Among some letters (in the appendix-basket) from Mrs. Godwin, detailing the Godwinian share in the Shelleyan events of 1814, she tells how Harriet Shelley came to her and her husband, agitated and weeping, to implore them to forbid Shelley the house, and prevent his seeing Mary Godwin.
"She related that last November he had fallen in love with Mrs. Turner and paid her such marked attentions Mr. Turner, the husband, had carried off his wife to Devonshire."
The biographer finds a technical fault in this; "the Shelleys were in Edinburgh in November." What of that? The woman is recalling a conversation which is more than two months old; besides, she was probably more intent upon the central and important fact of it than upon its unimportant date. Harriet's quoted statement has some sense in it; for that reason, if for no other, it ought to have been put in the body of the book. Still, that would not have answered; even the biographer's enemy could not be cruel enough to ask him to let this real grievance, this compact and substantial and picturesque figure, this rawhead-and- bloody-bones, come striding in there among those pale shams, those rickety spectres labeled WET-NURSE, BONNET-SHOP, and so on--no, the father of all malice could not ask the biographer to expose his pathetic goblins to a competition like that.
The fabulist finds fault with the statement because it has a technical error in it; and he does this at the moment that he is furnishing us an error himself, and of a graver sort. He says:
"If Turner carried off his wife to Devonshire he brought her back and Shelley was staying with her and her mother on terms of cordial intimacy in March, 1814."
We accept the "cordial intimacy"--it was the very thing Harriet was complaining of--but there is nothing to show that it was Turner who brought his wife back. The statement is thrown in as if it were not only true, but was proof that Turner was not uneasy. Turner's movements are proof of nothing. Nothing but a statement from Turner's mouth would have any value here, and he made none.
Six days after writing his letter Shelley and his wife were together again for a moment--to get remarried according to the rites of the English Church.
Within three weeks the new husband and wife were apart again, and the former was back in his odorous paradise. This time it is the wife who does the deserting. She finds Cornelia too strong for her, probably. At any rate, she goes away with her baby and sister, and we have a playful fling at her from good Mrs. Boinville, the "mysterious spinner Maimuna"; she whose "face was as a damsel's face, and yet her hair was gray"; she of whom the biographer has said, "Shelley was indeed caught in an almost invisible thread spun around him, but unconsciously, by this subtle and benignant enchantress." The subtle and benignant enchantress writes to Hogg, April 18: "Shelley is again a widower; his beauteous half went to town on Thursday."
Then Shelley writes a poem--a chant of grief over the hard fate which obliges him now to leave his paradise and take up with his wife again. It seems to intimate that the paradise is cooling towards him; that he is warned off by acclamation; that he must not even venture to tempt with one last tear his friend Cornelia's ungentle mood, for her eye is glazed and cold and dares not entreat her lover to stay:
"Pause not! the time is past! Every voice cries 'Away!' Tempt not with one last tear thy friend's ungentle mood; Thy lover's eye, so glazed and cold, dares not entreat thy stay: Duty and dereliction guide thee back to solitude."
Back to the solitude of his now empty home, that is!
"Away! away! to thy sad and silent home; Pour bitter tears on its desolated hearth." . . . . . . . .
But he will have rest in the grave by-and-by. Until that time comes, the charms of Bracknell will remain in his memory, along with Mrs. Boinville's voice and Cornelia Turner's smile:
"Thou in the grave shalt rest--yet, till the phantoms flee Which that house and hearth and garden made dear to thee ere while, Thy remembrance and repentance and deep musings are not free From the music of two voices and the light of one sweet smile."
We cannot wonder that Harriet could not stand it.