A Newly Discovered Shelley Diary

By Hawkins, Desmond | Contemporary Review, July 1992 | Go to article overview

A Newly Discovered Shelley Diary


Hawkins, Desmond, Contemporary Review


DURING his final year at Eton, 1810, one of P. B. Shelley's prized possessions was a look of the hair of his cousin, Harriet Grove, with whom he was in love. It was wrapped in a scrap of paper, bearing the initials H.G., and tucked into a pocket at the back of his diary. The hair was coiled about a black seal imprinted with a cryptic message of a human eye followed by a large X surrounded by beaks pecking at it and the words |a return'.

I expect [Xpecked] a return -- a jokey sort of pseudo-seal that would amuse teenagers. Among the more interesting entries in the diary is |30 copies of Zastrozzi to come -- not to forget Harriet'. That was on January 15 referring to Shelley's first published work, a novel in the Gothic style. The printer was late in delivery, as printers sometimes are, so there is a further reference to Zastrozzi, on February 18 -- |Zastrozzi to come out, 30 copies'. It was these references to Zastrozzi that first made me suspect that the anonymous owner of the diary must be Shelley.

According to Tom Medwin, Shelley's first biographer, Harriet Grove played some collaborative part in the writing of Zastrozzi. Her own diary for 1810, published in 1961 as volume two of Shelley and His Circle, records on March 28, 1810: |Bysshe has sent C & me Zastrozzi as it is come out'. |C' was her sister, Charlotte. |Bysshe' was the name by which Shelley was known within his intimate family circle.

There is a further correlation with Harriet Grove's diary. On March I the entry in the Shelley diary has the words |Parcel to Harriet'. Four days later, on March 5, Harriet recorded: |most agreeably surprised by receiving a Parcel & letter from my Greatest Friend'. There can be no doubt that at that time her |Greatest Friend' was Shelley.

Among the other items of interest in the Shelley diary is a small gift of money to Laker, the butler at the Shelley's family home, Field Place near Horsham in Sussex. The diary itself, incidentally, is named as |Baxter's Sussex Pocket Book or Gentleman's County Remembrancer'. Other records of payments made by Shelley include |Graham for Pliny 2-15-0 [pounds]'. Graham was the music teacher in London who carried out purchasing commissions for Shelley; several of Shelley's letters to him have survived. Shelley's interest in Pliny's Naturat History while he was at Eton is well attested. For more modest amounts his purchases included dancing gloves 3/6 (17 1/2p); 4/6 (22 1/2p) for a knife; 6/6 (32 1/2p) for a bottle of wine and 1/- (5p) for soda water; a shilling (5p) for bread and cheese, seven shillings (35p) for the use of a horse and -- appropriately for a budding author -- paper and pens 1/- (5p).

Entries relating events or individuals to particular days are sparse. At times Shelley used his pocket-book simply as a convenient blank page: for example, to record an epigram in the form of a couplet in French --

J'aime un Dieu, et une jolie dame,

Une pour mon coeur, et l'autre pour mon ame. On another page, under the heading |Wandering Jew' Shelley has copied out passages from Chapter Six of the book of Revelation. …

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