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Percy Bysshe Shelley

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Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
British romantic poet

Percy Bysshe ShelleyThe great instrument of moral good is the imagination.
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Defence of Poetry (written 1821; published 1840). (This axiom was the cornerstone of Shelley's philosophy.) From The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations.

If ignorance of nature gave birth to gods, knowledge of nature is made for their destruction.
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Necessity of Atheism

A God made by man undoubtedly has need of man to make himself known to man.
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Necessity of Atheism

... as belief is a passion of the mind, no degree of criminality is attachable to disbelief; ...
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Necessity of Atheism

Had this author [Sir W Drummond Academical Questions, chap. iii.], instead of inveighing against the guilt and absurdity of atheism, demonstrated its falsehood, his conduct would have, been more suited to the modesty of the skeptic and the toleration of the philosopher.
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Necessity of Atheism

It is easier to suppose that the universe has existed for all eternity than to conceive a being beyond its limits capable of creating it.
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley (attributed: source unknown)

The Galilean is not a favourite of mine. So far from owing him any thanks for his favour, I cannot avoid confessing that I owe a secret grudge to his carpentership.
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley, letter, 24 April 1811 (published in The Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley, vol. 1, ed. by Frederick L Jones, 1964)

Percy Bysshe ShelleyHere I swear, and as I break my oath may ... eternity blast me, here I swear that never will I forgive Christianity! It is the only point on which I allow myself to encourage revenge.... Oh, how I wish I were the Antichrist, that it were mine to crush the Demon; to hurl him to his native Hell never to rise again -- I expect to gratify some of this insatiable feeling in Poetry.
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley, letter, 3 Jan. 1811 (published in The Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley, vol. 1, no. 35, ed. by Frederick L Jones, 1964)

'O Spirit! centuries have set their seal
On this heart of many wounds, and loaded brain,
Since the Incarnate came; humbly he came,
Veiling his horrible Godhead in the shape
Of man, scorned by the world, his name unheard
Save by the rabble of his native town,
Even as a parish demagogue. He led
The crowd; he taught them justice, truth and peace,
In semblance; but he lit within their souls
The quenchless flames of zeal, and blessed the sword
He brought on earth to satiate with the blood
Of truth and freedom his malignant soul
At length his mortal frame was led to death.
I stood beside him; on the torturing cross
No pain assailed his unterrestrial sense;
And yet he groaned. Indignantly I summed
The massacres and miseries which his name
Had sanctioned in my country, and I cried,
"Go! go!" in mockery.
     -- Percy Bysshe Shelley, from Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem (1813), quoted from Front Matter in John E Remsberg, The Christ (1909)

I was an infant when my mother went
To see an atheist burned. She took me there.
The dark-robed priests were met around the pile;
The multitude was gazing silently;
And as the culprit passed with dauntless mien,
Tempered disdain in his unaltering eye,
Mixed with a quiet smile, shone calmly forth;
The thirsty fire crept round his manly limbs;
His resolute eyes were scorched to blindness soon;
His death-pang rent my heart! the insensate mob
Uttered a cry of triumph, and I wept.
"Weep not, child!" cried my mother, "for that man
Has said, 'There is no God.'"
     -- Percy Bysshe Shelley, from Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem VII (1813)

And priests dare babble of a God of peace,
Even whilst their hands are red with guiltless blood,
Murdering the while, uprooting every germ
Of truth, exterminating, spoiling all,
Making the earth a slaughter-house!
     -- Percy Bysshe Shelley, from Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem (1813)

                                   ... and obedience,
Bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth,
Makes slaves of men, and, of the human frame,
A mechanised automaton.
     -- Percy Bysshe Shelley, from Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem (1813)

It is thus that the generality of mankind, whose lot is ignorance, attributes to the Divinity, not only the unusual effects which strike them, but moreover the most simple events, of which the causes are the most simple to understand by whomever is able to study them. In a word, man has always respected unknown causes, surprising effects that his ignorance kept him from unraveling. It was on this debris of nature that man raised the imaginary colossus of the Divinity.
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Necessity of Atheism

It is only by hearsay (by word of mouth passed down from generation to generation) that whole peoples adore the God of their fathers and of their priests: authority, confidence, submission and custom with them take the place of conviction or of proofs: they prostrate themselves and pray, because their fathers taught them to prostrate themselves and pray: but why did their fathers fall on their knees?
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Necessity of Atheism

In fighting for his God everyone, in fact, fights only for the interests of his own vanity, which, of all the passions produced by the mal-organization of society, is the quickest to take offense, and the most capable of committing the greatest follies.
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Necessity of Atheism

If he is infinitely good, what reason should we have to fear him? If he is infinitely wise, why should we have doubts concerning our future? If he knows all, why warn him of our needs and fatigue him with our prayers? If he is everywhere, why erect temples to him? If he is just, why fear that he will punish the creatures that he has filled with weaknesses? If grace does everything for them, what reason would he have for recompensing them? If he is all-powerful, how offend him, how resist him? If he is reasonable, how can he be angry at the blind, to whom he has given the liberty of being unreasonable? If he is immovable, by what right do we pretend to make him change his decrees? If he is inconceivable, why occupy ourselves with him? IF HE HAS SPOKEN, WHY IS THE UNIVERSE NOT CONVINCED? If the knowledge of a God is the most necessary, why is it not the most evident and the clearest.
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Necessity of Atheism

All spirits are enslaved which serve things evil.
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley, Prometheus Unbound (1820), quoted from Encarta Book of Quotations (1999)

Whatever may be his true and final destination, there is a spirit within him at enmity with nothingness and dissolution. This is the character of all life and being.
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Necessity of Atheism

The body is placed under the earth, and after a certain period there remains no vestige even of its form. This is that contemplation of inexhaustible melancholy, whose shadow eclipses the brightness of the world. The common observer is struck with dejection of the spectacle. He contends in vain against the persuasion of the grave, that the dead indeed cease to be. The corpse at his feet is prophetic of his own destiny. Those who have preceded him, and whose voice was delightful to his ear; whose touch met his like sweet and subtle fire: whose aspect spread a visionary light upon his path -- these he cannot meet again.
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Necessity of Atheism

When you can discover where the fresh colors of the faded flower abide, or the music of the broken lyre, seek life among the dead. Such are the anxious and fearful contemplations of the common observer, though the popular religion often prevents him from confessing them even to himself.
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Necessity of Atheism

                              ... destiny:
Of all that earth has been or yet may be,
All that vain men imagine or believe,
Or hope can paint or suffering may achieve,
We descanted.
     -- Percy Bysshe Shelley, Julian and Maddalo. In the poem, Shelley re-created a night spent arguing with Lord Byron in Venice, 23 Aug. 1818, quoted from The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations

This is the pivot upon which all religions turn; they all assume that it is in our power to believe or not to believe: whereas the mind can only believe that which it thinks true. A human being can only be supposed accountable for those actions which are influenced by his will. But belief is utterly distinct from and unconnected with volition it is the apprehension of the agreement or disagreement of the ideas that compose any proposition. Belief is a passion or involuntary operation of the mind, and, like other passions, its intensity is precisely proportionate to the degree of excitement. Volition is essential to merit or demerit. But the Christian religion attaches the highest possible degree of merit and demerit to that which is worthy of neither, and which is totally unconnected with the peculiar faculty of the mind whose presence is essential to their being.
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley, Notes to "Queen Mab"

A book is put into our hands when children, called the Bible, the purport of whose history is briefly this: That God made the earth in six days and there planted a delightful garden, in which He placed the first pair of human beings. In the midst of the garden He planted a tree, whose fruit, although within their reach, they were forbidden to touch. That the Devil, in the shape of a snake, persuaded them to eat of this fruit; in consequence of which God condemned both of them and their posterity yet unborn to satisfy His justice by their eternal misery. That, 4000 years after these events (the human race in the meantime having gone unredeemed to perdition), God engendered with the betrothed wife of a carpenter in Judaea (whose virginity was nevertheless uninjured), and begat a son, whose name was Jesus Christ; and who was crucified and died in order that no more men might be devoted to hell-fire.... The book states, in addition, that the soul of whoever disbelieves this sacrifice will be burned with everlasting fire.
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley, Notes to "Queen Mab" (1813), quoted from Jonathon Green, The Cassell Dictionary of Insulting Quotations

                          ... What are numbers knit
By force or custom? Man who man would be,
Must rule the empire of himself; in it
Must be supreme, establishing his throne
On vanquished will, quelling the anarchy
Of hopes and fears, being himself alone.
     -- Percy Bysshe Shelley, Political Greatness

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