Date 1878-02-01
Publication University
Topic WMR Shelley lecture, part 1
AP display
RA display
Subject literature
Keywords Shelley's history
  ↳ events
  ↳ work
Standards historical & critical accuracy
Notes Shelley: 2 part series, for uninformed, Rossetti Reminiscences 2:482

Annotation details

78 February University Magazine




Rossetti, William M. "Shelley's Life and Writings." University Magazine (February 1878.): 138. Web. 21 Sept. 2011.


This is part one of a two part essay series delivered at Birmingham and at Newcastle-on-Tyne, to "audiences not expected to be particularly conversant beforehand with Shelleyan subject-matter."

Rossetti describes this lecture series as his first real attempt at a public lecture, one which he was concerned about, wondering if his voice and his resolve would be adequate to the task:

"I had more than once been asked to [lecture] in earlier years; but had always declined, chiefly because I felt quite uncertain whether I possessed two of the most requisite qualifications-voice and self confidence. I decided to accept, and see whether I could do the thing or not" (Reminiscences 2:482).

The lectures were edited by his "valued acquaintance" Keningale Cook, and for Rossetti they proved without a doubt that he could lecture in front of an audience without fear of losing either his voice or his nerve (Reminiscences 2:483).

Part one situates Rossetti personally as an admirer of Shelley. He proposes to first discuss Shelley and his life, and then in the second lecture, concentrate on Shelley's work. The first lecture traces Shelley in a historical narrative of his early life, including family relations that Rossetti feels were formative in Shelley's developing sense of political awareness as well as in the formation of Shelley's confrontational, contentious approach to social and political issues.

As the historical narrative approaches Shelley's adult years, Rossetti offers firsthand references such as letters, documents and personal interviews to substantiate and reinforce his depiction of Shelley. A poignant example is his description of Shelley's engagement and marriage to Harriet Westbrook, substantiated with personal interviews and letters that confirm Rossetti's conception of the poet's manner of thinking and acting on ethical and moral imperatives. This example tempers the later account of the breakup of that marriage and the onset of Shelley's subsequent relationships.

Subsequent interviews and firsthand accounts include Lord Byron, plus some of Shelley's associates during the latter years of his life, particularly the account of Shelley's final day explained by Captain Edward John Trelawny. Rossetti gives a final account of Shelley's death, supported by a deathbed confession only recently uncovered, plus Rossetti debunks a commonly told story regarding events at and after Shelley's cremation.

Shelley's poetic works are mentioned only in the historical context of their occurrence but without critical comment, which Rossetti promises to produce in the second lecture.


historical; informative, correcting inaccurate accounts, offering historical context and firsthand reports, new historical data


". . . above the level of mere scrutiny;""biography", Shelley's "genius;" "literary exposition and analysis", chronology, events, facts

Standards of Judgment:

historical fact, driving motivation and situations, background, historical context, overall effect, intellectual achievement


Thomas Jefferson Hogg, Dr. Griffith, Oxford University Master, Miss Grove (Shelley's cousin), Harriet Westbrook, Miss Hitchener, Mrs. Fenning, Daniel Hill, Robert Southey, Thomas Love Peacock, Mary Wollstoncraft, Hellen Shelley, Mr. Westbrook, Lord Eldon, Captain Roberts



Writing technique/tone:

definitive, evaluative; factual, expressive, descriptive, deliberate, deferential, laudatory


". . . that mob of country gentlemen who lord it over in their own demesnes, rule their families by force of habit and stolidity, vote in Parliament with their party, and sleep the long sleep in the family vault;" "He was a believer in the perfectibility of human nature . . ." "He had a most brilliant imagination, but a total want of worldly wisdom;" "As to real flesh and blood, you know that I do not deal in those articles: you might as well go to a gin-shop for a leg of mutton as expect anything human or earthly from me;" "Trelawny snatched [Shelley's heart] from the furnace, burning his hand severely."

Works Cited

Rossetti, William Michael. Some Reminiscences of William Michael Rossetti.. Vol. 2. New York: Charles Scribner, 1906. Print.