Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Introduction

The editor came across the unpublished texts included in this volume
as early as 1905. Perhaps he ought to apologize for delaying their
appearance in print. The fact is he has long been afraid of overrating
their intrinsic value. But as the great Shelley centenary year has
come, perhaps this little monument of his wife's collaboration may
take its modest place among the tributes which will be paid to his
memory. For Mary Shelley's mythological dramas can at least claim to
be the proper setting for some of the most beautiful lyrics of the
poet, which so far have been read in undue isolation. And even as a
literary sign of those times, as an example of that classical
renaissance which the romantic period fostered, they may not be
altogether negligible.

These biographical and literary points have been dealt with in an
introduction for which the kindest help was long ago received from the
late Dr. Garnett and the late Lord Abinger. Sir Walter Raleigh was
also among the first to give both encouragement and guidance. My
friends M. Emile Pons and Mr. Roger Ingpen have read the book in
manuscript. The authorities of the Bodleian Library and of the
Clarendon Press have been as generously helpful as is their well-known
wont. To all the editor wishes to record his acknowledgements and
thanks.

STRASBOURG.


INTRODUCTION.


I.


'The compositions published in Mrs. Shelley's lifetime afford but an
inadequate conception of the intense sensibility and mental vigour of
this extraordinary woman.'

Thus wrote Dr. Garnett, in 1862 (Preface to his _Relics of Shelley_).
The words of praise may have sounded unexpectedly warm at that date.
Perhaps the present volume will make the reader more willing to
subscribe, or less inclined to demur.

Mary Godwin in her younger days certainly possessed a fair share of
that nimbleness of invention which generally characterizes women of
letters. Her favourite pastime as a child, she herself testifies,
[Footnote: Preface to the 1831 edition of _Frankenstein_.] had been to
write stories. And a dearer pleasure had been--to use her own
characteristic abstract and elongated way of putting it--'the
following up trains of thought which had for their subject the
formation of a succession of imaginary incidents'. All readers of
Shelley's life remember how later on, as a girl of nineteen--and a two
years' wife--she was present, 'a devout but nearly silent listener',
at the long symposia held by her husband and Byron in Switzerland
(June 1816), and how the pondering over 'German horrors', and a common
resolve to perpetrate ghost stories of their own, led her to imagine
that most unwomanly of all feminine romances, _Frankenstein._ The
paradoxical effort was paradoxically successful, and, as publishers'
lists aver to this day, Frankenstein's monster has turned out to be
the hardest-lived specimen of the 'raw-head-and-bloody-bones' school
of romantic tales. So much, no doubt, to the credit of Mary Shelley.
But more creditable, surely, is the fact that she was not tempted, as
'Monk' Lewis had been, to persevere in those lugubrious themes.

Although her publishers--_et pour cause_--insisted on styling her 'the
author of Frankenstein', an entirely different vein appears in her
later productions. Indeed, a quiet reserve of tone, a slow, sober, and
sedate bearing, are henceforth characteristic of all her literary
attitudes. It is almost a case of running from one to the other
extreme. The force of style which even adverse critics acknowledged in
_Frankenstein_ was sometimes perilously akin to the most disputable
kinds of romantic rant. But in the historical or society novels which
followed, in the contributions which graced the 'Keepsakes' of the
thirties, and even--alas--in the various prefaces and commentaries
which accompanied the publication of so many poems of Shelley, his
wife succumbed to an increasing habit of almost Victorian reticence
and dignity. And those later novels and tales, though they sold well
in their days and were kindly reviewed, can hardly boast of any
reputation now. Most of them are pervaded by a brooding spirit of
melancholy of the 'moping' rather than the 'musical' sort, and
consequently rather ineffective as an artistic motive. Students of
Shelley occasionally scan those pages with a view to pick some obscure
'hints and indirections', some veiled reminiscences, in the stories of
the adventures and misfortunes of _The Last Man_ or _Lodore_. And the
books may be good biography at times--they are never life.

Altogether there is a curious contrast between the two aspects,
hitherto revealed, of Mary Shelley's literary activities. It is as if
the pulse which had been beating so wildly, so frantically, in
_Frankenstein_ (1818), had lapsed, with _Valperga_ (1823) and the
rest, into an increasingly sluggish flow.

The following pages may be held to bridge the gap between those two
extremes in a felicitous way. A more purely artistic mood, instinct
with the serene joy and clear warmth of Italian skies, combining a
good deal of youthful buoyancy with a sort of quiet and unpretending
philosophy, is here represented. And it is submitted that the little
classical fancies which Mrs. Shelley never ventured to publish are
quite as worthy of consideration as her more ambitious prose works.

For one thing they give us the longest poetical effort of the writer.
The moon of _Epipsychidion_ never seems to have been thrilled with the
music of the highest spheres. Yet there were times when Shelley's
inspiration and example fired her into something more than her usual
calm and cold brilliancy.

One of those periods--perhaps the happiest period in Mary's life--was
during the early months in Italy of the English 'exiles'. 'She never
was more strongly impelled to write than at this time; she felt her
powers fresh and strong within her; all she wanted was some motive,
some suggestion to guide her in the choice of a subject.' [Footnote:
Mrs. Marshall, _The Life and Letters of Mary W. Shelley_, i. 216.]

Shelley then expected her to try her hand at a drama, perhaps on the
terrible story of the Cenci, or again on the catastrophes of Charles
the First. Her _Frankenstein_ was attracting more attention than had
ever been granted to his own works. And Shelley, with that touching
simplicity which characterized his loving moments, showed the greatest
confidence in the literary career of his wife. He helped her and
encouraged her in every way. He then translated for her Plato's
_Symposium_. He led her on in her Latin and Italian studies. He wanted
her--probably as a sort of preliminary exercise before her flight into
tragedy--to translate Alfieri's _Myrrha_. 'Remember _Charles the
First_, and do you be prepared to bring at least some of _Myrrha_
translated,' he wrote; 'remember, remember _Charles the First_ and
_Myrrha_,' he insisted; and he quoted, for her benefit, the
presumptuous aphorism of Godwin, in _St. Leon_, 'There is nothing
which the human mind can conceive which it may not execute'.
[Footnote: Letter from Padua, 22 September 1818.]

But in the year that followed these auspicious days, the strain and
stress of her life proved more powerful on Mary Shelley than the
inspiration of literature. The loss of her little girl Clara, at
Venice, on the 24th of September 1818, was cruel enough. However, she
tried hard not to show the 'pusillanimous disposition' which, Godwin
assured his daughter, characterizes the persons 'that sink long under
a calamity of this nature'. [Footnote: 27 October 1818] But the death
of her boy, William, at Rome, on the 4th of June 1819, reduced her to
a 'kind of despair'. Whatever it could be to her husband, Italy no
longer was for her a 'paradise of exiles'. The flush and excitement of
the early months, the 'first fine careless rapture', were for ever
gone. 'I shall never recover that blow,' Mary wrote on the 27th of
June 1819; 'the thought never leaves me for a single moment;
everything on earth has lost its interest for me,' This time her
imperturbable father 'philosophized' in vain. With a more sympathetic
and acuter intelligence of her case, Leigh Hunt insisted (July 1819)
that she should try and give her paralysing sorrow some literary
expression, 'strike her pen into some... genial subject... and bring
up a fountain of gentle tears for us'. But the poor childless mother
could only rehearse her complaint--'to have won, and thus cruelly to
have lost' (4 August 1819). In fact she had, on William's death,
discontinued her diary.

Yet on the date just mentioned, as Shelley reached his twenty-seven
years, she plucked up courage and resumed the task. Shelley, however
absorbed by the creative ardour of his _Annus mirabilis_, could not
but observe that his wife's 'spirits continued wretchedly depressed'
(5 August 1819); and though masculine enough to resent the fact at
times more than pity it, he was human enough to persevere in that
habit of co-operative reading and writing which is one of the finest
traits of his married life. 'I write in the morning,' his wife
testifies, 'read Latin till 2, when we dine; then I read some English
book, and two cantos of Dante with Shelley [Footnote: Letter to Mrs.
Hunt, 28 August 1819.]--a fair average, no doubt, of the homely aspect
of the great days which produced _The Cenci_ and _Prometheus_.

On the 12th November, in Florence, the birth of a second son, Percy
Florence Shelley, helped Mary out of her sense of bereavement.
Subsequent letters still occasionally admit 'low spirits'. But the
entries in the Journal make it clear that the year 1819-20 was one of
the most pleasantly industrious of her life. Not Dante only, but a
motley series of books, great and small, ancient and modern, English
and foreign, bespoke her attention. Not content with Latin, and the
extemporized translations which Shelley could give her of Plato's
_Republic_, she started Greek in 1820, and soon came to delight in it.
And again she thought of original composition. 'Write', 'work,'--the
words now occur daily in her Journal. These must mainly refer to the
long historical novel, which she had planned, as early as 1819,
[Footnote: She had 'thought of it' at Marlow, as appears from her
letter to Mrs. Gisborne, 30 June 1821 (in Mrs. Marshall, i. p. 291);
but the materials for it were not found before the stay at Naples, and
it was not actually begun 'till a year afterwards, at Pisa' (ibid.).]
under the title of _Castruccio_, _Prince of Lucca_, and which was not
published until 1823, as _Valperga_. It was indeed a laborious task.
The novel 'illustrative of the manners of the Middle Ages in Italy'
had to be 'raked out of fifty old books', as Shelley said. [Footnote:
Letter to T. L. Peacock, November 1820.]

But heavy as the undertaking must have been, it certainly did not
engross all the activities of Shelley's wife in this period. And it
seems highly probable that the two little mythological dramas which we
here publish belong to this same year 1820.

The evidence for this date is as follows. Shelley's lyrics, which
these dramas include, were published by his wife (_Posthumous Poems_,
1824) among the 'poems written in 1820'. Another composition, in blank
verse, curiously similar to Mary's own work, entitled _Orpheus_, has
been allotted by Dr. Garnett (_Relics of Shelley_, 1862) to the same
category. [Footnote: Dr. Garnett, in his prefatory note, states that
Orpheus 'exists only in a transcript by Mrs. Shelley, who has written
in playful allusion to her toils as amanuensis _Aspetto fin che il
diluvio cala, ed allora cerco di posare argine alle sue parole_'. The
poem is thus supposed to have been Shelley's attempt at improvisation,
if not indeed a translation from the Italian of the 'improvvisatore'
Sgricci. The Shelleys do not seem to have come to know and hear
Sgricci before the end of December 1820. The Italian note after all
has no very clear import. And Dr. Garnett in 1905 inclined to the view
that _Orpheus_ was the work not of Shelley, but of his wife. A
comparison of that fragment and the dramas here published seems to me
to suggest the same conclusion, though in both cases Mary Shelley must
have been helped by her husband.] Again, it may well be more than a
coincidence, that the Proserpine motive occurs in that passage from
Dante's _Purgatorio_, canto 28, on 'Matilda gathering flowers', which
Shelley is known to have translated shortly before Medwin's visit in
the late autumn of 1820.

O come, that I may hear
Thy song: like Proserpine, in Enna's glen,
Thou seemest to my fancy,--singing here,
And gathering flowers, as that fair maiden, when
She lost the spring and Ceres her more dear.
[Footnote: As published by Medwin, 1834 and 1847.]

But we have a far more important, because a direct, testimony in a
manuscript addition made by Thomas Medwin in the margin of a copy of
his _Life of Shelley_ (1847). [Footnote: The copy, 2 vols., was sold
at Sotheby's on the 6th December 1906: Mr. H. Buxton Forman (who was,
I think, the buyer) published the contents in _The Life of Percy
Bysshe Shelley, By Thomas Medwin, A New Edition printed from a copy
copiously amended and extended by the Author_ . . . Milford, 1913. The
passage here quoted appears on p. 27 of the 2nd vol. of the 1847
edition (Forman ed., p. 252)] The passage is clearly intended--though
chronology is no more than any other exact science the 'forte' of that
most tantalizing of biographers--to refer to the year 1820.

'Mrs. Shelley had at this time been writing some little Dramas on
classical subjects, one of which was the Rape of Proserpine, a very
graceful composition which she has never published. Shelley
contributed to this the exquisite fable of Arethusa and the Invocation
to Ceres.--Among the Nymphs gathering flowers on Enna were two whom
she called Ino and Uno, names which I remember in the Dialogue were
irresistibly ludicrous. She also wrote one on Midas, into which were
introduced by Shelley, in the Contest between Pan and Apollo, the
Sublime Effusion of the latter, and Pan's characterised Ode.'

This statement of Medwin finally settles the question. The 'friend' at
whose request, Mrs. Shelley says, [Footnote: The Hymns of Pan and
Apollo were first published by Mrs. Shelley in _the Posthumous Poems_,
1824, with a note saying that they had been 'written at the request of
a friend to be inserted in a drama on the subject of Midas'.
_Arethusa_ appeared in the same volume, dated 'Pisa, 1820'.
Proserpine's song was not published before the first collected edition
of 1839.] the lyrics were written by her husband, was herself. And she
was the author of the dramas. [Footnote: Not E. E. Williams (Buxton
Forman, ed. 1882, vol. iv, p. 34). The manuscript of the poetical play
composed about 1822 by the latter, 'The Promise', with Shelley's
autograph poem ('Night! with all thine eyes look down'), was given to
the Bodleian Library in 1914.]

The manuscript (Bodleian Library, MS. Shelley, d. 2) looks like a
cheap exercise-book, originally of 40, now of 36 leaves, 8 1/4 x 6
inches, in boards. The contents are the dramas here presented, written
in a clear legible hand--the equable hand of Mrs. Shelley. [Footnote:
Shelley's lyrics are also in his wife's writing--Mr. Locock is surely
mistaken in assuming two different hands to this manuscript (_The
Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley_, Methuen, 1909, vol. iii, p. xix).]
There are very few words corrected or cancelled. It is obviously a
fair copy. Mr. C. D. Locock, in his _Examination of the Shelley
Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library_ (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1903,
pp. 24-25), has already pointed out the valuable emendations of the
'received' text of Shelley's lyrics which are found here. In fact the
only mystery is why neither Shelley, nor Mary in the course of her
long widowed years, should have published these curious, and surely
not contemptible, by-products of their co-operation in the fruitful
year 1820.


II.

For indeed there is more than a personal interest attached to these
writings of Mrs. Shelley's. The fact that the same mind which had
revelled, a few years earlier, in the fantastical horrors of
Frankenstein's abortive creation, could now dwell on the melancholy
fate of Proserpine or the humorous disappointment of Midas, and
delight in their subtle poetical or moral symbolism--this fact has its
significance. It is one of the earliest indications of the revival, in
the heart of Romanticism, of the old love of classical myths and
classical beauty.

The subject is a wide one, and cannot be adequately dealt with in this
place. But a few words may not be superfluous for a correct historical
appreciation of Mrs. Shelley's attempt.

How deficient had been the sense of classical beauty in the so-called
classical age of English literature, is a trite consideration of
criticism. The treatment of mythology is particularly conclusive on
this point. Throughout the 'Augustan' era, mythology was approached as
a mere treasure-house of pleasant fancies, artificial decorations,
'motives', whether sumptuous or meretricious. Allusions to Jove and
Venus, Mercury, Apollo, or Bacchus, are of course found in every other
page of Dryden, Pope, Prior, Swift, Gay, and Parnell. But no fresh
presentation, no loving interpretation, of the old myths occur
anywhere. The immortal stories were then part and parcel of a sort of
poetical curriculum through which the whole school must be taken by
the stern masters Tradition and Propriety. There is little to be
wondered at, if this matter of curriculum was treated by the more
passive scholars as a matter of course, and by the sharper and less
reverent disciples as a matter of fun. Indeed, if any personality is
then evinced in the adaptation of these old world themes, it is
generally connected with a more or less emphatic disparagement or
grotesque distortion of their real meaning.

When Dryden, for example, makes use of the legend of Midas, in his
_Wife of Bath's Tale_, he makes, not Midas's minister, but his queen,
tell the mighty secret--and thus secures another hit at woman's
loquacity.

Prior's _Female Phaeton_ is a younger sister, who, jealous of her
elder's success, thus pleads with her 'mamma':

I'll have my earl as well as she
Or know the reason why.

And she wants to flaunt it accordingly.

Finally,

Fondness prevailed; mamma gave way;
Kitty, at heart's desire,
Obtained the chariot for a day,
And set the world on fire.

Pandora, in Parnell's _Hesiod or the Rise of Woman_, is only a

'shining vengeance...
A pleasing bosom-cheat, a specious ill'

sent by the gods upon earth to punish the race of Prometheus.

The most poetical fables of Greece are desecrated by Gay into mere
miniatures for the decoration of his _Fan_.

Similar instances abound later on. When Armstrong brings in an
apostrophe to the Naiads, it is in the course of a _Poetical Essay on
the Art of Preserving Health_. And again, when Cowper stirs himself to
intone an _Ode to Apollo_, it is in the same mock-heroic vein:

Patron of all those luckless brains,
That to the wrong side leaning
Indite much metre with much pains
And little or no meaning...

Even in Gray's--'Pindaric Gray's'--treatment of classical themes,
there is a sort of pervading _ennui_, or the forced appreciativeness
of a gouty, disappointed man. The daughter of Jove to whom he
dedicates his hymns too often is 'Adversity'. And classical
reminiscences have, even with him, a dull musty tinge which recalls
the antiquarian in his Cambridge college-rooms rather than the visitor
to Florence and Rome. For one thing, his allusions are too many, and
too transitory, to appear anything but artistic tricks and verse-
making tools. The 'Aegean deep', and 'Delphi's steep', and 'Meander's
amber waves', and the 'rosy-crowned Loves', are too cursorily
summoned, and dismissed, to suggest that they have been brought in for
their own sweet sakes.

It was thus with all the fine quintessences of ancient lore, with all
the pearl-like accretions of the faiths and fancies of the old world:
they were handled about freely as a kind of curious but not so very
rare coins, which found no currency in the deeper thoughts of our
modern humanity, and could therefore be used as a mere badge of the
learning and taste of a literary 'coterie'.

The very names of the ancient gods and heroes were in fact assuming
that abstract anaemic look which common nouns have in everyday
language. Thus, when Garrick, in his verses _Upon a Lady's
Embroidery_, mentions 'Arachne', it is obvious that he does not expect
the reader to think of the daring challenger of Minerva's art, or the
Princess of Lydia, but just of a plain spider. And again, when
Falconer, in his early _Monody on the death of the Prince of Wales_,
expresses a rhetorical wish

'to aid hoarse howling Boreas with his sighs,'

that particular son of Astraeus, whose love for the nymph Orithyia was
long unsuccessful, because he could not 'sigh', is surely far from the
poet's mind; and 'to swell the wind', or 'the gale', would have served
his turn quite as well, though less 'elegantly'.

Even Gibbon, with all his partiality for whatever was pre- or post-
Christian, had indeed no better word than 'elegant' for the ancient
mythologies of Greece and Rome, and he surely reflected no
particularly advanced opinion when he praised and damned, in one
breath, 'the pleasant and absurd system of Paganism.' [Footnote: Essay
on the Study of Literature, Section 56.] No wonder if in his days, and
for a long time after, the passionate giants of the Ages of Fable had
dwindled down to the pretty puppets with which the daughters of the
gentry had to while away many a school hour.

But the days of this rhetorical--or satirical, didactic--or
perfunctory, treatment of classical themes were doomed. It is the
glory of Romanticism to have opened 'magic casements' not only on 'the
foam of perilous seas' in the West, but also on

the chambers of the East,
The chambers of the Sun, that now
From ancient melody had ceased.
[Footnote: Blake, _Poetical Sketches_, 1783.]

Romanticism, as a freshening up of all the sources of life, a general
rejuvenescence of the soul, a ubiquitous visiting of the spirit of
delight and wonder, could not confine itself to the fields of
mediaeval romance. Even the records of the Greek and Roman thought
assumed a new beauty; the classical sense was let free from its
antiquarian trammels, and the perennial fanes resounded to the songs
of a more impassioned worship.

The change, however, took some time. And it must be admitted that in
England, especially, the Romantic movement was slow to go back to
classical themes. Winckelmann and Goethe, and Chenier--the last,
indeed, practically all unknown to his contemporaries--had long
rediscovered Antiquity, and felt its pulse anew, and praised its
enduring power, when English poetry had little, if anything, to show
in answer to the plaintive invocation of Blake to the Ancient Muses.

The first generation of English Romantics either shunned the subject
altogether, or simply echoed Blake's isolated lines in isolated
passages as regretful and almost as despondent. From Persia to
Paraguay Southey could wander and seek after exotic themes; his days
could be 'passed among the dead'--but neither the classic lands nor
the classic heroes ever seem to have detained him. Walter Scott's
'sphere of sensation may be almost exactly limited by the growth of
heather', as Ruskin says; [Footnote: _Modern Painters_, iii. 317] and
when he came to Rome, his last illness prevented him from any attempt
he might have wished to make to enlarge his field of vision.
Wordsworth was even less far-travelled, and his home-made poetry never
thought of the 'Pagan' and his 'creed outworn', but as a distinct
_pis-aller_ in the way of inspiration. [Footnote: _Sonnet_ 'The world
is too much with us'; cf. _The Excursion_, iv. 851-57.] And again,
though Coleridge has a few magnificent lines about them, he seems to
have even less willingly than Wordsworth hearkened after

The intelligible forms of ancient poets,
The fair humanities of old religion.
[Footnote: _The Piccolomini_, II, iv.]

It was to be otherwise with the later English Romantic poets. They
lived and worked at a time when the whole atmosphere and even the
paraphernalia of literary composition had just undergone a
considerable change. After a period of comparative seclusion and self-
concentration, England at the Peace of Amiens once more found its way
to Europe--and vice versa. And from our point of view this widening of
prospects is especially noticeable. For the classical revival in
Romanticism appears to be closely connected with it.

It is an alluring subject to investigate. How the progress of
scholarship, the recent 'finds' of archaeology, the extension of
travelling along Mediterranean shores, the political enthusiasms
evoked by the stirrings of young Italy and young Greece, all combined
to reawaken in the poetical imagination of the times the dormant
memories of antiquity has not yet been told by the historians of
literature. [Footnote: At least as far as England is concerned. For
France, cf. Canat, _La renaissance de la Grece antique_, Hachette,
Paris, 1911.]

But--and this is sufficient for our purpose--every one knows what the
Elgin Marbles have done for Keats and Shelley; and what inspirations
were derived from their pilgrimages in classic lands by all the poets
of this and the following generation, from Byron to Landor. Such
experiences could not but react on the common conception of mythology.
A knowledge of the great classical sculpture of Greece could not but
invest with a new dignity and chastity the notions which so far had
been nurtured on the Venus de' Medici and the Belvedere Apollo--even
Shelley lived and possibly died under their spell. And 'returning to
the nature which had inspired the ancient myths', the Romantic poets
must have felt with a keener sense 'their exquisite vitality'.
[Footnote: J. A, Symonds, _Studies of the Greek Poets_, ii, p. 258.]
The whole tenor of English Romanticism may be said to have been
affected thereby.

For English Romanticism--and this is one of its most distinctive
merits--had no exclusiveness about it. It was too spontaneous, one
would almost say, too unconscious, ever to be clannish. It grew,
untrammelled by codes, uncrystallized into formulas, a living thing
always, not a subject-matter for grandiloquent manifestoes and more or
less dignified squabbles. It could therefore absorb and turn to
account elements which seemed antagonistic to it in the more
sophisticated forms it assumed in other literatures. Thus, whilst
French Romanticism--in spite of what it may or may not have owed to
Chenier--became often distinctly, deliberately, wilfully anti-
classical, whilst for example [Footnote: As pointed out by Brunetiere,
_Evolution de la Poesie lyrique_, ii, p. 147.] Victor Hugo in that
all-comprehending _Legende des Siecles_ could find room for the Hegira
and for Zim-Zizimi, but did not consecrate a single line to the
departed glories of mythical Greece, the Romantic poets of England may
claim to have restored in freshness and purity the religion of
antiquity. Indeed their voice was so convincing that even the great
Christian chorus that broke out afresh in the Victorian era could not
entirely drown it, and Elizabeth Barrett had an apologetic way of
dismissing 'the dead Pan', and all the 'vain false gods of Hellas',
with an acknowledgement of

your beauty which confesses
Some chief Beauty conquering you.

This may be taken to have been the average attitude, in the forties,
towards classical mythology. That twenty years before, at least in the
Shelley circle, it was far less grudging, we now have definite proof.

Not only was Shelley prepared to admit, with the liberal opinion of
the time, that ancient mythology 'was a system of nature concealed
under the veil of allegory', a system in which 'a thousand fanciful
fables contained a secret and mystic meaning': [Footnote: _Edinb.
Rev._, July 1808.] he was prepared to go a considerable step farther,
and claim that there was no essential difference between ancient
mythology and the theology of the Christians, that both were
interpretations, in more or less figurative language, of the great
mysteries of being, and indeed that the earlier interpretation,
precisely because it was more frankly figurative and poetical than the
later one, was better fitted to stimulate and to allay the sense of
wonder which ought to accompany a reverent and high-souled man
throughout his life-career.

In the earlier phase of Shelley's thought, this identification of the
ancient and the modern faiths was derogatory to both. The letter which
he had written in 1812 for the edification of Lord Ellenborough
revelled in the contemplation of a time 'when the Christian religion
shall have faded from the earth, when its memory like that of
Polytheism now shall remain, but remain only as the subject of
ridicule and wonder'. But as time went on, Shelley's views became less
purely negative. Instead of ruling the adversaries back to back out of
court, he bethought himself of venturing a plea in favour of the older
and weaker one. It may have been in 1817 that he contemplated an
'Essay in favour of polytheism'.[Footnote: Cf. our _Shelley's Prose in
the Bodleian MSS_., 1910, p. 124.] He was then living on the fringe of
a charmed circle of amateur and adventurous Hellenists who could have
furthered the scheme. His great friend, Thomas Love Peacock, 'Greeky
Peaky', was a personal acquaintance of Thomas Taylor 'the Platonist',
alias 'Pagan Taylor'. And Taylor's translations and commentaries of
Plato had been favourites of Shelley in his college days. Something at
least of Taylor's queer mixture of flaming enthusiasm and tortuous
ingenuity may be said to appear in the unexpected document we have now
to examine.

It is a little draft of an Essay, which occurs, in Mrs. Shelley's
handwriting, as an insertion in her Journal for the Italian period.
The fragment--for it is no more--must be quoted in full. [Footnote:
From the 'Boscombe' MSS. Unpublished.]

The necessity of a Belief in the
Heathen Mythology
to a Christian

If two facts are related not contradictory of equal probability & with
equal evidence, if we believe one we must believe the other.

1st. There is as good proof of the Heathen Mythology as of the
Christian Religion.

2ly. that they [do] not contradict one another.

Con[clusion]. If a man believes in one he must believe in both.

Examination of the proofs of the Xtian religion--the Bible & its
authors. The twelve stones that existed in the time of the writer
prove the miraculous passage of the river Jordan. [Footnote: Josh. iv.
8.--These notes are _not_ Shelley's.] The immoveability of the Island
of Delos proves the accouchement of Latona [Footnote: _Theogn_. 5
foll.; Homer's _Hymn to Apollo_, i. 25.]--the Bible of the Greek
religion consists in Homer, Hesiod & the Fragments of Orpheus &c.--All
that came afterwards to be considered apocryphal--Ovid = Josephus--of
each of these writers we may believe just what we cho[o]se.

To seek in these Poets for the creed & proofs of mythology which are
as follows--Examination of these--1st with regard to proof--2 in
contradiction or conformity to the Bible--various apparitions of God
in that Book [--] Jupiter considered by himself--his attributes--
disposition [--] acts--whether as God revealed himself as the Almighty
to the Patriarchs & as Jehovah to the Jews he did not reveal himself
as Jupiter to the Greeks--the possibility of various revelations--that
he revealed himself to Cyrus. [Footnote: Probably Xenophon, _Cyrop_.
VIII. vii. 2.]

The inferior deities--the sons of God & the Angels--the difficulty of
Jupiter's children explained away--the imagination of the poets--of
the prophets--whether the circumstance of the sons of God living with
women [Footnote: Gen. vi.] being related in one sentence makes it more
probable than the details of Greek--Various messages of the Angels--of
the deities--Abraham, Lot or Tobit. Raphael [--]Mercury to Priam
[Footnote: _Iliad_, xxiv.]--Calypso & Ulysses--the angel wd then play
the better part of the two whereas he now plays the worse. The ass of
Balaam--Oracles--Prophets. The revelation of God as Jupiter to the
Greeks---a more successful revelation than that as Jehovah to the
Jews--Power, wisdom, beauty, & obedience of the Greeks--greater & of
longer continuance--than those of the Jews. Jehovah's promises worse
kept than Jupiter's--the Jews or Prophets had not a more consistent or
decided notion concerning after life & the Judgements of God than the
Greeks [--] Angels disappear at one time in the Bible & afterwards
appear again. The revelation to the Greeks more complete than to the
Jews--prophesies of Christ by the heathens more incontrovertible than
those of the Jews. The coming of X. a confirmation of both religions.
The cessation of oracles a proof of this. The Xtians better off than
any but the Jews as blind as the Heathens--Much more conformable to an
idea of [the] goodness of God that he should have revealed himself to
the Greeks than that he left them in ignorance. Vergil & Ovid not
truth of the heathen Mythology, but the interpretation of a heathen--
as Milton's Paradise Lost is the interpretation of a Christian
religion of the Bible. The interpretation of the mythology of Vergil &
the interpretation of the Bible by Milton compared--whether one is
more inconsistent than the other--In what they are contradictory.
Prometheus desmotes quoted by Paul [Footnote: Shelley may refer to the
proverbial phrase 'to kick against the pricks' (Acts xxvi. 14), which,
however, is found in Pindar and Euripides as well as in Aeschylus
(_Prom._ 323).] [--] all religion false except that which is revealed--
revelation depends upon a certain degree of civilization--writing
necessary--no oral tradition to be a part of faith--the worship of the
Sun no revelation--Having lost the books [of] the Egyptians we have no
knowledge of their peculiar revelations. If the revelation of God to
the Jews on Mt Sinai had been more peculiar & impressive than some of
those to the Greeks they wd not immediately after have worshiped a
calf--A latitude in revelation--How to judge of prophets--the proof
[of] the Jewish Prophets being prophets.

The only public revelation that Jehovah ever made of himself was on Mt
Sinai--Every other depended upon the testimony of a very few & usually
of a single individual--We will first therefore consider the
revelation of Mount Sinai. Taking the fact plainly it happened thus.
The Jews were told by a man whom they believed to have supernatural
powers that they were to prepare for that God wd reveal himself in
three days on the mountain at the sound of a trumpet. On the 3rd day
there was a cloud & lightning on the mountain & the voice of a trumpet
extremely loud. The people were ordered to stand round the foot of the
mountain & not on pain of death to infringe upon the bounds--The man
in whom they confided went up the mountain & came down again bringing
them word


The draft unfortunately leaves off here, and we are unable to know for
certain whether this Shelleyan paradox, greatly daring, meant to
minimize the importance of the 'only public revelation' granted to the
chosen people. But we have enough to understand the general trend of
the argument. It did not actually intend to sap the foundations of
Scriptural authority. But it was bold enough to risk a little shaking
in order to prove that the Sacred Books of the Greeks and Romans did
not, after all, present us with a much more rickety structure. This
was a task of conciliation rather than destruction. And yet even this
conservative view of the Shelleys' exegesis cannot--and will not--
detract from the value of the above document. Surely, this curious
theory of the equal 'inspiration' of Polytheism and the Jewish or
Christian religions, whether it was invented or simply espoused by
Mrs. Shelley, evinces in her--for the time being at least--a very
considerable share of that adventurous if somewhat uncritical alacrity
of mind which carried the poet through so many religious and political
problems. It certainly vindicates her, more completely perhaps than
anything hitherto published, against the strictures of those who knew
her chiefly or exclusively in later years, and could speak of her as a
'most conventional slave', who 'even affected the pious dodge', and
'was not a suitable companion for the poet'. [Footnote: Trelawny's
letter, 3 April 1870; in Mr. H. Buxton Forman's edition, 1910, p.
229.] Mrs. Shelley--at twenty-three years of age--had not yet run the
full 'career of her humour'; and her enthusiasm for classical
mythology may well have, later on, gone the way of her admiration for
Spinoza, whom she read with Shelley that winter (1820-1), as Medwin
notes, [Footnote: I. e. ed. H. Buxton Forman, p. 253.] and 'whose
arguments she then thought irrefutable--_tempora mutantur!_'

However that may be, the two little mythological dramas on
_Proserpine_ and _Midas_ assume, in the light of that enthusiasm, a
special interest. They stand--or fall--both as a literary, and to a
certain extent as an intellectual effort. They are more than an
attitude, and not much less than an avowal. Not only do they claim our
attention as the single poetical work of any length which seems to
have been undertaken by Mrs. Shelley; they are a unique and touching
monument of that intimate co-operation which at times, especially in
the early years in Italy, could make the union of 'the May' and 'the
Elf' almost unreservedly delightful. It would undoubtedly be fatuous
exaggeration to ascribe a very high place in literature to these
little Ovidian fancies of Mrs. Shelley. The scenes, after all, are
little better than adaptations--fairly close adaptations--of the Latin
poet's well-known tales.

Even _Proserpine_, though clearly the more successful of the two, both
more strongly knit as drama, and less uneven in style and
versification, cannot for a moment compare with the far more original
interpretations of Tennyson, Swinburne, or Meredith. [Footnote:
_Demeter and Persephone_, 1889; _The Garden of Proserpine_, 1866; _The
Appeasement of Demeter_, 1888.] But it is hardly fair to draw in the
great names of the latter part of the century. The parallel would be
more illuminating--and the final award passed on Mrs. Shelley's
attempt more favourable--if we were to think of a contemporary
production like 'Barry Cornwall's' _Rape of Proserpine_, which, being
published in 1820, it is just possible that the Shelleys should have
known. B. W. Procter's poem is also a dramatic 'scene', written 'in
imitation of the mode originated by the Greek Tragic Writers'. In fact
those hallowed models seem to have left far fewer traces in Barry
Cornwall's verse than the Alexandrian--or pseudo-Alexandrian--
tradition of meretricious graces and coquettish fancies, which the
eighteenth century had already run to death. [Footnote: To adduce an
example--in what is probably not an easily accessible book to-day:
Proserpine, distributing her flowers, thus addresses one of her
nymphs:

For this lily,
Where can it hang but at Cyane's breast!
And yet 'twill wither on so white a bed,
If flowers have sense for envy.]

And, more damnable still, the poetical essence of the legend, the
identification of Proserpine's twofold existence with the grand
alternation of nature's seasons, has been entirely neglected by the
author. Surely his work, though published, is quite as deservedly
obscure as Mrs. Shelley's derelict manuscript. _Midas_ has the
privilege, if it be one, of not challenging any obvious comparison.
The subject, since Lyly's and Dryden's days, has hardly attracted the
attention of the poets. It was so eminently fit for the lighter kinds
of presentation that the agile bibliographer who aimed at completeness
would have to go through a fairly long list of masques, [Footnote:
There is one by poor Christopher Smart.] comic operas, or 'burlettas',
all dealing with the ludicrous misfortunes of the Phrygian king. But
an examination of these would be sheer pedantry in this place. Here
again Mrs. Shelley has stuck to her Latin source as closely as she
could. [Footnote: Perhaps her somewhat wearying second act, on the
effects of the gold-transmuting gift, would have been shorter, if Ovid
(_Metam._ xi. 108-30) had not himself gone into such details on the
subject.] She has made a gallant attempt to connect the two stories
with which Midas has ever since Ovid's days been associated, and a
distinct--indeed a too perceptible--effort to press out a moral
meaning in this, as she had easily extricated a cosmological meaning
in the other tale.

Perhaps we have said too much to introduce these two little
unpretending poetical dramas. They might indeed have been allowed to
speak for themselves. A new frame often makes a new face; and some of
the best known and most exquisite of Shelley's lyrics, when restored
to the surroundings for which the poet intended them, needed no other
set-off to appeal to the reader with a fresh charm of quiet classical
grace and beauty. But the charm will operate all the more unfailingly,
if we remember that this clear classical mood was by no means such a
common element in the literary atmosphere of the times--not even a
permanent element in the authors' lives. We have here none of the
feverish ecstasy that lifts _Prometheus_ and _Hellas_ far above the
ordinary range of philosophical or political poetry. But Shelley's
encouragement, probably his guidance and supervision, have raised his
wife's inspiration to a place considerably higher than that of
_Frankenstein_ or _Valperga_. With all their faults these pages
reflect some of that irradiation which Shelley cast around his own
life--the irradiation of a dream beauteous and generous, beauteous in
its theology (or its substitute for theology) and generous even in its
satire of human weaknesses.


MYTHOLOGICAL DRAMAS.

Unless otherwise pointed out--by brackets, or in the notes--the text,
spelling, and punctuation of the MS. have been strictly adhered to.

Sorry, no summary available yet.