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ate utterance. In the reaction from these periods of agony and anguish of heart, his representations of life were necessarily one-sided. To his mind, in this state, where great evil existed, it drew all things into itself. The following lines exhibit the aspect under which a whole nation appeared to his sight, while his thoughts were filled with its corruptions. They have a moody grandeur of expression which acts powerfully on the sensibility, though they only exhibit the diseased phase of Shelley's philanthropy :
“ ENGLAND IN 1819.
“An old, blind, mad, despised and dying king,
poems have been charged with a lack of human sympathy — a singular charge against a poet whose miseries sprung from the intensity of his human sympathies. Indeed, Shelley's sympathies were naturally almost universal. Had his mind received a genial development, had it not been sent back upon itself to prey upon its own energies, we believe that it would have displayed as much comprehension as intensity; for in reading Shelley's poetry we are impressed with what
may be termed the infinite capability of the man. The direction his genius takes in any composition never seemed to indicate the bounds of his powers. What he has done we feel not to be so great as what he might have done. From the maturity of the young man who wrote “ Prometheus Unbound ” and “ The Cenci,” what might not have been expected ? As it is, innumerable passages might be quoted from his writings, to show the baselessness of the objections to his writings, founded on the assertion of their lack of human sympathy. The predominance of his spiritual over his animal nature; the velocity with which his mind, loosed from the “ gravitation,” darted upwards into regions whither slowerpacing imaginations could not follow; the amazing fertility with which he poured out crowds of magnificent images, and the profuse flood of dazzling radiance, blinding the eye with excess of light, which they shed over his compositions ; his love of idealizing the world of sense, until it became instinct with thought, and infusing into things dull and lifeless to the sight and touch the qualities of individual existence; the marvellous keenness of insight with which he pierced beneath even the refinements of thought, and evolved new materials of wonder and delight from a seemingly exhausted subject; -all these, to a superficial observer, carry with them the appearance of unreality. A close examination, however, will often prove that the unreality is merely in appearance, - is, in fact, the perception of a higher reality than the world is willing to acknowledge. But, waiving this consideration, no reader of Shelley can be ignorant that his genius sympathized readily with the humble as well as the lofty ; that some of the most beautiful exhibitions of the tenderest and simplest affections of the heart are to be found in his writings; that he had an ear exquisitely tuned to catch the “still, sad music of humanity;" that human hopes, and fears, and loves, all woke sympathetic echoes in his heart; that the language of human passion kindles and burns along his creations, often with a might and freedom almost Shaks perean. Leigh Hunt finely says of him, —“Whether interrogating Nature in the icy solitudes of Chamouny, or thrilling with the lark in the sunshine, or shedding indignant tears with sorrow and poverty, or pulling flowers like a child in the field, or pitching himself back into the depths of time and space, and discoursing with the first forms and gigantic shadows of creation, he was alike in earnest and alike at home.”
The great stigma cast upon Shelley's writings is irreligion. As far as this is well founded, it is most certainly to be regretted, and to be condemned. There are many passages in his works evincing much presumption and arrogance, which we could wish blotted out of existence, were it not for the moral they convey to Christians, and the light they throw upon the history of his mind's development. We
it would be difficult to adduce any man of genius, who experienced less Christianity from others, and exercised more towards others, than Shelley. It was but natural that a man with so acute a sensibility should confound his own outward experience of religionists with religion. It is a matter of astonishment to us, that those who rail against Shelley for certain rash and wayward infidelities of expressions in his works, do not ask themselves whether excitable minds are not driven daily into similar infidelities by the same causes which influenced him. The man who sees Christianity only in its unnatural connection
with fanaticism and hypocrisy, may be pardoned, at least, for rejecting the latter; and they, at the bottom, were what Shelley rejected.
We have previously said that Shelley was naturally religious. In spite of the refining subtilty of his understanding, he possessed in large measure the quality of faith. With regard to spiritual existences, the world is composed of believers, half-believers, and make-believers. Now, Shelley was ever a believer. In the writings of few poets is there so strong a prominence given to Christian ideas. Not only does he inculcate the love of all that God has made, not only does he make disinterestedness and self-sacrifice the chief of virtues, but he stead. ily frowns upon the practice of revenge. This last passion, denounced by moralists, forbidden by Christianity, has been almost consecrated by poets, whether Christian or heathen. Since Homer, it has been invested with all the pomp of passion and imagination. Its naked deformity has been disguised under the forms of sentiment, chivalry, honor, glory, piety itself. But Shelley considers it at once as a crime and a blunder. He says, with unanswerable moral logic,
“ To avenge misdeed On the misdoer, is Misery to feed
With her own broken heart.” Love to enemies, he inculcates with an eloquence and beauty which has rarely been surpassed ; and in one passage in “Prometheus Unbound,” he exalts the sentiment to the height of the moral sublime:
gave an enemy His plank, then plunged aside to die."
Amid all the heated feeling and exasperating persecutions of his time, — in considering even the grossest injustice done to himself, Shelley was generally careful to discriminate between the offence and the offender, and to frown upon all cruelties done to bigots and tyrants. In his most radical and revolutionary poems, he clung with the fond reliance of childhood to the omnipotence of love to soften hearts as hard as the nether millstone, to redeem and purify hearts heavy and thick with the accumulated infamies of years. We have not space, in this connection, to do even tolerable justice to Shelley's marvellous genius; but a consideration of the poets of the nineteenth century would indeed be faulty, that overlooked the heroic character of one of the bravest and gentlest spirits, that "e'er wore earth about him.”
Shelley, with many points of sympathy with Wordsworth and Byron, had a different individuality. The three, taken together, are the most prominent exponents of the peculiarities of the poetry of the nineteenth century. They have had innumerable disciples; and Mr. Griswold's volume gives evidence, on almost every page, of the influence they exerted upon the character and tendency of the imaginative literature of their time. Their point of view, their phraseology, the flow of their verse, have all been wholly or partly assumed by poets of no mean excellence. We can hardly call the latter imitators,
many of them seem to have reproduced rather than copied their prototypes; and the difference is often not so much in feeling as in faculty, between the disciple and the master.
The power of which these three great poets stood most in need was humor. This would have given them sufficient tolerance of practical life to have represented