12 November 2015
Actress Vanessa Redgrave and Oxford Professor of Poetry Simon Armitage joined more than 200 guests at a special event at the Weston Library on 10 November to celebrate the acquisition of the Bodleian Libraries' 12 millionth printed book.
Bodley's Librarian Richard Ovenden revealed that the landmark acquisition is a revolutionary poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley that was first published in 1811 but was considered lost until 2006.
The poem, titled Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things, had previously only been a read by a handful of people since it was printed, but now the Bodleian is making it available to scholars, students and the general public for the very first time through its special website: poeticalessay.bodleian.ox.ac.uk.
Vanessa Redgrave CBE, a long-time friend of the Libraries, introduced the pamphlet and read the preface to the essay to a packed audience in the Weston Library's Blackwell Hall, which included members of the public, special invited guests and students and scholars.
English literature students from University College, which was Shelley's college, read the poem together with Nick Halmi, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Oxford. Michael Rossington, Professor of Romantic Literature at Newcastle University, then explained more about the context for the poem's creation in Shelley's life and work.
To celebrate this special acquisition, Simon Armitage CBE, Oxford University's Professor of Poetry, provided his own response to Poetical Essay by reading from his new translation of Book VI of Virgil's epic poem, Aeneid.
Finally, the benefactor who funded the acquisition pressed a large red button to launch a dedicated website where the Bodleian has made the poem - and associated note and videos - freely available for the public to study and enjoy. It was also announced that the poem is on display in the Weston Library until 23 December.