» Percy B. Shelley Biography
by Marion Phillips - March 5, 2004
Percy Shelley was one of the "bad boys" of the British literary society of the early
1800s, not less "subversive" and talented than the other bad boys William Blake and Lord Byron, his compatriots of the same period.
Shelley had a hard life, fought against the conservative opinions of his country's society, and produced some of the best poetry ever written.
Some say that even the proud Byron envied him, but that's story for another article. ;)
Percy Bysshe Shelley was born in 1792 at Sussex, England, in a rich aristocratic family. His father was a Squire and member of the Parliament, and Shelley studied in some of the best schools of his country like Eton and Oxford.
He had always been a silent child, who didn't socialize well with the other children and consequently was ridicularized by them. However he was a great lover of literature and soon he started to write poems. In 1811, at age 19, he was expelled from Oxford, because of the pamphlet "The Necessity Of Atheism", which he wrote with his friend Thomas J. Hogg.
When he fell in love with the tavern owner's daughter Harriet Westbrook, who was 16 years old, and told his father that he wanted to marry her, Shelley senior desinherited him and the couple spent the following two years traveling throughout England, Ireland and Scotland, promoting their unorthodox political and social beliefs. By the end of this journey, in 1813, Shelley wrote his first poem, "Queen Mab".
His marriage with Harriet was much disturbed, and after meeting one of his idols, the anarchist philosopher William Godwin, he fell in love with his daughter Mary Woolstonecraft and in 1814 the couple, plus her stepsister Claire Clairmont, traveled to France. During this trip, Shelley worked on a novel called "The Assassins", but left it unfinished.
When he returned to England, his grandfather had died and left him an annual income, which was of great help to him, as his attitude and his revolutionary writings didn't give him much success.
When Shelley travelled with Mary, his relationship with Harriet was over, but the girl was still in love with him. Becoming desperate for not attracting his attention, she drowned in the Thames in 1816. And in this same year, Shelley married Mary and their first child William was born.
Soon the couple went back to the continent, this time to travel farther than they went last time. They went to Switzerland and became friends with Lord Byron, who was living there after being forced to get out of England due to his scandalous behavior and problems with his wife.
Mary's stepsister, Claire was with them again, and from the love affair she had with Byron, a daughter was born, who would die at age 7 of tuberculosis in a covent. Byron never gave Claire or his daughter any assistance, which in the following years, would cause much distress for Shelley and Mary, but wouldn't affect the strong friendship of the two poets.
Legend says that one night, Byron challenged his guests Shelley, Mary and his doctor John Polidori to write ghost stories. The others also created theirs, but Mary's was the only one that was published, and it was the classic "Frankenstein".
This was the most prolific time of his life, during which he wrote "Hymn To Intellectual Beauty" and "Mont Blanc". 1817 was the year of "The Revolt Of Islam", and 1818, of "Ozymandias".
In 1818, Shelley moved to Italy with Mary, their children, and Claire. It was during this travel that the couple's first son died, which left Mary shocked for a long time, especially as she had already lost a daughter the previous year.
In the next two years, he wrote "Julian and Maddalo", based on his friendship with Byron, "Prometheus Unbound", "The Cenci", among other works.
In 1822, the Shelley family settled in the Bay of Lerici and that was when he started to work on what would be his last writing, "The Triumph Of Life". He became much interested in sailing at that time, and with a friend, Edward Williams, he reformed a boat and called it "Ariel", based on one of his characters.
On July 8, 1822, he went with Williams to greet another friend, Leigh Hunt, who had arrived at another beach nearby, but on the way there was a storm at sea, and his little boat sank. Williams and Shelley drowned and were found 3 days later at a shore.
Shelley's body was cremated at the beach of Viareggio, with the presence of Byron, other British friends and his family. Later on, he was buried in Rome.
The couple's only child to live through childhood was Percy Florence. After Shelley's death, Mary went back to England, devoted herself to the upbringing of her son and to her literary career, and never re-married again.
Dowload two of his works now! (ZIP file: 192 KB)
Defense Of Poetry And Other Essays
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Copyright © 2004 Marion Phillips