Generous benefactor helps Bodleian to reach its 12 millionth book

Poetical Essay on the existing state of things, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

A revolutionary Shelley poem marks the 12 millionth printed book to have been acquired by the Bodleian Library. The acquisition, which was made with the support of a generous benefactor, is a momentous event for the public, for scholars, the University and for the UK’s largest academic library service, the Bodleian.

Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote the poem in autumn/winter 1810-11, during his first year studying at Oxford. Entitled Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things, it was penned as a response to Britain’s involvement in the Napoleonic war, and shows a young Shelley engaging with the political and social issues that coloured much of his later work.

The 20-page pamphlet containing the ‘lost’ poem is the only known copy in existence, and was acquired by the Bodleian after recently resurfacing in a private collection. Its acquisition makes this rare poem freely available to all for the very first time.

Mr Brian Fenwick-Smith and Mr Antonio Bonchristiano generously supported the acquisition and the digitisation and accompanying website for the piece, which was revealed  at a special event at the Weston Library on Tuesday 10 November. Vanessa Redgrave and Oxford’s Professor of Poetry, Simon Armitage joined students to celebrate the return of the Poetical Essay to Oxford.

Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s Librarian said: 'Through acquiring our 12 millionth book, Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things, we will be preserving this remarkable work for ever, and making available online a lost work by one of the greatest poets of all time. We are extremely grateful to the generous donors who made this acquisition and our website possible.'

Shelley’s Poetical Essay has been fully digitized and available to view online. It will also be on display in the Weston Library, Oxford until 23 December 2015.

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