Sussex Poets. 245
and they were mature Powers, consolidated by ages of victorious battle, and walled round by towers and battlements of rank, wealth, prejudice, caste, dogmas, with all the experience of antiquity and all the prestige of authority. Of course, in his childish hatred of abuses which he felt rather than understood, he blundered—struck wide, and comprehended in his words of hate what in his spirit he loved. And they —the Powers of the day—took advantage of the error and punished him according to the code of the day. He attacked " constituted authorities "—" time-honoured Institutions "— dogmas, social, political, and theological, consecrated by centuries of acceptance; and their champions and defenders did their best, not to convert or convince, but to crush him.
There is but little left of the abuses with which Shelley did battle at the beginning of this century; one by one, they have gone down before more skilful, but not braver or purer adversaries; and the clouds of calumny in which he passed his life, and which settled down so densely on his tomb, are beginning to clear off and to disclose what was pure and strong and beautiful, as well as what was weak and faulty, in his character.
Few lives have, indeed, been made the subject of greater misrepresentation and vilification than that of Shelley, and yet few have been more free from the stains and weaknesses of ordinary natures. His morals were pure—his tastes simple —his habits void of those foibles which often attend youth in the upper circles of life.
" To all sensual pleasures," writes his widow, " Shelley was a stranger. His usual food was bread, sometimes seasoned with a few raisins ; his beverage was generally water ; if he drank tea or coffee he would take no sugar with it, because the produce of the cane was then obtained by slave labour; and the unanimous voice of those who knew him acquits him of any participation in the lax habits of life too common among young men."
It was by his opinions that he gave offence, and he was
a mere boy when the announcement of them, at Oxford,
induced the authorities there to drive him from its walls, and,
as a consequence, to close against him the doors of his father's