In Defence of Harriet Shelley eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 47 pages of information about In Defence of Harriet Shelley.

This Shelley biography is a literary cake-walk.  The ordinary forms of speech are absent from it.  All the pages, all the paragraphs, walk by sedately, elegantly, not to say mincingly, in their Sunday-best, shiny and sleek, perfumed, and with boutonnieres in their button-holes; it is rare to find even a chance sentence that has forgotten to dress.  If the book wishes to tell us that Mary Godwin, child of sixteen, had known afflictions, the fact saunters forth in this nobby outfit:  “Mary was herself not unlearned in the lore of pain”—­meaning by that that she had not always traveled on asphalt; or, as some authorities would frame it, that she had “been there herself,” a form which, while preferable to the book’s form, is still not to be recommended.  If the book wishes to tell us that Harriet Shelley hired a wet-nurse, that commonplace fact gets turned into a dancing-master, who does his professional bow before us in pumps and knee-breeches, with his fiddle under one arm and his crush-hat under the other, thus:  “The beauty of Harriet’s motherly relation to her babe was marred in Shelley’s eyes by the introduction into his house of a hireling nurse to whom was delegated the mother’s tenderest office.”

This is perhaps the strangest book that has seen the light since Frankenstein.  Indeed, it is a Frankenstein itself; a Frankenstein with the original infirmity supplemented by a new one; a Frankenstein with the reasoning faculty wanting.  Yet it believes it can reason, and is always trying.  It is not content to leave a mountain of fact standing in the clear sunshine, where the simplest reader can perceive its form, its details, and its relation to the rest of the landscape, but thinks it must help him examine it and understand it; so its drifting mind settles upon it with that intent, but always with one and the same result:  there is a change of temperature and the mountain is hid in a fog.  Every time it sets up a premise and starts to reason from it, there is a surprise in store for the reader.  It is strangely nearsighted, cross-eyed, and purblind.  Sometimes when a mastodon walks across the field of its vision it takes it for a rat; at other times it does not see it at all.

The materials of this biographical fable are facts, rumors, and poetry.  They are connected together and harmonized by the help of suggestion, conjecture, innuendo, perversion, and semi-suppression.

The fable has a distinct object in view, but this object is not acknowledged in set words.  Percy Bysshe Shelley has done something which in the case of other men is called a grave crime; it must be shown that in his case it is not that, because he does not think as other men do about these things.

Ought not that to be enough, if the fabulist is serious?  Having proved that a crime is not a crime, was it worth while to go on and fasten the responsibility of a crime which was not a crime upon somebody else?  What is the use of hunting down and holding to bitter account people who are responsible for other people’s innocent acts?

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