Flight of the Skylark: The Development of Shelley's Reputation

Flight of the Skylark: The Development of Shelley's Reputation

Flight of the Skylark: The Development of Shelley's Reputation

Flight of the Skylark: The Development of Shelley's Reputation

Excerpt

Shelley, the writer of some infidel poetry, has been drowned; now he knows whether there is a God or no." So ran a comment in the British press when Shelley died in Italy.

The tragic story has been told, retold, and told again. It has been told by the actors and the sufferers: by Mary Shelley, whose intimate "Notes" were the nearest approach to a memoir she was allowed or willing to make; by Trelawny, who deemed his own part in the funeral rites handsome enough to justify repeated and varying accounts throughout his long career. So-called disinterested biographers have told it--some with urgency and detail, some with apologies for its familiarity. There is hardly a storm in meteorological records so famous as this typical Mediterranean squall that blew up on the afternoon of July 8, 1822. No case of drowning returns so often to the mind. Nor is any picture of racked womanhood, unless it be in the Brontë parsonage, so moving as this of the two anxious wives comforting each other with hollow hopes at San Terenzo, posting in an agony to Pisa, to Leghorn, and back again, at last to be told that their monstrous fears were true.

Each time the catastrophe is repeated, it comes with a fitting sense of climax and completion. The boating accident seems magnified into the one inevitable end to a swift, tameless spirit. After it the rest-- except for a movement or two of minor characters--is silence. For a man's death ends his career on earth, unless his influence and his reputation enjoy a posthumous one. In the career of a religious leader death is only a beginning. It is, in fact, a necessary prelude to the spreading of his doctrine, the persecution of his followers, and the deification of his memory. Aside from the Biblical prophet this still applies. A man of uncommon quality needs only to have preached and acted contentiously enough for echo and argument to carry his name...

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