Here are extracts from reviews of "Alastor, or The Spirit of Solitude":

1) From Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, November, 1819:

Reiman tells us that this magazine "throve on yellow journalism", although the reviewer here, John Gibson Lockhart, defended and praised Shelley's work. Lockhart wrote that Shelley is "a man of genius...Mr. Shelley is a poet, almost in the very highest sense of that mysterious word." He repeats his assertion that Shelley is a genius numerous times in the review.

This review seems to be not so much an analysis as a step by step account of the work, quoting large passages of the poem in between brief comments on it.

Although Lockhart in general praises "Alastor", he writes, "A great genius like [Shelley] should adopt a species of poetry in which the difficulties of the art may be so conveniently blinked, and weakness find so easy a refuge in obscurity." It seems to me, however, somewhat strange [weak?] that the reviewer would praise Shelley's work as he does, without fully understanding the work himself.

Another point is that Lockwood here understands the main character/hero of the poem to be Alastor. This in contrast to the review of Evan Gibson (1947; see pp. 545-569 of the Norton Edition), who strongly asserts that Alastor is not the poet hero, but rather the spirit of solitude itself.

2)The British Critic, May, 1816:

This magazine harshly criticizes Shelley's work. The reviewer here sarcastically ridicules Shelley; he writes of "the madness of a poetic mind"." He continues: "In the course of our critical labours, we have often been condemned to pore over much profound and prosing stupidity; we are therefore not a little delighted with the nonsense which mounts, which rises, which spurns the earth, and all its dull realities; we love to fly with our author to a silent nook.

            'One silent nook
             Was there...
             Hither the poet came. His eyes beheld
             Their own wan light through the reflected lines
             Of his thin hair, distinct in the dark depths
             Of that still fountain.'
Vastly intelligible. Perhaps, if his poet had worn a wig, the case might have been clearer: for then it might have thrown some light on the passage from the ancient legend:
            'By the side of a soft flowing stream
             An elderly gentleman sat;
             On the top of his head was his wig,
             On the top of his wig was his hat.
But this aforesaid hair is endowed with strange qualities.
            'His scattered hair 
             Sered by the autumn of strange suffering,
             Sung dirges in the wind.'
This can only be interpreted by supposing, that the poet's hair was entwined in a fiddle stick....But, soft - a little philosophy, for our poet is indubitably a vast philosopher! [I know I quoted a lot from this review; but I thought that, apart from the scathing condescension of the reviewer, or perhaps because of it, this is a very funny and worthwhile review to read!]

3)Eclectic Review, October, 1816:

Here the reviewer, Josiah Condor, also criticizes Shelley's work, but at least admits that this is in part because he has little clue what Shelley is writing about! He writes:

" We fear that not even this commentary [i.e. Shelley's Preface], will enable ordinary readers to decipher the import of the greater part of Mr. Shelley's allegory. All is wild and specious, untangible and incoherent as a dream. We should be utterly at a loss to convey any distinct idea of the plan or purpose of the poem."

The reviewer, however, does write that there are some good aspects to Shelley's work: "It cannot be denied that very considerable talent for descriptive poetry is displayed in several parts."

He continues, nevertheless,: "The Author has genius which might be turned to much better account; but such heartless fiction as Alastor, fails in accomplishing the legitimate purposes of poetry."

4)The Monthly Review, April 1816:

Like the reviewer of The Eclectic Review, the reviewer of this magazine also candidly admits his confusion in understanding Shelley's meaning:

"We must candidly own that these poems are beyond our comprehension; and we did not obtain a clue to their sublime obscurity, till an address to Mr. Wordsworth explaimed in what school the author had formed his taste. We perceive, through the "darkness visible" in which Mr. Shelley veils his subject, some beautiful imagery and poetical expressions; but he appears to be a poet "whose eye, in a fine phrenzy rolling," seeks only such objects as are "above this visible diurnal sphere"; and therefore we entreat him, for the sake of his reviewers as well of his other readers (if he has any), to subjoin to his next publication an ordo, a glossary, and copious notes, illustrative of his allusions and explanatory of his meaning."

I think those four reviews pretty well sum it all up.

--Leora Aster.