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Chapter 3: a Shelley manuscript

Were I to hear to-morrow that the main library of Harvard University, with every one of its 334,000 volumes, had been reduced to ashes, there is in my mind no question what book I should most regret. It is that unique, battered, dingy little quarto volume of Shelley's manuscript poems in his own handwriting and that of his wife first given by Miss Jane Clairmont (Shelley's “Constantia” ) to Mr. Edward A. Silsbee, and then presented by him to the library. Not only is it full of that aroma of fascination which belongs to the actual handiwork of a master, but its numerous corrections and interlineations make the reader feel that he is actually travelling in the pathway of that delicate mind. Mr. George E. Woodberry had the use of it; he printed in the Harvard University Calendar a facsimile of the “Ode to a Skylark” as given in [23] the manuscript, and has cited many of its various readings in his edition of Shelley's poems. But he has passed by a good many others; and some of these need, I think, for the sake of all students of Shelley, to be put in print, so that in case of the loss or destruction of the precious volume, these fragments at least may be preserved.

There occur in this manuscript the following variations from Prof. Woodberry's text of “The Sensitive Plant” --variations not mentioned by him, for some reason or other, in his footnotes or supplemental notes, and yet not cancelled by Shelley:

Three days the flowers of the garden fair
Like stars when the moon is awakened, were. 1

III., I-2.

And under the roots of the Sensitive Plant. 2

III., 100.

But the mandrakes and toadstools and docks and darnels
Rose like the dead from their ruined charnels. 3

III., 112.

These three variations, all of which are interesting, [24] are the only ones I have noted as uncancelled in this particular poem, beyond those recorded by Prof. Woodberry. But there are many cases where the manuscript shows, in Shelley's own handwriting, variations subsequently cancelled by him; and these deserve study by all students of the poetic art. His ear was so exquisite and his sense of the balance of a phrase so remarkable, that it is always interesting to see the path by which he came to the final utterance, whatever that was. I have therefore copied a number of these modified lines, giving first Prof. Woodberry's text and then the original form of language, as it appears in Shelley's handwriting, italicizing the words which vary, and giving the pages of Prof. Woodberry's edition. The cancellation or change is sometimes made in pen, sometimes in pencil; and it is possible that, in a few cases, it may have been made by Mrs. Shelley.

Gazed through clear dew on the tender sky.
Gazed through its tears on the tender sky.

I., 36.

The beams which dart from many a star
Of the flowers whose hues they bear afar.
The beams which dart from many a sphere
Of the starry flowers whose hues they bear.

I., 81-82.


The unseen clouds of the dew, which lie
Like fire in the flowers till the sun rides high,
Then wander like spirits among the spheres
Each cloud faint with the fragrance it bears.

The unseen clouds of the dew, which lay
Like fire in the flowers till dawning day,
Then walk like spirits among the spheres
Each one faint with the odor it bears.

I., 86-89.

Like windless clouds o'er a tender sky.
Like windless clouds in a tender sky.

I., 98.

Whose waves never mark, though they never impress.
Whose waves never wrinkle, though they impress.

I., i06.

Was as God is to the starry scheme.
Was as is God to the starry scheme.

II., 4.

As if some bright spirit for her sweet sake
Had deserted heaven while the stars were awake.
As some bright spirit for her sweet sake
Had deserted the heaven while the stars were awake.

II., 17-18.

The freshest her gentle hands could pull.
The freshest her gentle hands could cull.

II., 46.

The sweet lips of the flowers and harm not, did-she.
The sweet lips of flowers, etc.

II., 51.


Edge of the odorous cedar bark.
Edge of the odorous cypress bark.

II., 56.

Sent through the pores of the coffin plank.
Ran through, etc.

III., 12.

Between the time of the wind and the snow.
Between the term, etc. [probably accidental].

III., 50.

Dammed it up with roots knotted like watersnakes.
Dammed it with, etc.

III., 69.

At noon they were seen, at noon they were felt.
At noon they were seen & noon they were felt.4

III., 73.

Their decay and sudden flight from frost.
Their decay and sudden flight from the frost.

III., 98.

To own that death itself must be.
To think that, etc.

III., 128.

These comparisons are here carried no farther than “The Sensitive Plant,” except that there is a cancelled verse of Shelley's “Curse” against Lord Eldon for depriving him of his children — a verse so touching that I think [27] it should be preserved. The verse beginning

By those unpractised accents of young speech

began originally as follows:

By that sweet voice which who could understand
To frame to sounds of love and love divine,
Not thou.

This was abandoned and the following substituted:
By those pure accents which at my command
Should have been framed to love and lore divine,
Now like a lute, fretted by some rude hand,
Uttering harsh discords, they must echo thine.

This also was erased, and the present form substituted, although I confess it seems to me both less vigorous and less tender. Prof. Woodberry mentions the change, but does not give the cancelled verse. In this and other cases I do not venture to blame him for the omission; since an editor must, after all, exercise his own judgment. Yet I cannot but wish that he had carried his citation, even of cancelled variations, a little further; and it is evident that some future student of poetic art will yet find rich gleanings in the Harvard Shelley manuscript.


1 [Moon is clearly morn in the Harvard Ms.

2 The prefatory And is not in the Harvard Ms.

3 For mandrakes there appears the word brambles in the Harvard Ms.

4 “&” perhaps written carelessly for “at.”

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