by Shelley
1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse





With Introduction and Notes






Adonais is the first writing by Shelley which has been included in the Clarendon Press Series. It is a poem of convenient length for such a purpose, being neither short nor decidedly long; and—leaving out of count some of the short poems—is the one by this author which approaches nearest to being 'popular.' It is elevated in sentiment, classical in form,—in substance, biographical in relation to Keats, and in some minor degree autobiographical for Shelley himself. On these grounds it claimed a reasonable preference over all his other poems, for the present method of treatment; although some students of Shelley, myself included, might be disposed to maintain that, in point of absolute intrinsic beauty and achievement, and of the qualities most especially characteristic of its author, it is not superior, or indeed is but barely equal, to some of his other compositions. To take, for instance, two poems not very different in length from AdonaisThe Witch of Atlas is more original, and Epipsychidion more abstract in ideal.

I have endeavoured to present in my introductory matter a comprehensive account of all particulars relevant to Adonais itself, and to Keats as its subject, and Shelley as its author. The accounts here given of both these great poets are of course meagre, but I assume them to be not insufficient for our immediate and restricted purpose. There are many other books which the reader can profitably consult as to the life and works of Shelley; and three or four (at least) as to the life and works of Keats. My concluding notes are, I suppose, ample in scale: if they are excessive, that is an involuntary error on my part. My aim in them has been to illustrate and elucidate the poem in its details, yet without travelling far afield in search of remote analogies or discursive comment—my wish being rather to 'stick to my text': wherever a difficulty presents itself, I have essayed to define it, and clear it up—but not always to my own satisfaction. I have seldom had to discuss the opinions of previous writers on the same points, for the simple reason that of detailed criticism of Adonais, apart from merely textual memoranda, there is next to none.

It has appeared to me to be part of my duty to point out here and there, but by no means frequently, some special beauty in the poem; occasionally also something which seems to me defective or faulty. I am aware that this latter is an invidious office, which naturally exposes one to an imputation, from some quarters, of obtuseness, and, from others, of presumption; none the less I have expressed myself with the frankness which, according to my own view, belongs to the essence of such a task as is here undertaken. Adonais is a composition which has retorted beforehand upon its actual or possible detractors. In the poem itself, and in the prefatory matter adjoined to it, Shelley takes critics very severely to task: but criticism has its discerning and temperate, as well as its 'stupid and malignant' phases.


July, 1890.


The life of Percy Bysshe Shelley is one which has given rise to a great deal of controversy, and which cannot, for a long time to come, fail to be regarded with very diverse sentiments. His extreme opinions on questions of religion and morals, and the great latitude which he allowed himself in acting according to his own opinions, however widely they might depart from the law of the land and of society, could not but produce this result. In his own time he was generally accounted an outrageous and shameful offender. At the present date many persons entertain essentially the same view, although softened by lapse of years, and by respect for his standing as a poet: others regard him as a conspicuous reformer. Some take a medium course, and consider him to have been sincere, and so far laudable; but rash and reckless of consequences, and so far censurable. His poetry also has been subject to very different constructions. During his lifetime it obtained little notice save for purposes of disparagement and denunciation. Now it is viewed with extreme enthusiasm by many, and is generally admitted to hold a permanent rank in English literature, though faulty (as some opine) through vague idealism and want of backbone. These are all points on which I shall here offer no personal opinion. I shall confine myself to tracing the chief outlines of Shelley's life, and (very briefly) the sequence of his literary work.

Percy Bysshe Shelley came of a junior and comparatively undistinguished branch of a very old and noted family. His branch was termed the Worminghurst Shelleys; and it is only quite lately[1] that the affiliation of this branch to the more eminent and senior stock of the Michelgrove Shelleys has passed from the condition of a probable and obvious surmise into that of an established fact. The family traces up to Sir William Shelley, Judge of the Common Pleas under Henry VII, thence to a Member of Parliament in 1415, and to the reign of Edward I, or even to the Norman Conquest. The Worminghurst Shelleys start with Henry Shelley, who died in 1623. It will be sufficient here to begin with the poet's grandfather, Bysshe Shelley. He was born at Christ Church, Newark, North America, and raised to a noticeable height, chiefly by two wealthy marriages, the fortunes of the junior branch. Handsome, keen-minded, and adventurous, he eloped with Mary Catherine, heiress of the Rev. Theobald Michell, of Horsham; after her death he eloped with Elizabeth Jane, heiress of Mr. Perry, of Penshurst. By this second wife he had a family, now represented, by the Baron de l'Isle and Dudley: by his first wife he had (besides a daughter) a son Timothy, who was the poet's father, and who became in due course Sir Timothy Shelley, Bart., M.P. His baronetcy was inherited from his father Bysshe—on whom it had been conferred, in 1806, chiefly through the interest of the Duke of Norfolk, the head of the Whig party in the county of Sussex, to whose politics the new baronet had adhered.

Mr. Timothy Shelley was a very ordinary country gentleman in essentials, and a rather eccentric one in some details. He was settled at Field Place, near Horsham, Sussex, and married Elizabeth, daughter of Charles Pilfold, of Effingham, Surrey; she was a beauty, and a woman of good abilities, but without any literary turn. Their first child was the poet, Percy Bysshe, born at Field Place on Aug. 4, 1792: four daughters also grew up, and a younger son, John: the eldest son of John is now the Baronet, having succeeded, in 1889, Sir Percy Florence Shelley, the poet's only surviving son. No one has managed to discover in the parents of Percy Bysshe any qualities furnishing the prototype or the nucleus of his poetical genius, or of the very exceptional cast of mind and character which he developed in other directions. The parents were commonplace: if we go back to the grandfather, Sir Bysshe, we encounter a man who was certainly not commonplace, but who seems to have been devoid of either poetical or humanitarian fervour. He figures as intent upon his worldly interests, accumulating a massive fortune, and spending lavishly upon the building of Castle Goring; in his old age, penurious, unsocial, and almost churlish in his habits. His passion was to domineer and carry his point; of this the poet may have inherited something. His ideal of success was wealth and worldly position, things to which the poet was, on the contrary, abnormally indifferent.

Shelley's schooling began at six years of age, when he was placed under the Rev. Mr. Edwards, at Warnham. At ten he went to Sion House School, Brentford, of which the Principal was Dr. Greenlaw, the pupils being mostly sons of local tradesmen. In July, 1804, he proceeded to Eton, where Dr. Goodall was the Head Master, succeeded, just towards the end of Shelley's stay, by the far severer Dr. Keate. Shelley was shy, sensitive, and of susceptible fancy: at Eton we first find him insubordinate as well. He steadily resisted the fagging-system, learned more as he chose than as his masters dictated, and was known as 'Mad Shelley,' and 'Shelley the Atheist.' It has sometimes been said that an Eton boy, if rebellious, was termed 'Atheist,' and that the designation, as applied to Shelley, meant no more than that. I do not feel satisfied that this is true at all; at any rate it seems to me probable that Shelley, who constantly called himself an atheist in after-life, received the epithet at Eton for some cause more apposite than disaffection to school-authority.

He finally left Eton in July, 1810. He had already been entered in University College, Oxford, in April of that year, and he commenced residence there in October. His one very intimate friend in Oxford was Thomas Jefferson Hogg, a student from the county of Durham. Hogg was not, like Shelley, an enthusiast eager to learn new truths, and to apply them; but he was a youth appreciative of classical and other literature, and little or not at all less disposed than Percy to disregard all prescription in religious dogma. By demeanour and act they both courted academic censure, and they got it in its extremest form. Shelley wrote, probably with some co-operation from Hogg, and he published anonymously in Oxford, a little pamphlet called The Necessity of Atheism; he projected sending it round broadcast as an invitation or challenge to discussion. This small pamphlet—it is scarcely more than a flysheet—hardly amounts to saying that Atheism is irrefragably true, and Theism therefore false; but it propounds that the existence of a God cannot be proved by reason, nor yet by testimony; that a direct revelation made to an individual would alone be adequate ground for convincing that individual; and that the persons to whom such a revelation is not accorded are in consequence warranted in remaining unconvinced. The College authorities got wind of the pamphlet, and found reason for regarding Shelley as its author, and on March 25, 1811, they summoned him to appear. He was required to say whether he had written it or not. To this demand he refused an answer, and was then expelled by a written sentence, ready drawn up. With Hogg the like process was repeated. Their offence, as entered on the College records, was that of 'contumaciously refusing to answer questions,' and 'repeatedly declining to disavow' the authorship of the work. In strictness therefore they were expelled, not for being proclaimed atheists, but for defying academic authority, which required to be satisfied as to that question. Shortly before this disaster an engagement between Shelley and his first cousin on the mother's side, Miss Harriet Grove, had come to an end, owing to the alarm excited by the youth's sceptical opinions.

Settling in lodgings in London, and parting from Hogg, who went to York to study conveyancing, Percy pretty soon found a substitute for Harriet Grove in Harriet Westbrook, a girl of fifteen, schoolfellow of two of his sisters at Clapham. She was exceedingly pretty, daughter of a retired hotel-keeper in easy circumstances. Shelley wanted to talk both her and his sisters out of Christianity; and he cultivated the acquaintance of herself and of her much less juvenile sister Eliza, calling from time to time at their father's house in Chapel Street, Grosvenor Square. Harriet fell in love with him: besides, he was a highly eligible parti, being a prospective baronet, absolute heir to a very considerable estate, and contingent heir (if he had assented to a proposal of entail, to which however he never did assent, professing conscientious objections) to another estate still larger. Shelley was not in love with Harriet; but he liked her, and was willing to do anything he could to further her wishes and plans. Mr. Timothy Shelley, after a while, pardoned his son's misadventure at Oxford, and made him a moderate allowance of L200 a-year. Percy then visited a cousin in Wales, a member of the Grove family. He was recalled to London by Harriet Westbrook, who protested against a project of sending her back to school. He counselled resistance. She replied in July 1811 (to quote a contemporary letter from Shelley to Hogg), 'that resistance was useless, but that she would fly with me, and threw herself upon my protection.' This was clearly a rather decided step upon the damsel's part: we may form our own conclusions whether she was willing to unite with Percy without the bond of marriage; or whether she confidently calculated upon inducing him to marry her, her family being kept in the dark; or whether the whole affair was a family manoeuvre for forcing on an engagement and a wedding. Shelley returned to London, and had various colloquies with Harriet: in due course he eloped with her to Edinburgh, and there on 28th August he married her. His age was then just nineteen, and hers sixteen. Shelley, who was a profound believer in William Godwin's Political Justice, rejected the institution of marriage as being fundamentally irrational and wrongful. But he saw that he could not in this instance apply his own pet theories without involving in discredit and discomfort the woman whose love had been bestowed upon him. Either his opinion or her happiness must be sacrificed to what he deemed a prejudice of society: he decided rather to sacrifice the former.

For two years, or up to an advanced date in 1813, the married life of Shelley and Harriet appears to have been a happy one, so far as their mutual relation was concerned; though rambling and scrambling, restricted by mediocrity of income (L400 a year, made up between the two fathers), and pestered by the continual, and to Percy at last very offensive, presence of Miss Westbrook as an inmate of the house. They lived in York, Keswick in Cumberland, Dublin (which Shelley visited as an express advocate of Catholic emancipation and repeal of the Union), Nantgwillt in Radnorshire, Lynmouth in Devonshire, Tanyrallt in Carnarvonshire, London, Bracknell in Berkshire: Ireland and Edinburgh were also revisited. Various strange adventures befell; the oddest of all being an alleged attempt at assassination at Tanyrallt. Shelley asserted it, others disbelieved it: after much disputation the biographer supposes that, if not an imposture, it was a romance, and, if not a romance, at least a hallucination,—Shelley, besides being wild in talk and wild in fancy, being by this time much addicted to laudanum-dosing. In June 1813 Harriet gave birth, in London, to her first child, Ianthe Eliza (she married a Mr. Esdaile, and died in 1876). About the same time Shelley brought out his earliest work of importance, the poem of Queen Mab: its speculative audacities were too extreme for publication, so it was only privately printed.

Amiable and accommodating at first, and neither ill-educated nor stupid, Harriet did not improve in tone as she advanced in womanhood. Her sympathy or tolerance for her husband's ideals and vagaries flagged; when they differed she gave him the cold shoulder; she wanted luxuries—such as a carriage of her own—which he neither cared for nor could properly afford. He even said—and one can hardly accuse him of saying it insincerely—that she had been unfaithful to him: this however remains quite unproved, and may have been a delusion. He sought the society of the philosopher Godwin, then settled as a bookseller in Skinner Street, Holborn. Godwin's household at this time consisted of his second wife, who had been a Mrs. Clairmont; Mary, his daughter by his first wife, the celebrated Mary Wollstonecraft; and his young son by his second wife, William; also his step-children, Charles and Clare Clairmont, and Fanny Wollstonecraft (or Imlay), the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft by her first irregular union with Gilbert Imlay. Until May 1814, when she was getting on towards the age of seventeen, Shelley had scarcely set eyes on Mary Godwin: he then saw her, and a sudden passion sprang up between them—uncontrollable, or, at any rate, uncontrolled. Harriet Shelley has left it on record that the advances and importunities came from Mary Godwin to Shelley, and were for a while resisted: it was natural for Harriet to allege this, but I should not suppose it to be true, unless in a very partial sense. Shelley sent for his wife, who had gone for a while to Bath (perhaps in a fit of pettishness, but this is not clear), and explained to her in June that they must separate—a resolve which she combated as far as seemed possible, but finally she returned to Bath, staying there with her father and sister. Shelley made some arrangements for her convenience, and on the 28th of July he once more eloped, this time with Mary Godwin. Clare Clairmont chose to accompany them. Godwin was totally opposed to the whole transaction, and Mrs. Godwin even pursued the fugitives across the Channel; but her appeal was unavailing, and the youthful and defiant trio proceeded in much elation of spirit, and not without a good deal of discomfort at times, from Calais to Paris, and thence to Brunen by the Lake of Uri in Switzerland. It is a curious fact, and shows how differently Shelley regarded these matters from most people, that he wrote to Harriet in affectionate terms, urging her to join them there or reside hard by them. Mary, before the elopement took place, had made a somewhat similar proposal. Harriet had no notion of complying; and, as it turned out, the adventurers had no sooner reached Brunen than they found their money exhausted, and they travelled back in all haste to London in September,—Clare continuing to house with them now, and for the most part during the remainder of Shelley's life. Even a poet and idealist might have been expected to show a little more worldly wisdom than this. After his grievous experiences with Eliza Westbrook, the sister of his first wife, Shelley might have managed to steer clear of Clare Clairmont, the sister by affinity of his second partner in life. He would not take warning, and he paid the forfeit: not indeed that Clare was wanting in fine qualities both of mind and of character, but she proved a constant source of excitement and uneasiness in the household, of unfounded scandal, and of harassing complications.

In London Shelley and Mary lived in great straits, abandoned by almost all their acquaintances, and playing hide-and-seek with creditors. But in January 1815 Sir Bysshe Shelley died, and Percy's money affairs improved greatly. An arrangement was arrived at with his father, whereby he received a regular annual income of L1000, out of which he assigned to Harriet L200 for herself and her two children—a son, Charles Bysshe, having been born in November 1814 (he died in 1826). Shelley and Mary next settled at Bishopgate, near Windsor Forest. In May 1816 they went abroad, along with Miss Clairmont and their infant son William, and joined Lord Byron on the shore of the Lake of Geneva. An amour was already going on between Byron and Miss Clairmont; it resulted in the birth of a daughter, Allegra, in January 1817; she died in 1822, very shortly before Shelley. He and Mary had returned to London in September 1816. Very shortly afterwards, 9th of November, the ill-starred Harriet Shelley drowned herself in the Serpentine: her body was only recovered on the 10th of December, and the verdict of the Coroner's Jury was 'found drowned,' her name being given as 'Harriet Smith.' The career of Harriet since her separation from her husband is very indistinctly known. It has indeed been asserted in positive terms that she formed more than one connexion with other men: she had ceased to live along with her father and sister, and is said to have been expelled from their house. In these statements I see nothing either unveracious or unlikely: but it is true that a sceptical habit of mind, which insists upon express evidence and upon severe sifting of evidence, may remain unconvinced[2]. This was the second suicide in Shelley's immediate circle, for Fanny Wollstonecraft had taken poison just before under rather unaccountable circumstances. No doubt he felt dismay and horror, and self-reproach as well; yet there is nothing to show that he condemned his conduct, at any stage of the transactions with Harriet, as heinously wrong. He took the earliest opportunity—30th of December—of marrying Mary Godwin; and thus he became reconciled to her father and to other members of the family.

It was towards the time of Harriet's suicide that Shelley, staying in and near London, became personally intimate with the essayist and poet, Leigh Hunt, and through him he came to know John Keats: their first meeting appears to have occurred on 5th February, 1817. As this matter bears directly upon our immediate theme, the poem of Adonais, I deal with it at far greater length than its actual importance in the life of Shelley would otherwise warrant.

Hunt, in his Autobiography, narrates as follows. 'I had not known the young poet [Keats] long when Shelley and he became acquainted under my roof. Keats did not take to Shelley as kindly as Shelley did to him. Shelley's only thoughts of his new acquaintance were such as regarded his bad health with which he sympathised [this about bad health seems properly to apply to a date later than the opening period when the two poets came together], and his poetry, of which he has left such a monument of his admiration as Adonais. Keats, being a little too sensitive on the score of his origin, felt inclined to see in every man of birth a sort of natural enemy. Their styles in writing also were very different; and Keats, notwithstanding his unbounded sympathies with ordinary flesh and blood, and even the transcendental cosmopolitics of Hyperion, was so far inferior in universality to his great acquaintance that he could not accompany him in his daedal rounds with Nature, and his Archimedean endeavours to move the globe with his own hands [an allusion to the motto appended to Queen Mab]. I am bound to state thus much; because, hopeless of recovering his health, under circumstances that made the feeling extremely bitter, an irritable morbidity appears even to have driven his suspicions to excess; and this not only with regard to the acquaintance whom he might reasonably suppose to have had some advantages over him, but to myself, who had none; for I learned the other day with extreme pain ... that Keats, at one period of his intercourse with us, suspected both Shelley and myself of a wish to see him undervalued! Such are the tricks which constant infelicity can play with the most noble natures. For Shelley let Adonais answer.' It is to be observed that Hunt is here rather putting the cart before the horse. Keats (as we shall see immediately) suspected Shelley and Hunt 'of a wish to see him undervalued' as early as February 1818; but his 'irritable morbidity' when 'hopeless of recovering his health' belongs to a later date, say the spring and summer of 1820.

It is said that in the spring of 1817 Shelley and Keats agreed that each of them would undertake an epic, to be written in a space of six months: Shelley produced The Revolt of Islam (originally entitled Laon and Cythna), and Keats produced Endymion. Shelley's poem, the longer of the two, was completed by the early autumn, while Keats's occupied him until the winter which opened 1818. On 8th October, 1817, Keats wrote to a friend, 'I refused to visit Shelley, that I might have my own unfettered scope; meaning presumably that he wished to finish Endymion according to his own canons of taste and execution, without being hampered by any advice from Shelley. There is also a letter from Keats to his two brothers, 22nd December, 1817, saying: 'Shelley's poem Laon and Cythna is out, and there are words about its being objected to as much as Queen Mab was. Poor Shelley, I think he has his quota of good qualities.' As late as February 1818 He wrote, 'I have not yet read Shelley's poem.' On 23rd January of the same year he had written: 'The fact is, he [Hunt] and Shelley are hurt, and perhaps justly, at my not having showed them the affair [Endymion in MS.] officiously; and, from several hints I have had, they appear much disposed to dissect and anatomize any trip or slip I may have made.' It was at nearly the same date, 4th February, that Keats, Shelley, and Hunt wrote each a sonnet on The Nile: in my judgment, Shelley's is the least successful of the three.

Soon after their marriage, Shelley and his second wife settled at Great Marlow, in Buckinghamshire. They were shortly disturbed by a Chancery suit, whereby Mr. Westbrook sought to deprive Shelley of the custody of his two children by Harriet, Ianthe and Charles. Towards March 1818, Lord Chancellor Eldon pronounced judgment against Shelley, on the ground of his culpable conduct as a husband, carrying out culpable opinions upheld in his writings. The children were handed over to Dr. Hume, an army-physician named by Shelley: he had to assign for their support a sum of L120 per annum, brought up to L200 by a supplement from Mr. Westbrook. About the same date he suffered from an illness which he regarded as a dangerous pulmonary attack, and he made up his mind to quit England for Italy; accompanied by his wife, their two infants William and Clara, Miss Clairmont, and her infant Allegra, who was soon afterwards consigned to Lord Byron in Venice. Mr. Charles Cowden Clarke, who was Keats's friend from boyhood, writes: 'When Shelley left England for Italy, Keats told me that he had received from him an invitation to become his guest, and in short to make one of his household. It was upon the purest principle that Keats declined his noble proffer, for he entertained an exalted opinion of Shelley's genius—in itself an inducement. He also knew of his deeds of bounty, and from their frequent social intercourse he had full faith in the sincerity of his proposal.... Keats said that, in declining the invitation, his sole motive was the consciousness, which would be ever prevalent with him, of his being, in its utter extent, not a free agent, even within such a circle as Shelley's—he himself nevertheless being the most unrestricted of beings.' Mr. Clarke seems to mean in this passage that Shelley, before starting for Italy, invited Keats to accompany him thither—a fact, if such it is, of which I find no trace elsewhere. It is however just possible that Clarke was only referring to the earlier invitation, previously mentioned, for Keats to visit at Great Marlow; or he may most probably, with some confusion as to dates and details, be thinking of the message which Shelley, when already settled in Italy for a couple of years, addressed to his brother-poet—of which more anon.

Shelley and his family—including for the most part Miss Clairmont—wandered about a good deal in Italy. They were in Milan, Leghorn, the Bagni di Lucca, Venice and its neighbourhood, Rome, Naples, Florence, Pisa, the Bagni di Pisa, and finally (after Shelley had gone to Ravenna by himself) in a lonely house named Casa Magni, between Lerici and San Terenzio, on the Bay of Spezzia. Their two children died; but in 1819 another was born, the Sir Percy Florence Shelley who lived on till November 1889. They were often isolated or even solitary. Among their interesting acquaintances at one place or another were, besides Byron, Mr. and Mrs. Gisborne (the latter had previously been Mrs. Reveley, and had been sought in marriage by Godwin after the death of Mary Wollstonecraft in 1797); the Contessina Emilia Viviani, celebrated in Shelley's poem of Epipsychidion; Captain Medwin, Shelley's cousin and schoolfellow; the Greek Prince, Alexander Mavrocordato; Lieutenant and Mrs. Williams, who joined them at Casa Magni; and Edward John Trelawny, an adventurous and daring sea-rover, who afterwards accompanied Byron to Greece.

It was only towards the summer of 1819 that Shelley read the Endymion. He wrote of it thus in a letter to his publisher, Mr. Ollier, September 6, 1819. 'I have read ... Keats's poem.... Much praise is due to me for having read it, the author's intention appearing to be that no person should possibly get to the end of it. Yet it is full of some of the highest and the finest gleams of poetry: indeed, everything seems to be viewed by the mind of a poet which is described in it. I think, if he had printed about fifty pages of fragments from it, I should have been led to admire Keats as a poet more than I ought—of which there is now no danger.' Shelley regarded the Hymn to Pan, in the first Book of Endymion, as affording 'the surest promise of ultimate excellence.'

The health of Keats having broken down, and consumption having set in, Shelley wrote to him from Pisa urging him to come over to Italy as his guest. Keats did not however go to Pisa, but, along with the young painter Joseph Severn, to Naples, and thence to Rome. I here subjoin Shelley's letter.

'Pisa—27 July, 1820.


'I hear with great pain the dangerous accident you have undergone [recurrence of blood-spitting from the lungs], and Mr. Gisborne, who gives me the account of it, adds that you continue to wear a consumptive appearance. This consumption is a disease particularly fond of people who write such good verses as you have done, and with the assistance of an English winter, it can often indulge its selection. I do not think that young and amiable poets are bound to gratify its taste: they have entered into no bond with the Muses to that effect. But seriously (for I am joking on what I am very anxious about) I think you would do well to pass the winter in Italy, and avoid so tremendous an accident; and, if you think it as necessary as I do, so long as you continue to find Pisa or its neighbourhood agreeable to you, Mrs. Shelley unites with myself in urging the request that you would take up your residence with us. You might come by sea to Leghorn (France is not worth seeing, and the sea is particularly good for weak lungs)—which is within a few miles of us. You ought, at all events, to see Italy; and your health, which I suggest as a motive, may be an excuse to you. I spare declamation about the statues and paintings and ruins, and (what is a greater piece of forbearance) about the mountains and streams, the fields, the colours of the sky, and the sky itself.

'I have lately read your Endymion again, and even with a new sense of the treasures of poetry it contains—though treasures poured forth with indistinct profusion. This people in general will not endure; and that is the cause of the comparatively few copies which have been sold. I feel persuaded that you are capable of the greatest things, so you but will. I always tell Ollier to send you copies of my books. Prometheus Unbound I imagine you will receive nearly at the same time with this letter. The Cenci I hope you have already received: it was studiously composed in a different style.

"Below the good how far! but far above the great[3]!"

In poetry I have sought to avoid system and mannerism. I wish those who excel me in genius would pursue the same plan.

'Whether you remain in England, or journey to Italy, believe that you carry with you my anxious wishes for your health and success—wherever you are, or whatever you undertake—and that I am

'Yours sincerely,


Keats's reply to Shelley ran as follows:—

'Hampstead—August 10, 1820.


'I am very much gratified that you, in a foreign country, and with a mind almost over-occupied, should write to me in the strain of the letter beside me. If I do not take advantage of your invitation, it will be prevented by a circumstance I have very much at heart to prophesy[4]. There is no doubt that an English winter would put an end to me, and do so in a lingering hateful manner. Therefore I must either voyage or journey to Italy, as a soldier marches up to a battery. My nerves at present are the worst part of me: yet they feel soothed that, come what extreme may, I shall not be destined to remain in one spot long enough to take a hatred of any four particular bedposts.

'I am glad you take any pleasure in my poor poem—which I would willingly take the trouble to unwrite if possible, did I care so much as I have done about reputation.

'I received a copy of The Cenci, as from yourself, from Hunt. There is only one part of it I am judge of—the poetry and dramatic effect, which by many spirits nowadays is considered the Mammon. A modern work, it is said, must have a purpose; which may be the God. An artist must serve Mammon: he must have "self-concentration"—selfishness perhaps. You, I am sure, will forgive me for sincerely remarking that you might curb your magnanimity, and be more of an artist, and load every rift of your subject with ore. The thought of such discipline must fall like cold chains upon you, who perhaps never sat with your wings furled for six months together. And is not this extraordinary talk for the writer of Endymion, whose mind was like a pack of scattered cards? I am picked up and sorted to a pip. My imagination is a monastery, and I am its monk.

'I am in expectation of Prometheus every day. Could I have my own wish effected, you would have it still in manuscript, or be but now putting an end to the second Act. I remember you advising me not to publish my first blights, on Hampstead Heath[5]. I am returning advice upon your hands. Most of the poems in the volume I send you [this was the volume containing Lamia, Hyperion, &c.] have been written above two years[6], and would never have been published but for hope of gain: so you see I am inclined enough to take your advice now.

'I must express once more my deep sense of your kindness, adding my sincere thanks and respects for Mrs. Shelley. In the hope of soon seeing you I remain

'Most sincerely yours,


It may have been in the interval between writing his note Of invitation to Keats, and receiving the reply of the latter, that Shelley penned the following letter to the Editor of the Quarterly Review—the periodical which had taken (or had shared with Blackwood's Magazine) the lead in depreciating Endymion. The letter, however, was left uncompleted, and was not dispatched. (I omit such passages as are not directly concerned with Keats):—


'Should you cast your eye on the signature of this letter before you read the contents, you might imagine that they related to a slanderous paper which appeared in your Review some time since.... I am not in the habit of permitting myself to be disturbed by what is said or written of me.... The case is different with the unfortunate subject of this letter, the author of Endymion, to whose feelings and situation I entreat you to allow me to call your attention. I write considerably in the dark; but, if it is Mr. Gifford that I am addressing, I am persuaded that, in an appeal to his humanity and justice, he will acknowledge the fas ab hoste doceri. I am aware that the first duty of a reviewer is towards the public; and I am willing to confess that the Endymion is a poem considerably defective, and that perhaps it deserved as much censure as the pages of your Review record against it. But, not to mention that there is a certain contemptuousness of phraseology, from which it Is difficult for a critic to abstain, in the review of Endymion, I do not think that the writer has given it its due praise. Surely the poem, with all its faults, is a very remarkable production for a man of Keats's age[7]; and the promise of ultimate excellence is such as has rarely been afforded even by such as have afterwards attained high literary eminence. Look at book 2, line 833, &c., and book 3, lines 113 to 120; read down that page, and then again from line 193[8]. I could cite many other passages to convince you that it deserved milder usage. Why it should have been reviewed at all, excepting for the purpose of bringing its excellences into notice, I cannot conceive; for it was very little read, and there was no danger that it should become a model to the age of that false taste with which I confess that it is replenished.

'Poor Keats was thrown into a dreadful state of mind by this review, which, I am persuaded, was not written with any intention of producing the effect—to which it has at least greatly contributed—of embittering his existence, and inducing a disease from which there are now but faint hopes of his recovery. The first effects are described to me to have resembled insanity, and it was by assiduous watching that he was restrained from effecting purposes of suicide. The agony of his sufferings at length produced the rupture of a blood-vessel in the lungs, and the usual process of consumption appears to have begun. He is coming to pay me a visit in Italy; but I fear that, unless his mind can be kept tranquil, little is to be hoped from the mere influence of climate.

'But let me not extort anything from your pity. I have just seen a second volume, published by him evidently in careless despair. I have desired my bookseller to send you a copy: and allow me to solicit your especial attention to the fragment of a poem entitled Hyperion, the composition of which was checked by the review in question. The great proportion of this piece is surely in the very highest style of poetry. I speak impartially, for the canons of taste to which Keats has conformed in his other compositions are the very reverse of my own. I leave you to judge for yourself: it would be an insult to you to suppose that, from motives however honourable, you would lend yourself to a deception of the public.'

The question arises, How did Shelley know what he here states—that Keats was thrown, by reading the Quarterly article, into a state resembling insanity, that he contemplated suicide, &c.? Not any document has been published whereby this information could have been imparted to Shelley: his chief informant on the subject appears to have been Mr. Gisborne, who had now for a short while returned to England, and some confirmation may have come from Hunt. As to the statements themselves, they have, ever since the appearance in 1848 of Lord Houghton's Life of Keats, been regarded as very gross exaggerations: indeed, I think the tendency has since then been excessive in the reverse direction, and the vexation occasioned to Keats by hostile criticism has come to be underrated.

Shelley addressed to Keats in Naples another letter, 'anxiously enquiring about his health, offering him advice as to the adaptation of diet to the climate, and concluding with an urgent invitation to Pisa, where he could assure him every comfort and attention.' Shelley did not, however, re-invite Keats to his own house on the present occasion; writing to Miss Clairmont, 'We are not rich enough for that sort of thing.' The letter to Miss Clairmont is dated 18 February, 1821, and appears to have been almost simultaneous with the one sent to Keats. In that case, Keats cannot be supposed to have received the invitation; for he had towards the middle of November quitted Naples for Rome, and by 18 February he was almost at his last gasp.

Shelley's feeling as to Keats's final volume of poems is further exhibited in the following extracts, (To Thomas Love Peacock, November, 1820.) 'Among the modern things which have reached me is a volume of poems by Keats; in other respects insignificant enough, but containing the fragment of a poem called Hyperion, I dare say you have not time to read it; but it is certainly an astonishing piece of writing, and gives me a conception of Keats which I confess I had not before.' (To Mrs. Leigh Hunt, 11 November, 1820.) 'Keats's new volume has arrived to us, and the fragment called Hyperion promises for him that he is destined to become one of the first writers of the age. His other things are imperfect enough[9], and, what is worse, written in the bad sort of style which is becoming fashionable among those who fancy that they are imitating Hunt and Wordsworth.... Where is Keats now? I am anxiously expecting him in Italy, when I shall take care to bestow every possible attention on him. I consider his a most valuable life, and I am deeply interested in his safety. I intend to be the physician both of his body and his soul,—to keep the one warm, and to teach the other Greek and Spanish. I am aware indeed, in part, that I am nourishing a rival who will far surpass me; and this is an additional motive, and will be an added pleasure.' (To Peacock, 15 February, 1821.) 'Among your anathemas of the modern attempts in poetry do you include Keats's Hyperion? I think it very fine. His other poems are worth little; but, if the Hyperion be not grand poetry, none has been produced by our contemporaries.' There is also a phrase in a letter to Mr. Ollier, written on 14 May, 1820, before the actual publication of the Lamia volume: 'Keats, I hope, is going to show himself a great poet; like the sun, to burst through the clouds which, though dyed in the finest colours of the air, obscured his rising.'

Keats died in Rome on 23 February, 1821. Soon afterwards Shelley wrote his Adonais. He has left various written references to Adonais, and to Keats in connexion with it: these will come more appropriately when I speak of that poem itself. But I may here at once quote from the letter which Shelley addressed on 16 June, 1821, to Mr. Gisborne, who had sent on to him a letter from Colonel Finch[10], giving a very painful account of the last days of Keats, and especially (perhaps in more than due proportion) of the violence of temper which he had exhibited. Shelley wrote thus: 'I have received the heartrending account of the closing scene of the great genius whom envy and ingratitude[11] scourged out of the world. I do not think that, if I had seen it before, I could have composed my poem. The enthusiasm of the imagination would have overpowered the sentiment. As it is, I have finished my Elegy; and this day I send it to the press at Pisa. You shall have a copy the moment it is completed, I think it will please you. I have dipped my pen in consuming fire for his destroyers: otherwise the style is calm and solemn[12].

As I have already said, the last residence of Shelley was on the Gulf of Spezzia. He had a boat built named the Ariel (by Byron, the Don Juan), boating being his favourite recreation; and on 1 July, 1822, he and Lieut. Williams, along with a single sailor-lad, started in her for Leghorn, to welcome there Leigh Hunt. The latter had come to Italy with his family, on the invitation of Byron and Shelley, to join in a periodical to be called The Liberal. On 8 July Shelley, with his two companions, embarked to return to Casa Magni. Towards half-past six in the evening a sudden and tremendous squall sprang up. The Ariel sank, either upset by the squall, or (as some details of evidence suggest) run down near Viareggio by an Italian fishing-boat, the crew of which had plotted to plunder her of a sum of money. The bodies were eventually washed ashore; and on 16 August the corpse of Shelley was burned on the beach under the direction of Trelawny. In the pocket of his jacket had been found two books—a Sophocles, and the Lamia volume, doubled back as if it had at the last moment been thrust aside. His ashes were collected, and, with the exception of the heart which was delivered to Mrs. Shelley, were buried in Rome, in the new Protestant Cemetery. The corpse of Shelley's beloved son William had, in 1819, been interred hard by, and in 1821 that of Keats, in the old Cemetery—a space of ground which had, by 1822, been finally closed.

The enthusiastic and ideal fervour which marks Shelley's poetry could not possibly be simulated—it was a part, the most essential part, of his character. He was remarkably single-minded, in the sense of being constantly ready to do what he professed as, in the abstract, the right thing to be done; impetuous, bold, uncompromising, lavishly generous, and inspired by a general love of humankind, and a coequal detestation of all the narrowing influences of custom and prescription. Pity, which included self-pity, was one of his dominant emotions. If we consider what are the uses, and what the abuses, of a character of this type, we shall have some notion of the excellences and the defects of Shelley. In person he was well-grown and slim; more nearly beautiful than handsome; his complexion brilliant, his dark-brown but slightly grizzling hair abundant and wavy, and his eyes deep-blue, large, and fixed. His voice was high-pitched—at times discordant, but capable of agreeable modulation; his general aspect uncommonly youthful.

The roll of Shelley's publications is a long one for a man who perished not yet thirty years of age. I append a list of the principal ones, according to date of publication, which was never very distant from that of composition. Several minor productions remain unspecified.

1810. Zastrozzi, a Romance. Puerile rubbish.

" Original Poetry, by Victor and Cazire. Withdrawn, and ever since unknown.

" Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson. Balderdash, partly (it would appear) intended as burlesque.

1811. St. Irvyne, or The Rosicrucian, a Romance. No better than Zastrozzi.

1813. Queen Mab. Didactic and subversive.

1817. Alastor, or the Spirit of Solitude, and other Poems. The earliest volume fully worthy of its author.

1818. Laon and Cythna—reissued as The Revolt of Islam. An epic of revolution and emancipation in the Spenserian Stanza.

1819. Rosalind and Helen, a modern Eclogue, and other Poems. The character of 'Lionel' is an evident idealisation of Shelley himself.

1819. The Cenci, a Tragedy. Has generally been regarded as the finest English tragedy of modern date.

" Prometheus Unbound, a Lyrical Drama, and other Poems. The Prometheus ranks as at once the greatest and the most thoroughly characteristic work of Shelley.

1819. Oedipus Tyrannus, or Swellfoot the Tyrant. A Satirical Drama on the Trial of Queen Caroline.

1821. Epipsychidion. A poem of ideal love under a human personation.

" Adonais.

1822. Hellas. A Drama on the Grecian War of Liberation.

1824. Posthumous Poems. Include Julian and Maddalo, written in 1818, The Witch of Atlas, 1820, The Triumph of Life, 1822, and many other compositions and translations.

The Masque of Anarchy and Peter Bell the Third, both written by Shelley in 1819, were published later on; also various minor poems, complete or fragmentary. Peter Bell the Third has a certain fortuitous connexion with Keats. It was written in consequence of Shelley's having read in The Examiner a notice of Peter Bell, a Lyrical Ballad (the production of John Hamilton Reynolds): and this notice, as has very recently been proved, was the handiwork of Keats. Shelley cannot have been aware of that fact. His prose Essays and Letters, including The Defence of Poetry, appeared in 1840. The only known work of Shelley, extant but yet unpublished, is the Philosophical View of Reform: an abstract of it, with several extracts, was printed in the Fortnightly Review in 1886.


The parents of John Keats were Thomas Keats, and Frances, daughter of Mr. Jennings, who kept a large livery-stable, the Swan and Hoop, in the Pavement, Moorfields, London. Thomas Keats was the principal stableman or assistant in the same business. John, a seven months' child, was born at the Swan and Hoop on 31 October, 1795. Three other children grew up—George, Thomas, and Fanny, John is said to have been violent and ungovernable in early childhood. He was sent to a very well-reputed school, that of the Rev. John Clarke, at Enfield: the son Charles Cowden Clarke, whom I have previously mentioned, was an undermaster, and paid particular attention to Keats. The latter did not show any remarkable talent at school, but learned easily, and was 'a very orderly scholar,' acquiring a fair amount of Latin but no Greek. He was active, pugnacious, and popular among his school-fellows. The father died of a fall from his horse in April, 1804: the mother, after re-marrying, succumbed to consumption in February, 1810. Before the close of the same year John left school, and he was then apprenticed, to a surgeon at Edmonton. In July, 1815, he passed with credit the examination at Apothecaries' Hall.

In 1812 Keats read for the first time Spenser's Faery Queen, and was fascinated with it to a singular degree. This and other poetic reading made him flag in his surgical profession, and finally he dropped it, and for the remainder of his life had no definite occupation save that of writing verse. From his grandparents he inherited a certain moderate sum of money—not more than sufficient to give him a tolerable start in life. He made acquaintance with Leigh Hunt, then editor of the Examiner, John Hunt, the publisher, Charles Wentworth Dilke who became editor of the Athenaeum, the painter Haydon, and others. His first volume of Poems (memorable for little else than the sonnet On Reading Chapman's Homer) was published in 1817. It was followed by Endymion in April, 1818.

In June of the same year Keats set off with his chief intimate, Charles Armitage Brown (a retired Russia merchant who afterwards wrote a book on Shakespeare's Sonnets), on a pedestrian tour in Scotland, which extended into North Ireland as well. In July, in the Isle of Mull, he got a bad sore throat, of which some symptoms had appeared also in earlier years: it may be regarded as the beginning of his fatal malady. He cut short his tour and returned to Hampstead, where he had to nurse his younger brother Tom, a consumptive invalid, who died in December of the same year.

At the house of the Dilkes, in the autumn of 1818, Keats made the acquaintance of Miss Fanny Brawne, the orphan daughter of a gentleman of independent means: he was soon desperately in love with her, having 'a swooning admiration of her beauty:' towards the spring of 1819 they engaged to marry, with the prospect of a long engagement. On the night of 3 February, 1820, on returning to the house at Hampstead which he shared with Mr. Brown, the poet had his first attack, a violent one, of blood-spitting from the lungs. He rallied somewhat, but suffered a dangerous relapse in June, just prior to the publication of his final volume, containing all his best poems—Isabella, Hyperion, the Eve of St. Agnes, Lamia, and the leading Odes. His doctor ordered him off, as a last chance, to Italy; previously to this he had been staying in the house of Mrs. and Miss Brawne, who tended him affectionately. Keats was now exceedingly unhappy. His passionate love, his easily roused feelings of jealousy of Miss Brawne, and of suspicious rancour against even the most amicable and attached of his male intimates, the general indifference and the particular scorn and ridicule with which his poems had been received, his narrow means and uncertain outlook, and the prospect of an early death closing a painful and harassing illness—all preyed upon his mind with unrelenting tenacity. The worst of all was the sense of approaching and probably final separation from Fanny Brawne.

On 18 September, 1820, he left England for Italy, in company with Mr. Joseph Severn, a student of painting in the Royal Academy, who, having won the gold medal, was entitled to spend three years abroad for advancement in his art. They travelled by sea to Naples; reached that city late in October; and towards the middle of November went on to Rome. Here Keats received the most constant and kind attention from Dr. (afterwards Sir James) Clark. But all was of no avail: after continual and severe suffering, devotedly watched by Severn, he expired on 23 February, 1821. He was buried in the old Protestant Cemetery of Rome, under a little altar-tomb sculptured with a Greek lyre. His name was inscribed, along with the epitaph which he himself had composed in the bitterness of his soul, 'Here lies one whose name was writ in water.'

Keats was an undersized man, little more than five feet high. His face was handsome, ardent, and full of expression; the hair rich, brown, and curling; the hazel eyes 'mellow and glowing—large, dark, and sensitive.' He was framed for enjoyment; but with that acuteness of feeling which turned even enjoyment into suffering, and then again extracted a luxury out of melancholy. He had vehemence and generosity, and the frankness which belongs to these qualities, not unmingled, however, with a strong dose of suspicion. Apart from the overmastering love of his closing years, his one ambition was to be a poet. His mind was little concerned either with the severe practicalities of life, or with the abstractions of religious faith.

His poems, consisting of three successive volumes, have been already referred to here. The first volume, the Poems of 1817, is mostly of a juvenile kind, containing only scattered suggestions of rich endowment and eventual excellence. Endymion is lavish and profuse, nervous and languid, the wealth of a prodigal scattered in largesse of baubles and of gems. The last volume—comprising the Hyperion—is the work of a noble poetic artist, powerful and brilliant both in imagination and in expression. Of the writings published since their author's death, the only one of first-rate excellence is the fragmentary Eve of St. Mark. There is also the drama of Otho the Great, written in co-operation with Armitage Brown; and in Keats's letters many admirable thoughts are admirably worded.

As to the relations between Shelley and Keats, I have to refer back to the preceding memoir of Shelley.



For nearly two months after the death of Keats, 23 February, 1821, Shelley appears to have remained in ignorance of the event: he knew it on or before 19 April. The precise date when he began his Elegy does not seem to be recorded: one may suppose it to have been in the latter half of May. On 5 June he wrote to Mr. and Mrs. Gisborne: 'I have been engaged these last days in composing a poem on the death of Keats, which will shortly be finished; and I anticipate the pleasure of reading it to you, as some of the very few persons who will be interested in it and understand it. It is a highly wrought piece of art, and perhaps better, in point of composition, than anything I have written.'

A letter to Mr. Ollier followed immediately afterwards.

'Pisa, June 8th, 1821,

'You may announce for publication a poem entitled Adonais. It is a lament on the death of poor Keats, with some interspersed stabs on the assassins of his peace and of his fame; and will be preceded by a criticism on Hyperion, asserting the due claims which that fragment gives him to the rank which I have assigned him. My poem is finished, and consists of about forty Spenser stanzas [fifty-five as published]. I shall send it to you, either printed at Pisa, or transcribed in such a manner as it shall be difficult for the reviser to leave such errors as assist the obscurity of the Prometheus. But in case I send it printed, it will be merely that mistakes may be avoided. I shall only have a few copies struck off in the cheapest manner. If you have interest enough in the subject, I could wish that you enquired of some of the friends and relations of Keats respecting the circumstances of his death, and could transmit me any information you may be able to collect; and especially as [to] the degree in which (as I am assured) the brutal attack in the Quarterly Review excited the disease by which he perished.'

The criticism which Shelley intended to write on Hyperion remained, to all appearance, unwritten. It will be seen, from the letter of Shelley to Mr. Severn cited further on (p. 34), that, from the notion of writing a criticism on Hyperion to precede Adonais, his intention developed into the project of writing a criticism and biography of Keats in general, to precede a volume of his entire works; but that, before the close of November, the whole scheme was given up, on the ground that it would produce no impression on an unregardful public.

In another letter to Ollier, 11 June, the poet says: 'Adonais is finished, and you will soon receive it. It is little adapted for popularity, but is perhaps the least imperfect of my compositions.'

Shelley on 16 June caused his Elegy to be printed in Pisa, 'with the types of Didot': a small quarto, and a handsome one (notwithstanding his project of cheapness); the introductory matter filling five pages, and the poem itself going on from p. 7 to p. 25. It appeared in blue paper wrappers, with a woodcut of a basket of flowers within an ornamental border. Its price was three and sixpence: of late years L40 has been given for it—perhaps more. Up to 13 July only one copy had reached the author's hands: this he then sent on to the Gisbornes, at Leghorn. Some copies of the Pisa edition were afterwards put into circulation in London: there was no separate English edition. The Gisbornes having acknowledged the Elegy with expressions of admiration, the poet replied as follows:

'Bagni [di Pisa], July 19.


'I am fully repaid for the painful emotions from which some verses of my poem sprung by your sympathy and approbation; which is all the reward I expect, and as much as I desire. It is not for me to judge whether, in the high praise your feelings assign me, you are right or wrong. The poet and the man are two different natures: though they exist together, they may be unconscious of each other, and incapable of deciding on each other's powers and efforts by any reflex act. The decision of the cause whether or not I am a poet is removed from the present time to the hour when our posterity shall assemble: but the court is a very severe one, and I fear that the verdict will be "Guilty—death."'

A letter to Mr. Ollier was probably a little later. It says: 'I send you a sketch for a frontispiece to the poem Adonais. Pray let it be put into the engraver's hands immediately, as the poem is already on its way to you, and I should wish it to be ready for its arrival. The poem is beautifully printed, and—what is of more consequence—correctly: indeed, it was to obtain this last point that I sent it to the press at Pisa. In a few days you will receive the bill of lading.' Nothing is known as to the sketch which Shelley thus sent. It cannot, I presume, have been his own production, nor yet Severn's: possibly it was supplied by Lieutenant Williams, who had some aptitude as an amateur artist.

I add some of the poet's other expressions regarding Adonais, which he evidently regarded with more complacency than any of his previous works—at any rate, as a piece of execution. Hitherto his favourite had been Prometheus Unbound: I am fain to suppose that that great effort did not now hold a second place in his affections, though he may have considered that the Adonais, as being a less arduous feat, came nearer to reaching its goal. (To Peacock, August, 1821.) 'I have sent you by the Gisbornes a copy of the Elegy on Keats. The subject, I know, will not please you; but the composition of the poetry, and the taste in which it is written, I do not think bad.' (To Hunt, 26 August.) 'Before this you will have seen Adonais. Lord Byron—I suppose from modesty on account of his being mentioned in it—did not say a word of Adonais[13], though he was loud in his praise of Prometheus, and (what you will not agree with him in) censure of The Cenci.' (To Horace Smith, 14 September,) 'I am glad you like Adonais, and particularly that you do not think it metaphysical, which I was afraid it was. I was resolved to pay some tribute of sympathy to the unhonoured dead; but I wrote, as usual, with a total ignorance of the effect that I should produce.' (To Ollier, 25 September.) 'The Adonais, in spite of its mysticism, is the least imperfect of my compositions; and, as the image of my regret and honour for poor Keats, I wish it to be so. I shall write to you probably by next post on the subject of that poem; and should have sent the promised criticism for the second edition, had I not mislaid, and in vain sought for, the volume that contains Hyperion.' (To Ollier, 14 November.) 'I am especially curious to hear the fate of Adonais. I confess I should be surprised if that poem were born to an immortality of oblivion.' (To Ollier, 11 January, 1822.) 'I was also more than commonly interested in the success of Adonais. I do not mean the sale, but the effect produced; and I should have [been] glad to have received some communication from you respecting it. I do not know even whether it has been published, and still less whether it has been republished with the alterations I sent.' As to the alterations sent nothing definite is known, but some details bearing on this point will be found in our Notes, p. 105, &c. (To Gisborne, 10 April) 'I know what to think of Adonais, but what to think of those who confound it with the many bad poems of the day I know not.' This expression seems to indicate that Mr. Gisborne had sent Shelley some of the current criticisms—there were probably but few in all—upon Adonais: to this matter I shall recur further on. (To Gisborne, 18 June.) 'The Adonais I wished to have had a fair chance, both because it is a favourite with me, and on account of the memory of Keats—who was a poet of great genius, let the classic party say what it will.'

Earlier than the latest of these extracts Shelley had sent to Mr. Severn a copy of Adonais, along with a letter which I append.

'Pisa, Nov. 29th, 1821.


'I send you the Elegy on poor Keats, and I wish it were better worth your acceptance. You will see, by the preface, that it was written before I could obtain any particular account of his last moments. All that I still know was communicated to me by a friend who had derived his information from Colonel Finch, I have ventured [in the Preface] to express as I felt the respect and admiration which your conduct towards him demands.

'In spite of his transcendent genius, Keats never was, nor ever will be, a popular poet; and the total neglect and obscurity in which the astonishing remains of his mind still lie was hardly to be dissipated by a writer who, however he may differ from Keats in more important qualities, at least resembles him in that accidental one, a want of popularity.

'I have little hope therefore that the poem I send you will excite any attention, nor do I feel assured that a critical notice of his writings would find a single reader. But for these considerations, it had been my intention to have collected the remnants of his compositions, and to have published them with a Life and criticism. Has he left any poems or writings of whatsoever kind, and in whose possession are they? Perhaps you would oblige me by information on this point.

'Many thanks for the picture you promise me [presumably a portrait of Keats, but Shelley does not seem ever to have received one from Severn]: I shall consider it among the most sacred relics of the past. For my part, I little expected, when I last saw Keats at my friend Leigh Hunt's, that I should survive him.

'Should you ever pass through Pisa, I hope to have the pleasure of seeing you, and of cultivating an acquaintance into something pleasant, begun under such melancholy auspices.

'Accept, my dear Sir, the assurance of my highest esteem, and believe me

'Your most sincere and faithful servant,


'Do you know Leigh Hunt? I expect him and his family here every day.'

It may have been observed that Shelley, whenever he speaks of critical depreciation of Keats, refers only to one periodical, the Quarterly Review: probably he did not distinctly know of any other: but the fact is that Blackwood's Magazine was worse than the Quarterly. The latter was sneering and supercilious: Blackwood was vulgarly taunting and insulting, and seems to have provoked Keats the more of the two, though perhaps he considered the attack in the Quarterly to be more detrimental to his literary standing. The Quarterly notice is of so much import in the life and death of Keats, and in the genesis of Adonais, that I shall give it, practically in extenso, before closing this section of my work: with Blackwood I can deal at once. A series of articles On the Cockney School of Poetry began in this magazine in October, 1817, being directed mainly and very venomously against Leigh Hunt. No. 4 of the series appeared in August, 1818, falling foul of Keats. It is difficult to say whether the priority in abusing Keats should of right be assigned to Blackwood or to the Quarterly: the critique in the latter review belongs to the number for April, 1818, but this number was not actually issued until September. The writer of the Blackwood papers signed himself Z. Z. is affirmed to have been Lockhart, the son-in-law of Sir Walter Scott, and afterwards editor of the Quarterly Review: more especially the article upon Keats is attributed to Lockhart. A different account, as to the series in general, is that the author was John Wilson (Christopher North), revised by Mr. William Blackwood. But Z. resisted more than one vigorous challenge to unmask, and some doubt as to his identity may still remain. Here are some specimens of the amenity with which Keats was treated in Blackwood's Magazine:—

'His friends, we understand, destined him to the career of medicine, and he was bound apprentice some years ago to a worthy apothecary in town.... The frenzy of the Poems [Keats's first volume, 1817] was bad enough in its way; but it did not alarm us half so seriously as the calm, settled, imperturbable, drivelling idiocy of Endymion.... We hope however that, in so young a person and with a constitution originally so good, even now the disease is not utterly incurable.... Mr. Hunt is a small poet, but a clever man; Mr. Keats is a still smaller poet, and he is only a boy of pretty abilities which he has done everything in his power to spoil.... It is a better and wiser thing to be a starved apothecary than a starved poet: so back to the shop, Mr. John, back to "plaster, pills, and ointment-boxes," &c. But for Heaven's sake, young Sangrado, be a little more sparing of extenuatives and soporifics in your practice than you have been in your poetry.'

Even the death of Keats, in 1821, did not abate the rancour of Blackwood's Magazine. Witness the following extracts. (1823) 'Keats had been dished—utterly demolished and dished—by Blackwood long before Mr. Gifford's scribes mentioned his name.... But let us hear no more of Johnny Keats. It is really too disgusting to have him and his poems recalled in this manner after all the world thought they had got rid of the concern.' (1824) 'Mr. Shelley died, it seems, with a volume of Mr. Keats's poetry "grasped with one hand in his bosom"—rather an awkward posture, as you will be convinced if you try it. But what a rash man Shelley was to put to sea in a frail boat with Jack's poetry on board!... Down went the boat with a "swirl"! I lay a wager that it righted soon after ejecting Jack.'... (1826) 'Keats was a Cockney, and Cockneys claimed him for their own. Never was there a young man so encrusted with conceit.'

If this is the tone adopted by Blackwood's Magazine in relation to Keats living and dead, one need not be surprised to find that the verdict of the same review upon the poem of Adonais, then newly published, ran to the following effect:—

'Locke says the most resolute liar cannot lie more than once in every three sentences. Folly is more engrossing; for we could prove from the present Elegy that it is possible to write two sentences of pure nonsense out of three. A more faithful calculation would bring us to ninety-nine out of every hundred; or—as the present consists of only fifty-five stanzas—leaving about five readable lines in the entire.... A Mr. Keats, who had left a decent calling for the melancholy trade of Cockney poetry, has lately died of a consumption, after having written two or three little books of verses much neglected by the public.... The New School, however, will have it that he was slaughtered by a criticism of the Quarterly Review: "O flesh, how art thou fishified!" There is even an aggravation in this cruelty of the Review—for it had taken three or four years to slay its victim, the deadly blow having been inflicted at least as long since. [This is not correct: the Quarterly critique, having appeared in September, 1818, preceded the death of Keats by two years and five months].... The fact is, the Quarterly, finding before it a work at once silly and presumptuous, full of the servile slang that Cockaigne dictates to its servitors, and the vulgar indecorums which that Grub Street Empire rejoiceth to applaud, told the truth of the volume, and recommended a change of manners[14] and of masters to the scribbler. Keats wrote on; but he wrote indecently, probably in the indulgence of his social propensities.'

The virulence with which Shelley, as author of Adonais, was assailed by Blackwood's Magazine, is the more remarkable, and the more symptomatic of partizanship against Keats and any of his upholders, as this review had in previous instances been exceptionally civil to Shelley, though of course with some serious offsets. The notices of Alastor, Rosalind and Helen, and Prometheus Unbound—more especially the first—in the years 1819 and 1820, would be found to bear out this statement.

From the dates already cited, it may be assumed that the Pisan edition of Adonais was in London in the hands of Mr. Ollier towards the middle of August, 1821, purchasable by whoever might be minded to buy it. Very soon afterwards it was reprinted in the Literary Chronicle and Weekly Review, published by Limbird in the Strand—1 December, 1821: a rather singular, not to say piratical, proceeding. An editorial note was worded thus: 'Through the kindness of a friend, we have been favoured with the latest production of a gentleman of no ordinary genius, Mr. Bysshe Shelley. It is an elegy on the death of a youthful poet of considerable promise, Mr. Keats, and was printed at Pisa. As the copy now before us is perhaps [surely not] the only one that has reached England, and the subject is one that will excite much interest, we shall print the whole of it.' This promise was not literally fulfilled, for stanzas 19 to 24 were omitted, not apparently with any special object.

After the publication in London of the Pisan edition of Adonais, the poem remained unreprinted until 1829. It was then issued at Cambridge, at the instance of Lord Houghton (Mr. Richard Monckton Milnes) and Mr. Arthur Hallam, the latter having brought from Italy a copy of the original pamphlet. The Cambridge edition, an octavo in paper wrappers, is now still scarcer than the Pisan one. The only other separate edition of Adonais was that of Mr. Buxton Forman, 1876, corresponding substantially with the form which the poem assumes in the Complete Works of Shelley, as produced by the same editor. It need hardly be said that Adonais was included in Mrs. Shelley's editions of her husband's Poems, and in all other editions of any fulness: it has also appeared in most of the volumes of Selections.

As early as 1830 there was an Italian translation of this Elegy. It is named Adone, nella morte di Giovanni Keats, Elegia di Percy Bishe Shelley, tradotta da L. A. Damaso Pareto. Genova, dalla Tifografia Pellas, 1830. In this small quarto thirty pages are occupied by a notice of the life and poetry of Shelley.

I shall not here enter upon a consideration of the cancelled passages of Adonais: they will appear more appositely further on (see pp. 92-94, &c.). I therefore conclude the present section by quoting the Quarterly Review article upon Endymion—omitting only a few sentences which do not refer directly to Keats, but mostly to Leigh Hunt:—

'Reviewers have been sometimes accused of not reading the works which they affected to criticise. On the present occasion we shall anticipate the author's complaint, and honestly confess that we have not read his work. Not that we have been wanting in our duty; far from it; indeed, we have made efforts, almost as superhuman as the story itself appears to be, to get through it: but, with the fullest stretch of our perseverance, we are forced to confess that we have not been able to struggle beyond the first of the four books of which this Poetic Romance consists. We should extremely lament this want of energy, or whatever it may be, on our parts, were it not for one consolation—namely, that we are no better acquainted with the meaning of the book through which we have so painfully toiled than we are with that of the three which we have not looked into.

'It is not that Mr. Keats (if that be his real name, for we almost doubt that any man in his senses would put his real name to such a rhapsody)—it is not, we say, that the author has not powers of language, rays of fancy, and gleams of genius. He has all these: but he is unhappily a disciple of the new school of what has been somewhere called "Cockney Poetry," which may be defined to consist of the most incongruous ideas in the most uncouth language.

'Of this school Mr. Leigh Hunt, as we observed in a former number, aspires to be the hierophant.... This author is a copyist of Mr. Hunt, but he is more unintelligible, almost as rugged, twice as diffuse, and ten times more tiresome and absurd, than his prototype, who, though he impudently presumed to seat himself in the chair of criticism, and to measure his own poetry by his own standard, yet generally had a meaning. But Mr. Keats had advanced no dogmas which he was bound to support by examples. His nonsense, therefore, is quite gratuitous; he writes it for its own sake, and, being bitten by Mr. Leigh Hunt's insane criticism, more than rivals the insanity of his poetry.

'Mr. Keats's preface hints that his poem was produced under peculiar circumstances. "Knowing within myself." he says, "the manner in which this poem has been produced, it is not without a feeling of regret that I make it public. What manner I mean will be quite clear to the reader, who must soon perceive great inexperience, immaturity, and every error denoting a feverish attempt rather than a deed accomplished." We humbly beg his pardon, but this does not appear to us to be "quite so clear"; we really do not know what he means. But the next passage is more intelligible. "The two first books, and indeed the two last, I feel sensible, are not of such completion as to warrant their passing the press." Thus "the two first books" are, even in his own judgment, unfit to appear, and "the two last" are, it seems, in the same condition; and, as two and two make four, and as that is the whole number of books, we have a clear, and we believe a very just, estimate of the entire work.

'Mr. Keats, however, deprecates criticism on this "immature and feverish work" in terms which are themselves sufficiently feverish; and we confess that we should have abstained from inflicting upon him any of the tortures of the "fierce hell" of criticism[15] which terrify his imagination if he had not begged to be spared in order that he might write more; if we had not observed in him a certain degree of talent which deserves to be put in the right way, or which at least ought to be warned of the wrong; and if finally he had not told us that he is of an age and temper which imperiously require mental discipline.

'Of the story we have been able to make out but little. It seems to be mythological, and probably relates to the loves of Diana and Endymion; but of this, as the scope of the work has altogether escaped us, we cannot speak with any degree of certainty, and must therefore content ourselves with giving some instances of its diction and versification. And here again we are perplexed and puzzled. At first it appeared to us that Mr. Keats had been amusing himself and wearying his readers with an immeasurable game at bouts rimes; but, if we recollect rightly, it is an indispensable condition at this play that the rhymes, when filled up, shall have a meaning; and our author, as we have already hinted, has no meaning. He seems to us to write a line at random, and then he follows, not the thought excited by this line, but that suggested by the rhyme with which it concludes. There is hardly a complete couplet enclosing a complete idea in the whole book. He wanders from one subject to another, from the association, not of ideas, but of sounds; and the work is composed of hemistichs which, it is quite evident, have forced themselves upon the author by the mere force of the catchwords on which they turn.

'We shall select, not as the most striking instance, but as that least liable to suspicion, a passage from the opening of the poem;—

"Such the sun, the moon, Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon For simple sheep; and such are daffodils, With the green world they live in; and clear rills That for themselves a cooling covert make 'Gainst the hot season; the mid-forest brake Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms; And such too is the grandeur of the dooms We have imagined for the mighty dead," &c.

Here it is clear that the word, and not the idea, moon, produces the simple sheep and their shady boon, and that "the dooms of the mighty dead" would never have intruded themselves but for the "fair musk-rose blooms."


"For 'twas the morn. Apollo's upward fire Made every eastern cloud a silvery pyre Of brightness so unsullied that therein A melancholy spirit well might win Oblivion, and melt out his essence fine Into the winds. Rain-scented eglantine Gave temperate sweets to that well-wooing sun; The lark was lost in him; cold springs had run To warm their chilliest bubbles in the grass; Man's voice was on the mountains; and the mass Of Nature's lives and wonders pulsed tenfold To feel this sunrise and its glories old."

Here Apollo's fire produces a pyre—a silvery pyre—of clouds, wherein a spirit might win oblivion, and melt his essence fine; and scented eglantine gives sweets to the sun, and cold springs had run into the grass; and then the pulse of the mass pulsed tenfold to feel the glories old of the new-born day, &c.

'One example more:—

"Be still the unimaginable lodge For solitary thinkings, such as dodge Conception to the very bourne of heaven, Then leave the naked brain; be still the leaven That spreading in this dull and clodded earth, Gives it a touch ethereal—a new birth."

Lodge, dodge—heaven, leaven—earth, birth—such, in six words, is the sum and substance of six lines.

'We come now to the author's taste in versification. He cannot indeed write a sentence, but perhaps he may be able to spin a line. Let us see. The following are specimens of his prosodial notions of our English heroic metre:—

"Dear as the temple's self, so does the moon, The passion poesy, glories infinite.

"So plenteously all weed-hidden roots.

"Of some strange history, potent to send.

"Before the deep intoxication.

"Her scarf into a fluttering pavilion.

"The stubborn canvas for my voyage prepared.

"Endymion, the cave is secreter Than the isle of Delos. Echo hence shall stir No sighs but sigh-warm kisses, or light noise Of thy combing hand, the while it travelling cloys And trembles through my labyrinthine hair."

'By this time our readers must be pretty well satisfied as to the meaning of his sentences and the structure of his lines. We now present them with some of the new words with which, in imitation of Mr. Leigh Hunt, he adorns our language.

'We are told that turtles passion their voices; that an arbour was nested, and a lady's locks gordianed up; and, to supply the place of the nouns thus verbalized, Mr. Keats, with great fecundity, spawns new ones, such as men-slugs and human serpentry, the honey-feel of bliss, wives prepare needments, and so forth.

'Then he has formed new verbs by the process of cutting off their natural tails, the adverbs, and affixing them to their foreheads. Thus the wine out-sparkled, the multitude up-followed, and night up-took: the wind up-blows, and the hours are down-sunken. But, if he sinks some adverbs in the verbs, he compensates the language with adverbs and adjectives which he separates from the parent stock. Thus a lady whispers pantingly and close, makes hushing signs, and steers her skiff into a ripply cove, a shower falls refreshfully, and a vulture has a spreaded tail.

'But enough of Mr. Leigh Hunt and his simple neophyte. If any one should be bold enough to purchase this Poetic Romance, and so much more patient than ourselves as to get beyond the first book, and so much more fortunate as to find a meaning, we entreat him to make us acquainted with his success. We shall then return to the task which we now abandon in despair, and endeavour to make all due amends to Mr. Keats and to our readers.'

This criticism is not, I think, exactly what Shelley called it in the Preface to Adonais—'savage:' it is less savage than contemptuous, and is far indeed from competing with the abuse which was from time to time, and in various reviews, poured forth upon Shelley himself. It cannot be denied that some of the blemishes which it points out in Endymion are real blemishes, and very serious ones. The grounds on which one can fairly object to the criticism are that its tone is purposely ill-natured; its recognition of merits scanty out of all proportion to its censure of defects; and its spirit that of prepense disparagement founded not so much on the poetical errors of Keats as on the fact that he was a friend of Leigh Hunt, the literary and also the political antagonist of the Quarterly Review. The editor, Mr. Gifford, seems always to have been regarded as the author of this criticism—I presume, correctly so.

That Keats was a friend of Leigh Hunt in the earlier period of his own poetical career is a fact; but not long after the appearance of the Quarterly Review article he conceived a good deal of dislike and even animosity against this literary ally. Possibly the taunts of the Quarterly Review, and the alienation of Keats from Hunt, had some connexion as cause and effect. In a letter from John Keats to his brother George and his sister-in-law occurs the following passage[16], dated towards the end of 1818: 'Hunt has asked me to meet Tom Moore some day—so you shall hear of him. The night we went to Novello's there was a complete set-to of Mozart and punning. I was so completely tired of it that, if I were to follow my own inclinations, I should never meet any one of that set again; not even Hunt, who is certainly a pleasant fellow in the main, when you are with him—but in reality he is vain, egotistical, and disgusting in matters of taste, and in morals. He understands many a beautiful thing; but then, instead of giving other minds credit for the same degree of perception as he himself professes, he begins an explanation in such a curious manner that our taste and self-love are offended continually. Hunt does one harm by making fine things petty, and beautiful things hateful. Through him I am indifferent to Mozart, I care not for white busts; and many a glorious thing, when associated with him, becomes a nothing. This distorts one's mind—makes one's thoughts bizarre—perplexes one in the standard of Beauty.'

For the text of Adonais in the present edition I naturally have recourse to the original Pisan edition, but without neglecting such alterations as have been properly introduced into later issues; these will be fully indicated and accounted for in my Notes. In the minor matters of punctuation, &c., I do not consider myself bound to reproduce the first or any other edition, but I follow the plan which appears to myself most reasonable and correct; any point worthy of discussion in these details will also receive attention in the Notes.



The poem of Adonais can of course be contemplated from different points of view. Its biographical relations have been already considered in our preceding sections: its poetical structure and value, its ideal or spiritual significance, and its particular imagery and diction, will occupy us much as we proceed. At present I mean simply to deal with the Argument of Adonais. It has a thread—certainly a slender thread—of narrative or fable; the personation of the poetic figure Adonais, as distinct from the actual man John Keats, and the incidents with which that poetic figure is associated. The numerals which I put in parentheses indicate the stanzas in which the details occur.

1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse