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Poetical essay on the existing state of things

Shelley's poetical essay

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.

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?

Shelley’s long-lost poem – a document for our own time (and any other)

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?

Athanasiusregarding that, by which he so liberally condemns all who differ from his own opinions to eternal torture.

  • 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?
  • Must starving wretches torment, misery bear?
  • Thine be the meed to purest virtue due— Alas!
  • Shelley gave one copy of the poem, which was published as a twenty page pamphlet with a Preface, Notes, dedication page, and Errata page, to his cousin Pilfold Medwin who took it to Italy;
  • The 172 line poem, in pentameter rhyming couplets, criticizes the British government, lack of freedom of the press, corruption, the Napoleonic war, and poverty in Britain;
  • This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

Independent of the evident spirit of intolerating priestcraft, which this anathema displays, I have another reason for not crediting the Reverend Father. Chrysostoma 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: The sternly wise, the mildly good, have sped To the unfruitful mansions of the dead.

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Does real greatness in false splendour live? Were fetters made for anguish, for despair?

Shelley Essay Full

Must starving wretches torment, misery bear? Is public virtue dead? No sculptured marble shall be raised to thee, The hearts of England will thy memoirs be.

Thou purest spark of fires which never die! Thine be the meed to purest virtue due— Alas!

Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things

Visions of horror croud upon my sight, They shed around their forms substantial night. Gifts to reward a ruthless, murderous deed, A crime for which some poorer rogue must bleed.

Is this then justice? 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?

  • It was the 12 millionth printed book added to the Bodleian Library in 2015 when its contents were made available after its purchase;
  • Does real greatness in false splendour live?
  • The sternly wise, the mildly good, have sped To the unfruitful mansions of the dead;
  • In Europe too wild ruin rushes fast:

His crime the smooth-tongued flatterers conquest name, Loud in his praises swell the notes of Fame. 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.

  • Is public virtue dead?
  • They must be confronted and exposed;
  • In Europe too wild ruin rushes fast;
  • Page 13, line 14, for course read source.

In Europe too wild ruin rushes fast: Vices as glaring as the noon-day sun. Gentleman demands our admiration, his impudence has ceased to surprise us.

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.

The Bodleian Libraries' 12 millionth book

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 promote so forcible an outrage on its happiness. Page 13, line 14, for course read source.

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Page 15, line 10, for frightful read frigorific. Munday and Slatter, Printers Oxford. This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.