Skip to main content

Percy Bysshe Shelley, The necessity of atheism (Worthing, [1811]).

This small tract is a very rare survival of one of the two pamphlets which were published by Percy Bysshe Shelley during his brief career (six months) at University College, Oxford. Before going to Oxford he had already published a collection of poetry with his sister Elizabeth, which had to be withdrawn when it was discovered that it contained a whole poem plagiarized from M.G. Lewis; he had published a gothic novel and arranged for the publication of a second, St Irvyne, or, The Rosicrucian, which came out early in 1811. In March 1811, Shelley published his anticolonial, antimonarchical Poetical essay (dedicated to the then fifteen-year-old Harriet Westbrook, with whom he was to elope in August); but in mid-February he had sent out copies of The necessity of atheism. The pamphlet had been co-written with his friend T.J. Hogg and had been printed in Sussex; the Oxford publisher and printer John Munday, who had brought out a small collection of Shelley’s poems in November 1810, would certainly have refused to print it. This did not prevent Shelley from depositing copies of the pamphlet in Munday’s shop, although on discovery they were all burned. It was this pamphlet that led to the expulsion of both Shelley and Hogg when they refused to deny authorship of it to the College authorities.

Bequest of James Wood.