LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley
Burial in Rome
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 ashes of Shelley were borne to Rome by one of his friends, who had been most active and instrumental in conquering the objections of the authorities to their collection, who
By supplications and unwearied prayers
Hardly prevailed to wrest the stubborn law
Aside thus far;
and who, after making all due and decent preparations for the funeral-pyre, at which he was the chief mourner, “committed with hands scorched and blistered by the flames, the burnt relics to a receptacle prepared for the purpose, and then in compass of a small case, was gathered all that remained on earth of him whose genius and virtues were a crown of glory to the world, whose love had been the source of happiness, pure and good.” But on their arrival at Rome, considerable scruples arose in the mind of the clergyman applied to to officiate, concerning the burying in consecrated ground, ashes. A
friend of mine, himself no mean poet, and who wrote an elegy on Shelley worthy of a place here, and whose position in life gave him some weight, exerted himself, and successfully, in smoothing the difficulty; and a day was fixed for the interment. The funeral was attended by most
of the English still lingering in the metropolis of the world. The crowd of strangers that people it from all countries, had withdrawn, and left only behind a few stragglers, and lovers of art, and mourners over the once great queen of the universe, loth to quit it, as mourners the grave of one beloved.

This friend writing to me says,—“Behold the melancholy cortege taking up its line, and following the remains of him, who should have had a distinguished place in the great national cemetery of the poets of his country, to the Protestant burial-ground, which had been unwillingly accorded, through the intercession of Cardinal Gonsalvi, prime minister of Pope Pius VI., to us heretics. That last refuge for the stranger-dead, lies, as you know, at the further extremity of the Eternal City, and to get to it, we had to traverse Rome in all its length. I was never so impressed by any funeral; we viewed on all sides the tottering porticoes, the isolated columns, which told me of the ravages of the
Goths and Vandals, those savages, after gorging themselves in the blood of the vanquished, those barbarians, who insatiate of slaughter, when they had nothing else to destroy, vented their jealous rage on the creations of genius, which like the spectres of their victims, seemed to stand in mockery and defiance. They could shatter the mighty giantess, tear her limb from limb; but the Torso, like that of the Vatican, the admiration of
Michael Angelo in his blindness, yet remained to suggest that she had been. They could melt the Roman cement, enwrap her domes in flames, throw down her statues from their heights that frowned upon them, and when tired of the labour of destruction, encumber the bed of the Tiber with her mutilated remains.

“It was impossible for the coldest or most insensible and ignorant of our train, to pass, without somewhat of such emotions, those monuments of Roman greatness. Neither my companion nor myself spoke, or expressed our admiration or sympathy, that were too strong for
words. Self-absorbed, I allowed my ideas to wander, lost in the past. I neither gave the ruins names, ‘nor suggested doubts as to the period of their erection; whether they were of the time of
Julius Cæsar, or the Antonines. Nothing,” he adds, “is so delightful as the mystery, the vagueness that hangs about most of what is left of ancient Rome, for it is this very scepticism and uncertainty that allow the imagination to revel in a world of dreams and visions, each more enchanting than the last. This idea brought with it many a passage in Shelley’s works, which is made intelligible to our minds by a sort of divination,—not from the construction of the words themselves, but from the dim shadowing out of some profound and metaphysical idea, that from the imperfection of language, defies analysis; and his Elegy on Keats more especially came into my contemplations, which I had by heart, and with it the prophetic augury of his finding a last asylum in Rome, with the friend of his heart.

Or go to Rome, at once the sepulchre—
Oh! not of him, but of our joy: ’tis nought,
That ages, empires, and religions there
Lie buried in the ravage they have wrought.
For such as he can lend, they borrow not
Glory from those who made the world their prey.
And he is gathered to the kings of thought,
Who urged contention with their time’s decay,
And of the past are all that cannot pass away.
Go thou to Rome, at once the paradise,
The grave, the city, and the wilderness,—
And where its wrecks, like shattered mountains rise,
And flowering weeds and fragrant copses deck
The bones of Desolation’s nakedness,
Pass, till the spirit of the spot, shall lead
Thy footsteps to a slope of green access,
Where like an infant’s smile, over the dead,
The light of laughing flowers along the turf is spread.
And grey walls moulder round, on which dull Time
Feeds, like slow fire upon a hoary brand;
And one keen pyramid, with wedge sublime,
Pavilioning the dust of him who planned
This refuge for his memory, doth stand
Like flame transformed to marble; and beneath,
A field is spread, in which a newer band
Have pitched in Heaven’s smile their camp of death,
Welcoming him we lose with scarce extinguished breath.

“Here pause.

“Awaking from this reverie, I could scarcely recal my scattered senses, or return to the realities of life. I contemplated with a mixture of sorrow and regret, the ashes of one, who once shed a light upon the world—the extinction of a surpassing spirit that came for the world to know it not; and then the mouldering mass of temples, pillars, cornices, and columns broken and strewed around “the dusty nothing,” so well harmonizing with my own feelings,—the solemn scene—with that remnant of mortality, the ruins of him whom we were literally about to consign to kindred ruins—Ashes to Ashes—Dust to Dust!

“We reached the Campo Santo. The graves were yet young, the tenants few in number; most of the mounds had not even a head-stone, whilst here and there a monument, surmounted by an urn of classical form and elegant design, shewed by the glittering whiteness of the marble, that
it was fresh from the hand of the sculptor.* They shewed themselves in relievo from the ancient and mouldering walls of the city, which bound the Campagna, partly hidden by a mast, that just lifted itself above the horizon. It was the Pyramid of Caius Cestius, and seemed to frown in proud defiance, a giant among the pigmies, on the intruders upon its solitary greatness. They too seemed to have chosen the verge of the enclosure, as unwilling to mingle their clay with that of an idolatrous race, and an outworn creed. And who, asks
Lord Byron, was Caius Cestius? The annals of his country contain no records of his deeds. His name is not even chronicled in story. Who was he, that he should have pavilioned his ashes, whilst so many heroes and patriots lie undistinguished and lost in the

* In 1820, Mr. G., a great oriental traveller, told me, that when he was in Athens, an English artist died there, and that it was the wish of his friends to erect a monument to him, but that not only no sculptor could be found to execute one, but not even a stone-mason to carve the letters of his name on a tablet!

dust of their country’s desolation? What a lesson is here for mortality! what a homily to tell of
The more than empty honours of the tomb!*

“Whether the same feelings operated on the assembly, I know not, I was blinded by my tears, that fell fast and silently on the poet’s grave.
It is a grief too deep for tears, when all
Is reft at once, when some surpassing spirit,
Whose light adorned the world around it, leaves
Those who remain behind, not sobs or groans,
The passionate tumult of a clinging hope,
But pale despair, and cold tranquillity,
Nature’s vast frame—the web of human things,
Birth and the grave, that are not as they were.
Well might it be added,—
Art and eloquence,
And all the shows of the world are frail and vain,
To weep a loss that turns their light to shade.

* Sepulcri supervacuoa honores.—Horace.

“After the conclusion of the affecting rite, we visited the grave of his favourite son, William, and that of Keats—whose spirit it must soothe to feel the daisies growing over him—a dream that was here realized, for they absolutely starred the turf.” Shelley seems in Adonais to have had a presage that he should soon rejoin his friend—be united with him in death, as they were in their destinies. Both were victims to the envenomed shafts of invidious critics,—to the injustice of those nearest to them, and who should have been dearest; both were cut off in the flower of their youth and talent, and both are sleeping among strangers in a foreign land. Little did either desire to sleep in the unmaternal bosom of their own. She was to them a harsh and unnatural step-mother. Here they sleep sweetly. Shelley’s favourite wish, often expressed, was to repose here. He says,—“It might make one in love with death, to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place;” and in a letter speaking of it, he calls it “the most
beautiful and solemn cemetery he ever beheld, and expresses his delight to see the sun shining on its bright grass, fresh with dews, and hear the whispering of the winds among the leaves of the trees, which have overgrown the tomb of Cestius!”

A plain slab, overhung with parasite plants, and shrubs and flowers, contains the venerated name of Shelley, with the date of his birth, and death. Below which is the following inscription,—
Nothing of him but doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea change,
Into something rich and strange.
Lines to my mind very inapplicable, for they allude to one drowned, and lost at sea. Alas! Poor Lycidas! I could not help thinking a much more appropriate motto might have been selected from a poem I have heard him so often read, and admire:
So Lycidas sunk low, but mounted high
Through the dear might of him who walks the waves.
Where other groves, and other streams among,
With nectar pure his oozy locks he laves,
And hears the unexpressive nuptial song,
In the blest regions meek of peace and love:
There entertain him all the saints above,
In solemn troops, and sweet societies,
That sing, and singing in their glory, move,
And wipe the tears for ever from his eyes.

Many “melodious tears” have been shed over the graves of Shelley and Keats, but none have more affected me than those offered by one, a native of a country from which Shelley frequently expressed a hope that he might in later times expect justice, America. The passage is so beautiful, that I transcribe it entire, being unwilling to spoil by garbling it. It is from the pen of Willis.

“With a cloudless sky, and the most delicious air I have ever breathed, we sate down upon the marble slab placed over the ashes of poor Shelley, and read his own Lament on Keats, who sleeps just below, at the foot of the hill. The cemetery is rudely formed into three ter-
races, with walks between, and Shelley’s grave, and one without a name, occupy a small niche above, made by the projection of a mouldering wall-tower, and crowded with many shrubs, and a peculiar fragrant yellow flower which perfumes the air around for several feet. The avenue by which you ascend from the gate, is lined with high branches of the musk-rose, in the most luxuriant bloom, and all over the cemetery the grass is thickly mingled with flowers of every hue. If Shelley had chosen his own grave at the time, he would have selected the very spot where he has since been laid—the most sequestered and flowery nook of the place he describes so feelingly;” and
Mr. Willis adds,—“It takes away from the pain with which one stands over the grave of an acquaintance or friend, to see the sun lying so warm upon it, and the flowers springing so profusely and cheerfully. Nature seems to have a care for those who died so far from home.”

It was a much more melancholy visit I paid in the autumn of last year to Field-place. In
that home he was born, on that lawn he had played as a child,—there he had dreamed as a boy, and suffered as a man. The mansion of his forefathers I found deserted and in disrepair, the family dispersed, and it was about to be tenanted by a stranger to the county—a city alderman. I walked in moody sadness over the neglected shrubberies, paced the paths, weed over-grown and leaf-strewn, of the once neatly kept flower-gardens, where we had so often walked together, and talked in the confidentiality of early and unsophisticated friendship; there, too, he had in many a solitary hour brooded over his first disappointment in love, and had had his sensitive spirit torn by the coldness and alienation of those dearest to him. All this past through my mind.

How little did Rogers know of the human heart when he wrote the Pleasures of Memory!

I also visited the chancel in Horsham church, belonging to the family of Michell, his maternal
ancestors, where some of my own sleep. There a flattering inscription blazons the virtues of his
father, but I was shocked to find that no cenotaph has been raised to the memory of the poet, that no record exists of one who will ennoble and perpetuate the name of Shelley, when the race that bears it shall become extinct. How true it is, that a prophet is no prophet in his own country; his family, too, seem to be quite unaware of his greatness, and deem him neither an honour nor a pride. Bristol has with a late repentance raised a statue to Chatterton,—but where lie his bones? Florence has at last done tardy justice to Dante, Stuttgart to Schiller, Frankfort to Göthe, and Mayence to Güttenberg. More liberal times will come, when Byron and Keats and Shelley will each find a niche, if not in that temple which has been so often profaned by the ashes of mediocrity, in some future Valhalla, worthy to enshrine them. But Shelley needs no monument. His fame, like the Pyramid beneath
which he sleeps, stands on a base unshaken and eternal. He lives in his works, and will live on through all time. But
Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil,
Nor is the glittering foil
Set off to the world, nor in broad rumour lies,
But lives and spreads aloft by those pure eyes,
And perfect witness of all-judging Jove,
As he pronounces justly on each deed.
Of so much fame in Heaven expect the meed!