Percy Shelley: Poems

Peter Bell The Third: Dedication

[Composed at Florence, October, 1819, and forwarded to Hunt (November]

2) to be published by C. & J. Ollier without the author's name;

ultimately printed by Mrs. Shelley in the second edition of the

"Poetical Works", 1839. A skit by John Hamilton Reynolds, "Peter Bell,

a Lyrical Ballad", had already appeared (April, 1819), a few days

before the publication of Wordsworth's "Peter Bell, a Tale". These

productions were reviewed in Leigh Hunt's "Examiner" (April 26, May 3,

1819); and to the entertainment derived from his perusal of Hunt's

criticisms the composition of Shelley's "Peter Bell the Third" is

chiefly owing.



Dear Tom,

Allow me to request you to introduce Mr. Peter Bell to the respectable

family of the Fudges. Although he may fall short of those very

considerable personages in the more active properties which

characterize the Rat and the Apostate, I suspect that even you, their

historian, will confess that he surpasses them in the more peculiarly

legitimate qualification of intolerable dulness.

You know Mr. Examiner Hunt; well--it was he who presented me to two of

the Mr. Bells. My intimacy with the younger Mr. Bell naturally sprung

from this introduction to his brothers. And in presenting him to you,

I have the satisfaction of being able to assure you that he is

considerably the dullest of the three.

There is this particular advantage in an acquaintance with any one of

the Peter Bells, that if you know one Peter Bell, you know three Peter

Bells; they are not one, but three; not three, but one. An awful

mystery, which, after having caused torrents of blood, and having been

hymned by groans enough to deafen the music of the spheres, is at

length illustrated to the satisfaction of all parties in the

theological world, by the nature of Mr. Peter Bell.

Peter is a polyhedric Peter, or a Peter with many sides. He changes

colours like a chameleon, and his coat like a snake. He is a Proteus

of a Peter. He was at first sublime, pathetic, impressive, profound;

then dull; then prosy and dull; and now dull--oh so very dull! it is

an ultra-legitimate dulness.

You will perceive that it is not necessary to consider Hell and the

Devil as supernatural machinery. The whole scene of my epic is in

'this world which is'--so Peter informed us before his conversion to

"White Obi"--

'The world of all of us, AND WHERE


Let me observe that I have spent six or seven days in composing this

sublime piece; the orb of my moonlike genius has made the fourth part

of its revolution round the dull earth which you inhabit, driving you

mad, while it has retained its calmness and its splendour, and I have

been fitting this its last phase 'to occupy a permanent station in the

literature of my country.'

Your works, indeed, dear Tom, sell better; but mine are far superior.

The public is no judge; posterity sets all to rights.

Allow me to observe that so much has been written of Peter Bell, that

the present history can be considered only, like the Iliad, as a

continuation of that series of cyclic poems, which have already been

candidates for bestowing immortality upon, at the same time that they

receive it from, his character and adventures. In this point of view I

have violated no rule of syntax in beginning my composition with a

conjunction; the full stop which closes the poem continued by me

being, like the full stops at the end of the Iliad and Odyssey, a full

stop of a very qualified import.

Hoping that the immortality which you have given to the Fudges, you

will receive from them; and in the firm expectation, that when London

shall be an habitation of bitterns; when St. Paul's and Westminster

Abbey shall stand, shapeless and nameless ruins, in the midst of an

unpeopled marsh; when the piers of Waterloo Bridge shall become the

nuclei of islets of reeds and osiers, and cast the jagged shadows of

their broken arches on the solitary stream, some transatlantic

commentator will be weighing in the scales of some new and now

unimagined system of criticism, the respective merits of the Bells and

the Fudges, and their historians. I remain, dear Tom, yours sincerely,


December 1, 1819.

P.S.--Pray excuse the date of place; so soon as the profits of the

publication come in, I mean to hire lodgings in a more respectable