Percy Bysshe Shelley.

A proposal for putting reform to the vote throughout the kingdom online

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Facsimile of Shelley's Mafiuscript

The issue of this book is strictly limited to
Jive hundred copies

Shelley's Residence in 1817.

Facsimile of a Jl^oodciit piihlisJicd in

" The Mirror of Literature, Ainiisevient,

and Listructwn^' for Saturday the

2nd of March 1833, N'o. 593,

Vol. XXI, p. 129.











Jntrotructmit bn








T/ie siibstiDice of the following Introduction, although
intended in the first place for the present purpose, zuas
read at a Meeti?ig of the Shelley Society on the i ^th of
April 1887, and has also appeared in " The Gentleman s
Magazine'" for May 18S7, in the form of an article
entitled " The Hermit of Marlow : a Chapter in the
History of Reform."





I. Shelley's " Free List " for A Proposal etc. 33

II, Petition for Reform Signed at Dublin 34

III. Resolutions of a Meeting of the London Town

Council _-



Shelley's House at Marlow reproduced from "The Mirror'
for March 2, 1833



In the year 1817 the wretchedness and unrest of the
lower classes in England had taken a form sufficiently-
marked to be the occasion of grave disquietude on the
part of the government and the privileged and pre-
datory classes, while, to the liberal-minded and tender-
hearted, the need for some alleviation of a general kind
for the wide-spread misery and oppression was fast
becoming more and more visibly urgent. To make
matters worse, the year 18 16 had been a bad year for
the farmers. There were countless mechanics and
labourers who had been thrown out of work in con-
sequence of the introduction of machinery, and the
already growing power of foreign nations to compete
with us in trade and manufacture. Then, as now,
there were plenty of demagogues engaged in stirring



up the people to rash action ; and then, as not now,
there were government spies who earned a good Hving
by mixing with the disaffected, inciting them to
acts and utterances which could be construed into
sedition or treason, and then betraying their poor dupes
to the gaol or even the gallows. The people were
practically unrepresented in Parliament, and were to a
great extent at the mercy of those who had no mercy,
the shameful Liverpool administration, — Castlereagh,
Sidmouth, Eldon, and Company. Moreover, in the
previous year, 1816, the working classes, ignorant
though honest in the main, had been sufficiently rash
and tumultuous in their agitations for reform to create
a strong feeling against them in the great and powerful
middle class ; and the last complete year which Shelley
passed in his own country was marked by a positive
decline of the cause of reform. It is true the people
had still their staunch and hardy advocates of several
kinds and degrees. Major Cartwright and Sir Francis
Burdett and the Honourable Douglas Kinnaird were
their strong and bold supporters among public men ;
William Cobbett and William Hone were performing


rough literary labour in the popular cause ; Leigh Hunt,
whose nature fitted him better for the purlieus of dilet-
tantedom, had thrown himself into the hurlcy-burley
of the same cause, and was doing good work in The
Examiner; and there was altogether a goodly and
growing " cloud of witnesses " for the rights of
the people. And yet, when Shelley passed his
latest Christmas at an English fire-side, the year was
closing in utter blankness as to any public good which
had been accomplished. The reform meetings and
petitions had for the moment failed ; an attempted inter-
ference with the legal robbery carried on by the holding
of sinecures had ended in smoke ; and the popular
cause was for the moment as a stream returning towards
its source. It may possibly have been a perception of
this retrograde tendency in the politics of his country
that called into fresh and strengthened activity the
reforming spirit of Shelley, and goaded him not merely
to produce the two essays in concrete politics which
mark the year 18 17, but also to compose his largest
work, that daring Laon and CytJuia whereby he hoped
to awaken the better classes of his countrymen and


countrywomen from their apathy, and startle them into
a moral and intellectual fermentation calculated to bring
about reform in all departments, radical, sweeping, and
conclusive. But I think he can hardly have perceived
the retrogression so early as February, when his reform
pamphlet was probably written, for at that time the
great crusade that was going on in the early part of the
year, — the crusade of the reform meetings held by
influential people, and numberless petitions for reform
addressed to the House of Commons, — had not yet
failed of its object. I think he must have been urged to
issue this particular pamphlet by a wise perception that
some of the most prominent reformers were asking not
only what it was next to impossible to grant, but what
the people were not ripe to exercise — universal suffrage.
It was certainly not that he had nothing particular to
do just then, no urgent personal cares to occupy him, no
members of his own more intimate circle claiming help and
active sympathy, no dreadful memories of recent events
to harass him, and no impending disasters to struggle
against. On the contrary, the year 1816 had not only
seen the death of Harnett Shelley and Fanny Godwin


by suicide, incidents unspeakably harrowing to him, —
not only did the close of that year witness the beginning
of his troubles about Harriett's children ; but the fiery
planet Byron had come into the Shelleyan sphere and
left him with the charge of Claire Clairmont, about to
become the mother of Allegra Byron ; while Godwin,
Leigh Hunt, and Peacock, with their " large claims of
general justice," were never far off.

During the first two months of 18 17 Shelley was
greatly occupied with preparations for the Chancery
suit, which eventually deprived him definitely of the
charge of lanthe and Charles ; and in January Claire's
little Allegra was born at Bath, Mary Shelley being also
there, and Shelley in London. Shortly Mary joined
him in London ; and it was seemingly during the busy
time immediately preceding their settlement at Marlow
that the political situation appeared to him so pressing as
to call forth A Proposal for Putting Reform to the Vote
throughout the Kingdom : it was apparently while the
Chancery suit was still pending ; for the pamphlet came
out about the middle of March, and Lord Eldon's
decision on the suit was not given till the 27th.



The house which Shelley had taken at Marlow, to
occupy "for ever" with Mary and her child, if not with
Claire and the little Allegra and many regular or
desultory camp-followers, bore the propitious name of
"Albion House." The household migrated to Marlow
" in the last week in February," says Professor Dowden,^
"before the house was ready." Shelley was back in
London before taking possession, and finally " seems to
have entered the house in the week March 9 — 16."^ This
perpetual residence was secured, it seems, just in time to
yield a pseudonym for the poet, who was then suffering
keenly from the baleful effects of two early works filed by
the Westbrooks in the Court of Chancery, in support of
allegations made to deprive him of the custody of his
children. The fact that Queen Mab and the Letter to
Lord EllenborougJi had been used against him, though
with results not then disclosed, may have influenced him to
conceal his authorship of the reform pamphlet; for, though
moderate compared with much writing of the period
on the Liberal side, the Proposal was still sufficiently
daring, and would, in the eyes of Lord Eldon, the
^ Life of Shelley, vol. ii, p. no. "^ Ibid.


Westbrooks, and other magnates and nobodies, have
added to his religious and social enormities a definite
attempt at political agitation. For whatever reason, he
elected to place upon the pamphlet no author's name,
and to let it go out to the world as from " The Hermit
of Marlow," — a designation which it pleased him to
keep during the greater part of his residence in that
primitive Buckinghamshire town on the banks of the
Thames, though it must be confessed that "Albion
House," albeit not then cut up into tenements and turned
in part into a public-house as it is now, was not in any
respect like a hermitage. It stood, as it stands to-day,
right on the roadside (West Street is the name of
the road ; but it is still not much like a street) ; and
solitude was not a marked characteristic of the con-
ditions of residence at Marlow. Whether Shelley's
friends knew him in 18 17 as " The Hermit," I cannot
say ; but he himself brought out the title for use again
in November, when he issued his second political pam-
phlet of 18 1 7, ostensibly An Address to the People o?i the
Death of the Princess Charlotte, but really an eloquent
appeal against the iniquitous execution of Brandrcth,


Turner, and Ludlam, the victims of the government spy
OHver and one of those bogus conspiracies which were
an ugly feature of the anti-popular tactics in those days
of " Murder, Fraud, and Anarchy,"

But to return to the Hermit's first Marlow pamphlet,
the manuscript of which (first and last manuscript, I
should judge), now in the possession of Mr. Thomas J.
Wise, is reproduced in the following pages. The same
good fortune which, as we shall see anon, attended the
scheme of reform advocated in the pamphlet, attended
also the tangible substance incorporating that scheme, —
that is to say if preservation is to be regarded as a
desideratum. Unlike the Hermit's other pamphlet, of
which no manuscript, or proof-sheet, or copy of the
original issue is known to be extant, the Proposal is pre-
served in all three stages. Not only have copies of the
extremely rare print come down to us, but the proof-
sheets revised by Shelley, and bearing sketchy drawings
from his pen, were preserved by Leigh Hunt, and are
now in the collection of Sir Percy and Lady Shelley ;
while the original manuscript, roughly and rapidly
written, and full of erasures and corrections, remained in


the hands of Mr. Oilier, the publisher, whose family, in
the fulness of time, sold it. This took place in July
1877 ; and I refrain now from any textual examination
of the manuscript, because Mr. Francis Harvey of St.
James's Street, who bought this holograph at auction in
the ordinary way of business, gave me, with exemplary
courtesy and generosity, full opportunity to exhaust the
subject when I reprinted the pamphlet in my edition of
Shelley's /'r^j-^ Works (4 volumes, 1880). I believe the
foot-notes to the Proposal give all that can be given in
the way of variorum readings and cancelled passages ;
and it is a pleasure to me to think that Mr. Harvey, of
whom I had no previous knowledge, and on whom I
certainly had no claim, entertained an angel unawares.
Not that I w^as the angel ; but it was the record of the
particulars of the manuscript in my notes that eventually
found Mr. Harvey a customer for his costly treasure in
the person of Mr. Wise.

But the luck of preservation connected with the Pro-
posal goes further yet. As far as I know there is but one
reference to the Princess Charlotte pamphlet in all the
extant Shelley correspondence. Mrs. Shelley's diary



records that he began a pamphlet on the nth of
November and finished it on the I2th ; and there is a
little note to Oilier, dated the I2th, sending a part of the
manuscript for press.^ These are doubtless references to
the Address ; but in the case of the Proposal we have
Shelley's instructions to his publisher in some detail.
The following letter is undated, un-post-marked, and, I
believe, unpublished : —

Dear Sir,

I inclose you the Revise which may be put to press
when corrected, and the sooner the better. I inclose
you also a list of persons to whom I wish copies to be
sent from the Author, as soon as possible. I trust you
will be good enough to take the trouble off my hands. —

Do not advertise sparingly : and get as many book-
sellers as you can to take copies on their own account.
Sherwood Neely & Co, Hone of Newgate Street,
Ridgeway, and Stockdale are people likely to do so
— Send 20 or 30 copies to Messrs. Hookham & Co
Bond Street without explanation. I have arranged
with them.

Send 20 copies to me addressed to Mr. Hunt, who
will know what to do with them if I am out of town. —
Your very obedient Ser'

P. B. Shelley

^ 'Do'wAen^ Life of Shelley, vol. ii, p. 158.


The list which Shelley sent to Mr. Oilier in the fore- \
going letter was a pretty considerable one, designed to
dispose of fifty-seven copies of the pamphlet, besides the
forty or fifty referred to in the letter ; and the instructions
as to advertizing and so on indicate regular publication.
According to entries made on the list, thirty-one copies
were sent out " from the Author." A copy also appears
to have reached either Southey or The Quarterly Review ;
for in the heading to his article on " The Rise and Pro-
gress of Popular Disaffection,"^ the title of Shelley's pam-
phlet figures, though the Proposal is not alluded to in the
text of the article. On the whole the pamphlet ought
not to be so extremely rare ; and the Shelley Society
will probably stir up hiding-holes and bring copies
to light.

In another extant letter to Mr, Oilier, written at
Marlow on the 14th of March 18 17, the Hermit asks
" How does the pamphlet sell ? " Of the answer we know
nothing ; but it was probably the negative to which he was
already well accustomed ; and in this case the incongruity
between the bold title and the shy retiring pseudonym
* Quarterly for January 1S17, published the following April.


might not unnaturally have deterred from purchase even
the very elect of reformers.

When one wants to form an idea of the influences
working from without, at a particular time, on a man
vitally interested as Shelley was in the progress of
public affairs, it is no bad plan, leisure permitting, to
consult a file of some contemporary daily newspaper
and the relative volumes of Hansard's Parliamentary
Debates. In default of leisure or opportunity for bring-
ing this cumbrous apparatus to bear on the present
subject, I will turn over the leaves of a weekly news-
paper of 1 8 17 instead ; and how can I do better than
take Leigh Hunt's ultra-radical print. The Examiner^
with its audacious " Leontian " leaders, its excellent
parliamentary and other reports, and its varied and
multitudinous notes of news ? Moreover, this paper
for 1817 is not unembellished by the genius of many
of the Shelley circle ; and it is a pleasure to glance
over pages in which we are conscious of the presence
of Leigh Hunt passim^ stumble upon sonnets by
Keats, meet once and again Haydon and Hazlitt,
fall in with dear delightful Horace Smith, and even


get a taste of the quality of Shelley himself, who
was a contributor of Hunt's as well as a constant

Before we take to our Examiner, it will be worth
while to glance down that list of persons to whom
Shelley ordered his publishers to send the Proposal for
Putting Refor7n to the Vote. This list I printed in T/ie
Shelley Library, Part I, page 6y ; but I reprint it now,
for convenience of reference, in the Appendix to these
remarks. In it we read the names of most of the per-
sons marked by liberal views on whose track we shall
presently come in our radical newspaper.

The year opens propitiously for us ; for on New
Year's Day the patriarchal reformer Major Cartwright
took the chair at a meeting of the Westminster Electors
at the Crown and Anchor, convened to receive from
their popular and gallant representative in Parliament,
Lord Cochrane, his answer to an address which they
had voted him in assurance of their continued con-
fidence and admiration. Lord Cochrane's manly reply
alludes to the support and protection he has had from
liberal Westminster during three years of persecution



for those well-known attacks on naval abuses to which
his position in the navy had given the sting of truth.
" After many strong and interesting statements, he
recommended to the Meeting to continue to support
Parlimentary Reform, for without it the people of
England would remain oppressed, persecuted, enslaved,
and starving." In the course of the proceedings a
Mr. Wells was hissed for proposing so weak a measure
of reform as triennial parliaments : he explained that
he really wanted annual ones, but thought "if that
object could not be obtained, it were better to go step
by step until they could obtain it." A Mr. Walker^
having remarked that he " was for arriving at the
wished-for object at once," the redoubted Major
delivered his conviction that triennial parliaments
could not be beneficial if obtained. He mentioned
as evidence of the exertions then being made that he
had five hundred petitions in his house to present at
the meeting of Partiament, and had issued three hundred
more forms to be filled up : he named 2,400 as the
total number of petitions likely to be presented ; and he
1 See Shelley's list.


concluded by emphatically stating that annual reprcr
sentation was the only cure for existing evils.

Five days later, for anything I can hear to the
contrary, Shelley may have attended a huge meeting
at Bath. Claire was certainly in that city ; and Shelley
and Mary had secured places in the coach, for the
1st of January, to join her : it was still early in
January when he left the two ladies at Bath, to return
to London on his Chancery business ; and if, as I think,
he was at Bath on the 6th, he would hardly have
missed the occasion to attend a meeting of upwards
of 6,000 people to petition Parliament for a redress
of grievances and particularly for parliamentary
reform. On this momentous occasion " large bodies
of military, both horse and foot, were in readiness in
case of a riot ; and most of the principal inhabitants
were sworn in special constables on the occasion,"
when " Orator " Hunt was " to the fore," and made a
long speech in his usual rough and ready, pugnacious
style, specially condemning the attempt of the
authorities to intimidate the assembly. Turning the
page again, we find our Examiner recording that four


sailors, on the day after this meeting, were hung for
stealing ships ; and here was another call for reform
which must have seemed desperately urgent to our
tender-hearted and tolerant poet.

To The Examiner for the 19th of January he con-
tributed his Hymn to Intellectual Beauty, of which, by
the bye, I am pretty sure he must have revised a
proof; and immediately after his signature comes the
word REFORM at the head of a report of a " Select
Meeting of Independent Gentlemen, friends of
economy, public order, and reform," — which had been
held on the 17th of January. The most prominent
names on this occasion are those of Curran, Alderman
Waithman, and Alderman Goodbehere, names which
are all in Shelley's list referred to above. Curran made
a capital speech, wherein he remarked that parlia-
mentary reform did not " consist in breaking windows
or getting drunk in the streets," — a remark not wholly
inapplicable to some of the so-called reformers of our
own day.

The report of this meeting is followed by one of a
meeting held at Dublin on the previous Monday, the


13th of January, under the eye, as one of the speakers
(O'Connell) observ^ed, "of ten reghnents of soldiers
under arms, and two troops of artillery ready for
immediate action." This meeting, described as "a
vast concourse of people," dispersed and " returned
in the greatest order to their homes," after passing
several resolutions, and agreeing to a petition, which
I give in the Appendix as a representative document
whose terms must have been familiar to Shelley.

The day after this meeting, a boy who bore the
suggestive patronymic of Dogood was sent to prison
in London for tearing down some bills posted in Long
Acre, headed " Mr. Hunt hissed out of Bristol." The
animus of the authorities against the " Orator " and
the cause he represented is obvious.

On the 22nd of January another reform meeting took
place at the Crown and Anchor, — William Cobbett,
Henry Hunt, and Major Cartwright being the most
prominent speakers. Mr. Jones Burdett^ brought word
from the London Hampden Club that he and Major
Cartwright were deputed by that Club to lay before

^ See Shelley's list in Appendix.



the Reform Delegates assembled at the meeting the
heads of a bill to be submitted to Parliament. The
material principles recognized by this bill were
(i) household suffrage, (2) division of counties and
cities into electoral districts, each returning one
member, according to population, and (3) annual
elections. Major Cartwright said that, though in
favour of universal suffrage, he must admit that many
" sound reformists entertained other opinions on the
ground of practicability." Cobbett spoke most con-
temptuously of the Club, but excepted from his de-
nunciation Sir Francis Burdett, Mr. Jones Burdett,
Major Cartwright, and "that sound patriot Mr. Hallet
of Berks." ^ Henry Hunt, while endorsing Cobbett's
contemptuous view of the Club, managed to carry,
against him, a resolution in favour of "representation
co-existent with taxation." A skirmish between the
" Orator " and the reporters of The Morning Chronicle
and The British Press gave variety to the proceedings :

^ Note that this same gentleman, "Mr. Hallet of Berkshire," was to
receive five copies according to Shelley's list, and the London Hampden
Club ten. I suppose Berkshire was not a sufficiently definite address for
Oilier, no copies having apparently been sent to Mr. Hallet.


Hunt, always in hot water, accused the daily press of
systematic misrepresentation of reform meetings ; and
the two reporters resented the insult and denied the

One day later (23 January 18 17) Alderman Good-
behere and Alderman Waithman ^ took a prominent
part in a reform meeting of the Common Council, at
which the resolutions were so significant that I give
them in the Appendix.

Turning to other parts of our Examiner for the 26th
of January, we come on some occult allusions of Leigh
Hunt's to Shelley's Chancery case, and on an inaccurate
little report, taken from The Morning Chronicle^ of the
proceedings on Friday the 24th of January in the
matter of Westbrook v. Shelley. " His Lordship is to
give judgment on a future day," says the report. On
the same page begins the report of the trial of a sailor
named Cashman and others in the matter of the musket-
stealing connected with the riots of two months earlier.
Cashman was found guilty and condemned to death.

On the 28th of January the Prince Regent opened

^ See Shelley's list.


Parliament : on his way back to the palace he got
hooted and pelted ; and the windows of his carriage were
broken. On the following Sunday The Examiner was of
course full of the attack and the opening of Parliament.
On the 29th Lord Cochrane began the reform petition
campaign by presenting a petition from Bristol signed
by over 50,000 people ; and, after a full parliamentary
report, we find in The Examiner for the 2nd of February
in an appropriate setting of reform paragraphs, an
editorial correction of inaccuracies in the report of
Westbrook v. Shelley, immediately followed by Horace
Smith's sonnet, commencing with the line

" Eternal and Omnipotent Unseen ! "

Shelley's battle to regain possession of his children was
of course regarded in his immediate circle not only as
a personal question of desperate interest, but as an
important issue in the general question of fundamental
reform. The issue was indeed momentous — being no
less than a dispute as to the right of a father, of
what opinions soever in religious, moral, and social

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Online LibraryPercy Bysshe ShelleyA proposal for putting reform to the vote throughout the kingdom → online text (page 1 of 3)