Introduction to Bodleian MS. Shelley e.1

The only extant reference by either Percy Bysshe or Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley to the notebooks that were later to become Bodleian Manuscripts Shelley e.1, e.2, and e.3 comes in a letter written by MWS to Maria Gisborne in February 1820: "Would you have the kindness to order at your Stationers a dozen plain books like that the Prometheus was copied in. I think the price was three pauls or more, but perhaps you or Beppe will remember--" (LMWS, 1:128).[i] PBS reserved these three "plain books" primarily for copying works that were first drafted elsewhere. Eventually they came to contain the last surviving holograph in PBS's hand not only for Prometheus Unbound, but also for "Ode to Heaven," "Misery--A Fragment," and half of Shelley's translation of Plato's Ion. Their contents are thus positioned at crucial points in the transmission history of works that each--and Prometheus Unbound in particular--pose vexing textual problems. By comparing these intermediate fair copies both with earlier drafts and later printed texts, we gain an invaluable vantage point for understanding how PBS characteristically developed his work from draft to fair copy and how it moved through the press.

Moreover, in examining these works as they appear in the notebooks--intertwined with each other, and interspersed with sketches, numerical calculations, and jottings of all sorts, we have the opportunity to observe the minute particulars of Shelley's mind at work, to learn more about just how and when each of these works was written.

From Mary Shelley's letter, it is clear that the notebooks were purchased in or near Leghorn (Livorno), where Maria Gisborne and her family resided, a fact supported by bibliographical analysis of the paper (see BD). Because MWS believes that Maria Gisborne or her servant Giuseppe might remember the price of the books, we can safely assume that they were purchased sometime after the Shelleys first met the Gisbornes on 9 May 1818, thus establishing a terminus a quo for their contents. Moreover, that the copybooks seem to have been bought for the Shelleys by a servant of the Gisbornes suggests the possibility that the Shelleys were not themselves then in Leghorn and had asked the Gisbornes to purchase some copybooks and ship them by mail, as when MWS makes her later written request. Since the Shelleys resided in Leghorn until 11 June 1818, when they removed to Bagni di Lucca for what was to be a nine-week stay, it is possible that the three books did not come into PBS's possession until at least early in Summer 1818.

Dating PBS's first actual use of the notebooks is problematic. We can be reasonably certain, however, given the relative dates upon which their contents were composed, that e.1 was both the first of the notebooks Shelley used and the last. Among the jottings that appear at the beginning of e.1 is one that might have been written as early as the beginning of June 1818, but none that can be proven to antedate the intermediate fair copy for Act 1 of Prometheus Unbound, which was begun sometime between the end of September 1818 and the beginning of September 1819 (probably mid-to-late April 1819), and which marks PBS's first substantial use of the notebook.[ii] [see Composition of Prometheus Unbound] PBS appears to have used e.2, which contains intermediate fair copy for Prometheus Unbound, 1.499-2.4.74, and a fair copy of "Misery--A Fragment," sometime between Fall 1818 and Summer 1819. Between Spring and December 1819, PBS used e.3, which contains, in addition to an intermediate fair copy of "Ode to Heaven," intermediate fair copy for Prometheus Unbound, 2.4.75-3.4.204, and the second half of the Preface. The last substantial entry in any of the three notebooks is PBS's translation of Plato's Ion in e.1, written late in 1819 or early in 1820. Bodleian Manuscripts Shelley e.1, e.2, and e.3 were thus in use for much or all of what we have come to think of Shelley's annus mirabilis.

PBS began the intermediate fair copy for Act 1 of Prometheus Unbound on f. 19v, reserving the previous pages of the notebook (as was his wont) for prefatory material or other insertions.[*note that jottings on 1r might already have been in the book]. He wrote out his text on the verso side of each leaf, keeping the rectos free for revisions. In this manner, of the 46 leaves in e.1, he filled versos 19-46 and parts of rectos 19-24, 26, 27, 30, 32, 33, 37, 38, 40-42, with fair copy for Act 1.1-498, which he continued in e.2.

Sometime between finishing the first three acts of Prometheus Unbound in early April 1819 and preparing the press transcript the following September, PBS wrote the first half of the Preface to Prometheus Unbound, which appears on 14r-16r, and the list of Dramatis Personae (to which he later made additions) that appears on 18r. A gap of three blank pages was thus left from 16v-17v.

Desiring to keep the fair copy for all of Prometheus Unbound within the three notebook in which he had written the earlier acts, PBS returned to the blank pages he had left at the beginning of e.1 in late summer or early fall 1819. He began Act 4 on 2r (1r probably already contained jottings, but the front endpaper and 1v were still blank) and continued uninterrupted to 13v, before he had to skip around pages already written on. Interestingly, PBS left the pages between 16v-17v blank, perhaps for possible additions to the Preface, continuing Act 4, until its completion, on 22r, 25r, and rectos 28-31 and 34-36. PBS apparently wanted a clear copy of Act 4, for he skipped pages that he would later use for Ion that contained small bits of Act 1 (which had already been transcribed by this time), even 23r, which had only a few lines for Act 1 that had been canceled very soon after they were entered (i. e., they are included in PBS's line count). CHECK: MAYBE THESE PARTS OF ACT 4 WERE WRITTEN BEFORE SEPT 1819. Inexplicably, he also skipped over 21r, which was blank.

The last entry in e.1, PBS's translation of Plato's Ion, was probably written in Winter 1819/20. [*note to comp. history] PBS began Ion on the heretofore blank pages 16v-17v, and, writing around pages already filled with text but on pages already containing inserts for Prometheus Unbound, Act 1, as well as on a page containing the last line for Act 4, he continued on 19r, 21r (which had been left blank) 23r, 26r, 27r, and rectos 36-46. At this point, he ran out of room at the back of e.1, so he turned the book over and upside down, writing reverso on the front pastedown, 1v, and 1r. Having now run into the beginning of Act 4 of Prometheus Unbound, PBS left e.1 and continued his translation on loose sheets of paper (see Composition History of Ion).

Bodleian Shelley Manuscripts e.1, e.2, and e.3 are stored together in a solander box covered with green morocco and lined in dark green silk. The solander, which measures 6.7" x 9" (17 cm. x 22.5 cm.), is hinged with a hook and eye on the side opposite the spine. Inset into its inside lid is a written table of contents, reading "Shelley's MSS / Prometheus / 3 volumes". On the spine of the solander there are five raised bands spaced 1.4" (3.5 cm.) apart, leaving a space of 1.9" (4.8 cm.) between the fifth band and the bottom within which the Bodleian manuscript numbers have been pasted on. Stamped in gilt on the spine between the first and third bands is the designation "Shelley MS. / 3". This solander is one of several constructed for Sir Percy Florence Shelley and Jane, Lady Shelley to house their Boscombe Manor Shelley collection.

The three copybooks are of similar Italian manufacture and were apparently purchased at a stationers in Leghorn (Livorno).[iii] Each of the books is covered in mottled paper of a purple tone on boards, with spine and quarters in green leather (the grain runs in vertical lines along the spine). The covers measure 8.25 x 5.6 inches (21.0 x 14.1 cm.), with the spines embellished by 8 gilt fillets spaced approximately 2.5 cm. apart, the uppermost and lowest fillets being ca., .8 cm. from their respective edges (ca., .5 cm. in e.2). The replacement back cover of e.1 is a redder purple mottle and less stippled than the original covers, but similar to the replacement front cover of e.3, which is, however, a slightly paler purple (see figures ??? below). Financial calculations have been written by PBS in brown ink on the outside front cover of e. 2 (reverso).

Bound copybook, containing intermediate fair copy holograph of Prometheus Unbound, with some text in Mary W. Shelley's hand, as well as a holograph draft of approximately the first half of PBS's translation of Plato's Ion. The copybook contains 46 leaves (not counting the pastedown endpapers) that were numbered in pencil consecutively by the Bodleian staff on the recto side of each leaf. In addition, two extra binding leaves (unnumbered and blank) were inserted in 1924, when the missing original back cover of the book was replaced by the Bodleian. [iv] The leaves of the notebook are gathered in their original twelve quires of four, except for the altered final quire (see diagram in Appendix A).

With the exceptions noted below, each leaf of the three copybooks is of thick, creamy-white laid paper, with chain lines 1.1 inches (2.7 cm.) apart. This paper was manufactured in Italy and bears a watermark displaying a post horn within a crowned shield above the letters "GV", with "LA BRIGLIA" as a countermark (cf. Heawood, #2773, and see figures ??? below). The paper was originally in large sheets, measuring approximately 21 x 16.2 inches. Each sheet was torn twice, with the resulting quarter sheets then folded once to form four bifolia (eight leaves). These were sewn together in quires of four leaves (one bifolium being placed within another). There is a slight variation among the three books in the size of the leaves: the leaves in e.1 measure ca. 8.08 x 5.4 inches (20.5 x 13.6 cm.); in e.2, ca. 8.09 x 5.4 inches (20.5 cm. x 13.7 cm); and in e.3, ca. 8.04 x 5.3 inches (20.4 x 13.4 cm.).[v]    

  1. The two binding leaves inserted into e.1 with the replacement back cover are of thick, creamy-white laid paper that was manufactured in England. They measure 8.08 x 5.2 inches (20.5 x 13.3 cm.), with chain lines approximately 1 inch (2.5 cm.) apart, and display a watermark of Brittania in crowned shield and the countermark "[JOSE]PH COLES 1822" (see figure ???).
  2. The two binding leaves at the front of e.3 are of thick creamy-white laid paper, with chain lines running crosswise and no visible watermark. The paper is not quite as heavy as the original notebook paper and measures 8.1 x 5.3 inches (20.6 x 13.5 cm.).
  3. Quires 7 and 10 in e.3 are of thick, creamy-white wove paper (possibly sketching paper). They measure ca. 8.05 x 5.4 inches (20.4 x 13.7 cm.).

Percy Bysshe Shelley; Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley; Sir Percy Florence Shelley (d. 1889); Lady [Jane Gibson St. John] Shelley; Bodleian Library (13 June 1893, given by Lady Shelley).

Front pastedown [reverso], translation of Plato's Ion and calculations; folio 1 recto, Ion translation [reverso], plus an Italian street address and a notation on a Greek word; f. 1 verso [reverso], Ion; ff. 2r-13v, Prometheus Unbound, Act 4, lines 1-427 (lines 251-52, draft only); f. 14r-16r, Prometheus Unbound, Preface; f. 16v-17v, Ion; f. 18r, Prometheus Unbound, Dramatis Personae; f. 18v, Prometheus Unbound, Act 1, lines 1-15; f. 19r, Ion and Prometheus Unbound, addition to opening Stage Direction (later canceled) and completion of Act 1, line 15; f. 19v, Prometheus Unbound, 1.16-22, 25-28, 31-38; f. 20r, Prometheus Unbound, 1.16-17(revision), 23-24, 29-30, part of 1.38 and pencil sketch of tree; f. 20v, Prometheus Unbound, 1.39-59; f. 21r, Ion, plus Prometheus Unbound, 1.59(part) and option for 1.44; f. 21v, Prometheus Unbound, 1.60-79; f. 22r, Prometheus Unbound, 4.428-443; f.22v, Prometheus Unbound, 1.80-96; f. 23r, Ion, plus Prometheus Unbound, drafts for 1.97, 98, and part of 1.99; f. 23v, Prometheus Unbound, 1.97-106, 112, 113(part)-14 (canceled draft), 116-20; f. 24r, Prometheus Unbound, 1.107-11, 113(part)-15; f.24v, Prometheus Unbound, 1.121-37; f. 25r, Prometheus Unbound, 4.444-61; 25v, Prometheus Unbound, 1.138-50, parts of 1.151, 152; f. 26r, Ion, plus Prometheus Unbound, parts of 1.140, 151, 152; f. 26v, Prometheus Unbound, 1.153-69, 172(part), 173; f. 27r, Ion, plus Prometheus Unbound, 1.161(part), 170-71, 172(part), 174-76; 27v, Prometheus Unbound, 1.177-91 and canceled draft for 1.170-71, 76; 28r, Prometheus Unbound, 4.462-82; f. 28v, Prometheus Unbound, 1.192-211; 29r, Prometheus Unbound, 4.483-84, 495-509; f. 29v, Prometheus Unbound, 1.212-24; 30r, Prometheus Unbound, 4.510-27; f.30v, Prometheus Unbound, 1.225-42; f. 31r, Prometheus Unbound, 4.528-42; f. 31v, Prometheus Unbound, 1.243-52, 253/54 (canceled draft), 254-56; 32r, Prometheus Unbound, 1.253; f. 32v, Prometheus Unbound, 1.257, 262-276; f.33r, Prometheus Unbound, 1.258-61; f. 33v, Prometheus Unbound, 1.277-93; f. 34r, Prometheus Unbound, 4.543-58; f. 34v, Prometheus Unbound, 1.294-307; f. 35r, Prometheus Unbound, 4.559-577; 35v, Prometheus Unbound, 1.308-24; f. 36r, Ion and Prometheus Unbound, 4.578; f. 36v, Prometheus Unbound, 1.325-37; f. 37r, Ion, plus Prometheus Unbound, 1.324/325(canceled SD), and sketch of woman's face in profile with jotting below; f. 37v, Prometheus Unbound, 1.338-40, 341-42(draft), 344-49; f. 38r, Ion, plus Prometheus Unbound, 1.341-42(revision) and prose note; f. 38v, Prometheus Unbound, 1.350-68 and calculations; 39r, Ion; f. 39v, Prometheus Unbound, 369-84; f. 40r, Ion, plus Prometheus Unbound, part of 1.375 and 1.382/383 (two canceled attempts at a line); f. 40v, Prometheus Unbound, 1.385-91, 393-405; f. 41r, Ion, plus Prometheus Unbound, 1.392 and two pencil sketches of a woman in profile; f. 41v, Prometheus Unbound, 1.406-411, 412(canceled draft), 413, 416(part)-24; f. 42r, Ion and Prometheus Unbound, 1.412(revision), 413(part)-16(part); f.42v, Prometheus Unbound, 425-36; f. 43r, Ion; f. 43v, Prometheus Unbound, 1.437-51; f. 44r, Ion; f. 44v, Prometheus Unbound, 1.452-68; f. 45r, Ion; f. 45v, Prometheus Unbound, 1.469-82; f. 46r, Ion; f. 46v, Prometheus Unbound, 1.483-98; two blank and unnumbered replacement binding leaves.


  1. PU was "copied" twice: once into the three Bodleian books and once into a press transcript that is no longer extant. However, it is highly unlikely that the press transcript was copied in notebooks rather than loose sheets, since--as we now know--the Shelleys habitually did all they could to cut down on the weight (and hence the shipping costs) of PBS's press transcripts.   Moreover, as Donald Reiman notes, "There are instances of Shelley or Mary Shelley tearing pages out of a notebook that contain Shelley's poetry and sending them to press, but no known instance of either sending a notebook to press." The Esdaile Notebook: A Facsimile of the Holograph Copybook, ed. Donald H.Reiman (New York: Garland Publishing, 1985), p. xxiv[note 24]. A "paul" was worth sixpence, according to Marion Kingston Stocking (JCC, 98).

  2. Among the jottings that appear at the beginning of e.1, which may mark the earliest entries into the notebook, is a line and a half in Greek from Sophocles' Philoctotes: "unruly men become so / by the instruction of their betters" (e.1, 1r). PBS read Philoctotes on 2 June 1818, and it is just possible (if the notebook were already in his possession) that he then considered saving this quotation as an ironically fit motto for the lyrical drama he was already conceiving, whose purpose was, as he later phrased it in the Preface, "to familiarise the highly refined imagination of the more select classes of poetical readers with idealisms of moral excellence" (     ).

  3. In a letter written ca. 19 February 1820 to Maria Gisborne, MWS asks: "Would you have the kindness to order at your Stationers a dozen plain books like that the Prometheus was copied in. I think the price was three pauls or more, but perhaps you or Beppe will remember--." The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, ed. Betty T. Bennett, p. 128.

  4. Strickland Gibson, who then worked at the Bodleian as a Senior Assistant, has written a note on the inside of the back cover dating the replacement 19 September 1924. Gibson does not mention whether the book had been sent out for rebinding.