There is no complete edition of Shelley's prose. In only the rare Forman and Julian Editions may the Shelley student find anything like all of the prose. This volume, then, should fill a long-felt need in making available to the general public, to college classes, to Shelley specialists, and to libraries a complete edition. Except for the letters and two romances, this volume contains all the known original prose of Shelley. His translations have been excluded because in thought, organization, and often in phrase and imagery, they are not Shelley's.
The text of the present edition has been collated with all available manuscripts and first editions. The text has been checked against the Julian Editions and others, and in the case of variants, I have adopted the readings which to me seem to convey most clearly Shelley's meaning. To former editors -- especially to Mary Shelley, Lady Jane Shelley, Richard Garnett, H. Buxton Forman, Richard Herne Shepherd, and others -- I wish to acknowledge my appreciation for innumerable helpful suggestions. For the interpretation of Shelley's life and thought, I have relied mainly on Shelley's own words, but my debt to a host of Shelley scholars is as obvious as it is deeply felt. Yet for whatever errors of transcription or of interpretation which the present edition may contain, I am solely responsible. It should be noted, however, that this edition is not a study in textual criticism. The spelling and punctuation have been modernized and Americanized in the interest of consistency and intelligibility.
The Introduction, the headnotes, and the footnotes are original, and are designed to interpret Shelley's philosophy to the reader. The editor is convinced that one who would understand Shelley's poetry must study his prose essays, preferably before he reads the poetry. The varied and complex ideas of the poetry are the same ideas encountered in the prose, but more difficult to understand because they have been translated into highly figurative language and colorful imagery. The advisability -- indeed the necessity -- of approaching Shelley first through his prose essays is even to the casual reader at once evident.
I gratefully acknowledge the kind permission of the Duke University Press to reprint pages 409-413 of James A. Notopoulos The Platonism of Shelley; and my thanks are due to the Library of Congress for permission to reprint two fragments, without title, one on the Game Laws and the other on the Christian Religion, both contained in a Mary Shelley Notebook.