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Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
Shelley's Vegetarianism

Full text of "Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Monograph"





"I do remember well the hour which barst
My spirit's sleep. A fresh May-dawn it was.
When I walked forth upon the glittering grass,
And wept I knew not why until there rose
From the near schoolroom voices that, alas !
Were but one echo from a world of woes —
The harsh and grating strife of tyrants and of foes."

This incident of Shelley's moral and intellectual awakening, recorded in the introdactory stanzas of ''Laon and Cythna," is referred by Professor Dowden and all recent authorities to the period of Shelley's life at Sion House Academy, and not at Eton. I venture, however, to think that Lady Shelley was right, when, in the "Shelley Memorials," she indicated Eton as the scene of Shelley's vow. It is in the highest degree improbable that any boy, even such a boy as Shelley, would have experienced such emotions before the age of twelve ; but this difficulty vanishes if we suppose the vow to have been made at Eton, where Shelley stayed till he was eighteen. It is significant, too, that in his letter to Godwin, dated Jan. 10, 1812, Shelley distinctly attributes the awakening of his moral sense to his reading of Godwin's "Political Justice;" and there is evidence in the same letter that he first read this book some-where about the year 1809. It would seem probable therefore, that the vow was made at Eton, and when Shelley was in his seventeenth or eighteenth year.

The arguments on which the contrary view is based do not seem to me to be of much weight. They are, briefly, the authority of Medwin, who, in his "Shelley Papers," refers to the incident as having happened at Sion House, and secondly, the idea that the mention of ''the near schoolroom" precludes the possibility of Eton being the locality indicated, as the Eton schoolrooms do not immediately adjoin the Playing Fields. But it should be remembered that Medwin, never a very reliable biographer, was especially inclined to assign undue importance to those parts of Shelley's career which had come under his own cognizance, and therefore, having been Shelley's school-fellow at Sion House, but not at Eton, he was likely enough to exalt the former period at the expense of the latter by representing it as the scene of Shelley's early awakening. As to the seoond argument— the distance of the Eton Playing Fields from the school buildings — it is surely rather dangerous to take the words of so imaginative a poet as Shelley in such a literal sense, and to reject the most natural interpretation of a lyrical passage, which was written, be it noted, at least eight years later than the incident recorded, because it does not precisely tally with the acoustics and measuring- rod of the critic. Shelley, coming straight from the strife of the schoolroom to the "glittering grass" of the play-ground, still heard, or seemed to hear, the sounds he had such good cause to remember ; nor, as a matter of fact, is there really any reason why be should not actually have heard them, for the distance is not so great that the shouts of an unruly class of boys would not be easily audible. If the critics toil to go into every detail, let them also consider the laxity of discipline which then obtained in public schools, and is even now not altogether unknown. I can testify, from personal knowledge of Eton, that the "harsh and grating strife of
tyrants and of foes," may often be heard at a considerable distance, especially when it is the boys who are the tyrants, and not the masters.

In the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty," there is another reference to this early vow. Professor Dowden, however, is inclined to regard the incident there mentioned as a second and inidlectual awakening, not to be identified with the moral awakening described in ''Laon and Cythna." This seems to me to be an entirely arbitrary and unproved distinction ; indeed, the internal evidence goes directly to disprove Professor Dowden's supposition, since in both, passages the vow is said to have been made in the season of spring. It is worth noting that in "Julian and Maddalo," there is a third reference to the same event ; but this has generally been over-looked, on account of the passage in which it occurs (the soliloquy of the "Maniac") not being recognised as autobiographical.

I think that the three passages above mentioned, and possibly also the letter to Godwin, the more carefully they are examined, will be found to refer to one and the same event, and that the balance of probabality will incline us to regard that event as having taken place at Eton, rather than at Sion House.


The importance of a man's dietetic tastes and habits in their bearing on his intellectual development and moral character is too often overlooked or under-estimated by critics and biographers. We hear much interesting speculation on the hereditary charaoteristics of men of genius, and on the inflaenoe of events contemporary with their birth and education; as, for instance, that Shelley's ancestors were ''conspicuous by their devotion to falling or desperate causes," or that on the day of his birth the French National Assembly decreed "that all religious houses should be sold for the benefit of the nation." But the significance of the fact that the most ethereal of English lyrists and one of the most unselfish of English reformers was a bread-eater and a water-drinker is allowed to pass unnoticed, or, at any rate, unemphasized ; Shelley's humanitarian instincts and consequent inclination to extreme simplicity of diet being regarded as a mere crotchet and harmless eccentricity — and this, too, by those very writers who praise his gospel of gentleness and universal love! I think that on this point some of Shelley's detractors have done him more justice than some of his admirers; for the former have at least been consistent and logical in arguing that his vegetarian proclivities were all of a piece with his ''pernicious" views on social and religions subjects, and with his "Utopian" belief in the ultimate perfectibility of man. This is not the place to discuss the rights or wrongs of vegetarianism ; but we may at least assert that Shelley's dietetic tastes must have had borne influence both on the doctrines advanced in his longer poems and on that spirituality of lyrical tone which makes him unique among singers. "What one eats that one is," says a German writer, and it cannot he without interest, and even importance, to those who would read Shelley's character aright, to note to what extent he adopted and advocated a vegetarian diet.

We find that Shelley first adopted vegetarianism in 1812, when in his twentieth year, though even at Oxford, in 1810, his food, according to the testimony of his biographer Hogg, was ''plain and simple as that of a hermit, with a certain anticipation, even at this time, of a vegetable diet." In 1813, when he spent the spring in London, and the summer at Bracknell, Berks, he saw much of the Newton family, who were strict vegetarians, and was strongly influenced by their views and example. On the other hand, his friends Hogg and Peacock, especially the latter, who looked upon the Newtons as foolish crotchet-mongers, did their best to laugh him out of his new system of diet, though Hogg was on friendly terms with the Newton circle, and speaks approvingly, in his "Life of Shelley," of their vegetarian repasts. At this time, as always, bread was his favourite food, and Hogg tells us how he would buy a loaf at a baker's shop, and eat it as he dodged the foot-passengers on a London pavement. Daring his residence at Bishopsgate in 1815, and at Marlow in 1817, we find Shelley still persevering in the reformed diet, though not without occasional lapses, if we are to believe his biographers Hogg and Peacock. The former gives a humorous account of an occasion when, in the dearth of other food, Shelley was induced to try fried bacon, and found it very good ; and Peacock asserts that during a boating excursion, in 1815, his prescription of "three mutton chops, well peppered," was of great service to Shelley's health. Nevertheless, Leigh Hunt reports him in 1817, when living at Marlow, as "coming home to a dinner of vegetables, for he took neither meat nor wine." In 1818 he left England, and spent the short remainder of his life in Italy.

During this time he seems to have given up his vegetarianism to some slight extent, not from any want of faith in its principles, but simply from the inconvenience caused to his non-vegetarian house-hold, (y. the poetic " Letter to Maria Gisborne," written in 1820— "Though we eat little flesh, and drink no wine.") His forgetfulness and indifference about his food became still more marked during his later years, and Trelawny relates how his dinner would often stand unnoticed and neglected while he was engaged in writing. But now, as before, bread remained literally his " staff of life," and he always preferred simple food to costly.

The state of Shelley's health has given rise to much discussion among his biographers; but, in spite of some assertions to the contrary, it seems tolerably established that he had an early tendency towards consumption, and suffered latterly from spasms and some nervous affliction, of which the precise nature is unknown. How far his health was affected by his diet is an interesting point which it is easier to raise than to decide. Hogg and Peacock, of course, lay his maladies to the charge of vegetarianism. ''When he was fixed in a place," says Peacock, " he adhered to this diet consistently and conscientiously, but it certainly did not agree with him;" and he adds that when he travelled, and was obliged to transgress, he got well. It seems more possible that, as Trelawny hints, the irregularity of Shelley's diet had a bad effect on his health ; but Leigh Hunt's testimony on this subject is valuable and explicit. "His constitution, though naturally consumptive, had attained, by temperance and exercise, to a surprising power of resisting fatigue."

The passages in which Shelley advances vegetarian doctrines are briefly these: (1) The well-known lines in " Queen Mab," commencing " No longer now, he slays the lamb that looks him in the face." (2) The still more remarkable note to "Queen Mab," afterwards issued as a separate pamphlet under the title of " A Vindication of Natural Diet." (3) A passage in "A Refutation of Deism," a prose work pablisbed in 1814. (4) The lyric poem inserted between stanzas 51 and 52 of the 5th canto of "Laon and Cythna"' which has been called "The Lyric of Vegetarianism." There is also a reference to Shelley's humanitarian creed in the opening lines of "Alastor," where, in his invocation of earth, ocean, air, the beloved "brotherhood" of nature, the poet bases his appeal to their favour on the ground of his habit of gentleness and humanity.

It appears, therefore, that Shelley was a vegetarian at heart and by conviction, and, in the main, in practice also, though, for the reasons I have mentioned, he was not invariably consistent in his practice. There are many signs that his simple diet was in keeping with his whole character, and essential to his imaginative style of thought and writing. — The Vegetariom Annual 1887.


It is to be regretted that Professor Dowden's ''Life of Shelley," excellent and copious work that it is, has not thrown a fuller light on some of those mysterious passages in the poet's life and writings which have long been a puzzle to Shelley students. Among these must be included that portion of "Julian and Maddalo" which deals with the story of the maniac or deserted lover.

The poem of "Julian and Maddalo" as all readers of Shelley are aware, was the outcome of Shelley's visit to Byron at Yenice in 1818; and gives as a familiar, yet at the same time poetical, description of the rides, conversations, and friendly intercourse of the two poets. Of the two chief characters who give their names to the ''Conversation,'' Julian is evidently a sketch of Shelley, and Maddalo of Byron; but there is also a third personage, to whose history at least two-thirds of the poem are devoted. This is the maniac, whom Maddalo and Julian go to visit in their gondola, and whose soliloquy occupies some two hundred lines of the narrative. In what light are we to regard this character? "We cannot guess in this instance," says Professor Dowden, "of what original the painting presents an idealization" — a reticence on the part of Shelley's latest and fullest biographer, which is the more disappointing because there are several indications in Shelley's letters, and in the poem itself, that this part of "Julian and Maddalo" ought to be read and studied in connection with the history of certain passages in his life. The character of the maniac is, I believe, like most of Shelley's sketches, a piece of poetical autobiography. We have, in fact, two pictures of Shelley in this poem :
in Julian we see him as he was in 1818 ; in the distracted lover we see him as he had been, or as he conceived himself to have been, four years earlier.

There is a sort of humorous significance in Shelley's own references to this mysterious character, which makes it seem strange that the true import of the story should have been generally over-looked in the numerous essays that have been written concerning Shelley's poems, with the exception, I think, of Dr. Todhunter's "Study of Shelley." "Of the maniac," he says in his preface, '' I can give no information. He seems by his own account to have been disappointed in love." In the letter to Leigh Hunt, in which the manuscript of "Julian and Maddalo" was enclosed, there is a still more striking remark. "Two of the characters," says Shelley, "you will recognise, and the third is also in some degree a painting from nature, but, with respect to time and place, ideal." Once again, in a letter to the publisher Ollier, dated December 15th, 1819, he refers to this subject, when he states that he intends to write three other poems, "the subjects of which will be all drawn from dreadful or beautiful realities, as that of this [i.e., of 'Julian and Maddalo'] was." Thus we have it distinctly stated by Shelley that the fsubject of "Julian and Maddalo" was drawn from a reality, and that the character of the maniac is a painting from nature. Who but Shelley himself could have been the original of this sketch? There is no mention in any of Shelley's letters of his accompanying Byron on a visit to a Venetian madhouse, or of his meeting any one who could possibly have suggested the incident of the distracted and deserted lover. The inference would be inevitable, even apart from the internal evidence of the poem, that this is another of Shelley's many subjective and autobiographical studies, of course idealized, as he says, with respect to time and place, but neverthe less in the main "a painting from nature."

When we proceed to examine the poem itself, our previous conviction is still farther strengthened. "I know one like you," says Maddalo to Julian, as he tells him something of the maniac's story before they set out to visit him ; and when he relates how he had fitted up rooms for the sufferer, with busts, books, flowers, and instruments of music, we cannot help noting the similarity to a passage in "Epipsychidion," where Shelley imagines himself to be possessed of just such a dwelling in some Ionian isle. The whole description of the maniac in "Julian and Maddalo," should be compared with the account given in the "Advertisement" of "Epipsychidion " of the writer to whom that poem is playfully attributed, a character obviously meant for that of Shelley himself. When we come to the maniac's soliloquiy we find that, obscure as it is in parts, it becomes to some extent intelligible, when we recognise in it an idealized description of Shelley's disastrous marriage with Harriet Westbrook. Imagination carries him back to the death-in-life of those terrible days at the beginning of 1814, when he found that love had departed from the home where it was once present, and when his only consolation was the knowledge that his own conscience absolved him of any sense of guilt. In the lines —

I am prepared, in truth, with no proud joy.
To do or suffer aught, as when a boy
I did devote to justice and to love
My nature, worthless now " —

we see a distinct reference to that youthful awakening, in the school-days at Sion House or Eton, which is mentioned in the introductory stanzas of "The Revolt of Islam" and in the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty." To what, again, can the following lines refer, unless to the marriage with Harriet? —

"Nay, was it I who wooed thee to this breast
Which like a serpent thou envenomest,
As in repayment of the warmth it lent?
Didst thou not seek me for thine own content ?
Did not thy love awaken mine? "

Particular passages of this kind (and there are others equally significant which a careful reader can scarcely fail to note), taken in conjunction with the general tone of this part of the poem, and with the remarks in Shelley's Preface and letters, seem to leave little room for doubt that the maniac's story is a poetical description of Shelley's bewildered feelings shortly before or after his separation from Harriet. It is certainly strange that he should have chosen, four years later, to recur in his writings to that most painful period of his life. We might even have deemed it impossible he should do so ; but here again his own lines are significant :

"How vain
Are words! I never thought to speak again,
Not even in secret — not to my own heart ;
But from my lips the unwilling accents start,
And from my pen the words flow as I write.
Dazzling my eyes with scalding tears."

From whose pen, it may be asked, did the words flow? And would Shelley thus have forgotten that the maniac in his poem was speaking, and not writing, unless he had to a great extent identified the character and the story with his own?

In the more mysterious and terrible passages of the madman's soliloquy, "the unconnected exclamations of his agony," as Shelley calls them in his Preface, it is of course easier to suspect than to prove that there are any traces of personal reference. We naturally wonder if the real history of Shelley's first marriage could have furnished material for the shuddering reminiscence and tragic horror of which this part of "Julian and Maddalo" is full. The full story will probably never be known ; but those who read between the lines in the various records of Shelley's life, can see indications of the existence of some still graver breach of sympathy between Shelley and Harriet than such as could be accounted for by mere divergence of tastes, or even by that suspicion of his wife's infidelity which Shelley, rightly or wrongly, entertained to the end of his life. In the statement drawn up at the time of the Chancery suit, Shelley thus alluded to his parting from Harriet : ''Delicacy forbids me to say more than that we were disunited by incurable dissensions." "It is certain," says Professor Dowden, "that some cause or causes of deep division between Shelley and his wife were in operation during the early part of 1814. To guess at the precise nature of these causes, in the absence of definite statement, were useless." It may not fall within the province of a biographer to follow up speculations such as these ; yet the question of a possible connection between the story told in broken utterances by the distracted lover in " Julian and Maddalo," and that unknown passage in Shelley's life, is one of peculiar interest to Shelley students. At any rate, it seems clear that the last part of Shelley's life with Harriet was to him, if not to her, a time of horror and despair ; and this lends some colour to the supposition that the passages above referred to were more or less a reflex of the poet's own experiences. It might even be conjectured that the manaic's soliloquy was written independently, or at an earlier period than the rest of the poem with which it is incorporated ; but I doubt if the internal evidence of style and structure would bear out this theory.

In giving directions for the publication of "Julian and Maddalo" Shelley gave special and urgent injunctions that his name was not to be put to it. As it turned out, however, the poem, for some unexplained reason, was not issued during Shelley's life-time. Mr. Buxton Forman suggests that Leigh Hunt, to whom the MS. was entrusted, ''probably thought it well to stop the issue on account of the unmistakable personality of two of the characters depicted — Byron and Shelley." But, on the other hand, it might have been supposed that Shelley's friends would be glad to publish a poem which, as Mr. Bossetti has pointed out, would probably have increased its author's reputation among ordinary readers, by the interest excited through the introduction of Byron's character. Is it not more probable that Shelley's wish to publish the poem anonymously, was due to the fact that in the character of the maniac he had partially anveiled his own inmost life and feeling, while for the same reason Leigh Hunt, who presumably recognised the true import of this part of the poem, thought it wiser to withhold it altogether from immediate publication? "If you were my friend," wrote Shelley to Southey in 1820, on the subject of his first marriage, " I could tell you a history that would make you open your eyes; but I shall certainly never make the public my familiar confidant." This characteristic remark may be compared with the closing lines of "Julian
and Maddalo" —

"I urged and questioned evil ; she told me how
All happened — but the cold world shall not know."

—The Academy, March 26th, 1887.


The utterances of the Quarterly Review on the subject of Shelley's life, character, poetry, and opinions, afford a striking instance of the strange shifts to which a periodical may be driven, when it undertakes the task of defending, through thick and thin, the status quo of a particular religion or social system, and when it entrusts this solemn charge to the care of certain anonymous, and therefore, as far as the public is concerned, irresponsible writers. What was to be expected when this champion of rigid orthodoxy and constitutionalism in poetry, politics, and ethics, first felt it to be its duty to throw light on the poems and doctrines of a revolutionary enthusiast such as Shelley; and further, when subsequent writers in the same Review were compelled, if only for consistency's sake, and out of regard for that sequence of judgment which such periodicals affect, to follow in the same strain, and put a bold face on the unhappy blunders of their predecessors! Four times has this inspired oracle now uttered its portentous verdict on the Shelleyan heresy, and each separate utterance has been a veritable hoc locutus ; yet all the time Shelley's character and genius have been steadily rising higher and higher in general estimation.

It was in 1819, the year after that in which Shelley left England for Italy, that the Quarterly Review first addressed itself to the attack, in an article which was read by Shelley in a newsroom at Florence, and drew from him a loud peal of "convulsive laughter," according to the testimony of one who happened to be present. The article was, from the Quarterly standpoint, one of the right sort. It purported to deal with the "Revolt of Islam," which had been published early in the preceding year; but the reviewer had also before him a copy of ''Laon and Cythna" the more outspoken form in which the poem had been first issued, and almost immediately withdrawn. Dismissing the poetry as of no real value, and as at best containing only a few beautiful passages, the writer devoted himself to a furious attack on Shelley's ethical opinions and moral character — "these are indeed bold convictions," he wrote, "for a young and inexperienced man, imperfectly educated, irregular in his application, and shamefully dissolute in his conduct." The charge of personal immorality is freely used throughout ; indeed, it is this significant shake of the head, this solemn assumption of the position of one who knows, that lent the article its chief weight at the time, and makes it appear to us, in the light of fuller knowledge, so singularly unfair and disingenuous. The reviewer unhesitatingly charges Shelley with insincerity in his views and with vanity in his ambitious attempt to advertise himself before the world. ''We will frankly confess," he says, '' that with every disposition to judge him charitably, we find it hard to convince ourselves of his belief in his own conclusions ; " and, again, "he is too young, too ignorant, too inexperienced, and too vicious, to undertake the task of reforming any world but the little world within his own breast." After prophesying that, like ''the Egyptian of old,'' Shelley would shortly be over-whelmed by the mighty waters of oblivion, the writer concladed with a masterpiece of malignant innuendo which can be surpassed by nothing to be found in the pages of the Quarterly Review from the time of its institution to the present day. It is not surprising that Shelley, in his letter to the editor of the Quarterly Review on the subject of Keats's "Endymion " should have referred to this article as "a slanderous paper," and to its author as "the wretch who wrote it," for it must always stand conspicuous as one of the lasting disgraces of literary criticism. It was written by John Taylor Coleridge, and not, as Shelley wrongly suspected, by Southey or Milman ; and it is curious to reflect that its writer owes his only remembrance by posterity to the very poet whose speedy extinction he so confidently prophesied.

In 1821 the Quarterly deemed it necessary to return to the attack, after the manner of an angry bull which detects signs of recovery and renewed vitality in the victim which it has recently mangled. This time it was Shelley's poetry rather than opinions on which the reviewer exercised his ingenuity ; and from the remark that "of Mr. Shelley himself we know nothing, and we desire to know nothing" it may be inferred that the article did not emanate from the same source as that of 1819. In his own way, however, this writer must be admitted to have fully equalled Mr. J. T. Coleridge's performance. The two fatal defects which he points out in Shelley's poetry (the volume under examination being "Prometheus Unbound" and the lyrics published at the same time) are the want of music and the want of meaning. "The rhythm of the verse is often harsh and unmusical," is his first complaint ; and he proceeds to insist that "the predominating character of Mr. Shelley's poetry is its frequent and total want of meaning." Among instances adduced of this uniutelligibility, are "something that is done by a Cloud," reference being made to the last and most beautiful stanza of the lyric of that name ; the "debut of the Spirit of the Earth," in Act 3 of "Prometheus Unbound " ; the comparison of a poet to a chameleon, which is shewn to have ''no more meaning than the jingling of the bells of a fool's cap, and far less music" ; and the stanza of the "Sensitive Plant," concerning "the hyacinth purple, and white, and blue," which is held up to special ridicule. "In short," says the reviewer, summing up the qualities of the most splendid volume of lyrics that Shelley ever published, "it is not too much to affirm, that in the whole volume there is not one original imacre of nature, one simple expression of human feeling, or one new association of the appearances of the moral with those of the material world," the sole merit that could be allowed the poet being "considerable mental activity." In conclusion, this brilliant critic, chuckling at his own humour, qnotes the final passage of Act 3 of "Prometheus Unbound," printing it like prose in continuous sentences, and then gaily informs his readers that it was meant by its author for verse, since "Mr. Shelley's poetry is, in sober sadness, drivelling prose run mad."

Thus these two Quarterly reviewers of 1819 and 1821 did their utmost to darken Shelley's fame ; the one stating that not only were his opinions pernicious, but that he was personally licentious, vain, selfish, cruel, and unmanly; the other demonstrating the utter worthlessness of his poetry; while both scoffed at the mere idea of his gaining a permanent place in literature. There has never been a more significant illustration of the perils of prophecy ; for though the writers themselves were protected by their anonymity from being personally confronted with the non-fulfilment of their predictions, they left an extremely awkward and compromising legacy to the succeeding generation of Quarterly critics. Their conduct was as inconsiderate as that of the rash merchant, who commits himself to some wild speculation without reflecting that, though he may himself abscond in case of failure, he may leave to his embarrassed kinsmen the unpleasant duty of liquidating his debts For forty years the great oracle observed a discreet silence; and watched the increasing reputation of that "shamefully dissolute" poet, whose poetry did not contain "one original image of nature." Between 1847 and 1860 no less than six Lives or Memoirs of Shelley had been published, and it had become sufficiently evident, even to Quarterly reviewers, that his poems were not destined to be speedily forgotten.

Accordingly, in 1861, there appeared a new article, dealing afresh with Shelley's life, character, and writings, and taking note of the editions issued by Mrs. Shelley, and the lives by Hogg, Trelawny, Peacock, and Lady Shelley, which are referred to as "a Shelley literature quite extensive enough for a modest English poet." The writer evidently felt that his task was far from being an easy one, and to some extent the article is apologetic rather than actively hostile, the line taken being to modify the judgment expressed in 1821 as regards the value of Shelley's writings, while repeating and emphasizing the condemnation of his opinions and conduct. The lyrics, which once had less music than the bells of a fools cap, are now praised as "moving and exquisite poetry" ; even the "Prometheus Unbound," though still found to have some unintelligible passages, is spoken of as "a grand conception" and a "great work.'' "We are far from saying," confesses the reviewer, "that the criticisms of forty years ago contain a full and just estimate of Shelley's genius." But on the subject of the review of "The Revolt of Islam" in 1819, and the strictures on Shelley's ethical theories, the Quarterly moralist remains as obdurate as ever. "We cannot look back," he says, " on that matter, with the humiliation which, if we believed the partisans of Shelley, it would become us to feel " ; he is, however, judiciously silent regarding the memorable passage in which his predecessor had hinted that he could tell dreadful things of Shelley's disgusting wickedness, but for his delicate reluctance to withdraw the veil of private life. On the whole, it must be gratefully recognised that this reviewer of 1861 wrote in a somewhat milder and humaner mood than that which is traditionally manifested by contributors to the Quarterly; indeed, in one noticeable passage, to be presently quoted, he set an example which his successor of 1887 would have done wisely to follow. The rest of his article was chiefly occupied with a sketch of Shelley's life ; a defence of Harriet's conduct in the separation, and of Lord Eldon's judgment in the Chancery suit ; and a suggestion that the pantheism expressed by Shelley in the ''Adonais,'' might in time have ripened into a belief in the doctrines of Christianity.

In the quarter of a century that has elapsed since this third ukase was issued by the imperial despot of criticism, who had vainly condemned Shelley to the Siberia of neglected authors, the Shelley cult is found to have made still more remarkable progress. Browning, Swinburne, Thomson, Bossetti, Garnett, Forman, Dowden, Symonds, Stopford Brooke — these are the leading names of those who have done homage to the "considerable mental activity" of the "imperfectly educated" young man whose vanity "had been his ruin." The publication of Prof. Dowden's "Life of Shelley," towards the close of 1886, marked a new epoch in the appreciation of Shelley's genius ; and the Quiarterly Review like the bungling headsman who causes a shudder to the reader of English history, was again under the uncomfortable necessity of taking up its axe for the purpose of slaying the slain.

There is a terrible story of Edgar Poe's, entitled "The Tell-Tale Heart," in which a murderer who has, as he thinks, securely disposed of his victim under the flooring of his room, is driven to desperation by the continued and audible beating of the heart of the supposed dead man. Equally embarrassing had become the position of the Quarterly towards the cor cordium, that heart of hearts to whose melodies it had been so strangely deaf, and whose motives it bad so grossly maligned. What was to be done? The reviewer of 1887 found he had no course open to bim but to follow still further the path on which his forerunner of 1861 had entered, and to entirely disavow the early criticism by which it had been sought to destroy Shelley's poetical reputation. The "drivelling prose run mad " is now transfigured into "the statuesque and radiant beauty of "Prometheus Unbound" which drama is further described as ''a dizzy summit of lyric inspiration, where no foot but Shelley's ever trod before." Even the "Cloud," whose metamorphoses so severely puzzled the wiseacre of 1821, is declared to be inspired by "the essential spirit of classic poets"; and we learn with a satisfaction enhanced by the source of the confession that "there are but two or three poets at the most, whom literature could less afford to lose than this solitary master of ethereal verse.''After such praise, from such a quarter, the question of Shelley's poetical genius may well be considered to be settled. The Canute of literature has discovered that on this point the tides of thoaght are not subject to his control.

But there remained the further question of Shelley's life, character, and ethical creed, on which the opinions of thinking men are still sharply divided, and where it was possible for the Quarterly Review to make amends to its wounded amour propre by the reiteration of some of its ancient and characteristic calumnies. Here it was that the modem reviewer proved himself to be a man after Gisbrd's own heart, a chip of the old block (or blockhead) of 1819, and showed conclusively that though times change, and manners of speech are modified, the spirit that animates the staff of the Quarterly does not greatly degenerate. There is no need to follow the full course of this latest attack on Shelley's "supposed ethical wisdom,'' the upshot of the argument being that as the apostle of incest, adultery, and desertion, his life and principles merit the strongest reprobation." But the master-stroke of the article is undoubtedly the charge which the reviewer brings against Shelley of meditating incest with his sister in 1811; a charge which Prof. Dowden has since shown to be absolutely groundless, being founded on a complete misreading of one of Shelley's letters, published by Hogg. The intellect which could put such a monstrous interpretation on a letter which, though hurriedly and excitedly written, is perfectly innocent and intelligible in its main purport, will bear comparison with the literary acumen which, sixty years ago, could detect no meaning in the "Cloud" and "Sensitive Plant"; and the fact that the full exposition of this savoury morsel of criticism should have been reserved for so late a generation of Quarterly reviewers may convince us that there is no substantial falling off in the vigour of the race, and that there are still as good fish in the Quarterly as ever came out of it. The remarkable thing is that, on this particular point, the critic of to-day has scorned the comparative moderation and delicacy evinced by the critic of a quarter of a century ago ; for in the article published in 1861, the writer expressly blamed Hogg for publishing those of Shelley's letters which were written in an incoherent and excited mood after his expulsion from Oxford, and seems to foresee that they might be put to an evil use by an unscrupulous interpreter. "Mr. Hogg," he said, "gives us pages of rhapsody from which it would be easy for a little hostile ingenuity to extract worse meanings "than we believe the writer ever dreamed. He has not condescended to guard against such an injustice by the smallest commentary of his own. For the purposes of biography the letters are all but valueless. If there were any motive for so using them, they would be fatal weapons in the hand of calumny." A Quarterly reviewer may be supposed to be proof against all external remonstrance, but he must surely feel some filial respect for the solemn adjurations of his own literary forefathers, and the passage just quoted from the anonymous, but not wholly unscrupulous, writer of 1861 may therefore be confidently commended to the serious attention of the anonymous and very unscrapalous calumniator of 1887.

It seems, then, that there is still a certain amount of truth in the remark made by Shelley in one of his cancelled prefaces, that ''reviewers, with some rare exceptions, are a most stupid and malignant race." The Quarterly Review claimed to be able to instruct the general public on points of literary taste ; and we have seen that in its estimate of Shelley's poems it has been at least a quarter of a century behind the rest of the world, and has at last been compelled entirely to recant its earlier opinions. The attempt now made to excuse the former unjust depreciation of Shelley's literary genius, because of his social heresies, is singularly pointless and feeble ; for though an ordinary reader might be pardoned for not discovering the poetical value of writings which for other reasons he disliked, this could be no valid excuse for the blindness of a professed reviewer, whose special duty it was to separate the good from the bad. Yet we find the latest Quarterly reviewer complacently remarking that ''the attitude in which Shelley stands towards the past, the present, and the future, explains the unreasoning neglect of his poetic genius during his life." True, it explains it, but it does not on that account justify it. On the contrary, it suggests the thought that the same odium theologicum which so long retarded the recognition of Shelley's poetical powers may still be a fertile caase of the obloquy and misrepresentation often cast on his character and opinions. But this, too, will pass. It has taken the Quarterly Review close on seventy years to discover that Shelley is a great poet ; seventy years more, and it will perhaps think fit to rescind its present verdict that he was 'In mind a genius, in moral character and perception, a child." — To-day 1 Jan., 1888.


Among all the fallacies current respecting Shelley's character, none perhaps is so remarkable as the idea that if his life had been prolonged he would have adopted the tenets of the Christian religion. At first sight there seems to be something so paradoxical in this theory, that it might be thought to be propounded on the lucus a non lucendo principle, to wit, the assumption that a man's nature is to be estimated, not from what he is, but from what he is not But, on second thoughts, it is less difficult to discover the origin of this disposition to recognise a possible friend in an avowed foe. The natural piety and unaffected sincerity of Shelley's character attracted the admiraltion of all who knew him. Even the anonymous "Newspaper Editor," who published his "Reminiscences" in Fraser in 1841, though hostile to Shelley on most points, condescended to make an exception on this. "When I remember," wrote this acute moralist, "how kind he was to his friends, how charitable to the unfortunate, I feel inclined to exclaim that infidelity does not necessarily make a man a scoundrel."

It is not surprising, therefore, that a number of Christian writers, who could admire the practice of virtue apart from the profession of religion, were inclined to treat Shelley with indulgence, and almost with tenderness. Hence arose what may be called the "poor, poor Shelley" theory, by which it was pleaded on the poet's behalf that this erring lamb would eventually have developed into a respectable sheep of the orthodox fold. I believe this notion rests on a serious misconception of Shelley's character and mental abilities. It is the more necessary it should be controverted, since otherwise, having been held and advanced by men who were in the main sincere admirers of Shelley's genius, it is likely to be accepted as an undeniable estimate of what his position would have been, had he lived the full term of life ; whereas it is really nothing more than a mere supposition, in which the wish is obviously father to the thought.

We find that the idea of Shelley's possible conversion to the Christian faith had been advanced by some of his readers even in his life-time. In a letter written in 1820, he alludes to an article in Ollier's Literary Miscellany, written by Archdeacon Hare, who, as we are told in the "Shelley Memorials," "despite his orthodoxy, was a great admirer of Shelley's genius." In this article the hope was expressed that Shelley would in time humble his soul, and "receive the spirit into him ;" a suggestion which caused him irreverently to inquire "what he means by receiving the spirit into me, and (if really it is any good) how one is to get at it."

But it was not until after Shelley's death that the theory of ultimate reconciliation was very seriously propounded. Coleridge's fine remark on the subject is well known. "His (Shelley's) discussion, tending towards Atheism of a certain sort, would not have scared me; for me it would have been a semi-transparent larva, soon to be glorified, and through which I should have seen the true image, the final metamorphosis. Besides, I have ever thought that sort of Atheism the next best religion to Christianity; nor does the better faith I have learnt from Paul and John interfere with the cordial reverence I feel for Benedict Spinoza." It may well be that Coleridge, if he had conversed with Shelley at the time of the writing of "Queen Mab," would have foreseen the true image of his later ideal philosophy through the "semi-transparent larva" of his early materialism ; but to become a follower of Plato is not the same thing as to accept the Christian dogma. Profound thinker as he was, Coleridge was conspicuously destitute of that moral enthusiasm which was the chief motive-power in Shelley's character ; it is not surprising, therefore, that he should have partly misjudged him, especially as they had never personally met.

Yet Coleridge's opinion of the change that might have been wrought in Shelley's creed has heen unhesitatingly accepted by many other writers. In Gilfillan's "Gallery of Literary Portraits," we find it suggested that "had pity and kindhearted expostulation been tried, instead of reproach and abrupt expulsion, they (i.e., the Oxford authorities) might have weaned Shelley from the dry dugs of Atheism to the milky breast of the faith and 'worship of sorrow,' and the touching spectacle had been renewed of the demoniac sitting, clothed and in his right mind, at the feet of Jesus." It seems to me that this "literary portrait," kindly and well-meant as it was, would have appeared to Shelley, could he have seen it as "immeasurably amusing" as the hope expressed by Archdeacon Hare.

Nevertheless the same idea is stated, though in a more weighty manner, and without any admixture of the grotesque, both in Frederick Robertson's address to the Brighton "Working Men's Institute," and in Robert Browning's "Preface to Shelley's Letters." Referring specially to "Queen Mab," Robertson speaks as follows: "Poor, poor Shelley! All that he knew of Christianity was as a system of exclusion and bitterness which was to drive him from his country. . . . Yet I cannot help feeling that there was a spirit in poor Shelley's mind which might have assimilated with the spirit of his Redeemer — nay, which I will dare to say was kindred with that spirit, if only his Redeemer had been differently imaged to him." Robert Browning's view is very similar : "I shall say what I think ; had Shelley lived he would have finally ranged himself with the Christians ; his very instinct for helping the weaker side (if numbers make strength) ; his very hate of hate,' which at first mistranslated itself into delirious 'Queen Mab' notes, and the like, would have got clearer-sighted by exercise." Elsewhere in the same essay he speaks of Shelley " mistaking Churchdom for Christianity," and for marriage " the sale of love and the law of sexual oppression."

Last, but not least, in this list of authorities (a formidable list it must be confessed) who are inclined to see the potential Christian in the actual heretic. I must mention Hawthorne's very characteristic reference to Shelley in the second series of his "Mosses from an Old Manse." "P. Correspondence" professes to be a letter received from a lunatic friend who, "without once stirring from his little white-washed, iron-grated room, is nevertheless a great traveller, and meets in his wanderings a variety of personages who have long ceased to be visible to any eye save his own." Shelley, now well advanced in years, is one of these imaginary personages. The writer, "P.," describes how, on his first introduction to the author of "Queen Mab," who had now become reconciled to the Church of England and had lately taken orders, he felt considerable embarrassment, but was speedily reassured by Shelley's perfect self-possession. The poet pointed out to him that in all his works, from the juvenile "Queen Mab," to his recently-published volume treating of the " Proofs of Christianity on the Basis of the Thirty-nine Articles," there was a logical sequence and natural progression. "They are like the successive steps of a staircase, the lowest of which, in the depth of chaos, is as essential to the support of the whole as the highest and final one resting upon the threshold of the heavens." It is difficult to judge how far there is serious intent in this imaginary sketch of Shelley's later life ; for the passage is veiled in that cloak of fantastic humour in which Hawthorne delighted to envelop his writings. For my own park I should be inclined to regard it as a delicate satire on the theory of Shelley's probable conversion to orthodoxy, were it not that Hawthorne, whose genius was so diverse from that of the youthful poet, would be naturally prone to under-value Shelley's mental powers and the stability of his philosophic creed. Believing that Shelley's revolutionary doctrines were all moonshine, he probably thought they would have disappeared with the advent of maturer years, thus making way for the adoption of the established faith.

It may seem presumptuous to question the probability of a theory which can boast among its supporters such names as those of Coleridge, Browning, and Hawthorne ; but it must be remembered, on the other hand, that this view of Shelley's character is not one which has found favour among the earnest group of Shelley students who during the last ten or twelve years have thrown so much new light on the subject of his life and writings. Even De Quincey, who of course differed toio coelo from Shelley on religious questions, long ago saw the absurdity of Gilfiilan's "portrait" of Shelley as the converted "demoniac." "I am not of that opinion," he wrote, in bis essay on Shelley, "and it is an opinion which seems to question the sincerity of Shelley, that quality which in him was deepest so as to form the basis of his nature, if we allow ourselves to think that by personal irritation he had been piqued into infidelity, or that by flattering conciliation he could have been bribed back into a profession of Christianity. Like a wild horse of the Pampas, he would have thrown up his heels, and whinnied his disdain of any man coming to catch him with a bribe of oats."

Those again, who argue that because Shelley died young, his doctrines were necessarily crude and immature, forget that life is not measured by years, but experience. Shelley is reported to have said on the day before his death —" If I die to-morrow, I have lived to be older than my father ; I am ninety years of age ; " and the more one considers his character the more untenable seems the contention that his opinions were the outcome of mere thoughtlessness and immaturity. Whether he was right or wrong iu his conclusions is another question; but his convictions were certainly formed and held both rationally and conscientiously, and up to the date of his death there is no sign that he had changed, was changing, or was likely to change, in the determined hostility which he always felt and expressed against the Christian dogma.

Frederick Robertson's remark that Shelley knew nothing of Christianity but as "a system of exclusion and bitterness" was only partly correct. It is true that Shelley had not carefully studied the historical development of Christianity; bat he was very far from being the bigoted opponent for which Robertson mistook him. The Bible was one of the books that were most often in his hands, and his intimate love and knowledge of the Old and New Testaments might have put to shame many of those religions persons who regarded him as a scoffing infidel. But the most important point of all to notice, in the consideration of this question, is that Shelley drew a strong line of distinction between the character of Christ and the character of Christianity; so that those who claim him as a possible convert to Christianity are laying stress on what tells against their own theory, when they point out his affinity to the spirit of Christ.

Shelley's views on this subject may be seen in various passages of his writings, especially in the " Letter to Lord Ellenborough," the "Essay on Christianity," and the "Notes to Hellas." In the last-mentioned work, written in the full maturity of his powers, he thus states his opinion of the contrast between Christ and Christian.'' The sublime human character of Jesus Christ was deformed by an imputed identification with a power who tempted, betrayed, and punished the innocent beings who were called into existence by his sole will ; and for the period of a thousand years the spirit of this most just, wise and benevolent of men has been propitiated with myriads of hecatombs of those who approached the nearest to his innocence and wisdom, sacrificed under every aggravation of atrocity and variety of torture." When we are told that Shelley, holding these views, would have ultimately embraced the Christian religion because of his sympathy with its founder, we can only reply that such an argument (to quote Shelley's own words) "presupposes that he who rejects Christianity must be utterly divested of reason and feeling."

It may be said that the gospel preached by Shelley was, like that of Christianity, a gospel of love. But here again the distinction between the teaching of Christ and the teaching of his followers is a vital point. And it mast be noted that the love which Shelley inculcates is represented by him as resulting from the innate goodness, the natural benevolence of mankind, and not from any sense of religious obligation. Free-thought and liberty are the very basis of the Shelleyan morality, it being Shelley's contention that virtue results from the intuitive desire to promote the happiness of others, and that morality must languish in proportion as freedom of thought and action is withdrawn. Whatever may be the merits or demerits of this code of morals, it can scarcely be held to be compatible with the doctrines of established Christianity. If Shelley had been merely sceptical and irreligious, if his cbaracter had in the slightest degree resembled that of Byron, there would have been some colour for the notion that he would not have always remained a recusant ; but so far was he from being simply an "honest doubter," on the look-out for a religious creed, that he must be regarded as an enthusiast of the strongest type, with a mission to perform and a message to deliver to the world ; above all, with a firm faith in the truth of what he was preaching.

It would perhaps be an exaggeration to say that the idea of Shelley's conversion to Christianity is inconceivable ; but it is simple truth to say that, had such an event taken place, he would no longer have been Shelley, but a wholly different person, — whether better or worse it is not within my province to determine, but certainly wholly difierent in nature, character, and habits of thought. Whether it is likely that such a transformation would have taken place if Shelley's life had been prolonged, is a point which every Shelley student will determine for himself; but, the likelihood once granted, I myself should find no difficulty in farther believing (with the madman of Hawthorne's story) that Shelley would have "applied his fine powers to the vindication of the Christian faith," and, having taken orders, would have been "inducted to a small country living in the gift of the Lord Chancellor." This would indeed have been a gratifying realisation of Gilfillan's picture of the demoniac, " clothed and in his right mind."— Proprew, April, 1887.