UCL News


Lost Shelley poem found after 200 years

13 July 2006

A pamphlet containing a long poem by Shelley that had languished unread for almost two centuries has been discovered.

The extraordinary find has excited scholars, who knew that it had been searched for in vain since 1811.

Percy Bysshe Shelley was a young undergraduate at Oxford when he produced his Poetical Essay. Along with a preface on politics and religion, it featured a 172-line poem that ranges from the devastations of war to the oppressions of colonial India. It was his direct response to the arrest and imprisonment of a radical Irish journalist who had dared to report the horrors of war in the national press. …

Professor Henry Woudhuysen [UCL English Language & Literature], who will reveal the full story of the pamphlet in 'The Times Literary Supplement' tomorrow, said: "It is rare for printed books of any period to be rediscovered after an absence of 200 years. It is all the more remarkable for its unexpected emergence and for the insights ... it will give into Shelley's development as a poet and political thinker." …

The poem is dedicated to Harriet Westbrook, with whom he eloped in 1811. As such, it marks the poet's first printed reference to his wife.

In the preface he calls for "a total reform in the licentiousness, luxury, depravity, prejudice, which involve society".

Professor Woudhuysen said that, while some of the poem's language was reminiscent of Shelley's other work, the regularity of the couplets is uncharacteristic. That, he suggests, may be explained by the pamphlet being "some sort of collaboration" between Shelley and his sister, Elizabeth. …

Dalya Alberge, 'The Times'