Upton Sinclair put forth a much more judicious view of the writing of Percy Shelley than is to be found in the rather breathless hysteria of Adam Kirsch’s psycho-dramatic portrait in the New Yorker.
Sinclair discussed Shelley in a chapter of Mammonart:
“Shelley was one among the sons of Rousseau who did not falter and turn back to feudalism, Catholicism, or mysticism of any sort. He fixed his eyes upon the future, and never wavered for a moment. He attacked class privilege, not merely political, but industrial; and so he is the coming poet of labor.”
The “poet of labor” it goes without saying won’t be found in the pages of the New Yorker. Nor, of course, the counterpart critic. Too bad because it would be far more enlightening and useful to have the views of a critic like Sinclair on Shelley side-by-side with the views of a critic like Kirsch.
Sinclair had to self publish Mammonart. Kirsch’s review is sponsored by corporate money, per usual.
Mammonart chapter on Shelley here.
Chapter 58 from Mammonart, by Upton Sinclair:
The Angel of Revolt
Percy Bysse Shelley was born in 1792, which made him four years younger than Byron. His father was the richest baronet in the county of Sussex, a great landlord and a ferocious Tory, who typified the spirit of the age and drove his son almost to madness.
The boy was sent to school at Eton, a dreadful place inhabited by gnomes who wear all day the clothes which our little rich boys wear to evening parties, and the hats which our grown-up rich boys wear to the opera. They had a system of child slavery known as “fagging,” and Shelley revolted against it and was tortured. He was a swift, proud spirit, made frantic by the sight or even the thought of tyranny; so sensitive that he swooned at the scent of the flowers in Alpine valleys. He was gifted with a marvelous mind, ravenous for knowledge, and absorbing it at incredible speed.
Continue reading Percy Bysse Shelley — “The Angel of Revolt” — by Upton Sinclair
From the conclusion of “The Angel of Revolt” – Chapter 58 in Mammonart by Upton Sinclair:
Shelley died at the age of thirty, drowned in a storm while sailing a boat; and with him perished the finest mind the English race had produced. I make this statement deliberately, knowing the ridicule it will excite; but I ask you, before you decide: take the men of genius of England one by one, wipe out their lives after the age of thirty, and see what you have left. Will you take Shakespeare? You will know him as the author of “Venus and Adonis” and “The Rape of Lucrece” and “Love’s Labor Lost” and “The Comedy of Errors,” and possibly “Richard III” and some sonnets. Will you take Milton, with “L’Allegro” and “Il Penseroso” and “Comus” and “Lycidas,” and nothing else? Will you go to the Continent, and take Goethe, who outlived Shelley? What would you think of Goethe if you had only “Goetz” and “Werther” and a few lyric poems?
Shelley was one among the sons of Rousseau who did not falter and turn back to feudalism, Catholicism, or mysticism of any sort. He fixed his eyes upon the future, and never wavered for a moment. He attacked class privilege, not merely political, but industrial; and so he is the coming poet of labor. Some day, and that not so far off, the strongholds of class greed in Britain will be stormed, and when the liberated workers take up the task of making a new culture, they will learn that there was one inspired saint in their history who visioned that glad day, and gave up everything in life to bring it nearer. They will honor Shelley by making him their poet-laureate, and hailing him as the supreme glory of English letters.
[Upton Sinclair’s complete Chapter 58 on Shelley.]
What is art? We shall give a definition, and take the rest of the book to prove it. We hope to prove it both psychologically, by watching the art process at work, and historically, by analyzing the art works of the ages. We assert:
Art is a representation of life, modified by the personality of the artist, for the purpose of modifying other personalities, inciting them to changes of feeling, belief and action.
Continue reading Upton Sinclair — Mammonart — Ch. II cont. b. — Who Owns the Artists?
The book purposes to investigate the whole process of art creation, and to place the art function in relation to the sanity, health and progress of mankind. It will attempt to set up new canons in the arts, overturning many of the standards now accepted. A large part of the world’s art treasures will be taken out to the scrap-heap, and a still larger part transferred from the literature shelves to the history shelves of the world’s library.
Since childhood the writer has lived most of his life in the world’s art. For thirty years he has been studying it consciously, and for twenty-five years he has been shaping in his mind the opinions here recorded; testing and revising them by the art-works which he has produced, and by the stream of other men’s work which has flowed through his mind. His decisions are those of a working artist, one who has been willing to experiment and blunder for himself, but who has also made it his business to know and judge the world’s best achievements.
The conclusion to which he has come is that mankind is today under the spell of utterly false conceptions of what art is and should be; of utterly vicious and perverted standards of beauty and dignity. We list six great art lies now prevailing in the world, which this book will discuss:
Continue reading Upton Sinclair — Mammonart — Ch. II cont. — Who Owns the Artists?
Many and various are the art-forms which the sons and grandsons of Ogi [first artist] have invented; but of all these forms, the one which bores us most quickly is the parable–a little story made up for the purpose of illustrating a special lesson. Therefore, I hasten to drop Ogi and his sons and grandsons, and to say in plain English that this book is as study of the artist in his relation to the propertied classes. Its thesis is that from the dawn of human history, the path to honor and success in the arts has been through the service and glorification of the ruling classes; entertaining them, making them pleasant to themselves, and teaching their subjects and slaves to stand in awe of them.
Throughout this book the word artist is used, not in the narrow sense popular in America, as man who paints pictures and illustrates magazines; but in its broad sense, as one who represents life imaginatively by any device, whether picture or statue or poem or song or symphony or opera or drama or novel. It is my intention to study these artists from a point of view so far as I know entirely new; to ask how they get their living, and what they do for it; to turn their pockets inside out, and see what is in them and where it came from; to put to them the question already put to priest and preachers, editors and journalists, college presidents and professors, school superintendents and teachers: WHO OWNS YOU, AND WHY?
The book will present an interpretation of the arts from the point of view of the class struggle. It will study art works as instruments of propaganda and repression, employed by the ruling classes of the community; or as weapons of attack, employed by new classes rising into power. It will study the artists who are recognized and honored by critical authority, and ask to what extent they have been servants of ruling class prestige and instruments of ruling class safety. It will consider also the rebel artists, who have failed to serve their masters, and ask what penalties they have paid for their rebellion.