One of the most outstanding poets during the 19th century was the Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley. In this biography, you will learn more about his personal life and contributions to the history of literature.
This controversial poet was born on August 4, 1792, in Heath, England. His parents were Elizabeth Pilfold and Timothy Shelley, who was a member of the Parliament. Percy Bysshe Shelley was the oldest of seven children, and as a kid, he loved fishing and hunting in the meadows of their village.
At the age of 10, he left his village to study at the Syon House Academy, which was about 50 miles north of his home. When he was 12, he went to Eton College, where he experienced all sorts of bullying from his classmates. Because of these experiences, he had poor social skills as a child and refused to interact with other children.
In 1810, Percy Bysshe Shelley enrolled at University College, Oxford, which provided a more peaceful environment for him. While attending the university, the brilliant writer was able to publish his first work entitled Zastrozzi, which was a Gothic novel depicting his atheistic views. In the same year, he teamed-up with his sister, Elizabeth, and published Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire. Additionally, the year 1810 gave birth to another great literary piece and compilation of verses entitled Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson, on which he worked with Thomas Jefferson Hogg.
Percy Bysshe Shelley pursued his passion for writing and in the following year he was able to publish another Gothic novel entitled St. Irvine, and a pamphlet called The Necessity of Atheism, which was also co-authored by Thomas Jefferson Hogg. The atheistic views expressed in the pamphlet dismayed the school administration and both writers were called to deny their authorship. Percy Bysshe Shelley and Thomas Jefferson Hogg refused to repudiate their authorship and were expelled from the school shortly after the incident. The parents of Percy Bysshe Shelley were outraged by their son’s deeds and ordered him to renounce all his perceptions, including vegetarianism and his radical political views.
In August 1811, he ran away with Harriet Westbrook, a girl that his parents forbade him to see. In 1813, they had their first child named Elizabeth Ianthe. But the two had a problematic relationship, and Percy left Harriet, who was then pregnant with their second child, in order to be with another girl, Mary Wollstonecraft. Despite the strong disapproval of Mary’s father, William Godwin (who was also the Shelley’s mentor), the lovers continued their relationship and traveled to France, Germany, Switzerland, and Holland.
While these romantic entanglements were happening, Percy Bysshe Shelley pursued his literary career and wrote compositions such as:
- Queen Mab (1813)
- A Vindication of Natural Diet (1813)
- Alastor, or The Spirit of Solitude (1815)
Percy Bysshe Shelley also became friends with Lord Byron, who was another great Romantic poet of the 19th century. The two met each other through Mary’s stepsister, Claire Clairmont, who was dating Lord Byron at that time. Because of his friendship and travels with Lord Byron, Shelley got inspired to write the poems, Hymn to Intellectual Beauty (1816) and Mont Blanc (1816).
In 1816, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft returned to England and found out that Harriet committed suicide. As if unaffected by the incident, the two got married a few weeks after. Despite of Harriet’s death, the court did not grant Shelley the custody of his children, and the newly married couple moved to Marlow in Buckinghamshire. Here, he became friends with fellow writers, John Keats and Leigh Hunt, and wrote the poem Laon and Cythna; or, The Revolution of the Golden City in 1817. This poem was republished under the title The Revolt of Islam in 1818, and portrayed his views on religion and socialism.
After The Revolt of Islam was published, Shelley and Mary traveled to Italy, where they resided in different cities such as Rome and Livorno. While in Italy, he wrote great literary works such as:
- The Cenci (1819)
- The Masque of Anarchy (1819)
- Men of England (1819)
- Prometheus Unbound (1820)
The great writer, at nearly 30 years of age, drowned to death on July 8, 1822 in Livorno, Italy. Percy Bysshe Shelley’s body was cremated in Viareggio, and his ashes were buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome. After a century, a mural tablet was placed in the Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey, in recognition of his valuable contributions to the field of literature. Until now, Percy Bysshe Shelley is still recognized all over the world, as one of the most epic poets of the 19th century.