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Note by Mrs. Shelley - - - - - - - III
Note by Mrs. Shelley - - - - - - - 3os
PREFACE TO THE REVISED EDITION.
A Few paragraphs will suffice here by way of preface; other details, relevant to Shelley's poems and to the present republication of them, being supplied in the Memoir, and in the notes at the close of the volumes.
The fact that the previous editions of Shelley were the reverse of scrupulously correct has frequently been remarked upon ; as, for instance, thus by a poet who is also a keen critic, Mr. Ailingham :—"Hardly any great poet, certainly no modern one, has been so inaccurately printed as Shelley. Helps to the very necessary revision are in existence, and ought quickly to be used."* And thus by Mr. Swinburne, when the present revised edition was already in an advanced stage:—"It is seldom that the work of a scholiast is so soon wanted as in Shelley's case it has been. The first collected edition of his works had many gaps and errors patent and palpable to any serious reader. His text is already matter for debate and comment, as though he were a classic newly inearthed." t
If we enquire why Shelley has suffered so much in the printed form of his poems, we shall find that the responsibility rests upon three defendants—Shelley himself, Casualty, and Mrs. Shelley.
Shelley was essentially careless as a writer. Spite of his classical education and tastes, and his cultivated perceptions of
* Nightingal e Valley, p. 282 (i860). t Fortnightly Review, May 1869.
many kinds, he was at all times capable of committing, and incapable of avoiding, slips of grammar and syntax—slips which may indeed be called small, but which are not the less gross—and other oversights, such as rhymes left unsupplied, or nullified by writing the wrong word. In another sense, however, he was not a careless writer. Though no poetry bears a more visible stamp of inspiration, his MSS. show that this inspiration did not subside at once into its true and final verbal medium. The false starts, cancellings, blottings, and re-writings, which his first drafts exhibit, are a surprising and bewildering phenomenon. At length one comes upon the right reading—
"Pinnacled dim in the intense inane."
Casualty also played a considerable part in the mischances of Shelley's printed works. Thus Queen Mab was only privately printed, and then piratically published; the Revolt of Islam is a slightly modified re-issue of a withdrawn book; Epipsychidion, Hellas, and the volumes containing Rosalind and Helen and Prometheus Unbound, were printed in England while the poet lived in Italy, and without his having any proofs to revise; CEdipus Tyrannus was printed under similar circumstances, and immediately suppressed; The Cenci and Adonais had the minor misfortune of being first printed in alien Italy, though under the author's own eye; Julian and Maddalo, the Witch of Atlas, and a number of shorter poems, were posthumous publications; the Triumph of Life remains a stately fragment amid many minor debris.
Mrs. Shelley brought deep affection and unmeasured enthusiasm to the task of editing her husband's works. But ill health and the pain of reminiscence curtailed her editorial labours: besides which, to judge from the result, you would say that Mrs. Shelley was not one of the persons to whom the gift of consistent accuracy has been imparted; for even this too is a gift in its way, not wholly to be improvised for the occasion.
In preparing the present edition for the press, I have been enabled to collate the collected edition supervised by Mrs. Shelley (in its three current forms of publication) with the original printed texts of all the poems, save only the semiprivate first Epipsychidion. I have also, through the liberality of Mr. Garnett, received various snatches of verse, mostly fragmentary, hitherto not printed in any form; and have had the privilege of deciphering for myself a MS. book of Shelley, belonging to his son, and containing very considerable additions to the unfinished tragedy of Charles the First. Of the principal poems (or the great majority of them) the MSS., I understand, are not now known to exist.
I have innovated to some extent upon Mrs. Shelley's distribution of the poems; thinking it more reasonable that works of substantial length, such as Rosalind and Helen, Julian and Maddalo, and Epipsychidion, should appear among the longer poems, instead of among the miscellaneous poems of their respective years. On the other hand, I have placed among fragments a good number of pieces which really arc fragmentary, but which had hitherto been intermixed with the complete compositions. I have also, in all subdivisions, carried out more minutely the record of dates, and (save as concerns the translations) the sorting of the poems according to that criterion. A glance at the table of contents will show the reader what these subdivisions are, — Principal Poems, Miscellaneous Poems, Fragments, Translations, and Appendix, as well as the dates of the several works. These are the dates of composition, not necessarily of first publication.
The Appendix is a feature new to any edition of Shelley. It contains a number of his juvenile writings extracted from divers sources, some variations of the printed text of the poems, and other odds and ends. Anything that I have found of an earlier date than 1813, when Queen A fab was printed, I treat as a juvenile poem. I must here avow and premise, for the use of all gainsayers, that I regard the main body of these juvenile poems as being not only poorish sort of stuff, but absolute and heinous rubbish; the " clotted nonsense " of a boy in whom even an acute literary prophet would have failed to divine, as in any wise conceivable, the author of Alastor at twenty-three years of age, of Prometheus Unbound at twenty-seven, and of a most glorious and in some respects unexampled body of poetry