Date 1878-03-01
Publication University
Topic WMR Shelley lecture, part 2
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Subject literature
Keywords biography
  ↳ history
  ↳ Shelley
  ↳ education
Standards facts
  ↳ history
Notes Rossetti Reminiscences 2:482

Annotation details

78 March University Magazine


Shelley lecture.


Rossetti, William M. "Shelley's Life and Writings." University Magazine (February 1878.): 262. Web. 21 Sept. 2011.


The second of two lectures on Shelley, this one focuses mostly on Shelley's poetics with historical commentary only as required to clarify events or circumstances surrounding specific works.

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).

The lecture series proposes to "assist us to form a right judgment of him, his relation to his own future generations, of his claim to our tribute of love and admiration," and to explain the ideas on which the poetry is based. Midway through the lecture, Rossetti summarizes his purpose this way:

I will sum up what I can express about Shelley's writings by saying that he imported into poetry, to an unexampled degree, modern ideas-or perhaps we should rather call them the ideas of the future-uniting them with a marvelous potency to the forms of beauty in great past literature and nature.

The essay as a whole follows a pattern of exposition supported by details (often historical documents, sometimes first-person narrative of conversations), then discussion of Shelley's process and motivations as they relate to various works during his writing years. There is an interesting segment of Rossetti's lecture explaining a paradigmatic connection between an Arab text ("Revolt of Islam") which may have contributed to Shelley's formative notions of pantheism and atheism, as well as some of his ideas about social, religious and political reform. There's also mention of what Rossetti terms "a new creation of poetry," and that is a new feminist character. Rossetti also compares Shelley with Bryon, W. Bell-Scott and Keats.

Rossetti notes what he considers Shelley's character defects, most of which he attributes to the author's young age. But even the proposed defects are ultimately to Shelley's credit in Rossetti's estimation, because they result in admirably motivated if less than effective outcomes.

In the latter portion of the lecture, Rossetti offers historical facts in the form of interviews, letters and documents that in part debunk accounts of Shelley's life, work and death proposed by other commentators, including Hogg. The lecture closes with a broad analysis of Shelley's aspirations, his accomplishments and speculation regarding his position among the major poets of British literature.

Standards of judgment: factual analysis, historical records, firsthand accounts.


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


exposition, analysis, context, accuracy, historical events and documents, "damnatory eloquence", "bugbears of the juvenile enthusiast", "lyrical intensity at its acme"


Miss Mathilde Blind, Thomas Jefferson Hogg, Captain Trelawny, Mrs. Hogg, Lieutenant Williams, Miss Clairmont, Mary Shelley, Mary Godwin, Mr. Peacock, Leigh Hunt, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Scott, Byron, Keats, "Revolt of Islam"

Writing technique/tone:

definitive, evaluative, laudatory


". . . believing in the power of mind to rectify everything, if only the mind were set absolutely free, released from all coercive ideas in religion and social regulation;" ". . . the solitariness of a great mind becomes its own punishment;" ". . . renewed endeavor, protest, and persistency, against all the evil that is done under the sun, and more particularly against the tyranny of ideas;" ". . . his great dominant idea, the Perfectibility of Human Nature . . ." ". . . that love of the universal which he evermore longed to realize and concentre in some love of the individual;" ". . . changing the brightness and beauty of childhood and youth into the dimness and defacement of old age . . ."

Works Cited

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