Shelley`s Last Letter To Mary
Pisa, July 1822.
My dearest Mary,
I have received both your letters, & shall attend to the instructions they convey.–I did not think of buying the Bolivar; Lord B. wishes to sell her, but I imagine would prefer ready money; I have as yet made no inquiries about houses near Pugnano–I have no moment of time to spare from Hunt`s affairs; I am detained unwillingly here; and you will probably see Williams in the boat before me;–but that will be decided tomorrow.- – – – – Things are in the worst possible situation with respect to poor Hunt. I find Marianne in a desperate state of health, & on our arrival at Pisa sent for Vacca–he decides that her case is hopeless, & although it will be lingering must inevitable end fatally.–This decision he thought proper to communicate to Hunt,–indicating at the same time, with great judgement & precision, the treatment necessary to be observed for availing himself of the chance of his being deceived. This intelligence has extinguished the last spark of poor Hunt`s spirits, low enough before–the children are well & much improved.–Lord Byron is at this moment on the point of leaving Tuscany. The Gambas have been exiled, & he declares his intention of following their fortunes. His first idea was to sail to America, which was changed to Switzerland, then to Genoa, & at last to Lucca.–Everybody is in despair & every thing in confusion. Trelawny was on the point of sailing to Genoa for the purpose of transporting the Bolivar overland to the lake of Geneva, & had already whispered in my ear his desire that I should not influence Lord Byron against this terrestrial navigation.–He then received orders to weigh anchor & set sail for Lerici. He is now without instructions moody & disappointed. But it is the worst for poor Hunt, unless the present storm should blow over. He places his whole dependence upon this scheme of a Journal, for which every arrangement had been mad(e) & arri(ved) with no other remnant of his £4(00) than a debt of 60 crowns.–Lord Byron must of course furnish the requisite funds at present, as I cannot; but he seems inclined to depart without the necessary explanations & arrangements due to such a station as Hunt`s. These in spite of delicacy I must procure ; he offers him the copyright of The Vision of Judgement for his first number. This offer if sincere is more than enough to set up the Journal, & if sincere will set every thing right.–
How are you my best Mary? Write especially how is your health & how your spirits are, & whether you are not more reconciled to staying at Lerici at least during the summer.
You have no idea how I am hurried & occupied–I have not a moments leisure–but will write by next post–Ever dearest Mary
I have found the translation of the Symposium.
This touching letter shows, if nothing else does, the reliance of Lord Byron`s friends upon his purse: Shelley can`t buy a boat, or help a friend out financially because he hasn`t the “readies” as they trail in Byron`s chaotic wake; paying their way either by running up debts which either Byron will pay for them. or they simply default on indefinitely. They were socially lofty, well educated examples of an intellectual elite which existed in what can only be described as genteel poverty; moving the family caravanserai from place to place when they could no longer afford to linger, with local tradesmen snapping at their heels for monies owed. Thank God for a Lord Byron to latch onto; like Captain Ahab sinking his harpoon into the unmissable target of Moby Dick, before he plunged back into the fathomless depths.
Of course, one needed to pay at least a pepper corn rent for the privilege of sitting in the financially conducive shade of Byron`s bulging bank balance. Indefinite safety from monetary hardship meant that you needed to provide a little entertainment for your travel fare; after all, the good lord had chosen you from innumerable candidates to share his time & patience, but most importantly, his money.
There seems to be a certain amount of fecklessness surrounding young Percy; Mary`s father had concerns about his gadfly character, and his ability to provide for his precious daughter. But the tender love Percy and Mary shared is shown in Percy`s last letter to his beloved; what also comes through is everyone`s exasperation at Byron`s mercurial temperament and lack of decisiveness — he prevaricates and changes his mind faster than the speed of light. Godwin believed that by eloping with Shelley, Mary was squandering her considerable creative gifts, but just maybe, a good, well behaved and socially compliant daughter may not have had the imaginative and rebellious spark to write a ground breaking masterwork such as Frankenstein.
What is so heart — breakingly poignant about Shelley`s letter is that within a matter of hours he was dead, drowned in a storm while attempting to complete the journey he described in his letter.
The fragile nature of life does not make concessions to great artists; we all travel the same road, some may have the good fortune of a grander conveyance, but ultimately, we all arrive at the same destination. Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin and Percy Bysshe Shelley were acutely gifted writers of the imagination who have given the English language some of it`s most beautiful and emotionally enriching works of genius; but even if after almost 200 years their names and reputations are now etched in gold, their time together was a fleeting and ephemeral affair.
After the death of Percy, Mary continued to live on in genteel poverty, skillful in charming favours from her friends, bursting with pride and concern for her son, until dying from a brain tumour in 1851, blissfully unaware that she would go down in history as the writer of one of literature`s greatest seminal works.