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Donald Reiman, the general editor of the Bodleian Shelley manuscripts series, begins his celebratory Foreword to this edition by quoting 'the adage that the best shall be saved till last' (p. vii). While it would be invidious to compare previous volumes unfavourably with this - it is hard, after all, to imagine more meticulous editions than those produced by, among others, Neil Fraistat, P. M. S. Dawson, Carlene Adamson, and Reiman himself - it is certainly true that the present edition is remarkably fine. Both editors are no strangers to the rigours imposed by the series, with its requirement that editors produce bibliographical descriptions, transcriptions of manuscript material that is often extremely difficult to decipher, and commentary on the state of the manuscript, the manuscript's relation to other manuscripts and subsequent printed editions. Nora Crook is already the editor of another notebook in the series (volume XII; adds. e. 17), while Timothy Webb has co-edited (with P. M. S. Dawson) volume XIV (adds. e. 9). Both these editions are edited with great scholarly acumen.
All the volumes in the series tax and enthral their editors in different ways. This edition of a late notebook - used by Shelley in the spring of 1821 and then in the first quarter of 1822 - requires, above all, an ability to decipher some very rough drafts, including Shelley's versions of passages from Goethe's Faust and Calderón's Magico Prodigioso. As the editors point out in their lively and immensely informative Introduction to the edition, Shelley produced a literal version of the first twelve hundred or so lines of Goethe's work (the present adds. c. 4, ff. 142r-172r). The versions in adds. e. 18 - mainly the draft of the Walpurgisnacht or 'May-Day Night' and the 'Prologue in Heaven' - are, in the editors' judgement, 'incomparably finer and more ambitious' (p. lviii) than this literal crib. Composed between 12 January 1822 and 10 April 1822, these translations from Goethe caused Shelley problems: the opening chorus, whose rendering shows Shelley's powers at their height, required a lot of drafting and redrafting, a process traced tenaciously by the editors (see pp. lxi-lxii); and the explicit or implicit sexual suggestiveness of 'May-Day Night' prompted in Shelley an 'unease' (p. lxii) which is accounted for sympathetically. Passages from the 'May-Day Night' must have impressed Shelley deeply, especially the hauntingly Gretchen-like, life-like yet lifeless apparition who 'looks to every one like his first love' (see pp. 214-15); and it's possible to see the translation as contributing, albeit obliquely, to the nexus of thought and feeling out of which The Triumph of Life would emerge later in the year. As the editors observe, Goethe's work set going in Shelley 'an excited, self-consciously dangerous internalization' (p. xxxvii). The editors supply a valuable table of collations between adds. e. 18 and the fair copy in adds. c. 4.
When Trelawny first met Shelley in Pisa on 14 January 1822 the latter was holding a book which was, he told Trelawny, 'Calderón's Magico Prodigioso, I am translating some passages in it'. Crook and Webb lay out crisply the history of the text and its attendant problems: the translations were drafted in adds. e. 18 and in Huntington Manuscript 2111 (edited by Mary A. Quinn in volume 7 of the Manuscripts of the Younger Romantics: Shelley), while Mary Shelley made a fair copy of the first scene (now in Iowa). There are problems with the precise accuracy of Trelawny's account, but it's clear that Shelley was deeply engaged with Calderón in the first quarter of 1822, and that Shelley's drafts were emended by Mary Shelley in the process of preparing a text for Posthumous Poems (1824) (see pp. xxxix-xl). The two scenes translated in adds. e. 18 display common concerns, in the view of the editors: 'In each case sexual desire is the issue; in each, the mind in a state of tumultuous passion is represented in terms of (sharply contrasted) natural phenomena' (p. xxxviii).
These translations are by no means the only items of interest in this notebook. It includes as well the famous motto on the front pastedown: 'the spring rebels not against winter but it succeeds it - the dawn rebels not against night but it disperses it'. The jotting may, the editors speculate, 'belong to a stage when Shelley was setting down thoughts about Job which later found a place, reworked, in "Charles the First"' (p. xxxiii). In addition, there are drafts of 'Ginevra', continuing the rough drafts in adds. e. 8 (ed. Carlene A. Adamson, volume VI of the Bodleian Shelley Manuscripts) and showing the influence of Keats's 1820 volume; a fair draft of 'O World! O Life! O Time'; a fair draft of 'From the Arabic: An Imitation'; drafts of 'When the Lamp is Shattered' (which receives a particularly searching bibliographical discussion); 'Fragments of an Unfinished Drama' (influenced, the editors suggest, by Thomas Moore's Lalla Rookh, as well as by The Tempest and Comus); a draft of lines 1-12 of 'With a Guitar, to Jane' (later fair copied beautifully in adds. e. 3); a number of short fragments and jottings; some quotations and reading notes from the Book of Job and Plato; single words and memoranda; and sketches and doodles (of, among other things, and mostly pretty crude in technique, boats, animals and profiles). There is, too, a transcription and illuminating bibliographical account of one of the most intriguing contents of the notebook, a version of Segismundo's soliloquy from Calderón's La vida es sueno, 'It is a singular world ...', a fair copy in the hand of Medwin or Edward Williams: the editors, commenting on the words - 'dreams / Themselves are but the dreams of other dreams' - discover in them 'a kind of conceptual complexity which certainly accords with Shelley's own poetic imaginaire, and his predilection for the figuring of the recessive'; the 'internal evidence' indicates that 'Shelley's intellectual fingerprints are present' (p. lxvii) and could be interpreted as showing that Shelley may have been dictating.
The notes and interpretations are properly cautious and hypothetical when they should be; they are always fully in command of facts and tenaciously aware of possibilities. The editors write clearly and often with verve and stylishness. The transcriptions are marvels of accuracy. This is an outstanding scholarly achievement, one that fully warrants the General Editor's admiration.