In Defence of Harriet Shelley eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 62 pages of information about In Defence of Harriet Shelley.
The letter itself gives you no uncertain picture—­no lecturer is needed to stand by with a stick and point out its details and let on to explain what they mean.  The picture is the very clear and remorsefully faithful picture of a fallen and fettered angel who is ashamed of himself; an angel who beats his soiled wings and cries, who complains to the woman who enticed him that he could have borne his wayward lot, he could have stood by his duty if it had not been for her beguilements; an angel who rails at the “boundless ocean of abhorred society,” and rages at his poor judicious sister-in-law.  If there is any dignity about this spectacle it will escape most people.

Yet when the paragraph of comment is taken as a whole, the picture is full of dignity and pathos; we have before us a blameless and noble spirit stricken to the earth by malign powers, but not conquered; tempted, but grandly putting the temptation away; enmeshed by subtle coils, but sternly resolved to rend them and march forth victorious, at any peril of life or limb.  Curtain—­slow music.

Was it the purpose of the paragraph to take the bad taste of Shelley’s letter out of the reader’s mouth?  If that was not it, good ink was wasted; without that, it has no relevancy—­the multiplication table would have padded the space as rationally.

We have inspected the six reasons which we are asked to believe drove a man of conspicuous patience, honor, justice, fairness, kindliness, and iron firmness, resolution, and steadfastness, from the wife whom he loved and who loved him, to a refuge in the mephitic paradise of Bracknell.  These are six infinitely little reasons; but there were six colossal ones, and these the counsel for the destruction of Harriet Shelley persists in not considering very important.

Moreover, the colossal six preceded the little six and had done the mischief before they were born.  Let us double-column the twelve; then we shall see at a glance that each little reason is in turn answered by a retorting reason of a size to overshadow it and make it insignificant: 

1.  Harriet sets up carriage. 1.  Cornelia Turner. 2.  Harriet stops studying. 2.  Cornelia Turner. 3.  Harriet goes to bonnet-shop. 3.  Cornelia Turner. 4.  Harriet takes a wet-nurse. 4.  Cornelia Turner. 5.  Harriet has too much nerve. 5.  Cornelia Turner. 6.  Detested sister-in-law 6.  Cornelia Turner.

As soon as we comprehend that Cornelia Turner and the Italian lessons happened before the little six had been discovered to be grievances, we understand why Shelley’s happiness in his home had been wounded and bruised almost to death, and no one can persuade us into laying it on Harriet.  Shelley and Cornelia are the responsible persons, and we cannot in honor and decency allow the cruelties which they practised upon the unoffending wife to be pushed aside in order to give us a chance to waste time and tears over six sentimental justifications of an offence which the six can’t justify, nor even respectably assist in justifying.

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In Defence of Harriet Shelley from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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