The Prose Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley/The Elysian Fields, A Lucianic Fragment

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THE ELYSIAN FIELDS,

A LUCIANIC FRAGMENT.

 

[The Elysian Fields is printed from a MS. in Slielley's writing, so headed, in my possession: I presume it belongs to about the same period as the Marlow Pamphlets. In a letter dated the 20th of January, 1821 (Shelley Memorials, page 136), Shelley thus refers to a paper by Archdeacon Hare in Olliers Literary Miscellany: "I was immeasurably amused by the quotation from Schlegel, about the way in which the popular faith is destroyed—first the Devil, then the Holy Ghost, then God the Father. I had written a Lucianic essay to prove the same thing." Mr. Rossetti (Poetical Works, 1878, Vol. I, page 150) thinks the reference is to the Essay on Devils, withdrawn after being prepared for publication with the Essays, Letters &c. (1840), and never yet published. It does not seem to me certain that Shelley alludes to that essay; but I feel pretty confident that The Elysian Fields is a portion of a Lucianic epistle from some Englishman of political eminence, dead before 1820, to, perhaps, the Princess Charlotte. The exposition foreshadowed in the final paragraph might well have included a view of the decay of popular belief. Those who are intimately familiar with the political history and literature of England will probably be able to identify the person represented. It is not unlikely to be Charles Fox, judging from the juxtaposition of his name, in the Address to the Irish People, with sentiments much the same as those set forth iu the third paragraph of The Elysian Fields. Compare that paragraph with the relative passage in the Address, Vol. I, page 332.—H. B. F.]

 

 

THE ELYSIAN FIELDS.


I am not forgetful in this dreary scene of the country which whilst I lived in the upper air, it was my whole aim to illustrate and render happy. Indeed, although immortal, we are not exempted from the enjoyments and the sufferings of mortality. We sympathize in all the proceedings of mankind, and we experience joy or grief in all intelligence from them, according to our various opinions and views. Nor do we resign those opinions, even those which the grave[1] has utterly refuted. Frederic of Prussia has lately arrived amongst us, and persists in maintaining that "death is an eternal sleep," to the great discomfiture of Philip the Second of Spain; who on the furies refusing to apply the torture, expects the roof of Tartarus to fall upon his head, and laments that at least in his particular instance the doctrine should be false.—Religion is more frequently the subject of discussion among the departed dead, than any other topic, for we know as little which mode of faith is true as you do. Every one maintains the doctrine he maintained on Earth, and accommodates the appearances which surround us to his peculiar tenets.—

I am one of those who esteeming political science capable of certain conclusions, have ever preferred it to these airy speculations, which when they assume an empire over the passions of mankind render them so mischievous and unextinguishable, that they subsist even among the dead. The art of employing the power entrusted to you for the benefit of those who entrust it, is something more definite, and subject as all its details must ever be to innumerable limitations and exceptions arising out of the change in the habits, opinions of mankind, is the noblest, and the greatest, and the most universal of all. It is not as a queen, but as a human being that this science must be learned; the same discipline which contributes to domestic happiness and individual distinction secures true welfare and genuine glory to a nation.—

You will start, I do not doubt, to hear the language of philosophy. You will have been informed that those who approach sovereigns with warnings that they have duties to perform, that they are elevated above the rest of mankind simply to prevent their tearing one another to pieces, and for the purpose of putting into effect all practical equality and justice, are insidious traitors who devise their ruin. But if the character which I bore on earth should not reassure you,[2] it would be well to recollect the circumstances under which you will ascend the throne of England, and what is the spirit of the times. There are better examples to emulate than those who have only refrained from depraving or tyrannizing over their subjects, because they remembered the fates of Pisistratus[3] and Tarquin. If[4] generosity and virtue should have dominion over your actions, my lessons can hardly be needed; but if the discipline[5] of a narrow education may have extinguished all thirst of genuine excellence, all desire of becoming illustrious for the sake of the illustriousness of the actions which I would incite you to perform. Should you be thus—and no pains have been spared to make you so—make your account with holding your crown on this condition: of deserving it alone. And that this may be evident[6] I will expose to you the state in which the nation will be found at your accession, for the very dead know more than the counsellors by whom you will be surrounded.

The English nation does not, as has been imagined, inherit freedom from its ancestors. Public opinion rather than positive institution maintains it[7] in whatever portion it may now possess, which is[8] in truth the acquirement of their own incessant struggles. As yet the gradations by which this freedom has advanced have been contested step by step.


  1. Cancelled reading, even when the grave.
  2. After reassure you there is a cancelled reading in the MS.—you recollect yourself, & if the prejudices of the age have not deprived you of all that learning…
  3. Pisistratus is probably a slip for the sons of Pisistratus.
  4. Cancelled reading, But if these motives.
  5. Cancelled readings, lessons for discipline; and is to prevent for may have extinguished in the next line.
  6. Cancelled reading, evident to you.
  7. In the MS. them is struck out in favour of it
  8. Cancelled readings, and this has been, and in the same line conquest for acquirement.

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.