Name: Percy Bysshe Shelley
Born: August 4, 1792 – Field Place, Horsham, Sussex, England
Died: July 8, 1822 (age 29) – Gulf of La Spezia, Kingdom of Sardinia (now Italy)
Occupation: Poet, dramatist, essayist, and novelist
Spouse: Harriet Westbrook – (married from 1811 till her death in 1816)
Mary Shelley – (married from 1816 till his death in 1822)
Percy Bysshe Shelley (4 August 1792 – 8 July 1822) was one of the major English Romantic poets and is regarded by some as among the finest lyric, as well as most influential, poets in the English language. A radical in his poetry as well as in his political and social views, Shelley did not see fame during his lifetime, but recognition for his poetry grew steadily following his death. Shelley was a key member of a close circle of visionary poets and writers that included Lord Byron, Leigh Hunt, Thomas Love Peacock and his own second wife, Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstien.
Shelley’s close circle of friends included some of the most important progressive thinkers of the day, including his father-in-law, the philosopher William Godwin, and Leigh Hunt. Though Shelley’s poetry and prose output remained steady throughout his life, most publishers and journals declined to publish his work for fear of being arrested for either blasphemy or sedition. Shelley’s poetry sometimes had only an underground readership during his day, but his poetic achievements are widely recognized today, and his advanced political and social thought impacted the Chartist and other movements in England, and reach down to the present day. Shelley’s theories of economics and morality, for example, had a profound influence on Karl Marx; his early—perhaps first—writings on nonviolent resistance influenced both Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandi.
Shelley became a lodestone to the subsequent three or four generations of poets, including important Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite poets such as Robert Browning and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. He was admired by Oscar Wilde, Thomas Hardy, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, W.B. Yeats, Upton Sinclair and Isadora Duncan. Henry David Thoreau’s civil disobedience was apparently influenced by Shelley’s nonviolence in protest and political action. Shelley’s popularity and influence have continued to grow in contemporary poetry circles.
Shelley’s widow Mary bought a cliff-top home at Boscombe, Bournemouth in 1851. She intended to live there with her son, Percy, and his wife Jane and had the remains of her own parents moved from their London burial place at St Pancras Old Church to an underground mausoleum in the town. The property is now known as Shelley Manor. When Lady Jane Shelley was to be buried in the family vault, it was discovered that in her copy of Adonais was an envelope containing ashes, which she had identified as belonging to her father-in-law. The family had preserved the story that when Shelley’s body had been burned, his friend Edward Trelawny had snatched the whole heart from the pyre. These same accounts claim that the heart had been buried with Shelley’s son, Percy. All accounts agree, however, that the remains now lie in the vault in the churchyard of St Peter’s Church, Bournemouth.
For several years in the 20th century some of Trelawny’s collection of Shelley ephemera, including a painting of Shelley as a child, a jacket, and a lock of his hair, were on display in “The Shelley Rooms”, a small museum at Shelley Manor. When the museum finally closed in 2001, these items were returned to Lord Abinger, who descends from a niece of Lady Jane Shelley.
Works Best Know For:
The Triumph of Life – (his final and unfinished work)
The Cenci – (Verse Drama)
Hellas: A Lyrical Drama – (widely considered to be his masterpiece)
Long Visionary Poems
Queen Mab – (later reworked as The Daemon of the World)
The Revolt of Islam