Percy Shelley: Poems

Peter Bell The Third: Part 7



The Devil now knew his proper cue.--

Soon as he read the ode, he drove

To his friend Lord MacMurderchouse's, _655

A man of interest in both houses,

And said:--'For money or for love,


'Pray find some cure or sinecure;

To feed from the superfluous taxes

A friend of ours--a poet--fewer _660

Have fluttered tamer to the lure

Than he.' His lordship stands and racks his


Stupid brains, while one might count

As many beads as he had boroughs,--

At length replies; from his mean front, _665

Like one who rubs out an account,

Smoothing away the unmeaning furrows:


'It happens fortunately, dear Sir,

I can. I hope I need require

No pledge from you, that he will stir _670

In our affairs;--like Oliver.

That he'll be worthy of his hire.'


These words exchanged, the news sent off

To Peter, home the Devil hied,--

Took to his bed; he had no cough, _675

No doctor,--meat and drink enough.--

Yet that same night he died.


The Devil's corpse was leaded down;

His decent heirs enjoyed his pelf,

Mourning-coaches, many a one, _680

Followed his hearse along the town:--

Where was the Devil himself?


When Peter heard of his promotion,

His eyes grew like two stars for bliss:

There was a bow of sleek devotion _685

Engendering in his back; each motion

Seemed a Lord's shoe to kiss.


He hired a house, bought plate, and made

A genteel drive up to his door,

With sifted gravel neatly laid,-- _690

As if defying all who said,

Peter was ever poor.


But a disease soon struck into

The very life and soul of Peter--

He walked about--slept--had the hue _695

Of health upon his cheeks--and few

Dug better--none a heartier eater.


And yet a strange and horrid curse

Clung upon Peter, night and day;

Month after month the thing grew worse, _700

And deadlier than in this my verse

I can find strength to say.


Peter was dull--he was at first

Dull--oh, so dull--so very dull!

Whether he talked, wrote, or rehearsed-- _705

Still with this dulness was he cursed--

Dull--beyond all conception--dull.


No one could read his books--no mortal,

But a few natural friends, would hear him;

The parson came not near his portal; _710

His state was like that of the immortal

Described by Swift--no man could bear him.


His sister, wife, and children yawned,

With a long, slow, and drear ennui,

All human patience far beyond; _715

Their hopes of Heaven each would have pawned,

Anywhere else to be.


But in his verse, and in his prose,

The essence of his dulness was

Concentred and compressed so close, _720

'Twould have made Guatimozin doze

On his red gridiron of brass.


A printer's boy, folding those pages,

Fell slumbrously upon one side;

Like those famed Seven who slept three ages. _725

To wakeful frenzy's vigil--rages,

As opiates, were the same applied.


Even the Reviewers who were hired

To do the work of his reviewing,

With adamantine nerves, grew tired;-- _730

Gaping and torpid they retired,

To dream of what they should be doing.


And worse and worse, the drowsy curse

Yawned in him, till it grew a pest--

A wide contagious atmosphere, _735

Creeping like cold through all things near;

A power to infect and to infest.


His servant-maids and dogs grew dull;

His kitten, late a sportive elf;

The woods and lakes, so beautiful, _740

Of dim stupidity were full.

All grew dull as Peter's self.


The earth under his feet--the springs,

Which lived within it a quick life,

The air, the winds of many wings, _745

That fan it with new murmurings,

Were dead to their harmonious strife.


The birds and beasts within the wood,

The insects, and each creeping thing,

Were now a silent multitude; _750

Love's work was left unwrought--no brood

Near Peter's house took wing.


And every neighbouring cottager

Stupidly yawned upon the other:

No jackass brayed; no little cur _755

Cocked up his ears;--no man would stir

To save a dying mother.


Yet all from that charmed district went

But some half-idiot and half-knave,

Who rather than pay any rent, _760

Would live with marvellous content,

Over his father's grave.


No bailiff dared within that space,

For fear of the dull charm, to enter;

A man would bear upon his face, _765

For fifteen months in any case,

The yawn of such a venture.


Seven miles above--below--around--

This pest of dulness holds its sway;

A ghastly life without a sound; _770

To Peter's soul the spell is bound--

How should it ever pass away?


(_8 To those who have not duly appreciated the distinction between

Whale and Russia oil, this attribute might rather seem to belong to

the Dandy than the Evangelic. The effect, when to the windward, is

indeed so similar, that it requires a subtle naturalist to

discriminate the animals. They belong, however, to distinct

genera.--[SHELLEY's NOTE.)

(_183 One of the attributes in Linnaeus's description of the Cat. To a

similar cause the caterwauling of more than one species of this genus

is to be referred;--except, indeed, that the poor quadruped is

compelled to quarrel with its own pleasures, whilst the biped is

supposed only to quarrel with those of others.--[SHELLEY'S NOTE.])

(_186 What would this husk and excuse for a virtue be without its

kernel prostitution, or the kernel prostitution without this husk of a

virtue? I wonder the women of the town do not form an association,

like the Society for the Suppression of Vice, for the support of what

may be called the 'King, Church, and Constitution' of their order. But

this subject is almost too horrible for a joke.--[SHELLEY'S NOTE.])

(_222 This libel on our national oath, and this accusation of all our

countrymen of being in the daily practice of solemnly asseverating the

most enormous falsehood, I fear deserves the notice of a more active

Attorney General than that here alluded to.--[SHELLEY'S NOTE.])

_292 one Fleay cj., Rossetti, Forman, Dowden, Woodberry;

out 1839, 2nd edition.

_500 Betty]Emma 1839, 2nd edition. See letter from Shelley to Ollier,

May 14, 1820 (Shelley Memorials, page 139).

(_512 Vox populi, vox dei. As Mr. Godwin truly observes of a more

famous saying, of some merit as a popular maxim, but totally destitute

of philosophical accuracy.--[SHELLEY'S NOTE.])

(_534 Quasi, Qui valet verba:--i.e. all the words which have been,

are, or may be expended by, for, against, with, or on him. A

sufficient proof of the utility of this history. Peter's progenitor

who selected this name seems to have possessed A PURE ANTICIPATED

COGNITION of the nature and modesty of this ornament of his

posterity.--[SHELLEY'S NOTE.])

_602-3 See Editor's Note.

(_583 A famous river in the new Atlantis of the Dynastophylic

Pantisocratists.--[SHELLEY'S NOTE.])

(_588 See the description of the beautiful colours produced during the

agonizing death of a number of trout, in the fourth part of a long

poem in blank verse, published within a few years. ["The Excursion", 8

2 568-71.--Ed.] That poem contains curious evidence of the gradual

hardening of a strong but circumscribed sensibility, of the perversion

of a penetrating but panic-stricken understanding. The author might

have derived a lesson which he had probably forgotten from these sweet

and sublime verses:--

'This lesson, Shepherd, let us two divide,

Taught both by what she (Nature) shows and what conceals,

Never to blend our pleasure or our pride

With sorrow of the meanest thing that feels.'--[SHELLEY'S NOTE.])

(_652 It is curious to observe how often extremes meet. Cobbett and

Peter use the same language for a different purpose: Peter is indeed a

sort of metrical Cobbett. Cobbett is, however, more mischievous than

Peter, because he pollutes a holy and how unconquerable cause with the

principles of legitimate murder; whilst the other only makes a bad one

ridiculous and odious.

If either Peter or Cobbett should see this note, each will feel more

indignation at being compared to the other than at any censure implied

in the moral perversion laid to their charge.--[SHELLEY'S NOTE.])