Wicca is a Neopagan religion and a religious movement found in various countries throughout the world. It was first popularised in 1954 by a retired British civil servant named Gerald Gardner after the British Witchcraft Act was repealed. He claimed that the religion, of which he was an initiate, was a modern survival of an old witchcraft religion, which had existed in secret for hundreds of years, originating in the pre-Christian Paganism of Europe. Wicca is thus sometimes referred to as the Old Religion. The veracity of Gardner's claims cannot be independently proven, and it is thought that Wiccan theology began to be compiled no earlier than the 1920s.
Various related Wiccan traditions have since evolved or been adapted from the form established by Gardner, which came to be called Gardnerian Wicca. These other traditions of Wicca each have distinctive beliefs, rituals, and practices. Many traditions of Wicca remain secretive and require that members be initiated. There is also a movement of Eclectic Wiccans who do not believe that any doctrine or traditional initiation is necessary in order to practice Wicca. The 2001 American Religious Identification Survey estimated that at least 134,000 adults identified themselves as Wiccans in the US.
Because there is no centralised organisation in Wicca, and no single "orthodoxy", the beliefs and practices of Wiccans can vary substantially, both between individuals and between traditions. Typically, the main religious principles, ethics and ritual structures are shared, since they are key elements of traditional teachings and published works on the subject.
Lineaged and Eclectic Wicca
As practiced by Gerald Gardner and his followers, Wicca was and is a secretive and exclusive society of religious witchcraft, with entry to the society only gained through initiation by another Wiccan. However since the 1960s other, non-initiated people have adopted the term "Wicca" to describe their beliefs and practices, which vary from those of traditional, lineaged Wicca to a greater or lesser extent. These non-lineaged or "Eclectic" Wiccans now significantly outnumber lineaged Wiccans, and their beliefs and practices tend to be much more varied.
Wicca as a magical religion
As practiced by lineaged initiates, Wicca is a variety of witchcraft founded on religious and magical concepts, and most of its adherents identify as witches. As such it is distinguished not only by its religious beliefs, but by its initiatory system, organisational structure, secrecy, and practice of magic. Lineaged Wiccans generally will not proselytise, and may even deny membership to some individuals, since once initiated a person is considered to be a priest or priestess and is expected to develop the skills and responsibility that that entails.
Wicca is only one variety of pagan witchcraft, with specific beliefs and practices. Members of Initiatory Wiccan groups worship a goddess and a god; they observe the festivals of the eight Sabbats of the year and the full-moon Esbats, using distinctive ritual forms; and they attempt to live by a code of ethics. Other forms of witchcraft may also adopt some similar specific religious, ethical or ritual elements.
In the Eclectic Wiccan movement there is much more variation in religious beliefs, and secrecy and organisational structure play a less important role. Generally, Eclectic Wiccans will adopt similar ritual structures and ethical principles to initiates. A few Eclectic Wiccans neither consider themselves witches nor practice magic.
Many Wiccans, though not all, call themselves Pagans, though the umbrella term Paganism encompasses many faiths that have nothing to do with Wicca or witchcraft.
Wiccan views of divinity
For most Wiccans, Wicca is a bitheistic religion. The Goddess and God are seen as complementary polarities and this balance is seen in nature. They are sometimes symbolised as the Sun and Moon, and from her lunar associations the Goddess becomes a Triple Goddess with aspects of "Maiden", "Mother" and "Crone". Some Wiccans hold the Goddess to be pre-eminent, since she contains and conceives all. The God is the spark of life and inspiration within her, simultaneously her lover and her child. This is reflected in the traditional structure of the coven. In some traditions, notably Feminist branches of Dianic Wicca, the Goddess is seen as complete unto herself, and the God is not worshipped at all. Wicca is essentially an immanent religion, and for some Wiccans, this idea also involves elements of animism. A key belief in Wicca is that the gods are able to manifest in personal form, most importantly through the bodies of Priestesses and Priests. The latter kind of manifestation is the purpose of the ritual of Drawing down the Moon (or Drawing down the Sun), whereby the Goddess is called to descend into the body of the Priestess (or the God into the Priest) to effect divine possession.
According to Gerald Gardner the gods of Wicca are ancient gods of the British Isles: a Horned God and a Great Mother goddess. Gardner also states that a being higher than any of these tribal gods is recognised by the witches as Prime Mover, but remains unknowable.
Some Wiccans have a monotheistic belief in the Goddess as One. Many have a duotheistic conception of deity as a Goddess (of Moon, Earth and sea) and a God (of forest, hunting and the animal realm). This concept is often extended into a kind of polytheism by the belief that the gods and goddesses of all cultures are aspects of this pair (or of the Goddess alone). Others hold the various gods and goddesses to be separate and distinct. Still others do not believe in the gods as real personalities, but see them as archetypes or as thoughtforms. A unified supreme godhead is also acknowledged by some groups. Patricia Crowther has called it Dryghten.Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone have observed that Wicca is becoming more polytheistic as it matures, and embracing a more traditional pagan worldview.
The classical elements are a key feature of the Wiccan world-view. Every manifest force or form is seen to express one of the four archetypal elements — Earth, Air, Fire and Water — or several in combination. Some add a fifth or quintessential element, spirit (aether, akasha). The five points of the frequently worn pentagram symbolise, among other things, the four elements with spirit presiding at the top. In the casting of a magic circle, the four cardinal elements are visualised as contributing their influence from the four cardinal directions.
Wiccan morality is largely based on the (often misunderstood) Wiccan Rede: 'An it harm none, do what ye will'. This is usually interpreted as a declaration of the freedom to act, along with the necessity of taking responsibility for what follows from one's actions. Another element of Wiccan Morality comes from the Law of Threefold Return, which is understood to mean that whatever one does to another person or thing (benevolent or otherwise) returns with triple force.
Many Wiccans also seek to cultivate a set of eight virtues mentioned in Doreen Valiente's Charge of the Goddess, these being mirth, reverence, honour, humility, strength, beauty, power and compassion. In Valiente's poem they are ordered in pairs of complementary opposites, reflecting a dualism that is common throughout Wiccan philosophy. Some lineaged Wiccans also take note of a set of 161 laws, commonly called the Ardanes. Modern authors, specifically Doreen Valiente, have also noted that these rules were most likely invented by Gardner himself in mock-archaic language as the byproduct of inner conflict within Gerald Gardner's original coven.
Although Gardner initially demonstrated an aversion to Homosexuality, claiming that it brought down "the curse of the goddess", it is now accepted in many traditions of Wicca.
Secrecy and initiation
Some practitioners of lineaged initiatory Wicca consider that the term 'Wicca' correctly applies only to an initiate of a traditional branch of the religion (Gardnerian or Alexandrian Wicca, or their offshoots such as Seax-Wica) because eclectic Wicca is different in practice from the religion established by Gardner. However, the term has increasingly come to be adopted by people who are not initiates of a traditional lineaged coven. Eclectic Wiccans may undertake rituals of self-dedication, and generally work alone as solitary practitioners or in casual groups, rather than in organised covens. Thus eclectic Wicca shares some of the basic religious principles, ethics and the ritual system of traditional, lineaged Wicca, but not the organisational structure, or the belief that Wiccan initiation requires a transferral of power from an initiator. Therefore, some lineaged Wiccans have adopted the term 'British Traditional Wicca' to differentiate themselves from this movement.
Within traditional forms of Wicca there are three degrees of initiation. First degree is required to become a witch and gain membership of a coven; those who aspire to teach may eventually undergo second and third degree initiations, conferring the title of "High Priest" or "High Priestess" and allowing them to establish new covens.
Organisation within Wicca
Lineaged Wicca is organised into covens of initiated priests and priestesses. Covens are autonomous, and are generally headed by a High Priest and a High Priestess working in partnership, being a couple who have each been through their first, second and third degrees of initiation. Occasionally the leaders of a coven are only second-degree initiates, in which case they come under the rule of the parent coven. Initiation and training of new priesthood is most often performed within a coven environment, but this is not a necessity, and a few initiated Wiccans are unaffiliated with any coven.
In contrast, Eclectic Wiccans are more often than not solitary practitioners. Some of these "solitaries" do, however, attend gatherings and other community events, but reserve their spiritual practices (Sabbats, Esbats, spell-casting, worship, magical work, etc.) for when they are alone.
A commonly quoted Wiccan tradition holds that the ideal number of members for a coven is thirteen, though this is not held as a hard-and-fast rule. Indeed, many U.S. covens are far smaller, though the membership may be augmented by unaffiliated Wiccans at "open" rituals. When covens grow beyond their ideal number of members, they often split (or "hive") into multiple covens, yet remain connected as a group. A grouping of multiple covens is known as a grove in many traditions.
Initiation into a coven is traditionally preceded by a waiting period of at least a year and a day. A course of study may be set during this period. In some covens a "dedication" ceremony may be performed during this period, some time before the initiation proper, allowing the person to attend certain rituals on a probationary basis. Some solitary Wiccans also choose to study for a year and a day before their self-dedication to the religion.
In typical rites, the coven assemble inside a ritually cast and purified magic circle. Prayers to the God and Goddess are said, the "Guardians" of the North, South, East and West are welcomed, and spells are sometimes worked. An altar is usually present in the circle, on which ritual tools are placed. Before entering the circle, some traditions fast for the day, and/or ritually bathe. After a ritual has finished, the God, Goddess and Guardians are thanked and the circle is closed.
A sensationalised aspect of Wicca, particularly in Gardnerian Wicca, is the traditional practice of working in the nude, also known as skyclad. This practice seemingly derives from a line in Aradia but may be honoured more in the breach than the observance. Skyclad working is mostly the province of Initiatory Wiccans, who are outnumbered by the less strictly observant Eclectics. When they work clothed, Wiccans may wear robes, cords, "Renaissance-faire"-type clothing or normal street clothes.
Many Wiccans use a special set of altar tools in their rituals; these can include a broom (besom), cauldron, chalice, wand, Book of Shadows, altar cloth, athame (a knife used in rituals to channel energy), boline (or a knife for cutting things in the physical world), candles, crystals, pentacle and/or incense. Representations of the God/Goddess are often displayed. The tools themselves are just that — tools — and have no innate powers of their own, though they are usually dedicated or charged with a particular purpose, and used only in that context. For this reason, it is considered rude to touch another's tools without permission.
Wiccans typically mark each full moon (and in some cases new moons) with a ritual called an Esbat. They also celebrate eight main holidays called Sabbats. Four of these, the cross-quarter days, are greater festivals, coinciding with old Celtic fire festivals. These are Samhain, May Eve or Beltane, Imbolc and Lammas (or Lughnasadh). The four lesser festivals are the Summer Solstice (or Litha) and Winter Solstice (or Yule), and the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes, sometimes called Ostara and Mabon.
The names of these holidays are often taken from Germanic pagan and Celtic polytheistic holidays. However, the festivals are not reconstructive in nature nor do they often resemble their historical counterparts, instead exhibiting a form of universalism. Ritual observations may display cultural influence from the holidays from which they take their name as well as influence from other unrelated cultures.
Wiccan weddings are commonly called "handfastings". Some Wiccans observe the practice of a trial marriage for a year and a day, which some traditions hold should be contracted on Lammas (Lughnasadh), as this was the traditional time for trial, "Telltown marriages" among the Irish. This practice is documented in the fourth and fifth volumes of the Brehon law texts, which are compilations of the opinions and judgements of the Brehon class of Druids (in this case, Irish). The texts as a whole deal with a copious amount of detail for the Insular Celts.
Some perform a ritual called a Wiccaning, analogous to a Christening for an infant, the purpose of which is to present the infant to the God and Goddess for protection. Despite this, in accordance with the importance put on free will in Wicca, the child is not necessarily expected or required to follow a Pagan path should they not wish to do so when they get older.
The term "Wica" (pronounced /ˈwɪ.kə/) first appears in the writings of Gerald Gardner (Witchcraft Today, 1954, and The Meaning of 'Witchcraft, 1959). He used the word as a mass noun referring to the adherents of his tradition of witchcraft, rather than the religion itself. The religion he referred to as 'witchcraft', never 'Wicca'. The word seems to be based on the Old English word wicca (pronounced /wɪtʃʌ/), which meant '(male) witch' or 'wizard', and is is a predecessor of the modern English "witch".
Gardner himself claimed he learned the term from existing members of the group who initiated him into witchcraft in 1939: "I realised I had stumbled on something interesting; but I was half-initiated before the word "Wica" which they used hit me like a thunderbolt, and I knew where I was, and that the Old Religion still existed."
Sunday, April 29, 2007
Wicca is a Neopagan religion and a religious movement found in various countries throughout the world. It was first popularised in 1954 by a retired British civil servant named Gerald Gardner after the British Witchcraft Act was repealed. He claimed that the religion, of which he was an initiate, was a modern survival of an old witchcraft religion, which had existed in secret for hundreds of years, originating in the pre-Christian Paganism of Europe. Wicca is thus sometimes referred to as the Old Religion. The veracity of Gardner's claims cannot be independently proven, and it is thought that Wiccan theology began to be compiled no earlier than the 1920s.
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail:
And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 'twould win me
That with music loud and long
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron (22 January 1788 – 19 April 1824) was a British poet and a leading figure in Romanticism. Among Lord Byron's best-known works are the narrative poems Childe Harold's Pilgrimage and Don Juan. The latter remained incomplete on his death. He was regarded as one of the greatest European poets and remains widely read.
Lord Byron's fame rests not only on his writings but also on his life, which featured extravagant living, numerous love affairs, debts, separation, and allegations of incest and sodomy. He was famously described by Lady Caroline Lamb as "mad, bad, and dangerous to know." Byron served as a regional leader of Italy's revolutionary organization the Carbonari in its struggle against Austria, and later travelled to fight against the Turks in the Greek War of Independence, for which the Greeks consider him a national hero. He died from fever in Missolonghi.
His daughter Ada Lovelace, notable in her own right, collaborated with Charles Babbage on the analytical engine, a predecessor to modern computers.
Byron had two last names (in addition to his title) but only one at any given time. He was christened George Gordon Byron in London. Gordon was a baptismal name, not a surname, to honour his maternal grandfather. In order to claim his wife's estate in Scotland, Byron's father took the surname Gordon. Byron was registered at school in Aberdeen as George Byron Gordon. At age 10, he inherited the English family title, becoming George Gordon Byron, Baron Byron of Rochdale. When his mother-in-law died, her will required that he change his surname to Noel in order to inherit half her estate. He was thereafter George Gordon Noel Byron, Lord Byron. He then signed himself "Noel Byron". Wentworth was Lady Byron's eventual title, her surname before marriage had been Milbanke. The Noels had inherited it from the Wentworths in 1745.
Byron was born in London, the son of Captain John "Mad Jack" Byron and his second wife, the former Catherine Gordon, heiress of Gight in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. His paternal grandfather was Vice-Admiral John "Foulweather Jack" Byron, who had circumnavigated the globe, who was the younger brother of the 5th Baron Byron, known as "the Wicked Lord". He is one of the descendants of King Edward III of England.
From birth, Byron suffered from talipes of the right foot, causing a limp, which resulted in lifelong misery for him, aggravated by the suspicion that with proper care it might have been cured. He was christened George Gordon at St Marylebone Parish Church, after his maternal grandfather, George Gordon of Gight, a descendant of King James I. This grandfather committed suicide in 1779. Byron's mother Catherine had to sell her land and title to pay her father's debts. John Byron may have married Catherine for her money and, after squandering it, deserted her. Catherine moved back to Scotland shortly afterwards, where she raised her son in Aberdeen. On 21 May 1798, the death of his great-uncle made him the 6th Baron Byron, inheriting Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire, England. Byron only lived there infrequently as the Abbey was rented to Lord Grey de Ruthyn among others during Byron's adolescence.
He received his early formal education at Aberdeen Grammar School. In 1801 he was sent to Harrow, where he remained until 1805, when he proceeded to Trinity College, Cambridge. While not at school or college, he lived, in some antagonism, with his mother at Burgage Manor in Southwell, Nottinghamshire. While there, he cultivated several important early friendships with Elizabeth Pigot and her brother, John, with whom he staged two plays for the delight of the community. During this time, with the help of Elizabeth Pigot, who copied many of his rough drafts, he was encouraged to write his first volumes of poetry. "Fugitive Pieces" was the first, printed by Ridge of Newark, which contained poems written when Byron was only fourteen. However, it was promptly recalled and burned on the advice of his friend, the Reverend Thomas Becher, on account of its more amorous verses, particularly the poem "To Mary". "Pieces on Various Occasions", a "miraculously chaste" revision according to Byron, was published after this. "Hours of Idleness", which collected many of the previous poems, along with more recent compositions, was the culminating book. The savage criticism this received at the hands of Henry P. Brougham of "The Edinburgh Review" prompted his first major satire, "English Bards and Scotch Reviewers". While at Trinity, he met and shortly fell deeply in love with a fifteen year old choirboy by the name of John Edleston. About his "protégé" he wrote, "He has been my almost constant associate since October, 1805, when I entered Trinity College. His voice first attracted my attention, his countenance fixed it, and his manners attached me to him for ever." Later, upon learning of his friend's death, he wrote, "I have heard of a death the other day that shocked me more than any, of one whom I loved more than any, of one whom I loved more than I ever loved a living thing, and one who, I believe, loved me to the last." In his memory Byron composed Thyrza, a series of elegies, in which he changed the pronouns from masculine to feminine so as not to offend sensibilities.
Travels to the East
From 1809 to 1811, Byron went on the Grand Tour then customary for a young nobleman. The Napoleonic Wars forced him to avoid most of Europe, and he instead turned to the Mediterranean. Correspondence among his circle of Cambridge friends also makes clear that a key motive was the hope of homosexual experience. He travelled from England over Spain to Albania and spent time there and in Athens. While in Athens he had a torrid love affair with Nicolò Giraud, a boy of fifteen or sixteen who taught him Italian. In gratitude for the boy's love Byron sent him to school at a monastery in Malta and bequeathed him seven thousand pounds sterling – almost double what he was later to spend refitting the Greek fleet. For most of the trip, he had a travelling companion in his friend John Cam Hobhouse. On this tour, the first two cantos of his epic poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage were written, though some of the more risqué passages, such as those touching on pederasty, were suppressed before publication.
Beginning of poetic career
As previously mentioned, some early verses which he had published in 1806 were suppressed. He followed those in 1807 with Hours of Idleness, which the Edinburgh Review, a Whig periodical, savagely attacked. In reply, Byron sent forth English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809), which created considerable stir and shortly went through five editions. While some authors resented being satirized in its first edition, over time in subsequent editions it became a mark of prestige to be the target of Byron's cool pen.
After his return from his travels, the first two cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage were published in 1812, and were received with acclamation. In his own words, "I awoke one morning and found myself famous." He followed up his success with the poem's last two cantos, as well as four equally celebrated Oriental Tales, The Giaour, The Bride of Abydos, The Corsair, and Lara, which established the Byronic hero. About the same time began his intimacy with his future biographer, Thomas Moore.
Byron eventually took his seat at the House of Lords in 1811, shortly after his return from the Levant, and made his first speech there on 27 February 1812. A strong advocate of social reform, he received particular praise as one of the few Parliamentary defenders of the Luddites. He also spoke in defence of the rights of Roman Catholics. These experiences inspired Byron to write political poems such as "Song for the Luddites" (1816) and "The Landlords' Interest" (1823). Examples of poems where he attacked his political opponents include "Wellington: The Best of the Cut-Throats" (1819) and "The Intellectual Eunuch Castlereagh" (1818). Note, "The Landlords' Interest" will not be found in any Byron anthology, it is Canto XIV of "The Age Of Bronze" (1823).
Affairs and scandals
Ultimately he was to live abroad to escape the censure of British society, where men could be forgiven for sexual misbehaviour only up to a point, one which Byron far surpassed.
In an early scandal, Byron embarked in 1812 on a well-publicised affair with Lady Caroline Lamb. Byron eventually broke off the relationship, and Lamb never entirely recovered.
As a child, Byron had seen little of his half-sister Augusta Leigh; in adulthood, he formed a close relationship with her that has widely been interpreted as incestuous. Augusta had been separated from her husband since 1811 when she gave birth on 15 April 1814 to a daughter, Elizabeth Medora Leigh. The extent of Byron's joy over the birth has been construed as evidence that he was Medora's father, a theory reinforced by the many passionate poems he wrote to Augusta.
Eventually Byron began to court Lady Caroline's cousin Anne Isabella Milbanke ("Annabella"), who refused his first proposal of marriage but later relented. They married at Seaham Hall, County Durham, on 2 January 1815. The marriage proved unhappy. He treated her poorly and showed disappointment at the birth of a daughter (Augusta Ada), rather than a son. On 16 January 1816, Lady Byron left him, taking Ada with her. On 21 April, Byron signed the Deed of Separation. Rumours of marital violence, adultery with actresses, incest with Augusta, and sodomy were circulated, assisted by a jealous Lady Caroline. In a letter, Augusta quoted him as saying: "Even to have such a thing said is utter destruction & ruin to a man from which he can never recover."
After this break-up of his domestic life, Byron again left England, as it turned out, forever. Byron passed through Belgium and up the Rhine; in the summer of 1816 Lord Byron and his personal physician, John William Polidori settled in Switzerland, at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva. There he became friends with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Shelley's wife-to-be Mary Godwin. He was also joined by Mary's step-sister, Claire Clairmont, with whom he had had an affair in London. Byron initially refused to have anything to do with Claire, and would only agree to remain in her presence with the Shelleys, who eventually persuaded Byron to accept and provide for Allegra, the child she bore him in January 1817.
At the Villa Diodati, kept indoors by the "incessant rain" of that "wet, ungenial summer", over three days in June the five turned to reading fantastical stories, including "Fantasmagoriana" (in the French edition), and then devising their own tales. Mary Shelley produced what would become Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus and Polidori was inspired by a fragmentary story of Byron's to produce The Vampyre, the progenitor of the romantic vampire genre. Byron's story fragment was published as a postscript to Mazeppa; he also wrote the third canto of Childe Harold. Byron wintered in Venice, but in 1817 he journeyed to Rome, whence returning to Venice he wrote the fourth canto of Childe Harold. About the same time he sold Newstead and published Manfred, Cain, and The Deformed Transformed. The first five cantos of Don Juan were written between 1818 and 1820, during which period he made the acquaintance of the Countess Guiccioli, who soon separated from her husband. It was about this time that he received a visit from Moore, to whom he confided his autobiography, which Moore, in the exercise of the discretion left to him, burned in 1824.
Byron and the Armenians
In 1816 Byron visited Saint Lazarus Island in Venice where he acquainted himself with Armenian culture by the Mekhitarist Order. He learned the Armenian language from Fr. H. Avgerian and attended many seminars about language and history. He wrote "English grammar and the Armenian" in 1817, and "Armenian grammar and the English" (1819) in which he quoted samples from classical and modern Armenian. He participated in the compilation of "English Armenian dictionary" (1821) and wrote the preface where he explained the relationship of the Armenians with and the oppression of the Turkish "pashas" and the Persian satraps, and their struggle of liberation. His two main translations are the "Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians", several chapters of Khorenatsi's "Armenian History" and sections of Lambronatsi's "Orations". When in Polis he discovered discrepancies in the Armenian vs the English version of the Bible and translated some passages that were either missing or deficient in the English version. His fascination was so great that he even considered a replacement of Cain story of the Bible with that of the legend of Armenian patriarch Haik. He may be credited with the birth of Armenology and its propagation. His profound lyricism and ideological courage has inspired many Armenian poets, the likes of Fr. Ghevond Alishan, Smbat Shahaziz, Hovhannes Tumanyan, Ruben Vorberian and others.
Byron in Italy and Greece
In 1821-22 he finished cantos 6-12 of Don Juan at Pisa, and in the same year he joined with Leigh Hunt and Percy Bysshe Shelley in starting a short-lived newspaper, The Liberal, in the first number of which appeared
. His last Italian home was Genoa, where he was still accompanied by the Countess, and where he lived until 1823, when he offered himself as an ally to the Greek insurgents. By 1823 Byron had grown bored with his life in Genoa and with his mistress, the Contessa Guiccioli. When the representatives of the movement for Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire contacted him to ask for his support, he accepted. On 16 July, Byron left Genoa on the Hercules, arriving at Kefalonia in the Ionian Islands on 4 August. He spent £4000 of his own money to refit the Greek fleet, then sailed for Messolonghi in western Greece, arriving on 29 December to join Alexandros Mavrokordatos, Greek politician with military power.
Mavrokordatos and Byron planned to attack the Turkish-held fortress of Lepanto, at the mouth of the Gulf of Corinth. Byron employed a fire-master to prepare artillery and took part of the rebel army under his own command and pay, despite his lack of military experience, but before the expedition could sail, on 15 February 1824, he fell ill, and the usual remedy of bleeding weakened him further. He made a partial recovery, but in early April he caught a violent cold which the bleeding — insisted on by his doctors — aggravated. The cold became a violent fever, and he died on 19 April.
The Greeks mourned Lord Byron deeply, and he became a national hero. Βύρων (Viron), the Greek form of "Byron", continues in popularity as a masculine name in Greece, and a suburb of Athens is called Vironas in his honour. His body was embalmed and his heart buried under a tree in Messolonghi. His remains were sent to England for burial in Westminster Abbey, but the Abbey refused. He is buried at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Hucknall, Nottingham. At her request, Ada, the child he never knew, was buried next to him. In later years, the Abbey allowed a duplicate of a marble slab given by the King of Greece, which is laid directly above Byron's grave. In 1969, 145 years after Byron's death, a memorial to him was finally placed in Westminster Abbey.
Upon his death, the barony passed to a cousin, George Anson Byron (1789–1868), a career military officer and Byron's polar opposite in temperament and lifestyle.
Byron wrote prolifically. In 1833 his publisher, John Murray, released the complete works in 17 octavo volumes, including a life by Thomas Moore. His magnum opus, Don Juan, a poem spanning 17 cantos, ranks as one of the most important long poems published in England since Milton's Paradise Lost. Don Juan, Byron's masterpiece, often called the epic of its time, has roots deep in literary tradition and, although regarded by early Victorians as somewhat shocking, equally involves itself with its own contemporary world at all levels – social, political, literary and ideological.
The Byronic hero pervades much of Byron's work. Scholars have traced the literary history of the Byronic hero from Milton, and many authors and artists of the Romantic movement show Byron's influence -- during the 19th century and beyond. The Byronic hero presents an idealised but flawed character whose attributes include:
- having great talent
- exhibiting great passion
- having a distaste for society and social institutions
- expressing a lack of respect for rank and privilege
- thwarted in love by social constraint or death
- suffering exile
- hiding an unsavoury past
- ultimately, acting in a self-destructive manner
Another reason Greeks hold Lord Byron in such a high esteem is that he has always been one of the proponents for the return of the Parthenon marbles to Greece. He even wrote the poem "The curse of Minerva" to denounce Lord Elgin's actions.
'Scaped from the ravage of the Turk and Goth,
Thy country sends a spoiler worse than both.
What more I owe let gratitude attest--
Know, Alaric and Elgin did the rest.
That all may learn from whence the plunderer came,
The insulted wall sustains his hated name.
Lord Byron, by all accounts, had a particularly magnetic personality – one may say astonishingly so. He obtained a reputation as being unconventional, eccentric, flamboyant and controversial. He was given to extremes of temper. Byron had a great fondness for animals, most famously for a Newfoundland dog named Boatswain; when Boatswain contracted rabies, Byron reportedly nursed him without any fear of becoming bitten and infected. Boatswain lies buried at Newstead Abbey and has a monument larger than his master's. The inscription, Byron's "Epitaph to a dog", has become one of his best-known works, reading in part:
Near this SpotByron also kept a bear while he was a student at Trinity College, Cambridge (reputedly out of resentment of Trinity rules forbidding pet dogs - he later suggested that the bear apply for a college fellowship). At other times in his life, Byron kept a fox, monkeys, a parrot, cats, an eagle, a crow, a crocodile, a falcon, peacocks, guinea hens, an Egyptian crane, a badger, geese, and a heron.
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferosity,
and all the Virtues of Man without his Vices.
This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery
if inscribed over human Ashes,
is but a just tribute to the Memory of
BOATSWAIN, a DOG,
who was born in Newfoundland May 1803,
and died at Newstead Nov.r 18th, 1808.
The re-founding of the Byron Society in 1971 reflects the fascination that many people have for Byron and his work. This society has become very active, publishing a learned annual journal. Today some 36 International Byron Societies function throughout the world, and an International Conference takes place annually. Hardly a year passes without a new book about the poet appearing. In the last 20 years two new feature films about him have screened, and a television play has been broadcast.
Byron exercised a marked influence on Continental literature and art, and his reputation as poet is higher in many European countries than in Britain or America, although not as high as in his time.
A complete picture of Byron's character has only been possible in recent years with the freeing up of the archive of Murray, Byron's original publishers, who had formerly withheld compromising letters and instructed at least one major biographer (Leslie Marchard) to censor details of his bisexuality. (The Guardian, November 9, 2002)
Byron is the main character of the film "Byron" by the Greek film maker Nikos Koundouros.
Byron's spirit is one of the title characters of the "Ghosts of Albion" books by Amber Benson and Christopher Golden, published by Del Rey in 2005 and 2006.
Byron is an immortal still alive in modern times in the hit television show Highlander: The Series in the 5th season episode The Modern Prometheus, living as a decadent rock star.
John Crowley's novel Lord Byron's Novel: The Evening Land (2005) involves the rediscovery of a lost manuscript by Lord Byron, as does Frederick Prokosch's The Missolonghi Manuscript (1968).
Byron appears as a character in Tim Powers' The Stress of Her Regard (1989) and Walter Jon Williams' novella Wall, Stone Craft (1994), as also in Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (2004).
The Black Drama by Manly Wade Wellman (Weird Tales, 1938; Fearful Rock and Other Precarious Locales, 2001) involves the rediscovery and production of a lost play by Byron (from which Polidori's The Vampyre was plagiarised) by a man who purports to be a descendant of the poet.
In the 1995 novel Lord Of The Dead, Tom Holland romantically describes how Lord Byron became a vampire during his first visit to Greece - a fictional transformation that explains a lot of his subsequent behaviour towards family and friends, and finds support in quotes from Byron poems and the diaries of John Cam Hobhouse. The Byron as vampire character returns in the sequel Slave of My Thirst...
Tom Stoppard's play Arcadia revolves around a modern researcher's attempts to find out what made Byron leave the country.
Symphonic metal band Bal-Sagoth's vocalist Byron Roberts goes by the moniker Lord Byron. Whether this has relation to Lord Byron himself is unknown, but given Bal-Sagoth's lyrical style, Roberts was probably aware of Lord Byron, and took his moniker from there.
Blackened Gothic Metal band Cradle of Filth have a song on their album Thornography entitled "The Byronic Man", which is based on the life of Lord Byron.
Television portrayals include a major 2003 BBC drama on Byron's life, and minor appearances in Highlander: The Series (as well as the Shelleys), Blackadder the Third, The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, and episode 60 "The Darkling" on Star Trek: Voyager.
He makes an appearance in the alternative history novel The Difference Engine, by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. In a Britain powered by the massive, steam-driven, mechanical computers invented by Charles Babbage, he is leader of the 'Industrial Radical party', eventually becoming Prime Minister.
The events featuring the Shelley's and Lord Byron's relationship at the house beside Lake Geneva in 1816 have been fictionalized in film, at least three times.
(1) A 1986 British production, Gothic, directed by Ken Russell, and starring Gabriel Byrne as Byron.
(2) A 1988 Spanish production, Rowing with the Wind (Remando al viento), starring Hugh Grant as Byron.
(3) A 1988 U.S.A. production 'Haunted Summer.' Adapted by Lewis John Carlino from the speculative novel by Anne Edwards, staring Philip Anglim as Lord Byron.
In the 2006 book The History of Lucy's Love Life in 10 ½ Chapters by Deborah Wright, the main character, Lucy, has an obsession with Byron. She eventually meets her hero - portrayed as a cruel but attractive man - when she takes a time machine from her boss.
If you haven't yet visited Missolonghi, this holy place where Byron died you should very soon. Once you travel to this place you will feel the spirit of the Lord to be close to all of you. He lived like a true man full of passion and he has been credited more than anyone. He gained immortality through his deeds, through his poetry. He was a true man of action. He didn't hesitate to live the life that was given to him despite all its difficulties. May his spirit be with us!
Monday, April 23, 2007
'Tis the middle of night by the castle clock
And the owls have awakened the crowing cock;
And hark, again! the crowing cock,
How drowsily it crew.
Sir Leoline, the Baron rich,
Hath a toothless mastiff, which
From her kennel beneath the rock
Maketh answer to the clock,
Four for the quarters, and twelve for the hour;
Ever and aye, by shine and shower,
Sixteen short howls, not over loud;
Some say, she sees my lady's shroud.
Is the night chilly and dark?
The night is chilly, but not dark.
The thin gray cloud is spread on high,
It covers but not hides the sky.
The moon is behind, and at the full;
And yet she looks both small and dull.
The night is chill, the cloud is gray:
'T is a month before the month of May,
And the Spring comes slowly up this way.
The lovely lady, Christabel,
Whom her father loves so well,
What makes her in the wood so late,
A furlong from the castle gate?
She had dreams all yesternight
Of her own betrothed knight;
And she in the midnight wood will pray
For the weal of her lover that's far away.
She stole along, she nothing spoke,
The sighs she heaved were soft and low,
And naught was green upon the oak,
But moss and rarest mistletoe:
She kneels beneath the huge oak tree,
And in silence prayeth she.
The lady sprang up suddenly,
The lovely lady, Christabel!
It moaned as near, as near can be,
But what it is she cannot tell.-
On the other side it seems to be,
Of the huge, broad-breasted, old oak tree.
The night is chill; the forest bare;
Is it the wind that moaneth bleak?
There is not wind enough in the air
To move away the ringlet curl
From the lovely lady's cheek-
There is not wind enough to twirl
The one red leaf, the last of its clan,
That dances as often as dance it can,
Hanging so light, and hanging so high,
On the topmost twig that looks up at the sky.
Hush, beating heart of Christabel!
Jesu, Maria, shield her well!
She folded her arms beneath her cloak,
And stole to the other side of the oak.
What sees she there?
There she sees a damsel bright,
Dressed in a silken robe of white,
That shadowy in the moonlight shone:
The neck that made that white robe wan,
Her stately neck, and arms were bare;
Her blue-veined feet unsandaled were;
And wildly glittered here and there
The gems entangled in her hair.
I guess, 't was frightful there to see
A lady so richly clad as she-
'Mary mother, save me now!'
Said Christabel, 'and who art thou?'
The lady strange made answer meet,
And her voice was faint and sweet:-
'Have pity on my sore distress,
I scarce can speak for weariness:
Stretch forth thy hand, and have no fear!'
Said Christabel, 'How camest thou here?'
And the lady, whose voice was faint and sweet,
Did thus pursue her answer meet:-
'My sire is of a noble line,
And my name is Geraldine:
Five warriors seized me yestermorn,
Me, even me, a maid forlorn:
They choked my cries with force and fright,
And tied me on a palfrey white.
The palfrey was as fleet as wind,
And they rode furiously behind.
They spurred amain, their steeds were white:
And once we crossed the shade of night.
As sure as Heaven shall rescue me,
I have no thought what men they be;
Nor do I know how long it is
(For I have lain entranced, I wis)
Since one, the tallest of the five,
Took me from the palfrey's back,
A weary woman, scarce alive.
Some muttered words his comrades spoke:
He placed me underneath this oak;
He swore they would return with haste;
Whither they went I cannot tell-
I thought I heard, some minutes past,
Sounds as of a castle bell.
Stretch forth thy hand,' thus ended she,
'And help a wretched maid to flee.'
Then Christabel stretched forth her hand,
And comforted fair Geraldine:
'O well, bright dame, may you command
The service of Sir Leoline;
And gladly our stout chivalry
Will he send forth, and friends withal,
To guide and guard you safe and free
Home to your noble father's hall.'
She rose: and forth with steps they passed
That strove to be, and were not, fast.
Her gracious stars the lady blest,
And thus spake on sweet Christabel:
'All our household are at rest,
The hall is silent as the cell;
Sir Leoline is weak in health,
And may not well awakened be,
But we will move as if in stealth;
And I beseech your courtesy,
This night, to share your couch with me.'
They crossed the moat, and Christabel
Took the key that fitted well;
A little door she opened straight,
All in the middle of the gate;
The gate that was ironed within and without,
Where an army in battle array had marched out.
The lady sank, belike through pain,
And Christabel with might and main
Lifted her up, a weary weight,
Over the threshold of the gate:
Then the lady rose again,
And moved, as she were not in pain.
So, free from danger, free from fear,
They crossed the court: right glad they were.
And Christabel devoutly cried
To the Lady by her side;
'Praise we the Virgin all divine,
Who hath rescued thee from thy distress!'
'Alas, alas!' said Geraldine,
'I cannot speak for weariness.'
So, free from danger, free from fear,
They crossed the court: right glad they were.
Outside her kennel the mastiff old
Lay fast asleep, in moonshine cold.
The mastiff old did not awake,
Yet she an angry moan did make.
And what can ail the mastiff bitch?
Never till now she uttered yell
Beneath the eye of Christabel.
Perhaps it is the owlet's scritch:
For what can aid the mastiff bitch?
They passed the hall, that echoes still,
Pass as lightly as you will.
The brands were flat, the brands were dying,
Amid their own white ashes lying;
But when the lady passed, there came
A tongue of light, a fit of flame;
And Christabel saw the lady's eye,
And nothing else saw she thereby,
Save the boss of the shield of Sir Leoline tall,
Which hung in a murky old niche in the wall.
'O softly tread,' said Christabel,
'My father seldom sleepeth well.'
Sweet Christabel her feet doth bare,
And, jealous of the listening air,
They steal their way from stair to stair,
Now in glimmer, and now in gloom,
And now they pass the Baron's room,
As still as death, with stifled breath!
And now have reached her chamber door;
And now doth Geraldine press down
The rushes of the chamber floor.
The moon shines dim in the open air,
And not a moonbeam enters here.
But they without its light can see
The chamber carved so curiously,
Carved with figures strange and sweet,
All made out of the carver's brain,
For a lady's chamber meet:
The lamp with twofold silver chain
Is fastened to an angel's feet.
The silver lamp burns dead and dim;
But Christabel the lamp will trim.
She trimmed the lamp, and made it bright,
And left it swinging to and fro,
While Geraldine, in wretched plight,
Sank down upon the floor below.
'O weary lady, Geraldine,
I pray you, drink this cordial wine!
It is a wine of virtuous powers;
My mother made it of wild flowers.'
'And will your mother pity me,
Who am a maiden most forlorn?'
Christabel answered- 'Woe is me!
She died the hour that I was born.
I have heard the gray-haired friar tell,
How on her death-bed she did say,
That she should hear the castle-bell
Strike twelve upon my wedding-day.
O mother dear! that thou wert here!'
'I would,' said Geraldine, 'she were!'
But soon, with altered voice, said she-
'Off, wandering mother! Peak and pine!
I have power to bid thee flee.'
Alas! what ails poor Geraldine?
Why stares she with unsettled eye?
Can she the bodiless dead espy?
And why with hollow voice cries she,
'Off, woman, off! this hour is mine-
Though thou her guardian spirit be,
Off, woman. off! 't is given to me.'
Then Christabel knelt by the lady's side,
And raised to heaven her eyes so blue-
'Alas!' said she, 'this ghastly ride-
Dear lady! it hath wildered you!'
The lady wiped her moist cold brow,
And faintly said, ''T is over now!'
Again the wild-flower wine she drank:
Her fair large eyes 'gan glitter bright,
And from the floor, whereon she sank,
The lofty lady stood upright:
She was most beautiful to see,
Like a lady of a far countree.
And thus the lofty lady spake-
'All they, who live in the upper sky,
Do love you, holy Christabel!
And you love them, and for their sake,
And for the good which me befell,
Even I in my degree will try,
Fair maiden, to requite you well.
But now unrobe yourself; for I
Must pray, ere yet in bed I lie.'
Quoth Christabel, 'So let it be!'
And as the lady bade, did she.
Her gentle limbs did she undress
And lay down in her loveliness.
But through her brain, of weal and woe,
So many thoughts moved to and fro,
That vain it were her lids to close;
So half-way from the bed she rose,
And on her elbow did recline.
To look at the lady Geraldine.
Beneath the lamp the lady bowed,
And slowly rolled her eyes around;
Then drawing in her breath aloud,
Like one that shuddered, she unbound
The cincture from beneath her breast:
Her silken robe, and inner vest,
Dropped to her feet, and full in view,
Behold! her bosom and half her side-
A sight to dream of, not to tell!
O shield her! shield sweet Christabel!
Yet Geraldine nor speaks nor stirs:
Ah! what a stricken look was hers!
Deep from within she seems half-way
To lift some weight with sick assay,
And eyes the maid and seeks delay;
Then suddenly, as one defied,
Collects herself in scorn and pride,
And lay down by the maiden's side!-
And in her arms the maid she took,
And with low voice and doleful look
These words did say:
'In the touch of this bosom there worketh a spell,
Which is lord of thy utterance, Christabel!
Thou knowest to-night, and wilt know to-morrow,
This mark of my shame, this seal of my sorrow;
But vainly thou warrest,
For this is alone in
Thy power to declare,
That in the dim forest
Thou heard'st a low moaning,
And found'st a bright lady, surpassingly fair:
And didst bring her home with thee, in love and in charity,
To shield her and shelter her from the damp air.'
It was a lovely sight to see
The lady Christabel, when she
Was praying at the old oak tree.
Amid the jagged shadows
Of mossy leafless boughs,
Kneeling in the moonlight,
To make her gentle vows;
Her slender palms together prest,
Heaving sometimes on her breast;
Her face resigned to bliss or bale-
Her face, oh, call it fair not pale,
And both blue eyes more bright than clear.
Each about to have a tear.
With open eyes (ah, woe is me!)
Asleep, and dreaming fearfully,
Fearfully dreaming, yet, I wis,
Dreaming that alone, which is-
O sorrow and shame! Can this be she,
The lady, who knelt at the old oak tree?
And lo! the worker of these harms,
That holds the maiden in her arms,
Seems to slumber still and mild,
As a mother with her child.
A star hath set, a star hath risen,
O Geraldine! since arms of thine
Have been the lovely lady's prison.
O Geraldine! one hour was thine-
Thou'st had thy will! By tarn and rill,
The night-birds all that hour were still.
But now they are jubilant anew,
From cliff and tower, tu-whoo! tu-whoo!
Tu-whoo! tu-whoo! from wood and fell!
And see! the lady Christabel
Gathers herself from out her trance;
Her limbs relax, her countenance
Grows sad and soft; the smooth thin lids
Close o'er her eyes; and tears she sheds-
Large tears that leave the lashes bright!
And oft the while she seems to smile
As infants at a sudden light!
Yea, she doth smile, and she doth weep,
Like a youthful hermitess,
Beauteous in a wilderness,
Who, praying always, prays in sleep.
And, if she move unquietly,
Perchance, 't is but the blood so free
Comes back and tingles in her feet.
No doubt, she hath a vision sweet.
What if her guardian spirit 't were,
What if she knew her mother near?
But this she knows, in joys and woes,
That saints will aid if men will call:
For the blue sky bends over all.
Each matin bell, the Baron saith,
Knells us back to a world of death.
These words Sir Leoline first said,
When he rose and found his lady dead:
These words Sir Leoline will say
Many a morn to his dying day!
And hence the custom and law began
That still at dawn the sacristan,
Who duly pulls the heavy bell,
Five and forty beads must tell
Between each stroke- a warning knell,
Which not a soul can choose but hear
From Bratha Head to Wyndermere.
Saith Bracy the bard, 'So let it knell!
And let the drowsy sacristan
Still count as slowly as he can!'
There is no lack of such, I ween,
As well fill up the space between.
In Langdale Pike and Witch's Lair,
And Dungeon-ghyll so foully rent,
With ropes of rock and bells of air
Three sinful sextons' ghosts are pent,
Who all give back, one after t' other,
The death-note to their living brother;
And oft too, by the knell offended,
Just as their one! two! three! is ended,
The devil mocks the doleful tale
With a merry peal from Borrowdale.
The air is still! through mist and cloud
That merry peal comes ringing loud;
And Geraldine shakes off her dread,
And rises lightly from the bed;
Puts on her silken vestments white,
And tricks her hair in lovely plight,
And nothing doubting of her spell
Awakens the lady Christabel.
'Sleep you, sweet lady Christabel?
I trust that you have rested well.'
And Christabel awoke and spied
The same who lay down by her side-
O rather say, the same whom she
Raised up beneath the old oak tree!
Nay, fairer yet! and yet more fair!
For she belike hath drunken deep
Of all the blessedness of sleep!
And while she spake, her looks, her air,
Such gentle thankfulness declare,
That (so it seemed) her girded vests
Grew tight beneath her heaving breasts.
'Sure I have sinned!' said Christabel,
'Now heaven be praised if all be well!'
And in low faltering tones, yet sweet,
Did she the lofty lady greet
With such perplexity of mind
As dreams too lively leave behind.
So quickly she rose, and quickly arrayed
Her maiden limbs, and having prayed
That He, who on the cross did groan,
Might wash away her sins unknown,
She forthwith led fair Geraldine
To meet her sire, Sir Leoline.
The lovely maid and the lady tall
Are pacing both into the hall,
And pacing on through page and groom,
Enter the Baron's presence-room.
The Baron rose, and while he prest
His gentle daughter to his breast,
With cheerful wonder in his eyes
The lady Geraldine espies,
And gave such welcome to the same,
As might beseem so bright a dame!
But when he heard the lady's tale,
And when she told her father's name,
Why waxed Sir Leoline so pale,
Murmuring o'er the name again,
Lord Roland de Vaux of Tryermaine?
Alas! they had been friends in youth;
But whispering tongues can poison truth;
And constancy lives in realms above;
And life is thorny; and youth is vain;
And to be wroth with one we love
Doth work like madness in the brain.
And thus it chanced, as I divine,
With Roland and Sir Leoline.
Each spake words of high disdain
And insult to his heart's best brother:
They parted- ne'er to meet again!
But never either found another
To free the hollow heart from paining-
They stood aloof, the scars remaining,
Like cliffs which had been rent asunder;
A dreary sea now flows between.
But neither heat, nor frost, nor thunder,
Shall wholly do away, I ween,
The marks of that which once hath been.
Sir Leoline, a moment's space,
Stood gazing on the damsel's face:
And the youthful Lord of Tryermaine
Came back upon his heart again.
O then the Baron forgot his age,
His noble heart swelled high with rage;
He swore by the wounds in Jesu's side
He would proclaim it far and wide,
With trump and solemn heraldry,
That they, who thus had wronged the dame
Were base as spotted infamy!
'And if they dare deny the same,
My herald shall appoint a week,
And let the recreant traitors seek
My tourney court- that there and then
I may dislodge their reptile souls
From the bodies and forms of men!'
He spake: his eye in lightning rolls!
For the lady was ruthlessly seized; and he kenned
In the beautiful lady the child of his friend!
And now the tears were on his face,
And fondly in his arms he took
Fair Geraldine who met the embrace,
Prolonging it with joyous look.
Which when she viewed, a vision fell
Upon the soul of Christabel,
The vision of fear, the touch and pain!
She shrunk and shuddered, and saw again-
(Ah, woe is me! Was it for thee,
Thou gentle maid! such sights to see?)
Again she saw that bosom old,
Again she felt that bosom cold,
And drew in her breath with a hissing sound:
Whereat the Knight turned wildly round,
And nothing saw, but his own sweet maid
With eyes upraised, as one that prayed.
The touch, the sight, had passed away,
And in its stead that vision blest,
Which comforted her after-rest,
While in the lady's arms she lay,
Had put a rapture in her breast,
And on her lips and o'er her eyes
Spread smiles like light!
With new surprise,
'What ails then my beloved child?'
The Baron said- His daughter mild
Made answer, 'All will yet be well!'
I ween, she had no power to tell
Aught else: so mighty was the spell.
Yet he who saw this Geraldine,
Had deemed her sure a thing divine.
Such sorrow with such grace she blended,
As if she feared she had offended
Sweet Christabel, that gentle maid!
And with such lowly tones she prayed
She might be sent without delay
Home to her father's mansion.
Nay, by my soul!' said Leoline.
'Ho! Bracy the bard, the charge be thine!
Go thou, with music sweet and loud,
And take two steeds with trappings proud,
And take the youth whom thou lov'st best
To bear thy harp, and learn thy song,
And clothe you both in solemn vest,
And over the mountains haste along,
Lest wandering folk, that are abroad,
Detain you on the valley road.
'And when he has crossed the Irthing flood,
My merry bard! he hastes, he hastes
Up Knorren Moor, through Halegarth Wood,
And reaches soon that castle good
Which stands and threatens Scotland's wastes.
'Bard Bracy! bard Bracy! your horses are fleet,
Ye must ride up the hall, your music so sweet,
More loud than your horses' echoing feet!
And loud and loud to Lord Roland call,
Thy daughter is safe in Langdale hall!
Thy beautiful daughter is safe and free-
Sir Leoline greets thee thus through me.
He bids thee come without delay
With all thy numerous array;
And take thy lovely daughter home:
And he will meet thee on the way
With all his numerous array
White with their panting palfreys' foam:
And, by mine honor! I will say,
That I repent me of the day
When I spake words of fierce disdain
To Roland de Vaux of Tryermaine!-
- For since that evil hour hath flown,
Many a summer's sun hath shone;
Yet ne'er found I a friend again
Like Roland de Vaux of Tryermaine.'
The lady fell, and clasped his knees,
Her face upraised, her eyes o'erflowing;
And Bracy replied, with faltering voice,
His gracious hail on all bestowing;
'Thy words, thou sire of Christabel,
Are sweeter than my harp can tell;
Yet might I gain a boon of thee,
This day my journey should not be,
So strange a dream hath come to me;
That I had vowed with music loud
To clear yon wood from thing unblest,
Warned by a vision in my rest!
For in my sleep I saw that dove,
That gentle bird, whom thou dost love,
And call'st by thy own daughter's name-
Sir Leoline! I saw the same,
Fluttering, and uttering fearful moan,
Among the green herbs in the forest alone.
Which when I saw and when I heard,
I wondered what might ail the bird;
For nothing near it could I see,
Save the grass and herbs underneath the old tree.
And in my dream methought I went
To search out what might there be found;
And what the sweet bird's trouble meant,
That thus lay fluttering on the ground.
I went and peered, and could descry
No cause for her distressful cry;
But yet for her dear lady's sake
I stooped, methought, the dove to take,
When lo! I saw a bright green snake
Coiled around its wings and neck.
Green as the herbs on which it couched,
Close by the dove's its head it crouched;
And with the dove it heaves and stirs,
Swelling its neck as she swelled hers!
I woke; it was the midnight hour,
The clock was echoing in the tower;
But though my slumber was gone by,
This dream it would not pass away-
It seems to live upon my eye!
And thence I vowed this self-same day
With music strong and saintly song
To wander through the forest bare,
Lest aught unholy loiter there.'
Thus Bracy said: the Baron, the while,
Half-listening heard him with a smile;
Then turned to Lady Geraldine,
His eyes made up of wonder and love;
And said in courtly accents fine,
'Sweet maid, Lord Roland's beauteous dove,
With arms more strong than harp or song,
Thy sire and I will crush the snake!'
He kissed her forehead as he spake,
And Geraldine in maiden wise
Casting down her large bright eyes,
With blushing cheek and courtesy fine
She turned her from Sir Leoline;
Softly gathering up her train,
That o'er her right arm fell again;
And folded her arms across her chest,
And couched her head upon her breast,
And looked askance at Christabel-
Jesu, Maria, shield her well!
A snake's small eye blinks dull and shy,
And the lady's eyes they shrunk in her head,
Each shrunk up to a serpent's eye,
And with somewhat of malice, and more of dread,
At Christabel she looked askance!-
One moment- and the sight was fled!
But Christabel in dizzy trance
Stumbling on the unsteady ground
Shuddered aloud, with a hissing sound;
And Geraldine again turned round,
And like a thing that sought relief,
Full of wonder and full of grief,
She rolled her large bright eyes divine
Wildly on Sir Leoline.
The maid, alas! her thoughts are gone,
She nothing sees- no sight but one!
The maid, devoid of guile and sin,
I know not how, in fearful wise,
So deeply had she drunken in
That look, those shrunken serpent eyes,
That all her features were resigned
To this sole image in her mind:
And passively did imitate
That look of dull and treacherous hate!
And thus she stood, in dizzy trance,
Still picturing that look askance
With forced unconscious sympathy
Full before her father's view-
As far as such a look could be
In eyes so innocent and blue!
And when the trance was o'er, the maid
Paused awhile, and inly prayed:
Then falling at the Baron's feet,
'By my mother's soul do I entreat
That thou this woman send away!'
She said: and more she could not say;
For what she knew she could not tell,
O'er-mastered by the mighty spell.
Why is thy cheek so wan and wild,
Sir Leoline? Thy only child
Lies at thy feet, thy joy, thy pride.
So fair, so innocent, so mild;
The same, for whom thy lady died!
O by the pangs of her dear mother
Think thou no evil of thy child!
For her, and thee, and for no other,
She prayed the moment ere she died:
Prayed that the babe for whom she died,
Might prove her dear lord's joy and pride!
That prayer her deadly pangs beguiled,
And wouldst thou wrong thy only child,
Her child and thine?
Within the Baron's heart and brain
If thoughts, like these, had any share,
They only swelled his rage and pain,
And did but work confusion there.
His heart was cleft with pain and rage,
His cheeks they quivered, his eyes were wild,
Dishonored thus in his old age;
Dishonored by his only child,
And all his hospitality
To the insulted daughter of his friend
By more than woman's jealousy
Brought thus to a disgraceful end-
He rolled his eye with stern regard
Upon the gentle ministrel bard,
And said in tones abrupt, austere-
'Why, Bracy! dost thou loiter here?
I bade thee hence!' The bard obeyed;
And turning from his own sweet maid,
The aged knight, Sir Leoline,
Led forth the lady Geraldine!
THE CONCLUSION TO PART II
A little child, a limber elf,
Singing, dancing to itself,
A fairy thing with red round cheeks,
That always finds, and never seeks,
Makes such a vision to the sight
As fills a father's eyes with light;
And pleasures flow in so thick and fast
Upon his heart, that he at last
Must needs express his love's excess
With words of unmeant bitterness.
Perhaps 'tis pretty to force together
Thoughts so all unlike each other;
To mutter and mock a broken charm,
To dally with wrong that does no harm.
Perhaps 'tis tender too and pretty
At each wild word to feel within
A sweet recoil of love and pity.
And what, if in a world of sin
(O sorrow and shame should this be true!)
Such giddiness of heart and brain
Comes seldom save from rage and pain,
So talks as it's most used to do.
Sunday, April 22, 2007
O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,
Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed
The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow
Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill:
Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear, O hear!
Thou on whose stream, 'mid the steep sky's commotion,
Loose clouds like earth's decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of heaven and ocean,
Angels of rain and lightning; there are spread
On the blue surface of thine airy surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head
Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge
Of the horizon to the zenith's height -
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge
Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,
Vaulted with all thy congregated might
Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail, will burst: O hear!
Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams,
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lulled by the coil of his crystalline streams,
Beside a pumice isle in Baiae's bay,
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave's intenser day,
All overgrown with azure moss and flowers
So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
For whose path the Atlantic's level powers
Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
The sapless foliage of the ocean, know
Thy voice, and suddenly grow grey with fear,
And tremble and despoil themselves: O hear!
If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share
The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O uncontrollable! If even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be
The comrade of thy wanderings over heaven,
As then, when to outstrip the skiey speed
Scarce seemed a vision, I would ne'er have striven
As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
O, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!
A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.
Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies
Will take from both a deep autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! be thou me, impetuous one!
Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves, to quicken a new birth;
And, by the incantation of this verse,
Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened earth
The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
Saturday, April 21, 2007
A spirit passed before me: I beheld
The face of immortality unveiled -
Deep sleep came down on every eye save mine -
And there it stood, -all formless -but divine:
Along my bones the creeping flesh did quake;
And as my damp hair stiffened, thus it spake:
"Is man more just than God? Is man more pure
Than He who deems even Seraphs insecure?
Creatures of clay -vain dwellers in the dust!
The moth survives you, and are ye more just?
Things of a day! you wither ere the night,
Heedless and blind to Wisdom's wasted light!"
John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester (April 1, 1647–July 26, 1680) was an English libertine, a friend of King Charles II, and the writer of much satirical and bawdy poetry.
He was the toast of the Restoration court and a patron of the arts. He married an heiress, Elizabeth Malet, but had many mistresses, including the actress Elizabeth Barry. He was widely reported to have renounced atheism on his deathbed.
Rochester was born in Ditchley, Oxfordshire. His mother Anne St. John, Countess of Rochester was a Parliamentarian by descent and inclined to Puritanism. His father Henry Wilmot, a hard-drinking Royalist from Anglo-Irish stock, had been created Earl of Rochester in 1652 for military services to Charles II during his exile under the Commonwealth; he died abroad in 1658, two years before the restoration of the monarchy in England.
At age twelve, Rochester matriculated at Wadham College, Oxford, and there, it is said, "grew debauched". At fourteen he was conferred with the degree of M.A. by Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, who was Chancellor to the University and Rochester's uncle. After carrying out a Grand Tour of France and Italy, Rochester returned to London, where he graced the Restoration court. Later, his courage in a sea-battle against the Dutch made him a hero.
In 1667 he married Elizabeth Malet, a witty heiress whom he had attempted to abduct two years earlier. Samuel Pepys describes the event in his diary for 28 May 1665
"Thence to my Lady Sandwich's, where, to my shame, I had not been a great while before. Here, upon my telling her a story of my Lord Rochester's running away on Friday night last with Mrs Malet, the great beauty and fortune of the North, who had supped at Whitehall with Mrs Stewart, and was going home to her lodgings with her grandfather, my Lord Haly, by coach; and was at Charing Cross seized on by both horse and footmen, and forcibly taken from him, and put into a coach with six horses, and two women provided to receive her, and carried away. Upon immediate pursuit, my Lord of Rochester (for whom the King had spoke to the lady often, but with no success) was taken at Uxbridge; but the lady is not yet heard of, and the King mighty angry and the Lord sent to the Tower."Rochester's life was divided between domesticity in the country and a riotous existence at court, where he was renowned for drunkenness, vivacious conversation, and "extravagant frolics" as part of the Merry Gang (as Andrew Marvell called them). The Merry Gang flourished for about fifteen years after 1665 and included Henry Jermyn; Charles Sackville, Earl of Dorset; John Sheffield, Earl of Mulgrave; Henry Killigrew; Sir Charles Sedley; the playwrights William Wycherley and George Etherege; and George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. It is very likely that Rochester was bisexual, a fact that is reflected in much of his poetry.
Banished from court for a scurrilous lampoon on Charles II, Rochester set up as "Doctor Bendo", a quack physician skilled in treating barrenness. His practice was, it is said, 'not without success,' implying his intercession of himself as surreptitious sperm donor. He was involved with the theatre and was the model for the witty, poetry-reciting rake Dorimant in Etherege's The Man of Mode (1676). According to an often repeated anecdote, his coaching of his mistress Elizabeth Barry began her career as the greatest actress of the Restoration stage.
By the age of thirty-three Rochester was dying, presumably from syphilis, other venereal diseases, and the effects of alcoholism. He famously attended Parliament at a late stage of illness, his rotting nose concealed beneath a silver nasion and his facial gummata beneath pancake makeup. His mother had him attended in his final weeks by her religious associates, particularly Gilbert Burnet, later Bishop of Salisbury. A deathbed renunciation of atheism was published and promulgated as the conversion of a prodigal. This became legendary, reappearing in numerous pious tracts over the next two centuries. This story is however suspect because the publisher of this "conversion" was Burnet, who had often criticised Rochester during his life and may have used a false conversion to further his own goals. Rochester was later buried at Spelsbury Church in Spelsbury, Oxfordshire.
Works and influence
Rochester's poetry was greatly influenced by John Donne's works, his metaphysical predecessor, and whilst lacking the poetic skills of his contemporaries, he more than made up for this with his sharp tongue and acerbic wit. His most famous verse is a teasing epigram of his great friend King Charles II:
We have a pretty witty king,Charles is reputed to have replied:
Whose word no man relies on;
He never said a foolish thing,
Nor ever did a wise one.
"That is true; for my words are my own, but my actions are those of my ministers."Rochester's writings were at once admired and infamous. A Satyr Against Mankind (1675) is a scathing denunciation of rationalism and optimism that contrasts human perfidy with animal wisdom, and the History of Insipids (1676) is a devastating attack on the government of Charles II.
During his lifetime, his songs and satires were known mainly from anonymous broadsheets and manuscript circulation; most of Rochester's poetry was not published under his name until after his death. However, before his death, Burnet claimed Wilmot experienced a religious conversion recanting his past, and ordering “all his profane and lewd writings” burned, though this story is highly suspect given the rivalry between the two. It is possible that Burnet used this "conversion" to suppress Wilmot's anti-religious work. His single dramatic work is Valentinian (1685).
Interestingly, his most well-known dramatic work Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery, has never been successfully proven to be written by the earl. However, supposed posthumous printings of Sodom gave rise to prosecutions for obscenity, and were destroyed. On 16 December 2004 one of the few surviving copies of Sodom was sold by Sotheby's for £45,600.
Rochester has not lacked distinguished admirers. His contemporary, Aphra Behn, lauded him in verse and also based several rakish characters in her plays on Rochester. Daniel Defoe quoted him often. Tennyson would recite from him with fervour. Voltaire, who spoke of Rochester as "the man of genius, the great poet", admired Rochester's satire for "energy and fire" and translated some lines into French to "display the shining imagination his lordship only could boast." Goethe could quote Rochester in English, and cited his lines to epitomise the intensely "mournful region" he encountered in English poetry. William Hazlitt judged that "his verses cut and sparkle like diamonds", while "his contempt for everything that others respect almost amounts to sublimity."
In drama and film
A play of Wilmot's life, The Libertine, was written by Stephen Jeffreys, in 1994, and was staged by the Royal Court Theatre.
The film The Libertine, based on the play, was shown at the 2004 Toronto Film Festival and was released in the UK on November 25, 2005. It chronicles (while taking some artistic liberties) Rochester's life, with Johnny Depp as Rochester, Samantha Morton as Elizabeth Barry, John Malkovich as King Charles II, and Rosamund Pike as Elizabeth Malet.
The play The Ministry of Pleasure by Craig Baxter also dramatises Wilmot's life and was produced at the Latchmere Theatre, London in 2004.
Friday, April 20, 2007
By the time she was nineteen, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (August 30, 1797 - February 1, 1851) had written one of the most famous novels ever published. Embodying one of the central myths of Western culture, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, first published in 1818, tells the story of an overreacher who brings to life the monster who inhabits one's dreams, a tale which still stands as a powerful and enduring example of the creative imagination. Nearly two hundred years later, the story of his creation still inspires stage, film, video, and television productions. In addition to Frankenstein, Mary Shelley wrote six other novels, a novella, mythological dramas, stories and articles, various travel books, and biographical studies. By 1851, the year of her death, she had established a reputation as a prominent author independent of her famous husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley.
The daughter of the two great intellectual rebels of the 1790s, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley (née Godwin) was born on 30 August 1797 in London. Eleven days after her birth, her mother, the celebrated author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), died of puerperal fever, leaving Godwin, the author of An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793), to care for Mary and her three-year-old half sister, Fanny Imlay (to whom he gave the name Godwin). Godwin could find no words to articulate his grief at the loss of the woman with whom he had fallen passionately in love thirteen months before, at the age of forty. In spite of their ethical opposition to the institution of marriage, he and Wollstonecraft had married only five months earlier in order to give their child social respectability.
Bereft of his companion, Godwin dealt with his affliction in the only way he knew, by intellectual reasoning and reflection. The day after her funeral, he began to sort through Mary Wollstonecraft's papers, and by 24 September he had started working on the story of her life. His loving tribute to her, published in January 1798 as the Memoirs of the Author of a Vindication of the Rights of Woman, is a sensitive but full and factual account of the life and writings of his wife, including Wollstonecraft's infatuation with the painter Henry Fuseli; her affair with American speculator and former officer in the American Revolutionary Army, Gilbert Imlay, the father of her illegitimate daughter, Fanny; and her two unsuccessful attempts at taking her own life. Godwin's noble intention was to immortalize his wife, whom he considered to be a "person of eminent merit." Instead of expressing admiration, however, the public condemned Wollstonecraft as licentious, and read her attempted suicides in terms of her lack of religious convictions. When Godwin had declared in the Memoirs that "There are not many individuals with whose character the public welfare and improvement are more intimately connected" than his subject, he could not have predicted how accurately and with what irony this statement would become true. For at least the next hundred years the feminist cause was to suffer setback after setback because of society's association of sexual promiscuity with those who advocated the rights of women. In the index to the Anti-Jacobin Review of 1798, for example, "See Mary Wollstonecraft" is the only entry listed under "Prostitution," and the Wollstonecraft listing ends with a cross-reference to "Prostitution." Such was the complex and ambiguous heritage Mary Shelley received from her mother. She was to grow up with what Anne K. Mellor had described as a "powerful and ever-to-be frustrated need to be mothered," as well as with the realization that the parent she had never known was both celebrated as a pioneer reformer of woman's rights and education, and castigated as an "unsex'd female."
Godwin immediately became the chief object of her affections, as he was her primary caretaker for the first three years of her life. Having studied progressive educational authorities, from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to his contemporaries, Godwin also attempted to adopt many of Wollstonecraft's child-care practices. Precocious, sensitive, and spirited, Mary became his favorite child. He called her "pretty little Mary" and relished evidence of her superiority over Fanny. He supervised their early schooling and took them on various excursions--to Pope's Grotto at Twickenham, to theatrical pantomimes, and to dinners with his friends James Marshall and Charles and Mary Lamb. Mary Shelley 's attachment to her father was to become intense and long lasting.
The idyll ended when the Godwin's housekeeper and governess, Louisa Jones, left their residence, The Polygon, with one of Godwin's more tempestuous and irresponsible protégés, George Dyson. Godwin had been looking for a wife since 1798 and met Mary Jane Clairmont on 5 May 1801. Susceptible to her flattery, Godwin immediately saw in "Mrs." Clairmont--a self-proclaimed "widow," with a six-year-old son, Charles, and a four-year-old daughter, Jane--the ideal helpmate and mother. Young Mary Shelley 's stepmother was in reality Mary Jane Vial, spinster, who had lived with expatriate mercantile families in France and in Spain. Marshall summed her up as a "clever, bustling, second-rate woman, glib of tongue and pen, with a temper undisciplined and uncontrolled; not bad-hearted, but with a complete absence of all the finer sensibilities."
Mary Shelley 's relationship with her stepmother was strained. The new Mrs. Godwin resented Mary's intense affection for her father and was jealous of the special interest visitors showed in the product of the union between the two most radical thinkers of the day. Not only did she demand that Mary do household chores, she constantly encroached on Mary's privacy, opening her letters and limiting her access to Godwin. Nor did she encourage Mary's intellectual development or love of reading. While her daughter, Jane (who later called herself Claire), was sent to boarding school to learn French, Mary never received any formal education. She learned to read from Louisa Jones, Godwin, and his wife, and followed Godwin's advice that the proper way to study was to read two or three books simultaneously. Fortunately, she had access to her father's excellent library, as well as to the political, philosophical, scientific, or literary conversations that Godwin conducted with such visitors as William Wordsworth, Charles Lamb, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas Holcroft, John Johnson, Humphry Davy, Horne Tooke, and William Hazlitt. For example, on 24 August 1806 Mary and Jane hid under the parlor sofa to hear Coleridge recite "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," a poem which later haunted both Frankenstein (1818) and Falkner (1837).
Despite a wildly fluctuating income--based largely on the Juvenile Library of M.J. Godwin and Company, a publishing enterprise devised by Mrs. Godwin--the physical needs of the children were provided. Mary's favorite pastime as a child was to "write stories," and in 1808 her thirty-nine-quatrain reworking of Charles Dibdin's five-stanza song Mounseer Nongtongpaw was published by the Godwin Juvenile Library. This version became so popular that it was republished in 1830 in an edition illustrated by Robert Cruikshank. Meanwhile, as Mary became a young woman, the tension with Mrs. Godwin increased. Mellor argues that Mary "construed Mrs. Godwin as the opposite of everything that she had learned to worship in her own dead mother"--as conservative, philistine, devious, and manipulative, where Wollstonecraft was freethinking, intellectual, open, and generous. In the summer of 1812 Godwin sent his precious only daughter to visit William Baxter, an acquaintance who lived in Dundee, Scotland. With the Baxter family, Mary experienced a happiness she had rarely known. She grew fond of Baxter, and a friendship soon developed between Mary and his two daughters, Christina and Isabel. This close-knit family was to provide Mary with a model of domestic affection and harmony that would surface later in her fiction. The dunes, the beach, and the barren hills near Dundee inspired Mary, and she would later describe this scenery in her novella Mathilda (written in 1819-1820).
On her return to London in November 1812, Mary met for the first time Godwin's new, young, and wealthy disciple, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his wife, Harriet Westbrook Shelley. The son of a man of fortune, Percy had received a superior education at Eton and briefly at Oxford. Before the age of seventeen, he had published two Gothic romances, Zastrozzi (1810) and St. Irvyne (1811), and now, influenced by Godwinian precepts, he desired to benefit humanity more directly. Percy Shelley shared Godwin's belief that the greatest justice is done when he who possesses money gives it to whomever has greatest need of it. Therefore it was not long before Shelley was supporting Godwin financially. When Mary next met the tall, frail-looking, elegant Percy, on 5 May 1814, she viewed him as a generous young idealist and as a budding genius. He, in turn, had become dissatisfied with his wife and was affected by Mary's beauty, her intellectual interests, and, above all, by her identity as the "daughter of William and Mary."
By June 1814 Shelley was dining with the Godwins almost every day. Chaperoned by Jane, Mary and Percy went for daily walks, sometimes to St. Pancras Church to visit Wollstonecraft's grave, where Mary had earlier gone to read her mother's works. Inevitably, on 26 June, they declared their love for each other. Percy saw Mary as a "child of love and light," and in his dedicatory stanza for The Revolt of Islam (1817) wrote of her: "They saw that thou wert lovely from thy birth, / Of glorious parents, thou aspiring Child." Upon discovering the relationship, Godwin, while still accepting Percy Shelley's money, forbade him from visiting the house. Mary tried to obey her father's injunction, but Percy's attempted suicide soon convinced Mary of the strength of his love, and on 28 July 1814 she fled with him to France, accompanied by Jane Clairmont.
Recollecting her years with Percy, Mary wrote in her journal on 19 December 1822: "France--Poverty--a few days of solitude & some uneasiness--A tranquil residence in a beautiful spot--Switzerland--Bath--Marlow--Milan--The Baths of Lucca--Este--Venice--Rome--Naples--Rome & misery--Leghorn--Florence Pisa--Solitude The Williams--The Baths--Pisa--These are the heads of chapters--each containing a tale, romantic beyond romance." The eight years Mary and Percy Shelley spent together were indeed characterized by romance and melodrama. During this period Mary and Percy, both extremely idealistic, lived on love--because of extended negotiations over the disposition of the estate of Percy's grandfather--without money, constantly moving from one placed to another. Mary gave birth to four children, only one of whom survived to adulthood. The first, a girl, was born prematurely and died eleven days later in 1815; William, born in 1816, died of malaria in 1819; Clara Everina, born in 1817, perished from dysentery the next year; Percy Florence, born in 1819, died in 1889. In 1822 Mary miscarried during her fifth pregnancy and nearly lost her life. With the suicides of Fanny Godwin and Harriet Shelley in 1816, death was much on her mind. Numerous critics--among them Ellen Moers, Sandra Gilbert, and Susan Gubar--have pointed out the link between the themes of creation, birth, and death in Frankenstein and Mary Shelley 's real-life preoccupation with pregnancy, labor, maternity, and death.
Before Mary Shelley wrote her most popular novel, she published History of a Six Weeks' Tour through a part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland, with Letters descriptive of a Sail round the Lake of Geneva, and of the Glaciers of Chamouni (1817), which was based on journal entries and long letters home to Fanny. For this work Mary had as a literary model her mother's Letters Written during a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (1796), a book that, according to Godwin, "calculated to make a man in love with its author." While describing the countryside with enthusiasm and accuracy, Shelley writes from a foreigner's perspective. She complains, for instance, of the squalor and the dirt in French villages, and of the disgusting behavior of Germans.
In 1815, shortly after the death of her first baby, Shelley recorded a dream that may or may not have had a direct influence on the plot of Frankenstein. On 19 March 1815 she recorded in her journal: "Dream that my little baby came to life again--that it had only been cold & that we rubbed it before the fire & it lived." Her anxieties about motherhood and the inability to give life may have led her to write the tale of the aspiring scientist who succeeds in creating a being by unnatural methods. For example, Frankenstein's act has been read, by Robert Kiely and Margaret Homans among others, as an attempt to usurp the power of the woman and to circumvent normal heterosexual procreation.
In Frankenstein, Shelley dramatizes some of her ambivalent feelings about the proto-Victorian ideology of motherhood. As Mary Poovey has argued, Shelley desired to conform to the ideals of what a proper wife and mother should be, but her attachment to Percy, who was still legally married to Harriet, and the ménage à trois with Jane Clairmont (who over the next five years changed her name three times, from Jane to Clara to Clare and finally to Claire) involved her in an unconventional, if not romantically original, domestic arrangement. Condemned by her beloved father, who believed that she "had been guilty of a crime," the seventeen-year-old Mary, not yet a wife and no longer a mother, was insecure and increasingly dependent on Percy for emotional support and familial commitment. He, on the other hand, caught up in his excited passions, was eager to live out his theory of "free love," encouraging Claire's affections. In the early part of 1815 Percy's friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg came to stay with Mary, Percy, and Claire for six weeks, during which time Percy urged Mary, despite her reluctance, to reciprocate Hogg's sexual overtures.
Though Claire continued in Mary and Percy's household until 1820, she was temporarily diverted by an affair with George Gordon, Lord Byron, during the spring of 1816. Persuading Percy and Mary to accompany her to Switzerland to meet Byron, Claire set off with the Shelleys in early May 1816 and eventually moved into a chalet on the banks of Lake Geneva, within walking distance from Villa Diodati, where Byron and his physician, Dr. John William Polidori, were staying. Byron and Percy became close friends, sailing together on the lake and having literary and philosophical discussions in the evenings. Both Mary and Percy found Byron fascinating and intriguing. He was handsome, capricious, cynical, and radiated an intellectual energy. Mellor surmises that "The intellectual and erotic stimulation of [Percy] Shelley's and Byron's combined presence, together with her deep-seated anxieties and insecurities, once again erupted into Mary's consciousness as a waking dream or nightmare," becoming "the most famous dream in literary history."
In the 1831 edition of Frankenstein Mary Shelley 's introduction explains how she, "then a young girl, came to think of and to dilate upon so very hideous an idea." On a rainy evening in June 1816, they all gathered at the fireside to read aloud Fantasmagoriana, ou Recueil d'histoires d'apparitions de spectres, revenants, fantômes, etc. (1812), a French translation of a German book of ghost stories. At Byron's suggestion, they each agreed to write a horror story. The next day Byron read the beginning of his tale, Shelley "commenced one founded on the experiences of his early life," and Polidori had "some terrible idea about a skull-headed lady who was so punished for peeping through a key-hole." Mary wanted to think of a story "which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature and awake thrilling horror--one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart." The others dropped their stories, but kept asking Mary: "Have you thought of a story?" to which she had to reply with "a mortifying negative." Finally, one night, after a discussion among Byron, Polidori, and Percy Shelley concerning galvanism and Erasmus Darwin's success in causing a piece of a vermicello to move voluntarily, she fell into a reverie of waking dream where she saw "the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together." She felt the terror for the artist who endeavored "to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world" by giving the "spark of life" to a "hideous corpse." Next morning, after the poets went off sailing, she started work on what was to become chapter 4 of Frankenstein, which begins, "It was on a dreary night of November...."
Encouraged by Percy, Mary developed the little ghost story into a novel, which she finished in May of 1817 at Marlow and published in March 1818. To those who have not read the book, the name Frankenstein is often associated with the monster rather than its creator. The mistake is perhaps not altogether erroneous, for as many critics point out the creature and his maker are doubles of one another, or doppelgängers. Their relationship is similar to that between the head and the heart, or the intellect and the emotion. The conception of the divided self--the idea that the civilized man or woman contains within a monstrous, destructive force--emerges as the creature echoes both Frankenstein's and narrator Robert Walton's loneliness: all three wish for a friend or companion. Frankenstein and his monster alternately pursue and flee from one another. Like fragments of a mind in conflict with itself, they represent polar opposites which are not reconciled, and which destroy each other at the end. For example, the creature enacts the repressed desires of its maker, alleviating Victor Frankenstein's fear of sexuality by murdering his bride, Elizabeth Lavenza, on their wedding night. Identities merge, as Frankenstein frequently takes responsibility for the creature's action: for instance, after the deaths of the children William and Justine, both of which were caused by the creature, Frankenstein admits they were "the first hapless victims to [his] unhallowed arts."
In a recent reading of Frankenstein , Mellor demonstrates a link between events, dates, and names in the novel and those in Mary Shelley 's life. Mellor argues that the novel is born out of a "doubled fear, the fear of a woman that she may not be able to bear a healthy normal child and the fear of a putative author that she may not be able to write.... the book is her created self as well as her child." Dated 11 December 17--to 12 September 17--, the letters that form the narration of the novel--from Walton to his sister Margaret Walton Saville (whose initials are those of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley )--are written during a period similar in duration to Mary Shelley 's third pregnancy, during which she wrote Frankenstein. Mellor discovered that the day and date on which Walton first sees the creature, Monday, 31 July, had coincided in 1797, the year in which Mary Shelley was born. This fact and other internal evidence led Mellor to conclude that the novel ends on 12 September 1797, two days after Mary Wollstonecraft's death: " Mary Shelley thus symbolically fused her book's beginning and ending with her own--Victor Frankenstein's death, the Monster's promised suicide, and her mother's death from puerperal fever can all be seen as the consequence of the same creation, the birth of Mary Godwin the author."
The theme of creation is highlighted by the many references to Paradise Lost (1667), John Milton's epic rendition of the biblical story of Genesis, which becomes an important intertext of the novel. "Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay / To mould me man? Did I solicit thee / From darkness to promote me?--," from book 10, is quoted as the epigraph, and Milton's poem is one of the books the creature reads. The monster is caught between the states of innocence and evil: like Adam he is "apparently united by no link to any other being in existence," but as an outcast and wretch he often considers "Satan as the fitter emblem" of his condition. Victor Frankenstein, too, is at once God, as he is the monster's creator, but also like Adam, an innocent child, and like Satan, the rebellious overreacher and vengeful fiend. Throughout the novel there is a strong sense of an Edenic world lost through Frankenstein's single-minded thirst for knowledge.
Frankenstein is also cast as a Promethean figure, striving against human limitations to bring light and benefit to mankind. While he advises Walton to "Seek happiness in tranquillity and avoid ambition," he nevertheless invites his listeners to share in the grandeur of his dreams, to glory in his ability to create a sublime fascimile of the human self. Frankenstein's fall, after all, results not from his creative enterprise, but from his failure and inability to give love to his creature. Indeed, another central concern of the novel is the conflict of individual desire against that of familial and social responsibility. George Levine writes: "Frankenstein spells out both the horror of going ahead and the emptiness of return. In particular, it spells out the price of heroism." Unlike her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, and unlike the Romantic poets generally, Shelley advocates self-denial and social harmony over self-assertion, confrontation, and the individualistic, imaginative act. In her novel she shows that Frankenstein's quest is an act of selfish obsession, one that destroys his domestic relationships. He is contrasted with the mariner Robert Walton, whose concern for others ultimately wins over his ambition to reach the "region of beauty and light."
Finally, the use of the nightmarish murders, the demonlike monster, the terror of the unknown, and the destruction of the idyllic life in nature by a dark, ambiguous force places Frankenstein in the tradition of the Gothic novel. Like other Gothic authors, Shelley situates good and evil as a psychological battle within human nature. Both Frankenstein and the creature initially have "benevolent" feelings and intentions, but eventually both become obsessed with ideas of destruction and revenge. Shelley's novel successfully manipulates the conventions of the genre, replacing the stock Gothic villain with morally ambiguous characters who reflect the depth and complexities of the human psyche.
After Frankenstein, Shelley wrote the novella Mathilda, which was never published in her life-time. A rough draft was originally titled "The Fields of Fancy" (after Wollstonecraft's unfinished tale "Cave of Fancy," written in 1787). Mathilda, though not exclusively autobiographical, includes many self-revealing elements. For example, the three characters--Mathilda, her father, and Woodville the poet--are obviously Mary Shelley , Godwin, and Percy Shelley. The tale is in the form of memoirs addressed to Woodville, composed by a woman who expects to die at age twenty-two. Written during the late summer and autumn of 1819, when Mary was struggling with the depression from the deaths of two children in nine months, Mathilda is at once angry, elegiac, full of self-recriminations, and charged with self-pity. Like Mary Shelley 's own nativity, Mathilda's birth causes the death of her mother, who has only shortly before been blissfully wedded to Mathilda's father. Mathilda is abandoned by him and left lonely and unloved, growing up with an austere aunt in Scotland. At his return sixteen years later, she is ecstatically happy, but the felicity is brief, as he, full of agony, soon admits his incestuous love for her. This father's love could be read as wish fulfillment on Mary Shelley 's part; Godwin, though he had forgiven Mary for her elopement after her marriage on 30 December 1816, remained cold and callous, unable to comfort her when she was grieving after the loss of William in 1819. Instead of exalting the incestuous bond, Mellor believes that Mathilda "calls into question the bourgeois sexual practices of her day, ... which defined the young, submissive, dutiful, daughter-like woman as the appropriate love-object for an older, wiser, economically secure and 'fatherly' man." When Mathilda flees from her father, he kills himself, and Mathilda, after staging her own suicide, goes off to mourn him in a remote area of Scotland.
Mathilda's relationship with the poet of "exceeding beauty"--whom she meets in Scotland--reveals Mary Shelley 's awareness of her contribution to the gulf that had developed between her and Percy at this time. As Percy's poem "To Mary" suggests, Mary had become cold and withdrawn by late 1819, but she was not insensitive to the pain she was inflicting on him. In Mathilda the heroine criticizes herself: "I became unfit for any intercourse ... I became captious and unreasonable: my temper was utterly spoilt.... I had become arrogant, peevish, and above all suspicious." Her self-examination leads her to remorse and wretchedness, and--dying of consumption--she concludes: "having passed little more than twenty years upon the earth I am more fit for my narrow grave than many are when they reach the natural term of their lives."
Shelley began writing her next novel, Valperga, in April 1820 while in Florence and was still working on it in Pisa that fall. Percy Shelley described it in an 8 November 1820 letter to Thomas Love Peacock as a work "illustrative of the manners of the Middle Ages in Italy, which she has raked out of fifty old books." Bonnie Rayford Neumann emphasizes that four difficult years had elapsed in Mary Shelley 's life between the novel's inception in 1817, while the Shelleys were still in England, and its completion in the autumn of 1821. As the change in title from "Castruccio, Prince of Lucca" to Valperga suggests, the book Shelley finally produced was quite different from the one she had originally intended. The focus of the novel published in 1823 is not on Castruccio, an exiled, ambitious adventurer who returns to his native city and becomes its demoniac tyrant, but on the inhabitants of Valperga, the ancestral palace and home of the heroine, Euthanasia. As Neumann points out, Valperga shares with Frankenstein and Mathilda the theme of "initiation--or fall--from the innocent, happy illusions of childhood into the reality of adulthood with its knowledge of loneliness, pain, and death." In the novel Euthanasia awakens to the realization that her lover, of whom she had "made a god ... believing every virtue and every talent to live in his soul," was in reality deceitful, cruel, and self-serving. Castruccio is responsible not only for Euthanasia's unhappiness and death but for the misery and eventual demise of Beatrice, another fanatically religious girl. The tragedy of both women stems largely from their self-delusion, their illusory belief in Castruccio's goodness and love despite all external evidence.
In 1822 Shelley was to suffer her greatest loss, the death by drowning of Percy Shelley on 8 July. Ironically, just about a month before his decease he had saved her from bleeding to death when she miscarried during her fifth pregnancy. Their relationship had had its difficulties. Mary secretly blamed Percy for the death of their daughter Clara, and she became severely depressed and withdrawn after William's death. Unable to find emotional support and affection from Mary, Percy had sought consolation elsewhere. Emily W. Sunstein surmises that Percy and Claire "may have become lovers in 1820." Moreover, in 1821 Percy became fond of and flirted with Jane Williams, wife of Edward Williams (who was to drown with Shelley), and composed verses to her. He also became enraptured of Emilia Viviani, the nineteen-year-old daughter of the governor of Pisa and the woman for whom he wrote Epipsychidion (1821). Mary, aware of his dissatisfactions and his interest in other women, had trusted that time would heal the breach between them. Percy's sudden death left Mary in a psychological turmoil, with feelings of "fierce remorse" and guilt. To atone for her guilt, she committed herself to the immortalization of her husband. She decided to write his biography and publish a definitive collection of his poems. Later she created an idealized portrait of him in her next novel, The Last Man (1826). Her desire to glorify Percy was blocked, however, by his father, who was embarrassed by any public mention of his revolutionary and atheistic son. Mary contented herself with appending long biographical notes to her 1824 and 1839 editions of his poetry, notes which, as Mellor points out, "deified the poet and rewrote their past history together."
In February 1824, about a year and a half after Percy's drowning, Mary began to write her darkest and gloomiest novel, The Last Man. In his introduction to the novel Hugh J. Luke, Jr., points out that Shelley was "boldly experimenting with the novel form, attempting to expand its boundaries." The Last Man is a work of science fiction, an apocalyptic prophecy, a roman à clef, a Bildungsroman, a dystopia, a Gothic horror, and a domestic romance. Envisioning a horrifying and disastrous future world in a nightmarish state, it chronicles the disappearance of the inhabitants of earth as people are killed by war, emotional conflict, or a mysterious plague comparable to or worse than that described by Daniel Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year (1722).
Conceived partly out of a desire to immortalize Percy, the figure of Adrian, Earl of Windsor, is a Romantic idealist, lofty, full of courage and self-sacrificing beliefs. He is a republican who dreams of the day when countries will "throw off the iron yoke of servitude, poverty will quit us, and with that, sickness." In the midst of epidemic and disease he expresses hope for liberty and peace, the union and cooperation of all mankind. But, though he is a paragon, he remains single, unable to find his soul mate. Mellor points out the ambivalence toward Percy Shelley manifested in the portrait of Adrian. Adrian resembles Percy in appearance. He is a "tall, slim, fair boy, with a physiognomy expressive of the excess of sensibility and refinement"; he seems angelic, with his gold "silken hair," and "beaming countenance." Benevolent, sincere, and devoted to love and poetry, he nevertheless is impractical and excessively emotional. Implicit in the portrait, argues Mellor, is a criticism of Percy as a narcissistic egoist insensitive to the needs of his wife and children. Unthinkingly, Adrian causes his own death and that of Clara's by drowning, leaving Lionel Verney alone, as the "last man" on earth. Verney's situation mirrors Mary's, especially after Byron's death in Greece on 19 April 1824. She wrote in her journal on 14 May 1824: "The last man! Yes I may well describe that solitary being's feelings, feeling myself as the last relic of a beloved race, my companions extinct before me--" The next day she lamented: "At the age of twenty six I am in the condition of an aged person--all my old friends are gone ... & my heart fails when I think by how few ties I hold to the world...."
After Percy's death Mary developed a strong friendship with Jane Williams, believing that the two of them would live together forever. Jane, however, admitted her preference for Thomas Jefferson Hogg in 1827, and also betrayed Mary by spreading malicious tales to their friends about how Mary's "coldness" and "temper" had made Percy unhappy in their last year together. Though she received offers of matrimony from men such as John Howard Payne, an American actor-dramatist, and Prosper Mérimée, a cynical French novelist and dandy, Shelley never remarried. As she wrote to Edward John Trelawny on 14 June 1831, in answer to his half-serious proposal: " Mary Shelley shall be written on my tomb." The men who did interest her--including poet Bryan Waller Procter, American author Washington Irving, and Aubrey Beauclerk, whom Emily W. Sunstein speculates may have been Shelley's lover briefly in 1833--were not willing to commit themselves to her. She was to spend the rest of her life as a devoted mother to Percy Florence Shelley and a devoted daughter to Godwin, whom she continued to support emotionally and financially until his death in 1836.
The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck, published in 1830, was perhaps Shelley's least successful novel. Impressed by the popularity of Sir Walter Scott's historical romances, Shelley attempted one based on the historical figure Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be the younger son of Edward IV, Richard, Duke of York, escaped from the Tower of London--after Richard III's henchmen killed his elder brother--and raised in Flanders. When Warbeck attempted to take the throne of Henry VII for the Yorkists, his pretension was supported by James IV of Scotland who wed him to his cousin Princess Katherine Gordon. Shelley was under some constraints in the composition of the novel. Believing in his royal identity, she created Perkin Warbeck as a stereotypically perfect, benevolent, and honest character, and then had to manipulate that character to adhere to the facts of history. William Walling describes the book as "essentially a lifeless novel, although it deserves our respect for the quality of the intelligence which is intermittently displayed in it," while Bonnie Rayford Neumann says that the novel "has none of the power and passion of her earlier ones; by the time she removes Richard from the Procrustean bed, not only does she have no hero, but she is almost devoid of a story as well."
During the years 1828 to 1838 Shelley also kept busy by writing more than a dozen stories for a popular annual gift book, The Keepsake. In 1831 the revised edition of Frankenstein was published by Colburn and Bentley in their Standard Novels series. This version places more emphasis on the power of fate and the lack of personal choice in human lives. Nature is no longer seen as organic; it becomes a mechanistic force capable of creating, preserving, and destroying. Even Shelley's belief in the ideology of the loving, egalitarian family is undercut, as most instances of domestic affection prove ineffectual. By 1831 Shelley viewed herself as she presented her hero, as a victim of destiny.
Shelley's last two novels, Lodore (1835) and Falkner (1837), are semi-autobiographical, and both repeat the triangle of characters found in Mathilda: father-daughter-lover. The most popular and successful of her novels since Frankenstein, Lodore was the first of Shelley's novels to have a sentimental, happy ending. Ignored by her mother, the heroine, Ethel, is taken to America by her father, Lord Lodore, and is left alone when he is killed in a duel. In London she falls in love with the financially desperate Edward Villiers and marries him. Their experiences of insecurity are reminiscent of the early years that Mary and Percy shared together. Villiers is haunted by creditors and forced to flee, but unlike Shelley, Ethel is reconciled with her mother, who, it turns out, has been their secret benefactress. Unable to fully portray the mother-daughter relationship she never had, Shelley resorted to a sentimentalized and unrealistic ending.
In Falkner Shelley once again emphasizes a father-daughter relationship, this time between an orphaned girl, Elizabeth Raby, and her rakish, Byronic guardian, Falkner. Haunted by a dark and mysterious past, Falkner is horrified to find that Elizabeth loves Gerard Neville, the son of the woman he once destroyed. The descriptions of Falkner's guilt and the psychological tortures he inflicts upon himself and his daughter make the novel one of Shelley's best works. Elizabeth, caught between her lover's desire for revenge and her adoptive father's secret obsession, becomes the link which ultimately enables all to live in domestic peace. Falkner is an appropriate finale to Mary Shelley 's novel writing as it encapsulates many of her concerns and uses her greatest novelistic strengths--the portrayal of an agonized hero struggling with himself, the conflicts created by love and domestic duty, the problem of the absent mother, the concept of fate and victimization, the Gothic terror of the unknown--elements she had dexterously manipulated and precociously displayed in the writing of Frankenstein nineteen years earlier.
Before working on Falkner, Shelley had written three volumes in The Cabinet of Biography, part of the Reverend Dionysius Lardner's Cabinet Cyclopedia, and after completing her last novel she devoted her energies to nonfiction and editing her husband's works. Her last book, an account of summer tours on the Continent with her son and his college friends, was published in 1844. By then she was in ill health, and in 1848 she began to suffer what were apparently the first symptoms of the brain tumor that eventually killed her. The disease was not diagnosed until December 1850 when she began to experience numbness in her right leg and impaired speech. Within a little more than a month she was almost completely paralyzed, and she died in London on 1 February 1851, having asked to be buried with her mother and father. Her son and daughter-in-law, Jane, Lady Shelley, had the bodies of her parents exhumed and buried them with her in the churchyard of St. Peter's, Bournemouth. A memorial sculpture to Mary and Percy Shelley was commissioned by Percy Florence and Jane Shelley and installed at nearby Christchurch Priory.
source: Brandeis University