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August 20 1812: Authorities Watching Mr. Shelley

On August 20, 1812, Henry Drake, Town Clerk of Barnstaple, writes to Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary, about a Mr. Shelley. In particular, he is writing about the arrest of  Shelley's Irish Servant for posting and distributing a copy of Shelley's Declaration of Rights. Daniel was charged with ten counts of "Publishing and dispersing Printed Papers without the Printer's name being on them under the Act of 39. Geo. 3.c.79." Daniel Healey, his servant, will eventually serve six months in jail since he will not be able to pay the £200 fine imposed on his conviction. Shelley does not have enough money to pay the fine.

In his letter, Drake also notes that Shelley has been under surveillance for some time. "Mr Shelley," Drake writes, "has been regarded with a suspicious Eye since he has been in Lymouth, from the Circumstance of his very extensive Correspondence and many of his Packages and Letters being addressed to Sir Francis Burdett--and it is also said that Mr Shelley has sent off so many as 16 Letters by the same Post." Drake also writes that Shelley has been releasing bottles into the Bristol Channel with one such bottle containing "a seditious Paper" in it. Drake writes:
The Mayor has also been informed that Mr. Shelley has been seen frequently to go out in a Boat a short distance from Land and drop some Bottles into the Sea, and that at one time he was observed to wade into the Water and drop a Bottle which afterwards drifting ashore, was picked up, and on being broken was found to contain a seditious Paper, the Contents of which the Mayor has not yet been able to ascertain but will apprize your Lordship immediately on learning further particulars.
We owe the survival of Shelley's Devil's Walk to Drake who sent a copy to the Home Office. Shelley probably destroyed the other copies after the arrest of his servant. Drake's letter can be found here in the interesting site Luddite Bicentenary. The information in this post is from the very fine introduction by Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat which is reproduced in part below and can be found here.

Shelley resided at Mrs. Hooper's in the small fishing village of Lymouth for nine weeks and three days (see Godwin's account in Shelley, Letters I, 326 fn. 8), from there trying to circulate both The Devil's Walk and Declaration of Rights in West Devonshire by hand and to other parts of England by mail. According to a letter dated 20 August 1812 from Henry Drake, Town Clerk of Barnstaple, to Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary, the former attempt ended on the evening of 19 August, when Shelley's Irish servant, Daniel (né Healey) was "observed distributing and posting" Declaration of Rights at Barnstaple; he was arrested and charged with ten counts of "Publishing and dispersing Printed Papers without the Printer's name being on them [as mandated] under the Act of 39. Geo. 3.c.79." Daniel Hill (as Healey gave his name) was duly tried and convicted by the Mayor of Barnstaple and fined £20 for each offense. Unable to pay the £200, he was incarcerated in "the Common Gaol" of that Borough. While Healey (without betraying his master) began to serve six months in Barnstaple jail in lieu of paying the fine, the town officials investigated Shelley; Drake's letter notes that "Mr Shelley has been regarded with a suspicious Eye since he has been in Lymouth, from the Circumstance of his very extensive Correspondence and many of his Packages and Letters being addressed to Sir Francis Burdett--and it is also said that Mr Shelley has sent off so many as 16 Letters by the same Post-; Drake goes on to tell of Shelley and his group launching bottles into the Bristol Channel, one of which was found to contain "a seditious Paper" (Public Record Office, H.O. 42/127). That Shelley tried to disseminate his broadsheets thus impersonally by sea in bottles and by air in balloons (both launchings are celebrated in sonnets in The Esdaile Notebook) seems much less foolish when one considers the penalty for distributing them in person.
After Healey's arrest, most copies of The Devil's Walk were probably destroyed or discarded (perhaps Shelley cast them into the sea sans bottles) before the Shelleys fled Devon about the end of August. Thus the single extant copy of The Devil's Walk owes its preservation to Drake, the Devonshire Dogberry, whose copies of the Declaration of Rights and The Devil's Walk eventually went from the Home Office into the Public Record Office, where they reside with the letter quoted above and a second letter that Drake wrote to Sidmouth on 9 Sept. 1812.

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