« PoprzedniaDalej »
possessed some dramatic talent, and he was always most earnest and energetic in his exhortations that I should cultivate any talent I possessed, to the utmost. I entertained a truer estimate of my powers; and above all (though at that time not exactly aware of the fact) I was far too young to have any chance of succeeding, even moderately, in a species of composition that requires a greater scope of experience in, and sympathy with, human passion than could then have (alien to my lot,—or than any perhaps, except Shelley, ever possessed, even at the age of twenty-six, at which he wrote The Cenci.
On the other hand, Shelley most erroneously conceived himself to be destitute of this talent. He believed that one of the first requisites was the capacity of forming and following up a story or plot. He fancied himself to be defective in this portion of imagination: it was that which gave him least pleasure in the writings of others, though he laid great store by it, as the proper framework to support the sublimes* efforts of poetry. He asserted that he was too metaphysical and abstract, too fond of the theoretical and the ideal, to succeed as a tragedian. Jt perhaps i s not strange that I shared this opinion with himself; for he had hitherto shown no inclination for, nor given any specimen of his powers in, framing and supporting the interest of a story, either in prose or verse. Once or twice, when he attempted such, be had speedily thrown it aside, as being even disagreeable to him as an occupation.
The subject he had suggested for a tragedy was Charles I.; and he had written to me; "Remember, remember Charles I. I have been already imagining how you would conduct some scenes. The second volume of St. Leon begins with this proud and true sentiment, 'There is nothing which the human mind can conceive which it may not execute.' Shakspeare was only a human being." These words were written in 1818, while we were in Lombardy, when he little thought how soon a work of his own would prove a proud comment on the passage he quoted. When in Rome, in 1819, a friend put into our hands the old manuscript account of the story of the CencL We visited the Colonna and Doria palaces, where the portraits of Beatrice were to be found; and her beauty cast the reflection of its own grace over her appalling story. Shelley's imagination became strongly excited, and he urged the subject to me 2s one fitted for a tragedy. More than ever, I felt my incompetence; but I entreated him to write it instead; and he began and proceeded swiftly, urged on by intense sympathy with the sufferings of the human beings whose passions, so long cold in the tomb, he revived, and gifted with poetic language. This tragedy is the only one of his works that he communicated to me during its progress. We talked over the arrangement of the scenes together. I speedily saw the great mistake we had made, and triumphed in the discovery of the new talent brought to light from that mine of wealth (never, alas! through his untimely death, worked to its depths} his richlygifted mind.
We suffered a severe affliction in Rome by the loss of our eldest child, who was of such beauty and promise as to cause him deservedly to be the idol of our hearts. We left the capital of the world, anxious for a time to escape a spot associated too intimately with his presence and loss.* Some friends of ours were residing in the neighbourhood of Leghorn, and we took a small house. Villa Valsovano, about halfway between the town and Monte Nero, where we remained during the summer.
* Such feelings haunted him when, in The Cenci, he makes Beatrice speak to
Cardinal Camilla of
"that fair blue-eyed child
"All see, since his most swift and piteous death,
Our villa was situated in the midst of a podere; the peasants sang as they worked beneath our windows, during the heats of a very hot season, and in the evening the water-wheel creaked as the process of irrigation went on, and the fire-flies flashed from among the myrtle hedges:—nature was bright, sunshiny, and cheerful, or diversified by storms of a majestic terror such as we had never before witnessed.
At the top of the house there was a sort of terrace. There is often such in Italy, generally roofed: this one was very small, yet not only roofed but glazed. This Shelley made his study; it looked out on a wide prospect of fertile country, and commanded a view of the near sea. The storms that sometimes varied our day showed themselves most picturesquely as they were driven across the ocean ; sometimes the dark lurid clouds dipped towards the waves, and became water-spouts, that churned up the waters beneath, as they were chased onward and scattered by the tempest. At other times the dazzling sunlight and heat made it almost intolerable to every other; but Shelley basked in both, and his health and spirits revived under their influence. In this airy cell he wrote the principal part of The Cenci. He was making a study of Calderon at the time, reading his best tragedies with an accomplished lady living near us, to whom his letter from Leghorn was addressed during the following year. He admired Calderon, both for his poetry and his dramatic genius ; but it shows his judgment and originality that, though greatly struck by his first acquaintance with the Spanish poet, none of his peculiarities crept into the composition of The Cenci; and there is no trace of his new studies, except in that passage to which he himself alludes as suggested by one in El Purgatorio de San Patricio,
Shelley wished The Cenci to be acted. He was not a playgoer, being of such fastidious taste that he was easily disgusted by the bad filling-up of the inferior parts. While preparing for out departure from England, however, he saw Miss O'Neil several times. She was then in the zenith of her glory; and Shelley was deeply moved by her impersonation of several parts, and by the graceful sweetness, the intense pathos, and sublime vehemence of passion, she displayed. She was often in his thoughts as he wrote; and, when he had finished, he became anxious that his tragedy should be acted, and receive the advantage of having this accomplished actress to fill the part of the heroine. With this view he wrote the following letter to a friend in London :—
"The object of the present letter is to ask a favour of you. I have written a tragedy on a story well known in Italy, and, in my conception, eminently dramatic. I have taken some pains to make my play fit for representation, and those who have already seen it judge favourably. It is written without any of the peculiar feelings and opinions which characterize my other compositions; I have attended simply to the impartial development of such characters as it is probable the persons represented really were, together with the greatest degree of popular effect to be produced by such a development. I send you a translation of the Italian MS. on which my play is founded ; the chief circumstance of which I have touched very delicately; for my principal doubt as to whether it would succeed as an acting play hangs entirely on the question as to whether any such a thing as incest in this shape, however treated, would be admitted on the stage. I think, however, it will form no objection; considering, first, that the facts are matter of history, and, secondly, the peculiar delicacy with which I have treated it.*
"I am exceedingly interested in the question of whether this attempt of mine will succeed or not. 1 am strongly inclined to the affirmative at present; founding my
* In speaking of his mode of treating this main incident, Shelley said that it might be remarked that, in the course of the play, he had never mentioned expressly Cenci's worst crime. Every one knew what it must be, but it was never imaged in words—the nearest allusion to it being that portion of Cenci's curse, beginning, "That, if she have a child," &c
hopes on this—that, as a composition, it is certainly not inferior to any of the modern plays that have been acted, with the exception of Remorse; that the interest of the plot is incredibly greater and more real; and that there is nothing beyond what the multitude are contented to believe that they can understand, either in imagery, opinion, or sentiment. I wish to preserve a complete incognito, and can trust to you that, whatever else you do, you will at least favour me on this point. Indeed, this is essential, deeply essential, to its success. After it had been acted, and successfully (could I hope for such a thing), I would own it if I pleased, and use the celebrity it might acquire to my own purposes.
"What I want you to do is to procure for me its presentation at Covent Garden. The principal character, Beatrice, is precisely fitted for Miss O'Neil, and it might even seem to have been written for her; (God forbid that I should see her play it—it would tear my nerves to pieces); and m all respects it is fitted only for Covent Garden. The chief male character I confess I should be very unwilling that any one bet Kean should play. That is impossible, and I must be contented with an inferior actor."
The play was accordingly sent to Mr. Harris. He pronounced the subject to be so objectionable that he could not even submit the part to Miss O'Neil for perusal, but expressed his desire that the author would write a tragedy on some other subject, which he would gladly accept. Shelley printed a small edition at Leghorn, to ensure its correctness ; as he was much annoyed by the many mistakes that crept into his text when distance prevented him from correcting the press.
Universal approbation soon stamped The Ccnci as the best tragedy of modern times. Writing concerning it, Shelley said: "I have been cautious to avoid the introducing faults of youthful composition; diffuseness, a profusion of inapplicable imagery, vagueness, generality, and, as Hamlet says, words, zttords." There is nothing that is not purely dramatic throughout; and the character of Beatrice, proceeding, from vehement struggle, to horror, to deadly resolution, and lastly to the elevated dignity of calm suffering, joined to passionate tenderness and pathos, is touched with hues so vivid and so beautiful that the poet seems to have read intimately the secrets of the noble heart imaged in the lovely countenance of the unfortunate girl. The Fifth Act is a masterpiece. It is the finest thing he ever wrote, and may claim proud comparison not only with any contemporary but preceding poet. The varying feelings of Beatrice are expressed with passionate, heart-reaching eloquence. Every character has a voice that echoes truth in its tones. It is curious, to one acquainted with the written story, to mark the success with which the poet has inwoven the real incidents of the tragedy into his scenes, and yet, through the power of poetry, has obliterated all that would otherwise have shown too harsh or too hideous in the picture. His success was a double triumph ; and often after he was earnestly entreated to write again in a style that commanded popular favour, while it was not less instinct with truth and genius. But the bent of his mind went the other way ; and, even when employed on subjects whose interest depended on character and incident, he would start off in another direction, and leave the delineations of human passion, which he could depict in so able a manner, for fantastic creations of his fancy, or the expression of those opinions and sentiments, with regard to human nature and its destiny, a desire to diffuse which was the master passion of his soul
NOTES BY W. M. ROSSETTI.
P. xxii. "A Wise friend once wrote to Shelley," &c. This was Godwin. Letter of 4th March, 1812, cited by Mr Jefferson Hogg.
P. xxii. "He had not completed his nine-and-twentieth year when he died." Mrs. Shelley speaks inadvertently here. Shelley, bom on 8th August 179a, an dying on 8th July 1822, was all but thirty years of age.
"Shall we roam, my love.
and is certainly very poor stuff. Yet there are some lines which seem to have a twang of Shelley in a faint way; especially
"And thy beauty, more bright Than the stars' soft light, Shall seem as a weft from the sky.1'
For my own part, I could imagine it equally possible that these lines were either a very characterless and almost a casual imitation of Shelley, or that the poem was a veritable but worthless product of his juvenility. Certain it is that he then wrote many still more trashy, as our Appendix will show. The authority of Captain Medwin, who knew Shelley from childhood, is not to be altogether disregarded.—Notes and Queries, vol. viii., No. 195 (1853), published a poem of moderate length named The Calm, attributed to Shelley, and originally printed in a South Carolina newspaper in 1839, coming professedly from Mr. Trelawny in the first instance. It is a rambling sort of tirade, in which one refuses, as if by instinct, to believe. There is strong internal evidence of its American authorship; and Mr. Trelawny tells me positively that he knows nothing about it.
Queen Mah. This poem was written by Shelley, according to his own account," at the age of
* See his letter, p. 92.
eighteen (say between August 1810 and August 1811), and by him privately printed about the same time—not published, though he had originally thought of publishing it. The private volume, dated 1813, bears Shelley's own name as printer; and has three mottoes—from Voltaire (Ecrasez lTnfame), from Lucretius, and from Archimedes, the last the same which he gave to Laon and Cythna. However, Shelley's statement of the period of composition is incorrect; for letters printed by Mr. Jefferson Hogg show indisputably that the poem was begun towards April 1812, and finished, with its Notes, in 1813, when the poet was between twenty and twenty-one years of age. Queen Mab was published by a piratical trader soon after it had been privately printed; and was again piratically published in 1821 by a Strand bookseller, Clarke, against whose misdeed Shelley protested (see Mrs. Shelley's Nate on Queen Mab, p. 89). Meanwhile the author had in 1816 issued the volume named Alastor e*r the Spirit of Solitude, and other Poems. In this volume the concluding poem is entitled The Damon of the World, and consists (substantially} of the 1st section of Quern Mab, and about half the 2nd section, with continual verbal alterations.
An editor who endeavours at the present day to produce a critical edition of Shelley has to bear these facts in mind, and finds the option before him a rather embarrassing one. Shelley, when extra young, printed Queen Mab, and afterwards saw or surmised it to be rubbish (though it is certainly not unmitigated rubbish). At a less immature age he published a modified extract from the poem. The alterations of diction which he introduced with no sparing hand manifestly represent his own deliberate preference, and ought so far to be respected and adopted in any republication: but then they are alterations introduced into a mere extract of the entire poem, and one cannot be quite sure that, if Shelley had been re-printing the complete and not the abridged version, he would have made all the changes given in the latter. Moreover, through extraneous agency, the unabridged and unaltered Queen Mab has been restored to the body of Shelley's works, and must henceforth remain there. Unabridged it must remain: shall it also remain unaltered? or rather verbally altered according to the pattern of the Damon of the World?
It appears to me that, on the whole, the best course to pursue is that which the present edition exhibits, and which may be thus summarized:
1. Every alteration given in the Damon of the World is not here adopted : bet some alterations, which seem to me very decided improvements, have been adopted, and are (when of sufficient importance) indicated in the notes, along with some of the remaining and unused alterations:
2. The concluding passage of the Damon of the World, being a sort of summarized abstract of what Queen Mab proceeds to set forth at far greater length, cannot be incorporated in that poem. Neither ought it to be entirely passed over. It is therefore given in the Appendix.
By this method I trust to have fairly reconciled the necessity (for such I consider it) of giving Queen Mab entire, and not far different from the version now long familiar to readers of Shelley, with the rival necessity of adopting the poet's own revisions: and this without cumbering our edition with the whole of the Da men of the World following the whole of Queen Mab.
There is another source of variations to Queen Mab which it will be proper to mention here; I have, however, only in one instance availed myself of it for the text. Mr. Middleton's Life of Shelley (vol. L, p. 256) refers to a copy of the poem containing many emendations in Shelley's own hand-writing. "The volume which Shelley revised, and enriched with many additions and corrections, was left at Marlov, where it had been thrown aside, and no doubt forgotten, among the many anxieties he was there subject to. It fell afterwards into the hands ofa gentleman attached to the Owenites, and has been ever since carefully concealed from the eyes of the world. As the poem stands in the original, its doctrines exactly accord with their tenets, and it is to a considerable extent the Gospel of the Owenites; while those revisions and