Page:Shelley, a poem, with other writings (Thomson, Debell).djvu/15

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
ix
PREFATORY NOTE.

would the cry against the heterodox outpourings of Swinburne have been, if the vials of holy wrath had not been almost entirely emptied on Shelley's devoted head? Even "The City of Dreadful Night," that quintessence of all that respectability and conventionalism most abhor, only excited here and there a few low murmurs of disapproval, in place of the discordant and deafening shrieks which greeted "The Revolt of Islam" and "Prometheus Unbound."

Thus, as I have said, even those who were well-affected towards Shelley, were unable or unwilling, in face of the clamour against him, to praise him, without throwing in an allusion to those detestable opinions of his, which the critic would not, on any account, allow his readers to think that he himself approved of. Their praise was consequently deprived of almost all value, for Shelley's opinions were of the very essence of his writings, and it is impossible, except in a very few of his shorter pieces, to think of the poems apart from the sentiments which animate and inspire them. This then is, as I conceive, the peculiar merit of Thomson's Essay—that he recognises fully the nobility of Shelley's aims and ideas, and does not, as almost all writers had done before him, append a per contra of disparagement.

Let me add a few words more as to this Essay, although I have some hesitation in penning them. If the author had lived to republish it, he would, I think, have omitted or modified some few passages. I refer chiefly to the sentences in which Emerson and Carlyle are mentioned. Both of these authors retained to the last a portion of the great admiration with which in early life he regarded them: but I can hardly think that in 1880 he would have allowed the passages relating to them