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been used, the line might have been ex. A wild-eyed charioteer urging their flight. plained in a metaphorical instead of an Some look behind, as fiends pursued them there, absolute sense, as we say 'ways and And yet I see no shapes but the keen stars :
Others, with burning eyes, lean forth, and drink means,' and 'wanderings' for error and with eager lips the wind of their own speed, confusion. But they meant literally paths As if the thing they loved fled on before, or roads, such as we tread with our feet ; And now, even now, they clasped it. Their and wanderings, such as a man makes Stream like a comet's flashing hair; they all
bright locks when he loses himself in a desert, or Sweep onward." roams from city to city-as Edipus, the speaker of this verse, was destined to Through the whole poem there reigns a wander, blind and asking charity. What sort of calm and holy spirit of love; it a picture does this line suggest of the soothes the tortured, and is hope to the mind as a wilderness of intricate paths, expectant, till the prophecy is fulfilled, and wide as the universe, which is here made Love, untainted by any evil, becomes the its symbol; a world within a world which law of the world. he who seeks some knowledge with respect England had been rendered a painful to what he ought to do searches through residence to Shelley, as much by the sort out, as he would search the external uni- of persecution with which in those days all verse for some valued thing which was men of liberal opinions were visited, and hidden from him upon its surface." by the injustice he had lately endured in
In reading Shelley's poetry, we often the Court of Chancery, as by the symptoms find similar verses, resembling, but not imi- of disease which made him regard a visit tating the Greek in this species of imagery; to Italy as necessary to prolong his life. for, though he adopted the style, he gifted An exile, and strongly impressed with the it with that originality of form and colour feeling that the majority of his countrymen ing which sprung from his own genius. regarded him with sentiments of aversion
In the Prometheus Unbound, Shelley such as his own heart could experience fulfils the promise quoted from a letter in towards none, he sheltered himself from the Note on the Revolt of Islam. The such disgusting and painful thoughts in tone of the composition is calmer and the calm retreats of poetry, and built up a more majestic; the poetry, more perfect as world of his own-with the more pleasure, a whole; and the imagination displayed, since he hoped to induce some one or two at once more pleasingly beautiful and to believe that the earth might become more varied and daring. The description such, did mankind themselves consent. of the Hours, as they are seen in the cave The charm of the Roman climate helped of Demogorgon, is an instance of this to clothe his thoughts in greater beauty it fills the mind as the most charming than they had ever worn before. And, as picture—we long to see an artist at work he wandered among the ruins made one to bring to our view the
with Nature in their decay, or gazed on cars drawn by rainbow-winged steeds the Praxitelean shapes that throng the Which trample the dim winds; in each there stands Vatican, the Capitol, and the palaces of
1 While correcting the proof-sheets of that Rome, his soul imbibed forms of loveliness poem, it struck me that the poet had indulged in which became a portion of itself. There an exaggerated view of the evils of restored des. potism; which, however injurious and degrading, which show the intense delight he received
are many passages in the Prometheus were less openly sanguinary than the triumph of anarchy, such as it appeared in France at the from such studies, and give back the imclose of the last century: But at this time a pression with a beauty of poetical descripbook, Scenes of Spanish Life, translated by tion peculiarly his own. He felt this, as Lieutenant Crawford from the German of Dr. Huber, of Rostock, fell into my hands. The a poet must feel when he satisfies himself account of the triumph of the priests and the by the result of his labours; and he wrote serviles, after the French invasion of Spain in from Rome, "My Prometheus Unbound 1823, bears a strong and frightful resemblance to some of the descriptions of the massacre of the is just finished, and in a month or two I patriots in the Revolt of Islam.
shall send it. It is a drama, with char
acters and mechanism of a kind yet with domestic and political tyranny and unattempted; and I think the execution imposture which the tenor of your life has is better than any of my former attempts.' illustrated, and which, had I health and
I may mention, for the information of talents, should illustrate mine, letus, the more critical reader, that the verbal comforting each other in our task, live alterations in this edition of Prometheus and die. are made from a list of errata written by All happiness attend you! Your affecShelley himself.
tionate friend, PERCY B. SHELLEY.
ROME, May 29, 1819.
PREFACE. A TRAGEDY IN FIVE ACTS.
A MANUSCRIPT was communicated to
me during my travels in Italy, which was DEDICATION.
copied from the archives of the Cenci Palace at Rome, and contains a detailed
account of the horrors which ended in the LEIGH HUNT, Esq.
extinction of one of the noblest and richest
families of that city during the Pontificate MY DEAR FRIEND—I inscribe with your of Clement VIII, in the year 1999. The name, from a distant country, and after story is, that an old man having spent his an absence whose months have seemed life in debauchery and wickedness, conyears, this the latest of my literary efforts.ceived at length an implacable hatred
Those writings which I have hitherto towards his children ; which showed itself published, have been little else than visions towards one daughter under the form of which impersonate my own apprehensions an incestuous passion, aggravated by of the beautiful and the just. I can also every circumstance of cruelty and violence. perceive in them the literary defects in this daughter, after long and vain cidental to youth and impatience; they attempts to escape from what she conare dreams of what ought to be, or may sidered a perpetual contamination both of be. The drama which I now present to body and mind, at length plotted with you is a sad reality. I lay aside the pre- her mother-in-law and brother 10 murder sumptuous attitude of an instructor, and their common tyrant. The young maiden, am content to paint, with such colours as who was urged to this tremendous deed my own heart furnishes, that which has by an impulse which overpowered its been.
horror, was evidently a most gentle and Had I known a person more highly amiable being, a creature formed to adorn endowed than yourself with all that it and be admired, and thus violently becomes a man to possess, I had solicited thwarted from her nature by the necessity for this work the ornament of his name. of circumstance and opinion. The deed One more gentle, honourable, innocent and was quickly discovered, and, in spite of brave; one of more exalted toleration for all the most earnest prayers made to the who do and think evil, and yet himself more Pope by the highest persons in Rome, the free from evil ; one who knows better how criminals were put to death, The old to receive, and how to confer a benefit man had during his life repeatedly bought though he must ever confer far more than his pardon from the Pope for capital he can receive; one of simpler, and, in crimes of the most enormous and unthe highest sense of the word, of purer speakable kind, at the price of a hundred life and manners I never knew : and I thousand crowns; the death therefore of had already been fortunate in friendships his victims can scarcely be accounted for when your name was added to the list. by the love of justice. The Pope, among
In that patient and irreconcilable enmity other motives for severity, probably felt that whoever killed the Count Cenci de- already existed in tradition, as matters of prived his treasury of a certain and copious popular belief and interest, before Shaksource of revenue, Such a story, if told speare and Sophocles made them familiar so as to present to the reader all the feel to the sympathy of all succeeding generaings of those who once acted it, their tions of mankind. hopes and fears, their confidences and This story of the Cenci is indeed eminmisgivings, their various interests, pas- ently fearful and monstrous : any thing sions, and opinions, acting upon and with like a dry exhibition of it on the stage each other, yet all conspiring to one tre- would be insupportable. · The person mendous end, would be as a light to who would treat such a subject must make apparent some of the most dark increase the ideal, and diminish the actual and secret caverns of the human heart, horror of the events, so that the pleasure
On my arrival at Rome I found that which arises from the poetry which exists the story of the Cenci was a subject not in these tempestuous sufferings and crimes to be mentioned in Italian society without may mitigate the pain of the contemplaawakening a deep and breathless interest ; tion of the moral deformity from which and that the feelings of the company they spring. There must also be nothing never failed to incline to a romantic pity attempted to make the exhibition subserfor the wrongs, and a passionate exculpa- vient to what is vulgarly termed a moral tion of the horrible deed to which they purpose. The highest moral purpose urged her, who has been mingled two aimed at in the highest species of the centuries with the common dust. All drama, is the teaching the human heart, ranks of people knew the outlines of this through its sympathies and antipathies, the history, and participated in the over- knowledge of itself; in proportion to the whelming interest which it seems to have possession of which knowledge, every the magic of exciting in the human heart. human being is wise, just, sincere, tolerant I had a copy of Guido's picture of Beatrice and kind. If dogmas can do more, it is which is preserved in the Colonna Palace, well : but a drama is no fit place for the and my servant instantly recognised it as enforcement of them. Undoubtedly, no the portrait of La Cenci.
person can be truly dishonoured by the This national and universal interest | act of another; and the fit return to make which the story produces and has pro- to the most enormous injuries is kindness duced for two centuries and among all and forbearance, and a resolution to conranks of people in a great City, where the vert the injurer from his dark passions imagination is kept for ever active and by peace and love. Revenge, retaliation, awake, first suggested to me the concep- atonement, are pernicious mistakes. If tion of its fitness for dramatic purpose. Beatrice had thought in this manner she In fact it is a tragedy which has already would have been wiser and better ; but received, from its capacity of awakening she would never have been a tragic charand sustaining the sympathy of men, acter : the few whom such an exhibition approbation and success. Nothing re- would have interested, could never have mained as I imagined, but to clothe it to been sufficiently interested for a dramatic the apprehensions of my countrymen in purpose, from the want of finding symsuch language and action as would bring pathy in their interest among the mass it home to their hearts. The deepest and who surround them. It is in the restless the sublimest tragic compositions, King and anatomising casuistry with which Lear and the two plays in which the tale men seek the justification of Beatrice, yet of Edipus is told, were stories which feel that she has done what needs justiI have endeavoured as nearly as possible before death; this being esteemed by to represent the characters as they pro- Catholics as essential to salvation ; and bably were, and have sought to avoid the she only relinquishes her purpose when error of making them actuated by my she perceives that her perseverance would own conceptions of right or wrong, false expose Beatrice to new outrages. or true : thus under a thin veil converting I have avoided with great care in writnames and actions of the sixteenth century ing this play the introduction of what is into cold impersonations of my own mind. commonly called mere poetry, and I They are represented as Catholics, and as imagine there will scarcely be found a Catholics deeply tinged with religion. detached simile or a single isolated deTo a Protestant apprehension there will scription, unless Beatrice's description of appear something unnatural in the earnest the chasm appointed for her father's and perpetual sentiment of the relations murder should be judged to be of that between God and men which pervade the nature. 1 tragedy of the Cenci. It will especially In a dramatic composition the imagery be startled at the combination of an un- and the passion should interpenetrate one doubting persuasion of the truth of the another, the former being reserved simply popular religion with a cool and deter- for the full development and illustration mined perseverance in enormous guilt. of the latter. Imagination is as the But religion in Italy is not, as in Protes- immortal God which should assume flesh tant countries, a cloak to be worn on for the redemption of mortal passion. It particular days; or a passport which is thus that the most remote and the most those who do not wish to be railed at familiar imagery may alike be fit for carry with them to exhibit ; or a gloomy dramatic purposes when employed in the passion for penetrating the impenetrable illustration of strong feeling, which raises mysteries of our being, which terrifies its what is low, and levels to the apprehenpossessor at the darkness of the abyss to sion that which is lofty, casting over all the brink of which it has conducted him. the shadow of its own greatness. In Religion coexists, as it were, in the mind other respects, I have written more careof an Italian Catholic, with a faith in that lessly; that is, without an over-fastidious of which all men have the most certain and learned choice of words. In this knowledge. It is interwoven with the respect I entirely agree with those modern whole fabric of life. It is adoration, critics who assert that in order to move faith, submission, penitence, blind admira- men to true sympathy we must use the tion ; not a rule for moral conduct. It familiar language of men, and that our has no necessary connection with any one great ancestors the ancient English poets virtue. The most atrocious villain may are the writers, a study of whom might be rigidly devout, and without any shock incite us to do that for our own age which to established faith, confess himself to be they have done for theirs. But it must be so. Religion pervades intensely the the real language of men in general and whole frame of society, and is according not that of any particular class to whose to the temper of the mind which it in society the writer happens to belong. habits, a passion, a persuasion, an excuse, So much for what I have attempted ; I a refuge; never a check. Cenci himself need not be assured that success is a very built a chapel in the court of his Palace, different matter; particularly for one and dedicated it to St. Thomas the whose attention has but newly been awakApostle, and established masses for the ened to the study of dramatic literature. peace of his soul.
1 The Papal Government formerly took the fication ; it is in the superstitious horror most extraordinary precautions against the pub. with which they contemplate alike her licity of facts which offer so tragical a demon.
that the stration of its own wickedness and weakness; so that the communication of the MS. had become, dramatic character of what she did and until very lately, a matter of some difficulty. suffered, consists.
Thus in the first scene I endeavoured whilst at Rome to observe of the fourth act Lucretia's design in exposing herself to the consequences of an 1 An idea in this speech was suggested by a expostulation with Cenci after having most sublime passage in "El Purgatorio de San administered the opiate, was to induce which I have intentionally committed in the
of Calderon; the only plagiarism him by a feigned tale to confess himself whole piece.
such monuments of this story as might be columns and adorned with antique friezes accessible to a stranger. The portrait of of fine workmanship, and built up, acBeatrice at the Colonna Palace is admir-cording to the ancient Italian fashion, able as a work of art : it was taken by with balcony over balcony of open-work. Guido during her confinement in prison. One of the gates of the Palace formed of But it is most interesting as a just repre- immense stones and leading through a sentation of one of the loveliest specimens passage, dark and lofty and opening into of the workmanship of Nature. There is gloomy subterranean chambers, struck me a fixed and pale composure upon the particularly. features : she seems sad and stricken Of the Castle of Petrella, I could obtain down in spirit, yet the despair thus ex- no further information than that which is pressed is lightened by the patience of to be found in the manuscript. gentleness. Her head is bound with folds of white drapery from which the yellow strings of her golden hair escape, and fall
THE CENCI about her neck. The moulding of her face is exquisitely delicate; the eyebrows
} his Sons. pressed and which it seems as if death
CARDINAL CAMILLO. scarcely could extinguish. Her forehead
Orsino, a Prelate. is large and clear ; her eyes which we are Savella, the Pope's Legate. told were remarkable for their vivacity,
Marzio, are swollen with weeping and lustreless,
ANDREA, Servant to Cenci. but beautifully tender and serene. In the
Nobles-Judges--Guards--Servants. whole mien there is a simplicity and dignity which united with her exquisite Lucretia, Wife of Cenci, and Step-mother
of his children. loveliness and deep sorrow are inexpres
Beatrice, his Daughter. sibly pathetic. Beatrice Cenci appears to have been one of those rare persons in
The Scene lies principally in Rome, but changes
during the fourth' Act to Petrella, a castle whom energy and gentleness dwell to
among the Apulian Apennines. gether without destroying one another : Time. During the Pontificate of Clement VIII. her nature was simple and profound. The crimes and miseries in which she was an actor and a sufferer are as the mask
ACT I and the mantle in which circumstances clothed her for her impersonation on the
SCENE I.-AN APARTMENT IN scene of the world.
THE CENCI PALACE, The Cenci Palace is of great extent ; Enter Count CENCI, and CARDINAL and though in part modernised, there yet
CAMILLO. remains a vast and gloomy pile of feudal architecture in the same state as during Camillo. THAT matter of the murthe dreadful scenes which are the subject der is hushed up of this tragedy. The Palace is situated If you consent to yield his Holiness in an obscure corner of Rome, near the Your fief that lies beyond the Pincian quarter of the Jews, and from the upper
gate. — windows you see the immense ruins of Mount Palatine half hidden under their It needed all my interest in the conclave profuse overgrowth of trees. There is a
To bend him to this point : he said court in one part of the Palace (perhaps that in which Cenci built the Chapel to Bought perilous impunity with your St. Thomas), supported by granite gold;