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A History of the Nineteenth Century, Year by Year

They were Carl Maria von Weber


[Sidenote: Lyric quality of his work]

[Sidenote: Shelley's career]

[Sidenote: Shelley's threnody]

Shelley's poetry belongs primarily to the Revolutionary epoch in modern history. Though he wrote several long narrative poems and one great tragedy, he was above all a lyric poet--according to some the greatest lyric poet of England. His life, like his poetry, was almost untrammelled by convention. Both gave great offence to the stricter elements of English society. In some respects Shelley was peculiarly unfortunate. At the age of eighteen, after his expulsion from Oxford University, he married Harriet Westbrook, a girl of sixteen, and then found himself unable to support her. Later he abandoned her and eloped with Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. Within a year his first wife committed suicide, and, three weeks later, Shelley married Mary Godwin. The tragedy stirred up much feeling among his friends. Among others the poet-laureate, Southey, remonstrated with Shelley. Shelley replied: "I take God to witness, if such a Being is now regarding both you and me, and I pledge myself, if we meet, as perhaps you expect, before Him after death, to repeat the same in His presence--that you accuse me wrongfully. I am innocent of ill, either done or intended." Next came Shelley's trouble with the Chancery. Lord-Chancellor Elden refused to give to Shelley the custody of his own children on the ground that Shelley's professed opinions and conduct were such as the law pronounced immoral. Shelley replied with his famous poetical curse "To the Lord Chancellor." While the poem stands as a masterpiece of lyric invective it did not mend matters for Shelley in England. In many of his other poems his detractors saw nothing but the glorification of revolution, incest, and atheism. When he wrote a satirical drama on so delicate a subject as the unhappy affairs of Queen Caroline, even his publisher turned against him. Yet the charm and beauty of Shelley's purely lyric pieces was such that he must ever stand as one of the foremost poets of England. Either his "Adonais" or the beautiful "Ode to the West Wind," would alone have perpetuated his name in English letters. One of Shelley's most exquisite pieces, written shortly before his death, has come to stand as the poet's own threnody:

"When the lamp is shattered The light in the dust lies dead-- When the cloud is scattered The rainbow's glory is shed. When the lute is broken, Sweet tones are remembered not; When the lips have spoken, Loved accents are soon forgot.

As music and splendor Survive not the lamp and the lute, The heart's echoes render No song when the spirit is mute, No song but sad dirges, Like the wind through a ruined cell, Or the mournful surges That ring the dead seaman's knell."

[Sidenote: Revival of letters]

[Sidenote: Golden age of music]

During this same year Thomas de Quincey published his "Confessions of an Opium Eater," a masterpiece of balanced prose. In other parts of the world, likewise, it was a golden period for literature. In France, Victor Hugo published his "Odes et Poesies Diverses," a collection of early poems which contained some of his most charming pieces. The rising Swedish poet, Tegner, brought out his "Children of the Last Supper." In Germany, Heinrich Heine, then still a student at Bonn, issued his earliest verses. For Germany this was no less a golden age of music. Beethoven, though quite deaf, was still the greatest of living composers. His great Choral Symphony, the ninth in D minor, was produced during this year, as was his Solemn Mass in D major. As a virtuoso he was rivalled by Hummel, who at this time gave to the world his famous Septet, accepted by himself as his masterwork. Two other German composers so distinguished themselves that they were invited to London to conduct the Philharmonic accompaniments. They were Carl Maria von Weber, who had just brought out his brilliant opera, "Der Freischuetz," and Ludwig Spohr, who performed in London his new Symphony in D minor. Of other composers there were Franz Schubert, whose melodious songs and symphonies won him the recognition of the Esterhazys and of Beethoven. Among those whose career was but beginning were Jacob Meyerbeer, a fellow pupil with Weber under Abbe Vogler at Vienna, and Felix Mendelssohn, the precocious pupil of the famous pianist Moscheles.


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