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Shelley - A great Humanitarian

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  • space_shiner
    There are some men and women who have furthered the cause of Atheism and Humanitarianism - rational and compassionate thought - to the extent that they can be
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 1, 2006
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      There are some men and women who have furthered the cause of Atheism
      and Humanitarianism - rational and compassionate thought - to the
      extent that they can be referred to as stars in a dark sky. Percival
      Bysshe Shelley had so furthered both positions to the extent where,
      if the previous analogy deserves merit, he may be called a galaxy.
      Shelley lived in a cruel and barbaric time. It was an era where the
      insane were tortured for the belief that they were demonic or worse
      than criminals. It was a time when the rights of animals afforded no
      sympathy. It was a time when executions and dueling were common
      place. From the myst of these barbaric sentiments held tightly by
      the people of the early 1800's, the figure of Percival Bysshe
      Shelley slowly began to emerge.

      "There Is No God." [Opening line from The Necessity of Atheism.] He
      was an Atheist. He denied that a god existed that allowed men and
      women to toil endlessly in the gross injustice that captivated the
      corruption and bribery of monarchies. When he examined the religious
      texts of his time, when he learned what men meant when they
      said "divine authorship," when he came to the age of reason and
      could understand for himself -- when he opened his eyes and saw the
      state of the world around him with its religious idols -- he
      immediately denied that a god existed that watched over men. Of
      life, Shelley has said...

      Life and the world, or whatever we call that which we are and feel,
      is an astonishing thing. The mist of familiarity obscures from us
      the wonder of our being. We are struck with admiration at some of
      its transient modifications, but it is itself the great miracle.
      What are changes of empires, the wreck of dynasties, with the
      opinions which supported them; what is the birth and the extinction
      of religious and of political systems, to life? What are the
      revolutions of the globe which we inhabit, and the operations of the
      elements of which it is composed, compared with life? What is the
      universe of stars, and suns, of which this inhabited earth is one,
      and their motions, and their destiny, compared with life? Life, the
      great miracle, we admire not, because it is so miraculous. It is
      well that we are thus shielded by the familiarity of what is at once
      so certain and so unfathomable, from an astonishment which would
      otherwise absorb and overawe the functions of that which is its
      object. [On Life, by Percival Bysshe Shelley.]
      Shelley also held that all animals were deserving of equality. In
      this respect, he was a Vegetarian and he worked to render his fellow
      men with mercy towards all creatures. In his most celebrated work,
      Queen Mab, the poet Shelley wrote...

      ......no longer now
      He slays the lamb that looks him in the face,
      And horribly devours his mangled flesh,
      Which, still avenging Nature's broken law,
      Kindled all putrid humors in his frame,
      All evil passions and all vain belief,
      Hatred, despair and loathing in his mind,
      The germs of misery, death, disease and crime.
      No longer now the wing├Ęd habitants,
      That in the woods their sweet lives sing away,
      Flee from the form of man; but gather round,
      And prune their sunny feathers on the hands
      Which little children stretch in friendly sport
      Towards these dreadless partners of their play. [Queen Mab, section
      VII, lines 211 to 224.]
      It was also in this work that Shelley wrote the magnificent lines
      that some have attributed to describing Giordano Bruno. In only a
      few sentences, Shelley is capable of filling the minds of men with
      sympathy towards this one, lone, solitary Atheist. The words used to
      describe the death given to the Atheist are wonderous, inspiring,
      and a harmonious attestment to the brutality of religious

      'I was an infant when my mother went
      To see an atheist burned. She took me there.
      The dark-robed priests were met around the pile;
      The multitude was gazing silently;
      And as the culprit passed with dauntless mien,
      Tempered disdain in his unaltering eye,
      Mixed with a quiet smile, shone calmly forth;
      The thirsty fire crept round his manly limbs;
      His resolute eyes were scorched to blindness soon;
      His death-pang rent my heart! the insensate mob
      Uttered a cry of triumph, and I wept.
      "Weep not, child!" cried my mother, "for that man
      Has said, There is no God."' [Queen Mab, section VII, lines 1 to 14]
      Percival Bysshe Shelley was expelled from his school for writing The
      Necessity of Atheism. (He also distributed it to members of the
      clergy.) When Shelley wrote Queen Mab, Shelley's children were taken
      away from him, because he was deemed an unfit parent. Concerning the
      fantastic poem, which the original weighed in at 250 pages, he

      A poem, entitled Queen Mab, was written by me, at the age of
      eighteen, I dare say in a sufficiently intemperate spirit--but even
      then was not intended for publication, and a few copies only were
      struck off, to be distributed among my personal friends. I have not
      seen this production for several years; I doubt not but that it is
      perfectly worthless in point of literary composition; and that in
      all that concerns moral and political speculation, as well as in the
      subtler discriminations of metaphysical and religious doctrine, it
      is still more crude and immature. I am a devoted enemy to religious,
      political, and domestic oppression; and I regret this publication
      not so much from literary vanity, as because I fear it is better
      fitted to injure than to serve the sacred cause of freedom. [Queen
      Mab, by Percival Bysshe Shelley, Introductory Note.]
      It is undoubtedly true that Queen Mab is a collection of
      philisophical and social ideas concerning nature. It was in this
      enormously wonderful poem -- a philosophical poem -- that embodied
      his opinions on these subjects. Shelley himself had once
      said, "During my existence I have incessantly speculated, thought
      and read." [Queen Mab, by Percival Bysshe Shelley, Introductory
      Note.] Every word of this poem was written with the warmth and
      reason that Shelley attained -- every line was written in some
      scoring hope that it may allow his spirit to explore a new thought,
      define a new idea, reform an old part. Mrs. Shelley has said of
      Percival Bysshe Shelley...

      'He was animated to greater zeal by compassion for his fellow-
      creatures. His sympathy was excited by the misery with which the
      world is bursting. He witnessed the sufferings of the poor, and was
      aware of the evils of ignorance. He desired to induce every rich man
      to despoil himself of superfluity, and to create a brotherhood of
      property and service, and was ready to be the first to lay down the
      advantages of his birth. He was of too uncompromising a disposition
      to join any party. He did not in his youth look forward to gradual
      improvement: nay, in those days of intolerance, now almost
      forgotten, it seemed as easy to look forward to the sort of
      millennium of freedom and brotherhood, which he thought the proper
      state of mankind, as to the present reign of moderation and
      improvement. Ill health made him believe that his race would soon be
      run; that a year or two was all he had of life. He desired that
      these years should be useful and illustrious. He saw, in a fervent
      call on his fellow-creatures to share alike the blessings of the
      creation, to love and serve each other, the noblest work that life
      and time permitted him. In this spirit he composed Queen Mab.'
      [Queen Mab, by Percival Bysshe Shelley, Introductory Note.]
      In the May of 1812, Daniel Isaac Eaton was imprisoned for eighteen
      months for publishing Part III. of Paine's The Age of Reason.
      Shelley wrote a vindictive attack on the Lord Ellenborough who
      imprisoned Eaton for publishing Paine's work. In A Letter To Lord
      Ellenborough, Shelley wrote...

      By what right do you punish Mr. Eaton? What but antiquated
      precedents, gathered from times of priestly and tyrannical
      domination, can be adduced in palliation of an outrage so insulting
      to humanity and justice? Whom has he injured? What crime has he
      committed? Wherefore may he not walk abroad like other men and
      follow his accustomed pursuits? What end is proposed in confining
      this man, charged with the commission of no dishonourable action?
      Wherefore did his aggressor avail himself of popular prejudice, and
      return no answer but one of common place contempt to a defence of
      plain and simple sincerity? Lastly, when the prejudices of the jury,
      as Christians, were strongly and unfairly inflamed against this
      injured man as a Deist, wherefore did not you, my Lord, check such
      unconstitutional pleading, and desire the jury to pronounce the
      accused innocent or criminal without reference to the particular
      faith which he professed?
      In the name of justice, what answer is there to these questions? The
      answer which Heathen Athens made to Socrates, is the same with which
      Christian England must attempt to silence the advocates of this
      injured man-"He has questioned established opinions."-Alas! the
      crime of inquiry is one which religion never has forgiven. Implicit
      faith and fearless inquiry have in all ages been irreconcilable
      enemies. Unrestrained philosophy has in every age opposed itself to
      the reveries of credulity and fanaticism.-The truths of astronomy
      demonstrated by Newton have superseded astrology; since the modern
      discoveries in chemistry the philosopher's stone has no longer been
      deemed attainable. Miracles of every kind have become rare, in
      proportion to the hidden principles which those who study nature
      have developed. That which is false will ultimately be controverted
      by its own falsehood. That which is true needs but publicity to be
      acknowledged. It is ever a proof that the falsehood of a proposition
      is felt by those who use power and coercion, not reasoning and
      persuasion, to procure its admission.-Falsehood skulks in holes and
      corners, "it lets I dare not wait upon I would, like the poor cat in
      the adage," except when it has power, and then, as it was a coward,
      it is a tyrant; but the eagle-eye of truth darts through the
      undazzling sunbeam of the immutable and just, gathering thence
      wherewith to vivify and illuminate a universe! [A Letter To Lord
      Ellenborough, by Percival Bysshe Shelley.]

      During his life, Percival Bysshe Shelley fought against censorship,
      cruelty, religion, and the death penalty. His life can be defined as
      a struggle against everything he thought was wrong. He remains still
      as a defiant figure facing oppression with unmoving convictions. The
      hearts of the men he inspired are countless and the reforms he
      ushered in are numerous. There were many men who worked for a great
      cause, unavailingly, and did as much as they could for that cause.
      Shelley was one of those men, and his cause was humanity and reason.
      No person throughout history in such a barbaric, uncivilized time
      has developed such outstanding, civilized opinions -- this man,
      Percival Bysshe Shelley, was a man of truth.
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