The Quality of Shelley’s Mind

John Williams, Stoner (chp. 10)

“Walker nodded and began swiftly to speak. ‘I intend to trace Shelley’s first rejection of Godwinian necessitarianism for a more or less Platonic ideal, in the ‘Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,’ through the mature use of that ideal, in Prometheus Unbound, as a comprehensive synthesis of his earlier atheism, radicalism, Christianity, and scientific necessitarianism, and ultimately to account for the decay of the ideal in such a late work as Hellas. It is to my mind an important topic for three reasons: First, it shows the quality  of Shelley’s mind, and hence leads us into a better understanding of his poetry. Second, it demonstrates the leading philosophical and literary conflicts of the early nineteenth century, and hence enlarges our understanding and appreciation of Romantic poetry. And third, it is a subject that might have a peculiar relevance to our own time, a time in which we face many of the same conflicts that confronted Shelley and his  contemporaries.’

Stoner listened, and as he listened his astonishment grew. He could not believe that this was the same man who had taken his seminar, whom he thought he knew. Walker’s presentation was lucid, forthright, and intelligent; at times it was almost brilliant. Lomax was right; if the dissertation fulfilled its promise, it would be brilliant. Hope, warm and exhilarating, rushed upon him, and he leaned forward attentively.”

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