The Complete Poetical Works, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Peter Bell the Third.

By Miching Mallecho, Esq.

Is it a party in a parlour,

Crammed just as they on earth were crammed,

Some sipping punch — some sipping tea;

But, as you by their faces see,

All silent, and all — damned!

“Peter Bell”, by W. WORDSWORTH.

OPHELIA. — What means this, my lord?

HAMLET. — Marry, this is Miching Mallecho; it means mischief.

— SHAKESPEARE.

[Composed at Florence, October, 1819, and forwarded to Hunt (November 2) to be published by C. & J. Ollier without the author’s name; ultimately printed by Mrs. Shelley in the second edition of the “Poetical Works”, 1839. A skit by John Hamilton Reynolds, “Peter Bell, a Lyrical Ballad”, had already appeared (April, 1819), a few days before the publication of Wordsworth’s “Peter Bell, a Tale”. These productions were reviewed in Leigh Hunt’s “Examiner” (April 26, May 3, 1819); and to the entertainment derived from his perusal of Hunt’s criticisms the composition of Shelley’s “Peter Bell the Third” is chiefly owing.]

Table of Contents

Dedication.

Prologue.

Part 1. Death.

Part 2. the Devil.

Part 3. Hell.

Part 4. Sin.

Part 5. Grace.

Part 6. Damnation.

Part 7. Double Damnation.

Note on Peter Bell the Third, by Mrs. Shelley.

Dedication.

To Thomas Brown, Esq., the Younger, H.f.

Dear Tom,

Allow me to request you to introduce Mr. Peter Bell to the respectable family of the Fudges. Although he may fall short of those very considerable personages in the more active properties which characterize the Rat and the Apostate, I suspect that even you, their historian, will confess that he surpasses them in the more peculiarly legitimate qualification of intolerable dulness.

You know Mr. Examiner Hunt; well — it was he who presented me to two of the Mr. Bells. My intimacy with the younger Mr. Bell naturally sprung from this introduction to his brothers. And in presenting him to you, I have the satisfaction of being able to assure you that he is considerably the dullest of the three.

There is this particular advantage in an acquaintance with any one of the Peter Bells, that if you know one Peter Bell, you know three Peter Bells; they are not one, but three; not three, but one. An awful mystery, which, after having caused torrents of blood, and having been hymned by groans enough to deafen the music of the spheres, is at length illustrated to the satisfaction of all parties in the theological world, by the nature of Mr. Peter Bell.

Peter is a polyhedric Peter, or a Peter with many sides. He changes colours like a chameleon, and his coat like a snake. He is a Proteus of a Peter. He was at first sublime, pathetic, impressive, profound; then dull; then prosy and dull; and now dull — oh so very dull! it is an ultra-legitimate dulness.

You will perceive that it is not necessary to consider Hell and the Devil as supernatural machinery. The whole scene of my epic is in ‘this world which is’— so Peter informed us before his conversion to “White Obi”—

‘The world of all of us, AND WHERE

WE FIND OUR HAPPINESS, OR NOT AT ALL.’

Let me observe that I have spent six or seven days in composing this sublime piece; the orb of my moonlike genius has made the fourth part of its revolution round the dull earth which you inhabit, driving you mad, while it has retained its calmness and its splendour, and I have been fitting this its last phase ‘to occupy a permanent station in the literature of my country.’

Your works, indeed, dear Tom, sell better; but mine are far superior. The public is no judge; posterity sets all to rights.

Allow me to observe that so much has been written of Peter Bell, that the present history can be considered only, like the Iliad, as a continuation of that series of cyclic poems, which have already been candidates for bestowing immortality upon, at the same time that they receive it from, his character and adventures. In this point of view I have violated no rule of syntax in beginning my composition with a conjunction; the full stop which closes the poem continued by me being, like the full stops at the end of the Iliad and Odyssey, a full stop of a very qualified import.

Hoping that the immortality which you have given to the Fudges, you will receive from them; and in the firm expectation, that when London shall be an habitation of bitterns; when St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey shall stand, shapeless and nameless ruins, in the midst of an unpeopled marsh; when the piers of Waterloo Bridge shall become the nuclei of islets of reeds and osiers, and cast the jagged shadows of their broken arches on the solitary stream, some transatlantic commentator will be weighing in the scales of some new and now unimagined system of criticism, the respective merits of the Bells and the Fudges, and their historians. I remain, dear Tom, yours sincerely,

MICHING MALLECHO.

P.S. — Pray excuse the date of place; so soon as the profits of the publication come in, I mean to hire lodgings in a more respectable street.

Prologue.

Peter Bells, one, two and three,

O’er the wide world wandering be. —

First, the antenatal Peter,

Wrapped in weeds of the same metre,

5

The so-long-predestined raiment

Clothed in which to walk his way meant

The second Peter; whose ambition

Is to link the proposition,

As the mean of two extremes —

10

(This was learned from Aldric’s themes)

Shielding from the guilt of schism

The orthodoxal syllogism;

The First Peter — he who was

Like the shadow in the glass

15

Of the second, yet unripe,

His substantial antitype. —

Then came Peter Bell the Second,

Who henceforward must be reckoned

The body of a double soul,

20

And that portion of the whole

Without which the rest would seem

Ends of a disjointed dream. —

And the Third is he who has

O’er the grave been forced to pass

25

To the other side, which is —

Go and try else — just like this.

Peter Bell the First was Peter

Smugger, milder, softer, neater,

Like the soul before it is

30

Born from THAT world into THIS.

The next Peter Bell was he,

Predevote, like you and me,

To good or evil as may come;

His was the severer doom —

35

For he was an evil Cotter,

And a polygamic Potter.

And the last is Peter Bell,

Damned since our first parents fell,

Damned eternally to Hell —

40

Surely he deserves it well!

_10 Aldric’s] i.e. Aldrich’s — a spelling adopted here by Woodberry.

_36 The oldest scholiasts read — A dodecagamic Potter. This is at once more descriptive and more megalophonous — but the alliteration of the text had captivated the vulgar ear of the herd of later commentators. —[SHELLEY’S NOTE.]

Part 1.

Death.

1.

And Peter Bell, when he had been

With fresh-imported Hell-fire warmed,

Grew serious — from his dress and mien

’Twas very plainly to be seen

5

Peter was quite reformed.

2.

His eyes turned up, his mouth turned down;

His accent caught a nasal twang;

He oiled his hair; there might be heard

The grace of God in every word

10

Which Peter said or sang.

3.

But Peter now grew old, and had

An ill no doctor could unravel:

His torments almost drove him mad; —

Some said it was a fever bad —

15

Some swore it was the gravel.

4.

His holy friends then came about,

And with long preaching and persuasion

Convinced the patient that, without

The smallest shadow of a doubt,

20

He was predestined to damnation.

5.

They said —‘Thy name is Peter Bell;

Thy skin is of a brimstone hue;

Alive or dead — ay, sick or well —

The one God made to rhyme with hell;

25

The other, I think, rhymes with you.

6.

Then Peter set up such a yell! —

The nurse, who with some water gruel

Was climbing up the stairs, as well

As her old legs could climb them — fell,

30

And broke them both — the fall was cruel.

7.

The Parson from the casement lept

Into the lake of Windermere —

And many an eel — though no adept

In God’s right reason for it — kept

35

Gnawing his kidneys half a year.

8.

And all the rest rushed through the door

And tumbled over one another,

And broke their skulls. — Upon the floor

Meanwhile sat Peter Bell, and swore,

40

And cursed his father and his mother;

9.

And raved of God, and sin, and death,

Blaspheming like an infidel;

And said, that with his clenched teeth

He’d seize the earth from underneath,

45

And drag it with him down to hell.

10.

As he was speaking came a spasm,

And wrenched his gnashing teeth asunder;

Like one who sees a strange phantasm

He lay — there was a silent chasm

50

Between his upper jaw and under.

11.

And yellow death lay on his face;

And a fixed smile that was not human

Told, as I understand the case,

That he was gone to the wrong place:—

55

I heard all this from the old woman.

12.

Then there came down from Langdale Pike

A cloud, with lightning, wind and hail;

It swept over the mountains like

An ocean — and I heard it strike

60

The woods and crags of Grasmere vale.

13.

And I saw the black storm come

Nearer, minute after minute;

Its thunder made the cataracts dumb;

With hiss, and clash, and hollow hum,

65

It neared as if the Devil was in it.

14.

The Devil WAS in it:— he had bought

Peter for half-a-crown; and when

The storm which bore him vanished, nought

That in the house that storm had caught

70

Was ever seen again.

15.

The gaping neighbours came next day —

They found all vanished from the shore:

The Bible, whence he used to pray,

Half scorched under a hen-coop lay;

75

Smashed glass — and nothing more!

Part 2.

The Devil.

1.

The Devil, I safely can aver,

Has neither hoof, nor tail, nor sting;

Nor is he, as some sages swear,

A spirit, neither here nor there,

80

In nothing — yet in everything.

2.

He is — what we are; for sometimes

The Devil is a gentleman;

At others a bard bartering rhymes

For sack; a statesman spinning crimes;

85

A swindler, living as he can;

3.

A thief, who cometh in the night,

With whole boots and net pantaloons,

Like some one whom it were not right

To mention; — or the luckless wight

90

From whom he steals nine silver spoons.

4.

But in this case he did appear

Like a slop-merchant from Wapping,

And with smug face, and eye severe,

On every side did perk and peer

95

Till he saw Peter dead or napping.

5.

He had on an upper Benjamin

(For he was of the driving schism)

In the which he wrapped his skin

From the storm he travelled in,

100

For fear of rheumatism.

6.

He called the ghost out of the corse; —

It was exceedingly like Peter —

Only its voice was hollow and hoarse —

It had a queerish look of course —

105

Its dress too was a little neater.

7.

The Devil knew not his name and lot;

Peter knew not that he was Bell:

Each had an upper stream of thought,

Which made all seem as it was not;

110

Fitting itself to all things well.

8.

Peter thought he had parents dear,

Brothers, sisters, cousins, cronies,

In the fens of Lincolnshire;

He perhaps had found them there

115

Had he gone and boldly shown his

9.

Solemn phiz in his own village;

Where he thought oft when a boy

He’d clomb the orchard walls to pillage

The produce of his neighbour’s tillage,

120

With marvellous pride and joy.

10.

And the Devil thought he had,

‘Mid the misery and confusion

Of an unjust war, just made

A fortune by the gainful trade

125

Of giving soldiers rations bad —

The world is full of strange delusion —

11.

That he had a mansion planned

In a square like Grosvenor Square,

That he was aping fashion, and

130

That he now came to Westmoreland

To see what was romantic there.

12.

And all this, though quite ideal —

Ready at a breath to vanish —

Was a state not more unreal

135

Than the peace he could not feel,

Or the care he could not banish.

13.

After a little conversation,

The Devil told Peter, if he chose,

He’d bring him to the world of fashion

140

By giving him a situation

In his own service — and new clothes.

14.

And Peter bowed, quite pleased and proud,

And after waiting some few days

For a new livery — dirty yellow

145

Turned up with black — the wretched fellow

Was bowled to Hell in the Devil’s chaise.

Part 3.

Hell.

1.

Hell is a city much like London —

A populous and a smoky city;

There are all sorts of people undone,

150

And there is little or no fun done;

Small justice shown, and still less pity.

2.

There is a Castles, and a Canning,

A Cobbett, and a Castlereagh;

All sorts of caitiff corpses planning

155

All sorts of cozening for trepanning

Corpses less corrupt than they.

3.

There is a ***, who has lost

His wits, or sold them, none knows which;

He walks about a double ghost,

160

And though as thin as Fraud almost —

Ever grows more grim and rich.

4.

There is a Chancery Court; a King;

A manufacturing mob; a set

Of thieves who by themselves are sent

165

Similar thieves to represent;

An army; and a public debt.

5.

Which last is a scheme of paper money,

And means — being interpreted —

‘Bees, keep your wax — give us the honey,

170

And we will plant, while skies are sunny,

Flowers, which in winter serve instead.’

6.

There is a great talk of revolution —

And a great chance of despotism —

German soldiers — camps — confusion —

175

Tumults — lotteries — rage — delusion —

Gin — suicide — and methodism;

7.

Taxes too, on wine and bread,

And meat, and beer, and tea, and cheese,

From which those patriots pure are fed,

180

Who gorge before they reel to bed

The tenfold essence of all these.

8.

There are mincing women, mewing,

(Like cats, who amant misere,)

Of their own virtue, and pursuing

185

Their gentler sisters to that ruin,

Without which — what were chastity?(2)

9.

Lawyers — judges — old hobnobbers

Are there — bailiffs — chancellors —

Bishops — great and little robbers —

190

Rhymesters — pamphleteers — stock-jobbers —

Men of glory in the wars —

10.

Things whose trade is, over ladies

To lean, and flirt, and stare, and simper,

Till all that is divine in woman

195

Grows cruel, courteous, smooth, inhuman,

Crucified ‘twixt a smile and whimper.

11.

Thrusting, toiling, wailing, moiling,

Frowning, preaching — such a riot!

Each with never-ceasing labour,

200

Whilst he thinks he cheats his neighbour,

Cheating his own heart of quiet.

12.

And all these meet at levees; —

Dinners convivial and political; —

Suppers of epic poets; — teas,

205

Where small talk dies in agonies; —

Breakfasts professional and critical;

13.

Lunches and snacks so aldermanic

That one would furnish forth ten dinners,

Where reigns a Cretan-tongued panic,

210

Lest news Russ, Dutch, or Alemannic

Should make some losers, and some winners —

45.

At conversazioni — balls —

Conventicles — and drawing-rooms —

Courts of law — committees — calls

215

Of a morning — clubs — book-stalls —

Churches — masquerades — and tombs.

15.

And this is Hell — and in this smother

All are damnable and damned;

Each one damning, damns the other;

220

They are damned by one another,

By none other are they damned.

16.

’Tis a lie to say, ‘God damns’! (1)

Where was Heaven’s Attorney General

When they first gave out such flams?

225

Let there be an end of shams,

They are mines of poisonous mineral.

17.

Statesmen damn themselves to be

Cursed; and lawyers damn their souls

To the auction of a fee;

230

Churchmen damn themselves to see

God’s sweet love in burning coals.

18.

The rich are damned, beyond all cure,

To taunt, and starve, and trample on

The weak and wretched; and the poor

235

Damn their broken hearts to endure

Stripe on stripe, with groan on groan.

19.

Sometimes the poor are damned indeed

To take — not means for being blessed —

But Cobbett’s snuff, revenge; that weed

240

From which the worms that it doth feed

Squeeze less than they before possessed.

20.

And some few, like we know who,

Damned — but God alone knows why —

To believe their minds are given

245

To make this ugly Hell a Heaven;

In which faith they live and die.

21.

Thus, as in a town, plague-stricken,

Each man be he sound or no

Must indifferently sicken;

250

As when day begins to thicken,

None knows a pigeon from a crow —

22.

So good and bad, sane and mad,

The oppressor and the oppressed;

Those who weep to see what others

255

Smile to inflict upon their brothers;

Lovers, haters, worst and best;

23.

All are damned — they breathe an air,

Thick, infected, joy-dispelling:

Each pursues what seems most fair,

260

Mining like moles, through mind, and there

Scoop palace-caverns vast, where Care

In throned state is ever dwelling.

Part 4.

Sin.

1.

Lo. Peter in Hell’s Grosvenor Square,

A footman in the Devil’s service!

265

And the misjudging world would swear

That every man in service there

To virtue would prefer vice.

2.

But Peter, though now damned, was not

What Peter was before damnation.

270

Men oftentimes prepare a lot

Which ere it finds them, is not what

Suits with their genuine station.

3.

All things that Peter saw and felt

Had a peculiar aspect to him;

275

And when they came within the belt

Of his own nature, seemed to melt,

Like cloud to cloud, into him.

4.

And so the outward world uniting

To that within him, he became

280

Considerably uninviting

To those who, meditation slighting,

Were moulded in a different frame.

5.

And he scorned them, and they scorned him;

And he scorned all they did; and they

285

Did all that men of their own trim

Are wont to do to please their whim,

Drinking, lying, swearing, play.

6.

Such were his fellow-servants; thus

His virtue, like our own, was built

290

Too much on that indignant fuss

Hypocrite Pride stirs up in us

To bully one another’s guilt.

7.

He had a mind which was somehow

At once circumference and centre

295

Of all he might or feel or know;

Nothing went ever out, although

Something did ever enter.

8.

He had as much imagination

As a pint-pot; — he never could

300

Fancy another situation,

From which to dart his contemplation,

Than that wherein he stood.

9.

Yet his was individual mind,

And new created all he saw

305

In a new manner, and refined

Those new creations, and combined

Them, by a master-spirit’s law.

10.

Thus — though unimaginative —

An apprehension clear, intense,

310

Of his mind’s work, had made alive

The things it wrought on; I believe

Wakening a sort of thought in sense.

11.

But from the first ’twas Peter’s drift

To be a kind of moral eunuch,

315

He touched the hem of Nature’s shift,

Felt faint — and never dared uplift

The closest, all-concealing tunic.

12.

She laughed the while, with an arch smile,

And kissed him with a sister’s kiss,

320

And said — My best Diogenes,

I love you well — but, if you please,

Tempt not again my deepest bliss.

13.

‘’Tis you are cold — for I, not coy,

Yield love for love, frank, warm, and true;

325

And Burns, a Scottish peasant boy —

His errors prove it — knew my joy

More, learned friend, than you.

14.

‘Boeca bacciata non perde ventura,

Anzi rinnuova come fa la luna:—

330

So thought Boccaccio, whose sweet words might cure a

Male prude, like you, from what you now endure, a

Low-tide in soul, like a stagnant laguna.

15.

Then Peter rubbed his eyes severe.

And smoothed his spacious forehead down

335

With his broad palm; —‘twixt love and fear,

He looked, as he no doubt felt, queer,

And in his dream sate down.

16.

The Devil was no uncommon creature;

A leaden-witted thief — just huddled

340

Out of the dross and scum of nature;

A toad-like lump of limb and feature,

With mind, and heart, and fancy muddled.

17.

He was that heavy, dull, cold thing,

The spirit of evil well may be:

345

A drone too base to have a sting;

Who gluts, and grimes his lazy wing,

And calls lust, luxury.

18.

Now he was quite the kind of wight

Round whom collect, at a fixed aera,

350

Venison, turtle, hock, and claret —

Good cheer — and those who come to share it —

And best East Indian madeira!

19.

It was his fancy to invite

Men of science, wit, and learning,

355

Who came to lend each other light;

He proudly thought that his gold’s might

Had set those spirits burning.

20.

And men of learning, science, wit,

Considered him as you and I

360

Think of some rotten tree, and sit

Lounging and dining under it,

Exposed to the wide sky.

21.

And all the while with loose fat smile,

The willing wretch sat winking there,

365

Believing ’twas his power that made

That jovial scene — and that all paid

Homage to his unnoticed chair.

22.

Though to be sure this place was Hell;

He was the Devil — and all they —

370

What though the claret circled well,

And wit, like ocean, rose and fell? —

Were damned eternally.

Part 5.

Grace.

1.

Among the guests who often stayed

Till the Devil’s petits-soupers,

375

A man there came, fair as a maid,

And Peter noted what he said,

Standing behind his master’s chair.

2.

He was a mighty poet — and

A subtle-souled psychologist;

380

All things he seemed to understand,

Of old or new — of sea or land —

But his own mind — which was a mist.

3.

This was a man who might have turned

Hell into Heaven — and so in gladness

385

A Heaven unto himself have earned;

But he in shadows undiscerned

Trusted. — and damned himself to madness.

4.

He spoke of poetry, and how

‘Divine it was — a light — a love —

390

A spirit which like wind doth blow

As it listeth, to and fro;

A dew rained down from God above;

5.

‘A power which comes and goes like dream,

And which none can ever trace —

395

Heaven’s light on earth — Truth’s brightest beam.’

And when he ceased there lay the gleam

Of those words upon his face.

6.

Now Peter, when he heard such talk,

Would, heedless of a broken pate,

400

Stand like a man asleep, or balk

Some wishing guest of knife or fork,

Or drop and break his master’s plate.

7.

At night he oft would start and wake

Like a lover, and began

405

In a wild measure songs to make

On moor, and glen, and rocky lake,

And on the heart of man —

8.

And on the universal sky —

And the wide earth’s bosom green —

410

And the sweet, strange mystery

Of what beyond these things may lie,

And yet remain unseen.

9.

For in his thought he visited

The spots in which, ere dead and damned,

415

He his wayward life had led;

Yet knew not whence the thoughts were fed

Which thus his fancy crammed.

10.

And these obscure remembrances

Stirred such harmony in Peter,

420

That, whensoever he should please,

He could speak of rocks and trees

In poetic metre.

11.

For though it was without a sense

Of memory, yet he remembered well

425

Many a ditch and quick-set fence;

Of lakes he had intelligence,

He knew something of heath and fell.

12.

He had also dim recollections

Of pedlars tramping on their rounds;

430

Milk-pans and pails; and odd collections

Of saws, and proverbs; and reflections

Old parsons make in burying-grounds.

13.

But Peter’s verse was clear, and came

Announcing from the frozen hearth

435

Of a cold age, that none might tame

The soul of that diviner flame

It augured to the Earth:

14.

Like gentle rains, on the dry plains,

Making that green which late was gray,

440

Or like the sudden moon, that stains

Some gloomy chamber’s window-panes

With a broad light like day.

15.

For language was in Peter’s hand

Like clay while he was yet a potter;

445

And he made songs for all the land,

Sweet both to feel and understand,

As pipkins late to mountain Cotter.

16.

And Mr. — the bookseller,

Gave twenty pounds for some; — then scorning

450

A footman’s yellow coat to wear,

Peter, too proud of heart, I fear,

Instantly gave the Devil warning.

17.

Whereat the Devil took offence,

And swore in his soul a great oath then,

455

‘That for his damned impertinence

He’d bring him to a proper sense

Of what was due to gentlemen!’

Part 6.

Damnation.

1.

‘O that mine enemy had written

A book!’— cried Job:— a fearful curse,

460

If to the Arab, as the Briton,

’Twas galling to be critic-bitten:—

The Devil to Peter wished no worse.

2.

When Peter’s next new book found vent,

The Devil to all the first Reviews

465

A copy of it slyly sent,

With five-pound note as compliment,

And this short notice —‘Pray abuse.’

3.

Then seriatim, month and quarter,

Appeared such mad tirades. — One said —

470

‘Peter seduced Mrs. Foy’s daughter,

Then drowned the mother in Ullswater,

The last thing as he went to bed.’

4.

Another —‘Let him shave his head!

Where’s Dr. Willis? — Or is he joking?

475

What does the rascal mean or hope,

No longer imitating Pope,

In that barbarian Shakespeare poking?’

5.

One more, ‘Is incest not enough?

And must there be adultery too?

480

Grace after meat? Miscreant and Liar!

Thief! Blackguard! Scoundrel! Fool! hell-fire

Is twenty times too good for you.

6.

‘By that last book of yours WE think

You’ve double damned yourself to scorn;

485

We warned you whilst yet on the brink

You stood. From your black name will shrink

The babe that is unborn.’

7.

All these Reviews the Devil made

Up in a parcel, which he had

490

Safely to Peter’s house conveyed.

For carriage, tenpence Peter paid —

Untied them — read them — went half mad.

8.

‘What!’ cried he, ‘this is my reward

For nights of thought, and days, of toil?

495

Do poets, but to be abhorred

By men of whom they never heard,

Consume their spirits’ oil?

9.

‘What have I done to them? — and who

IS Mrs. Foy? ’Tis very cruel

500

To speak of me and Betty so!

Adultery! God defend me! Oh!

I’ve half a mind to fight a duel.

10.

‘Or,’ cried he, a grave look collecting,

‘Is it my genius, like the moon,

505

Sets those who stand her face inspecting,

That face within their brain reflecting,

Like a crazed bell-chime, out of tune?’

11.

For Peter did not know the town,

But thought, as country readers do,

510

For half a guinea or a crown,

He bought oblivion or renown

From God’s own voice (1) in a review.

12.

All Peter did on this occasion

Was, writing some sad stuff in prose.

515

It is a dangerous invasion

When poets criticize; their station

Is to delight, not pose.

13.

The Devil then sent to Leipsic fair

For Born’s translation of Kant’s book;

520

A world of words, tail foremost, where

Right — wrong — false — true — and foul — and fair

As in a lottery-wheel are shook.

14.

Five thousand crammed octavo pages

Of German psychologics — he

525

Who his furor verborum assuages

Thereon, deserves just seven months’ wages

More than will e’er be due to me.

15.

I looked on them nine several days,

And then I saw that they were bad;

530

A friend, too, spoke in their dispraise —

He never read them; — with amaze

I found Sir William Drummond had.

16.

When the book came, the Devil sent

It to P. Verbovale (2), Esquire,

535

With a brief note of compliment,

By that night’s Carlisle mail. It went,

And set his soul on fire.

17.

Fire, which ex luce praebens fumum,

Made him beyond the bottom see

540

Of truth’s clear well — when I and you, Ma’am,

Go, as we shall do, subter humum,

We may know more than he.

18.

Now Peter ran to seed in soul

Into a walking paradox;

545

For he was neither part nor whole,

Nor good, nor bad — nor knave nor fool;

— Among the woods and rocks

19.

Furious he rode, where late he ran,

Lashing and spurring his tame hobby;

550

Turned to a formal puritan,

A solemn and unsexual man —

He half believed “White Obi”.

20.

This steed in vision he would ride,

High trotting over nine-inch bridges,

555

With Flibbertigibbet, imp of pride,

Mocking and mowing by his side —

A mad-brained goblin for a guide —

Over corn-fields, gates, and hedges.

21.

After these ghastly rides, he came

560

Home to his heart, and found from thence

Much stolen of its accustomed flame;

His thoughts grew weak, drowsy, and lame

Of their intelligence.

22.

To Peter’s view, all seemed one hue;

565

He was no Whig, he was no Tory;

No Deist and no Christian he; —

He got so subtle, that to be

Nothing, was all his glory.

23.

One single point in his belief

570

From his organization sprung,

The heart-enrooted faith, the chief

Ear in his doctrines’ blighted sheaf,

That ‘Happiness is wrong’;

24.

So thought Calvin and Dominic;

575

So think their fierce successors, who

Even now would neither stint nor stick

Our flesh from off our bones to pick,

If they might ‘do their do.’

25.

His morals thus were undermined:—

580

The old Peter — the hard, old Potter —

Was born anew within his mind;

He grew dull, harsh, sly, unrefined,

As when he tramped beside the Otter. (1)

26.

In the death hues of agony

585

Lambently flashing from a fish,

Now Peter felt amused to see

Shades like a rainbow’s rise and flee,

Mixed with a certain hungry wish(2).

27.

So in his Country’s dying face

590

He looked — and, lovely as she lay,

Seeking in vain his last embrace,

Wailing her own abandoned case,

With hardened sneer he turned away:

28.

And coolly to his own soul said; —

595

‘Do you not think that we might make

A poem on her when she’s dead:—

Or, no — a thought is in my head —

Her shroud for a new sheet I’ll take:

29.

‘My wife wants one. — Let who will bury

600

This mangled corpse! And I and you,

My dearest Soul, will then make merry,

As the Prince Regent did with Sherry — ’

‘Ay — and at last desert me too.’

30.

And so his Soul would not be gay,

605

But moaned within him; like a fawn

Moaning within a cave, it lay

Wounded and wasting, day by day,

Till all its life of life was gone.

31.

As troubled skies stain waters clear,

610

The storm in Peter’s heart and mind

Now made his verses dark and queer:

They were the ghosts of what they were,

Shaking dim grave-clothes in the wind.

32.

For he now raved enormous folly,

615

Of Baptisms, Sunday-schools, and Graves,

‘Twould make George Colman melancholy

To have heard him, like a male Molly,

Chanting those stupid staves.

33.

Yet the Reviews, who heaped abuse

620

On Peter while he wrote for freedom,

So soon as in his song they spy

The folly which soothes tyranny,

Praise him, for those who feed ’em.

34.

‘He was a man, too great to scan; —

625

A planet lost in truth’s keen rays:—

His virtue, awful and prodigious; —

He was the most sublime, religious,

Pure-minded Poet of these days.’

35.

As soon as he read that, cried Peter,

630

‘Eureka! I have found the way

To make a better thing of metre

Than e’er was made by living creature

Up to this blessed day.’

36.

Then Peter wrote odes to the Devil; —

635

In one of which he meekly said:

‘May Carnage and Slaughter,

Thy niece and thy daughter,

May Rapine and Famine,

Thy gorge ever cramming,

640

Glut thee with living and dead!

37.

‘May Death and Damnation,

And Consternation,

Flit up from Hell with pure intent!

Slash them at Manchester,

645

Glasgow, Leeds, and Chester;

Drench all with blood from Avon to Trent.

38.

‘Let thy body-guard yeomen

Hew down babes and women,

And laugh with bold triumph till Heaven be rent!

650

When Moloch in Jewry

Munched children with fury,

It was thou, Devil, dining with pure intent. (1)

Part 7.

Double Damnation.

1.

The Devil now knew his proper cue. —

Soon as he read the ode, he drove

655

To his friend Lord MacMurderchouse’s,

A man of interest in both houses,

And said:—‘For money or for love,

2.

‘Pray find some cure or sinecure;

To feed from the superfluous taxes

660

A friend of ours — a poet — fewer

Have fluttered tamer to the lure

Than he.’ His lordship stands and racks his

3.

Stupid brains, while one might count

As many beads as he had boroughs —

665

At length replies; from his mean front,

Like one who rubs out an account,

Smoothing away the unmeaning furrows:

4.

‘It happens fortunately, dear Sir,

I can. I hope I need require

670

No pledge from you, that he will stir

In our affairs; — like Oliver.

That he’ll be worthy of his hire.’

5.

These words exchanged, the news sent off

To Peter, home the Devil hied —

675

Took to his bed; he had no cough,

No doctor — meat and drink enough. —

Yet that same night he died.

6.

The Devil’s corpse was leaded down;

His decent heirs enjoyed his pelf,

680

Mourning-coaches, many a one,

Followed his hearse along the town:—

Where was the Devil himself?

7.

When Peter heard of his promotion,

His eyes grew like two stars for bliss:

685

There was a bow of sleek devotion

Engendering in his back; each motion

Seemed a Lord’s shoe to kiss.

8.

He hired a house, bought plate, and made

A genteel drive up to his door,

690

With sifted gravel neatly laid —

As if defying all who said,

Peter was ever poor.

9.

But a disease soon struck into

The very life and soul of Peter —

695

He walked about — slept — had the hue

Of health upon his cheeks — and few

Dug better — none a heartier eater.

10.

And yet a strange and horrid curse

Clung upon Peter, night and day;

700

Month after month the thing grew worse,

And deadlier than in this my verse

I can find strength to say.

11.

Peter was dull — he was at first

Dull — oh, so dull — so very dull!

705

Whether he talked, wrote, or rehearsed —

Still with this dulness was he cursed —

Dull — beyond all conception — dull.

12.

No one could read his books — no mortal,

But a few natural friends, would hear him;

710

The parson came not near his portal;

His state was like that of the immortal

Described by Swift — no man could bear him.

13.

His sister, wife, and children yawned,

With a long, slow, and drear ennui,

715

All human patience far beyond;

Their hopes of Heaven each would have pawned,

Anywhere else to be.

14.

But in his verse, and in his prose,

The essence of his dulness was

720

Concentred and compressed so close,

‘Twould have made Guatimozin doze

On his red gridiron of brass.

15.

A printer’s boy, folding those pages,

Fell slumbrously upon one side;

725

Like those famed Seven who slept three ages.

To wakeful frenzy’s vigil — rages,

As opiates, were the same applied.

16.

Even the Reviewers who were hired

To do the work of his reviewing,

730

With adamantine nerves, grew tired; —

Gaping and torpid they retired,

To dream of what they should be doing.

17.

And worse and worse, the drowsy curse

Yawned in him, till it grew a pest —

735

A wide contagious atmosphere,

Creeping like cold through all things near;

A power to infect and to infest.

18.

His servant-maids and dogs grew dull;

His kitten, late a sportive elf;

740

The woods and lakes, so beautiful,

Of dim stupidity were full.

All grew dull as Peter’s self.

19.

The earth under his feet — the springs,

Which lived within it a quick life,

745

The air, the winds of many wings,

That fan it with new murmurings,

Were dead to their harmonious strife.

20.

The birds and beasts within the wood,

The insects, and each creeping thing,

750

Were now a silent multitude;

Love’s work was left unwrought — no brood

Near Peter’s house took wing.

21.

And every neighbouring cottager

Stupidly yawned upon the other:

755

No jackass brayed; no little cur

Cocked up his ears; — no man would stir

To save a dying mother.

22.

Yet all from that charmed district went

But some half-idiot and half-knave,

760

Who rather than pay any rent,

Would live with marvellous content,

Over his father’s grave.

23.

No bailiff dared within that space,

For fear of the dull charm, to enter;

765

A man would bear upon his face,

For fifteen months in any case,

The yawn of such a venture.

24.

Seven miles above — below — around —

This pest of dulness holds its sway;

770

A ghastly life without a sound;

To Peter’s soul the spell is bound —

How should it ever pass away?

_8 To those who have not duly appreciated the distinction between Whale and Russia oil, this attribute might rather seem to belong to the Dandy than the Evangelic. The effect, when to the windward, is indeed so similar, that it requires a subtle naturalist to discriminate the animals. They belong, however, to distinct genera. —[SHELLEY’s NOTE.)

_183 One of the attributes in Linnaeus’s description of the Cat. To a similar cause the caterwauling of more than one species of this genus is to be referred; — except, indeed, that the poor quadruped is compelled to quarrel with its own pleasures, whilst the biped is supposed only to quarrel with those of others. —[SHELLEY’S NOTE.])

_186 What would this husk and excuse for a virtue be without its kernel prostitution, or the kernel prostitution without this husk of a virtue? I wonder the women of the town do not form an association, like the Society for the Suppression of Vice, for the support of what may be called the ‘King, Church, and Constitution’ of their order. But this subject is almost too horrible for a joke. —[SHELLEY’S NOTE.])

_222 This libel on our national oath, and this accusation of all our countrymen of being in the daily practice of solemnly asseverating the most enormous falsehood, I fear deserves the notice of a more active Attorney General than that here alluded to. —[SHELLEY’S NOTE.])

_292 one Fleay cj., Rossetti, Forman, Dowden, Woodberry; out 1839, 2nd edition.

_500 Betty]Emma 1839, 2nd edition. See letter from Shelley to Ollier, May 14, 1820 (Shelley Memorials, page 139).

_512 Vox populi, vox dei. As Mr. Godwin truly observes of a more famous saying, of some merit as a popular maxim, but totally destitute of philosophical accuracy. —[SHELLEY’S NOTE.])

_534 Quasi, Qui valet verba:— i.e. all the words which have been, are, or may be expended by, for, against, with, or on him. A sufficient proof of the utility of this history. Peter’s progenitor who selected this name seems to have possessed A PURE ANTICIPATED COGNITION of the nature and modesty of this ornament of his posterity. —[SHELLEY’S NOTE.])

_602-3 See Editor’s Note.

_583 A famous river in the new Atlantis of the Dynastophylic Pantisocratists. —[SHELLEY’S NOTE.])

_588 See the description of the beautiful colours produced during the agonizing death of a number of trout, in the fourth part of a long poem in blank verse, published within a few years. [“The Excursion”, 8 2 568-71. — Ed.] That poem contains curious evidence of the gradual hardening of a strong but circumscribed sensibility, of the perversion of a penetrating but panic-stricken understanding. The author might have derived a lesson which he had probably forgotten from these sweet and sublime verses:—

‘This lesson, Shepherd, let us two divide,

Taught both by what she (Nature) shows and what conceals,

Never to blend our pleasure or our pride

With sorrow of the meanest thing that feels.’—[SHELLEY’S NOTE.])

_652 It is curious to observe how often extremes meet. Cobbett and Peter use the same language for a different purpose: Peter is indeed a sort of metrical Cobbett. Cobbett is, however, more mischievous than Peter, because he pollutes a holy and how unconquerable cause with the principles of legitimate murder; whilst the other only makes a bad one ridiculous and odious.

If either Peter or Cobbett should see this note, each will feel more indignation at being compared to the other than at any censure implied in the moral perversion laid to their charge. —[SHELLEY’S NOTE.])

Note on Peter Bell the Third, by Mrs. Shelley.

In this new edition I have added “Peter Bell the Third”. A critique on Wordsworth’s “Peter Bell” reached us at Leghorn, which amused Shelley exceedingly, and suggested this poem.

I need scarcely observe that nothing personal to the author of “Peter Bell” is intended in this poem. No man ever admired Wordsworth’s poetry more; — he read it perpetually, and taught others to appreciate its beauties. This poem is, like all others written by Shelley, ideal. He conceived the idealism of a poet — a man of lofty and creative genius — quitting the glorious calling of discovering and announcing the beautiful and good, to support and propagate ignorant prejudices and pernicious errors; imparting to the unenlightened, not that ardour for truth and spirit of toleration which Shelley looked on as the sources of the moral improvement and happiness of mankind, but false and injurious opinions, that evil was good, and that ignorance and force were the best allies of purity and virtue. His idea was that a man gifted, even as transcendently as the author of “Peter Bell”, with the highest qualities of genius, must, if he fostered such errors, be infected with dulness. This poem was written as a warning — not as a narration of the reality. He was unacquainted personally with Wordsworth, or with Coleridge (to whom he alludes in the fifth part of the poem), and therefore, I repeat, his poem is purely ideal; — it contains something of criticism on the compositions of those great poets, but nothing injurious to the men themselves.

No poem contains more of Shelley’s peculiar views with regard to the errors into which many of the wisest have fallen, and the pernicious effects of certain opinions on society. Much of it is beautifully written: and, though, like the burlesque drama of “Swellfoot”, it must be looked on as a plaything, it has so much merit and poetry — so much of HIMSELF in it — that it cannot fail to interest greatly, and by right belongs to the world for whose instruction and benefit it was written.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30