Hidden treasures from the Matthews-Shelley Collection

The Matthews-Shelley Collection is one of our rare book collections, and was created by the Shelley scholar G.M. (Geoffrey) Matthews (1920-1984), Professor of English at the University of Reading. The collection contains items relating to the life and works of the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and is one of our lesser-known holdings but contains a number of hidden gems.

Among the editions of Shelley’s works in the collection is a rare first edition of The Poetical Works of Coleridge, Shelley and Keats, published in Paris by A. and W. Galignani in 1829 [see image below]. This important volume constitutes the first collected edition of Keats and only the second collected works of Coleridge and Shelley, and contains works published for the first time from all three poets.

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Title page of ‘The Poetical Works of Coleridge, Shelley and Keats’ (1829)

The collection also includes some beautifully illustrated editions of Shelley’s works. An edition of Shelley’s poems, published by George Bell and Sons in 1902 and part of the ‘Endymion Series’, features illustrations by Robert Anning Bell (1863-1933), who also designed the book’s elegant Arts and Crafts-style binding [see image below]. Anning Bell played an active role in the Arts and Crafts movement as one of its leading artists, and he designed book covers for a number of publishers including Dent, Bell, and John Lane. He also designed covers for two other publications in the ‘Endymion Series’: Poems by John Keats (1897) and English Lyrics from Spenser to Milton (1898).

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Book cover of ‘Poems by Percy Bysshe Shelley’ (1902)

Other illustrated editions include a copy of Shelley’s poem The Sensitive Plant, with exquisite illustrations by another leading Arts and Crafts artist and book designer, Laurence Housman (1865-1959). This publication was printed in a limited edition on Japanese paper for the Guild of Women-Binders in London in 1899.

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Cover of 1947 printing of Shelley’s essay ‘On the Vegetable System of Diet’

Other items of particular interest in the collection include an 1947 printing of an essay by Shelley on vegetarianism, entitled On the Vegetable System of Diet [see image above]. Shelley believed that a meat-free diet was the best mode of consumption for a healthy, disease-free life, and he wrote several other essays on vegetarianism, including A Vindication of Natural Diet (1813).

You don’t need to be an expert on Shelley to access the collection – items are available to view on request to all readers in the Special Collections Service reading room. The collection is partially catalogued on Enterprise and there is also a handlist for the collection.

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