Puslapio vaizdai

whole-and a portion less imperfect, less suffering, than the shackles inseparable from humanity impose on all who live beneath the moon. To me, death appears to be the gate of life; but my hopes of a hereafter would be pale and drooping, did I not expect to find that most perfect and beloved specimen of humanity on the other shore; and my belief is, that spiritual improvement in this life prepares the way to a higher existence. Traces of such a faith are found in several passages of Shelley's works. In one of the letters he says, "The destiny of man can scarcely be so degraded, that he was born only to die." And again, in a journal, I find these feelings recorded, with regard to a danger we incurred together at sea:- "I had time in that moment to reflect and even to reason on death; it was rather a thing of discomfort and disappointment than terror to me. We should never be separated; but in death we might not know and feel our union as now. I hope-but my hopes are not unmixed with fear for what will befal this inestimable spirit when we appear to die." A mystic ideality tinged these speculations in Shelley's mind; certain stanzas in the poem of "The Sensitive Plant" express, in some degree, the almost inexpressible idea, not that we die into another state, when this state is no longer, from some reason, unapparent as well as apparent, accordant with our being—but that those who rise above the ordinary nature of man, fade from before our imperfect organs; they remain, in their "love, beauty, and delight," in a world congenial to them-we, clogged by error, ignorance, and strife," see them not, till we are fitted by purification and improvement for their higher state.* For myself, no religious doctrine, nor philosophical precept, can shake the faith that a mind so original, so delicately and beautifully moulded, as Shelley's, so endowed with wondrous powers and eagleeyed genius-so good, so pure-would never be shattered and dispersed by the Creator; but that the qualities and consciousness that formed him, are not only indestructible in themselves, but in the form under which they were united here, and that to become worthy of him is to assure the bliss of a reunion.


The fragments of metaphysics will be highly prized by a metaphysician. Such a one is aware how difficult it is to strip bare the internal nature of man, to divest it of prejudice, of the mistakes engendered by familiarity, and by language, which has become one with certain ideas, and those very ideas erroneous. Had not Shelley deserted metaphysics for poetry in his youth, and had he not been lost to us early, so that all his vaster projects were wrecked with him in the waves, he would have presented the world with a complete theory of mind; a theory to which Berkeley, Coleridge, and Kant, would have contributed; but more simple, unimpugnable, and entire, than the systems of these writers. His nerves, indeed, were so susceptible, that these intense meditations on his own nature, thrilled him with pain. Thought kindled imagination and awoke sensation, and rendered him dizzy from too great keenness of emotion;

[blocks in formation]

till awe and tremor possessed him, and he fled to the voice and presence of one he loved to relieve the mysterious agitation that shook him.*

He at one time meditated a popular essay on morals; to show how virtue resulted from the nature of man, and that to fulfil its laws was to abide by that principle from the fulfilment of which happiness is to spring. The few pages here given are all that he left on this subject.

The fragment marked as second in these "Speculations on Morals" is remarkable for its subtlety and truth. I found it on a single leaf, disjoined from any other subject.—It gives the true key to the history of man; and above all, to those rules of conduct whence mutual happiness has its source and security.

This concludes the essays and fragments of Shelley. I do not give them as the whole that he left, but as the most interesting portion. A Treatise on Political Reform and other fragments remain, to be published when his works assume a complete shape.

I do not know why Shelley selected the "Ion" of Plato to translate. Probably because he thought it characteristic; that it unfolded peculiar ideas, and those Platonic, with regard to poetry; and gave insight into portions of Athenian manners, pursuits, and views, which would have been otherwise lost to us. We find manifestation here of the exceeding partiality felt by the Greeks, for every exhibition of eloquence. It testifies that love of interchanging and enlarging ideas by conversation, which in modern society, through our domestic system of life, is too often narrowed to petty objects, and which, from their fashion of conversing in streets and under porticoes, and in public places, became a passion far more intense than with us. Among those who ministered exclusively to this taste, were the rhapsodists; and among rhapsodists, Ion himself tells us, he was the most eminent of his day; that he was a man of enthusiastic and poetic temperament, and abundantly gifted with the power of arranging his thoughts in glowing and fascinating language, his success proves. But he was singularly deficient in reason. When Socrates presses on him the question of, whether he as a rhapsodist is as well versed in nautical, hippodromic, and other arts, as sailors, charioteers, and various artisans ? he gives up the point with the most foolish inanity. One would fancy that practice in his pursuit would have caused him to reply, that though he was neither mariner nor horseman, nor practically skilled in any other of the pursuits in question, yet that he had consulted men versed in them; and enriching his mind with the knowledge afforded by adepts in all arts, he was better qualified by study and by his gift of language and enthusiasm to explain these, as they form a portion of Homer's poetry, than any individual whose knowledge was limited to one subject only. But Ion had no such scientific view of his profession. He gives up point after point, till, as Socrates observes, he most absurdly strives at victory, under the form of an expert leader of armies. In this, as in all the other of Plato's writings, we are perpetually referred, with regard to the enthusiastic and ideal portion of our intellect, to something above and beyond our sphere, the inspiration of the God-the influence exercised over the human mind, either through the direct agency of the deities, or our own half-blind memory of divine knowledge acquired by the soul in its antenatal state. Shelley left Ion imperfect-I thought it better that it should appear as a whole-but at the same time have marked with brackets the passages that have been added; the rest appears exactly as Shelley left it.

Respect for the name of Plato as well as that of Shelley, and reliance on the curiosity

* See p. 62.

that the English reader must feel with regard to the sealed book of the Ancient Wonder, caused me to include in this volume the fragment of "Menexenus," and passages from "The Republic." In the first we have another admirable specimen of Socratic irony. In the latter the opinions and views of Plato enounced in "The Republic," which appeared remarkable to Shelley, are preserved, with the addition, in some instances, of his own brief observations on them.

The rest of the volume is chiefly composed of letters. "The Journal of a Six Weeks' Tour," and "Letters from Geneva," were published many years ago by Shelley himself. The Journal is singular, from the circumstance that it was not written for publication, and was deemed too trivial for such by its author. Shelley caused it to be printed, and added to it his own letters, which contain some of the most beautiful descriptions ever written. The Letters from Italy, which are addressed to the same gentleman as the recipient of the Letters from Geneva, are in a similar spirit of observation and remark. The reader can only regret that they are so few, and that one or two are missing. The eminent German writer, Jean Paul Richter, says, that "to describe any scene well, the poet must make the bosom of a man his camera obscura, and look at it through this." Shelley pursues this method in all his descriptions; he always, as he says himself, looks beyond the actual object, for an internal meaning, typified, illustrated, or caused by the external appearance. Adoring beauty, he endeavoured to define it; he was convinced that the canons of taste, if known, are irrefragable; and that these are to be sought in the most admirable works of art; he therefore studied intently, and with anxious scrutiny, the parts in detail, and their harmony as a whole, to discover what tends to form a beautiful or sublime work.

The loss of our beloved child at Rome, which drove us northward in trembling fear for the one soon after born, and the climate of Florence disagreeing so exceedingly with Shelley, he ceased at Pisa to be conversant with paintings and sculpture; a circumstance he deplores in one of his letters, and in many points of view to be greatly regretted.

His letters to Mr. and Mrs. Gisborne, and to Mr. Reveley, the son of the latter by a former marriage, display that helpful and generous benevolence and friendship which was Shelley's characteristic. He set on foot the project of a steam-boat to ply between Marseilles and Leghorn, for their benefit, as far as pecuniary profit might accrue; at the same time that he took a fervent interest in the undertaking, for its own sake. It was not puerile vanity, but a nobler feeling of honest pride, that made him enjoy the idea of being the first to introduce steam navigation into the Gulf of Lyons, and to glory in the consciousness of being in this manner useful to his fellowcreatures. Unfortunately, he was condemned to experience a failure. The prospects and views of our friends drew them to England, and the boat and the engine were abandoned. Shelley was deeply disappointed; yet it will be seen how generously he exculpates our friends to themselves, and relieves them from the remorse they might naturally feel for having thus wasted his money and disappointed his desires. It will be remembered that Shelley addressed a poetical letter to Mrs. Gisborne, when that lady was absent in England; and I have mentioned, and in some measure described her, in my notes to the poems. "Mrs. Gisborne had been a friend of my father in her younger days. She was a lady of great accomplishments, and charming from her frank affectionate nature. She had a most intense love of knowledge, a delicate and trembling sensibility, and preserved freshness of mind after a life of considerable adversity. As a favourite friend of my father, we had sought her with eagerness, and the most open and cordial friendship subsisted between us."

The letters to Leigh Hunt have already been published. They are monuments of the friendship which he felt for the man to whom he dedicated his tragedy of "The Cenci," in terms of warm and just eulogium. I have obtained but few to other friends. He had, indeed, not more than one or two other correspondents. I have added such letters as, during our brief separations in Italy, were addressed to myself; precious relics of love, kindness, gentleness, and wisdom. I have but one fault to find with them, or with Shelley, in my union with him. His inexpressible tenderness of disposition made him delight in giving pleasure, and, urged by this feeling, he praised too much. Nor were his endeavours to exalt his correspondent in her own eyes founded on this feeling only. He had never read "Wilhelm Meister," but I have heard him say that he regulated his conduct towards his friends by a maxim which I found afterwards in the pages of Goethe-"When we take people merely as they are, we make them worse; when we treat them as if they were what they should be, we improve them as far as they can be improved." This rule may perhaps admit of dispute, and it may be argued that truth and frankness produce better fruits than the most generous deceit. But when we consider the difficulty of keeping our best virtues free from self-blindness and self-love, and recollect the intolerance and fault-finding that usually blots social intercourse; and compare such with the degree of forbearance and imaginative sympathy, so to speak, which such a system necessitates, we must think highly of the generosity and self-abnegation of the man who regulated his conduct undeviatingly by it.

Can anything be more beautiful than these letters? They are adorned by simplicity, tenderness, and generosity, combined with manly views, and acute observation. His practical opinions may be found here. His indignant detestation of political oppression did not prevent him from deprecating the smallest approach to similar crimes on the part of his own party; and he abjured revenge and retaliation, while he strenuously advocated reform. He felt assured that there would be a change for the better in our institutions; he feared bloodshed, he feared the ruin of many. Wedded as he was to the cause of public good, he would have hailed the changes that since his time have so signally ameliorated our institutions and opinions, each acting on the other, and which still, we may hope, are proceeding towards the establishment of that liberty and toleration which he worshipped. "The thing to fear," he observes, "will be, that the change should proceed too fast-it must be gradual to be secure."

I do not conceal that I am far from satisfied with the tone in which the criticisms on Shelley are written. Some among these writers praise the poetry with enthusiasm, and even discrimination; but none understand the man. I hope this volume will set him in a juster point of view. If it be alleged in praise of Goethe that he was an artist as well as a poet; that his principles of composition, his theories of wisdom and virtue, and the ends of existence, rested on a noble and secure basis; not less does that praise belong to Shelley. His Defence of Poetry is alone sufficient to prove that his views were, in every respect, defined and complete; his faith in good continued firm, and his respect for his fellow-creatures was unimpaired by the wrongs he suffered. Every word of his letters displays that modesty, that forbearance, and mingled meekness and resolution that, in my mind, form the perfection of man. Gentle, brave, and generous," he describes the Poet in Alastor: such he was himself, beyond any man I have ever known. To these admirable qualities were added, his genius. He had but one defect-which was his leaving his life incomplete by an early death. O that the serener hopes of maturity, the happier contentment of mid-life, had descended on his dear head, to calm the turbulence of youthful impetuosity-that he had lived to see his country advance towards freedom, and to enrich the world with his own virtues and genius in their completion of experience and power! When


I think that such things might have been, and of my own share in such good and happiness; the pang occasioned by his loss can never pass away—and I gain resignation only by believing that he was spared much suffering, and that he has passed into a sphere of being, better adapted to his inexpressible tenderness, his generous sympathies, and his richly gifted mind. That, free from the physical pain to which he was a martyr, and unshackled by the fleshly bars and imperfect senses which hedged him in on earth, he enjoys beauty, and good, and love there, where those to whom he was united on earth by various ties of affection, sympathy, and admiration, may hope to join him.

PUTNEY, December, 1839.

« AnkstesnisTęsti »