Most of my focus at The Real Percy Bysshe Shelley is on Percy Shelley’s poetry and prose - and his radical politics in particular. But every now and then, it is important to draw attention to other poets in his circle; particularly those whom he admired. So today I want draw everyone’s attention to the recent digital publication of Keats’ two volume copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost.
Mark Andresen is a long time follower of this blog and also the creator of his own. The Pan Review is a delightfully eclectic and articulate review of issues current in the arts and literary scene. He regularly features author interviews. A recent Mary Shelley-themed issue, for example, featured an interview with the sculptor Bryan Moore (who will soon unveil his bronze bust of Mary Shelley at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle), Mark's review of Fiona Sampson's disappointingly adversarial biography of Mary Shelley and an interview with yours truly in which I answered questions about how Shelley came into my life and what I think is important about him.
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.