Proserpine and Midas - Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley - ebook
Opis

The Hours have oped the palace of the dawn And through the Eastern gates of Heaven, Aurora Comes charioted on light, her wind-swift steeds, Winged with roseate clouds, strain up the steep She loosely holds the reins, her golden hair, Its strings outspread by the sweet  orning breeze[,] Blinds the pale stars. Our rural tasks begin; The young lambs bleat pent up within the fold, The herds low in their stalls, & the blithe cock Halloos most loudly to his distant mates. But who are these we see? these are not men, Divine of form & sple[n]didly  rrayed, They sit in solemn conclave. Is that Pan, Our Country God, surrounded by his Fauns? And who is he whose crown of gold & harp Are attributes of high Apollo?

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Table of Contents

 

PREFATORY NOTE.

INTRODUCTION.

I.

II.

PROSERPINE.A DRAMA IN TWO ACTS.

PROSERPINE.

ACT I.

ACT II

MIDAS.A DRAMA IN TWO ACTS.

MIDAS.

ACT I.

ACT II

 

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

 

Proserpine and Midas

 

 

 

 

 

First digital edition 2018 by Anna Ruggieri

PREFATORY NOTE.

The editor came across the unpublished texts included in thisvolume as early as 1905. Perhaps he ought to apologize for delayingtheir appearance in print. The fact is he has long been afraid ofoverrating their intrinsic value. But as the great Shelleycentenary year has come, perhaps this little monument of hiswife’s collaboration may take its modest place among thetributes which will be paid to his memory. For Mary Shelley’smythological dramas can at least claim to be the propersetting forsome of the most beautiful lyrics of the poet, which so far havebeen read in undue isolation. And even as a literary sign of thosetimes, as an example of that classical renaissance which theromantic period fostered, they may not be altogethernegligible.

These biographical and literary points have been dealt with inan introduction for which the kindest help was long ago receivedfrom the late Dr. Garnett and the late Lord Abinger. Sir WalterRaleigh was also among the first to give both encouragement andguidance. My friends M. Emile Pons and Mr. Roger Ingpen have readthe book in manuscript. The authorities of the Bodleian Library andof the Clarendon Press have been as generously helpful as is theirwell-known wont. To all the editor wishesto record hisacknowledgements and thanks.

STRASBOURG.

INTRODUCTION.

I.

‘The compositions published in Mrs. Shelley’slifetime afford but an inadequate conception of the intensesensibility and mental vigour of this extraordinarywoman.’

Thus wrote Dr. Garnett, in 1862 (Preface to his Relics ofShelley). The words of praise may have sounded unexpectedly warm atthat date. Perhaps the present volume will make the reader morewilling to subscribe, or less inclined to demur.

Mary Godwin in her younger days certainly possessed a fair shareof that nimbleness of invention which generally characterizes womenof letters.Her favourite pastime as a child, she herselftestifies,1had been to write stories. And a dearer pleasure hadbeen—to use her own characteristic abstract and elongated wayof putting it—‘the following up trains of thought whichhad for their subject the formation of a succession of imaginaryincidents’. All readers of Shelley’s life remember howlater on, as a girl of nineteen—anda two years’wife—she waspresent, ‘a devout but nearly silentlistener’, at the long symposia held by her husband and Byronin Switzerland (June 1816), and how the pondering over‘German horrors’, and a common resolve to perpetrateghost stories of theirown, led her to imagine that most unwomanlyof all feminine romances, Frankenstein. The paradoxical effort wasparadoxically successful, and, as publishers’ lists aver tothis day, Frankenstein’s monster has turned out to be thehardest-lived specimen ofthe‘raw-head-and-bloody-bones’ school of romantic tales.So much, no doubt, to the credit of Mary Shelley. But morecreditable, surely, is the fact that she was not tempted, as‘Monk’ Lewis had been, to persevere in those lugubriousthemes.

Although her publishers—et pour cause—insisted onstyling her ‘the author of Frankenstein’, an entirelydifferent vein appears in her later productions. Indeed, a quietreserve of tone, a slow, sober, and sedate bearing, are henceforthcharacteristic of all her literaryattitudes. It is almost a case ofrunning from one to the other extreme. The force of style whicheven adverse critics acknowledged in Frankenstein was sometimesperilously akin to the most disputable kinds of romantic rant. Butin the historical or society novels which followed, in thecontributions which graced the ‘Keepsakes’ of thethirties, and even—alas—in the various prefaces andcommentaries which accompanied the publication of so many poems ofShelley, his wife succumbed to an increasing habit ofalmostVictorian reticence and dignity. And those later novels and tales,though they sold well in their days and were kindly reviewed, canhardly boast of any reputation now. Most of them are pervaded by abrooding spirit of melancholy of the ‘moping’ ratherthan the ‘musical’ sort, and consequently ratherineffective as an artistic motive. Students of Shelley occasionallyscan those pages with a view to pick some obscure ‘hints andindirections’, some veiled reminiscences, in the stories ofthe adventuresand misfortunes of The Last Man or Lodore. And thebooks may be good biography at times—they are never life.

Altogether there is a curious contrast between the two aspects,hitherto revealed, of Mary Shelley’s literary activities. Itis as if the pulse which had been beating so wildly, sofrantically, in Frankenstein (1818), had lapsed, with Valperga(1823) and the rest, into an increasingly sluggish flow.

The following pages may be held to bridge the gap between thosetwo extremes in a felicitous way. A more purely artistic mood,instinct with the serene joy and clear warmth of Italian skies,combining a good deal of youthful buoyancy with a sort of quiet andunpretending philosophy, is here represented. And it is submittedthat the little classical fancies which Mrs. Shelley never venturedto publish are quite as worthy of consideration as her moreambitious prose works.

For one thing they give us the longest poetical effort of thewriter. The moon of Epipsychidion never seems to have been thrilledwith the music of the highest spheres. Yet there were times whenShelley’s inspiration and example fired her into somethingmore than her usual calm and cold brilliancy.

One of those periods—perhaps the happiest period inMary’s life—was during the early months in Italy of theEnglish ‘exiles’.‘She never was more stronglyimpelled to write than atthis time; she felt her powers fresh andstrong within her; all she wanted was some motive, some suggestionto guide her in the choice of a subject.’2

Shelley then expected her to try her hand at a drama, perhaps onthe terrible story of the Cenci, or again on the catastrophes ofCharles the First. Her Frankenstein was attracting more attentionthan had ever been granted to his own works. And Shelley, with thattouchingsimplicity which characterized his loving moments, showedthe greatest confidence in the literary career of his wife. Hehelped her and encouraged her in every way. He then translated forher Plato’s Symposium. He led her on in her Latin and Italianstudies. He wanted her—probably as a sort of preliminaryexercise before her flight into tragedy—to translateAlfieri’s Myrrha. ‘Remember Charles the First, and doyou be prepared to bring at least some of Myrrha translated,’he wrote; ‘remember, remember Charles the First andMyrrha,’ he insisted; and he quoted, for her benefit, thepresumptuous aphorism of Godwin, in St. Leon,‘There isnothing which the human mind can conceive which it may notexecute’.3

But in the year that followed these auspicious days, thestrainand stress of her life proved more powerful on Mary Shelley thanthe inspiration of literature. The loss of her little girl Clara,at Venice, on the 24th of September 1818, was cruel enough.However, she tried hard not to show the ‘pusillanimousdisposition’ which, Godwin assured his daughter,characterizes the persons‘that sink long under a calamity ofthis nature’.4But the death of her boy, William, at Rome, onthe 4th of June 1819, reduced her to a ‘kind ofdespair’. Whatever it could be to herhusband, Italy no longerwas for her a ‘paradise of exiles’. The flush andexcitement of the early months, the ‘first fine carelessrapture’, were for ever gone. ‘I shall never recoverthat blow,’ Mary wrote on the 27th of June 1819; ‘thethought never leaves me for a single moment; everything on earthhas lost its interest for me,’ This time her imperturbablefather ’philosophized’ in vain. With a more sympatheticand acuter intelligence of her case, Leigh Hunt insisted (July1819) that she should try andgive her paralysing sorrow someliterary expression, ‘strike her pen into some... genialsubject... and bring up a fountain of gentle tears for us’.But the poor childless mother could only rehearse hercomplaint—‘to have won, and thus cruelly to havelost’ (4 August 1819). In fact she had, on William’sdeath, discontinued her diary.

Yet on the date just mentioned, as Shelley reached histwenty-seven years, she plucked up courage and resumed the task.Shelley, however absorbed by the creative ardour of hisAnnusmirabilis, could not but observe that his wife’s‘spirits continued wretchedly depressed’ (5 August1819); and though masculine enough to resent the fact at times morethan pity it, he was human enough to persevere in that habit ofco-operative reading and writing which is one of the finest traitsof his married life.‘I write in the morning,’ his wifetestifies, ‘read Latin till 2, when we dine; then I read someEnglish book, and two cantos of Dante with Shelley’5—afair average, no doubt, of the homely aspect of the great dayswhich produced The Cenci and Prometheus.