Today we meet Percy and Mary Shelly, a young English couple who spend a lot of time in Europe – it is rumoured that he is struggling with debts to the Inland Revenue or other creditors – and therefore they may have some interesting views on Brexit and other political issues.
Poet Percy Shelley is also well known for his advanced anti-establishment and nonviolence ideas, and his wife Mary Shelly, who wrote Frankenstein, is the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, a prominent reformer and early feminist writer, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman which was published in 1792.
Question: Percy, there seems to be a consensus that the UK vote to leave the European Union was much influenced by anti-immigration and xenophobic rhetoric on the part of the Leave campaign. How do you feel about such propaganda, including islamophobia?
Percy Shelley: A Christian, a Deist, a Turk, and a Jew, have equal rights: they are men and brethren. If a person’s religious ideas correspond not with your own, love him nevertheless. How different would yours have been, had the chance of birth placed you in Tartary or India!
Q: Yet the Brexiters gave all sorts of reasons to justify fearing immigrants, mind you, all bogus arguments.
PS: Reason respects the differences, and imagination the similitudes of things.
Q: And although the Leave campaign was run by some of the most privileged people in the country and responded to their economic interests, many workers joined in to exit Europe. Is that strange? Or even sad?
PS: Men of England, wherefore plough
For the lords who lay ye low?
Gold is a living god and rules in scorn,
All earthly things but virtue.
Q: Almost at the same time the Chilcot Report showed that the war against Iraq that left so many dead was unnecessary, based on false premises and almost certainly illegal. Do you have a view?
PS: Man has no right to kill his brother; it is no excuse that he does so in uniform. He only adds the infamy of servitude to the crime of murder.
War is the statesman’s game, the priest’s delight,
The lawyer’s jest, the hired assassin’s trade.
Q: You are famous for proposing a form of nonviolent resistance as the way to protest against injustice and inequality. How does that work?
PS: Stand ye calm and resolute,
Like a forest close and mute,
With folded arms and looks which are
Weapons of unvanquished war.
…Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number —
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you —
Ye are many — they are few.
Q: So, would you recommend nonviolence to deal with any conflict? Reconciliation rather than revenge?
PS: When my cats aren’t happy, I’m not happy. Not because I care about their mood but because I know they’re just sitting there thinking up ways to get even.
Q: But do you see anything in the human being, even in those in power, that gives you hope?
PS: … they who wore
Mitres and helms and crowns, or wreaths of light,
Signs of thought’s empire over thought —their lore
Taught them not this, to know themselves; their might
Could not repress the mystery within.
Q: So, if people both in the establishment and the oppressed and anti-establishment managed to make contact with this “mystery within”, what kind of future would you envisage?
PS: The world’s great age begins anew,
The golden years return,
The earth doth like a snake renew
Her winter weeds outworn;
Heaven smiles, and faiths and empires gleam,
Like wrecks of a dissolving dream.
Q: And you Mary, do you also see an opportunity for something more positive arising from this state of crisis?
Mary Shelley: Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos.
Q: But you acknowledge this is a time a great injustice and danger for ordinary people. Do you think there is sanctuary in the Law for the common man?
MS: All judges had rather that ten innocent should suffer than that one guilty should escape.
Q: How do you keep cheerful and looking forward to the future, even at times of great social and personal upheaval?
MS: I feel my heart glow with an enthusiasm which elevates me to heaven, for nothing contributes so much to tranquillize the mind as a steady purpose — a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye.
Q: But as a woman you have experienced discrimination and it has not been so easy to have your ideas heard, just like your mother Mary Wollstonecraft, who also tragically died giving birth. Why do people deride female thinking so? Why women in public life are criticised for the way they dress or arrange their hair instead of listening to their discourse, even if that is a concern for some women (and actually for many men too!)
MS: It is hardly surprising that women concentrate on the way they look instead of what is in their minds since not much has been put in their minds to begin with.
Q: Ah, of course, education! Yes, it is true that there are still differences in many parts of the world with respect to male and female education. And the message from the Media and the culture of celebrity is also that women should concentrate on being thin and pretty rather than cultivate their ideas. So, do you think this trend could be reversed if women had more power over men?
MS: I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.
Q: But is there a case to try to punish the people who have created unfairness, and violence in so many forms? Should there not be revenge against evil?
MS: No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.
Q: Any final words of wisdom for your Pressenza readers?
MS: Live, and be happy, and make others so.
All quotes mentioned in this article can be found in: