It is little adapted for popularity, but is perhaps the least imperfect of my compositions. It appeared in blue paper wrappers, with a woodcut of a basket of flowers within an ornamental border. Its price was three and sixpence: of late years £40 has been given for it perhaps more. Up to 13 July only one copy had reached the author's hands: this he then sent on to the Gisbornes, at Leghorn.
In May of 1820 she sent it to England by her friends, the Gisbornes, with a request that her father would arrange for its publication. But Mathilda, together with its rough draft entitled The Fields of Fancy, remained unpublished among the Shelley papers.
They meet and see much of Mary's mother's friend, Mrs. Gisborne, who grew much attached to both Shelley and Mary, and who, from her acquaintance with literary people, must have been a pleasant companion to them. They had letters of introduction to the Gisbornes from Godwin. While here Mary made progress with Italian, reading Ariosto with her husband.
It is probable, therefore, that Mary wrote and copied Mathilda between August 5 and September 12, 1819, that she did some revision on November 8 and finally dated the manuscript November 9. The subsequent history of the manuscript is recorded in letters and journals. He evidently did not share the Gisbornes' enthusiasm: his approval was qualified.
It is obvious that when he found himself in the congenial company of Trelawny, Williams, Medwin, or the Gisbornes, he was simply happy; and nothing could be further from the truth than to paint him as habitually sunk in gloom.
Leghorn was not a sufficiently interesting place to detain the wandering Shelleys long, in spite of the attractions of the Gisbornes. On June 11 Mary, with her two children and Claire, follows Shelley to Bagni di Lucca, where he had taken a house. Here Mary much enjoyed the quiet after noisy Leghorn, as she wrote to Mrs. Gisborne, hoping to attract her to visit them.
Delicacy could quite properly excuse him from saying, "I was in love with Cornelia all that time; my wife kept crying and worrying about it and upbraiding me and begging me to cut myself free from a connection which was wronging her and disgracing us both; and I being stung by these reproaches retorted with fierce and bitter speeches for it is my nature to do that when I am stirred, especially if the target of them is a person whom I had greatly loved and respected before, as witness my various attitudes towards Miss Hitchener, the Gisbornes, Harriet's sister, and others and finally I did not improve this state of things when I deserted my wife and spent a whole month with the woman who had infatuated me."
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.
Shelley accepted this proposal, and wrote requesting Mary to join him there with the children, not knowing whether he was acting for good or harm, but looking forward to be scolded if he had done wrong, or kissed if right the event would prove. The event did prove; but it was out of their power to rule it. Mary had invited the Gisbornes to stay with her at the Baths.