Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

composition is worthless, I shall indeed bow before the tribunal from which Milton received his crown of immortality, and shall seek to gather, if I live, strength from that defeat, which may nerve me to some new enterprise of thought which may not be worthless. I cannot conceive that Lucretius, when he meditated that poem whose doctrines are yet the basis of our metaphysical knowledge, and whose eloquence has been the wonder of mankind, wrote in awe of such cenşure as the hired sophists of the impure and superstitious noblemen of Rome might affix to what he should produce. It was at the period when Greece was led captive, and Asia made tributary to the Republic, fast verging itself to slavery and ruin, that a multitude of Syrian captives, bigotted to the worship of their obscene Ashtaroth, and the unworthy successors of Socrates and Zeno, found there precarious subsistence by administering, under the name of freedmen, to the vices and vanities of the great. These wretched men were skilled to plead, with a superficial but plausible set of sophisms, in favour of that contempt for virtue which is the portion of slaves, and that faith in portents, the most fatal substitute for benevolence in the imaginations of men, which, arising from the enslaved communities of the East, then first began to overwhelm the western nations in its stream. Were these the kind of men whose disapprobation the wise and lofty-minded Lucretius should have regarded with a salutary awe? The latest, and perhaps the meanest of those who follow in his footsteps, would disdain to hold life on such conditions.

The Poem now presented to the Public occupied little more than six months in the composition. That period has been devoted to the task with unremitting ardour and enthusiasm. I have exercised a watchful and earnest criti. cism on my work as it grew under my hands. I would willingly have sent it forth to the world with that perfection which long labour and revision is said to bestow. But I found that, if I should gain something in exactness by this method, I might lose much of the newness and energy of imagery and language as it flowed fresh from my mind. And although the mere composition occupied no more than six months, the thoughts thus arranged were slowly gathered in as many years.

I trust that the reader will carefully distinguish between those opinions which have a dramatic propriety, in reference to the characters which they are designed to elucidate, and such as are properly my own. The erroneous and degrading idea which men have conceived of a Supreme Being, for instance, is spoken against, but not the Supreme Being itself. The belief which some superstitious persons whom I have brought upon the stage entertain of the Deity, as injurious to the character of his benevolence, is widely different from my own. In recommend. ing also a great and important change in the spirit which animates the social institutions of mankind, I have avoided all flattery to those violent and malignant passions of our nature, which are ever on the watch to mingle with and to alloy the most beneficial innovations. There is no quarter given to Revenge, or Envy, or Prejudice. Love is celebrated everywhere as the sole law which should govern the moral world.

1 In The Revolt of Islam this is the end of the In the personal conduct of my Hero and Heroine, there is one circumstance which was intended to startle the reader from the trance of ordinary life. It was my object to break through the crust of those outworn opinions on which established institutions depend. I have appealed therefore to the most universal of all feelings, and have endeavoured to strengthen the moral sense, by forbidding it to waste its energies in seeking to avoid actions which are only crimes of convention. It is because there is so great a multitude of artificial vices, that there are so few real virtues. Those feelings alone which are benevolent or malevolent are essentially good or bad. The circumstance of which I speak was introduced, however, merely to accustom men to that charity and toleration which the exhibition of a practice widely differing from their own has a tendency to promote.? Nothing indeed can be more mischievous than many actions, innocent in themselves, which might bring down upon individuals the bigotted contempt and rage of the multitude. Preface : the final paragraph is special to the original Laon and Cythna.-ED.

? The sentiments connected with and characteristic of this circumstance have no personal reference to the Writer.

DEDICATION.

To Mary WOLLSTONECRAFT SHELLEY.

There is no danger to a man, that knows
What life and death is : there's not any law
Exceeds his knowledge; neither is it lawful
That he should stoop to any other law.

CHAPMAN.

So now my summer-task is ended, Mary,
And I return to thee, mine own heart's home;
As to his Queen some victor Knight of Fairy,
Earning bright spoils for her enchanted dome;
Nor thou disdain that, ere my fame become
A star among the stars of mortal night,
If it indeed may cleave its natal gloom,

Its doubtful promise thus I would unite With thy beloved name, thou Child of love and

light.

The toil which stole from thee so many an

hour, Is ended,—and the fruit is at thy feet ! No longer where the woods to frame a bower With interlaced branches mix and meet, Or where, with sound like many voices sweet, Water-falls leap among wild islands green,

Which framed for my lone boat a lone retreat Of moss-grown trees and weeds, shall I be

seen : But beside thee, where still my heart has ever

been.

3.

Thoughts of great deeds were mine, dear

Friend, when first
The clouds which wrap this world from youth

did pass.
I do remember well the hour which burst
My spirit's sleep: a fresh May-dawn it was,
When I walked forth upon the glittering

grass, And wept, I knew not why; until there rose From the near school-room, voices, that, alas !

Were but one echo from a world of woesThe harsh and grating strife of tyrants and of

foes.

And then I clasped my hands and looked

aroundBut none was near to mock my streaming

eyes, Which poured their warm drops on the sunny

groundSo without shame, I spake :—“I will be wise, And just, and free, and mild, if in me lies Such power, for I grow weary to behold The selfish and the strong still tyrannize Without reproach or check.” I then con

trolled My tears, my heart grew calm, and I was meek

and bold.

« PoprzedniaDalej »