« ZurückWeiter »
MEMOIR OF SHELLEY.
THE notes of Mrs. Shelley, in the present edition of the poems, contain so much biographical matter, that it will only be necessary to put the reader in possession of such facts as she has omitted either from a natural reserve, or a very pardonable delicacy.
Percy Bysshe Shelley was born on the 4th of August, 1792, at Field Place, in Sussex. He was the eldest son of Sir Timothy Shelley, Baronet, of Castle Goring. His family was an ancient one, and, while one branch of it represented the blood of Sir Philip Sidney, he himself was descended from the Sackvilles, a name inseparably associated with the dawn of the Elizabethan literature.
There was also blood of the New World in Shelley's veins. His paternal great-grandfather, Timothy, had emigrated to America, settling at Newark in New Jersey, where he married an American wife, and where Shelley's grandfather, Bysshe, was born. Bysshe carried the family fortunes back to England, succeeded, by means of a handsome person and fine manners, in marrying successively two heiresses, became a baronet, and lived to a great age, an eccentric and miser. Having built Castle Goring at a cost of eighty thousand pounds, he spent the last twenty years of his life in a small cottage, meanly furnished, and frequented a tap-room at Horsham, drinking with the lowest people of the place,-a habit, Captain Medwin suggests, acquired in America. But, as he brought his fine manners from that country, we may conscientiously believe better things. When he died at last, (a very tedious at last it seems to have been to his eldest son Timothy,) ten thousand pounds were found secreted in different hiding-places in his clothes, books, and chamber. Timothy, (the poet's father,) after keeping the legitimate number of terms at University College, Oxford, made the grand tour, and returned, an accomplished disciple of Rochefoucauld and Chesterfield. Of the influence of his example and precepts upon his son we may judge from an anecdote told by Medwin, who says," he once told his son, Percy Bysshe, in my presence, that he would provide for as many natural children as he chose to get, but that he would never forgive his making a mésalliance.”
Under the roof of this estimable parent and mentor, Shelley acquired the first rudiments of Latin and Greek, in company with his two elder sisters, from Mr. Edwards, the clergyman of Warnham, who is described as a good old man of very limited intellects.” In his tenth year he was removed to Sion House, Brentford, where Medwin remembers him as a shy, sensitive, lonely boy, walking up and down in the sun, aloof from the boisterous sports of his schoolmates.
At the age of thirteen he was sent to Eton. He remained there three years, and, during that time, gave signs of that love of freedom which always characterized him, by forming a conspiracy against the fagging system. According to Leigh Hunt, this was so far successful as to procure immunity for himself, at least, from oppression. He alludes to it, and to the earliest promptings of his literary ambition, in the dedication to “The Revolt of Islam.” That he even now dreamed of achieving fame as an author is evident from his having already written two romances, “St. Irvyne, or the Rosicrucian,” and “ Zastrozzi.” He also gave an early proof of a certain rashness and
of temperament which he never wholly conquered, by publishing these immaturities. Nothing is remembered of them now, but that they were prodigal of melodramatic blue-fire. He was in his fifteenth year when they were written. This was in 1809, and in the same year he became acquainted with his first love, his cousin, Miss Harriet Grove, who contributed some chapters to “ Zastrozzi.”
At Sion House, his favorite books were Mrs. Radcliffe's novels and some others of the Minerva Press School, especially one called “ Zofloya the Moor.” At Eton he became a good Latin scholar,
and a tolerable Greek one. Here began his love of Plato and of boating, the one destined to influence his whole life as an author and a man, and the other to cause his untimely death.
From Eton, he was removed, at the age of sixteen, in October, 1810,) to University College, Oxford. Here his radical opinions on politics, society, and religion seem to have become more firmly rooted. He could not reconcile for himself the discordance between theory and practice, and somewhat too impatiently rejected as false whatever was necessarily inadequate from the imperfect nature of man. But in all the intellectual vagaries of Shelley's youth, we cannot but recognize a rare sincerity and disinterestedness. If he insisted that other men should reconcile the theoretic with the practical, he did not shrink from it himself. This is illustrated by an anecdote told of him by Hunt. No date is given, but it may be referred probably enough to the latter part of his Oxford life.
Shelley was present at a ball where he was a person of some importance. Numerous village ladies were there, old and young; and none of the passions were absent that are accustomed to glance in the eyes, and gossip in the tongues, of similar gatherings together of talk and dress. In the front were seated the rank and fashion of the place. The virtues diminished as the seats went backward; and at the back of all, unspoken to,