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NOTICE OF SHELLEY,
BY THE AMERICAN PUBLISHERS.
Ir intellectual powers of the first order, if a disinterestedness that was pushed almost to generous romance, if social virtues that endeared him to every one with whom he came in contact, if purity of heart and sweetness of temper and uprightness of life—if these entitle to a place among the amiable and the gifted and the noble-hearted, that place belongs to Percy Bysshe Shelley. Born and educated amidst the affluences of British aristocracy, cradled (so to speak) in orthodoxy and conformity and titled privilege, he was a democrat and a heretic. His father, Sik John Shelley, disinherited him on account of his opinions, or rather of his honesty in expressing them; and the world continued a persecution against him for the same heinous crime; a persecution which did net terminate with his death, but pursued even the memory of one, whom mankind in the mass were too hypocritical to applaud, or perhaps too gross to appreciate. He was arraigned, tried, and con. victed of heterodoxy; and that was enough to justify, in
the world's eyes, the murder of his reputation.
Yet the bitterest of his enemies dare not accuse him of selfishness, of ingratitude, of unkindness, of any moral delinquency. His only offences were against orthodox opinions; his crimes were the crimes of conscientiousness; the same crimes that brought to Socrates the bowl of hemlock, and to Jesus, probably, the death of the cross.
Let one who confesses himself to have been once so strongly prejudiced against Shelley, as to have refused even to visit him, sketch his character. We quote from Landoe, the well-known author of " Imaginary Conversations:"
"Shelley, at the gates of Pisa, threw himself between Byron and a dragoon, whose sword in his indignation was lifted and about to strike. Byron told a common friend, sometime afterwards, that he could not conceive how any man living should act so. 'Do you know he might have been killed? and there was every appearance that he would be!' The answer was. 'Between you and Shelley there is but little similarity, and perhaps but little sympathy; yet what Shelley did then, he would do again, and always. There is not a human creature, not even the most hostile, that he would hesitate to protect from injury at the imminent hazard of his life. And yet life, which he would throw forward so unguardedly, is somewhat more with him than with others; it is full of hopes and aspirations, it is teeming with warm feelings, and it is rich and overrun with its own native, simple enjoyments. In him, every thing that ever gave pleasure gives it still, with the same freshness, the same exubeNOTICE OF SHELLEY.
ranee, the same earnestness to communicate and share it.' 'By heaven! I cannot understand it!' cried Byron; 'a man to run upon a naked sword for another!' ****** Innocent and careless as a boy, Shelley possessed all the delicate feelings of a gentleman, all the discrimination of a scholar, and united in just degrees the ardour of the poet with the patience and forbearance of the philosopher. His generosity and charity went far beyond those of any man, I believe, at present in existence. He was never known to speak evil of an enemy, unless that enemy had done some grievous injustice to another : and he divided his income of only one thousand pounds with the fallen and afflicted. This is the man against whom much clamour has been raised by poor prejudiced fools, and by those who live and lap under their tables. This is the man whom, from one false story about his former wife, I had refused to visit at Pisa! I blush in anguish at my prejudice and injustice, and ought hardly to feel it as a blessing or a consolation, that I regret him less than I should have done if I had known him personally."
As a poet, Shelley has been greatly and justly admired. There is much of original and sterling beauty in all his poetical works. He may, indeed, with some reason, be taxed, in common with many of the most admired among poets, with obscurity and overstraining of the imagination. But there is so much of redeeming in the beautiful thoughts, chaste images, and noble sentiments scattered through his productions, that one forgets to dwell upon their blemishes.
Yet, it is not as a poet that Shelley's character appears in its fairest light. It is as a high-minded reformer, as an unbending lover of truth, as an enthusiastic friend of human improvement. He was one of those pure beings who seem to be born some ages before their time; whose high aspirations after excellence scarcely belong to this generation. His poetic dreams had reference to that future—to use his own beautiful words—
When reason's voice,
He sought to make a Heaven of Earth; and truly if such as he only were the Earth's inhabitants, we might have one!
The little poem, now re-published, is especially valuable on account of the notes affixed to it. It has borne all the virulence of servile criticism; and has come from the ordeal with an even increased popularity. Yet posterity alone will do ample justice to its merits.