Mrs Shelley (Rossetti 1890)/Chapter 10

CHAPTER X.

MARY’S DESPONDENCY AND BIRTH OF A SON.

Before the fatal illness of her child Willie, Mary had encountered an old friend in Rome, and had renewed her acquaintance with Miss Curran whom she had formerly known at her father's. Congenial tastes in drawing and painting drew these ladies together, and Miss Curran dirt or began portraits of Mary, Shelley, and, what was of more importance to them at the time, of little Willie. The portraits of Mary and of Shelley, unfinished, and by an amateur, are by no means satisfactory ; certainly not giving in Mary's case an idea of the beauty and charm which are constantly referred to by her friends, and which seem to have endured up to the time when, much later, an attack of small-pox altered her appearance. The portrait of Mary, although not artistic, is interesting as painted from life. Her oval face is here given with the high forehead. The complexion described as delicate and white was not in the gift of Miss Curran, who was not a colourist. To depict the eyes grey, tending to brown near the iris, agrees with Shelley's, "brown" and Trelawny's "grey" eyes, but the beauty of expression is wanting. The mouth, thin and hard might have caught a passing look, but certainly not what an artist would have wished to portray; while a certain stiffness of pose is not what one would expect in the high-strung, sensitive Mary Shelley. The beauty of gold-brown hair was not in the painter's power to catch. Mary was of middle height, tending towards short her hands were considered very beautiful, and by some she was supposed to be given to displaying them, although concealing them would have been difficult and unnecessary. Her arms and neck were also beautiful. Leigh Hunt refers to her at the opera, décolletée, with white, gleaming, sloping shoulders. Her "voice the sweetest ever heard," added to her gifts of conversation, described as resembling her father's with an added softness of manner and charm of description, with elegance and correctness, devoid of reserve or affectation. Cyrus Redding, who much admired and esteemed her, obtained her opinion about Miss Currants portrait of her husband, for his article in the Galignani edition of Shelley. She considered it by no means a good one, as unfinished, but with some striking points of resemblance. She consented to superintend the engraving from it for Galignani's volume, which was regarded as far more successful. Miss Curran kindly assisted with advice.

While these portraits were being executed Mary was gaining the sympathy of the painter, a boon soon much needed, for after the death of her third child her courage for a while broke down entirely. In a very delicate state of health at the time, she could not rouse herself to think of anything but her losses. With no other child needing her care, she could only abandon herself to inconsolable grief. Shelley felt that he was out of her life for the first time; that her heart was in Rome in the grave with her child. They revisited the Falls of Terni, but the spirit had fled from the waters. They pass through bustling Leghorn, and visit the Gisbornes, but the noise is intolerable, and Shelley, ever attentive in such matters, finds a house at a short distance in the country, the Villa Valsovano, down a quiet lane surrounded by a market garden. Olives, fig trees, peach trees, myrtles, alive at night with fire-flies, must have been soothing surroundings to the wounded Mary, to whom nature was ever a kind friend. Nor were they in solitude, for they were within visiting distance of friends at Leghorn.

Two months alter her loss she recommences her diary on Shelley's birthday, this time not without a wail. She writes to Mrs. Huut of the tears she constantly sheds, arid confesses she has done little work since coming to Italy. She had read, however, several books of Livy, Antenor, Clarissa, some novels, the Bible, Lucan's Pharsalia, and Dante. Shelley is reading her Paradise Lost, and he is writing the Cenci, where

That fair, blue-eyed boy,
Who was the lodestar of your life,

Mary tells us refers to William, Shelley wrote that their house was a melancholy one, and only cheered by letters from England.

On September 18 Mary wrote to her friend, Miss Curran, that they were about to move, she knew not whither. Then Shelley, with Charles Clairmont, went to Florence and engaged rooms for six mouths, and at the end of September Shelley returned and took his wife by slow and easy stages to the Tuscan capital, for her health was then in a very delicate state for travelling. There, in the lovely city of Florence, on November 12, 1819, she gave birth to her son Percy Florence, who first broke the spell of unhappiness which had hung for the last five months like a cloud over them; he, as events proved, was to be her one comfort with her memories, when the supreme calamity of her life fell on her, and he was mercifully spared to be the solace of her later years.