from the lethargy into which it had sunk, he, unlike
so many of his contemporaries — the two Newmans for
instance — never deviated from his early beliefs. As a boy
he became acquainted with William Wilberforce, an old
friend of his father ; at Cambridge as an undergraduate
he heard Charles Simeon preach, and later took others
to hear him ; he attended missionary meetings, where
Baptist Noel spoke ; he supported Connop Thirl wall in
the action which he took as to the admission of dissenters
to academical degrees; and in later life — indeed, up to
his death — actively supported a number of philanthropic
societies, all characterized by a strong Protestant tone.
His drawing-room was a centre for meetings of these
bodies, and, in conjunction with Mrs Babington, he
promoted missionary work both at home and abroad.
But all was done quietly and unostentatiously; and, how-
ever strong his principles might be, his natural kind-
liness of heart and consideration for others prevented
that aggressive assertion of them which characterizes
the less cultured representatives of Protestantism. The
various and ever-varying aspects of biblical criticism
and the evolution hypothesis never disturbed him"
(pp. Ixxv. — Ixxvi.).
Correspondence of Charles Cardale Babinghn, 49
Steady, continuous labour and research, crowned by
solid and permanent results rather than brilliant dis*
covery and achievement, constituted, indeed, Professor
Babington's scientific excellence. His painstaking
resolution was indomitable. ''I had," he said to me
on one occasion, *' very great difficulty when com-
mencing the study of botany, in remembering the Latin
names ; but I was determined to overcome the difficulty
and set to work until I had committed between three
and four thousand names to heart, and after that I
never had any more trouble."
It is, perhaps, to be regretted that the English
equivalents of the Latin names were not supplied, where
practicable, so far as the Journal and the Correspondence
are concerned, either in parentheses or footnotes ; as it
is, they often fail to enable any but professed botanists
to identify them. It would have been as well also to
have informed the reader whether there was any blood
relationship between the descendant of Thomas Babing-
ton, of Rothley Temple, and Thomas Babingfton
Macaulay. It appears not; but there was fanrily
relationship, the great historian's aunt, Jean Macaulay,
having married Thomas Babington, who was Professor
J. B. M.
VOL. XXy H
THE POETRY OF SHELLEY.
[ROM ages immemorial, mankind has endeavour-
ed to define Poetry, but despite our labours the
witch, Thetis-like, has baffled all pursuers.
Little have we brought to light since Aristotle's
day. We only know that Poetry is a mystery and that
her worship requires an initiation. To the vulgar who
seek to find her by industry or research, she ever
makes the Sibylline response "Procul O procul este
profani ! "
But if we cannot at all adequately define the art,
we may perhaps attempt to sum up and estimate the
faculties that help to form the artist. Now it sometimes
happens that in the spheres of music, poetry and
painting, an exponent arises who seems to embody
in himself that which we have come to regard as
the very soul and essence of his art. His name may
not be the greatest in the Temple of Fame — though
such it often is — physical weakness, a short span of
life, hostile environment may militate against the
perfect development of his powers, but so does he
impersonate the elemental force of that which he sets
forth that we instinctively say that such an one is
music, is poetry, is painting, and we would name
Beethoven in music, Shakespere in poetry, Raphael in
painting as those in whom the pure spirit of their art
is most truly incarnate. With Shakespere then before
us, we will endeavour to form a conception of the
qualities that help to make the ideal poet.
First and foremost he must possess that mysterious
The Poetry of Shelley. 5 1
potency which for want of better names we call " inspi-
ration " or " the faculty divine." This, as Plato teaches
us, is the supreme qualification of the true bard and it
is the possession of this that separates with so mighty
a gulf, Milton from Chapelain and Tennyson from
Tupper. His must be, too, a splendid and puissant
imagination, an intimate knowledge of the human
heart, a perfect mastery of language and metre, a
distinctive personality, and, finally, a commanding
intellect. Many who with Keats have sighed for "a
life of sensations rather than a life of thoughts " will
deem this last superfluous, but it will soon be perceived
that this is the very quality that sets the gods of
poetry — Dante, Shakespere, Milton, Goethe, Browning —
so high above their fellow-bards.
Now we propose to put Shelley to the test
described, to ascertain how far he fulfils and how far
falls short of these essential qualifications. He, in
truth, has suffered more than most men at the hands of
critics. From the Quarterly Reviewer, down a long
line of hostile cavillers, he has received treatment the
most shameful and unfair. Yet these masters of the
bludgeon have not wrought the greatest injury; their
clumsy weapons have often redounded to their own
hurt. No, it is one skilled in the rapier-thrust, who
with quick sallies and ready eye essays to overthrow
our poet — it is Matthew Arnold the apostle of sweetness
and light — the Philistines' foe. What reasons prompted
our leader to desert us at this hour we may never
know — whether Shelley's Nonconformity or Radical-
ism — but however that may be, this will be generally
conceded that in our times — times in which the fame of
Shelley has grown apace — Arnold's famous essay has
retarded the recognition of Shelley's true position in
literature more than the adverse writings of any other
For Arnold's verdict in literary matters is in many
circles taken as final. The beautiful phrases he fashioned
5 2 . The Poetry of Shelley.
have passed into current usage, and are freely quoted
as irrefutable truths. We do not soon forget the
eloquent period with which he concludes : — " The Shelley
of actual life is a vision of beauty and radiance indeed,
but availing nothing, effecting nothing, and in poetry-
no less than in life he is a beautiful but ineffectual
angel beating in the void his luminous wings in vain."
Let us try for a moment to shake off the spell which
this word-magician casts over us, and endeavour to
ask "Is this true? — ^What is its full meaning?" We
shall soon see that to name a poet inefiFectual, to say
that he avails, that he effects, nothings is paramount
to despoiling a monarch of his crown, or denying
divinity to a god. If a poet after singing hymns
unbidden for ten years is found " ineffectual,'* he had
far better have remained silent. But is Shelley
ineffectual? Does he at all fulfil the qualities of the
ideal poet ? Has he transmitted to us that divine
" afflatus " which is so mysteriously entrusted to every
child of Apollo ? To this we boldly answer " Yes, in
great measure," and would go further and claim for
Shelley what the world is tardily beginning to recognise
that since the days of the great Milton, no poet has
realized his high calling to such a degree — none more
rightfully assumes his throne amid
•* Quique pii vates et Phoebo digna loculi."
For to him was given as to few with so great
largess that mysterious endowment of involuntariness
which is as the wind blowing where it listeth — the
faculty divine which so fills the medium that he is fain
to reply to those who ask " Whence came this ? " " It
is as strange and beautiful to me as to you. But it is
in me and shall out." Heedless of neglect and scorn,
the true poet must sing on and fill with pearls the hand
that wounds. No one has more strikingly expressed
this strange compulsion of the poet than the greatest
•* ' The divine madness/ says Plato, ' which proceeds
The Poeity of Shelley. 5 3
from the Muses ' taking a tender and unoccupied soul,
awakening and bacchically inspiring it toward songs
and other poetry, adorning myriads of ancient deeds —
instructs succeeding generations, but he who without
the madness from the Muses approaches the poetical
gates, having persuaded himself that by art alone he
may become sufficiently a poet, will find in the end his
own imperfection and see the poetry of his cold prudence
vanish into nothingness before the light of that which
has sprung from divine insanity."
None, even of Shelley's most relentless censors will
venture to deny him this grand characteristic. It is
not needful to cite isolated passages, for take his
writings over and you shall find everywhere dominant
this unearthly note — in his songs consecrate to Liberty
of whom he was so passionate a devotee — in his sublime
hymn to Love crowned King of the Gods in
" Epipsychidion," but transcending all in the heavenly
heights of "Prometheus Unbound" — •* that final triumph
of his lyrical poetry " as Mr. Symonds has named it —
where far aloft in the empyrean of his ethereal world
Love regent is wed to Liberty; there, there indeed,
does he strike the stars sublimi verlice.
We find next confronting our enquiry the quality of
imagination, and here we shall discover both Shelley's
greatest strength and greatest weakness. Splendid
and manifold is his gift — over exuberant and lavish
his use. It is the splendour and power of his gift
that first draws, and then holds for ever, the hearts
of his readers. The young spirit, newly awakened in
the enchanted gardens of poesy, may taste in his first
thirst of the manly vigour of Scott, of the strange
magnetism of Byron, of the richness of Milton, but
more wonderful than all will be to him the revelation
of this ethereal stream. For Shelley brings brightness
with him — a light that never was on land or sea. Ever
memorable is the day when first this Ariel burst upon our
vision^ now in the songs of the spirits in " Prometheus
54 The Poetry of Shelley,
Unbound," now in the moonlit splendours of " Adonais/^
perhaps most quintessential as most endeared of all in
the whirling dizzy images of " The Cloud," who whis-
pered to Shelley her secret, in accents unknown before,
as he sped in his boat over the Thames :
"That orb^d maiden with white fire laden,
Whom mortals call the moon»
Glides glimmering o'er my fleece-like floor
By the midnight breezes strewn ;
And wherever the beat of her unseen feet,
Which none but the angels hear,
May have broken the woof of my tent's thin roof.
The stars peep behind her and peer;
And I laugh to see ihem whirl and flee,
Like a swarm of golden bees,
While I widen the rent in my wind-built tent
Till the calm rivers, lakes, and seas,
Like strips of the sky, fallen through me on high,
Are each paved with the moon and these."
The similes pour forth from his treasure-house of
imagery, hurriedly marshalled, while he is possessed
^v fhe daimonic power over which he is rarely himself
eme. Seldom does he manifest the god-like
:ery over his Pegasus that Shakspere, Dante, and
hoven have shown over theirs. Just and true is
self-criticism in one of his letters which describes
3 illustrations of Goethe's "Faust." "The artist
es one envy his happiness that he can sketch
things with calmness which I only dared look
)nce, and which made my brain swim round
to touch the leaf on the opposite side of which
ew that it was figured." Yet how splendid is such
cness (if weakness it be; ! What would we not give
. hundredth part of such fine fire in the sixty minor
s of our own day exquisite and graceful in phrase
) many of them are !
et us take two other examples, one in Shelley's
; exalted mood, when the coursers of his imagination
The Poetry of Shelley. 5 5
seem verily fed with the lightning. We have ruthlessly
torn it from its context in the second act of " Prometheus
Unbound." Asia has inquired of Demogorgon, " When
shall the destined hour appear " of the liberation of the
Demogorgon. Behold !
Asia. The rocks are cloven and through the purple night
I see cars drawn by rainbow winged-steeds
Which trample the dim winds: in each there stands
A wild-eyed charioteer urging their flight.
Some look behind as fiends pursued them there,
And yet I see no shapes but the keen stars:
Others, with burning eyes, lean forth aud drink
With eager lips the wind of their own speed.
As if the thing they loved fled on before
And now, even now, they clasped it. Their bright locks
Stream like a comet's flashing hair: they all
The other, in his more subdued manner but scarcely
less highly wrought, a fragmentary epitaph on Keats :
" Here lieth one whose name was writ in water ;
But, ere the breath that could erase it blew,
Death in revenge fpr that fell slaughter,
Death, the immortalising winter, flew
Athwart the stream and Time's mouthless torrent grew
A scroll of crystal, blazoning the name
The profusion of Shelley's imagination is indeed
nothing short of marvellous. From the starry heights
of heaven to the *• flowering fields " of the world there
is scarce a path his bright feet have not trod. Yet is
his true home in the upper air, nor can any triteness
mar Leigh Hunt's image of him as the skylark. He
would ever be on the wing, away, aloft from the
storms of earth —
"It irked him to be here, he could not rest."
Mysticism is the all-pervading stress of his poetry; in
56 The Poetry of Shelley.
"Prometheus Unbound," " Epipsychidion," and "The
Triumph of Life." It is, indeed, the mysticism of Plato
and Plotinus, and breathes, as Mr Stopford Brooke has
so beautifully said, " Shelley's passionate sense of the
Eternal Oneness behind humanity." The expression of
this flowers most finely in the concluding stanzas of
" Adonais," where, as the mists of familiarity roll away
for too brief a moment, we are initiated "into that
blessedest of all visions, that of gazing on simple and
imperishable and happy visions in a stainless day/'
"The One remains, the many change and pass;
Heaven's Light for ever shines. Earth's Shadows flj;
Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity,
Until Death tramples it to fragments. Die!
If thou wouldst be with that which thou dost seek
Follow where all is fled ! Rome's azure sky.
Flowers, ruins, statues, music, words are weak
The glory they transfuse with fitting truth to speak.
" Why linger, why turn back, why shrink, my Heart ?
Thy hopes have gone before; from all things here
They have departed; thou shouldst iy>w depart;
A light is past from the revolving year,
And man and woman, and what still is dear.
Attracts to crush, repels to make thee whither.
The soft sky smiles, the low wind whispers near:
'Tis Adonais calls 1 Oh, hasten thither 1
No more let Life divide what Death can join together.
"That Light whose smile kindles the universe;
That Beauty in which all things work and move;
That Benediction which the eclipsing curse
Of birth can quench not; that sustaining Love
Which, through the web of being blindly wove
By man and beast and earth and air and sea.
Burns bright or dim, as each are mirrors of
The fire for which all thirst; now beams on mc,
Consuming the last clouds of cold mortality.
The Poetry of Shelley. 5 7
•'The breath whose might I have invoked in song
Descends on me ; my spirit's bark is driven
Far from the shore, far from the trembling throng
Whose sails were never to the tempest given.
The massy earth and sphered skies are riven :
I am borne darkly, fearfully afar,
Whilst, burning through the midmost veil of heaven,
The soul of Adonais, like a star,
Beacons from the abode where Ihe Eternal are."
In very truth to Shelley had been vouchsafed the
dream-vision of the Infinite. Strangely does he bring
to mind the spirit that Jean Paul Kichter describes in this
magnificent phantasy, "God called up from dreams
a man into the vestibule of Heaven, saying *Come
thou hither and behold the glory of my House/ And
to the servants that stood around his throne he said,
'Take him, and undress him from his robes of flesh;
cleanse his vision and put a new breath into his nostrils :
arm him with sail-broad wings for flight. Only touch
not with any change his human heart, the heart that
weeps and trembles.' It was done ; and, with a mighty
angel for his guide, the man stood ready for his infinite
voyage ; and from tire terraces of heaven, without sound
or farewell, at once they wheeled away into endless
space Suddenly, as thus they rode from infinite
to infinite, suddenly, as thus they tilted over abysmal
worlds, a mighty cry arose that systems more mysteri-
ous, worlds more billowy, other heights and other
depths were dawning, were nearing, were at hand.
Then the man sighed, stopped, shuddered, and wept.
His overladen heart uttered itself in tears, and he said,
'Angel, I will go no further.' For the spirit of man
acheth under this infinity for end I see there is
none' Then the angel threw up his glorious
hands to the heaven of heavens, saying, * End is there
none to the Universe of God ! Lo, also, there is no
beginning ! ' "
VOL XX. I
58 The Poeiry of Shelley.
Here is Shelley's version of the same thought :
" What is Heaven ? A globe of dew
Filling in the morning new ;
Some eyed flower whose young leaves waken
On an unimagined world ;
Constellated spheres unshaken ;
Orbits measareless are farled
In that frail and fading sphere.
With ten millions gathered there
To tremble, gleam, and disappear.'^
Traces of the spheral music occasionally recur in his
poems. In " The Recollection " we have :
*• That seldom heard mysterious sound
Which driven on its diurnal round
The world enkindles on its way.*'
Or again :
*' Like stops of planetary music heard in trance."
But by many this etherealness, this impalpableness,,
is deemed a grave defect. They sigh for more frequent
warmth and colour, and would fain rest on the glenside
with Scott or buflFet the billows with Byron ; and, they
ask, '' Has this mysticism any grand claim that it should
lord it over others?" Let us hear one competent ta
jndge on the matter, one who combines in himself in a
marked degree the qualities of mystic, p>oet and critic,
**The truths of mysticism," says M. Maeterlinck^
** have a strange privilege over ordinary truths. They
neither grow old nor die. There is no truth which did
not one morning come down upon this world lovely in
strength and youth, and covered with the fresh and
wondrous dew which lies on things unspoken : to-day
you may pass through the infirmaries of the human
soul where all thoughts come day by day to die, but
you will not find there a single mystic thought. They
have the immunity of the angels of Swedenborg, wha
progress continually toward the spring of their youth,
fto that the oldest angels appear the youngest."
The Podry of Shelley. 39
Why else has Time robbed us of the whole of Crabbe,
the half of Byron, and leaves but a few broken frag-
ments of Pope and his school ? And, sad as the
thought may be, it is doubtful whether more than half
of Tennyson will live or one-third of Browning. For
that ba.sed on fleeting- fashion must pass quickly away ;
only what is well-founded on the nether rocks of
eternal truth can stand the wear and tear of Time.
A discussion of Shelley's metres might fill
volumes, for their novelty and variety are unparalleled,
unless by Mr Swinburne— " Shelley's heir" in the
matter of rhythm, as he has truly been named. But
though Shelley's g^ft of verbal music does not con-
stitute his chief claim to the poet's laurel-wreath, it is
nevertheless one of his greatest endowments. Many who
deny him any other meed, acknowledge that he is •• lyric
lord of England." For what is so remarkable about
his poetry in this respect is that it displays astonishing
power over both harmony and melody. The German
and Italian schools are sharply defined in music, and
hardly less clear is a similar distinction in poetry. In
our own day Tennyson stands chief among melodists.
Browning among harmonists. *' The Lotos-Eaters " is
not more' truly musical than "Abt Vogler," nor is
"Orfeo" than "Egmont." The eighteenth century
poets were chiefly melodists, while in the sixteenth
and seventeenth Milton and Shakspere. in their diverse
ways, stand out as the grandest masters of harmony,
the latter being also an incomparable melodist.
We can only touch briefly on some of Shelley's chief
experiments. Blank verse and the Spenserian stanza
will suffice to shew the quality of his handling of metre.
His blank verse is the precursor of the Tennysonian
manner, and yet is strangely linked at times with
Milton's organ-like utterance.
Spring has been often crowned, but ever before with
such a wreath as Shelley oflers in these opening lines
of the second act of " Prometheus Unbound " ?
6o The Poetry of Shelley.
** From all the blasts of Heaven thou hast descended :
Yes, like a spirit, like a thought which makes
Unwonted tears throng to the horny eyes,
And beatings haunt the desolated heart
Wliich should have learnt repose : thou hast descended
Cradled in tempest ; thou dost wake, O Spring,
A child of many winds ! As suddenly
Thou comest as the memory of a dream,
Which now is sad because it has been sweet ;
Like genius, or like joy which riseth up
As from the earth, clothing with golden clouds
The desert of our life."
Of the Spenserian stanzas, two examples will suffice ;
one in the beautiful dedication stanza, prefaced to the
^' Revolt of Islam":
" So now my summer task is ended, Mary,
And I return to thee, my own heart's home.
As to his Queen some Victor Knight of Faery,
Earning bright spoils for her enchanted dome ;
Nor thou disdain, that ere my fame became
A star among the stars of mortal night —
If it indeed may cleave its natal gloom —
Its doubtful promise thus I would unite
"With thy beloved name, thou child of love and light."
These are wonderful lines for a youth of nineteen,
but far more wonderful is the subtle blending of vowels
in these later verses from " Adonais " :
** Out of her secret Paradise she sped
Through camps and cities rough with stone and sted ;
And human hearts, which to her aery tread.
Yielding not wounded the invisible
Palms of her tender feet where'er they fell ;
And barbdd tongues, and thoughts more sharp than they,
Rent the soft form ihey never could repel,
Whose sacred blood like the young tears of May
Paved with eternal flowers that undeserving way."
We come in due course to the fourth grand charac*
t9ri«tic of the ideal poet — that of an intimate knowledge
The Poetry of Shelley. 6 1
of the human heart. It is at this point that so many
part company with Shelley. " His themes are devoid of
human interest," they say ; " in painting the splendours
of the cloud- rack, in chanting the glories of the tempest
we admit his is a master-hand, but with the solitary
exception of "The Cenci," which stands as a Matter-
horn among his fellows, we feel that he has tarried too
long with the " Witch of Atlas " and the spirits of
the earth and moon to give us anything tangible and
human." This, doubtless, expresses the opinion of the
ordinary reader of Shelley, and indeed is the impression
one derives from the first perusal of his poems; but
there are two things that help to form this erroneous
conception — the iridescence and glitter of his magic
verse and the novelty of the themes of which he treats.
It has been said, by one of the chief of living poets
that, if we measure life by heart-beats, Shelley must
have crowded an immense sum of quintessential life
into his thirty years, and in truth an acquaintance with
Shelley's lyrics alone produces a feeling of wonderment
at the throbs and pulsations of that ** Cor Cordium."
For his was a singularly chameleonic temperament.
Almost in one breath we find songs of divinest ecstasy
and saddest heartbreak. Many open with a ringing,
merry note and die away into mournfullest melancholy.
We contrast the triumphant strains of the choruses of