Ray

New Shelley Poem

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I found this recent Guardian blog post , about the fact that even the contents of a newly discovered Shelley poem remains inaccessible to the public, fascinating.

Perhaps we can draw some parallels to the Balanchine Trust's miserliness in re not allowing representations of GB's works to circulate?

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I found this recent Guardian blog post , about the fact that even the contents of a newly discovered Shelley poem remains inaccessible to the public, fascinating.

Perhaps we can draw some parallels to the Balanchine Trust's miserliness in re not allowing representations of GB's works to circulate?

The poem is printed in a pamphlet which is being sold by Quaritch, the noted Antiquarian Booksellers who of course want to realise as much money as possible. Thus, they are quite reasonably not releasing the poem to the general public.

One hopes however that the purchaser of this item will not keep it to him/herself and that it stands up in quality after having received such wide publicity.

See:- http://www.quaritch.com/stock/highlights/shelley.htm

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The poem is printed in a pamphlet which is being sold by Quaritch, the noted Antiquarian Booksellers who of course want to realise as much money as possible. Thus, they are quite reasonably not releasing the poem to the general public.

The author of the blog squarely takes issue with this: i.e., she argues that the writings of Shelley are part of Britain's national heritage, and as such must not be held privately, even if the artefact of the text may be. Quartich is acting "reasonably" only by one logic, quite unreasonably by others. Besides, it's already been sold.

Furthermore, it's disingenuous and cynical for Quartich to add the lustrous phrase that the poem "represents a major find for Shelley and Romantic scholarship" if scholars can't read it.

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Thanks very much for posting this, Ray, I hadn't seen it.

The "owner" of the poem (past or future) will no doubt find a way of selling it, while the ghost of Shelley howls with contemptuous laughter."

I can't really visualize Shelley howling with laughter or otherwise, but the sentiment is spot on. It is indeed a fascinating case as Ray says. The work is centuries old and so copyright doesn't enter into it. I was especially flummoxed by the attitude of the TLS. Surely the point is not whether or not the poem is a missing masterpiece but that it is Shelley's and worth knowing for that reason alone regardless of historical and/or aesthetic interest.

The poem is printed in a pamphlet which is being sold by Quaritch, the noted Antiquarian Booksellers who of course want to realise as much money as possible. Thus, they are quite reasonably not releasing the poem to the general public.

No one begrudges a bookseller making a buck but the public interest is also involved, as Ray and the author note. If Quaritch can make a bundle selling the pamphlet itself, well and good. But if they're trying to jack up the price by withholding work by Shelley that no one has seen it's quite a different matter.

Ray, I can't say that I see any parallels with the Balanchine Trust in this situation, however. One may disagree with some of the Trust's decisions or think that it is over-vigilant at times, but the Trust's actions are generally explicable in reasonable terms and I doubt they are motivated by greed. Balanchine has been dead only thirty years and many of his heirs are still very much with us, with a strong interest in where and how his work is performed.

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When The Guardian published the headline, Owning manuscripts is one thing: owning the contents is quite another firstly one thought what a load of over emotional nonsense and secondly what a seemingly a weak effort to echo Shelley's, "Queen Mab."

The phrase possession is (as) nine-tenths of the law, a concept going back to at least Roman Law and sovereign right immediately came to my mind.

One is aware with ones possessions rightfully owned, that one is the only controller of ones property and may therefore do with it as one pleases.

The Guardians phrase,…owning the contents is quite another. as if there was some kind of denial of the public rights in this matter, has for me echoes of the first person to call himself an anarchist, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon who notoriously stated in his What is Property? Or, an Inquiry into the Principle of Right and Government that Property is theft which notably, attracted the attention of Karl Marx.

It is nonsense to say that the right to keep private that which is privately owned,is an act of some kind of injustice to the public. It is an impudence to start telling people what they can do with their possessions and what is right or wrong in a such a matter.

Museums and library collections exist because of the activities of private collectors of the past. Let the new owner enjoy his private pleasure and lets hope that the pamphletit may find it is way into the public domain sometime in the future.

On another note, later this year, there will be an exhibition called, Shelleys Ghost: Reshaping the Image of a Literary Family , to be held in the Exhibition room of the Bodleian Library from 3 December 2010 27 March 2011. Star items will include Shelleys own notebooks, a letter of John Keats, William Godwins diary and the original manuscripts of Mary Shelleys Frankenstein. The exhibition will also feature treasures lent by the Pforzheimer Collection of the New York Public Library, many of which have never been on public display in the UK.

Further comments and discussion on this matter can be found at:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article1072715.ece

http://books.elliottback.com/percy-bysshe-shelleys-poetical-essay/

http://www.horshamsociety.org/history/poetical.htm

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It is nonsense to say that the right to keep private that which is privately owned, is an act of some kind of injustice to the public. It is an impudence to start telling people what they can do with their possessions and what is right or wrong in a such a matter.

Alas, we live in impudent times. It's not at all nonsensical when it comes to newly discovered work by a canonical national author dead for nearly two hundred years. There is no reason why the pamphlet can't be shared in any number of ways and if the owner wants to make money out of it that's hardly impossible. I should think Shelley's work is already in the "public domain" although I'm not sure how that concept works in this situation and would be interested to hear more.

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leonid's link to the sales agent's website shows the front page of the pamphlet. The irony is that Shelley's poem -- "Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things" -- was clearly written in defense of freedom of expression and publication.

The cover page states that the pamphlet was published "for assisting to maintain in prison Mr. Peter Finnerty, Imprisoned for a Libel." (The Finnery case is fairly well known. Finnerty was an Irish journalist twice imprisoned by the British Tory government for libel during the Napoleonic Wars. The period from the early 1800s through the 1820s was NOT a good time for liberty in Britain, especially for political radicals and critics of the Conservative regime, of whom Shelly was one.)

The dealer's selling points all have to do with the Shellley poem. But it appears that he is actually selling the pamphlet which happens to contain the poem. Since this is the only extant copy of the pamphlet, the situation seems analogous to someone owning an original painting. What is to prevent the owner of a newly discovered Leonardo from locking it in his attic or even destroying it? The ethics of this are horrifying. But would it be illegal given our present economic system?

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As far as I know the owner of the painting can do whatever he likes with it, including throwing it down an elevator shaft. The owner of this pamphlet can destroy it if he wishes. But in both cases each of them probably paid a goodly sum, so unless they're fruitcakes or really, really, really rich they'll take damn good care of them, so I'm not biting my nails over the prospect of destruction.

Owners of priceless paintings do often lend them to museums for display, however. The pamphlet contains pieces of writing easily reproduced and circulated without any harm to the original item.

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Since this is the only extant copy of the pamphlet, the situation seems analogous to someone owning an original painting.

There is a difference. Poems don't exist on a support of paper or canvas and are not fabricated to be sold as unique things. They exist on the support of the voice, to be quoted in small sections by anyone who wants to, and are passed on that way. Once they're memorized they can't be owned or suppressed -- look at Osip Mandelstam's poems that were preserved in Natalia Mandelstam's memory.

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Hi, Quiggin. Nice to hear from you. That's true, and of course before the age of print all poems were passed along in that way.

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Quiggan, you are right about the USSR under Stalin, when there was no possibility of official publication.

The pamphlet we are talking about was printed (openly and, one might say, freely) in London and was probably sold at the printer as well as "all other booksellers." It's questionable how many booksellers would actually have risked carrying this item, especially since sellers could also be brought to court.

The pamphlet's fate has been a mystery. No-one knows how many copies were produced, whether Shelley sold any and whether the university authorities destroyed some of them.

My memory is dim on this, but the structure of "censorship" in Britain was different from that in the Soviet Union. It also differed from the work of the censorship bureaucracies in continental Europe during the Napoleonic Wars. The British government did not put much effort into prior censorship (before publication). Instead, it focused on punishing -- through criminal law and in the courts -- after publication. The degree of punishment (and the fear it engendered) was significantly less than under Stalin. It was quite serious, nonetheless, involving extended prison sentences and large fines.

I've just read the Times article linked by leonid above. It has some of the background of the Finnerty case and something about Shelley's position as an Oxford undergraduate still in his teens. The funds he hoped to raise were probably for Finnerty's clothing, food, medicines, etc., while incarcerated under pretty grim circumstances.

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Museums and library collections exist because of the activities of private collectors of the past. Let the new owner enjoy his private pleasure and lets hope that the pamphletit may find it is way into the public domain sometime in the future.

Fair enough (and thank you for those links) but many museums and libraries also benefit through public support, via government grants and other means. Without public money in one form or another many of those institutions might not exist.

I would suggest that's slightly beside the point, however. No one is questioning the right of owner of the physical copy of the pamphlet to his private enjoyment of same or to do with it as he wishes. The criticism is that in refusing to circulate the contents until he (presumably) gets the deal he wants that he's being less than public spirited.

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[...] No one is questioning the right of owner of the physical copy of the pamphlet to his private enjoyment of same or to do with it as he wishes. The criticism is that in refusing to circulate the contents until he (presumably) gets the deal he wants that he's being less than public spirited.

I couldn't have put it better; there's no socialist plot afoot to divest the connoisseur of his hard-won artefact. And what's also part of the story, again, is the disingenuosness of the parties involved.

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And so for now the pamphlet has for all intents and purposes vanished again, until its new owner has a change of heart or puts it up for sale (or someone finds another copy).

The author of the original blog commentary linked to by Ray, Michael Rosen, made mention of a related imbroglio concerning unseen writings by Kafka.

It seems almost Kafkaesque: Ten safety deposit boxes of never-published writings by Franz Kafka, their exact contents unknown, are trapped in courts and bureaucracy, much like one of the nightmarish visions created by the author himself.

The papers, retrieved from bank vaults where they have sat untouched and unread for decades, could shed new light on one of literature's darkest figures.

In this case it sounds as if these papers will see the light eventually, probably sooner rather than later. But it's an interesting example of a long-dead writer's work winding up as someone else's "property."

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leonid's link to the sales agent's website shows the front page of the pamphlet. The irony is that Shelley's poem -- "Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things" -- was clearly written in defense of freedom of expression and publication.

The cover page states that the pamphlet was published "for assisting to maintain in prison Mr. Peter Finnerty, Imprisoned for a Libel." (The Finnery case is fairly well known. Finnerty was an Irish journalist twice imprisoned by the British Tory government for libel during the Napoleonic Wars. The period from the early 1800s through the 1820s was NOT a good time for liberty in Britain, especially for political radicals and critics of the Conservative regime, of whom Shelly was one.)

The dealer's selling points all have to do with the Shellley poem. But it appears that he is actually selling the pamphlet which happens to contain the poem. Since this is the only extant copy of the pamphlet, the situation seems analogous to someone owning an original painting. What is to prevent the owner of a newly discovered Leonardo from locking it in his attic or even destroying it? The ethics of this are horrifying. But would it be illegal given our present economic system?

I would have thought that more than one copy of this pamphlet has survived and it is highly probable that at least one copy exists somewhere in a UK Government collection, given what was seen as the significantly seditious nature of the work and the recent memory of The War of American Independence, the French revolution and of course the Napoleonic Wars which were still in full flood.

As to the poem's importance, Professor Woudhuysen said that, while some of the poems language was reminiscent of Shelleys 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. You then begin to wonder if the newspaper reports of its status are little more that a series of puffs.

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As to the poem's importance, Professor Woudhuysen said that, while some of the poems language was reminiscent of Shelleys 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. You then begin to wonder if the newspaper reports of its status are little more that a series of puffs.

Well again, we won't know until we can read it. I for one would find a collaboration b/t Shelley and Elizabeth fascinating and valuable--you seem to be implying that the collaboraiton lessens the poem's asthetic or intellectual value. Why?

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Apparently the TLS took the position that they weren't going to fuss over a poem when no one knew if it was any good, a rather narrow view, I would say. It's Shelley's, and his sometime collaboration with Elizabeth (I think he wrote with her before) is surely of interest even if it's unlikely to be an undiscovered classic. Of course, we'll never know, etc.

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Any other views? Speak up, folks, pro or con. :)

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I would have thought that more than one copy of this pamphlet has survived and it is highly probable that at least one copy exists somewhere in a UK Government collection, given what was seen as the significantly seditious nature of the work and the recent memory of "The War of American Independence", the French revolution and of course the Napoleonic Wars which were still in full flood.

I suspect you are right. Since the pamphlet identifies the author only as "A Gentleman of the University of Oxford," archivists and librarians would have had no reason to treat it as something special. I suspect that a few libraries are combing through their inventories right now. Let's hope.

Apparently the TLS took the position that they weren't going to fuss over a poem when no one knew if it was any good, a rather narrow view, I would say. It's Shelley's, and his sometime collaboration with Elizabeth (I think he wrote with her before) is surely of interest even if it's unlikely to be an undiscovered classic. Of course, we'll never know, etc.

Narrow, yes. But reasonable, too. There's so much undistinguished polemical verse from this period, even from fine poets. It might be stirring; it might give insight's into the development of Shelley's radicalism and as a poet; or, it might be something whose sole value comes from the fact that "Shelley" wrote it. I vote for "Wait and See."

Meanwhile, there are two undeniable aspects to this story:

-- on the positive side for all of us: the literary public is getting involved, which will put pressure on the owner and/or future owners to treat this responsibly

-- also: the dealer is getting an awful lot of publicity, always good news for those whose goal is maximizing the sale price.

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-- also: the dealer is getting an awful lot of publicity, always good news for those whose goal is maximizing the sale price.

Quaritch has already sold the item, which is now in private hands, price presumably maximized.

I suspect that a few libraries are combing through their inventories right now. Let's hope.

Narrow, yes. But reasonable, too. There's so much undistinguished polemical verse from this period, even from fine poets. It might be stirring; it might give insight's into the development of Shelley's radicalism and as a poet; or, it might be something whose sole value comes from the fact that "Shelley" wrote it. I vote for "Wait and See."

The matter hardly needs to be put to a vote as far as waiting and seeing is concerned. :) The physical existence of the poem and the pamphlet has been known for four years. Rosen's point was that undiscovered work by "Shelley" (wondering about the quotes? I don't think anyone is questioning that Shelley, possibly with Sis, wrote it) is of value regardless of its significance once we are in a position to assess that fully. "Hey, it might not be any good," is correct as far as it goes but beside the point and distinctly unhelpful, particularly coming from a powerful literary organ.

From the article by Woudhuysen:

It is not unusual for manuscripts which are thought to have been lost to reappear – by their very nature they can be hard to read, hard to identify and may easily be passed over – but it is extremely rare for printed books of any period to be rediscovered after an absence of 200 years. The Quaritch copy of the Poetical Essay is all the more remarkable for its unexpected emergence and for the insights a full study of it will give into Shelley's development as a poet and political thinker.

Sounds worth a peek, I should say.

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From a letter from the poet and advocate for poetry, Michael Rosen, to the TLS (Times Literary Supplement), 7/30/10 edition.

Now, four years later, it's still hidden from view. I don't think this is good enough. I find myself wondering what the community of Shelley scholars make of it. How many Shelley students are mid-doctorate? How many researchers are mid-book, making statements about Shelley that would need to be altered in the light of what is in the poem? And then, what about the rest of us? We rely on Shelly experts for insights into what Shelley was up to when he wrote it, what happened as a consequence and how it fits isn with the oeuvre. I, for one, would have liked you [the TLS?] to have been agitating on our behalf for the poem to be put in the public domain. Shouldn't it belong to all of us? And does anyone know where it is?

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Thanks Mme. Hermine. I hope the Finnery pamphlet is on a par with Shelley's gloriously written contribution to the theism/atheism debate. (If only the grumpy, ungenerous Hitchens brothers -- Christopher the atheist and William the theist -- could have used Shelley as a model.)

I really like the section that begins ...

Life and the world, or whatever we call that which we are and feel, is an astonishing thing. The mist of familiarity obscures from us the wonder of our being. We are struck with admiration at some of its transient modifications, but it is itself the great miracle.

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From a letter from the poet and advocate for poetry, Michael Rosen, to the TLS (Times Literary Supplement), 7/30/10 edition.

Now, four years later, it's still hidden from view. I don't think this is good enough. I find myself wondering what the community of Shelley scholars make of it. How many Shelley students are mid-doctorate? How many researchers are mid-book, making statements about Shelley that would need to be altered in the light of what is in the poem? And then, what about the rest of us? We rely on Shelly experts for insights into what Shelley was up to when he wrote it, what happened as a consequence and how it fits isn with the oeuvre. I, for one, would have liked you [the TLS?] to have been agitating on our behalf for the poem to be put in the public domain. Shouldn't it belong to all of us? And does anyone know where it is?

Yes, Ray linked to an article by Rosen. It's the first post in this thread.

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Just thought I'd mention that today is Shelley's 218th birthday! :tiphat:

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