« PreviousContinue »
MASQUE OF ANARCHY.
TO WHICHI IS ADDED,
QUEEN LIBERTY;. .
SONG-TO THE MEN OF ENGLAND
BY PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY.
WITII A PREFACE
BY LEIGII HUNT.
Ilope is strong;
REVOLT or ISLAM,
This Poem was written by Mr. Shelley on occasion of the bloodshed at Manchester, in the year 1819. I was editor of the Examiner at that time, and it was sent to me to be inserted or not in that journal, as I thought fit. I did not insert it, because I thought that the public at large had not become sufficiently discerning to do justice to the sincerity and kind-heartedness of the spirit that walked in this flaming robe of verse. His charity was avowedly inore than proportionate to his indignation; yet I thought that even the suffering part of the people, judging, not unnaturally, from their own feelings, and from the exasperation which suffering produces before it produces knowledge, would believe a hundred-fold in his anger, to what they would in his good intention; and this made me fear that the common enemy would take advantage of the mistake to do them both a disservice. Mr. Shelley's writings have since aided the general progress of knowledge in bringing about a wiser period; and an effusion, which would have got him cruelly misrepresented a few years back, will now do unequivocal honour to his memory, and show every body what a most considerate and kind, as well as fervent heart, the cause of the world has lost.
The poem, though written purposely in a lax and familiar measure, is highly characteristical of the author. It has the usual ardour of his tone, the unbounded sensibility by which he combines the most domestic with the most remote and fanciful images, and the patience, so beautifully checking, and, in fact, produced by, the extreme impatience of his moral feeling. His patience is the deposit of many impatiences, acting upon an equal measure of understanding and moral taste. His wisdom is the wisdom of a heart overcharged with sensibility, acquiring the profoundest notions of justice from the completest sympathy, and at once taking refuge from its pain, and working out its
.extremest purposes, in the adoption of a stubborn and loving
fortitude which neutralizes resistance. His very strokes of humour, while they startle with their extravagance and even ghastliness, cut to the heart with pathos. The fourth and fifth stanzas, for instance, of this Poem, involve an allusion, which becomes affecting from our knowing what he must have felt when he wrote it. It is to his children, who were taken from him by the late Lord Chancellor, under that preposterous law, by which every succeeding age might be made to blush for the tortures inflicted on the opinions of its predecessor.
" Anarchy the Skeleton,” riding through the streets, and grinning and bowing on each side of him,
As well as if his education
is another instance of the union of ludicrousness with terror, Hope, looking “more like Despair,” and laying herself down before his horses' feet to die, is a touching image. The description of the rise and growth of the Public Enlightenment,
upborne on wings whose grain Was as the light of sunny rain,
and producing “ thoughts” as he went,
As stars from night's loose hair are shaken,
till on a sudden the prostrate multitude look up,
and ankle-deep in blood, Hope, that maiden most serene, Was walking with a quiet mien,
is rich with the author's usual treasure of inagery and splendid words. The sixty-third is a delicious stanza, producing a most happy and comforting, picture in the midst of visions of blood and tumult. We see the light from its cottage window. The substantial blessings of Freedom are nobly described ; and lastly, the advice given by the poet, the great national measure recommended by him, is singularly striking as a political anticipation. * It advises what has since taken place, and what was felt by the grown wisdom of the age to be the only thing which could take place, with effect, as a final rebuke and nullification of the Tories; to wit, a calm, lawful, and inflexible preparation for resistance in the shape of a protesting multitude--the few against the many,--the laborious and suffering against the spoilt children of monopoly,-Man-kind against Tory-kind. It is true the Poet recommends that there should be no active resistance, come what might; which is a piece of fortitude, however effective, which we believe was not contemplated by the Political Unions ; yet, in point of the spirit of the thing, the success he anticipates has actually occurred, and after his very fashion; for there really has been no resistance, except by multitudinous protest. The Tories, however desirous they showed themselves to draw their swords, did not draw them. The battle was won without a blow.
Mr. Shelley's countrymen know how anxious he was for the advancement of the common good, but they have yet to become acquainted with his anxiety in behalf of this particular means of it-Reform. The first time I heard from him, was upon the subject: it was before I knew him, and while he was a student at Oxford, in the year 1811. So early did he begin his career of philanthropy! Mankind, and their interests, were scarcely ever out of his thoughts. It was a moot point when he entered your room, whether he would begin with some half-pleasant, halfpensive joke, or quote something Greek, or ask some question about public affairs. I remember his coming upon me when I had not seen him for a long time; and after grappling my hands with both his, in his usual fervent manner, sitting down, and looking at me very earnestly, with a deep though not melancholy interest in his face. We were sitting in a cottage study with our knees to the fire, to which we had been getting neare: and nearer in the comfort of finding ourselves together; the pleasure of seeing him was my only feeling at the moment; and the air of domesticity about us was so complete, that I thought he was going to speak of some family matter-either his or my when he asked me, at the close of an intensity of pause, what was “the amount of the National Debt."
I used to rally him on the apparent inconsequentiality of his anner upon these occasions : and he was always ready to carry on the joke, because he said that my laughter did not hinder my being in earnest. With deepest love and admiration was my laughter mixed, or I should not have ventured upon paying him the compliment of it.
I have now before me his corrected proof of an anonymous pamphlet which he wrote in the year 1817, entitled “A Proposal for Putting Reform to the Vote through the Country." I will make an extract or two from it, to show how zealous he was on the subject; how generous in the example which he offered to set in behalf of Reform; and how judicious as well as fervent this most calumniated and noble spirit could be in recommending the most avowed of his opinions. The title-page of the proof is scrawled over with sketches of trees and foliage, which was a habit of his in the intervals of thinking, whenever he had pen or pencil ir: hand. He would indulge in it while waiting for you at