Biography of Percy Bysshe Shelley

Percy Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley was one of the younger generation of the Romantic Poets.

When and Where was he Born?

4th August 1792, Field Place, near Horsham, Sussex, England.

Family Background:

Percy Bysshe Shelley was the son of minor gentry.

Education:

Syon House Academy. Eton College. University College, Oxford. (Sent down for his contribution to the pamphlet “The Necessity of Atheism”).

Timeline of Percy Bysshe Shelley:

1810: Shelley goes up to Oxford University. He breaks his love affair with his cousin Harriet Grove.

1811: He is sent down from Oxford due to his contribution to the pamphlet “The Necessity of Atheism”. Quarrels with his father. He meets and runs off to Edinburgh to marry Harriet Westbrook on 29th August. The couple move to York and then to Keswick where he meets Robert Southey.

1812: He begins correspondence with William Godwin. He travels to Dublin then to Wales. Shelley and Harriet settle at Lynmouth in North Devon as they are taken by the views. They stay at Mrs Hooper’s lodgings known as Woodbine Cottage (Now a hotel) . Here Shelley wrote the poem “Queen Mab” and a seditious paper “The Declaration of Rights”. He put copies of this into bottles and tossed then into the sea off Lynmouth and also put some in boxes and launched them in small hot air balloons form the beach. Government spies were everywhere at this time as this was the year that the Prime Minister Spencer Perceval was assassinated and revolution was in the air. The Town Clerk of Barnstaple reported Shelley to the Home Secretary as a couple of the bottles had been picked up from the sea by the excise men. There was no printer or author’s names on the pamphlet so he could not be prosecuted. Undeterred Shelley sent his servant Dan Healy to Barnstaple to post pamphlets on the walls. Healy was arrested and put in gaol. Shelley did not have the money to get him released but gave fifteen shillings a week to improve his lodgings. The Shelleys borrowed money from their landlady and her neighbours and bribed a boatman to take them across the Bristol Channel to Wales to escape.

Shelley Hotel, Lynmouth
Woodbine Cottages where Harriet and Shelley stayed in Lynmouth, Devon. Now a hotel. (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1813: Percy Shelley goes to Ireland then back to London. Birth of Daughter Ianthe on the 23rd June.

1814: He leaves England with Mary Godwin and Claire Clairmont and travels on the continent. He returns to London in September. Birth of son Charles to Harriet on 30th November.

1815: Death of Grandfather Sir Bysshe Shelley.

1816: Birth of son William on 24th January. He travels to Switzerland with Mary Godwin and Claire Clairmont. He meets Lord Byron through Claire. He returns to England September. Harriet Shelley commits suicide on 30th December. Shelley marries Mary on 30th December at St. Mildred’s Church, Bread Street, London. Her father William Godwin and his second wife attend.

Hotel D'Angleterre
Hotel D’Angleterre in Geneva on the lake shore where Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1817: Birth of Claire’s Daughter by Byron (Allegra). Shelley fails to obtain custody of Ianthe and Charles. He meets John Keats. Goes to live at Marlow. Birth of Daughter Clara on 2nd September.

1818: Shelley goes across Alps to Italy with Mary, Claire and the children. Allegra is sent to Byron in Venice in August. Death of Clara. Birth of daughter Elena on 27th December.

1819: He leaves Naples in February. He travels via Rome then Leghorn. Death of William Shelley. In October goes to Florence. Birth of Son Percy on 12th November.

Shelley Plaque, Rome
Plaque at 375, via del Corso, Rome denoting that Shelley lived here in 1819 
and wrote “Prometheus Unbound” and “The Cenci” there (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1820: He travels to Pisa. Death of Elena in June.

1821: Shelley visits Byron at Ravenna. Byron visits Shelley at Pisa.

Leaning Tower of Pisa
The Piazza dei Miracoli, Pisa with leaning bell tower which Shelley would have climbed (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1822: Trelawny arrives in Pisa. Death of Allegra on 20th April. Mary has a near fatal miscarriage. Shelley sails to Leghorn to meet Leigh-Hunt. He sees Byron and is drowned on return trip.

When and Where did he Die?

8th July 1822, drowned in a boat at sea off Livorno, Tuscany, Italy.

Age at Death:

30.

Written Works:

1810: “Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire”.
1811: “The Necessity of Atheism”.  A Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things”.
1812: “An Address to the Irish People”. “Declaration of Rights”. “Proposals for an Association of Philanthropists for Ireland”.
1813: “A Vindication of Natural Diet”. “Queen Mab”.
1814: “Refutation of Deism”.
1815: “Guy Mannering”.
1816: “Alasto and other Poems”.
1817: “Address to the People on the Death of Princess Charlotte”. “Laon and Cythna, or The Revolution of the Golden City”.
1818: “The Revolt of Islam”.
1819: “Rosalind and Helen”, “The Cenci” (Verse Drama).
1820: “Oedipus Tyrannus”. “Prometheus Unbound”.
1821: “Adonais”. “Epipsychidion”.
1822: “Hellas”.
(1823): “Poetical Pieces”.
(1824): “Posthumous Poems”.
(1832): “The Masque of Anarchy”.
(1833): “Chilly Papers”.

Marriages:

  1. 1811: 29th August to Harriet Westbrook, Edinburgh, Scotland.
  2. 30th December 1816 Mary Wollstonecraft-Godwin daughter of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft at St. Mildred’s Church, Bread Street, London. Her father William Godwin and his wife attend.

Site of Grave:

His body was cremated at Viareggio and his ashes taken to Rome. His heart only was buried at St. Peter’s Churchyard, Bournemouth, Dorset, England from where it was re-interred from the English Protestant Cemetery, Rome, Italy.

Places of Interest:

CUMBRIA:

Dove Cottage and Museum, Grasmere, LA22 9SH. (Wordsworth Trust).

DEVON:

Lynmouth. (Picturesque fishing port where Shelley threw political tracts in bottles into the sea. The Shelleys had to leave their lodgings quickly after arousing local suspicion by Government Officers).

Lynmouth Harbour
View of Lynmouth Harbour from above where Shelley distributedhis pamphlets in bottles into the sea. (copyright  Anthony Blagg)
Valley of the rocks
Valley of Rocks above Lynton, North Devon. Coleridge and Wordsworth were to walk here many times with other notables such as Southey and Davy. Shelley also found it fascinating. (copyright Anthony Blagg)

LONDON:

National Portrait Gallery.

OXFORD:

Bodleian Library. (Holds Boscombe manuscripts and letters).