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" And then I clasped my hands, and looked around
Without reproach or check.' I then controlled
“ And from that hour did I with earnest thought,
This war began in earnest at Oxford. He had left Eton, it is understood, before the usual time, and in consequence of his resistance to the practices which he there found inconsistent with his ideas of self-respect : what was to be hoped from Oxford ? The contest into which he soon fell with the Principal of University College, on theological and metaphysical questions, quickly led to his expulsion. No circumstance in his history has made so much noise as this; on it turned the whole character of his destiny. He was expelled on a charge of atheism. In the New Monthly Magazine for 1833 is given “The History of Shelley's Expulsion from Oxford." From this account, nothing could have been more unfeeling and tyrannical than the conduct of the Principal on this occasion. It appears that Shelley and some of his companions had indulged themselves in puzzling the logicians. They had made a careful analysis of Locke on the Human Understanding, and Hume's Essays, particularly the latter, as was customary with those who read the Ethics, and other treatises of Aristotle, for their degrees. They printed a syllabus of these, and challenged, not only the heads of houses, but others to ånswer them. “It was," says the writer, “never offered for sale; it was not addressed to the general reader, but to the metaphysician alone; and it was so short, that it only designed to point out the line of argument. It was, in truth, a general issue ; a compendious denial of every allegation, in order to put the whole case in proof. It was a formal mode of saying, you offer so and so, then prove it; and thus it was understood by his more candid and intelligent correspondents. As it was shorter, so it was plainer, and perhaps, in order to provoke discussion, a little bolder than Hume's Essays, a book which occupies a conspicuous place in the library of every student. The doctrine, if it deserve the name, was precisely similar ; the necessary and inevitable consequence of Locke's philosophy, and of the theory that all knowledge is from without. I will not admit your conclusions, his opponent might say; then you must deny those of Hume; I deny them ; but you must deny those of Locke also; and we will go back together to Plato. Such was the usual course of argument ; sometimes, however, he rested on mere denial, holding his adversary to strict proof, and deriving strength from his weakness. The young Platonist argued thus negatively through the love of argument, and because he found a noble joy in the fierce shock of contending minds. He loved truth, and sought it everywhere, and at all hazards, frankly and boldly, like a man who deserved to find it; but he also dearly loved victory in debate, and warm debate for its own sake. Never was there a more unexceptionable disputant. He was eager beyond the most ardent, but never angry and never personal; he was the only arguer I ever knew who drew every argument from the nature of the thing, and who never could be provoked to descend to personal contentions.”—P. 25 of Part II.
This is a very different thing to the foul and offensive statement put forth to the world, that Shelley avowedly, with his name, put forth a pamphlet on atheism, challenging the whole bench of bishops to refute it, for the sake and from the mere love of atheism. Not less disgraceful was the manner of his expulsion. He was suspected of this pamphlet; it is said that “a pert, meddling tutor of a college of inferior note, a man of an insalubrious and inauspicious aspect, had secretly denounced him to the master as the author of it; and that for this piece of treason, he was, as he hoped, speedily enriched with the most splendid benefices, and finally made a bishop! The master himself is described by a third party, as a man possessing neither intellect nor erudition. “I thank God,” he adds, “ that I have never seen that man since ; he is gone to his bed, and there let him sleep. While he lived he ate freely of the scholar's bread, and drank freely of his cup; and he was sustained throughout the whole term of his existence, wholly and most nobly, by those sacred funds that were consecrated by our pious forefathers to the advancement of learning If the vengeance of the all-patient and long-contemned God can ever be roused, it will surely be by some such sacrilege!"
But let us see in what manner this swollen Bæotian ox dealt with this ardent yet gentle stripling of seventeen-for let it be remembered he was only of that age,—and let us see what was the condition of the university at that time, in which it was made a mortal offence in a young and zealous spirit to dispute metaphysical points.
“Whether such disputations,” says the writer in the New Monthly, “were decorous or profitable may be perhaps doubtful; there can be no doubt, however, since the sweet gentleness of Shelley was easily and instantly swayed by the mild influences of friendly admonition, that had even the least dignified of his elders suggested the propriety of pursuing his metaphysical inquiries with less ardour, his obedience would have been prompt and perfect. Not only had all salutary studies been long neglected at Oxford at that time, and all wholesome discipline fallen into decay, but the splendid endowments of the university were grossly abused. The resident authorities of the college were, too often, men of the lowest origin; or mean and sordid souls ; destitute of every literary attainment, except that brief and narrow course of reading by which the degree was attained ; the vulgar sons of vulgar fathers; without liberality, and wanting the manners and sympathies of gentlemen. A total neglect of all learning, an unseemly turbulence, the most monstrous irregularities, open and habitual drunkenuess, vice, and violence, were tolerated or encouraged with the basest sycophancy, that the prospect of perpetual licentiousness might fill the colleges with young men of fortune. Whenever the rarely-exercised power of coercion was exercised, it demonstrated the utter incapacity of our unworthy rulers, by coarseness, ignorance, and injustice. If a few gentlemen were admitted to fellowships, they were always absent; they were not persons of literary pretensions, or distinguished by scholarship, and they had no share in the government of the college.”—P. 26.
It is fitting that the world should know how and by whom Shelley was expelled from Oxford. Let us see the manner in which it was done.
“ As the term was drawing to a close, and a great part of the books we were reading together still remained unfinished, we hall agreed to increase our exertions, and to meet at an early hour. It was a fine spring morning on Lady-day in the year 1811, when I went to Shelley's rooms : he was absent; but before I had collected our books he rushed in. He was terribly agitated. I anxiously inquired what had happened. "I am expelled,' he said, as soon as he had recovered himself a little. 'I am expelled ; I was sent for suddenly a few minutes ago; I went to the common room, where ] found our master, and two or three of the fellows. The master produced a copy of the little syllabus, and asked me if I were the author of it. He spoke in a rude, abrupt, and insolent tone. I begged to be informed for what purpose he put the question. No answer was given ; but the master loudly and angrily repeated“Are you the author of this book ?”
“ If I can judge from your manner," I said, “ you are resolved to punish me, if I should acknowledge that it is my work. If you can prove that it is, produce your evidence ; it is neither just nor lawful to interrogate me in such a case and for such a purpose. Such proceedings would become a court of inquisitors, but not free men in a free country.” “Do you choose to deny that this is your composition ?" the master reiterated, in the same rude and angry voice.'
“Shelley complained much of his violent and ungentlemanlike deportment, saying, 'I have experienced tyranny and injustice before, and I well know what vulgar insolence is; but I never met with such unworthy treatment. I told him calmly, but firmly, that I was resolved not to answer any questions respecting the publication on the table.' "Then,' said he, furiously, ‘you are espelled ; and I desire you will quit the college early to-morrow morning at the latest.'"
A regular sentence of expulsion, ready drawn up in due form, was handed to him, under the seal of the college. So monstrous and illegal did the outrage seem to one of Shelley's fellow-students, that he immediately wrote a remonstrance to the master and fellows against it, declaring that he himself, or any one else in that college, might just as well be treated in the same manner. The consequence was that he was immediately treated in the same manner.
He was called before this tribunal. “The angry and troubled air," he says, in a statement communicated to the writer of the article, “of men assembled to commit injustice, according to established forms, was rew to me ; but a native instinct told me, as soon as I entered the room, that it was an affair of party; that whatever could conciliate the favour of patrons was to be done without scruple; and whatever could tend to prevent preferment was to be brushed away without remorse." The same question was put to him, he refused to answer it, and he was also expelled with the same summary violence.
Thus were Shelley and another youth of eighteen expelled and branded for life with the stigma of atheism. They were expelled simply because they refused to criminate themselves, and the boast of a virtuous zeal against atheism was trumpeted abroad, which soon raised one man to a bishopric, and others, no doubt, to what they wanted. So are sacrificed the rare spirits of the earth for the worldly benefit of the hogs of Epicurus. If all youths were treated thus brutally at that age when doubts beset almost every man, and more especially the earnest and inquiring, what would become of our finest and noblest characters! When men begin to study the grounds of theology, they must study, too, what is advanced by the opposers. The consequence is at once, that all that has been received as fact by unquestioning boyhood falls to the ground, and they have to begin again, and test through doubts and anxieties, and amid the menaces of despair, all the evidence on which our faith is built. Seize on any one of these inquirers at this peculiar crisis, and expel him for atheism, and, if he be a man of quick feelings, and a high spirit, you will pretty certainly make him that for which you have stigmatized him. His pride will unite with his doubts to fix him, to petrify him, as it were, into incurable unbelief. It would be a brutal and murderous procedure. Such procedure had the worst effect on Shelley. The consequences were a sort of repudiation of him by his father and family, who had built the highest worldly hopes on his talents. There was a fierce hue and cry set up after him in the world, and the very next year saw him sit down and write Queen Mab. The actions of this portion of his life are the least defensible of any portion of it. He seemed restless, unhappy, and put into a more antagonistic temperament by his public expulsion from college, which he felt more deeply than was natural to him, or could have arisen, had he been treated differently.
At this period he made his first unfortunate marriage, with a young woman of humble station, and, as it proved, of very uncongenial mind. They separated, and in her distress she, some time afterwards, drowned herself. Differing as I do most widely from Shelley, both in his ideas regarding Christianity and marriage, it is but just to say that they who knew him best, and his second wife, the celebrated daughter of celebrated parents, Godwin and Mary Wolstancroft, most emphatically assert their assurances that “in all ne did, at the time of doing it, he believed himself justified to his conscience, while the various ills of poverty, and the loss of friends, brought home to him the sad realities of life. For his errors at this period, the direct fruits of the desolating outrages on his seio
sitive nature, above stated, he suffered deeply and severely. One of his biographers says, “Nobody could lament the catastrophe of his wife's death more bitterly than he did. For a time it tore his being to pieces."
For about two years after his wife's death he seemed to be wandering about in quest of rest, and not finding it. He was at one time at the Lakes on a pilgrimage to Southey, of which, when Coleridge heard, he said, “Why did he not come to me? I should have understood him.” Most true. He was in London, and 90, Great Russell-street, oddly enough kept by a person named Godwin, and a corner house in Mabledon-place, next to Hastings-street, are known as lodgings of his. He was also in Dublin, and in North Wales, where, in the absence of his landlord, Mr. Maddocks, an extraordinary tide menacing his embankment against the sea, Shelley put his name at the head of a subscription paper for £500, and, carrying it round the neighbourhood, raised a sum sufficient to prevent this truly Roman work being destroyed. In 1814 he made a tour on the continent, visiting France, Switzerland, the Reuss, and the Rhine, the magnificent scenery of which produced the most striking effects on his mind. In 1815 he made a tour along the southern coast of Devonshire, and then renting a house on Bishopsgate heath, on the borders of Windsor forest, he spent the summer months in ruminating over the scenes he had visited, and produced there his poem of Alastor, or the Spirit of Solitude. The next year he again visited the continent. He was now married to Mary Wolstancroft Godwin, who accompanied him. They fixed their residence for a time on the banks of the Lake of Geneva.
Here Shelley and Lord Byron first met; they had corresponded before, but here began that friendship which contributed so palpably to the purification and elevation of tone in the higher poetry of Byron. They seemed equally pleased with each other. Byron was occupying the Villa Diodati ; à name connected with Miston, and perhaps one of the noble poet's reasons for choosing it as a residence. Shelley engaged one just below it, in a most sequestered spot. There was no access to it in a carriage, it stood only separated from the lake by a small garden, much overgrown by trees, and a pathway through the vineyard of Diodati communicated with it. The two poets entered deeply into poetical disquisition. Nothing could be more opposite than their natures, and their poetic tendencies. Shelley was all imagination ; Byron had a strong tendency to the actual, or to that which must tell upon the general mind: Shelley was purely spiritual ; Byron had much of the world in him: Shelley was all generosity; Byron, with a great show of it, had a tremendous dash of the selfish. Still, they had many things in common. They were fond of boating and pistol shooting; they were persecuted by public opinion; they had broken from all bonds of ordinary faith, and were free in discussion and speculation as the birds were in their flight over their heads. They rowed together round the lake, and were very near being lost in a storm upon it. They visited together Meillerie and Clarens; and the effect of the scenery