Shelley

Shelley

Shelley

Shelley

Excerpt

The man in whom his countrymen least recognize their own image, may nevertheless have many qualities which are characteristic of them. Thus the boy who was known to his Eton contemporaries as 'mad Shelley' was typical in many ways of a certain type of poetical English aristocrat. His youthful desire to identify himself with a revolutionary cause, his discovery within himself of original powers of judgement whereby he examined, as though for the first time, every existing social institution, his fads and eccentricities, and his perpetual adolescence, are recurrent qualities among the English upper classes. It is no mere chance that in every poetic generation critics discover some poet who qualifies to be 'another Shelley'. 'An ineffectual angel', Matthew Arnold called him; and this verdict seems made by a judge who feels proud of having grown to attain efficacity.

Moreover, those opinions which made Shelley such a controversial figure in his lifetime are stiff argued for and against to-day. One contemporary critic, T. S. Eliot, repudiated Shelley for the famous lines, attacking marriage, and defending free love, in Epipsychidion , in the passage which begins:

I never was attached to that great sect,
Whose doctrine is that each one should select
Out of the world a mistress or a friend . . .

But if Eliot condemned these views by conservative standards, another great modern, Bernard Shaw, tells us that he became a socialist as a result of reading Shelley. Shelley is . . .

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