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Laon and Cythna is the same poem with the Revolt of Islam— under the first name it exhibited some features which made ' the experiment on the temper of the public mind,' as the author calls it, somewhat too bold and hazardous. This knight-errant in the cause of ' a liberal and comprehensive morality' had already sustained some ' perilous handling' in his encounters with Prejudice and Error, and acquired in consequence of it a small portion of the better part of valour. Accordingly Laon and Cythna withdrew from circulation; and happy had it been for Mr. Shelley if he had been contented with his failure,, and closed his experiments. But with minds of a certain class, notoriety, infamy, any thing is better than obscurity; baffled in a thousand attempts after fame, they will still make one more at whatever risk,—and they end commonly like an awkward chemist who perseveres in tampering with his ingredients, till, in an unlucky moment, they take fire, and he is blown up by the explosion.
Laon and Cythna has accordingly re-appeared with a new name, and a few slight alterations. If we could trace in these any signs of an altered spirit, we should have hailed with the sincerest pleasure the return of one whom nature intended for better things, to the ranks of virtue and religion. But Mr. Shelley is no penitent; he has reproduced the same poison, a little, and but a little, more cautiously disguised, and as it is thus intended only to do the more mischief at Jess personal risk to the author, our duty requires us to use his own evidence against himself, to interpret him where he is obscure now, by himself where he was plain before, and to exhibit the ' fearful consequences' to which he would bring us, as he drew them in the boldness of his first conception.
Before, however, we do this, we will discharge our duty to Mr. Shelley as poetical critics—in a case like the present, indeed, where the freight is so pernicious, it is but a secondary duty to consider the 'build' of the vessel which bears it; but it is a duty too peculiarly our own to be wholly neglected. Though we should be sorry to see the Revolt of Islam in our readers' hands, we are bound to say that it is not without beautiful passages, that the language is in general free from errors of taste, and the versification smooth and harmonious. In these respects it resembles the latter productions of Mr. Southey, though the tone is less subdued, and the copy altogether more luxuriant and ornate than the original. Mr. Shelley indeed is an unsparing imitator; and he draws largely on the rich stores of another mountain poet, to whose religious mind it must be matter, we think, of perpetual sorrow to see the philosophy which comes pure and holy from his pen, degraded and perverted, as it continually is, by this miserable crew of atheists or pantheists, who have just sense enough to abuse its terms, but neither heart nor principle to comprehend its import, or follow its application. We shall cite one of the passages to which we alluded above, in support of our opinion: perhaps it is that which has pleased us more than any other in the whole poem. 'An orphan with my parents lived, whose eyes Were loadstars of delight, which drew me home When I might wander forth, nor did I prize Aught (any) human thing beneath Heaven's mighty dome Beyond this child; so when sad hours were come, And baffled hope like ice still clung to me; Since kin were cold, and friends had now become Heartless and false, I turned from all, to be, Cythna, the only source of tears and smiles to thee.
What wert thou then? a child most infantine,
Yet wandering far beyond that innocent age
In all but its sweet looks, and mien divine;
Even then, methought, with the world's tyrant rage
A patient warfare thy young heart did wage,
When those soft eyes of scarcely conscious thought
Some tale or thine own fancies would engage
To overflow with tears, or converse fraught
With passion o'er their depths its fleeting light had wrought.
She moved upon this earth, a shape of brightness,
A power, that from its object scarcely drew
One impulse of her being—in her lightness
Most like some radiant cloud of morning dew
Which wanders through the waste air's pathless blue
To nourish some far desert; she did seem
Beside me, gathering beauty as she grew
Like the bright shade of some immortal dream
Which walks, when tempest sleeps, the waves of life's dark stream.
As mine own shadow was this child to me,
A second self—far dearer and more fair,
Whjeh clothed ill undissolving radiancy
All those steep paths, which languor and despair
Of human things had made so dark and bare,
But which I trod alone—nor, till bereft
Of friends and overcome by lonely care,
Knew I what solace for that loss was left,
Though by a bitter wound my trusting heart was cleft.'—p. 42.
These, with all their imperfections, are beautiful stanzas; they are, however, of rare occurrence:—had the poem many more such, it could never, we are persuaded, become popular. Its merits and its faults equally conspire against it; it has not much ribaldry or voluptuousness for prurient imaginations, and no personal scandal
for for the malicious; and even those on whom it might be expected to act most dangerously by its semblance of enthusiasm, will have stout hearts to proceed beyond the first canto. As a whole, it is insupportably dull, and laboriously obscure; its absurdities are not of the kind which provoke laughter, the story is almost wholly devoid of interest, and very meagre; nor can we admire Mr. Shelley's mode of making up for this defect—as he has but one incident where he should have ten, he tells that one so intricately, that it takes the time of ten to comprehend it.
Mr. Shelley is a philosopher by the courtesy of the age, and has a theory of course respectmg the government of the world; we will state in as few words as we can the general outlines of that theory, the manner in which he demonstrates it, and the practical consequences, which he proposes to deduce from it. It is to the second of these divisions that we would beg his attention; we despair of convincing him directly that he has taken up false and pernicious notions; but if he pays any deference to the common laws of reasoning, we hope to shew him that, let the goodness of his cause be what it may, his manner of advocating it is false and unsound. This may be mortifying to a teacher of mankind; but a philosopher seeks the truth, and has no vanity to be mortified.
The existence of evil, physical and moral, is the grand problem of all philosophy; the humble find it a trial, the proud make it a stumbling-block; Mr. Shelley refers it to the faults of those civil institutions and religious creeds which are designed to regulate the conduct of man here, and his hopes in a hereafter. In these he seems to make no distinction, but considers them all as bottomed upon principles pernicious to man and unworthy of God, carried into details the most cruel, and upheld only by the stupidity of the many on the one hand, and the selfish conspiracy of the few on the other. According to him the earth is a boon garden needing little care or cultivation, but pouring forth spontaneously and inexhaustibly all innocent delights and luxuries to her innumerable children; the seasons have no inclemencies, the air no pestilences for man in his proper state of wisdom and liberty; his business here is to enjoy himself, to abstain from no gratification, to repent of no sin, hate no crime, but be wise, happy and free, with plenty of ' lawless love.' This is man's natural state, the state to which Mr. Shelley will bring us, if we will but break up the ' crust of our outworn opinions,' as he calls them, and put them into his magic cauldron. But kings have introduced war, legislators crime, priests sin; the dreadful consequences have been that the earth has lost her fertility, the seasons their mildness, the air its salubrity, man his freedom and happiness. We have become a foul-feeding carnivorous race, are
Vol. xxi. No. Xlii. c o foolish foolish enough to feel uncomfortable after the commission of sin some of us even go so far as to consider vice odious; and we al groan under a multiplied burthen of crimes merely conventional among which Mr. Shelley specifies with great sangfroid the commission of incest!
We said that our philosopher makes no distinction in his con demnation of creeds; we should rather have said, that he make no exception; distinction he does make, and it is to the prejudici of that which we hold. In one place indeed he assembles a num ber of names of the founders of religions, to treat them all will equal disrespect.
'And through the host contention wild befell,
But in many other places he manifests a dislike to Christianity Vvhich is frantic, and would be, if in such a case any thing could be, ridiculous. When the votaries of all religions are assembled •with one accord (this unanimity by the bye is in a vision of the nineteenth century) to stifle the first breathings of liberty, and execute the revenge of a ruthless tyrant, he selects a Christian priest to be the organ of sentiments outrageously and pre-eminently cruel. The two characteristic principles upon which Christianity may be said to be built are repentance and faith. Of repentance he speals thus:—
'Reproach not thine own soul, but know thyself;
Which, when our thoughts and actions once are gone,
Demands that we should weep and bleed and groan;
O vacant expiation! be at rest—
The past is death's—the future is thine own;
And love and joy can make thefoulest breast
A paradise of flowers where peace might build her nest.' p. 1SS.
Repentance then is selfishness in an extreme which amounts to idolatry! but what is Faith? our readers can hardly be prepared for the odious accumulation of sin and sorrow which Mr. Shelley conceives under this word. 'Faith is the Python, the Ogress, the Evil Genius, the Wicked Fairy, the Giantess of our children's tales,' whenever any thing bad is to be accounted for, any hard name to be used, this convenient monosyllable tills up the blank.
• 'And Oromaze, Joshua and Mahomet.' p. 227. Revolt cf Islam. This is a'"7 fair specimen of Mr. Shelley's alterations, which we see ate wholly prudential, O" artfully so, as the blasphemy is still preserved entire.
* Beneath his feet, 'raong ghastliest forms, represt
With lidless eyes lie Faith, and Plague, and Slaughter,
* Smiled on the flowery grave, in which were lain
Enough of Mr. Shelley's theory.'—We proceed to examine the manner in which the argument is conducted, and this we cannot do better than by putting a case.
Let us suppose a man entertaining Mr. Shelley's opinions as to the causes of existing evil, and convinced of the necessity of a change in all the institutions of society, of his own ability to produce and conduct it, and of the excellence of that system which he would substitute in their place. These indeed are bold convictions for a young and inexperienced man, imperfectly educated, irregular in his application, and shamefully dissolute in his conduct; but let us suppose them to be sincere;—the change, if brought about at all, must be effected by a concurrent will, and that, Mr. Shelley will of course tell us, must be produced by an enlightened conviction. How then would a skilful reasoner, assured of the strength of his own ground, have proceeded in composing a tale of fiction for this purpose? Undoubtedly he would have taken the best laws, the best constitution, and the best religion in the known world; such at least as they most loved and venerated whom he was addressing; when he had put all these together, and developed their principles candidly, he would have shewn that under all favourable circumstances, and with all the best propensities of our nature to boot, still the natural effect of this combination would be to corrupt and degrade the human race. He would then have drawn a probable inference, that if the most approved systems and creeds under circumstances more advantageous than could ever be expected to concur in reality, still produced only vice and misery, the fault lay in them, or at least mankind could lose nothing by adventuring on a change. We say with confidence that a skilful combatant would and must have acted thus; not merely to make victory final, but to gain it in any shape. For if he reasons from what we acknowledge to be bad against what we believe to be good; if he puts a government confessedly despotic, a religion monstrous and false, if he places on the throne a cruel tyrant, and at the altar a bigoted and corrupt priesthood, how can his argument have any weight with those who think they live under a paternal government and a pure faith, who look up with love and
o G 2 gratitude