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infidelity which flatters the pride of the understanding, by glittering sophistry—or that still more dangerous infidelity, which gratifies its love of power by bitter sarcasm—or that most dangerous of all which perverts the sensibilities, and corrupts the affections—it resembles that evil of which Milton speaks, when, with a boldness which the fastidious might deem profane, he exclaims,
Evil into the mind of God or man
If, regarded in themselves, these passages were endowed with any power of mischief, the manner in which they are introduced in the poem—or rather phantasm of a poem—of * Queen Mab” must surely neutralize them. It has no human interest—no local affinities— no machinery familiar even to thought. It opens in a lyrical measure, wanting even the accomplishment of rhyme, with an apostrophe uttered, no one knows by whom or where, on a sleeping nymph—whether human or divine —the creature of what mythology—on earth or in some other sphere—is unexplained; all we know is, that the lady or spirit is called Ianthe. Thus it begins:—
How wonderful is Death— Death and his brother Sleep: One, pale as yonder waning moon, With lips of lurid blue; The other, rosy as the morn When, throned in Ocean's wave, It blushes o'er the world; Yet both so passing wonderful :
Hath then the gloomy power Whose reign is in the tainted sepulchres seized on her sinless soul t Must then that peerless form, Which love and admiration cannot view Without a beating heart—those azure veins Which steal like streams along a field of snowThat lovely outline which is fair As breathing marble, perish 1 Must putrefaction's breath Leave nothing of this heavenly sight But loathsomeness and ruin: Spare nothing but a gloomy theme, On which the lightest heart might moralize? Or is it only a sweet slumber Stealing o'er sensation, Which the breath of roseate morning Chaseth into darkness 1 Will Ianthe wake again, And give that faithful bosom joy, Whose sleepless spirit waits to catch Light, life, and rapture from her smile 1
The answer to the last question is, that Ianthe will awake, which is expressed in terms appropriately elaborate and mystical. But while she is thus sleeping, the Fairy Mab descends—invites the soul of the nymph to quit her form—and conveys it through systems, suns, and worlds to the temple of “The Spirit of Nature,” where the Fairy and the Soul enter “The Hall of Spells,” and a kind of phantasmagoria passes before them, in which are dimly seen representations of the miseries, oppressions, and hopes of mankind. Few, indeed, are the readers who will ever enter the dreary portals of that fane, or gaze on the wild intermixture of half-formed visions and theories which gleam through the hazy prospects seen
from its battlements. The discourse of the Fairy—to the few who have followed that dizzy career—is an extraordinary mixture of wild rhapsody on the miseries attendant on humanity, and the supposed errors of its faith, and of fancies “of the moonshine's watery beams.” After the “obstinate questioning” respecting the existence of a God, this Fairy—who is supposed to deny all supernatural existence— calls forth a shape of one whose imaginary being is entirely derived from Christian tradition—Ahasuerus, the Jew—who is said to have scoffed at our Saviour as he bore his cross to Calvary, and to have been doomed by Him to wander on the earth until His second coming. Of this phantom the question is asked, “Is there a God?” and to him are the words ascribed in answer which form the second and third portions of the Prosecutor's charge, Can any thing be conceived more inconsistent—more completely self-refuted—and therefore more harmless? The whole machinery, indeed, answers to the description of the Fairy
The matter of which dreams are made,
All, indeed, is fantastical—nothing clear except that atheism, and the materialism on which alone atheism can rest, are refuted in every page. If the being of God is in terms denied—which I deny—it is confessed in substance; and what injury can an author do, who one moment deprecates the “deifying the Spirit of the universe,” and the next himself deifies “the spirit of nature,”—speaks of her “eternal breath,” and fashions for her “a fitting temple?” Nay, in this strange poem, the spiritual immunities of the soul and its immortal destinies are distinctly asserted amidst all its visionary splendours. The Spirit of Ianthe is supposed to arise from the slumbering body, and to stand beside it; while the poet thus represents each:"Twas a sight Of wonder to behold the body and soul. The self-same lineaments, the same Marks of identity were there, Yet, Oh how different! One aspires to heaven, Pants for its sempiternal heritage, And ever changing, ever rising, still Wantons in endless being; The other for a time the unwilling sport Of circumstance and passion, struggles on, Fleets through its sad duration rapidly; Then, like a useless and worn-out machine, Rots, perishes, and passes.
Now, when it is found that this poem, thus containing the doctrine of immortality, is presented with the distinct statement that Shelley himself in maturer life departed from its offensive dogmas—when it is accompanied by his own letter in which he expresses his wish for its suppression—when, therefore, it is not given even as containing his deliberate assertions, but only as a feature in the development of his intellectual character—surely all sting is taken out of the rash and uncertain passages which
have been selected as indicating blasphemy! But is it not antidote enough to the poison of a pretended atheism, that the poet who is supposed to-day to deny Deity, finds Deity in all things!
I cannot proceed with this defence without feeling that I move tremulously among sacred things which should be approached only in serene contemplation; that I am compelled to solicit your attention to considerations more fit to be weighed in the stillness of thought than amidst the excitements of a public trial; and that I am able only to suggest reasonings which, if woven into a chain, no strength of mine could utter, nor your kindest patience follow. But the fault is not mine. I cannot otherwise even hint the truth—the living truth —of this case to your minds as it fills and struggles in my own, or protect my client and friend from a prosecution without parallel in our legal history. If the prosecutor, in return for his own conviction of publishing some cheap and popular work of alleged blasphemy —prepared, calculated, and intended by the author to shake the religious principles of the uneducated and the young-has attempted to assail the efforts of genius, and to bring into question the relations, the uses, the tendencies of the divinest faculties, I must not shrink from entreating you to consider those bearings of the question which are essential to its justice. And if you feel unable fully to examine them within the limits of a trial, and in the atmosphere of a court of justice, yet if you feel with me that they are necessary to a just decision, you cannot doubt what your duty to the defendant and to justice is, on a criminal chargel Pardon me, therefore, if I now seek to show you, by a great example, how unjustly you would deal with so vast and so divine a thing as the imagination of a poet, if you were to take his isolated passages which may seem to deal too boldly with sacred things, and— without regard to the process of the faculty by which they are educed—to brand them as the effusions of a blasphemous mind, or as tending to evil issues. That example will also show you how a poet—devoting the noblest powers to the loftiest themes—when he ventures to grapple with the spiritual existences revealed by the Christian faith, in the very purpose of vindicating “the ways of God to men,” may seem to incur a charge like the present, and with as much justice, and may be absolved from it only by nice regard to the tendencies of the divine faculty he exerts. I speak not of a “marvellous boy,” as Shelley was at eighteen, but of Milton, in the maturity of his powers, when he brought all the “spoils of time,” and the clustered beauty hoarded through a long life, to the deliberate construction of a work which should never die. His case is the converse of that of Shelley—he begins from an opposite point; he falls into an opposite error; but he expatiates in language and imagery out of which Mr. Hetherington might shape a charge as spacious as that which he has given you to decide. Shelley fancies himself irreligious, and everywhere falters or trembles into piety; Milton, believing himself engaged in a most pious work, is led by the tendencies of his imagination to individualize—to adorn—to enthrone—the Enemy of God; and to invest his struggles against Omnipotence with all the nobleness of a patriotic resistance to tyranny, and his suffering
from Almighty justice with the graces of fortitude. Let it not be urged that the language which his Satan utters is merely to be regarded with reference to dramatic proprieties—it is attributed to the being in whom the interest of his poem centres; and on whom admiration and sympathy attend as on a sufferer in the eternal struggle of right against power. Omnipotence becomes tyranny in the poet's vision, and resistance to its requisitions appears the more generous even because hopelessly vain. Before I advert to that language, and ask you to compare it with the expressions selected for prosecution, let me call to your recollection the grandeurs—nay, the luxuries of thought with which the “Lost Archangel” is surrounded;—the magic by which even out of the materials of torture dusky magnificence is created in his place of exile, beyond “the wealth of Ormus and of Ind;” and the faded glory and unconquerable spirit attributed to those rebel legions who still sustain him in opposition to the Most High. Observe the hosts, still angelic, as they march at his bidding !— Anon they move In perfect phalanx to the Dorian mood Of flutes and soft recorders; such as raised To height of noblest temper heroes old Arming to battle; and, instead of rage, Deliberate valour breathed, firm and unmoved With dread of death, to flight or foul retreat; Nor wanting power to mitigate and 'suage With solemn touches troubled thoughts, and chase Anguish, and doubt, and fear, and sorrow, and pain, From mortal or immortal minds.
if the sublimest references to nature were in Where joy for ever dwells! Iait, horrors, hails sufficient to accumulate glories for the bearer, Infernal world, and thou, profoundest hell, is consecrated by allusions to the thousand
Receive thy new possessor; one who brings storms and thousand thunders which the mast
A mind not to be changed by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself of an imperial ship withstands.
Can make a heaven of hell, a bell of heaven. His spear (to equal which the tallest pine
What matter where, if I be still the same? Hewn on Norwegian hills, to be the mast
And what I should be, all but less than he or some great admiral, were but a wand)
Whom thunder hath made greater. Here at least He walk'd with, to support uneasy steps
We shall be free; the Almighty hath not built Over the burning marle ; not like those steps
Here for his endy, will not drive us hence ; On Heaven's azure.
Here we may reign secure, and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition, though in hell; Now, having seen how the great Christian Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven!" Poet has lavished all the glories of his art on the attendant hosts and personal investiture but I dare only allude to the proposition made
I might multiply passages of the same kind; of the brave opponent of Almighty Power, let of assaulting the throne of God" with Tartaus attend to the language in which he ad- rean sulphur and strange fire, his own invented dresses his comrade in enterprise and suffer- torments," and to the address of Satan to the ing. Into what pit thon seest,
newly-created sun, in which he actually curses From what height fallen--so much the stronger proved the love of God. Suppose that last passage He with his thunder: and till then who knew
introduced into this indictment-suppose that The force of those dire arms 1 Yet not for those, instead of the unintelligible lines beginning Nor that the potent Victor in his RAGE
" They have three words, God, Hell, and Heaven," Can else inflict, do I repent or change,
we had these-Pe then His love accursed," with Though changed in outward lustre, that fix'd mind,
the innuendo, “ Thereby meaning the love of AlAnd high disdain, from sense of injured merit, Tbat with the Mightiest raised me to contend,
mighty God," how would you deal with the And to the fierce contention brought along
charge? How ! but by looking at the object Innumerable force of spirits arm’d,
of the great poem of which those words are That durst dislike His reign, and, me preferring, part; by observing how the poet, incapable of His utmost power with adverse power opposed resting in a mere abstraction, had been led In dubious battle on the plains of Heaven,
insensibly to clothe it from the armory of virAnd shook His throne !
tue and grandeur ; by showing that although Such is the force of the poet's enthusiastic the names of the Almighty and Satan were resympathy with the speaker, that the reader al- tained, in truth, other ideas had usurped those most thinks Omnipotence doubtful; or, if that names, as the theme itself had eluded even is impossible, admires the more the courage Milton's grasp! I will not ask you whether that can resist it! The chief proceeds
you agree with me in the defence which might
be made for Milton; but I will ask, do you not What though the field be lost? feel with me that these are matters for another All is not lost; the unconquerable will, And study of revenge, immortal hate,
tribunal? Do you not feel with me that exAnd courage never to submit or yield,
cept that the boldness of Milton's thoughts And what is else not to be overcome ;
comes softened to the ears by the exquisite That glory never shall his wrath or might
beauty of Milton's language, I may find paralExtort from me. To bow and sue for grace lels in the passages I have quoted from the With suppliant knee, and deify His power,
Paradise Lost, for those selected for prosecuWho from the terror of this arm so late
tion from Queen Mab? Do you not feel with Doubted his empire; that were low indeed, That were an ignominy, and shame beneath
me that, as without a knowledge of the ParaThis downfall!
dise Lost, you could not absolve the publisher This mighty representation of generous re- inglorious” Hetherington; so neither can you,
of Milton from the prosecution of some mute sistance, of mind superior to fortune, of re- dare you, convict Mr. Moxon of a libel on God solution nobler than the conquest, concludes and religion, in publishing the works of Shelby proclaiming “eternal war" against Him-ley, without having read and studied them all ? Who now triumphs, and in the excess of joy,
If rashly you assail the mighty masters of Sole reigning, holds the tyranny of heaven.
thought and fantasy, you will, indeed, assail Surely, but for the exquisite grace of the though not for the purpose of torture; all you
them in vain, for the purpose of suppression, language compared with the baldness of Shel. can do is to make them suffer, as being human, ley's, I might parallel from this speech all that they are liable to corporal suffering; but, like the indiciment charges about "an Almighty the wounded spirits of Milton, “ they will soon Fiend” and “ Tyrannous Omnipotence.” Listen close," " confounded, though immortal!" again to the more composed determination
If, however, these are considerations affectand sedate self-reliance of the archangelic ing the exercise of human genius on themes sufferer!
beyond its grasp, which we cannot discuss in “Is this the region ? this the soil, the clime ?" this place, however essential to the decision of Said then the lost archangel, " this the seat
the charge, there is one plain position which I That we must change for heaven 1 this mournful gloom will venture to assert: that the poetry which For that celestial light? Be it so, since he,
pretends to a denial of God or of an immorWho now is Sovran, can dispose and bid What shall be right; farthest from him is best,
tal life, must contain its own refutation in itWhom reason hath equall'd, force hath made supreme
self, and sustain what it would deny! A poet, Above his equals. Farewell, happy fields,
I though never one of the highest order, may
“ link vice to a radiant angel;" he may diffuse years give birth to images of grace which, unluxurious indifference to virtue and io truth; touched by time, people the retreats which are but he cannot inculcate atheism. Let him sought by youthful toil, and make learning strive to do it, and like Balaam, who came to lovely. Why shall not these be brought, with curse, like him he must end in blessing! His the poetry of Shelley, within the range of criart convicts him; for it is “ Eternity revealing minal jurisdiction ? Because, with all their itself in Time !" His fancies may be wayward, beauty, they do not belong to the passions of the his theories absurd, but they will prove, no less present time, because they hold their domiin their failare than in their success, the divi- nion apart from the realities which form the nity of their origin, and the inadequacy of this business of life, because they are presented world to give scope to his impulses. They are to the mind as creations of another sphere, to the beatings of the soul against the bars of its be admired, not believed. And yet, without clay tenement, which though they may ruffle prosecution-without offence-one of the great and sadden it, prove that it is winged for a di-est and purest of our English poets, wearied viner sphere! Young has said, " An undevout with the selfishness which he saw pervading a astronomer is mad;" how much more truly Christian nation, has dared an ejaculating might he have said, an atheist poet is a con- wish for the return of those old palpable shapes tradiction in terms ! Let the poet take what of divinity, when he exclaimed, range of associations he will let him adopt what notions he may-he cannot dissolve his
Great God! r'd rather be alliance with the Eternal. Let him strive to
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn,
So might I, standing on some pleasant lee, shut out the vistas of the future by encircling Have glimpses which may make me less forlorn, the present with images of exquisite beauty ; Have sight of Proteus coming from the sea, his own forms of ideal grace will disappoint Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed hom! him with eternal looks, and vindicate the immortality they were fashioned to veil! Let him And the fantasies of Queen Mab, if not so rear temples, and consecrate them to fabled di-compact of imagination, are as harmless now vinities, they will indicate in their enduring as those forms of Grecian deities which Wordsbeauty " temples not made with hands, eter worth thus invokes! Pure-passionless—they nal in the heavens !" If he celebrates the de- were while their author lived; they have lights of social intercourse, the festal reference grown classic by that touch of death which to their fragility includes the sense of that stopped the generous heart and teeming fancy which must endure; for the very sadness of their fated author. They have no more inwhich tempers them speaks the longing after fluence on living opinion, than that world of that “which prompts the eternal sigh.” If he beauty to which Shelley adverts, when he es. desires to bid the hearts of thousands beat as claims in “Hellas," one man at the touch of tragic passion, he
But Greece and her foundations are must presents the future in the instant,"show
Built below the tide of war, in the death-grapple of contending emotions a
Based on the crystalline sea strength which death cannot destroy-vindicate Of thought and its eternity. the immortality of affection at the moment when the warm passages of life are closed against it; Having considered this charge chiefly as and anticipate in the virtue which dares to die, affecting poetry, I must not forget that the last the power by which “mortality shall be swal-passage selected by the Prosecutor is in prose, lowed up of life!” The world is too narrow for culled from the essay which was appended to us. Time is too short for man,-and the poet the poem of "Queen Mab," disclaimed by the only feels the sphere more inadequate, and editor-disclaimed by Shelley long before he pants for the “all-hail hereafter," with more reached the prime of manhood—but righủy urgent sense of weakness than his fellows :- preserved, shocking as it is in itself, as essenToo-too contracted are these walls of flesh,
tial to the just contemplation of his moral and This vital heat too cold; these visual orbs,
intellectual nature. They form the dark Though inconceivably endow'd, too dim
ground of a picture of surpassing interest to For any passion of the soul which leads
the philosopher. There shall you see a poet To ecstasy, and all the frigid bonds
whose fancies are most ethereal, struggling Of time and change disdaining, takes the range
with a theory gross, material, shallow, imaging Along the line of limitless desires !
the great struggle by which the Spirit of the If this prosecution can succeed, on what Eternal seeks to subdue the material world to principle can the publishers of the great works its uses. His genius was pent up within the of ancient times, replete with the images of hard and bitter rind of his philosophy, as idolatrous faith, and with moralities only to be Ariel was in the rift of the cloven pine; and endured as historical, escape a similar doom? what wonder if a Spirit thus enthralled should These are the works which engage and reward send forth strange and discordant cries? Bethe first labours of our English youth,--which, cause the words which those strange voices in spite of the objections raised to them, prac- syllabled are recorded here, will you say the tically teach lessons of beauty and wisdom- record is a crime? I recollect in the speech the sense of antiquity—the admiration of heroic of that great ornament of our profession, Mr. daring and suffering; and refine and elevate Erskine, an illustration of the injustice of se their lives. It was destined in the education lecting part of a conversation or of a book, of the human race, that imperfect and faint and because singly considered it is shocking, suggestions of truth, combined with exquisite charging a criminal intent on the utterer or perceptions of beauty, shouid in a few teeming the publisher; which, if, at first, it may not
seem applicable to this case, will be found essentially to govern it. He refers to the passage in the Bible, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God,” and shows how the publisher of the Book of God itself might be charged with atheism, by the insertion only of the latter division of the sentence. It is not surely by the division of a sentence only that the context may be judged; but by the general intent of him who publishes what is in itself offensive, for the purpose of curious record— of controversy—of evidence—of example. The ublisher of Shelley has not indeed said “The 1 hath said in his heart, There is no God;” but he has in effect said, The poet has tried to say with his lips “There is no God,” but his genius and his heart belie his words! What indeed does the publisher of Shelley's works virtually say, where he thus presents to his readers this record of the poet's life and death 1 He says—Behold! Here is a spectacle which angels may admire and weep over! Here is a poet of fancy the most ethereal—feelings the most devout—charity the most Christian—enthralled by opinions the most cold, hollow, and debasing ! Here is a youth endowed with that sensibility to the beautiful and the grand which peoples his minutes with the perceptions of years—who, with a spirit of self-sacrifice which the eldest Christianity might exult in if found in one of its martyrs, is ready to lay down that intellectual being—to be lost in loss itself —if by annihilation he could multiply the enjoyments and hasten the progress of his species—and yet, with strange wilfulness, rejecting that religion in form to which in essence he is imperishably allied Observe these radiant fancies—pure and cold as frostwork— how would they be kindled by the warmth of Christian love Track those “thoughts that wander through eternity,” and think how they would repose in their proper home ! And trace the inspired, yet erring youth, poem after poem—year after year, month after month— how shall you see the icy fetters which encircle his genius gradually dissolve; the wreaths of mist ascend from his path; and the distance spread out before him peopled with human affections, and skirted by angel wings! See how this seeming atheist begins to adore— how the divine image of suffering and love p." at Calvary, never unfelt, begins to seen—and in its contemplation the softened, not yet convinced poet exclaims, in his Prometheus, of the followers of Christ–
The wise, the pure, the lofty, and the just, Whom thy slaves hate—for being like to thee!
And thus he proceeds—with light shining more and more towards the perfect day, which ne was not permitted to realize in this world. As you trace this progress, alas ! Death veils it—veils it, not stops it—and this perturbed, imperfect, but glorious being is hidden from us—“Till the sea shall give up its dead " What say you now to the book which exhibits this spectacle, and stops with this catastrophe 4 Is it a libel on religion and God? Talk of proofs of Divine existence in the wonders of the material universe, there is nothing in any— nor in all-compared to the proof which this
indicted volume conveys? What can the telescope disclose of worlds and suns and systems in the heavens above us, or the microscope detect in the descending scale of various life, endowed with a speech and a language like that with which Shelley, being dead, here speaks? Not even do the most serene productions of poets, whose faculties in this world have attained comparative harmony—strongly as they plead for the immortality of the mind which produced them—afford so unanswerable a proof of a life to come, as the mighty embryo which this book exhibits;–as the course, the frailty, the imperfection, with the dark curtain dropped on all ! It is, indeed, when best surveyed, but the infancy of an eternal being; an infancy wayward but gigantic; an infancy which we shall never fully understand, till we behold its development “when time shall be no more”—when doubt shall be dissolved in vision—“when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and when this mortal shall have put on immortality?” Let me, before I sit down, entreat you to ask yourselves where the course of prosecution will stop if you crown with success Mr. Hetherington's revenge. Revenge, did I say? I recall the word. Revenge means the returning of injury for injury—an emotion most unwise and unchristian, but still human;–the satisfaction of a feeling of ill-regulated justice cherished by a heart which judges bitterly in its own cause. But this attempt to retaliate on one who is a stranger to the evil suffered—this infliction of misery for doing that which the prosecutor has maintained within these works the right of all men to do—has no claim to the savage plea of wild justice; but is poor, cruel, paltry injustice; as bare of excuse as ever tyrant, above or below the opinion of the wise and good, ever ventured to threaten. Admit its power in this case—grant its right to select for the punishment of blasphemy the exhibition of an anomaly as harmless as the stuffed aspic in a museum, or as its image on the passionless bosom of a pictured Cleopatra– and what ancient, what modern history, shall be lent unchallenged to our friends? If the thousand booksellers who sell the “Paradise Lost”—from the greatest publisher in London or Edinburgh down to the proprietor of the little book-stall, where the poor wayfarer snatches a hasty glance at the grandeur and beauty of the poet, and goes on his way refreshed—may hope that genius will render to the name of Milton what they deny to that of Shelley; what can they who sell “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” hope from the prosecutor of “Queen Mab?” In that work are two celebrated chapters, sparkling with all the meretricious felicities of epigrammatic style, which, full of polished sarcasm against infant Christianity, are elaborately directed to wither the fame of its Martyrs and Confessors with bitterest scorn—two chapters which, if published at a penny each, would do more mischief than thousands of metaphysical poems; but which, retained in their apppropriate place, to be sought only by the readers of history, may serve the cause of truth by proving the poverty of the spite by O