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John Mullan, Gen. Ed., Lives of the Great Romantics: Shelley, Byron and Wordsworth by their Contemporaries. 3 Volume Set. London: Pickering & Chatto (Publishers) Limited, 1996. ISBN: 1-85196-270-0 (hardback). Price: £175 ($265)[Record]

  • Michael Laplace-Sinatra

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  • Michael Laplace-Sinatra
    St. Catherine's College, Oxford

Every Romanticist is heavily indebted to Pickering & Chatto for their publication of a series of valuable sets of Romantic texts. From the Works of Mary Wollstonecraft (published in 1989), to the Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley (published in May 1996), and continuing with forthcoming editions of Hazlitt's and De Quincey's Selected Works, Pickering & Chatto continues to foster the study of Romantic writers with excellent scholarly editions. Under the general editorship of John Mullan, Pickering & Chatto offers us a new collection in their series of Romantic studies publications: Lives of the Great Romantic Poets . This three-volume set contains facsimile reproductions of biographical accounts of three major poets of the Romantic period: Shelley, Byron and Wordsworth. Each volume contains a clearly-written introduction which presents an overall picture of the poet's career and popularity during his lifetime. Though unfortunately limited by space considerations, the editors have succeeded in compiling intelligent accounts of the poets. A selected, and rather brief, bibliography of useful secondary works and a brief chronology are also to be found. Each extract of biographical writing is preceded by a short editor's introduction containing details about the author, the work from which the extract is taken, and the relationship between the author and the poet referred to. These introductions are straightforward, with enough details to improve the reading of the extracts without overwhelming the reader with too many facts. I have to stress the fact that this edition is a facsimile reproduction of extracts from Romantic texts and not a scholarly edition of these texts. Thus, although one finds a few notes, one should be aware that the interest of these volumes lies mainly in the texts they make newly available to the public. In this, this edition echoes the RevolutionandRomanticism series of facsimile of Romantic texts chosen by Jonathan Wordsworth and published by Woodstock Books. The first volume is devoted to Shelley and edited by John Mullan. Mullan's introduction presents an accurate description of the difficult question of the reception of Shelley during the nineteenth century, and then during the twentieth century. Mullan rightly points out how tempting it is to equate Shelley's poetry with his own life, and how, to a certain extent, Shelley himself invited his readers to do so. This is obviously a question that Shelleyan scholars have dealt with for over a century. But, since these volumes are clearly aimed at a non-specialist audience, some basic information must be provided. The selection of extracts is good, with both a variety of perspectives (from Mary's very personal preface to PosthumousPoems to John Dix's 'recollection' of Shelley) and sufficient length for the reader to get a good idea of the biographer's relationship to Shelley. I was pleasantly surprised to find an extract from Polidori's Diary (all the other extracts are from published books) but it is a welcome addition as Polidori was a first-hand witness at a key stage of Shelley's life. Similarly, Mullan includes Thornton Hunt's article 'Shelley. By One Who Knew Him'—an important article on the relationship between Leigh Hunt and Shelley rarely found in print. Chris Hart is the editor of the second volume, which focuses on Byron. In his introduction, Hart insists on the importance of Byron's image, both for Byron himself as well as for his contemporaries. The point is well-made by Hart, who re-contextualises Byron's place in Regent society, and presents the reader with a clear overview of the intricate question of Byron's fame during his lifetime and after his death. This volume has the smallest number of extracts from books devoted …