Sir Bysshe Shelley Argues With The King's Secretary

[dedicated to postpoems' Great Poet, Patriciajj,

this poem about---if not spoken by---Mary Shelley]

She is too arrogant, a bit too plump,

and full of intellectual conceit.

Her parents were threats to the socially

acceptable customs of English life.

I hope my grandson never will repeat

their errors---that deserve our calumny:

that have caused such unnecessary strife

among others like them.  His Majesty

knows best, of course, but he does not know her,

nor what plans for my grandson I prefer---

not the pursuit of cloudy poetry,

and not his mother's rather ghastly tales

(created monsters, last men who endure

the world's end as it serves as a corpse-dump):

but as the King requests, I will increase

the payments in support from the estate

of my son, lost too soon and now too late

to change his reputation.  That whore's fame

must never be attached to our surname:

and that condition I imposed in rage

cannot appear on any printed page,

nor on the gaudy cover of a book

that she has written.  I will monitor

this, and be sure, I will take a hard look

each time she publishes.  I will not brook

defiance or ruse's subtle deceit.

I do not know what my son thought he saw

in her:  I do not understand at all.

At home, she walks about on stockinged feet:

she said she did not like to write with shoes'

stiffness confining her uncomfortably.

I think that is a flaunted, fouled abuse

of our revered English propeity.



Author's Notes/Comments: 

I have studied the life and writings (primarily, Frankenstein) since 1967, when my beloved cousin Jeannie gave me my first copy of the novel for Christmas.  As a requirement to obtain my BA degree, I was required to do a Sophomore research project; in my department, it was the gathering, on at least a hundred index cards, of bibilographical material on monographs, articles and reviews of a given subject:  and her first novel, Frankenstein, was the subject of my project.

The poem is spoken by Mary's father-in-law, Sir Bysshe Shelley, a man who despised her and cotninually attempted to wrest from her the custody of her son, the only living child of the late Poet.  English law required that the Poet's estate provide maintenance payments, but they were considerably small and inadequate.  Before his death in the Greek war, George Gordon Lord Byron attempted repeatedly, without success, to pressure Sir Bysshe into a more generous payment.  They tell me that William, the Duke of Clarence and Saint Andrews, was a voracious reader of novels.  When he ascended to the British throne, as William IV, he invited several prominent poets and novelists, including Mary Shelley, to his cornonation, breaking all precedent much to the shock and objections of the Archbishop of Canterbury.  After his coronation, the King somehow obtained information regarding Sir Bysshe's obstinate selfishness toward Mary Shelley (whose first editions the King eagerly collected) and, even more importantly, toward her son, his own grandson.  Sir Byssje was summoned to the palace for a terse meeting with the King's private secretary, who informed the stunned Sir Bysshe that the King took a very dim view of the penury, and expected an immediate and generous increase to the maintenance payments.  Sir Bysshe complied, but resented the interference.  He refused to provide college tuition for his grandson, who attended Oxford as what was called a day scholar, meaning he did not live on college housing:  Mary moved to a home near his college while he attended, paying for his tuition, as she paid for all else, from her literary royalties.  Four years before Mary passed away, Sir Bysshe dropped dead, and Mary's son inherited the title, the manor house (to which Mary had been forbidden at all times) and the estate.  The newly titled Sir Percy and his wife brought his ailing mother to live at the estate for the remainder of her life.

Of the two novels that the speaker alludes to, Mary Shelley's novel, The Last Man, is now credited by literary scholars with having created and founded the genre of science fiction.  (Frankenstein is not science fiction, but gothic horror; and what science is necessary to infuse live into the monster was disposed of by Mary Shelley in a couple of brief sentences; she admitted, later on, to not having a clue as to what would have been required, nor, as she said, was that process the point of the novel.)

If I recall correctly, the last entry in Mary Shelley's journal, written shorty before her life expired, consisted of these words:  Preserve, always, the habit of giving.

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patriciajj's picture

From your vast storehouse of

From your vast storehouse of historical knowledge, you stitched a compelling monologue that comes through with theatrical authenticity; you captured the miserly father-in-law's pompous and self-important attitude with such impressive accuracy that I couldn't help but feel gleeful satisfaction as the tightwad's ego is deflated by the king's demands. 


Although the blowhard's obstinateness endures to the end, we receive an endearing glimpse into the genius' workshop and admire her all the more. 


Your background notes on the poem were also fascinating. I truly feel that I now know the great mind behind the legendary work that not only blazed a trail for future writers but created a genre and became an irreplaceable thread in our cultural fabric. 


I'm deeply honored by the dedication. Again and again, thank you. 


Januarian's picture

I just reviewed the poem's

I just reviewed the poem's text, and I am absolutely horrified by the typos and errors it contained after first draft.  I can only say that I became to excited about it while composing (Mary Shelley has that effect on me), and then I wanted to get it posted with the dedication to you (your effect on me), and I failed to comb through it for stupidities.  I am very sorry; I am so embarrassed that I asked my Mentor to look at a poem before it was, obviousy, corrected and ready to read.  I should remember Mary Shelley's single journal entry, repeated every day over the course of weeks if not months:  Correct Frankenstein.


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Januarian's picture

I apologize for the typos

I apologize for the typos that were in the Notes section.  I am embarrassed that you had to see them, but I have corrected them.  Please forgive me for the carelessness.


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Januarian's picture

Thank you for your kind

Thank you for your kind words, and, even more, for your kind words toward Mary Shelley.  In 1978, when my History Department put enormous pressure upon me---through the instructor and the students---that she was inappropriate for my sophomore project, I yearned for a time when she would be so much more respected and appreciated.  I think that time is now, and definitely your kind words contribute to that.  And last year, on a new show, to hear a Nobel Laureate suggest that all undergraduate science majors should be required to read, and to write a major report upon, Frankenstein, as a moral compass of scientific ethics---well, even in the hospital not sure if I would ever recover from the paralysis, I was sooooo pleased to hear that, it sure brightened my day even in that environment.  I am sorry to be verbose in my reply; I just can't stop talking about her.  Anyhow, I am doubly blessed that the two pillars that stand as bookends around my literary life are Mary Shelley, since December, 1963, and you at this end stage (or so it seems).  I am very grateful for that.  I think you and her are more alike than you might realize.  And what she said was the theme of her life, to Preserve Always The Habit Of Giving, is, in my opinion, the theme of yours as well.


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patriciajj's picture

I've caught typos on my

I've caught typos on my posts, and even some careless mistakes, years after posting them. In fact, there may be a few I never got around to correcting, so there's never any reason to beat yourself up for such a universal oversight. It only shows how elated you were to crystallize a brilliant idea while the inspiration was still blazing within you. 


I'm thrilled that a current authority on literature has validated what you always believed about Shelley. It only reinforces the old adage to stay true to yourself. 


Thank you for your steadfast support, wisdom and kindness. God bless you. 

Januarian's picture

Thank you so much for those

Thank you so much for those kind words.  Perhaps it is bragging on my part, but I should also like to think that I demonstrated her importance, locally and informally, at that luncheon at my college when my former advisor, having not seen me for 21 years and 5 months, greeted me---the first thing to spill from his mouth---with, "Mary Shelley still your girl?"  And, no longer his student or advisee, I looked him right in the face, set my jaw, and said, "She is, and always will be."  In the past, that kind of reply would have been met with a rather stern lecture from him.  As it was, he offered only a begruding silence, and the issue did not come up again.  I think my former professor understood that I had maintained my faithfulness to her since 1963, and that maybe, maybe, he would figure out, in time, that she is worth it.


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