Roget's Int'l Thesaurus
Fowler's King's English
The King James Bible
Brewer's Phrase & Fable
Frazer's Golden Bough
Shelf of Fiction
The Romantic Revival
Peter Bell the Third
INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS
The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes
Volume XII. The Romantic Revival.
Peter Bell the Third
Peter Bell the Third,
Shelley attacks at once the reactionary politician and the dull poet, but the reactionary who had once hailed with rapture the dawn of the revolution, and the dull poet who had once stood on the heights of poetry. And the two indictments, for Shelley, hung together. Wordsworth was dull because he had been false to his early ideals. To convey this by identifying the poet with Peter Bell, his own symbol of the dull man, was an ingenious satiric device and not unfair retribution. Under cover of it, morever, Shelley delivers (in part IV) some shafts of criticism which illuminate as well as pierce, and he can pointedly recall the older Wordsworth who made songs
on moor and glen and rocky lake
And on the heart of man.
In the most elaborate of these satires, on the other hand, the quasi-Aristophanic drama
Swellfoot the Tyrant
(1820), on the scandal of George IV and the queen, Shelleys humour crackles drearily. Its hideous symbolism is unredeemed.
In the meantime (January, 1820), the Shelleys had moved to Pisa, their home, with occasional intervals by the sea or in the mountains, for the next two years. His vaster poetic schemes during the first of these years fell into the background;
had no successors. But he was himself in the full tide of growth; in lyric, at least, he now showed a finished mastery which, even in his great lyric drama, he had not always reached; and he struck out upon fresh and delightful adventures. In
The Sensitive Plant,
the loveliness of an Italian flower garden in spring, and its autumn decay, inspired a Shelleyan myth, akin in purport to
but with a new, delicate plasticity, like that of the contemporary
His flowers, commonly impressionist hints of colour and perfume, are now finely articulated and characterised; they are Shelleyan flowers, but, like those of Shakespeare, they are, recognisably, natures too. In the sensitive plant itself, Shelley found a new symbol for his own love of love, companionless, like the poet in
and the one frail form of
and, as in
the mood of lament at the passing of beauty and the seeming frustration of love merges in a note of assurance, here not ecstatic but serene, that beauty and love are, in reality the eternal things. The anapaestic verse is nearer than any other to that of
it lent itself with, perhaps, excessive ease to the fluid undulations of Shelleys rhythms, but he discovers in it new and exquisite effects.
The Witch of Atlas
is a more airily playful essay in poetic myth-making. Imagined on a solitary mountain climb, after days spent in translating the delightful rogueries of the Homeric
Hymn to Mercury, The Witch
is a hymn in kindred vein: the deeper harmonies of his thought and aspiration transposed into blithe irresponsible fancy and dainty arabesque. But poetry it remains, despite some menace of the mock-heroic at the outset, and of satire at the end. The
which Shelley uses here, as for his
Hymn to Mercury,
had, for centuries, been the accepted measure, in Italian, of playful poetry; and Byron had lately adopted it for the epic mockery of
Tradition and example helped to suspend here the shrill and intense notes of Shelleys poetry; but they set no check upon the wayward loveliness of his music and imagery. To his wife, as is well known, the poem did not appeal; it could have no apter prelude than the charming apology in which he bids her
prithee for this one time
Content thee with a visionary rhyme.
A few other experiments in narrative of the same time
A Vision of the Sea, Orpheus, Cosimo and Fiordispina
open up alluring glimpses of beauty, but, on the whole, confirm the impression that story with difficulty sustained itself in Shelleys imagination unless it partook of the tone and temper of lyric. The first-named is a kind of Shelleyan
woven of beauty and horror, but less visionary, in the sense which troubled Mrs. Shelley, than
The Witch of Atlas;
and the anapaests crash and surgea new potency in a metre of which only the liquid melodious lilt had appeared to be known to the poet of
The Sensitive Plant.
Shelleys passion for the sea was beginning to impress his poetry.
INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS