Percy Shelley: Poems

Adonais: Preface



Aster prin men elampes eni zooisin Eoos

nun de thanon lampeis Esperos en phthimenois.--PLATO.

["Adonais" was composed at Pisa during the early days of June, 1821,]

and printed, with the author's name, at Pisa, 'with the types of

Didot,' by July 13, 1821. Part of the impression was sent to the

brothers Ollier for sale in London. An exact reprint of this Pisa

edition (a few typographical errors only being corrected) was issued

in 1829 by Gee & Bridges, Cambridge, at the instance of Arthur Hallam

and Richard Monckton Milnes (Lord Houghton). The poem was included in

Galignani's edition of "Coleridge, Shelley and Keats", Paris, 1829,

and by Mrs. Shelley in the "Poetical Works" of 1839. Mrs. Shelley's

text presents three important variations from that of the editio

princeps. In 1876 an edition of the "Adonais", with Introduction and

Notes, was printed for private circulation by Mr. H. Buxton Forman,

C.B. Ten years later a reprint 'in exact facsimile' of the Pisa

edition was edited with a Bibliographical Introduction by Mr. T.J.

Wise ("Shelley Society Publications", 2nd Series, No. 1, Reeves &

Turner, London, 1886). Our text is that of the editio princeps, Pisa,

1821, modified by Mrs. Shelley's text of 1839. The readings of the

editio princeps, wherever superseded, are recorded in the footnotes.

The Editor's Notes at the end of the Volume 3 should be consulted.


Pharmakon elthe, Bion, poti son stoma, pharmakon eides.

pos ten tois cheilessi potesrame, kouk eglukanthe;

tis de Brotos tossouton anameros, e kerasai toi,

e dounai laleonti to pharmakon; ekphugen odan.


It is my intention to subjoin to the London edition of this poem a

criticism upon the claims of its lamented object to be classed among

the writers of the highest genius who have adorned our age. My known

repugnance to the narrow principles of taste on which several of his

earlier compositions were modelled prove at least that I am an

impartial judge. I consider the fragment of "Hyperion" as second to

nothing that was ever produced by a writer of the same years.

John Keats died at Rome of a consumption, in his twenty-fourth year,

on the -- of -- 1821; and was buried in the romantic and lonely

cemetery of the Protestants in that city, under the pyramid which is

the tomb of Cestius, and the massy walls and towers, now mouldering

and desolate, which formed the circuit of ancient Rome. The cemetery

is an open space among the ruins, covered in winter with violets and

daisies. It might make one in love with death, to think that one

should be buried in so sweet a place.

The genius of the lamented person to whose memory I have dedicated

these unworthy verses was not less delicate and fragile than it was

beautiful; and where cankerworms abound, what wonder if its young

flower was blighted in the bud? The savage criticism on his

"Endymion", which appeared in the "Quarterly Review", produced the

most violent effect on his susceptible mind; the agitation thus

originated ended in the rupture of a blood-vessel in the lungs; a

rapid consumption ensued, and the succeeding acknowledgements from

more candid critics of the true greatness of his powers were

ineffectual to heal the wound thus wantonly inflicted.

It may be well said that these wretched men know not what they do.

They scatter their insults and their slanders without heed as to

whether the poisoned shaft lights on a heart made callous by many

blows or one like Keats's composed of more penetrable stuff. One of

their associates is, to my knowledge, a most base and unprincipled

calumniator. As to "Endymion", was it a poem, whatever might be its

defects, to be treated contemptuously by those who had celebrated,

with various degrees of complacency and panegyric, "Paris", and

"Woman", and a "Syrian Tale", and Mrs. Lefanu, and Mr. Barrett, and

Mr. Howard Payne, and a long list of the illustrious obscure? Are

these the men who in their venal good nature presumed to draw a

parallel between the Reverend Mr. Milman and Lord Byron? What gnat did

they strain at here, after having swallowed all those camels? Against

what woman taken in adultery dares the foremost of these literary

prostitutes to cast his opprobrious stone? Miserable man! you, one of

the meanest, have wantonly defaced one of the noblest specimens of the

workmanship of God. Nor shall it be your excuse, that, murderer as you

are, you have spoken daggers, but used none.

The circumstances of the closing scene of poor Keats's life were not

made known to me until the "Elegy" was ready for the press. I am given

to understand that the wound which his sensitive spirit had received

from the criticism of "Endymion" was exasperated by the bitter sense

of unrequited benefits; the poor fellow seems to have been hooted from

the stage of life, no less by those on whom he had wasted the promise

of his genius, than those on whom he had lavished his fortune and his

care. He was accompanied to Rome, and attended in his last illness by

Mr. Severn, a young artist of the highest promise, who, I have been

informed, 'almost risked his own life, and sacrificed every prospect

to unwearied attendance upon his dying friend.' Had I known these

circumstances before the completion of my poem, I should have been

tempted to add my feeble tribute of applause to the more solid

recompense which the virtuous man finds in the recollection of his own

motives. Mr. Severn can dispense with a reward from 'such stuff as

dreams are made of.' His conduct is a golden augury of the success of

his future career--may the unextinguished Spirit of his illustrious

friend animate the creations of his pencil, and plead against Oblivion

for his name!