Hear him: . . . . . . . "I have been staying with Mrs. Boinville for the last month; I have escaped, in the society of all that philosophy and friendship combine, from the dismaying solitude of myself."

It is fair to conjecture that he was feeling ashamed.

"They have revived in my heart the expiring flame of life. I have felt myself translated to a paradise which has nothing of mortality but its transitoriness; my heart sickens at the view of that necessity which will quickly divide me from the delightful tranquillity of this happy home--for it has become my home. . . . . . . . "Eliza is still with us--not here!--but will be with me when the infinite malice of destiny forces me to depart."

Eliza is she who blocked that game--the game in London--the one where we were purposing to dine every night with one of the "three charming ladies" who fed tea and manna and late hours to Hogg at Bracknell.

Shelley could send Eliza away, of course; could have cleared her out long ago if so minded, just as he had previously done with a predecessor of hers whom he had first worshipped and then turned against; but perhaps she was useful there as a thin excuse for staying away himself.

"I am now but little inclined to contest this point. I certainly hate her with all my heart and soul . . . .

"It is a sight which awakens an inexpressible sensation of disgust and horror, to see her caress my poor little Ianthe, in whom I may hereafter find the consolation of sympathy. I sometimes feel faint with the fatigue of checking the overflowings of my unbounded abhorrence for this miserable wretch. But she is no more than a blind and loathsome worm, that cannot see to sting.

"I have begun to learn Italian again . . . . Cornelia assists me in this language. Did I not once tell you that I thought her cold and reserved? She is the reverse of this, as she is the reverse of everything bad. She inherits all the divinity of her mother . . . . I have sometimes forgotten that I am not an inmate of this delightful home--that a time will come which will cast me again into the boundless ocean of abhorred society.

"I have written nothing but one stanza, which has no meaning, and that I have only written in thought:

"Thy dewy looks sink in my breast; Thy gentle words stir poison there; Thou hast disturbed the only rest That was the portion of despair. Subdued to duty's hard control, I could have borne my wayward lot: The chains that bind this rained soul Had cankered then, but crushed it not.

"This is the vision of a delirious and distempered dream, which passes away at the cold clear light of morning. Its surpassing excellence and exquisite perfections have no more reality than the color of an autumnal sunset."

Then it did not refer to his wife. That is plain; otherwise he would have said so. It is well that he explained that it has no meaning, for if he had not done that, the previous soft references to Cornelia and the way he has come to feel about her now would make us think she was the person who had inspired it while teaching him how to read the warm and ruddy Italian poets during a month.

The biography observes that portions of this letter "read like the tired moaning of a wounded creature." Guesses at the nature of the wound are permissible; we will hazard one.

Read by the light of Shelley's previous history, his letter seems to be the cry of a tortured conscience. Until this time it was a conscience that had never felt a pang or known a smirch.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

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