Undergraduates are now more closely looked after, as far as reading goes, than perhaps they like--certainly much more than Shelley would have liked. But when we turn from study to the conduct of life, is it not plain that no OFFICIAL interference can be of real value? Friendship and confidence may, and often does, exist between tutors and pupils. There are tutors so happily gifted with sympathy, and with a kind of eternal youth of heart and intellect, that they become the friends of generation after generation of freshmen. This is fortunate; but who can wonder that middle-aged men, seeing the generations succeed and resemble each other, lose their powers of understanding, of directing, of aiding the young, who are thus cast at once on their own resources? One has occasionally heard clever men complain that they were neglected by their seniors, that their hearts and brains were full of perilous stuff, which no one helped them to unpack. And it is true that modern education, when it meets the impatience of youth, often produces an unhappy ferment in the minds of men. To put it shortly, clever students have to go through their age of Sturm und Drang, and they are sometimes disappointed when older people, their tutors, for example, do not help them to weather the storm. It is a tempest in which every one must steer for himself, after all; and Shelley "was borne darkly, fearfully afar," into unplumbed seas of thought and experience. When Mr. Hogg complains that his friend was too much left to himself to study and think as he pleased, let us remember that no one could have helped Shelley. He was better at Oxford without his old Dr. Lind, "with whom he used to curse George III. after tea."
There are few chapters in literary history more fascinating than those which tell the story of Shelley at Oxford. We see him entering the hall of University College--a tall, shy stripling, bronzed with the September sun, with long elf-locks. He takes his seat by a stranger, and in a moment holds him spell-bound, while he talks of Plato, and Goethe, and Alfieri, of Italian poetry, and Greek philosophy. Mr. Hogg draws a curious sketch of Shelley at work in his rooms, where seven-shilling pieces were being dissolved in acid in the teacups, where there was a great hole in the floor that the poet had burned with his chemicals. The one-eyed scout, "the Arimaspian," must have had a time of tribulation (being a conscientious and fatherly man) with this odd master. How characteristic of Shelley it was to lend the glow of his fancy to science, to declare that things, not thoughts, mineralogy, not literature, must occupy human minds for the future, and then to leave a lecture on mineralogy in the middle, and admit that "stones are dull things after all!" Not less Shelleyan was the adventure on Magdalen Bridge, the beautiful bridge of our illustration, from which Oxford, with the sunset behind it, looks like a fairy city of the Arabian Nights--a town of palaces and princesses, rather than of proctors.
"One Sunday we had been reading Plato together so diligently, that the usual hour of exercise passed away unperceived: we sallied forth hastily to take the air for half-an-hour before dinner. In the middle of Magdalen Bridge we met a woman with a child in her arms. Shelley was more attentive at that instant to our conduct in a life that was past, or to come, than to a decorous regulation of the present, according to the established usages of society, in that fleeting moment of eternal duration styled the nineteenth century. With abrupt dexterity he caught hold of the child. The mother, who might well fear that it was about to be thrown over the parapet of the bridge into the sedgy waters below, held it fast by its long train.
""Will your baby tell us anything about pre-existence, Madam?" he asked, in a piercing voice, and with a wistful look."
Shelley and Hogg seem almost to have lived in reality the life of the Scholar Gipsy. In Mr. Arnold's poem, which has made permanent for all time the charm, the sentiment of Oxfordshire scenery, the poet seems to be following the track of Shelley. In Mr. Hogg's memoirs we hear little of summer; it seems always to have been in winter that the friends took their long rambles, in which Shelley set free, in talk, his inspiration. One thinks of him
"in winter, on the causeway chill, Where home through flooded fields foot travellers go,"
returning to the supper in Hogg's rooms, to the curious desultory meals, the talk, and the deep slumber by the roaring fire, the small head lying perilously near the flames. One would not linger here over the absurd injustice of his expulsion from the University. It is pleasant to know, on Mr. Hogg's testimony, that "residence at Oxford was exceedingly delightful to Shelley, and on all accounts most beneficial." At Oxford, at least, he seems to have been happy, he who so rarely knew happiness, and who, if he made another suffer, himself suffered so much for others. The memory of Shelley has deeply entered into the sentiment of Oxford. Thinking of him in his glorious youth, and of his residence here, may we not say, with the shepherd in Theocritus, of the divine singer:
[Greek verse which cannot be reproduced]
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