Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” identifies the source of heightened visionary imagination, beseeches its continued presence, and proclaims its power to save the world. The poem’s inception lies in the Zeitgeist of Romanticism (c. 1780-c. 1830), a time of social and political upheaval. The French Revolution (1789-1799), fueled by the American Revolution (1775-1783), had threatened to overthrow the power of the aristocracies of Europe and replace them with a more democratic and humane society. England, fearing contamination by its neighbor, had reacted with harsh measures designed to avert uprisings among its own people, who were already suffering the displacing effects of the Industrial Revolution.
Although the bright hopes of the French Revolution had been darkened by the Reign of Terror and then by the dictatorship of Napoleon Bonaparte, the ideals of the revolution—liberty, brotherhood, and equality—became Shelley’s lasting ideals for humankind. Still, he had come to believe that these ideals could never be realized under then-current intellectual and religious beliefs, that the Judeo-Christian religion and the moral code it had engendered bore responsibility for the injustices that humankind suffers.
At Oxford, Shelley had coauthored a pamphlet called The Necessity of Atheism (1811; with Thomas Jefferson Hogg), arguing that there is no valid evidence for God’s existence. Because of the heretical...
(The entire section is 1383 words.)
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