PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY (1792–1822)
Extracts from Peter Bell the Third. By Miching Mallecho, Esq. (1839)

Peter 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 husband’s Collected Poems.

It is a parody of Wordsworth’s own Peter Bell (1798; pbd. 1819). A 2nd parodic Peter Bell had been published by Keats’s friend John Hamilton Reynolds in 1819.


DEDICATION
TO THOMAS BROWN, ESQ., THE YOUNGER, H.F.

DEAR TOM—Allow 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; well—it 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 Bell.

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 dull—oh so very dull! it is an ultra-legitimate dulness.Top of the Page

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 is’—so 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 my country.’

Your works, indeed, dear Tom, sell better; but mine are far superior. The public is no judge; posterity sets all to rights.

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. Paul’s 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,

MICHING MALLECHO.

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.Top of the Page

PART THE THIRD.
Hell.

          I.
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.

          II.
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.

          III.
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.Top of the Page

          IV.
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.

          V.
Which last is a scheme of paper money,
And means—being interpreted—
‘Bees, keep your wax—give us the honey,
And we will plant, while skies are sunny,
Flowers, which in winter serve instead.’

          VI.
There is a great talk of revolution—
And a great chance of despotism—
German soldiers—camps—confusion—
Tumults—lotteries—rage—delusion—
Gin—suicide—and methodism;Top of the Page

          VII.
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.

          VIII.
There are mincing women, mewing,
(Like cats, who amant miserè,)
Of their own virtue, and pursuing
Their gentler sisters to that ruin,
Without which—what were chastity?

          IX.
Lawyers—judges—old hobnobbers
Are there—bailiffs—chancellors—Bishops—great and little robbers—
Rhymesters—pamphleteers—stock-jobbers—
Men of glory in the wars,—Top of the Page

          X.
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.

          XI.
Thrusting, toiling, wailing, moiling,
Frowning, preaching—such a riot!
Each with never-ceasing labour,
Whilst he thinks he cheats his neighbour,
Cheating his own heart of quiet.

          XII.
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;Top of the Page

          XIII.
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;—

          XIV.
At conversazioni—balls—
Conventicles—and drawing-rooms—
Courts of law—committees—calls
Of a morning—clubs—book-stalls—
Churches—masquerades—and tombs.

          XV.
And this is Hell—and 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. Top of the Page

          XVI.
’Tis a lie to say, ‘God damns!’
Where was Heaven’s Attorney General
When they first gave out such flams?
Let there be an end of shams,
They are mines of poisonous mineral.

          XVII.
Statesmen damn themselves to be
Cursed; and lawyers damn their souls
To the auction of a fee;
Churchmen damn themselves to see
God’s sweet love in burning coals.Top of the Page

          XVIII.
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.

          XIX.
Sometimes the poor are damned indeed
To take,—not means for being blessed,—
But Cobbett’s snuff, revenge; that weed
From which the worms that it doth feed
Squeeze less than they before possessed.

          XX.
And some few, like we know who,
Damned—but God alone knows why—
To believe their minds are given
To make this ugly Hell a Heaven;
In which faith they live and die.Top of the Page

          XXI.
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,—

          XXII.
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;

          XXIII.
All are damned—they 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
Top of the PageIn thronèd state is ever dwelling.

PART THE FOURTH.
Sin.

          I.
Lo, Peter in Hell’s Grosvenor Square,
A footman in the Devil’s service!
And the misjudging world would swear
That every man in service there
To virtue would prefer vice.

          II.
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.

          III.
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.Top of the Page

          IV.
And so the outward world uniting
To that within him, he became
Considerably uninviting
To those who, meditation slighting,
Were moulded in a different frame.

          V.
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.

          VI.
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 another’s guilt.Top of the Page

          VII.
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.

          VIII.
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.

          IX.
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-spirit’s law.Top of the Page

          X.
Thus—though unimaginative—
An apprehension clear, intense,
Of his mind’s work, had made alive
The things it wrought on; I believe
Wakening a sort of thought in sense.

          XI.
But from the first ’twas Peter’s drift
To be a kind of moral eunuch,
He touched the hem of Nature’s shift,
Felt faint—and never dared uplift
The closest, all-concealing tunic.

          XII.
She laughed the while, with an arch smile,
And kissed him with a sister’s kiss,
And said—‘My best Diogenes,
I love you well—but, if you please,
Tempt not again my deepest bliss.Top of the Page

          XIII.
‘’Tis you are cold—for I, not coy,
Yield love for love, frank, warm, and true;
And Burns, a Scottish peasant boy—
His errors prove it—knew my joy
More, learnèd friend, than you.

          XIV.
‘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.’

          XV.
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.Top of the Page

          XVI.
The Devil was no uncommon creature;
A leaden-witted thief—just huddled
Out of the dross and scum of nature;
A toad-like lump of limb and feature,
With mind, and heart, and fancy muddled.

          XVII.
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.Top of the Page

          XVIII.
Now he was quite the kind of wight
Round whom collect, at a fixed aera,
Venison, turtle, hock, and claret,—
Good cheer—and those who come to share it—
And best East Indian madeira!

          XIX.
It was his fancy to invite
Men of science, wit, and learning,
Who came to lend each other light;
He proudly thought that his gold’s might
Had set those spirits burning.

          XX.
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.

          XXI.
And all the while, with loose fat smile,
The willing wretch sat winking there,
Believing ’twas his power that made
That jovial scene—and that all paid
Homage to his unnoticed chair.

          XXII.
Though to be sure this place was Hell;
He was the Devil—and all they—
What though the claret circled well,
And wit, like ocean, rose and fell?—
Top of the PageWere damned eternally.

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