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Review signed 'F.,' The Theological Inquirer, March July 1815

Review signed 'F.,' The Theological Inquirer, March July 1815

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SHELLEY



work, in which the delightful creations of fancy and the realities of

truth unite to produce an indelible impression on the mind.

The fairy descends in her chariot, and hovering over this earth,

confers on the soul of a beautiful female (Ianthe) the glorious boon of

a complete knowledge of the past, the present, and the future; the

body is lulled to sleep, the soul ascends the fairy car, and they take

their flight through the immeasurable expanse of the universe. Arrived

at the palace of the ‘Queen of Spells,’ the spirit is led by her to the

‘overhanging battlement,’ and thence beholds the inexpressible

grandeur of that multitude of worlds among which this earth (to

which her attention is especially directed) is but an insignificant speck.

The fairy then proceeds to point out the ruined cities of ancient time,

and her sublime descriptions, with the reflections naturally suggested

by the pomp and decay of grandeur, and the rise and fall of empires,

will form some of the most interesting of those extracts which I design

to introduce.

Having reviewed the deeds of ages past, the fairy then expatiates

on the systems of present existence; and here the author’s opinions,

conveyed through the lips of his visionary instrument, are bold to the

highest pitch of daring; this, however, is not the theatre for their

discussion; to state and to applaud would be dangerous, and to condemn

would be ungenerous while a restricted press allows not of open defense.

The doctrine of Necessity, abstruse and dark as the subject is generally

believed, forms a leading consideration in this poem, and is treated

with a precision of demonstration, and illumined with a radiance of

genius, far beyond expectation itself:

The Present and the Past thou hast beheld;

It was a desolate sight.



And the fairy then lifts the veil of an imaginary futurity, and presents

to the delighted spirit the prospect of a state of human perfection,

which affords illimitable range for the erratic wanderings of poetic

ardour: here the fairy and the spirit revel in all the luxury of hope and

joy; and having contemplated awhile with virtuous satisfaction the

happy scene thus opened to mortal conception, the former declares

her task completed, and conveys the latter to her earthly tenement,

which her anxious lover is watching with impatient ardor for its

resuscitation.

The reflections in the commencement of the poem over the inanimate

body of Ianthe, are remarkably impressive….

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[quotes Canto I, lines 19–36]

The approach of Queen Mab is thus powerfully described:

[quotes Canto I, lines 45–58]

The description of the fairy’s appearance, as

—Leaning gracefully from th’ etherial car,

Long did she gaze, and silently,

Upon the slumbering maid.



is introduced in the following sublime strain of exclamation:

Oh! not the visioned poet in his dreams,

When silvery clouds float through the wildered brain,

When every sight of lovely, wild and grand

Astonishes, enraptures, elevates,

When fancy at a glance combines

The wondrous and the beautiful,—

So bright, so fair, so wild a shape

Hath ever yet beheld,

As that which reined the coursers of the air,

And poured the magic of her gaze

Upon the maiden’s sleep.



Her address to the soul of Ianthe, and its effects, are marked with the

most vivid beauties of poetry….

[quotes Canto I, lines 114–56]

In answer to the spirit’s natural inquiry of astonishment at the new

feeling which pervades her, the fairy proceeds to explain her own

state of being….

[quotes Canto I, lines 167–87]

The magic power of this command operates instantaneously:

The strains of earth’s immurement

Fell from Ianthe’s spirit;

They shrank and brake like bandages of straw

Beneath a wakened giant’s strength.



Satan’s passage through chaos, in Milton, sublime as it is, sinks into

comparative insignificance, when considered with the description of

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the fairy and the spirit’s course through the immensity of the universe;

it is lengthy, but a short extract or two will justify my opinion….

[quotes Canto I, lines 222–48]

The reflections on this imposing scene, with which the first part of

the poem (which is in nine divisions) concludes, must not be omitted….

[quotes Canto I, lines 264–77]

If, Mr. Editor, you make your approbation of this correspondence

by inserting it, I shall continue my selections from a work, the whole

of which there is but small probability of the present generation

becoming acquainted with. I am, Sir,

Your well-wisher, F.



[April 1815]

MR. EDITOR,

As you have gratified me, and (I trust) the public, by inserting my fine

selection of specimens from Queen Mab, I shall continue to point out

what appear to me its principal excellencies; proud of the opportunity

of homaging the shrine of genius, and delighted to cull flowers from

the luxuriant garden of a rich poetic imagination.

The description of the Fairy Queen’s palace is introduced in a

manner peculiarly calculated to arrest the attention….

[quotes Canto II, lines 1–21]

The light step of beauty has been frequently the subject of fanciful

description. Scott, in his Lady of the Lake, has it:

Ev’n the light hare-bell raised its head

Elastic from her airy tread.



But the following is a more sublime picture:

The Fairy and the Spirit

Entered the Hall of Spells:

Those golden clouds

That rolled in glittering billows

Beneath the azure canopy

With the ethereal footsteps trembled not.

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In the view of the ‘countless and unending orbs’ of the universe, this

earth is described as:

—a little light

That twinkled in the misty distance;

None but a spirit’s eye

Might ken that rolling orb.



The tombs of the lovely, the good, and the great, have always afforded

a fruitful source of reflection to the sensitive mind; even the gibbet of

the criminal excites a sigh for the perversion of human ability.

But over the records of mighty nations, fallen beneath the mad

blow of the conqueror’s ambition; or decayed by the consumptive

influence of moral corruption; the sensibilities take a wider and more

dignified scope for meditation; and although the disordered relations

of man are thus martialled in dreadful array before the shrinking

perception, so as to produce a transient emotion of despair in the

bosom of the philanthropist, yet is the glow of patriotism ultimately

benefited, and every virtue strengthened and improved….

[quotes Canto II, lines 109–81]

The author’s favourite doctrine of the eternity of matter is thus

forcibly illustrated and insisted upon….

[quotes Canto II, lines 211–43]

Adverting to the rottenness of certain established systems of

government, and the patient and wonderful endurance of man, the

Fairy indignantly proceeds….

[quotes Canto III, lines 106–17]

How nobly contemptuous is the tone of the inquiry which follows

a deprecation of the evils of tyranny, and a fond prophecy of a period

when

Falsehood’s trade

Shall be as hateful and unprofitable

As that of truth is now.



[The quotation continues through lines 138–49 of Canto III]

That the author is a powerful advocate of Necessity is evinced by

the following extract….

[quotes Canto III, lines 214–40]

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Alas! how little is there in the present aspect of the world and its

institutions, to warrant a hope of the speedy consummation of this

anticipated state of perfection! yet does the eye of innocence receive

with grateful delight the feeble ray thus stealing through the crevice

of its persecuted being’s dungeon. F.

[May 1815]

The following description of a fine night in winter will strike the

reader with a forcible sense of admiration.

[quotes Canto IV, lines 1–19]

Further on, the author imagines the quiet of this scene destroyed

by the tumult and horror of war.

[quotes Canto IV, lines 33–69]

The Fairy, in a strain of indignant inquiry into the moral causes

which produce the scenes of horror and devastation depicted above,

asks…

[quotes Canto IV, lines 89–104]

The demon of trade, that enemy of virtue, that monster whose

breath chills the ardor of sensibility, and drives the shivering soul to

the inmost corner of distrustful reserve, is an object of our author’s

most powerful indignation.

[quotes Canto V, lines 44–63]

How lamentably true the following picture of the evils resulting

from the love of gain.

[quotes Canto V, lines 166–96]

An episode, founded on the celebrated legend of the wandering

Jew, forms a prominent feature in the admirable poem under analysis.

The fairy thus expresses herself.

[quotes Canto VII, lines 59–82]

This is that suppositious character, who, for insulting Christ on his

way to the place of execution, is said to be condemned to a restless

existence on earth till the day of judgment: the vengeful acrimony of

his disposition, naturally produced by this severe decree, pervades the

whole of his long harrangue to the fairy and the spirit, so as to render

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it imprudent to submit it here; but the reader must be gratified by the

sublime and impressive manner of its conclusion.

[quotes Canto VII, lines 254–75]

If, in this division of the poem, which describes the systems of the

present, I have confined myself to extracts characteristic, by their

power of fancy and beauty of description, of the author’s ability as a

poet; and have not produced those indications that he is a philosopher

of the first rank, with which the volume abounds, it must be attributed

to the boldness of his sentiments, which, in this country, where the

freedom of the press is little more than an empty name, it would be

hazardous to disseminate.

[July 1815]

Now it is that the visionary golden age bursts in full splendour on the

luxurious imagination of our poet: and this favorite theme of all bards

is treated in a manner which covers former descriptions with

insignificance, its effects on the Spirit are rapturous.

[quotes Canto VIII, lines 11–40]

The concluding simile is inexpressibly beautiful; nor does an

extensive poetical reading furnish me with any reason to doubt its

originality. It is not to the blooming vales of Tempé, to the golden

groves of Arcadia; or to any other favorite spot that our poet confines

the happiness of his mental vision; the whole earth is the work of

renovation, and the desert and the deep alike are resigned to the

desirable influence.

[quotes Canto VIII, lines 70–87]

The sublime and faultless fabric of his conception being perfected,

the poet exclaims with rapturous gratulation,

[quotes Canto IX, lines 1–55]

The following are striking, but, alas! unhoped-for changes:

[quotes Canto IX, lines 93–129]

Thus, Mr. Editor, have I endeavoured, like Mahomet and St. John,

to give your readers a faint idea of the paradise to which I have been

admitted; surely my selections must interest the soul of fancy, the

heart of feeling, to such a degree, that the energies of resolution will

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be impelled with increased force to the accomplishment of that great

object the complete freedom of the press in matters of public opinion.

For the reflection must occur that this is only one of the numerous

productions of genius which have perished in the bud, which have

been destroyed in the womb by its oppressive restrictions.

The copious and elegant notes to the poem, it is not within my

design to call your attention to.

A Paine, a Voltaire, and a Volney, have written to teach man his

dignity; they have conveyed the voice of Reason to the unprejudiced

ear, and have seemed monuments of fame in the gratitude of future

ages, but it was reserved for the author of Queen Mab to show, that

‘The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,’



might soar to other and to nobler objects than the domes of superstition,

and the heaven of priestly invention, and to prove the justice of Milton’s

beautiful ejaculation;

How charming is divine philosophy!

Not harsh and crabbed as dull fools suppose,

But musical as is Apollo’s lute,

And a perpetual feast of nectared sweets

Where no crude surfeit reigns.



F.



12. Unsigned review, John Bull’s British

Journal

March 11, 1821, no. 3, 22



As the name of this poet is now become familiar to the literary world

in consequence of the animadversions his Revolt of Islam, The Cenci,

a tragedy, and Prometheus, a lyrical drama, have given rise to in the

magazines and Reviews, they may perhaps feel interested in an account

of a poem, written and printed (for private circulation only), but

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never published, some years since. It contains thoughts and sentiments

so bold, no bookseller has hitherto ventured to publish it; but that is

no reason why some of its beauties should not be made known to our

readers. The author has made fiction and suitable poetical imagery

the vehicles of his moral and philosophic opinions. The attributes of

Queen Mab form the machinery of a work in which the delightful

creations of fancy, and the realities of truth, unite to produce an

indelible impression on the mind.

[The remainder of this review closely follows the text of ‘F.’s’ review in The

Theological Inquirer (see No. 11).]



13. Unsigned review, The London Magazine

and Theatrical Inquisitor

March 1821, iii, 278–81



Queen Mab is a poem, written (as we understand) by Mr. Shelley when

at Oxford, and is one of the earliest of his productions. The sentiments

contained in it gave considerable offence to the learned heads of the

University, and entailed on the author some unpleasant consequences.

With these, however, we have nothing to do at present. Our business is

with the poetical merits of the work. With the speculative tenets of the

writer we shall not intermeddle. If his opinions are palpably absurd

and false, they must fall by their own absurdity and falsehood; and

discussion could serve no other purpose than to invest them with an

importance they do not intrinsically possess. As to the private scandal

from which some critics have borrowed pungency and attraction for

their disquisitions, we utterly disclaim it; we can neither conceive its

connection with criticism, not its propriety from the pen of a reviewer.

The prominent features of Mr. Shelley’s poetical character are

energy and depth. He has not the tenderness and delicacy of some

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living poets, nor the fertile and soaring imagination of others. In the

former he is surpassed very far indeed by Barry Cornwall, nor does he

approach in the latter to Coleridge, or even to Keats. But he has an

intense and overwhelming energy of manner, and if he does not present

us with many original conceptions, his turn of thought, as well as

expression, is strongly indicative of original genius. We apprehend,

indeed, that the peculiar charm of Shelley’s writing is derived from

that complete conviction which he evidently entertains of the justness

and importance of all he asserts. This feeling, whether a man’s opinions

be right or wrong, communicates a force and pointedness to diction,

and an interest to composition, which mere labour can never bestow.

All Mr. Shelley’s thoughts are feelings. He constantly communicates

to his reader the impression made upon his own mind, and gives it,

even in our apprehension, all the vividness and strength with which it

struck his own fancy. His figures, it is true, are often disproportioned,

often terrific; but they burst upon us from the canvas in all the energy

of life and motion. This gives interest to his sketches, even where the

colouring is coarse, and the drawing deficient in exactitude.

Queen Mab opens with some fine reflections upon sleep and death,

and allusions to a maid termed Ianthe, apparently dead. Her the poet

describes as all that was pure and lovely. He proceeds to tell us that a

rushing noise is heard where the body lay, and soon the fairy queen

makes her appearance in a radiant car, arrayed in all the lightness and

splendour of poetical decoration. She addresses the spirit of Ianthe—

she declares herself to be acquainted both with the past and the future,

and that it is permitted her ‘to rend the veil of mortal fraility,’ and to

inform the human spirit how it may best accomplish those purposes

for which it received its being. That this is a privilege granted only to

pure sinless spirits like Ianthe’s. She accordingly invites her to avail

herself of it immediately, and ascend the car with her. The spirit complies,

and they proceed upon their journey to the palace of the fairy. They

pass by innumerable suns and worlds, and at length terminate their

etherial voyage upon the very boundaries of this universe. The

description of this voyage, and of the palace of her fairy majesty, is

highly splendid and poetical. When arrived there, Queen Mab declares

the purpose of their journey, presents the spirit with a view from the

eternal battlements of her palace, of the immense universe stretched

below. She takes a review of the past; dwells upon the glories and

disgraces of mankind as exhibited in history: upon their crimes, their

infatuations, their prejudices, and the absurdity of all received opinions

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and institutions. She then opens a vista of the future, clad in all the

splendid anticipations of perfectibility. She tells how crime, tyranny,

and war shall cease: how swords shall be turned into plough-shares,

and spears into pruning-hooks; and how, in spite of the doleful

predictions of Mr. Malthus, the increase of population, consequent

on such state, will only tend to the increase of happiness and virtue.

Thus the fairy’s task is ended: she restores the spirit to its fleshy

tabernacle; and we discover, at the conclusion that Ianthe was not

dead, but had slept, and that all was a dream!—The poetical excellence

of this work may be judged from the following extracts….

[quotes I, 144–56; I, 264–77; II, 225–43; III, 138–69]

Our readers, we think, will agree with us in pronouncing, that none

but a man of genius could write this. At the same time it must be

confessed, that the poem possesses many of the faults of a young writer,

and a few of the affectations of that school with which the author has

been classed, but from whose restrictions we trust he will soon completely

emancipate himself. We cannot conclude this article without earnestly

exhorting Mr. Shelley to undertake something truly worthy of his great

powers—something that can be read by the generality of mankind—

something divested of those peculiar associations which render him at

present so unpopular. Let him remember, that the most effectual mode

of combating prejudice is not by direct and violent opposition, but by

gentleness and inteneration. We would also tell him, that a genius like

his was formed for mankind—that his home is the universe, and that he

will not fulfil his high destiny by contracting himself within the narrow

limits of a circle of friends, whose standard of literary excellence is

regulated by certain conventional ideas peculiar to themselves. It is not

thus that his writings will acquire that extension and permanence that

alone can render them truly beneficial to mankind, and productive of

immortality to their author.



73



14. Unsigned review, The Literary Gazette

and Journal of Belles Lettres

May 19, 1821, no. 226, 305–8



The mixture of sorrow, indignation, and loathing, with which this

volume has overwhelmed us, will, we fear, deprive us of the power of

expressing our sentiments upon it, in the manner best suited to the

subject itself, and to the effect which we wish our criticism to have

upon society. Our desire is to do justice to the writer’s genius, and

upon his principles: not to deny his powers, while we deplore their

perversion; and above all, when we lay before our readers the examples

of his poetry, to warn them against the abominable and infamous

contagion with which in the sequel he poisons these splendid effusions.

We have doubted whether we ought to notice this book at all; and if

our silence could have prevented its being disseminated, no allusion

to it should ever have stained The Literary Gazette. But the activity

of the vile portion of the press is too great to permit this hope,1 and on

weighing every consideration presented to our minds, we have come

to the conclusion to lay, as far as we are able, the bane and antidote

before the public. Queen Mab has long been in limited and private

circulation, as a duodecimo; and the first two or three cantos, under

the title of The Demon of the World, were reprinted at the end of a

poem called Alastor; as was also the principal note against Christianity

in a detached pamphlet. Though the hellish ingredients, therefore,

are now for the first time brought together into one cauldron, they

have, like those of the evil beings in Macbeth, previously disgusted

the world in forms of separate obsceneness.

We have spoken of Shelley’s genius, and it is doubtless of a high

order; but when we look at the purposes to which it is directed, and

contemplate the infernal character of all its efforts, our souls revolt

1



As this is a book of so blasphemous a nature, as to have no claim to the protection

of copy-right it may be published by Scoundrels at all prices, to destroy the moral

feeling of every class of the community. In the present instance the author has not, we

imagine, been consulted. (Reviewer’s footnote)

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