Percy Bysshe Shelley

During the latter half of the nineteenth century Shelley’s influence was very powerful, not only upon the canons of poetry, but upon ideas of various kinds—upon free-thought, socialism, sex-questions, food-reform, and not a few other problems of intellectual and ethical import. — Henry Salt, Seventy Years Among Savages

Whilst Salt was a master at Eton he read papers on Shelley and discovered that many fellow masters considered Shelley a disgrace to the institution. Although Shelley was not the only influence on Salt he was one of the earliest and most important ones.

Salt’s first full-length study of the poet was A Shelley Primer, published by the Shelley Society in 1887. Salt makes it clear that the poet should be seen as both an artist and pioneer of reform.

For its time it was an very useful little volume although an immense amount of scholarship on Shelley since means that there are more complete works on Shelley now.

Salt’s next book on Shelley was Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Monograph in 1888. Unlike many biographies of Shelley, Salt’s was neither hostile nor indifferent, but sympathetic and generally unapologetic. Salt concluded most Shelley biographies did not approve of Shelley’s social and moral views, no matter how much they admired his character and artistic genius.

One critic accused Salt of of making “an impudent endeavour to gain the notoriety of an iconoclast among social heretics with immoral tendencies and depraved desires.” Such an attack convinced Salt he was on the right track, and so did praise from Lady Shelley, daughter-in-law of Shelley.

Percy Bysshe Shelley: Poet and Pioneer, first published in 1896, is based on his 1888 monograph and represents Salt’s mature judgement on Shelley. It remains a significant approach to understanding Shelley and has been reprinted several times.

Salt’s admiration for Shelley never wavered throughout his life.