Sunday, 21 December 2008

Percy Bysshe Shelley and the pirate

Percy Bysshe ShelleyOne of the more notable books published by John Brooks was an edition of Shelley's Queen Mab. The rather unauthorised appearance of this volume, how it was obtained and Shelley's amendments to it have long intrigued scholars of the subject. The text below comes from two sources. The first first-hand account was written by Thomas Medwin and comes from 'The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley' published in 1847. The second is from 'The complete poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley' by Donald H. Reiman (2000). Reiman describes Queen Mab,

'...perhaps Shelley's most intellectually ambitious work, articulating his views of science, politics, history, religion, society, and individual human relations. Subtitled A Philosophical Poem: With Notes, it became his most influential -- and pirated -- poem during much of the nineteenth century, a favorite among reformers and radicals.'

"One evening he [Sir Thomas Lawrence] persuaded me to accompany him to the Owenite chapel, in Charlotte-street. In the ante-room, I observed a man at a table, on which were laid for sale, among many works on a small scale, this History of the Nairs, and Queen Mab, and after the discourse by Owen—a sort of doctrinal rather than moral essay, in which he promised his disciples a millennium of roast beef and fowls, and three or four days' recreation out of the seven, equal division of property, and an universality of knowledge by education,—we had an interview with the lecturer and reformer, whom I had met some years before at the house of a Northumberland lady. On finding that I was connected with Shelley, he made a long panegyric on him, and taking up one of the Queen Mabs from the table, read, premising that it was the basis of one of his chief tenets, the following passage:

"How long ought the sexual connection to last! What law ought to specify the extent of the grievance that should limit its duration! A husband and wife ought to continue so long united as they love one another. Any law that should bind them to cohabitation for one moment after the decay of their affection, would be a most intolerable tyranny, and most unworthy of toleration."

If Lord Melbourne did not hold similar opinions, he at least thought there was no harm in encouraging them, by presenting Mr. Owen to our Queen. The question is, whether, in the - present state of society, and with the want of education that characterises the sect of which Mr. Owen is the founder, the Socialists, their tenets are, or are not pregnant with danger. This philanthropist, however, certainly is sincere in believing the contrary; and up to this time experience seems to have confirmed his belief. He has spent his life, and expended his fortune in inculcating them; and a more thoroughly amiable and moral man does not exist. "He has had but one object in both hemispheres," (to use the words of Frederica Bremer,) "to help the mass of mankind to food and raiment, in order that the mass may make provision for their mental improvement; for when the necessary wants are satisfied, man turns to those of a more general and exalted kind. Hence, when the great day work of the earth is done with men, the Sabbath will begin, in which a generation of tranquil worshippers will spread over the earth, no longer striving after perishable treasures, but seeking those which are eternal; a people whose whole life will be devoted to the improvement of their mental powers, and to the worship of the Creator in spirit and in truth. Then the day will arrive in which the angels will say, 'Peace upon Earth!!!'"

This edition of Queen Mab, that has led to the above quotation, bore the name of Brooks as publisher. It contains a beautiful frontispiece illustrative of the death of Ianthe, and as a motto, the well-known line from some Greek dramatist —probably Eschylus—which may be rendered:

Give me whereon to stand, I’ll move the earth.

Brooks did, or does, live at the bottom of Oxford Street, and I paid him more than one visit. He had a correspondent at Marlow, who knew Shelley, but whose name I have forgotten, from whom he obtained a copy of Queen Mab, which, like the Wandering Jew, had probably been left by Shelley's inadvertence in his abode here. This copy was exceedingly interlined, very much curtailed and modified, as by a specimen given in a fragment entitled the "Demon of the World," appended to "Alastor;" and what is still more important and worthy of remark, with the Notes torn out. The copy had been revised with great care, and as though Shelley had an intention at the time of bringing out a new edition, an idea which his neglect of his labour shews he soon abandoned. This emendated work is a great curiosity, and has scattered about the pages rude pen-and-ink drawings of the most fantastic kind, proving the abstraction of his mind during this pursuit. It was a comment that led me to many speculations, suggesting a deep sense of the obloquy of which he had made himself the victim, and betokening a fluctuation of purpose, a hesitation and doubt of himself and of the truth or policy of his theories. That Mr. Brooks (he was the publisher if not the printer of the Owenites) did not make use of the refacciamenti or pentimate in his numerous reprints of Queen Mab, may easily be conceived, for these very alterations were the only objectionable parts to him, and he would have thought it a sacrilege to have struck out a word of the original text, much less the notes. Queen Mab is indeed the gospel of the sect, and one of them told me, that he had found a passage in Scripture that unquestionably applied to Shelley, and that the word Shiloh was pronounced in the Hebrew precisely in the same manner as his name.

It is much to be desired that Mrs. Shelley should endeavor to obtain this Queen Mab of Mr. Brooks. I have no doubt that he would estimate it at a price far beyond my means, nor have I made any overtures to him for the purchase, invaluable as its acquisition would be to me at this moment."

Donald H. Reiman;

"Brooks, an Owenite publisher, produced a “very handsome edition,” priced 9s. (see ad reproduced in Shelley Library, 55). Its engraved title page omits the subtitle and mention of the notes and includes only the epigraph from Archimedes. It does, however, contain a striking vignette depicting Queen Mab calling forth the sleeping Ianthe’s spirit, which was drawn by Charles Landseer (son of the engraver John Landseer) and engraved by Edward James Portbury (who did much engraving for the gift books of the 1820’s and 1830’s). Brooks, who includes the dedicatory poem to Harriet (in the copies we have seen) and does not provide translation of the notes, took his text directly from [the] 1813 [edition], a unique copy of which he had obtained from Robert Madocks, Shelley’s handyman and the agent for his landlord in Marlow who had confiscated it years earlier in addition to other of the Shelley’s belongings left behind along with an unpaid balance. This copy contains Shelley’s draft revisions of Queen mab into Demon and other shorter pieces, which are mentioned above and which ended up in the hands of Forman and ultimately Pforzheimer.

Brook’s edition follows 1813 closely but not uncritically: rarely emending the text of the poem proper, it is somewhat freer with the notes, especially in revising Shelley’s grammar and in correcting errors in the foreign language passages (once in Note 17 even “correcting” back to the orginal an intentional change Shelley made in Horace’s Latin). Several of these changes were transmitted through Ascham to Mary Shelley’s editions. Perhaps Brooks’s most significant textual gaffe in editing the poem comes in VIII.232-33, where, misunderstanding Shelley’s grammar, he initiates three misguided emendations (“extends / Its…wields” for “extend / Their wield”) that were also transmitted through Ascham to Mary Shelley. Beyond this textual important edition, Brooks’s influence on the transmission of Queen Mab extended in 1833 to his acquiring the stock and stereotyped plates of Mrs. Carlile’s 1832 piracy, which first printed the notes as footnotes to the poem, at the bottom of the page. Brooks published this pocket-sized edition under his own name for the price of 1s 6d., and from him the plates seem to have passed on to Hetherington and Watson, who continued to make Queen Mab widely available to the lower classes."

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