Rosalind and Helen: A Modern Eclogue.

Introductory Note

Rosalind and Helen was begun at Marlow as early as the summer of 1817, and was sufficiently far advanced to lead Shelley to send copy to the publisher just before leaving England in March, 1818; it was finished in August, at the Baths of Lucca, and published in the spring of 1819. Shelley's original Advertisement to the volume, dated Naples, December 20, 1818, opens with the following:

'The story of Rosalind and Helen is, undoubtedly, not an attempt in the highest style of poetry. It is in no degree calculated to excite profound meditation; and if, by interesting the affections and amusing the imagination, it awaken a certain ideal melancholy favorable to the reception of more important impressions, it will produce in the reader all that the writer experienced in the composition. I resigned myself, as I wrote, to the impulses of the feelings which moulded the conception of the story; and this impulse determined the pauses of a measure, which only pretends to be regular inasmuch as it corresponds with, and expresses, the irregularity of the imaginations which inspired it.'

The feelings here spoken of 'which moulded the conception of the story' were suggested, in part, by the relation of Mrs. Shelley with a friend of her girlhood, Isabel Baxter, who fell away from her early attachment in consequence of Mrs. Shelley's flight with Shelley in July, 1814, and was afterward reconciled with her. (Dowden, Life, ii. 130, 131.) Forman (Type Facsimile of the original edition, Shelley Society's Publications, Second Series, No. 17, Introduction) discusses the matter at length, together with the reflection of political events in England possibly to be detected in the poem. Shelley wrote to Peacock, 'I lay no stress on it one way or the other.' Mrs. Shelley's note develops the reason for this indifference:

'Rosalind and Helen was begun at Marlow, and thrown aside, till I found it; and, at my request, it was completed. Shelley had no care for any of his poems that did not emanate from the depths of his mind, and develop some high or abstruse truth. When he does touch on human life and the human heart, no pictures can be more faithful, more delicate, more subtle, or more pathetic. He never mentioned Love, but he shed a grace, borrowed from his own nature, that scarcely any other poet has bestowed on that passion. When he spoke of it as the law of life, which inasmuch as we rebel against, we err and injure ourselves and others, he promulgated that which he considered an irrefragable truth. In his eyes it was the essence of our being, and all woe and pain arose from the war made against it by selfishness, or insensibility, or mistake. By reverting in his mind to this first principle, he discovered the source of many emotions, and could disclose the secrets of all hearts, and his delineations of passion and emotion touch the finest chords in our nature. Rosalind and Helen was finished during the summer of 1818, while we were at the Baths of Lucca.'



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