LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley
Pisa: 1820
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
Creative Commons License

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH




It was late in the autumn of 1820, when, at Shelley’s invitation to pass the winter with him, I reached Pisa. I was not aware that he had gone to the Baths of St. Julian, and on enquiring for him, was referred for information to Lady Mount-Cashel, a lady whose retirement from the world was not unprofitable, for perhaps it was devoted to one of the best works on the Education of Children which we possess. She was one of the few persons with whom the Shelleys were intimate. She had been in early life the friend of Mary Wolstone-
craft, and this was the tie between them. An interesting and amiable person was Mrs. Mason, as she called herself, and from her I gained the desired intelligence, and the next day Shelley came to my hotel, the Trè Donzelle.

It was nearly seven years since we had parted, but I should immediately have recognised him in a crowd. His figure was emaciated, and somewhat bent, owing to near-sightedness, and his being forced to lean over his books, with his eyes almost touching them; his hair, still profuse, and curling naturally, was partially interspersed with grey; but his appearance was youthful, and his countenance, whether grave or animated, strikingly intellectual. There was also a freshness and purity in his complexion that he never lost. I accompanied him to the baths, then, owing to the lateness of the season, (it was November,) quite deserted,—for they are completely a summer resort; and there I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Mrs. Shelley, and saw Percy, their little son, then an
infant. Their house was immediately on the banks of the Serchio, and on the very day of my arrival, that little, rapid river, or rather the canal that branches from it, overflowed its banks; no uncommon circumstance. It ran into the square, and formed a flood that threatened to cut off the communication with the main road to Pisa. Mrs. Shelley speaks of the event. Well do I remember the scene, which I stood with
Shelley at the window to admire. The Contadine bore torches, and the groups of cattle, and the shouts of the drivers, the picturesque dresses of their wives, half immersed in the water, and carrying their children, and the dark mountains in the background, standing out in bold relief, formed a singular spectacle, well worthy of a painter’s study. Shelley wished me to sketch it, but it was far beyond my powers of delineation,—besides that I had no colours. The next morning, the inundation having still continued to increase, the first floor was completely under water, and barring all egress, we were obliged to get a boat
from the upper windows, and drove to Pisa, where Shelley had already taken an apartment—a Terreno in the Casa, next door to the Marble Palace, with the enigmatical inscription, “Alla Giornata,” an inscription that has puzzled much the antiquary to explain, and with which title a Novel has been written, which I have never seen. Perhaps there is no mystery in “Alla Giornata,” which means, erected by day-work, instead of contract, the usual mode of building in Italy. But Shelley was inclined to think that there was some deep and mystical meaning in the words, and was but little satisfied with this prosaic interpretation, and deemed it was a tribute to the East, where the proprietor had past his best days, and made his colossal fortune. I have mentioned this magnificent palace, in order to identify the house where Shelley lived, the name of which has escaped me.

We here fixed ourselves for the winter, if such an expression be applicable to the divine climate of that gifted city, “where autumn
merges into spring, after but a few days of bleaker weather.”

I was suffering from the effects of my abode in the East, and placed myself under the hands of the celebrated Vacca, of whom Shelley and Lord Byron both speak with deserved praise.

During a long and severe attack of illness, aggravated by the fatigues of my journey from Geneva, Shelley tended me like a brother. He applied my leeches, administered my medicines, and during six weeks that I was confined to my room, was assiduous and unintermitting in his affectionate care of me,—care I shall never forget; most ungrateful should I indeed be, were it not indelibly stamped on my memory.

During this imprisonment, it was, that I first had an opportunity of reading his works, with many of which I was unacquainted. The delight they afforded me often disarmed pain. I loved to trace in them, from our crude attempts at rhyme, his earliest thoughts, associated as they were with the recollections of our boy-
hood; to follow the development of his genius. Nor was it only from his printed poems that I learned to estimate his surpassing talents, he lent me a MS. volume, containing his
Ode to Liberty, The Sensitive Plant, the exquisite Arethusa and Peneus, and many other of his lyrics, which I devoured, and enthusiastically admired. He was surprised at my enthusiasm, and said to me,—“I am disgusted with writing, and were it not for an irresistible impulse, that predominates my better reason, should discontinue so doing.” On such occasions, he fell into a despondent mood, most distressing to witness, was affected with a prostration of spirits that bent him to the earth, a melancholy too sacred to notice, and which it would have been a vain attempt to dissipate.

At other times perhaps, however, his features, that bore the impress of suffering, might have been false interpreters of the state of his mind, and his spirit might be lost in reverie, of which state it has been well said, that those subject to
it, are dissolved into the surrounding atmosphere, or feel as if the surrounding atmosphere were dissolved into their being. Something of this, I have more than once remarked in
Shelley, as we stood watching from my open window in the upper part of the house, the sunsets of Pisa, which are gorgeous beyond any I have ever witnessed; when the waters, the sky, and the marble palaces that line the magnificent crescent of the Lung’ Arno, were glowing with crimson—the river a flood of molten gold,—and I seem now to follow its course towards the Ponte al Mare, till the eye rested on the Torre del Fame, that frowned in dark relievo on the horizon. On such occasions, after one of these reveries, he would forget himself, lost in admiration, and exclaim,—“What a glorious world! There is, after all, something worth living for. This makes me retract the wish that I had never been born.”

Other feelings, besides those of disappointment, had tended at this time to wound his
sensitive spirit. Had it been the
Quarterly Reviewer’s object, as it undoubtedly was, to place Shelley under a ban—to drive him from the pale of society, he could not have adopted a course more suited to his diabolical purpose. From the time of the appearance of this article, if his friends did not forsake altogether, they, with few exceptions, fell off from him; and with a lacerated heart, only a few months after the appearance of the number, he writes:—“I am regarded by all who know, or hear of me, except I think on the whole five individuals, as a rare prodigy of crime and pollution, whose look even might infect. This five is a large computation, and I don’t think I could name more than three.” Who these exceptions were, he does not mention.

To show what the feeling of the English abroad was against him, in consequence of this vile attack, I will here repeat an anecdote, which I have already given to the world, and which must have highly gratified the re-
spectable contributor to the
Quarterly. But a few weeks had elapsed, when a singular and dastardly outrage had been committed on Shelley. He was at the Post-office, asking for his letters, addressed, as is usual in Italy, Poste-restante, when a stranger in a military cloak, on hearing him pronounce his name, said, “What, are you that d——d atheist, Shelley?” and without more preamble, being a tall, powerful man, struck him such a blow that it felled him to the ground, and stunned him. On coming to himself, Shelley found the ruffian had disappeared.

Raving with the insult, he immediately sought his friend, Mr. Tighe, the son of the renowned Psyche Tighe, who lost no time in taking measures to obtain satisfaction. Mr. Tighe was some time in discovering where the cowardly aggressor had put up; but at length tracked him to the Trè Donzelle. There were but few travellers then in the city, and the description of the man tallied exactly with that of an officer in
the Portuguese service, whose name I have now forgotten. He had, however, started without delay for Genoa, whither Mr. Tighe and Shelley followed, but without being able to overtake him, or learn his route from that city.

This anecdote may suggest to the reader the fanaticism which nearly proved fatal to Spinosa, who has been branded everywhere but in Germany as an Atheist and Epicurean, but whom Novalis calls a god-intoxicated man, and whose epicureanism is best disproved by his spending only twopence halfpenny a day on his food.

One evening as Spinosa was coming out of the theatre, where he had been relaxing his overtasked mind, he was startled by the fierce expression of a dark face thrust eagerly before his. The glare of blood-thirsty fanaticism arrested him; a knife gleamed in the air, and he had barely time to parry the blow. It fell upon his chest, but fortunately deadened in its force, only tore his coat. The assassin escaped—Spinosa walked home thoughtful.


The author of the Biography of Philosophy, one of the most acute and candid works I ever met with, compares Shelley and Spinosa together, and does ample justice to their characters. Speaking of Shelley’s ostracism, he says,—“Like the young and energetic Shelley, who afterwards imitated him, he found himself an outcast in the busy world, with no other guides through its perplexing labyrinths than sincerity and self-dependence. Two or three new friends soon presented themselves, men who warred against their religion, as he had warred against his own; and a bond of sympathy was forged out of the common injustice. Here again we trace a resemblance to Shelley, who, discountenanced by his relations, sought among a few sceptical friends, to supply the affection he was thus deprived of. Like Spinosa, he too had only sisters with whom he had been brought up. No doubt, in both cases, the consciousness of sincerity, and the pride of martyrdom, were great shields in the combat with society. They are
always so, and it is well they are so, or the battle would never be fought; but they never entirely replace the affections. Shut from our family, we may seek a brotherhood of apostacy, but the new and precarious intellectual sympathies are no compensations for the loss of the emotive sympathies, with all the links of association and all the memories of childhood. Spinosa must have felt this, and as Shelley in a rash marriage endeavoured to fill up the void of his yearning heart, so Spinosa must, we think, swayed by the same feeling, have sought the daughter of his friend and master, Vander Ende, as his wife.”

This anecdote (to return to it) will show what animosity the malice of Shelley’s enemies had roused against him in the hearts of his compatriots; but the time is happily past, when Quarterlies can deal forth damnation, and point out as a mad dog, to be knocked on the head, every one who does not subscribe to the Thirty-nine Articles.