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From The Diary of Dr. John William Polidori: 1816, Relating to Byron, Shelley, etc.

ed. William Michael Rossetti (London: Elkin Mathews, 1911), pp. 96-135

{96} May 25. -- Left Lausanne, after having looked at a bookseller's, who showed me a fine collection of bad books for four louis. Enquired for Dewar: name not known. We went along the lake, that a little disappointed me, as it does not seem so broad as it really is, and the mountains near it, though {97} covered with snow, have not a great appearance on account of the height [of the] lake itself. We saw Mont Blanc in the distance; ethereal in appearance, mingling with the clouds; it is more than 60 miles from where we saw it. It is a classic ground we go over. Buonaparte, Joseph, Bonnet, Necker, Staël, Voltaire, Rousseau, all have their villas (except Rousseau). Genthoud, Ferney, Coppet, are close to the road.

[Perhaps some readers may need to be reminded who Bonnet was. He was a great physicist, both practical and speculative, Charles Bonnet, author of a Traité d'Insectologie, a Traité de l'usage des Feuilles, Contemplations de la Nature, Palingénésie Philosophique, and other works. Born in Geneva in 1720, he died in 1793.]

We arrived at Sécheron -- where L[ord] B[yron], having put his age down as 100, received a letter half-an-hour after from I[nn] K[eeper?] -- a thing that seems worthy of a novel. It begins again to be the land of the vine. Women, who till the Pays de Vaud were ugly, improving greatly.

May 26. -- After breakfast, and having made up the accounts to to-day, and having heard that the voituriers made a claim of drink-money all the way back, we ordered a calèche; but, happening to go into the garden, we saw a boat, into which entering, {98} we pushed out upon Leman Lake. After rowing some time, happening to come to the ferry, we found the waiter with a direful look to tell us that it was pris pour un monsieur Anglais, who happened to be ----.1 We got another, and went out to bathe. I rode first with L[ord] B[yron] upon the field of Waterloo; walked first to see Churchill's tomb; bathed and rowed first on the Leman Lake. -- It did us much good. Dined; entered the calèche; drove through Geneva, where I saw an effect of building that pleased me: it was porticoes from the very roof of the high houses to the bottom.

Went to the house beyond Cologny that belonged to Diodati. They ask five-and-twenty louis for it a month. Narrow, not true. The view from his house is very fine; beautiful lake; at the bottom of the crescent is Geneva. Returned. Pictet called, but L[ord] B[yron] said "not at home."

[There were two Genevan Pictets at this date, both public men of some mark. One was Jean Marc Jules Pictet de Sergy, 1768 to 1828; the other, the Chevalier Marc Auguste Pictet, 1752-1825. As Polidori speaks farther on of Pictet as being aged about forty-six, the former would appear to be meant. He had {99} been in Napoleon's legislative chamber from 1800 to 1815, and was afterwards a member of the representative council of Geneva. -- The Villa Diodati was the house where Milton, in 1639, had visited Dr. John Diodati, a Genevese Professor of Theology. Polidori's compact phrase, "narrow, not true," is by no means clear; perhaps he means that some one had warned him that the Villa Diodati (called also the Villa Belle Rive) was inconveniently narrow, but, on inspecting the premises, he found the statement incorrect.] May 27. -- Got up; went about a boat; got one for 3 fr. a day; rowed to Sécheron. Breakfasted. Got into a carriage. Went to Banker's, who changed our money, and afterwards left his card. To Pictet -- not at home. Home, and looked at accounts: bad temper on my side. Went into the boat, rowed across to Diodati; cannot have it for three years; English family. Crossed again; I went; L[ord] B[yron] back. Getting out, L[ord] B[yron] met M[ary] Wollstonecraft Godwin, her sister, and Percy Shelley. I got into the boat into the middle of Leman Lake, and there lay my length, letting the boat go its way.

[Here I find it difficult to understand the phrase -- "Cannot have it (Villa Diodati) for three years -- English family." It must apparently mean either that an English family were occupying or had bespoken Villa Diodati, and would remain there for three years {100} to come (which is in conflict with the fact that Byron soon afterwards became the tenant); or else that Byron thought of renting it for a term as long as three years, which was barred by the previous claim of some English family. On the whole, the latter supposition seems to me the more feasible; but one is surprised to think that Byron had any -- even remote -- idea of remaining near Geneva for any such great length of time. This sets one's mind speculating about Miss Clairmont, with whom (as is well known) Byron's amour had begun before he left London, and who had now just arrived to join him at Sècheron; had he at this time any notion of settling down with her in the neighbourhood for three years, more or less? It is a curious point to consider for us who know how rapidly he discarded her, and how harshly he treated her ever afterwards. Miss Clairmont, we see, was now already on the spot, along with Percy and Mary Shelley; in fact, as we learn from other sources, they had arrived at Sécheron, Dejean's Hôtel de l'Angleterre, as far back as May 18, or perhaps May 15 -- and Byron now for the first time encountered the three. It appears that he must have met Mary Godwin in London, probably only once -- not to speak of Clare. Shelley, to the best of our information, he had never till now seen at all. Polidori here terms Clare Clairmont the "sister" of "M. Wollstonecraft Godwin"; and in {101} the entry of May 29 he even applies the name Wollstonecraft Godwin to Clare; and it will be found as we proceed that for some little while he really supposed the two ladies to be sisters in the right sense of the term, both of them bearing the surname of Godwin. In point of fact, there was no blood-relationship -- Mary being the daughter of Mr. and the first Mrs. Godwin, and Clare the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Clairmont. It may be as well to add that the letters addressed by Miss Clairmont to Byron, before they actually met in London, have now (1904) been published in The Works of Lord Byron, Letters and Journals, vol. iii, pp. 429-437; and they certainly exhibit a degree of forwardness and importunity which accounts in some measure for his eventual antipathy to her.]

Found letter from De Roche inviting me to breakfast to-morrow; curious with regard to L[ord] B[yron]. Dined. P[ercy] S[helley], the author of Queen Mab, came; bashful, shy, consumptive; twenty-six; separated from his wife; keeps the two daughters of Godwin, who practise his theories; on L[ord] B[yron]'s.

[This is a very noticeable jotting. Shelley appears to have come in alone on this occasion, and we may infer that some very confidential talk ensued between him and Byron, in the presence of Polidori. He was not at this date really twenty-six years of age, but {102} only twenty-three. "Bashful, shy," is an amusingly simple description of him. As to "consumptive," we know that Shelley left England under the impression that consumption had him in its grip, but this hardly appears to have been truly the case. Polidori, as a medical man, might have been expected to express some doubt on the subject, unless the poet's outward appearance looked consumptive. Next we hear that Shelley "keeps the two daughters of Godwin, who practise his theories" -- i.e. set the marriage-laws at defiance, or act upon the principle of free love. One might suppose, from this phrase, that Polidori believed Shelley to be the accepted lover of Miss Clairmont as well as of Mary Godwin; but the addition of those very significant words -- "One, Lord Byron's" -- tells in the opposite direction. These words can only mean (what was the fact) that one of these ladies, viz. Miss Clairmont, was Lord Byron's mistress. Therefore Polidori, in saying that Shelley "kept the two daughters of Godwin," may presumably have meant that he housed and maintained Clare, while he was the quasi-husband of Mary. Whether Polidori now for the first time learned, from the conversation of Byron and Shelley, what was the relation subsisting between Clare and Byron, or whether Byron had at some earlier date imparted the facts to him, is a question which must remain unsolved. The latter {103} appears to me extremely probably; for Byron had certainly arranged to meet Clare near Geneva, and he may very likely have given the requisite notice beforehand to his travelling physician and daily associate. My aunt Charlotte Polidori was not an adept in Shelleian detail: if she had been, I fear that these sentences would have shocked her sense of propriety, and they would have been left uncopied. They form the only passage in her transcript which bears in any way upon the amour between Lord Byron and Miss Clairmont; to the best of my recollection and belief there was not in the original Diary any other passage pointing in the same direction. -- I may observe here that there is nothing in Polidori's Journal to show that the Shelley party were staying in the same Sécheron hotel with Lord Byron. Professor Dowden says that they were -- I suppose with some sufficient authority; and I think other biographers in general have assumed the same.]

Into the calèche; horloger's at Geneva; L[ord] B[yron] paid 15 nap. towards a watch; I, 13: repeater and minute-hand; foolish watch.

[This means (as one of Polidori's letters shows) that Byron made him a present of 15 towards the price of the watch.]

Went to see the house of Madame Necker, 100 a half-year; came home, etc.

May 28. -- Went to Geneva, to breakfast with Dr. De Roche; acute, sensible, a listener to himself; good clear head. Told me that armies on their march induce a fever (by their accumulation of animal dirt, irregular regimen) of the most malignant typhoid kind; it is epidemic. There was a whole feverish line from Moscow to Metz, and it spread at Geneva the only almost epidemic typhus for many years. He is occupied in the erection of Lancaster schools, which he says succeed well. He is a Louis Bourbonist. He told me my fever was not an uncommon one among travellers. He came home with me, and we had a chat with L[ord] B[yron]; chiefly politics, where of course we differed. He had a system well worked out, but I hope only hypothetical, about liberty of the French being Machiavellianly not desirable by Europe. He pointed out Dumont in the court, the rédacteur of Bentham.

Found a letter from Necker to the hotel-master, asking 100 nap. for three months; and another from Pictet inviting L[ord] B[yron] and any friend to go with him at 8 to Madame Einard, a connection of his. We then, ascending our car, went to see some other houses, none suiting.

When we returned home, Mr. Percy Shelley came in to ask us to dinner; declined; engaged for to-morrow. We walked with him, and got into his {105} boat, though the wind raised a little sea upon the lake. Dined at four. Mr. Hentsch, the banker, came in; very polite; told L[ord] B[yron] that, when he saw him yesterday, he had not an idea that he was speaking to one of the most famous lords of England.

Dressed and went to Pictet's: an oldish man, about forty-six, tall, well-looking, speaks English well. His daughter showed us a picture, by a young female artist, of Madame Lavallière in the chapel; well executed in pencil -- good lights and a lusciously grieving expression.

Went to Madame Einard. Introduced to a room where about 8 (afterwards 20), 2 ladies (1 more). L[ord] B[yron]'s name was alone mentioned; mine, like a star in the halo of the moon, invisible. L[ord] B[yron] not speaking French, M. Einard spoke bad Italian. A Signor Rossi came in, who had joined Murat at Bologna. Manly in thought; admired Dante as a poet more than Ariosto, and a discussion about manliness in a language. Told me Geneva women amazingly chaste even in thoughts. Saw the Lavallière artist. A bonny, rosy, seventy-yeared man, called Bonstetten, the beloved of Gray and the correspondent of Mathison.

[I find "40" in the MS.: apparently it ought to be "70," for Bonstetten was born in 1745. He lived on till 1832. Charles Victor de Bonstetten was a {106} Bernese nobleman who had gone through various vicissitudes of opinion and adventure, travelling in England and elsewhere. To Englishmen (as indicated in Polidori's remark) he is best known as a friend of the poet Thomas Gray, whom he met in 1769. He said: "Jamais he n'ai vu personne qui donnât autant que Gray l'idée d'un gentleman accompli." Among the chief writings of Bonstetten are Recherches sur la Nature et les Lois de l'Imagination; Etudes d'Hommes; L'Homme du Midi et l'Homme du Nord.]

Madame Einard made tea, and left all to take sugar with the fingers. Madame Einard showed some historical pieces of her doing in acquerella, really good, a little too French-gracish. Obliged to leave before ten for the gates shut. Came home, went to bed.

Was introduced by Shelley to Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, called here Mrs. Shelley. Saw picture by Madame Einard of a cave in the Jura where in winter there is no ice, in summer plenty. No names announced, no ceremony -- each speaks to whom he pleases. Saw the bust of Jean Jacques erected upon the spot where the Geneva magistrates were shot. L[ord] B[yron] said it was probably built of some of the stones with which they pelted him.2 The {107} walk is deserted. They are now mending their roads. Formerly they could not, because the municipal money always went to the public box.

May 29. -- Went with Mr. Hentsch to see some houses along the valley in which runs the Rhone: nothing. Dined with Mr. and Mrs. Percy Shelley and Wollstonecraft Godwin. Hentsch told us that the English last year exported corn to Italy to a great amount.

May 30. -- Got up late. Went to Mr. and Mrs. Shelley; breakfasted with them; rowed out to see a house together. S[helley] went from Lucerne with the two, with merely 26, to England along the Rhine in bateaux. Gone through much misery, thinking he was dying; married a girl for the mere sake of letting her have the jointure that would accrue to her; recovered; found he could not agree; separated; paid Godwin's debts, and seduced his daughter; then wondered that he would not see him. The sister left the father to go with the other. Got a child. All clever, and no meretricious appearance. He is very clever; the more I read his Queen Mab, the more beauties I find. Published at fourteen a novel; got 30 for it; by his second work 100. Mab not published. -- Went in calèche with L[ord] B[yron] to see a house; again after dinner to leave cards; then on lake with L[ord] B[yron]. I, Mrs. {108} S[helley], and Miss G[odwin], on to the lake till nine. Drank tea, and came away at 11 after confabbing. The batelier went to Shelley, and asked him as a favour not to tell L[ord] B[yron] what he gave for his boat, as he thought it quite fit that Milord's payment be double; we sent Berger to say we did not wish for the boat.

[The statement that "Shelley went from Lucerne with the two, with merely 26, to England, along the Rhine in bateaux," refers of course to what had taken place in 1814, on the occasion of Shelley's elopement with Mary Godwin, and has no bearing on the transactions of 1816; it must be cited by Polidori as showing how inexpensively three persons could, if so minded, travel from Switzerland to England. The other references to Shelley's domestic affairs etc. are very curious. Except as to his own personal admiration for Queen Mab, Polidori is here evidently putting down (but not in the words of Shelley himself, who would assuredly not have said that he had "seduced" Mary Godwin) such details as the poet imparted to him. They are far from accurate. To some extent, Polidori may have remembered imperfectly what Shelley told him, but I think the latter must have been responsible for most of the fables; and generally it would appear that Shelley gave free rein to his inclination for {109} romancing and over-stating matters, possibly perceiving that Polidori was credulous, and capable of swallowing whatever he was told, the more eccentric the better. To say that Shelley, before he, at the age of barely 19, married Harriet Westbrook in 1811, thought he was dying, and that his only practical motive for marrying her was that she might come in for a jointure after his decease, is no doubt highly fallacious, and even absurd. We have other sources of information as to these occurrences, especially the letters of Shelley addressed at the time to Jefferson Hogg, and they tell a very different tale. As to his reason for separating from Harriet, Shelley, we perceive, simply told Polidori that he "found he could not agree" with her; he said nothing as to his knowing or supposing that she had been unfaithful to him. Again, Shelley was not so boyish as 14 when he published a novel -- his first novel, the egregious Zastrozzi; the publication took place in 1810, when he was eighteen, or at lowest seventeen. The statement that he got 100 by "his second work" is worth considering. If "his second work" means, as one might naturally suppose in this connexion, the romance of St. Irvyne, the suggestion that he got anything at all by it, except a state of indebtedness, is a novelty. But our mind recurs to that rumoured and apparently really {110} published though wholly untraced work of his, A Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things. This poem was published, we are told, for the benefit of an Irish agitator or patriot, Peter Finnerty, and it has been elsewhere averred that the publication produced a sum of nearly 100. The mention by Polidori of 100 may be surmised to refer to the same matter, and it tends so far to confirm the idea that the book really existed, and even secured a fair measure of success. -- Berger (who is named in connexion with Byron and the hire of the boat) was, as already noted, the Swiss servant of Byron, brought from London.]

May 31. -- Breakfasted with Shelley; read Italian with Mrs. S[helley]; dined; went into a boat with Mrs. S[helley], and rowed all night till 9; tea'd together; chatted, etc.

June 1. -- Breakfasted with S[helley]; entered a calèche; took Necker's house for 100 louis for 8 or 365 days. Saw several houses for Shelley; one good. Dined; went in the boat; all tea'd together.

[Necker's house, here mentioned, would apparently be the same as the Villa Diodati, or Villa Belle Rive -- for that is the house which Byron did in fact rent. "Necker" may be understood as meaning (rather than the famous Minister of Finance in France) his widow, since Necker himself had died a dozed years {111} before. The sum of 100 louis seems to be specified here as the rent for a year, and the phrase about 8 days must indicate that the house could be tenanted for that short space of time -- or let us say a week -- at a proportionate payment. This rate of rental appears low, and it differs both from what was said under the date of May 26, and from what we shall find noted shortly afterwards, June 6. Thus I feel a little doubt whether "Necker's house" is not in reality something quite different from the Villa Diodati. Byron's proposed tenancy of the former might possibly have been cancelled.]

Rogers the subject: L[ord] B[yron] thinks good poet; malicious. Marquis of Lansdowne being praised by a whole company as a happy man, having all good, R[ogers] said, "But how horridly he carves turbot!" Ward having reviewed his poems in the Quarterly, having a bad heart and being accused of learning his speeches, L[ord] B[yron], upon malignantly hinting to him [Rogers] how he had been carved, heard him say: "I stopped his speaking though by my epigram, which is --

"'Ward has no heart, they say, but I deny it;
He has a heart, and gets his speeches by it.'"
[This must be the honorable John William Ward, who was created Earl of Dudley in 1827, and died in 1833. Miss Berry, the quasi-adopted daughter of {112} Horace Walpole, told Madame de Staël in 1813 that the latter had "undertaken two miracles -- to make Ward poli envers les femmes et pieux envers Dieu."]

On L[ord] B[yron's] writing a poem to his sister wherein he says, "And when friends e'en paused and love," etc., Rogers, going to some one, said: "I don't know what L[ord] B[yron] means by pausing; I called upon him every day." He did this regularly, telling L[ord] B[yron] all the bad news with a malignant grin. When L[ord] B[yron] wrote "Weep, daughter of a royal line," Rogers came to him one day, and, taking up the Courier, said: "I am sure now you're attacked there; now don't mind them"; and began reading, looking every now and then at L[ord] B[yron] with an anxious searching eye, till he came to "that little poet and disagreeable person, Mr. Samuel --" when he tore the paper, and said: "Now this must be that fellow Croker," and wished L[ord] B[yron] to challenge him. He talked of going to Cumberland with L[ord] B[yron], and, asking him how he meant to travel, L[ord] B[yron] said "With four hourses." Rogers went to company, and said: "It is strange to hear a man talking of four hourses who seals his letters with a tallow candle."

Shelley is another instance of wealth inducing relations to confine for madness, and was only saved by his physician being honest. He was betrothed {113} from a boy to his cousin, for age; another came who had as much as he would have, and she left him "because he was an atheist." When starving, a friend to whom he had given 2000, though he knew it, would not come near him. Heard Mrs. Shelley repeat Coleridge on Pitt, which persuades me he is a poet.

[Here we see that Shelley must have repeated to Polidori that famous story of his about the attempt of his father to consign him, when he was an Eton student, to a madhouse, and about the zealous and ultimately successful effort of Dr. Lind, the Eton physicist, to save him from that disastrous fate. Next comes the statement that Shelley was betrothed from boyhood to his beautiful cousin Miss Harriet Grove -- the marriage to take effect when he should attain his majority; an account which we know to be substantially true. The conduct of Miss Grove -- or perhaps we should rather say of her parents as dictating her action -- is placed in an unfavourable light; for it is plainly suggested that she abandoned Shelley for another bridegroom on the ground of a more immediate advantage in worldly position -- the allegation of Percy's atheism being more a pretext than a genuine motive. The passage about a friend to whom Shelley had given 2000 must (I suppose beyond a doubt) refer to Godwin; but it is evident that Shelley, in speaking to Polidori, a comparative stranger, and this {114} in the presence of Mary, had the delicacy to suppress the name. The charge thus alleged against Godwin is not, I conceive, accurate, although it approximated towards accuracy. I am not clear that Shelley, up to the time when he thus spoke in June 1816, had given Godwin money amounting to quite so large a total as 2000; but at any rate he cannot have done so up to the time when he was himself "starving" -- or, in milder terms, when he was in very great and harassing straits for money and daily subsistence. That time was late in 1814, and in the first days of 1815. It is true that, even before this date, he had done something to relieve Godwin; but it was only, I think, in April 1816 that he gave the philosopher a really very considerable sum -- 1000 in a lump. I say all this for the sake of biographical truth, and not with a view to vindicating Godwin -- whose policy of bleeding Shelley in purse while he cut him in person has in some recent years been denounced with increasing vehemence, and it was indeed wholly indefensible. But human nature -- and especially the human nature of an abstract speculator like Godwin -- is capable of very odd self-deceptions; and I dare day Godwin thought he was equally and strictly right in both his proceedings -- right in getting large sums of money out of Shelley, for a reforming sage ought to be subsidized by his neophytes -- and right in repudiating {115} and abusing Shelley, for the latter had applied Godwin's own anti-matrimonial theories to that one instance of practice which the philosopher did not at all relish. -- To proceed to another point. The lines of Coleridge on Pitt which Polidori heard recited by Mrs. Shelley are to be sought for in his early poem entitled Fire, Famine, and Slaughter. In that poem (need I say it?) those three Infernal Deities are represented as meeting in "a desolated tract in La Vendée"; and on mutual enquiry they learn that one and the same person has sent them thither all three.

"Letters four do form his name" --
the name Pitt. Famine and Slaughter finally agree that the multitude, exasperated by their sufferings, shall turn upon Pitt and rend him --

"They shall tear him limb from limb!"
Fire, who has just come from doing Pitt's errands in Ireland, thinks this ungrateful: she concludes the poem with the memorable words --
"Ninety months he, by my troth,
Hath richly catered for you both:
And in an hour would you repay
An eight years' work? -- Away, away!
I alone am faithful -- I
Cling to him everlastingly
."
The poem would be well worth quoting here in full, but is somewhat too long for such a purpose.]

{116} A young girl of eighteen, handsome, died within half-an-hour yesterday: buried to-day. Geneva is fortified -- legumes growing in the fosses. -- Went about linen and plate.

June 2. -- Breakfasted with Shelley. Read Tasso with Mrs. Shelley. Took child for vaccination.

[The child in question must seemingly have been the beloved infant William Shelley, born in January of this same year. Polidori does not appear to have vaccinated the boy with his own hand; for I find in a letter of his written to his family towards June 20: "Got a gold chain and a seal as a fee from an Englishman here for having his child inoculated." As Polidori speaks only of "an Englishman here," not naming Shelley, it looks as if he purposely withheld from his family the knowledge that he had come into contact with that wicked and dangerous character. I wish I knew what has become of the "gold chain and seal," the gift of Shelley: but I could not on enquiry find that anything whatever was known about them by my then surviving relatives. I possess a letter on the subject, November 4, 1890, from my sister Christina.]

Found gates shut because of church-service. Went in search of Rossi. Saw a village where lads and lasses, soubrettes and soldiers, were dancing, to a tabor and drum, waltzes, cotillions, etc. Dr. R[ossi] not at home.

{117} Dined with S[helley]; went to the lake with them and L[ord] B[yron]. Saw their house; fine. Coming back, the sunset, the mountains on one side, a dark mass of outline on the other, trees, houses hardly visible, just distinguishable; a white light mist, resting on the hills around, formed the blue into a circular dome bespangled with stars only and lighted by the moon which gilt the lake. The dome of heaven seemed oval. At 10 landed and drank tea. Madness, Gratten, Curran, etc., subjects.

[The "house" of Shelley and his party which is here mentioned is the Campagne Chapuis, or Campagne Mont Alègre, near Cologny -- distant from the Villa Diodati only about 8 minutes' walk. Shelley and the two ladies had entered this house towards the end of May, prior to the actual settlement of Lord Byron in the Villa Diodati. The Shelleys, as we have more than once heard from this Diary, kept up the practice of drinking tea -- a beverage always cherished by Percy Shelley. The topics of conversation, we observe, were madness -- probably following on from what Shelley had on the previous day said about his own supposed madness while at Eton; also Curran, whom Shelley had seen a little, but without any sympathy, in Dublin -- and Grattan, who, so far as I am aware was not personally known to the poet.]

{118} June 3. -- Went to Pictet's on English day.

June 4. -- Went about Diodati's house. Then to see Shelley, who, with Mrs. Shelley, came over. Went in the evening to a musical society of about ten members at M. Odier's; who read a very interesting memoir upon the subject of whether a physician should in any case tell a lover the health [of the lady of his affections], or anything that, from being her physician, comes to his knowledge. Afterwards had tea and politics. Saw there a Dr. Gardner, whom I carried home in the calèche. Odier invited me for every Wednesday.

Came home. Went on the lake with Shelley and Lord Byron, who quarelled with me.

[This might seem to be the matter to which Professor Dowden in his Life of Shelley (following Moore's Life of Byron and some other authorities) thus briefly refers. "Towards Shelley the Doctor's feeling was a constantly self-vexing jealousy [I cannot say that the Diary of Polidori has up to this point borne the least trace of any such soreness]; and on one occasion, suffering from the cruel wrong of having been a loser in a sailing-match, he went so far as to send Shelley a challenge, which was received with a fit of becoming laughter. 'Recollect,' said Byron, 'that, though Shelley has some scruples about duelling, I have none and shall be at all times ready {119} to take his place.'" Professor Dowden does not define the date when this squabble occurred; but the context in which he sets it suggests a date anterior to June 22, when Byron and Shelley started off on their week's excursion upon the Lake of Geneva. The very curt narrative of Polidori does not however indicate any sailing-match, nor any challenge, whether "sent" or verbally delivered at the moment; and perhaps it may be more reasonable to suppose that this present quarrel with Byron was a different affair altogether -- an instance when Polidori happened to strike Byron's knee with an oar. I shall recur to the duelling matter farther on.]

June 5. -- At 12 went to Hentsch about Diodati; thence to Shelley's. Read Tasso. Home in calèche. Dined with them in the public room: walked in the garden. Then dressed, and to Odier's, who talked with me about somnambulism. Was at last seated, and conversed with some Génevoises: so so -- too fine. Quantities of English; speaking amongst themselves, arms by their sides, mouths open and eyes glowing; might as well make a tour of the Isle of Dogs. Odier gave me yesterday many articles of Bibliothèque -- translated and rédigés by himself, and to-day a manuscript on somnambulism.

[After the word Bibliothèque Charlotte Polidori has put some other word, evidently intended to imitate {120} the look of the word written by Dr. Polidori: it cannot be read. The subject of somnambulism was one which had engaged Polidori's attention at an early age: he printed in 1815 a Disputatio Medica Inauguralis de Oneirodyniâ, as a thesis for the medical degree which he then obtained in Edinburgh.]

June 6. -- At 1 up -- breakfasted. With Lord Byron in the calèche to Hentsch, where we got the paper making us masters of Diodati for six months to November 1 for 125 louis.

[See my remarks under June 1 as to "Necker's house," and the rent to be paid. Up to November 1 would be barely five months, not six.]

Thence to Shelley: back: dinner. To Shelley in boat: driven on shore: home. Looked over inventory and Berger's accounts. Bed.

June 7. -- Up at ----. Pains in my loins and languor in my bones. Breakfasted -- looked over inventory.

Saw L[ord] B[yron] at dinner; wrote to my father and Shelley; went in the boat with L[ord] B[yron]; agreed with boatman for English boat. Told us Napoleon had caused him to get his children. Saw Shelley over again.

[It seems rather curious that Polidori, living so near Shelley, should now have had occasion to write to him; ought we to infer that the challenge was now at last sent? Perhaps so; and perhaps, when {121} Polidori "saw Shelley over again," the poet laughed the whole foolish matter off. -- The boatman's statement that "Napoleon had caused him to get his children" means, I suppose, that he wanted to rear children, to meet Napoleon's conscriptions for soldiers.]

June 8. -- Up at 9; went to Geneva on horseback, and then to Diodati to see Shelley; back; dined; into the new boat -- Shelley's, -- and talked, till the ladies' brains whizzed with giddiness, about idealism. Back; rain; puffs of wind. Mistake.

June 9. -- Up by 1: breakfasted. Read Lucian. Dined. Did the same: tea'd. Went to Hentsch: came home. Looked at the moon, and ordered packing-up.

June 10. -- Up at 9. Got things ready for going to Diodati; settled accounts, etc. Left at 3; went to Diodati; went back to dinner, and then returned. Shelley etc. came to tea, and we sat talking till 11. My rooms are so:

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June 11. -- Wrote home and to Pryse Gordon. Read Lucian. Went to Shelley's; dined; Shelley in the evening with us.

{122} June 12. -- Rode to town. Subscribed to a circulating library, and went in the evening to Madame Odier. Found no one. Miss O[dier], to make time pass, played the Ranz des Vaches -- plaintive and war-like. People arrived. Had a confab with Dr. O. about perpanism,3 etc. Began dancing: waltzes, cotillions, French country-dances and English ones: first time I shook my feet to French measure. Ladies all waltzed except the English: they looked on frowning. Introduced to Mrs. Slaney: invited me for next night. You ask without introduction; the girls refuse those they dislike. Till 12. Went and slept at the Balance.

June 13. -- Rode home, and to town again. Went to Mrs. Slaney: a ball. Danced and played at chess. Walked home in thunder and lightning: lost my way. Went back in search of some one -- fell upon the police. Slept at the Balance.

June 14. -- Rode home -- rode almost all day. Dined with Rossi, who came to us; shrewd, quick, manly-minded fellow; like him very much. Shelley etc. fell in in the evening.

June 15. -- Up late; began my letters. Went to Shelley's. After dinner, jumping a wall my foot {123} slipped and I strained my left ankle. Shelley etc. came in the evening; talked of my play etc., which all agreed was worth nothing. Afterwards Shelley and I had a conversation about principles, -- whether man was to be thought merely an instrument.

[The accident to Polidori's ankle was related thus by Byron in a letter addressed from Ouchy to John Murray. "Dr. Polidori is not here, but at Diodati; left behind in hospital with a sprained ankle, acquired in tumbling from a wall -- he can't jump." Thomas Moore, in his Life of Byron, supplies some details. "Mrs. Shelley was, after a shower of rain, walking up the hill to Diodati; when Byron, who saw her from his balcony where he was standing with Polidori, said to the latter: 'Now you who wish to be gallant ought to jump down this small height, and offer your arm.' Polidori tried to do so; but, the ground being wet, his foot slipped and he sprained his ankle. Byron helped to carry him in, and, after he was laid on the sofa, went up-stairs to fetch a pillow for him. 'Well, I did not believe you had so much feeling,' was Polidori's ungracious remark."

The play written by Polidori, which received to little commendation, was, I suppose, the Cajetan which is mentioned at an early point in the Journal. There was another named Boadicea, in prose; very poor stuff, and I suppose written at an early date. A {124} different drama named Ximenes was afterwards published: certainly its merit -- whether as a drama or as a specimen of poetic writing -- is slender. The conversation between Shelley and Polidori about "principles" and "whether man was to be thought merely an instrument" appears to have some considerable analogy with a conversation to which Mary Shelley and Professor Dowden refer, and which raised in her mind a train of thought conducing to her invention of Frankenstein and his Man-monster. Mary, however, speaks of Byron (not Polidori) as the person who conversed with Shelley on that occasion. Professor Dowden, paraphrasing some remarks made by Mary, says: "One night she sat listening to a conversation between the two poets at Diodati. What was the nature, they questioned, of the principle of life? Would it ever be discovered, and the power of communicating life be acquired? Perhaps a corpse would be reanimated; galvanism had given token of such things. That night Mary lay sleepless," etc.]

June 16. -- Laid up. Shelley came, and dined and slept here, with Mrs. S[helley] and Miss Clare Clairmont. Wrote another letter.

[This is the first instance in which the name of Miss Clairmont is given correctly by Polidori; but it may be presumed that he had, several days back, found out that she was not properly to be termed "Miss Godwin."]

{125} June 17. -- Went into the town; dined with Shelley etc. here. Went after dinner to a ball at Madame Odier's; where I was introduced to Princess Something and Countess Potocka, Poles, and had with them a long confab. Attempted to dance, but felt such horrid pain was forced to stop. The ghost-stories are begun by all but me.

[This date serves to rectify a small point in literary history. We all know that the party at Cologny -- consisting of Byron and Polidori on the one hand, and of Shelley and Mrs. Shelley and Miss Clairmont on the other -- undertook to write each of them an independent ghost-story, or story of the supernatural; the result being Byron's fragment of The Vampyre, Polidori's complete story of The Vampyre, and Mrs. Shelley's renowned Frankenstein. Shelley and Miss Clairmont proved defaulters. It used to be said that Matthew Gregory Lewis, author of The Monk, had been mixed up in the same project; but this is a mistake, for Lewis only reached the Villa Diodati towards the middle of August. Professor Dowden states as follows: "During a few days of ungenial weather which confined them to the house [by "them" Shelley and the two ladies are evidently meant, and perhaps also Byron and Polidori] some volumes of ghost-stories, Fantasmagoriana, ou Recueil d'Histoires d'Apparitions, de Spectres, Revenans, etc. (a collection {126} translated into French from the German) fell into their hands, and its perusal probably excited and overstrained Shelley's imagination." Professor Dowden then proceeds to narrate an incident connected with Coleridge's Christabel, of which more anon; and he says that immediately after that incident Byron proposed, "We will each write a ghost-story" -- a suggestion to which the others assented. It is only fair to observe that Professor Dowden's account corresponds with that which Polidori himself supplied in the proem to his tale of The Vampyre. But Polidori's Diary proves that this is not absolutely correct. The ghost-stories (prompted by the Fantasmagoriana, a poor sort of book) had already been begun by Byron, Shelley, Mrs. Shelley, and Miss Clairmont, not later than June 17, whereas the Christabel incident happened on June 18. Byron's story, as I have already said, was The Vampyre, left a fragment; Shelley's is stated to have been some tale founded on his own early experiences -- nothing farther is known of it; Mrs. Shelley's was eventually Frankenstein, but, from the details which have been published as to the first conception of this work, we must assume that what she had begun by June 17 was something different: of Miss Clairmont's story no sort of record remains.

The Countess Potocka, whom Polidori mentions, was a lady belonging to the highest Polish nobility, {127} grand-niece of Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski, who had been King of Poland up to 1798. She was daughter of Count Tyszkiewicz, and married to Count Potocki, and afterwards Count Wonsowicz. Born in 1776, she lived on to 1867, when she died in Paris, a leader of society under the Second Empire. Thus she was forty years old when Polidori saw her. She wrote memoirs of her life, going up to 1820: a rather entertaining book, dealing with many important transactions, especially of the period of Napoleon I: she gives one to understand that this supreme potentate was rather susceptible to her charms, but a rival compatriot, the Countess Walewska, was then in the ascendant. I have seen reproductions from two portraits of the Countess Potocka, both of them ascribed to Angelica Kauffman: one of these shows a strikingly handsome young woman, with dark eyes of singular brilliancy and sentiment. Its date cannot be later than 1807, when the painter died, and may probably be as early as 1800.]

June 18. -- My leg much worse. Shelley and party here. Mrs. S[helley] called me her brother (younger). Began my ghost-story4 after tea. Twelve o'clock, {128} really began to talk ghostly. L[ord] B[yron] repeated some verses of Coleridge's Christabel, of the witch's breast; when silence ensued, and Shelley, suddenly shrieking and putting his hands to his head, ran out of the room with a candle. Threw water in his face, and after gave him ether. He was looking at Mrs. S[helley], and suddenly thought of a woman he had heard of who had eyes instead of nipples, which, taking hold of his mind, horrified him. -- He married; and, a friend of his liking his wife, he tried all he could to induce her to love him in turn. He is surrounded by friends who feed upon him, and draw upon him as their banker. Once, having hired a house, a man wanted to make him pay more, and came trying to bully him, and at last challenged him. Shelley refused, and was knocked down; coolly said that would not gain him his object, and was knocked down again. -- Slaney called.

[Some of these statements are passing strange, and most of them call for a little comment. First we hear that Mrs. Shelley called Polidori her younger brother -- a designation which may have been endearing but was not accurate; for, whereas the doctor was aged 20 at this date, Mrs. Shelley was aged only 18. Next, Polidori, after tea, began his ghost-story. This, according to Mrs. Shelley, was a tale about "a skull-headed lady, who was so punished for peeping through {129} a keyhole -- what to see, I forget; something very shocking and wrong, of course." So says Mrs. Shelley: but Polidori's own statement is that the tale which he at first began was the one published under the title of Ernestus Berchtold, which contains nothing about a skull-headed lady: some details are given in my Introduction. Afterwards he took up the notion of a vampyre, when relinquished by Byron. The original story, Ernestus Berchtold, may possibly have been completed in 1816: at any rate it was completed at some time, and published in 1819, soon after The Vampyre. Then comes the incident (first published in my edition of Shelley's poems in 1870) of Byron repeating some lines from Christabel, and Shelley, who mixed them up with some fantastic idea already present to his mind, decamping with a shriek. The lines from Christabel are these --

"Then drawing in her breath aloud,
Like one that shuddered, she unbound
The cincture from beneath her breast:
Her silken robe and inner vest
Dropped to her feet, and full in view
Behold! her bosom and half her side,
Hideous, deformed, and pale of hue --
A sight to dream of, not to tell!
And she is to sleep by Christabel!"
From this incident Polidori proceeds to three statements regarding occurrences in Shelley's life; it may be presumed that he had heard them from the {130} poet in the course of this same evening. "A friend of his liking his wife, he tried all he could to induce her to love him in turn." Nothing of this sort appears in the authenticated facts of Shelley's life. It is certain that, very soon after he had married Harriet Westbrook in 1811, he saw reason for thinking that his friend Hogg "liked his wife," both of them being then in York; but, so far from "trying all he could to induce her to love him in turn," he at once took her away from York to Keswick, and he addressed letters of grave remonstrance and sad reproach to Hogg, and then for a time broke off all intercourse with him. The only other matter one knows of at all relevant to this issue is that Shelley alleged that afterwards a certain Major Ryan carried on an intrigue with Harriet. He blamed and resented her imputed frailty, and put it forward as a principal motive for his separating from her. It is certainly possible that, after the separation, he told Harriet that she might as well "make the best of a bad job," and adhere to Ryan, since she would not adhere to her wedded husband: but no indication of any such advice on his part appears anywhere else. Be it understood that I do not at all affirm that this suspicion or statement of Shelley's about Harriet and Ryan was correct. I doubt it extremely, though not venturing to reject {131} it. The next point is that Shelley was "surrounded by friends who feed upon him, and draw upon him as their banker." This probably glances at Godwin, and perhaps also at Charles Clairmont, the brother of Clare. Thomas Love Peacock may likewise be in question: not Leigh Hunt, for, though the cap might have fitted him in and after the year 1817, it did not so in the present year 1816, since Hunt was as yet all but unknown to our poet. Last comes the funny statement about a hectoring landlord who twice knocked down the non-duelling author of Queen Mab. It is difficult to guess what this allegation may refer to. Shelley had by this time had several landlords in different parts of the United Kingdom; and quite possibly some of them thought his rent unduly low, or more especially his quarterly or other installments irregularly paid, but who can have been the landlord who took the law so decisively into his own hands, and found so meekly unresisting a tenant, I have no idea. There was an odd incident in January 19, 1812, when Shelley, then living at Keswick, was (or was said to have been) struck down senseless on the threshold of his door -- seemingly by a couple of robbers. On that occasion, however, his landlord, Mr. Dare, appeared in the character of a guardian angel: so we must dismiss any notion that this incident, the one which in some of its features {132} seems to come nearest the mark, is that which Shelley so ingenuously imparted to Polidori.]

June 19. -- Leg worse; began my ghost-story. Mr. S[helley?] etc. forth here. Bonstetten and Rossi called. B[onstetten] told me a story of the religious feuds in Appenzel; a civil war between Catholics and Protestants. Battle arranged; chief advances; calls the other. Calls himself and other fools, for battles will not persuade of his being wrong. Other agreed, and persuaded of his being wrong. Other agreed, and persuaded them to take the boundary rivulet; they did. Bed at 3 as usual.

June 20. -- My leg kept me at home. Shelley etc. here.

June 21. -- Same.

June 22. -- L[ord] B[yron] and Shelley went to Vevay; Mrs. S[helley] and Miss Clare Clairmont to town. Went to Rossi's -- had tried his patience. Called on Odier; Miss reading Byron.

[The expedition of Byron and Shelley to Vevay was that same Lake-voyage which forms so prominent an incident in their Swiss experiences. Their starting upon this expedition had hitherto been dated June 23. Professor Dowden has expressed a doubt whether June 22 would not be the correct date, and here we find that so it is.]

June 23. -- Went to town; apologized to Rossi. Called on Dr. Slaney etc. Walked to Mrs. Shelley. {133} Pictet, Odier, Slaney, dined with me. Went down to Mrs. S[helley?] for the evening. Odier mentioned the cases of two gentlemen who, on taking the nitrate of silver, some time after had a blacker face. Pictet confirmed it.

June 24. -- Up at 12. Dined down with Mrs. S[helley] and Miss C[lare] C[lairmont].

[The dates hereabouts become somewhat embarrassing. For the day which I am calling June 24 Polidori repeats June 23; and he continues with the like sequence of days up to June 29, when, as he notes, he "found Lord Byron and Shelley returned." It seems to be an established fact that the day when Shelley got back to Montalègre was July 1: he has stated so, and a note to the Letters of Lord Byron states the same. Thus Polidori seems to have dropped two days. One is accounted for by substituting June 24 for June 23; and I shall call the next day June 26, though uncertain as to where the second error occurs.]

June 26. -- Up. Mounted on horseback: went to town. Saw Mrs. Shelley: dined. To Dr. Rossi's party of physicians: after at Mrs. S[helley?].

June 27. -- Up at Mrs. Shelley's: dined. No calèche arrived: walked to G[eneva]. No horses: ordered saddle-horse. Walked to Rossi's -- gone. Went to the gate: found him. Obliged to break off the {134} appointment. Went to Odier's. Met with Mr. ____, a friend of Lord Byron's father. Invited me to his house: been a long time on the Continent. Music, ranz des vaches, beautiful. Rode two hours; went to Mrs. S[helley]; Miss C[lairmont] talked of a soliloquy.

[This last phrase is not clear: does it mean that Miss Clairmont talked in a soliloquy -- talked to herself, in such a way as to excite observation?]

June 28. -- All day at Mrs. S[helley's].

June 29. -- Up at 1; studied; down at Mrs. S[helley's].

June 30. -- Same.

July 1. -- Went in calèche to town with Mrs. S[helley] and C[lare] for a ride, and to mass (which we did not got to, being begun). Dined at 1. Went to town to Rossi. Introduced to Marchese Saporati; together to Mr. Saladin of Vaugeron, Countess Breuss, Calpnafur; and then to a party of ladies.

[The word which I give as Calpnafur is dubious in Charlotte Polidori's transcript: it is evidently one of those words as to which she felt uncertain, and she wrote it as near to Dr. Polidori's script as she could manage. The other three names -- Saporati, Saladin, and Breuss -- are not elucidated in any book I have consulted. Perhaps Saporati ought to be Saporiti -- see p. 149. There were two {135} Saladins of some note in France in the days of the Revolution and Empire -- one of them lived on to 1832; but I can scarcely think that this Saladin in Geneva was of the same race. He may be the "Syndic Saladin" mentioned farther on.]

Found Lord Byron and Shelley returned.

July 2. -- Rain all day. In the evening to Mrs. S[helley].

September 5. -- Not written my Journal till now through neglect and dissipation. Had a long explanation with S[helley] and L[ord] B[yron] about my conduct to L[ord] B[yron]; threatened to shoot S[helley] one day on the water. Horses being a subject of quarrel twice, Berger having accused me of laming one.


Notes

1. No name is given: should it be Shelley? Another Englishman who was in this locality towards the same date was Robert Southey.

2. I don't think there was any such stone-pelting in Geneva: it took place elsewhere in Switzerland.

3. The word written is perpanism, or possibly perhanism. Is there any such word, medical or other? Should it perchance be pyrrhonism?

4. The "ghost-story" which Polidori published was The Vampyre: see p. 128 as to his having begun in the first instance some different story.