1821 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Anonymous, Review of Shelley, Queen Mab; The Monthly Magazine 51 (June 1821) 450-51.



A poem entitled Queen Mab, by Mr. PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY, was printed and distributed among his friends, about seven years ago; but has at length been published. The text of the work is in measured lines, of unequal length, which being divided into parcels, by means of Roman numerals, have the appearance of so many odes, but without rhyme. It is in the Thalaba style, which has been so bepraised by the poetasters of the present day. "He," says Dr. Johnson, "that thinks himself capable of astonishing, may write blank verse; but those that hope only to please, must condescend to rhyme?" The Author before us does, indeed, endeavour to astonish, by the extravagance of his paradoxes, and the incongruity of his metaphors; and may, therefore, claim the right to print his lines of such various lengths as may suit his own whim or the taste of his compositor. It is a continuous declamation without either "rhyme or reason," and the speaker may pause where he will without injury to the sense or interruption to the monotonous flow of the harangue. The notes occupy much more space than the text; and consist chiefly of extracts from various authors, in favour of Atheism, the equalization of property, and the unrestrained intercourse of the sexes!

The French, Latin, and Greek passages, which were left in their original dress in the gratuitous edition, are here translated for the benefit of the were English reader. Advocates, as we are, for a very extended freedom of the press, we fear commenting further on this work, lest we should, unintentionally, assist in that powerful criticism, to which, we fear, it will soon be subjected. We have observed, of late, a seeming design to lure the unwary author to his destruction. The public journals, not even excepting the Quarterly Review, have lauded Mr. Shelley as a poet, — as a genius of the highest order! The other panders of corruption speak of his "powerful talents!" What can all this flattery mean, if it be not to decoy the witless bird, and to catch him in the snare? Either this is the case, or our Critics are a set of dunces, who cannot distinguish between sublimity and bombast, — between poetry and "prose run mad."