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August 17 1812: Shelley on Marriage

On August 17 1812, Percy Byshhe Shelley writes  to Sir James Lawrence, the author of the The Empire of the Nairs:  Or the Rights of Women, an Utopian Romance (1811). Shelley in his letter discusses the evils of marriage, seduction and love. I wonder what Harriet thought?

Lymouth, Barnstaple, Devon, 
August 17, 1812

Sir,—I feel peculiar satisfaction in seizing the opportunity which your politeness places in my power, of expressing to you personally (as I may say) a high acknowledgment of my sense of your talents and principles, which, before I conceived it possible that I should ever know you, I sincerely entertained. Your "Empire of the Nairs," which I read this spring, succeeded in making me a perfect convert to its doctrines. I then retained no doubts of the evils of marriage; Mrs. Wolstonecraft reasons too well for that; but I had been dull enough not to perceive the greatest argument against it, until developed the "Nairs," viz. prostitution both legal and illegal.

I am a young man, not of age, and have been married a year to a woman younger than myself. Love seems inclined to stay in the prison, and my only reason for putting him in chains, whilst convinced of the unholiness of the act, was a knowledge that, in the present state of society, if love is not thus villainously treated, she who is most loved will be treated worse by a misjudging world. In short, seduction, which term could have no meaning in a rational society, has now a most tremendous one; the fictitious merit attached to chastity has made that a forerunner to the most terrible ruins which in Malabar would be a pledge of honour and homage. If there is any enormous and desolating, crime of which I should shudder to be accused, it is seduction. I need not say how I admire "Love;" and, little as a British public seems to appreciate its merit, in. not permitting it to emerge from a first edition, it is with satisfaction I find that justice had conceded abroad what bigotry has denied at home. I shall take the liberty of sending you any little publication I may give to the world. Mrs. S. joins with myself in hoping, if we come to London this winter, we may be favoured with the personal friendship of one whose writings we have learnt to esteem.

Yours, very truly,
Percy Bysshe Shelley.

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