Wednesday, October 1, 2008

almost yourself

Percy Bysshe Shelley to Leigh Hunt

Livorno, 8th September, 1819.

My Dear Friend,
At length has arrived Ollier's parcel, and with it the portrait. What a delightful present! It is almost yourself, and we sat talking with it, and of it, all the evening. It is a great pleasure to us to possess it--a pleasure in time of need, coming to us when there are few others. How we wish it were you, and not your picture! How I wish we were with you!

This parcel, you know, and all its letters, are now a year old, some older. There are all kinds of dates, from March to August, and "your date," to use Shakspeare's expression, " is better in a pie or pudding than in your letter." "Virginity," Parolles says, but letters are the same thing in another shape.

With it came, too, Lamb's works. I have looked at none of the other books yet. What a lovely thing is his Rosamund Gray!* How much knowledge of the sweetest and deepest parts of our nature in it! When I think of such a mind as Lamb's--when I see how unnoticed remain things of such exquisite and complete perfection--what should I hope for myself, if I had not higher objects in view than fame!

I have seen too little of Italy and of pictures. Perhaps P. has shown you some of my letters to him. But at Rome I was very ill, seldom able to go out without a carriage; and though I kept horses for two months there, yet there is so much to see! Perhaps I attended more to sculpture than painting, its forms being more easily intelligible than that of the latter. Yet I saw the famous works of Raphael, whom I agree with the whole world in thinking the finest painter. With respect to Michael Angelo, I dissent, and think with astonishment and indignation of the common notion that he equals, and in some respects exceeds, Raphael. He seems to me to have no sense of moral dignity and loveliness; and the energy for which he has been so much praised, appears to me to be a certain rude, external, mechanical quality, in comparison with anything possessed by Raphael, or even much inferior artists. His famous painting in the Sistine Chapel seems to me deficient in beauty and majesty, both in the conception and the execution. He has been called the Dante of painting; but if we find some of the gross and strong outlines which are employed in the most distasteful passages of the Inferno, where shall we find your Francesca--where, the spirit coming over the sea in a boat, like Mars rising from the vapours of the horizon--where, Matilda gathering flowers, and all the exquisite tenderness and sensibility and ideal beauty in which Dante excelled all poets except Shakspeare? . . .

Mary has written to Marianne for a parcel, in which I beg you will make Oilier enclose what you know would most interest me--your Calendar (a sweet extract from which I saw in the Examiner), and the other poems belonging to you ; and, for some friends of mine, my Eclogue.** This parcel, which must be sent instantly, will reach me by October; but don't trust letters to it, except just a line or so. When you write, write by the post.
Ever your affectionate
P. B. S.

My love to Marianne and Bessy, and Thornton too, and Percy, &c. ; and if you could imagine any way in which I could be useful to them here, tell me. I will inquire about the Italian chalk. You have no idea of the pleasure this portrait gives me.

* A Tale of Rosamund Gray and Old Blind Margaret by Charles Lamb (London: Lee & Hurst, 1798).
** Rosalind and Helen : A Modern Eclogue with Other Poems by Percy Bysshe Shelley (London: C. & J. Ollier, 1819).

-from The Correspondence of Leigh Hunt / edited by his eldest son (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1862) volume 1, pp. 138-40.

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