May 15 1816: Writing from Switzerland


On May 15 1816, Percy Shelley writes to Thomas Love Peacock.

Hotel de Secheron, Geneva, May 15, 1816.

After a journey of ten days, we arrived at Geneva. The journey, like that of life, was variegated with intermingled rain and sunshine, though these many showers were to me, as you know, April showers, quickly passing away, and foretelling the calm brightness of summer.

The journey was in some respects exceedingly delightful, but the prudential considerations arising out of the necessity of preventing delay, and the continual attention to pecuniary disbursements, detract terribly from the pleasure of all travelling schemes.

You live by the shores of a tranquil stream, among low and woody hills. You live in a free country, w r here you may act without restraint, and possess that which you possess in security ; and so long as the name of country and the selfish conceptions it includes shall subsist, England, I am persuaded, is the most free and the most refined.

Perhaps you have chosen wisely, but if I return and follow your example, it will be no subject of regret to me that I have seen other things. Surely there is much of bad and much of good, there is much to disgust and much to elevate, which he cannot have felt or known who has never passed the limits of his native land.

So long as man is such as he now is, the experience of which I speak will never teach him to despise the country of his birth, — far otherwise. Like Wordsworth, he will never know what love subsists be- tween that and him until absence shall have made its beauty more heartfelt; our poets and philosophers, our mountains and our lakes, the rural lanes and
fields which are so especially our own, are ties which, until I become utterly senseless, can never be broken asunder.

These, and the memory of them, if I never should return, — these and the affections of the mind, with which, having been once united, [they] are inseparable, w T ill make the name of England dear to me forever, even if I should permanently return to it no more.

The mountains of Jura exhibit scenery of wonderful sublimity. Pine forests of impenetrable thickness, and untrodden, nay, inaccessible expanse, spreading on every side. Sometimes descending, they follow the route into the valleys, clothing the precipitous rocks, and struggling with knotted roots between the most barren clefts. Sometimes the road winds high into the regions of frost, and there these forests
become scattered, and loaded with snow.

The trees in these regions are incredibly large, and stand in scattered clumps over the white wilderness.

Never was scene more utterly desolate than that which we passed on the evening of our last day’s journey.

The natural silence of that uninhabitated desert contrasted strangely with the voices of the people who conducted us, for it was necessary in this part of the mountain to take a number of persons, who should assist the horses to force the chaise through the snow, and prevent it from falling down the precipice.

We are now at Geneva, where, or in the neighborhood, we shall remain probably until the autumn. I may return in a fortnight or three weeks, to attend to the last exertions which L is to make for the settlement of my affairs ; of course I shall then see  you ; in the mean ime, it will interest me to hear all that you have to tell of yourself.

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