British History 2:
From the French Revolution to World War II
Topic: "Majesties and Royal Highnesses"

by Laura Cenicola & Mareike Aumann

4) Poem: "England in 1819" (Percy B. Shelley)

An old, mad, blind, despis'd, and dying king,
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn--mud from a muddy spring,
Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know,
But leech-like to their fainting country cling,
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow,
A people starv'd and stabb'd in the untill'd field,
An army, which liberticide and prey
Makes as a two-edg'd sword to all who wield,
Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay,
Religion Christless, Godless--a book seal'd,
A Senate--Time's worst statute unrepeal'd,
Are graves, from which a glorious Phantom may
Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day.


The Poem

Shelley sent this sonnet to Leigh Hunt, the editor of 'The Examiner', on November 23rd in 1819, saying,' I don´t expect you to publish it but you may show it to whom you wish.' It was not publish until 1839 in Mrs. Shelley's collected editions.



The Poet


Percy Bysshe Shelley was born on August 4th 1792 in Horsham, Sussex, England. He was born to Timothy Shelley and Elizabeth Pilfold as the oldest of seven children. He attended Sion House Academy before getting into Oxford University. Oxford University was a rather conventional institution and Shelley, who was at that time developing his idealism as well as controversial philosophies was not happy there. After Shelley was expelled from school for expressing his atheist views, his father also neglected him. At the same time he meet Harriet Westbrook. They got married on August 28th 1811. The couple had two children, daughter Ianthe and son Charles. Shelley tried to have an open marriage once, inviting his friend Thomas Hogg, however this finally ended his marriage.
He was engaged in several political reform activies and was very interested in writings of William Godwin. Godwin's daughter Mary and Shelley grew rather fond of eachother. She proved to be his intellectual equal. After having overheard a conversation between her husband and a friend about galvanism she was inspired to write 'Frankenstein'. They moved to Switzerland, to the discontent of their fathers. Shelley was very generous towards his friends which often caused him financial problems. The family moved back to England in 1815. The following year was filled of personal tragedies though Shelley inhereted 1000 pounds from his grandfather and his son William was born, his exwife Harriet drowned herself and his wife's half sister Fanny committed suicide as well. In 1818 the family moved to Italy where son Percy Florence was born a year later. Shelley married Mary on December 30th in of the same year
He died at the age of twenty-nine after his schooner 'Don Juan' sank on July 8th in 1822.
Shelley was a romantic poet committed to romantic ideals of love and beauty. Nevertheless he was also concerned with the real world. Being also committed to politics he wrote a series of angry political poems criticizing the arrogance of those who had power in Britain. Among those texts were 'Ozymandias', 'The Masque of Anarchy', 'Ode To The West' and 'England in 1819'.