A Guest Post by Percy Bysshe Shelley

shelley

Père Naptha‏ on Twitter led me to this by noting: On the rediscovery of a political poem by Shelly written in support of an imprisoned Irish journalist.’  His link led to ‘The political fury of Percy Bysshe Shelley; A lost work by a great poet has much to say about the state of politics today.’ from opendemocracy.net

Shelley had penned the pamphlet anonymously in 1811 at the tender age of 18, certainly to challenge the monarchy and the abuse of the people by wealth in the name of all Republicans, but also to raise money for the defense of radical journalist Peter Finnerty, imprisoned for for ‘libel’ against the military commanders of the day during the Napoleonic Wars.  Finnerty had also been imprisoned earlier for ‘seditious libel’ against judges in 1798.

The original 1000 copies were mightily suppressed, but in 1870, one was unearthed, and authenticated as written by Shelley.  The remaining copy extant was in the hands of a collector until the copy was acquired by the Bodleian Library in Oxford in 2015.   The library has now made it available online. Given some parallels to our oppressive Rule by Oligarchs and Kleptocrats, I thought you’d all like to read it.  One pdf lent to copy/paste, although only a few lines at a time, and they formatted weirdly.  I’ve tried to clean all of it up, but may have made some errors; but call if a Labor of Love from me to all of thee.  A new essay by Ajamu Baraka  echoes Shelley’s sentiments in a Baltimore being the microcosm of the macrocosm kind of way, as well.  I also added a link to a poem he’d quoted, translated a few words as I was able.

From Mark Summers:

“What about the pamphlet itself? The Poetical Essay consists of a prose introduction along with a 172 line poem followed by accompanying notes. The nature of the work is clear: it’s a reasoned and passionate response to the perceived ills and injustices of the world by an 18 year old radical.

First and foremost the young Shelley issues a pointed condemnation of the militaristic stance of the British establishment, along with stanzas that are vehemently anti-monarchist and implacably opposed to the abuses of wealth that were prevalent at the time:

“Man must assert his native rights, must say;
We take from Monarchs’ hand the granted sway;”          

The range and scope of his criticism is impressive, including a keen censure of the role of the media. Going way beyond simple anti-monarchism, the introduction to the poem reveals a subtle understanding of the kind of secular republican society that Shelley desires.  For example, he states that: 

“This reform must not be the work of immature assertions of that liberty, which, as affairs now stand, no one can claim without attaining over others an undue, invidious superiority, benefiting in consequence self instead of society.” 

It does sound all too familiar, doesn’t it?  Summers has more, but I’ll add this as well:

“In this passage he correctly identifies the problem of equating liberty with an unrestrained personal freedom—what the philosopher Isaiah Berlin labeled as “positive liberty” in the 1950s.  This remains a central concern of republicanism today.  Likewise he warns clearly about the dangers of violent revolution in advancing the cause of egalitarianism:

“…it must not be the partial warfare of physical strength, which would induce the very evils which the tendency of the following Essay is calculated to eradicate; but gradual, yet decided intellectual exertions must diffuse light, as human eyes are rendered capable of bearing it.”

 

POETICAL ESSAY

ON THE

EXISTING STATE OF THINGS.

******************************************************************

AND FAMINE AT HER BIDDING WASTED WIDE

THE WRETCHED LAND, TILL, IN THE PUBLIC WAY

PROMISCUOUS WHERE THE DEAD AND DYING LAY,

DOGS FED ON HUMAN BONES IN THE OPEN LIGHT OF DAY

Curse of Kehama.

********************************************************************

BY A GENTLEMAN OF THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD,

FOR ASSISTING TO MAINTAIN IN PRISON

  1. PETER FINNERTY, IMPRISONED FOR A LIBEL.

********************************************************************

LONDON:

SOLD BY B. CROSBY AND CO.

AND ALL OTHER BOOKSELLERS.

********************************************************************

1811.

TO HARRIET W—B—K,

THIS ESSAY

IS MOST RESPECTFULLY INSCRIBED BY

THE AUTHOR

 

PREFACE TO AN ESSAY

ON THE

EXISTING STATE OF THINGS.

—NUNQUAM NE REPONAM

VEXATUS TOTIES?—

Juvenal.

THE following Poem is such, as some might conceive to demand an apology; it might appear to those, who do not consider with sufficiently accurate investigation, that its ultimate view is subversive of the existing interests of Government. A moment’s attention to the sentiments on which it is founded must demonstrate the erroneousness of this supposition. Before the system which it reprobates can be ameliorated; before that peace, which, perhaps, with greater sanguineness than certainty, every good man anticipates, a total reform in the licentiousness, luxury, depravity, prejudice, which involve society, must be effected. This reform must not be the work of immature assertions of that liberty, which, as affairs now stand, no one can claim without attaining over others an undue, invidious superiority, benefiting in consequence self instead of society; it must not be the partial warfare of physical strength, which would induce the very evils which the tendency of the following Essay is calculated to eradicate; but gradual, yet decided intellectual exertions must diffuse light, as human eyes are rendered capable of bearing it. Does not every feeling mind shrink back in disgust when it beholds myriads of its fellow-beings, whom indigence, whom persecution, have deprived of the power to exert those mental capabilities which alone can distinguish them from the brutes, subjected by nature to their dominion? Is it not an insult to the All-wise, the Omnipresent intelligence of the universe, that one man should, by the abuse of that capacity which was formed to be exerted for the happiness of his fellow-creatures, deprive them of the power to use the noblest gift which his wisdom had imparted? As there is great reason to suppose that degrees of happiness will be adjudged to each, in a future state, in proportion to the degrees of virtue which have marked the life of the individual in this; as it is self-evident that the state of probation in which we now reside, is merely a preparatory stage in which to display our energies, to fit us for a more exalted state of existence, is not the deprivation of liberty the deepest, the severest of injuries?* Yet this is despotism.

These ideas of a future state of rewards and punishments, it must be confessed, do not exactly coincide with those of St. Athanasius, regarding that, by which he so liberally condemns all who differ from his own opinions to eternal torture. Independent of the evident spirit of intolerating priestcraft, which this anathema displays, I have another reason for not crediting the Reverend Father. St. Chrysostom, a saint in no less repute than the above-mentioned creed-maker, has, in his admonitions to the Bishops, whilst discussing the best method of expounding the scriptures, the following passage:

“Should you meet with any part of the Bible, which either does not accord with your own“ sentiments, or those which you think necessary to adopt, explain it as an allegory; if then“ it will not bend, say that it is typical of some future event; if you find it impossible to “ escape thus, expound it καθειζονἔαν [katheizonean, Gr.) , directly contrary.

DESTRUCTION marks thee! o’er the blood-stain’d heath

Is faintly borne the stifled wail of death;

Millions to fight compell’d, to fight or die

In mangled heaps on War’s red altar lie.

The sternly wise, the mildly good, have sped

To the unfruitful mansions of the dead.

Whilst fell Ambition o’er the wasted plain

Triumphant guides his car—the ensanguin’d rein

Glory directs; fierce brooding o’er the scene,

With hatred glance, with dire unbending mien,

Fell Despotism sits by the red glare

Of Discord’s torch, kindling the flames of war.

 

For thee then does the Muse her sweetest lay

Pour ’mid the shrieks of war, ’mid dire dismay;

For thee does Fame’s obstrep’rous clarion rise,

Does Praise’s voice raise meanness to the skies.

Are we then sunk so deep in darkest gloom,

That selfish pride can virtue’s garb assume?

Does real greatness in false splendour live?

When narrow views the futile mind deceive,

When thirst of wealth, or frantic rage for fame,

Lights for awhile self-interest’s little flame,

When legal murders swell the lists of pride;

When glory’s views the titled idiot guide,

Then will oppression’s iron influence show

The great man’s comfort as the poor man’s woe.

 

Is’t not enough that splendour’s useless glare,

Real grandeur’s bane, must mock the poor man’s stare;

Is’t not enough that luxury’s varied power

Must cheat the rich parader’s irksome hour,

While what they want not, what they yet retain,

Adds tenfold grief, more anguished throbs of pain

To each unnumbered, unrecorded woe,

Which bids the bitterest tear of want to flow;

But that the comfort, which despotic sway

Has yet allowed, stern War must tear away.

 

Ye cold advisers of yet colder kings,

To whose fell breast no passion virtue brings,

Who scheme, regardless of the poor man’s pang,

Who coolly sharpen misery’s sharpest fang,

Yourselves secure. Yours is the power to breathe

O’er all the world the infectious blast of death,

To snatch at fame, to reap red murder’s spoil,

Receive the injured with a courtier’s smile,

Make a tired nation bless the oppressor’s name,

And for injustice snatch the meed of fame.

Were fetters made for anguish, for despair?

Must starving wretches torment, misery bear?

 

Who, mad with grief, have snatched from grandeur’s store,

What grandeur’s hand had snatched from them before.

Yet shall the vices of the great pass on,

Vices as glaring as the noon-day sun,

Shall rank corruption pass unheeded by,

Shall flattery’s voice ascend the wearied sky;

And shall no patriot tear the veil away

Which hides these vices from the face of day?

Is public virtue dead?—is courage gone?

Bows its fair form at fell oppression’s throne?

 

Yes! it’s torn away—the crimes appear,

Expiring Freedom asks a parting tear,

A powerful hand unrolls the guilt-stain’d veil,

A powerful voice floats on the tainted gale,

Rising corruption’s error from beneath,

A shape of glory checks the course of death;

It spreads its shield o’er freedom’s prostrate form,

Its glance disperses envy’s gathering storm;

No trophied bust need tell thy sainted name,

No herald blazon to the world thy fame,

Nor scrolls essay an endless meed to give;

In grateful memory still thy deeds must live.

No sculptured marble shall be raised to thee,

The hearts of England will thy memoirs be.

 

To thee the Muse attunes no venal lyre,

No thirsts of gold the vocal lays inspire;

No interests plead, no fiery passions swell;

Whilst to thy praise she wakes her feeble shell,

She need not speak it, for the pen of fame

On every heart has written BURDETT’S name;

For thou art he, who dared in tumult’s hour,

Dauntless thy tide of eloquence to pour;

Who, fearless, stemmed stern Despotism’s course,

Who traced Oppression to its foulest course [erratum: source];

Who bade Ambition tremble on its throne—

How could I virtue name, how yet pass on

Thy name!—though fruitless thy divine essay,

Though vain thy war against fell power’s array,

Thou taintless emanation from the sky!

Thou purest spark of fires which never die!

 

Yet let me pause, yet turn aside to weep

Where virtue, genius, wit, with Franklin sleep;

To bend in mute affliction o’er the grave

Where lies the great, the virtuous, and the brave;

Still let us hope in Heaven (for Heaven there is)

That sainted spirit tastes ethereal bliss,

That sainted spirit the reward receives,

Which endless goodness to its votary gives.

Thine be the meed to purest virtue due—

Alas! the prospect closes to the view.

Visions of horror croud upon my sight,

They shed around their forms substantial night.

 

Oppressors’ venal minions! hence, avaunt!

Think not the soul of Patriotism to daunt;

Though hot with gore from India’s wasted plains,

Some Chief, in triumph, guides the tightened reins;

Though disembodied from this mortal coil,

Pitt lends to each smooth rogue a courtier’s smile;

Yet does not that severer frown withhold,

Which, though impervious to the power of gold,

Could daunt the injured wretch, could turn the poor

Unheard, unnoticed, from the statesman’s door.

This is the spirit which can reckless tell

The fatal trump of useless war to swell;

Can bid Fame’s loudest voice awake his praise,

Can boldly snatch the honorary bays.

 

Gifts to reward a ruthless, murderous deed,

A crime for which some poorer rogue must bleed.

Is this then justice?—stretch thy powerful arm,

Patriot, dissolve the frightful [erratum: frigorific] charm,

Awake thy loudest thunder, dash the brand

Of stern Oppression from the Tyrant’s hand;

Let reason mount the Despot’s mouldering throne,

And bid an injured nation cease to moan.

Why then, since justice petty crimes can thrall,

Should not its power extend to each, to all?

If he who murders one to death is due,

Should not the great destroyer perish too?

The wretch beneath whose influence millions bleed?

And yet encomium is the villain’s meed.

 

His crime the smooth-tongued flatterers conquest name,

Loud in his praises swell the notes of Fame.

Oblivion marks the murdering poor man’s tomb,

Brood o’er his memory contempt and gloom;

His crimes are blazoned in deformed array,

His virtues sink, they fade for aye away.

Snatch then the sword from nerveless virtue’s hand,

Boldly grasp native jurisdiction’s brand;

For justice, poisoned at its source, must yield

The power to each its shivered sword to wield,

To dash oppression from the throne of vice,

To nip the buds of slavery as they rise.

 

Does jurisprudence slighter crimes restrain,

And seek their vices to controul in vain?

Kings are but men, if thirst of meanest sway

Has not that title even snatched away.—

The fainting Indian, on his native plains,

Writhes to superior power’s unnumbered pains;

The Asian, in the blushing face of day,

His wife, his child, sees sternly torn away;

Yet dares not to revenge, while war’s dread roar

Floats, in long echoing, on the blood-stain’d shore.

In Europe too wild ruin rushes fast:

See! like a meteor on the midnight blast,

Or evil spirit brooding over gore,

Napoleon calm can war, can misery pour.

 

May curses blast thee; and in thee the breed

Which forces, which compels, a world to bleed;

May that destruction, which ’tis thine to spread,

Descend with ten-fold fury on thy head.

Oh! may the death, which marks thy fell career,

In thine own heart’s blood bathe the empoisoned spear;

May long remorse protract thy latest groan,

Then shall Oppression tremble on its throne.

 

Yet this alone were vain; Freedom requires

A torch more bright to light its fading fires;

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 errors night be turned to virtue’s day.—

 

 

NOTES TO ESSAY, &c.

***********************************************************************

Vices as glaring as the noon-day sun.—

See the speech of one of his Majesty’s ministers in the last Session of Parliament.—The candour of the Right Hon. Gentleman demands our admiration, his impudence has ceased to surprise us. Oblivion marks the murdering poor man’s tomb.—

It cannot be supposed that by this the Author means to justify the crimes of the indigent, but thinks that no earthly power for whatever offence, has a right to deprive an individual of that life which a will, superior to human law, entrusted to his preservation, with which intention human law ought to concur. Confinement, restriction, punishment even is necessary for the support of civilized society; but to shut the door of repentance even upon a murderer, to put an eternal termination to his usefulness in this life, to force him upon an unknown, inconceivable existence, is beyond what we can conceive to be the authority of custom. The morality, if not the necessity of war, must in course be impeached by this argument. If war then is proved to be deleterious, which I think few will deny, then those, in the identification of whom none can hesitate, ought to be deprived of the power of mischief, whose interest, whose desire it is to pro-mote so forcible an outrage on its happiness.

Kings are but men, &c.— By Kings here the Author must be understood to mean, not

merely those men who are invested with the regal authority, but also all who are entrusted with the executive part of legislation, to whom more advantages result from the station which they fill, than the consciousness of having discharged their duty for the welfare of their fellow creatures.

We cannot say with Horace “Rex ille est”

shelley writing prometheus unbound joseph severn

joseph severn’s ‘shelley writing prometheus unbound’

10 responses to “A Guest Post by Percy Bysshe Shelley

  1. Rev. Pinkney’s Appeal Denied’, by david sole at BAR: (in a nutshell, as with Finnerty at the turn of the 19th century, or ajauma baraka’s ‘impunity for the police, prison for the resistors):

    “A Michigan court ruled that Rev. Edward Pinkney’s political activism was enough motive to send him to prison for 2 ½ to 10 years charges. By such warped judicial reasoning, courts “can condemn every political activist in the country to be guilty of any political crime just for being an activist. In Rev. Pinkney’s words: “We are living in a time when the court system and the prosecutor don’t need evidence to send a man to prison.”

    • There you are — preventive detention comes home. What Bill of Rights?

      • all dissidents are terrorists, and many crimes of said protestors have now been federalized. so yes: what bill of rights? baraka narrated the crime of lynching that jasmine richards was jailed for. remember my (ahem) freakout at her disappearance?

        he notes that the comprador-in-chief’s doj ‘had “federalized” the prosecution of protestors in Baltimore by voluntarily intervening in the city to investigate and prosecute the resisters’.

        seriously, one has to wonder how far it will go until masses of us engage in such civil disobedience that they can’t arrest us all. (not that i can do anything on the streets any longer.)

  2. I finally sussed out that it was Finnerty, not Shelley, who was imprisoned in 1798. Otherwise Shelley would have been a very precocious 5-year-old.

    Point of reference: Thomas Paine died in 1809.

    Does not every feeling mind shrink back in disgust when it beholds myriads of its fellow-beings, whom indigence, whom persecution, have deprived of the power to exert those mental capabilities which alone can distinguish them from the brutes, subjected by nature to their dominion?

    There is a statement of justification to unpack. It disqualifies unfeeling minds. It focuses on indigence (poverty), persecution, and the PTSD that is a consquence of those. It asserts that the proper object of subjugation for humanity is of brutes, subjugate to human dominion. Note that in the early 1800s, “brutes” was a debatable and elastic category, which for some included the Irish and certainly, in America, Negroes.

    the state of probation in which we now reside, is merely a preparatory stage in which to display our energies, to fit us for a more exalted state of existence, is not the deprivation of liberty the deepest, the severest of injuries?* Yet this is despotism.

    Despotism rates an automatic flunk of the end-of-grade test that is life.

    And then throwing Athansius and Chrysotom back at the Church that tolerates the subjugation of Ireland (among other practices).

    And then the poetry.

    Yet let me pause, yet turn aside to weep

    Where virtue, genius, wit, with Franklin sleep;

    Ben? Franklin? Burdett or Finnerty (which is the object of this praise)?

    Or did republican virtue, genius, wit die with Franklin?

    No wonder school literature courses seek to vaccinate students agains Shelley and his contemporaries. That period of Brit Lit was my least favorite 50 years ago.

    • ouch; i edited it, but i’d understood exactly who was imprisoned a second time, once in 1798. ;-)

      great comment, though, thd. i suspect it was ben, mr. electricity, as some say shelley studies his work, *and that* some scholars believe shelley wrote whole swathes of his wife mary’s ‘frankenstein’.

      great paine quote, so related to this; thanks. we see so many blacks and poor now twigging to the realization that they are in education deserts on purpose, cue george carlin. the young fellow in the TRNN interview on the ‘movement for black lives’ named a few other forms of violence perpetrated on the rabble, as well.

      yes, he castigated the church mightily, wrote on the necessity of atheism, even something on anarchy. until i read his wiki, i had no idea how influential a writer, anti-war activist, and advocate of non-violent civil disobedience he was. whooosh. fancy, he wrote this at 18. some ‘intellectuals’ have made sport of it, but….pffft. he got his mojo on!

      i’ll let a couple things soak in, then i may come back. sounds as though an electrical storm (speaking of which) is brewin’ here. i need to go close things up a bit.

  3. assange, manning, many others.

    very enjoyable. by a gentleman of the university of oxford. lol.

    • cripes. did you see that manning may be punished for trying to commit suicide? it defies belief, speaking of brutish despotism. and remember you’d pulled some faces a jeremy corbin? a couple days ago assange indicated that among others, corbyn had libeled him. wth?

      but as to oxford, ha and heh, da wiki says: “Legend has it that Shelley attended only one lecture while at Oxford, but frequently read sixteen hours a day.” and “In 1811, Shelley anonymously published a pamphlet called The Necessity of Atheism which was brought to the attention of the university administration and he was called to appear before the College’s fellows, including the Dean, George Rowley. His refusal to repudiate the authorship of the pamphlet resulted in his expulsion from Oxford on 25 March 1811, along with Hogg.”

      so…he remained rather unscathed by oxford, methinks. ;-) didn’t even last a year there. lots of tragedy in his short life, most of it not of his making, unless: karma from running out on his first wife, marrying mary.

      • that story of his oxford days warms the cockles. oxford…first thing we do is kill all lawyers, right? ox-bridge has been a powerful tool of nation & empire.

        and it’s so very Romantic to have died so young for art. (j/k).

        “i became very sad” under torture-wsws headline from yesterday i think. it’s terrible. she’s taken one for humanity & they will worse than crucify her for it, if they can. heroism is praised to the heavens, and put in solitary forever. here’s a “hero”: Khzrzrzr Khan trotting his dead son around to shill for HRC. that’s the kind of heroism america can get behind. (oh god, more corpses. “My son, though dead, yet lives. and he says: VOTE HILLARY!!!” so awful. the ability to make a corpse speak is some fancy ass theatrics going on there. he’s turned ventriloquist, and his son is the dummy. as this son mounts the grim ferryman’s Stygian barge, dear ol’ da’ slapped a HILLARY 2016 bumper sticker on the hull. ugh. what a desecration of his son’s memory. for the fare of coins traditionally left on the eyes of the departed, he left HRC 2016 buttons.)

        • his brief stay at oxford made for fun reading, i admit.

          well, i might look for that story about khan; crikey, the headlines are full of it of course. but you’ve actually written a mighty powerful vignette around the unintentional parody of it all. and khan is basking in the light of his appreciation of the Queen of Cackles for giving his beloved son three news-cycles of fame?

          no, check that: i likely won’t look since you’ve written this; thank you. ;-) too much to read, gads, i went from syria to libya to haiti to the pope (pffft) to ajamu baraka already this mornin’.

  4. these passages were so very akin to ajamu baraka’s softly furious essay:

    “Does jurisprudence slighter crimes restrain,
    And seek their vices to controul in vain?”, and
    “Why then, since justice petty crimes can thrall,
    Should not its power extend to each, to all?”

    this:

    “May curses blast thee; and in thee the breed
    Which forces, which compels, a world to bleed;
    May that destruction, which ’tis thine to spread,
    Descend with ten-fold fury on thy head.”…

    is so reminiscent of Dylan,although this is sam bradley, who owns it, a far as i’m concerned.

    “Let me ask you one question
    Is your money that good?
    Will it buy you forgiveness
    Do you think that it could?
    I think you will find
    When your death takes its toll
    All the money you made
    Will never buy back your soul?

    And I hope that you die
    And your death’ll come soon
    I will follow your casket
    By the pale afternoon
    And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
    Down to your deathbed
    And I’ll stand o’er your grave
    ‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead

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