1809
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Henry and Louisa. A Poem in Two Parts.

The Esdaile Notebook: a Volume of early Poems. [Kenneth Neill Cameron, ed.]

Percy Bysshe Shelley


21 Spenserians and irregular Spenserians — a fragment composed in 1809 and left unfinished.

Shelley's note: "The stanza of this poem is radically that of Spenser although I suffered myself at the time of writing it to be led into occasional deviations. These defects I do not alter now, being unwilling to offer any outrage to the living portraiture of my own mind, bad as it may be pronounced" Poems, ed. Rogers (1972) 1:147.

Oliver Elton: "He is an artist as well as a prophet. He does not, like so many others, keep his second-best form for his highest ideas. He is more constantly a poet than any Englishman of the idealising type, except possibly Spenser; and his teaching is rarer and more inspiring than Spenser's, while his style is not less instinctively right and lovely. He is much more constantly a poet than Wordsworth; this is not to say that he is a greater one. But he leaves the impression, more than any other writer between Blake and Swinburne, that he could not help being a poet. Even Keats does not suggest this so strongly; although his ultimate achievement is as great as Shelley's; for in Keats it is long before we lose the feeling of effort and experiment. Shelley too, has his phase of experimentalising, but once it is over he is hardly ever unpoetical" Survey of English Literature 1780-1830 (1912) 2:184.

Stuart Curran: "It is unlikely that Shelley had any deep acquaintance with Spenser before 1813, when he acquired an edition, though there are two early poems in what is known as the Esdaile Notebook written in a loosely-conceived Spenserian stanza" Spenser Encyclopedia (1990) 644.

Greg Kucich: "His early fascination with eighteenth-century Spenserianism, and the contradictions he experienced in dealing with it, can be traced throughout his juvenilia and most importantly in his first long poem, Henry and Louisa (1809), a narrative in Spenserian stanzas about the pernicious social and psychological effects of England's Egyptian campaign. Shelley was not yet ready for an extensive deployment of the dream-vision format, but he did incorporate many of the basic features of the didactic strain of mid-eighteenth-century Spenserian poetry" Keats, Shelley, and Romantic Spenserianism (1991) 246.



Where are the heroes? Sunk in death they lie.
What toiled they for? Titles and wealth and fame.
But the wide heaven is now their canopy,
And 'legal murderers' their loftiest name.
Enshrined on brass their glory and their shame
What though torn Peace and martyred Freedom see?—
What though to most remote posterity
Their names, their selfishness, for aye enscrolled,
A shuddering world's unbettered misery?—
Can this perfection give? Can valour prove
One wish for others' bliss, one throb of love? . . .

[Rogers (1972) 1:147]