Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Review of Hogg's Memoirs of Prince Alexy Haimatoff by Percy Bysshe Shelley; together with an extract from Some early writings of Shelley online

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Online LibraryPercy Bysshe ShelleyReview of Hogg's Memoirs of Prince Alexy Haimatoff by Percy Bysshe Shelley; together with an extract from Some early writings of Shelley → online text (page 2 of 4)
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perused by me. Every one to whom I have shown it agrees
with me in admitting that it bears indisputable marks of a
singular and original genius. Write more like this. De-
light us again with a character so natural and energetic as
Alexy — vary again the scene with an uncommon combination
of the most natural and simple circumstances : but do not
persevere in writing after you grow weary of your toil ;
' aliquando bonus dormitat Homerus ; ' and the swans and
the Eleutherarchs are proofs that you were a little sleepy."

No explanation of this passage, no comment on it,
was vouchsafed by Hogg ; but the allusion to
" Eleutherarchs " may perhaps have reminded some
readers of a paragraph in Peacock's satirical extrava-
ganza " Nightmare Abbey," in which he describes
how young Scythrop — a fantastic counterfeit of the
youthful Shelley — became troubled with a passion
for reforming the world : —

" He built many castles in the air, and peopled them with
secret tribunals, and bands of illuminati, who were always
the imaginary instruments of his projected regeneration of
the human species. As he intended to institute a perfect
republic, he invested himself with absolute sovereignty over
these mystical dispensers of liberty. He slept with horrid
mysteries under his pillow, and dreamed of venerable
Eleutherarchs and ghastly confederates holding midnight
conversation in subterranean caves."


Every one, Shelley assures his friend, admits that the
tale bears " indisputable marks of a singular and
original genius." A few days previously, the pub-
lisher, Hookham, had written in a flutter to Hogg,
because the editor of the Quarterly Review had sent
for a copy of the book, of which Hookham ex-
pected to be able to give a good account before
long :—

"That Prince Haimatoff is really published the delivery
of six copies of his memoirs will prove ; he has been sent
to the booksellers this morning only [November 8, 181 3].
The editor of the Quarterly Revietv sent for a copy on
Saturday last : there is a mystery in this which I shall be
very glad to have explained : perhaps you can elucidate

it I have a presentiment that His Serene Highness

will shortly be in very general request." 1

Hookham's presentiment was not verified. The book
seems to have dropped still-born from the press ; it
was unnoticed by the reviewers ; no copy of the
Prince's Memoirs is to be found in the British Museum
Library ; 2 and it is only through the kindness of Mr.
Hogg's daughter that I have been enabled to see a
copy — the sole copy of which, after some research, I

1 From an unpublished letter which I have been permitted \o use by
Mr. Hogg's daughter, Mrs Lonsdale. — E. D.

- The British Museum does possess a copy of the book, but this was
unknown to Professor Dowden at the time — September, 1884 — he wrote
this article.— T. J. W.


have heard tidings. It was the entire neglect of a
work which he conceived to be " the product of a bold
and original mind," that moved Shelley to assume
the part of critic ; and in the opening paragraphs
of his article he considers whether the indifference of
the public is in itself sufficient to condemn a writer
of genius and his work : —

" Is the suffrage of mankind the legitimate criterion of
intellectual energy? Are complaints of the aspirants to
literary fame to be considered as the honourable disappoint-
ment of neglected genius, or the sickly impatience of a
dreamer miserably self-deceived ? The most illustrious
ornaments of the annals of the human race have been
stigmatised by the contempt and abhorrence of entire
communities of man ; but this injustice arose out of some
temporary superstition, some partial interest, some national
doctrine ; a glorious redemption awaited their remembrance.
There is, indeed, nothing so remarkable in the contempt of
the ignorant for the enlightened ; the vulgar pride of folly
delights to triumph upon mind. This is an intelligible
process ; the infamy or ingloriousness that can be thus
explained detracts nothing from the beauty of virtue or the
sublimity of genius. But what does utter obscurity
express ? If the public do not advert, even in censure, to
a performance, has that performance already received its
condemnation ?

"The result of this controversy is important to the
ingenuous critic. His labours are indeed miserably worth-
less, if their objects may invariably be attained before their
application. He should know the limits of his prerogative.


He should not be ignorant whether it is his duty to promul-
gate the decisions of others, or to cultivate his taste and
judgment that he may be enabled to render a reason of
his own.

" Circumstances the least connected with intellectual
nature have contributed, for a certain period, to retain in
obscurity the most memorable specimens of human genius.
The author refrains perhaps from introducing his production
to the world with all the pomp of empirical bibliopolism.
A sudden tide in the affairs of men may make the neglect or
contradiction of some insignificant doctrine a badge of
obscurity and discredit ; those even who are exempt from
the action of these absurd predilections are necessarily in
an indirect manner affected by their influence. It is perhaps
the product of an imagination daring and undisciplined ;
the majority of readers, ignorant and disdaining toleration,
refuse to pardon a neglect of common rules ; their canons
of criticism are carelessly infringed ; it is less religious than
a charity sermon, less methodical and cold than a French
tragedy, where all the unities are preserved ; no excellencies,
where prudish cant and dull regularity are absent, can
preserve it from the contempt and abhorrence of the
multitude. It is evidently not difficult to imagine an instance
in which the most elevated genius shall be recompensed
with neglect. Mediocrity alone seems unvaryingly to escape
rebuke and obloquy ; it accommodates its attempts to the
spirit of the age which has produced it, and adopts with
mimic effrontery the cant of the day and hour for which
alone it lives."

In later days when Shelley had tested the feeling of
the public with works of his own, and found but little


response to his impassioned utterances, such reflec-
tions as these may have recurred to his mind with
added force. In the instance of Prince Alexy
Haimatofif he does not hesitate to record his solitary
vote in its favour against the unjust majority : —

" We think that the memoirs of Prince Alexy Haimatoff
deserve to be regarded as an example of the fact, by the
frequency of which criticism is vindicated from the imputa-
tion of futility and impertinence. We do not hesitate to
consider this fiction as the product of a bold and original
mind. We hardly remember ever to have seen surpassed
the subtle delicacy of imagination, by which the manifest
distinctions of character and form are seized and pictured
in colours, that almost make Nature more beautiful than
herself. The vulgar observe no resemblances or discrepancies
but such as are gross and glaring. The science of mind, to
which history, poetry, biography serve as the materials,
consists in the discernment of shades and distinctions,
where the unenlightened discover nothing but a shapeless
and unmeaning mass. The faculty for this discernment dis-
tinguishes genius from dulness. 1 There are passages in
the production before us, which afford instances of just and
rapid intuition belonging only to intelligences that possess
this faculty in no ordinary degree. As a composition the
book is far from faultless. Its abruptness and angularities

1 Compare Shelley's words respecting himself in a letter to Godwin,
December II, 1817 : — "I am formed, if for anything not in common
with the herd of mankind, to apprehend minute and remote distinctions
of feeling, whether relative to external nature or the living beings
which surround us, and to communicate the conceptions which result
from considering either the moral or the material universe as a
whole." — E. D.


do not appear to have received the slightest polish or
correction. The author has written with fervour, but has
disdained to revise at leisure. These errors are the errors
of youth and genius, and the fervid impatience of sensibilities
impetuously unburthening their fulness. The author is
proudly negligent of connecting the incidents of his tale.
It appears more like the recorded day-dream of a poet, not
unvisited by the sublimest and most lovely visions, than the
tissue of a romance skilfully interwoven for the purpose of
maintaining the interest of the reader, and conducting his
sympathies by dramatic gradations to the denouement. It
is what it professes to be, a memoir, not a novel. Yet its
claims to the former appellation are established only by the
impatience and inexperience of the author, who, possessing
in an eminent degree the higher qualifications of a novelist,
we had almost said a poet, has neglected the number by
which that success would probably have been secured,
which, in this instance, merits of a far nobler stamp have
unfortunately failed to acquire."

Readers of Hogg's " Life of Shelley " think of the
writer as a clever man of the world, witty and
ingenious, a hater of crotchets and abstractions and
theory-mongers, an enjoyer of the good things of
life, and, above all, of a good story — in brief, as the
reverse in almost every way of " the divine poet,"
whom he applauds while smiling at him — helpless angel
with awkward wings — the touch of mundane disdain
broadening visibly at times on the applauder's lips.
" Hogg despised poetry," says Trelawny, " he thought
it all nonsense, and barely tolerated Shakespeare."


But this surely is an exaggeration ; at least it is
certain that in earlier days Hogg was a zealous
student of literature, and cared for Plato and the
Greek dramatists as much as for Blackstone or Coke.
In truth, the Thomas Jefferson Hogg, who was
Shelley's comrade at Oxford, while having within
him a potential man of the world, to be afterwards
developed by circumstance, owned much more in
common with Shelley, and was in every way much
more of a romantic person than readers of his " Life
of Shelley " may be disposed to admit. He wrote
poetry ; he planned romances ; to his fellow-students
he seemed a youth of high intellectual powers, but
singular and wilful in his bearing and habits ; and
we must put to his credit the fine indiscretion with
which he came forward to claim an equal share in
the responsibility incurred by Shelley as the author,
or assumed author, of " The Necessity of Atheism."
It would be interesting if we could get some account of
" Leonora," a fiction partly founded on a piteous tale
of real life, the joint production, it is said, of the two
inseparable Oxford friends, and in great part in type,
when tidings of their expulsion from University
College alarmed the Abingdon printer, King, in
whose hands was the manuscript, and placed an
obstacle in the way of the intended publication.
" Leonora " has probably disappeared beyond recovery.
We must rest content with making the acquaintance


of Hogg as romancer, and of Shelley as his re-
viewer, at a date three years and a half subsequent
to the scene in the common room of University
College, on Lady-day, 181 1.

Prince Alexy Haimatoff was born at St. Peters-
burg, of illustrious parents, who, however, made a
secret of his birth. At the age of five or six he was
sent to Lausanne, there to be educated under the care
of an elderly French clergyman, Monsieur Gothon.
This venerable pedagogue made amends for his stern
and forbidding aspect, and a plainness of manners
bordering on coarseness, by his profound skill in
ancient literature, his passionate love of the abstruser
sciences, and the stern and philosophic regard with
which he watched over the best interests of his pupils.
Haimatoff, condemned to physical inactivity by
weakness of an ankle, yet of a disposition eager,
glowing, and Insatiable, became an enthusiastic
student, and at the age of fifteen was his master's
favourite pupil. In two things only was he deficient
— he had acquired none of those habits of prompt
and decisive action which his associates had formed
in their boyish sports and in the use of arms; and
his heart was as little exercised as were his limbs.
The tall, slight, effeminate student lacked manly
vigour and courage, yet he despised all women as
the intellectual inferiors of such beings as his master
and himself. Before long one of these defects was


remedied, and Alexy had found an Egeria to be his
instructress and inspirer. Rosalie, a distant relation
of M. Gothon, a charming girl of seventeen, who had
lately lost her parents, was placed by the old school-
master, somewhat indiscreetly, at the head of his
table, and made mistress of his house. I spare my
reader the author's description of the charms of
Rosalie, several pages in length, although it is de-
clared by Shelley to be " in the highest style of
delineation." One particular only shall here be
noted — the peculiar beauty of Rosalies eyes :
" Rosalie's eyes were large and full : they appeared at
a distance uniformly dark ; but upon a closer inspec-
tion the innumerable strokes of various hues of
infinite fineness and endless variety, drawn in con-
centric circles behind the pellucid crystal, filled the
mind with wonder and admiration." Can Shelley, who
quotes at length the description of Rosalie, have had
some vague memory of this passage, when long after-
wards he wrote the lines of Prometheus Unbound, in
which Asia describes the eyes of her sister Panthea :

" Thine eyes are like the deep, blue, boundless heaven,
Contracted to two circles underneath
Their long fine lashes ; dark, far, measureless,
Orb within orb, and line thro' line inwoven." x

1 In Hogg's description of Haimatoff one touch seems to be taken
direct from Shelley's person: "My hands were very small and my
head remarkable for its roundness and diminutive size." Compare
" Life of Shelley," i. p. 328 : " The air of his little round hat upon his
little round head was troubled and peculiar." — E. D.


The more Prince Alexy sees of Rosalie the less
reason has he to be satisfied with his theory of the
inferiority of woman to man. True, she cares not for
Aristotle's ethics or rhetoric ; she learns from a
mountain mist more than she can leaYn from all the
geometrical diagrams of M. Gothon and his pupil ;
she does not read poetry, for it seems as if she already
knew whatever it has to say ; yet by some strange
intuitive energies of her mind, she has gained more of
true wisdom than can be found in the most cultivated
intellects. Rosalie is introduced into Hogg's romance
only to be withdrawn as soon as she has quickened
and aroused the heart of Haimatoff ; she dies, and
her disconsolate lover is called away from Lausanne
by his old kinsman, Baron Groutermann, master of a
venerable German castle in which feudal and military
ideas are the ruling powers. Here Haimatoff is
initiated into the arts of war, and shaking off his
physical weakness, becomes ere long a keen and
desperate sportsman, a frantic follower of the chase.
But intellectual pursuits are not neglected, and a
tutor for the young Prince is secured in the person of
Mr. Frederic Bruhle, a strange and remarkable being,
who henceforth exercises a dominant influence over
Haimatoffs character and fortunes : —

"He was about five feet in height, crooked and club-
footed ; his head was high and peaked ; he squinted ; his
hair was long and lank, his complexion sallow, and his



mouth awry His manners, however, were mild,

attentive, and perfectly unassuming; he adopted, rather
than gave, the subject of conversation ; he expressed great
respect for the opinion of every person, and, if his own
sentiments were different, he softened the apparent without
diminishing the real difference, and conveyed what was
diametrically opposite in terms at once so gentle and
so powerful as often to convince and never to offend. He
carefully avoided the appearance of being striking, so
as never to excite jealousy and opposition ; he never
wounded, but, on the contrary, occasionally flattered self-
love, so as imperceptibly, by mild insinuation, to wind
himself into the hearts of all who knew him."

This amazing deformity, Bruhle, is unrivalled in his
mastery of Latin ; skilled in music ; a painter ; a
profound adept in all sciences ; and, to crown the
wonders, he will accept no salary. It is not until long
after this first acquaintance with Bruhle that Haima-
toff discovers in his master a member of a secret
society of Illuminati, advocates of unbounded political
liberty, materialists in philosophy, and presided over
by the supreme Eleutherarch. Shelley's remarks on
the characters of pupil and teacher, and on Bruhle's
licentious wisdom are not without interest. Amid the
animalisms of young Oxford Shelley remained, says
his wife, " of the purest morals ; " " the purity and
sanctity of his life," declares Hogg, " were most

" Alexy is by no means an unnatural although no common
character. We think we can discern his counterpart in


Alfieri's delineation of himself. The same propensities, the
same ardent devotion to his purposes, the same chivalric
and unproductive attachment to unbounded liberty, charac-
terises both. We are inclined to doubt whether the author
has not attributed to his hero the doctrines of universal
philanthropy in a spirit of profound and almost unsearchable
irony : at least, he appears biassed by no peculiar principles,
and it were perhaps an insoluble inquiry whether any, and
if any, what moral truth he designed to illustrate by his tale.
Bruhle, the tutor of Alexy, is a character delineated with
consummate skill ; the power of intelligence and virtue over
external deficiencies is forcibly exemplified. The calmness,
patience, and magnanimity of this singular man are truly
rare and admirable ; his disinterestedness, his equanimity,
his irresistible gentleness, form a finished and delightful
portrait. But we cannot regard his commendation to his
pupil to indulge in promiscuous concubinage without horror

and detestation Whatever may be the claims of

chastity, whatever the advantages of pure and simple
affections, these ties, these benefits are of equal obligation
to either sex. Domestic relations depend for their integrity
upon a complete reciprocity of duties. But the author him-
self has in the adventure of the ' Sultana Debesh Sheptuti,'
afforded a most impressive and tremendous allegory of the
cold-blooded and malignant selfishness of sensuality."

Baron Groutermann, Alexy's aged kinsman, having
died, the Prince, accompanied by his tutor Bruhle,
sets forth upon his travels. They visit Athens, and
one night, while climbing the steep of the Parthenon,
Alexy, unperceived, is spectator of a moonlight dance

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performed by ten Grecian maidens, who chant while
evolving their slow and solemn movements. At
Constantinople, he is inveigled by the arts of the
Sultana into the Seraglio; but escapes, and finds his
way back to the faithful Bruhle. And now he wins
the love of a fair Circassian slave — a timid and
trembling dove, who yet unites an exquisite vivacity
with her gentleness. The slave, Aiir-Ahibah, becomes
Alexy's wife ; happy years go by, made happier by
the birth of two sons ; when fate strikes at the heart
of all this joy — the babes are seized with small-pox
and die, and their mother quickly follows them to
the grave. Alexy is distracted, and it is not long
before his madness gives place to a deep and enduring
melancholy. At length he resumes his travels in
company with Bruhle. They spend some months at
Rome, shocked at " the grinding oppression of the
Church, the spiritual despotism of the ecclesiastics,"
delighted with the recollections summoned up by the
ruins of the ancient city. At Florence, the Prince
meets with an old schoolfellow of the Lausanne days,
and is obliged to act as his second in a fatal affair of
honour. " We do not ever remember," writes Shelley,
" to have seen the unforgiving fastidiousness of family
honour more awfully illustrated." At length Bruhle
thinks the time has come for disclosing to Haimatoff
the end towards which his education has been directed.
They travel north, and arrive at an old university


town of Germany. The description of the University
— really the centre of a secret society of the Eleutheri
— represents Hogg's romance at its best : —

" When we arrived at the University, we were ushered into
a spacious hall, floored and wainscotted with black oak ; the
roof was of the same materials, most elaborately carved with
armorial bearings and grotesque figures ; the windows were
filled with painted glass, and the walls were hung with por-
traits of benefactors and the most eminent members of the
Society ; the whole of the apartment was in the style of the
most noble of college halls. The room was lighted by a
large fire, abundantly piled with logs of wood. Several
venerable old men were seated upon benches at a little
distance from the fire ; they rose to receive us, and em-
bracing Bruhle in the most affectionate manner, expressed
their satisfaction in welcoming him again. My friend then
presented me ; I was received with a simple dignity, which
charmed me. I had never witnessed manners at once so
free from all restraint, and so dignified. It called to my
mind what I had read of the noble plainness of the Romans,
entirely devoid of all ceremony, and so stately as to inspire
the most profound veneration. I contemplated their wrinkled
faces, replete with the most profound knowledge, and the
most amiable complacency ; their sunken eyes, in which the
fires of genius were tempered by the experience of age ;
their figures gracefully bending under the weight of years ;
the plain neatness of their garments."

They speak of the dignity, the liberty, the happiness
of man, and hint at the necessity of a general reform.
Above the rest, one of the fathers, who sits shaded in


the chimney-corner, impresses Haimatoff by his ap-
pearance : " He was a tall man ; his arms were folded
upon his breast ; he appeared about fourscore years
of age ; his head was bald, his complexion sallow, his
nose large and prominent, and of the finest Roman
form ; his eyes small but dark and piercing ; they
were rivetted upon me, as if they could penetrate my
inmost soul. He was motionless as a statue." This
is no other than the Eleutherarch, the principal of the
University. Next day he explains to Haimatoff the
purpose of their Society — to restore to man his
natural rights, to banish oppression, to break the
bonds, to shake off the yoke of slavery. A three
years' noviciate precedes admission into the Society
of the Eleutheri, which by special permission is
reduced to one year in the case of Haimatoff. After
a public discourse to prove that the soul is material,
and that death is complete annihilation, an eternal
sleep, the Eleutherarch conducts Haimatoff to the
cathedral to watch, as part of the initiatory rites,
night-long and alone beside a corpse wrapt in grave-
clothes and extended on the bier ; in his right hand
the novice holds a dagger, in his left a skull. Moon-
light vaguely entering the church, and sad and solemn
organ strains add awe and wonder to the ceremony.
Presently a strange and sudden noise is heard, like
the flapping of large wings, and white forms are dis-
cerned floating aloft in the air, and waving their


spectral pinions. At length the welcome morning
dawns and ends these terrors of the night. The
novice is brought before the Eleutherarch, to whom
he makes confession of all the thoughts which had
passed through his brain during the night, and these
confessions are placed among the archives of the
Society. Three months of solitary confinement
follow these rites in the cathedral : " it is of admir-
able use," observes the Eleutherarch, "in condensing

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Online LibraryPercy Bysshe ShelleyReview of Hogg's Memoirs of Prince Alexy Haimatoff by Percy Bysshe Shelley; together with an extract from Some early writings of Shelley → online text (page 2 of 4)