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The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley
Shelley’s Juvenilia
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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Many of these details may appear trivial, but they are not so to the physiologist, inasmuch as they serve to show how the accidental incidents of early impressions, if they did not model, influenced the direction of his mind. Admitting that “Poeta nascitur, non fit,” I am firmly persuaded of the truth of the above observation; for as all animals have brains like ourselves, dependent on organization, and an instructive kind of knowledge, adapted accordingly; and this instructive knowledge, although perfect in its way at the first, being capable of being influenced by new and altered circumstances; why should not, then, the different circumstances of early life assist the character, and give the bent to a poetical imagination? Animals, as well as ourselves, have intellectual qualities,—the difference is in degree, not in kind; but over and above this, they must have a something superadded, to make the difference, which is the faculty of taking cognizance of things wholly above the senses, of things spiritual and moral—a sense
independent of the bodily brain, independent of themselves, and having a natural supremacy in the mind over and above all its other powers. I do not mean to say that a
La Place, a Newton, or a Shakspeare, if we had sufficient data to trace the progress of their education, could be reproduced, according to the Helvetian doctrine, by following the same course, for as men are born with different constitutions, features, and habits of body, mental organization must be of course also differently organized. Yet no mind can be developed without preliminary education, and, consequently, all the minutiæ of this education must more or less exercise a modifying influence on it, as every physiologist in the natural history of animals can testify.

Shelley, like Byron, knew early what it was to love—almost all great poets have. It was in the summer of this year, that he became acquainted with our cousin, Harriet Grove. Living in distant counties, they then met for the first time, since they had been children, at Field-place,
where she was on a visit. She was born, I think, in the same year with himself.
She was like him in lineaments—her eyes,
Her hair, her features, they said were like to his,
But softened all and tempered into beauty.

After so long an interval, I still remember Miss Grove, and when I call to mind all the women I have ever seen, I know of none that surpassed, or that could compete with her. She was like one of Shakspeare’s women—like some Madonna of Raphael. Shelley, in a fragment written many years after, seems to have had her in his mind’s eye, when he writes:
They were two cousins, almost like to twins,
Except that from the catalogue of sins
Nature had razed their love, which could not be,
But in dissevering their nativity;
And so they grew together like two flowers
Upon one stem, which the same beams and showers
Lull or awaken in the purple prime.

Young as they were, it is not likely that they had entered into a formal engagement with
each other, or that their parents looked upon their attachment, if it were mentioned, as any other than an intimacy natural to such near relations, or the mere fancy of a moment; and after they parted, though they corresponded regularly, there was nothing in the circumstance that called for observation.
Shelley’s love, however, had taken deep root, as proved by the dedication to Queen Mab, written in the following year.

To Harriet G.
Whose is the love that gleaming thro’ the world,
Wards off the poisonous arrow of its scorn?
Whose is the warm and partial strain,
Virtue’s own sweet reward?
Beneath whose looks did my reviving soul
Ripen into truth and virtuous daring grow?
Whose eyes have I gazed fondly on,
And loved mankind the more?
Harriet! on thine:—thou wert my purer mind—
Thou wert the inspiration of my song—
Thine are these early wilding flowers
Though garlanded by me.
Then press into thy breast this pledge of love,
And know, though time may change and years may roll;
Each floweret gathered in my heart,
It consecrates to thine.

But the lady was not alone “the inspiration of his song.” In the latter end of this year, he wrote a novel, that might have issued from the Minerva Press, entitled Zastrozzi, which embodies much of the intensity of the passion that devoured him; and some of the chapters were, he told me, by Miss Grove.

In this wild romance there are passages sparkling with brilliancy. A reviewer—for it was reviewed, but in what periodical I forget—spoke of it as a book of much promise. It was shortly followed by another Rosa-Matilda-like production, entitled St. Irvyne, or the Rosicrucian.

The Rosicrucian was suggested by St. Leon, which Shelley wonderfully admired. He read it till he believed that there was truth in Alchymy. and the Elixir Vitæ, which indeed entered into
the plot of the
Wandering Jew, of which I possess a preface by him, intended for the poem, had it been published. He says:—“The opinion that gold can be made, passed from the Arabs to the Greeks, and from the Greeks to the rest of Europe; those who professed it, gradually assumed the form of a sect, under the name of Alchymists. These Alchymists laid it down as a first principle, that all metals are composed of the same materials, or that the substances at least that form gold, exist in all metals, contaminated indeed by various impurities, but capable of being brought to a perfect state, by purification; and hence that considerable quantities of gold might be extracted from them. The generality of this belief in the eastern provinces of the Roman empire, is proved by a remarkable edict of Dioclesian, quoted by Gibbon from the authority of two ancient historians, &c.” But if Shelley was at that time a believer in alchymy, he was even as much so in the Panacea. He used to cite the opinion of Dr. Franklin, whom
he swore by, that “a time would come, when mind will be predominant over matter, or in other words, when a thorough knowledge of the human frame, and the perfection of medical science, will counteract the decay of Nature.” “What,” added he, “does
Condorcet say on the subject?” and he read me the following passage: “‘Is it absurd to suppose this quality of amelioration in the human species as susceptible of an indefinite advancement; to suppose that a period must one day arrive, when death will be nothing more than the effect either of extraordinary accident, or of the slow and gradual decay of the vital powers; and that the duration of the middle space, of the interval between the birth of man and his decay, will have no assignable limit?’” On such opinions was based the Rosicrucian. It was written before he went to Oxford, and published by Stockdale; the scene, singularly enough, is laid at Geneva, and from this juvenile effort I shall make some extracts in prose and verse, in order to show the elements of what it gave rise afterwards to—
Creations vast and fair,
As perfect worlds at the Creator’s will.

During the last two years of his stay at Eton, he had, as I have already stated, imbued himself with Pliny the Elder, especially being struck with the chapter De Deo, and studied deeply Lucretius, whom he considered the best of the Latin poets, and with him he referred at that time, as will be seen from the following extract, all creation to the power of Nature. It must be remembered that it is the Rosicrucian who speaks:—

“From my earliest youth, before it was quenched by complete satiation, curiosity, and a desire of unveiling the latent mysteries of nature, was the passion by which all the other emotions of my mind were intellectually organised. This desire led me to cultivate, and with success, the various branches of learning which led to the gates of wisdom. I then applied myself to the cultivation of philosophy, and the
éclat with which I pursued it, exceeded my most sanguine expectations. Love I cared not for, and wondered why men perversely sought to ally themselves to weakness. Natural philosophy at last became the peculiar science to which I directed my eager enquiries; thence I was led into a train of labyrinthine meditations. I thought of death—I shuddered when I reflected, and shrunk in horror from the idea, selfish and self-interested as I was, of entering a new existence to which I was a stranger. I must either dive into the recesses of futurity, or I must not—I cannot die. Will not this nature—will not this matter of which it is composed, exist to all eternity! Ah! I know it will, and by the exertion of the energies with which nature has gifted me, well I know it shall. This was my opinion at that time: I then believed that there existed no God. Ah! at what an exorbitant price have I bought the conviction that there is!! Believing that priestcraft and superstition were all the religion which man
ever practised, it could not be supposed that I thought there existed supernatural beings of any kind. I believed Nature to be self-sufficient and excelling. I supposed not, therefore, that there could be anything beyond nature. I was now about seventeen; I had dived into the depths of metaphysical calculations; with sophistical arguments, had I convinced myself of the non-existence of a First Cause, and by every combined modification of the essences of matter, had I apparently proved that no existences could possibly be, unseen by human vision.”

This work contains several poems, some of which were written a year or two before the date of the Romance, and which I insert in these memorabilia, more as literary curiosities, than for their intrinsic merit, though some of them may bear comparison with those contained in Byron’s Hours of Idleness. Three of them are in the metre of Walter Scott’s Helvellyn, a poem he greatly admired, although the Lay of the Last Minstrel was little to his taste,


’Twas dead of the night, when I sat in my dwelling
One glimmering lamp was expiring and low,
Around, the dark tide of the tempest was swelling,
Along the wild mountains night-ravens were yelling,
They bodingly presaged destruction and woe:
’Twas then that I started! the wild storm was howling,
Nought was seen save the lightning which danced in the sky.
Above me, the crash of the thunder was rolling,
And low chilling murmurs the blast wafted by.
My heart sunk within me, unheeded the war
Of the battling clouds on the mountain tops broke,
Unheeded the thunder peal crashed in mine ear,
This heart, hard as iron, is stranger to fear;
But conscience in low, noiseless whispering spoke.
’Twas then that her form, in the whirlwind upfolding,
The ghost of the murdered Victoria strode,
In her right hand a shadowy shroud she was holding
She swiftly advanced to my lonely abode.
I wildly then called on the tempest to bear me.—

Ghosts of the dead! have I not heard your yelling,
Ride on the night-rolling breath of the blast,
When o’er the dark ether the tempest was swelling,
And on eddying whirlwind the thunder-peals past.
For oft have I stood on the dark height of Jura,
Which frowns on the valley that opens beneath;
Oft have I braved the chill night-tempest’s fury,
Whilst around me I thought echoed murmurs of death.
And now whilst the winds of the mountain are howling,
O Father! thy voice seems to strike on mine ear.
In air, whilst the tide of the night-storm is rolling,
It breaks on the pause of the element’s jar.
On the wing of the whirlwind which roars o’er the mountain,
Perhaps rides the ghost of my sire who is dead,
On the mist of the tempest which hangs o’er the fountain,
Whilst a wreath of dark vapour encircles his head.

How stern are the woes of the desolate mourner,
As he bends in still grief o’er the hallowed bier,
As ensanguined he turns from the laugh of the scorner,
And drops to Perfection’s remembrance a tear;
When floods of despair down his pale cheeks are streaming,
When no blissful hope on his bosom is beaming.
Or if lulled for a while, soon he starts from his dreaming,
And finds torn the soft ties to affection so dear.
Ah! when shall day dawn on the night of the grave,
Or summer succeed to the winter of death?
Rest awhile, hapless victim! and heaven will save
The spirit that faded away with the breath.
Eternity points to its amaranth bower,
Where no clouds of fate o’er the sweet prospect lower,
Unspeakable pleasure, of goodness the dower,
When woe fades away like the mist of the heath.

Oh! faint are her limbs, and her footstep is weary,
Yet far must the desolate wanderer roam,
Though the tempest is stern, and the mountain is dreary,
She must quit at deep midnight her pitiless home.
I see her swift foot dash the dew from the whortle,
As she rapidly hastes to the green grove of myrtle;
And I hear, as she wraps round her figure the kirtle,
“Stay thy boat on the lake, dearest Henry! I come!”
High swelled in her bosom the throb of affection,
As lightly her form bounded over the lea,
And arose in her mind every dear recollection,
“I come, dearest Henry, and wait but for thee!”
How sad, when dear hope every sorrow is soothing,
When sympathy’s swell the soft bosom is moving,
And the mind the mild joys of affection is proving,
Is the stern voice of fate that bids happiness flee.
Oh! dark lowered the cloudy on that horrible eve,
And the moon dimly gleamed through the tempested air,
Oh! how could fond visions such softness deceive?
Oh how could false hope rend a bosom so fair?
Thy love’s pallid corse the wild surges are laving,
On his form the fierce swell of the tempest is raving,
But fear not, parting spirit! thy goodness is saving,
In eternity’s bower, a seat for thee there.

How swiftly through Heaven’s wide expanse
Bright day’s resplendent colours fade!
How sweetly does the moonbeam’s glance
With silver tint St. Iroyne’s glade!
No cloud along the spangled air
Is borne upon the evening breeze;
How solemn is the scene! how fair.
The moonbeams rest upon the trees!
Yon dark grey turret glimmers white,
Upon it sits the gloomy owl,
Along the stillness of the night
Her melancholy shriekings roll.
But not alone on Iroyne’s tower
The silver moonbeam pours her ray
It gleams upon the ivied tower,
It dances in the cascade’s spray.
“Ah! why do darkening shades conceal
The hour when man must cease to be?
Why may not human minds unveil
The dim mists of futurity?
The keenness of the world hath torn
The heart which opens to its blast;
Despised, neglected and forlorn,
Sinks the poor wretch in death at last.”

The death-bell beats,
The mountain repeats
The echoing sound of the knell;
And the dark monk now
Wraps the cowl round his brow,
As he sits in his lonely cell.
And the cold hand of death
Chills his shuddering breath,
As he lists to the fearful lay,
Which the ghosts of the sky,
As they sweep wildly by,
Sing to departed day.
And they sing of the hour
When the stern Fates had power
To resolve Rosa’s form to its clay.
But that hour is past,
And that hour was the last,
Of peace to the dark monk’s brain;
Bitter tears from his eyes gush’d silent and fast,
And he strove to suppress them in vain.
Then his fair cross of gold he dashed on the floor,
When the death-knell struck on his ear—
“Delight is in store for her evermore,
But for me is fate, horror, and fear.”
Then his eyes wildly rolled,
When the death-bell tolled,
And he raged in terrific woe;
And he stamped on the ground,
But when ceased the sound,
Tears again begun to flow.
And the ice of despair
Chilled the wild throb of care,
And he sate in mute agony still:
Till the night-stars shone thro’ the cloudless air,
And the pale moonbeam slept on the
Then he knelt in his cell,
And the horrors of hell
Were delights to his agonised pain,
And he prayed to God to dissolve the spell,
Which else must ever remain.
And in fervent prayer he knelt to the ground,
Till the abbey bell struck one;
His feverish blood ran chill at the sound,
And a voice hollow, horrible, murmured around,
“The term of thy penance is done.”
Grew dark the night;
The moonbeam bright
Waxed faint on the mountain high;
And from the black hill
Went a voice cold and shrill—
“Monk! thou art free to die.”
Then he rose on his feet,
And his heart loud did beat,
And his limbs they were palsied with dread;
Whilst the grave’s clammy dew
O’er his pale forehead grew;
And he shuddered to sleep with the dead.
And the wild midnight storm
Raved around his tall form,
As he sought the chapel’s gloom;
And the sunk grass did sigh
To the wind, bleak and high,
As he search’d for the new-made tomb.
And forms dark and high
Seem’d around him to fly,
And mingle their yells with the blast;
And on the dark wall
Half-seen shadows did fall,
And enhorror’d he onward pass’d.
And the storm fiends wild rave
O’er the new made grave,
And dread shadows linger around,
The monk call’d on God his soul to save,
And in horror sank on the ground.
Then despair nerved his arm,
To dispel the charm,
And he burst Rosa’s coffin asunder.
And the fierce storm did swell
More terrific and fell,
And louder peal’d the thunder.
And laugh’d in joy the fiendish throng,
Mix’d with ghosts of the mouldering dead;
And their grisly wings, as they floated along,
Whistled in murmurs dread.
And her skeleton form the dead nun rear’d,
Which dripp’d with the chill dew of hell.
In her half-eaten eye-halls two pale flames appear’d,
But triumphant their gleam on the dark monk glar’d,
As he stood within the cell.
And her lank hand lay on his shuddering brain,
But each power was nerv’d by fear.—
“I never, henceforth, may breathe again;
Death now ends mine anguish’d pain;
The grave yawns—we meet there.”
And her skeleton lungs did utter the sound,
So deadly, so lone, and so fell,
That in long vibrations shudder’d the ground,
And as the stern notes floated around,
A deep groan was answer’d from Hell!

Such was the sort of poetry Shelley wrote at this period—and it is valuable, inasmuch as it serves to shew the disposition and bent of his mind in 1808 and 1809, which ran on bandits, castles, ruined towers, wild mountains, storms and apparitions—the Terrific, which according to Burke is the great machinery of the Sublime. In the beginning of the first of these two years, I shewed Shelley some poems to which I had subscribed by Felicia Browne, whom I had met in North Wales, where she had been on a visit at the house of a connection of mine. She was then sixteen, and it was impossible not to be struck with the beauty (for beautiful she was), the grace, and charming simplicity and naiveté of this interesting girl—and on my return from Denbighshire, I made her and her works the
frequent subject of conversation with Shelley. Her juvenile productions, remarkable certainly for her age—and some of those which the volume contained were written when she was a mere child—made a powerful impression on Shelley, ever enthusiastic in his admiration of talent; and with a prophetic spirit he foresaw the coming greatness of that genius, which under the name of Hemans afterwards electrified the world.

He desired to become acquainted with the young authoress, and using my name, wrote to her, as he was in the habit of doing to all those who in any way excited his sympathies. This letter produced an answer, and a correspondence of some length passed between them, which of course I never saw, but it is to be supposed that it turned on other subjects besides poetry. I mean, that it was sceptical. It has been said by her biographer, that the poetess was at one period of her life, as is the case frequently with deep thinkers on religion, inclined to doubt; and it is not impossible that such owed its origin to
this interchange of thought. One may indeed suppose this to have been the case, from the circumstance of her
mother writing to my father, and begging him to use his influence with Shelley to cease from any further communication with her daughter,—in fact, prohibiting their further correspondence. Mrs. Hemans seems, however, to have been a great admirer of his poetry, and to have in some measure modelled her style after his, particularly in her last and most finished effusions, in which we occasionally find a line or two of Shelley’s, proving that she was an attentive reader of his works. “Poets,” as Shelley says, “the best of them, are a very chameleonic race, and take the colour not only of what they feed on, but of the very leaves over which they pass.”

It so happened that neither Shelley nor myself in after years mentioned Mrs. Hemans; indeed her finest lyrics were written subsequent to his death; I allude to those which appeared in Blackwood—the longer pieces I have never read, nor I believe had Shelley, who looked upon prose as the best medium
for such subjects as she has treated in them, the purely didactic and moral, as he has expressed in the preface to the
Prometheus Unbound, where he says, “Didactic poetry is my abhorrence. Nothing can be equally well expressed in prose, that is not tedious and supererrogatory in verse.”