BY MRS. SHELLEY.
The very illness that oppressed, and the aspect of death which had
approached so near Shelley, appear to have kindled to yet keener life
the Spirit of Poetry in his heart. The restless thoughts kept awake by
pain clothed themselves in verse. Much was composed during this year.
The "Revolt of Islam", written and printed, was a great
effort--"Rosalind and Helen" was begun--and the fragments and poems I
can trace to the same period show how full of passion and reflection
were his solitary hours.
In addition to such poems as have an intelligible aim and shape, many a
stray idea and transitory emotion found imperfect and abrupt
expression, and then again lost themselves in silence. As he never
wandered without a book and without implements of writing, I find many
such, in his manuscript books, that scarcely bear record; while some of
them, broken and vague as they are, will appear valuable to those who
love Shelley's mind, and desire to trace its workings.
He projected also translating the "Hymns" of Homer; his version of
several of the shorter ones remains, as well as that to Mercury already
published in the "Posthumous Poems". His readings this year were
chiefly Greek. Besides the "Hymns" of Homer and the "Iliad", he read
the dramas of Aeschylus and Sophocles, the "Symposium" of Plato, and
Arrian's "Historia Indica". In Latin, Apuleius alone is named. In
English, the Bible was his constant study; he read a great portion of
it aloud in the evening. Among these evening readings I find also
mentioned the "Faerie Queen"; and other modern works, the production of
his contemporaries, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Moore and Byron.
His life was now spent more in thought than action--he had lost the
eager spirit which believed it could achieve what it projected for the
benefit of mankind. And yet in the converse of daily life Shelley was
far from being a melancholy man. He was eloquent when philosophy or
politics or taste were the subjects of conversation. He was playful;
and indulged in the wild spirit that mocked itself and others--not in
bitterness, but in sport. The author of "Nightmare Abbey" seized on
some points of his character and some habits of his life when he
painted Scythrop. He was not addicted to 'port or madeira,' but in
youth he had read of 'Illuminati and Eleutherarchs,' and believed that
he possessed the power of operating an immediate change in the minds of
men and the state of society. These wild dreams had faded; sorrow and
adversity had struck home; but he struggled with despondency as he did
with physical pain. There are few who remember him sailing paper boats,
and watching the navigation of his tiny craft with eagerness--or
repeating with wild energy "The Ancient Mariner", and Southey's "Old
Woman of Berkeley"; but those who do will recollect that it was in
such, and in the creations of his own fancy when that was most daring
and ideal, that he sheltered himself from the storms and
disappointments, the pain and sorrow, that beset his life.
No words can express the anguish he felt when his elder children were
torn from him. In his first resentment against the Chancellor, on the
passing of the decree, he had written a curse, in which there breathes,
besides haughty indignation, all the tenderness of a father's love,
which could imagine and fondly dwell upon its loss and the
At one time, while the question was still pending, the Chancellor had
said some words that seemed to intimate that Shelley should not be
permitted the care of any of his children, and for a moment he feared
that our infant son would be torn from us. He did not hesitate to
resolve, if such were menaced, to abandon country, fortune, everything,
and to escape with his child; and I find some unfinished stanzas
addressed to this son, whom afterwards we lost at Rome, written under
the idea that we might suddenly be forced to cross the sea, so to
preserve him. This poem, as well as the one previously quoted, were not
written to exhibit the pangs of distress to the public; they were the
spontaneous outbursts of a man who brooded over his wrongs and woes,
and was impelled to shed the grace of his genius over the
uncontrollable emotions of his heart. I ought to observe that the
fourth verse of this effusion is introduced in "Rosalind and Helen".
When afterwards this child died at Rome, he wrote, a propos of the
English burying-ground in that city: 'This spot is the repository of a
sacred loss, of which the yearnings of a parent's heart are now
prophetic; he is rendered immortal by love, as his memory is by death.
My beloved child lies buried here. I envy death the body far less than
the oppressors the minds of those whom they have torn from me. The one
can only kill the body, the other crushes the affections.'
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