Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Shelley Work Reappears

London bookseller Bernard Quaritch has announced the rediscovery of a long-lost early political pamphlet by Percy Bysshe Shelley, written while he was an undergraduate at Oxford (and published very soon before his expulsion for refusing to disavow his authorship of another controversial essay).

Quaritch notes "Until now the very existence of the Poetical Essay has been doubted, remaining 'one of the unsolved mysteries of Shelley bibliography', deduced only from a series of advertisements in Oxford and London newspapers in March-April 1811 and from a few sparse references in contemporary correspondence. The text of the poem - 172 lines - is completely unknown, and represents a major find for Shelley and Romantic scholarship."

The poem, "Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things," was attributed on the title page to "A Gentlemen of the University of Oxford," a pseudonym used by Shelley several times in 1811. There is some suggestion that Shelley's sister Elizabeth colloborated with him on this work.

A lengthy article by H.R. Woudhuysen in the July 12 "Times Literary Supplement" adds "
The pamphlet is a quarto, consisting of twenty pages with a final leaf of notes on the recto and errata on the verso; printed on paper with a watermark date of 1807, it is stitched and uncut, still very much in the same state as it was when it was issued. The poem is dedicated 'TO HARRIET W–B–K', that is Harriet Westbrook with whom Shelley eloped in August 1811: this constitutes the first printed reference to the poet’s wife. The dedication is followed by a 'Preface', a short essay touching on politics and religion, calling for 'a total reform in the licentiousness, luxury, depravity, prejudice, which involve society', not by warfare, which he vigorously denounces, but by 'gradual, yet decided intellectual exertions'."

It's always exciting to see "phantom" works like this reappear after long absences.