(1) THE QUENCHLESS ASHES OF MILAN [L. 60].
Milan was the centre of the resistance of the Lombard league against
the Austrian tyrant. Frederic Barbarossa burnt the city to the ground,
but liberty lived in its ashes, and it rose like an exhalation from
its ruin. See Sismondi's "Histoire des Republiques Italiennes", a book
which has done much towards awakening the Italians to an imitation of
their great ancestors.
(2) THE CHORUS [L. 197].
The popular notions of Christianity are represented in this chorus as
true in their relation to the worship they superseded, and that which
in all probability they will supersede, without considering their
merits in a relation more universal. The first stanza contrasts the
immortality of the living and thinking beings which inhabit the
planets, and to use a common and inadequate phrase, "clothe themselves
in matter", with the transience of the noblest manifestations of the
The concluding verses indicate a progressive state of more or loss
exalted existence, according to the degree of perfection which every
distinct intelligence may have attained. Let it not be supposed that I
mean to dogmatise upon a subject, concerning which all men are equally
ignorant, or that I think the Gordian knot of the origin of evil can
be disentangled by that or any similar assertions. The received
hypothesis of a Being resembling men in the moral attributes of His
nature, having called us out of non-existence, and after inflicting on
us the misery of the commission of error, should superadd that of the
punishment and the privations consequent upon it, still would remain
inexplicable and incredible. That there is a true solution of the
riddle, and that in our present state that solution is unattainable by
us, are propositions which may be regarded as equally certain:
meanwhile, as it is the province of the poet to attach himself to
those ideas which exalt and ennoble humanity, let him be permitted to
have conjectured the condition of that futurity towards which we are
all impelled by an inextinguishable thirst for immortality. Until
better arguments can be produced than sophisms which disgrace the
cause, this desire itself must remain the strongest and the only
presumption that eternity is the inheritance of every thinking being.
(3) NO HOARY PRIESTS AFTER THAT PATRIARCH [L. 245].
The Greek Patriarch, after haying been compelled to fulminate an
anathema against the insurgents, was put to death by the Turks.
Fortunately the Greeks have been taught that they cannot buy security
by degradation, and the Turks, though equally cruel, are less cunning
than the smooth-faced tyrants of Europe. As to the anathema, his
Holiness might as well have thrown his mitre at Mount Athos for any
effect that it produced. The chiefs of the Greeks are almost all men
of comprehension and enlightened views on religion and politics.
(4) THE FREEDMAN OF A WESTERN POET-CHIEF [L. 563].
A Greek who had been Lord Byron's servant commands the insurgents in
Attica. This Greek, Lord Byron informs me, though a poet and an
enthusiastic patriot, gave him rather the idea of a timid and
unenterprising person. It appears that circumstances make men what
they are, and that we all contain the germ of a degree of degradation
or of greatness whose connection with our character is determined by
(5) THE GREEKS EXPECT A SAVIOUR FROM THE WEST [L. 598].
It is reported that this Messiah had arrived at a seaport near
Lacedaemon in an American brig. The association of names and ideas is
irresistibly ludicrous, but the prevalence of such a rumour strongly
marks the state of popular enthusiasm in Greece.
(6) THE SOUND AS OF THE ASSAULT OF AN IMPERIAL CITY [LL. 814-15].
For the vision of Mahmud of the taking of Constantinople in 1453, see
Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", volume 12 page 223.
The manner of the invocation of the spirit of Mahomet the Second will
be censured as over subtle. I could easily have made the Jew a regular
conjuror, and the Phantom an ordinary ghost. I have preferred to
represent the Jew as disclaiming all pretension, or even belief, in
supernatural agency, and as tempting Mahmud to that state of mind in
which ideas may be supposed to assume the force of sensations through
the confusion of thought with the objects of thought, and the excess
of passion animating the creations of imagination.
It is a sort of natural magic, susceptible of being exercised in a
degree by any one who should have made himself master of the secret
associations of another's thoughts.
(7) THE CHORUS [L. 1060].
The final chorus is indistinct and obscure, as the event of the living
drama whose arrival it foretells. Prophecies of wars, and rumours of
wars, etc., may safely be made by poet or prophet in any age, but to
anticipate however darkly a period of regeneration and happiness is a
more hazardous exercise of the faculty which bards possess or feign.
It will remind the reader 'magno NEC proximus intervallo' of Isaiah
and Virgil, whose ardent spirits overleaping the actual reign of evil
which we endure and bewail, already saw the possible and perhaps
approaching state of society in which the 'lion shall lie down with
the lamb,' and 'omnis feret omnia tellus.' Let these great names be my
authority and my excuse.
(8) SATURN AND LOVE THEIR LONG REPOSE SHALL BURST [L. 1090].
Saturn and Love were among the deities of a real or imaginary state of
innocence and happiness. ALL those WHO FELL, or the Gods of Greece,
Asia, and Egypt; the ONE WHO ROSE, or Jesus Christ, at whose
appearance the idols of the Pagan World wore amerced of their worship;
and the MANY UNSUBDUED, or the monstrous objects of the idolatry of
China, India, the Antarctic islands, and the native tribes of America,
certainly have reigned over the understandings of men in conjunction
or in succession, during periods in which all we know of evil has been
in a state of portentous, and, until the revival of learning and the
arts, perpetually increasing, activity. The Grecian gods seem indeed
to have been personally more innocent, although it cannot be said,
that as far as temperance and chastity are concerned, they gave so
edifying an example as their successor. The sublime human character of
Jesus Christ was deformed by an imputed identification with a Power,
who tempted, betrayed, and punished the innocent beings who were
called into existence by His sole will; and for the period of a
thousand years, the spirit of this most just, wise, and benevolent of
men has been propitiated with myriads of hecatombs of those who
approached the nearest to His innocence and wisdom, sacrificed under
every aggravation of atrocity and variety of torture. The horrors of
the Mexican, the Peruvian, and the Indian superstitions are well
NOTE ON HELLAS, BY MRS. SHELLEY.
The South of Europe was in a state of great political excitement at
the beginning of the year 1821. The Spanish Revolution had been a
signal to Italy; secrete societies were formed; and, when Naples rose
to declare the Constitution, the call was responded to from Brundusium
to the foot of the Alps. To crush these attempts to obtain liberty,
early in 1821 the Austrians poured their armies into the Peninsula: at
first their coming rather seemed to add energy and resolution to a
people long enslaved. The Piedmontese asserted their freedom; Genoa
threw off the yoke of the King of Sardinia; and, as if in playful
imitation, the people of the little state of Massa and Carrara gave
the conge to their sovereign, and set up a republic.
Tuscany alone was perfectly tranquil. It was said that the Austrian
minister presented a list of sixty Carbonari to the Grand Duke, urging
their imprisonment; and the Grand Duke replied, 'I do not know whether
these sixty men are Carbonari, but I know, if I imprison them, I shall
directly have sixty thousand start up.' But, though the Tuscans had no
desire to disturb the paternal government beneath whose shelter they
slumbered, they regarded the progress of the various Italian
revolutions with intense interest, and hatred for the Austrian was
warm in every bosom. But they had slender hopes; they knew that the
Neapolitans would offer no fit resistance to the regular German
troops, and that the overthrow of the constitution in Naples would act
as a decisive blow against all struggles for liberty in Italy.
We have seen the rise and progress of reform. But the Holy Alliance
was alive and active in those days, and few could dream of the
peaceful triumph of liberty. It seemed then that the armed assertion
of freedom in the South of Europe was the only hope of the liberals,
as, if it prevailed, the nations of the north would imitate the
example. Happily the reverse has proved the fact. The countries
accustomed to the exercise of the privileges of freemen, to a limited
extent, have extended, and are extending, these limits. Freedom and
knowledge have now a chance of proceeding hand in hand; and, if it
continue thus, we may hope for the durability of both. Then, as I have
said--in 1821--Shelley, as well as every other lover of liberty,
looked upon the struggles in Spain and Italy as decisive of the
destinies of the world, probably for centuries to come. The interest
he took in the progress of affairs was intense. When Genoa declared
itself free, his hopes were at their highest. Day after day he read
the bulletins of the Austrian army, and sought eagerly to gather
tokens of its defeat. He heard of the revolt of Genoa with emotions of
transport. His whole heart and soul were in the triumph of the cause.
We were living at Pisa at that time; and several well-informed
Italians, at the head of whom we may place the celebrated Vacca, were
accustomed to seek for sympathy in their hopes from Shelley: they did
not find such for the despair they too generally experienced, founded
on contempt for their southern countrymen.
While the fate of the progress of the Austrian armies then invading
Naples was yet in suspense, the news of another revolution filled him
with exultation. We had formed the acquaintance at Pisa of several
Constantinopolitan Greeks, of the family of Prince Caradja, formerly
Hospodar of Wallachia; who, hearing that the bowstring, the accustomed
finale of his viceroyalty, was on the road to him, escaped with his
treasures, and took up his abode in Tuscany. Among these was the
gentleman to whom the drama of "Hellas" is dedicated. Prince
Mavrocordato was warmed by those aspirations for the independence of
his country which filled the hearts of many of his countrymen. He
often intimated the possibility of an insurrection in Greece; but we
had no idea of its being so near at hand, when, on the 1st of April
1821, he called on Shelley, bringing the proclamation of his cousin,
Prince Ypsilanti, and, radiant with exultation and delight, declared
that henceforth Greece would be free.
Shelley had hymned the dawn of liberty in Spain and Naples, in two
odes dictated by the warmest enthusiasm; he felt himself naturally
impelled to decorate with poetry the uprise of the descendants of that
people whose works he regarded with deep admiration, and to adopt the
vaticinatory character in prophesying their success. "Hellas" was
written in a moment of enthusiasm. It is curious to remark how well he
overcomes the difficulty of forming a drama out of such scant
materials. His prophecies, indeed, came true in their general, not
their particular, purport. He did not foresee the death of Lord
Londonderry, which was to be the epoch of a change in English
politics, particularly as regarded foreign affairs; nor that the navy
of his country would fight for instead of against the Greeks, and by
the battle of Navarino secure their enfranchisement from the Turks.
Almost against reason, as it appeared to him, he resolved to believe
that Greece would prove triumphant; and in this spirit, auguring
ultimate good, yet grieving over the vicissitudes to be endured in the
interval, he composed his drama.
"Hellas" was among the last of his compositions, and is among the most
beautiful. The choruses are singularly imaginative, and melodious in
their versification. There are some stanzas that beautifully exemplify
Shelley's peculiar style; as, for instance, the assertion of the
intellectual empire which must be for ever the inheritance of the
country of Homer, Sophocles, and Plato:--
'But Greece and her foundations are
Built below the tide of war,
Based on the crystalline sea
Of thought and its eternity.'
And again, that philosophical truth felicitously imaged forth--
'Revenge and Wrong bring forth their kind,
The foul cubs like their parents are,
Their den is in the guilty mind,
And Conscience feeds them with despair.'
The conclusion of the last chorus is among the most beautiful of his
lyrics. The imagery is distinct and majestic; the prophecy, such as
poets love to dwell upon, the Regeneration of Mankind--and that
regeneration reflecting back splendour on the foregone time, from
which it inherits so much of intellectual wealth, and memory of past
virtuous deeds, as must render the possession of happiness and peace
of tenfold value.