Percy Shelley Buffs:

I start my Parent-Child Speech and Child Custody Speech Restrictions paper with the story of Percy Shelley, who lost custody of his children largely because he was an atheist. It would be really cool, I think, to get an epigraph from one of Shelley's poems that relates either (1) to a parent's love for his children, and pain at being parted from them, or (2) to Shelley's atheism. I assume there should be plenty of the latter, but I'm not sure about the former. I also need it to be terse, preferably a half dozen lines or less.

If any of you know your Shelley, or know people who know their Shelley, and can help out, I'd be much obliged. Please just post the answers, if any, in the comments. Many thanks!

Sasha (mail):
I've excerpted the following from Queen Mab, part VI, lines 47-72:

'Spirit, on yonder earth,
Falsehood now triumphs; deadly power
Has fixed its seal upon the lip of truth!
Madness and misery are there!
The happiest is most wretched! . . .
How calm and sweet the victories of life,
How terrorless the triumph of the grave!
How powerless were the mightiest monarch's arm,
Vain his loud threat, and impotent his frown!
How ludicrous the priest's dogmatic roar!
The weight of his exterminating curse
How light! and his affected charity,
To suit the pressure of the changing times,
What palpable deceit!--but for thy aid,
Religion! but for thee, prolific fiend,
Who peoplest earth with demons, hell with men,
And heaven with slaves!

'Thou taintest all thou lookest upon!-- . . .

The part about religion extends through the end of part VI.
9.21.2005 2:39pm
Sasha (mail):
This is very general, but here's a quote from To William Shelley (his son who died young):

Where art thou, my gentle child?
9.21.2005 2:45pm
Sasha (mail):
So I guess you're right that the atheism quote was easier to find than the parent/child quote. You probably want a better one than that. I think the atheism bit I excerpted shouldn't be too hard to distill. How about:

Falsehood now triumphs; deadly power
Has fixed its seal upon the lip of truth! . . .
Religion! . . . prolific fiend,
Who peoplest earth with demons, hell with men,
And heaven with slaves!
'Thou taintest all thou lookest upon!

From Queen Mab, VI.48-72
9.21.2005 2:54pm
elaine (mail):
This request made me smile because, of course, Shelley's best known treatment of filial relations is the Cenci, which is the story of a tyrannical father who, among other villainies, rapes his daughter Beatrice, who in turn eventually kills him.

But that's probably not the message you're looking for!
9.21.2005 3:19pm
Long Gone (mail):
You might find passages of ironic interest in Shelley's play "The Cenci," which has a lot to do with true and false fathers, and in which an abusive father stand also in some way for the abusive authority of the Church and the State.

Just quickly looking on-line: Act II opens with talk of the recent parricide:

WEEP not, my gentle boy; he struck but me,
Who have borne deeper wrongs. In truth, if he
Had killed me, he had done a kinder deed.
O God Almighty, do thou look upon us,
We have no other friend but only thee!
Yet weep not; though I love you as my own,
I am not your true mother.

Oh, more, more
Than ever mother was to any child,
That have you been to me! Had he not been
My father, do you think that I should weep?
[. . . ]


Mother, if I to thee have ever been
A duteous child, now save me! Thou, great God,
Whose image upon earth a father is,
Dost thou indeed abandon me?
9.21.2005 3:21pm
not a poet:
I think the one that Sasha cited - "To William Shelley" - covers both topics quite nicely. Did you intend that, Sasha? Nice work.
9.21.2005 5:38pm
Sasha (mail):
Not a poet: Hmm, well, the To William Shelley poem does have that Italian epigraph at the top, but if that's what you're referring to, it's not squarely anti-religious, only anti-organized religion at best.

The substance of the poem doesn't endorse a traditional Christian theology, but with its apparent endorsement of "divine thing[s]" and spirits in nature, it sounds more like a vague pantheism than any kind of atheism. Since that kind of pantheism is a staple of even mainstream, trite grief poetry, I don't think it's really a good illustration of Shelley's atheist tendencies.

Or perhaps I've got your suggestion all wrong?
9.21.2005 6:19pm
not a poet:
Sasha - this is perhaps reading too much into it, but I think this intercepts with atheism in that it perhaps illustrates the best wistful happy face that an atheist can put on in the face of such a loss. He can't console with "he's in heaven now," or "he's reincarnated," or whatever. But he can say "he lives on in the seeds and weeds etc." I don't think it's truly pantheistic, but to the extent it flirts with pantheism or any theism, I think that may reflect that for many atheists, dealing with loss -- esp. loss of a child like this -- is one of the greatest challenges of staying atheist. It's one thing to say "I can deal with the thought of my own end-of-existence," and another to say "Little William is just plain gone." Without theistic solace, the "he's in nature now" is about the best it gets.

So the poem is not a paean to atheism, or even a defense of it, but it does reflect his atheism.

Does that make any sense? I'm not much of a critic, and am of course not a poet, so this may be purely philistine silliness after all. Perhaps I should go back to the law posts. :-)
9.21.2005 7:17pm
Pamela Siska:
See "To the Lord Chancellor," which Shelley wrote in 1817 in direct response to being refused custody. There are several relevant passages, one of which is:

" . . . the despair which bids a father groan,
And cry, 'My children are no longer mine,'"

9.21.2005 8:39pm
Richard Bennett (www):
What on earth possessed you to write this paper, Volokh? There are a huge number of gross inequities in the treatment of divorced parents (especially fathers) by the law, but free speech is such a minor issue it doesn't merit all this attention. In fact, every minute family law specialists spend discussing this paper is a minute they won't spend discussing something important.

I'm not saying your ideas lack legal merit; they lack existential merit, and that's much more important.
9.22.2005 9:36pm