Re-Visiting P.B. Shelley's Antithesism and Creed from a Middle Eastern Perspective

Ignored Aspects of Shelley's Religionary Professions

Scientific Essay, 2018

27 Pages



Religiosity has probably a definite place in Shelley’s works. He has dealt with various creeds, doctrines and religions. His poems and essays have been partly allocated to directly or indirectly reform religious institutions, re-correct their personal-biased representatives and re-adopt himself to a desired creed. Seemingly he has been occupied in being accused of atheism to the level he called himself an atheist which may mean an antitheist- a contemplator, what others have decided for him, an atheist of a religion that its tops incite committing heinous acts against humanity in the name of God or an allusion in which he means to say if you religiosnism is like what you cruelly act and decadently behave, I consider myself an atheist of that religiosity. He appears to have found his antique clock which he had been seeking for so long in a certain monotheistic belief. The researcher focuses in this study on an overlooked creed in previous studies while other beliefs and creeds may be peeked out. It sheds light through descriptive and analytical approach together with reader’s-oriented response on major characteristics in Shelley’s life, letters and poems together with exposing some different critics’ and researchers’ views.


Perhaps P.B.Shelley has probably heard from the horse’s mouth or read up on different religions, sects, doctrines and creeds. He exposes sound perceptions and profound thoughts of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and idolatry. Besides, deism, panpsychism, pantheisticism, Manichaeism, Platonism,…, etc. His arguments and writings on religions or beliefs have not only perplexed critics but also let them doubt his religiousness. It has led some people to look at him as an atheist. This nickname which has usually been endorsed upon great poets throughout ages and geographies looks to have been attached to Shelley by some envious or mercenaries; “the rancorous abuse heaped on Shelley by the mercenary literature of the day”.[1] In his poem Zeinab and Kathema, Shelley portrays Christian colonial cruelty “After slaughtering Zeinab’s Muslim family, the ‘Christian murderers’ carry her off to England”.[2] She is followed by “her Hindu lover- Kathema to England where he found her being raped, killed and crucified”.[3] The poet has written an essay under the title of A Refutation of the Christian Religion. He also appears to have detested achieving self-interest or praising tyranny in the name of religion. Shelley may have projected himself either an atheist of a religion that its heads are not only biased to tyranny but also incited tyrants to commit heinous acts against humanity in the name of God or an antitheist- a contemplator. The former can be evidenced in his perception on portraying a priest’s reaction on a murdering act as in “Upon approaching Naples, Shelley felt horror when he saw a man murdering a young with a knife made the fearful priest laugh. Angry at the priest, Shelley ‘never felt such an inclination to beat any one’”.[4] Shelley verses that “Fear not the tyrants shall rule for ever / Or the priests of the bloody faith”.[5] The latter perception- a contemplator- may be hinted on by Richard Stoddard when he narrates that “The delusions of Christianity are fatal to genius and originality: they limit thought”.[6] He seems to accept no limitations on his powerful thought or being deprived of contemplating aptitude. Shelley who looks to decline any shackles on minds, psyches or bodies (see “P.B. Shelley: A humanist par excellence” by Husni Mansoor)[7] has possibly recognized a contradiction between people’s pretended religiosity and presenting cruel behavior. Without swimming deep into scholars’ various definitions on religion or origins of such word, the researcher uses this term to refer to a set of beliefs in a divine power celestially revealed with system of principles that fruiticize human behavior. This perception together with profound contemplation and omnivorous reading seem to be elicited from the poet’s writings and its reflections on his behavior. It is worth mentioning that depriving or confirming a person’s religiousness is not a piece of cake since it requires painstaking efforts to accumulate, elicit and beef up relevant evidences which may reach a level of a restart proof.

No doubt the word atheist has its varied justifications and multiple meanings. Richard Henry Stoddard (1877) points out “it is evident that the word Atheist was used by the learned at Eton, not in a modern, but in an ancient and classical sense, meaning an Antitheist, rather than an Atheist; for an opposer and contemner of the gods, not one who denies their existence”.[8] The poet had never rejected the existence of God. This can be evidenced in Robert Southey who convinced that Shelley was a deist rather than an atheist (L i.215).[9] Consequently a person who does not deny the existence of God cannot be called an atheist. The atheistic description has supposedly been attributed to Shelley after publishing the essay The Necessity of Atheism. It is the essay that he expelled from Oxford University after being privately published. They neither give a chance to defend himself nor go deeper in comprehending the content of the essay in which Shelley looks to say that an oppressive and hypocritical behavior of fanatic Christians seem to push people against the wall to atheism (using modern sense of the word atheism) or it may possibly mean the necessity of contemplation through using the word ‘atheism’ in its ‘classical sense’ but unfortunately the title of the essay appears to be taken literally without going further in reading the text. Therefore he was not only being described as an atheist but also being deprived of adopting his children after the death of his first wife because of the same assumed allegation. Similarly John Gibson Lockhart castigates Shelley’s moral and religious views, but praises the poetry, in his Blackwood’s review of 1820 (September 1820, RRC 138–46)”.[10] Ostensibly Shelley has absorbed in this accusation to the level that he called himself an atheist who may possibly mean what others have decided for him or antitheist- a contemplator. He ones had written in a “guestbook of a Swiss Hotel’ next to his name ‘in Greek, ‘Democrat, Philanthropist, and Atheist’”.[11] To Susanne Schmid “Shelley’s joke is turned into a slogan”.[12] It can be supposed that Shelley had intended it as a joke or nock to what he perceives as a hypocritical behavior of the elite that is why he has used Greek language which is different from that of common people. Byron after seeing this, he said to his companions “Do you not think I shall do Shelley a service by scratching this out?”.[13] The Researcher interprets this act by Shelley as an indication in which he means to say if you religion is like what you cruelly act and decadently behave I consider myself an atheist. The poet appears to have perceived a schizophrenic behavior between elite’s debauchery demeanor and malicious deeds against humanistic and merciful instructions of the religion. He looks to perceive religions as a dynamo to push people to goodness and purity. This can be evidenced in his essay An address to Te Irish People in which he believes that “(‘all religions are good which make men good”.[14] Unfortunately he has wrongly been identified. For instance, “in the summer of 1822, the Courier, a leading Tory newspaper in London, carried a brief obituary that began: ‘Shelley, the writer of some infidel poetry, has been drowned: now he knows whether there is a God or no’”.[15] On the face of it, Byron in a letter to Moore, on the 2nd of August, 1822, says, “There is another man gone, about whom the world was ill-naturedly, and ignorantly, and brutally mistaken”.[16] Likewise John Gibson Lockhart views that “There are many wicked and foolish things in Mr Shelley’s creed ... But we do not think that he believes his own creed’ (RRC 123, 124)”.[17] It looks to induce perceiving the strong-minded and par excellent humanist-Shelley between the lines of his works. This can be affirmed by Richard Henry Stoddard (1877) who mentions that “There never has been nor can be any true likeness of him. Desdemona says, ‘I saw Othello's visage in his mind,’ and Shelley's ‘visage’ as well as his mind are to be seen in his works”.[18] The poet appears not only veers away of proclaimed-piousness but also apparently conveys a reverse response as a reaction to what he sees. In a letter to Murray of an earlier date, Byron reiterates, “You are all mistaken about Shelley; you do not know how mild, how tolerant, how good he was”.[19] In addition to that Martin Garret (2013) exposes various perceptions on the poet such as Monika Lee’s view “Shelley reconfirms atheism as a necessary means of opening to human progress and to a scientifically viable sort of spiritual awareness”.[20] Moreover, Maria Crisafulli “attempts to refute the charge of [Shelley’s] atheism”.[21] In the same way John Taaffe “praised Shelley as a poet and a man misunderstood by the world and – he was himself a Roman Catholic – denied that Shelley was truly an atheist (MWSJ ii.592, Appendix II)”.[22] Shelley’s supposed fault, according to opponents’ criteria, may be found in his inquiring and contemplating mentality. Byron alludes at this when he says: “they hooted him out of his country like a mad-dog, for questioning a dogma. Man is the same rancorous beast now that he was from the beginning, and if the Christ they profess to worship reappeared, they would again crucify him”.[23] The researcher quotes also Martin Garrett who has focused on some dispute; whether Shelley should be seen, in modern terms, as more atheist or agnostic. He concludes that “Indeed Shelley has often been seen as, in some senses, a religious poet”.[24] It is noteworthy that Shelley in a secret letter in 1811 to Elizabeth Hitchener- his close-friend and relative whom he used to write her secret and frank letters- penned down that “I have lately had some conversation with Southey which has elicited my true opinions of God— he says I ought not to call myself an Atheist, since in reality I believe that the Universe is God”.[25] The poet looks to be happier to find someone could witness his religiousness and refute allegedly atheism that is why he had written to Hitchener of such delightful news. He also verses that “In torment and in fire have Atheists gone”.[26] The poet appears not only as refuter of atheism (in its modern perception) but also realizes how it leads to God’s Fire. He also appears as a believer in the ultimate power of God over all; “O God Almighty! thou alone hast power”.[27] Unfortunately these two lines have been deleted of the poem. It looks that Shelley has possibly never been a real atheist but an theist and accusing him of atheism has its own justifications. Taaffe “praised Shelley as a poet and a man misunderstood by the world …(MWSJ ii.592, Appendix II)”.[28] The poet himself once has written that “I have found my language misunderstood like one in a distant and savage land' (Shelley, 1977, p. 473)”.[29] This misunderstood poet who verses that “ I love beyond the tomb”[30] appears to expose some religious identical perceptions and shed light on the matter of depriving a person of his/her right in questioning, inquiring or adopting another creed. He looks also to exhibit his religionary profession and contemplative nature through an opposite response as an external reaction against some fanatic, inhuman and debauchery behavior of religionists.


[1] Richard Stoddard, ed, Anecdote Biographies of Percy Bysshe Shelley ( New York: Thackeray and Dickens Scribner, Armstrong 1877), 236.

[2] DONALD REIMAN and BIERI JAMES, “SHELLEY AND THE BRITISH ISLES,” in The Oxford Handbook of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Ed. Michael O’Neill et al (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013),19.

[3] Reiman and James 19.

[4] Michael O'Neill, "Percy Bysshe Shelley, a biography: Exile of unfulfilled renown, 1816-1822." (2006), 228-231.

[5] (Lines 894-5), In Rosalind and Helen. Thomas Hutchinson, ed., The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley (Oxford University Press, 1907), 81.

[6] Richard Stoddard,ed., Anecdote Biographies of Percy Bysshe Shelley (New York: Thackeray and Dickens. Scribner, Armstrong, 1877), 228.

[7] Husni Mansoor, “P.B. Shelley: A humanist par excellence” International Journal of Applied Research; 3:11(2017), 357-360.

[8] Stoddard, 143

[9] Martin Garrett, The Palgrave Literary Dictionary of Shelley (London: PALGRAVE MACMILLAN, 2013),251.

[10] Martin Garrett, The Palgrave Literary Dictionary of Shelley. London: PALGRAVE MACMILLAN, 2013), 135.

[11] Gavin, Hopps, “RELIGION AND ETHICS The Necessity of Atheism, A Refutation of Deism, On Christianity” in The Oxford Handbook of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. Michael O’Neill et al (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 117.

[12] Susanne Schmid, Shelley's German Afterlives: 1814-2000 (New York: Springer, 2007).48.

[13] Gavin, Hopps, “RELIGION AND ETHICS The Necessity of Atheism, A Refutation of Deism, On Christianity” in The Oxford Handbook of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. Michael O’Neill et al (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013),117.

[14] Hopps, 128

[15] Richard Holmes, “Death and destiny” in The guadrdian, Jananuary 24, 2004. .

[16] Edward Trelawny, Recollections of the last days of Shelley and Byron (New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1859), 45.

[17] Garrett, 135.

[18] Stoddard, 236

[19] Trelawany, 45.

[20] Garret,10

[21] Ibid., 110.

[22] Ibid., 259.

[23] Stoddard, 229

[24] Ibid., 15.

[25] Hopps, 127

[26] “The Revolt of Islam” (Kindle Edition),5240.

[27] (Line 1028), Thomas Hutchinson, ed., The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley (Oxford University Press, 1907), 459.

[28] Garret, 259

[29] G.Kim Blank, ed., The New Shelley: Later Twentieth-Century Views (New York: Springer, 1991), 12.

[30] (Line 23), in The Complete Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley ed. Thomas Hutchinson (Oxford University Press, 1907), 433.

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Re-Visiting P.B. Shelley's Antithesism and Creed from a Middle Eastern Perspective
Ignored Aspects of Shelley's Religionary Professions
Dr. Rafiq Zakaria Campus; Ph.D
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re-visiting, shelley, antithesism, creed, middle, eastern, perspective, ignored, aspects, religionary, professions
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Husni Mansoor Nasser Saleh (Author), 2018, Re-Visiting P.B. Shelley's Antithesism and Creed from a Middle Eastern Perspective, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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