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Introductory Note

WithJohn Strachan

Shelley’s contribution to the Peter Bell series, Peter Bell the Third, was written in Florence in October 1819. Mary Shelley transcribed the poem in early November and the fair copy was sent to Hunt and Charles Oilier for publication. However, for reasons which remain cloudy, the poem did not appear during Shelley’s lifetime, remaining unpublished until 1839. 1 Richard Holmes writes that ‘Shelley had read Hunt’s witty review of both Wordsworth’s original “Peter Bell”, and Hamilton Reynolds [sic] smart parody, ‘Peter Bell II’ [sic] at Livorno in the Examiner. But it was not until he read the originals at Delesert’s that the idea for a third Peter Bell came into his mind. He wrote the whole work, poem and preface, and pseudo-pedantic footnotes, in a wild spirit of mockery and seriousness combined’. 2 The poem is dedicated to Thomas Moore, in his satirical alter-ego of Thomas Brown. ‘Miching Mallecho’ introduces Peter Bell to the Fudges, thereby metaphorically relating his poem to Moore’s radical satire The Fudge Family in Paris (1818). Mallecho indulges in some Shelleyan axe-grinding against organised religion, but the dedication also demonstrates that Shelley, who worried that ‘no one will believe in anything in the shape of a joke from me’, 3 was capable of cod-Wordsworthian prose in the manner of Reynolds:

Let me observe that I have spent six or seven days in composing this sublime piece; the orb of my moon-like genius has made the fourth part of its revolution round the dull earth which you inhabit, driving you mad, while it has retained its calmness and its splendour, and I have been fitting this its last phase ‘to occupy a permanent station in the literature of my country’.