Topoi of 'Blood and Gold' in Mary and Percy Shelley

Queen Mab as Topological Repertoire

by Timothy Morton

Topoi of 'Blood and Gold' in Mary and Percy Shelley: a non-exhaustive list

(references taken from Shelley and the Revolution in Taste  and Hutchinson's Poetical Works ).

Blood and Gold

(marking: stamping, sealing, writing) (/ecotopia: speaking, looking)

Alexander Pope, Essay on Man : Nor think, in NATURE's STATE they blindly trod; The state of Nature was the reign of God: Self-love and Social at her birth began, Union the bond of all things, and of Man. Pride then was not; nor arts, that Pride to aid; Man walk'd with beast, joint tenant of the shade; The same his table, and the same his bed; Nor murder cloath'd him, and no murder fed. In the same temple, the resounding wood, All vocal beings hymn'd their equal God. The shrine with gore unstain'd, with gold undrest, Unbrib'd, unbloody, stood the blameless priest: Heav'n's attribute was Universal Care, And Man's prerogative to rule, but spare. Ah! how unlike the man of times to come! Of half that live the butcher and the tomb; Who, foe to Nature, hears the gen'ral groan, Murders their species, and betrays his own. But just disease to luxury succeeds, And ev'ry death its own avenger breeds; The fury-passions from that blood began, And turn'd on Man a fiercer savage, Man. (III.147)

John Lawrence, A Philosophical and Practical Treatise on Horses (1796): It has been said that the world could not have either gold, sugar, or coals but at the expense of human blood and human liberty. The world in that case ought not to have either gold, sugar, or coals. The principle admits of no qualification. But the assertion was fallacious and unfounded; these comforts are all attainable by honest means, by voluntary and fairly remunerated industry. (Lawrence distinguishes (rather unsuccessfully) between his position and that of a significant group of others, people described in a quotation as 'saints' who 'were for / abolishing black-pudding / And eating nothing with the blood in': 'I am aware of a small sect of Bramins [sic] among us who are disposed to take a step beyond me.' 'Bramins' were known as members of an Indian caste who abstained from meat, and vegetable eaters were often referred to as Brahmins.)

Percy Shelley, Queen Mab : Description of the King's meal: If gold, Gleaming around, and numerous viands culled From every clime, could force the loathing sense To overcome satiety. (iii.46-48) ('Viands' here implies meat, hence blood.) War is the statesman's game, the priest's delight, The lawyer's jest, the hired assassin's trade, And, to those royal murderers, whose mean thrones Are bought by crimes of treachery and gore. (iv.168-71) They cajole with gold, And promises of fame, the thoughtless youth Already crushed with servitude: he knows His wretchedness too late, and cherishes Repentance for his ruin, when his doom Is sealed with gold and blood. (iv.190-95) (The seal is a significant motif in the topos.) Part v passim, on commerce, varied amplified versions of Blood and Gold. vi.103-121 (an extended version of the topos starting with God's golden throne and ending with the 'torn entrails' of a mother). the costly altars smoked With human blood. . . (vii.98-99) (Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew, is speaking.) viii.170-86. A description of slavery. See especially: Or he was changed with Christians for their gold, And dragged to distant isles, where to the sound Of the flesh-mangling scourge, he does the work Of all-polluting luxury and wealth. (177-80) ('Mangling' is significant in Shelley's vegetarian poetry and prose.)

Percy Shelley, The Revolt of Islam : There was no corn-in the wide market-place All loathliest things, even human flesh, was sold; They weighed it in small scales-and many a face Was fixed in eager horror then: his gold The miser brought; the tender maid, grown bold Through hunger, bared her scorned charms in vain; The mother brought her eldest-born, controlled By instinct blind as love, but turned again And bade her infant suck, and died in silent pain. (X.xix3955-3963) (Cythna) ' "Whence come ye, friends? from pouring human blood Forth on the earth? Or bring ye steel and gold, That Kings may dupe and slay the multitude? Or from the famished poor, pale, weak, and cold, Bear ye the earnings of their toil? Unfold! Speak! Are your hands in slaughter's sanguine hue Stained freshly? have your hearts in guile grown old? Know yourselves thus! ye shall be pure as dew, And I will be a friend and sister unto you." ' (VIII.xviii.3352-60) (3358 alludes to Macbeth II.ii.55-57: Lady Macbeth jokes, 'If he do bleed, / I'll gild the faces of the grooms withal, / For it must seem their guilt.') Back and lo! the long array Of guards in golden arms, and Priests beside, Singing their bloody hymns. . . (XII.4459-4461)

Percy Shelley, The Witch of Atlas : Her cave was stored with scrolls of strange device, The works of some Saturnian Archimage, Which taught the expiations at whose price Men from the Gods might win that happy age Too lightly lost, redeeming native vice; And which might quench the Earth-consuming rage Of gold and blood-till men should live and move Harmonious as the sacred stars above. (185-92) (This is also an example of Ecotopia. Pythagoras, the Western embodiment of vegetarianism, is a good analogue for the 'Saturnian Archimage'.)

Percy Shelley, Swellfoot the Tyrant : Food provides a way of imaging politicized relationships between figurative language and violence in Swellfoot . Mammon sees political control as all very easy: just 'decimate some regiments' (I.i.106), forge some 'coin paper' (107) (again, a concurrence of blood and gold). It is all a question of figures (the numerical sense connoting an extreme arbitrariness), and of treating bodies as figures. This elision of the difference between an arbitrary system (paper money) and the bodies of men can also be expressed the other way round, so that paper money makes gold: gold will 'purge himself, / In emulation of her vestal whiteness' (109). The aristocrats are by implication sucking the blood and excrement out of John Bull like the animals they use to spy on Iona, the Gadfly, the Leech and the Rat. back

Percy Shelley, Charles I : Noticing the Archbishop, the Citizen remarks: Rather say the Pope: London will be soon his Rome: he walks As if he trod upon the heads of men: He looks elate, drunken with blood and gold; - Beside him moves the Babylonian woman Invisibly, and with her as his shadow, Mitred adulterer! he is joined in sin, Which turns Heaven's milk of mercy to revenge. (I.58) Percy Shelley, The Triumph of Life : The anarch chiefs, whose force and murderous snares Had founded many a sceptre-bearing line, And spread the plague of gold and blood abroad. (285-87) (Notice the miasmatic language, as in Queen Mab .)

Return to Top of "Queen Mab as Topological Repertoire," by Timothy Morton (MLA 1996).

Return to discussion of Blood and Gold