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- Percy Bysshe Shelley - 1/28 -


PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY

BY

JOHN ADDINGTON SYMONDS.

CONTENTS.

CHAPTER 1. BIRTH AND CHILDHOOD.

CHAPTER 2. ETON AND OXFORD.

CHAPTER 3. LIFE IN LONDON, AND FIRST MARRIAGE.

CHAPTER 4. SECOND RESIDENCE IN LONDON, AND SEPARATION FROM HARRIET.

CHAPTER 5. LIFE AT MARLOW, AND JOURNEY TO ITALY.

CHAPTER 6. RESIDENCE AT PISA.

CHAPTER 7. LAST DAYS.

CHAPTER 8. EPILOGUE.

LIST OF AUTHORITIES.

1. The Poetical and Prose Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, edited by Mrs. Shelley. Moxon, 1840, 1845. 1 volume.

2. The Poetical Works, edited by Harry Buxton Forman. Reeves and Turner, 1876-7. 4 volumes.

3. The Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, edited by W.M. Rossetti. Moxon, 1870. 2 volumes.

4. Hogg's Life of Shelley. Moxon, 1858. 2 volumes.

5. Trelawny's Records of Shelley, Byron, and the Author. Pickering, 1878. 2 volumes.

6. Shelley Memorials, edited by Lady Shelley. Smith and Elder. 1 volume.

7. Medwin's Life of Shelley. Newby, 1847. 2 volumes.

8. Shelley's Early Life, by D.F. McCarthy. Chatto and Windus. 1 volume.

9. Leigh Hunt's Autobiography. Smith and Elder.

10. W.M. Rossetti's Life of Shelley, included in the edition above cited, Number 3.

11. Shelley, a Critical Biography, by G.B. Smith. David Douglas, 1877.

12. Relics of Shelley, edited by Richard Garnett. Moxon, 1862.

13. Peacock's Articles on Shelley in "Fraser's Magazine," 1858 and 1860.

14. Shelley in Pall Mall, by R. Garnett, in "Macmillan's Magazine," June, 1860.

15. Shelley's Last Days, by R. Garnett, in the "Fortnightly Review," June, 1878.

16. Two Lectures on Shelley, by W.M. Rossetti, in the "University Magazine," February and March, 1878.

SHELLEY.

CHAPTER 1.

BIRTH AND CHILDHOOD.

It is worse than useless to deplore the irremediable; yet no man, probably, has failed to mourn the fate of mighty poets, whose dawning gave the promise of a glorious day, but who passed from earth while yet the light that shone in them was crescent. That the world should know Marlowe and Giorgione, Raphael and Mozart, only by the products of their early manhood, is indeed a cause for lamentation, when we remember what the long lives of a Bach and Titian, a Michelangelo and Goethe, held in reserve for their maturity and age. It is of no use to persuade ourselves, as some have done, that we possess the best work of men untimely slain. Had Sophocles been cut off in his prime, before the composition of "Oedipus"; had Handel never merged the fame of his forgotten operas in the immortal music of his oratorios; had Milton been known only by the poems of his youth, we might with equal plausibility have laid that flattering unction to our heart. And yet how shallow would have been our optimism, how fallacious our attempt at consolation. There is no denying the fact that when a young Marcellus is shown by fate for one brief moment, and withdrawn before his springtime has bought forth the fruits of summer, we must bow in silence to the law of waste that rules inscrutably in nature.

Such reflections are forced upon us by the lives of three great English poets of this century. Byron died when he was thirty-six, Keats when he was twenty-five, and Shelley when he was on the point of completing his thirtieth year. Of the three, Keats enjoyed the briefest space for the development of his extraordinary powers. His achievement, perfect as it is in some poetic qualities, remains so immature and incomplete that no conjecture can be hazarded about his future. Byron lived longer, and produced more than his brother poets. Yet he was extinguished when his genius was still ascendant, when his "swift and fair creations" were issuing like worlds from an archangel's hands. In his case we have perhaps only to deplore the loss of masterpieces that might have equalled, but could scarcely have surpassed, what we possess. Shelley's early death is more to be regretted. Unlike Keats and Byron, he died by a mere accident. His faculties were far more complex, and his aims were more ambitious than theirs. He therefore needed length of years for their co-ordination; and if a fuller life had been allotted him, we have the certainty that from the discords of his youth he would have wrought a clear and lucid harmony.

These sentences form a somewhat gloomy prelude to a biography. Yet the student of Shelley's life, the sincere admirer of his genius, is almost forced to strike a solemn key-note at the outset. We are not concerned with one whose "little world of man" for good or ill was perfected, but with one whose growth was interrupted just before the synthesis of which his powers were capable had been accomplished.

August 4, 1792, is one of the most memorable dates in the history of English literature. On this day Percy Bysshe Shelley was born at Field Place, near Horsham, in the county of Sussex. His father, named Timothy, was the eldest son of Bysshe Shelley, Esquire, of Goring Castle, in the same county. The Shelley family could boast of great antiquity and considerable wealth. Without reckoning earlier and semi-legendary honours, it may here be recorded that it is distinguished in the elder branch by one baronetcy dating from 1611, and by a second in the younger dating from 1806. In the latter year the poet's grandfather received this honour through the influence of his friend the Duke of Norfolk. Mr. Timothy Shelley was born in the year 1753, and in 1791 he married Elizabeth, daughter of Charles Pilford, Esquire, a lady of great beauty, and endowed with fair intellectual ability, though not of a literary temperament. The first child of this marriage was the poet, named Bysshe in compliment to his grandfather, the then living head of the family, and Percy because of some remote connexion with the ducal house of Northumberland. Four daughters, Elizabeth, Mary, Hellen, and Margaret, and one son, John, who died in the year 1866, were the subsequent issue of Mr. Timothy Shelley's marriage. In the year 1815, upon the death of his father, he succeeded to the baronetcy, which passed, after his own death, to his grandson, the present Sir Percy Florence Shelley, as the poet's only surviving son.

Before quitting, once and for all, the arid region of genealogy, it may be worth mentioning that Sir Bysshe Shelley by his second marriage with Miss Elizabeth Jane Sydney Perry, heiress of Penshurst, became the father of five children, the eldest son of whom assumed the name of Shelley-Sidney, received a baronetcy, and left a son, Philip Charles Sidney, who was created Lord De l'Isle and Dudley. Such details are not without a certain value, inasmuch as they prove that the poet, who won for his ancient and honourable house a fame far more illustrious than titles can confer, was sprung from a man of no small personal force and worldly greatness. Sir Bysshe Shelley owed his position in society, the wealth he accumulated, and the honours he transmitted to two families, wholly and entirely to his own exertions. Though he bore a name already distinguished in the annals of the English landed gentry, he had to make his own fortune under conditions of some difficulty. He was born in North America, and began life, it is said, as a quack doctor. There is also a legend of his having made a first marriage with a person of obscure birth in America. Yet such was the charm of his address, the beauty of his person, the dignity of his bearing, and the vigour of his will, that he succeeded in winning the hands and fortunes of two English heiresses; and, having begun the world with nothing, he left it at the age of seventy-four, bequeathing 300,000 pounds in the English Funds, together with estates worth 20,000 pounds a year to his descendents.

Percy Bysshe Shelley was therefore born in the purple of the English squirearchy; but never assuredly did the old tale of the swan hatched with the hen's brood of ducklings receive a more emphatic illustration than in this case. Gifted with the untameable individuality of genius, and bent on piercing to the very truth beneath all shams and fictions woven by society and ancient usage, he was driven by the circumstances of his birth and his surroundings into an exaggerated warfare with the world's opinion. His too frequent tirades against:--

The Queen of Slaves, The hood-winked Angel of the blind and dead, Custom,--

owed much of their asperity to the early influences brought to bear upon him by relatives who prized their position in society, their wealth, and the observance of conventional decencies, above all other things.

Mr. Timothy Shelley was in no sense of the word a bad man; but he was


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