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P.B.Shelley - A Poet of Rebellion, of Nature and of Love

An overview of Shelley's three main objects - politics, nature, and love.

It may seem strange that so much space in anthologies and books has been occupied by philosophical and political topics of Shelley?s poetry despite the fact that Shelley is the most purely lyrical of English poets. The fact is that in nearly all English poets there was a strong moral and philosophical strain, particularly in those of the period 1770-1830. They were deeply interested in political, scientific, and religious speculations in aesthetic questions only superficially, if at all Shelley, with the roots of his emotions striking deep into politics and philosophy. This is only an extreme instance of a national trait, which was unusually prominent in the early part of the nineteenth century, owing to the state of insular politics at the time. However, it must be admitted that English artists of all periods have an inherent tendency to moralize, which has sometimes been a weakness, and sometimes has given them surprising strength.
Like the other poets of the Romantic Movement, Shelley expended his emotion on three main objects - politics, nature, and love. In each of these subjects he struck a note peculiar to himself, but his singularity is perhaps greatest in the sphere of politics. It may be summed up in the observation that no English imaginative writer of the first rank has been equally inspired by those doctrines that helped to produce the French Revolution. This means that all men are born free and equal; that by a contract entered into in primitive times they surrendered as much of their rights as was necessary to the well-being of the community, that despotic governments and established religions, being violations of the original contract, are encroachments on those rights and the causes of all evil; that inequalities of rank and power can be abolished by reasoning, and that then, since men are naturally good, the golden age will return--these are positions which the English mind, with its dislike of the 'a priori', will not readily accept. The English Utilitarians, who exerted a great influence on the course of affairs, and the classical school of economists that derived from them, did indeed hold that men were naturally good, in a sense. Their theory was that, if people were left to themselves, and if the restraints imposed by authority on thought and commerce were removed, the operation of ordinary human motives would produce the most beneficent results. But their theory was quite empirical and worked out in various ways by Adam Smith, Bentham, and Mill. It admirably suited the native independence of the English character, and was justified by the fact that, at the end of the eighteenth century, governments were so bad that an immense increase of wealth, intelligence, and happiness was bound to come merely from making a clean sweep of obsolete institutions. Shelley's Radicalism was not of this drab hue. He was incapable of soberly studying the connections between causes and effects an incapacity which comes out in the distaste he felt for history - and his conception of the ideal at which the reformer should aim was vague and fantastic. In both these respects his shortcomings were due to ignorance of human nature proceeding from ignorance of himself.
What was the nature of his ideals? While all good men must sympathize with the sincerity of his passion to remold this sorry scheme of things

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