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If any one would know what sort of a man this moral monster, Shelley, was, let him read the eloquent account of him and his life at Oxford, in the New Monthly Magazine for 1832, written by one who was his friend and companion, and who, Mrs. Shelley says, has described him most faithfully. There we find him full of zeal for learning; most zealous in accumulating knowledge; overflowing in kindness; indignant against all oppression to man or to animals. Never failing to rush in on witnessing any cruelty, or hearing of any calamity, to stop the one, and alleviate the other. Full of gaiety and fun as a child, sailing his paper boats on every pool and stream, or rambling far and wide over the country in earnest talk and deep love of all nature. He was ready to caress children, to smile even on gipsies and beggars, to run for refreshment for starving people by the wayside, pledging even his favourite microscope, his daily means of recreation, to assist a poor old man. Such was the dreadful creature that must be expelled from colleges, have his children torn from him to prevent the contamination of his virtues, and to be hooted out of his native land. Yet amid all the anguish that this inflicted on him, he was ever ready still to do a sublime good, or enter with the most boyish relish into the merest joke. Nothing can convey a more vivid idea of the latter disposition-which is not that of a man systematically malicious, which is the true spirit of wickedness -than to quote a joke related to him by the writer of these articles, and see the manner in which it was enjoyed.
"I was walking one afternoon, in the summer, on the western side of that short street leading from Long-acre to Covent-garden, where the passenger is earnestly invited, as a personal favour to the demandant, to proceed straightway to Highgate or Kentish town, and which is called, I think, James-street. I was about to enter Coventgarden, when an Irish labourer, whom I met bearing an empty hod, accosted me somewhat roughly, and asked why I had run against him. I told him briefly that he was mistaken. Whether somebody had actually pushed the man, or he only sought to quarrel, and although he, doubtless, attended a weekly row regularly, and the week was already drawing to a close, he was unable to wait till Sunday for a broken head, I know not, but he discoursed for some time with the vehemence of a man who considers himself injured or insulted, and he concluded, being emboldened by my long silence, with a cordial invitation just to push him again. Several persons, not very unlike in costume, had gathered round him, and appeared to regard him with sympathy. When he paused, I addressed to him, slowly and quietly, and it should seem with great gravity, these words, as nearly as I can recollect them:-'I have put my hand into the hamper; I have looked upon the sacred barley; I have eaten out of the drum! I have drunk, and was well pleased; I have said, kóyέ öμñağ, and it is finished!' 'Have you, Sir?' inquired the astonished Irishman; and his ragged friends instantly pressed round him with,- Where is the hamper, Paddy ?'-'What barley?' and the like. And ladies from his own country, that is to say, the basket-women, suddenly began to interrogate him :-'Now, I say, Pat, where have you been
drinking-What have you had?' I turned, therefore, to the right, leaving the astounded neophyte, whom I had thus planted, to expound the mystic words of initiation as he could to his inquisitive companions. As I walked slowly under the piazzas, and through the streets and courts towards the West, I marvelled at the ingenuity of Orpheus,-if he were indeed the inventor of the Eleusinian mysteries; that he was able to devise words that, imperfectly as I had repeated them, and in the tattered fragment that has reached us, were able to soothe people so savage and barbarous as those to whom I had addressed them, and which, as the apologists for those venerable rites affirm, were manifestly well adapted to incite persons who hear them for the first time, however rude they may be, to ask questions. Words that can awaken curiosity even in the sluggish intellect of a wild man, and can open the inlet of knowledge!
"Kona ompax; and it is finished!" exclaimed Shelley, crowing with enthusiastic delight at my whimsical adventure. A thousand times, as he strode about the house, and in his rambles out of doors, would he stop and repeat the mystic words of initiation, but always with an energy of manner, and a vehemence of tone and gesture, that would have prevented the ready acceptance which a calm, passionless delivery had once procured for them. How often would he throw down his book, clasp his hands, and starting from his seat, cry suddenly, with a thrilling voice, "I have said, Konx ompax; and it is finished!"
This child-like, this great, and greatly kind, and if men would have let him, this light-hearted man, thus then quitted England. Like Byron, he sought a home in Italy. He lived in various cities, and wrote there his very finest works, amongst them Prometheus Unbound; The Cenci; Hellas; part of Rosalind and Helen; his Ode to Liberty, perhaps the very finest ode in the language, and certainly in its description of Athens never excelled in any piece of description in any language; Adonais, an elegy on the death of Keats, and those very melancholy verses written in the Bay of Naples. He was drowned, as is well known, by the sinking of his boat in a squall, in the Gulf of Spezia, in the summer of 1822, at the age of thirty.
Shelley would have enjoyed this portion of his life beyond all others, had he been in health and spirits. He was united to a woman worthy of him, and who could partake of all his intellectual pleasures. Children were growing around him, and he was living in that beautiful country, surrounded by the remains of former art and history, and under that fine sky, pouring out from heart and brain, glorious, and impassioned, and immortal works. But his health failed him, and the darts of calumny were rankling in his bosom, depressing his spirits, and sapping his constitution. I can only allow myself a few passing glances at his homes in Italy, of which Mrs. Shelley has given us such delightful sketches in the notes to her edition of her husband's poems.
They went direct to Milan, and visited the Lake of Como; then proceeding to Pisa, Leghorn, the baths of Lucca, Venice, Este, Rome,
Naples, and back to Rome for the winter. There he chiefly wrote his Prometheus. In 1818, they were at the Baths of Lucca, where Shelley finished Rosalind and Helen. Thence he visited Venice, and occupied a house lent him by Lord Byron, at Este. "I Capucini was a villa built on the site of a Capuchin convent, demolished when the French suppressed religious houses. It was situated on the very overhanging brow of a low hill, at the foot of a range of higher ones. The house was cheerful and pleasant; a vine-trellised walk, or pergola, as it is called in Italian, led from the hall-door to a summerhouse at the end of the garden, which Shelley made his study, and in which he began the Prometheus; and here also, as he mentioned in a letter, he wrote Julian and Maddalo. A slight ravine, with a wood in its depth, divided the garden from the hill, on which stood the ruins of the ancient castle of Este, whose dark massive wall gave forth an echo, and from whose ivied crevices owls and bats flitted forth at night, as the crescent moon sunk behind the black and heavy battlements. We looked from the garden over the wide plain of Lombardy, bounded to the west by the far Apennines; while to the east, the horizon was lost in misty distance. After the picturesque but limited view of mountain, ravine, and chestnut wood at the Baths of Lucca, there was something infinitely gratifying to the eye in the wide range of prospect commanded by our new abode."
Here they lost a little girl, and quitting the neighbourhood of Venice, they proceeded southward. Shelley was delighted beyond expression with the scenery and antiquities of Italy. "The aspect of its nature, its sunny sky, its majestic streams, the luxuriant vegetation of the country, and the noble marble-built cities, enchanted him. The first entrance to Rome opened to him a scene of remains of ancient grandeur that far surpassed his expectations; and the unspeakable beauty of Naples and its environs added to the impression he received of the transcendent and glorious beauty of Italy."
The winter was spent at Naples, where they lived in utter solitude, yet greatly enjoyed their excursions along its sunny sea, or into its beautiful environs. From Naples they returned to Rome, where they arrived in March, 1819. Here they had the old MS. account of the story of the Cenci put into their hands, and visited the Doria and Colonna palaces, where the portraits of Beatrice were to be found. Her beauty cast the reflection of its grace over her appalling story, and Shelley conceived the subject of his masterly drama. In Rome they lost their eldest child, a very lovely and engaging boy; and, quitting the eternal city, took the villa, Valsovano, between Leghorn and Monte Nero, where they resided during the summer. "Our villa," says Mrs. Shelley, "was situated in the midst of a podere; the peasants sang as they worked beneath our windows, during the heat of a very hot season; and in the evening the water-wheel creaked as the progress of irrigation went on, and the fire-flies flashed among the myrtle hedges; nature was bright, sunshiny, and cheerful, or diversified by storms of a majestic terror, such as we had never before witnessed.
"At the top of the house there was a sort of terrace. There is often such in Italy, generally roofed. This one was very small, yet not only roofed, but glazed. This Shelley made his study; it looked out on a wide prospect of fertile country, and commanded a view of the near sea. The storms that sometimes varied our day, showed themselves most picturesquely as they were driven across the ocean. Sometimes the dark, lurid clouds dipped towards the waves, and became water-spouts, that churned up the waters beneath, as they were chased onwards, and scattered by the tempest. At other times, the dazzling sunlight and heat made it almost intolerable to every other; but Shelley basked in both, and his health and spirits revived under their influence. In this airy cell he wrote the principal part of the Cenci."
They spent part of the year 1819 in Florence, where Shelley passed several hours daily in the Gallery, studying the works of art, and making notes. The summer of 1820 was spent chiefly at the Baths of Guiliano, near Pisa, where Shelley made a solitary journey on foot, during some of the hottest weather of the season, to the summit of Monte San Pelegrino,-a mountain on which stands a pilgrimage chapel, much frequented and during this expedition he conceived the idea of The Witch of Atlas; and immediately on his return sate down and wrote it in three days. An overflowing of the Serchio inundated the house, and caused them to quit San Guiliano: they returned to Pisa.
In 1821, the Spanish revolution excited throughout Italy a similar spirit. In Naples, Genoa, Piedmont, almost everywhere, the spirit of revolt showed itself; and Shelley, still at Pisa, sympathised enthusiastically with these movements. Then came the news of the Greek insurrection, and the battle of Navarino, which put the climax to his joy; and in this exultation he wrote Hellas. These circumstances seem to have given a new life to him. He had now his new boat, and was sailing it on the Arno. It was a pleasant summer, says Mrs. Shelley, bright in all but Shelley's health; yet he enjoyed himself greatly. He was in high anticipation of the arrival of Leigh Hunt; and at this juncture, the now happy poet and his family made their last remove. Let us give the deeply interesting picture of Shelley's last home, in the words of his gifted wife.
"The bay of Spezia is of considerable extent, and is divided by a rocky promontory into a larger and a smaller one. The town of Lerici is situated on the eastern point, and in the depth of the smaller bay, which bears the name of this town, is the village of Sant Arenzo. Our house, Casa Magni, was close to this village; the sea came up to the door, a steep hill sheltered it behind. The proprietor of the estate was insane; he had begun to erect a large house at the summit of the hill behind, but his malady prevented its being finished, and it was falling into ruin. He had, and this to the Italians seemed a glaring symptom of decided madness, rooted up the olives on the hill-side, and planted forest trees. These were mostly young; but the plantation was more in English taste than I ever saw elsewhere in Italy. Some fine walnut and ilex trees intermingled their
dark, massy foliage, and formed groups which still haunt my memory, as then they satiated the eye with a sense of loveliness. The scene was, indeed, of unimaginable beauty; the blue extent of waters, the almost land-locked bay, the near castle of Lerici, shutting it in to the east, and distant Porto Venere to the west; the various forms of precipitous rocks, that bound in the beach, near which there was only a winding rugged path towards Lerici, and none on the other side; the tideless sea, leaving no sands nor shingle,-formed a picture such as one sees in Salvator Rosa's landscapes only. Sometimes the sunshine vanished when the sirocco raged, the ponente, the wind was called on that shore. The gales and squalls that hailed our first arrival, surrounded the bay with foam; the howling wind swept round our exposed house, and the sea roared unremittingly, so that we almost fancied ourselves on board ship. At other times sunshine and calm invested sea and sky, and the rich tints of Italian heaven bathed the scene in bright and ever-varying hues.
"The natives were wilder than the place. Our near neighbours, of Sant Arenzo, were more like savages than any people I ever before lived among. Many a night they passed on the beach, singing, or rather howling; the women dancing about among the waves that broke at their feet, the men leaning against the rocks, and joining in their loud, wild chorus. We could get no provisions nearer than Sarzana, at a distance of three miles and a half off, with the torrent of the Margra between; and even there the supply was deficient. Had we been wrecked on an island of the South Seas, we could scarcely have felt ourselves further from civilization and comfort; but where the sun shines, the latter becomes an unnecessary luxury, and we had enough society among ourselves. Yet, I confess housekeeping became rather a toilsome task, especially as I was suffering in my health, and could not exert myself actively."
To this wild region they had come to indulge Shelley's passion for boating. News came of Leigh Hunt having arrived at Pisa. Shelley, and his friend Captain Ellerker Williams, set out to welcome him, and were on their return to Lerici, when the fatal squall came on, and they went down in a moment. The particulars of that event, and the singular scene of the burning of the body by his friends, Byron, Hunt, Trelawney, and Captain Shenley, have been so vividly related by Mr. Hunt, as to be familiar to every one. Shelley had gone down with the last volume of Keats, the Lamia, &c., in his Jacket pocket, where it was found open. The bodies came on shore near Via Reggio; but had been so long in the sea as to be much decomposed. Wood was, therefore, collected on the strand, and they were burnt in the old classical style. The magnificent bay of Spezia says Mr. Hunt, is on the right of this spot, Leghorn on the left, at equal distances of about twenty-two miles. The headlands projecting boldly and far into the sea, form a deep and dangerous gulf, with a heavy swell and a strong current generally running right into it.
So ended this extraordinary man his short, but eventful and influential life; and his ashes were buried near his friend John