Percy Shelley: Poems

Julian And Maddalo: Preface

The meadows with fresh streams, the bees with thyme,

The goats with the green leaves of budding Spring,

Are saturated not--nor Love with tears.--VIRGIL'S "Gallus".

Count Maddalo is a Venetian nobleman of ancient family and of great

fortune, who, without mixing much in the society of his countrymen,

resides chiefly at his magnificent palace in that city. He is a person

of the most consummate genius, and capable, if he would direct his

energies to such an end, of becoming the redeemer of his degraded

country. But it is his weakness to be proud: he derives, from a

comparison of his own extraordinary mind with the dwarfish intellects

that surround him, an intense apprehension of the nothingness of human

life. His passions and his powers are incomparably greater than those

of other men; and, instead of the latter having been employed in

curbing the former, they have mutually lent each other strength. His

ambition preys upon itself, for want of objects which it can consider

worthy of exertion. I say that Maddalo is proud, because I can find no

other word to express the concentred and impatient feelings which

consume him; but it is on his own hopes and affections only that he

seems to trample, for in social life no human being can be more

gentle, patient and unassuming than Maddalo. He is cheerful, frank and

witty. His more serious conversation is a sort of intoxication; men

are held by it as by a spell. He has travelled much; and there is an

inexpressible charm in his relation of his adventures in different


Julian is an Englishman of good family, passionately attached to those

philosophical notions which assert the power of man over his own mind,

and the immense improvements of which, by the extinction of certain

moral superstitions, human society may be yet susceptible. Without

concealing the evil in the world he is for ever speculating how good

may be made superior. He is a complete infidel, and a scoffer at all

things reputed holy; and Maddalo takes a wicked pleasure in drawing

out his taunts against religion. What Maddalo thinks on these matters

is not exactly known. Julian, in spite of his heterodox opinions, is

conjectured by his friends to possess some good qualities. How far

this is possible the pious reader will determine. Julian is rather


Of the Maniac I can give no information. He seems, by his own account,

to have been disappointed in love. He was evidently a very cultivated

and amiable person when in his right senses. His story, told at

length, might be like many other stories of the same kind: the

unconnected exclamations of his agony will perhaps be found a

sufficient comment for the text of every heart.