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mind to the overthrow of monarchy in France. On that day, in Paris, the insurrectionary directory of the Federators held a sitting at the Cadran Bleu, on the Boulevard, at Bancelin the restaurateur's, to concert measures for a rising : Santerre, Camille Desmoulins, and others, were present.* And perhaps the transaction going on within the penetralia of Field Place was of quite coequal importance to the cause of revolutionary free thought.
The infant received the name of Percy from an aunt distantly connected with the Northumberland family ; Bysshe, as we have seen, from his grandfather. He was a beautiful boy, with ringlets, deep-blue eyes,t a snowy complexion, and exquisitely formed hands and feet; in disposition gentle and affectionate. But of his mere infancy no record remains ; though we may conceive of him as fondling “the great old snake of Field Place”-a large ophidian specimen addicted to the garden of that mansion, and which, so tradition says, had been known as “the old snake” three hundred years before. Perhaps it had been wont to fraternize with a dragon which, according to a still extant pamphlet published in 1612, then haunted St Leonard's Forest, in the same district. At last the honoured veteran was accidentally killed by the gardener in mowing grass : doubtless to the bitter sorrow of Percy, whose curious love of snakes and serpents, noticeable time after time in his poems, may probably be traced to this unusual friend of his babbling years.
At six years of age he was sent to a day-school, kept by the Rev. Mr. Edwards of Warnham, and began learning Latin there. He felt some respect for this his earliest instructor, and hence in after days for country clergymen in general : indeed, there is a wondrous anecdote I of a momentary velléité, on the part of the then author of Queen Mab, to enter the church himself.
At the age of ten Percy was transferred to Sion House School, Brentford, of which Dr. Greenlaw,ş a Scotchman and a clerical Doctor of Law, was the principal. For him also Shelley was not without a sort of respect, though disgusted with his coarse jests, and general hardness of mind as well as discipline. Here
* Hamel, Histoire de Robespierre, vol. ii. p. 362,
† So says Miss Shelley (Hellen), and the portrait by Miss Curran gives the same colour. Mr. Thornton Hunt must be wrong in saying “ brown" eyes.
Peacock, Fraser's Magazine, 1858, p. 656. Š "The Rev. Dr. Mackintosh,” according to Mr. Middleton (Shelley and his Writings, vol. i. p. 1). But I find this name in no other authority.
he re-encountered among the pupils Thomas Medwin, his second cousin on the mother's side, and some years his senior. Mostly the boys, numbering about sixty, were sons of local tradesmen ; the system of the house was mean ; the reception accorded to Shelley by his schoolfellows, and their subsequent treatment of him, full of taunting and petty persecution (for everything lumpish and sordid had a natural repulsion at contact with Percy Shelley); and his situation was one of proportional and acute misery. No distresses are more real or more poignant than those of childhood : the man who laughs at them with reason is the very boy who cowered under them, also not without reason. But there dawned one glorious moment in which Percy ceased to be the possible refined milksop, and became the incipient poetical demigod.
“Thoughts of great deeds were mine, dear friend, when first
The clouds which wrap this world from youth did pass.
From the near schoolroom voices that, alas!
But none was near to mock my streaming eyes,
So, without shame, I spake :- I will be wise,
And just, and free, and mild, if in me lies
The selfish and the strong still tyrannize
Heap knowledge from forbidden mines of lore;
I cared to learn, --but from that secret store
It might walk forth to war among mankind.” ** Shelley was noticeably subject to waking dreams at Sion House, and had at least one fit of somnambulism there, and others at a later date. He was not studious, and yet he soon outstripped his companions. With one of these he formed an enthusiastic friendship, which, however, had no sequel in his after years; he has recorded it in a short fragment of an Essay on Friendship, written not long before his death.t
* Retolt of Islam, p. 118. Lady Shelley (Shelley Memorials, p. 7) cites these verses as applicable to Shelley's sojourn at Eton. The authority of Medwin, however. who expressly refers them to Sion House instead (Shelley Paupers, p. 31, appears the most conclusive that can be attained ; and I think the opening lines would more naturally indicate the earlier period of boyhood.
† Hogs, Life of Shelley, vol. i. pp. 22-24.
III.--SHELLEY AT ETON. He passed to Eton in his fifteenth year, and experienced, from his less uncultured companions there, much the same bullying and uncongeniality that he had endured at Sion House. But the frail, shrinking, and girlish Shelley, the unready boy who joined in no boyish sports from shyness and delicacy combined, was not made to be bullied in sheepish acquiescence. He rose in unquenched indignation against the outrages of the fagging system, and made it “ pass him by on the other side.” Indeed, it has been said that he got up a conspiracy against fagging ; but this, on the testimony of Etonians quoted by Medwin, does not appear to be accurately expressed. The boys would goad him into paroxysms of rage, and then run away from the explosion : he never pursued them, but requited their attentions by assisting them in their tasks. On one occasion, while Shelley was asleep, some of his persecutors blackened his face; on awaking he was wild with horror. “The few who knew him loved him," says a schoolfellow, Mr. Packe. He had no liking for the time-honoured “grind” of making Latin verses, and would not “ submit to the trammels of the gradus ;" yet his performances in this line availed to procure him prizes. In like manner, though he neglected the regulated school-attendance, he translated at Eton half of Pliny's Natural History. His money was spent on books, chemical instruments, and acts of liberality. “He used to say that nothing ever delighted him so much as the discovery that there were no elements of earth, fire, or water."
The activity of Shelley's boyish imagination is best proved by the fact that he “ went in for” ghosts and fiends with a real eye to business : he studied the occult sciences, watched for spectres, conjured the devil, and speculated on a visit to Africa for the purpose of searching out the magic arcana which her dusky populations are noted for. The reading of German books (only in translations as yet) fostered this turn of mind. At home also he would, from very early years, tell tales to his still younger sisters, peopling the house and grounds with imaginary personages ; would narrate curious events which had, or rather had not, just happened to himself; and would make the girls personate demons and sprites, while he haled liquid fire in a portable stove. No doubt the great turn for chemical experi
ment which he developed at Eton, and which became his chief passion there, had as much to do with an impressible fancy, and with the fact that chemical practice was prohibited to the schoolboys in their chambers, as with scientific tendencies. He set fire to a tree on the common by lighting gunpowder with a burning-glass; and the incautious touching of an electrical machine in his room at Eton overthrew his tutor, Mr. Bethel, who had discovered the young rebel “raising the devil” by a blue flame. The distinction of being one of the dullest men at the school has been attributed to Mr. Bethel, with whom the future author of Epipsychidion lodged. The rigid Dr. Keate was the Head Master at this period. He flogged Shelley liberally, and the scapegrace in return plagued him without stint.
Mysterious and semi-fathomable things happened to Shelley, either in person or in supposition, throughout his life. One of these occurred while he was at Eton. The only official person whom he really liked there was Dr. James Lind of Windsor, a physician, chemist, and tutor, and a man of erudition, who superintended the youth's scientific studies. “He loved me,” said Shelley, “ and I shall never forget our long talks, where he breathed the spirit of the kindest tolerance and the purest wisdom.” He furnished the prototype of the old sage who releases Laon from the tower-prison, in the Revolt of Islam, and of Zonoras in Prince Athanase. Shelley, having been attacked by a fever which affected the brain, was about to be sent to a private madhouse by his father-so at least he overheard, or learned from a servant *-when Dr. Lind posted to Field Place at the dismayed patient's request, cured him, and dispelled the paternal purpose. Another story told by Shelley,t and doubted by the recipient of the information, is that the immediate cause of his quitting Eton was that, in one of his fits of rage at some boyish persecutor, he struck a penknife through the misdemeanant's hand. According to his own account, this was his third Etonian catastrophe; he had been twice before expelled, but readmitted at his father's instance. The fact that he finally left Eton some time in 1809, a long interval before his going to Oxford in the autumn of 1810, suggests that he really was withdrawn from the former place with some degree of abruptness, for there is nothing to show that this interval was devoted to preparing for the university.
* Compare the not entirely identical accounts in Hogg, Life of Shelley, vol. i. P. 32, and in the Shelley Memorials, pp. 9, 10. Apparently the whole affair of the madhouse was one of the poet's delusions.
t Peacock, in Fraser's Magazine, 1858, p. 647. The story is told also, with some degree of variation, by Mr. Thornton Hunt Atlantic Monthly, February 1863, P: 192). He says that Shelley, in the course of his general resistance to the senior scholars and school customs, was dared to pin a companion's hand to the table with a fork, and did so,
Immediately after leaving Eton (if not possibly before that event) he had managed to fall in love—which was indeed a feat almost certain to be achieved by a youth of such a disposition. In the summer of 1809 (ætatis sixteen or seventeen), he fell captive to his very charming young cousin Harriet Grove, who, with her brother, was on a visit to Field Place. She was the daughter of a clergyman, and was of the same age as Percy, and a good deal like him in face. She returned his affection, engaged or semi-engaged herself to him, and corresponded with him on returning to her home in Wiltshire.
Many further details might be given of Shelley's stay at Eton, did space admit. The one remaining fact essential to be noted is that he went there by the name not only of “Vad Shelley," but also of “ Shelley the Atheist." This sounds like an important indication of the early and extreme development of Shelley's speculative opinions ; and I think it would be unsafe to reject it as such altogether, though Mr. Hogg affirms that the name of atheist was bestowed at Eton upon any boy specially distinguished for setting the authorities at defiance, whether or not he entertained any opinion at all on the question of Deity. In Shelley's case, the title is said to have come to him in virtue of the firing of the tree, already alluded to. Something may also possibly have been due to the fact that he was known among his schoolfellows for a habit of “cursing his father and the king." And here I will take leave to say that this, so far as his father was concerned, was simply a vile and detestabic practice, learned partly from the venerable Sir Bysshe, and partly from the equally venerable Dr. Lind ; * and indeed that the poet's animus in regard to his father (for whom nevertheless he had had some affection in quite early years) was in various details derogatory to his character, intellect, and common sense. I think it the leas texcusable trait which has to be recorded of so great and loveable a man. Not long after leaving Eton, Shelley was asked to repeat the cursing process; which, after saying he
* I. e., if Mr. Hogg's account is to be implicitly accepted: but I understand there are fair grounds for dubiety, as regards both Dr. Lind and Sir Bysshe Shelley.