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THE Preface which I wrote for my Edition of Shelley in 1870, two volumes, will in various respects answer for this Re-edition of 1878, three volumes : in some other respects it is necessarily modified. A few paragraphs will suffice; other details, relevant to Shelley's poems and to our republication of them, being supplied in the Memoir, and in the Notes at the close of the volumes.
The fact that the old editions of Shelley were the reverse of scrupulously correct has frequently been remarked upon; as, for instance, thus by a poet who is also a keen critic, Mr. Allingham “Hardly any great poet, certainly no modern one, has been so inaccurately printed as Shelley. Helps to the very necessary revision are in existence, and ought quickly to be used.” 1
And thus by Mr. Swinburne, when our edition of 1870 was already in an advanced stage :-“It is seldom that the work of a scholiast is so soon wanted as in Shelley's case it has been. The first collected edition of his works had many gaps and errors patent and palpable to any serious reader. His text is already matter for debate and comment, as though he were a classic newly unearthed.”?
If we enquire why Shelley has suffered so much in the printed form of his poems, we shall find that the responsibility rests upon three defendants-Shelley himself, Casualty, and Mrs. Shelley.
Shelley was essentially unprecise as a writer. Spite of his classical education and tastes, and his cultivated perceptions of many kinds, he was at all times capable of committing, and incapable of avoiding, slips of grammar and syntax—slips which may indeed be called small, but which are not the less grossand other oversights, such as rhymes left unsupplied, or nullified by writing the wrong word. He was not, however, strictly a
* Nightingale Valley, P. 282 (1860).
2 Fortnightly Review, May 1869.
careless writer. Though no poetry bears a more visible stamp of inspiration, his MSS. show that this inspiration did not subside at once into its true and final verbal medium. The false starts, cancellings, blottings, and re-writings, which his first drafts exhibit, are a surprising and bewildering phenomenon. At length one comes upon the right reading
“ Pinnacled dim in the intense inane."
Casualty also played a considerable part in the mischances of Shelley's printed works. Thus Queen Mab was only privately printed, and then piratically published; the Revolt of Islam is a slightly modified re-issue of a withdrawn book ; Epipsychidion, Hellas, and the volumes containing Rosalind and Helen and Prometheus Unbound, were printed in England while the poet lived in Italy, and without his having any proofs to revise; Edipus Tyrannus was printed under similar circumstances, and immediately suppressed; the Cenci and Adonais had the minor misfortune of being first printed in alien Italy, though under the author's own eye; Julian and Maddalo, the Witch of Atlas, and a number of shorter poems, were posthumous publications; the Triumph of Life remains a stately fragment amid many minor débris.
Mrs. Shelley brought deep affection and unmeasured enthusiasm to the task of editing her husband's works. But ill health and the pain of reminiscence curtailed her editorial labours : besides which, to judge from the result, you would say that Mrs. Shelley was not one of the persons to whom the gift of consistent accuracy has been imparted; for even this too is a gift in its way, not wholly to be improvised for the occasion.
In preparing my edition for the press in 1869, I collated the edition supervised by Mrs. Shelley (in its three current forms of publication) with the original printed texts of all the poems, save only the semi-private first Epipsychidion. I also, through the liberality of Mr. Garnett, received various snatches of verse, mostly fragmentary, not till then printed in any form ; and had the privilege of deciphering for myself a MS. book of Shelley, belonging to his son, and containing very considerable additions to the unfinished tragedy of Charles the First. Of most of the principal poems the MSS. are not now known to exist :
: yet there are several exceptions to this rule. I have innovated to some extent upon Mrs. Shelley's distribution of the poems; thinking it more reasonable that works of substantial length, such as Rosalind and Helen, Julian and Maddalo, and Epipsychidion, should appear among the longer poems, instead of among the miscellaneous poems of their respective years. On the other hand, I have placed among fragments a good number of pieces which really are fragmentary, but which had hitherto been intermixed with the complete compositions: in the present re-issue, all the longer or approximately finished fragments come first, and all the slighter scraps afterwards. I have also, in all subdivisions, carried out more minutely the record of dates, and (save as concerns the translations) the sorting of the poems according to that criterion. A glance at the table of contents will show the reader what these subdivisions are,—Principal Poems, Miscellaneous Poems, Fragments, Translations, and Appendix—as well as the dates of the several works. These are the dates of composition, not necessarily of first publication.
The Appendix contains a number of juvenile writings extracted from divers sources, some variations of the printed text of the poems, and other odds and ends. Anything that I have found of an earlier date than 1813, when Queen Mab was printed, I treat as a juvenile poem. I must here avow and premise, for the use of all gainsayers, that I regard the main body of these juvenile poems as being not only poorish sort of stuff, but absolute and heinous rubbish; the “clotted nonsense ” of a boy in whom even an acute literary prophet would have failed to divine, as in any wise conceivable, the author of Alastor at twenty-three years of age, of Prometheus Unbound at twenty-seven, and of a most glorious and in some respects unexampled body of poetry accruing up to that dark day of July when the inexorable waves of the Mediterranean closed over a brain and a life still below the rounded manhood of thirty. “Why, then,” it may pertinently be asked, “ give ampler publicity to all this childishness, capable only of derogating from that typical Shelley created for the homage of continents and of centuries ?" I answer: Because it interests me as being Shelley's, and ought in my opinion to interest everybody to whom the later developments of that astonishing mind are dear. To find that Pope, whose manhood produced the Satires, had in boyhood the capacity which goes to the Ode on Solitude, is interesting,—and that apart from the merit which these juvenile verses possess ;-to find that Shelley, whose manhood produced The Cenci and the Witch of Atlas, had in boyhood the incapacity which babbles in the poems of St. Irvyne, is also and indeed equally interesting. At twenty-three, Shelley as author of Alastor is an unusually mature youthful poet; even at twenty, as author of Queen Mab, his powers have attained an exceptional ascendant in a certain direction : but at seventeen or eighteen his poetic product is rant and resonance, twaddle and tinsel. Surely this is a fact which may be subjected to some more appropriate treatment than mere hiding out of sight. Such at least is my own sentiment on the subject; and, knowing myself to be not wanting in enthusiasm and reverence for Shelley, I feel justified in acting according to it. I might indeed have felt some hesitation in dragging out into the light of scorn immature writings totally unpublished as yet; but, as a matter of fact, few such have been at my disposal. A few juvenile productions, previously unprinted, do, however, appear in the Appendix. Another (written probably in 1811) is in the possession of Mr. Frederick Locker, who obligingly communicated it to me; and this is a very curious scrap, not wanting in verve and piquancy, but too unpleasant, in its tone regarding parental matters, to see the light of publication. Substantially, therefore, I have simply reproduced, in connexion with Shelley's standard works, those earlier failures which already exist elsewhere in print.
Besides this Appendix, a certain number of pieces, either wholly unprinted till then, or else not printed among the works of Shelley, distinguished our edition of 1870 from all predecessors : and of course the same pieces, with some few others in addition, re-appear in the present re-issue. Nothing that is adequately authenticated, whether in Mr. Forman's edition or in any other, is wanting in this one. No omission from any writing whatever, I need hardly say, has been made on any ground of assumed "propriety,” moral or religious. As Shelley did not write, so neither do I revise, for babes and sucklings.
The question how a re-editor should treat the works of a great poet, when confessedly inaccurate in some respects, is of the highest importance. I shall not debate the various sides of the question, for plenty of disputants are prepared to show that the modes of treatment which I have not adopted are severally right; I therefore confine myself to saying what I have done, and briefly why. I have considered it my clear duty and prerogative to set absolutely wrong grammar right; as thus
" Thou too, O Comet, beautiful and fierce,
Who drew'st [drew) the heart of this frail universe ;" and to set absolutely wrong rhyming right; as thus
" Beneath whose spires which swayed in the red flame (light)
Reclining as they ate, of liberty,
Earth's children did a woof of happy converse frame ;" and to set absolutely wrong metre right; as thus
" This plan might be tried too. Where's General
Laocionos? It is my royal pleasure," instead of
“This plan might be tried too. Where's General Laoctonos ?
It is my royal pleasure." Annexed to this is another duty, that of pointing out any and every such change; this is done in my notes. In speaking of “ absolutely wrong" grammar, rhyming, and metre, I by no means include a vast number of laxities in these matterslaxities which are a genuine portion of Shelley's poetic intention and performance, and which it would be presumption in me so much as to censure. These are of course left untouched ; and along with them not a few things which, though in strictness even absolutely wrong, may also be fairly understood to appear as Shelley meant them to appear, or as he would not have troubled himself to prevent their appearing. I have made it a point to follow the readings of the original editions, unless some strong presumption should arise that these readings are erroneous, and those of subsequent editions correct. Some instances occur in which I have felt quite uncertain which was
Some correspondence on this point is to be found in the Examiner for 4 November 1876. Mr. Skeat (whose scholarship no one respects more than I do) considers that I am wrong in making such alterations as are exemplified in this instance of " drew'st." He says: “Mr. Rossetti means of course that he is quite unaware that it was an Early-English idiom to use such forms as these in the case of the second person singular of the strong verb. Thus, while thou didst love' is in (so-called) Anglo-Saxon 'thu lufodest, the oldest form of 'thou didst draw' is thu dr' oge'.” Pace Mr. Skeat, what he says that I "mean of course” is exactly what I do not mean. In examining the text of Shelley, a writer of the first quarter of the nineteenth century, I take no count, and do not feel called upon to take any count, of what was correct for a writer in Anglo-Saxon or in EarlyEnglish--say in the ninth to the fourteenth century. I find Shelley using, for the second person singular of the strong verb, the form that I and others of the present day (as also of Shelley's) consider to be proper to the first or third person ; I find him doing the like with verbs that are not strong verbs (as "called, ""walked," and "hath," in vol. i.; "turned" and "can" in vol. ii.; "requited," "pily," and" entwine,” in vol.iii.); and I concluded in 1869, and still conclude, that, both with the strong and with the weak verbs, he acted from inadvertence and inexact habit, and not from any principle which would have justified, in particular instances, a so-called Anglo-Saxon or an Early-Englishman.