The sun is warm, the sky is clear,
etc.... Quickly he taps
a full nib twice to the mouth of
his japan-ink bowl—harder than
he had thought, if he had thought—smears
the fine spattering with his sleeve,
and continues, for whom haste is
more purity than certainty,
as anarchy is better than despotism—
for this reason—that the former
is for a season & that the
latter is eternal. These days
have been quickened with sightseeing,
Mary and Claire at Virgil’s tomb,
the Bay of Baiae, until poor health
overtakes Shelley descending
Vesuvius by torch light, who
collapses with agonizing pain in his side.
Now his chamber is rebellion
enough. He bears down, scratching lines
on the back of the stanzas he
will later discard: “My head is wild
with weeping!” Famous among friends
for his sloth, as for his passions,
he once lived in a room described
by Mr. Thomas Jefferson
Hogg, thus: Books, boots, papers, shoes, philosophical
instruments, clothes, pistols, linen,
crockery, ammunition, and
phials innumerable, with
money, stockings, prints, crucibles,
bags, and boxes in every place ...
The tables, and especially
the carpets, were already stained
with large spots of various hues,
which frequently proclaimed the agency of fire.
Alas! I have not hope nor health,
Nor peace within, etc....
We lived in utter solitude,
Mary writes in her journal of
the days. Still, Pompeii staggers him,
and its distant, deep peals rattle
like subterranean thunder
beneath the family’s lodging rooms.
The lightning of the noontide ocean is flashing
around me, etc.... How
might Prometheus consider
these ruins, surrounding, the rooms
a shamble, and the posthumous
greatness of the Greeks more theory
than presence? Yet theories abound.
For all their visionary zeal,
the pamphlets and tracts, sheer brilliance
of his Defence, and hope, he is characterized
more seditious than inspiring.
John Coleridge, Samuel’s nephew:
Mr Shelley would abrogate
our laws—this would put an end to
felonies and misdemenours ...
he would abolish the rights of
property, he would overthrow
the constitution ... no army
or navy; he would pull down our churches, level
the Establishment. This is at
least intelligible; but it
is not so easy to describe
the structure, which Mr Shelley
would build upon this vast heap of
ruins. ‘Love’, he says, ‘is the sole law
which shall govern the moral world’.
The great gift, foresight, produces
foes instead of a god. His fingers blaze with ink.
For I am one whom men love not,
etc.... His friend Southey:
With all his genius, he was a
base, bad man. Carlyle is plainer:
He is a poor, thin, spasmodic,
hectic, shrill, and pallid being.
Tomorrow will bring a tour of
Naples, and better spirits, and
peace with Mary and Claire. He is just twenty-six—
all his life lies ahead. The bay
burns wild beyond his window
in holy admixtures of fire
and water ... the grand effusion
symbolic but real to him
as well. The boats are running far
and fast. He wonders whether he
might take time to charter one, sail
the Elysian Fields, the Caverns of the Sibyl ...
He fills his pen. He must hurry.
The fires of new thought swell in his
hand like a torch. Tomorrow,
the sea, into which he will peer
—so translucent that you could see
the hollow caverns clothed with the
glaucous sea-moss, & the leaves, &
branches of those delicate weeds
that pave the unequal bottom of the water.