Percy Bysshe Shelley, one of the foremost Romantic poets, was significantly influenced by the philosophical and political ideas of Godwin, Plato, and Rousseau. Here’s a brief account of their influence on him:
William Godwin: Godwin was not only a prominent philosopher but also Shelley’s father-in-law. Godwin’s work, particularly “An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice,” greatly influenced Shelley’s political and philosophical outlook. The text advocates for human perfectibility, the power of reason, and the harmfulness of existing political institutions. Under Godwin’s influence, Shelley came to view the state and organized religion as oppressive forces, and he believed in the transformative power of the individual’s rational mind. Furthermore, the novel “Caleb Williams” by Godwin, which deals with themes of tyranny and social injustice, also resonated with Shelley’s sensibilities.
Plato: The Platonic philosophy, especially the idea of an ideal world of Forms or Ideas, had a profound impact on Shelley’s poetry. This is evident in works such as “Adonais,” where Shelley speaks of a world beyond the physical, which can be compared to Plato’s world of Forms. Additionally, Shelley’s translation of Plato’s “Symposium” and his essay “A Defence of Poetry” reflect his engagement with Platonic ideas. In the latter, he echoes Plato’s conception of the poet as a visionary who can inspire and elevate humanity.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Rousseau’s belief in the innate goodness of humanity and the idea that society corrupts this natural virtue greatly influenced Shelley. Rousseau’s “Confessions” and “Emile” emphasize the idea that individuals are born good but are corrupted by society’s institutions. Shelley’s belief in the transformative potential of love, his critiques of societal norms, and his emphasis on individual emotion over societal conventions can be traced back to Rousseau’s philosophy. The revolutionary spirit of Rousseau’s works, particularly “The Social Contract,” also played a part in shaping Shelley’s political beliefs and his vision of a just society.
Overall, the combined influences of Godwin, Plato, and Rousseau contributed to the formation of Shelley’s philosophical, political, and poetic ethos. His writings often reflect a synthesis of these thinkers’ ideas, interpreted through his unique lens and applied to the social and political concerns of his time.