Shelley's Lost Letters to Harriet

Shelley's Lost Letters to Harriet

Shelley's Lost Letters to Harriet

Shelley's Lost Letters to Harriet

Excerpt

So much controversial ink, all too often from partisan pens, has been poured out on Shelley's marital difficulties that one would be glad to let the subject rest. The reader who cares enough for truth to have stepped behind the pages of defamer and whitewasher alike and scanned the original evidence for himself will have formed his own opinion. He will agree that Shelley incurred his measure of blame not so much by separating himself from Harriet as by yielding in the first place to the chivalrous and sentimental folly of his nineteen years and marrying her. Not less will the reader agree that such blame, whatever be its amount, has been long outweighed, in any fair mind, by the signal nobility, constancy, and generosity of his life taken as a whole.

'If you were my friend,' wrote Shelley six years after the separation, to Southey, who had presumed to condemn him for the tragic death of Harriet, 'I could tell you a history that would make you open your eyes; but I shall certainly never make the public my familiar confidant.' The public of 1820 knew him only as an outcast to be abhorred and abused. A century of change has made the public . . .

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