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X.—THE SEPARATION FROM HARRIETT. Somewhere about the 17th of June—not later at any rate*the married life of Shelley with Harriett came to a final close She returned, with Ianthe, to the care of her father and sister, then living in retirement at Bath. Shelley gave her all the money he possessed,t stating to Mr. Westbrook that he was unable for the time to make her such an allowance as he could wish. He did, however-at once or afterwards--make provision for her by a sum paid quarterly, which has been termed “sufficient." I
A great deal in this matter depends on the question of precise dates, which the materials at my command do not enable me to determine. It is certain (for I have it on the most unexceptionable authority) that letters from Harriett are or were in existence, written in moving terms, and marked by all the eloquence of truth, proving that Shelley at some time disappeared from her cognizance, without making proper arrangements, or giving any warning or explanation of his intentions. Harriett had, for herself and her child, only fourteen shillings in ready money at the moment. I have some grounds for inferring that these letters date about the end of June. On the other hand, it is no less certain that full forty days elapsed between the separation of Shelley from Harriett, and his departure from London with Mary Godwin ; and that Harriett was in personal communication with him fourteen days before the latter event. On or about the 5th of July a letter of her own shows her to have been then at Bath, and to have heard from Shelley about the ist of the same month. It is also plainly presumable that, if (which, however, I am not very certain of) Mr. Westbrook did at this time really make an annual allowance of £200 to Shelley and his family, that source of income would continue accruing to the profit of Harriett when parted from Shelley; and it is known that her husband wrote to her, soon after leaving for the continent at the end of July, telling her “to take care of
* Mr. Garnett has good grounds for saying this, as he knows that Shelley came to London on 18th June. Mr. Thornton Hunt speaks of the separation as taking place about the 24th of June.
+ Middleton, vol. i. p. 268. The statement as to residence at Bath is taken from printed authorities, but I have some reason for doubting it.
I find this stated in the article on Shelley in the Penny Cyclopedia. That article was. I believe, written by a distinguished man of letters who had at the time carefully investigated the facts of Shelley's life.
her money”-thus manifestly implying that she had then some money to take care of. After weighing all these counteracting and authentic details as well as I am able, I come to the provisional conclusion that Shelley did at some time and in a certain sense "abandon” Harriett-though, as likely as not, without any intention, even at that moment, of leaving his absence long unexplained ; and that at any rate he came to an explanation, and some sort of arrangement on her behalf, before he left England.
Though I cannot regard Shelley as, in any correct sense of the words, irresponsible for his actions, it is right to add here that I am further informed, and again on excellent authority, that about this period his sufferings from spasmodic attacks, and consequent free use of laudanum, were so extreme that he might have committed any wildness of action without surprising those who were in the habit of seeing him. He would carry the laudanum-bottle about in his hand, and gulp from it repeatedly as his pangs assailed him.
The parting from Harriett has been called a separation by mutual consent. Harriett denied to Peacock that there was any consent on her part. There is such a thing as reluctant but unquerulous submission to the inevitable : unless one interchanges that term with the term consent, the materials as yet published do nothing to invalidate Harriett's denial.* Soon afterwards she gave birth to a child, Charles Bysshe, who died in 1826.
Either before or after the final separation-we are not told
• See, in the Notes, vol. ii. p. 578, an'extract from what Mr. Garnett has very ably said on the subject-- with a view to the vindication of Shelley, but by no means to the dareciation of Harriett. His main point is that, at some time between a day of June When Shelley wrote a poem to Mary, and the 28th of July when Shelley and Mary left England together, the poet must have discovered that Harriett was not anxious to continuc living as his wife. For my own part, I question whether the poem indicates that Shelley, being in love with Mary, was then endeavouring to control his passion out of regard to Harriett: it may not less plausibly be construed as an evidence of the mutual love of Shelley and Mary, kept from the observation of outsiders through motives of prudence alone. If this latter view is adopted, the poem in question does not furnish a suggestion that any indifference of Harriett to Shelley was discovered afterwards, or at all. Distinct testimony to that effect may exist, but has not yet been published. I find, however, a very remarkable statement in Dr. Polidori's Diary 18th June, which I give for what it is worth :-“He (Shelley) mar. ricd; and, a friend of his liking his wife, he tried all he could to induce her to love him in turn." This Catonian transaction, if true at all, must no doubt be understood in the sense that Shelley, after he had discovered the mutual incompatibility between hiinsell and Harriett, found also that the happiness of a friend of his could be promoted by Harriett, and that he then furthered his suit with her. I have good reason to know that, at an earlier period of his wedded life, his disrespect for the marriagetie was by no means such as to make him tolerant of conduct which he regarded as an interference with its obligations in his own and Harriett's case. --Mr. Forster, in his Live of Landor, intimates that he is in possession of documents which throw light upon the entire affair of the separation, but to what particular purport he does not disclose.
which-Shelley avowed to Mary the love which he had, before that event, conceived for her. I will here borrow Lady Shelley's words, the only authentic or precise published record of the fact. “ To her, as they met one eventful day in St Pancras churchyard, by her mother's grave, Bysshe, in burning words, poured forth the tale of his wild past—how he had suffered, how he had been misled, and how, if supported by her love, he hoped in future years to enroll his name with the wise and good who had done battle for their fellow-men, and been true through all adverse storms to the cause of humanity. Unhesitatingly she placed her hand in his, and linked her fortune with his own.” On the 28th of July they left England. Before his departure with Mary, which had been notified to Harriett, Shelley had ordered a settlement for the benefit of the latter (whether this settlement took full effect is not specified), and he set money apart for her in 1815, as we shall see further on; he corresponded with her during his stay on the continent, and after his return; called upon her immediately after relanding in England; and, at least as late as December 1814, he gave her good advice, and took trouble to advantage her. Mary also continued on amicable terms with Harriett—at any rate no open hostility ensued. I am told that, at some time after the return of Shelley and Mary from the continent in this year 1814, he consulted a legal friend with a view to reintroducing Harriett into his household as a permanent inmate-it is to be presumed, as strictly and solely a friend of the connubial pair, Mary and himself : and it required some little cogency of demonstration on the part of the lawyer to convince the primæval intellect of Shelley that such an arrangement had its weak side.
Some points remain still to be revealed in this whole matter of the separation ; but we are probably in a position to estimate already the main facts and their bearings. We shall never do justice to any one of the three parties concerned unless we consider these facts from their point of view, and not from that of persons whose opinions are fundamentally different.
Firstly, then, as regards Shelley, it appears to be certain that, after some two years or more of marriage, he found that Harriett did not suit him, partly through the limitations of her own mind and character, and partly through the baneful influence of her sister; that, having already reached this conclusion, he fell desperately in love with Mary Godwin; that this attachment
(whether or not then avowed and confessedly reciprocated), combining with the previous motives, determined him to separate from Harriett; and that the separation, though at one moment a mere piece of abrupt de facto work on Shelley's part, was eventually carried out on a deliberate footing, and without decided neglect of her material interests. Shelley was an avowed opponent, on principle, to the formal and coercive tie
f marriage : therefore, in ceasing his marital connection with Harriett, and in assuming a similar relation to Mary, he did
othing which he regarded as wrong-though (as far as anything yet published goes) it must distinctly be said that he consulted his own option rather than Harriett's.
Secondly, Harriett took no steps of her own accord to separate from Shelley, and had given no cause whatever for repudiation by breach or tangible neglect of wifely duty; but she did not offer a strenuous pertinacious resistance to the separation, nor exhibit a determined sense of wrong. Mr. Thornton Hunt, indeed, thinks that she may rather have courted the separation at the moment, but only with the idea that it would cause a revulsion in Shelley's mind, inducing him submissively to solicit her return. If Shelley connected himself with Mary, Harriett, after the separation, connected herself with some other protector, and this probably, from the principles she had imbibed, with a conscience equally void of offence—at least at first.
Thirdly, there is no evidence at all that Mary did anything reprehensible with a view to supplanting Harriett, and securing Shelley for herself. When he sought her love, she freely and warmly gave it; and, in so doing, she again acted strictly within the scope of her own code of right.
Such, as far as my authorities go, are the clear facts of this case. They are simple and unambiguous enough ; but no doubt liable to be judged with great severity by those who start from contrary premisses. We find three persons fashioning their lives according to their own convictions, and in opposition to the moral rules of their time and country. Two of them act spontancously, and with a view to their own happiness; the third has her course predetermined by the others, or by one of them, and adapts herself to it with more or less acquiescence. For her it turns out very much amiss; and from her misfortunes or wrongs there will be a Nemesis to haunt the mutual peace of the others.
XI.—FIRST CONTINENTAL TRIP. The household of Godwin consisted, besides himself, of his second wife, who had previously been married to a Mr. Clairmont; Mary, his daughter by his first wife; Fanny, his daughter by his second wife; and Clare and Charles Clairmont, the children of the second wife by her first marriage. Godwin, eminent as an author-admired for his powerful novel of Caleb Williams, and decply reverenced by a knot of advanced thinkers as the philosopher of Political Justice and The Enquirer-carried on business as a bookseller in Skinner Street. It is amusing to read of his displeasure if he was not addressed as “Esquire” on a letter-cover, and of Shelley's profound amazement at this displeasure. For some reason Mary was not at this time happy at home. Perhaps the reason was her connexion with Shelley, which was not recognized but much resented by her father and stepmother. Their going abroad together was effected without concealment or hurry on their own account. But Miss Clairmont was minded to accompany them, and this again was strongly objected to by Mrs. Godwin. The consequence is that the three young people started in secret on the 28th July, a singularly sultry day, and crossed from Dover to Calais in a small boat, encountering a perilous squall and thunderstorm.
Miss Clairmont was now of age or nearly so—an Italianlooking brunette, “ of great ability, strong feelings, lively temper, and, though not regularly handsome, of brilliant appearance.”* She shared Mary's independent opinions on questions such as that of marriage. From this time onwards she became almost a permanent member of Shelley's household, whether abroad or in England.
Having reached Paris (where Shelley pawned his watch, and sent the money, I am informed, to Harriett), the travellers resolved to perform the remainder of their journey on foot, with occasional lifts, and an ass to carry their portmanteau. The ass, however, proved to be “not strong enough for the place," and a mule was substituted when they quitted Charenton. Soon Shelley sprained his ankle; walking became impossible for
* Statements about Miss Clairmont which occur in the sequel are inserted in this memoir for two reasons-because they are a substantial part of Shelley's biography, and because they are already printed in more books than one, so that their supprcssion here would serve no real purpose of delicate reticence.