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The Devil's Walk, Edited by Neil Fraistat and Donald H. Reiman

Printing and Attempts to Circulate "The Devil's Walk"

The papers of E. Dowden at Trinity College, Dublin include Mathilde Blind's notes of her 1871 conversations with Mrs. Mary Blackmore, niece of Mrs. Hooper, the Shelleys' landlady at Lymouth, who stated that Shelley "had a number of papers printed at Barnstaple" (see 1989, 230). Both A Letter to Lord Ellenborough (of which he sent copies to Thomas Hookham on 29 July) and The Devil's Walk were clearly among those "papers," and the printer was Mr. Syle (J. R. Chanter, Sketches of the Literary History of Barnstaple [1866], as quoted in Mac-Carthy, Early Life, 345-8). Mary Blackmore said that as a girl she was invited to help the Shelleys cut the printer's name off some work, which was presumably A Letter to Lord Ellenborough. But our inspections of the sole copy of The Devil's Walk itself at the Public Record Office confirm the evidence of the photofacsimile in Granniss's First Editions that the broadside has not--and never did have--a colophon listing the printer's name and address, as the law required, for the sheet is intact, totally unmutilated. How did Shelley evade the law that prescribed very harsh penalties for a printer who failed to list his name and address on the first and last printed page of any publication? A recollection of "Mr. Brooke . . . who supervised the printing of the pamphlet" (i.e., A Letter to Lord Ellenborough) quoted in Chanter's Sketches of . . . Barnstaple noted that Shelley came to the shop "from time to time to read the copy and correct the press," where it may have been possible for him, by cajolery or bribery, either to set the single page himself and then persuade someone sympathetic to his cause--perhaps Brooke himself?--to print without reading the single sheet, or even to set and print it after hours, without the required colophon. Some egregious errors in the text (noted in the collation and commented upon below) suggest either great haste or an amateur hand involved in the typesetting.

Shelley resided at Mrs. Hooper's in the small fishing village of Lymouth for nine weeks and three days (see Godwin's account in Shelley, Letters I, 326 fn. 8), from there trying to circulate both The Devil's Walk and Declaration of Rights in West Devonshire by hand and to other parts of England by mail. According to a letter dated 20 August 1812 from Henry Drake, Town Clerk of Barnstaple, to Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary, the former attempt ended on the evening of 19 August, when Shelley's Irish servant, Daniel (né Healey) was "observed distributing and posting" Declaration of Rights at Barnstaple; he was arrested and charged with ten counts of "Publishing and dispersing Printed Papers without the Printer's name being on them [as mandated] under the Act of 39. Geo. 3.c.79." Daniel Hill (as Healey gave his name) was duly tried and convicted by the Mayor of Barnstaple and fined £20 for each offense. Unable to pay the £200, he was incarcerated in "the Common Gaol" of that Borough. While Healey (without betraying his master) began to serve six months in Barnstaple jail in lieu of paying the fine, the town officials investigated Shelley; Drake's letter notes that "Mr Shelley has been regarded with a suspicious Eye since he has been in Lymouth, from the Circumstance of his very extensive Correspondence and many of his Packages and Letters being addressed to Sir Francis Burdett--and it is also said that Mr Shelley has sent off so many as 16 Letters by the same Post--"; Drake goes on to tell of Shelley and his group launching bottles into the Bristol Channel, one of which was found to contain "a seditious Paper" (Public Record Office, H.O. 42/127). That Shelley tried to disseminate his broadsheets thus impersonally by sea in bottles and by air in balloons (both launchings are celebrated in sonnets in The Esdaile Notebook) seems much less foolish when one considers the penalty for distributing them in person.

After Healey's arrest, most copies of The Devil's Walk were probably destroyed or discarded (perhaps Shelley cast them into the sea sans bottles) before the Shelleys fled Devon about the end of August. Thus the single extant copy of The Devil's Walk owes its preservation to Drake, the Devonshire Dogberry, whose copies of the Declaration of Rights and The Devil's Walk eventually went from the Home Office into the Public Record Office, where they reside with the letter quoted above and a second letter that Drake wrote to Sidmouth on 9 Sept. 1812.

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Published @ RC

September 1997