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Shelley's prose works must not be omitted from the catalogue, if works they can be called, which were never meant for any thing else than occasional effusions. They include two or three translations from Plato, the prefaces to his vari. ous poems, a few essays and criticisms, published posthumously, and a selection from his correspondence. Yet, brief and unlaboured as they are, they raise our estimation of the man. They are free from the fever and wildness of his poetry. Their sentiment is finely generous and discriminating. Their tone of criticism contrasts well with the exciu. siveness of the Lakers. Shelley had an intensely catholic taste, tremblingly alive to every variety and degree of excellence, equally fond of the Grecian and the Gothic schools; loving at once Keats and Moore, Bowles and Byron, Leigh Hunt and Coleridge, Hogarth and Leonardo de Vinci. His criticisms bring out the peculiarities of his authors or painters, amid a blaze of native beauty, a halo communicated by his own mind. Raffaelle was his especial favourite ; and he held strong opinions as to his superiority to Michael Angelo, whose style he thought hard, coarse, and savage. His estimates of the remains of the classic school—of the Minervathe Niobe, “shielding her children from some divine and inevitable wrong”—the Bacchantes, with their “ hair caught in the whirlwind of their tempestuous dance,”—are confessedly superior even to Winkelman's. They are distinguished by chaste and Grecian beauty. His prefaces are undoubtedly too presumptuous, too plainly prejudicating the case, and flinging down defiance in the face of the public. Now, without wishing that he had descended to indite any servile apology-of such drivelling deprecation of doom, he was, indeed, incapable--we could have liked if he had followed a more just and modest taste in this matter ;-if, stung though he was by depreciation into an intense and almost insane consciousness of himself, he had copied the example of John Keats, whose preface to “Endymion” is, in our judgment, an ideal specimen of such things, filled, as it is, with a proud and noble humility. “No feeling man,” he says, “will be forward to inflict punishment on me; he will leave me alone, knowing that there is not a fiercer hell than the failure in a great object." Still the tone of Shelley's prefaces is trumpet. like, their march stately and majestic, their criticism profound. Thus loftily does he describe his poetical education :—“I have been familiar from boy hood with mountains and lakes, and the sea, and the solitude of forests. Danger, which sports upon the brink of precipices, has been my play. mate. I have trodden the glaciers of the Alps, and lived under the eye of Mont Blanc. I have been a wanderer amongst distant fields; I have sailed down mighty rivers, and seen the sun rise and set, and the stars come forth, whilst I have sailed night and day down a rapid stream among moun. tains. I have seen populous cities, and have watched the passions which rise and spread, and sink and change, amongst assembled multitudes of men. I have seen the the. atre of the more visible ravages of tyranny and war; cities and villages reduced to scattered groups of black and roofless houses, and the naked inhabitants sitting famished on their desolated thresholds. I have conversed with living men of genius. The poetry of ancient Greece and Rome, and modern Italy, and our own country, has been, to me, like external nature, a passion and an enjoyment. Such are the sources from which the imagery of my poems is generally drawn.”
The correspondence of Shelley is distinguished by all his characteristics,-his fancy, feeling, fire, purity of sentiment feminine delicacy of taste, suave stateliness of diction, and in addition to all this, by a piercing sagacity of observation, and instinctive propriety of sentiment, on every day topics, which you could never have expected from the visionary cast of his poetry. How clearly he sees through Lord Byron, amid his admiration !-how awake is he to his foibles !
-how honest in his advices !—how alive to his true power, his true fame and happiness !-how deeply chagrined and disgusted at his miserable desecration of noble powers and amplest opportunities! How different from the crawling sycophants, who were glad to lick the very slime of sin from his proud feet! What tender gleams, too, are cast, in the same correspondence, upon Shelley's domestic feelings and habits, on his love to his wife and family, on his amiable, forgiving, and benevolent disposition. Altogether—to parody an expression of Dr. Johnson's—let him who would attain an English style, chaste but not cold, classical but not stiff, energetic but never extravagant, clear but never shallow, profound but never mystic, give his days and his nights to the prose of Shelley.
We are writing a criticism, not a life. But we would refer those who would know more about his personal and private manners, to Leigh Hunt's and Medwin's “Reminiscences,” to Talfourd's “ Oration in Defence of Moxon," and to a series of papers which appeared in the New Monthly Magazine, entitled, “Shelley at Oxford.” All agree in describing him as the most warm-hearted, the most disinterested, the most child-like, and, withal, the most eccentric of human beings. Whether lying asleep on the hearth-rug, with his small round head thrust into almost the very fire; or launching on the Serpentine, in defect of a paper boat, a fifty pound note ; or devouring large pieces of dry bread, amid his profound abstractions; or stalking along the streets of London, with his vast and quiet steps; or snatching a child from its nurse's arms, shaking, the while, his long fair
locks. and asking what it remembered of its antenatal state; or now scalding, and now half-poisoning himself with chemi. cal experiments; or discussing a point in Plato, under the twilight trees, with far-heard shrieking voice ; or taking Leigh Hunt by the two hands, and asking him with the most comical earnestness,—“Can you tell me the amount of the national debt ?” or, another time, in a stage-coach, terrifying an old lady out of her wits, by saying suddenly to his com. panion, in quotation from Shakspeare, “ Hunt, I pray thee, let us sit upon the ground, and tell strange stories of the deaths of kings;" or, rushing out of the room, in sweltering terror, as his wild imagination painted to him a pair of eyes in a lady's breast; or, writing to Rowland Hill for the use of Surrey Chapel to preach Pantheism in; or, like Dr. John. son, lifting a poor, houseless outcast upon his back, and carrying her to a place of refuge; or running about from cottage to cottage, in Marlow, visiting and helping the sick ; or swallowing endless cups of tea ; or basking in the hottest beams of an Italian sun, till he had made men suspect that he had been designed for the planet Mercury; or, though on all other subjects the wisest of the wise, the gentlest of the gentle, the bravest of the brave, yet when one topic was intro- · duced, becoming straightway insane, his eyes glaring, his voice screaming, his hand vibrating frenzy; or, sailing in his crazy, Charon-like boat, upon the Serchio; or seen entering a wood near Pisa, a little before his death, at a time when he was miles away,-his character, on the whole, was one of the most interesting, and his life among the most romantic in literary story. Every one must remember the catastrophe which robbed the world of this strange and great spirit. Every body knows that, on the news of the arrival of Leigh Hunt in Italy, Shelley hastened to meet him. During all the time he spent in Leghorn, he was in brilliant spirits,
to him ever a sure prognostic of coming evil. On his return to his home and family, his skiff was overtaken by a fearful hurricane, and all on board perished. His body, when
found, was in a state unfit for removal. It was, therefore, under the auspices of Byron and Hunt, burned on the seashore, all but the heart, which would not consume. To a gentleman who, at the time, was with a glass surveying the sea, the scene of his drowning assumed a very striking appearance. A great many vessels were visible, and among them one small skiff, which attracted his particular attention. Suddenly a dreadful storm, attended by thunder and columns of lightning, swept over the sea, and eclipsed the prospect. When it had passed, he looked again. The larger vessels were all safe, riding upon the swell, the skiff only had gone down for ever. And in that skiff was Alastor! Here he met his fate. Wert thou, oh “ religious sea,” only avenging on his head the cause of thy denied and insulted Deity ? Were ye, ye elements, in your courses, commissioned to destroy him? Ah, there is no reply. The surge is silent. The elements have no voice. In the eternal Councils the secret is hid of the reason of this man's death. And there, too, rests the still more tremendous secret of the character of his destiny. Let us shut the book, and clasp the clasp.
We have somewhere heard the indolence of true genius deplored. But certainly the charge does not apply to men of genius in our day. In an age distinguished above all others for fervid excitement and unrelaxing energy, it was to be expected that the brighter and loftier spirits should