Copyright
Percy Bysshe Shelley.

A defense of poetry; online

. (page 8 of 9)
Online LibraryPercy Bysshe ShelleyA defense of poetry; → online text (page 8 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


succeeding ethical writers. The chief difficulty in this early analysis
of the mind is to define exactly the place of the irascible faculty, which
may be variously described under the terms righteous indignation,
spirit, passion." This distribution of faculties is likewise observed in
the Tinuzus ; cf. Jowett 3. 582: "The soul of man is divided by him
into three parts, answering roughly to the charioteer and steeds of the
Phaedrus, and to the \6yos, Oupos, and tiriOufj.ia of the Republic and
Nicomachean Ethics. First, there is the immortal part which is seated
in the brain, and is alone divine, and akin to the soul of the universe.
This alone thinks and knows and is the ruler of the whole. Secondly,
there is the higher mortal soul which, though liable to perturbations of
her own, takes the side of reason against the lower appetites. The
seat of this is the heart, in which courage, anger, and all the nobler
affections are supposed to reside. . . . There is also a third or appe-
titive soul, which receives the commands of the immortal part, not
immediately but mediately, through the higher mortal nature." An-
other and fourfold division is found in the Sixth Book {Rep. 511;
Jowett 3. 399) : " Let there be four faculties in the soul reason
answering to the highest, understanding to the second, faith or per-
suasion to the third, and knowledge of shadows to the last." Else-
where (Plato 3. 77) Jowett translates the designation of the fourth
faculty as " the perception of likenesses."

26 1-3. And the crow, etc. Shakespeare, Macb. 3. 2. 51-3.

26 14 Celtic. Here, and wherever in the essay the word ' Celtic '
occurs, we should undoubtedly substitute ' Germanic.' Shelley's inad-
vertence is surprising.

27 9 ff. The principle of equality, etc. Cf. Plato, Republic 416-7
(Jowett's trans. 3. 294-5) : " Then now let us consider what will be
their way of life, if they are to realize our idea of them. In the first
place, none of them should have any property beyond what is abso-
lutely necessary; neither should they have a private house or treasury
closed against any one who has a mind to enter; their provisions
should be only such as are required by trained warriors, who are men
of temperance and courage; they should agree to receive from the
citizens a fixed rate of pay, enough to meet the expenses of the year
and no more, and they will go to mess and live together like soldiers
in a camp. Gold and silver we will tell them that they have from
God; the diviner metal is within them, and they have therefore no



NOTES. 73

need of the other earthly dross which passes under the name of gold,
and ought not to pollute the divine by earthly admixture, for that com-
moner metal has been the source of many unholy deeds; but their own
is undefiled. . . . And this will be their salvation, and the salvation
of the State. But should they ever acquire homes or lands or moneys
of their own, they will become housekeepers and husbandmen instead of
guardians, enemies and tyrants instead of allies of the other citizens ;
hating and being hated, plotting and being plotted against, they will
pass through life in much greater terror of internal than of external
enemies, and the hour of ruin, both to themselves and to the rest of
the State, will be at hand."

28 20-21. Galeotto, etc. " Galeotto was the book and he who wrote
it." Dante, Inf. 5. 137.

28 22. Petrarch. Cf. Shelley's Discourse on the Manners of the
Ancients : " Perhaps nothing has been discovered in the fragments of
the Greek lyric poets equivalent to the sublime and chivalric sensibility
of Petrarch."

28 33. Vita Nuova. Of this there are excellent translations by Ros-
setti, Dante and his Circle, and by Charles Eliot Norton.

29 7-8. The most glorious imagination of modern poetry. Cf. Shel-
ley's Discourse on the Manners of the Ancients : " Perhaps Dante cre-
ated imaginations of greater loveliness and energy than any that are to
be found in the ancient literature of Greece."

29 18. Dissonance of arms. Cf. Longfellow, The A rsenal at Spring-
field:

Peace ! and no longer from its brazen portals
The blast of War's great organ shakes the skies !
But beautiful as songs of the immortals,
The holy melodies of love arise.

29 27-28. The error which confounded diversity with inequality.
The truer doctrine has been expressed by Tennyson, Princess 7. 259-

287:

For woman is no4 undevelopt man,

But diverse ; could we make her as the man,

Sweet love were slain ; his dearest bond is this,

Not like to like, but like in difference.

Yet in the long years liker must they grow ;

The man be more of woman, she of man ;

He gain in sweetness and in moral height,

Nor lose the wrestling thews that throw the world ;

She mental breadth, nor fail in childward care,

Nr lose the childlike in the larger mind ;



74 NOTES.

Till at the last she set herself to man,

Like perfect music unto noble words ;

And so these twain, upon the skirts of Time,

Sit side by side, full-sum m'd in all their powers,

Dispensing harvest, sowing the To-be,

Self-reverent each and reverencing each,

Distinct in individualities,

But like each other ev'n as those who love.

. . . Seeing either sex alone
Is half itself, and in true marriage lies
Nor equal, nor unequal ; each fulfils
Defect in each, and always thought in thought,
Purpose in purpose, will in will, they grow.

30 12. Riphaus. See Dante, Paradiso 20. 67-69, 118-124 :

Who would believe, down in the errant world,
That e'er the Trojan Ripheus in this round
Could be the fifth one of the holy lights?
. . . Through grace, that from so deep
A fountain wells that never hath the eye
Of any creature reached its primal wave,
Set all his love below on righteousness ;
Wherefore from grace to grace did God unclose
His eye to our redemption yet to be,
Whence he believed therein.

Cf. Plumptre's note on Paradiso 19. 70, in his translation of the
Divine Comedy : " How can the justice of God be reconciled with the
condemnation of the heathen who have sought righteousness, and yet
have lived and died without baptism and in ignorance of the faith?
Dante has no other solution than that of man's incapacity to measure
the Divine justice. ... It would be a miracle if Scripture presented
no such problems. Man must believe that God is good and righteous
in all his ways. If Dante does not go beyond this, we must remember
that he at least placed the righteous heathen in a state in which there
was only the pain of unsatisfied desire. ... It is significant that his
yearning after a wider hope grows stronger with his deepening faith
towards the close of life."

Justissimus unus. ^Eneid 2. 426-7 : " Rhipeus also falls, who was
above all others the most just among the Trojans, and the strictest
observer of right."

31 8-10. And (his bold neglect, etc. Cf. 14 32-15 4.

31 14. Laws of epic truth. For these consult the Poetics of Aristotle.



NOTES. 75

32 1-2. Limed the wings of his swift spirit. See Hamlet 3. 3. 68-9 :

O limed soul, that, struggling to be free
Art more engaged.

32 6. Mock-birds. Mocking birds.

32 7. Apollonius Rhodius. Flourished 250-300 B.C. He is best
known by his Argonautics, a poem in four books (a translation in
Bonn's Library). Cf. Mahaffy, Hist. Grk. Lit. I. 147-152, or his
Greek Life and Thought, pp. 269-276.

32 8. Quintus (Calaber) Smyrn&us. Cf. Mahaffy, Hist. Grk. Lit.
I. 153 : " But we find no enduring result till the beginning of the fifth
century, when an epic school was founded, principally in Upper Egypt,
and of whom (sic) two representatives are well known Nonnus and
Musaeus. There are several others mentioned in the fuller literature
of the time. First, Quintus Smyrnaeus (called Calaber from the find-
ing there of the MS.), who wrote a continuation of Homer in fourteen
books, thus taking up the work of the cyclic poets, who were probably
lost before his time."

Nonnus. Mahaffy, Hist. Grk. Lit. I. 153: "Nonnus only, standing
between the living and the dead, composing, on the one hand, his long
epic on the adventures of Dionysus, and, on the other, his paraphrase
of St. John's Gospel into Homeric hexameters, is a most interesting
figure, though beyond the scope of the historian of Greek classical lit-
erature."

Lucan. Author of the Pharsalia (39-65 A.D.). See Cruttwell,
Hist. Rom. Lit., pp. 359-371.

Statius. Author of the Thebaid, and of an unfinished Achilleid
(6i-ca. 98 A.D.). Cruttwell, pp. 423-9.

32 9. Claudian. Close of fourth and beginning of fifth century A.D.
Author of Rape of Proserpine, besides panegyrical and other poems.

33 16-21. The age . . . invention. Cf. Sidney, Defense 3 8-15.

34 27-30. Let him spare to deface, etc. Cf. Selkirk, Ethics and Es-
thetics of Modern Poetry, pp. 205-6 : " In the civilisation whose pro-
gress is thoroughly sound, the education of the head and of the heart
should go abreast, and the assumed advancement in which poetry de-
clines is more than likely to be the civilisation of an age that sacrifices
its emotions to its reason. If this be true, we must be prepared to see
a good many other things decline. First after poetry, perhaps religion,
and after that the possibility of political cohesion. If we read history
carefully enough, we shall find, in most cases, that this lopsided civilisa-
tion, under some very high-sounding aliases, ' Perfectibility of Human



76 NOTES.

Nature,' 'Age of Reason,' and so forth, has a trick of moving in a
circle, and playing itself out. By-and-by the neglected half of human
nature has its rvenge. The fatal flaw in this emotionless culture is
that it contains no sort of human amalgam strong enough to bind soci-
ety together. The individual forces composing it are what Lord Palm-
erston would have called ' a fortuitous concourse of atoms,' and possess
no element of political adherence. The forgotten thing that under the
name of Emotion was allowed to fall asleep as quiet as a lamb the
busy worshippers of Reason taking no note of the fact awakens one
day with a changed name and a changed nature. It is now a lion.
Spurned Emotion has grown to Rage, an easy transition. Renewed
by his sleep, the lion rises up and scowls around him, rushes into soci-
ety with his tail in the air, inaugurates a Reign of Terror, and reasserts
the sovereignty of the brute. When the mad fit has gone, and the long
arrears to the heart have been paid for in blood, cash down, society
sits down again, clothed and in its right mind. The Sisyphus of civil-
isation finds himself again at the foot of the hill, glad to accept a phi-
losophy that, if less high-sounding and pretentious, is at least a good
deal more human."

35 2. Exasperate. In the etymological sense. Cf. exasperation,
37 28.

35 4-6. To him that hath, etc. An inexact quotation. See Mark
4. 25 : "For he that hath, to him shall be given; and he that hath not,
from him shall be taken even that which he hath." Other forms, but
none identical with Shelley's version, may be found in Matt. 13. 12 and
25. 29; Luke 8. 1 8 and 19. 26.

35 23-24. The melancholy which is inseparable from the sweetest
melody. So in Shelley's To a Skylark :

Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught ;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.

And Shakespeare, Merck. Ven. 5. i. 69: "I am never merry when I
hear sweet music."

35 27-28. // is better to go, etc. Another example of inexact quota-
tion. See Eccl. 7. 2 : " It is better to go to the house of mourning,
than to go to the house of feasting."

36 15. The Inquisition in Spain. Abolished in 1808, it was again
revived by Ferdinand VII., and again suppressed in 1820, the year be-
fore Shelley wrote the Defense.

37 12-13. / dare not, etc. Macbeth \ . 7. 45.



NOTES. 77

38 2. God and Mammon. Matt. 6. 24 : " Ye cannot serve God and
mammon."

38 27-29. As the odor, etc. Cf. 8 19-21.

39 7. A man cannot say, " I will compose poetry." Cf. Sidney, De-
fense 46 2021 : " A poet no industry can make, if his own genius be
not carried into it."

39 25. 7/ii? toil and the delay, etc. Such toil seems to be recom-
mended by Dante ; cf. his treatise On the Vulgar Tongue, Bk. 2, ch. 4
(Howell's trans.) : " But these poets differ from the great poets that
is, the regular ones, for these last have written poetry with stately
language and regular art, whereas the others, as has been said, write
by chance. It therefore happens that the nearer we approach to the
great poets, the more correct is the poetry we write. . . . The proper
result can never be attained without strenuous efforts of genius, con-
stant practice in the art, and fully available knowledge. . . . And here
let the folly of those stand confessed who, innocent of art and knowl-
edge, and trusting to genius alone, rush forward to sing of the highest
subjects in the highest style."

40 2. Unpremeditated. Milton (P. L. 9. 21-24) speaks of his

" celestial Patroness,"

Who deigns

Her nightly visitation unimplored,
And dictates to me slumbering, or inspires
Easy my unpremeditated verse.

40 23-25. // is as it were the interpretation of a diviner nature
through our own. Cf. Plato, fan 533-4 (Shelley's trans.) : " For the
authors of those great poems which we admire do not attain to excel-
lence through the rules of any art, but they utter their beautiful melo-
dies of verse in a state of inspiration, and, as it were, possessed by a
spirit not their own. Thus the composers of lyrical poetry create those
admired songs of theirs in a state of divine insanity, like the Cory-
bantes, who lose all control over their reason in the enthusiasm of the
sacred dance, and during this supernatural possession are excited to
the rhythm and harmony which they communicate to men. . . . For
a poet is indeed a thing ethereally light, winged, and sacred, nor can
he compose any thing worth calling poetry until he becomes inspired
and as it were mad, or whilst any reason remains in him. For whilst
a man retains any portion of the thing called reason, he is utterly in-
competent to produce poetry, or to vaticinate. Thus those who declaim
various and beautiful poetry upon any subject, as for instance upon
Homer, are not enabled to do so by art or study; but every rhapsodist



78 NOTES.

or poet, whether dithyrambic, encomiastic, choral, epic, or iambic, is
excellent in proportion to the extent of his participation in the divine
influence and the degree in which the Muse itself has descended on
him. In other respects poets may be sufficiently ignorant and inca-
pable. For they do not compose according to any art which they have
acquired, but from the impulse of the divinity within them; for did
they know any rules of criticism, according to which they could com-
pose beautiful verses upon one subject, they would be able to exert the
same faculty with respect to all or any other. The God seems pur-
posely to have deprived all poets, prophets, and soothsayers of every
particle of reason and understanding, the better to adapt them to their
employment as his ministers and interpreters; and that we, their audi-
tors, may acknowledge that those who write so beautifully are pos-
sessed, and address us inspired by the God. A presumption in favor
of this opinion may be drawn from the circumstance of Tynnichus the
Chalcidian having composed no other poem worth mentioning except
the famous poem which is in every body's mouth, perhaps the most
beautiful of all lyrical compositions, and which he himself calls a gift
of the Muses. I think you will agree with me that examples of this
sort are exhibited by the God himself to prove that those beautiful
poems are not human nor from man, but divine and from the Gods,
and that poets are only the inspired interpreters of the Gods, each ex-
cellent in proportion to the degree of his inspiration. This example of
the most beautiful of lyrics having been produced by a poet in other
respects the worst seems to have been afforded as a divine evidence of
the truth of this opinion."

41 5-8. A -word, a trait . . . will touch the enchanted chord. Gf.
Byron, Childe Harold Bk. 4, stanza 23 :

And slight withal may be the things that bring

Back on the heart the weight which it would fling

Aside for ever : it may be a sound

A tone of music summer's eve or spring

A flower the wind the ocean which shall wound,

Striking the electric chain wherewith we are darkly bound.

425-6. The mind, etc.. Paradise Lost I. 254-5.

42 19-20. // creates anew the universe. Cf. Sidney, Defense of
Poesy 7 26-9 5.

42 23. Words of Tasso. Somewhat differently quoted in Shelley's
letter to Peacock of i6th August, 1818, where it stands: Non c'e in
mondo chi merita nome di creatore, che Dio ed il Poeta. In either



NOTES. 79

case the translation would be much the same : None merits the name
of creator except God and the poet. Cf. Sidney, Defense of Poesy 8 27-
30 : " But rather give right honor to the Heavenly Maker of that
maker, who, having made man to His own likeness, set him beyond
and over all the works of that second nature."

43 7. Confirm. There is a variant reading, confine.

43 13. " There sitting where we dare not soar." Adapted from Mil-
ton, P. L. 4. 829 :

Ye knew me once no mate
For you, there sitting where ye durst not soar.

43 21-31. This passage is framed out of Scriptural reminiscences.
Some or all of the following sentences must have been present to Shel-
ley's mind :

Dan. 5. 27. Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.

Isa. 40. 15. Behold the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are
counted as the small dust of the balance.

Isa. i. 18. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as
snow.

Rev. 7. 14. Washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of
the Lamb.

Heb. 9. 15. The mediator of the new testament, that by means of
death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first
testament. . . .

Heb. 12. 24. And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to
the blood of sprinkling.

Matt. 7. i. Judge not, that ye be not judged.

44 26. The passions purely evil. Shelley seems to have in mind
some such classification of sins into lesser and greater as Dante adopts
in the Inferno. The threefold division of Dante is into sins of I. In-
continence. II. Malice. III. Bestiality. Of these the former are
regarded as the more venial, the latter as the more deadly. For the
subdivisions, see Longfellow's Notes to the Inferno, the portion pre-
ceding the Commentary on Canto I., or Miss Rossetti's Shadow of
Dante, ch. 5.

44 32. A polemical reply. To the essay of Peacock, for which see
pp. 47-61.

45 6. 7, like them, etc. This statement is illustrated by the follow-
ing quotation from one of Shelley's letters to Peacock (Peacock's
Works 3. 473; Shelley's Prose Works, Fonnan's edition, 4. 196-7) :



80 NOTES.

" PISA, March ai, 1821.

"MY DEAR PEACOCK,

" I dispatch by this post the first part of an essay intended to
consist of three parts, which I design as an antidote to your ' Four Ages
of Poetry.' You will see that I have taken a more general view of what
is poetry than you have, and will perhaps agree with several of my posi-
tions, without considering your own touched. But read and judge ; and
do not let us imitate the great founders of the picturesque, Price and Payne
Knight, who, like two ill-trained beagles, began snarling at each other when
they could not catch the hare.

" I hear the welcome news of a box from England announced by the
Gisbornes. How much new poetry does it contain? The Bavii and Msevii
of the day are very fertile ; and I wish those who honor me with boxes
would read and inwardly digest your ' Four Ages of Poetry ' ; for I had
much rather, for my own private reading, receive political, geological, and
moral treatises than this stuff in terza, ottava, and tremillesima rima, whose
earthly baseness has attracted the lightning of your undiscriminating cen-
sure upon the temple of immortal song. These verses enrage me far more
than those of Codrus did Juvenal, and with better reason. Juvenal need
not have been stunned unless he had liked it ; but my boxes are packed
with this trash, to the exclusion of better matter."

45 7. Codri. Codrus was perhaps a fictitious name. In any case
a tragedy on the subject of Theseus is attributed to a certain Codrus,
or, as some manuscripts read, Cordus, by Juvenal, who at the begin-
ning of his First Satire speaks of the author and his production in
terms of bitter railing (Juv. Sat. I. 1-2): "What! always a mere
hearer? What, never to retort, bored as I am so often by the Theseid
of Cordus hoarse with reciting?" See also the last note.

45 8. Bavins and Mavius. Associated together by Virgil, Ed.
3. 90 : " Let him that hates not Bavius, love your verses, Msevius."
Msevius is likewise the object of Horace's detestation (Epode 10). In
Smith's Diet, of Greek and Roman Biography it is said of them : " Ba-
vius and Msevius, whose names have become a byword of scorn for all
jealous and malevolent poetasters, owe their unenviable immortality to
the enmity which they displayed toward the rising genius of the most
distinguished of their contemporaries." See also note on 45 6.

45 21. The second part. This was never written.

45 31. Low-thoughted. An epithet borrowed from Milton, Comus 6 :
'* low-thoughted care."

46 10 ff. The persons, etc. The thought seems to owe something to
the arguments of Plato's Ion. See note on 40 23-25.

46 32. Legislators. Cf. 6 1-3.



INDEX OF PROPER NAMES.



Accius 24 3.

Achilles 12 11.

Addison 19 24.

.Eschylus 6 21 (Agamemnon 17

10).

Apollonius Rhodius 32 7.
Ariosto 29 19 (Orlando Furioso

32 13,404).

Bacon 5 4, 9 19, 36 19, 43 17.
Bavius 45 8.
Beatrice 29 4.
Boccaccio 33 17, 36 18.

Calderon 17 20, 29 20, 36 19.
Camillus 24 21.
Camoens (Lusiad 32 14).
Catullus 24 9.
Charles II. 20 3.
Chaucer 33 19, 36 18.
Cicero 9 17.
Claudian 32 9.
Codrus (Codri 45 7).

Dante 6 22, 10 5, 28 31, 29 33, 30
3, 10, 31 28, 32 15, 21, 24, 33 17,
36 18 (Divina Commedia 29 10,
31 18; VitaNuova2833).

David 25 21.

Ennius 24 2.
Euripides 14 33.

Gibbon 36 5.



Hannibal 24 24.

Hector 12 11.

Herodotus 11 6.

Homer 12 3, 7, 14 29, 15 5, 21 32,

31 28, 43 14.
Horace 24 9, 43 15.
Hume 36 5.

Isaiah 25 21.

Jesus Christ 25 22, 26 13, 27 21.
Job 6 22, 25 20.

Livy 11 6, 8, 24 8.
Locke 36 5.
Lucan 15 l, 32 8.
Lucretius 24 4, 32 1.
Lusiad, see Camoens.
Luther 32 22.

Machiavelli 20 33.

Msevius 45 8.

Michael Angelo 36 20.

Milton 10 5, 20 6, 30 4, 16, 29, 31
5, 10, 32 10, 15, 36 19, 39 32 (Par-
adise Lost 30 20, 31 19, 39 32).

Moses 25 20.

Nonnus 32 8.
Ovid 24 9.

Pacuvius 24 3.

Petrarch 28 22, 32, 33 17, 36 18.

Plato 9 8, 25 29, 27 11, 17, 29 14.



82



INDEX OF PROPER NAMES.



Plutarch 11 6.
Pythagoras 27 18.

Quintus Smyrnaeus 32 8.

Raphael 36 20, 43 17.
Regulus 24 22.
Riphseus 30 12.
Rousseau 29 20, 36 6.

Shakespeare 10 5, 17 22, 29 20, 36
19 (King Lear 17 6, 9, 14).

Socrates 15 21.

Solomon 25 21.

Sophocles 21 33 (CEdipus Tyran-
nus 179).



Spenser 15 l, 29 20, 43 18 (Fairy

Queen 32 14).
Statius 32 9.

Tasso 15 l, 29 20, 42 23, 43 16
(Gerusalemme Liberata 32 13).
Theocritus 23 2.
Timasus 27 18.

Ulysses 12 11.

Varro 24 3.

Virgil 24 4, 30 12, 32 3, 43 15

(^ineid 32 12).
Voltaire 36 5.



ANALYSIS.

THE ELEMENTS AND PRINCIPLES OF POETRY.



I. Poetry the Expression of the Imagination, as distinguished from that
of the Reasoning Faculty, 1 111 12.

A. Inferiority of reason to imagination, 1 1 2 5.

B. Poetry, which always exists in the infancy of society, is a prod-

uct of the soul's imitative, yet creative activity, 2 13 31.

1. Occasioned by impressions from without, 2 1 3 2.

2. A reflex of the social sympathies, 3 2 31.

C. Poets are those, the creative activity of whose imagination

causes the purest and most intense pleasure to others,
3 325 19.

I. The language they employ marks the before unapprehended
relations of things, and its very words are fragmentary
poetry, 4 275 19.

D. The harmony perceived and rendered by the poets is mani-

fested not only through the medium of form, sound, and
color, but also through inventions and institutions, 5 20 6 26.
I. To the poet distinctions of time and place disappear, and
his intense perception of the present is also a discovery of
the future, in so far as the sequence of events is disclosed
as orderly and organic to the eye of his soul, 5 316 26.

E. Yet language is the best medium for poetic expression, because

less refractory and more plastic than any other, 6 27 7 32.

1. Poetry may be denned as those arrangements of language


1 2 3 4 5 6 8

Online LibraryPercy Bysshe ShelleyA defense of poetry; → online text (page 8 of 9)