In January,1812, Percy Bysshe Shelley was still in Keswick having met with Robert Southey in December. He was completing his plan for a trip to Ireland where he hoped to work for Catholic Emancipation. In this regard, he had written an 'Address to the Irish People' to advance the cause. He was supremely confident that he would be successful stating in the letter of January 26 of the "impossibility of failure." Southey, Calvert and William Goldwin had all tried to dissuade him from going. He also refers in the letter to a physical attack on him on January 19, 1812.
Shelley's father had now arranged for him to receive some money. In the letter of January 26, Shelley adds an interesting postscript as to how he had told the postman that the letter had only one sheet, probably so that it would not cost more to send it.
Shelley, together with his wife, Harriet, and Elizabeth Westbrook probably left Keswick on Sunday, February 2, and embarked from Whitehaven for the Isle of Man. After being driven off course by a storm to the north of Ireland, they reached Dublin on February 13 at night. On arriving in Dublin he had the "An Address to the Irish People" printed.
The letter below was to Elizabeth Hitchener describes his plans for Ireland. Harriet also wrote a letter to Hitchener on the same day.
January 26 1812
My dearest Friend,
I eagerly answer your letter. It contains very bad news. I grieve at human nature; but am so far from despairing that I can readily trace all that is evil, even in the youngest, to the sophistications of society. It will not appear surprising that some original taint of our nature has been adopted as an opinion by the unthinking, when they perceive how very early depraved dispositions are exhibited. But, when it is considered what exhaustless pains dire taken by nurses and parents to make wrong impressions on the infant mind,I cannot be surprised at the earliest traits of evil and mistake. I truly sympathize with your Wrongs. These, are, however, of such a nature as will so frequently occur that we must strive to consider them with unfeelingness, and let conscious rectitude inspire an honour able pride which shall infuse elevated tranquillity into the soul. I did not expect this return of kindness from Anne. She is a character who will now mingle in the mass of common life : the seeds which you have sown will spring up among tares and brambles. The dreary intercourse of daily life will blast the suckers ere they even attain adolescency. Here is an addition to that daily load of disappointment which weighs upon the mind, and checks the passionateness of hope. I will, however, cling to those who are deservedly now the landing-places of my expectancy ; and, when they fail, human nature will be to me an unweeded garden, and the face of Earth hold no monster so heartless and unnatural as Man.
Think not for one moment that I have doubted you. The confidence that I have in the purity and immutableness of your principles surpasses even that which I possess in my own. These expressions are blasphemous to love and friendship. Think of them as of the ebullition of a train of fleeting thought, as of the cloud which momentarily obscures the moon, then sails into the azure of night.
Harriet has told you of a circumstance which has alarmed her. I consider it as a complete casual occurrence which, having met with once, we are more likely not to meet with again. The man evidently wanted to rifle my pockets : my falling within the house defeated his intention. There is nothing in this to alarm you. I was afraid you might see it in the newspaper, and fancy that the blow had injured me.
Dismiss all fears of assassins and spies and prisons. Let me have your confident hopes of safety and success, as well as the earnest good wishes which I fancy I hear you breathing to fill the sails of our packet, and be like ministrant angels to us. All is now prepared for thin forms flitting through the vaulted channels. Perhaps the Captain will come, and my aunt and the little things : perhaps you will bring the dear little Americans, and my mother Mrs. Adams. Perhaps Godwin will come : I; shall try to induce him. — These castles are somewhat aerial at present but I hope it is not a crime, in this mortal life, to solace ourselves with hopes. Mine are always rather visionary. In the basis of this scheme, however, — if you and I live— we will not be disappointed.
I hear from my uncle that Sir B. [ysshe] Shelley is not likely to live long — that he will soon die. He is a complete atheist, and builds all his hopes on annihilation. He has acted very ill to three wives. He is a bad man. I never had respect for him : I always regarded him as a curse on society. I shall not grieve at his death. I will not wear mourning : I will not attend his funeral. I shall think of his departure as of that of a hard-hearted reprobate. I will never countenance a lying estimation of my own feelings.
I have the vanity to think that you will be pleased with my Address to the Irish. It is intended to familiarize to uneducated apprehensions ideas of liberty, benevolence, peace and toleration. It is secretly intended also as a preliminary to other pamphlets to shake Catholicism on its basis, and to induce Quakerish and Socinian principles of politics, without objecting to the Christian religion, — which would be no good to the vulgar just now, and cast an odium over the other principles which are advanced.
The volume of poetry will be, I fear, an inferior production : it will be only valuable to philosophical and reflecting minds who love to trace the early state of human feelings and opinions, — who can make allowances for some bad versification. None is more qualified than yourself, my friend, to come to a right judgment on this score ; though a consideration of your partiality for the author will prevent him from thinking you infallible in things that regarded his mental powers : — Hubert I have told you of.
Southey regrets our going. The Calverts were much against it ; nay, all of them violently, except Mrs. C[alvert], who wishes us success heartily. We shall have success : I am perfectly confident of the impossibility of failure. Let your pure spirit animate our proceedings. Oh that you were with us ! You have said you are not handsome; but, though the sleekness of your skin, the symmetry of your form, might not attract the courtiers of Dublin Castle, yet that tongue of energy, and that eye of fire, would awe them into native insignificance, and command the conviction of those whose hearts vibrate in unison with justice and benevolence.
Dinner surprised me in the midst of my letter. I have since seen yours to Harriet. Oh, my dearest friend, do not suffer the little ingratitude of one of the vipers of the world to sting you too severely ! Do not feel. Yes, do not feel, that I may feel with you ; that every vibration of your nerves may be assimilated to mine, mine to yours. Dare all !
You have mistaken Harriet : she is not pregnant. It was a piece of good fortune which I could not expect. I can truly imagine your hopes and feelings concerning the possibility of this circumstance. I hope to have a large family of children : it will bind you and me closer, and Harriet. I, who believe in the omnipotence of education, have no fears for their eventual well-being.
Harriet has filled up most of this letter, whilst I have been writing to the Captain. Do not consider this as a letter: I owe you one now. You shall have full payment.
I am now, as Harriet can tell you, quite recovered from the little nervous attack I mentioned. Do not alarm yourself either about murderers, spies, government, prisons, or nerves. I must (as I said) have hopes, and those very confident ones, from you^ to fill the sails of our packet to Dublin.
The post-woman waits ; and there fore, my dearest friend, I bid you adieu. Happiness and hope attend my dearest friend until we meet at the Post-office, Dublin!
Your P. B. S.
I have made a strong, though vulgar
appeal to the feelings of the post-
master, as to my veracity about thesingle sheet.*