**** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE ****

Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


Thoughts On Shelley And Byron
by [?]

Yes; that law exists, let it never be forgotten, is the real meaning of Byron, down to that last terrible “Don Juan,” in which he sits himself down, in artificial calm, to trace the gradual rotting and degradation of a man without law, the slave of his own pleasures; a picture happily never finished, because he who painted it was taken away before he had learnt, perhaps when he was beginning to turn back from–the lower depth within the lowest deep.

Now to this whole form of consciousness, poor Shelley’s mind is altogether antipodal. His whole life through was a denial of external law, and a substitution in its place of internal sentiment. Byron’s cry is: There is a law, and therefore I am miserable. Why cannot I keep the law? Shelley’s is: There is a law, and therefore I am miserable. Why should not the law be abolished?–Away with it, for it interferes with my sentiments–Away with marriage, “custom and faith, the foulest birth of time.”–We do not wish to follow him down into the fearful sins which he defended with the small powers of reasoning–and they were peculiarly small–which he possessed. Let any one who wishes to satisfy himself of the real difference between Byron’s mind and Shelley’s, compare the writings in which each of them treats the same subject–namely, that frightful question about the relation of the sexes, which forms, evidently, Manfred’s crime; and see if the result is not simply this, that Shelley glorifies what Byron damns. “Lawless love” is Shelley’s expressed ideal of the relation of the sexes; and his justice, his benevolence, his pity, are all equally lawless. “Follow your instincts,” is his one moral rule, confounding the very lowest animal instincts with those lofty ideas of might, which it was the will of Heaven that he should retain, ay, and love, to the very last, and so reducing them all to the level of sentiments. “Follow your instincts”–But what if our instincts lead us to eat animal food? “Then you must follow the instincts of me, Percy Bysshe Shelley. I think it horrible, cruel; it offends my taste.” What if our instincts lead us to tyrannise over our fellow-men? “Then you must repress those instincts. I, Shelley, think that, too, horrible and cruel.” Whether it be vegetarianism or liberty, the rule is practically the same–sentiment which, in his case, as in the case of all sentimentalists, turns out to mean at last, not the sentiments of mankind in general, but the private sentiments of the writer. This is Shelley; a sentimentalist pure and simple; incapable of anything like inductive reasoning; unable to take cognisance of any facts but those which please his taste, or to draw any conclusion from them but such as also pleases his taste; as, for example, in that eighth stanza of the “Ode to Liberty,” which, had it been written by any other man but Shelley, possessing the same knowledge as he, one would have called a wicked and deliberate lie–but in his case, is to be simply passed over with a sigh, like a young lady’s proofs of table-turning and rapping spirits. She wished to see it so–and therefore so she saw it.

For Shelley’s nature is utterly womanish. Not merely his weak points, but his strong ones, are those of a woman. Tender and pitiful as a woman; and yet, when angry, shrieking, railing, hysterical as a woman. The physical distaste for meat and fermented liquors, coupled with the hankering after physical horrors, are especially feminine. The nature of a woman looks out of that wild, beautiful, girlish face–the nature: but not the spirit; not

The reason firm, the temperate will,
Endurance, foresight, strength and skill.

The lawlessness of the man, with the sensibility of the woman. . . . Alas for him! He, too, might have discovered what Byron did; for were not his errors avenged upon him within, more terribly even than without? His cries are like the wails of a child, inarticulate, peevish, irrational; and yet his pain fills his whole being, blackens the very face of nature to him: but he will not confess himself in the wrong. Once only, if we recollect rightly, the truth flashes across him for a moment, and the clouds of selfish sorrow: