Books Blog: English Literature & Linguistics

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Poetical Essay”

Posted in Poetry by Elliott Back on July 25th, 2010.

Lost for 200 years, Percy Shelley’s lost 20 page Poetical Essay, a treatise on poetry containing a previously unknown 172-line poem, has recently been rediscovered. The subject matter covers the desolation of war and British oppression in colonial India, written anonymously as “a Gentleman of the University of Oxford” and published in 1818. Quaritch recently sold the folio to private investor, so the poetry itself is lost to the world. We do have the cover page, though:

The only known lines come from Professor Henry R Woudhuysen, Professor of English at UCL:

Man must assert his native rights, must say
We take from Monarchs’ hand the granted sway;
Oppressive law no more shall power retain,
Peace, love, and concord, once shall rule again,
And heal the anguish of a suffering world;
Then, then shall things which now confusedly hurled,
Seem Chaos, be resolved to order’s sway,
And error’s night be turned to virtue’s day –

These four lines from the Times UK are also said to come from the Poetical Essay:

Millions to fight compell’d, to fight or die
In mangled heaps on War’s red altar lie …
When legal murders swell the lists of pride;
When glory’s views the titled idiot guide.

In general, the public is disappointed that the private buyer has not chosen to release the poem to the world. Ready Steady Book cites Michael Rosen, “It seems to me incredible that a major poem has been found by a major poet and we can’t read it. This is the poem that almost certainly got Shelley chucked out of Oxford.”

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