In 1981, Paul Foot (1937 - 2004), the "finest campaigning journalist of his generation", delivered an epic one and a half hour speech on the subject of his hero, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Appearing at the London Marxism Conference, his speech was delivered extemporaneously and, has become legendary. Amazingly, it has never been published. We are fortunate that it was recorded and that an online copy of the speech exists and can be found here. Today, for the first time, I am pleased to be able to offer an edited transcription of Paul Foot’s speech - based on this audio recording. Buckle up and prepare for the ride of your Shelleyan life. Here comes Part 3!!
Paul Foot laboured long and hard to recover the radical Shelley, the real Percy Bysshe Shelley. He presents him to us both in his incisive, polemical and passionate book, The Red Shelley, and here in this Speech to the London Marxism Conference of 1981. In Part 2, Foot investigates Shelley's atheism and feminism as well as his views on love. But Foot also reminds us that Shelley was by no means perfect, and he unflinchingly canvasses his weaknesses - yes, Shelley had feet of clay - he was human. The portrait of Shelley that emerges is at once electrifying and sympathetic; and it tells us almost as much about Paul Foot as it does about Shelley.
Foot hated authority just as Shelley did. When he said [in Part 1 of this speech]:
He hated the whole damn lot of them. Every single one of them that fell into any one of those categories or any other category which are parasitical, in one way or another, upon the working people. He loathed and hated them. The whole of his poetry reeks with that hatred. But the other point is this: that it wasn’t just [a simple] hatred of authority. [He understood] the reasons for that authority – [he understood] the central cause of that authority.
he might as well have been talking about himself. And those of us who for twenty years have lived through the preposterous, quasi-religious claims of the Silicon Valley, cyber-libertarian, technology elite, can, I hope relate. They are parasitical, cultural vandals who bring a new and fantastically dangerous form of authoritarianism to our world. Shelley had his battles to fight. Foot had his. And now we have ours. Let's meet at the barricades!
"We claim him as a Socialist." With these words Eleanor Marx concluded her 1888 address on the politics of Percy Bysshe Shelley. I strongly recommend this essay to those who want to understand the Real Percy Bysshe Shelley. Marx offers a perceptive, shrewd analysis of the political philosophy that underpinned Shelley's thought. And she offered it in 1888 at a time when English society was doing its level best to wipe out all memory of Shelley's radicalism. This happened almost exactly at the time referred to in Paul Foot's speech which you can read here.
In 1981, Paul Foot (1937 - 2004), the "finest campaigning journalist of his generation", delivered an epic one and a half hour speech on the subject of his hero, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Appearing at the London Marxism Conference, his speech was delivered extemporaneously and, has become legendary. Amazingly, it has never been published. We are fortunate that it was recorded and that an online copy of the speech exists and can be found here. Today, for the first time, I am pleased to be able to offer an edited transcription of Paul Foot’s speech - based on this audio recording. Buckle up and prepare for the ride of your Shelleyan life.
Many years ago, while reading Anne Mellor's biography of Mary Shelley, I encountered her opinion of Percy’s use of a pet name for Mary. In Mellor’s opinion, this demonstrated “that he did not regard his wife altogether seriously as an author.” She then went on to opine upon Mary’s “deference to his superior mind” asserting that this was “intrinsic to the dynamics of their marriage, a marriage in which the husband played the dominant role”. Cue my head exploding. Now we need some context. The pet name appeared in the margins of the manuscript of Frankenstein and Nora Crook, one of the foremost Shelley scholars alive today, supplies to details:
“On the manuscript of Frankenstein are two comments by P. B. Shelley which have become infamous. Writing quickly, Mary Shelley had left off the first syllable of 'enigmatic' and ended up with 'igmmatic' (she was prone to double the letter 'm' while her husband had an ie/ei problem with words like 'viel' and 'thier'). Later she confused Roger Bacon with Francis Bacon. He scribbled 'o you pretty Pecksie' beside the first and 'no sweet Pecksie—twas friar Bacon the discoverer of gunpowder.'”
And so it came to pass that PB’s use of a pet name for his wife become “infamous”. Lovers of the world! Beware lest literary critics read your missives. Now, it is also true that PB’s use of a pet name has its defenders. No less a scholar that EB Murray described the use of the term as “endearing.” Then, there is the fact that Mary’s pet name for PB was………….. “elf”.
At this point I think we all need to pause and give our collective heads a shake. Are we really having this conversation? Or can we all take a deep breathe and think "deep blue ocean". In effect that is what Nora Crooks asks us all to do in her brilliant, accessible, and sensitive essay on this subject. If you would like to gain an insight into the nature of PB’s relationship with MW, you need look no further. She begins:
“Whether, however, a young woman who at nineteen could read Tacitus in the original would have felt intimidated by this may be doubted, especially one who called her spouse her 'Sweet Elf'.  Between Pecksie and Elf, in terms of diminution, there is, prima facie, little to choose, any more than there is between the protagonists in the Valentine's Day newspaper advertisements where Snuggle Bum pledges love to Fluffkins. Intimate pet-names are almost invariably embarrassing to read. We do not know enough about the contexts in which these arose, whether they pleased or annoyed at the time, whether 'Pecksie' and 'Elf' were pleasant banterings or counters in underground hostilities. It would seem wise to suspend judgement and use them as evidence neither of an unproblematically equal relationship nor of one in which Mary Shelley was subordinated.”
I might also add here that the “young woman” in question was the daughter of no less a personage that Mary Wolstonecraft (the author of “Vindication of the Rights of Women.”) and William Godwin (the author of Political Justice). Intellectually she was PB’s match.
Now before we move on, it is worth pausing for a moment to look at the origin of the term "Pecksie". Crooks tells us that it is "the name of the industrious bird in Mrs Sherwood's The History of the Robins." Sherwood was an incredibly influential, best selling writer of children's literature in 19th-century England. She authored hundreds of books and magazine articles. I imagine that it was a rare child who would have grown up without having been steeped in her writings; including Shelley whose early childhood was very traditional.
But Crooks is unfortuanetl mistaken. Sherwood wrote no such book. The author of The History of Robins was in fact Sarah Trimmer who was in her own right an extremely famous children's author. Originally titled "Fabulous Histories", Trimmers books was continuously in print and a favourite of parents and children alike until after the first world war. An the content of the book makes it a far more interesting source
What characterizes Crook’s intelligent and thoughtful essay is her humanity and her common sense. So with no further adieu, I invite you to click on the link and immerse yourself in her wonderful, lucid prose.
As the famous French proverb says, "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose": the more things change the more they stay the same. This oft repeated truism seems to have real relevance in 2017. If Shelley was to drop in on us today, I think what would most surprise him would not be rockets and computers, but rather that in two hundred years so little has changed. Wealth is, if any thing, more concentrated in the hands of the few. We are a priest-ridden society and authoritarian regimes are not in recession, they are advancing. Entire civilizations are dominated by theocracies. That should be a sobering message to all of us. What progress we make is wrung from the entrenched power-brokers at great cost and can just as easily be snatched away. Sandy Grant is not wrong: we must resist, protest and create with others the possibilities of change. We must harness our emotions for the eternal struggle. Oh, and we must read Shelley!
This is the first in Cadwalladr's series on the corruption of the internet by bad actors - with advertising dollars lying at the root of the problem. I wonder what those early internet pioneers would say if we went back in time and told then that the internet architecture they were designing would lead to a future in which an advertising company with was THE big winner. Jaron Lanier once told me that they would have laughed in our face. what has happened is a mistake, as Astra Taylor has pointed out, the internet was supposed to be the "people's platform" - and it has been stolen from us. Our democracy is at risk as well, as techno-utopian libertarian models which would give Ayn Rand a wet dream proliferate.
The realization that operatic motifs and styles influenced not just the design of the poem, but its content is, well, breathtaking. I hope it will encourage opera fans to add Shelley not just to their artistic vocabulary but perhaps even their repertoire. Jessica's article is longish but thrilling. So you need the following tools to read it: glass of whiskey, cheese plate, logs on the fire and Don Giovanni on the stereo (plus optional cats or dogs curled up nearby). Got it? Good. Now get to it, Shelley Nation.
Sir William Drummond (1770?-1828) enjoyed considerable notoriety in the early nineteenth century as the author of the Academical Questions (1805), a manifesto for immaterialism that is at the same time a creative synthesis of ancient and modern forms of scepticism. In this paper Thomas Holden advances an interpretation of Drummond's work that emphasises his extensive employment and adaptation of Hume's own ‘Academical or Sceptical Philosophy’. He also documents the impact of the Academical Questions on the contemporary philosophical scene, including its decisive influence on Shelley's philosophical development.