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Queen Mab took up the pen, and signed his name with the definition
είμι φιλάνθρωπος δημοκρατικός τ' αθεός τε.* Some one added uwpós; and that was possibly the most sensible performance of the three.
Returning to his Genevese villa, Shelley resumed his habitual intercourse with Byron, and also with his old admiration Matthew Gregory Lewis, and had much spectral converse with both of them : he very reasonably controverted the position which they advanced, that no one could consistently believe in ghosts without believing in a God. Lewis, indeed, had already, at some earlier interview, been turning the thoughts of the visitors towards the supernatural ; and at his instance the whole party had undertaken to write tales of an unearthly or fantastic character. In the long-run only two stories resulted from this suggestion; the far-renowned Frankenstein of Mrs. Shelley, and The Vampyre by Dr. Polidori, embodying the nucleus of a tale sketched out by Byron. Rather later, on the 18th of June, occurred an often-repeated incident which is thus authentically jotted down in the physician's diary. “After tea, 12 o'clock, really began to talk ghostly. Lord Byron repeated some verses of Coleridge's Christabel, of the witch's breast; when silence ensued, and Shelley, suddenly shrieking, and putting his hands to his head, ran out of the room with a candle. Threw water in his face, and after gave him ether. He was looking at Mrs. Shelley, and suddenly thought of a woman he had heard of who had eyes instead of nipples; which, taking hold of his mind, horrified him.” Medwin says † that this story of the pectoral eyes was to have been the subject-matter of the romance to be written by Shelley, along with his wife's Frankenstein ; which indeed is possible enough, though it may only be a confusion of incidents on the biographer's part. In illustration of the vividness of Shelley's feelings in such matters it may be allowable to quote here another instance, though proper to an earlier date, some time in 1815. He was then writing a Catalogue of the Phænomena of Dreams, as connecting Sleeping and Waking, forming part of Speculations on Metaphysics; and had come to the mention of an ordinary country-view which he had seen
• The spelling, at which Mr. Swinburne expresses the horror of a Hellenist, is copied literatim.
1 Conversations with Byron, p. 150.
near Oxford, and which singularly corresponded to some dream of his own in past time. Having written up to this point, Shel. ley finishes with—“Here I was obliged to leave off, overcome by thrilling horror." And Mrs. Shelley adds :—“I remember well his coming to me from writing it, pale and agitated, to seek refuge in conversation from the fearful emotions it excited. No man, as these fragments prove, had such keen sensations as Shelley. His nervous temperament was wound up by the de. licacy of his health to an intense degree of sensibility; and, while his active mind pondered for ever upon, and drew conclusions from, his sensations, his reveries increased their vivacity, till they mingled with and made one with thought, and both became absorbing and tumultuous, even to physical pain."
The Shelleys and Miss Clairmont left Geneva on the 29th of August ; and returned by Dijon and Hâvre, reaching London about the 7th of September.
XIV.-HARRIETT'S SUICIDE. While the Shelleys were in Switzerland, Mr. Peacock had settled at Great Marlow in Buckinghamshire : they paid him a visit there in the earlier part of September, and selected a house for themselves in the same town. Pending its being fitted up, the poet stayed at Bath, and there received news that Harriett had on the roth of November * drowned herself in the Serpentine. Thus, in gloom, abasement, and despair, closed the young life which had been so bright and charming in the bridal days of 1811. The exact course of Harriett's life since June 1814 has never been accurately disclosed ; and there is plenty of reason why, even if one had at command (which I have not) details as yet unpublished, one should hesitate to bring them forward. I shall confine myself to reproducing the most definite statement t as yet made on the subject—that of Mr. Thornton Hunt; omitting only one unpleasant expression which I have reason (from two independent and unbiased sources of information) to suppose overcharged. He unreservedly allows, with other biographers, that there was nothing to censure in Harriett's con
* I find this date in an American edition of Shelley, and some confirmatory particulars elsewhere. Mr. Peacock says “December" without naming any day. He ought to be right, and perhaps is so.
† The most definite," save a statement, to the same effect as the omitted passage, made by some base calumniator in the Literary Gazette, in a review of (ueen Mab. during Shelley's lifetiine and made in that instance as a charge against Shelley far more than against Harriett.
jugal conduct before the separation ; “but subsequently she forfeited her claim to a return, even in the eye of the law. If she left (Shelley),* it would appear that she herself was deserted in turn by a man in a very humble grade of life, and it was in consequence of this desertion that she killed herself.” The same author says that, before this event, Mr. Westbrook's faculties had begun to fail; he had treated Harriett with harshness, “and she was driven from the paternal roof. This Shelley did not know at the time.” Another writer + affirms that Harriett-poor uncared-for young creature-suffered great privations, and sank to the lowest grade of misery. De Quincey says that she was stung by calumnies incidental to the position of a woman separated from her husband, and was oppressed by the loneliness of her abode—which seems to be rather a vague version of the facts. In any case we will be very little disposed to cast stones at the forlorn woman who sought and found an early cleansing in the waters of death-a final refuge from all pangs of desertion or of self-scorn.
I find nothing to suggest otherwise than that Shelley had lost sight of Harriett for several months preceding her suicide : though it might seem natural to suppose that he continued to keep up some sort of knowledge, if not of how she went on, at least of the state of his young children Ianthe and Charles. At all events, be he blameworthy or not in the original matter of the separation, or on the ground of recent obliviousness of Harriett or his children, it is an ascertained fact that her suicide was in no way immediately connected with any act or default of his--but with a train of circumstances for which the responsibility lay with Harriett herself, or had to be divided between her and the antecedent conditions of various kinds. It is moreover a fact clearly attested by Hogg that she had for years had a strange proclivity towards suicide-towards starting the subject, and even scheming the act. I know also, from a MS. letter of Shelley's written very soon after his elopement with Harriett, that, in the complaints of ill-treatment which she had made leading up to that event, a resolution of suicide was not pretermitted. “ Early in our acquaintance," says Hogg [i.e., in 1811 or 1812), “the good Harriett asked me. What do you think of suicide?' She often discoursed of her purpose of killing herself, some day or other, and at great length, in a calm resolute manner. She told me that at school, where she was very unhappy, as she said, (but I could never discover why she was so, for she was treated with much kindness, and exceedingly well instructed) she had conceived and contrived sundry attempts and purposes of destroying herself. ... She got up in the night, she said, sometimes, with a fixed intention of making away with herself. ... She spoke of self-murder serenely before strangers; and at a dinner party I have heard her describe her feelings, opinions, and intentions, with respect to suicide, with prolix earnestness. ... The poor girl's monomania of self-destruction (which we long looked upon as a vain fancy, a baseless delusion, an inconsequent hallucination of the mind) amused us occasion. ally for some years; eventually it proved a sad reality, and drew forth many bitter tears." Again, about the middle of 1813, we find :-“ She had not renounced her eternal purpose of suicide ; and she still discoursed of some scheme of self-destruction as coolly as another lady would arrange a visit to an exhibition or a theatre." All this requires to be well pondered, as raising a strong presumption that Harriett was a person likely enough to commit suicide, even without being urged thereto by any great degree of unhappiness, or other forcible motive. At the same time, it is true that there may be a deal of talk about selfdestruction, with very little intention of it; and Harriett may have caught the trick of such talk from Shelley himself-who (as Mr. Hogg says) “ frequently discoursed poetically, pathetically, and with fervid melancholy fancies, of suicide ; but I do not believe that he ever contemplated seriously and practically the perpetration of the crime.” * This last conclusion of Hogg's, however, will be considerably modified in the minds of readers of Trelawny, who find that Shelley wrote on 18th June 1822, asking that devoted friend to procure him, if possible, a small quantity of the strongest prussic acid. “You remember we talked of it the other night, and we both expressed a wish to possess it : my wish was serious, and sprung from the desire of avoiding needless suffering. I need not tell you I have no intention of suicide at present; but I confess it would be a comfort to me to hold in my possession that golden key to the chamber of perpetual rest.”.
* I do not see the force of this expression. It is certain that in one sense Harriett did leave Shelley: and equally certain that to say the very least) her leaving him was less of a voluntary act on her part than his leaving her was on his.
1 C. R. S., in Notes and Queries, and ser., vol. v., p. 373. His statement may perhaps be of no more authority on the point above cited than when he says that Mr. Westbrook died insolvent before Harriett's suicide, and that this took place " in the great basin of the Green Park."
* Mr. Furnivall, son of the surgeon at Egham who attended the second Mrs. Shel. ley in her confinement in 1817, and in whom (as Mr. Peacock reports) the poet had great confidence, tells me an amusing anecdote bearing on this point. The surgeon, after attending a post mortem examination, arrived at Shelley's house, and there found Leigh Hnnt. The two friends, especially Hunt, were talking rather big about the expediency and attractions of suicide, when Mr. Furnivall profiered his case of surgical instruments for in.mcdiate use—but without result.
Shelley, on receiving the news of his wife's suicide, hurried up to London ; and now began his more special intimacy with Leigh Hunt and his family. All authorities agree in testifying to the painful severity with which the poet felt the shock, and the permanence of the impression. Leigh Hunt says that Shelley never forgot it; it tore him to pieces for a time, and he felt remorse at having brought Harriett, in the first instance, into an atmosphere of thought and life for which her strength of mind had not qualified her. Thornton Hunt speaks in the same strain : “ I am well aware that he had suffered severely, and that he continued to be haunted by certain recollections, partly real and partly imaginative, which pursued him like an Orestes." Medwin says that the sorrow ever after threw a cloud over Shelley : indeed he goes so far as to speak of its having brought on temporary derangement—which may probably be true in only a limited sense. Peacock says that “Harriett's untimely fate occasioned him deep agony of mind, which he felt the more because for a long time he kept the feeling to himself." Mr. Trelawny tells me that even at the late period when he knew Shelley—1822—the impression of extreme pain which the end of Harriett had caused to the poet was still vividly present and operative. Mr. Garnett adverts to a series of letters, not yet given to the world, written by Shelley about the middle of December, and therefore under the immediate pressure of his misfortune, which "afford the most unequivocal testimony of the grief and horror occasioned by the tragical incident. Yet self-reproach formed no element of his sorrow, in the midst of which he could proudly say '- and - ' (mentioning two dry unbiased men of business)' every one does me full justice, bears testimony to the uprightness and liberality of my conduct to her.'” Mr. Garnett, indeed, concludes that, if Shelley, soon after the suicide of Harriett, appeared calm and unmoved to Peacock (as that writer affirms), this was presumably a symptom of his want of full expansive confidence in Peacock, rather than of his actual self-possession. I think, however, that such