Romantic poet who rebelled against English politics and conservative
values. Shelley drew no essential distinction between poetry and politics,
and his work reflected the radical ideas and revolutionary optimism
of the era.
was born on August
4, 1792, at Field Place, near Horsham in Sussex, into an aristocratic
family. His father, Timothy Shelley, was a Sussex squire and a member
of Parliament. Shelley attended Syon House Academy and Eton and in 1810
he entered the Oxford University College.
In 1811 Shelley
was expelled from the college for publishing The Necessity Of Atheism,
which he wrote with Thomas Jefferson Hogg. Shelley's father withdrew
his inheritance in favor of a small annuity, after he eloped with the
16-year old Harriet Westbrook, the daughter of a London tavern owner.
The pair spent the following two years traveling in England and Ireland,
distributing pamphlets and speaking against political injustice. In
1813 Shelley published his first important poem, the atheistic Queen
The poet's marriage
to Harriet was a failure. In 1814 Shelley traveled abroad with Mary
Wollstonecraft Godwin, the daughter of the philosopher and anarchist
William Godwin (1756-1836). Mary's young stepsister Claire Clairmont
was also in the company. During this journey Shelley wrote an unfinished
novella, The Assassins (1814). Their combined journal, Six Weeks' Tour,
reworked by Mary Shelley, appeared in 1817. After their return to London,
Shelley came into an annual income under his grandfather's will. Harriet
drowned herself in the Serpentine in 1816. Shelley married Mary Wollstonecraft
and his favorite son William was born in 1816.
Shelley spent the
summer of 1816 with Lord Byron at Lake Geneva, where Byron had an affair
with Claire. Shelley composed the "Hymn To Intellectual Beauty"
and "Mont Blanc". In 1817 Shelley published The Revolt Of
Islam and the much anthologized "Ozymandias" appeared in 1818.
Among Shelley's popular poems are the Odes "To the West Wind"
and "To a Skylark" and Adonais, an elegy for Keats.
In 1818 the Shelleys
moved to Italy, where Byron was residing. In 1819 they went to Rome
and in 1820 to Pisa. Shelley's works from this period include Julian
And Maddalo, an exploration of his relations with Byron and Prometheus
Unbound, a lyrical drama. The Cenci was a five-act tragedy based on
the history of a 16th-century Roman family, and The Mask Of Anarchy
was a political protest which was written after the Peterloo massacre.
In 1822 the Shelley household moved to the Bay of Lerici. There Shelley
began to write The Triumph Of Life.
To welcome his friend
Leigh Hunt, he sailed to Leghorn. During the stormy return voyage to
Lerici, his small schooner the Ariel sank and Shelley drowned with Edward
Williams on July 8, 1822. The bodies were washed ashore at Viareggio,
where, in the presence of Lord Byron and Leigh Hunt, they were burned
on the beach. Shelley was later buried in Rome
(August 4, 1792 - July 8, 1822) was an English Romantic poet, now most
famous for poems such as "Ozymandias", "Ode to the West
Wind", "To a Skylark", and "The Masque of Anarchy".
Born into an extremely wealthy family of Sussex gentry and heir to a
baronetcy, Shelley received an education at Eton College and then went
to the University of Oxford (University College). His first publication
was a Gothic novel, Zastrozzi (1810), in which he gave vent to his atheistic
worldview through the villain Zastrozzi. In the same year, Shelley together
with his sister Elizabeth published Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire.
After going up to Oxford, he issued a collection of (ostensibly burlesque
but actually subversive) verse, Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson.
A fellow collegian, Thomas Jefferson Hogg, may have been his collaborator.
In 1811, Shelley published a pamphlet, The Necessity of Atheism, which
resulted in his expulsion from Oxford, along with Hogg. He could have
been reinstated, following the intervention of his father, had he recanted
his avowed views. Shelley refused, which led to a total break between
himself and his father.
In the same year, Shelley eloped to Scotland and married Harriet Westbrook,
the daughter of a coffee-house keeper. Once married, Shelley moved to
the Lake District to write, but shortly afterwards visited Ireland in
order to engage in political pamphleteering. Two years later he published
Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem. The poem shows the influence of the
British philosopher William Godwin, and much of Godwin's freethinking
radical philosophy is voiced in it. By now unhappy in his marriage,
Shelley fell in love with Godwin's and Mary Wollstonecraft's daughter,
Mary. In July 1814 they eloped to Europe, crossing France and entering
Switzerland. After six weeks, and out of money, they returned to England.
The Shelleys would later publish an account of this voyage.
In the fall of 1815, while living close to London, Shelley produced
the verse allegory Alastor, or The Spirit of Solitude. It attracted
little attention at the time, but has come to be recognized as his first
In the summer of 1816 the Shelleys made a second trip to Switzerland.
They were prompted to do so by Mary Shelley's half-sister Claire Clairmont,
who had contracted a liaison with Lord Byron the previous April, just
before he entered his self-exile on the continent. Byron had lost interest
in Claire, and she used the opportunity of meeting the Shelleys as bait
to lure him to Geneva. The Shelleys and Byron rented neighboring houses
on the shores of Lake Geneva. Regular conversation with Byron had an
invigorating effect on Shelley's poetry. A boating tour which the two
took together inspired Shelley to write the Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,
his first significant production since Alastor. A tour of Chamonix in
the French Alps inspired "Mont Blanc", a difficult poem in
which Shelley ponders questions of historical inevitability and the
relationship between the human mind and external nature. Shelley, in
turn, influenced Byron's poetry. This new influence shows itself in
the third part of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, which Byron was working
on, and in Manfred, which he wrote that fall. At the same time, Mary
had been inspired to begin writing Frankenstein. At the end of summer,
the Shelleys and Claire returned to England. Claire was pregnant with
Byron's child, a fact that would have an enormous impact on Shelley's
The return to England was marred by tragedy. Fanny Kemble, a member
of Godwin's household, killed herself in the late Autumn. In December
1816 Harriet Shelley committed suicide. A few weeks after Harriet's
body was recovered from the Serpentine River in London's Hyde Park,
Shelley and Mary Godwin were married. The marriage was intended, in
part, to help secure Shelley's custody of his children by Harriet, but
it was in vain: the children were given over to foster parents by the
The Shelleys took up residence in the village of Marlow, where Shelley's
friend Thomas Love Peacock lived. Shelley took part in the literary
circle that surrounded Leigh Hunt, and during this period came to know
John Keats. Shelley's major production this year was Laon and Cythna,
a long narrative poem in which the two principal figures were incestuous
lovers and which attacked religion. It was hastily withdrawn after only
a few copies were published, then edited and reissued as The Revolt
of Islam in 1818. Shelley also wrote two revolutionary political tracts
under the nom de plume of "The Hermit of Marlow."
Early in 1818, the Shelleys and Claire left England in order to deliver
the daughter of Byron and Claire to Byron, who had taken up residence
in Venice. Again contact with Byron encouraged the production of Shelley's
poetry. In the latter part of the year he wrote Julian and Maddalo and
Prometheus Unbound. Tragedy struck in 1818 and 1819, when his infant
daughter and son died of climate-related illnesses.
The Shelleys moved around various Italian cities during these years.
Shelley completed Prometheus Unbound in Rome, and spent the summer of
1819 writing a tragedy, The Cenci, in Leghorn. In this year, propmpted
among other causes by the Peterloo massacre, he wrote his best-known
political poems, The Masque of Anarchy and Men of England, probably
his best-remembered works during the 19th century, and the essay The
Philosophical View of Reform, his most thorough exposition of his political
In 1821, inspired by the death of John Keats, Shelley wrote the elegy
In 1822 Shelley arranged for Leigh Hunt, the British poet and editor
who had been one of his chief supporters in England, to come to Italy
with his family; he intended that the three of them—himself, Byron
and Hunt—would create a journal, to be called The Liberal, with
Hunt as editor, which would disseminate their controversial writings
and act as a counter-blast to conservative periodicals such as Blackwood's
Magazine and The Quarterly Review.
On July 8, 1822, Shelley drowned in a sudden storm off Leghorn in the
Bay of Spezia, while sailing back from Pisa and Leghorn to Lerici in
his schooner, the Don Juan. He was returning from having set up The
Liberal with the newly-arrived Hunt. The name "Don Juan",
a compliment to Byron, was chosen by Edward Trelawny, a member of the
Shelley-Byron Pisan circle, but according to Mary Shelley's testimony,
Shelley changed it to "Ariel". This annoyed Byron, who caused
"Don Juan" to be painted on the mainsail, giving offence to
the Shelleys, who felt that the boat now looked like a coal barge. The
vessel, an open boat designed from a Royal dockyards model, was custom-built
in Genoa for Shelley. It did not capsize but sank; Mary Shelley declared
in her "Note on Poems of 1822" (1839) that this design had
a defect and was never seaworthy.
Shelley's body was washed ashore and later cremated on the beach near
Viareggio. His heart was snatched, unconsumed, from the funeral pyre
by Edward Trelawny, and kept by Mary Shelley until her dying day, while
his ashes were interred in the Protestant Cemetery, Rome.
Three children survived him: Ianthe and Charles, his daughter and son
by Harriet; and Percy Florence, his son by Mary. Charles died of tuberculosis
in 1826. Percy Florence, who eventually inherited the baronetcy in 1844,
died without children. The only lineal descendants of the poet are therefore
the children of Ianthe.
Unlike Byron, who despite his radical views had a large following among
the upper classes even while still alive, for decades after his death
Shelley was read mainly among socialists and in the labor movement (Karl
Marx was among his admirers). Only towards the end of the 19th century
did his work, or rather his more innocuous work, become respectable
- popularised by, among others, Henry Salt, whose acclaimed biography
: Poet and Pioneer was first published in 1896.
• Born: 4
• Birthplace: Near Sussex, England
• Death: 8 July 1822 (drowning)
• Best Known As: 19th century romantic poet
A radical young fellow, Percy Shelley was expelled from Oxford University
in 1811 when he published The Necessity of Atheism. His early poems
advocated social reform, reflecting the influence of the philosophical
writings of William Godwin. He fell in love with Godwin's daughter Mary,
who later gained fame as the author of Frankenstein. After Shelley's
first wife committed suicide in 1816, Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft
Godwin were married. Shelley was lost at sea in 1822, while sailing
off the coast of Italy.
Shelley, Percy Bysshe
(bish) , 1792–1822, English poet, b. Horsham, Sussex. He is ranked
as one of the great English poets of the romantic period.
A Tempestuous Life
The son of a prosperous squire, he entered Oxford in 1810, where readings
in philosophy led him toward a study of the empiricists and the modern
skeptics, notably William Godwin. In 1811 he and his friend Thomas Jefferson
Hogg published their pamphlet, The Necessity of Atheism, which resulted
in their immediate expulsion from the university. The same year Shelley
eloped with 16-year-old Harriet Westbrook, by whom he eventually had
two children, Ianthe and Charles.
Supported reluctantly by their fathers, the young couple traveled through
Great Britain. Shelley's life continued to be dominated by his desire
for social and political reform, and he was constantly publishing pamphlets.
His first important poem, Queen Mab, privately printed in 1813, set
forth a radical system of curing social ills by advocating the destruction
of various established institutions.
In 1814 Shelley left England for France with Mary Godwin, the daughter
of William Godwin. During their first year together they were plagued
by social ostracism and financial difficulties. However, in 1815 Shelley's
grandfather died and left him an annual income. Laon and Cynthna appeared
in 1817 but was withdrawn and reissued the following year as The Revolt
of Islam; it is a long poem in Spenserian stanzas that tells of a revolution
and illustrates the growth of the human mind aspiring toward perfection.
After Harriet Shelley's suicide in 1816, Shelley and Mary officially
married. In 1817 Harriet's parents obtained a decree from the lord chancellor
stating that Shelley was unfit to have custody of his children. The
following year Shelley and Mary left England and settled in Italy. By
this time their household consisted of their own three children and
Mary's half-sister Claire Claremont and her daughter Allegra (whose
father was Lord Byron). On July 8, 1822, Shelley was drowned while sailing
in the Bay of Spezia, near Lerici.
Shelley composed the great body of his poetry in Italy. The Cenci, a
tragedy in verse exploring moral deformity, was published in 1819, followed
by his masterpiece, Prometheus Unbound (1820). In this lyrical drama
Shelley poured forth all his passions and beliefs, which were modeled
after the ideas of Plato. Epipsychidion (1821) is a poem addressed to
Emilia Viviani, a young woman whom Shelley met in Pisa and with whom
he developed a brief but close friendship.
His great elegy, Adonais (1821), written in memory of Keats, asserts
the immortality of beauty. Hellas (1822), a lyrical drama, was inspired
by the Greek struggle for independence. His other poems include Alastor
(1816) and the shorter poems “Ode to the West Wind,” “To
a Skylark,” “Ozymandias,” “The Indian Serenade,”
and “When the Lamp Is Shattered.”
Most of Shelley's poetry reveals his philosophy, a combination of belief
in the power of human love and reason, and faith in the perfectibility
and ultimate progress of man. His lyric poems are superb in their beauty,
grandeur, and mastery of language. Although Matthew Arnold labeled him
an “ineffectual angel,” 20th-century critics have taken
Shelley seriously, recognizing his wit, his gifts as a satirist, and
his influence as a social and political thinker.