1830 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Anonymous, in Review of Beauties of Shelley; The Sun (15 July 1830).



This little volume will, we hope, be the means of causing a re-action in Mr. Shelley's favour. With his political principles we have nothing to do; they are but in too many instances vague, visionary, and incoherent; specious in theory, but dangerous in practice; the high-flown ideas of a poet and a philosopher, who looks on the world as a sort of Utopia, to be best governed by the most eloquent, imaginative, and theoretical. With such principles, we repeat — however sincerely and disinterestedly advocated — we have nothing to do, further than to express our objection to them. But with Mr. Shelley's poetry the case is wildly different. Here we are at full liberty to admire him as one of the most original, high-minded, and impassioned writers that England ever produced. Most sincerely are we of opinion that no book of the same compass, in the wide circle of our literature, abounds in greater, more numerous, more exquisitely poetical beauties, than the little volume before us. From every page something may be gleaned to excite astonishment and admiration. Unrivalled felicity of language, copious, but not redundant; an elevated tone of feeling which Wordsworth only, among the moderns, and Milton, among the more ancient of our poets, has equalled; a quick, lively appreciation of the beauties of nature, and a power of steeping them in the richest lights of the imagination; — these are a few among the various strong claims that Mr. Shelley has upon his readers. Already, we are glad to learn, he is taking his proper rank as a poet of the highest class. At Cambridge he is universally read, and as universally admired, and by the literary circles in the metropolis stands out as a poet as far superior to Byron in imagination, as he is inferior to him in versatility of talent, in general knowledge of the world, and in the extended range of his passion. Had Shelley been less of a metaphysician he would have been infinitely more popular than he has yet been, or is ever likely to be. But his darling habit of abstract speculation, which he in vain strives to lay aside, by compelling his readers to think, has laid a burden upon their attention which is not to be thought of in the present slight and superficial state of our literature. We will select a few passages at random, from this delightful little volume....