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Adonais
by Shelley
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Cancelled Passages of Adonais, Preface. These are taken from Dr. Garnett's Relics of Shelley, published in 1862. He says: 'Among Shelley's MSS. is a fair copy of the Defence of Poetry, apparently damaged by sea-water, and illegible in many places. Being prepared for the printer, it is written on one side of the paper only: on the blank pages, but frequently undecipherable for the reason just indicated, are many passages intended for, but eventually omitted from, the preface to Adonais.'

I have employed my poetical compositions and publications simply as the instruments of that sympathy between myself and others which the ardent and unbounded love I cherished for my kind incited me to acquire. This is an important indication of the spirit in which Shelley wrote, and consequently of that in which his reader should construe his writings. He poured out his full heart, craving for 'sympathy.' Loving mankind, he wished to find some love in response.

Domestic conspiracy and legal oppression, &c. The direct reference here is to the action taken by Shelley's father-in-law and sister-in-law, Mr. and Miss Westbrook, which resulted in the decree of Lord Chancellor Eldon whereby Shelley was deprived of the custody of the two children of his first marriage. See p. 12. As a bankrupt thief turns thief-taker in despair, so an unsuccessful author turns critic. Various writers have said something of this kind. I am not sure how far back the sentiment can be traced; but I presume that Shelley was not the first. Some readers will remember a passage in the dedication to his Peter Bell the Third (1819), which forestalled Macaulay's famous phrase about the 'New Zealander on the ruins of London Bridge.' Shelley wrote: 'In the firm expectation that, when London shall be an habitation of bitterns;... when the piers of Waterloo Bridge shall become the nuclei of islets of reeds and osiers, and cast the jagged shadows of their broken arches on the solitary stream; some Transatlantic commentator will be weighing, in the scales of some new and unimagined system of criticism, the respective merits of the Bells and the Fudges, and their historians, I remain,' &c.

The offence of this poor victim seems to have consisted solely in his intimacy with Leigh Hunt, &c. See the remarks on p. 45. There can be no doubt that Shelley was substantially correct in this opinion. Not only the Quarterly Review, of which he knew, but also Blackwood's Magazine, which did not come under his notice, abused Keats because he was personally acquainted with Hunt, and was, in one degree or another, a member of the literary coterie in which Hunt held a foremost place. And Hunt was in bad odour with these reviews because he was a hostile politician, still more than because of any actual or assumed defects in his performances as an ordinary man of letters.

Mr. Hazlitt. William Hazlitt was (it need scarcely be said) a miscellaneous writer of much influence in these years, in politics an advanced Liberal. A selection of his writings was issued by Mr. William Ireland in 1889. Keats admired Hazlitt much more than Hunt.

I wrote to him, suggesting the propriety, &c. See pp. 14, 15.

Cancelled Passages of Adonais (the poem). These passages also were in the first instance published in the Shelley Relics of Dr. Garnett. They come, not from the same MS. which contains the prefatory fragments, but from some of Shelley's notebooks.

Stanza 1, 1. 1. And the green paradise, &c. The green paradise is the 'Emerald Isle'—Ireland. This stanza refers to Thomas Moore, and would have followed on after st. 30 in the body of the poem.

Stanza 2, 1. 1. And ever as he went he swept a lyre Of unaccustomed shape. 'He' has always hitherto, I think, been understood as the 'one frail form' of st 31—i.e. Shelley himself. The lyre might be of unaccustomed shape for the purpose of indicating that Shelley's poetry differs very essentially, in tone and treatment, from that of other writers. But I incline to think that Shelley, in this stanza, refers not to himself but to Moore. Moore was termed a 'lyrist,' and here we are told about his lyre. The latter would naturally be the Irish harp, and therefore 'of unaccustomed shape': the concluding reference to 'ever-during green' might again glance at the 'Emerald Isle.' As to Shelley, he was stated in st. 33 to be carrying 'a light spear': if he was constantly sweeping a lyre as well, he must have had his hands rather full.

1. 3. Now like the ... of impetuous fire, &c. Shelley compares the strains of the lyre—the spirit of the poetry—to two things: (1) to a conflagration in a forest; and (2) to the rustling of wind among the trees. The former image may be understood to apply principally to the revolutionary audacity and fervour of the ideas expressed; the latter, to those qualities of imagination, fantasy, beauty, and melody, which characterise the verse. Of course all this would be more genuinely appropriate to Shelley himself than to Moore: still it would admit of some application to Moore, of whom our poet spoke highly more than once elsewhere. The image of a forest on fire is more fully expressed in a passage from the Lines written among the Euganean Hills, composed by him in 1818:—

'Now new fires from antique light Spring beneath the wide world's might,— But their spark lies dead in thee [i.e. in Padua], Trampled out by Tyranny, As the Norway woodman quells, In the depths of piny dells, One light flame among the brakes, While the boundless forest shakes, And its mighty trunks are torn, By the fire thus lowly born;— The spark beneath his feet is dead; He starts to see the flames it fed Howling through the darkened sky With a myriad tongues victoriously, And sinks down in fear;-so thou, O Tyranny! beholdest now



Light around thee, and thou hearest The loud flames ascend, and fearest. Grovel on the earth! ay, hide In the dust thy purple pride!'

Stanza 3, 1. 1. And then came one of sweet and earnest looks. It is sufficiently clear that this stanza, and also the fragmentary beginning of stanza 4, refer to Leigh Hunt—who, in the body of the Elegy, is introduced in st. 35. The reader will observe, on looking back to that stanza, that the present one could not be added on to the description of Hunt: it is an alternative form, ultimately rejected. Its tone is ultra-sentimental, and perhaps on that account it was condemned. The simile at the close of the present stanza is ambitious, but by no means felicitous.

Stanza 4, 11. 1, 2. His song, though very sweet, was low and faint, A simple strain. It may be doubted whether this description of Hunt's poetry, had it been published in Adonais, would have been wholly pleasing to Hunt. Neither does it define, with any exceptional aptness, the particular calibre of that poetry.

Stanza 5, 11. 1, 2. A mighty Phantasm, half concealed In darkness of his own exceeding light. It seems to have been generally assumed that Shelley, in this stanza, describes one more of the 'Mountain Shepherds' (see st. 30)—viz. Coleridge. No doubt, if any poet or person is here indicated, it must be Coleridge: and the affirmative assumption is so far confirmed by the fact that in another poem—the Letter to Maria Gisborne, 1820—Shelley spoke of Coleridge in terms partly similar to these:—

'You will see Coleridge; he who sits obscure In the exceeding lustre and the pure Intense irradiation of a mind Which, with its own internal lightning blind, Flags wearily through darkness and despair— A cloud-encircled meteor of the air, A hooded eagle among blinking owls.'

But the first question is—Does this cancelled stanza relate to a Mountain Shepherd at all? To speak of a Mountain Shepherd as a 'mighty Phantasm,' having an 'awful presence unrevealed,' seems to be taking a considerable liberty with language. To me it appears more likely that the stanza relates to some abstract impersonation—perhaps Death, or else Eternity. It is true that Death figures elsewhere in Adonais (stanzas 7, 8, 25) under an aspect with which the present phrases are hardly consistent: but, in the case of a cancelled stanza, that counts for very little. In Prometheus Unbound (Act ii, sc. 4) Eternity, symbolised in Demo-gorgon, is described in terms not wholly unlike those which we are now debating:—

'I see a mighty Darkness Filling the seat of power, and rays of gloom Dart round, as light from the meridian sun, Ungazed upon and shapeless. Neither limb, Nor form, nor outline; yet we feel it is A living Spirit.'

As to the phrase in the cancelled stanza, 'In darkness of his own exceeding light,' it need hardly be observed that this is modified from the expression in Paradise Lost (Book 3):—

'Dark with excessive bright thy skirts appear.'

1. 5. Thunder-smoke, whose skirts were chrysolite. Technically, chrysolite is synonymous with the precious stone peridot, or olivine—its tint is a yellowish green. But probably Shelley thought only of the primary meaning of the word chrysolite, 'golden-stone,' and his phrase as a whole comes to much the same thing as 'a cloud with a golden lining.'

Stanza 6, 1. 1. And like a sudden meteor. We here have a fragmentary simile which may—or equally well may not—follow on as connected with St. 5. See on p. 147, for whatever it may be worth in illustration, the line relating to Coleridge:—

'A cloud-encircled meteor of the air.'

1. 5. Pavilioned in its tent of light. Shelley was fond of the word Pavilion, whether as substantive or as verb. See St. 50: 'Pavilioning the dust of him,' &c.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] See the Life of Mrs. Shelley, by Lucy Madox Rossetti (Eminent Women Series), published in 1890. The connexion between the two branches of the Shelley family is also set forth—incidentally, but with perfect distinctness—in Collins's Peerage of England(1756), vol. iii. p. 119. He says that Viscount Lumley (who died at some date towards 1670) 'married Frances, daughter of Henry Shelley, of Warminghurst in Sussex, Esq. (a younger branch of the family seated at Michaelgrove, the seat of the present Sir John Shelley, Bart.).'

[2] I am indebted to Mr. J. Cordy Jeaffreson for some strongly reasoned arguments, in private-correspondence, tending to Harriet's disculpation.

[3] This line (should be 'Beneath the good,' &c.) is the final line of Gray's Progress of Poesy. The sense in which Shelley intends to apply it to The Cenci may admit of some doubt. He seems to mean that The Cenci is not equal to really good tragedies; but still is superior to some tragedies which have recently appeared, and which bad critics have dubbed great.

[4] This phrase is not very clear to me. From the context ensuing, it might seem that the 'circumstance' which prevented Keats from staying with Shelley in Pisa was that his nerves were in so irritable a state as to prompt him to move from place to place in Italy rather than fix in any particular city or house.

[5] Though Shelley gave this advice, which was anything but unsound, he is said to have taken good-naturedly some steps with a view to getting the volume printed. Mr. John Dix, writing in 1846, says: 'He [Shelley] went to Charles Richards, the printer in St. Martin's Lane, when quite young, about the printing a little volume of Keats's first poems.'

[6] This statement is not correct—so far at least as the longer poems in the volume are concerned. Isabella indeed was finished by April, 1818; but Hyperion was not relinquished till late in 1819, and the Eve of St. Agnes and Lamia were probably not even begun till 1819.

[7] See p, 96 as to Shelley's under-rating of Keats's age. He must have supposed that Keats was only about twenty years old at the date when Endymion was completed. The correct age was twenty-two.

[8] The passages to which Shelley refers begin thus: 'And then the forest told it in a dream;' 'The rosy veils mantling the East;' 'Upon a weeded rock this old man sat.'

[9] I do not find in Shelley's writings anything which distinctly modifies this opinion. However, his biographer, Captain Medwin, avers that Shelley valued all the poems in Keats's final volume; he cites especially Isabella and The Eve of St. Agnes.

[10] In books relating to Keats and Shelley the name of this gentleman appears repeated, without any explanation of who he was. In a MS. diary of Dr. John Polidori, Byron's travelling physician (my maternal uncle), I find the following account of Colonel Finch, whom Polidori met in Milan in 1816: 'Colonel Finch, an extremely pleasant, good-natured, well-informed, clever gentleman, spoke Italian extremely well, and was very well read in Italian literature. A ward of his gave a masquerade in London upon her coming of age. She gave to each a character in the reign of Queen Elizabeth to support, without the knowledge of each other; and received them in a saloon in proper style as Queen Elizabeth. He mentioned to me that Nelli had written a Life of Galileo, extremely fair, which, if he had money by him, he would buy, that it might be published. Finch is a great admirer of architecture in Italy. Mr. Werthern, a gentleman most peaceable and quiet I ever saw, accompanying Finch, whose only occupation [I understand this to mean the occupation of Wethern, but possibly it means of Finch] is, when he arrives at a town or other place, to set about sketching, and then colouring, so that he has perhaps the most complete collection of sketches of his tour possible. He invited me (taking me for an Italian), in case I went to England, to see him; and, hearing I was English, he pressed me much more,' The name 'Werthern' is not distinctly written: should it be 'Wertheim'?

[11] 'Envy' refers no doubt to hostile reviewers. 'Ingratitude' refers to a statement of Colonel Finch that Keats had 'been infamously treated by the very persons whom his generosity had rescued from want and woe.' It is not quite clear who were the persons alluded to by Finch. Keats's brother George (then in America) was presumably one: he is, however, regarded as having eventually cleared himself from the distressing imputation. I know of no one else, unless possibly the painter Haydon may be glanced at: as to him also the charge appears to be too severe and sweeping.

[12] Shelley wrote another letter on 16 June—to Miss Clairmont, then in Florence. It contains expressions to nearly the same purport. 'I have received a most melancholy account of the last illness of poor Keats; which I will neither tell you nor send you, for it would make you too low-spirited. My Elegy on him is finished. I have dipped my pen in consuming fire to chastise his destroyers; otherwise the tone of the poem is solemn and exalted. I send it to the press here, and you will soon have a copy.'

[13] As Byron is introduced into Adonais as mourning for Keats, and as in fact he cared for Keats hardly at all, it seems possible that his silence was dictated by antagonism rather than by modesty.

[14] Blackwood seems to imply that the Quarterly accused Endymion of indecency; this is not correct.

[15] The reader of Keats's preface will find that this is a misrepresentation. Keats did not speak of any fierce hell of criticism, nor did he ask to remain uncriticised in order that he might write more. What he said was that a feeling critic would not fall foul of him for hoping to write good poetry in the long run, and would be aware that Keats's own sense of failure in Endymion was as fierce a hell as he could be chastised by.

[16] This passage of the letter had remained unpublished up to 1890. It then appeared in Mr. Buxton Forman's volume, Poetry and Prose by John Keats. Some authentic information as to Keats's change of feeling had, however, been published before.

[17] This phrase is lumbering and not grammatical. The words 'I confess that I am unable to refuse' would be all that the meaning requires.

[18] This seems to contradict the phrase in Adonais (stanza 20) 'Nought we know dies.' Probably Shelley, in the prose passage, does not intend 'perishes' to be accepted in the absolute sense of 'dies,' or 'ceases to have any existence;' he means that all things undergo a process of deterioration and decay, leading on to some essential change or transmutation. The French have the word 'deperir' as well as 'perir': Shelley's 'perishes' would correspond to 'deperit.'

THE END

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