Imágenes de páginas

of life. Physical suffering had also considerable were warm and dry. Accompanied by a few influence in causing him to turn his eyes inward; friends, he visited the source of the Thames, making inclining him rather to brood over the thoughts the voyage in a wherry from Windsor to Crichlade and emotions of his own soul, than to glance His beautiful stanzas in the churchyard of Lechabroad, and to make, as in “Queen Mab,” the lade were written on that occasion. “ Alastor" whole universe the object and subject of his song. was composed on his return. He spent his days In the spring of 1815, an eminent physician pro- under the oak-shades of Windsor Great Park; and nounced that he was dying rapidly of a consump- the magnificent woodland was a fitting study to tion; abscesses were formed on his lungs, and he inspire the various descriptions of forest scenery suffered acute spasms. Suddenly a complete change we find in the poem. took place; and though through life he was a martyr to pain and debility, every symptom of

None of Shelley's poems is more characteristic pulmonary disease vanished. His nerves, which

than this. The solemn spirit that reigns throughnature had formed sensitive to an unexampled de

out, the worship of the majesty of nature, the gree, were rendered still more susceptible by the

broodings of a poet's heart in solitude—the min. state of his health.

gling of the exulting joy which the various aspect

of the visible universe inspires, with the sad and As soon as the peace of 1814 had opened the struggling pangs which human passion imparts, continent, he went abroad. He visited some of give a touching interest to the whole. The death the more magnificent scenes of Switzerland, and which he had often contemplated during the last returned to England from Lucerne, by the Reuss months as certain and near, he here represented and the Rhine. This river navigation enchanted in such colours as had, in his lonely musings, him. In his favourite poem of « Thalaba,” his soothed his soul to peace. The versification susimagination had been excited by a description of tains the solemn spirit which breathes throughout: such a voyage. In the summer of 1815, after a it is peculiarly melodious. The poem ought rather tour along the southern coast of Devonshire and to be considered didactic than narrative: it was a visit to Clifton, he rented a house on Bishopgate the outpouring of his own emotions, embodied in Heath, on the borders of Windsor Forest, where the purest form he could conceive, painted in the he enjoyed several months of comparative health ideal hues which his brilliant imagination inspired, and tranquil happiness. The later summer months and softened by the recent anticipation of death.



a Poem.


Οσαις δε βροτόν έθνος αγλαίαις απτόμεσθα

Περαίνει προς έσχατον
Πλέον ναυσι δ' ούτε πεζός των άν εύρους
Ες υπερβαρέων αγώνα θαυματάν οδόν.

Πινό. Πυθ. Χ.


to awaken public hope and to enlighten and improve mankind; the rapid effects of the application

of that tendency; the awakening of an immense The Poem which I now present to the world, nation from their slavery and degradation to a true is an attempt from which I scarcely dare to expect sense of moral dignity and freedom; the bloodless success, and in which a writer of established fame dethronement of their oppressors, and the unveiling might fail without disgrace. It is an experiment of the religious frauds by which they had been deon the temper of the public mind, as to how far luded into submission; the tranquillity of successful a thirst for a happier condition of moral and patriotism, and the universal toleration and benevopolitical society survives, among the enlightened lence of true philanthropy; the treachery and and refined, the tempests which have shaken the barbarity of hired soldiers; vice not the object of age in which we live. I have sought to enlist the punishment and hatred, but kindness and pity; the harmony of metrical language, the etherial com- faithlessness of tyrants; the confederacy of the binations of the fancy, the rapid and subtle transi- Rulers of the World, and the restoration of the extions of human passion, all those elements which pelled Dynasty by foreign arms; the massacre and essentially compose a Poem, in the cause of a extermination of the Patriots, and the victory of liberal and comprehensive morality; and in the established power; the consequences of legitimate view of kindling within the bosoms of my readers, despotism, civil war, famine, plague, superstition, a virtuous enthusiasm for those doctrines of liberty and an utter extinction of the domestic aflections; and justice, that faith and hope in something good, the judicial murder of the advocates of Liberty; which neither violence, nor misrepresentation, nor the temporary triumph of oppression, that secure prejudice, can ever totally extinguish among earnest of its final and inevitable fall; the transient mankind.

nature of ignorance and error, and the eternity of For this purpose, I have chosen a story of hu- genius and virtue. Such is the series of delineaman passion in its most universal character, diver- tions of which the Poem consists. And if the sified with moving and romantic adventures, and lofty passions with which it has been my scope to appealing, in contempt of all artificial opinions or distinguish this story, shall not excite in the reader institutions, to the common sympathies of every a generous impulse, an ardent thirst for excellence, human breast. I have made no attempt to recom- an interest profound and strong, such as belongs mend the motives which I would substitute for to no meaner desires, let not the failure be imputed those at present governing mankind, by methodical to a natural unfitness for human sympathy in these and systematic argument. I would only awaken sublime and animating themes. It is the business the feelings so that the reader should see the of the Poet to communicate to others the pleasure beauty of true virtue, and be incited to those in- and the enthusiasm arising out of those images quiries which have led to my moral and political and feelings, in the vivid presence of which with his crecd, and that of some of the sublimest intellects in own mind, consists at once his inspiration and his the world. The Poem, therefore, (with the excep- reward. tion of the first Canto, which is purely introduc- The panic which, like an epidemic transport, tory,) is narrative, not didactic. It is a succession seized upon all classes of men during the excesses of pictures illustrating the growth and progress of consequent upon the French Revolution, is graduindividual mind aspiring after excellence, and de-ally giving place to sanity. It has ceased to be voted to the love of mankind; its influence in refin- believed, that whole generations of mankind ought ! ing and making pure the most daring and uncommon to consign themselves to a hopeless inheritance ! impulses of the imagination, the understanding, of ignorance and misery, because a nation of men and the senses; its impatience at all the oppres- who had been dupes and slaves for centuries, were sions which are done under the sun;" its tendency | incapable of conducting themselves with the wisdom

and tranquillity of freemen so soon as some of their and inquiries into moral and political science, have fetters were partially loosened. That their conduct become little else than vain attempts to revive excould not have been marked by any other characters | ploded superstitions, or sophisms like those* of than ferocity and thoughtlessness, is the historical Mr. Malthus, calculated to lull the oppressors of fact from which liberty derives all its recommenda- mankind into a security of everlasting triumph. tions, and falsehood the worst features of its de- Our works of fiction and poetry have been overformity. There is a reflux in the tide of human shadowed by the same infectious gloom. But things which bears the shipwrecked hopes of men mankind appear to me to be emerging from their into a secure haven, after the storms are past. trance. I am aware, methinks, of a slow, gradual, Methinks, those who now live have survived an age silent change. In that belief I have composed the of despair.

following Poem. The French Revolution may be considered as I do not presume to enter into competition with one of those manifestations of a general state of our greatest contemporary Poets. Yet I am un. feeling among civilized mankind, produced by a willing to tread in the footsteps of any who have defect of correspondence between the knowledge preceded me. I have sought to avoid the imitaexisting in society and the improvement or gradualtion of any style of language or versification pecuabolition of political institutions. The year 1788 liar to the original minds of which it is the chamay be assumed as the epoch of one of the most racter, designing that even if what I have produced important crises produced by this feeling. The be worthless, it should still be properly my own. sympathies connected with that event extended to Nor have I permitted any system relating to mere every bosom. The most generous and amiable words, to divert the attention of the reader from natures were those which participated the most whatever interest I may have succeeded in creating, extensively in these sympathies. But such a to my own ingenuity in contriving to disgust them degree of unmingled good was expected, as it was according to the rules of criticism. I have simply impossible to realize. If the Revolution had been clothed my thoughts in what appeared to me the in every respect prosperous, then misrule and most obvious and appropriate language. A person superstition would lose half their claims to our ab- | familiar with nature, and with the most celebrated horrence, as fetters which the captive can unlock productions of the human minů, can scarcely err with the slightest motion of his fingers, and which in following the instinct, with respect to selection do not eat with poisonous rust into the soul. The of language, produced by that familiarity. revulsion occasioned by the atrocities of the dema- There is an education peculiarly fitted for a Poet, gogues and the re-establishment of successive without which, genius and sensibility can hardly tyrannies in France was terrible, and felt in the fill the circle of their capacities. No education remotest corner of the civilized world. Could they indeed can entitle to this appellation a dull and listen to the plea of reason who had groaned under unobservant mind, or one, though neither dull nor the calamities of a social state, according to the unobservant, in which the channels of communiprovisions of which, one man riots in luxury whilst cation between thought and expression have been another famishes for want of bread? Can he who obstructed or closed. How far it is my fortune to the day before was a trampled slave, suddenly be- belong to either of the latter classes, I cannot know. come liberal-minded, forbearing, and independent? I aspire to be something better. The circumstances This is the consequence of the habits of a state of my accidental education have been favourable of society to be produced by resolute perseverance to this ambition. I have been familiar from boyand indefatigable hope, and long-suffering and hood with mountains and lakes, and the sea, and long-believing courage, and the systematic efforts the solitude of forests : Danger, which sports upon of generations of men of intellect and virtue. the brink of precipices, has been my playmate. I Such is the lesson which experience teaches now. have trodden the glaciers of the Alps, and lived But on the first reverses of hope in the progress under the eye of Mont Blanc. I have been a of French liberty, the sanguine eagerness for good wanderer among distant fields. I have sailed down overleaped the solution of these questions, and for mighty rivers, and seen the sun rise and set, and a time extinguished itself in the unexpectedness the stars come forth, whilst I have sailed night and of their result. Thus many of the most ardent day down a rapid stream among mountains. I and tender-hearted of the worshippers of public have seen populous cities, and have watched the good have been morally ruined, by what a partial passions which rise and spread, and sink and change, glimpse of the events they deplored, appeared to amongst assembled multitudes of men. I have show as the melancholy desolation of all their seen the theatre of the more visible ravages of cherished hopes. Hence gloom and misanthropy tyranny and war, cities and villages reduced to have become the characteristics of the age in which scattered groups of black and roofiess houses, and we live, the solace of a disappointment that unconsciously finds relief only in the wilful exaggera

* It is remarkable, as a symptom of the revival of tion of its own despair. This influence has tainted

public hope, that Mr. Malthus has assigned, in the later the literature of the age with the hopelessness of editions of his work, an indefinite dominion to moral the minds from which it flows. Metaphysics,* restraint over the principle of population. This conces

sion answers all the inferences from his doctrine un* I ought to except Sir W. Drummond's " Academi- favourable to human improvement and reduces the cal Questions ;' a volume of very acute and powerful "ESSAY ON POPULATION," to a commentary illustrative metaphysical criticism.

of the unanswerableness of “POLITICAL JUSTICE.


the naked inhabitants sitting famished upon their mind that has been nourished upon musical
desolated thresholds. I have conversed with living thoughts, can produce by a just and harmonious
men of genius. The poetry of ancient Greece arrangement of the pauses of this measure. Yet
and Rome, and modern Italy, and our own country, there will be found some instances where I have
has been to me like external nature, a passion and completely failed in this attempt, and one, which
an enjoyment. Such are the sources from which I here request the reader to consider as an erratum,
the materials for the imagery of my Poem have where there is left most inadvertently an alexan-
been drawn. I have considered Poetry in its most drine in the middle of a stanza.
comprehensive sense, and have read the Poets and But in this, as in every other respect, I have
the Historians, and the Metaphysicians* whose written fearlessly. It is the misfortune of this
writings have been accessible to me, and have age, that its Writers, too thoughtless of immortali-
looked upon the beautiful and majestic scenery of ty, are exquisitely sensible to temporary praise or
the earth as common sources of those elements blame. They write with the fear of Reviews be-
which it is the province of the Poet to embody and fore their eyes. This system of criticism sprang
combine. Yet the experience and the feelings to up in that torpid interval when Poetry was not.
which I refer, do not in themselves constitute men Poetry, and the art which professes to regulate and
Poets, but only prepare them to be the auditors of limit its powers, cannot subsist together. Longinus
those who are. How far I shall be found to pos- could not have been the contemporary of Homer,
sess that more essential attribute of Poetry, the nor Boileau of Horace. Yet this species of criti-
power of awakening in others sensations like cism never presumed to assert an understanding of
those which animate my own bosom, is that which, its own: it has always, unlike true science, fol-
to speak sincerely, I know not; and which, with lowed, not preceded, the opinion of mankind, and
an acquiescent and contented spirit, I expect to be would even now bribe with worthless adulation
taught by the effect which I shall produce upon some of our greatest Poets to impose gratuitous
those whom I now address.

fetters on their own imaginations, and become unI have avoided, as I have said before, the imita- conscious accomplices in the daily murder of all tion of any contemporary style. But there must genius either not so aspiring or not so fortunate as be a resemblance, which does not depend upon their own. I have sought therefore to write, as I their own will, between all the writers of any par- believe that Homer, Shakspeare, and Milton wrote, ticular age. They cannot escape from subjection with an utter disregard of anonymous censure. I to a common influence which arises out of an in- am certain that calumny and misrepresentation, finite combination of circumstances belonging to though it may move me to compassion, cannot disthe times in which they live, though each is in a turb my peace. I shall understand the expressive degree the author of the very influence by which silence of those sagacious enemies who dare not his being is thus pervaded. Thus, the tragic Poets trust themselves to speak. I shall endeavour to exof the age of Pericles; the Italian revivers of an- tract from the midst of insult, and contempt, and cient learning; those mighty intellects of our own maledictions, those admonitions which may tend to country that succeeded the Reformation, the trans- correct whatever imperfections such censurers may lators of the Bible, Shakspeare, Spencer, the Dra- discover in this my first serious appeal to the Public. matists of the reign of Elizabeth, and Lord Bacon;t If certain Critics were as clear-sighted as they are the colder spirits of the interval that succeeded ;- malignant, how great would be the benefit to be all resemble each other, and differ from every other derived from their virulent writings ! As it is, I in their several classes. In this view of things, fear I shall be malicious enough to be amused with Ford can no more be called the imitator of Shaks- their paltry tricks and lame invectives. Should the peare, than Shakspeare the imitator of Ford. There Public judge that my composition is worthless, I shall were perhaps few other points of resemblance be- indeed bow before the tribunal from which Milton tween these two men, than that which the univer. received his crown of immortality, and shall seek sal and inevitable influence of their age produced. to gather, if I live, strength from that defeat, which And this is an influence which neither the meanest may nerve me to some new enterprise of thought scribbler, nor the sublimest genius of any era, can which may not be worthless. I cannot conceive escape; and which I have not attempted to escape. that Lucretius, when he meditated that poem whose

I have adopted the stanza of Spencer (a measure doctrines are yet the basis of our metaphysical inexpressibly beautiful) not because I consider it knowledge, and whose eloquence has been the a finer model of poetical harmony than the blank wonder of mankind, wrote in awe of such cenverse of Shakspeare and Milton, but because in the sure as the hired sophists of the impure and superlatter there is no shelter for mediocrity: you must stitious noblemen of Rome might aflix to what he either succeed or fail. This perhaps an aspiring should produce. It was at the period when Greece spirit should desire. But I was enticed, also, by was led captive, and Asia made tributary to the Rethe brilliancy and magnificence of sound which a public, fast verging itself to slavery and ruin, that

a multitude of Syrian captives, bigoted to the wor* In this sense there may be such a thing as perfecti- ship of their obscene Ashtaroth, and the unworthy bility in works of fiction, notwithstanding the concession often made by the advocates of human improve

successors of Socrates and Zeno, found there a ment, that perfectibility is a term applicable only to

precarious subsistence by administering, under the

name of freedmen, to the vices and the vanities of Milton stands alone in the age which he illumined.

the great. These wretched men were skilled to


[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

plead, with a superficial but plausible set of so- fresh from my mind. And although the mere phisms, in favour of that contempt for virtue which composition occupied no more than six months, the is the portion of slaves, and that faith in portents, thoughts thus arranged were slowly gathered in as the most fatal substitute for benevolence in the

many years. imaginations of men, which, arising from the I trust that the reader will carefully distinguish enslaved communities of the East, then first began between those opinions which have a dramatic proto overwhelm the western nations in its stream. priety in reference to the characters which they are Were these the kind of men whose disapprobation designed to elucidate, and such as are properly my the wise and lofty-minded Lucretius should have own. The erroneous and degrading idea which regarded with salutary awe? The latest and per- men have conceived of a Supreme Being, for inhaps the meanest of those who follow in his foot- stance, is spoken against, but not the Supreme Besteps, would disdain to hold life on such condi- ing itself. The belief which some superstitious tions.

persons whom I have brought upon the stage enterThe Poem now presented to the Public occupied tain of the Deity, as injurious to the character of little more than six months in the composition. his benevelonce, is widely different from my own. That period has been devoted to the task with un- In recommending also a great and important change remitting ardour and enthusiasm. I have exercised in the spirit which animates the social institutions

watchful and earnest criticism on my work as it of mankind, I have avoided all flattery to those grew under my hands. I would willingly have violent and malignant passions of our nature, which sent it forth to the world with that perfection which are ever on the watch to mingle with and to alloy long labour and revision is said to bestow, But I the most beneficial innovations. There is no quarter found that if I should gain something in exactness given to Revenge, or Envy, or Prejudice. Love is by this method, I might lose much of the newness celebrated every where as the sole law which and energy of imagery and language as it flowed should govern the moral world.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]
« AnteriorContinuar »