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Shelley's Notebooks

The original manuscripts of some of Shelley’s greatest poems and prose works

‘The Poet & the man are two different natures’

Shelley to John and Maria Gisborne, 1821

Shelley’s correspondence, with all its emotional upheavals, is a record of his eventful and controversial life. His notebooks, by contrast, show him at work, and their richness and variety reveal both a wide-ranging intellect and exceptional literary gifts. They show him disciplining and shaping his thoughts to create highly crafted poetry and prose.

The notebooks were meant for no one but Shelley himself, and at first glance they appear chaotic. Ever since his death they have baffled and challenged editors of his work. Shelley seldom worked with only one notebook at a time. Instead he used two or more notebooks concurrently, and might put one aside for a time, only to return to it later. In addition, he often started from both ends of a notebook, working towards the middle. Snatches from several works are mixed together on the same page, while individual poems thread their way fitfully through one or more notebooks.

The various poems, prose pieces and fragments are anything from initial drafts to intermediate fair copies. Mixed up with literary composition are reading notes, memoranda, draft letters, accounts, and the numerous doodles – typically of trees or sailing boats – that Shelley habitually drew during intervals of thought.

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Bodleian Libraries

Broad Street