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prophecy is fulfilled, and Love, untainted by any evil, becomes the law of the world.
England had been rendered a painful residence to Shelley, as much by the sort of persecution with which in those days all men of liberal opinions were visited, and by the injustice he had lately endured in the Court of Chancery, as by the symptoms of disease which made him regard a visit to Italy as necessary to prolong his life. An exile, and strongly impressed with the feeling that the majority of his countrymen regarded him with sentiments of aversion, such as his own heart could experience towards none, he sheltered himself from such disgusting and painful thoughts in the calm retreats of poetry, and built up a world of his own, with the more pleasure, since he hoped to induce some one or two to believe that the earth might become such, did mankind themselves consent The charm of the Roman climate helped to clothe his thoughts in greater beauty than they had ever
worn before. And as he wandered among the ruins, made one with nature in their decay, ox gazed on the Praxitelean shapes that throng the Vatican, the Capitol, and the palaces of Rome, his soul imbibed forms of loveliness which became a portion of itself. There are many passages in the "Prometheus" which show the intense delight be received from such studies, and give back the impression with a beauty of poetical description peculiarly his own. He felt this, as a poet must feel when he satisfies himself by the result of his labours, and he wrote from Rome, " My Prometheus Unbound is just finished, and in a month or two I shall send it. It is a drama, with characters and mechanism of a kind yet uoattempted, and I think the execution is better than any of my former attempts."
I may mention, for the information of the more critical reader, that the verbal alterations in this edition of Prometheus are made from a list of errata, written by Shelley himself.
TO LEIGH HUNT, ESti
My Dear Friend, I Inscribe with your name, from a distant country, and after an absence whose months have seemed years, this the latest of my literary efforts.
Those writings which I have hitherto published, have been little else than visions which impersonate my own apprehensions of the beautiful and the just. I can alto perceive in them the literary defects incidental to youth and impatience ; they are dreams of what ought to be, or may be. The drama which I now present to you is a sad reality. I lay aside the presumptuous attitude of an instructor, and am content to paint, with such colours as my own heart furnishes, that which has been.
Had I known a person more highly endowed than yourself with all that it becomes a man to possess, I had solicited for this work the ornament of his name. One more gentle, honourable, innocent and brave ; one of more exalted toleration for all who do and think evil, and yet himself more free from evil; ooe who knows better how to receive, and how to confer a benefit, though be must ever confer far more than he can receive; one of simpler, and, in the highest sense of the word, of purer lifo and manners, I never knew ; and I had already been fortunate in friendships when your name was added to the list.
In that patient and irreconcilable enmity with domestic and political tyranny and imposture which the tenor of your life has illustrated, and which, had I health and talents, should illustrate mine, let us, comforting each other in our task, live and die.
All happiness attend you!
Your affectionate friend,
Percy B. Shelley. Rome, May 29, 181D.
A Manuscript was communicated to me during my travels in Italy, which was copied from the archives of the Cenci Palace at Rome, and contains a detailed account of the horrors which ended in the extinction of one of the noblest and richest families of that city, during the pontificate of Clement VIII., in the year 1599. The story is, that an old man, having spent his life in debauchery and wickedness, conceived at length an implarablo hatred towards his children; which showed itself towards one daughter under the form of an incestuous passion, aggravated by every circumstance of cruelty and violence. This daughter, after long and vain attempts to escape from what she considered a perpetual contamination both of body and mind, at length plotted with her mother-in-law and brother to murder their common tyrant. The young maiden, who was urged to this tremendous deed by an impulse which overpowered its horror, was evidently a most gentle and amiable being; a creature formed to adorn and be admired, and thus violently thwarted from her nature by the necessity of circumstances and opinion. The deed was quickly discovered, and in spite of the most earnest prayers made to tho Pope by the highest persons in Rome, the criminals were put to death. The old man had, during his life, repeatedly bought his pardon from the Pope for capital crimes of the most enormous and unspeakable kind, at the price of a hundred thousand crowns; the death therefore of his victims can scarcely be accounted for by the love of justice. The Pope, among other motives for severity, probably felt that whoever killed the Count Cenci deprived his treasury of a certain and copious source of revenue*. Such a story, if told so as to present to the reader all the feelings of those who once acted it, their hopes and fears, their confidences and misgivings, their various interests, passions, and opinions, acting upon and with each other, yet all conspiring to one tremendous end, would be as a light to make apparent some of the most dark and secret caverns of the human heart.
On my arrival at Rome, I found that the story of the Cenci was a subject not to be mentioned in Italian society without awakeninga deep and breathlessinterest;
• The Papal Government formerly took the most extraordinary precautions against the publicity of facts which offer so tragical a demonstration of its own wickedness and weakness; so that the communication of the MS. had become, until very lately, a matter of some difficulty.
and that the feelings of the company never failed to incline to a romantic pity for the wrongs, and a passionate exculpation of the horrible deed to which they urged her, who has been mingled two centuries with the common dust. All ranks of people kucw the outlines of this history, and participated in the overwhelming interest which it seems to have the magic of exciting in the human heart. I had a copy of Guido's picture of Beatrice, which is preserved in the Colonna Palace, and my servant instantly recognized it as the portrait of La Cenci.
This national and universal interest which the story produces and has produced for two centuries, and among all ranks of people in a great city, where the imagination is kept for ever active and awake, first suggested to me the conception of its fitness for a dramatic purpose. In fact, it is a tragedy which has already received, from its capacity of awakening and sustaining the sympathy of men, approbation and success. Nothing remained, as I imagined, but to clothe it to the apprehensions of my countrymen in such language and action as would bring it home to their hearts. The deepest and the sublimest tragic compositions, King Lear, and the two plays in which the tale of CEdipus is told, were stories which already existed in tradition, as matters of popular belief and interest, before Shakspeare and Sophocles made them familiar to the sympathy of all succeeding generations of mankind.
This story of the Cenci is indeed eminently fearful and monstrous: anything like a dry exhibition of it on the stage would be insupportable. The person wtio would treat such a subject must increase the ideal, and diminish the actual horror of the events, so that the pleasure which arises from the poetry which exists in these tempestuous sufferings and crimes, may mitigate the pain of the contemplation of the moral deformity from which they spring. There must also be nothing attempted to make the exhibition subservient to what is vulgarly termed a moral purpose. The highest moral purpose aimed at in the highest Bpecies of the drama, is the teaching of the human heart, through its sympathies and antipathies, the knowledge of itself; in proportion to the possession of which knowledge every human being is wise, just, sincere, tolerant, and kind. If dogmas can do more, it is well: but a drama is no fit place for the enforcement of them. Undoubtedly no person can be truly dishonoured by the act of another; and the fit return to mako to the most enormous injuries is kindness and forbearance, and a resolution to convert the injurcr from bis dark passions by peace and love. Hcvengc, retaliation, atonement, are pernicious mistakes. If Beatrice had thought in this manner, she would have been wiser and better; but she would never have been a tragic character: the few whom such an exhibition would have interested, could never bavo been sufficiently interested for a dramatic purpose, from the want of finding sympathy in their interest among the mass who surround them. It is in the restless and anatomising casuistry with which men seek the justification of Beatrice, yet feel that she has done what needs justification; it is in the superstitious horror with which they contemplate alike her wrongs and their revenge, that the dramatic character of what she did and suffered consists.
I hsve endeavoured as nearly as possible to represent the characters as they probably wore, and have sought to avoid the error of making them actuated by my \ own conceptions of right or wrong, false or true: thus
under a thin veil converting names and actions of the sixteenth century into cold impersonations of my own mind. They are represented as Catholics, and as Catholics deeply tinged with religion. To a Protestant apprehension there will appear something unnatural in the earnest and perpetual sentiment of the relations between God and man which pervade the tragedy of the Cenci. It will especially be startled at the combination of an undoubting persuasion of the truth of tho popular religion, with a cool and determined perseverance in enormous guilt. But religion in Italy is not, as in Protestant countries, a cloak to be worn on particular days; or a passport which those who do not wish to he railed at carry with them to exhibit; or a gloomy passion for penetrating the impenetrable mysteries of our being, which terrifies its possessor at the darkness of the abyss to the brink of which it has conducted him. Religion co-exists, as it were, in the mind of an Italian Catholic with a faith in that of which all men have the most certain knowledge. It is interwoven with the whole fabric of life. It is adoration, faith, submission, penitence, blind admiration; not a rule for moral conduct. It has no necessary connection with any one virtue. The most atrocious villain may be rigidly devout, and, without any shock to established faith, confess himself to be so. Religion pervades intensely the whole frame of society, and is, according to the temper of the mind which it inhabits, a passion, a persuasion, an excuse, a refuge; never a check. Cenci himself built a chapel in the court of his palace, and dedicated it to St. Thomas the Apostle, and established masses for the peace of his soul. Thus in the first scene of the fourth act, Lucretia's design in exposing herself to the consequences of an expostulation with Cenci after having administered the opiate, was to induce him by a feigned tale to confess himself before death; this being esteemed by Catholics as essential to salvation; and she only relinquishes her purpose when she perceives that her persevcranco would expose Beatrice to new outrages.
I have avoided with great care in writing this play the introduction of what is commonly called mere poetry, and I imagine there will scarcely be found a detached simile or a single isolated description, unless Beatrice's description of the chasm appointed for her father's murder should bo judged to be of tha: nature*.
In a dramatic composition the imagery and the passion should interpenetrate one another, the former being reserved simply for the full development and illustration of the latter. Imagination is as the immortal God which should assume flesh for the redemption of mortal passion. It is thus that the moat remote and the most familiar imagery may alike be fit for dramatic purposes when employed in the ill ustntion of strong feeling, which raises what is low, and levels to the apprehension that which is lofty, casting over all the shadow of its own greatness. In other respects I have written more carelessly; tliat is, without an ovcrfastidious and learned choice of words. la ttiis respect, I entirely agree with those modern critics who assert, that in order to more men to true sympathy we must use the familiar language of men; and that our great ancestors, the ancient Knglish poets, are the writers, a study of whom might incite us to do that
* An idea fn this Kpewh was suggested by a mnat sublime passage In "EI Purgatorio do San Patricio,' of Calderon : the only plagiarism which I have intcntionaUj committed In the whole piece.
for our own age which they have done for theirs. Bat it mast be the real language of men in general, and not that of any particular class, to whose society the writer happens to belong. So much for what I lure attempted: I need not be assured that success ■ a very different matter; particularly for one whose attention has bat newly been awakened to the study <rf dramatic literature.
I endeavoured whilst at Rome to observe such monuments of this story as might be accessible to a Granger. The portrait of Beatrice at the Colonna Palace is most admirable as a work of art: it was taken by Guido during her confinement in prison. Bat it is most interesting as a just representation of oce of the loveliest specimens of the workmanship of Nature. There is a fixed and pale composure upon the features: she seems sad and stricken down in spirit, yet the despair thus expressed is lightened by the patience of gentleness. Her head is bound with foids of white drapery, from which the yellow strings of ber golden hair escape and fall about her neck. The moulding of her face is exquisitely delicate; the ere-brows are distinct and arched; tho lips have that permanent meaning of imagination and sensibility wiiieb suffering has not repressed, and which it seems as if death scarcely could extinguish. Her forehead is large and clear; her eyes, which we are told were remarkable for their vivacity, arc swollen with weeping and lustreless, but beautifully tender and serene. In the whole mien there is a simplicity and dignity
which, united with hor exquisite loveliness and deep sorrow, are inexpressibly pathetic. Beatrice Cenci appears to have been one of those rare persons in whom energy and gentleness d'vell together without destroying one another: her nature was simple and profound. The crimes and miseries in which she was an actor and a sufferer, are as the mask and the mantle in which circumstances clothed her for her impersonation on the scene of the world.
The Cenci Palace is of great extent; and, though in part modernised, there yet remains a vast and gloomy pile of feudal architecture in the same state as during the dreadful scenes which are the subject of this tragedy. The palace is situated in an obscure corner of Rome, near the quarter of the Jews, and from the upper windows you see the immense ruins of Mount Palatine half hidden under their profuso overgrowth of trees. There is a court in one part of the palace (perhaps that in which Cenci built the chapel to St. Thomas), supported by granite columns and adorned with antique friezes of fine workmanship, and built up, according to the ancient Italian fashion, with balcony over balcony of open work. One of the gates of the palace, formed of immense stones, and leading through a passage dark and lofty, and opening into gloomy subterranean chambers, struck me particularly.
Of the Castle of Petrella, I could obtain no further information than that which is to be found in the manuscript.
Count Francisco Cenci,
Orsino, a Prelate.
Savklla, the Pope's Legate.
„ t Assassii
M AK7.ro, >
Andrea, Servant to Cbnci.
Lucretia, Wife of Cenci, and step-mother of his children,
Tkt Scene lies principally in Rome, but changes during the Fourth Act to Petrella, a Castle among the r Apulian Apennines. Time During the Pontificate of Clement VIII.
An Apartment in the Cenci Palace.
Enter Cotwr Cknci and Cardinal Camillo.
That matter of the murder is hushed up
If you consent to yield his Holiness
Your fief that lies beyond the Pincian gate.—
It needed all my interest in the conclave
To bend him to this point: he said that you
Bought perilous impunity with your gold;
That crimes like yours if once or twice compounded
Enriched the Church, and respited from hell
An erring soul which might repent and live:
But that the glory and the interest
Of the high throne he fills, little consist
With making it a daily mart of guilt
So manifold and hideous as the deeds
Which you scarce hide from men's revolted eyes.
The third of my possessions—let it go!
Ay, I once heard the nephew of the Pope
Had sent his architect to view the ground,
Meaning to build a villa on my vines
The next time I compounded with his uncle:
I little thought he should outwit me so I
Henceforth no witness—not the lamp—shall see
That which the vassal threatened to divulge,
Oh, Count Ceuci! So much that thou might'st honourably live, And reconcile thyself with thine own heart And with thy God, and with the offended world. How hideously look deeds of lust and blood Through those snow-white and venerable hairs! Your children should be Bitting round you now, But that you fear to read upon their looks The shame and misery you have written there. Where is your wife! Where is yourgentledaughter? Methinkshersweet looks,which make all things else Beauteous and glad, might kill the fiend within you. Why is she barred from all society Bnt her own strange and uncomplaining wrongs! Talk with me, Count, you know I mean you well. I stood beside your dark and fiery youth, Watching its bold and bad career, as men Watch meteors, but it vanished not—I marked Your desperate and remorseless manhood; now Do I behold you, in dishonoured age, Charged with a thousand unrepented crimes. Yet I have ever hoped you would amend, And in that hope have saved your life three times.
For which Aldobrandino owes you now
Thou execrable man, beware !—■
Of thee J Nay, this is idle :—We should know each other. As to my character for what men call crime, Seeing I please my senses as I list, And vindicate that right with force or guile, It is a public matter, and I care not If I discuss it with you. I may speak Alike to you and my own conscious heart; For you give out that you have half reformed me, Therefore strong vanity will keep you silent If fear should not; both will, I do not doubt. All men delight in sensual luxury, All men enjoy revenge ; and most exult Over the tortures they can never feel; Flattering their secret peace with others' pain. But I delight in nothing else. I love
Why miserable!— No. I am what your theologians call Hardened ; which they must be in impudence, So to revile a man's peculiar taste. True, I was happier than I am, while yet Manhood remained to act the thing I thought; While lust was sweeter than revenge ; and now Invention palls ; ay, we must all grow old: But that there yet remains a deed to act Whose horror might make sharp an appetite Duller than mine—I'd do,—I know not what. When I was young I thought of nothing else But pleasure ; and I fed on honey sweets: Men, by St. Thomas! cannot live like bees. And I grew tired : yet, till I killed a foe, [groans, And heard his groans, and heard his chQdrenV Knew I not what delight was else on earth, Which now delights me little. I the rather Look on such pangs as terror ill conceals; The dry, fixed eye-ball; the pale, quivering lip, Which tell me that the spirit weeps within Tears bitterer than the bloody sweat of Christ I rarely kill the body, which preserves, Like a strong prison, the soul within my power, Wherein I feed it with the breath of fear For hourly pain.
Hell's most abandoned fiend Did never, in the drunkenness of guilt, Speak to his heart as now you speak to me; I thank my God that I believe you not.
My Lord, a gentleman from Salamanca
Bid him attend me in the grand saloon.
Farewell; and I will pray
Almighty God that thy false, impious words
Tempt not his spirit to abandon thee.
[Exit Cahiuc CENCI. The third of my possessions! I must use Close husbandry, or gold, the old man's sword, Falls from my withered hand. But yesterday There came an order from the Pope to make Fourfold provision for my cursed sons; Whom I have sent from Rome to Salamanca, Hoping some accident might cut them off; And meaning, if I could, to starve them there. I pray thee, God,send some quick death upon them!