Glimpses Of Our Ancestors In Sussex - online book

With Sketches Of Sussex Characters, Remarkable Incidents &c

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Sussex Poets.                                 255
testimony of all who knew him intimately, and it is a remark­able illustration of the hardness of the age in which he lived— an age of iron in many respects—that such a spirit—so gentle, so loving, so filled with sympathy for his fellow-men and for every breathing creature—for, as Captain Kennedy tells us,"he had a horror of taking life and looked upon it as a crime"— that such a spirit should have been so cruelly buffeted by the world and almost driven from it to the communion of Nature, in which, indeed, when not assisting in some act of charity or resisting some act of oppression or injustice, it was his greatest delight to live. In one of his letters to his wife, after a more than usually vile attack by some journal upon her as well as him, he thus writes to her:—
"My greatest comfort would be utterly to desert all human society. I would retire with you and our children to a solitary island in the sea; would build a boat and shut upon my retreat the flood-gates of the world. I would read no reviews and find talk with no authors. If I dared trust my imagination it would tell me that there are one or two chosen companions, besides yourself, whom I should desire. But to this I would not listen. Where two or three are gathered together, the devil is among them; and good, far more than evil, impulses—love, far more than hatred— has been to me, except as you have been its object, the source of all sorts of mischief. So, on this plan, I would be alone, and would devote, either to oblivion or to future generations, the oveiflowings of a mind which, timely withdrawn from the contagion, should be kept fit for no baser object. But this it does not appear that we shall do."
What such a mind as Shelley's might have produced had his life been prolonged, it is, of course, impossible to say. But, by the admission of all judges of poetical genius, if measured by what he did in the ten short years of his life of authorship, between 20 and 30, he was the greatest poet that England has produced since Milton, whom, in some respects— in the purity of his life, in the extreme to which he carried his opinions, in his mastery and love of Greek literature, and also in the feminine beauty of his face—he resembled. He is the greatest of the four great Sussex poets, and, though no trace of any reference to his native county is to be found in his works, we may be sure that the beautiful woods round Horsham, in which he loved to wander, and often lost himself as a boy, had their effect upon him, and that even Horsham,
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