Shelley: the Growth of a Moral Vision

  • John Clubbe
  • Ernest J. LovellJr.


It has been argued that the ‘spirit of urbanity is so prevalent in Shelley that one learns to distrust the accuracy of any critic who finds Shelley’s poetry shrill’.1 In Shelley’s prose, however, one finds repeatedly the shrillest of tones, and it does no one any good to point out the same shrill tone in some of his worst, propagandistic poems. The remarkable quality that distinguishes Shelley among the major Romantic poets is not any singleness of tone but the tremendous tonal range of his achievement. Among his successful poems we find the urbane conversational style of the two educated gentlemen in Julian and Maddalo; A Conversation, colloquial but at the same time precise, informed, or profound, revealing many of the qualities of good stage dialogue.2 This is quite different from the linked sweetness of the modified Spenserian ‘Stanzas written in Dejection — December 1818, near Naples’, with its elaborate alliteration and assonance, marred only by the inurbane but Shelleyan lament of the last stanza: ‘for I am one / Whom men love not’ — direct, abstract, agonized, self-pitying. Different from this is the epistolary tone of Letter to Maria Gisborne, whimsical or otherwise humorous, retrospective but also optimistically anticipatory, self-depreciating and generous in its judgment of such figures as Leigh Hunt, Hogg, Peacock and Horace Smith, all named in the poem, along with Godwin and Coleridge.


Moral Vision Romantic Love Paper Money Natural Religion Romantic Poet 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Harold Bloom, The Visionary Company: A Reading of English Romantic Poetry, revised and enlarged edition (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1971) p. 284, following Donald Davie’s discussion in Purity of Diction in English Verse (1952).Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    The most thorough study of Shelley’s beliefs, including his attitude towards Christianity and Christ, remains Ellsworth Barnard’s Shelley’s Religion (1937).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© John Clubbe and the Estate of Ernest J. Lovell, Jr 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Clubbe
    • 1
  • Ernest J. LovellJr.
  1. 1.University of KentuckyUSA

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