Percy Shelley: Poems

Peter Bell The Third: Note

In this new edition I have added "Peter Bell the Third". A critique on

Wordsworth's "Peter Bell" reached us at Leghorn, which amused Shelley

exceedingly, and suggested this poem.

I need scarcely observe that nothing personal to the author of "Peter

Bell" is intended in this poem. No man ever admired Wordsworth's

poetry more;--he read it perpetually, and taught others to appreciate

its beauties. This poem is, like all others written by Shelley, ideal.

He conceived the idealism of a poet--a man of lofty and creative

genius--quitting the glorious calling of discovering and announcing

the beautiful and good, to support and propagate ignorant prejudices

and pernicious errors; imparting to the unenlightened, not that ardour

for truth and spirit of toleration which Shelley looked on as the

sources of the moral improvement and happiness of mankind, but false

and injurious opinions, that evil was good, and that ignorance and

force were the best allies of purity and virtue. His idea was that a

man gifted, even as transcendently as the author of "Peter Bell", with

the highest qualities of genius, must, if he fostered such errors, be

infected with dulness. This poem was written as a warning--not as a

narration of the reality. He was unacquainted personally with

Wordsworth, or with Coleridge (to whom he alludes in the fifth part of

the poem), and therefore, I repeat, his poem is purely ideal;--it

contains something of criticism on the compositions of those great

poets, but nothing injurious to the men themselves.

No poem contains more of Shelley's peculiar views with regard to the

errors into which many of the wisest have fallen, and the pernicious

effects of certain opinions on society. Much of it is beautifully

written: and, though, like the burlesque drama of "Swellfoot", it must

be looked on as a plaything, it has so much merit and poetry--so much

of HIMSELF in it--that it cannot fail to interest greatly, and by

right belongs to the world for whose instruction and benefit it was