Percy Bysshe Shelley: Preface to his Poetical Works

Updated February 28, 2017 | Infoplease Staff
by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Preface by Mrs. Shelley


This edition of his "Poetical Works" contains all Shelley's ascertained poems and fragments of verse that have hitherto appeared in print. In preparing the volume I have worked as far as possible on the principle of recognizing the editio princeps as the primary textual authority. I have not been content to reprint Mrs. Shelley's recension of 1839, or that of any subsequent editor of the "Poems". The present text is the result of a fresh collation of the early editions; and in every material instance of departure from the wording of those originals the rejected reading has been subjoined in a footnote. Again, wherever-as in the case of "Julian and Maddalo"-there has appeared to be good reason for superseding the authority of the editio princeps, the fact is announced, and the substituted exemplar indicated, in the Prefatory Note. in the case of a few pieces extant in two or more versions of debatable authority the alternative text or texts will be found at the [end] of the [relevant work]; but it may be said once for all that this does not pretend to be a variorum edition, in the proper sense of the term-the textual apparatus does not claim to be exhaustive. Thus I have not thought it necessary to cumber the footnotes with every minute grammatical correction introduced by Mrs. Shelley, apparently on her own authority, into the texts of 1839; nor has it come within the scheme of this edition to record every conjectural emendation adopted or proposed by Rossetti and others in recent times. But it is hoped that, up to and including the editions of 1839 at least, no important variation of the text has been overlooked. Whenever a reading has been adopted on manuscript authority, a reference to the particular source has been added below.

I have been chary of gratuitous interference with the punctuation of the manuscripts and early editions; in this direction, however, some revision was indispensable. Even in his most carefully finished "fair copy" Shelley under-punctuates (Thus in the exquisite autograph "Hunt MS." of "Julian and Maddalo", Mr. Buxton Forman, the most conservative of editors, finds it necessary to supplement Shelley's punctuation in no fewer than ninety-four places.), and sometimes punctuates capriciously. In the very act of transcribing his mind was apt to stray from the work in hand to higher things; he would lose himself in contemplating those airy abstractions and lofty visions of which alone he greatly cared to sing, to the neglect and detriment of the merely external and formal element of his song. Shelley recked little of the jots and tittles of literary craftsmanship; he committed many a small sin against the rules of grammar, and certainly paid but a halting attention to the nice distinctions of punctuation. Thus in the early editions a comma occasionally plays the part of a semicolon; colons and semicolons seem to be employed interchangeably; a semicolon almost invariably appears where nowadays we should employ the dash; and, lastly, the dash itself becomes a point of all work, replacing indifferently commas, colons, semicolons or periods. Inadequate and sometimes haphazard as it is, however, Shelley's punctuation, so far as it goes, is of great value as an index to his metrical, or at times, it may be, to his rhetorical intention-for, in Shelley's hands, punctuation serves rather to mark the rhythmical pause and onflow of the verse, or to secure some declamatory effect, than to indicate the structure or elucidate the sense. For this reason the original pointing has been retained, save where it tends to obscure or pervert the poet's meaning. Amongst the Editor's Notes at the end of the Volume 3 the reader will find lists of the punctual variations in the longer poems, by means of which the supplementary points now added may be identified, and the original points, which in this edition have been deleted or else replaced by others, ascertained, in the order of their occurrence. In the use of capitals Shelley's practice has been followed, while an attempt has been made to reduce the number of his inconsistencies in this regard.

To have reproduced the spelling of the manuscripts would only have served to divert attention from Shelley's poetry to my own ingenuity in disgusting the reader according to the rules of editorial punctilio. (I adapt a phrase or two from the preface to "The Revolt of Islam".) Shelley was neither very accurate, nor always consistent, in his spelling. He was, to say the truth, indifferent about all such matters: indeed, to one absorbed in the spectacle of a world travailing for lack of the gospel of "Political Justice", the study of orthographical niceties must have seemed an occupation for Bedlamites. Again-as a distinguished critic and editor of Shelley, Professor Dowden, aptly observes in this connexion-'a great poet is not of an age, but for all time.' Irregular or antiquated forms such as 'recieve,' 'sacrifize,' 'tyger,' 'gulph,' 'desart,' 'falshood,' and the like, can only serve to distract the reader's attention, and mar his enjoyment of the verse. Accordingly Shelley's eccentricities in this kind have been discarded, and his spelling reversed in accordance with modern usage. All weak preterite-forms, whether indicatives or participles, have been printed with "ed" rather than "t", participial adjectives and substantives, such as 'past,' alone excepted. In the case of 'leap,' which has two preterite-forms, both employed by Shelley (See for an example of the longer form, the "Hymn to Mercury", 18 5, where 'leaped' rhymes with 'heaped' (line 1). The shorter form, rhyming to 'wept,' 'adapt,' etc., occurs more frequently.)-one with the long vowel of the present-form, the other with a vowel-change (Of course, wherever this vowel-shortening takes place, whether indicated by a corresponding change in the spelling or not, "t", not "ed" is properly used-'cleave,' 'cleft,'; 'deal,' 'dealt'; etc. The forms discarded under the general rule laid down above are such as 'wrackt,' 'prankt,' 'snatcht,' 'kist,' 'opprest,' etc.) like that of 'crept' from 'creep'-I have not hesitated to print the longer form 'leaped,' and the shorter (after Mr. Henry Sweet's example) 'lept,' in order clearly to indicate the pronunciation intended by Shelley. In the editions the two vowel-sounds are confounded under the one spelling, 'leapt.' In a few cases Shelley's spelling, though unusual or obsolete, has been retained. Thus in 'aethereal,' 'paean,' and one or two more words the "ae" will be found, and 'airy' still appears as 'aery'. Shelley seems to have uniformly written 'lightening': here the word is so printed whenever it is employed as a trisyllable; elsewhere the ordinary spelling has been adopted. (Not a little has been written about 'uprest' ("Revolt of Islam", 3 21 5), which has been described as a nonce-word deliberately coined by Shelley 'on no better warrant than the exigency of the rhyme.' There can be little doubt that 'uprest' is simply an overlooked misprint for 'uprist'-not by any means a nonce-word, but a genuine English verbal substantive of regular formation, familiar to many from its employment by Chaucer. True, the corresponding rhyme-words in the passage above referred to are 'nest,' 'possessed,' 'breast'; but a laxity such as 'nest'-'uprist' is quite in Shelley's manner. Thus in this very poem we find 'midst'-'shed'st' (6 16), 'mist'-'rest'-'blest' (5 58), 'loveliest'-'mist'-kissed'-'dressed' (5 53). Shelley may have first seen the word in "The Ancient Mariner"; but he employs it more correctly than Coleridge, who seems to have mistaken it for a preterite-form (='uprose') whereas in truth it serves either as the third person singular of the present (='upriseth'), or, as here, for the verbal substantive (='uprising').

The editor of Shelley to-day enters upon a goodly heritage, the accumulated gains of a series of distinguished predecessors. Mrs. Shelley's two editions of 1839 form the nucleus of the present volume, and her notes are here reprinted in full; but the arrangement of the poems differs to some extent from that followed by her-chiefly in respect of "Queen Mab", which is here placed at the head of the "Juvenilia", instead of at the forefront of the poems of Shelley's maturity. In 1862 a slender volume of poems and fragments, entitled "Relics of Shelley", was published by Dr. Richard Garnett, C.B.-a precious sheaf gleaned from the manuscripts preserved at Boscombe Manor. The "Relics" constitute a salvage second only in value to the "Posthumous Poems" of 1824. To the growing mass of Shelley's verse yet more material was added in 1870 by Mr. William Michael Rossetti, who edited for Moxon the "Complete Poetical Works" published in that year. To him we owe in particular a revised and greatly enlarged version of the fragmentary drama of "Charles I". But though not seldom successful in restoring the text, Mr. Rossetti pushed revision beyond the bounds of prudence, freely correcting grammatical errors, rectifying small inconsistencies in the sense, and too lightly adopting conjectural emendations on the grounds of rhyme or metre. In the course of an article published in the "Westminster Review" for July, 1870, Miss Mathilde Blind, with the aid of material furnished by Dr. Garnett, 'was enabled,' in the words of Mr. Buxton Forman, 'to supply omissions, make authoritative emendations, and controvert erroneous changes' in Mr. Rossetti's work; and in the more cautiously edited text of his later edition, published by Moxon in 1878, may be traced the influence of her strictures.

Six years later appeared a variorum edition in which for the first time Shelley's text was edited with scientific exactness of method, and with a due respect for the authority of the original editions. It would be difficult indeed to over-estimate the gains which have accrued to the lovers of Shelley from the strenuous labours of Mr. Harry Buxton Forman, C.B. He too has enlarged the body of Shelley's poetry (Mr. Forman's most notable addition is the second part of "The Daemon of the World", which he printed privately in 1876, and included in his Library Edition of the "Poetical Works" published in the same year. See the "List of Editions", etc. at the end of Volume 3.); but, important as his editions undoubtedly are, it may safely be affirmed that his services in this direction constitute the least part of what we owe him. He has vindicated the authenticity of the text in many places, while in many others he has succeeded, with the aid of manuscripts, in restoring it. His untiring industry in research, his wide bibliographical knowledge and experience, above all, his accuracy, as invariable as it is minute, have combined to make him, in the words of Professor Dowden, 'our chief living authority on all that relates to Shelley's writings.' His name stands securely linked for all time to Shelley's by a long series of notable words, including three successive editions (1876, 1882, 1892) of the Poems, an edition of the Prose Remains, as well as many minor publications-a Bibliography ("The Shelley Library", 1886)and several Facsimile Reprints of the early issues, edited for the Shelley Society.

To Professor Dowden, whose authoritative Biography of the poet, published in 1886, was followed in 1890 by an edition of the Poems (Macmillans), is due the addition of several pieces belonging to the juvenile period, incorporated by him in the pages of the "Life of Shelley". Professor Dowden has also been enabled, with the aid of the manuscripts placed in his hands, to correct the text of the "Juvenilia" in many places. In 1893 Professor George E. Woodberry edited a "Centenary Edition of the Complete Poetical Works", in which, to quote his own words, an attempt is made 'to summarize the labours of more than half a century on Shelley's text, and on his biography so far as the biography is bound up with the text.' In this Centenary edition the textual variations found in the Harvard College manuscripts, as well as those in the manuscripts belonging to Mr. Frederickson of Brooklyn, are fully recorded. Professor Woodberry's text is conservative on the whole, but his revision of the punctuation is drastic, and occasionally sacrifices melody to perspicuity.

In 1903 Mr. C.D. Locock published, in a quarto volume of seventy-five pages, the fruits of a careful scrutiny of the Shelley manuscripts now lodged in the Bodleian Library. Mr. Locock succeeded in recovering several inedited fragments of verse and prose. Amongst the poems chiefly concerned in the results of his "Examination" may be named "Marenghi", "Prince Athanase", "The Witch of Atlas", "To Constantia", the "Ode to Naples", and (last, not least) "Prometheus Unbound". Full use has been made in this edition of Mr. Locock's collations, and the fragments recovered and printed by him are included in the text. Variants derived from the Bodleian manuscripts are marked "B." in the footnotes.

On the state of the text generally, and the various quarters in which it lies open to conjectural emendation, I cannot do better than quote the following succinct and luminous account from a "Causerie" on the Shelley manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, contributed by Dr. Richard Garnett, C.B., to the columns of "The Speaker" of December 19, 1903:-

'From the textual point of view, Shelley's works may be divided into three classes-those published in his lifetime under his own direction; those also published in his lifetime, but in his absence from the press; and those published after his death. The first class includes "Queen Mab", "The Revolt of Islam", and "Alastor" with its appendages, published in England before his final departure for the continent; and "The Cenci" and "Adonais", printed under his own eye at Leghorn and Pisa respectively. Except for some provoking but corrigible misprints in "The Revolt of Islam" and one crucial passage in "Alastor", these poems afford little material for conjectural emendation; for the Alexandrines now and then left in the middle of stanzas in "The Revolt of Islam" must remain untouched, as proceeding not from the printer's carelessness but the author's. The second class, poems printed during Shelley's lifetime, but not under his immediate inspection, comprise "Prometheus Unbound" and "Rosalind and Helen", together with the pieces which accompanied them, "Epipsychidion", "Hellas", and "Swellfoot the Tyrant". The correction of the most important of these, the "Prometheus", was the least satisfactory. Shelley, though speaking plainly to the publisher, rather hints than expresses his dissatisfaction when writing to Gisborne, the corrector, but there is a pretty clear hint when on a subsequent occasion he says to him, "I have received 'Hellas', which is prettily printed, and with fewer mistakes than any poem I ever published." This also was probably not without influence on his determination to have "The Cenci" and "Adonais" printed in Italy...Of the third class of Shelley's writings-those which were first published after his death-sufficient facsimiles have been published to prove that Trelawny's graphic description of the chaotic state of most of them was really in no respect exaggerated...The difficulty is much augmented by the fact that these pieces are rarely consecutive, but literally disiecti membra poetae, scattered through various notebooks in a way to require piecing together as well as deciphering. The editors of the Posthumous Poems, moreover, though diligent according to their light, were neither endowed with remarkable acumen nor possessed of the wide knowledge requisite for the full intelligence of so erudite a poet as Shelley, hence the perpetration of numerous mistakes. Some few of the manuscripts, indeed, such as those of "The Witch of Atlas", "Julian and Maddalo", and the "Lines at Naples", were beautifully written out for the press in Shelley's best hand, but their very value and beauty necessitated the ordeal of transcription, with disastrous results in several instances. An entire line dropped out of the "Lines at Naples", and although "Julian and Maddalo" was extant in more than one very clear copy, the printed text had several such sense-destroying errors as "least" for "lead".

'The corrupt state of the text has stimulated the ingenuity of numerous correctors, who have suggested many acute and convincing emendations, and some very specious ones which sustained scrutiny has proved untenable. It should be needless to remark that success has in general been proportionate to the facilities of access to the manuscripts, which have only of late become generally available. If Shelley is less fortunate than most modern poets in the purity of his text, he is more fortunate than many in the preservation of his manuscripts. These have not, as regards a fair proportion, been destroyed or dispersed at auctions, but were protected from either fate by their very character as confused memoranda. As such they remained in the possession of Shelley's widow, and passed from her to her son and daughter-in-law. After Sir Percy Shelley's death, Lady Shelley took the occasion of the erection of the monument to Shelley at University College, Oxford, to present [certain of] the manuscripts to the Bodleian Library, and verse and sculpture form an imperishable memorial of his connection with the University where his residence was so brief and troubled.' (Dr. Garnett proceeds:-'The most important of the Bodleian manuscripts is that of "Prometheus Unbound", which, says Mr. Locock, has the appearance of being an intermediate draft, and also the first copy made. This should confer considerable authority on its variations from the accepted text, as this appears to have been printed from a copy not made by Shelley himself. "My 'Prometheus'," he writes to Ollier on September 6, 1819, "is now being transcribed," an expression which he would hardly have used if he had himself been the copyist. He wished the proofs to be sent to him in Italy for correction, but to this Ollier objected, and on May 14, 1820, Shelley signifies his acquiescence, adding, however, "In this case I shall repose trust in your care respecting the correction of the press; Mr. Gisborne will revise it; he heard it recited, and will therefore more readily seize any error." This confidence in the accuracy of Gisborne's verbal memory is touching! From a letter to Gisborne on May 26 following it appears that the offer to correct came from him, and that Shelley sent him "two little papers of corrections and additions," which were probably made use of, or the fact would have been made known. In the case of additions this may satisfactorily account for apparent omissions in the Bodleian manuscript. Gisborne, after all, did not prove fully up to the mark. "It is to be regretted," writes Shelley to Ollier on November 20, "that the errors of the press are so numerous," adding, "I shall send you the list of errata in a day or two." This was probably "the list of errata written by Shelley himself," from which Mrs. Shelley corrected the edition of 1839.')

In placing "Queen Mab" at the head of the "Juvenilia" I have followed the arrangement adopted by Mr. Buxton Forman in his Library Edition of 1876. I have excluded "The Wandering Jew", having failed to satisfy myself of the sufficiency of the grounds on which, in certain quarters, it is accepted as the work of Shelley. The shorter fragments are printed, as in Professor Dowden's edition of 1890, along with the miscellaneous poems of the years to which they severally belong, under titles which are sometimes borrowed from Mr. Buxton Forman, sometimes of my own choosing. I have added a few brief Editor's Notes, mainly on textual questions, at the end of the book. Of the poverty of my work in this direction I am painfully aware; but in the present edition the ordinary reader will, it is hoped, find an authentic, complete, and accurately printed text, and, if this be so, the principal end and aim of the OXFORD SHELLEY will have been attained.

I desire cordially to acknowledge the courtesy of Mr. H. Buxton Forman, C.B., by whose kind sanction the second part of "The Daemon the World" appears in this volume. And I would fain express my deep sense of obligation for manifold information and guidance, derived from Mr. Buxton Forman's various editions, reprints and other publications-especially from the monumental Library Edition of 1876. Acknowledgements are also due to the poet's grandson, Charles E.J. Esdaile, Esq., for permission to include the early poems first printed in Professor Dowden's "Life of Shelley"; and to Mr. C.D. Locock, for leave to make full use of the material contained in his interesting and stimulating volume. To Dr. Richard Garnett, C.B., and to Professor Dowden, cordial thanks are hereby tendered for good counsel cheerfully bestowed. To two of the editors of the Shelley Society Reprints, Mr. Thomas J. Wise and Mr. Robert A. Potts-both generously communicative collectors-I am deeply indebted for the gift or loan of scarce volumes, as well as for many kind offices in other ways. Lastly, to the staff of the Oxford University Press my heartiest thanks are owing, for their unremitting care in all that relates to the printing and correcting of the sheets.

Thomas Hutchinson

December, 1904.


In a valuable paper, 'Notes on Passages in Shelley,' contributed to "The Modern Language Review" (October, 1905), Mr. A.C. Bradley discussed, amongst other things, some fifty places in the text of Shelley's verse, and indicated certain errors and omissions in this edition. With the aid of these "Notes" the editor has now carefully revised the text, and has in many places adopted the suggestions or conclusions of their accomplished author.

June, 1913.