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MEMOIR OF SHELLEY.
"Let us see the truth, whatever that may be.”-SHELLEY, 1822.
"A full Life of Shelley should be written at once, while the materials for it continue in reach; a biography composed in harmony with the present general disposi. tion to have faith in him, yet not shrinking from a candid statement of all ambiguous passages, through a reasonable confidence that the most doubtful of them will be found con útent with a belief in the eventual perfection of his character, according to the poor limits of our humanity.”- BROWNING, 1851.
To write the life of Shelley is (if I may trust my own belief) to write the life of the greatest English poet since Milton, or possibly since Shakspeare ; and, as the greatest poet must be equal at least to the greatest man of any other order, it must also be to write the life of one of the most illustrious personages, of whatever sort, known to these latter ages. And this is peculiarly the case with Shelley, in whom a truly glorious poetic genius was united with, or was one manifestation of, the most transcendent beauty of character,-flecked, indeed, here and there by semi-endearing perversities, or by some manifest practical aberration. However this may be, he commands into love and homage every emotion of the soul, and every perception of the mind. To be a Shelley enthusiast has been the privilege of many a man in his youth; and he may esteem himself happy who cherishes the same feeling unblunted into the regions of middle or advanced age. A full and genuine life of the sublime poet remains yet to be written : the materials for it are ripening, but perhaps even yet not entirely matured. Or the facts of his life, intellect, and character, might be exhibited in a very interesting manner by a proper collation and reproduction of all his known correspondence, combined with all such passages of his poetical or other works as have a distinct personal bearing. Meanwhile it comes to be my good fortune to write a condensed memoir of Shelley ; a memoir in which I find so many facts and details pressing for record that I feel with reluctance compelled to leave very scantily used those treasures of his own correspondence which would give the inner heart of the story so much better than any biographer can do it. But the full facts-the outer phases of incident--of his life from first to last, have never yet been told with the needful combination of sifted and balanced evidence, and of ordered method : different authorities give diverse accounts of almost every particular of his career and belongings, and even of his person. Some of these diversities will be discussed or noted as I proceed : and it is more especially with a view to this result of sifting and certifying—as a contribution towards the systematizing of materials for a Life of Shelley—that I plan this memoir. Brief it necessarily is by the conditions of the case. But I shall endeavour to make it the reverse of loose or vague, and to transmit in it to any future biographer a compact cento of facts; while laying claim to only a moderate amount of exclusive information, and conscious of deficiency as regards fullness of presentation, or profound or exhaustive analysis.
1.-DESCENT AND FAMILY, The Shelleys are an ancient and honourable house. The name has been spelled Shelly and Shellie, as well as Shelley. The arms are sable, a fesse engrailed between three whelkshells or; the motto, Fey e Fidalgia. With these whelk-shells legend (or Mr. Jefferson Hogg) connects some story of a paladin, Sir Guyon de Shelley, contemporary with Roland and Charlemagne. Him we may leave to the Ariostean region of history, and contemplate with less blinking eyes a Thomas Shelle as lord, in the time of Edward I., of the manor of Shelley, of Schottis in Nockholt, and of other lands in Kent. There was a Sir Thomas Shelley who fought and died on the scaffold in the cause of Richard II.; and a Sir Richard Shelley, Grand Prior of the English language among the knights of Malta, whose well-proved valour brought him, in extreme old age, to the defence of the island against the Turks in 1565. Somewhat earlier, about the end of the fifteenth century, Edward, the second son of the chief of the house, was settled at Worminghurst Park, and his son Henry married a Sackville; from them descends that branch of the family which has achieved some fleeting distinction in the way of a peerage and a second baronetcy (the first baronetcy, in the older line, dates from 1611), and an eternal distinction in giving birth to the “poet of poets." The name Bysshe came into the family in the sixth generation after Edward Shelley ; John Shelley, the then representative of the junior branch, having in 1692 married Helen, younger daughter and co-heiress of Roger Bysshe of Fen Place. His grandson was bysshe Shelley, who was born in 1731, and became the poet's grandfather.
It was in the person of this Bysshe Shelley, and in the year 1806 (nearly fourteen years after the birth of the poet), that the second baronetcy came into the race. Sir Bysshe was then an old man, and the father of two families. By his first wife, Mary Katharine, heiress of the Rev. Theobald Víitchell of Horsham, he had a son Timothy (the poet's father) and a daughter. By his second wife, Elizabeth Jane Sydney, heiress of Mr. Perry of Penshurst, he had three sons and two daughters. This second family shall not concern us here; further than to say that it inherited from the mother the blood of Sir Philip and other Sydneys, and that the eldest son, John, assumed the name of Shelley-Sidney of Penshurst, was made a baronet, and was the father of Philip Charles Sidney, created Baron de l'Isle and Dudley.
The man who married two hciresses, became a baronet, and founded a second family of sufficient standing to receive a further baronetcy in the first generation, and a peerage in the second, was presumably not an altogether commonplace person: if we may trust the memoir-writers, Sir Bysshe Shelley, so far from being commonplace, was decidedly eccentric. He was tall, handsome, and clever; and represented, in the eyes of a younger generation, a gentleman of the old school. His place of birth was Christ's Church, Newark, in North America ; in that country, having no fortune, he is said to have practised as a quack doctor, and to have owned a mill. He was penurious, yet spent lavishly upon building Castle Goring, which he left unfinished. A staunch adherent of the Whig house of Norfolk (the prime magnates in his part of the county of Sussex), he thus earned his baronetcy. For years before his death, which occurred on the 6th of January 1815, he had lived in retirement at Horsham, not on good terms with his eldest son Timothy, whom he would curse to his face with a will. He left him one of tlic opulent heirs of the kingdom : £300,000 in the funds, and £20,000 per annum, being named as the amount which the vigorous old man “cut up for. Among several curious inci. dents of his life, the most odd of all* is that he eloped with both of his English wives : and two of his daughters also eloped. (A rumour was current of an American wife preceding both the English ones; and there is apparently something in this story, as a letter from Percy Shelley, dated in January 1812, and seen by myself, exists in MS., saying that his grandfather behaved very badly to “three wives.”) Thus elopement was a tradition in the family; which we may bear in mind when another such performance comes to be spoken of, that of the poet. Sir Bysshe had no speculative opinions, unless in the way of negation, and cared nothing for the speculative opinions of others, however extreme : his grandson Percy and he were therefore on terms of mutual tolerance and mutual alienation. The less there was in common between them, the less call was there for positive antipathy: a shrug of the shoulders summed up all. Sir Bysshe was indeed on much better terms with his youthful and aspiring grandson and godson than with his own son Timothy. The same letter which I have referred to just above says that Sir Bysshe was “a complete atheist," and built all his hopes on annihilation.
Timothy Shelley was born in September 1753. In 1791 he married Elizabeth, a rare beauty, daughter of Charles Pilfold Esquire, of Effingham, Surrey, and had by her a family of two sons and five daughters. The eldest child was Percy Bysshe. The sisters (besides a Hellen who died in infancy) were named Elizabeth, Mary, Hellen (thus spelled in the family), and Margaret, and were all noted beauties; the latter three survive. The brother, John, born in March 1806, the youngest of all the family, died in November 1866. The mother was “mild and tolerant, yet narrow-minded ;" + clever, and even intellectual, but not in the literary, still less the poetical, direction. She is stated to have been an excellent letter-writer.
The believer in Percy Bysshe Shelley naturally conceives a prepossession against the poet's father, with whom he would
* Medwin's Life of Shelley, vol. i., p. 6. I will here say, once for all, that Med. win is an inaccurate writer, and thus save myself the necessity of continually expressing, when I state anything on his authority, a doubt whether it is true or false,
| Shelley, in Hoss's Life, vol. i., p. 350.
not or could not agree: but no doubt Sir Timothy had some of the ordinary good qualities of a human being ad country gentleman. He was well reputed as a laccord and practical agriculturist, hospitable, kind (though sometimes capricious and violent) in his family and household, pued at first of his illustrious son's talents, and not precisely descate of literary tastes. The style of his letters, however, shows how to have had no sort of natural or acquired facility, even in the most level forms of writing. This objection if I may be excused for referring to so small a point does not extend :0 1:2nd. writing: Sir Timothy wrote a capital free clear hand, as perceptible in his franking signature outside some of his sod's letters. He had the air of the old school off and on; and has even been described as a disciple of Chesterfield ard La Rochefoucauld, though that is not the impression which the general body of evidence concerning him leaves on the mind. He was a Christian as so many other people are-a reinous icdifferentist who acquiesced in what he found established. As a member of Parliament, sitting for the borough of Shoreham, he made no figure, and voted according to his ducal and other party ties. Creature comforts and material interests were what he understood; he was fond of self-assertion and pompous interferences, and, like his father, a swearer, and capabie of niggardliness, and of considerable oddity of demeanour. No body except himself, I believe, ever considered him, during his long life of ninety years, noticeable for any particular talent. That such a person was exceedingly ill adapted to stand in loco parentis to a divine phænomenon like Percy Shelley is flagrantly manifest; but there is nothing nefarious, nor even grossiy stupid, in the character whose recorded outlines are sketched above, and we shall do well to enter upon the study of the poet's career without any conviction that he was foredoomed to spite. ful or intentional persecution at his father's hands.
Mr. and Mrs. Timothy Shelley were settled at Field Piace, ncar Horsham, Sussex; a mansion ever venerable to posterity, and which remains the property of the present baronet, the poet's son, though not just at present in his personal occupation.
II.-BIRTH AND CHILDHOOD. Percy Bysshe Shelley was born at Field Place on the 4th of August 1792. To mention August 1792 is to carry back one's