‘I did not insert it,’ Leigh Hunt writes in his valuable and interesting preface to this poem, when he printed it in 1832, ’because I thought that the public at large had not become sufficiently discerning to do justice to the sincerity and kind-heartedness of the spirit that walked in this flaming robe of verse.’ Days of outrage have passed away, and with them the exasperation that would cause such an appeal to the many to be injurious. Without being aware of them, they at one time acted on his suggestions, and gained the day. But they rose when human life was respected by the Minister in power; such was not the case during the Administration which excited Shelley’s abhorrence.
The poem was written for the people, and is therefore in a more popular tone than usual: portions strike as abrupt and unpolished, but many stanzas are all his own. I heard him repeat, and admired, those beginning
‘My Father Time is old and gray,’
before I knew to what poem they were to belong. But the most touching passage is that which describes the blessed effects of liberty; it might make a patriot of any man whose heart was not wholly closed against his humbler fellow-creatures.
BY MICHING MALLECHO, ESQ.
Is it a party in a parlour,
Crammed just as they on earth were crammed,
Some sipping punch—some sipping tea;
But, as you by their faces see,
All silent, and all—damned!
“Peter Bell”, by W. WORDSWORTH.
OPHELIA.—What means this, my lord?
HAMLET.—Marry, this is Miching Mallecho; it means mischief.
[Composed at Florence, October, 1819, and forwarded to Hunt (November 2) to be published by C. & J. Ollier without the author’s name; ultimately printed by Mrs. Shelley in the second edition of the “Poetical Works”, 1839. A skit by John Hamilton Reynolds, “Peter Bell, a Lyrical Ballad”, had already appeared (April, 1819), a few days before the publication of Wordsworth’s “Peter Bell, a Tale”. These productions were reviewed in Leigh Hunt’s “Examiner” (April 26, May 3, 1819); and to the entertainment derived from his perusal of Hunt’s criticisms the composition of Shelley’s “Peter Bell the Third” is chiefly owing.]
TO THOMAS BROWN, ESQ., THE YOUNGER, H.F.
Allow me to request you to introduce Mr. Peter Bell to the respectable family of the Fudges. Although he may fall short of those very considerable personages in the more active properties which characterize the Rat and the Apostate, I suspect that even you, their historian, will confess that he surpasses them in the more peculiarly legitimate qualification of intolerable dulness.
You know Mr. Examiner Hunt; well—it was he who presented me to two of the Mr. Bells. My intimacy with the younger Mr. Bell naturally sprung from this introduction to his brothers. And in presenting him to you, I have the satisfaction of being able to assure you that he is considerably the dullest of the three.