MoboReader> Literature > Mrs. Shelley

   Chapter 3 SHELLEY.

Mrs. Shelley By Lucy Madox Brown Rossetti Characters: 42026

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03

Shelley, a name dear to so many now, who are either drawn to him by his lyrics, which open an undreamed-of fountain of sympathy to many a silent and otherwise solitary heart, or who else are held spell-bound by his grand and eloquent poetical utterances of what the human race may aspire to. A being of this transcendent nature seems generally to be more the outcome of his age, of a period, the expression of nature, than the direct scion of his own family. So in Shelley's case there appears little immediate intellectual relation between himself and his ancestors, who seem for nearly two centuries preceding his birth to have been almost unknown, except for the registers of their baptisms, deaths, and marriages.

Prior to 1623, a link has been hitherto missing in the family genealogy-a link which the scrupulous care of Mr. Jeaffreson has brought to light, and which his courtesy places at the service of the writer. This connects the poet's family with the Michel Grove Shelleys, a fact hitherto only surmised. The document is this:-


25 Sept. 1 & 2 Philip and Mary. Between Edward Shelley of Worminghurst, in the county of Sussex, Esqre., of the one part, and Rd. Cowper and Wm. Martin of the other part.

90a. Covt. to suffer recovery to enure as to Findon Manor, etc.

90b. To the use of him the said Edward Shelley and of the heirs male of his body lawfully begotten, and for lack of such issue.

To the use of the heirs male of the body of John Shelley, Esqre., sometime of Michael Grove, deceased, father to the said Edward Shelley, etc.

It will be obvious to all readers of this important document that the last clause carries us back unmistakably from the Worminghurst Shelleys to the Michel Grove Shelleys, establishing past dispute the relationship of father and son.

The poet's great grandfather Timothy, who died twenty-two years before Shelley's birth, seems to have gone out of the beaten track in migrating to America, and practising as an apothecary, or, as Captain Medwin puts it, "quack doctor," probably leaving England at an early age; he may not have found facilities for qualifying in America, and we may at least hope that he would do less harm with the simple herbs used by the unqualified than with the bleeding treatment in vogue before the Brunonian system began. Anyway, he made money to help on the fortunes of his family. His younger son, Bysshe, who added to the family wealth by marrying in succession two heiresses, also gained a baronetcy by adhering to the Whig Party and the Duke of Norfolk. He appears to have increased in eccentricity with age and became exceedingly penurious. He was evidently not regarded as a desirable match for either of his wives, as he had to elope with both of them; and his marriage with the first, Miss Michell, the grandmother of the poet, is said to have been celebrated by the parson of the Fleet. This took place the year before these marriages were made illegal. These facts about Shelley's ancestors, though apparently trivial, are interesting as proving that his forerunners were not altogether conventional, and making the anomaly of the coming of such a poet less strange, as genius is not unfrequently allied with eccentricity.

Bysshe's son Timothy seems to have conformed more to ordinary views than his father, and he married, when nearly forty, Elizabeth Pilfold, reputed a great beauty. The first child of this marriage, born on August 4, 1792, was the poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, born to all the ease and comfort of an English country home, but with the weird imaginings which in childhood could people the grounds and surroundings with ancient snakes and fairies of all forms, and which later on were to lead him far out of the beaten track. Shelley's little sisters were the confidants of his childhood, and their sympathy must have made up then for the lack of it in his parents. Some of their childish games at diabolical processions, making a little hell of their own by burning a fagot stack, &c., shows how early his searching mind dispersed the terrors, while it delighted in the picturesque or fantastic images, of superstition. Few persons realise to themselves how soon highly imaginative children may be influenced by the superstitions they hear around them, and assuredly Shelley's brain never recovered from some of these early influences: the mind that could so quickly reason and form inferences would naturally be of that sensitive and susceptible kind which would bear the scar of bad education. Shelley's mother does not appear so much to have had real good sense, as what is generally called common sense, and thus she was incapable of understanding a nature like that of her son; and thought more of his bringing home a well-filled game bag (a thing in every way repulsive to Shelley's tastes) than of trying to understand what he was thinking; so Shelley had to pass through childhood, his sisters being his chief companions, as he had no brother till he was thirteen. At ten years of age he went to school at Sion House Academy, and thence to Eton, before he was turned twelve. At both these schools, with little exception, he was solitary, not having much in common with the other boys, and consequently he found himself the butt for their tormenting ingenuity. He began a plan of resistance to the fagging system, and never yielded; this seems to have displeased the masters as much as the boys. At Eton he formed one of his romantic attachments for a youth of his own age. He seems now, as ever after, to have felt the yearning for perfect sympathy in some human being; as one idol fell short of his self-formed ideal, he sought for another. This was not the nature to be trained by bullying and flogging, though sympathy and reason would never find him irresponsive. His unresentful nature was shown in the way he helped the boys who tormented him with their lessons; for though he appeared to study little in the regular way, learning came to him naturally.

It must not, however, be supposed that Shelley was quite solitary, as the records of some of his old schoolfellows prove the contrary; nor was he averse to society when of a kind congenial to his tastes; but he always disliked coarse talk and jokes. Nature was ever dear to him; the walks round Eton were his chief recreation, and we can well conceive how he would feel in the lovely and peaceful churchyard of Stoke Pogis, where undoubtedly he would read Gray's Elegy. These feelings would not be sympathised with by the average of schoolboys; but, on the other hand, it is not apparent why Shelley should have changed his character, as the embryo poet would also necessarily not care for all their tastes. In short, the education at a public school of that day must have been a great cruelty to a boy of Shelley's sensitive disposition.

One great pleasure of Shelley's while at Eton was visiting Dr. Lind, who assisted him with chemistry, and whose kindness during an illness seems to have made a lasting impression on the youth; but generally those who had been in authority over him had only raised a spirit of revolt. One great gain for the world was the passionate love of justice and freedom which this aroused in him, as shown in the stanzas from The Revolt of Islam-

Thoughts of great deeds were mine, dear friend, when first

The clouds which wrap this world from youth did pass.

There can be no doubt that these verses are truly autobiographical; they indicate a first determination to war against tyranny. The very fact of his great facility in acquiring knowledge must have been a drawback to him at school where time on his hands was, for lack of better material, frequently spent in reading all the foolish romances he could lay hold of in the neighbouring book-shops. His own early romances showed the influence of this bad literature. Of course, then as now, fine art was a sealed book to the young student. It is difficult to fancy what Shelley might have been under different early influences, and whether perchance the gain to himself might not have been a loss to the world. Fortunately, Shelley's love of imagination found at last a field of poetry for itself, and an ideal future for the world instead of turning to ruffianism, high or low, which the neglect of the legitimate outlet for imagination so frequently induces. How little this moral truth seems to be considered in a country like ours, where art is quite overlooked in the system of government, and where the hereditary owners of hoarded wealth rest content, as a rule, with the canvases acquired by some ancestor on a grand tour at a date when Puritan England had already obliterated perception; so that frequently a few chefs d'oeuvre and many daubs are hung indiscriminately together, giving equal pleasure or distaste for art. This is apposite to dwell on as showing the want of this influence on Shelley and his surroundings. From a tour in Italy made by Shelley's own father the chief acquisition is said to have been a very bad picture of Vesuvius.

It is becoming difficult to realise at present, when flogging is scarcely permitted in schools, what the sufferings of a boy like Shelley must have been; sent to school by his father with the admonition to his master not to spare the rod, and where the masters left the boy, who was undoubtedly unlike his companions, to treatment of a kind from which one case of death at least has resulted quite recently in our own time. Such proceedings which might have made a tyrant or a slave of Shelley succeeded only in making a rebel; his inquiring mind was not to be easily satisfied, and must assuredly have been a difficulty in his way with a conservative master; already, at Eton, we find him styled Mad Shelley and Shelley the Atheist.

In 1810 Shelley removed to University College, Oxford, after an enjoyable holiday with his family, during which he found time for an experiment in authorship, his father authorising a stationer to print for him. If only, instead of this, his father had checked for a time these immature productions of Shelley's pen, the youth might have been spared banishment from Oxford and his own father's house, and all the misfortune and tragedy which ensued. Shelley also found time for a first love with his cousin, Harriet Grove. This also the unfortunate printing facilities apparently quashed. There is some discussion as to whether he left Eton in disgrace, but any way the matter must have been a slight affair, as no one appears to have kept any record of it; and should one of the masters have recommended the removal of Shelley from such uncongenial surroundings, it would surely have been very sensible advice.

Oxford was, in many respects, much to Shelley's taste. The freedom of the student life there suited him, as he was able to follow the studies most to his liking.

The professional lectures chiefly in vogue, on divinity, geometry, and history, were not the most to his liking-history in particular seemed ever to him a terrible record of misery and crime-but in his own chambers he could study poetry, natural philosophy, and metaphysics. The outcome of these studies, advanced speculative thought, was not, however, to be tolerated within the University precincts, and, unfortunately for Shelley, his favourite subjects of conversation were tabooed, had it not been for one light-hearted and amusing friend, Thomas Jefferson Hogg, a gentleman whose acquaintance Shelley made shortly after his settling in Oxford in the Michaelmas term of 1810. This friendship, like all that Shelley entered on, was intended to endure "for ever," and, as usual, Shelley impulsively for a time threw so much of his own personality into his idea of the character of his friend as to prepare the way for future disappointment.

Hogg was decidedly intellectual, but with a strong conservative tendency, making him quite content with the existing state of things so long as he could take life easily and be amused. His intellect, however, was clear enough to make him perceive that it is the poet who raises life from the apathy which assails even the most worldly-minded and contented, so that he in his turn was able to love Shelley with the love which is not afraid of a laugh, without the possibility of which no friendship, it has been said, can be genuine. Many are the charming stories giving a living presence to Shelley while at Oxford, preserved by this friend; here we meet with him taking an infant from its mother's arms while crossing the bridge with Hogg, and questioning it as to its previous existence, which surely the babe had not had time to forget if it would but speak-but alas, the mother declared she had never heard it speak, nor any other child of its age; here comes also the charming incident of the torn coat, and Shelley's ecstasy on its having been fine drawn. These and such-like amusing anecdotes show the genuine and unpedantic side of Shelley's character, the delightfully natural and loveable personality which is ever allied to genius. With the fun and humour were mixed long readings and discussions on the most serious and solemn subjects. Plato was naturally a great delight to him; he had a decided antipathy to Euclid and mathematical reasoning, and was consequently unable to pursue scientific researches on a system; but his love of chemistry and his imaginative faculty led him to wish in anticipation for the forces of nature to be utilised for human labour, &c. Shelley's reading and reading powers were enormous. He was seldom without a pocket edition of one of his favourite great authors, whose works he read with as much ease as the modern languages.

This delightful time of study and ease was not to endure. Shelley's nature was impelled onwards as irresistibly as the mountain torrent, and as with it all obstacles had to yield. He could not rest satisfied with reading and discussions with Hogg on theological and moral questions, and, being debarred debate on these subjects in the university, he felt he must appeal to a larger audience, the public, and consequently he brought out, with the cognisance of Hogg, a pamphlet entitled The Necessity of Atheism. This work actually got into circulation for about twenty minutes, when it was discovered by one of the Fellows of the College, who immediately convinced the booksellers that an auto-da-fé was necessary, and all the pamphlets were at once consigned to the back kitchen fire; but the affair did not end there. Shelley's handwriting was recognised on some letters sent with copies of the work, and consequently both he and Hogg were summoned before a meeting in the Common room of the College. First Shelley, and then Hogg, declined to answer questions, and refused to disavow all knowledge of the work, whereupon the two were summarily expelled from Oxford. Shelley complained bitterly of the ungentlemanly way they were treated, and the authorities, with equal reason, of the rebellious defiance of the students; yet once more we must regret that there was no one but Hogg who realised the latent genius of Shelley, that there was no one to feel that patience and sympathy would not be thrown away upon a young man free from all the vices and frivolities of the time and place, whose crime was an inquiring mind, and rashness in putting his views into print. Surely the dangers which might assail a young man thus thrown on the world and alienated from his family by this disgrace might have received more consideration. This seems clear enough now, when Shelley's ideas have been extolled even in as well as out of the pulpit.

So now we find Shelley expelled from Oxford and arrived in London in March 1811, when only eighteen years of age, alone with Hogg to fight the battle of life, with no previous experience of misfortune to give ballast to his feelings, but with a brain surcharged with mysteriously imbibed ideas of the woes of others and of the world-a dangerous age and set of conditions for a youth to be thrown on his own resources. Admission to his father's house was only to be accorded on the condition of his giving up the society of Hogg; this condition, imposed at the moment when Shelley considered himself indebted to Hogg for life for the manner in which he stood by him in the Oxford ordeal, was refused. Shelley looked out for lodgings without result, till a wall paper representing a trellised vine apparently decided him. With twenty pounds borrowed from his printer to leave Oxford, Shelley is now settled in London, unaided by his father, a small present of money sent by his mother being returned, as he could not comply with the wishes which she expressed on the same occasion. From this time the march of events or of fate is as relentless as in a Greek drama, for already the needful woman had appeared in the person of Harriet Westbrook, a schoolfellow of his sisters at their Clapham school. During the previous January Shelley had made her acquaintance by visiting her at her father's house, with an introduction and a present from one of his sisters. There seems no reason to doubt that Shelley was then much attracted by the beautiful girl, smarting though he was at the time from his rupture with Harriet Grove; but Shakespeare has shown us that such a time is not exempt from the potency of love shafts.

This visit of Shelley was followed by his presenting Harriet Westbrook with a copy of his new romance, St. Irvyne, which led to some correspondence. It was now Harriet's turn to visit Shelley, sent also by his sisters with presents of their pocket money. Shelley moreover visited the school on different occasions, and even lectured the schoolmistress on her system of discipline. There is no doubt that Harriet's elder sister, with or without the cognisance of their father, a retired hotel-keeper, helped to make meetings between the two; but Shelley, though young and a poet, was no child, and must have known what these dinners and visits and excursions might lead to; and although the correspondence and conversation may have been more directly upon theological and philosophical questions, it seems unlikely that he would have discoursed thus with a young girl unless he felt some special interest in her; besides, Shelley need not have felt any great social difference between himself and a young lady brought up and educated on a footing of equality with his own sisters. It is true that her family acted and encouraged him in a way incompatible with old-fashioned ideas of gentility, but Shelley was too prone at present to rebel against everything conventional to be particularly sensitive on this point.

In May Shelley was enabled to return to his father's house, through the mediation of his uncle, Captain Pilfold, and henceforth an allowance of two hundred a year was made to him. But there had been work done in the two months that no reconciliations or allowances afterwards could undo; for while Shelley was bent on proselytising Harriet Westbrook, not less for his sisters' sake than for his own, Harriet, in a school-girl fashion, encouraged by her sister and not discouraged by her father, was falling in love with Shelley. How were the bourgeois father and sister to comprehend such a character as Shelley's, when his own parents and all the College authorities failed to do so? If Shelley were not in love he must have appeared so, and Harriet's family did their best by encouraging and countenancing the intimacy to lead to a marriage, they naturally having Harriet's interests more at heart than Shelley's.

However, the fact remains that Shelley was a most extraordinary being, an embryo poet, with all a poet's possible inconsistencies, the very brilliancy of the intellectual spark in one direction apparently quelling it for a time in another. In most countries and ages a poet seems to have been accepted as a heaven-sent gift to his nation; his very crimes (and surely Shelley did not surpass King David in misdoing?) have been the lacrym? rerum giving terrible vitality to his thoughts, and so reclaiming many others ere some fatal deed is done; but in England the convention of at least making a show of virtues which do not exist (perhaps a sorry legacy from Puritanism) will not allow the poet to be accepted for what he really is, nor his poetry to appeal, on its own showing, to the human heart. He must be analysed, and vilified, or whitewashed in turn.

At any rate Shelley was superior to some of the respectable vices of his class, and one alleged concession of his father was fortunately loathsome to him, viz.-that he (Sir Timothy) would provide for as many illegitimate children as Percy chose to have, but he would not tolerate a mésalliance. To what a revolt of ideas must such a code of morality have led in a fermenting brain like Shelley's! Were the mothers to be provided for likewise, and to be considered more by Shelley's respectable family than his lawful wife?

We fear not.

A visit to Wales followed, during which Shelley's mind was in so abstracted a state that the fine scenery, viewed for the first time, had little power to move him, while Harriet Westbrook, with her sister and father, was only thirty miles off at Aberystwith; a hasty and unexplained retreat of this party to London likewise hastened the return of Shelley. Probably the father began to perceive that Shelley did not come forward as he had expected, and so he wished to remove Harriet from his vicinity. Letters from Harriet to Shelley followed, full of misery and dejection, complaining of her father's decision to send her back to school, where she was avoided by the other girls, and called "an abandoned wretch" for sympathising or corresponding with Shelley; she even contemplated suicide. It is curious how this idea seems to have constantly recurred to her, as in the case of some others who have finally committed the act.

Shelley wrote, expostulating with the father. This probably only incensed him more. He persisted. Harriet again addressed Shelley in despair, saying she would put herself under his protection and fly with him; a difficult position for any young man, and for Shelley most perplexing, with his avowed hostility to marriage, and his recent assertions that he was not in love with Harriet. But it must be put to Shelley's credit that, having intentionally or otherwise led Harriet on to love him, he now acted as a gentleman to his sister's school friend, and, influenced to some extent by Hogg's arguments in a different case in favour of marriage, he at once determined to make her his wife. He wrote to his cousin, Charles Grove, announcing his intention and impending arrival in London, saying that as his own happiness was altogether blighted, he could now only live to make that of others, and would consequently marry Harriet Westbrook.

On his arrival in London, Shelley found Harriet looking ill and much changed. He spent some time in town, during which Harriet's spirits revived; but Shelley, as he described in a letter to Hogg, felt much embarrassment and melancholy. Not contemplating an immediate marriage, he went into Sussex to pay a visit to Field Place and to his uncle at Cuckfield. While here he renewed the acquaintance of Miss Kitchener, a school mistress of advanced ideas, who had the care of Captain Pilfold's children. To this acquaintance we owe a great number of letters which throw much light on Shelley's exalté character at this period, and which afford most amusing reading. As usual with Shelley, he threw much of his own personality into his ideas of Miss Hitchener, who was to be his "eternal inalienable friend," and to help to form his lovely wife's character on the model of her own. All these particulars are given in letters from Shelley to his friends, Charles Grove, Hogg, and Miss Hitchener; to the latter he is very explanatory and apologetic, but only after the event.

Shelley had scarcely been a week away from London when he received a letter from Harriet, complaining of fresh persecution and recalling him. He at once returned, as he had undertaken to do if required, and then resolved that the only thing was for him to marry at once. He accordingly went straight to his cousin Charles Grove, and with twenty-five pounds borrowed from his relative Mr. Medwin, a solicitor at Horsham, he entered on one of the most momentous days of his life-the 24th or 25th August 1811. After passing the night with his cousin, he waited at the door of the coffee-house in Mount Street, watching for a girlish figure to turn the corner from Chapel Street. There was some delay; but what was to be could not be averted, and soon Harriet, fresh as a rosebud, appeared. The coach was called, and the two cousins and the girl of sixteen drove to an inn in the city to await the Edinburgh mail. This took the two a stage farther on the fatal road, and on August 28 their Scotch marriage is recorded in Edinburgh. The marriage arrangements were of the quaintest, Shelley having to explain his position and want of funds to the landlord of some handsome rooms which he found. Fortunately the landlord undertook to supply what was needed, and they felt at ease in the expectation of Shelley's allowance of money coming; but this never came, as Shelley's father again resented his behaviour, and took that easy means of showing as much.

Shelley's wife had had the most contradictory education possible for a young girl of an ordinary and unimaginative nature-the conventional surface education of a school of that time followed by the talks with Shelley, which were doubtless far beyond her comprehension. What could be the outcome of such a marriage? Had Shelley, indeed, been a different character, all might have gone smoothly, married as he was to a beautiful girl who loved him; but at present all Shelley's ideas were unpractical. Without the moral treadmill of work to sober his opinions, whence was the ballast to come when disappointment ensued- disappointment which he constantly prepared for himself by his over-enthusiastic idea of his friends? Troubles soon followed the marriage, in the nonarrival of the money; and after five weeks in Edinburgh, where Hogg had joined the Shelleys, followed by a little over a week in York, the need became so pressing that Shelley felt obliged to take a hurried journey to his uncle's at Cuckfield, in order to try and mollify his father; in this he did not succeed. Though absent little over a week, he prepared the way by his absence, and by leaving Harriet under the care of Hogg, for a series of complications and misunderstandings which never ended till death had absolved all concerned. Harriet's sister, Eliza, was to have returned to York with Shelley; but hearing of her sister's solitary state with Hogg in the vicinity, she hurried alone to York, and from this time she assumed an ascendency over the small ménage which, though probably useful in trifles, had undoubtedly a bad effect in the long run. Eliza, rightly from her point of view, thought it necessary to stand between Hogg and her sister. It seems far more likely that Hogg's gentlemanly instincts would have led him to treat his friend's wife with respect than that he should have really given cause for the grave suspicions which Shelley writes of in subsequent letters to Miss Hitchener. Might not Eliza be inclined to take an exaggerated view of any attention shown by Hogg to her sister, and have persuaded Harriet to the same effect? Harriet having seen nothing of the world as yet, and Eliza's experience before her father's retirement from his tavern not having been that in which ladies and gentlemen stand on a footing of equality. It is true that Shelley writes of an interview with Hogg before leaving York, in which he describes Hogg as much confused and distressed; but perhaps allowance ought to be made for the fanciful turn of Shelley's own mind. However this may have been, they left York for Keswick, where they delighted in the glorious scenery. At this time we see in letters to Miss Hitchener how Shelley felt the necessity of intellectual sympathy, and how he seemed to consider this friend in some way necessary for the accomplishment of various speculative and social ideas. Here at Chestnut Cottage novels were commenced and much work planned, left unfinished, or lost. While at Keswick he made the acquaintance of Southey and wrote his first letter to William Godwin, whose works had already had a great influence on him, and whose personal acquaintance he now sought. The often quoted letter by which Shelley introduced himself to Godwin was followed by others, and led up to the subsequent intimacy which had such important results.

Shelley with his wife and sister-in-law paid a visit to the Duke of Norfolk at Greystoke; this led to a quasi reconciliation with Shelley's father, owing to which the allowance of two hundred a year was renewed, Harriet's father making her a similar allowance, it is presumed, owing to feeling flattered by his daughter's reception by the Duchess. Shortly afterwards some restless turn in the trio caused a further move to be contemplated, and now Shelley entered on what must have appeared one of the strangest of his fancies-a visit to Ireland to effect Catholic Emancipation and to procure the repeal of the Union Act. Hogg pretends to believe that Shelley did not even understand the meaning of the phrases, and most probably many English would not have cared to do so. In any case Shelley's enthusiasm for an oppressed people must be admired, and it is noticeable that our greatest statesman of the present day has come to agree with Shelley after eighty years of life and of conflicting endeavour.

The plan adopted by Shelley caused infinite amusement to Harriet, who entered with animation into the fun of distributing her husband's pamphlets on Irish affairs, and could not well understand his seriousness on the subject. The pamphlets and the speeches which he delivered were not likely to conciliate the different Irish parties. The Catholics were not to be attracted by an Atheist or Antichristian, however tolerant he might be of them, and of all religions which tend to good. Lord Fingal and his adherents were not inclined to follow the Ardent Republican and teacher of Humanitarianism; nor were the extreme party likely to be satisfied with appeals, however eloquent, for the pursuit and practice of virtue before any political changes were to be expected. Shelley's exposition of the failure of the French Revolution by the fact that although it had been ushered in by people of great intellect, the moral side of intellect had been wanting, was not what Irish Nationalists then wished to consider. In fact, Shelley had not much pondered the character of the people he went to help and reform, if he thought a week of these arguments could have much effect. Shelley was much sought after by the poor Irish, during another month of his stay in Dublin, on account of his generosity. Here, also, they met Mrs. Nugent. Harriet's correspondence with her has recently been published. With the views which she expresses, those of the present writer coincide in not casting all the blame of the future separation on Shelley; Harriet naturally feels Mary most at fault, and does not perceive her own mistakes. Failing in his aim, and being disheartened by the distress on all sides which he could not relieve, and more especially owing to the strong remonstrance of Godwin, who considered that if there were any result it could only be bloodshed, the poet migrated to Nantgwilt in Wales. Here the Shelleys contemplated receiving Godwin and his family, Miss Hitchener with her American pupils; and why not Miss Hitchener's father, reported to have been an old smuggler? Here Shelley first met Thomas Love Peacock. They were unable to remain at Nantgwilt owing to various mishaps, and migrated to that terrestrial paradise in North Devon, Lynmouth. This lovely place, with its beautiful and romantic surroundings loved and exquisitely described by more than one poet, cannot fail to be dear to those who know it with and through them. Here, in a garden in front of their rose and myrtle covered cottage, within near sound of the rushing Lynn, would Shelley stand on a mound and let off his fire-balloons in the cool evening air. Here Miss Hitchener joined them. What talks and what rambles they must have had, none but those who have known a poet in such a place could imagine; but perhaps Shelley, though a poet, was not sufficient for the three ladies in a neighbourhood where the narrow winding paths may have caused one or other to appear neglected and left behind. Poor Shelley, recalled from heaven to earth by such-like vicissitudes, naturally held by his wife; and forthwith disagreements began which ended in Miss Hitchener's being called henceforth the "Brown Demon." What a fall from the ideal reformer of the world!-another of Shelley's self-made idols shattered.

The Shelleys wished Fanny Godwin to join their party at Lynmouth; but this Godwin would not permit without more knowledge of his friends, although Shelley wrote affecting letters to the sage, trusting that he might be the stay of his declining years. Amid the romantic scenery of Lynmouth, Shelley wrote much of his Queen Mab; he also addressed a sonnet, and a longer poem, to Harriet, in August. These poems certainly evince no falling off in affection, although they are not like the glowing love-poems of a later period.

From Lynmouth Shelley, with his party, moved to Swansea, and thence to Tremadoc, where they agreed to take a house named Tanyrallt, and then they moved on to London to meet Godwin, who, in the meanwhile, had paid a visit to Lynmouth just after their flitting. Here Shelley had the delight of seeing the philosopher face to face, and now visits were exchanged, and walks and dinners followed, and, among other friends of Godwin, Shelley met Clara de Boinville and Mrs. Turner, who is said to have inspired his first great lyric, "Away the moor is dark beneath the moon," but whose husband strongly objected to Shelley visiting their house.

On this occasion Fanny Godwin was the most seen; Mary Godwin, who was just fifteen, only arriving towards the end of Shelley's stay in London from a visit to her friends, the Baxters, in Scotland. No mention is made of her by Shelley, though she must have dined in his company about November 5, 1812. During this visit to London Shelley became reconciled with Hogg, calling on him and begging him to come to see him and his wife. This certainly does not look as if Shelley still thought seriously of his former difference with Hogg-scarcely a year before. Shortly after, on the 8th, we find the poor "Brown Demon" leaving the Shelleys, with the promise of an annuity of one hundred pounds. She reopened a school later on at Edmonton, and was much loved by her pupils. Shelley now returned to Tremadoc, where he passed the winter in his house at Tanyrallt, helping the poor through this severe season of 1812-13. Here one of Shelley's first practical attempts for humanity was assisting to reclaim some land from the sea; but Shelley's early effort, unlike the last one of G?the's Faust, did not satisfy him, and shortly afterwards another real or fancied attempt on his life, on February 26th, 1813, obliged the party to leave the neighbourhood, this time again for Ireland. He spent a short time on the Lake of Killarney, with his wife and Eliza. In April we again find him in London, in an hotel in Albemarle Street; thence he passed to Half Moon Street, where in June their first child, Ianthe, was born. The baby was a great pleasure to Shelley, who, however, objected to the wet nurse. He wrote a touching sonnet to his wife and child three months later. All this time there is no apparent change of affection suggested. Soon afterwards, while at Bracknell, near Windsor, they kept up the acquaintance of the De Boinville family, and Shelley began the study of Italian with them while Harriet relinquished hers of Latin. From Bracknell Shelley paid his last visit to Field Place to see his mother, in the absence of his father and the younger children. An interview with his father followed, and a journey to Edinburgh, and then in December a return to London; certainly an ominous restlessness, caused, no doubt, considerably by want of money, but moving about did not seem the way to save or to make it. Shelley visited Godwin several times during his stay in London. At this time Shelley had to raise ruinous post-obits on the family property, and for legal reasons he now thought it desirable to follow the Scotch marriage by one in the English church, and he and Harriet were re-married on March 22, 1814, at St. George's Church.

But even now little rifts seem to have been growing, small enough apparently, and yet, like the small cloud in the sky, indicating the coming storm. This very time of trials, through want of money, seems to have been chosen by Harriet to show a hankering after luxuries which their present income could not warrant. A carriage was purchased, and was with its accompanying expenses added to the small ménage; silver plate was also considered a necessity; and, perhaps the thing most distasteful to Shelley's natural tastes, the wet nurse was retained, although Harriet had always appeared to be a strong young woman capable of undertaking her maternal duty. This fact was considered by Peacock to have chiefly alienated Shelley's affection.

Apart from this, poor Harriet, with the birth of her child, seems to have given up her studies, which she had evidently pursued to please Shelley, and to have awakened to the fact that it was a difficult task to take up the whole cause of suffering humanity and aid it with their slender purse, and keep their wandering household going. It is difficult to imagine the genius that could have sufficed, and it certainly needed genius, or something very like it, to keep the Faust-like mind of Shelley in any peace.

There is a letter from Fanny Godwin to Shelley, after his first visit, speaking of his wife as a fine lady. From this accusation Shelley strongly defended her, but now he felt that this disaster might really be impending. Poor pretty Harriet could not understand or talk philosophy with Shelley, and, what was worse, her sister was ever present to prevent any spontaneous feeling of dependence on her husband from endearing her to him. Even before his second ceremony of marriage with Harriet we find him writing a letter in great dejection to Hogg. He seemed really in the poet's "premature old age," as he expressed it, though none like the poet have the power of rejuvenescence. His detestation of his sister-in-law at this time was extreme, but he appears to have been incapable of sending her away. It was a perfect torture to him to see her kiss his baby. He writes thus from Mrs. de Boinville's at Bracknell, where he had a month's rest with philosophy and sweet converse. Talking was easier than acting philosophy at this juncture, and planning the amelioration of the world pleasanter than struggling to keep one poor soul from sinking to degradation; but who shall judge the strength of another's power, or feel the burden of another's woe? We can only tell how the expression of his agony may help ourselves; but surely it is worthy of admiration to find Shelley, four days after writing this most heart-broken letter to Hogg, binding his chains still firmer by remarrying, so that, come what would, no slur should be cast on Harriet.

Harriet, who had never understood anything of housekeeping, and whose ménage, according to Hogg, was of the funniest, now that the novelty of Shelley's talk and ways was over, and when even the constant changes were beginning to satiate her, apparently spent a time of intolerable ennui. It is still remembered in the Pilfold family how Harriet appeared at their house late one night in a ball dress, without shawl or bonnet, having quarrelled with Shelley. A doctor who had to perform some operation on her child was struck with astonishment at her demeanour, and considered her utterly without feeling, and Shelley's poem, "Lines, April 1814," written, according to Claire Clairmont's testimony, when Mr. Turner objected to his visiting his wife at Bracknell, gives a touching picture of the comfortless home which he was returning to; in fact, they seem to have no sooner been together again than Harriet made a fresh departure. There is one imploring poem by Shelley, addressed to Harriet in May 1814, begging her to relent and pity, if she cannot love, and not to let him endure "The misery of a fatal cure"; but Harriet had not generosity, if it was needed, and, according to Thornton Hunt, she left Shelley and went to Bath, where she still was in July. What Harriet really aimed at by this foolish move is doubtful; it was certainly taken at the most fatal moment. To leave Shelley alone, near dear friends, when she had been repelling his advances to regain her affection, and making his home a place for him to dread to come into, was anything but wise; but wisdom was not Harriet's forte; she needed a husband to be wise for her. Shelley, however, had most gifts, except such wisdom at this time.

Beyond these facts, there seems little but surmises to judge by. It may always be a question how much Shelley really knew, or believed, of certain ideas of infidelity on his wife's part in connection with a Major Ryan-ideas which, even if believed, would not have justified his subsequent mode of action.

But here, for a time, we must leave poor Harriet-all her loveliness thrown away upon Shelley-all Shelley's divine gifts worthless to her. What a strange disunion to pass through life with! Only the sternest philosophy or callousness could have achieved it-and Shelley was still so young, with his philosophy all in theory.

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top