In the early summer of 2017, I received a letter from the daughter of the noted Shelley scholar Roland Duerksen. Susan had read my article “My Father’s Shelley” and it had struck a chord. She wanted to connect me with her father, now 91 years old and living in New Oxford, Ohio. Roland is the author of two noteworthy and important books on Shelley: "Shelleyan Ideas in Victorian Literature" and "Shelley's Poetry of Involvement". His analysis is penetrating and nuanced, the style conversational and accessible. But it is his overall approach which makes him different, it is imbued with a humanity that reflects well both on himself and his subject. This much I knew, but I knew less about the man himself. I was thrilled that Susan had reached out to me, it was a chance to meet one of the great Shelleyans, but I had no idea whatsoever of the magic which lay in wait for me.
Welcome to my inaugural, year end "Shelleyan Top Ten" list. The eligibility criteria for an appearance on this list is pretty straight forward (and subjective!) First the event or occurrence must have contributed to raising the awareness of Percy Bysshe Shelley among the general public. Second, it also needs to have come to my attention - which is not omniscient (this means my list is not necessarily definitive!). Finally, I also have ranked on the basis of whether the moment was unusual or unexpectedly brilliant.
In any event, these sorts of lists are supposed to be fun and are designed to provoke debate and conversation. So let the discussion begin.
2017 was a busy year for Percy Bysshe Shelley and later this week I will publish my Top Ten Shelleyan Moments of 2017 - watch for it!! It was also a busy year for my website and its associated social media platforms. The website experienced 12,000 Unique Visitors 15,000 Visits and over 21,000 Page Views. These are huge numbers for a site dedicated to a poet who has been dead almost 200 years. Shelley was a highly motivated political creature who dedicated his life to changing the world. At some point he realized that he would never manage build sufficient momentum to do this in his lifetime. I think this was profoundly demoralizing. However, he recovered and I believe he started to write for future generations - in otherwords us. If those of us who love him do not join him in this enterprise, then we are letting him (and ourselves) down. So let's not. Join our community and help spread the word.
"I am a lover of mankind, a democrat and an atheist."When Shelley wrote these words in the hotel register at Chamonix, he was, as PMS Dawson has suggested deliberately, intentionally and provocatively “nailing his colours to the mast”. He knew full well people would see these words and that they would inflame passions. The words, however may require some context and explanation. 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.
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.