English Essays: Sidney to Macaulay.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Introductory Note

Percy Bysshe Shelley

A SHORT sketch of the life of Percy Bysshe Shelley will be found prefixed in his drama of the “Cenci” in the volume of modern English Drama in the Harvard Classics.

The “Defence of Poetry” is by far the most important of Shelley’s prose writings, and is of great value in supplementing and correcting the picture of his mind which is given by his lyrical poetry; for we can perceive from this brilliant piece of philosophical discussion that Shelley had intellect as well as imagination.

The immediate occasion of the essay was the publication of Thomas Love Peacock’s “Four Ages of Poetry,” to which Shelley’s work was originally a reply. In this, as in other notable respects, the treatise is parallel with Sidney’s. In its present form Shelley has eliminated much of the controversial matter; and it stands as one of the most eloquent and inspiring assertions of the “ideal nature and essential value of poetry.”