Date 1878-01-19
Publication Academy
Topic WMR discounts Smith's Shelley biography
AP display
RA display
Subject literature
Keywords Shelley bio.
  ↳ Smith
  ↳ Trelawney
Standards facts
  ↳ historical accounts
Notes WMR cites 3 levels of error.

Annotation details

78 January 19 Academy


Rossetti reviews Smith's Shelley biography Shelley: a Critical Biography, by George Barrett Smith; Edinburgh, Douglas: 1877.


Rossetti, William M. "Shelley: A Critical Biography." Academy (January 19, 1878): 48. Web. 21 Sept. 2011.


Rossetti posits that Shelley has grown in the estimation of readers and critics to the extent that now every aspect of his life and work should be carefully analyzed so that a substructure adequate to the appropriate fame Shelley deserves can be built, then his "fame can be raised to its fore-destined height." In this regard, Rossetti welcomes all inquiries into Shelley's life, including Smith's.

Rossetti considers the pros and cons of Smith's technique of illustration rather than narrative, which Rossetti says relegates biography to an adjunct role. Nonetheless, since many other different approaches have already been attempted in the study of Shelley, Rossetti welcomes a new lens and a new critic with the hope of attaining new insight into Shelley.

Rossetti recounts some of the other approaches to Shelley biography that had been done, comparing them loosely to Smith's method. Among the largest faults Rossetti finds in Smith's approach is the fact that Smith relates historical events in Shelley's life in a manner that conflicts with the recollection of those who witnessed the events and in the case of Edward John Trelawny, who participated in them and wrote accounts of them well before Smith's biography of Shelley.

Rossetti explains three levels of inaccuracy in Smith approach to Shelley's biography. First, Smith cites things which may be true, but for which he submits no evidence; second, he presents things that are new but decidedly suspect; and finally, Smith offers accounts that are clearly erroneous. Rossetti refutes all three errors with historical facts that dispute Smith's accounts.

He also faults Smith for configuring Shelley within his own theistic confines, refusing to "allow that Shelley was what he steadily proclaimed himself, an atheist." Rossetti closes with a contradiction of Smith's conception of Shelley's view of humanity, mentioning along the way what he notes as Smith's failure "as a writer of good English."




Shelley biography, Smith

Standards of Judgment:

Facts, history

Rhetoric and tone:



Smith, Shelley, Edward John Trelawny, Byron