« AnteriorContinuar »
Alas ! the coming event had indeed cast its shadow before. The fatal catastrophe was made known to me by the following letter from a mutual friend, then residing in Italy.
“ Pisa, July 25, 1822. “ I trust that the first news of the dreadful calamity which has befallen us here will have been broken to you by report, otherwise I shall come upon you with a most painful abruptness; but Shelley, my divine-minded friend--your friend—the friend of the universe—he has perished at sea! He was in a boat, with his friend Captain Williams, going from Leghorn to Lerici, when a storm arose, and it is supposed the boat must have foundered.
God bless him! I cannot help thinking of him as if he were still alive, so unearthly he always appeared to me, and so seraphical a thing of the elements; and this is what all his friends say. But what we all feel, your own heart will tell you.
Our dear friend was passionately fond of the sea, and has been heard to say he should like it to be his death-bed.”
And in a subsequent letter from Albaro, near Genoa, the same party wrote to me,
“I am sure you will think the maxim of · Better late than never' a very good one, when you see the enclosed lock of hair. You will know whose it is. I cannot bear, yet, to put his name down upon paper more than I can help ; and this is my best excuse for not having written sooner. With regard to himself, who left me so far behind in this as well as in other qualities, I am confident he must have written to you on the subject to which you refer. I have a strong recollection that he mentioned it to me. I know that you were one of the last persons he spoke of, and in a way full of kindness and acknowledgment."
And now, methinks, the subject of this brief memoir might well be left to the operation of that charitable dictum which teaches us to say nothing unkind of the dead ; but as some readers may still blame him, however sincere may have been his own convictions, for promulgating them, I will rest his defence on the following liberal passage from Lord Brougham's “Life of Hume.” “It may be a question whether his duty required him to make public the results of his speculations, when these tended to unsettle established faith, and might destroy one system of belief, without putting another in its place. Yet, if we suppose him to have been sincerely convinced that men were living in error and in darkness, it is not very easy to deny even the duty of endeavouring to enlighten them, and to reclaim."
Much as Shelley was maligned by strangers, none of those who knew him personally have ever spoken of him except in terms of unbounded admiration and affection. Perhaps no one formed a juster estimate of his character, and no one was more competent to judge, than Lord Byron, who thus describes him:: “He was the most gentle, most amiable, and least worldly-minded person I ever met ; full of delicacy, disinterested beyond all other men, and possessing a degree of genius, joined to simplicity, as rare as it is admirable. He had formed to himself a beau ideal of all that is fine, high-minded, and noble ; and he acted up to this ideal, even to the very letter. He had a most brilliant imagination, but a total want of worldly wisdom."
MEDWIN'S LIFE OF SHELLEY.* It will be seen that by a curious, but a perfectly accidental, coincidence, a valued correspondents to the New Monthly Magazine, has, at the very time that Captain Medwin was seeing his more comprehensive memoir through the press, been preparing an able and eloquent vindication of the poet, which will not, it is to be hoped, be lost upon the present generation. The ties of literature and humanity, which, during the few meteor-like and palmy days of the poet, knit together certain choice and congenial spirits, were singularly strong. The extent to which mutual aid and assistance was carried, can scarcely be imagined. Our “Graybeard” tells us he can speak with certainty to Shelley having bestowed upwards of five thousand pounds on eminent and deserving men of letters, gracing his munificence by the delicacy and tact with which he conferred it. Through an application from the same quarter, Captain Medwin says, Horace Smith advanced as much as 14001. to Leigh Hunt and his family, to enable them to leave this country upon the occasion of the celebrated combination in Italy.
“Of Horace Smith,” says Captain Medwin, “I have often heard Shelley speak in terms of unqualified regard and attachment ; indeed we have but to refer to his letters and lines addressed to Mr. Gisborne, as a proof how much he esteemed his friendship-shown to Shelley on all occasions, in kind offices, not less than in the liberal assistance he never refused him in his pecuniary distresses and straits, brought about, not by his own extravagance, for no man was more economical in his domestic arrangements, or more moderate in his expenses ; but by his excessive generosity, a generosity to imprudence-a reckless expenditure of his income for others, as lamented by Mrs. Shelley in the strongest terms.'
These are delicate subjects to allude to; but it is impossible to pass them over in silence, when they are so illustrative of good, in the character of one, at least, whom the world united to condemn, and they also serve by contrast to set an example to other generations. According to Captain Medwin, Sir John Cam Hobhouse was the only one of the Anglo-Italian phalanx, whose habits of prudence enabled him to keep the more generous impulses of his nature in due subjection.
- A cold, uncongenial, mathematical man, like Hobhouse,” says Medwin, “could have little in common with Byron;" or, indeed, we might add, with
of the coterie, with whom his wish, in his own and the world's despite, to be considered a poet, led him to associate. Byron, the same authority tells us, styled the volume of poems published by Hobhouse, at Cambridge, a “Miss-sellany;" for it fell dead from the
press. The “Gossip" of our contributor, and the appearance of this opportune work, render it an unnecessary task to enter, at the present moment, upon the character and merits of decidedly one of the most remarkable men of his time—a man within whom burnt an intellectual lamp, the fuel for which appeared to be supplied from heavenly stores. He was, indeed, in every thing-in frame, in habits of life, in thought, and in intellectmore of another world than of this. No wonder then that he was not only misunderstood, but that he was misrepresented and persecuted ! The most salient points of this remarkable character are as happily as they
The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley. By Thomas Medwin. In 2 vols. T. C. Newby.
“Graybeard's Gossip,"-October and November.
are concisely embodied in a few lines by the German poet Herwegh, which have been rendered into English by Captain Medwin :
With agony of thought, intensely striving
Starlike in a wild ocean to expire! There is no fact more certain, notwithstanding the intellectual emancipation of a few, and the pride of knowledge of others, that we still live in the gloom of the dark ages; that there still exist many
who would persecute, excommunicate, and destroy for faith's sake, and that a genius like Shelley's only swept away a few of those time-honoured cobwebs which will, for ages yet o'ercanopy the temple of the human mind. But it is not on this account that the great battle should not be persevered in. The number of those who will learn that knowledge is not only power, but is also truth, and virtue, and goodness, must inevitably increase with the
progress of time. Persecution upon matters of principle will proportionately diminish ; and that which Channing has designated as is the most lamentable and yet incomparably the most common scepticism on earth—a scepticism as to the greatness, powers, and high destinies of human nature," will ultimately disappear before the united light of reason and revelation.
Twenty-four years have elapsed since Shelley was withdrawn from the world, and with the exception of the “ Notes," appended to the last edition of his works, and which relate rather to the origin and history of those works, than to the poet himself ; with the exception also of the letters collected and published by Mrs. Shelley, of “Shelley at Oxford,” and of a few other scattered and incomplete notices in periodical publications; no attempt has hitherto been made to approach the difficult and delicate task of writing a faithful history of the poet, or of judging thoroughly and impartially his character and writings.
The article which appeared in the Quarterly Review of 1818, which deprived the poet, according to his own statement, of all save three or four friends, which caused him to be upheld as a scoffer and an atheist, which made him not only the object of universal dread, but the actual victim of a murderous attack, appears also to have so affected his friends as to have kept them aloof from such an unenviable task. Leigh Hunt, who has been pointed out by Mrs. Shelley as the person best calculated for such an undertaking,” never got beyond a sketch or two. Mrs. Shelley herself said that “this was not the time to tell the truth.” Such a biography, then, as is now presented to us by Captain Medwin, who was personally more intimate with the poet than any of his contemporaries; whose own high attainments in every way qualify him for the task, and who has set about it in a right spirit, and as he himself says, “ with no indecorous haste," is a valuable addition to the literature of the country
How many bright eyes will glisten on first turning over the pages of these favourites of the season? They come like old fireside-friends, in all the outward splendour of blue and gold, and red and gold and the internal zest of poetry and of story. What can be more graceful or more attractive than the group of the “Duke of Buccleugh's Three Sons ?” What prettier than Maclise's “ Elizabeth Jane ?” or, what more exquisite than Miss Fanny Corbeaux's " Early Lessons ?" ward Corbould's Masquerading Sisters,” and the same artist's “Love,” and “Love Letter,” will also be admired by all. We could scarcely venture to say as much of Mr. J. R. Herbert's peculiar style and subjects. J. J. Penstone's “ Lady of the Court of Louis XV.”' is a light, airy, beautiful thing. And to those who love landscapes and historical pieces (and who do not?) there are views on the Rhine and in the Pyrenees; exteriors and interiors in China, Paris, and Fontainebleau; a few fine Gothic structures, and two or three of Cattermole's illustrations of the Parliamentary wars.
It was impossible but that, under the experienced superintendence of Mrs. Norton, these rich and various works of art should be spoken of also in appropriate metre and language. True, that the genius of poetry is often circumscribed by the nature of the subject, but few triumph over that difficulty with more facility and success than Mrs. Norton herself. We only regret that her pretty poems are too long for quotation. Monckton Milnes's notion of China,
A mass enormous of monotonous life!
To roll the world towards its heavenly goal, is a bold and just conception. Andersen's idea of the soldier whose duty compels him to shoot his friend, is still more striking, but our quotation shall be from the German of Von Chamisso.
Three swans fly away on the wings of the wind,
* Fisher's Drawing-Room Scrap-Book, 1848. By the Hon. Mrs. Norton. The Juvenile Scrap-Book, a gage d'amour for the Young. By the Author of the “Women of England." The
Inundation ; or, Peace and Pardon. A Christmas Story. By Mrs. Gore. With Illustrations by George Cruikshank. Fisher, Son, and Co. Lady Dufferin has contributed some verses on the pretty daughter of Sir William Somerville, but we miss her pleasant humorous vein, unless, as is most probably the case, the lines called “Toasts” are derived from the
“The Heiress," by J. Hayter, a perfect gem of its kind, introduces the Juvenile Scrap-Book, which this year almost out-rivals its predecessors, in the beauty and variety of its illustrations. This little visitant of the winter's fire-side wears the impress—as its able editress, Mrs. Ellis, wishes that it should do-of a spirit of hope and trust, of cheerfulness, contentment, and good-will, and we earnestly wish it success and general acceptance.
If to be first in the field is to win the victory, Mrs. Gore reigns chieftain of Christmas stories! But, alas for the uncertainty of literary contests ! enemies ready to struggle for supremacy on the same ink-stained plain are already in the distance; nay, we see their quill-feathers proudly nodding to the charge! If there should not be laurels for all, it is pleasant to think that there will at least be no mourning weeds to wear. Mrs. Gore has chosen a pleasant theme for her new Christmas story, “ The Inundation,” and has also placed it in appropriate and pleasant land. Mark Egley, the young engineer from London, could not, after delivering a brother's letter, be better introduced to the wildest scenery of Cumbria than by Priscilla Atfield-a flower of her own native lake and mountain growth. The fracture of a kid's leg, by the household dog, while the young
lovers are out upon one of their earliest rambles, is but a very slight incident, scarcely, one would think, worthy of George Cruikshank's pencil
, but it introduces us to two important personages, a wronged uncle in the person of the lighthousekeeper, and a soothsaying lame Moggy, a tenant of that pretty cove, the habitations of which were as exactly adapted to their inhabitants as an oyster-shell to the oyster!
Mark Egley had brought to old Atfield and his fair daughter the news of
young Atfield's proximate wedding and intended visit to his fatherland. In order to do honour to the young couple, and to the great surprise of all Duddonstone, the old farmer sets to work to build a new house in Dudbourne Dale. The season was unfavourable, but the house had to be ready for Christmas, and the old man’s resolution and assiduity triumphed over all difficulties. But as the house—“the royil palice,” as the Duddonstonians called it-progressed, so the Dudbourne continued to swell, and the tides were getting higher and higher. The first result (and one that is also illustrated by our friend Cruikshank) is Jem's losing a letter from London, in attempting to ford the swollen boumne. Houses were next swept away, old Atfield's house is surrounded, and there is no safety but in scaling the cliffs ! Francis, the lighthouse man, and the wronged brother, comes to the rescue, and saves both father and daughter in return for Priscilla's former kind treatment of his dumb favourite. Reconciliation between brothers and happy marriages follow, and Christmas is made sacred to pardon and peace. Great simplicity characterises this little story, but it is a simplicity that adorns and points a moral.