Shelley and his poetry.

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from 'The Attempt' and attributed to
Gerald Massey.


This article is from an 1848 issue of a circulating manuscript newspaper, The Attempt.  The paper was commenced in 1846 at Uxbridge, Middlesex, by a group of radical workers who, in 1845 had started a Young Men's Improvement Society led by John Bedford Leno, a printer.  Leno later became branch secretary of the local Chartists.  In 1849 The Attempt became a printed journal, the Uxbridge Pioneer.  Massey supported the Society by donating some books to their library and contributing items for their newspaper.

    This article, although unsigned, is recognisable by Massey's undeveloped immature style, and contains more appreciation than critical commentary.  His handwriting is distinctive, and many letter formations remained virtually unchanged throughout his life.  The letters 'a', 'k', 'd', 'r' and the lower middle-zone down-stroke disconnections can be particularly noted (see the sample below), even when his writing was less formal and more rapid.  Accordingly, the article can, with confidence, be attributed to Massey, and is the earliest example of his prose style found so far.

    The rather large quantity of quoted poetry in the article has been considerably reduced in order to show better his earliest prose style.  Spelling is unchanged, and punctuation also, except where it is unclear. As this was a circulating newspaper only in manuscript, and not for printing, it received no editing.  The last item, a poem: "We're many, our Tyrants are few" is included in Massey's Voices of Freedom and Lyrics of Love, 1851. It had by then been revised, and the punctuation corrected.

    Acknowledgement is given to the Central Library Uxbridge, Local Studies Department, who hold copies of The Attempt.

David Shaw, March, 2006.


Glorious, but Illstarr'd Shelley!  This greatly-gifted, but, malign'd being was born, in the County of Suffolk, August the 4th 1792, he was first Educated at Eton, afterwards at Oxford, where his wild opinions and resistance to all established Authority caused his expulsion!

At the early age of 15, he had written 2 prose Romances, and ere he was seventeen he had Publish'd a volume of Political Poems, and, challeng'd all the Elders of the College to a theological controversy.  He has pourtray'd his young imprefsions in some sweet, and touching lines, to Mary:

"I do remember well the hour, which burst
 My Spirit's sleep, a fresh May-dawn it was -
 When I walk'd forth upon the glittering grafs.
 And wept I knew not why!"

"And from that hour, did I with earnest Thought,
 Heap knowledge from forbidden mines of lore:
 Yet, nothing that my tyrants knew or taught,
 I cared to learn, but from that hidden shore
 Wrought linke'd armour for my Soul, before -
 It might go forth to war among Mankind."

At the age of 17 fragile in health and frame, of the purest moral habits, - full of devoted generosity, - and boundlefs kindnefs, glowing with ardour to attain Wisdom, resolved at every personal sacrifice to do right - He was treated as a Reprobate, cast forth as a Criminal!  The cause was, he believed his Opinions true, and, he loved Truth, with a Martyr's love; this Sacrifice, was demanded of a Youth 17 years of Age! and he shrank not from it, but pafs'd the ordeal nobly; truly, has he said:

"Most wretched Men -
 Are cradled into poetry, by wrong.
 They learn in Suffering, what they teach in Song!"

He incefsantly wrote, and thought, during the whole of his existence: he loved to call himself "Atheist," and there were thousands ready to seize the name, and howl "Atheist," and Law stepp'd in - to deprive him of the Guardian-ship of his two dear-lov'd Children: Oh God, was it not enough to make the brain go Mad: to tear the bleeding tendrills of Love - thus from his sensitive heart?

Shelley was neither Deist, Atheist or Infidel: He was as purely a Religious Poet as David, the sweet singer of Israel!  Religious in the most sacred and Universal sense of the word, True!  He did not pin his faith to Creeeds - he did not believe in forms or Dogmas - which Priestcraft hath set its blind Seal upon: but, he keenly felt the "O'ermastering flame" with him the Creator: was not a God of parts & Pafsions, but the pulse Divine - and breathing Spirit of the whole Universe: his Dreams were God-like therefore of God!

It must have been a high, Ideal faith that bore him onward thro' much Persecution.  Of all Poets he is the Poet for Poets, and no Poetry more than Shelly's flings out that light that never was seen on sea or land.

He is not a Popular Poet - but he can bide his time, for, he will be popular Centuries hence; when the divinity of our human nature shall have overcome its transfiguring Pafsions: when his own Belief - that Good shall eventually banish Evil from the World, shall have taken pofsefsion of Men's understandings.  Then must Shelly's poetry be popular, and Scripture avers this time shall come.

He does not administer to the burning Pafsions of the Sensualist, but, some of his low sweet music - as with the kifs of young love! touches the purest Feelings we are susceptible of: and again he flashes forth Thoughts that stir the blood like the sound of a Trumpet! in the cause of Liberty.

In his "Revolt of Islam" occurs the following Grand Stanzas:

"It shall be thus no more, too long, too long.
 Sons of the glorious Dead! have ye lain bound
 In darknefs, and in ruin, Hope is strong,
 Justice and Truth, their wingéd Child have found.
 Awake! arise! untill the mighty sound
 Of your career, shall scatter in its gust
 The thrones of the Opprefsors, and the ground
 Hide the last altar's unregulated dust,
 Whose Idol hath so long, betray'd your impious trust.

 The Tyrants of the golden City tremble,
 At voices which are heard about the streets.
 The Ministers of fraud can scarce difsemble
 The lies of their own hearts!
 Murderers are pale upon their judgement seats,
 And gold grows vile, even to the wealthy crone
 And laughter fills the fane, and curses shake the Throne!"

from the same

"Then suddenly I stood, a wingèd Thought
 Before th' Immortal Senate!"

Beautiful, is it not?  Who dares to say he believed not in the Immortality of the Soul?  In the poem of "Queen Mab" which has been styled his "Glory as a Poet, but his shame as a Man", we find the following:

"Sudden arose
 Lanthe's soul, it stood,
 All beautiful, in naked purity,
 Each stain of earthlinefs, had pafs'd away!"

The Fairy and Spirit are now standing on the over-hanging battlements, scanning with spiritual eyes, the Universe that stretched beneath them.

"Behold! the Fairy cried,
 Palmyra's ruin'd Pallaces.
 Behold! where Grandeur frown'd,
 Behold! where Pleasure smiled, What now remains?
 Behold! you sterile spot! where now, the
 Wandering Arabs tent flaps in the Desert blast.
 Where once Old Salem's haughty fanes
 Rear'd high to heaven their thousand golden domes
 And in the blushing face of Day
 Expressed its shameful Glory."
 "Where Athens , Rome and Sparta stood,
 There is a moral desert now.
 Where Socrates expir'd a Tyrant's slave,
 A Coward, and a Fool, spread Death around."

"Whence thinkest thou, Kings and parasites arose?
 Whence that unnatural line of drones?
 Who heap unvanquishable misery,
 On those who build their Pallaces and bring
 Their daily bread from vice, black, loathsome vice
 From Rapine, Madnefs, Treachery & Wrong?
 And when Reason's voice,
 Loud as the voice of Nature, shall awake the Nations!
 When Man's maturer nature shall disdain
 The play things of its Childhood, kingly glare
 Shall lose its pow'r to dazzle, its authority
 Will silently pafs by; the gorgeous Throne
 Shall stand unnoticed, in the regal hall,
 Fast falling to decay, whilst Falsehood's trade
 Shall be as hateful and unprofitable
 As that of Truth is now"!

We humbly opine it to be equal to the "Prometheus Bound" of Eschylus; and if any works should be rescued from the wreck of this Planet when Time shall be no more, surely Shelly's "Prometheus Unbound" shall win a place in the Archive of the Immortals. We scarcely know what to chose, from mid this field of richest Imagery.

In "The Masque of Anarchy" is one simple line we cannot pafs by unnoticed. We deem it worth a dozen homilies speaking to the People, ennumerating what Earth's bloody Tyrants have done, he pleads affectionately, thus -

"Do not thus when ye are Strong!" It is one of those sentences that come home as tho' we put our ear to Nature's bosom. and heard her hearts beating!"

Here's a Song for lovers' lips, Ladies' ears and Love's bower:

           "Love's Philosophy."
"The fountains mingle with the river,
 And the river with the ocean,
 The wind of heaven, mix for ever
 With a sweet emotion.
 Nothing in the world is single,
All things by a law divine
 In each other's being mingle,
 Why not I with thine?

 See! the mountains kifs high heaven,
 And the waves clasp one another.
 No sister Flower would be forgiven
 If, it disdain'd its brother.
 And, the Sunbeams kifs the earth
 And the moonbeams kifs the sea.
 What are all these kifsings worth
 If thou kifs not me?"

Exquisite, is it not? Shelly has been beautifully call'd the "Immortal Child" this poem was compos'd in the last year but one of his short life, and his Spirit seems to the last, fresh from the hand of God, still dewy with Infancy, still breathing of the sunny dells of Paradise, ever young, it is said, "Whom the Gods love die young", and he was not born to endure thro' long. long years.

"The wearinefs, the fever and the fret,
 Here, where men sit and hear each other groan."

Shelly was drowned in the bay of Spezia July 8th 1824. A volume of Keats's Poems were found open next his heart; his body was reduced to ashes by fire, on the Sea-shore, and immured in the Protestant burial-ground of the old seven-hill'd City Rome, under the pyramid which is the tomb of Cestius; it is a lovely spot, where the violets and Daisies weave the slumbering Dead an everlasting Crown, blooming all the year long, the earth is ever drench'd in beauty, and heaven seems allways blue! This divinest of Climates is a fit resting place for this true Poet; in his own words, "it might make one in love with Death, to think one should be Buried in so sweet a Spot"!

"After life's fitful fever he sleeps well."

But the burst of indignation, which broke from his heart, in a long agonizing cry, hath made Kings and Priests tremble. They have curs'd him, but their Curses have rebounded upon their own heads; his Thoughts are like lightenings alive in the bosom of the People; already is earth labouring with the weighty workings which he prophesied and whoever may sound the hour of its birth, great is the impulse he has given to the Power that moves the wheels behind!!!!!

After six hours banquetting on Poetry we heard strange voices lisping within us, and after some few rockings in our seat, and sundry turns round the house, we discover'd that it was no conspiracy talking treason, but the following -

"We're many, our Tyrants are few."

Behold. the Morn's breaking above, boys.
Bathing earth in a warm, rosy show'r.
Heaven seemeth o'erflowing with love, Boys,
And light kisfeth the lowliest Flower.
The sunbeams light Poverty's home, boys,
As well as the proud princly hall.
And thus in a day that shall come, boys
Mind shall light th' heartchambers of All.
Oh, look for the noble in soul, boys,
And grasp ye the hand of the true.
Then on! for the glorious goal, boys.
We're many, our Tyrants are few!

The flag of the Free, shall wave out, Boys!
O'er the dark-ruin'd towers of Wrong,
And the People shall wake with a shout, Boys,
And the poor man's heart break into song.
Bright Truth's garb of sunshine shall deck them
Who rule - in our hearts enthroned,
And the Crown that they wear, shall make them
Peerlefs, - among Peers birth-renown'd.
And they shall be noble in Soul, Boys,
Warm-grasping the hand of the True.
Then on for this Glorious goal, Boys.
We're many, our Tyrants but few.

Disdain with a noble scorn, Boys,
The bugbears that Priestcraft hath wrought,
They'll vanish like Phantoms forlorn, Boys,
In the morning-light of Thought.
Never fear tho' men curse and upbraid us
Never wince neath the hireling's gibe.
They'd flatter and fawn, aye, and aid us,
Were we rich enough to bribe!
But look for the noble in soul, Boys,
And grasp ye the hand of the True.
Then on for the glorious goal, Boys,
We're many, our Tyrants but few!"