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THE POETICAL WORKS
PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY.
PETER BELL THE THIRD.
BY MICHING MALLECHO ESQ.
Is it a party in a parlour,
All silent, and all——damned?
Peter Bell, by W. Wordsworth.
Ophelia.-What means this, my lord?
Hamlet.—Marry, this is Aliening Mallecho; it means mischief.
Dear Tom,—Allow me to request you to introduce Mr. Peter Bell to the respectable family of the Fudges. Although he may fall short of those very considerable personages in the more active properties which characterize the Rat and the Apostate, I suspect that even you, their historian, will confess that he surpasses them in the more peculiarly legitimate qualification of intolerable dullness.
You know Mr. Examiner Hunt; well—It was he who presented me to two of the Mr. Bells. My intimacy with the younger Mr. Bell naturally sprung from this introduction to his brothers. And, in presenting him to you, I have the satisfaction of being able to assure you that he is considerably the dullest of the three.
There is this particular advantage in an acquaintance with any one of the Peter Beils—that, if you know one Peter Bell, you know three Peter Bells: they are not one, but three; not three, but one. An awful mystery, which, after having caused torrents of blood, and having been hymned by groans enough to deafen the music of the spheres, is at length illustrated, to the satisfaction of all parties in the theological world, by the nature of Mr. Peter Bell.
Peter is a polyhedric Peter, or a Peter with many sides. He changes colours like a chameleon, and his coat like a snake. He is a Proteus of a Peter. He was at first VOL. II. A
sublime, pathetic, impressive, profound; then dull; then prosy and dull; and now dull—oh so very dull I it is an ultra-legitimate dullness.
You will perceive that it is not necessary to consider Hell and the Devil as supernatural machinery. The whole scene of my epic is in "this world which is"—so Peter informed us before his conversion to White OH
"The world of all of us, and where
We find our happiness, or not at all"
Let me observe that I have spent six or seven days in composing this sublime piece ; the orb of my moonlight genius has made the fourth part of its revolution round the dull earth which you inhabit, driving you mad, while it has retained its calmness and its splendour, and I have been fitting this its last phase "to occupy a permanent station in the literature of my country."
Your works, indeed, dear Tom, sell better; but mine are far superior. The public is no judge; posterity sets all to rights.
Allow me to observe that so much has been written of Peter Bell that the present history can be considered only, like the Iliad, as a continuation'of that series of cyclic poems which have already been candidates for bestowing immortality upon, at the same time that they receive it from, his character and adventures. In this point of view, I have violated no rule of syntax in beginning my composition with a conjunction; the full stop which closes the poem continued by me being, like the full stops at the end of the Iliad-and Odyssey, a full stop of a very qualified import.
Hoping that the immortality which you have given to the Fudges you will receive from them ; and in the firm expectation that, when London shall be an habitation of bitterns; when St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey shall stand, shapeless and nameless ruins, in the midst of an unpeopled marsh; 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 now unimagined system of criticism, the respective merits of the Bells and the Fudges, and their historians,
1 remain, dear Tom,
December i, 1819.
P.S.—Pray excuse the date ofplacc ; so soon as the profits of the publication come in, I mean to hire lodgings in a more respectable street.
Peter Bells, one, two, and three,
O'er the wide world wandering be.—
First, the antenatal Peter,
Wrapped in weeds of the same metre,
The so long predestined raiment,
Clothed in which to walk his way meant
The second Peter; whose ambition
Is to link the proposition
As the mean of two extremes—
(This was learnt from Aldrich's themes)
Shielding from the guilt of schism
The orthodoxal syllogism;
The first Peter—he who was
Like the shadow in the glass
Of the second, yet unripe,
His substantial antitype.—
Then came Peter Bell the Second,
Who henceforward must be reckoned
The body of a double soul,
And that portion of the whole
Without which the rest would seem
Ends of a disjointed dream.—
And the Third is he who has
O'er the grave been forced to pass
To the other side, which is—
Go and try else—just like this.
Peter Bell the First was Peter
PART I— DEATH.
With fresh-imported hell-fire warmed,
Ii. His eyes tarned up, his mouth tarned down;
His accent caught a nasal twang;
Some swore it was the gravel.
And with long preaching and persuasion
He was predestined to damnation.
Thy skin is of a brimstone hue;
The other, I think, rhymes with>w<."
Then Peter set up such a yell
The nurse, who with some water gruel
And broke them both—the fall was cruel.
The parson from the casement leapt
Into the lake of Windermere: And many an eel—though no adept In God's right reason for it—kept
Gnawing his kidneys half a year.
And all the rest rushed through the door, And tumbled over one another,