BYSSHE SHELLEY (17921822)
Extracts from Peter
Bell the Third. By Miching Mallecho, Esq. (1839)
Bell the Third was originally
written in October 1819, whilst Shelley was in Florence.
It was not published, however, until 1839, when it was included
by Mary Shelley in the 2nd edition of her husbands
It is a
parody of Wordsworths own Peter Bell (1798;
pbd. 1819). A 2nd parodic Peter Bell had been published
by Keatss friend John Hamilton Reynolds in 1819.
TO THOMAS BROWN,
ESQ., THE YOUNGER,
me to request you to introduce Mr. Peter Bell to the respectable
family of the Fudges. Although he may fall short of those very
considerable personages in the more active properties which characterize
the Rat and the Apostate, I suspect that even you, their historian,
will confess that he surpasses them in the more peculiarly legitimate
qualification of intolerable dulness.
You know Mr. Examiner Hunt; wellit was he
who presented me to two of the Mr. Bells. My intimacy with the
younger Mr. bell naturally sprung from this introduction to his
brothers. And in presenting him to you, I have the satisfaction
of being able to assure you that he is considerably the dullest
of the three.
There is this particular advantage in an acquaintance
with any one of the Peter Bells, that if you know one Peter Bell,
you know three Peter Bells; they are not one, but three; not three,
but one. An awful mystery, which, after having caused torrents
of blood, and having been hymned by groans enough to deafen the
music of the spheres, is at length illustrated to the satisfaction
of all parties in the theological world, by the nature of Mr.
Peter is a polyhedric Peter, or a Peter with many
sides. He changes colours like a chameleon, and his coat like
a snake. He is a Proteus of a Peter. He was at first sublime,
pathetic, impressive, profound; then dull; then prosy and dull;
and now dulloh so very dull! it is an ultra-legitimate dulness.
You will preceive that it is not necessary to consider
Hell and the Devil as supernatural machinery. The whole scene
of my epic is in this world which isso Peter
informed us before his conversion to White Obi
The world of all of us, and where
We find our happiness, or not at all.
Let me observe that I have spent six or seven days
in composing this sublime piece; the orb of my moonlike genius
has made the fourth part of its revolution round the dull earth
which you inhabit, driving you mad, while it has retained its
calmness and its splendour, and I have been fitting this its last
phase to occupy a permanent station in the literature of
Your works, indeed, dear Tom, sell better; but mine
are far superior. The public is no judge; posterity sets all to
Allow me to observe that so much has been written
of Peter Bell, that the present history can be considered only,
like the Iliad, as a continuation of that series of cyclic
poems, which have already been candidates for bestowing immortality
upon, at the same time that they receive it from, his character
and adventures. In this point of view I have violated no rule
of syntax in beginning my composition with a conjunction; the
full stop which closes the poem continued by me being, like the
full stops at the end of the Iliad and Odyssey,
a full stop of a very qualified import.
Hoping that the immortality which you have given
to the Fudges, you will receive from them; and in the firm expectation,
that when London shall be an habitation of bitterns; when St.
Pauls and Westminster Abbey shall stand, shapeless and nameless
ruins, in the midst of an unpeopled marsh; when the piers of Waterloo
Bridge shall become the nuclei of islets and reeds and osiers,
and cast the jagged shadows of their broken arches on the solitary
stream, some transatlantic commentator will be weighing in the
scales of some new and now unimagined system of criticism, the
respective merits of the Bells and the Fudges, and their historians.
I remain, dear Tom, yours sincerely,
December I, 1819.
P.S.Pray excuse the date of place; so soon
as the profits of the publication come in, I mean to hire lodgings
in a more respectable street.
PART THE THIRD.
Hell is a city much like London
A populous and a smoky city;
There are all sorts of people undone,
And there is little or no fun done;
Small justice shown, and still less pity.
There is a Castles, and a Canning,
A Cobbett, and a Castlereagh;
All sorts of caitiff corpses planning
All sorts of cozening for trepanning
Corpses less corrupt than they.
There is a , who has lost
His wits, or sold them, none knows which;
He walks about a double ghost,
And though as thin as Fraud almost
Ever grows more grim and rich.
There is a Chancery Court; a King;
A manufacturing mob; a set
Of thieves who by themselves are sent
Similar thieves to represent;
An army; and a public debt.
Which last is a scheme of paper money,
And meansbeing interpreted
Bees, keep your waxgive us the honey,
And we will plant, while skies are sunny,
Flowers, which in winter serve instead.
There is a great talk of revolution
And a great chance of despotism
Taxes too, on wine and bread,
And meat, and beer, and tea, and cheese,
From which those patriots pure are fed,
Who gorge before they reel to bed
The tenfold essence of all these.
There are mincing women, mewing,
(Like cats, who amant miserè,)
Of their own virtue, and pursuing
Their gentler sisters to that ruin,
Without whichwhat were chastity?
and little robbers
Men of glory in the wars,
Things whose trade is, over ladies
To lean, and flirt, and stare, and simper,
Till all that is divine in woman
Grows cruel, courteous, smooth, inhuman,
Crucified twixt a smile and whimper.
Thrusting, toiling, wailing, moiling,
Frowning, preachingsuch a riot!
Each with never-ceasing labour,
Whilst he thinks he cheats his neighbour,
Cheating his own heart of quiet.
And all these meet at levees;
Dinners convivial and political;
Suppers of epic poets;teas,
Where small talk dies in agonies;
Breakfasts professional and critical;
Lunches and snacks so aldermanic
That one would furnish forth ten dinners,
Where reigns a Cretan-tonguèd panic,
Lest news Russ, Dutch, or Alemannic
Should make some losers, and some winners;
Courts of lawcommitteescalls
Of a morningclubsbook-stalls
And this is Helland in this smother
All are damnable and damned;
Each one damning, damns the other
They are damned by one another,
By none other are they damned.
Tis a lie to say, God damns!
Where was Heavens Attorney General
When they first gave out such flams?
Let there be an end of shams,
They are mines of poisonous mineral.
Statesmen damn themselves to be
Cursed; and lawyers damn their souls
To the auction of a fee;
Churchmen damn themselves to see
Gods sweet love in burning coals.
The rich are damned, beyond all cure,
To taunt, and starve, and trample on
The weak and wretched; and the poor
Damn their broken hearts to endure
Stripe on stripe, with groan on groan.
Sometimes the poor are damned indeed
To take,not means for being blessed,
But Cobbetts snuff, revenge; that weed
From which the worms that it doth feed
Squeeze less than they before possessed.
And some few, like we know who,
Damnedbut God alone knows why
To believe their minds are given
To make this ugly Hell a Heaven;
In which faith they live and die.
Thus, as in a town, plague-stricken,
Each man be he sound or no
Must indifferently sicken;
As when day begins to thicken,
None knows a pigeon from a crow,
So good and bad, sane and mad,
The oppressor and the oppressed;
Those who weep to see what others
Smile to inflict upon their brothers;
Lovers, haters, worst and best;
All are damnedthey breathe an air,
Thick, infected, joy-dispelling:
Each pursues what seems most fair,
Mining like moles, through mind, and there
Scoop palace-caverns vast, where Care
thronèd state is ever dwelling.
PART THE FOURTH.
Lo, Peter in Hells Grosvenor Square,
A footman in the Devils service!
And the misjudging world would swear
That every man in service there
To virtue would prefer vice.
But Peter, though now damned, was not
What Peter was before damnation.
Men oftentimes prepare a lot
Which ere it finds them, is not what
Suits with their genuine station.
All things that Peter saw and felt
Had a peculiar aspect to him;
And when they came within the belt
Of his own nature, seemed to melt,
Like cloud to cloud, into him.
And so the outward world uniting
To that within him, he became
To those who, meditation slighting,
Were moulded in a different frame.
And he scorned them, and they scorned him;
And he scorned all they did; and they
Did all that men of their own trim
Are wont to do to please their whim,
Drinking, lying, swearing, play.
Such were his fellow-servants; thus
His virtue, like our own, was built
Too much on that indignant fuss
Hypocrite Pride stirs up in us
To bully one anothers guilt.
He had a mind which was somehow
At once circumference and centre
Of all he might or feel or know;
Nothing went ever out, although
Something did ever enter.
He had as much imagination
As a pint-pot;he never could
Fancy another situation,
From which to dart his contemplation,
Than that wherein he stood.
Yet his was individual mind,
And new created all he saw
In a new manner, and refined
Those new creations, and combined
Them, by a master-spirits law.
An apprehension clear, intense,
Of his minds work, had made alive
The things it wrought on; I believe
Wakening a sort of thought in sense.
But from the first twas Peters drift
To be a kind of moral eunuch,
He touched the hem of Natures shift,
Felt faintand never dared uplift
The closest, all-concealing tunic.
She laughed the while, with an arch smile,
And kissed him with a sisters kiss,
And saidMy best Diogenes,
I love you wellbut, if you please,
Tempt not again my deepest bliss.
Tis you are coldfor I, not coy,
Yield love for love, frank, warm, and true;
And Burns, a Scottish peasant boy
His errors prove itknew my joy
More, learnèd friend, than you.
Bocca bacciata non perde ventura,
Anzi rinnuova come fa la luna:
So thought Boccaccio, whose sweet words might cure a
Male prude, like you, from what you now endure, a
Low-tide in soul, like a stagnant laguna.
Then Peter rubbed his eyes severe,
And smoothed his spacious forehead down
With his broad palm;twixt love and fear,
He looked, as he no doubt felt, queer,
And in his dream sate down.
The Devil was no uncommon creature;
A leaden-witted thiefjust huddled
Out of the dross and scum of nature;
A toad-like lump of limb and feature,
With mind, and heart, and fancy muddled.
He was that heavy, dull, cold thing,
The spirit of evil well may be:
A drone too base to have a sting;
Who gluts, and grimes his lazy wing,
And calls lust, luxury.
Now he was quite the kind of wight
Round whom collect, at a fixed aera,
Venison, turtle, hock, and claret,
Good cheerand those who come to share it
And best East Indian madeira!
It was his fancy to invite
Men of science, wit, and learning,
Who came to lend each other light;
He proudly thought that his golds might
Had set those spirits burning.
And men of learning, science, wit,
Considered him as you and I
Think of some rotten tree, and sit
Lounging and dining under it,
Exposed to the wide sky.
And all the while, with loose fat smile,
The willing wretch sat winking there,
Believing twas his power that made
That jovial sceneand that all paid
Homage to his unnoticed chair.
Though to be sure this place was Hell;
He was the Deviland all they
What though the claret circled well,
And wit, like ocean, rose and fell?
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