Queen Mab with P B Shelley's revisions for The Daemon of the World


In 1815 Percy Bysshe Shelley set about revising Queen Mab, marking changes in this copy of the 1813 edition which had been printed privately and circulated. There is another copy with marked changes, and this copy appears to be a fair copy marked up from other notes, now lost. 

How does The Daemon of the World develop from Queen Mab?

Queen Mab was printed in 1813 when Shelley was just twenty years old, and is an extraordinary work of ethical and radical thought. Extensive notes protested against marriage, meat-eating and the nature of organised religion. The decision not to publish openly was made when neither printer nor publisher agreed to put their names on the frontispiece; but the work was circulated privately and from 1821 pirated copies were widely available.

The altered text, effectively a manuscript for cantos 1 and 2, is very close to the version printed in the volume Alastor in 1816, and is treated by Neville Rogers, editor of Shelley’s works, as a fair copy.

What is the relationship between Queen Mab and The Daemon of the World?

In The Daemon of the World Shelley is seeking to put forward a more mature view, in which his faith in William Godwin’s idea of the enlightened rationalism of thought gives way to Platonic idea of the existence of Love. The daemons in the later work are abstract ideas, like Love, but also potentially destructive concepts, like the ‘furies of an irresistible passion’ to which the poet is subject in Alastor. The revision was made while Shelley was torn between his wife Harriet, who took her own life in December 1816, and Mary Godwin, with whom he had eloped in July 1814. 

Mary Shelley proposed that ‘the alterations his mind underwent ought to be recorded, for they form his history’. In this reading, Queen Mab is a phase in the development of the poet’s mind, undergoing revision in The Daemon of the World. H Buxton Forman, a Shelley scholar, proposed that ‘by 1815 Shelley’s faith in Queen Mab was shaken to its foundations; for had he not far outstripped its overcharged rhetoric and bombastic fury?’.

The volume also contained much revised versions of the first two cantos of Queen Mab, published under the title The Daemon of the World, along with another revised section (entitled ‘Superstition’) from canto 6. In style and theme Alastor shows the influence of Wordsworth's Excursion (1814) and its portrait of the disillusioned Solitary. While Shelley disliked Wordsworth's reactionary politics (as he saw them), Alastor reveals that he now regarded the question of the poet's role as provoking dilemmas. Furnished with an epigraph from St Augustine about wanting to love while not finding what to love, the poem, in its brooding introspection, is a world away from the explicit radicalism of Queen Mab.

Full title:
The Daemon of the World
Book / Manuscript annotation / Draft
Percy Bysshe Shelley
© Estate of Percy Bysshe Shelley & Harriet Shelley
Held by
British Library
Ashley MS 4040

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