An Examination of the Shelley Legend

An Examination of the Shelley Legend

An Examination of the Shelley Legend

An Examination of the Shelley Legend

Excerpt

When The Shelley Legend was published in 1945, it was immediately hailed by the reviewers for our most popular and highly respected periodicals as a very important book. One went so far as to say that "Perhaps more than anyone who has written of Shelley in the 123 years since his death, Dr. Smith has shown us the whole melodramatic set of circumstances as they were." Another classed the book as "quite obviously an indispensable piece of research"; a third was of the opinion that "there can be no doubt that he [the author] has opened the windows of a very fetid room and let in a blast of fresh air," for which, he thinks, "we may be grateful"; a fourth called it "an aggressive, controversial, inevitable, and necessary book." All these, and others, accepted with scarcely a hint of doubt the main thesis of the book: that the real Shelley is still unknown to us because the documentary foundation of Shelley scholarship is unsound, many documents having been withheld, destroyed, expurgated, or forged.

The literary public was astonished and disgusted with this state of affairs, which promised to lead to a situation as shocking to literary scholarship as the famous T. J. Wise forgeries of nineteenth century pamphlets. A few unwary scholars began making loose and hasty conjectures about the authenticity of important manuscripts which hitherto there had been no reason to suspect.

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