“In the intellectual life of Russia and Poland, of Spain and Italy, of France and Germany, the seeds which he had sown, fructified... The Slavonic nations ...seized on his poetry with avidity... The Spanish and Italian exile poets took his war cry... Heine’s best poetry is a continuation of Byron’s work. French Romanticism and German Liberalism are both direct descendants of Byron’s Naturalism.”
Swinburne gives as another reason for Byron’s European popularity the fact that he actually gains by translation into a foreign tongue. His faulty meters and careless expressions are improved, while his vigorous way of stating things and his rolling rhetoric are easily comprehended. On the other hand, the delicate shades of thought in Shakespeare’s Hamlet cannot be translated into some European tongues without distinct loss.
PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY, 1792-1822
[Illustration: PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY. From the portrait by Amelia Curran, National Portrait Gallery.]
Life.—Another fiery spirit of the Revolution was Shelley, born in 1792, in a home of wealth, at Field Place, near Horsham, Sussex. He was one of the most ardent, independent, and reckless English poets inspired by the French Revolution. He was a man who could face infamy and defy the conventionalities of the world, and, at the same moment, extend a helpful hand of sympathy to a friend or sit for sixty hours beside the sick bed of his dying child. Tender, pitying, fearless, full of a desire to reform the world, and of hatred for any form of tyranny, Shelley failed to adjust himself to the customs and laws of his actual surroundings. He was calumniated and despised by the public at large, and almost idolized by his intimate friends.
At Eton he denounced the tyranny of the larger boys. At Oxford he decried the tyranny of the church over freedom of thought, and was promptly expelled for his pamphlet, The Necessity of Atheism. This act so increased his hatred for despotic authority that he almost immediately married Harriet Westbrook, a beautiful school girl of sixteen, to relieve her from the tyranny of her father who wanted her to return to school. Shelley was then only nineteen and very changeable. He would make such a sudden departure from a place where he had vowed “to live forever,” that specially invited guests sometimes came to find him gone. He soon fell in love with Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, the brilliant woman who later wrote the weird romance Frankenstein, and he married her after Harriet Shelley had drowned herself. These acts alienated his family and forced him to forfeit his right to Field Place.
[Illustration: SHELLEY’S BIRTHPLACE, FIELD PLACE.]
His repeatedly avowed ideas upon religion, government, and marriage brought him into conflict with public opinion. Unpopular at home, he left England in 1818, never to return. Like Byron, he was practically an exile.