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Shelley's Poetical Essay: a newly recovered poem

‘…is not the deprivation of liberty the deepest, the severest of injuries?’
In November 2015 the Bodleian Libraries acquired its 12 millionth printed book: a unique copy of a pamphlet entitled Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things, written by ‘a Gentleman of the University of Oxford’ and printed in 1811. The pamphlet was the work of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822), then a student at Oxford University, and now recognised as one of the great English poets of the 19th century. The acquisition is a momentous event for the public, for scholars, the University and the Bodleian Libraries. Known to have been published by Shelley in 1811 but lost until recently, Shelley’s Poetical Essay is, thanks to the generosity of a benefactor, now freely available to all in digitized form.The Bodleian Libraries are extremely grateful to Mr Brian Fenwick-Smith and Mr Antonio Bonchristiano for their generous support of this project.The poem, written for the support of an Irish journalist imprisoned for libel, shows a young Shelley engaging with the political and social issues that coloured much of his work. The themes Shelley addresses in Poetical Essay (the abuse of press freedom, dysfunctional political institutions and the global impact of war) preoccupied him throughout his career, and are as sharply present today as they were 200 years ago.

In November 2015 the Bodleian Libraries acquired its 12 millionth printed book: a unique copy of a pamphlet entitled Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things, written by ‘a Gentleman of the University of Oxford’ and printed in 1811. The pamphlet was the work of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822), then a student at Oxford University, and now recognised as one of the great English poets of the 19th century. The acquisition is a momentous event for the public, for scholars, the University and the Bodleian Libraries. Known to have been published by Shelley in 1811 but lost until recently, Shelley’s Poetical Essay is, thanks to the generosity of a benefactor, now freely available to all in digitized form.

Bodleian Treasures – Shelley’s Poetical Essay

Bodleian shelley poetical essay on the existing

Poetical Essay by Percy Bysshe Shelley

The poem, written for the support of an Irish journalist imprisoned for libel, shows a young Shelley engaging with the political and social issues that coloured much of his work. The themes Shelley addresses in Poetical Essay (the abuse of press freedom, dysfunctional political institutions and the global impact of war) preoccupied him throughout his career, and are as sharply present today as they were 200 years ago.

This poem against war and tyranny was thought lost (or even fictitious) for nearly 200 years. It was written by Shelley when he was an 18-year-old student at University College, Oxford, and published to raise money for an imprisoned journalist. The pamphlet – this is the only known copy – came to light in 2006, and in 2016 was added to the Library’s collections as its 12 millionth book. Shelley was expelled from Oxford shortly after writing the Poetical Essay, for distributing a pamphlet on atheism.

Poetical essay on the existing state of things shelley

Shelley poetical essay - Escuela Fractal

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Shelley's poetical essay The Bodleian Libraries' 12 millionth book


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