Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTERS TO LEIGH HUNT. * - Prose Works vol. 1
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LETTERS TO LEIGH HUNT. * - Percy Bysshe Shelley, Prose Works vol. 1 
The Prose Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley from the original Editions. Edited, Prefaced, and Annotated by Richard Hearne Shepherd, in Two Volumes (London: Chatto & Windus, 1906).
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LETTERS TO LEIGH HUNT.*
Lyons,March 22, 1818.
My dear Friend,—
Why did you not wake me that night before we left England, you and Marianne? I take this as rather an unkind piece of kindness in you; but which, in consideration of the six hundred miles between us, I forgive.
We have journeyed towards the spring that has been hastening to meet us from the south; and though our weather was at first abominable, we have now warm sunny days, and soft winds, and a sky of deep azure, the most serene I ever saw. The heat in this city to-day, is like that of London in the midst of summer. My spirits and health sympathize in the change. Indeed, before I left London, my spirits were as feeble as my health, and I had demands upon them which I found difficult to supply. I have read Foliage:—with most of the poems I was already familiar. What a delightful poem the “Nymphs” is! especially the second part. It is truly poetical in the intense and emphatic sense of the word. If six hundred miles were not between us, I should say what pity that glib was not omitted, and that the poem is not as faultless as it is beautiful. But for fear I should spoil your next poem, I will not let slip a word on the subject. Give my love to Marianne and her sister, and tell Marianne she defrauded me of a kiss by not waking me when she went away, and that as I have no better mode of conveying it, I must take the best, and ask you to pay the debt. When shall I see you all again? Oh that it might be in Italy! I confess that the thought of how long we may be divided, makes me very melancholy. Adieu, my dear friend. Write soon.
Ever most affectionately yours,
P. B. S.
Livorno,August 15, 1819.
My dear Friend,—
How good of you to write to us so often, and such kind letters! But it is like lending to a beggar. What can I offer in return?
Though surrounded by suffering and disquietude, and latterly almost overcome by our strange misfortune, I have not been idle. My Prometheus is finished, and I am also on the eve of completing another work, totally different from anything you might conjecture that I should write, of a more popular kind; and, if anything of mine could deserve attention, of higher claims. “Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck, till thou approve the performance.”
I send you a little poem* to give to Ollier for publication, but without my name: Peacock will correct the proofs. I wrote it with the idea of offering it to the Examiner, but I find it is too long. It was composed last year at Este; two of the characters you will recognize; the third is also in some degree a painting from nature, but, with regard to time and place, ideal. You will find the little piece, I think, in some degree consistent with your own ideas of the manner in which poetry ought to be written. I have employed a certain familiar style of language to express the actual way in which people talk with each other, whom education and a certain refinement of sentiment have placed above the use of vulgar idioms. I use the word vulgar in its most extensive sense; the vulgarity of rank and fashion is as gross in its way, as that of poverty, and its cant terms equally expressive of base conceptions, and therefore equally unfit for poetry. Not that the familiar style is to be admitted in the treatment of a subject wholly ideal, or in that part of any subject which relates to common life, where the passion, exceeding a certain limit, touches the boundaries of that which is ideal. Strong passion expresses itself in metaphor, borrowed from all objects alike remote or near, and casts over all the shadow of its own greatness. But what am I about? if my grandmother sucks eggs, was it I who taught her?
If you would really correct the proof, I need not trouble Peacock, who, I suppose has enough. Can you take it as a compliment that I prefer to trouble you?
I do not particularly wish this poem to be known as mine, but, at all events, I would not put my name to it. I leave you to judge whether it is best to throw it into the fire, or to publish it. So much for self—self, that burr will stick to one. Your kind expressions about my Eclogue* gave me great pleasure: indeed, my great stimulus in writing is to have the approbation of those who feel kindly towards me. The rest is mere duty. I am also delighted to hear that you think of us, and form fancies about us. We cannot yet come home.
* * * * * *
Most affectionately yours,
P. B. Shelley.
Livorno,September 3rd, 1819.
My dear Friend,—
At length has arrived Ollier’s parcel, and with it the portrait. What a delightful present! It is almost yourself, and we sate talking with it, and of it, all the evening. . . . . It is a great pleasure to us to possess it, a pleasure in a time of need; coming to us when there are few others. How we wish it were you, and not your picture! How I wish we were with you!
This parcel, you know, and all its letters, are now a year old; some older. There are all kinds of dates, from March to August, 1818, and “your date,” to use Shakespeare’s expression, “is better in a pie or a pudding, than in your letter.” “Virginity,” Parolles says,—but letters are the same thing in another shape.
With it came, too, Lamb’s Works. I have looked at none of the other books yet. What a lovely thing is his “Rosamond Gray!” how much knowledge of the sweetest and deepest part of our nature in it! When I think of such a mind as Lamb’s,—when I see how unnoticed remain things of such exquisite and complete perfection, what should I hope for myself, if I had not higher objects in view than fame?
I have seen too little of Italy and of pictures. Perhaps Peacock has shown you some of my letters to him. But at Rome I was very ill, seldom able to go out without a carriage; and though I kept horses for two months there, yet there is so much to see! Perhaps I attended more to sculpture than painting,—its forms being more easily intelligible than those of the latter. Yet I saw the famous works of Raphael, whom I agree with the whole world in thinking the finest painter. Why, I can tell you another time. With respect to Michael Angelo, I dissent, and think with astonishment and indignation on the common notion that he equals, and in some respects exceeds Raphael. He seems to me to have no sense of moral dignity and loveliness; and the energy for which he has been so much praised, appears to me to be a certain rude, external, mechanical quality, in comparison with anything possessed by Raphael; or even much inferior artists. His famous painting in the Sistine Chapel, seems to me deficient in beauty and majesty, both in the conception and the execution. He has been called the Dante of painting; but if we find some of the gross and strong outlines, which are employed in the few most distasteful passages of the Inferno, where shall we find your Francesca,—where, the spirit coming over the sea in a boat, like Mars rising from the vapours of the horizon,—where, Matilda gathering flowers, and all the exquisite tenderness, and sensibility, and ideal beauty, in which Dante excelled all poets except Shakespeare?
As to Michael Angelo’s Moses—but you have seen a cast of that in England.—I write these things, Heaven knows why!
I have written something and finished it,* different from any thing else, and a new attempt for me; and I mean to dedicate it to you. I should not have done so without your approbation, but I asked your picture last night, and it smiled assent. If I did not think it in some degree worthy of you, I would not make you a public offering of it. I expect to have to write to you soon about it. If Ollier is not turned Christian, Jew, or become infected with the Murrain, he will publish it. Don’t let him be frightened, for it is nothing which by any courtesy of language can be termed either moral or immoral.
Mary has written to Marianne for a parcel, in which I beg you will make Ollier enclose what you know would most interest me,—your “Calendar” (a sweet extract from which I saw in the Examiner), and the other poems belonging to you; and for some friends of mine, my Eclogue. This parcel, which must be sent instantly, will reach me by October; but don’t trust letters to it, except just a line or so. When you write, write by the post.
Ever your affectionate,
P. B. S.
My love to Marianne and Bessy, and Thornton too, and Percy, &c., and if you could imagine any way in which I could be useful to them here, tell me. I will inquire about the Italian chalk. You have no idea of the pleasure this portrait gives us.
Firenze,Nov. 13, 1819.
My dear Friend,—
Yesterday morning Mary brought me a little boy. She suffered but two hours’ pain, and is now so well that it seems a wonder that she stays in bed. The babe is also quite well, and has begun to suck. You may imagine this is a great relief and a great comfort to me, amongst all my misfortunes, past, present, and to come.
Since I last wrote to you, some circumstances have occurred, not necessary to explain by letter, which make my pecuniary condition a very difficult one. The physicians absolutely forbid my travelling to England in the winter, but I shall probably pay you a visit in the spring. With what pleasure, among all the other sources of regret and discomfort with which England abounds for me, do I think of looking on the original of that kind and earnest face which is now opposite Mary’s bed. It will be the only thing which Mary will envy me, or will need to envy me, in that journey: for I shall come alone. Shaking hands with you is worth all the trouble; the rest is clear loss.
I will tell you more about myself and my pursuits in my next letter.
Kind love to Marianne, Bessie, and all the children. Poor Mary begins (for the first time) to look a little consoled. For we have spent, as you may imagine, a miserable five months.
Good-bye, my dear Hunt,