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house. A letter of 19th February 1813, written to Mr. Hookham the publisher, after the poet's return to Tanyrallt, marks another act of genuine liberality, though only on a small scale. He was “ boiling with indignation” at the tyrannical sentence of fine and imprisonment (£1000 and two years) passed upon Leigh Hunt and his brother John for an alleged libel* on the Prince Regent printed in the Examiner; and he proposed a public subscription to pay off the fine, and sent for the purpose £20, which appears to have been about all the money he had avail. able at the time even for his own requirements. The Hunts honourably declined to avail themselves of the proposal, and of a subsequent offer of £100 from Shelley during their imprisonment. This was not the first time that Shelley had had something to do with Leigh Hunt; for, on the occasion of the failure of a government prosecution against the Examiner, he had written to him from Oxford (2nd March 1811), without any personal acquaintance, "to submit to his consideration a scheme of mutual safety and mutual indemnification for men of public spirit and principle." By the date of the sentence for libel he had met Hunt, but not on an intimate footing.
The residence at Tanyrallt came to an end in a startling and mysterious manner. On the night of the 26th of February an attempt to assassinate Shelley in his own house was made, or was supposed or alleged to have been made. For some unexplained reason, Shelley, on retiring to bed that night, had expected to have occasion for pistols, and had loaded a brace. Hearing a noise in one of the parlours, he got out of bed with his pistols, and saw a man who fired upon him. A struggle ensued, in which Shelley twice returned the fire, with dubious result: the ruffian, vowing outrage and murder on Eliza and Harriett, ran away. But he returned about three hours afterwards, and shot through Shelley's night-gown and the window-curtain ; another struggle ensued, with sword and pistols ; a newly-engaged Irish
* There is nothing like understanding and attending to the facts of a case, whichever direction they may bear in. It has often been said that the attack made by Leigh Hunt upon the Prince Regent was some slight affair of ridicule or depreciation; calling him a fat Adonis of sixty,” according to Hogg. This is quite untrue : the assault was as virulent as it was well-deserved. One phrase no doubt is "that . . . this ‘Adonis in loveliness' was a corpulent gentleman of fifty;" but (besides other severities) the very next sentence has anything but a bantering tone: «In short, that this delightful, blissful, wise, pleasurable, honourable, virtuous, true, and immortal Prince' was a violator of his words, a libertine over head and ears in debt and disgrace, a despiser of domestic ties, the companion of gamblers and demireps, a man who has just closed half a century without one single claim on the gratitude of his country or the respect of pos
man-servant named Daniel arrived, and the assassin again made off. Such is the account given by Harriett in a letter to Mr. Hookham, who had been implored to send funds to enable the Shelleys to quit their Cambrian Castle Dangerous, and retreat to Dublin. *
The Shelleys went to “ the solicitor-general of the county," and had an investigation set on foot. No trace could ever be found of the assassin. The Shelleyan theory was that a certain Mr. Leeson,t a man whom they avoided as “malignant and cruel to the greatest degree," was at the bottom of the affair. The Leesonian and irreverent theory was at least as tenable prima facie—viz.," that it was a tale of Mr. Shelley's to impose upon the neighbouring shopkeepers, that he might leave the country without paying his bills.” People in general, along with Messrs. Hogg, Madocks, and Peacock, and Mr. Browning among later analysts, have disbelieved the story, and attributed it to an excited imagination, or nerves unstrung by laudanum : Hogg suggests that the Irishman Daniel may possibly have had something to do with it. The night was one of rain, and " wind as loud as thunder," which may have started, in Shelley's perturbed brain, the notion of pistol snappings : it is a fact, however, that some pistol was really fired. One singular point (hardly hitherto dwelt on) is that Shelley espected, on going to bed, to need his firearms : if the expectation was a mere fantasy, the subsequent assumed actual need of them may have been the same. But Lady Shelley and Mr. Thornton Hunt discover no ground for scepticism : “ Miss Westbrook was also in the house at the time, and often, in after years, related the circumstance as a frightful fact.” I This last evidence is of great weight, and must give us pause before we dismiss the whole story as delusive. Miss Westbrook became one of Shelley's bitterest enemies, and certainly would not, out of any consideration for him, have upheld “in after years” his account of the matter. But it is conceivable that, having at first committed herself to a figment, she found it impossible afterwards, for her own sake if not for Shelley's, to recant. Here I must leave this still debateable mystery, not having any such space as would be needed for really setting forth its evidences for and against.
* A preliminary brief and agitated letter from Shelley to Hookham is dated 3d March in Hogg's Life in the Shelley Memorials it is given without any date. I think “zd March" must be incorrect; for it seems clear the missive was dispatched immediately after the event, and, if so, on 27th February. + This is the name in the Shelley Memorials: in Hogg's Life it is Luson. Shelley Memorials, p. 56.
A short stay in an uninviting house, No. 35 Great Cuffe Street, Dublin, preceded a tour to Killarney, uniting enjoyment with discomfort-more satisfactory at any rate to the Shelleys and Miss Westbrook than to Hogg, who, arriving in Dublin by invitation, learned that they had left for the lake-trip. And, when Shelley and Harriett (in brief respite from Eliza, who remained at Killarney) returned on purpose to the Cork Hotel, Dublin, on the 31st of March, Hogg had started back to London. These little incidents may stand as a sample of the hurried and unconcerted movements in which Shelley was continually engaging. The spouses left Dublin again about the 4th of April ; and why they had ever gone thither, unless to be far from Tanyrallt, or as a stage towards a holiday at Killarney, is not apparent. They experienced a storm near the Isle of Man, when Shelley, in the judgment of the skipper who would receive no payment from him, saved the ship and its crew of three by his energetic and judicious exertions.* They reached the house of Mr. Westbrook in Chapel Street in May. Eliza soon joined them in London, where they took to living in hotels for awhile ; but she was apparently not just now a fixed member of their household. They afterwards lodged in Halfmoon Street; seeing much of Hogg, and of other society, including some literary acquaintances-nothing of Shelley's own relatives. Somewhere about this time, but presumably a little later, Shelley indulged his wife in a whim to set up a carriage; and the culpable extravagance was very near sending him to prison for debt.
On or about the 28th of June Harriett was delivered of her first child, lanthe Eliza,+ at Cooke's Hotel, Dover Street : it was a very easy confinement. There was some blemish in one of Ianthe's eyes; her mother did not nurse her, but handed her over to the cares of a wet-nurse whom Shelley disliked; and Eliza, whom he was now getting to loathe, was continually
* It is not quite clear when this incident happened. Medwin (Life, vol. i. p. 177) says it was in November, and after the first Dublin sojourn ; in the Shelley Papers he says it was in 1813 or 1814. If it was really in 1813, it must have been in going to or returning from the second Dublin sojourn. It cannot have been in 1814, nor yet in the month of November. Perhaps the whole story is apocryphal.
I Now Mrs. Esdaile.
hovering and busying herself (no doubt with genuine good feeling) about the infant. These circumstances were all vexatious to Shelley, and it has even been said that he exhibited no interest in the baby; but this is distinctly disproved by Mr. Peacock. “He was extremely fond of it, and would walk up and down a room with it in his arms for a long time together, singing to it a monotonous melody of his own making, which ran on the repetition of a word of his own coining. His song was ‘Yahmani, Yáhmani, Yáhmani, Yáhmani. It did not please me; but, what was more important, it pleased the child, and lulled it when it was fretful. Shelley was extremely fond of his children: he was pre-eminently an affectionate father.” In later years we read of his playing for hours with his last child Percy on the floor. Mr. Trelawny, however, tells me that (at least within his experience) Shelley was not exactly or demonstratively “fond of children,” in the ordinary sense of the term.
VIII. -QUEEN MAB. Among the various writings of Shelley which I have hitherto had occasion to mention--and there were many besides-the only one having any moderate degree of literary merit is the Necessity of Atheism. We have next to contemplate him as a poet taking a certain actual rank among poets ; no high rank as yet, but still one which is not to be wholly ignored. The poem of Queen Mab places him in this position. He began this work in the spring or summer of 1812, subsequent to his first return from Ireland :* it was finished in February 1813, after which he compiled the lengthy notes. He had at first thought of publishing it; but eventually limited himself to a private edition of 250 copies, for which he bespoke fine paper, thinking that, though the aristocrats would not read it themselves, “it was probable their sons and daughters would.” Shelley sent copies to many writers of the day-to Byron among others. The thorough genuineness of his character and feelings appears in the fact that, in transmitting Queen Mab to the all-famous author of Childe Harold, Shelley wrote a letter detailing all the accusations he had heard against him, and saying
* So says Shelley in a letter quoted in the Shelley Memorials, p. 39. But there may be some nucleus of truth in Medwin's assertion (I.Je, vol. i., p. 53) that the poem had been begun, as a mere imaginative effusion, as early as about the autumn of 180g, and that it was only after his expulsion from Oxford that Shelley continued it into an attack on religious and other systems,
that, if these were not true, he would like to make his acquaintance.* The letter, however, did not reach Byron, though the book did, and was read by him with some admiration. Indeed, being very soon pirated and made purchasable, it produced a certain general sensation and impression. It was again pirated in 1821.
For the speculative qualities of Queen Mab and its notes I have to refer the reader to the book itself; only further observing that, while it is declaredly atheistic in the ordinary sense, and highly hostile to theologic Christianity, it has also a certain element of pantheism, and is decidedly not the writing of a selfconsistent materialist, or disbeliever in spirit as something other than a function of body. The ardour of Shelley for his own beliefs, and his unreasoning youthfulness of self-confidence, made him actually imagine that such a performance as Queen Mab was capable of producing a change in the ideas and practices of society. He seems to have retained notions of this sort up to the year 1816 or 1817, when he became both less sanguine and less aggressive-never less nobly and enthusiastically self-devoted. As to the poetical merits of Queen Mab, I think the ordinary run of criticism is at fault. Some writers go to the ridiculous excess of speaking of it as not only a grand poem, but actually the masterpiece of its author; and even those who stop far short of this expatiate in loose talk about its splendid ideal passages, gorgeous elemental imagery, and the like. The fact is that Queen Mab is a juvenile production in the fullest sense of the term—as nobody knew better than Shelley himself a few years afterwards; and furthermore (unless I am much mistaken) the most juvenile and unremarkable section of it is the ideal one. The part which has some considerable amount of promise, and even of positive merit at times, is the declamatory part—the passages of flexible and sonorous blank verse in which Shelley boils over against kings or priests, or the present misery of the world of man, and in acclaiming augury of an æra of regeneration. These passages, with all their obvious literary crudities and imperfections, are in
Moore's Life of Byron, vol. ä., p. 22. Moore states this distinctly as a fact : but there is another story (Medwin, Life of Shelley, vol. i., p. 237), that Shelley, on reaching Sécheron in 1816, wrote to Byron detailing the accusations made against Shelley himself, and saying that he, if Byron disbelieved them, would like to become known to him. I should incline to suppose this the true version of the story, but that I find no sort of confirmation of it in Dr. Polidori's MS. journal.