He and Harriet eloped to Scotland and got married. They took lodgings in Edinburgh of a sort answerable to their purse, which was about empty, and there their life was a happy, one and grew daily more so. They had only themselves for company, but they needed no additions to it. They were as cozy and contented as birds in a nest. Harriet sang evenings or read aloud; also she studied and tried to improve her mind, her husband instructing her in Latin. She was very beautiful, she was modest, quiet, genuine, and, according to her husband's testimony, she had no fine lady airs or aspirations about her. In Matthew Arnold's judgment, she was "a pleasing figure."
The pair remained five weeks in Edinburgh, and then took lodgings in York, where Shelley's college mate, Hogg, lived. Shelley presently ran down to London, and Hogg took this opportunity to make love to the young wife. She repulsed him, and reported the fact to her husband when he got back. It seems a pity that Shelley did not copy this creditable conduct of hers some time or other when under temptation, so that we might have seen the author of his biography hang the miracle in the skies and squirt rainbows at it.
At the end of the first year of marriage--the most trying year for any young couple, for then the mutual failings are coming one by one to light, and the necessary adjustments are being made in pain and tribulation--Shelley was able to recognize that his marriage venture had been a safe one. As we have seen, his love for his wife had begun in a rather shallow way and with not much force, but now it was become deep and strong, which entitles his wife to a broad credit mark, one may admit. He addresses a long and loving poem to her, in which both passion and worship appear:
"O thou Whose dear love gleamed upon the gloomy path Which this lone spirit travelled, . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . wilt thou not turn Those spirit-beaming eyes and look on me. Until I be assured that Earth is Heaven And Heaven is Earth? . . . . . . . . Harriet! let death all mortal ties dissolve, But ours shall not be mortal."
Shelley also wrote a sonnet to her in August of this same year in celebration of her birthday:
"Ever as now with hove and Virtue's glow May thy unwithering soul not cease to burn, Still may thine heart with those pure thoughts o'erflow Which force from mine such quick and warm return."
Was the girl of seventeen glad and proud and happy? We may conjecture that she was.
That was the year 1812. Another year passed still happily, still successfully--a child was born in June, 1813, and in September, three months later, Shelley addresses a poem to this child, Ianthe, in which he points out just when the little creature is most particularly dear to him:
"Dearest when most thy tender traits express The image of thy mother's loveliness."
Up to this point the fabulist counsel for Shelley and prosecutor of his young wife has had easy sailing, but now his trouble begins, for Shelley is getting ready to make some unpleasant history for himself, and it will be necessary to put the blame of it on the wife.
Shelley had made the acquaintance of a charming gray-haired, young- hearted Mrs. Boinville, whose face "retained a certain youthful beauty"; she lived at Bracknell, and had a young daughter named Cornelia Turner, who was equipped with many fascinations. Apparently these people were sufficiently sentimental. Hogg says of Mrs. Boinville:
"The greater part of her associates were odious. I generally found there two or three sentimental young butchers, an eminently philosophical tinker, and several very unsophisticated medical practitioners or medical students, all of low origin and vulgar and offensive manners.