In March & April of 1815 and May & July of the same year, the "Theological Inquirer" published a seriers of reviews regarding the release of Shelley's "Queen Mab." First, a little about the periodical from which this information was gleaned (for your information):
"The THEOLOGICAL INQUIRER; or, Polemical Magazine; being a General Medium of Communication on Religion, Metaphysics, and Moral Philosophy was a London Monthlyu that ran from March through September 1815."That being said, remember that this is a heavily religious publication and I am sure that we will see some of that tainting the reviews. One of the things of interest in the actual structure of the review, is that it quotes a great deal of the work -- page upon page. In addition, it quotes heavily from Milton's "Paradise Lost," Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and Milton's "Comus."
As far as the work as a literary piece in structure:
"The author has made fiction, and the usual poetical imagery, the vehicles for his moral and philosophical opinions."Simply, the piece was not (in this reviewer's opinion) particularly interesting in style or imagery. However, the reviewer does linger *slightly* (the rest of the review) longer on these "...opinions...." He finds Shelley's ideas of "necessity" to be fascinating:
"The doctrine of NECESSITY, abstruse and dark as the subject is generally believed, forms a leading consideration in this poem, and is treated with a precision of demonstration, and illuminated with a radiance of genius far beyond expectation itself..."Overall, the reviewer seems very impressed with the piece -- exclaiming so in at least a few places early on. In fact, lets just stroke Shelley's ego right now with an exerpt from the review:
"I shall continue to point out what appear to me its [Queen Mab's] principal excellencies; proud of the opportunity of homaging the shrine of genius, and delighted to cull flowers from the luxuriant garden of a rich poetic imagination."Okie dokie. Finally -- the reviewer, dismissing any possibility that this is not his ABSOLUTE FAVORITE poem, states:
"...I have endeavoured, like Mahomet and St. John, to give your readers a faint idea of the paradise to which I have been adimitted...."I guess he really liked it.
As for the reviews of 1821 and 1822 -- there are many.
The BEACON (June 2, 1821):
I can sum this up with one little phrase -- "A work of the most outrageous blasphemy, and the most loathsome indecency...." Quite a difference from the 1815 review -- if I do say so myself.
JOHN BULL'S BRITISH JOURNAL (March 11, 1821):
This periodical was much more kind than the BEACON -- recognizing the same poetical genius as the piece from 1815. In fact, they are so similar, I would wonder if this was not stole from that 1815 review.
The LITERARY CHRONICLE (June 2, 1821):
This particular review falls somewhere between the scathing piece in the BEACON and the selection from JOHN BULL'S. Calling "Queen Mab" "..one of the most striking and melancholy instances of the perversion, or rather prostitution of genius, that we [they] ever met with."
Basically, this periodical rips the HELL out of Shelley for "...debasing himself..." with this piece. They accuse him of writing the poem to put all of "...armed society..." as well as "...human laws..." against him -- something similar to Madonna's "Sex" book. They feel like he wrote something controversial for the sake of it.
The LITERARY GAZETTE (May 19, 1821):
This periodical basically laments the fact that they hated "Queen Mab." They state that Shelley's genius is "...doubtless of a high order..." but their "...souls revolt at the tenfold horror at the energy [the poem] exhibits...."
In many ways I feel this is the most appropriate review possible considering the work. As we discussed in class, "Queen Mab" is Shelley's most important work when considering critical/political works. I can understand the problems that it might have had in its reception, but his genius cannot be denied.
The LITERARY REVIEW (March 1821):
This magazine is a little annoying. Basically, their position is similar to that of the LITERARY GAZETTE, but they take a very immature stance. That is, they state that the work was very offensive to some, but that they are not in the business of that type -- their "...business is with the poetical merits of the work...." Like fools, they spend the remainder of that section basically saying something like this (this is not a quote by my liberal interpretation):
Well, we are not in the business of stating that Shelley is the most disturbed, depraved, sick, weirdo in the world -- but we'll say it anyhow.Much of the review offers very little in the way of anything resembing literary knowledge or skill. One redeeming thing is that they "...none but a man of genius could write this [Queen Mab]...."
The MONTHLY MAGAZINE (June 1821):
They hated MOST EVERYTHING about Queen Mab. Simply dismissing it as a work "...without either 'rhyme or reason'..." This is another periodical without much in the way of merit (from my minimal experience with it).
The REPUBLICAN (FEBRUARY 1, 1822):
Much of this review is concerned with the printing history surrounding "Queen Mab" as well as some attention to its relation to a work of Byron's. When the piece itself is finally addressed, they seem to give it a fair-shake. Their review seemed to like it and identified it as a controversial work -- it did identify that LOADS of people hated it, though.
Well, now that we have addressed both the reviews from 1815 and from the 1821-2 period, I have one *little* question:
Obviously, Prof. Curran knew that I would find something like this, so I ask -- why the obvious differences in the piece's reception. *IF* I were doing the Q&A thing in class, this would probably be a major topic of interest.
Anyhow, here closes the review of the reviews -- EXEUNT OMNES.