Obrazy na stronie

latter informs us. That career and that felicity were rapidly approaching their term. Shelley had been initiated by Dr. Lind into a habit of corresponding under some pseudonym with a number of people personally unknown to him on a variety of subjects-at first scientific, then metaphysical, moral, or what not. One of the persons he addressed was Felicia Browne, afterwards Mrs. Hemans, whose first volume of poems had attracted his admiration. He retained at Oxford the habit he had formed at Eton. In the course of their studies, Shelley and Hogg had made an abstract from Hume’s Essays; a portion of which abstract Shelley got printed early in 1811, not for sale, and, in keeping up his speculative correspondence on questions of thcology, was wont to enclose it in his letter, using it as a nucleus for further discussion. He would in fact profess to have come casually across the paper, and to be unable to refute its arguments: it was headed The Necessity of Atheism, and ended with a Q.E.D. It is reprinted, either verbatim or substantially, in the notes to Queen Mab (pp. 69-71). Such is the general purport of what Hogg says concerning this audacious pamphlet : but I think that he clearly pares the thing down rather too close, and that Shelley circulated his syllabus less with a view to mere convenience as a disputant, and more because he believed in and meant to champion the arguments it contained, than Mr. Hogg is willing to admit. Else why did he republish it in Queen Mab, with implied and indisputable adhesion to its terms? In this case as in others the honestest and boldest course is also the safest ; and we shall do well to understand once for all that Percy Shelley had as good a right to form and expound his opinions on theology as the Archbishop of Canterbury had to his. Certainly Shelley differed from the Archbishop, and from several other students of and speculators on the subject, past and present; but, as there was no obligation on him to agree with all or any of them, so there is nothing to be explained away or toned down when we find that in fact he dissented. Except indeed that any man of mature years and reflection will admit that Shelley, aged eighteen and a half, showed a certain amount of youthful presumption in obtruding upon other people, known to be of a contrary and even bitterly contrary opinion, his then notions on subjects unfathomable by either himself or them. Shelley did not avow the authorship of the Necessity of Atheism, but neither did he take


any great pains to conceal it; he circulated the production among the college authorities-and it has even been said that he sent it to the Bench of Bishops with his name,* but that is transparently improbable or impossible.

On the 25th of March 1811 Shelley was summoned before the authorities, “our master and two or three of the fellows ;” the pamphlet was produced to him ; and he was required to declare whether or not he had written it. A tutor of a different college is supposed to have denounced him. He asked why such a question was put. The master simply repeated his former enquiry, and Shelley declined to answer it, insisting that it lay with his accusers to bring the charge home to him if they could. “ Then you are expelled,” replied the master; "and I desire you will quit the college early to-morrow morning at the latest.” A regular sentence of expulsion, ready-written, under the seal of the college (the university was not directly concerned in the act), was then handed to him, and he departed. This is the substance of the account which Shelley gave to Hogg immediately after the event: to Peacock, at a later date, he said that he had made a defence, or denial of jurisdiction, in due elocutionary form, and (what is singular) he produced an Oxford newspaper containing the speech. The probability is that he (or else Hogg) used the license of a Thucydides or a Livy ; and, not having delivered the oration at the time, invented it afterwards, and furnished the newspaper with the entire report.

Shelley was greatly agitated and distressed when he narrated his expulsion to Hogg, although he appears almost directly afterwards to have consoled himself with the distinction of martyrdom. The warmth of Hogg's feelings and friendship appeared conspicuously on this occasion. He wrote a short note to the master and fellows, demurring to their decision ; was forthwith summoned to appear; was asked whether he had written the atheistic pamphlet ; declined to reply, on the general ground of self-respect and resistance to browbeating ; and was himself also expelled by a ready-written document. “The alleged offence was a contumacious refusal to disavow the imputed publication.” On the following morning the two young men left Oxford.

Strong language has been used in condemnation of the college authorities; but he who, on the broad ground of freedom of

* Medwin, Conversations with Byron, p. 385.

opinion, claims latitude of thought and action for the atheist Shelley, will not deny the same to the Christian regulators of University College, Oxford. It appears to me clear that Shelley, known to be the author of The Necessity of Atheism, and refusing to recant, could not be allowed to remain a member of the college : a mild measure would have been to rusticate him, and to expel him was nothing extraordinarily harsh. The necessary subordination of a pupil to his teachers, moreover, makes it difficult to conclude that the authorities had no sort of right to require Shelley to affirm whether or not he had written the pamphlet; or that his refusal to say yes or no barred, in the absence of direct evidence against him, all further action on the part of the college. So far for the substance of what the authorities did : the manner is a different thing. All we know about the manner is what Shelley and Hogg respectively say of that which happened to themselves. If we could—which we cannot

-assume these ex parte statements to be final and incapable of correction in detail, we should have to say that the manner was overbearing and precipitate, and probably it was so in very deed ; and, as regards Hogg, there seems to have been no fair ground either for the severe sentence or for the summary procedure.

VI.-SHELLEY MARRIES HARRIETT WESTBROOK. Shelley and Hogg came up to London, and took lodgings at No. 15 Poland Street, Oxford Street. At the end of about a month Hogg left for York, where he studied with a conveyancer. Of course consternation reigned in Field Place at the news of the expulsion. His father offered Percy a qualified sort of forgiveness on condition that he should reside at Field Place, drop all intercourse with Hogg for a while, and place himself under the control and instructions of some gentleman to be named by paternal authority. The precise answer returned is not on record ; but the terms of capitulation failed-chiefly, it would seem, because unrestrained correspondence by letter between the two young men was their sine quâ non; and Percy, greatly to his concern, was excluded from his natural home, and left without any definite means of support. His sisters, for whom he had always shown much brotherly affection, mitigated his embarrassments by saving up pocket-money, and transmitting it to him; and he managed to rub on somehow. It was pro

bably about this time that Shelley, with exquisite audacity, wrote to the Rev. Rowland Hill in an assumed name, proposing to preach to his congregation at Surrey Chapel. The eminent divine did not reply.

A young girl named Harriett Westbrook, a fellow-pupil of the Misses Shelley at a school at Clapham,* was in the habit of bringing round to Percy their sisterly remittances. She was not, however, altogether unknown to Shelley even before his expulsion from Oxford; he saw her first in January 1811, having taken her a present from his sister Mary, and a letter of introduction. This was at any rate as early as the oth of that month, for he then ordered a copy of St Irvyne to be sent to her at her father's address, 10 Chapel Street, Grosvenor Square.+

Harriett was a charming girl, even a beauty ; beauty enough to be designated for the part of Venus in some school fite champêtre—“with a complexion brilliant in pink and white, with hair quite like a poet's dream, and Bysshe's peculiar admiration,” colour light brown. She was small and delicately made, and was now nearly or quite sixteen. Her father had been a hotel-keeper, and had for some years past retired from the busi. ness, with competent means. His house of entertainment, a place of some fashionable resort, was named “The Mount Street Coffeehouse,” but was in fact a tavern. He looked Jewish ; and both aspect and character co-operated in procuring him the nickname of “ Jew Westbrook.” The mother was a nonentity. Besides Harriett, there was an unmarried sister, perhaps twice as old, named Eliza; with dark eyes, dark and much-brushed hair, marks of the smallpox, and meagre figure. She also had a Jewish aspect.

Shelley's first flame for his cousin Miss Grove was now flickering in the socket. He indeed retained his love for her, and still did retain it for at any rate a month or two to come. But her father, though he had not interdicted the match, was not in favour of it; she herself had been raising objections to the lover's increasingly sceptical opinions ; * and somewhere about August of this year t she was the bride of another man—a gentleman of property, and inevitably “a clod of earth” in Shelley's eyes. His letters addressed to Mr. Hogg towards this time of suspense and dereliction expatiate much on his wounded feelings, the atrocities of intolerance, his suicidal proclivities, and the like--and indeed the family did perceive these proclivities to be to some extent real, and used to watch him anxiously when he went out with dog and gun.I One cannot, however, lay very much stress on his letters of the period in question. They are flighty, scattered, and excitable, in an extreme degree ; and lend themselves equally to the supposition that he was thrown off his balance by all sorts of things, or that he overdid in words every passing matter that affected him. That he felt keenly at the time the loss of his beautiful cousin will be believed by every one who reflects on the character and constitution of the youth, and the probabilities of the case : but the biographers who will have it that this proved a lifelong sorrow to him are probably indulging themselves in applying to Shelley one of the pet resources of the memoir-writing tribe. No doubt, however, his disappointment with Miss Grove may have precipitated his dallyings or entanglements with Miss Harriett Westbrook.

* Clapham, according to Shelley : Brompton, according to Lady Shelley; Wandsworth, according to Mr. Hogg : Balham Hill, according to Mr. Middleton, who terms the establishment "a second-rate boarding school." Mrs. Fenning was the school. mistress. As everything however remotely connected with Shelley is contested, even such a point as the spelling of Harriett's name has had its pros and cons. Perhaps a business letter from Shelley (Medwin, Life, vol. I. p. 373) may be taken as conclusive : "The maiden name is Harriett Westbrook, with two t's-Harriett." Hogg, however, is positive that she habitually signed only one t.

+ This is the number, 10, given in Shelley's letter. Elsewhere it Street, and that is probably correct.


na Del

Harriett was not only delightful to look at, but altogether most agreeable. She dressed with exquisite neatness and propriety; her voice was pleasant, and her speech cordial; her spirits were cheerful, and her manners good. She was well educated; a constant and agreeable reader ; adequately accomplished in music. She had great fortitude, if it should not rather be called insensibility, of temperament. Perfectly frank

* " She abhors me as a sceptic-as what she was before!" (Letter of Shelley, 3d January 1811, in Hogg's Life, vol. i. p. 156).

† This date is named to me on good authority and very positively as being about correct : moreover, Lady Shelley says (Shelley Memorials, p. 13) that Miss Grove mace another choice after her cousin's expulsion from Oxford. If this is correct, there is something strangely wrong about a letter of Shelley's published by Hogg under the date of uith January 1811, in which the marriage of Miss Grove is announced as a fact already accomplished. From various points in connexion with that letter, and others amid which it is inserted, I find it extremely difficult to suppose that there has been, in this instance, any serious misdating on Hogg's part, and cannot at all account for the discrepancy.

I find no hint of any sporting habits of Shelley in after life. He seems however to have done some fishing with Williams in the Bay of Lerici-Letter of Williams, 4th May 1822, in the Essays and Letters, vol. ii. p. 282. In the notes to Queen Hab he speaks of " the brutal pleasures of the chase."

See, in Hogg, vol. ii. p. 509, the account of her impassive demeanour during a surgical operation performed on her infant daughter Ianthe.

« PoprzedniaDalej »