SHELLEY, Percy Bysshe (1792-1822). Autograph letter signed ("P.B.S.") to his friend Thomas Medwin, Pisa, 20 July 1820. 3 pages, 4to (252 x 187 mm.). Page 4 addressed by the poet to Medwin in Milan (readdressed to Geneva), traces of wax seal. The two leaves neatly re-attached, second leaf with discreet reinforcement from verso and small mends to fold intersections.
SHELLEY IN PISA: ON "THE CENCI" AND "PROMETHEUS UNBOUND"
A superb literary letter, written during the year which saw the publication of two of his most powerful verse compositions, The Cenci and Prometheus Unbound. Medwin, Shelley's friend, has been touring the Swiss Alps. "How much I envy you," Shelley writes, "or rather how much I sympathize in the delights of your wandering. I have a passion for such expeditions, although partly the capriciousness of my health, & partly the want of the incitement of a companion, keep me at home. I see the mountains, the sky & the trees from my windows, & recollect as an old man does the mistress of his youth, the raptures of a more familiar intercourse; but without his regrets, for their forms are yet living in my mind." He urges Medwin to visit him in Tuscany, though it would mean "taking up your abode with such an animal of the other world as I am"; he adds that "Mrs. [Mary] Shelley unites with me in assuring you that whatever else may be found deficient, a sincere welcome is at least in waiting for you."
Regarding his recently published verses he is "...delighted with your approbation of my Cenci & am encouraged to wish to present you with Prometheus Unbound, a drama also, but a composition of a totally different character. I do not know if it be wise to affect variety in compositions, or whether the attempt to excel in many ways does not debar from excellence in one particular kind. Prometheus Unbound is in the merest spirit of ideal Poetry, & not, as the name would indicate, a mere imitation of the Greek drama; or indeed if I have been successful, is it an imitation of any thing. But you will judge--I hear it is just printed & I probably shall receive copies from England before I see you...Your objections to the Cenci as to the introduction of the name of God is good in as much as the play is addressed to a Protestant people; but we Catholics speak eternally & familiarly of the 1st person of the Trinity; and amongst us religion is more interwoven with, & and is less extraneous to the system of ordinary life. As to Cenci's curse--I know not whether I can defend it or no. I wish I may be able, since, as it often happens respecting the worst part of an author's work, it is a particular favourite with me. I prided myself as since your approbation I hope that I had just cause to do so, upon the two concluding lines of the play. I confess I cannot approve the "squeamishness which excludes the exhibition of such subjects from the scene...."
He is contemplating a new subject: "What think you of my boldness? I mean to write a play, in the spirit of human nature, without prejudice or passion, entitled Charles the 1st. So vanity intoxicates people; but let those few who praise my verses and in whose approbation I take so much delight, answer for the sin." Shelley comments wryly on the estrangement of the Royal family and Queen Caroline's alleged infidelities: "I wonder what in the world the Queen has done. I should not wonder after the whispers I have heard...." He is appalled by the trivial proceedings "What silly stuff is this to employ a great nation about. I wish the King and Queen, like Punch and his wife, would fight out their disputes in person...."
[Additional text:] "I wrote to you a day or two ago at Geneva...I hope you will not pass Tuscany leaving without your promised visit unpaid. I leave it to you too make the project of taking up your abode with such an animal of the other world as I am, agreeable to your friend; but Mrs. Shelley unites with me in assuring you that whatever else may be found deficient, a sincere welcome is at least in waiting for you...I wonder what in the world the Queen has done. I should not wonder after the whispers I have heard, to find that the Green Bag contained evidence that she had imitated Pasiphae, and that the committee should recommend to Parliament a bill to exclude all Minotaurs from the succession. What silly stuff is this to employ a great nation about. I wish the King and Queen, like Punch and his wife, would fight out their disputes in person. What is very strange I can in no manner discover your parcels--I never knew any thing more unfortunate. Klieber sends me your letters regularly (which, by the by, I wish in future you would direct to Pisa, as I have no money business in Florence), but he has heard of no parcel or book. This warm weather agrees excellently with me; I only wish it would last all the year. Many things both to say and to hear be referred until we meet. Your affectionate friend P.B.S."