Note on Poems Of 1816, By Mrs. Shelley
Shelley wrote little during this year. The poem entitled "The Sunset" was written in the spring of the year, while still residing at Bishopsgate. He spent the summer on the shores of the Lake of Geneva. The "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" was conceived during his voyage round the lake with Lord Byron. He occupied himself during this voyage by reading the "Nouvelle Heloise" for the first time. The reading it on the very spot where the scenes are laid added to the interest; and he was at once surprised and charmed by the passionate eloquence and earnest enthralling interest that pervade this work. There was something in the character of Saint-Preux, in his abnegation of self, and in the worship he paid to Love, that coincided with Shelley's own disposition; and, though differing in many of the views and shocked by others, yet the effect of the whole was fascinating and delightful.
"Mont Blanc" was inspired by a view of that mountain and its surrounding peaks and valleys, as he lingered on the Bridge of Arve on his way through the Valley of Chamouni. Shelley makes the following mention of this poem in his publication of the "History of a Six Weeks' Tour, and Letters from Switzerland": 'The poem entitled "Mont Blanc" is written by the author of the two letters from Chamouni and Vevai. It was composed under the immediate impression of the deep and powerful feelings excited by the objects which it attempts to describe; and, as an undisciplined overflowing of the soul, rests its claim to approbation on an attempt to imitate the untamable wildness and inaccessible solemnity from which those feelings sprang.'
This was an eventful year, and less time was given to study than usual. In the list of his reading I find, in Greek, Theocritus, the "Prometheus" of Aeschylus, several of Plutarch's "Lives", and the works of Lucian. In Latin, Lucretius, Pliny's "Letters", the "Annals" and "Germany" of Tacitus. In French, the "History of the French Revolution" by Lacretelle. He read for the first time, this year, Montaigne's "Essays", and regarded them ever after as one of the most delightful and instructive books in the world. The list is scanty in English works: Locke's "Essay", "Political Justice", and Coleridge's "Lay Sermon", form nearly the whole. It was his frequent habit to read aloud to me in the evening; in this way we read, this year, the New Testament, "Paradise Lost", Spenser's "Faery Queen", and "Don Quixote".