Shelley, Percy Bysshe (1792-1822)

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Author: G. M. Matthews
Date: 1979
From: British Writers(Vol. 4. )
Publisher: Charles Scribner's Sons
Document Type: Critical essay; Biography
Length: 11,288 words

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About this Person
Born: August 04, 1792 in Horsham, England
Died: July 08, 1822 in Italy
Nationality: British
Occupation: Poet
Other Names: Victor; The Hermit of Marlow
Full Text: 
Page 195

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

G. M. Matthews


IT is no good making up one’s mind too hastily about Shelley. Contemporary reviewers called various of his works a “dish of carrion,” “drivelling prose run mad,” “the production of a fiend, and calculated for the entertainment of devils in hell.” The Victorians thought his lyrics “absolutely perfect”; he was “the Divine” poet. Early twentieth-century critics could see at a glance that there was “no brain work” in Shelley’s poetry; it was “antipathetic to the play of the critical mind.” Generalizations about him have always differed wildly. To Charles Kingsley, Shelley was “utterly womanish”; to D. H. Lawrence, he was “transcendently male”; and the man whose friends thought him “full of life and fun” while they knew him, T. S. Eliot in 1933 found humorless and pedantic.

Shelley was no perfectibilist. He saw human society in terms of unending struggle, and controversy delighted him, so his work is understandably controversial. But most judgments of it have been impressionistic: rationalizations of instant liking or distaste. The hostile criticism of the 1930’s plainly took no trouble to understand the material it was dismissing: that “Alastor,” for instance, was not a form of the name “Alastair” but Greek for an avenging fury; that “The Indian Serenade” was Indian, and a serenade; that when a snake renewed its “winter weeds outworn” (in Shelley or in William Shakespeare), it was changing its skin, not raising a fresh crop of nettles. Only in the last fifty years, and chiefly by Americans, has it been shown how complex this deceptively fluent verse often is, and how patiently its symbolic language needs learning.

Poor texts are still a handicap, and there is still room for disagreement. In this language, for example, electricity or “lightning” pervades the physical, as love pervades the moral, world; the fire of sun and stars is the counterpart of the One, the Unity or Spirit that shapes the beauty of the world; and the changing forms of cloud and vapor represent the mutations of matter that “veil” or refract this brightness and resist its influences. Some of the vocabulary is Platonic, perhaps Neoplatonic; but the language is Shelley’s. His “Intellectual Beauty” (a phrase from William Godwin and James Burnett, Lord Monboddo, not from Plato) may express itself in revolutionary action (as in the “Ode to Naples,” 149-176) and in sexual intercourse (as in Laon and Cythna, 2650-2665).

What fascinated Shelley was not being but process; not John Keats’s timeless urn or William Wordsworth’s “permanent forms of nature,” but the sun-awakened avalanche, the destroying and preserving wind, the “unpastured sea hungering for calm.” So it is true that as a poet he never looked steadily at an object for long, and this elusiveness can be irritating to his readers. By a principle of indeterminacy he passed on to what the object was becoming, or to what caused it. But accurate knowledge was generally taken for granted as the starting point of his invention. He was a country boy; most of his life was spent out-of-doors; and he read a good deal about the workings of nature. In many ways he was a very exact poet—more exact and knowledgeable than some of his critics.

Shelley was also a versatile craftsman. Unlike Geoffrey Chaucer, or George Gordon, Lord Byron, he was not interested in the full scope of human activity, but only in the great problem of humanity’s place in the universe and of the achievement of happiness. Can man, through self-conquest, master his own future? Shelley’s poetry was the changing comment of his own life experience on this unvarying question. But the angle of the comment, the stylistic range, was very wide. He wrote well in many different “kinds”: epic, epigram, pastoral elegy, political ballad, familiar epistle, tragedy, lyric, burlesque. He is best known as the poet of fiery imaginings:

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  And the green lizard, and the golden snake,
  Like unimprisoned flames, out of their trance awake1
                                   (Adonais, 161-162)

The colors are heraldic, and oppressed creatures break like volcanic fire out of the “trance” of winter; yet as a physical picture every detail is vivid and apt. He could also write with a sensuous verbal relish not unlike Keats’s:

    Blue thistles bloomed in cities; foodless toads
    Within voluptuous chambers panting crawled
              (Prometheus Unbound, 1.170-171)

Again a symbolic description, with a strong undertone of social criticism; yet again it recalls eyewitness accounts of Hiroshima a few months after atomic bombardment. Or his imagery could be plain and familiar: “like a flock of rooks at a farmer’s gun”; “as bats at the wired window of a dairy”; “like field smells known in infancy.”

One important quality in Shelley’s later verse, expressing itself in both rhythm and tone, might be defined as witty play:

      Where light is, chameleons change:
       Where love is not, Poets do:
           (“An Exhortation,” 14-15)

This “power of entering thoroughly into the spirit of his own humour,” as Shelley’s cousin Thomas Med-win remembered it, not only informs long poems like “The Witch of Atlas” and the “Hymn to Mercury,” but also can be recognized in the absorbed dramatic roles of lyrics such as “The Cloud” and “The Two Spirits.” Until recently readers have been unwilling to notice this quality. When Francis Palgrave and Alfred, Lord Tennyson, put “The Invitation” into The Golden Treasury in 1861, they left out the playfully mocking middle passage, presumably because they thought it spoiled the serious idealism of the poem.

Shelley was not a particularly self-centered poet. Less than six percent of the poems in his Collected Works begin with the first-person pronoun, compared with more than fifteen percent of those in William Butler Yeats’s; and only nineteen percent of his first lines contain “I,” “me,” “my,” “mine,” compared with nearly twenty-three percent of John Dry-den’s. The test is a rough one, of course, since the pronoun “I” does not necessarily mean the writer; but that is as true in Shelley as in Yeats or Dryden.

1 All quotations are from G. M. Matthews, ed., Shelley: Selected Poems and Prose (Oxford, 1964).


PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY was born on 4 August 1792 at Field Place, near Horsham, Sussex. His father was the heir of an American-born adventurer who had twice married money, and who became a baronet in 1806. His family called him Bysshe, after his grandfather; his first wife called him Percy; and everyone else has simply called him Shelley.

As the indulged eldest son of a country gentleman and member of Parliament, Shelley became a fair horseman, an excellent shot, and a memorable practical joker; and by his early teens he was already romantically devoted to a pretty cousin, Harriet Grove. But in adolescence he could not take his conventional, rather dim-witted father seriously as an advocate of Whig ideals such as parliamentary reform, and sometimes mocked his shortcomings not only to friends but even—less openly—in letters to his father himself.

Shelley’s uncompetitive home life had not fitted him for survival at Eton, where he was savagely ragged for his non-conformism. (He entered in 1804.) But though vulnerable, he was fearless; and it was probably at Eton that the self-commitment recorded in his dedication to Laon and Cythna was made:

                 I will be wise,
      And just, and free, and mild, if in me lies
      Such power, for I grow weary to behold
      The selfish and the strong still tyrannize
      Without reproach or check.

He would not learn what his “tyrants” taught, he decided, but would “Heap knowledge from forbidden mines of lore”—from science, for example (then outlawed at Eton), and the writings of Godwin and the French skeptics. His tyrants did succeed in teaching him Latin and Greek.

Just before Shelley entered University College, Oxford, in October 1810, the parents concerned broke off his friendship with Harriet Grove, alarmed at its effects on her beliefs, and she dutifully married the nephew of a clergyman. In the spring of 1811, Shelley was sent down from Oxford for circulating an unsigned leaflet. The Necessity of Atheism, written with his friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg, who shared the same fate.

The shock of these arbitrary acts confirmed Shelley’s intellectual revulsion from Christianity. Page 197  |  Top of ArticleHis reaction, in August 1811, was to elope with a sixteen-year-old friend of his sister’s, Harriet Westbrook. This marriage failed, but not before it had inspired his first important poem. Even at twenty-one Shelley was a well-published author, with two prose thrillers to his discredit and two volumes of mainly sensational, “gothic” verse.

Queen Mab, never regularly published, was, ironically, the one popular success of Shelley’s career. From 1821 on, it was frequently reprinted— more to the author’s amusement than dismay—and became one of the most respected texts in the Radical working-class movement, “the Chartists’ Bible.”

There is much in it to deserve respect. The fairy title was camouflage to cover “long notes against Jesus Christ, & God the Father and the King & the Bishops & marriage & the Devil knows what,” as Shelley later remembered them, so that Queen Mab, like all his political verse, was solidly buttressed by prose argument. But the poem has a plain, simple structure—a perspective of the past, present, and future conditions of mankind—and the writing, though modeled on the irregular verse of Robert Southey’s Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), is hard and clear. Many features of Queen Mab have a continuous development throughout Shelley’s subsequent work. Human society is always seen in a cosmic setting, and human history as inseparable from the history of stars and insects. From the vantage point to which Mab has carried her, the soul of Ianthe (Harriet) is shown

      The flood of ages combating below,
      The depth of the unbounded universe
           Above, and all around
      Nature’s unchanging harmony.
                             (II. 254-257)

The order of nature is unchanging, a “wilderness of harmony,” but its constituent parts are “combating below” in a continual storm of change. Thus the ruined civilizations that Mab exhibits are not—as in many eighteenth-century poems—mere illustrations of human pride humbled by time; they are part of a process in which man is endlessly implicated with nature. Necessity, “mother of the world” and moving in it everywhere like the West Wind, rules this “Imperishable change/That renovates the world.” Only man does not yet cooperate. “Matter, with all its transitory shapes,/Lies subjected and plastic at his feet”; but he cannot master it, not by reason of his supposed

                evil nature, that apology
  Which kings who rule, and cowards who crouch, set up
  For their unnumbered crimes
                                (IV. 76-78)

but because his false institutions and superstitions offend the natural law. “Nature rejects the monarch, not the man.”

Yet life goes on aspiring, “like hungry and unresting flame,” and must triumph in the end. Then the playthings of man’s social childhood—thrones, cathedrals, prisons—will be abandoned, and man will take his place among his fellow creatures in the natural order:

      … Man has lost
      His terrible prerogative, and stands
      An equal amidst equals …
                        (VIII. 225-227)

Men and women, too, will be equal, and thus truly free to love; the old quarrel between passion and reason will end once sexual relations are no longer distorted by commercial exploitation or venereal disease. And eventually the nightshade berries will outgrow their old habit of being poisonous, and the lions their customary fierceness.

Much of the egalitarianism of Queen Mab, its sun that shines as sweetly on cottage thatch as on the domes of palaces, was traditional. The style, too, was still eighteenth-century rather than romantic. Shelley did not find his way back to this sort of harsh clarity until the very different “Triumph of Life” a decade later.

For some three years after the writing of Queen Mab, Shelley’s hectic life gave him little time for poetry; and the forms of direct action that he tried first—agitation in Ireland, land reclamation in Wales—resulted in prose tracts and manifestos rather than poems. Harriet’s role as wife of a “committed” poet was hard to keep up, and the gap between their interests widened. In 1814, Shelley met Mary Godwin, daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and the radical thinker William Godwin; and after a brief agony of indecision, they fled to Switzerland together, accompanied by Mary’s stepsister Claire Clairmont.

The practical result of this second elopement was a year desperately spent in trying to raise credit on which to live and in dodging creditors. The strain made Shelley ill; he was told he was dying of consumption. Not until the summer of 1815, when his grandfather died, was there a reasonable subsistence for all concerned.

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But in August, Shelley, now permanently addicted to boats, made a ten-day voyage up the Thames that mended his health and resulted in the first poem of his early maturity. Alastor is exploratory, a languidly beautiful product of convalescence. It is broadly in the eighteenth-century tradition of James Beattie’s The Minstrel, that of moralizing on the way various experiences affect the sensibility of a young genius, but its landscapes are no longer diagrams thrown on a cosmic screen: they are symbolic, inseparable from the psychic and emotional states of the Poet passing through them.

The Greek title “Alastor,” an avenging power, applies to the “self-centred seclusion” that tempts the Poet to waste his life in pursuing a dream lover of impossible perfection instead of making do with the love of his fellow beings. Was Shelley thinking mainly of himself? (He had given up direct political action, and a quiet country life certainly tempted him: a little later he was styling himself the “Hermit of Marlow.”) Or Wordsworth? Or Coleridge? Short poems critical of both were included in the Alastor volume, but Shelley always took care that the minor poems in his collections matched the principal one. In any case, as the preface admits, his sympathies were on both sides; and the poem tends to romanticize what it was supposed to condemn.

Six weeks of the summer of 1816 were spent on the Lake of Geneva, near Lord Byron. The meeting was occasioned by Byron’s liaison with Claire Clairmont; but the two poets liked each other, and their mutual literary admiration, at least, remained to the end. At this time Wordsworth’s intuition in “Tintern Abbey” of

    A motion and a spirit, that impels
    All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
    And rolls through all things

was beginning to haunt Shelley’s imagination. In “Mont Blanc,” a poem the obscurity of which is partly due to technical clumsiness, the mountain embodies a secret Power, perhaps identical with Necessity, that, once acknowledged, could regenerate the world. In a companion “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,” reworked after his return home, Shelley celebrates “Intellectual Beauty” almost as the spiritual aspect of this immanent power, a radiance that invests Necessity with sympathy and loveliness, somewhat as Asia in Prometheus Unbound spiritualizes the inscrutable Demogorgon.

Back in England, the suicide of Fanny Imlay (Mary Shelley’s half sister) on 9 October 1816 was swiftly followed by Harriet’s suicide, in obscure circumstances; and early the following year the lord chancellor, John Scott, 1st earl of Eldon, ruled that Shelley was not fit to take care of Harriet’s two children, although he had regularized his claim on them by marrying Mary. His friendships with Hogg, Thomas Love Peacock, and especially Leigh Hunt helped Shelley through these disastrous months. Hunt introduced him to John Keats, and the two young poets agreed each to complete a 4,000-line poem during the summer of 1817. Shelley’s poem was Laon and Cythna; or, The Revolution of the Golden City: A Vision of the Nineteenth Century, a romance epic in Spenserian stanzas. Despite its Turkish setting, it was intended as a lesson to those supporters of the French Revolution who had been disillusioned by events since 1789. There is no easy optimism here (nor, indeed, anywhere else in Shelley’s poems). Although the road to egalitarian objectives is always open, it leads through disappointment, bloody defeat, sacrifice, and death. To “break through the crust of those outworn opinions on which established institutions depend,” Shelley made his revolutionary lovers brother and sister (the biological hazards not then being understood), and also stressed the bloodthirstiness of Christianity; but his publisher prevailed on him to modify these features, and to adopt a tactfully distancing title, The Revolt of Islam.

This poem has had very few to praise, and none to love it. Whereas the realism of its great prototype, The Faerie Queene, vitalizes the allegory, Shelley’s symbolic treatment undermines the intended human interest. What stay in the mind are single images, as of the sunlit sea depths from which a diver “Passed like a spark sent up out of a burning oven,” and single episodes, such as the opening duel between the eagle of darkness and the snake of light, the description of plague and famine in canto X, and Laone’s hymn of hope during the “winter of the world” in canto IX, which anticipates the seasonal imagery of the “Ode to the West Wind.”

Shelley was very depressed by the failure of The Revolt of Islam, still feeling, three years later, that its “date should have been longer than a day.” This and the move to Italy in the spring of 1818—partly for the sunshine, partly to take Claire Clairmont’s illegitimate daughter Allegra to her father, Byron— temporarily unsettled him. When he could “absolutely do nothing else,” he translated Plato’s Symposium Page 199  |  Top of Articleand the Cyclops of Euripides. But August brought the stimulus of a reunion with Byron in Venice. Claire wanted to see her little girl again, and Shelley had gone alone to negotiate a meeting. He succeeded—but when his family joined him at the villa near Este that Byron had lent them, the long, hot journey from Leghorn proved too much for his own year-old daughter Clara. She died of dysentery soon after arrival.

Out of this loss came the “Lines Written Among the Euganean Hills,” a minor masterpiece. From the highest point of the Colli Euganei, on the lower slopes of which the Shelleys were living, could be seen Padua and Venice to the east, the Alps to the north, and the Apennines to the south. Islanded in space, making one October day an island in the flux of time, Shelley moves out of the storms of his own life to prophesy over the cities of the plain, enslaved and corrupted by foreign occupation, yet transfigured momentarily under the eternal sunlight. As usual he writes best when his private feelings dissolve into feeling for others; but even the “mariner” of the opening lines is not himself only, for the date is only a week from the anniversary of Fanny Imlay’s suicide.

Just as individual lives are wrecked because love is willfully withheld until it is too late, so Venice and Padua face destruction because they lack the will to assert their ancient greatness. The line “Men must reap the things they sow” is bitterly ironical, for the harvests are being gathered—to supply the invader. The meter is that of John Milton’s “L’Allégro,” a favorite measure in the eighteenth century used, for instance, in John Dyer’s Grongar Hill poems, and one with a flexibility that appealed to Shelley:

      And of living things each one,
      And my spirit which so long
      Darkened this swift stream of song,
      Interpenetrated lie
      By the glory of the sky:
      Be it love, light, harmony,
      Odour, or the soul of all
      Which from heaven like dew doth fall,
      Or the mind which feeds this verse
      Peopling the lone universe.

There was reason for the new note of artistic assurance in this poem. Act I of Prometheus Unbound had just been finished.

Prometheus Unbound, Shelley’s central poetic achievement, was composed over three widely spaced sessions that it will be necessary to treat as one. All but this first act was written during 1819: Acts II and III in the spring, at Rome, and Act IV in the autumn, at Leghorn and Florence. The “myth” of the poem is the great European humanist myth of the Titan who steals fire from the sun and teaches man all the arts and sciences, in defiance of an outraged deity. Shelley’s version derives from that of Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound (and it is Aeschylus’ Prometheus, not Shelley’s, that is discussed in the preface); but he reminds readers of his great predecessor partly in order to underline the differences. Prometheus Bound was one play of a trilogy in which the hero eventually compromised with Jupiter; Shelley reorders the myth so that it will incorporate the knowledge gained in the struggle for human emancipation since the fifth century B.C.

Prometheus Unbound, as Shelley explained in the preface, was not a program of action, which could better be provided in prose tracts such as the “Essay on Christianity” and the “Philosophical View of Reform”; it was an “idealism”—an imaginative picture of “what ought to be, or may be”—meant to condition people’s minds for the stupendous changes that society must undergo in becoming truly human. “Man must first dream the possible before he can do it.” So even where the poem is closest to allegory, its characters cannot be translated exactly into moral or political terms, and different aspects of their significance are emphasized at different moments. Nor can the poem be summed up as a “drama in the mind”—or even in a universal Mind—although some of its actions are mental, such as Prometheus’ renunciation of the curse, and his torture by the Furies, who represent his own temptations to despair.

At one level the poem mirrors the contemporary social order. Jupiter represents the ruling classes of Europe with their apparatus of repression and propaganda:

 Thrones, altars, judgement-seats, and prisons; wherein,
 And beside which, by wretched men were borne
 Sceptres, tiaras, swords, and chains, and tomes
 Of reasoned wrong, glozed on by ignorance ….
                                     (III. iv. 164-167)

Freedom can come only when this entrenched order is overthrown from below. But from another viewpoint all these repressive institutions, and the prestige that makes them effective, exist because Page 200  |  Top of Articlemankind installed them and tolerated them: they “were, for his will made or suffered them,” and man is able to undo his own mistakes. Jupiter is in this sense the creation of Prometheus. This is why he is described at his fall as “sunk, withdrawn, covered, drunk up/By thirsty nothing”—a mere hole in social and moral space that Love fills up.

At the beginning of the drama, the position is deadlocked. To defy power keeps hope alive, yet defiance alone cannot either dislodge the old regime or create a new one. Necessity, the natural law, cannot operate as one day it must, until the right conditions are met; and one essential condition is that Prometheus should give up his adversary’s vindictive attitude of mind. Milton’s God in Paradise Lost had allowed Satan freedom to act, “That with reiterated crimes he might/Heap on himself damnation.” But Prometheus learns through centuries of suffering to forgo revenge; then Asia (Love, his wife and natural counterpart) can be inducted willingly into the realm of Demogorgon. Thus Love, the law that governs the moral world, interacts with Necessity, the law that governs all other worlds, and the Hour of liberation is released.

The imaginative implications of this unusual “plot” are many-sided. Appropriately in a drama about Prometheus, Shelley made part of the action into a geophysical metaphor. The scientist James Hutton had recently explained how the earth recreated itself by periodic cycles of volcanic activity, and it was believed that eruptions were triggered by the entry of water from the sea. So when Asia and her sea sisters penetrate the mountain of Demogorgon, who is described as if he were made of molten lava, they activate an eruption out of which the old earth is reborn. As Sir Humphry Davy had observed of volcanoes in 1811, “The evil produced is transient; the good is permanent. The ashes which buried Pompeii have rendered a great country continually productive. The destruction is small and partial—the benefit great and general.” Shelley constantly used volcanic imagery in his poetry. Christianity placed God in Heaven and the Devil in the Pit; but for Shelley evil was rained from above, while the ultimate source of power and energy was located below, at the center. So the earth produced “fountains,” or springs, and breathed up exhalations; these might be mischievous, corrupted as earth was under Jupiter, but in origin they were the “wine of life,” sources of inspiration, prophecy, and action.

The dramatic center of Act I is the confrontation between Prometheus and the Furies, who are brought by Mercury to force him into despair. The contrast between the mealy-mouthed, self-indulgence of Mercury and the tight-lipped, dismissive irony of Prometheus is very effective:

  Mercury. Thou canst not count thy years to come
    of pain?
  Prometheus. They last while Jove must reign; nor
    more, nor less
Do I desire or fear.
  Mercury. Yet pause, and plunge
Into Eternity, where recorded time,
Even all that we imagine, age on age,
Seems but a point, and the reluctant mind
Flags wearily in its unending flight,
Till it sink, dizzy, blind, lost, shelterless;
Perchance it has not numbered the slow years
Which thou must spend in torture, unreprieved?
  Prometheus. Perchance no thought can count them,
    yet they pass.
  Mercury. If thou might’st dwell among the Gods the
Lapped in voluptuous joy?
  Prometheus. I would not quit
This bleak ravine, these unrepentant pains.
  Mercury. Alas! I wonder at, yet pity thee.
  Prometheus. Pity the self-despising slaves of
Not me, within whose mind sits peace serene,
As light in the sun, throned: how vain is talk!
Call up the fiends.
                                        (I. 414-432)

To the Furies, Prometheus is curt and laconic:

    Pain is my element, as hate is thine;
    Ye rend me now: I care not.
                           (I. 477-478)

And there is equal economy of language in a Fury’s demoralizing summary of human impotence: even the greatest human figures

 … dare not devise good for man’s estate,
 And yet they know not that they do not dare.
 The good want power, but to weep barren tears.
 The powerful goodness want: worse need for them.
 The wise want love, and those who love want wisdom;
 And all best things are thus confused to ill.
                                               (I. 623-628)

The wintry poetic language of the alpine first act matches the dramatic situation; the language of the Page 201  |  Top of Articlesecond act, borrowing its scenery from the luxuriant area around Naples, opens with a burst of colors to match the revitalizing forces set in motion by Prometheus’ change of heart. In one dialogue—virtually a monologue—Asia is inspired to speculate, to the limit of her own insight (and Shelley’s), on the authorship of evil; but some of the most original writing in this act is lyrical. In the “Semichorus of Spirits,” a key passage with its remarkable reconcilement of free will and determinism in the final stanza, the clogged movement, the intricate syntax, the images of vegetation, gloom, and moisture aptly suggest the dense forest surrounding the causal source of material life:

      Nor sun, nor moon, nor wind, nor rain
      Can pierce its interwoven bowers,
      Nor aught, save where some cloud of dew,
      Drifted along the earth-creeping breeze
      Between the trunks of the hoar trees,
      Hangs each a pearl in the pale flowers
      Of the green laurel, blown anew;
      And the gloom divine is all around;
      And underneath is the mossy ground.
                            (II. ii. 5-11; 22-23)

The “Voice in the Air, Singing” in celebration of Asia is at another extreme, for here Asia is to Demogorgon as spiritual light is to physical heat:

    Child of Light! thy limbs are burning
    Through the vest which seems to hide them,
    As the radiant lines of morning
    Through the clouds ere they divide them;
    And this atmosphere divinest
    Shrouds thee wheresoe’er thou shinest.
                                  (II. v. 54-59)

In Act III, after Jupiter has fallen, the gradual change to a new civilization is abridged for formal reasons; there seems to be little difference in things at first, but by the end the old idols are moldering ruins. And as in Queen Mab, not only is man reaching out into the deeps of space, but his morality is affecting the ecology of nature. The precision and quality of the lines in which the Spirit of the Earth rejoices over this development prove how seriously Shelley took it:

    All things had put their evil nature off:
    I cannot tell my joy, when o’er a lake
    Upon a drooping bough with nightshade twined,
    I saw two azure halcyons clinging downward
    And thinning one bright bunch of amber berries
    With quick long beaks, and in the deep there lay
    Those lovely forms imaged as in a sky ….
                                      (III. iv. 77-83)

Act IV, the lyrical “cosmic dance” added to the poem when it was already half-copied for the printer, is patchy, but fascinating, as Mary Shelley said, for its “abstruse and imaginative theories with regard to the Creation.” The extraordinary song of the Moon to the Earth, which turns gravitation into a metaphor of sexual love, is an example of the unique kind of analogical vitality that Shelley could derive from physical science:

      I, thy crystal paramour
      Borne beside thee by a power
      Like the polar Paradise,
      Magnet-like, of lovers’ eyes;
      Sheltered by the warm embrace
      Of thy soul, from hungry space….
                   (IV. 463-466; 479-480)

The end of the act is, in effect, a proclamation by Demogorgon to his reclaimed empire, summarizing the central experience of the poem:

       To defy Power, which seems omnipotent;
    To love, and bear; to hope, till Hope creates
    From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;
       Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent;
    This, like thy glory, Titan! is to be
    Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;
    This is alone Life, Joy, Empire and Victory.
                                    (IV. 572-578)

From Este, with Prometheus one-quarter finished, the Shelleys traveled south to winter in Naples, an obscure and unhappy period in which only the “Stanzas Written in Dejection” were completed. But it is probable that “Julian and Maddalo,” though planned at Este, was mostly written between Acts I and II of Prometheus; if so, Shelley was already experimenting consciously in a very different, familiar style, and a “sermo pedestris way of treating human nature,” in the middle of his lyrical drama. The successful parts are in fact its vivid descriptions of Venice and its imitations of “the actual way in which people talk with each other”—in this case Julian Page 202  |  Top of Article(Shelley) and Maddalo (Byron), on the shores and canals of Venice:

    Of all that earth has been or yet may be,
    All that vain men imagine or believe,
    Or hope can paint or suffering may achieve,
    We descanted, and I (for ever still
    Is it not wise to make the best of ill?)
    Argued against despondency, but pride
    Made my companion take the darker side.

So Julian maintains, once more, that men are enslaved to evil because they make no effort to be otherwise; “it is our will/That thus enchains us to permitted ill.” “You talk Utopia,” Maddalo retorts; men are too weak ever to control their own destinies. And he supports his case by showing Julian someone whose reason has been destroyed by personal suffering. Perhaps the concept of this maniac derives from the madness of Torquato Tasso, and parts of his story from the private affairs of Shelley or Byron, but the episode as a whole is a “comment for the text of every heart.” The poem ends with the argument still unsettled.

“Julian and Maddalo,” subtitled “A Conversation,” was a stylistic bridge between Prometheus Unbound and the “sad reality” of The Cenci, which Shelley wrote for the stage. All that he ironically called “mere poetry” was banished from the script, which was to be objective and lucid, “a delineation of passions which I had never participated in, in chaste language,” and the principal part was angled toward a particular actress, Eliza O’Neill. But the true-life plot proved too unchaste for the theater management; Miss O’Neill could not be asked even to read it.

The heroine, Beatrice, is a mortal Prometheus who, because her oppressor is hateful, cannot help hating him, and answers rape with murder. Her conviction that a just God endorses her deed is so sustained and passionate that a puzzling dramatic tension is set up by “the restless and anatomizing casuistry with which men seek the justification of Beatrice, yet feel that she has done what needs justification.” She is given other motives for her pose of innocence, including the fear of death. In the Old Vic production of 1959, Barbara Jefford spoke Beatrice’s final words of the play, “Well, “tis very well,” with a stinging derision that epitomized the vitality and complexity of this remarkable heroine. The Cenci cannot properly be judged away from the theater, and in the theater it is powerful but defective. It is also memorably original. Except in the most triviai ways it is quite un-Shakespearean, in versification as in content,

Most of The Cenci was written near Leghorn. Mary Shelley had been grief-stricken by the death of their son William in June 1819; and the Shelleys had fled from Rome, now childless, to seek consolation from an old friend, Maria Gisborne, who had nursed Mary as a baby. Shelley did, of course, write private verses to express his feelings, but the two public poems composed during this unhappy summer were entirely objective. The second of these was “The Masque of Anarchy,” a vigorous fusion of biblical prophecy, poetic vision, and street balladry:

      As I lay asleep in Italy
      There came a voice from over the Sea,
      And with great power it forth led me
      To walk in the Visions of Poesy.

Asleep at his post of duty to others, Shelley meant. The news of the Peterloo massacre of 16 August, when a peaceful reform demonstration in Manchester was ridden down by drunken yeomanry, had reached him on 5 September; next day he told his publisher, “The torrent of my indignation has not yet done boiling in my veins”; and within three weeks a ballad of ninety-one stanzas was on its way to Leigh Hunt for publication. Again a poem was addressed to a popular audience, and again it was held back for fear of the consequences. Perhaps with reason, for although its appeal is to the advantages of passive resistance and (shrewdly) to “the old laws of England,” the refrain “Ye are many—they are few” would hardly have tranquilized the frightened leaders of Lord Liverpool’s government, nor would the opening stanzas, in which each leader is made to seem a mere “front” for the evil that inhabits him:

      I met Murder on the way—
      He had a mask like Castlereagh ….

Murder wears the face of Lord Castlereagh (foreign secretary); Hypocrisy, that of Lord Sidmouth (home secretary and builder of churches for the starving poor); Fraud is a mock-up of Lord Eldon (a judge). Thus the title is a pun: “masque,” pageant play, and Page 203  |  Top of Article“mask,” disguise. Once more the constructive side of the poem takes the form of a prophetic vision, but the writing is forceful and concrete. “Freedom” is no abstract slogan: it means bread on a table, a home, and clothes.

Shelley’s other political songs are less interesting than the long, incomplete prose essay “A Philosophical View of Reform,” written soon after “The Masque of Anarchy.” Its modest proposals to abolish the national debt, to disband the army, to make religious intolerance illegal, to extend the jury system and the franchise were not, of course, all that Shelley wanted, but only what he thought it possible to get. The long-range aspirations of his poetry always have somewhere behind them this sort of short-term prose practicality.

From this time on, with minor exceptions, Shelley gave up trying to reach a wide audience on subjects of topical concern, as he had earlier given up direct action. But one major poem, the “Ode to the West Wind,” ends this period of passionate commitment. Shelley had just read an attack on The Revolt of Islam in the Quarterly Review, full of innuendo against the poet’s private life and concluding, “Instead of relying on his own powers, he must feel and acknowledge his weakness, and pray for strength from above.” Shelley takes this advice with ironic literalness: he acknowledges his weakness, and prays to the wind. The West Wind he invokes is the “breath of Autumn’s being,” the essence of seasonal change, one aspect of that universal Power operating at every level in all the elements, from the star-fretted sky to the weed on the seabed: the Power that destroys leaves and people of all colors but also resurrects them as children of another spring.

The reviewer (who had known Shelley at Eton) called him “unteachable in boyhood.” If only he could be an unteachable boy again, or if the Wind would simply order him about, as it orders all inanimate things: wave, leaf, and cloud! So it does, for he too is subject to the universal Law; his own leaves are falling. But he is a man, not a leaf, and must use the Wind as well as serve it, just as Asia on her journey used as well as obeyed the “plume-uplifting wind” steaming from Demogorgon’s mountain. He is a poet, and must give back music to the Wind; he is a prophet, and the Wind must trumpet his words abroad. Cause and effect interpenetrate to proclaim the same message of hope.

The ode is one of the great lyrics of the language, unique for its athletic swiftness within a tightly controling form. Its imagery and diction, which a few critics have thought suspiciously beautiful, have turned out on closer inspection to be equally exact and subtle.

The day “West Wind” was begun in Florence was probably the day after Peter Bell the Third was finished, this last a shrewd joke at Wordsworth’s expense, with much hard-hitting contemporary satire:

      Hell is a city much like London—
       A populous and a smoky city;
      There are all sorts of people undone
      And there is little or no fun done;
       Small justice shown, and still less pity.

There was also a literal “new birth” in November 1819. Percy Florence Shelley, who survived his father, owed his second name to the suggestion of a visiting friend, Sophia Stacey. Sophia flirted amicably with Shelley, sang to him, and was courted in a resourceful variety of poetic attitudes: with playful practicality in “Love’s Philosophy,” with oriental sensuality in “The Indian Serenade,” and ethereally in “Thou art fair and few are fairer” (a lyric evidently once intended for Asia, but re-addressed from a “nymph of air” to a “nymph of earth”). Perhaps the unclaimed flowers of “The Question” would have been Sophia’s too, if she had stayed to accept them.

In January 1820, Shelley took his family to Pisa, where a small group of friends later began to gather: Edward Williams and Jane Johnson early the following year, he a young officer on half-pay, she a refugee from her real husband; and in 1822, Edward Trelawny, a supposed former privateer who was as devoted as his credentials were unreliable.

The severe winter in Florence, and perhaps Miss Stacey’s departure, influenced Shelley’s first poem of 1820, “The Sensitive Plant” (Mimosa púdica), a parable of man’s precarious situation within nature. This was followed by the grandiloquent “Ode to Liberty,” inspired by news of the revolution in Spain against Ferdinand VII. Perhaps some of the shorter poems of this spring were more successful within their limits. Shelley obviously enjoyed the challenge to his craftsmanship of commissioned work, and it was probably after writing what is known as the “Hymn of Apollo,” which the sun god sings in the first person, for a verse play of his wife’s that Shelley went on to write, in the same manner but just for fun, Page 204  |  Top of Articlehis dazzling meteorological nursery rhyme “The Cloud.”

The other long poems written in 1820 are all light in tone, especially the accomplished (and funny) translation of Homer’s “Hymn to Mercury.” “The Witch of Atlas” is more serious than it seems, but is still a holiday poem. And early in July, Shelley wrote the verse letter that Mar: Gisborne called “that delightful and laughable and exquisite description in verse of our house and Henry’s workroom”—the poem generally entitled “Letter to Maria Gisborne,” although it was sent to the family. It was not that he was especially lighthearted. What the playful tone represents is a new artistic maturity in Shelley, a sort of Mozartian wryness, compounded of sadness and self-mockery, that is characteristic of some of his best work from 1820 on.

The Gisbornes had gone to London, and Shelley was writing from the workroom of Maria’s son Henry, who was a nautical engineer. It is a true letter to close friends, not a public poem, and its deceptively careless form gives the illusion of spontaneous informality. The spider and silkworm of the opening introduce several themes—“threads of friendship,” “machinery,” and “habitation”—that permeate the poem. These verses are not to catch readers, Shelley says; they are just an expendable way of making my friends remember me. What really counts is not the apparatus of constraint, but the ties of affection, natural beauty, and domesticity. Later the spider’s meretricious web becomes equivalent to London, and the silkworm’s mulberry tree to the peaceful environment of Italy (silk was the chief industrial product of Italy). All this with playful courtesy— for instance, in the recollection of how Maria Gisborne, who had cared for Shelley’s wife as a baby, had nursed him also through his infancy in the Spanish language. Topics of every degree of seriousness grow effortlessly out of one another: torture, toy boats, tea, life after death, prostitution, mince pies; and the appropriate modulations of tone are managed with a happy confidence:

    You will see Coleridge, he who sits obscure
    In the exceeding lustre and the pure
    Intense irradiation of a mind
    Which, with its own internal lightning blind,
    Flags wearily through darkness and despair–
    But we will have books, Spanish, Italian, Greek,
    And ask one week to make another week
    As like his father as I’m unlike mine,
    Which is not his fault, as you may divine.
                                   (202-206; 298-301)

There is throughout a concrete particularity—a sense of locality and of things—which is not often credited to Shelley:

      … a shabby stand
    Of hackney coaches, a brick house or wall
    Fencing some lordly court, white with the scrawl
    Of our unhappy politics…

The poem is a triumph of graceful craftsmanship and civilized feeling.

A more intense but much narrower poem resulted from Shelley’s celebration of a young Italian girl, Emilia Viviani, as the final embodiment of the Ideal Beauty he had been seeking all his life. In a way Epipsychidion (“a little soul beside a soul”) is the most “typical” of all Shelley’s works, an extreme concentration of a single element in his genius. But Keats would have called it “too smokeable”—too easy to smile at. When, eventually, Shelley found Emilia “a cloud instead of a Juno,” he reacted against the poem too, and sent word to stop its further publication.

He was still under the spell of this platonic friendship when he wrote his best-known prose work, “A Defence of Poetry,” unpublished until 1840. It was part of an answer to Thomas Love Peacock’s half-serious argument that poetry in a utilitarian age was obsolescent, and his treatment is therefore very general. But his metaphors are generally used, as in Francis Bacon, not for mere eloquence but in order to make complex meanings intelligible (“the mind in creation is as a fading coal, which some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens to transitory brightness”); and some of the incidental discussions are of much interest: for example, the question why a great poem such as Paradise Lost will go on revealing new significances long after its social context, and even the religion that inspired it, have disintegrated. “Veil after veil may be undrawn, and the inmost naked beauty of the meaning never exposed.” This is an important commentary on Shelley’s own adaptations of myth.

News came in April 1821 of Keats’s death in Rome. Shelley had not known him well; but he had seen from Hyperion that Keats was a major poet, and the supposed primary cause of his death—the Quarterly Page 205  |  Top of ArticleReview attack on Endymion in 1818—roused him to fury. Yet Adonais is “a highly wrought piece of art,” for in this most complimentary of English elegies, Shelley purposely followed Keats’s advice to “curb his magnanimity” (that is, his humanitarian zeal) and “be more of an artist.” So it is statelier, more conscious of its own verbal substance, than many of Shelley’s poems.

To counter the reviewers’ dismissal of Keats as an illiterate Cockney, Shelley chose to honor him by adopting the graceful classical artifice of the pastoral elegy, as Edmund Spenser had mourned Sir Philip Sidney in Astrophel, and Milton his friend Edward King in “Lycidas.” The classical pastoral transfers personal emotions and relationships to a more or less idealized country community; the shepherd with his pipe, living in close contact with nature, becomes a type of the poet, and the death of a shepherd-poet is lamented by his fellow shepherds and by nature itself. The convention derives from Theocritus and his Latin imitator Vergil; but Shelley’s more immediate influences were Moschus’ elegy on the Greek poet Bion, and Bion’s own Lament of Venus for Adonis, lines from both of which he had translated. Thus Adonais belongs to a tradition extending from the Greek idyll to Matthew Arnold’s “Thyrsis”—and even, in some respects, to T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land.

Keats had used the myth of Adonis, whose name suggested “Adonais,” in his Endymion. He was a boy loved by the goddess Venus, but one day a boar killed him while he was hunting. He was permitted to return to life for half the year, spending the other half asleep in the underworld. This was a close fit: Keats was loved by immortal Poetry (Urania) and killed by a reviewer, yet in death he had rejoined the Spirit whose “plastic stress” shapes the beauty of the material world. Like Asia, Urania is composite. She is not Adonais’ love but his mother, and she is imagined as being Milton’s spiritual widow, with Adonais as their youngest offspring. This is because Shelley regarded the author of Hyperion as the poetic heir of Milton, who had adopted Urania as his single “heavenly born” Muse in Paradise Lost; so, after Milton’s death, Keats was the “nursling of her widowhood.” But at times she is also Venus Genetrix, goddess of love and organic life.

The almost unrelieved grief of the opening stanzas, expressed in imagery of cloud and vapor, is not to be dispelled by the return of spring, although

    The leprous corpse touched by this spirit tender
    Exhales itself in flowers of gentle breath;
    Like incarnations of the stars …
                                         (st. 20)

The flowers are earthly versions of the stars, radiating perfume instead of light. But for the dead man there is no renewal of life, as Moschus had said in his lament for Bion. Death is the price paid on earth for the colors of sky and field. Even Urania, undying mother of generation, cannot revive Adonais.

Adonais’ own poetic imaginings lament him, and there are many references to Keats’s poems: the “pale flower by some sad maiden cherished” is “Isabella”; Adonais is washed from a “lucid urn”; his spirit’s sister is the nightingale; like his own Hyperion he could scale Heaven. His fellow poets lament him, too, mountain shepherds in honor of Endymion, who kept sheep on Mount Patmos; these include Byron, Thomas Moore, and Leigh Hunt. Shelley’s own presence among them is often thought an embarrassment to the poem, and there is some evidence that he meant to omit these stanzas in a second edition. But the episode is not irrelevant; an obscure mourner, who identifies his fate with that of Adonais, asks: If the enemies of the imagination could not even discriminate between the extremes represented by Cain and Christ, what justice can be expected for any of us? Yet, in some sense at least, Adonais is with the “enduring” dead, like pure metal melted down and returned to the furnace, whereas the reviewer and his kind are ashes only:

    Thou canst not soar where he is sitting now—
    Dust to the dust! but the pure spirit shall flow
    Back to the burning fountain whence it came,
    A portion of the Eternal ….
                                      (st. 38)

So the poem reaches its final affirmation, expressed in imagery of light and fire. Adonais has “awakened from the dream of life”—this life the flowers, arts, and cultures of which can only partially embody the Power working through them—and has become identified with that Power:

  He is a portion of the loveliness
  Which once he made more lovely: he doth bear
  His part, while the one Spirit’s plastic stress
  Sweeps through the dull dense world, compelling there
  All new successions to the forms they wear;
Page 206  |  Top of Article
  Torturing the unwilling dross that checks its flight
  To its own likeness, as each mass may bear;
  And bursting in its beauty and its might
  From trees and beasts and men into the Heavens’ light.
                                       (st. 43)

In death the white sunlight of Unity is no longer refracted into colors by the “dome” of the mundane atmosphere. And that Unity, to attain which Shelley would almost accept a death like Keats’s (“why shrink, my Heart?”), touches him in the act of writing his poem and authorizes its final daring paradoxes of grammar and metaphor:

    That Light…
    Which through the web of being blindly wove
    By man and beast and earth and air and sea,
    Burns bright or dim, as each are mirrors of
    The fire for which all thirst, now beams on me,
    Consuming the last clouds of cold mortality.
                                            (st. 54)

In the autumn Shelley completed Hellas (“Greece”) in honor of the Greeks’ insurrection against their Turkish overlords. It was written, like W. H. Auden’s Spain, for the cause; and though it has some fine lyrical choruses, the blank verse tends to be strained. Shelley called it “a mere improvise.”

Byron had moved to Pisa late in 1821, to write for The Liberal, which Leigh Hunt was coming from England to edit; and in March and April 1822, Shelley translated some scenes from Pedro Calderón de la Barca and from Faust for publication in the new journal. But he was again in a very unsettled state. He had already abandoned work on a new play, Charles I. Some of his uncertainty related to Edward and Jane Williams—especially Jane, whom he found increasingly attractive. As the months of 1822 passed, the eight lyrics he gave her came to form the best— indeed, the only—group of unequivocally personal love poems he ever wrote. For all their tact and delicacy, these poems have a new undertone of skepticism, almost earthiness:

    … the sweet warmth of day
    Was scattered o’er the twinkling bay;
    And the fisher with his lamp
    And spear, about the low rocks damp
    Crept, and struck the fish who came
    To worship the delusive flame.

These “Lines Written in the Bay of Lerici” were composed when the Williams and Shelley families were in joint occupation of Casa Magni, the only house available to them on that beautiful coast. Claire’s little Allegra had died of fever, and it had been imperative to get her mother well away from Byron, whom she was bound to blame for this tragedy. In May, Shelley’s new boat, the Don Juan, arrived; and the outward things of life seemed very favorable to him, for once:

Williams is captain [he wrote), and we drive along this delightful bay in the evening wind, under the summer moon, until earth appears another world. Jane brings her guitar, and if the past and the future could be obliterated, the present would content me so well that I could say with Faust to the passing moment, “Remain, thou, thou art so beautiful”.2

(letter to John Gisborne, 18 June 1822)

Inwardly it was otherwise. His poetry had failed, and the popular cause had been defeated over almost all of Europe. Four children he had loved were dead; his wife was ill and unhappy; and he was in love with someone unobtainable. In this complex of troubles he began “The Triumph of Life.”

Shelley’s last, unfinished, poem is difficult and enigmatic. Stylistically it is like a combination of “The Masque of Anarchy” and Adonais—that is, of directness and economy with a “highly wrought” verbal texture—but the literary influences behind it are no longer English or Greek, but Italian: Petrarch and Dante. Although most of the poem exists only in rough draft, the movement of the verse is so fluent that Shelley’s technical mastery of the terza rima goes almost unnoticed. The homage of all creation to the sun, at the opening, is followed by a vision of the car of light, in front of which the young execute a frenzied erotic dance, until

    One falls and then another in the path
     Senseless, nor is the desolation single,
    Yet ere I can say where, the chariot hath
     Passed over them; nor other trace I find
    But as of foam after the ocean’s wrath
    Is spent upon the desert shore.—Behind,
     Old men and women foully disarrayed
    Shake their grey hair in the insulting wind,

2 From F. L. Jones, ed., The Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley (Oxford, 1964), vol. II, pp. 435-436.

Page 207  |  Top of Article
    Limp in the dance and strain with limbs decayed
     To reach the car of light which leaves them still
    Far behind, and deeper in the shade.
     But not the less with impotence of will
    They wheel, though ghastly shadows interpose,
     Round them and round each other, and fulfil
    Their work, and to the dust whence they arose
     Sink, and corruption veils them as they lie,
    And frost in these performs what fire in those.

One fallen worshipper, Jean Jacques Rousseau, describes how the car seduced him from what seemed an early ideal, a “fair Shape” brighter than the sun, and then destroyed him as it had destroyed these others.

What is being repudiated in this poem? The “suicidal selfishness” of Queen Mab, the “loathsome mask” of Prometheus Unbound, all the moral and social targets of Shelley’s earlier attacks? These, certainly; but some feel that earthly life is now being rejected altogether, that Rousseau’s “fair Shape” was a double agent, a delusive embodiment of the true Ideal. The poem breaks off, and no one knows whether there would have been another side to this somber vision, or whether it was already almost complete.

Leigh Hunt’s arrival must have interrupted the answer to that final question, “What is Life?” After a busy but happy reunion with him in Leghorn, Shelley and Williams sailed for home on 8 July; but on the way the boat was wrecked in a squall. Because of the quarantine laws, the bodies of Shelley and his friend were burned on the foreshore under Trelawny’s supervision; and Shelley’s ashes were interred in the Protestant cemetery in Rome on 21 January 1823, that “flame transformed to marble” that had been celebrated in Adonais. At about the same age of twenty-nine, Wordsworth, who considered Shelley “one of the best artists of us all,” was just thinking of writing a preface to his Lyrical Ballads.


I. BIBLIOGRAPHY. H. B. Forman, The Shelley Library (London, 1886), pt. I: “Shelley’s Own Books, Pamphlets and Broadsides; Posthumous Separate Issues; and Posthumous Books Wholly or Mainly by Him”; no pt. II was published; W. Sharp, Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley (London, 1887), includes bibliography by J. P. Anderson, still useful for critical articles 1822-1887; F. S. Ellis, comp., A Lexical Concordance to the Poetical Works of Shelley (London, 1892), repr. with app. by T. Saito (Tokyo, 1963), based on H. B. Forman’s 1882 ed. of the poems; R. Granniss, A Descriptive Catalogue of the First Editions in Book Form of the Writings of Shelley (New York, 1923), with 30 plates; T. J. Wise, A Shelley Library. A Catalogue of Printed Books, Manuscripts and Autograph Letters (London, 1924), privately printed, essentially vol. V of The Ashley Library (London, 1924); S. de Ricci, A Bibliography of Shelley’s Letters, Published and Unpublished (Paris, 1927), privately printed; Keats-Shelley Journal (1952- ), contains an annual bibliography; L. Patton, The Shelley-Godwin Collection of Lord Abinger, Duke University Library Notes, 27 (1953), 11-17; C. H. Taylor, The Early Collected Editions of Shelley’s Poems: A Study in the History and Transmission of the Printed Text (New Haven, Conn., 1958); K. N. Cameron, ed., Shelley and His Circle 1773-1822 (Cambridge, Mass.-London, 1961- ), vols. I-II (1961); D. H. Reiman, ed., vols. III-IV (1970); vols. V-VI (1973); to be completed in about 8 vols.; D. B. Green and D. E. G. Wilson, comps., Keats, Shelley, Byron, Hunt and Their Circles: A Bibliography 1 July 1950-30 June 1962 (Lincoln, Nebr., 1964); I. Massey, Posthumous Poems of Shelley: Mary Shelley’s Fair Copy Book, Bodleian MS. Shelley Adds. d. 9 (Montreal, 1969); C. Dunbar, A Bibliography of Shelley Studies: 1823-1950 (Folkestone, 1976).

II. PRINCIPAL COLLECTED EDITIONS. The Poetical Works of Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats (Paris, 1829), the Galignani ed., with a memoir by C. Redding; M. W. Shelley, ed., The Poetical Works, 4 vols. (London, 1839), Queen Mab printed with omissions; new rev. ed. in 1 vol., adding Swellfoot, Peter Bell the Third, and Queen Mab complete (London, 1839 [title page dated 1840]); W. M. Rossetti, ed., The Poetical Works, Including Various Additional Pieces from MS and Other Sources, the Text Carefully Revised, with Notes and a Memoir, 2 vols. (London, 1870; rev. ed., 3 vols., 1878); H. B. Forman, ed., The Poetical Works, 4 vols. (London, 1876-1877), new eds. in 2 vols. (London, 1882), with Mary Shelley’s notes, and in 5 vols. (London, 1892), the Aldine ed.; H. B. Forman, ed., The Worícs in Prose and Verse, 8 vols. (London, 1880); G. E. Woodberry, ed., Complete Poetical Works, 4 vols. (Boston, 1892; London, 1893), also in 1 vol. (Boston, 1901), the Cambridge Poets ed.; T. Hutchinson, ed., Complete Poetical Works (London, 1904), with textual notes by Hutchinson, also published in Oxford Standard Authors ed. (London, 1905), with intro. by B. P. Kurtz (New York, 1933), and without intro. (London, 1934; 2nd ed., 1970), the latter rev. by G. M. Matthews; A. H. Koszul, ed., The Poetical Works, 2 vols. (London, 1907), with intro. by Koszul, also rev. ed. with new intro., 2 vols. (London, Page 208  |  Top of Article1953), in Everyman’s Library, poems published in chronological order; CD. Locock, ed., The Poems, 2 vols. (London, 1911), with intro. by A. Clutton-Brock, the only complete ed. with explanatory notes; R. Ingpen and W. E. Peck, eds., The Complete Works, 10 vols. (London, 1926-1930; repr. New York, 1965), the Julian ed.; D. L. Clark, ed., Shelley’s Prose (Albuquerque, N. M., 1954; repr. with corrs., 1967), a usefully full collection, but very unreliable textually and in dating; N. Rogers, ed., The Complete Poetical Works, vol. I: 1802-1813 (Oxford, 1972); vol. II: 1814-1817 (Oxford, 1975); to be completed in 4 vols.

III. SELECTIONS. R. Garnett, ed., Select Letters (London, 1882); E. Rhys, ed., Essays and Letters (London, 1886); J. Shawcross, ed., Shelley’s Literary and Philosophical Criticism (London, 1909), with intro. by Shawcross; H. F. B. Brett-Smith, ed., Peacock’s Four Ages of Poetry; Shelley’s Defence of Poetry; Browning’s Essay on Shelley (London, 1921; expurgated ed., 1923); A. M. D. Hughes, ed., Poetry and Prose, with Essays by Browning, Bagehot, Swinburne, and Reminiscences by Others (London, 1931); C. Baker, ed., Selected Poetry and Prose (New York, 1951), the Modern Library ed.; A. S. B. Glover, ed., Selected Poetry, Prose and Letters (London, 1951), the Nonesuch ed.; M. Spark and D. Stanford, eds., My Best Mary: The Selected Letters of Mary W. Shelley (London, 1953), with intro. by the eds.; E. Blunden, ed., Selected Poems (London, 1954), with a long intro. and notes; K. N. Cameron, ed., Selected Poetry and Prose (New York, 1956); J. Holloway, ed., Selected Poems (London, 1960), with intro. by Holloway; D. S. R. Welland, ed., Selections from Shelley’s Poetry and Prose (London, 1961); G. M. Matthews, ed., Shelley: Selected Poems and Prose (Oxford, 1964), contains a new poem; H. Bloom, ed., Selected Poetry and Prose (New York, 1966); B. R. McElderry, ed., Shelley’s Critical Prose (Lincoln, Nebr., 1966); P. Butter, ed., Alastor and Other Poems: Prometheus Unbound with Other Poems: Adonais (London, 1970); R. A. Duerksen, ed., Political Writings Including “A Defence of Poetry” (New York, 1970); N. Rogers, ed., Selected Poetry (London, 1970), an Oxford Paperback; D. H. Reiman and S. B. Powers, eds., Shelley’s Poetry and Prose (New York, 1977), includes new texts and fifteen critical articles; T. Webb, ed., Selected Poems (London, 1977), with new texts.

IV. SEPARATE WORKS IN VERSE AND PROSE. Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire [Shelley and his sister Elizabeth] (Worthing, 1810), photofacs. in S. J. Hooker, Shelley, Trelawny and Henley (Worthing, 1950); John Fitzvictor [P. B. Shelley], ed., Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson, Being Poems Found Amongst the Papers of That Noted Female Who Attempted the Life of the King in 1786 (Oxford, 1810), also privately printed by H. B. Forman (London, 1877); Zastrozzi: A Romance (London, 1810), repr. in E. Chesser, Shelley and Zastrozzi: Self-Revelation of a Neurotic (London, 1965); The Necessity of Atheism (Worthing, 1811), published anonymously by Shelley and T. J. Hogg, photofacs. in S. J. Hooker, Shelley, Trelawny and Henley (Worthing, 1950); St Irvyne or the Rosicrucian: A Romance, by a Gentleman of the University of Oxford (London, 1811; reiss., 1822); An Address to the Irish People (Dublin, 1812); Declaration of Rights (Dublin, 1812), an unsigned broadside, two copies are in the Public Record Office; The Devils’ Walk: A Ballad (Barnstaple [?], 1812), unsigned broadside, one copy in the Public Record Office and one at the University of Texas, Austin; A Letter to Lord Ellenborough (London, 1812), privately printed, one copy in the Bodleian Library; Proposals for an Association of … Philanthropists … (Dublin, 1812); Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem, with Notes (London, 1813), privately printed, many unauthorized eds. 1821-1857; A Vindication of a Natural Diet, Being One in a Series of Notes to Queen Mab, a Philosophical Poem (London, 1813); A Refutation of Deism, in a Dialogue (London, 1814), published anonymously; Alastor: or The Spirit of Solitude, and Other Poems (London, 1816).

History of a Six Weeks’ Tour Through a Part of France, Switzerland, Germany and Holland (London, 1817), published anonymously by Percy and Mary Shelley; A Proposal for Putting Reform to the Vote Throughout the Kingdom, by the Hermit of Marlow [Shelley] (London, 1817), facs. of the MS published by H. B. Forman (London, 1887); Laon and Cythna; or. The Revolution of the Golden City: A Vision of the Nineteenth Century in the Stanza of Spenser (London, 1818), suppressed, rev. and reiss. as The Revolt of Islam: A Poem in Twelve Cantos (London, 1818), some copies dated 1817; The Cenci: A Tragedy in Five Acts (Leghorn, 1819; 2nd ed., London, 1821), repr. by G. E. Woodberry (Boston, 1909), with bibliography; Rosalind and Helen: A Modern Eclogue; with Other Poems (London, 1819); Oedipus Tyrannus: or, Swellfoot the Tyrant: A Tragedy in Two Acts, Translated from the Original Doric (London, 1820), this unsigned ed. was suppressed; Prometheus Unbound: A Lyrical Drama in Four Acts, with Other Poems (London, 1820), the principal separate modern eds. are V. Scudder, ed. (Boston, 1892), R. Ackermann, ed. (Heidelberg, 1908), A. M. D. Hughes, ed. (Oxford, 1910; repr. 1957), L. J. Zillman, ed. (Seattle, 1959; New Haven, Conn.-London, 1968); Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats, Author of Endymion, Hyperion, etc. (Pisa, 1821; 2nd ed., Cambridge, 1829), annotated ed. by W. M. Rossetti (Oxford, 1890) was rev. by Rossetti and A. O. Prickard (London, 1903), photofacs. in N. Douglas, ed. (London, 1927); Epipsychidion: Verses Addressed to the Noble and Unfortunate Lady Emilia V— Now Imprisoned in the Convent of ——— (London, 1821; facs. ed., Menston, 1970), this unsigned ed. was withdrawn; Hellas: A Lyrical Drama (London, 1822).

V. POSTHUMOUS WORKS. M. W. Shelley, ed., Posthumous Poems (London, 1824), this ed. was suppressed; The Masque of Anarchy: A Poem Now First Published (London, 1832), with preface by L. Hunt, photofacs. of the Page 209  |  Top of Article“Wise” MS published by H. B. Forman (London, 1887); The Shelley Papers: Memoir by T. Medwin and Original Poems and Papers by Shelley (London, 1833), includes a spurious poem, “To the Queen of My Heart”; M. W. Shelley, ed., Essays, Letters from Abroad, etc., 2 vols. (London, 1840), includes “A Defence of Poetry”; An Address to the People on the Death of Princess Charlotte, by the Hermit of Marlow (London, ca. 1843), probably from a MS written ca. 1817 and now lost; Lady J. Shelley and R. Garnett, eds. Shelley Memorials (London, 1859), includes “An Essay on Christianity”; R. Garnett, ed., Relics of Shelley (London, 1862); H. B. Forman, ed., The Daemon of the World (London, 1876), privately printed; H. B. Forman, ed., Notes on Sculptures in Rome and Florence, Together with a Lucianic Fragment and a Criticism on Peacock’s Poem “Rhododaphne” (London, 1879), privately printed; B. Dobell, ed., The Wandering Jew (London, 1887); C. D. Locock, An Examination of the Shelley Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library (Oxford, 1903); A. H. Koszul, ed., Shelley’s Poetry in the Bodleian Manuscripts (Oxford, 1910), “A Defence of Poetry,” “Essay on Christianity,” and fragments; Note Books of Shelley, from the Originals in the Library of W. K. Bixby, deciphered, transcribed, and edited by H. B. Forman, 3 vols. (Boston, 1911), privately printed; T. W. Rolleston, ed., A Philosophical View of Reform (Oxford, 1920); W. E. Peck, ed., “An Unpublished Ballad by Shelley” (“Young Parson Richards”), in Philological Quarterly, 5 (1926), 114-118; G. E. Woodberry, ed., The Shelley Notebook in the Harvard Library (Cambridge, Mass., 1929), a photofacs., autograph ascriptions were corrected by H. Darbishire in Review of English Studies, 31 (July 1932), 352-354.

J. C. E. Shelley-Rolls and R. Ingpen, eds., Verse and Prose from the Manuscripts of Shelley (London, 1934), privately printed; D. Cook, ed., “Sadak the Wanderer’: An Unknown Shelley Poem,” in Times Literary Supplement (16 May 1936), 424; E. H. Blakeney, ed., A Shelley Letter (Winchester, 1936), Shelley’s verse epistle to Feargus Graham (1811); J. A. Notopoulos, The Platonism of Shelley (Durham, N. C, 1949), includes “Shelley’s Translations from Plato: A Critical Edition,” edited by the author, and unpublished material; G. M. Matthews, ed., “The Triumph of Life: A New Text,” in Studia Neophilologica, 32 (1960), 271-309; K. N. Cameron, ed., The Esdaile Notebook: A Volume of Early Poems (New York, 1964; slightly rev., London, 1964); D. H. Reiman, Shelley’s “The Triumph of Life”: A Critical Study Based on a Text Newly Edited from the Bodleian MS (Urbana, 111., 1965); N. Rogers, ed., The Esdaile Poems (Oxford, 1966); J. Chernaik, “Shelley’s To Constantia,’” in Times Literary Supplement (6 February 1969), 140, a new text of “To Constantia Singing”; T. Webb, ed., “Shelley’s ‘Hymn to Venus’: A New Text,” in Review of English Studies, n.s. 21 (August 1970), 315-324; J. Chernaik and T. Burnett, eds., “The Byron and Shelley Notebooks in the Scrope Davies Find,” in Review of English Studies, 29 (February 1978), 36-49.

VI. LETTERS AND JOURNALS. Lady J. Shelley and Sir P. F. Shelley, eds., Shelley and Mary, 3 (or 4) vols. (London, 1882), privately printed; R. Ingpen, comp. and ed., The Letters, 2 vols. (London, 1909), new ed., adding five letters (London, 1912; rev. ed., 1914); R. H. Hill, ed., The Shelley Correspondence in the Bodleian Library (Oxford, 1926), contains lists of MSS, letters, and relics; L. Hotson, ed., Shelley’s Lost Letters to Harriet (London, 1930), with intro. by Hotson; S. Norman, ed., After Shelley. The Letters of T. J. Hogg to Jane Williams (Oxford, 1934); F. L. Jones, comp. and ed., Letters of Mary W. Shelley, 2 vols. (Norman, Okla., 1944); F. L. Jones, ed., Mary Shelley’s Journal (Norman, Okla., 1947); W. S. Scott, ed., New Shelley Letters (London, 1948), letters by Shelley and members of his circle from the papers of T. J. Hogg; F. L. Jones, ed., Maria Gisborne and Edward E. Williams, Shelley’s Friends: Their Journals and Letters (Norman, Okla., 1951); F. L. Jones, ed., The Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1964); M. K. Stocking, ed., The Journals of Claire Clairmont (Cambridge, Mass., 1968).

VII. BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL STUDIES. T. Medwin, Journal of the Conversations of Lord Byron (London, 1824), in E. J. Lovell, ed. (Princeton, N. J., 1966); L. Hunt, Lord Byron and Some of His Contemporaries (London, 1828), also in J. E. Morpurgo, ed. (London, 1949), see also Hunt’s Autobiography, 3 vols. (London, 1850); W. Bagehot, Estimates of Some Englishmen and Scotchmen (London, 1858), repr. in his Literary Studies, vol. I, R. B. Hutton, ed. (London, 1879); T. J. Hogg, Life of Shelley, 2 vols. (London, 1858), the MS of two further vols, has been lost; T. L. Peacock, “Memoirs of Shelley,” in Fraser’s magazine (June 1858-March 1862), in H. F. B. Brett-Smith, ed. (Oxford, 1909); E. J. Trelawny, Recollections of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron (London, 1858; repr. 1906, 1952), rev. as Records of Shelley, Byron and the Author, 2 vols. (London, 1878; repr. London, 1905; New York, 1968); Lady J. Shelley and R. Garnett, eds., Shelley Memorials (London, 1859); T. Hunt, “Shelley, by One Who Knew Him,” in Atlantic Monthly, 11 (February 1863), 184-204; D. F. MacCarthy, Shelley’s Early Life, from Original Sources (London, 1872), Shelley’s activities and publications in Ireland; E. Dowden, Life of Shelley, 2 vols. (London, 1886), the 1-vol. rev. and abr. version (1896) in H. Read, ed. (London, 1951); M. Arnold, Essays in Criticism, 2nd ser. (London, 1888), includes an essay on Shelley; H. S. Salt, Shelley: Poet and Pioneer (London, 1896).

W. B. Yeats, Ideas of Good and Evil (London, 1903), includes “The Philosophy of Shelley’s Poetry,” repr. in his Essays and Introductions (London, 1961); A. Droop, Die Belesenheit Shelleys (Weimar, 1906); E. S. Bates, A Study of Shelley’s Drama “The Cenci” (New York, 1908; repr. 1969); A. C. Bradley, Oxford Lectures on Poetry (London, 1909), includes “Shelley’s View of Poetry”; Bulletin of the Keats-Shelley Memorial, Rome, vol. I (1910), vol. II (1913), both repr. (1961), journal subsequently published Page 210  |  Top of Articleyearly from vol. Ill (1950); A. Clutton-Brock, Shelley: The Man and the Poet (London, 1910; rev. ed., 1923); A. H. Koszul, La jeunesse de Shelley (Paris, 1910); H. R. Angeli, Shelley and His Friends in Italy (London, 1911); H. N. Brailsford, Shelley, Godwin and Their Circle (London, 1913; rev. ed., Oxford, 1951); R. Ingpen, Shelley in England: New Facts and Letters from the Shelley-Whitton Papers (London, 1917); S. de Madariaga, Shelley and Calderón and Other Essays (London, 1920); A. T. Strong, Three Studies in Shelley (Oxford, 1921); O. W. Campbell, Shelley and the Unromantics (London, 1924); E. Blunden, Shelley and Keats as They Struck Their Contemporaries (London, 1925); M. T. Solve, Shelley: His Theory of Poetry (Chicago, 1927; repr. New York, 1964).

C. H. Grabo, A Newton Among Poets: Shelley’s Use of Science in Prometheus Unbound (Chapel Hill, N. C, 1930); The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley as Comprised in the “Life of Shelley” by T. }. Hogg, “The Recollections of Shelley and Byron” by E. J. Trelawny, “Memoirs of Shelley” by T. L. Peacock, 2 vols. (London, 1933), with intro. by H. Wolfe; B. P. Kurtz, The Pursuit of Death: A Study of Shelley’s Poetry (New York, 1933); C. H. Grabo, Prometheus Unbound: An Interpretation (Chapel Hill, N. C, 1935); C. H. Grabo, The Magic Plant: The Growth of Shelley’s Thought (Chapel Hill, N. C, 1936); H. Read, In Defence of Shelley and Other Essays (London, 1936), rev. and repr. as The True Voice of Feeling (London, 1953); E. Barnard, Shelley’s Religion (Minneapolis, 1937; repr. New York, 1964); R. G. Grylls, Mary Shelley: A Biography (Oxford, 1938); N. I. White, The Unextinguished Hearth: Shelley and His Contemporary Critics (Durham, N. C, 1938; repr. 1968), a full collection of the early reviews of Shelley.

N. I. White, Shelley, 2 vols. (New York, 1940; rev. ed., London, 1947), abr. to the 1-vol. Portrait of Shelley (New York, 1945), the standard biography; E. Blunden, Shelley: A Life Story (London, 1946); J. Barrell, Shelley and the Thought of His Time (New Haven, Conn., 1947); A. M. D. Hughes, The Nascent Mind of Shelley (Oxford, 1947); C. Baker, Shelley’s Major Poetry: The Fabric of a Vision (Princeton, N. J., 1948); D. G. James, The Romantic Comedy (Oxford, 1948), has a section on Prometheus Unbound; R. H. Fogle, The Imagery of Keats and Shelley (Chapel Hill, N. C, 1949); J. A. Notopoulos, The Platonism of Shelley (Durham, N. C, 1949).

K. N. Cameron, The Young Shelley: Genesis of a Radical (New York, 1950; London, 1951), Shelley’s life and work up to 1814; P. H. Butter, Shelley’s Idols of the Cave (Edinburgh, 1954); S. Norman, Flight of the Skylark: The Development of Shelley’s Reputation (Norman, Okla., 1954); C. E. Pulos, The Deep Truth: A Study of Shelley’s Scepticism (Lincoln, Nebr., 1954); N. Rogers, Shelley at Work: A Critical Inquiry (Oxford, 1956; rev. ed., Oxford, 1968); H. Bloom, Shelley’s Mythmaking (New Haven, Conn., 1959); D. Perkins, The Quest for Permanence: The Symbolism of Wordsworth, Shelley and Keats (Cambridge, Mass., 1959); E. R. Wasserman, The Subtler Language (Baltimore, 1959), essays on “Mont Blanc,” “The Sensitive Plant,” and Adonais; M. Wilson, Shelley’s Later Poetry: A Study of His Prophetic Imagination (New York, 1959).

D. King-Hele, Shelley: His Thought and Work (London, 1960); L. S. Boas, Harriet Shelley: Five Long Years (Oxford, 1962); H. Lemaitre, Shelley, poète des elements (Paris, 1962); G. M. Ridenour, ed., Shelley: A Collection of Critical Essays (Englewood Cliffs, N. J., 1965); E. R. Wasserman, Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound: A Critical Reading (Baltimore, 1965); B. Wilkie, Romantic Poets and Epic Tradition (Madison, Wis., 1965), on The Revolt of Islam as epic; E. J. Schulze, Shelley’s Theory of Poetry: A Reappraisal (The Hague, 1966); R. B. Woodings, ed., Shelley (London, 1968), 17 critical essays (1943-1968), in the Modern Judgments series; D. H. Reiman, Percy Bysshe Shelley (New York, 1969); J. P. Guinn, Shelley’s Political Thought (The Hague, 1969); G. McNiece, Shelley and the Revolutionary Idea (Cambridge, Mass., 1969); S. Curran, Shelley’s “Cenci”: Scorpions Ringed with Fire (Princeton, N. J., 1970); E. R. Wasserman, Shelley: A Critical Reading (Baltimore, 1971); J. Chernaik, The Lyrics of Shelley (Cleveland, Ohio, 1972), new texts of 25 lyrics, with full commentary; K. N. Cameron, Shelley: The Golden Years (Cambridge, Mass., 1974); R. Holmes, Shelley: The Pursuit (London, 1974), a full biography; J. E. Barcus, ed., Shelley: The Critical Heritage (London, 1975); G. Carey, Shelley (London, 1975); S. Curran, Shelley’s Annus Mirabilis: The Maturing of an Epic Vision (San Marino, Calif., 1975); C. E. Robinson, Shelley and Byron: The Snake and Eagle Wreathed in Fight (Baltimore, 1976); T. Webb, The Violet in the Crucible: Shelley and Translation (Oxford, 1976); T. Webb, Shelley: A Voice Not Understood (Manchester, 1977); N. Brown, Sexuality and Feminism in Shelley (Cambridge, Mass., 1979); E. Duffy, Rousseau in England: The Context for Shelley’s Critique of the Enlightenment (Berkeley, 1979), a study of “The Triumph of Life”; J. V. Murphy, The Dark Angel: Gothic Elements in Shelley’s Works (Lewisburg, Pa., 1979).

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX1385000021