Friday 8 July marked the bicentenary of Shelley (4 August 1792 – 8 July 1822) and below are some lost words only discovered in 2006 from a political pamphlet.
Shelley’s poem was “lost” for nearly 200 years, before a single copy of the pamphlet was “rediscovered” in 2006, and a decade later bought by Oxford’s Bodleian Library, so finally it could be read by the public again
“Shall rank corruption pass unheeded by,
Shall flattery’s voice ascend the wearied sky;
And shall no patriot tear the veil away
Which hides these vices from the face of day?
Is public virtue dead? – is courage gone?”
These lines are taken from Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things, an excoriation of the moral devastation wreaked in late Georgian Britain two centuries ago. It was written by Percy Bysshe Shelley and published anonymously in 1811, in support of the radical Irish journalist Peter Finnerty, who had been imprisoned for seditious libel after accusing the Anglo-Irish politician Viscount Castlereagh of the torture and executions of Irish rebels challenging British rule.
(I came across them from a recent article in the Guardian Newspaper by Kenan Malik … Long gone, but speaking clearly to our age – Shelley, the poet of moral and political corruption | Kenan Malik | The Guardian)
The lines can relate to the sad state of humanity across the ages. And they are apt today in lamentation at what is happening in many places across the world.
Shelley astounds me by his great productive flow of words throughout his short life.