Percy Bysshe Shelley

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Percy Bysshe Shelley, poet (1792-1822)

Shelley was a Romantic poet, famous for poems such as /Ozymandias.

From an extremely wealthy family, Shelley was educated at Eton College and then went to the University of Oxford. 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 and another student, Thomas Jefferson Hogg, published a collection of (burlesque) verse, "Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson". Together with his sister Elizabeth, Shelley published Original Poetry.

In 1811, Shelley continued this prolific outpouring with more publications, and one of these, "The Necessity of Atheism", resulted in his being sent down from Oxford. Shelley could have been reinstated following the intervention of his father had he recanted from his avowed view. Shelley refused, which led to a total break between Shelley and his father.

In the same year, Shelley eloped to Scotland and married Harriet Westbrook. Once married, Shelley moved to the Lake District to write. Two years later he published "Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem". The poem derived from Shelley's friendship with the British philosopher William Godwin, and much of Godwin's freethinking Socialist philosophy is voiced in it. Shelley also fell in love with Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft's daughter, Mary. In 1814 they eloped to Europe. After six weeks, out of money, they returned to England. That same year, Shelley produced the verse allegory "Alastor, or The Spirit of Solitude".

In December 1816 Harriet Shelley apparently committed suicide. A few weeks after her body was recovered from a lake in a London park, Shelley and Mary Godwin were married.

In 1817, Shelley produced "Laon and Cythna", a long narrative poem which contained references to incest as well as attacks on religion, and was hastily withdrawn after only a few copies were published. It was later edited and reissued as "The Revolt of Islam" in 1818.

Shelley also wrote revolutionary political tracts under the nom de plume of "The Hermit of Marlow." Early in 1818, he and his new wife left England for the last time. During the remaining four years of his life, Shelley produced all of his major works, including Prometheus Unbound (1820). Traveling and living in various Italian cities, the Shelleys were friendly with the British poet Leigh Hunt and his family as well as with Byron.

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 Italy in his schooner, the Don Juan. The name Don Juan, supplied by Byron, annoyed Shelley, who called it Ariel. The Andre Maurois novel "Ariel" depicts the circumstances under which Shelley grew so disenchanted with Byron that he was not happy for his brand new toy - the long awaited boat - to refer to Byron. The ship, an open boat designed from a Royal dockyards model, was custom built in Genoa for Shelley. The boat did not capsize but sank; Mary Shelley declared in her "Note on Poems of 1822" that this design had a defect and was never seaworthy.