The following notes, which relate The Devil's Walk, A Ballad to its cultural and textual histories, include discussion of all our departures from our copy-text: 1812.
line 2. Beelzebub : in the Hebrew Bible (2 Kings 1), Baalzebub ("King of the Flies") was a Philistine god; in the Greek New Testament, Beelzebul ("Lord of the Dwelling" or "Lord of the Dung") was the ruler of evil spirits (Matt. x.25, xii.24; Mark iii.22; Luke xi.15 ff.). Unlike Milton, who in Paradise Lost I-II personalizes Beëlzebub as second in rank to Satan, Shelley follows popular tradition by using interchangeably the names Devil, Satan, Beelzebub, and Old Nick.
line 7. Previous editors a before Bras Chapeau; chapeau-bras was "a small three-cornered silk hat . . . worn by gentlemen at court or in full dress in the 18th century" (Oxford English Dictionary). Years later, Shelley was to say in Peter Bell III, "The Devil is a gentleman"; here this "natty . . . Beau" (8) begins to survey England at Bond-street, site of London's most fashionable tailors and luxury shops.
line 15. St. James's Court : St. James's Palace, built by Henry VIII on the site of a medieval hospital, was still the governing seat of the British monarch in 1812 ("the Court of St. James"); according to The Picture of London for 1817, "This palace is used by the king only for purposes of state" (London: Longman [etc.], p. 84). Major governmental offices (e.g., Whitehall) and the Houses of Parliament are clustered near the palace and St. James's Park.
St. Paul's Cathedral--near the Bank of England, the East
India House, and other centers of British commercial
power--symbolized the establishment interests of the Church of
in : other texts substitute on for this 1812 reading.
line 17. every Saint : here Shelley implicates both the Anglican religious tradition and the evangelical Parliamentary bloc led by William Wilberforce (1759-1833, Dictionary of National Biography), known as the Saints; they opposed slavery and supported other reforms, but their ostentatious piety, social conservatism, and support of the censorious Society for the Suppression of Vice offended both the Foxite Whigs and more radical reformers.
line 19. agriculturist : i.e., a landed proprietor whose income came from farming--socially superior, in the view of Shelley, heir to such a fortune, to one whose income was earned from entrepreneurship or a profession.
line 22. wouldn't : misprinted would'nt in 1812.
line 24. In 1989, Matthews and Everest follow an apparent typo in 1927 that replaces the semicolon after view at the end of this line with a comma.
lines 25-27. Though as in the letter-version (line 46) Satan shows his satisfaction by Grinning his applause ("marked approval," OED .2) at those who delighted to do his work, they still fear him.
lines 28-32. These lines satirizing fashionable young ladies may bear sexual implications when Satan pokes into crannies so small (28).
line 37. Ah! Ah! : 1812 leaves no space between the first exclamation point and the second Ah!.
lines 40-41. Perhaps the Windsor Castle quarters of King George III, who had become incurably insane late in 1811, were kept exceptionally warm for England in that period--knowledge available to Shelley either from the frequent contact that Etonians generally had with members of the King's household at nearby Windsor, or from Shelley's mentor Dr. James Lind, one of the King's personal physicians. Alternatively, the allusion may derive from (out-of-date) gossip about the Prince Regent: On 5 Nov. 1811, Thomas Creevey noted in his journal that at the Brighton Pavilion, Mrs. Creevey told the Prince that "she was glad on account of his health that he kept his rooms cooler than he used to do , and he said that he was quite altered in that respect--that he used to be always chilly, and now was never so--" (The Creevey Papers, ed. John Gore , p. 83).
line 41. In 1812 hot as was misprinted hot at.
line 43. twisted : 1989 emends this word to twirled because the editors perceive that to be the reading in the letter text of several months earlier. We read twisted in the letter as well, but we do not emend the reading of the later, more authoritative text, which makes perfect sense.
lines 45-79. As noted in the headnote, W. M. Rossetti added quotation marks around these stanzas to indicate that they embody Satan's words; we prefer to consider them, more precisely, as what Satan thought (45). In either case, Shelley evades uttering seditious libel against Castlereagh and the Prince Regent by putting his charges into the mind--or mouth--of the Devil.
line 46. Cattle : "A collective name for live animals held as property" (Oxford English Dictionary II.4.A).
line 48. The end punctuation, which has slipped low in the type chase, is a comma.
line 50. their was misspelled thier in 1812, where either the compositor slavishly followed Shelley's copy, or Shelley introduced this characteristic erratum while setting type himself; when correcting this error, most editors through 1972 omit the first as in the line.
lines 51-56. 1989 cites the bloody British siege of Badajos in April 1812; if Shelley wrote this passage as late as August 1812, it could also refer to the equally bloody Battle of Salamanca on 22 July. (Though the British and their allies won both battles, British casualties alone were ca. 5,000 in each.) The Whigs, including Lord Byron, thought that Viscount (later Duke of) Wellington's Peninsular Campaign against the French in Spain was simply an exercise in Tory political aggrandizement; Shelley believed that all military actions harmed common people and weakened liberty. Robert Southey, who had conveyed a similar message in "The Battle of Blenheim" (1798), was at this time writing a series of poems in which he commemorated each of Wellington's victories.
line 54. Other editors, seeking rhetorical parallelism, have emended When (1812) to "Where"--perhaps because in Shelley's handwriting these two words are difficult to distinguish and may have confused a compositor setting from Shelley's MS. But here Shelley may have set the type himself, and since When adds variety and makes equally good sense, we retain the reading of 1812.
line 57. Fat--: the initial F is a malformed piece of type.
lines 57-59. Robert Stewart (1769-1822), eldest son of the 1st Marquis of Londonderry, though not himself a peer till his father's death in 1821, was known by his courtesy title (i.e., his father's second title) as Viscount Castlereagh. In Parliament, he originally supported enfranchisement of Catholics in Ireland (Erin). But in 1797-98, as chief deputy to the Viceroy of Ireland, he suppressed the rebellion of the United Irishmen by arresting their leaders just before the event, and in 1800 he engineered (through wholesale bribery) the votes by which the Irish Parliament united Ireland with Great Britain and then dissolved itself.
Atrocities involved in crushing the rebellion in 1798, Castlereagh's harsh methods of interrogating rebel prisoners, and the corruption with which he pushed through the Act of Union earned him the lasting enmity of Irish nationalists. In Feb. 1811 he was pilloried in the London press during the trial of Peter Finnerty, who as part of his defense presented affidavits from Irish prisoners who had been tortured under Castlereagh's direction. These accounts, quoted and discussed in Cobbett's Political Register and the Hunt brothers' Examiner, probably helped to deepen both Shelley's and Lord Byron's hatred of Castlereagh during his years as Foreign Secretary and Tory leader in the House of Commons.
lines 60-62. 1989 (p. 235) relates these lines to the death of Robert Emmet in 1803, and another note (1989, p. 204) quotes records of the Irish rebellion of 1798 that involved cutting out rebels' hearts. Shelley's allusion here, probably informed by many such anecdotes that he heard during his stay in Ireland, is generic, not specific.
line 61. clasp : misprinted as claps in 1812; such an error suggests the clandestine haste involved in the illegal production, whether or not Shelley actually set any type himself.
line 65. fret their little hour : cf. Shakespeare, Macbeth V.v.25.
lines 67-70. Shelley, who like Lord Byron despised the Prince of Wales for his extravagant selfishness and his betrayal of the Whigs and reform when he became Regent, portrays the Prince as a spoiled child. The word maudlin (67), and the complicated mixed metaphor in which the gilded toy of line 68 apparently becomes a sweetmeat in 69, suggest that Shelley is subtly alluding to the Prince of Wales's sentimental love affair with the twice-widowed Maria Fitzherbert (1756-1837), a Roman Catholic whom he could not wed legally without forfeiting the crown. The Prince did, in fact, marry Mrs. Fitzherbert surreptiously on 15 Dec. 1785 after threatening to stab himself if she would not consent--events retold in the gossip of two generations--but after that marriage took place, he carried on a long series of other love affairs.
lines 71-75. For the specific occasion of this attack on the Prince's obesity, see Historical Contexts. A levee (72) was a formal afternoon reception at St. James's Palace at which the ruler received only men. (The name alludes to the origins of the ceremony in the practice of counsellors calling upon the monarch in his bedchamber when he was arising.)
line 76. plenty is the subject of Could make . . . start (79).
line 80. Shelley's parenthetical statement (signaled, according to a practice of the time, with both commas and parentheses) seems to be saying that the Devil is identical to Nature; but the references to Nature in Queen Mab and other poems of this period suggest that Shelley held no such belief at this time. More likely, he is noting that people use "human nature" as their excuse for following their own evil desires--i.e., Satan.
line 82. change : Shelley alludes to the Prince of Wales's betrayal of his old Whig friends when he became Regent in 1812.
line 83. This line burlesques line 4 in Joseph Addison's "Ode," later the text of a standard hymn, the opening stanza of which follows the thought of Psalm 19, verse 1 ("The Heavens declare the glory of God" etc.): "The Spacious Firmament on high, | With all the blue Etherial sky, | And spangled Heav'ns, a Shining Frame, | Their great Original proclaim" (The Spectator, No. 465, 23 Aug 1712; ed. D. F. Bond, IV [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965], 144).
84-87. This stanza is the only one that, in both the
letter text and the broadside version of Shelley's poem,
replicates the idea of an entire stanza of The Devil's Thoughts by R.
Southey and S. T. Coleridge (1799), which reads in a note to J.
D. Campbell's edition of Coleridge (p. 621): "He saw a lawyer
killing a viper | On the dunghill beside his stable; | Oh-oh;
quoth he, for it put him in mind | Of the story of Cain and
In 84 the medial comma marks a rhetorical pause to indicate the inversion of natural word-order at the end of the line.
line 88. yeoman: an independent farmer who owned (rather than leased or rented) the land that he worked.
line 91. The punctuation ending this line is a semicolon, though in facsimiles it might be read as a colon.
line 94. garb of gore: i.e., the red coats of the British soldiers.
lines 96-97. Perhaps a reference to those who collect and live on rents, taxes, and tithes.
lines 100-107. That is, Bishops = pigs and Lawyers = cormorants. In Paradise Lost when Satan entered Eden, he "Sat like a Cormorant" upon the Tree of Life (IV.196).
line 106. In the second half of The Devil's Walk, we have restored several rhetorical commas found in 1812 but omitted by earlier editors, whom we join, however, in deleting a comma between are and sin-like. Though Shelley may have intended this comma to indicate the location of the caesura, it confuses the syntax more than it clarifies the rhythm of the line.
line 114. statesman : though the Oxford English Dictionary finds positive connotations to this word, opposing it to the modern connotations of "politician," English writers from Dryden through Lockhart frequently used it as a term of contempt: e.g., "like Great Statesmen, we encourage those who betray their Friends" (Gay, Beggar's Opera II.x); "Tho' equal to all things, for all things unfit, | Too nice [i.e., ethical] for a statesman, too proud for a wit: | . . . And too fond of the right to pursue the expedient" (from Retaliation, Goldsmith's "epitaph" on Burke, 37-40). Shelley used "statesman" pejoratively in Queen Mab IV.80, 104, 168, and V.93.
line 115. dare is conditional or subjunctive; i.e., "The Devil would, could, or might dare . . . ."
120. thy, the reading in 1812, has been
emended to the by earlier editors; but this phrase,
addressing Satan directly, may begin the intentional shift from
Satan's perspective to that of the author that carries on in
Hark . . . I hear (128) and the judgmental final
Stygian, pertaining to the Styx, the river boundary of the classical underworld; hence, Hellish. Milton uses the adjective in L'Allegro, Comus, and five times in Paradise Lost.
line 123. gory laurel : though the reference is generic for honors won in war, it may also allude to poets who praise war and specifically to Southey, who as Shelley would know was publishing many poems in support of the Peninsular Campaign. Though Southey did not become Poet Laureate till 1813, he had actively pursued a government sinecure since 1809 to help support his family--and Coleridge's family as well (Jack Simmons, Southey 137 ff.). During their frank discussions at Keswick, Southey may have told Shelley of his hopes for the Laureateship whenever it became time to appoint a successor to Henry James Pye (1745-1813), the laughably bad poet who was the current Laureate.
line 128. An early use of Shelley's favorite symbolism equating earthquake with political revolution.
140-143. ere (141) suggests that the
sons of reason may bring about a Millennium before the
final Apocalypse. It appears here that Shelley thought
that Earth's destruction was likely to follow from a
conflagration generated by the Sun or a wayward comet. The
thought he later pursued in Queen Mab about a
millennium introduced by the preseccion of the equinoxes to the
point at which the pole on which the earth rotates would no
longer be tilted in relation to the Sun does not seem to be
relevant her, since the Pole is here to be "consumed" or
destroyed, rather than realigned. But the main point of
interest may be that at this early age, when he was most
politically active, Shelley was already able to look
past the "World's great age" to a return of "hate and death"
without abandoning or minimizing the benefits of even temporary
political reform and social improvement.