Two Defence[s] of Poetry: Shelley and the Newgate Magazine

  • Stephanie Kuduk Weiner
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture book series (PNWC)


Raymond Williams has noted that Percy Shelley’s Defence of Poetry, like other Romantic theories of poetry, is ‘evidently compensatory,’ for ‘the height of the artists’ claim is also the height of their despair.’1 Williams traces this compensatory claim to the belief on the part of Romantic poets that the values they heralded as central to art and, often, to a just society, were precisely the opposite of ‘the principles on which the new society was being organized.’2 Yet Shelley’s position within this cultural landscape was further fraught, because the most vocal advocates of the new society were not enemies but allies: philosophical radicals such as Jeremy Bentham, infidel republicans such as Richard Carlile, and liberal anti-monarchists such as Thomas Love Peacock and William Hazlitt. What’s more, all of these thinkers were—or, significantly, had become in the 1820s—contemptuous critics of poetry. Peacock’s attitude toward poetry is perhaps more wry than contemptuous: critics have long described his The Four Ages of Poetry (1820) as half-serious, and his correspondence with Shelley suggests that his animosity toward poetry was intensified by his annoyance with Barry Cornwall and other authors of ‘drivelling doggrel’ and ‘mawkish sentiment with an absolute negation of reason and knowledge.’3 Yet scholars such as Marilyn Butler have also argued that The Four Ages ‘puts the genuine utilitarian case—though it is in a deliberately provocative and extreme form.’4


Figurative Language Republican Politics Late Lyric Poetic Language English Poetry 
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  1. 1.
    Williams, Culture and Society 1780–1950 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983), p. 40.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Peacock to Shelley, 4 Dec. 1820, in Percy Bysshe Shelley, Letters, 2 vols, ed. Frederick L. Jones (Oxford: Clarendon, 1964), II: 245–46Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Marilyn Butler, Peacock Displayed: A Satirist in His Context (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979), p. 290.Google Scholar
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    Jeremy Bentham, The Rationale of Reward (London: John and H. L. Hunt, 1825), p. 205.Google Scholar
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  13. 21.
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    Such claims for the superior didactic power of poetry abound in the Newgate Magazine. See John Hooper, ‘Defence of Byron,’ Newgate Monthly Magazine vol. 2 (Sept. 1825): 30–34Google Scholar
  32. 74.
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    Webb, Violetin the Crucible, p. 114. See also Earl R. Wasserman, Shelley: A Critical Reading (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1971).Google Scholar
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© Stephanie Kuduk Weiner 2005

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  • Stephanie Kuduk Weiner

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