Shelley Sunday: Letters to T.J.Hogg

(Note: For the first time in a year, I missed a Sunday! Please pardon me and accept Shelley Sunday a day late!)

Selected Letters from Shelley to Hogg


January I2th y 1811.
[Saturday. ]


Your letter, with the extremely
beautiful enclosed poetry, came this
morning. It is really admirable ; it
touches the heart : but I must be al-
lowed to offer one critique upon it. You
will be surprised to hear that I think it
unfinished. You have not said that
the ivy, after it had destroyed the oak,
as if to mock the miseries which it
caused, twined around a pine which
stood near.* It is true, therefore, but
does not comprehend the whole truth.
As to the stuff which I sent you, I
write all my poetry of that kind from
the feelings of the moment ; if therefore
it neither has allusion to the sentiments
which rationally might be supposed to
possess me, or to those which my situ-
ation might awaken, it is another proof
of that egotizing variability, which I
shudder to reflect how much I am in its

(* This may possibly imply an embittered reference
to the affair of Miss Grove : she being shadowed forth
in the ivy, Shelley in the oak, and her husband in the

To you I dare represent myself as I
am : wretched to the last degree. Some-
times one gleam of hope, one faint soli-
tary gleam, seems to illumine the dark-
ened prospect before me but it has
vanished. I fear it will never return.
My sister will, I fear, never return the
attachment which would once again
bid me be calm. Yes ! In this alone
is my feeble anticipation of peace
placed ! But what am I ? Am I not
the most degraded of deceived enthusi-
asts ? Do I not deceive myself? I
never, never can feel peace again !

What necessity is there for continu-
ing in existence ? ” But Heaven !
Eternity ! Love ! ” My dear friend, I
am yet a sceptic on these subjects :
would that I could believe them to be
as they are represented ; would that I
could totally disbelieve them ! But
no ! That would be selfish. I still
have firmness enough to resist this last,
this most horrible of errors. Is my
despair the result of the hot sickly love
which inflames the admirers of Sterne
or Moore ? * It is the conviction of
unmerited unkindness ; the conviction
that, should a future world exist, the
object of my attachment would be as
miserable as myself, is the cause of it.

* Not Thomas Moore, but Dr. John Moore, author
of Zelnco and Mordaunt.

I here take God (and a God exists)
to witness, that I wish torments which
beggar the futile description of a fancied
hell would fall upon me, provided I
could obtain thereby that happiness
for what I love which, I fear, can never
be ! The question is, What do I love ?
It is almost unnecessary to answer.
Do I love the person, the embodied
identity, if I may be allowed the ex-
pression ? No ! I love what is superior,
what is excellent, or what I conceive to
be so ; and I wish, ardently wish, to be
profoundly convinced of the existence
of the Deity, that so superior a spirit
might derive some degree of happiness
from my feeble exertions : for love is
heaven, and heaven is love. You think
so too, and you disbelieve not the ex-
istence of an eternal, omnipresent

Am I not mad ? Alas ! I am ; but
I pour out my ravings into the ear of
a friend who will pardon them.


Stay ! I have an idea. I think I
can prove the existence of a Deity a
First Cause. I will ask a materialist,
How came this universe at first ? He
will answer, ” By chance.” What
chance ? I will answer in the words of
Spinoza : ” An infinite number of atoms
had been floating from all eternity in
space, till at last one of them fortuit-
ously diverged from its track, which,
dragging with it another, formed the
principle of gravitation, and in conse-
quence the universe.” What cause
produced this change, this chance ?
For where do we know that causes
arise without their correspondent
effects ? At least we must here, on so
abstract a subject, reason analogically.
Was not this then a cause^ was it not a
first cause ? Was not this first cause
a Deity ? Now nothing remains but
to prove that this Deity has a care ; or
rather that its only employment con-
sists in regulating the present and future
happiness of its creation. Our ideas
of infinite space, &c. are scarcely to be
called ideas, for we cannot either com-
prehend or explain them ; therefore the
Deity must -be judged by us from attri-
butes analogical to our situation. Oh
that this Deity were the soul of the
universe, the spirit of universal, im-
perishable love ! Indeed I believe
it is.

But now to your argument of the
necessity of Christianity. I am not
sure that your argument does not tend
to prove its unreality. If it does not,
you allow, you say, that love is the
only true source of rational happiness.
One man is capable of it ; why not all ?

The Gullibility of man preterite I
allow ; but because men are and have
been cullible, I see no reason why they
should always continue so. Have there
not been fluctuations in the opinions
of mankind ? and, as the stuff which
soul is made of must be in every one
the same, would not an extended sys-
tem of rational and moral unprejudiced
education render each individual cap-
able of experiencing that degree of
happiness to which each ought to
aspire, more for others than self?

Hideous, hated traits of Superstition!
Oh Bigots ! how I abhor your influence !
They are all bad enough. But do we
not see Fanaticism decaying ? Is not
its influence weakened, except where
Faber, Rowland Hill, and several
others of the Armageddon heroes,
maintain their posts with all the
obstinacy of long-established dogma-
tism ? How I pity them ! how I
despise, hate them !

Stockdale knows Mr. D. would
publish your tale. I am beyond mea-
sure anxious for its appearance.

Adieu. Excuse my mad arguments ;
they are none at all, for I am rather
confused, and fear, in consequence
of a fever, they will not allow me
to come * on the 26th ; but I will.

Your affectionate friend,

P. B. S.

You can enclose to Timothy Shelley,
Esq., M.P.

To T.J. Hogg,
University College,
* To Oxford, no doubt, via London.


Edited notes by
Image Source: Bodleian Library, Oxford University.


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