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More than ever I felt my incompetence; but I entreated him to write it instead and he began and proceeded swiftly, urged on by intense sympathy with the sufferings of the human beings, whose passions, so long cold in the tomb, he revived and gifted with poetic language."
Without going quite to the extent of commendation which this passage intimates, or feeling at all convinced by it that Shelley was fitted for a "tragedian," it is impossible not to acknowledge the versatility and energy of imagination which, within a few months' space, could produce two works so dissimilar to one another as the Prometheus and the Cenci. Neither can it escape notice, that Shelley in the latter production went far to wean himself from the obscure and redundant manner of his earlier works. The Cenci has the faults of a young play-writer, and which a practical acquaintance with life can alone correct. Properly speaking, there is no plot, and little dialogue; but as a poem, cast into a dramatic form, it has high excellences of passion and eloquence. Shelley, when preparing for his departure from England, had seen Miss O'Neil, and frequently attended the theatres. This probably gave to his conceptions a fixed centre and outline, which the nature of his imaginative temperament seems always to have required. No one could expand and embellish a story better, as his exquisite fragment of Ginevra proves. No one seemingly, when left to his own invention, was more unfortunately singular and extravagant.
We have unwillingly dwelt rather upon the faults than the X excellences of Shelley, because we believe him more than any other poet of his age destined to operate upon the future poetical literature of England. Wordsworth is imitable by such alone as resemble him in the nature of their imaginative temperament; or it will be the merely formal imitation of which men of talents and cleverness are capable. Byron in his more popular works embodied the present only; in his later ones, when his reputation was on the wane, he was passing over to a new and better period of development, which his early death prevented him from reaching. His influence, consequently, is weakened as time and circumstances change and move onward, and the least enduring portions of his works are those, probably, that at the time they were written were
laureate fraternity which time does not antiquate nor fashion supersede. But in Shelley are visible the germs of a future poetry more intellectual, more nearly allied to the abstract truths of universal faith and philosophy, than any that has yet appeared. With this promise, however, there is joined the danger of mistaking what is accidental in his works for what is permanent; of substituting vague and fruitless speculations for that integral portion of "divine philosophy" that readily combines with poetry. In an age which, in its general character, resembled the latter part of the eighteenth century, a similar philosophy to that of Shelley was recommended to the studious and refined Romans by the earnest-minded Lucretius. His arduous poem had no immediate imitators, but its influence is perceptible in the next generation. It has imparted a deeper tone to the tender and pensive imagination of Virgil, and introduced a not unpleasing discord among the light and cheerful strains of Ovid. Such, perhaps, will be the influence of Shelley also upon the poets of his own country. While they studiously avoid the direct imitation of him, they will unconsciously imbibe his spirit. His rich and exuberant imagery will re-appear under forms more chastised, and in less intricate combinations, but with something also of its original freshness fallen away. Some of his aspirations for the improvement of political institutions are already realized. Of others, and of his projects of social melioration in general, the fallacy and incompatibility with the best interests of men are better understood than when he rashly came forward as their advocate; but with clearer perceptions there is also reason to hope that we unite a more considerate and indulgent spirit. For who, it may be asked, were they who cast a stone at Shelley? Were they, with all the advantages of less intellectual temperaments, of duller sensibilities, of worldly experience, of age and orthodoxy, preferable to him for justice, for generosity, or self-denial? Were they superior or equal to him in genius or attainments? Did they, in their actions or their writings, evince more disinterested love or larger sympathies for mankind? or, did they, on the contrary, cater more successfully for the vices and foibles of society, and build their reputation in life upon their skill in tricking out
palatable to the age? Of presumption and rashness we will not acquit Shelley; but are there no other vices of the temper or the will, from which he was exempt, which those who arraigned him cultivated and cherished as necessary and creditable for moralists and critics to entertain? But it is time to close our very imperfect remarks on the genius and character of Shelley. If we have more clearly pointed out and traced the causes and the consequences of his errors as a poet, we can securely leave the discovery of new excellences in him to the personal feeling and predilection of our readers.
1. The Dispatches of Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington, during his various Campaigns in India, Denmark, Portugal, Spain, the Low Countries, and France. From 1799 to 1818. Compiled from Official and Authentic Documents. By Lieutenant-Colonel GURWOOD, Esquire to His Grace as Knight of the Bath.
2. The General Orders of Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington in Portugal, Spain, and France; from 1809 to 1814. In the Low Countries and France, in 1815. And in France, Army of Occupation from 1816 to 1818. Compiled from the several printed volumes, which were originally issued to the General and Staff Officers, and Officers commanding Regiments in the above Campaigns. By Lieutenant-Colonel GURWOOD.
WEAK must be the perceptions and obtuse the intellect of the man who can scan the page of history, and not trace the chains of events worked out by men fulfilling the ends of Providence. From the first dawn of time to these days, when concurrent events lead to the belief that some great consummation is at hand, mortals who have stood pre-eminent among their fellows, have been selected as instruments, and live in the
with irresistible commands, the chosen people from their bondage. Attilas, instinct with fury to destroy, fulfilled their appointed tasks, and swept and trampled down the Roman empire to the dust. Ranging over the gulf of time, the historic visions of more modern eras float by, all connected, all parts of one great whole, clearly drawing to a close. To trace with steady eye and hand that great outline and close contexture, is not our province, and would require more time and space than can be here afforded. But during the last great series of events, which commenced with the French Revolution, the extraordinary man, the map of whose mind and career is now given to the world, was one of the mighty leaders, an instrument chosen to guide the storm of war, to destroy or defend, uphold or depose, until the vial of wrath which had been poured out upon the earth was exhausted, then he sealed his last dreadful battle with the impress of victory and peace, which can never again be finally obliterated.
With this conviction, the Conqueror of Waterloo becomes invested with a character of the deepest interest, and wholly distinct from his weaknesses as a fellow-mortal. We know not the course of his own reflections, but we have seen his words written from the last field of his glory, while the enemy were discomfited and flying, before he knew the full extent either of the dreadful carnage or of his triumph,-when after enumerating some who had fallen, he ended the brief letter with "I HAVE ESCAPED UNHURT,-THE FINGER OF PROVIDENCE WAS ON ME." What the impulse was which dictated these extraordinary words we leave to the opinion of these who read them.
The fields of action for extraordinary men are extraordinary times-they are contemporaneous. Yet in every instance can be traced the gradual training and preparation of the being, until fully prepared to complete the work for which he was intended. The scope of our inquiries becomes divided into two parts: first, the times; secondly, the part performed by the man in those times. The time, or period, is a part of that in which we live, and therefore too well known to require more than a sketch to revive the recollection of the leading points.
the Duke was engaged, when France was thus described by Isnard, a member of the Convention, and an active Jacobin :
"Le règne de la terreur établi; tous les sentimens de la nature étouffés; la liberté des actions, de la parole, de la presse, enchaînée; la probité, la vertu, la philosophie proscrites; le commerce, les sciences, et les arts anéantis; le Vandalisme et le brigandage couronnés; le Maratism déifié; la fortune publique délapidée; la morale humaine corrompue; la foi nationale violée; les propriétés envahies; de nombreux tribunaux de sang institués, le droit de vie et de mort délégué aux êtres les plus féroces; des milliers d'échaffauds dressés, cinquante milles Bastilles encombrés de prétendus prisonniers d'état; cent milles victimes suppliciées, foudroyés, ou submergées; des millions de familles, de veuves, d'orphelins, noyés dans les pleurs; des départemens entiers passés au tranchant de l'épee et consumés par les flammes; de vastes contrées n'offrant pour moissons que des ossemens et des ronces; la veillesse massacrée et brulée sur son lit de douleur; l'enfance égorgée dans le ventre maternel; la virginité violée jusques dans les bras de la mort; les monstres de l'ocean engraissés de chair humaine; la Loire roulant plus de cadavres que de cailloux; le Rhone et la Saône changés en fleuves de sang; Vaucluse en fontaine de larmes ; Nantes en tombeaux ; Paris, Arras, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, en boucheries; Lyon en ruines; le Midi en désert, et la France entière en un vaste théâtre d'horreurs, de pillage, et de meurtres."
England, in some degree tainted with the epidemic of revolution, but imperfectly acquainted with its horrors and the objects of the leaders, had been forced by that insane country into a defensive war. The excited armies of France, on the pretext of establishing liberty throughout the world, poured down to the seizure of every realm they could conquer, of every town they could sack, and every district. they could leave to military pillage. The ancient régimes of Austria and Prussia were shaken to their very centres, and their councils rendered vacillating and dispirited; Spain, a mass of imbecility and political corruption, was a tempting quarry; young America, ignorant and enthusiastic, clasped the hand of alliance with polluted France; while Russia, after being driven from the battle-field, looked on with fear and trembling at the promulgation of doctrines fraught with the wildest forms of rebellion against universal law and order,— then she became the confederate, and at last one of the instruments of punishment. Such a state of the realms of the civilized world was certain to produce, on the one side, men of reckless energy, talent and military vanity, depraved by