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Letters: Unjust imprisonment of Shelley's poem


John Mullan's commentary on The Masque of Anarchy was a welcome and informative read (Anarchy in Peterloo, G2, 9 July) and it's great that the poem itself is available online. If only this were the case for Shelley's Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things, published in 1811. Having slipped out of sight for nearly 200 years, the poem was "discovered" in 2006, put up for sale and is now "in private hands". The effect of this bit of business is that the poem is not generally available, as making it so would lower the value of this unique copy. This reminds me that though we talk blithely about the "republic of letters" and the "free circulation of ideas", when it comes to the rules of property, we interested readers can go hang. Perhaps Amnesty could take on the injustice of the continuing imprisonment of Shelley's poem.
Michael Rosen

• Maxine Peake is to perform Shelley's The Masque of Anarchy in Manchester this weekend. It's some feat. Years apart, Paul Foot persuaded two of his young sons, Matt and Tom Foot, into learning the poem by heart. His eldest son, John Foot, refused the bribe. It was a commercial transaction at so much a verse, the rate rising with the number of verses remembered. A cassette records Matt reciting 73 of the 91 verses when he was under 10 and also, years later, Tom reciting the poem on his 13th birthday on 16 August 1992. In 1819, that was the day of the Peterloo massacre outside Manchester. Shelley's poem was a furious response to the massacre, but it was not published until 10 years after his death. Paul's wonderful book, Red Shelley, was written to restore Shelley's political ideas to his poetry.
Rose Foot

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