Obrazy na stronie

their way of real mark, and not easily to be overmatched by other poetic writing of that least readable sort, the didacticdeclamatory.

The reader will observe that the name Shelley bestowed on his first-born daughter, Ianthe, is the same which he had already appropriated to the mortal heroine of his poem.

IX.-HARRIETT SHELLEY AND MARY GODWIN. Shelley's next removal was into a quiet street in Pimlico, for the more especial purpose of being near the Boinville family, with whom he had become intimate. Mrs. Boinville was a lady past middle age, but more than commonly young in general appearance, save for her snow-white hair : hence Shelley named her Maimuna, after a personage in Southey's Thalaba. He regarded her as “the most admirable specimen of a human being he had ever seen,” though “it was hardly possible for a person of the extreme subtlety and delicacy of Mrs. Boinville's understanding and affections to be quite sincere and constant.” She had a daughter, Cornelia, married to Mr. Newton, a vegetarian enthusiast whose views had a considerable influence at this time upon Shelley-as testified in the notes to Queen Mab. The society that he met at Mrs. Boinville's was of the freethinking and levelling kind, and included no doubt its full proportion of crotchet-mongers and pretenders : it was highly distasteful to Hogg, and after a while not altogether congenial to Shelley himself, supremely free as he was from any feeling of exclusiveness or social disdain.

He was now in pecuniary straits, * with no resources beyond the 1.200 from his father; and, with a view to economy, he retreated, before the end of July, to a small cottage named High Elms, at Bracknell in Berkshire, where the Newtons, with their family of five children, stayed with him awhile. Necessity, restlessness, or some other cause, soon dictated a further retreat ; and in the autumn the Shelleys, with Mr. Thomas Love Peacock in their company, revisited Edinburgh.t This gentle

See two important letters, from Mr. Shelley senr., 26th May 1813, and from Percy Shelley a few days later, published in Notes and Queries, and ser., vol. vi., p. 40s. The father, learning that Percy (whom he addresses as “My dear boy") has not changed his speculative opinions, finally declines all further communication : and the poet addressing the Duke of Norfolk) spiritedly says: “I am not so degraded and miserable a slave as publicly to disavow an opinion which I believe to be true.”

Perhaps it was now that Shelley saw Matlock. A letter to Mr. Peacock (22nd July 1816, shows that he had been there at some time, and, it might be inferred, in Peacock's company.

man had been known to Shelley just before the latter went to Tanyrallt : Mrs. Newton describes him at this period as “a cold scholar, who, I think, has neither taste nor feeling.” But Mrs. Newton may have regarded with some prejudice a gentleman who, seconded by Harriett, laughed heartily at the intellectual nostrum-vendors who abounded in the Newtonian regions. At any rate, Shelley, who at one time of unprosperous fortune to Mr. Peacock, made him an allowance of £100 a year, continued, as long as he remained in England, to see him with predilection, and kept up with him from Italy a correspondence equally friendly and interesting. He valued his abilities highly, and relished the peculiar tone of witty causticity and badinage in action evidenced in such works as Nightmare Abbey, in which the character of Scythrop presents some traits of Shelley, and was so understood by himself.

About the end of 1813 Shelley was back in London; and early in 1814 he published A Refutation of Deism, a dialogue between Eusebes and Theosophus in 101 pages. Hogg gives a short quotation from it, treating on the extraneous subject of vegetarianism : he is the only author who mentions the pamphlet, and probably almost the only human being who ever owned or inspected a copy of it. No doubt the refutation undertaken by Shelley is not directed against “Deism” as that term is technically used to indicate anti-Christianitybut against “Theism” of any sort. What he champions must be something less than Deism, not anything more.

Hitherto nothing appears in the documents of Shelley's life to show that he was on other than affectionate and pleasant terms with Harriett. We find in his letters the following expressions :—“My wife is the partner of my thoughts and feelings” (28th January 1812). “I am a young man, not of age, and have been married for a year to a woman younger than myself. Love seems inclined to stay in the prison” (August 1812). “ How is Harriett' a fine lady?' You indirectly accuse her in your letter of this offence—to me the most unpardonable of all, The ease and simplicity of her habits, the unassuming plainness of her address, the uncalculated connexion of her thought and speech, have ever formed, in my eyes, her greatest charms; and none of these are compatible with fashionable life, or the attempted assumption of its vulgar and noisy éclat. You have a prejudice to contend with, in making me a convert to this last

opinion of yours, which, so long as I have a living and daily witness to its futility before me, I fear will be unsurmountable' (to Fanny Godwin, 1oth December 1812). “Harriett is very happy as we are, and I am very happy” (27th December 1812). “ When I come home to Harriett, I am the happiest of the happy" (7th February 1813). Mrs. Newton writes to Hogg, 21st October 1813 : “ The lady whose welfare must be so important in your estimation (Harriett] was, as usual, very blooming and very happy during the whole of our residence at Bracknell.” The dedication to Queen Mab may also be accepted as evidence of affection ; though (as I have before remarked) I find nothing to show that Shelley ever had a passion for Harriett-was ever thoroughly “in love" with her. But this satisfactory condition of things was now rapidly changing and vanishing. It appears that some estrangements had occurred between Shelley and his wife towards the end of 1813 ; she had yielded to the suggestions of interested persons, and importuned him to act in ways repugnant to his feelings and convictions, and conjugal quarrels ensued. When they returned to London, Shelley had evidently lost the pleasure he previously took in watching Harriett's studies in Latin and otherwise : (she had, by December 1812, been brought on as far as reading many of Horace's Odes). During the spring of 1814 he was much at Bracknell : staying at Mrs. Boinville's house there, without Harriett, from about the middle of February to the middle of March. His letter of the 16th of March to Mr. Hogg shows that by this time his domestic discomforts were grave indeed, at least in his own eyes, and were hurrying towards a crisis. “I have escaped, in the society of all that philosophy and friendship combine, from the dismaying solitude of myself. ... My heart sickens at the view of that necessity which will quickly divide me from the delightful traquillity of this happy home-for it has become my home. ... Eliza is still with us—not here but will be with me when the infinite malice of destiny forces me to depart. ... I have sometimes forgotten that I am not an inmate of this delightful home-that a time will come which will cast me again into the boundless ocean of abhorred society.” One reads such

* This is the statement of Mr. Thornton Hunt. The date, “towards the end of 1813," appears in the Shelley Memorials. It has been vigorously controverted by Slr, Peacock ; but he does not seem to me to have disproved it, and one is left to suppose that Lady Shelley speaks from documentary or other solid evidence.

passages, and looks forward to the rapidly approaching result, with a sensation of pain ; for he must have a hard heart who, after perusing the accounts of Harriett given by Hogg and Peacock from personal knowledge, has not a kindly sympathy for her, and a reluctance to contemplate her as parted from her husband and her better self.

The first incident that now comes before us looks like the direct reverse of separation. On the 24th of March 1814 Shelley and Harriett were re-married at St George's, Hanover Square, “in order” (as the marriage certificate sets forth) “to obviate all doubts that have arisen, or shall or may arise, touching or concerning the validity” of the previous marriage according to the rites of the Church of Scotland. The fact is that Harriett was again pregnant; and, though there seems to be no real question of any sort as to the binding force of the original marriage, Shelley thought it prudent to make assurance doubly sure for the possible heir to his name and claims. A letter of his dated 21st October 1811 shows that, even at that early date, he was proposing to re-marry in England within a month or so, although in fact the matter dragged on till March 1814. His intention, as expressed in the letter in question, was to settle £700 a year on Harriett in the event of his death.

He first saw Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin soon after this renewed marriage-perhaps towards the middle or close of May.* Mr. Hogg records a brief interview “on the day of Lord Cochrane's trial” (this trial lasted two days, 8th and 9th June); and Mr. Peacock exhibits Shelley as helplessly in love with Mary before he had separated from Harriett. “Nothing that I ever read in tale or history could present a more striking image of a sudden, violent, irresistible, uncontrollable passion." Shelley said on this occasion : “Every one who knows me must know that the partner of my life should be one who can feel poetry and understand philosophy; Harriett is a noble animal, but she can do neither."

Mary, the only daughter of Godwin by his first wife, the celebrated Mary Wollstonecraft, was born on the 30th of August 1797, and was consequently now in her seventeenth year. She

* Mr. Peacock says it must have been between 18th April and 8th June that Shelley first saw Mary, and probably much nearer the later of the two dates than the earlier. If so, and if the Stanzas, April 1814 vol.ii. p. 144) really do, as I fancy, indicate a clear purpose of separation between Shelley and Harriett, Mary cannot have been primarily responsible as the motive cause for that separation.

was rather short, remarkably fair and light-haired, with brownish-grey eyes, a great forehead, striking features, and a noticeable air of sedateness. Her earliest youth was by no means the period of her best looks-of which probably Mr. Thornton Hunt gives too exalted an idea when he compares her to the antique bust of Clytie. She was a little hot-tempered and peevish in youth, and careless of dress and speech ; outspoken and tenacious of her opinions; a faithful friend ; with “extraordinary powers of heart as well as head ;" truthful and essentially simple, though somewhat anxious to make an impression in company. Shelley, in the last year of his life, said to Trelawny: “She can't bear solitude, nor I society--the quick coupled with the dead." The daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and of Godwin could not be expected to set any great store by the marriage-tie, considered simply as such, and apart from the question of heartfelt love and voluntary constancy.

It was “in the beginning of the summer of 1814”+ that Shelley saw his birthplace for the last time. He walked down from Bracknell to Horsham, at his mother's request, his father and the three youngest children being then absent from Field Place. A very youthful military officer named Kennedy was on a visit there at the time ; and, as Bysshe's advent was a secret, the two used to interchange costumes whenever the prodigal son walked out. Captain Kennedy has noted down his impressions of Shelley in a few paragraphs full of good feeling and much to the purpose. Let us appropriate one detail. “I never met a man who so immediately won upon me. The generosity of his disposition and utter unselfishness imposed upon him the necessity of strict self-denial in personal comforts : consequently he was obliged to be most economical in his dress. He one day asked us how we liked his coat, the only one he had brought with him : we said it was very nice, it looked as if new. "Well,' said he, “it is an old black coat which I have had done up, and smartened with metal buttons and a velvet collar.""

* Shelley ought to have known in 1818, when he wrote (see vol. ii. p. 309)

“O Mary dear, that you were here,

With your brown eyes bright and clear!” Yet Mr. Trelawny says "grey eyes." A portrait of Mary Shelley by Miss Curran, Delonging to this gentleman, shows eyes that might be more fairly called grey than bTown, but which have enough of a brownish tinge to account for Shelley's epithet. . 1 This is the date given by Hogg: Lady Shelley, who reproduces the letter printed by Hogs, says “ 1813," and may perhaps be right.

« PoprzedniaDalej »