Percy Bysshe Shelley

Dafato Team | May 13, 2022

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Percy Bysshe Shelley (Horsham, August 4, 1792 - Viareggio, July 8, 1822) was a British poet, one of the most celebrated Romantic lyricists.

He is famous for writing anthology works such as Ozymandias, the Ode to the West Wind (Ode to the West Wind), To a Skylark (To a Skylark) and The Masque of Anarchy (The Masque of Anarchy), but what are considered his masterpieces were visionary narrative poems such as Prometheus Unbound (Prometheus Unbound) and Adonis (Adonais). Shelley's nonconformist life and absolute idealism made him a notorious figure and an object of denigration throughout his life. He became, however, the idol of the next two to three generations of poets (including the great Victorians, Robert Browning, Alfred Tennyson, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Algernon Swinburne, and William Butler Yeats); Shelley was also appreciated by Karl Marx.

Belonging to the second English Romantic generation, he also became famous for his friendship with contemporaries John Keats and Lord Byron and, like them, for his untimely death at a young age. Shelley, in fact, after a wandering, tragic and adventurous life, drowned in the sea off Lerici, Italy, at the age of about 30. The sea returned his body to the beach at Viareggio on July 18, 1822, ten days after the sinking of his schooner. Shelley is also known to have been the husband of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (the author of the novel Frankenstein), the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, an anarchist philosopher, who greatly influenced the poet's libertarian political ideas.


Born in Field Place, Horsham, West Sussex, Percy was a seventeenth-generation descendant of Richard Fitzalan, tenth Baron of Arundel and Lancaster through his son John Fitzalan. He was the son of Sir Timothy Shelley (Sept. 7, 1753 - April 24, 1844) and his wife Elizabeth Pilfold, the result of their marriage in October 1791. The father was the son and heir of Sir Bysshe Shelley, first Baronet of Goring Castle (June 21, 1731 - Jan. 6, 1815), which the latter inherited from his wife Mary Catherine Michell (died Nov. 7, 1760). His mother was the daughter of Charles Pilfold of Effingham. Through his paternal grandmother Percy was the great-grandson of Reverend Theobald Mitchell of Horsham, and the oldest of six siblings. His younger siblings were:

Alternatives:Education and early worksEducation and first worksEducation and early workInstruction and early works

Having therefore been born into a very influential family of rural Sussex aristocracy, Percy became the sole heir to the second baronetcy of Castle Goring in 1815. He received his first education in the family from the Reverend Thomas Edwards of Horsham. In 1802 he entered Syon House Academy in Brentford. In 1804, Percy was admitted to Eton College, here he was nicknamed "mad Shelley" because of his eccentricity. On April 10, 1810, Percy went to the University of Oxford (to University College). Although distinguished for his remarkable learning ability, these years represented hell for the young poet's soul: intolerant of educational programs, he preferred solitary country walks and studies on electricity, magnetism and chemistry. In those same years he read The Inquiry Concerning Political Justice by the anarchist William Godwin, whose libertarian philosophy immediately influenced his cultural formation. His first published work was a Gothic novel, Zastrozzi (1810), in which he vented his atheistic worldview through the mouth of the evil Zastrozzi. In the same year Shelley and his sister Elizabeth published Original Poems by Victor and Cazire. In 1811 he published his second novel, namely St. Irvina or the Rosicrucian, which tells of Wolfstein, who, after the death of his beloved, approaches the theories of a Rosicrucian, who offers him eternal life with an alchemical potion if he will renounce his faith, and after his refusal in St. Irvina Abbey, the two meet death as they are electrocuted. In the same year Shelley, in collaboration with his friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg, published a pamphlet, The Necessity of Atheism, which caused their expulsion from Oxford on March 25, 1811. He could have been readmitted through his father's intervention if he had disavowed the beliefs stated in his writings, but Shelley refused, which led to a total break between him and his father.After being expelled from Oxford, he published a collection of poems ostensibly burlesque but actually with revolutionary features, the Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson, on which Thomas Jefferson Hogg, a friend and fellow college student, who would later become his principal biographer, probably collaborated.

Alternatives:The years of the first marriageThe years of first marriageThe years of early marriage

Four months after his expulsion, the 19-year-old Shelley secretly fled to Scotland with a young student, Harriet Westbrook, daughter of John Westbrook, the owner of a London cafe, and married her on August 28, 1811; by her he would have two children. Shelley invited his friend Hogg to share his home, including his wife, as his ideals of free love dictated, but following Harriet's refusal he had to abandon his plans for an open marriage. He went to the Lake District with the intention of setting out to write, but, diverted by political events, he moved shortly thereafter to Ireland, taking an active interest in the miserable condition of Dublin's workers and giving himself over to the work of political propagandist. These activities earned him the hostile attentions of the British government. From the marriage his daughter Ianthe was born shortly thereafter.

Shelley and Mary

Within the next two years, Shelley wrote and published The Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem. That poem shows the influence of the English philosopher William Godwin, and much of the latter's radical philosophy is expressed in it. Suffering from 1812 onward from nervous attacks, which he placated with doses of laudanum, he began to go through phases characterized by true hallucinations. He undertook a series of journeys during this period, among which the one to Ireland is significant; where Shelley began propaganda against both English rule and Catholicism. Back in England, his marriage to Harriet began to deteriorate: Shelley often left his wife and two children alone, staying at Godwin's house and in his London library. It was here that he met, and fell in love with (though still married to Harriet), Mary, the educated and intelligent daughter of Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, once known as a teacher and feminist writer who died at Mary's birth. Mary and Percy first met in the time between the young woman's two trips to Scotland. Her second return home occurred on March 30, 1814: Percy Shelley was by now, along with his wife Harriet Westbrook, a regular guest of Godwin, whom he helped in clearing his debts. Percy Shelley's radicalism, and especially his economic ideas learned through reading Godwin's treatise Political Justice (1793), were the cause of his estrangement from his aristocratic family: in fact, it wanted Percy to continue to follow the traditional model of the landed aristocracy, while he preferred to use the bulk of the family fortune to help the needy. Because of this project of "Political Justice," Percy Shelley found himself having considerable difficulty in accessing the family fortune; because of this, after several months of promises, Shelley announced to Godwin, who was still in financial distress, that he could not and would not repay all his debts. Because of this Godwin became angry and felt betrayed by the disciple.

Mary and Percy met secretly a few times at Mary Wollstonecraft's grave in St. Pancras Cemetery, where they confided their love (Muriel Spark in her biography of Mary Shelley speculates that it was June 27). Much to Mary's discouragement, Godwin disapproved of this union and tried to thwart it to save his daughter's "immaculate reputation." At about the same time, Godwin received news of Shelley's inability to pay off the loans she had given him. Mary, who later wrote of her "excessive and romantic attachment" to her father, felt confused. She saw Percy Shelley as an embodiment of her parents' 1790s reformist and liberal ideas, particularly Godwin's idea of marriage as a "repressive monopoly," an idea she had argued in her 1793 edition of Political Justice but would later revise. On June 28, 1814, the couple secretly fled to France, taking Mary's half-sister Claire Clairmont with them. Godwin's comment was, "They have both failed me." The three embarked for Europe, crossing France and then going to live in Switzerland. The Shelleys would later publish an account of the adventure.

After convincing Jane, known since then as Claire, who had chased them all the way to Calais, of their intention not to return home, the trio traveled to Paris and then, on the backs of mules or donkeys or in carts, crossed the recently war-torn France to Switzerland. "It was like acting out a novel, becoming a living novel," Mary wrote recalling this in 1826. As they traveled, Mary and Percy read the works of Mary Wollstonecraft and other authors such as Abbot Barruel, kept a joint journal and continued their own writing. In Lucerne because of the shortage of money, however, they decided to turn back. They sailed along the Rhine reaching by land the port of Maassluis (where Mary wrote the outline of a never finished short story titled Hate), eventually arriving in Gravesend, in the English county of Kent, on September 13, 1814. Three years later, in 1817, the diary of their voyage was repurposed for publication as a work of fiction entitled History of Six Weeks' Tour through a Part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland, with Letters Descriptive of a Sail round the Lake of Geneva, and of the Glaciers of Chamouni), to which Percy made a small contribution.

After six weeks, homesick and penniless, the three young people returned to England. There they found that Godwin, who had once advocated free love and lived by his principles, refused to speak to Mary and Shelley, and so it was for a few years. In fact, the philosopher feared for the consequences on his family image, as he would prove on other occasions, as conservatives always took advantage of this to denigrate him, even to the point of driving him to the brink, boycotting his literary and publishing activities. In the fall of 1815, having settled in London with Mary but evading creditors, Shelley produced the verse allegory entitled Alastor, or The Spirit of Solitude. Although it did not attract much attention then, nowadays this work is considered his first great poem. The situation in England was fraught with complications, many of which Mary had not anticipated. During, or after, their trip, Mary had in fact become pregnant. They also found themselves without money again and, much to Mary's surprise, her father refused to have the slightest contact with them, although he later accepted money from Percy without too much trouble. The couple found lodging together with Claire near Somers Town and then in Nelson Square. They lived this period maintaining their busy reading schedule, reading Godwin's Caleb Williams and writing, receiving Percy Shelley's friends such as Thomas Jefferson Hogg and the writer Thomas Love Peacock. Sometimes Percy strayed far from home to escape numerous creditors, sometimes risking imprisonment. Letters exchanged by the two lovers during this period reveal their distress because of the forced separation.

Pregnant and often ill, Mary Godwin found herself coping with Shelley's joy at the birth of Charles, the poet's and Harriet's son, and her increasingly difficult relationship with Claire, who began to attract the couple's attention because she felt neglected. Mary found partial comfort in Hogg, whom she did not find very sympathetic at first but whom she began to regard as a friend over time. Percy pushed the two of them to become lovers in the name of the ideal of free love; it is assumed that Mary did not despise the idea, as she also shared the same ideals, but there is no firm evidence of the implementation of such a relationship. The only evidence are the affectionate correspondence exchanges between Mary and Hogg, which, however, do not clarify the situation exactly. In practice, however, Mary continued to love Percy and never doubted her love for him, as indeed she clearly states in a letter addressed to Hogg: "I know how much you love me and with what tenderness, and I like to think that I can constitute your happiness. (...) but our still greater happiness will be in Shelley - whom I love so tenderly and entirely, my life is in the light of his eyes and my whole soul is completely absorbed in him. "On February 22, 1815, Mary gave birth to a premature two-month-old baby girl, Clara, who died about two weeks later. Following the death of the baby, Mary contacted Hogg through a letter, who at that juncture proved to be a good friend.

The loss of their daughter plunged Mary into a deep depression, often haunted by the very sight of the child; soon, however, she recovered and by the summer had recovered. Following the restoration of Percy's finances-following the death of his grandfather, Sir Bysshe Shelley-the couple vacationed in Torquay and later rented a two-story house in Bishopsgate, near Windsor Park. Little is known about this period, as Mary's diary, which runs from May 1815 to July 1816, has been lost; Percy wrote his poem Alastor; and on January 24, 1816, Mary and Percy's second son, who was named William in honor of Godwin and nicknamed "Willmouse" by the couple, was born.

Alternatives:Knowledge of ByronByron's knowledgeKnowledge about Byron

In the summer of 1816 (the "year without summer") the Shelleys made a second trip to Switzerland. The opportunity came from Mary Shelley's half-sister, Claire Clairmont, who had linked up with Lord Byron the previous April, shortly before he exiled himself to the continent. Byron had lost interest in Claire, but she used the opportunity to meet the Shelleys as bait to get him to come to Geneva. Byron and the Shelleys rented houses adjacent to each other on the shores of Lake Geneva, and frequent conversations with Byron had a very stimulating effect on Shelley's poetry. A boat ride undertaken by the two prompted Shelley to write Hymn to Intellectual Beauty, his first major work since Alastor. A tour of Chamonix in the French Alps inspired Mont Blanc (Mont Blanc), a complex poem in which Shelley reflects on the inevitability of events in history and the relationship between the human mind and the nature around us. In turn, Shelley influenced Byron's poetry. This influence can be seen in the third part of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, which Byron was working on, and in Manfred (Manfred), which he wrote in the fall of that year. At that same time Mary found inspiration to begin writing Frankenstein, and she began here to read The Epistolary of Pliny the Younger while planning to travel to Lake Como and Lierna, where the Villa Commedia was located. In the late summer of that year, Claire and the Shelleys returned to England. Claire was pregnant with Byron's daughter, a fact, this one destined to have not insignificant consequences for Shelley's future.

Personal tragedies and second marriage

In May 1816 Mary and Percy headed together with their son to Geneva, accompanied by Claire Clairmont. They planned to spend the summer with the poet Lord Byron, who had recently begun an affair with Claire, who had become pregnant. Indeed, the purpose of this meeting was to make decisions about what to do about the creature that was coming into the world. The group reached Geneva on May 14, 1816, renting a house called Maison Chapuis near the villa in which Byron resided, Villa Diodati, near the village of Cologny; Mary at that time began to call herself "Mrs. Shelley." Byron, accompanied by physician John William Polidori, met the group on May 25; they spent their days writing, boating and talking late into the night.

"But it was a rainy and unkind summer," Mary recalls in 1831. "the incessant rain often forced us indoors for whole days." During these days various topics were covered by the company: the experiments conducted in the 18th century by Erasmus Darwin (Charles's grandfather), who claimed to have succeeded in reanimating dead matter, galvanism, and the possibility of recomposing and reviving the parts of a living being, knowledge that Shelley and Mary had explored by discussing with a friend of theirs, the Italian physician Andrea Vaccà Berlinghieri, who studied corpses and electricity, and perhaps even by witnessing some of his experiments. Sitting in front of the fire at Byron's villa, the company amused themselves by reading German ghost stories (such as the Fantasmagoriana). Byron then proposed a game: everyone was to write a ghost and scary story; a short time later Mary in her sleep came up with the idea, which became the novel Frankenstein.

Mary began writing the story by giving it the setting of a short story. However, Percy, after seeing the first draft, encouraged her to continue and expand the story into what would become Mary's debut novel: Frankenstein; that is, the modern Prometheus. Mary later described the Swiss period as "the moment when I passed from adolescence to adulthood."

After their return to London in September Mary and Percy took up residence in Bath, again accompanied by Claire, who took up residence near them. The main reason for their move to Bath was the hope that they would be able to keep Claire's now obvious pregnancy a secret.While they were still in Cologny, Mary had received letters from her sister Fanny Imlay who complained of her own "unhappy life. "Fanny wrote an "alarming letter" shortly afterwards, which prompted Percy to rush to her, but by then it was too late. On October 10, Fanny was found dead in a room in Swansea with a small bottle of laudanum and a suicide note:

She had removed the signature on it, probably out of respect for Godwin's name. The suicide was kept secret; Godwin spread the word that Fanny had died of illness in Ireland and prevented Mary from visiting her. Fanny's reputation was thus saved. Shelley wrote the poem To Fanny Godwin in her memory. Shortly thereafter this was followed by another misfortune: on December 10, in fact, Harriet, Percy's wife, was found drowned in the Serpentine, a pond in London's Hyde Park, reportedly pregnant.

As happened with Fanny's, this suicide was also kept under wraps to avoid legal problems for the family and Shelley. Harriet's family members, however, thwarted Percy's attempt (also supported by Mary) to gain custody of the two children he had with her. Percy's lawyers, in order to favor custody, advised him to marry; so he and Mary, pregnant again, were married on December 30, 1816, at St. Mildred's Church, Bread Street (London), in the presence of Mr. and Mrs. Godwin, William and second wife Mary Jane Clairmont, the mother of Claire, Charles and William Jr.

On January 13, 1817, Claire's daughter Alba was born, later renamed Allegra by Byron in 1818. In March of that year Percy was declared morally unfit to obtain guardianship of the children, who were thus given to the family of a clergyman in Kent. At the same time the Shelleys, with Claire and Alba, moved to a house in Albion, near Marlow, Buckinghamshire, on the banks of the Thames. Here on September 2 Mary's third child, Clara Everina, was born. In Marlow they met Marianne and Leigh Hunt, worked on their works and often discussed politics.In May 1817 Mary finished writing Frankenstein, which was published anonymously in 1818 with a preface written by Percy. Critics and readers claimed that Percy Shelley was the real author, probably also because the work was dedicated to William Godwin. It was in Marlow that Mary arranged the papers of the 1814 trip, adding notes written in Switzerland in 1816 and Percy's poem Mont Blanc, thus publishing History of a Six-Week Journey in 1817. That autumn Percy frequently wandered away from London to escape creditors. The threat of imprisonment by creditors, his weak health and the continuing fear of losing even custody of the children he had with Mary drove the couple to leave England for good to reach Italy. On March 12, 1818, they left, taking Claire and Alba with them.

Alternatives:The journey to Italy and deathThe trip to Italy and deathTravel to Italy and death

After a series of literary and personal ups and downs, in 1818, all relations with his family broken and in a state of poor health, the poet, with his retinue (his wife, two sons, sister-in-law Jane and his daughter Allegra) moved to Italy, where, within four years, he stayed in Venice, Livorno, Lucca, Este, Rome, Naples, Florence and Pisa. His last residence was at Villa Magni in San Terenzo, a seaside village in the town of Lerici (La Spezia).

One of the first commitments the group had once they reached Italy was to take Alba to her father Byron, who lived in Venice. Byron agreed to raise and educate his daughter, provided, however, that Claire stayed away; he wanted nothing more to do with her. So they began their journey to Italy, visiting many cities without ever staying too long in one place. Along the way they made new friends and acquaintances, often traveling together with their new group of friends. The couple devoted their time to writing, reading, visiting cities, learning the language and socializing. The Italian adventure was marked by the deaths of both of Mary's children: Clara died of dysentery in Venice in February 1818; William, on the other hand, died of malaria in Rome in June 1819. These losses threw Mary into a deep depression that estranged her from Percy

For a while Mary found writing as her only solace. The birth in Florence of another son, Percy Florence, on Nov. 12, 1819, helped her recover, although Mary cherished the memory of her children until the end of her own life.

Italy allowed the Shelleys, Byron and other exiles a political freedom unattainable at home. Despite personal losses, it became for Mary "a country in which memory is painted as paradise" The Italian years were intense both intellectually and creatively for both Shelleys. While Percy composed most of his poems, Mary wrote the semi-autobiographical novella Matilda, the historical novel Valperga, and the plays Proserpina and Midas.Mary wrote Valperga to help her father's financial situation, as Percy refused to assist him further. During this period she was often ill and easily fell into depression; she was also forced to deal with Percy's interest in other women, such as Sophia Stacey, Emilia Viviani and Jane Williams. Since Mary shared Percy's view of the non-exclusivity of marriage, she decided to redirect her emotions by strengthening the bonds between the men and women within their circle and in particular became attached to Prince Alexander Mavrocordato, a Greek revolutionary, Jane and Edward Ellerker Williams.

In December 1818 the Shelleys headed for Naples, where they stayed for three months, receiving as their guest only one visitor, a doctor. It was in Naples that Mary drew inspiration for the creation of the apocalyptic novel The Last Man. In 1820 they faced accusations and threats from Paolo and Elise Foggi, former servants whom Percy had fired in Naples after the Foggi couple married. The two had discovered that on February 27, 1819, in Naples, Percy had registered as his and Mary's child a two-month-old girl named Elena Adelaide Shelley, further claiming that the real mother was not Mary but Claire. Biographers have offered various interpretations of this affair: that Shelley had decided to adopt a local child to ease Mary's grief after the loss of her daughter, that the child was his and Elise's, or Claire's or another woman's, or even that the child was born of Elise's affair with Byron. Mary Shelley stated several times that if Claire had been pregnant she would certainly have known, but in reality it is not very clear what Mary actually knew about the situation. The events in Naples, a city that Mary later described as a "paradise inhabited by demons" (but to which Shelley dedicated a few lyrics), remain shrouded in mystery. The only thing certain was that Mary was not the child's mother. Elena Adelaide Shelley died in Naples on June 9, 1820.The story of the little girl, who was born and died very young, registered as the natural child of Shelley and her supposed biological mother, but who in fact appears to have had no relation to either Mary or Percy (it was also said that she was the daughter of Shelley's servants), remains unclear.

In the summer of 1822 Percy and Mary (pregnant again) headed, along with Claire and Williams, to Villa Magni, in San Terenzo, in the bay of Lerici, what would be called the "poets' gulf." Once settled in their new abode, the peaceful atmosphere was broken by the announcement of the death of Allegra, Claire's daughter, who had died of typhus in the Bagnacavallo convent where Byron had wanted to educate her. This event threw both Claire and Mary into a deep depression. Mary Shelley was distracted and unhappy in the cramped and remote Villa Magni, in which she felt as if in prison. On June 16 she had a miscarriage and was in danger of dying. Percy promptly intervened, immersing Mary in a tub with ice to slow the bleeding before the doctor arrived, thus saving her life. Relations between Mary and Percy however did not improve during the summer, and Percy spent much more time with Jane Williams than with his debilitated wife. Most of the poems Percy wrote were addressed to Jane and not to Mary.

Proximity to the sea gave Shelley and Edward E. Williams an opportunity to enjoy sailing their new boat, the schooner "Ariel" (also called "Don Juan," in homage to a work by Byron). The boat had been designed by Daniel Roberts and Edward Trelawny, an admirer of Byron who had joined the group in January 1822.

On June 1, 1822, Percy, Edward E. Williams and Captain Daniel Roberts set sail bound for the coast of Livorno. There Percy was to discuss with Byron and Leigh Hunt the possibility of starting a radical magazine called The Liberal.On July 8, 1822, just under a month shy of his 30th birthday, Percy and Edward set sail again, accompanied by sailor Charles Vivian, to return to Villa Magni, but they never reached their destination.

A letter arrived at Villa Magni from Hunt to Percy, dated July 8, in which Hunt asked how they had managed to get home given the bad weather on the day of their departure. Mary and Jane Williams left immediately for Livorno and then on to Pisa, with the hope of finding their husbands safe.From the reconstruction of the events, it was inferred that, soon after their departure, Shelley had been caught in a sudden storm while, aboard his new boat, he was sailing with friends to San Terenzo, returning from Pisa and Livorno. He had just founded The Liberal with Hunt, whom he had met with Byron. The boat, an open vessel built in Genoa especially for Shelley in imitation of a British navy model, did not capsize but sank in the sea opposite Viareggio; Mary Shelley declared in her Note to the Poems of 1822 (1839) that there was a flaw in the design and that the schooner was not fit to sail. Several romantic legends arose around the incident, including a pirate attack, or Percy's willingness to die by suicide at sea (again suffering from depression at that time), although it was probably a simple shipwreck..

Ten days after the departure, the three bodies were found near the coast of Viareggio. Trelawny, Byron and Hunt cremated Shelley's body on the beach of the discovery, as the law of the time required. After a temporary burial in the sand, also on the same beach, the cremation ceremony then took place at the same location a few weeks later. At Mary's behest, perfumes, incense, and aromatic oils procured by Byron himself were poured over Percy's body during the burning, as occurred during the funeral of Misenus described in the sixth book of the Aeneid.An anecdote has it that Trelawny managed to snatch Percy's unburning heart from the flames and delivered it to Mary in a wooden box. The heart was actually extracted almost intact from the pyre, as will be seen later, and kept by Mary Shelley until the day of her death, when it was buried in the same place (Bornemouth Cemetery, where the bodies of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin had also been moved, per Percy Florence's disposition); the ashes were buried in the non-Catholic cemetery (or cemetery of the English) in Rome, along with her son William, where the grave still stands today, not far from that of John Keats. The epigraph, with reference to his death at sea, takes three lines from Ariel's song (in memory of the schooner) from Shakespeare's Tempest: Nothing of him that doth fade

In 1892, on the centenary of his birth, a committee formed in 1890 (already established a first time in 1874), which Algernon Swinburne, Domenico Menotti Garibaldi, Felice Cavallotti, Edmondo De Amicis, Mario Rapisardi and William Ewart Gladstone had joined, obtained the erection of a bust to Shelley near the place where his body was cremated. After several vicissitudes, the monument was unveiled, in 1894, in Piazza Paolina.In 1922, to celebrate the centenary of the English poet's death and his connection with Italy, Lorenzo Viani was commissioned by the Honors Committee to commemorate the occasion in Viareggio. Viani, for the occasion, edited the single issue "P.B. Shelley," on which Alceste De Ambris and Gabriele D'Annunzio collaborated. Since then, several dedications and commemorations have been organized both in England and in Italy, especially in Lerici, Viareggio and Bagni di Lucca.

In the years following his death, the city of Viareggio, dedicated a square in his honor in the center of the city in front of the present classical high school. In fact, it is believed that the square stands on the spot where the cremation of the poet himself took place, and this was further remembered with a statue in his memory placed in the center of the square itself.


From his first wife Harriet Westbrook (London, August 1, 1795 - London, December 12, 1816) he had:

From his second wife Mary Godwin (London, Aug. 30, 1797 - London, Feb. 1, 1851) he had:

He was survived by only three children out of seven: Ianthe and Charles, respectively the daughter and son he had by Harriet, and Percy Florence, the son he had by Mary. Charles, already ill with tuberculosis, died of his injuries after being struck by lightning during a thunderstorm in 1826. Percy Florence, who later inherited the title of baronet in 1844, died childless (the title passed upon Percy Florence's death (1889) to one of Shelley's cousins, Edward. The poet's intimate direct descendants are thus Ianthe's children. Ianthe Shelley married Edward Jeffreis Esdailes in 1837. Two sons and one daughter were born of the marriage. Ianthe died in 1876. Her descendants are still living today.

Despite declaring his open atheism and materialism, Shelley is actually a pantheist and an Epicurean who dreams of a pagan Eden where there is no sin but only joy and pleasure (impetuous loves, brief but overwhelming passions marked his path as a "Latin-hearted Nordic genius"); according to his thought God is all of nature and the world itself, the one and the whole reunited in the memory of the species, a God on the march with humanity: it is up to poets to pick up where others have finished in the writing of the universal poem that is the search for the invisible through beauty, intuition and inspiration.

From his classical training, the study of Greek and Latin, comes a passion for myths, which are often taken up and expanded upon in his poetry.

In Prometheus Delivered and the essay In Defense of Poetry Shelley urges poets to search for the transfiguring word that can guess the invisible and to enter the world of mystery that can be revealed by a word never spoken: he is thus not an Enlightenmentist like his inspirer Godwin, not a scientist who experiments, but a medium who with language discovers the innermost truth.

Shelley is a contradictory poet: in his works one must distinguish poetry that is the fruit of eloquent emotion from that composed of ideological and sometimes rhetorical verses, beginning with those conditioned by his positions in favor of free love and any transgression of current principles, against organized factory labor, and against the establishment of a mercantile and colonialist society.

Shelley is not committed to building a posthumous immortality for himself through writing or deeds (as was the case with Byron or D'Annunzio), but he is afflicted by the mortality of man, tempered at times only by the idea that one can be reunited with the Absolute through contemplation and with the help of philosophy one can strive for the One.

Alternatives:Defense of vegetarianismDefending vegetarianismAdvocacy of vegetarianism

Both Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley were staunch defenders of vegetarianism. Shelley wrote several essays in which he defended the vegetarian diet, including the Vindication of the Natural Diet and On the Vegetarian Diet System.

Shelley wrote, echoing the sensualism and pre-animalism of Enlightenmentists such as Voltaire and Diderot, in the second of these two works, "The slaughter of harmless animals cannot fail to produce much of that spirit of insane and frightful exult at the victory acquired at the price of the slaughter of a hundred thousand men. If the use of animal food subverts the quiet of human consortium, how undesirable is the injustice and barbarity exercised toward these poor victims! They are called to life by human artifice only for the purpose of living a short and unhappy existence of disease and slavery, so that their bodies may be mutilated and their affections violated. Far better that a being capable of feeling never existed than that he lived only to endure a painful existence without any relief."

Pacifism and nonviolence in Shelley

Henry David Thoreau's civil disobedience and Mahatma Gandhi's nonviolent resistance were also influenced and inspired by Shelley's nonviolent attitude in protests and political actions. Gandhi often quoted passages from Shelley's The Mask of Anarchy (in which anarchy is understood in the traditional meaning of chaos, and not as freedom from tyrants), a work that was called "perhaps the first modern formulation of the principle of nonviolent resistance." The pacifist inspiration, also evident in other works such as The Revolt of Islam, is seen as evident, leading Shelley to theorize a revolt without any violence whatsoever.

Shelley did not enjoy popularity in the generation that immediately followed his death, unlike Lord Byron, who was famous among the upper classes during his lifetime despite his radical thinking. For decades after his death, Shelley was only appreciated by the great Victorian poets such as Alfred Tennyson, Robert Browning, Algernon Swinburne, or William Butler Yeats or read only by cultural figures such as Giacomo Leopardi (Giacomo Zanella, a translator and literary scholar, noted this influence, albeit minor compared to Byron's, on the poet from Recanati) and Giuseppe Mazzini (but interest was also expressed by the Pre-Raphaelites, socialists and the labor movement-he counted Karl Marx among his admirers-and of course the anarchists, who considered him the first true anarchist artist in history. Only in the latter part of the 19th century did Shelley's work, or rather the more "innocent" and less revolutionary part of it, so to speak, become famous-thanks to the popularizing work of scholars such as Henry Salt, whose much-acclaimed biography, Percy Bysshe Shelley: the Poet and Pioneer (Percy Bysshe Shelley: Poet and Pioneer) was first published in 1896. During the same period, Italian poets Giosuè Carducci and Gabriele D'Annunzio edited works on Shelley.Shelley's death is recalled by Virginia Woolf in her diary, dated May 12, 1933. The writer was in Pisa at the Neptune Hotel and writes, "Shelley's house waiting by the sea, and Shelley not arriving, and Mary and Mrs. Williams watching from the terrace, and then Trelawney arriving from Pisa and the corpse burned on the beach: this I think of." Admiration for Shelley was also expressed by Bertrand Russell, Rabindranath Tagore, C. S. Lewis. In the period between World War I and the middle of the 20th century, an age dominated by the criticism of T. S. Eliot, Shelley's poetry was treated with snobbishness by the critical establishment - partly because of Eliot's reaction (who also appreciated his compositional technique) to the poet's militant atheism. In the late 1950s, thanks to the push of Harold Bloom, Shelley began to regain a reputation. After the Victorians, they drew inspiration from Shelley (as had already happened with Coleridge and Blake), the rebellious poets of the following generations, from the decadents to the intellectuals of the 1960s: Shelley was an example for the vegetarian movement, the libertarians, and the psychedelics; the admiration for Shelley (often extended to Mary, Keats, and Byron as well), his poetry, and the life outside the box, sometimes portrayed as more excessive than it was, made him one of the very symbols of the Romantic period.


  1. Percy Bysshe Shelley
  2. Percy Bysshe Shelley

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