Shelley at Work: A Critical Inquiry

Shelley at Work: A Critical Inquiry

Shelley at Work: A Critical Inquiry

Shelley at Work: A Critical Inquiry

Excerpt

The occasion for this book arose out of the gift of manuscripts made to the Bodleian Library in 1946 by the late Sir John Shelley-Rolls. With the addition of these manuscripts to those presented in 1893 by Lady Shelley, two-thirds, roughly speaking, of the family papers inherited from Shelley and Mary--the famous 'Boscombe Collection' of the nineteenth century--came together again in the Bodleian, and since then Lord Abinger, owner of the remaining third, has permitted microfilms of it to be deposited there too. When the award of a Leverhulme Fellowship brought me temporary freedom to explore the unrivalled and unprecedented opportunities thus offered for research it was for a while difficult to decide what form of publication, first of all, would make the most advantageous use of such an enormous wealth of material. A further problem arose from the fact that the most precious part of the treasure was a buried treasure, tantalizingly lurking among the uncatalogued and hitherto uncataloguable mysteries of Shelley's notebooks. My decision was dictated in the end partly by limitations of personal time and circumstance and partly by what, as research proceeded, seemed to be demanded more and more insistently by the material itself--it was to postpone both the formal cataloguing of the notebooks and the overdue revision of the 'Oxford Shelley' while attempting something which, it happened, I had long believed to be an outstanding need among Shelley studies: a new examination and analysis of the poet's reading and thought in relation to his composition.

What Shelley's poetry requires above everything else is to be understood and judged by the ideas by which it is animated. That this has been done too seldom is because, owing to the complexity of his mind and his elaborate system of symbolism which he did not live to illuminate as he had intended in a series of metaphysical essays, it becomes difficult, very frequently, for his reader to discover what his ideas are. This is true not only of his detractors, who so often condemned him uncomprehendingly . . .

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