NOTE ON THE EARLY POEMS, BY MRS. SHELLEY.
The remainder of Shelley's Poems will be arranged in the order in which
they were written. Of course, mistakes will occur in placing some of
the shorter ones; for, as I have said, many of these were thrown aside,
and I never saw them till I had the misery of looking over his writings
after the hand that traced them was dust; and some were in the hands of
others, and I never saw them till now. The subjects of the poems are
often to me an unerring guide; but on other occasions I can only guess,
by finding them in the pages of the same manuscript book that contains
poems with the date of whose composition I am fully conversant. In the
present arrangement all his poetical translations will be placed
together at the end.
The loss of his early papers prevents my being able to give any of the
poetry of his boyhood. Of the few I give as "Early Poems", the greater
part were published with "Alastor"; some of them were written
previously, some at the same period. The poem beginning 'Oh, there are
spirits in the air' was addressed in idea to Coleridge, whom he never
knew; and at whose character he could only guess imperfectly, through
his writings, and accounts he heard of him from some who knew him well.
He regarded his change of opinions as rather an act of will than
conviction, and believed that in his inner heart he would be haunted by
what Shelley considered the better and holier aspirations of his youth.
The summer evening that suggested to him the poem written in the
churchyard of Lechlade occurred during his voyage up the Thames in
1815. He had been advised by a physician to live as much as possible in
the open air; and a fortnight of a bright warm July was spent in
tracing the Thames to its source. He never spent a season more
tranquilly than the summer of 1815. He had just recovered from a severe
pulmonary attack; the weather was warm and pleasant. He lived near
Windsor Forest; and his life was spent under its shades or on the
water, meditating subjects for verse. Hitherto, he had chiefly aimed at
extending his political doctrines, and attempted so to do by appeals in
prose essays to the people, exhorting them to claim their rights; but
he had now begun to feel that the time for action was not ripe in
England, and that the pen was the only instrument wherewith to prepare
the way for better things.
In the scanty journals kept during those years I find a record of the
books that Shelley read during several years. During the years of 1814
and 1815 the list is extensive. It includes, in Greek, Homer, Hesiod,
Theocritus, the histories of Thucydides and Herodotus, and Diogenes
Laertius. In Latin, Petronius, Suetonius, some of the works of Cicero,
a large proportion of those of Seneca and Livy. In English, Milton's
poems, Wordsworth's "Excursion", Southey's "Madoc" and "Thalaba", Locke
"On the Human Understanding", Bacon's "Novum Organum". In Italian,
Ariosto, Tasso, and Alfieri. In French, the "Reveries d'un Solitaire"
of Rousseau. To these may be added several modern books of travel. He
read few novels.
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