LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley
First Marriage
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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In the autumn, the rage of Shelley’s father having somewhat cooled down, he was received at home, but the reconciliation was hollow and insincere. Sir Timothy, who, proud of his son’s talents, had looked forward to his acquiring high academical distinctions, felt deeply, not so much the disgrace of the expulsion, as an apprehension that the circumstance might tend hereafter to affect the brilliant worldly career he had etched out for his heir, marring his prospect of filling the seat in parliament which he then occupied, and intended one day to resign in favour of Percy Bysshe, But it is doubtful if Shelley would, with all his eloquence, have made a politician. He shrunk with an unconquerable dislike from political articles; he never could be induced to read one. The Duke of Norfolk, who was a friend of his
father, and to whom his grandfather owed his title, often engaged him, when dining, as he occasionally did, in St. James’s Square, to turn his thoughts towards politics.—“You cannot direct your attention too early to them,” said the Duke. “They are the proper career of a young man of ability and of your station in life. That career is most advantageous, because it is a monopoly. A little success in that line goes far, since the number of competitors is limited, and of those who are admitted to the contest, the greater part are wholly devoid of talent, or too indolent to exert themselves. So many are excluded, that of the few who are permitted to enter, it is difficult to find any that are not utterly unfit for the ordinary service of the state. It is not so in the church; it is not so at the bar. There all may offer themselves. In letters your chance of success is still worse—there none can win gold, and all may try to gain reputation—it is a struggle for glory, the competition is infinite;—there are no bounds;—that is a spacious field indeed, a sea without a shore.”


This holding up of politics as the τε καλον, was natural in one, who had renounced and recanted his faith for political power. I was present at a great dinner of Whigs, where one of them, an M. P., speaking of the nominees of election committees, who act as advocates on the side of their nominators, though they take the same oath as the other members of the committee, and his saying how easy it was for a man determined to believe, bending his mind to believe any thing, alias, making up his mind beforehand how he should vote. Such casuistry would have been lost on Shelley, to whom I detailed these sentiments, which he highly reprobated. The Duke of Norfolk talked to him many times, in order to convert him to politics, but in vain.

Shelley used to say that he had heard people talk politics by the hour, and how he hated it and them. He carried this aversion through life, and never have I seen him read a newspaper, incredible as it may appear to those who pass half their lives in this occupation.

Mr. Hogg remarks, that, “had he resolved
to enter the career of politics, it is possible that habit would have reconciled him to many things which at first seemed repugnant to his nature; it is possible that his unwearied industry, his remarkable talents, and vast energy, would have led to renown in that line as well as any other, but it is most probable that his parliamentary success would have been but moderate; but he struck out a path for himself, by which boldly following his own course, greatly as it deviated from that prescribed to him, he became more illustrious than he would have been had he steadily pursued the beaten track. His memory will be green when the herd of every day politicians are forgotten. Ordinary rules may guide ordinary men, but the orbit of the child of genius is especially eccentric.”

Sir Timothy was a man entertaining high notions of genitorial rights, but of a very capricious temper; at one moment too indulgent, at another tyrannically severe to his children. He was subject to the gout, and during its paroxysms, it was almost dangerous to approach him, and he would
often throw the first thing that came to hand at their heads.
Shelley seems to allude to him, when he says,—

* I’ll tell the truth, he was a man,
Hard, selfish, loving only gold—
Yet full of guile his pale eyes ran
With tears which each some falsehood told,
And oft his smooth and bridled tongue
Would give the lie to his flushing cheek.
* * * *
He was a tyrant to the weak,
On whom his vengeance he would wreak,
For scorn, whose arrows search the heart,
From many a stranger’s eye would dart,
And on his memory cling, and follow
His soul to its home so cold and hollow.
He was a tyrant to the weak!
And we were such, alas the day!
Oft when his little ones at play,
Were in youth’s natural lightness gay,
Or if they listened to some tale
Of travellers, or of fairy land,
When the light from the woodfire’s dying brand
Flushed on their faces, and they heard,
Or thought they heard, upon the stair
His footsteps, the suspended word
Died on their lips—so each grew pale.

* Rosalind and Helen.—Page 208.


Talent is said to be in some degree hereditary, and I have often heard it questioned from whom Shelley derived his genius—undoubtedly not from his father, who was so deficient that he never addressed a public meeting without committing some contratems, and could not in his legislative capacity have made an observation that would not have been accompanied by a laugh at “the country gentleman.” His mother was, to use the words of a popular writer, “if not a literary, an intellectual woman, that is, in a certain sense a clever woman, and though of all persons most unpoetical, was possessed of strong masculine sense, a keen observation of character, which if it had had a wider field, might have made her a Madame de Sevigne, or a Lady Wortley Montague, for she wrote admirable letters; but judging of men and things by the narrow circle in which she moved, she took a narrow and cramped view of both, and was as little capable of understanding Shelley, as a peasant would be of comprehending Berkley.”

Every man of talent, full of new ideas, and
dominated by a system, as he was, has his peculiar idiotisms; the more expansive his genius, the more startling are the eccentricities that constitute the different degrees of his originality. “En Province un original passe pour un homme a moietè fou,” says a witty French writer. A prophet is no prophet in his own country, and few men are so fortunate as was
Mahomet, to make converts in their own family—certain it is, that Shelley’s never valued or appreciated his character, or his surpassing genius. Sir Timothy had no respect for learning but as a means of worldly advancement—a stepping-stone to political power. After Percy Bysshe’s expulsion, he took a hatred to books, and even carried his animosity to education so far that he never employed a steward who could read or write. He was an enemy to the instruction of the children of the poor, and on the occasion of his younger son’s going to school, said to him, “You young rascal, don’t you be like your brother. Take care you don’t learn too much;” a piece of advice
very palatable to boys, and which, doubtless, the promising youth fulfilled to the letter, with filial obedience.

But if Shelley’s expulsion rudely severed all domestic ties—alienated the hearts of his parents from him—it was a blight to all his hopes, the rock on which all the prospects of wedded happiness split. Further communication with Miss Grove was prohibited; and he had the heartrending agony of soon knowing that she was lost to him for ever. Byron’s whole life is said to have received its bias from love—from his blighted affection for Miss Chaworth. There was a similarity in the fates of the two poets; but the effects were different: Byron sought for refuge in dissipation, and gave vent to his feelings in satire. He looked upon the world as his enemy, and visited what he deemed the wrong of one, on his species at large. Shelley, on the contrary, with the goodness of a noble mind, sought by a more enlarged philosophy to dull the edge of his own miseries, and in the sympa-
thy of a generous and amiable nature for the sufferings of his kind, to find relief and solace for a disappointment which in Byron had only led to wilful exaggeration of its own despair. Shelley, on this trying occasion, had the courage to live, in order that he might labour for one great object, the advancement of the human race, and the amelioration of society, and strengthened himself in a resolution to devote his energies to this ultimate end, being prepared to endure every obloquy, to make any sacrifice for its accomplishment; and would, if necessary, have died for the cause. He had the ambition, thus early manifested, of becoming a reformer; for one Sunday, after we had been to
Rowland Hill’s chapel, and were dining together in the city, he wrote to him under an assumed name, proposing to preach to his congregation. Of course he received no answer. Had he applied to Carlisle or Owen, perhaps the reply would have been affirmative. But he had perhaps scarcely heard of their names or doctrines, even if they had commenced their career.


It is possible that Shelley wrongly classified that excellent and worthy man, Rowland Hill, who had renounced the advantages of birth and position for the good of his species, with the ranting Methodists, or violent demagogues of the time; in all probability, he had never even heard of him before that day, when he stood amid the crowd that overflowed the chapel through the open door. It was at best a foolish and inconsiderate act—and can only be excused from his total ignorance of the character of Rowland Hill, and the nature of his preaching.

That Shelley’s disappointment in love affected him acutely, may be seen by some lines inscribed erroneously, “On F. G.,” instead of “H. G.,” and doubtless of a much earlier date than assigned by Mrs. Shelley to the fragment:—
Her voice did quiver as we parted,
Yet knew I not that heart was broken
From which it came,—and I departed,
Heeding not the words then spoken—
Misery! O misery!
This world is all too wide for thee!


Shelley’s residence with his family was become, for the reasons I have stated, so irksome to him, that he soon took refuge in London, from
“His cold fireside and alienated home.”

I have found a clue, to develope the mystery of how he became acquainted with Miss Westbrook. The father, who was in easy circumstances, kept an hotel in London, and sent his daughter to a school at Balam Hill, where Shelley’s second sister made one of the boarders. It so happened, that as Shelley was walking in the garden of this seminary, Miss Westbrook past them. She was a handsome blonde, not then sixteen. Shelley was so struck with her beauty, that after his habit of writing, as in the case of Felicia Browne and others, to ladies who interested him, he contrived, through the intermediation of his sister, to carry on a correspondence with her. The intimacy was not long in ripening. The young lady was nothing loth to be wooed, and after a period of only a few weeks,
it was by a sort of knight-errantry that Shelley carried her off from Chapel-street, Grosvenor-square, where she sorely complained of being subject to great oppression from her sister and father. Whether this was well or ill-founded, is little to the purpose to enquire. Probably, Shelley and Miss Harriett Westbrook—there might have been some magic in the name of Harriett—had not met half a dozen times at all before the elopement; they were totally unacquainted with each other’s dispositions, habits, or pursuits; and took a rash step, that none but a mere boy and girl would have taken. Well might it be termed an ill-judged and ill-assorted union,—bitter were destined to be its fruits.

All the circumstances relative to the progress of this affair, he kept a profound secret, nor in any way alluded to it in any correspondence, nor was it even guessed at by Dr. Grove, in whose house he was lodging; nor on parting with Shelley at Horsham, the day before his departure, when he borrowed some money of my father,
did he throw out a hint on the subject. Authors make the strangest matches. It was at the end of August, 1811, that the youthful pair set oat to Gretna Green, where they were united after the formula, which, as we have lately had so circumstantial an account of the ceremony, I shall not repeat, though he many years after detailed it to me, with other particulars not therein included. From thence the “new-married couple” betook themselves to Edinburgh. Their stay in that city was short; for by a letter dated Cuckfield, the residence of an uncle, of the 21 Oct, 1811, he says,—“In the course of three weeks or a month, I shall take the precaution of being remarried.” In fact, he did execute that intention. This uncle, the gallant
Captain Pilford, whose name is well known in his country’s naval annals, (for he was in the battle of the Nile, and he commanded a frigate at that of Trafalgar, and was the friend of Nelson) supplied the place of a father to Shelley, receiving him at his house when abandoned
and cast off by
Sir Timothy, who, if irritated at Shelley’s expulsion from Oxford, was rendered furious by the mesalliance, and cut off his allowance altogether.

By the advice of Captain Pilfold, who supplied Shelley with money for his immediate necessity, he sought in a distant county some cheap abode, and proceeded to Cumberland.

I have before me two letters from Keswick—in that dated Nov. 26th, 1811, he says,—

“We are now in this lovely spot where for for a time we have fixed our residence; the rent of our cottage, furnished, is £1 10s. per week. We do not intend to take up our abode here for a perpetuity, but should wish to have a house in Sussex. Perhaps you could look out for one for us. Let it be in some picturesque, retired place,—St. Leonard’s Forest, for instance; let it not be nearer to London than Horsham, nor near any populous manufacturing, dissipated town; we do not covet either a propinquity to
barracks. Is there any possible method of raising money without any exorbitant interest, until my coming of age? I hear that you and my father have had a rencontre; I was surprised he dared attack you; but men always hate those whom they have injured; this hatred was, I suppose, a stimulus which supplied the place of courage.
Whitton has written to me, to state the impropriety of my letter to my mother and sister; this letter I have returned with a passing remark on the back of it. I find that affair on which those letters spoke, is become the general gossip of the idle newsmongers of Horsham—they give me credit for having invented it. They do my invention much honour, but greatly discredit their own penetration.”

The affair here referred to is little to the purpose; but during Sir Timothy’s absence in London, on his parliamentary duties, Lady Shelley invited Shelley to Field Place, where he was received, to use his own words, with much shew affection. Some days after he had been there,
his mother produced a parchment deed, which she asked him to sign, to what purport I know not; but he declined so doing, and which he told me he would have signed, had he not seen through the false varnish of hypocritical caresses. This anecdote is not idle gossip—but comes from
Shelley himself.

The second letter bears date, Keswick, Nov. 30th, 1811.

“When I last saw you, you mentioned the imprudence of raising money even at my present age, at 7 per cent. We are now so poor as to be actually in danger of being every day deprived of the necessaries of life. I would thank you to remit me a small sum for immediate expenses. Mr. Westbrook has sent a small sum, with an intimation that we are to expect no more; this suffices for the immediate discharge of a few debts, and it is nearly with our last guinea that we visit the Duke of Norfolk at Greystoke; to-morrow we return to Keswick. I have very few hopes from this visit; that reception into Abraham’s bosom, (meaning a reconciliation with his
father) appeared to me, to be the consequence of some infamous concessions, which are, I suppose, synonymous with duty. Love to all.”

The overture, of which the Duke was the intermediary, seems to have failed. His Grace had written to several gentlemen amongst his agricultural friends in Cumberland, requesting them to pay such neighbourly attentions to the solitary young people, as circumstances might place in their power; Southey, with his usual kindness, and the ladies of his family, immediately called on him.

Speaking of his sojourn to Leigh Hunt, he says, “Do you know that when I was in Cumberland, I got Southey to borrow a copy of Berkley, from Mr. Lloyd, and I remember observing some pencil notes in it, probably written by Lloyd, which I thought particularly acute; one especially struck me, as being the assertion of a doctrine, of which even then I had been-long persuaded, and on which I had founded much of my persuasions as regarded the imagined cause of the universe: ‘Mind cannot create, it can only perceive.’”


The beauty of the lakes, which were ever fresh in Shelley’s memory, made a powerful impression on his imagination; and he would have wished to have fixed himself there, but found Cumberland any thing but a cheap place—or for eight months in the year, anything but a sequestered one. Where he fixed his abode, was in part of a house standing about half a mile out of Keswick, on the Penrith road, which they had been induced to take by one of their new friends; (probably Southey), more, says De Quincey, I believe in that friend’s intention, for the sake of bringing them easily within his hospitalities, than for any beauty in the place. There was, however, a pretty garden attached to it; and whilst walking in this, one of the Southey party asked Mrs. Shelley if the garden had been let with this part of the house? “Oh no!” she replied, “the garden is not ours, but then you know the people let us run about in it, whenever Percy and I are tired of sitting in the house.” The naiveiè of this expression, “run about,” con-
trasting so picturesquely with the intermitting efforts of the girlish wife at supporting a matron-like gravity, now that she was doing the honours of her house to married ladies, caused all the party to smile. De Quincey says, that he might have placed some neighbourly advantages at Shelley’s disposal—Grassmere, for instance, itself at that time, where, tempted by a beauty that had not been sullied,
Wordsworth then lived,—in Grassmere, Elleray, and Professor Wilson nine miles further,—finally, his own library, which being rich in the wickedest of German speculations, would naturally have been more to Shelley’s taste than the Spanish library of Southey. “But,” says De Quincey, “all these temptations were negatived for Shelley by his sudden departure. Off he went in a hurry, but why he went, or whither he went, I did not inquire.” Why he went is explained by the letter of Nov. 30th: his being so poor as to be actually in danger of every day being deprived of the necessaries of life—his visiting the Duke of Norfolk with
his last guinea. That he was enabled to quit Keswick was owing to a small advance of money made him by my
father. De Quincey was altogether mistaken in saying that his wife’s father had made over to him an annual income of £200 a-year, as proved by the words, “Mr. Westbrook has sent a small sum, with an intimation that we are to expect no more.” Shelley had heard that Ireland was a cheap country, and without any leaves-taking, betook himself to Cork, and after visiting the lakes, of Killarney, where he was enchanted with the arbutus-covered islands that stud it—lakes, he used to say, more beautiful than those of Switzerland or Italy,—came to Dublin. Ireland was then, as ever, in a disturbed condition, and with an enthusiasm for liberty, and sympathy for the sufferings of that misgoverned people, whose wretched cabins and miserable fare, shared in common with their companions, the swine, he had beheld with pity and disgust during his tour, it was natural that he should take a lively interest in bettering their
condition. He attended some public meetings, where he displayed that eloquence for which he was remarkable, and which would doubtless have distinguished him, had he embarked in a political career in the senate. Nor did he confine himself to speeches. In a letter dated from No. 17, Grafton Street, of the date of the 10th March, 1812, he says, “I am now engaged with a
literary friend in the publication of a voluminous History of Ireland, of which 250 pages are already printed, and for the completion of which, I wish to raise £250; I could obtain undeniable security for its payment at the expiration of eighteen months. Can you tell me how I ought to proceed! The work will produce great profits.” Who his coadjutor was I know not; but it would seem that the History of Ireland was abandoned for a pamphlet on the state of the country, which he sent me. It was rather a book than a pamphlet, closely and cheaply printed, very ill-digested, but abounding in splendid passages. The tenor of it was by no
means violent, and, I remember well, suggested a policy which has been since so successfully adopted by the great agitating Pacificator,—a policy which Shelley laid down in one of his letters many years afterwards, where he says:—“The great thing to do is to hold the balance between popular impatience and tyrannical obstinacy, and inculcate with fervour, both the right of resistance, and the duty of forbearance. You know my principles incite me to take all the good I can get in politics, for ever aspiring to something more. I am one of those whom nothing will fully satisfy, but who are ready to be partially satisfied with all that is practicable.”

A friend of mine in Dublin has searched among the innumerable pamphlets in the public library there, for this, but in vain. It was a straw that has doubtless been carried down the current and lost.

His departure from Ireland was occasioned, as he told me, by a hint from the police, and he in haste took refuge in the Isle of Man—that then
imperium in imperio, that extrajudical place, where the debtor was safe from his creditor, and the political refugee found an asylum in his obscurity from the myrmidons of the law. He remained, however, at Douglas but a short time, and on his passage to some port in Wales, had a very narrow escape from his fatal element. He had embarked in a small trading vessel which had only three hands on board. It was the month of November, and the weather, boisterous when they left the harbour, increased to a dreadful gale. The skipper attributed to
Shelley’s exertions, so much the safety of the vessel, that he refused on landing to accept his fare.

“After all these, and many other wanderings, we find Shelley at Rhayader, Radnorshire. Its vicinity to Combe Ellen, (which Bowles has immortalised) the residence of his cousin, Thomas Grove, probably led him to desire to fix himself in that neighbourhood, and he selected Nantzwillt. In a letter dated April 25th, 1812, he expresses a de-
sire to take a lease of the place, and says,—“So eligible an opportunity for settling in a cheap, retired, romantic spot, will scarcely occur again.” But how was he to purchase the stock of two hundred acres of ground, and pay a rent of ninety-eight pounds a year? In fact he soon perceived the incompetency of his means for such an undertaking. It was after this period, that he settled himself in a cottage belonging to
Mr. Maddocks, in Caernarvonshire. Shelley was of opinion, that for some time after he had left Ireland, he was under the surveillance of the police, and that his life was in danger from its emissaries; doubtless, a most erroneous notion, but one which the total sequestration, and wild solitude of the country, contributed to render an idèe fixe.

I knew Mr. Maddocks well, and had many conversations with him at Florence as to a circumstance that occurred, or which Shelley supposed did occur, in North Wales. The horrors of the inn in “Count Fathom,” were hardly sur-
passed by the recital Shelley used to make of this scene. The story as dictated by him was simply this:—At midnight, sitting alone in his study on the ground floor, he heard a noise at the window, saw one of the shutters gradually unclosed, and a hand advanced into the room armed with a pistol. The muzzle was directed towards him, the aim taken, the weapon cocked, and the trigger drawn. The trigger missed fire. Shelley, with that personal courage which particularly distinguished him, rushed out in order to discover and seize the assassin. As he was in the act of passing through the outer door, at the entrance of an avenue leading into the garden, he found himself face to face with the ruffian, whose pistol missed fire a second time. This opponent he described as a short, stout, powerful man. Shelley, though slightly built, was tall, and though incapable of supporting much fatigue, and seeming evidently weak, had the faculty in certain moments of evoking extraordinary powers, and concentrating all his
energies to a given point. This singular phenomenon, which has been noticed in others, he displayed on this occasion; and it made the aggressor and Shelley no unequal match. It was a contest between mind and matter, between intellectual and brute force. After long and painful wrestling, the victory was fast declaring itself for moral courage, which his antagonist perceiving, extricated himself from his grasp, darted into the grounds, and disappeared among the shrubbery. Shelley made a deposition the next day before the magistrate, Mr. Maddocks, of these facts. An attempt to murder caused a great sensation in that part of the principality, where not even a robbery had taken place for several years. No solution could be found for the enigma; and the opinion generally was that the whole was a nightmare—a horrid dream, tho effect of an overheated imagination. The savage wildness of the scenery—the entire isolation of the place—the profound metaphysical speculations in which Shelley was absorbed—the want
of sound and wholesome reading, and the ungeniality of his companions (for he had one besides his wife, a spinster of a certain age for a humble companion to her)—all combined to foster his natural bent for the visionary, and confirm Mr. Maddocks’s idea, that the events of that horrible night were a delusion.
This lady, who had accompanied the young couple from Sussex, where she kept a school, was an esprit fort, ceruleanly blue, and fancied herself a poetess. I only know one anecdote of her, which Shelley used to relate, laughing till the tears ran down his cheek. She perpetrated an ode, proving that she was a great stickler for the rights of her sex, the first line of which ran thus:—
“All, all are men—women and all!”

He himself appears to have written nothing in Wales, if we except some stanzas breathing a tone of deep despondency, of which I will quote four lines:—
“Away, away to thy sad and silent home,
Pour bitter tears on its desolated hearth,
Watch the dim shades as like ghosts they go and come,
And complicate strange webs of melancholy mirth.”

Mr. Maddocks, like all who really knew Shelley, perfectly idolised him. I have often heard him dilate on his numerous acts of benevolence, his relieving the distresses of the poor, visiting them in their humble abodes, and supplying them with food and raiment and fuel during the winter, which on that bleak coast, exposed to the north, is particularly severe. But he laid Mr. Maddocks under a debt of gratitude that could never be repaid.

During his temporary absence in a distant county in England, an extraordinary high tide menaced that truly Dutch work, his embankment against the sea, by which he had rescued from it many thousand acres. Shelley, always ready to be of service to his friends, and anxious to save the dyke from destruction, which would have involved his landlord and hundreds in ruin,
heading a paper with a subscription of £500, took it himself all round the neighbourhood, and raised a considerable sum, which, enabling him to employ hundreds of workmen, stopped the progress of the waves. I cite this as a proof of his active benevolence. His heart and purse were, almost to improvidence, open to all.

Some one said of another, that he would have divided his last sixpence with a friend; Shelley would have given it all to a stranger in distress. I have no clue to discover in what manner he contrived to find money for this subscription, or for the acts of charity here detailed. It must have been raised at some great sacrifice.