and quotes Lafayette:
"A name endeared by its peerless bearer to every lover of the human race, 'For a nation to love liberty, it is sufficient that she knows it to be free; it is sufficient that she wills it.'"
His other Dublin pamphlet, A Proposal for an Association of Philanthropists, consists of remarks of the same character as the former, but he gives a summary of the French Revolution, which he endeavors to clear from the slurs which had been cast thereon. The information has come down to us through one of Shelley's biographers, that he spoke at several meetings in Dublin. At the one in which he made his first appearance in public he aroused a large assembly to enthusiasm by his fervid eloquence, and yet, notwithstanding all his efforts, his toleration unfortunately became the great stumbling-block in his attempts on behalf of Ireland, for we learn that at another meeting of patriots:
"So much ill-will against the Protestants was shown, that Shelley was provoked to remark that the Protestants were fellow-Christians and fellow-subjects, and were therefore entitled to equal rights and equal toleration with the Papists. Of course, he was forthwith interrupted by savage yells. A fierce uproar ensued, and the denouncer of bigotry was compelled to be silent. At the same meeting, and afterward, he was even threatened with personal violence, and the police suggested to him the propriety of quitting the country."
By many it has been said that Shelley was unsuccessful in his self-imposed task, but he was simply before his time, and no wonder, when we remember the condition of Ireland at the time of his visit.
We know to-day that much of what he demanded has been conceded to Ireland by liberal English governments. An alien Church has been disestablished; public education, Catholic emancipation, and a good deal more, has been given. In the late repeal movement, the young Ireland party, the Fenian organization, and the present Home Rule agitation, we find, as Shelley wished, Catholic and Protestant working arm in arm, their colors being an admixture of orange and green—a healthy sign.
Those who dislike this noble people—for the name is legion of those who are fond of shouting "No Irish need apply"—I would recommend to think calmly over Irish history, to remember the frightful outrages put upon this generous, warm-hearted, and impulsive race for centuries, and read up Froude, Mitchell, Goldwin-Smith, McGee, Moran, and other Irish historians.
We know what the Irish are capable of, and that in Ireland, as here, after a generation or two of education, the old theological belief becomes by a gradual process less and less strong.
On September 6th, 1819, a red letter day was added to the English calendar, through the slaughter by cavalry of a number of unarmed men, who were agitating, peaceably, for the rights of labor. This is known to posterity as the "Peterloo Massacre," and happened in Manchester, on the site of the present superb Free Trade Hall, erected by the Free Traders to commemorate the ultimate triumph of their cause over the capitalists, who, in the manufacturing districts, were, until a few years back, always aided by the military in putting down strikes or demands for increase of wages.
At the time of this outrage Shelley was in Italy; in consequence of it his attention was concentrated more than previously on the labor question, and he immediately composed half a dozen in spiriting poems, full of the fire of genius; in one of which he calls, with a voice of thunder, to the
"Men of England! wherefore plough For the lords who lay ye low? Wherefore weave, with toil and care, The rich robes your tyrants wear?
Wherefore feed and clothe and save, From the cradle to the grave, Those ungrateful drones who would Drain your sweat—nay, drink your blood?
Wherefore, bees of England, forge Many a weapon, chain, and scourge, That these stingless drones may spoil The forced produce of your toil?
Have ye leisure, comfort, calm, Shelter, food, love's gentle balm? Or what is't ye buy so dear With your pain, and with your fear?
The seed ye sow, another reaps; The wealth ye find another keeps; The robes ye weave, another wears; The arms ye forge, another bears.
Sow seed—but let no tyrant reap; Find wealth—let no impostor heap; Weave robes—let not the idle wear; Forge arms—in your defence to bear.
Shrink to your cellars, holes, and cells; In halls ye deck, another dwells. Why shake the chains ye wrought? Ye see The steel ye tempered, glance on ye!
With plough and spade, and hoe and loom, Trace your grave, and build your tomb, And weave your winding sheet, till fair England be your sepulchre!"
By far the finest composition brought out by this occasion was the "Masque of Anarchy," a magnificent poem of ninety-one verses. "Anarchy" he describes as riding "on a white horse,"[E] in alliance with theology and statecraft, and whose admirers were "lawyers and priests."
[Footnote E: This doubtless alludes to the House of Hanover, the principal charge on whose armorial bearings is a white horse.]
After a series of powerful delineations, he describes slavery and freedom, justice, wisdom, peace and love, in exquisite terms. Then he turns to their lamps—science, poetry, and thought, which make secure "the lot of the dwellers in the cot."
He advises—That, on some spot of English ground, should be convened a great assembly of the fearless and the free, who shall come from the bounds of the English coast, and from every hut, village, and town, where, for other's misery and their own, they live, suffer, and moan. Also,
"From the workhouse and the prison, Where, pale as corpses newly risen, Women, children, young and old, Groan for pain, and weep for cold;
"From the haunts of daily life, Where is waged the daily strife With common wants and common cares, Which sow the human heart with tares."
When face to face with their oppressors, no force should be used, but instead
"strong and simple words, Keen to wound as sharpened swords, And wide as targes let them be, With their shade to cover ye."
The description of the Peterloo massacre which follows, is one of the finest pieces of composition in the language, and the poem concludes by calling the "Men of England, Heirs of Glory, Heroes of Unwritten Story," to
"Rise like lions after slumber In unvanquishable NUMBER! Shake your chains to earth, like dew Which in sleep had fall'n on you; 'YE ARE MANY—THEY ARE FEW.'"
In a pamphlet, written ostensibly on the death of the Princess Charlotte, he calls attention to the fact that three men had been executed in the interests of the "big-hearted and generous capitalists," of whom we now-a-days hear so much from their interested admirers, but whose wings are now fortunately clipped.
Shelley considered that there was no real wealth but man's labor, and that speculators pandering to selfishness, the twin-sister of debased theology, took a pride in the production of useless articles of luxury and ostentation. Imbued with this spirit, a man of wealth imagines himself a patriot when employing laborers on the erection of a mansion, or a woman of fashion indulging in luxurious dress, fancies she is aiding the laboring poor. He observes of such instances as these:
"Who does not see that this is a remedy which aggravates, whilst it palliates the countless diseases of society? The poor are set to labor—for what? Not the food for which they famish; not the blankets for want of which their babes are frozen by the cold of their miserable hovels; not those comforts of civilization without which civilized man is far more miserable than the meanest savage, oppressed as he is by all its insidious evils, within the daily and taunting prospect of its innumerable benefits assiduously exhibited before him; no, for the pride of power, for the miserable isolation of pride, for the false pleasures of the hundredth part of society."
Labor is required for physical, and leisure for moral improvement. What is wanted, he considered, is a state to combine the advantages of both and have the evils of neither. In fact, any unnecessary labor which deprives the race of intellectual gain, and all times not required for the manufacture of commodities which are necessary for the subsistence of humanity, should be occupied only in mental or physical culture.
Shelley lays down as a principle that commerce is the venal interchange of what human art or nature yields, and which should not be purchased by wealth, but demanded by want. Labor and commerce, when badly regulated, scatter withering curses and open
"The doors to premature and violent death, To penury, famine, and full-fed disease."
Wealth was a living God, who rules in scorn, and whom peasants, nobles, priests, and kings blindly reverence, and by whom everything is sold—the light of heaven, earth's produce, the peace of outraged conscience, the most despicable things, every object of life, and even life itself.
In a proper condition of society, which should be strictly co-operative, there would necessarily be no pauperism, and
"No meditative signs of selfishness, No jealous intercourse of wretched gain, No balancings of prudence, cold and long; In just and equal measure all is weighed; One scale contains the sum of human weal. And one the good man's heart."
The fruits of Shelley's enunciations on the labor and capital questions, and the school of political economists to which he belonged, have made wondrous progress. The world is beginning to see that labor has the unrestricted right of coalition, that there should be only a standard day's work, according to the wants of society, with prohibition of labor for at least one day in the week; that legislation is required for the protection of the life and health of the working man, and that mines, factories, and workshops should be strictly controlled by sanitary officers selected by labor; that no children's work should be permitted, or women's, which may be considered unhealthy; that prison work should be regulated, and that laborers' co-operative and benevolent societies should be administered independently of the State.
Liberals must learn from their enemies, must organize and let the ramifications of unshackled thought spread through the lands, and must, above all, conserve the control of education. Whereever there is a church or chapel, let there be beside it a hall or club, in which shall be inculcated the simple doctrines of a pure, integralised religion.
On the statute book of England there yet remains a law directed against the freedom of the press and discussion; to even discuss the question of the divinity of Christ was considered blasphemy, and the person so offending was punished most severely by the criminal laws. At the present time this wretched remnant of the dark ages is practically a dead letter. The friends of Shelley suffered from this most intolerant spirit. Keats, it is believed by many, was wounded unto death for daring to speak on behalf of freedom, and we are given glimpses in the Adonais of his feelings on the subject; Leigh Hunt and his brother were imprisoned and fined for the same; the publisher of the pirated edition of Shelley's Queen Mab was cast into Newgate; Eaton, a London bookseller, had been sentenced by Lord Ellenborough to a lengthened incarceration, for publishing Paine's Age of Reason, and hundreds of others suffered similarly. The abominable circumstance of Eaton's conviction caused great uproar; the Marquis of Wellesley, in the House of Lords, stated it was "contrary to the mild spirit of the Christian religion; for no sanction can be found under that dispensation which will warrant a government to impose disabilities and penalties upon any man on account of his religious opinions." Shelley, who was then only nineteen years of age, and had himself suffered from bigotry at Oxford, threw himself publicly into the controversy with great vehemence, with "a composition of great eloquence and logical exactness of reasoning, and the truths which it contains on the subject of universal toleration are now generally admitted." Lady Shelley, from whom I have just quoted, says that her husband's father, "from his earliest boyhood to his latest years, whatever varieties of opinion may have marked his intellectual course, never for a moment swerved from the noble doctrine of unbounded liberty of thought and speech. To him the rights of intellect were sacred; and all kings, teachers, or priests who sought to circumscribe the activity of discussion, and to check by force the full development of the reasoning powers, he regarded as enemies to the independence of man, who did their utmost to destroy the spiritual essence of our being."
To Shelley's able advocacy, and to his appeals against the stamping out of political and social truths opposed to custom, particularly the celebrated letter to Lord Ellenborough, it cannot be denied that the toleration now enjoyed in Great Britain owes much.
Shelley was one of those who most earnestly deprecated punishment by death. In his early years, if a man stole a sheep, or shot a hare, committed forgery or larceny, was a recusant catholic or a wizard, there was, on his conviction, but one penalty meted out—death. To Shelley's sensitive nature, this painted and tinged everything around him with an aspect of blood. In one of his political pamphlets, summoning all his energies, he depicts in fearful colors, the depraved example of an execution—how it brutalized the race, and how it was the duty of man not to commit murder on his fellow-man, in the name of the laws. The abolition of the first of these, he stated that reformers should propose on the eve of a great political change. He considered that the punishment by death harbored revenge and retaliation, which legislation should be the means of eradicating, and he urged that
"Governments which derive their institutions from the existence of circumstances of barbarism and violence, with some rare exceptions, perhaps, are bloody in proportion as they are despotic, and form the manners of their subjects to a sympathy with their own spirit."
In England, as in many other countries, capital punishment is now only employed on conviction of murder or high treason. In Spain and Italy it was totally abolished, on the foundation of their young republics. Thus have the labors of Shelley, and other reformers for the good of humanity, aided to extinguish crime made law.
Cruelty to animals was another reform agitated by Shelley. His love for the animal kingdom and hatred of blood-shedding, was so great, that he personally carried the passion to such an extent as to become a vegetarian, and endeavored to induce others to be the same, in an admirable argument of some length in the notes to "Queen Mab."
The subject of the Rights of Women is approached and expatiated on, perhaps learnedly, by individuals utterly incompetent to deal with the question. Such persons, frequently armed with Sunday-school platitudes, believing in the inferiority of women, consequent on the supposed fall, and doubtless with heads paved with good intentions, as a certain place is said to be, do more harm than good to the cause. This is not wanted, and is worse than useless. To found a real republic on a solid basis, it can be legislated for only by removing the ancient landmarks by a gradual process, and coming face to face with a new order of things, without bias or prejudice borrowed from the past. Thus that noble woman, Mary Wolstonecraft, as well as John Stuart Mill, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and numerous others, have treated this all-important question, which cannot be shirked by the race. True reformers ask: What was the condition of the sex in the past? Look down the revolving cycles and note. In ancient Egypt, woman in the upper classes was almost the equal of man, and although, like Cleopatra, she could wield the sceptre, yet in the lower her condition was wretched; in Asia, a mere slave and object of Zenana lust; in savagedom, a beast of burthen. In Rome and Greece, Shelley shall tell the story:
"Among the ancient Greeks the male sex, one half of the human race, received the highest cultivation and refinement; whilst the other, so far as intellect is concerned, were educated as slaves, and were raised but few degrees in all that related to moral or intellectual excellence above the condition of savages.... The Roman women held a higher consideration in society, and were esteemed almost as the equal partners with their husbands in the regulation of domestic economy and the education of their children."
Regard the incidents of a Jewish wooing, in which the woman had no voice, and of the marriage, the infernal punishments for adultery, and the accounts of the seraglios of the Hebrew kings equalled only by Turkish harems, and some of the passages in the inspired Book of Numbers, for instance, in which the horrible truth is frequently too evident, and only equalled by the fact that after lust had played out its passion, unfortunate women, taken in captivity, could, by divine command, be turned adrift to rot or starve. In Christian Feudalism we find nothing much better. If I have read history correctly, and I may be wrong—the upper-grade women in mediaeval Europe, who were adored, not with love, but with lascivious and sensual worship, by Christian knights and troubadours, and who, like criminals to the halter, were forced, rarely with their own consent, into the arms of men they disliked or had never seen, or were placed in conventual houses against their wills. Of the lower-grade women, I need only offer one example—and that is sufficient to show their awful degradation; the French and German feudal lord had the right of cuissage, or, in plain English, the embraces of his serf-retainer's bride on the marriage night.
Shelley considered that in consequence of all this, men had forgotten their duties to the other sex, and that even at the time at which he lived woman was still in great social bondage, improperly educated, tied down by restrictions, and refused participation in the higher positions of labor. He called not in vain, against the inequality of the sexes, and asserted that woman's position must and should be altered by forgetting the tyranny of the past, and, be determined, for the good of the future.
We should be rejoiced that eloquent exponents of the abominations of former ages, the evils of the present, and the proper position of the future, are now hard at work. The "Women's Rights" party is up teaching men their duties on every continent; in distant India, the Brahmo Somaj is battling, not vainly, against the horrors of the Zenana, and in conservative England, which has been stormed, and the forlorn hope is now taking possession of the citadel; everywhere it is the same. Yes, woman, thanks to Shelley and the reformers, is about to be emancipated and free; free to earn her living, how, where, and when she likes; the equal of man, who shall no longer play such fantastic tricks as he did in the past, in proof of his dignity and superiority. The fourth of July is not long past and gone; I trust that in the dim vista of the future, our descendants will keep a national holiday, or a day to be set apart on which shall be celebrated the "Declaration of the Independence of Women," and then, perhaps, Shelley's description of woman in the "Episychidion" will be more apparent:
"Seraph of heaven! too gentle to be human, Veiling beneath the radiant form of woman All that is unsupportable in thee, Of light, and love, and immortality."
I now approach a very delicate portion of my essay: the question of the marriage relation. By many it is scouted with much virtuous indignation, but I conceive that the liberal, who, like too many, dare not discuss this matter in its broadest and widest aspects, should be stigmatized as unworthy of the name. Christ is reported to have urged the admirers of his ethical system to take up their cross and follow him, leaving father, mother, wife, children, and all they may have—thus Shelley acted, and it bears as equally pregnant lessons to free thinkers as it did to those Syrian fishermen. Oh, that liberals had as much "faith" in the truth, in the efficacy of their cause, as the first Christians are said to have had in the teachings of that Christ whom they regarded not as a Divinity, but as a son of God, as we to-day are sons of God, of the most high! Oh, that we could carry that "faith" into our beliefs, and the determination to be stopped at no obstacle which may bar the progress of truth, which must conquer in the end!
The favorite theme in the writings of Shelley is "Eros," love of the individual, of the race, of nature, and in this he follows Christ, in whose system of Philosophy, Love is ever the pre-dominating idea which permeates mankind with its beneficial effects, and will, when the bastard tinsel with which the truths of the Nazarene are hidden, be replaced by that pure gold which it is impossible to trace in the enunciations of any previous philosopher. This subject is always present to Shelley, and he thus appeals in one of his poems to the
"Great Spirit, deepest Love! Which rulest and dost move All things which live, and are."
In another place he inquires—
"What is love? Ask him who lives, what is life? Ask him who adores, what is God?"
And in the same essay he describes love as
"The bond and sanction which connects man with man, and with everything which exists."
Elsewhere he points out that the attainment of love
"urges forth the power of man to arrest the faintest shadow of that without the possession of which there is no rest nor respite to the heart over which it rules, (and that) so soon as this want or power is dead, man becomes the living sepulchre of himself, and what yet survives is the mere husk of what once he was."
Of such was Shelley's philosophy of love, and I would ask if it be conceivable that the abominable calumny prompted by theological virus, that he kept a seraglio, as his friend Leigh Hunt informs us was reported, had any real existence. Shelley was too pure for any such idea as that of promiscuous sexual intercourse to be acted on by himself; his life, which lies open before us, refutes the diabolical invention. The fact was, that at the early age of nineteen he married Harriet Westbrook, the daughter of a retired tavern keeper, a woman without soul and that congeniality of disposition which a man overflowing with the pulses of genius should have chosen. After a wretched existence without intellectual sympathy, and on the advice of her father, who did not agree with his ideas on religion, they parted by mutual consent, never to meet again. Shelley about this period met his second wife, a woman of the highest powers of mind and charm of body, Mary Wolstonecraft Godwin, the authoress of Frankenstein and other works, daughter of William Godwin, the novelist, and author of Political Justice and Mary Wolstonecraft, the gifted writer of The Rights of Women. We are told by Lady Shelley that, "To her, as they met one eventful day in St. Pancras churchyard, by her mother's grave, Bysshe, in burning words, poured forth the tale of his wild past, how he had suffered, how he had been misled, and how, if supported by her love, he hoped, in future years, to enroll his name with the wise and good, who had done battle for their fellow-men and been true through all adverse storms to the cause of humanity. Unhesitatingly she placed her hand in his, and linked her fortune with his own."
After the death of his first wife, on the solicitation of Godwin, who was anxious for the landed interests of his grandchildren, a legal union was performed. After looking on this episode, in the most charitable manner, I am confident the sternest moralist cannot but "acknowledge that the passionate love of a boy should not be held a serious blemish, in a man whose subsequent life was exceptional in virtue and beneficence."
Believing, as I have explained, in the divinity of love, Shelley regarded everything in the relation of the sexes with the most intense horror, which was not consistent with "freedom;" and by which he most certainly did not signify the license attributed by many. When he looked around and saw the withering blast of forced marriages, conjugal hatred and prostitution, can we be astonished at his passionately exclaiming:
"Even love is sold; the solace of all woe Is turned to deadliest agony, old age Shivers in selfish beauty's loathing arms, And youth's corrupted impulses prepare A life of horror from the blighting bane Of commerce, whilst the pestilence that springs From unenjoying sensualism, has filled All human life with hydra-headed woes?"
In a most important essay bearing on this passage, which should be widely studied, he observes:
"Love is inevitably consequent upon the perception of loveliness. Love withers under constraint; its very essence is liberty; it is compatible neither with obedience, jealousy, nor fear; it is then most pure, perfect, and unlimited, where its votaries live in confidence, equality, and unreserve."
He then urges:
"A husband and wife ought to continue so long united as they love each other. Any law which should bind them to cohabitation for one moment after the decay of their affection, would be a most intolerable tyranny, and the most unworthy of toleration; and there is nothing immoral in this separation, for love is free. To promise forever to love the same woman, is not less absurd than to promise to believe the same creed."
He states categorically that
"The present system of constraint does no more, in the majority of instances, than make hypocrites or open enemies. Persons of delicacy and virtue, unhappily united to those whom they find it impossible to love, spend the loveliest season of their lives in unproductive efforts to appear otherwise than they are, for the sake of the feelings of their partners or the welfare of their mutual offspring; and that the early education of their children takes its color from the squabbles of the parents. They are nursed in a systematic school of ill-humor, violence, and falsehood, and the conviction that wedlock is indissoluble holds out the strongest of all temptations to the perverse. They indulge without restraint in acrimony and all the little tyrannies of domestic life, when they know that their victim is without appeal. If this connection were put on a rational basis, each would be assured that habitual ill-temper would terminate in separation, and would check this vicious and dangerous propensity."
He conceived from the re-arrangement of the marriage relation by greater facility of divorce than was to be had sixty years ago,[F]
"A fit and natural arrangement would result."
[Footnote F: It should be remembered that in Shelley's day divorce was obtainable by the most wealthy only, at an enormous cost and by a lengthy process, precluding the slightest opportunity for the middle and poorer classes to avail themselves thereof.]
Shelley by no means asserts that the intercourse would be promiscuous, but on the contrary believed that from the relation of parent to child a union is generally of longer duration, placed on such a footing, and marked above all others with generosity and self-devotion.
We are on the eve of great religious changes, which must consequently disturb all the social relations. Historical Christianity still holds to her old text, of marriage being a sacrament, and therefore indissoluble. The founder of Comtism developing this dogma, urges that after the death of either husband or wife the duty of the survivor is not to re-marry. Great Britain and many of the American States have conceded greater freedom in divorce, so as to carry out in a large measure the arguments of Shelley, while the theory of what is termed the "sovereignty of the individual" is propounded by the leaders of the free love party, as a cure for the present and former difficulties.
Whatever may be the outcome of the present widespread discussions I know not, but I have belief in the supreme intelligence and in humanity, and am certain that neither the home nor the race will suffer, but that out of all this agitation will come more refined sentiment and truer morality.
I must now conclude. It has been said that there are two things in which the professors of all theologies have agreed-"To persecute all other sects, and plunder their own." Shelley, who subscribed to no theology, was persecuted by them during his entire life, but he ever forgave his persecutors, who he was confident acted through ignorance of his real motives, and he tells us:
"I have thought to appeal to something in common and unburden my inmost soul to them. I have found my language misunderstood, like one in a distant and savage land. The more opportunities they have afforded me for experience, the wider has appeared the interval between us, and to a greater distance have the points of sympathy been withdrawn. With a spirit ill-fitted to sustain such proof, trembling and feeble through its tenderness, I have everywhere sought sympathy, and have found only repulse and disappointment."
Do we misunderstand him? I think not, and William Howitt, a representative of the people, shall answer for them: "For liberty of every kind he was ready to die. For knowledge, and truth, and kindness, he desired only to live. He was a rare instance of the union of the finest moral nature and the finest genius. If he erred, the world took ample revenge upon him for it, while he conferred in return his amplest blessing on the world. It was long a species of heresy to mention his name in society; that is passing fast away. It was next said that he never could become popular, and therefore the mischief he could do was limited. He has become popular, and the good he is likely to do will be unlimited. The people read him, though we may wonder at it, and they comprehend him."
This estimate is not overrated, for, having confidence in his mission to humanity, he was fortified by the belief of his existing as an indestructible portion of interminable nature and the universal mind, which in all high intelligences lives through the ages, not only in the individual consciousness of the spirit, but in that immortality of soul or mind, which lives in the race.
He hated the superstitions of Christian Fetishism and tyranny over the intellect, but loved Christ and the other philosophers with a genuine affection; he loved humanity, and was ever fond of examining its highest phases, as, for instance, through the doctrines of perfect equality in the sexes—yet he recognised that sudden changes were prejudicial before sufficient progress had been accomplished. "To destroy, you must replace." Justice he considered the sole guide, reason and duty the only law. His morality was not that of pharasaical tartuffes, nor of prudish knickerbockers, who with wide phylacteries, sit in the high places to be seen of men. He only combatted evil principles and fought hard in favor of good.
He has been quoted as being too transcendental; he may be to dullards with imperfect reasoning faculties, or theologians, who only see through fanatical and green-monsterish spectacles, but to men who have a live philosophy equally adapted to modern as well as ancient thought, he is as clear as the noon-day sun. All that is required, to comprehend Percy Bysshe Shelley, is integralism of that high order which has ever believed in the ultimate perfectibility of human nature, and looked "forward to a period when a new golden age would return to earth, when all the different creeds and systems of the world would be amalgamated into one, crime disappear, and man, freed from shackles, civil and religious, bow before the throne 'of his own awless soul,' or 'of the power unknown,'" whose veil it is the ambition of theosophy to raise for humanity, and remain the "inscrutable" no longer.
I have completed my task, and with humility I make the statement, knowing that before me are many who could have performed it as completely as I have crudely. I look upon my essay, in which I have treated my subject popularly, with intention, as a beacon, whence a little light may be shed dimly, hoping that others, better qualified, will bring you face to face with the full rays.
I have shown you Shelley in his writings, his life and poetry, only where they trench on his philosophical and reform ideas—I could have related to you much about his inflexibly moral, generous, and unselfishly benevolent character—his pure, gentle and loveable existence—his utter abnegation of self, learnt from the hermetic philosophy, and his despisal of transitory legislative honors—how he, the heir to thousands of dollars annually, and a baronetage, threw aside pecuniary considerations for love of the truth and benevolence,[G] and how, therefrom, he was often nearly dying of hunger in the streets. I could have treated him simply as a poet, full of experienced impetuosity, subtlety of expression, and precision of verse, but I have aimed to exhibit one side of his immortality to you, which lives in and by the race, for humanity.
[Footnote G: "In his heart there was nothing depraved or unsound; those who had opportunities of knowing him best, tell us that his life was spent in the contemplation of nature, in arduous study, or in acts of kindness and affection. A man of learning, who shared the poverty so often attached to it, enjoyed from him at one period a pension of a hundred pounds sterling a year, and continued to enjoy it till fortune rendered it superfluous. To another man of letters, in similar circumstances, he presented fourteen hundred pounds; and many other acts like these are on record to his immortal honor. Himself a frugal and abstemious ascetic, by saving and economising, he was able to assist the industrious poor—and they had frequent cause to bless his name."—National Magazine.]
Cut short in the youth of manhood, who can tell what Percy Bysshe Shelley might, not have become, living for us even perhaps at this moment? What need we care, though, for does not the "Empire of the dead increase of the living from age to age?" Shelley's terrestrial body may have been cast up by the waves on the lonely Italian shore, in sweet companionship with the souls of Keats and Sophocles. His mundane elements, purified through the fire, may have returned to their kindred elements, and been
"made one with Nature, where is heard His voice in all her music, from the moan Of thunder to the song of night's sweet bird; He is a presence to be felt and known, In darkness and in light, from herb and stone, Spreading itself where'er that Power move, Which has withdrawn his being to its own; Which wields the world with never-wearied love, Sustains it from beneath, and kindles it above."
His cinereal ashes may lie beneath the cypresses, near the dust of the "Adonais" of his muse, under Roman sod, and where he said:
"To see the sun shining on its bright grass, and hear the whispering of the wind among the leaves of the trees, which have overgrown the tomb of Cestius, and the soil which is stirring in the sun-warm earth, and to mark the tombs, mostly of women and young children, who, buried there, we might, if we were to die, desire a sleep they seem to sleep."
All this may have happened, but why need we repine, for as eternal as the sea, as infinite as Nature, and as the phoenix, he revivifying lives, transmigrated and transfused into humanity, for with certainty we know that
"He lives, he wakes—'tis Death is dead, not he."
Immortal amid immortals, his spirit in communion with the Most High, fully conscious in its individuality—immortal amid mortals, his place need never be refilled, for he stands betwixt the old and the new—immortal amid the sons of song, do poets still breathe his divine afflatus—immortal amid philosophers and the regenerators of the race, with Buddha, with Moses, with Socrates, with Mahomet, with Christ—immortal amid the noble, the virtuous, the good, the wise—immortal as when living here, for from spirit-spheres we hear him bidding us repeat:
"Nor let us weep that our delight is fled Far from these carrion-kites that scream below; He wakes or sleeps with the enduring dead; Thou canst not soar where he is sitting now. Dust to the dust! but the pure spirit shall flow Back to the burning fountain whence it came, A portion of the Eternal, which must glow Through time and change, unquenchably the same,"
* * * * *
"Peace! peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep— He hath awaken'd from the dream of life— 'Tis we, who, lost in stormy visions, keep With phantoms an unprofitable strife; And in mad trance, strike with our spirits' knife, Invulnerable nothings!"
FINIS CORONAT OPUS.