The Prose Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley/Letters from Italy/VII. To William Godwin, 25 July, 1818
To WILLIAM GODWIN.
Bagni di Lucca, July 25th, 1818.
My dear Godwin,
We have, as yet, seen nothing of Italy which marks it to us as the habitation of departed greatness. The serene sky, the magnificent scenery, the delightful productions of the climate, are known to us, indeed, as the same with those which the ancients enjoyed. But Rome and Naples—even Florence, are yet to see; and if we were to write you at present a history of our impressions, it would give you no idea that we lived in Italy.
I am exceedingly delighted with the plan you propose of a book, illustrating the character of our calumniated republicans. It is precisely the subject for Mary, and I imagine, that, but for the fear of being excited to refer to books not within her reach, she would attempt to begin it here, and order the works you notice. I am unfortunately little skilled in English history, and the interest which it excites in me is so feeble, that I find it a duty to attain merely to that general knowledge of it which is indispensable.
Mary has just finished Ariosto with me, and, indeed, has attained a very competent knowledge of Italian. She is now reading Livy. I have been constantly occupied in literature, but have written little—except some translations from Plato, in which I exercised myself, in the despair of producing anything original. The Symposium of Plato seems to me one of the most valuable pieces of all antiquity, whether we consider the intrinsic merit of the composition, or the light which it throws on the inmost state of manners and opinions among the ancient Greeks. I have occupied myself in translating this, and it has excited me to attempt an Essay upon the cause of some differences in sentiment between the Ancients and Moderns, with respect to the subject of the dialogue.
Two things give us pleasure in your last letters. The resumption of Malthus, and the favourable turn of the general election. If Ministers do not find some means, totally inconceivable to me, of plunging the nation in war, do you imagine that they can subsist? Peace is all that a country, in the present state of England, seems to require, to afford it tranquillity and leisure for attempting some remedy; not to the universal evils of all constituted society, but to the peculiar system of misrule under which those evils have been exasperated now. I wish that I had health or spirits that would enable me to enter into public affairs, or that I could find words to express all that I feel and know.
The modern Italians seem a miserable people, without sensibility, or imagination, or understanding. Their outside is polished, and an intercourse with them seems to proceed with much facility, though it ends in nothing, and produces nothing. The women are particularly empty, and though possessed of the same kind of superficial grace, are devoid of every cultivation and refinement. They have a ball at the Casino here every Sunday, which we attend—but neither Mary nor Claire dance. I do not know whether they refrain from philosophy or protestantism.
I hear that poor Mary's book is attacked most violently in the Quarterly Review. We have heard some praise of it, and among others, an article of Walter Scott's in Blackwood's Magazine.
If you should have anything to send us—and, I assure you, anything relating to England is interesting to us—commit it to the care of Ollier the bookseller, or P[eacock]—they send me a parcel every quarter.
My health is, I think, better, and, I imagine, continues to improve, but I still have busy thoughts and dispiriting cares, which I would shake off—and it is now summer.——A thousand good wishes to yourself and your undertakings.
Ever most affectionately yours,
P. B. S.
- The extant fragment of this essay (never completed) will be found after the Translation of the Symposium in Vol. III.
- Mrs. Shelley interpolates the words your Answer to. It will be remembered that the renowned work of Malthus on Population derived from one of the Essays in Godwin's Enquirer; and that Godwin published in 1820 a rejoinder, Of Population. See Shelley's remarks on this rejoinder in his Letter to Mr. Gisborne of October 22, 1821.
- No. 36 of The Quarterly Review, published in June, 1818, contains, beside the review of Frankenstein, an article on Leigh Hunt's Foliage, wherein the writer goes out of his way to introduce some most poisonous suggestions about Shelley, without, however, naming him. It seems likely that the authorship of the anonymous Frankenstein was known to the writer.