Percy Shelley: Poems

Peter Bell The Third: Part 6



'O that mine enemy had written

A book!'--cried Job:--a fearful curse,

If to the Arab, as the Briton, _460

'Twas galling to be critic-bitten:--

The Devil to Peter wished no worse.


When Peter's next new book found vent,

The Devil to all the first Reviews

A copy of it slyly sent, _465

With five-pound note as compliment,

And this short notice--'Pray abuse.'


Then seriatim, month and quarter,

Appeared such mad tirades.--One said--

'Peter seduced Mrs. Foy's daughter, _470

Then drowned the mother in Ullswater,

The last thing as he went to bed.'


Another--'Let him shave his head!

Where's Dr. Willis?--Or is he joking?

What does the rascal mean or hope, _475

No longer imitating Pope,

In that barbarian Shakespeare poking?'


One more, 'Is incest not enough?

And must there be adultery too?

Grace after meat? Miscreant and Liar! _480

Thief! Blackguard! Scoundrel! Fool! hell-fire

Is twenty times too good for you.


'By that last book of yours WE think

You've double damned yourself to scorn;

We warned you whilst yet on the brink _485

You stood. From your black name will shrink

The babe that is unborn.'


All these Reviews the Devil made

Up in a parcel, which he had

Safely to Peter's house conveyed. _490

For carriage, tenpence Peter paid--

Untied them--read them--went half mad.


'What!' cried he, 'this is my reward

For nights of thought, and days, of toil?

Do poets, but to be abhorred _495

By men of whom they never heard,

Consume their spirits' oil?


'What have I done to them?--and who

IS Mrs. Foy? 'Tis very cruel

To speak of me and Betty so! _500

Adultery! God defend me! Oh!

I've half a mind to fight a duel.


'Or,' cried he, a grave look collecting,

'Is it my genius, like the moon,

Sets those who stand her face inspecting, _505

That face within their brain reflecting,

Like a crazed bell-chime, out of tune?'


For Peter did not know the town,

But thought, as country readers do,

For half a guinea or a crown, _510

He bought oblivion or renown

From God's own voice (1) in a review.


All Peter did on this occasion

Was, writing some sad stuff in prose.

It is a dangerous invasion _515

When poets criticize; their station

Is to delight, not pose.


The Devil then sent to Leipsic fair

For Born's translation of Kant's book;

A world of words, tail foremost, where _520

Right--wrong--false--true--and foul--and fair

As in a lottery-wheel are shook.


Five thousand crammed octavo pages

Of German psychologics,--he

Who his furor verborum assuages _525

Thereon, deserves just seven months' wages

More than will e'er be due to me.


I looked on them nine several days,

And then I saw that they were bad;

A friend, too, spoke in their dispraise,-- _530

He never read them;--with amaze

I found Sir William Drummond had.


When the book came, the Devil sent

It to P. Verbovale (2), Esquire,

With a brief note of compliment, _535

By that night's Carlisle mail. It went,

And set his soul on fire.


Fire, which ex luce praebens fumum,

Made him beyond the bottom see

Of truth's clear well--when I and you, Ma'am, _540

Go, as we shall do, subter humum,

We may know more than he.


Now Peter ran to seed in soul

Into a walking paradox;

For he was neither part nor whole, _545

Nor good, nor bad--nor knave nor fool;

--Among the woods and rocks


Furious he rode, where late he ran,

Lashing and spurring his tame hobby;

Turned to a formal puritan, _550

A solemn and unsexual man,--

He half believed "White Obi".


This steed in vision he would ride,

High trotting over nine-inch bridges,

With Flibbertigibbet, imp of pride, _555

Mocking and mowing by his side--

A mad-brained goblin for a guide--

Over corn-fields, gates, and hedges.


After these ghastly rides, he came

Home to his heart, and found from thence _560

Much stolen of its accustomed flame;

His thoughts grew weak, drowsy, and lame

Of their intelligence.


To Peter's view, all seemed one hue;

He was no Whig, he was no Tory; _565

No Deist and no Christian he;--

He got so subtle, that to be

Nothing, was all his glory.


One single point in his belief

From his organization sprung, _570

The heart-enrooted faith, the chief

Ear in his doctrines' blighted sheaf,

That 'Happiness is wrong';


So thought Calvin and Dominic;

So think their fierce successors, who _575

Even now would neither stint nor stick

Our flesh from off our bones to pick,

If they might 'do their do.'


His morals thus were undermined:--

The old Peter--the hard, old Potter-- _580

Was born anew within his mind;

He grew dull, harsh, sly, unrefined,

As when he tramped beside the Otter. (1)


In the death hues of agony

Lambently flashing from a fish, _585

Now Peter felt amused to see

Shades like a rainbow's rise and flee,

Mixed with a certain hungry wish(2).


So in his Country's dying face

He looked--and, lovely as she lay, _590

Seeking in vain his last embrace,

Wailing her own abandoned case,

With hardened sneer he turned away:


And coolly to his own soul said;--

'Do you not think that we might make _595

A poem on her when she's dead:--

Or, no--a thought is in my head--

Her shroud for a new sheet I'll take:


'My wife wants one.--Let who will bury

This mangled corpse! And I and you, _600

My dearest Soul, will then make merry,

As the Prince Regent did with Sherry,--'

'Ay--and at last desert me too.'


And so his Soul would not be gay,

But moaned within him; like a fawn _605

Moaning within a cave, it lay

Wounded and wasting, day by day,

Till all its life of life was gone.


As troubled skies stain waters clear,

The storm in Peter's heart and mind _610

Now made his verses dark and queer:

They were the ghosts of what they were,

Shaking dim grave-clothes in the wind.


For he now raved enormous folly,

Of Baptisms, Sunday-schools, and Graves, _615

'Twould make George Colman melancholy

To have heard him, like a male Molly,

Chanting those stupid staves.


Yet the Reviews, who heaped abuse

On Peter while he wrote for freedom, _620

So soon as in his song they spy

The folly which soothes tyranny,

Praise him, for those who feed 'em.


'He was a man, too great to scan;--

A planet lost in truth's keen rays:-- _625

His virtue, awful and prodigious;--

He was the most sublime, religious,

Pure-minded Poet of these days.'


As soon as he read that, cried Peter,

'Eureka! I have found the way _630

To make a better thing of metre

Than e'er was made by living creature

Up to this blessed day.'


Then Peter wrote odes to the Devil;--

In one of which he meekly said: _635

'May Carnage and Slaughter,

Thy niece and thy daughter,

May Rapine and Famine,

Thy gorge ever cramming,

Glut thee with living and dead! _640


'May Death and Damnation,

And Consternation,

Flit up from Hell with pure intent!

Slash them at Manchester,

Glasgow, Leeds, and Chester; _645

Drench all with blood from Avon to Trent.


'Let thy body-guard yeomen

Hew down babes and women,

And laugh with bold triumph till Heaven be rent!

When Moloch in Jewry _650

Munched children with fury,

It was thou, Devil, dining with pure intent. (1)