On Friday and Saturday the 15th and 16th of September, in London, the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies at University of York, is presenting a two day conference that celebrates the writings of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. I will be speaking at this conference on the topic of "Romantic Resistance". My presentation will demonstrate how Shelley’s politics, his philosophical skepticism and his theory of the imagination combine to offer some potent solutions for the troubles of the early 21st Century. Given recent events, it is time that we cast a fresh eye on romantic, specifically Shelleyan, theories of resistance.
In May of this year, I visited the places in and around Viareggio on the Italian Coast at the Gulf of La Spezia. This is where Shelley lived out the last few days of his short life. The video which is at the heart of this post was recorded on the beach at Viareggio. Somehow standing on that beach made it possible to strip away the accretion of the mythology and to confront the numbing reality of his death. I found the moment almost overwhelming.I invite you all to join me on this virtual pilgrimage; and to pause for reflection.
When Shelley said poets were the "unacknowledged legislators of the world", he used the term "legislator" in a special sense. Not as someone who "makes laws" but as someone who is a "representative" of the people. In this sense poets, or creators more generally, must be thought of as the voice of the people; as a critical foundation of our society and of our democracy. They offer insights into our world and provide potential solutions - they underpin our future. An attack on creators is therefore an attack on the very essence of humanity.
Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, like almost everyone else on the planet, had pet names for one another. She was "Pecksie" and he was "Elf". PB's use of the name "pecksie" has actually attracted controversy. To find out why, I dug into the circumstances in which these names were used and the fascinating origin of "pecksie". Buckle up!
In the Mask of Anarchy, Shelley presents the tyrannical government of England as very clearly shown as being propped up by bishops and priests. Indeed, Shelley once characterized religion as the "hand maiden of tyranny". He said this because religion is faith-based and encourages people to discard their skepticism and accept things as they are. This is why the recent mania for "stoicism" is so popular in the alt-right movement. It is probably the LAST ancient philosophy we need to revive today. A point that has been eloquently made by Oxford philosopher Sandy Grant. As tyrants threaten to take the stage around the world, we need to keep a close eye on how religion is being used as a tool to control the people. This is why I think my article from last June on some then topical shenanigans of Pope Francis are apropos at this point in time. Enjoy.
The "catch phrase" I have used for the Shelley section of my blog ("Atheist. Lover of Humanity. Democrat.") may require some explanation. The words originated with Shelley himself, but when did he write it, where did he write it and most important why did he write it. Many people have sought to diminish the importance of these words and the circumstances under which they were written. Some modern scholars have even ridiculed him. I think his choice of words was very deliberate and central to how he defined himself and how wanted the world to think of him. They may well have been the words he was most famous (or infamous) for in his lifetime.Five explosive little words that harbour a universe of meaning and significance.
Percy and Mary Shelley joined Byron in Geneva for part of the summer of 1816. They spent much of their time at Byron's residence: the Villa Diodati. It was there that some of the most important ideas of the Romantic era were conceived. Can we distill one of the core principles? I think we can. Join me for the first installment of my exploration the life and times of the extraordinary Percy Bysshe Shelley. Episode One - 1816: The Message Of Diodati
MASSIVE, NON-VIOLENT PROTEST. FROM SHELLEY TO #WOMENSMARCH
Shelley imagines a radical reordering of our world. It starts with us. Are we up for the challenge? Shelley was. Take the closing words of Prometheus Unbound and print them out. Pin them to your fridge, memorize them, share them with loved ones and enemies alike. Let them inspire you. Let them change you. And never forget he was 27 when he wrote these words and dead with in three years.
Shelley was after all, the man who, translating Lucretius, wrote, “I tell of great matters, and I shall go on to free men's minds from the crippling bonds of superstition.” However, were Shelley "beamed" to the present by Scotty, I think he would be very surprised to learn that "belief in the supernatural" was not already a thing of the past. He would be shocked to see the humanist agenda in retreat not in the face of benign, religious belief systems, but rather radical, intolerant, orthodox fundamentalism of all varieties. I think he would be profoundly unsettled by the realization that 200 years after the publication of Frankenstein and Prometheus Unbound, a secular, humanistic society was still an imagined future that was the subject of science fiction.
On 19 July 2016, the University of Cambridge made a startling and almost completely unheralded announcement. They were in possession of a page from the register of a hotel in Chamonix: not just any page and not just any hotel. The hotel was the Hotel de Villes de Londres and the page in question was the one upon which Percy Bysshe Shelley had inscribed his famous declaration that he was an atheist, a lover of humanity and a democrat. Not a copy of it….THE page. No reproduction or copy of this page has ever, to my knowledge been made available to the public. Evidence for what Shelley wrote was based almost exclusively on either eye witnesses, such as Southey and Byron, or mere hearsay. we now have access to a HIGH RESOLUTION copy.
On 19 July 2016, the University of Cambridge made a startling and almost completely unheralded announcement. They were in possession of a page from the register of a hotel in Chamonix: not just any page and not just any hotel. The hotel was the Hotel de Villes de Londres and the page in question was the one upon which Percy Bysshe Shelley had inscribed his famous declaration that he was an atheist, a lover of humanity and a democrat. Not a copy of it….THE page.