England in 1819

Original Text: 
Percy Bysshe Shelley, Poetical Works, ed. Mary Shelley (London: E. Moxon, 1839). PR 5402 1870 ROBA.
2Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
3Through public scorn--mud from a muddy spring,
5But leech-like to their fainting country cling,
6Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow,
7A people starv'd and stabb'd in the untill'd field,
8An army, which liberticide and prey
9Makes as a two-edg'd sword to all who wield,
10Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay,
12A Senate--Time's worst statute unrepeal'd,
13Are graves, from which a glorious Phantom may
14Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day.


1] Shelley sent this sonnet to Leigh Hunt, the editor of The Examiner, on November 23, 1819, saying, "I don't expect you to publish it but you may show it to whom you wish." It was not published until Mrs. Shelley's collected editions of 1839.
1-2.:Dying king: George III, eighty-one in 1819 and dead the following year. His madness was permanent after November 1810, and necessitated the Regency Act of February 1811, by which his eldest son (described by a recent historian as "an aesthete decayed into grossness by habitual self-indulgence" and by Leigh Hunt as "a corpulent Adonis of fifty") became Prince Regent. Back to Line
4] In addition to expressing Shelley's usual contempt for Regency, Church, and State, these lines make more specific complaints against current agricultural policy (7), against the misuse of the army against the people (8-9), as in the Peterloo Massacre of August 19, 1819, and probably against the use of government spies and agents provocateurs (10), like the notorious Oliver. Back to Line
11] The sealed book and the revolutionary conclusion make passing reference to Revelation 5 and its sequel. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
M. T. Wilson
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.576.