings would become a Court of Inquisitors; but not free men in a free country.’ ‘Do you choose to deny that this is your composition?’ the master reiterated in the same rude and angry voice.’

Shelley complained much of his violent and ungentlemanlike deportment, saying, ‘I have experienced tyranny and injustice before, and I well know what vulgar virulence is, but I never met with such unworthy treatment. I told him calmly, but firmly, that I was determined not to answer any questions respecting the book on the table—he immediately repeated his demand; I persisted in my refusal, and he said, furiously, ‘Then you are expelled, and I desire that you will quit the college to-morrow morning at the latest.’


“‘One of the fellows took up two papers, and handed me one of them,—‘here it is’—he produced a regular sentence of expulsion drawn up in due form, under the seal of the college.”

Shelley was full of spirit and courage, frank and fearless, but he was likewise shy, unpresuming, and eminently sensitive; I have been with him on many trying occasions of his after life, but I never saw him so deeply shocked and so cruelly agitated as on this occasion. A nice sense of honour shrinks from the most distant touch of disgrace—even from the insults of those men whose contumely can bring no shame. He sat on the sofa, repeating with convulsive vehemence the word ‘Expelled! Expelled!’ his head shaking with emotion, his whole frame quivering.”

Speaking of this expulsion, it is to be regretted that his tutor, of whom Mr. H. does not give a very flattering picture, and whom he accuses of denouncing Shelley, did not first attempt to refute his arguments, or this failing, that he had not left the correction of his errors to time and
good sense. I had once a conversation with a German Professor, who expressed his astonishment at this laconic fiat, and said, that had Shelley promulgated this
Syllabus at any of their universities, he would have found Divines enough to have entered the lists with him, adding, that had not the young collegian been convinced, he would not have drawn from what he deemed intolerance and persecution, an obstinate adherence to his errors, from a belief that his logic was unanswerable.

It might be supposed that it was not without some reluctance, that the master and fellows of University College passed against Shelley this stern decree, (which Mr. Hogg designates as monstrous and illegal), not only on account of his youth and distinguished talents, promising to reflect credit on the college; but because, as I have said, his father had been a member of it, his ancestors its benefactors. I know not if these considerations had any weight with the conclave, but it appears that Shelley
was by no means in good odour with the authorities of the college, from the side he took in the election of
Lord Grenville, as chancellor, against his competitor, a member of University. Shelley, by his family and connexions, as well as disposition, was attached to the successful party, in common with the whole body of undergraduates, one and all, in behalf of the scholar and liberal statesman. Plain and loud was the avowal of his sentiments, nor were they confined to words, for he published, I think in the Morning Chronicle, under the signature of A Master of Arts of Oxford, a letter advocating the claims of Lord Grenville, which, perhaps, might have been detected as his, by the heads of the college. It was a well-written paper, and calculated to produce some effect; and as he expressed himself eminently delighted at the issue of the contest,—“at that wherewith his superiors were offended, he was regarded from the beginning with a jealous eye.” Such at least are the impressions of his friend.


The next morning at eight o’clock, Shelley and Mr. H., who had been involved in the same fate, set out together for London on the top of the coach; and with his final departure from the university, the reminiscences of his life at Oxford terminate.

The narration of the injurious effects of this cruel, precipitate, unjust, and illegal expulsion, upon the entire course of his subsequent life, will not be wanting in interest or instruction; of a period, when the scene was changed from the quiet seclusion of academic groves and gardens, and the calm valley of the silvery Isis, to the stormy ocean of that vast and shoreless world, and to the utmost violence of which, he was, at an early age, suddenly and unnaturally abandoned.

I remember, as if it occurred yesterday, his knocking at my door in Garden Court, in the Temple, at four o’clock in the morning, the second day after his expulsion. I think I hear his cracked voice, with his well-known pipe,—
Medwin, let me in, I am expelled;” here followed a sort of loud, half-hysteric laugh, and a repetition of the words—“I am expelled,” with the addition of, “for Atheism.” Though greatly shocked, I was not much surprised at the news, having been led to augur such a close to his collegiate career, from the Syllabus and The Posthumous Works of Peg Nicholson, and the bold avowal of his scepticism. My apprehensions, too, of the consequences of this unhappy event, from my knowledge of Sir Timothy’s character, were soon confirmed; nor was his partner in misfortune doomed to a milder fate. Their fathers refused to receive them under their roofs. Like the old men in Terence, they compared notes, and hardened each other’s hearts. This unmitigable hatred was continued down to the deaths of both. One had not the power of carrying his worldly resentment beyond the grave, but the other not only never forgave, or I believe ever would see his eldest son, (for such he was, and presumptive heir to a large fortune) but cut him off,
speaking after the manner of the Roman law, with a shilling.

During Shelley’s ostracism, he and his friend took a lodging together, where I visited them, living as best they could. Good arises out of evil. Both owe, perhaps, to this expulsion, their celebrity; one has risen to an eminence as a lawyer, which he might never have attained, and the other has made himself a name which will go down to posterity with those of Milton and Byron.

At this time Shelley was ever in a dreamy state, and he told me he was in the habit of noting down his dreams. The first day, he said, they amounted to a page, the next to two, the third to several, till at last they constituted the greater part of his existence; realising Calderon’s Sueno e Sueno. One morning he told me he was satisfied of the existence of two sorts of dreams, the Phrenic and the Psychic; and that he had witnessed a singular phenomenon, proving that the mind and the soul were separate and differ-
ent entities—that it had more than once happened to him to have a dream, which the mind was pleasantly and actively developing; in the midst of which, it was broken off by a dream within a dream—a dream of the soul, to which the mind was not privy; but that from the effect it produced—the start of horror with which he waked, must have been terrific. It is no wonder that, making a pursuit of dreams, he should have left some as a catalogue of the phenomena of dreams, as connecting sleeping and waking.

“I distinctly remember,” he says, “dreaming several times, between the intervals of two or three years, the same precise dream. It was not so much what is ordinarily called a dream: The single image, unconnected with all other images, of a youth who was educated at the same school with myself, presented itself in sleep. Even now, after a lapse of many years, I can never hear the name of this youth, without the three places where I dreamed of him presenting themselves distinctly to my mind.” And again,
“in dreams, images acquire associations peculiar to dreaming; so that the idea of a particular house, when it occurs a second time in dreams, will have relation with the idea of the same house in the first time, of a nature entirely different from that which the house excites when seen or thought of in relation to waking ideas.”

His systematising of dreams, and encouraging, if I may so say, the habit of dreaming, by this journal, which he then kept, revived in him his old somnambulism. As an instance of this, being in Leicester Square one morning at five o’clock, I was attracted by a group of boys collected round a well-dressed person lying near the rails. On coming up to them, my curiosity being excited, I descried Shelley, who had unconsciously spent a part of the night sub dio. He could give me no account of how he got there.

We took during the spring frequent walks in the Parks, and on the banks of the Serpentine. He was fond of that classical recreation, as it appears by a fragment from some comic drama of
Æschylus, of making “ducks and drakes,” counting with the utmost glee the number of bounds, as the flat stones flew skimming over the surface of the water; nor was he less delighted with floating down the wind, paper boats, in the constructing of which, habit had given him a wonderful skill. He took as great interest in the sailing of his frail vessels as a ship-builder may do in that of his vessels—and when one escaped the dangers of the winds and waves, and reached in safety the opposite shore, he would run round to hail the safe termination of its voyage. Mr. H. gives a very pleasant account of Shelley’s fondness for this sort of navigation, and on one occasion, wearied with standing shivering on the bank of the canal, said, “‘Shelley, there is no use in talking to you, you are the Demiurgus of Plato.’ He instantly caught up the whole flotilla he was preparing, and bounding homewards with mighty strides, laughed aloud,—laughed like a giant, as he used to say.”

Singular contrast to the profound speculations
in which he was engaged. He now, rankling with the sense of wrong, and hardened by persecution, and the belief that the logic of his
Syllabus had been unrespected because it could not be shaken, applied himself more closely than ever to that Sceptical philosophy, which he had begun to discard for Plato, and would, but for his expulsion, have soon entirely abandoned. He reverted to his Queen Mab, commenced a year and a half before, and converted what was a mere imaginative poem into a systematic attack on the institutions of society. He not only corrected the versification with great care, but more than doubled its length, and appended to the text the Notes, which were at that time scarcely, if at all begun. The intolerance of the members of a religion, which should be that of love and charity and long-suffering, in his own case, made him throw the odium on the creed itself; and he argues that it is ever a proof that the falsehood of a proposition is felt by those who use coercion, not reasoning, to procure its admission, and adds, that a dispassionate observer would feel himself
more powerfully interested in favour of a man, who, depending on the truth of his opinions, simply. stated his reasons for entertaining them, than that of his aggressor, who daringly avowing his unwillingness or incapacity to answer them by argument, proceeded to repress the energies and break the spirit of their promulgator.

Like a man dominated by a fixed idea, Shelley’s reading, in the concoction of these notes, was one-sided. In addition to Hume’s Essays,* which were his hand-book,—and I remember ridiculing the chapter entitled a Sceptical Solution of Sceptical Doubts, asking him what could be made of a doubtful solution of doubtful doubts?—he dug out of the British Museum, Voltaire, Spinosa,

* The dilemma in which Hume placed Philosophy delighted him. He at that time thought the sceptical mode of reasoning unanswerable. Berkley denied the existence of matter, or rather of the substratum of matter. Hume, going deeper, endeavoured to show mind a figment. Berkley says Hume professes in his title-page to have composed his book against sceptics as well as Atheists and Freethinkers; but all his arguments, though otherwise intended, are in reality sceptical, as appears from this, that they admit of no answer, and produce no conviction.

Volney, Godwin’s Political Justice and Enquirer and many other French and English works, to suit his purpose, and in the course of the year printed that extraordinary talented poem of which I have already spoken at much length, and shall still frequently have to allude to.