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July 15, 2006

Shelley Expelled

shelley.jpgThe British poet Percy Bysshe Shelley is surely one of the most colorful characters in this history, and a case can be made that -- through his rabidly atheistic poems and the pamphlet, the Necessity of Atheism, which got him expelled from Oxford -- he is one of the more important. Outspoken freethinkers were hardly uncommon in nineteenth-century Britain, but they were very uncommon that early in nineteenth-century Britain. Shelley published his essay in 1811. Charles Bradlaugh was not born until 1834.

A poem, written by Shelley around the time of the Necessity of Atheism, has just been found -- after having been lost for almost 200 years. The article reporting on the discovery includes this recollection by Thomas Medwin about the young firebrand:

I remember, as if it occurred yesterday, his knocking at my door in Garden Court, in the Temple, at four o'clock in the morning, the second day after his expulsion. I think I hear his cracked voice, with his well-known pipe, - "Medwin, let me in, I am expelled;" here followed a sort of loud half-hysteric laugh, and a repetition of the words - "I am expelled," with the addition of, "for Atheism."

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at July 15, 2006 11:56 PM


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