Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Shelley, Percy Bysshe
SHELLEY, PERCY BYSSHE (1792–1822), poet, was born at Field Place, Warnham, near Horsham, on 4 Aug. 1792, and was the eldest son of Timothy, afterwards Sir Timothy Shelley, bart., and of his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Charles Pilfold. The family, an offshoot of the Shelleys of Michelgrove, had been transplanted for a time to America, in the person of Percy's great-grandfather Timothy, whose son Bysshe, returning at an early age, made the fortune of his house by two successive runaway matches, the first with Mary Catherine, daughter of the Rev. Theobald Michell of Horsham. Percy's father (b. 1753) was the offspring of this marriage. Bysshe Shelley, who is described as handsome, enterprising, and not over-scrupulous, dignified in appearance and manners, but addicted to inferior company, survived his grandson's birth by twenty-two years. He was a warm supporter of the Duke of Norfolk's interest in the county, and, upon the brief return of the whigs to office in 1806, was rewarded with a baronetcy, ‘the whim,’ according to a local rhymer, ‘of his son Tim.’ Timothy Shelley's character is fairly given by Professor Dowden: ‘He had a better heart than his father, and not so clear a head. A kindly, pompous, capricious, well-meaning, ill-doing, wrong-headed man.’ His letters evince singular confusion, both of thought and expression. The accounts of Shelley's mother are somewhat contradictory, except as regards the beauty which all her children derived from her, and the facility of composition which became the special inheritance of Percy. It is important to remark that the family was not, as sometimes assumed, tory, but pronouncedly whig, and that Shelley would grow up with an addiction to liberty in the abstract and with no special aversion to the revolution.
Shelley received his first instruction from the Rev. Thomas Edwards of Horsham. At ten he was transferred to Sion House academy, Brentford, kept by the Rev. Dr. Greenlaw, a bad middle-class school, which nevertheless profoundly influenced him in two ways. The persecutions which the shy, sensitive boy underwent from his schoolfellows inspired him with the horror of oppression and indomitable spirit of resistance which actuated his whole life; and the scientific instruction he received, though little more than a pretence in itself, awoke a passionate desire to penetrate the secrets of nature. It may almost be said that science was to Shelley what abstract thought was to Coleridge, and that the main peculiarity of the genius of each resulted from the thirst for discovery becoming engrafted upon a temperament originally most unscientifically prone to the romantic and marvellous. Eton, whither Shelley went at the age of twelve, repeated the experience of Sion House on a larger scale. Here, again, his torment was the persecution of his schoolfellows, and his consolation scientific research conducted agreeably to his own notions. He destroyed an old willow with a burning-glass, and, endeavouring to raise the devil, succeeded so far as to raise a tutor. Many other tales of his residence at Eton are probably legendary, but there is no doubt of the influence exerted upon him by the benevolent physician James Lind (1736–1817) [q. v.], whom he has celebrated as the hermit in ‘The Revolt of Islam.’ He was nicknamed ‘Mad Shelley,’ or ‘Shelley the Atheist,’ and he was known among his schoolfellows for a habit of ‘cursing his father and the king.’ He was no inapt scholar, and his progress in the classics eventually made him acquainted with Pliny's ‘Natural History,’ the first two books of which strongly influenced his theological opinions. His literary instincts also awoke; and while at Eton (at sixteen) he wrote and published his romance of ‘Zastrozzi,’ a boy's crude imitation of Mrs. Radcliffe. Somewhat later he composed another romance in the same manner, ‘St. Irvyne, or the Rosicrucian,’ which was also published (in 1810); joined his cousin, Thomas Medwin [q. v.], in writing a poem on the ‘Wandering Jew,’ which found no publisher at the time, but eventually appeared in ‘Fraser's Magazine;’ and in conjunction either with his sister Elizabeth or with his cousin, Harriet Grove—to whom he was, or thought himself, attached—published in 1810 ‘Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire,’ which he withdrew on discovering that his coadjutor had cribbed wholesale from Matthew Gregory Lewis. A hundred copies are said to have been put into circulation, but not one has ever come to light. Another early poem, ‘A Poetical View of the Existing State of Things,’ published anonymously while he was at Oxford, has also disappeared.
Shelley matriculated at University College, Oxford, on 10 April 1810, and commenced residence at the Michaelmas term following. Oxford might have been a happy residence for him had he not brought along with him not only the passion for research into whatever the university did not desire him to learn, and the pantheism, miscalled by himself and others atheism, which he had imbibed from Pliny, but also a spirit of aggressive propaganda. Of this he afterwards cured himself, but at the time it was certain to involve him in collision with authorities whom he had indeed no great reason to respect, but of whose real responsibility for his behaviour he took no proper account. This trait was no doubt encouraged by the intimacy he contracted with Thomas Jefferson Hogg [q. v.], a man of highly original character entirely dissimilar to his own, whose sketch of him during the Oxford period is the most vivid, and probably the most accurate, portrait of the youthful Shelley (cf. C. K. Sharpe, Letters, i. 37, 444). Hogg's sarcastic humour encouraged, if it did not prompt, Shelley to such dangerous freaks as composing and circulating, in conjunction with his friend, a pamphlet of burlesque verses gravely attributed to Margaret Nicholson [q. v.], a mad woman who had attempted to kill the king (Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson, Oxford, 1810); and afterwards submitting a printed syllabus of arguments, supposed to demonstrate ‘The Necessity of Atheism,’ to the bishops and heads of colleges. The authorities summoned Shelley before them on the morning of 25 March 1811, and, upon his refusal to answer interrogatories, delivered to him a sentence of expulsion, which had been signed and sealed in anticipation. Hogg's generous protest brought a similar sentence upon himself.
Shelley's expulsion was rather favourable than otherwise to the development of his genius, but involved him in the greatest misfortune of his life, his imprudent marriage. Excluded from home, he took rooms in London at 15 Poland Street, and frequented the hospitals, with the idea of ultimately becoming a physician. While in town he renewed the slight acquaintance he had already formed with Harriet Westbrook, the daughter of an hotel-keeper retired from business, and a fellow pupil of Shelley's sisters at a school in Clapham. A schoolgirl verging on sixteen, she thought herself persecuted; Shelley sympathised, and interfered sufficiently to give her some apparent claim upon him; and when in July he retired to his cousin's country house at Cwm Elan in Radnorshire, letter after letter came from Harriet complaining of the oppressions she underwent, and threatening to commit suicide. Shelley hastened back to town, saw her, commiserated her appearance, and under the influence of compassion and embittered feeling at his own renunciation by Harriet Grove, who had rejected him before his expulsion from Oxford, committed the weakest action of his life in engaging to marry her. They fled northward, and were wedded in Edinburgh on 28 Aug. 1811. It seems unlikely that Harriet's father should have had any violent objection to his daughter marrying the eventual heir to a baronetcy; and it is no unreasonable conjecture that the transaction was, in fact, arranged by Harriet's family. If so, however, Harriet was certainly an innocent tool. Pleasing in appearance, fairly well educated, good-mannered and good-humoured as she was, an ordinary man might have promised himself much happiness with her; and indeed, until the affection which she originally felt for Shelley had become indifference, the marriage might have passed for fortunate. His own feelings when it was contracted, and for some time afterwards, are portrayed in his letters to Miss Hitchener, a Sussex schoolmistress, then the object of his ardent intellectual admiration.
Shelley's varied adventures for the next three years are unimportant in comparison with the phenomenon in the background, the silent growth of his mind. In the winter of 1811–12 he lived chiefly at Keswick, where he met with the kindest reception from Southey, where he opened his momentous correspondence with Godwin, whose ‘Political Justice’ had deeply impressed him, and whence, in February, he departed on the most quixotic of his undertakings, an expedition to redress the wrongs of Ireland. He spoke at meetings, wrote ‘An Address to the Irish People’ (1812) and ‘Proposals for an Association for the Regeneration of Ireland,’ and in April departed for Wales, leaving things as he had found them. About this time he adopted the vegetarian system of diet, to which he adhered with more or less constancy when in England, but seems to have generally discarded when abroad. He spent the early summer at his old haunt of Cwm Elan, and by the end of June was settled at Lynmouth in North Devon, where he wrote his powerful remonstrance with Lord Ellenborough on the condemnation of Daniel Isaac Eaton for publishing the third part of Paine's ‘Age of Reason’ (Barnstaple, 1812, 8vo). He excited the attention of government by sending a revolutionary ‘Declaration of Rights’ [Dublin, 1812], and his poem ‘The Devil's Walk’ (a broadsheet, of which the only known copy is in the Public Record Office) to sea in boxes and bottles. Finding it advisable to disappear, he took refuge at Tanyrallt, a house near Tremadoc in North Wales, where his landlord, Mr. Madocks, M.P. for Boston, was constructing the embankment which, at a great sacrifice of natural picturesqueness, has redeemed from the sea the estuary of the Glaslyn. The work was battered by storms, and its financial situation was precarious. Shelley hurried up to London to raise money on its behalf, and there made the personal acquaintance of Godwin, who had previously come down to visit him at Lynmouth, and ‘found only that he was not to be found.’ His residence at Tanyrallt was terminated by a mysterious occurrence in the following February, which he represented as the attack of an assassin, but which was in all probability an hallucination. He sought refuge in Ireland with his family, which had for some time included Harriet's elder sister Eliza, an addition pernicious to his domestic peace. Leaving her at Killarney ‘with plenty of books but no money,’ Shelley and Harriet travelled up to London, where on 28 June 1813, their daughter Ianthe (afterwards Mrs. Esdaile, d. 1876) was born. By the end of July they had taken a house at Bracknell in Berkshire, near Windsor Forest. ‘Queen Mab,’ principally written, as would seem, in 1812, was privately printed about this time (‘Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem,’ London, 1813, 8vo), with notes that might very well have been spared, including ‘a vindication of natural diet’ (the ‘Vindication’ was separately printed London, 1813, 8vo, but is excessively rare). It remained unknown until a piratical reproduction of it in 1821 (which Shelley vainly endeavoured to suppress by an injunction) excited attention, and it obtained a celebrity long denied to his maturer and more truly poetical writings. It is indeed admirably adapted to serve as a freethinking and socialistic gospel, being couched in a strain of rhetoric so exalted as to pass easily for poetry. Early in 1814 he published anonymously an ironical ‘Refutation of Deism’ in a dialogue (London, 8vo), perhaps the rarest of his writings; it was, however, reprinted in 1815 in the ‘Theological Inquirer.’
Shelley was now on the eve of the great crisis of his life, his separation from Harriet. So late as September 1813 he speaks of their ‘close-woven happiness.’ But radical incompatibility of temperament had already laid the foundation of an estrangement. Hogg, writing of January 1814, says: ‘The good Harriet was now in full force, vigour, and effect; roseate as ever, at times perhaps rather too rosy. She had entirely relinquished her favourite practice of reading aloud … neither did she read much to herself; her studies, which had been so constant and exemplary, had dwindled away, and Bysshe had ceased to express any interest in them, and to urge her, as of old, to devote herself to the cultivation of her mind. When I called upon her, she proposed a walk … the walk commonly conducted us to some fashionable bonnet-shop.’ These ominous details are followed by a pathetic letter from Shelley, dated 16 March, deploring the ruin of his domestic happiness and the desolation of his home, from which he has been absent for a month. In these circumstances it is preposterous to attribute the estrangement to Shelley's passion for Mary Godwin, whom, except perhaps casually as a girl, he had not even seen. Nor is there any reason to impugn Harriet's conjugal fidelity; her attachment had involuntarily decayed, and her tastes and habits had rendered Shelley's society uncongenial to her. None would affirm that the youth of twenty either exercised the patience or made the efforts which he ought to have done, yet he was far from acting with the precipitancy commonly attributed to him. He seems to have foreseen that a separation might ensue; for on 23 March Harriet, hitherto only united to him by a Scots ceremony, was remarried with the rites of the church of England, thus securing her legal status in any event. But so late as May, some time after his meeting with Mary Godwin, he is found pleading in pathetic verse for the restoration of Harriet's affections; and his lines to Mary a month later, though betraying great agitation of mind, are not those of one who is or wishes to be an accepted lover. But matters were evidently tending this way, and the crisis was precipitated by Harriet's ill-judged step of leaving her home and retiring with her child to her father's house at Bath towards the end of June. She speedily saw her error, but it was too late. Shelley seems to have summoned her to town about 14 July, and after several interviews between them, partly relating no doubt to the ‘deeds and settlements’ mentioned in subsequent correspondence, he quitted England with Mary Godwin on 28 July. They took with them Jane Clairmont [q. v.], a daughter by her first marriage of Mary Godwin's stepmother, a most imprudent step and the source of many calumnies.
The fugitives crossed the Channel in an open boat, hastened to Paris, and made their way through the eastern provinces of France, still black with the devastation of war, to Switzerland, where they hoped to find a permanent abode. On the way Shelley wrote to Harriet, proposing that she should join them, a project sufficiently repellent, but indicating that Shelley had parted with his wife on terms that, in his eyes at any rate, rendered friendly relations possible. Residence in Switzerland, however, soon proved impracticable for himself and Mary; expected remittances failed to arrive, and they were only enabled to effect their return home by the cheapness of the Rhine water-carriage. Their adventures were recorded in a little narrative (‘The History of a Six Weeks' Tour,’ written and published in 1817) which was reissued, with a charming commentary, by Charles Isaac Elton (London, 1894, 8vo). The remainder of the year, during which Harriet gave birth to Charles Bysshe, a son by Shelley, was very trying. Shelleys, Godwins, and Westbrooks were all inimical, and every source of pecuniary supply was cut off but the post-obit. At the beginning of 1815 Shelley's affairs took a favourable turn owing to the death of his grandfather. The new baronet, Sir Timothy, finding that his son could now encumber the estate, thought it best to come to terms with him. No real reconciliation was effected, but Shelley received 1,000l. a year, 200l. out of which he settled on Harriet. After a tour in the south of England, he took a house at Bishopgate, close by Windsor Forest. Consumption seemed to threaten for a time but passed away. The feeling thus engendered combined with the solemnity of the forest scenery to inspire ‘Alastor,’ the first poem in which he is truly himself, where the presentiment of impending dissolution and ‘the desire of the moth for the star’ are shadowed forth in an obscure but majestic allegory. It was published in 1816 (‘Alastor, or the Spirit of Solitude,’ London, 8vo), with some minor poems, also in a purely Shelleyan key. During the winter Shelley pursued the study of Greek literature in conjunction with his friends Hogg and Thomas Love Peacock [q. v.], who had been introduced to him by their common publisher Hookham. Both were excellent classical scholars, but Shelley alone of the three could assimilate the inner spirit of Greece, and these studies were most favourable to his development. At this time dawns the tranquillity of soul which, though sorely tried by storms from within and without, beamed more and more throughout the remainder of his life. Henceforth he no longer aspired to enter personally into political agitation, and was content to work upon the world by his writings. About this time, too, was most probably written the beautiful if inconclusive ‘Essay on Christianity,’ first printed in ‘Shelley Memorials’ (1859), which shows so remarkable a progress from the prejudice and unreason of the notes to ‘Queen Mab.’
In May 1816 this repose was interrupted by a hasty flight to the continent, precipitated in all probability by the unbearable annoyance of Godwin's affairs. Godwin's pecuniary embarrassments had led him to revise his opinion of Shelley's conduct. He importuned Shelley for money, which Shelley was for a time only too ready to supply; but patience failed at last, and, weary of perpetual contest, he withdrew from the scene with more expedition than dignity. The influence of Jane, or, as she now called herself, Claire Clairmont, no doubt also contributed to their departure, although both Shelley and Mary were ignorant of the liaison with Byron which made her anxious to join him in Switzerland. Shelley now met Byron there for the first time, and little as their characters had in common, similarity of fortune and affinity of genius made them friends. ‘The most gentle, the most amiable, and the least worldly-minded person I ever met,’ said Byron afterwards. ‘I have seen nothing like him, and never shall again, I am certain.’ They travelled together, and Byron's poetry, to its great advantage, was deeply influenced by his new friendship. Shelley composed his ‘Mont Blanc,’ and Mary conceived and partly wrote her ‘Frankenstein.’ Returning to England in the autumn, they established themselves at Bath, prior to occupying the house which, probably at Peacock's recommendation, they had taken at Great Marlow, where two stunning blows fell upon them. The melancholy death of Fanny Godwin, Mary's half-sister [see Godwin, William, the younger, and Godwin, Mrs. Mary Wollstonecraft], was succeeded by the dismal tragedy of Harriet Shelley. Learning that she had quitted her father's house, Shelley was having every search made for her, when, on 10 Dec. 1816, her body was taken from the Serpentine, where it had been for three or four weeks. She was apparently in an advanced state of pregnancy (cf. Times, 12 Dec. 1816; the verdict at the inquest on ‘Harriet Smith’ was ‘Found drowned’). The circumstances immediately occasioning her death are too obscure to be investigated with profit. Shelley certainly had no share in them, but his relations with her were no doubt present to his mind when he afterwards spoke of himself as ‘a prey to the reproaches of memory.’ He hastened, nevertheless, to perform the obvious duty of giving his union with Mary a legal sanction (they were married on 30 Dec. at St. Mildred's, in the city of London), and next endeavoured to obtain his two children by Harriet (Ianthe and Charles Bysshe) from her relatives. The case went before the court of chancery, and, by a memorable decision of Lord Eldon, on 27 March 1817, was decided against Shelley. Early in this year (1817) appeared Shelley's ‘Proposal for putting Reform to the Vote throughout the Kingdom. By the Hermit of Marlow,’ London, 8vo; and, under a like pseudonym, he issued in the same year ‘An Address to the People on the Death of the Princess Charlotte’ (London, 1843, 8vo; being a reprint of the lost edition of 1817).
A son, William, had been born to Shelley and Mary Godwin in January 1816, and September 1817 saw the birth of a daughter, Clara. The household was further augmented by the company of Claire and her child Allegra, the fruit of her amour with Byron, which had ended in mutual disgust and bitter recrimination. Peacock was a near neighbour, but a closer friend was Leigh Hunt, whom Shelley had come to know upon his return from Switzerland, and whose delicate attentions had soothed the miseries of the preceding winter. Shelley gave him 1,400l. to relieve his difficulties—a noble action, if it had not been performed at the expense of others who had juster claims upon him. He made the acquaintance of Keats through Leigh Hunt, but it did not become intimacy. Coleridge he never met, to the loss of both. Godwin renewed his importunities for pecuniary help, which, after a long display of patience and magnanimity on Shelley's part, ended in complete estrangement. Nothing gives a higher idea of the energy of Shelley's mind than that, amid all these troubles, the most ambitious of his poems should have been written within six months. ‘The Revolt of Islam’ (London, 1818, 8vo)—originally called ‘Laon and Cythna’ (a few copies were printed under this title in 1817), and wisely altered before publication—may be described as a poet's impassioned vision of the French revolution and the succeeding reaction. Compared with the later ‘Prometheus Unbound’ it is the product of a mighty ferment, as the other poem is of the calm ensuing upon it. The music of its Spenserian stanza is unsurpassed in the language; and although the middle part is somewhat tedious, Shelley never excelled the opening and the close—Cythna's education and bridal, the picture of the fallen tyrant, the tremendous scenes of pestilence and famine; above all, perhaps, the dedication to Mary. It was written partly on a high seat in Bisham Wood, partly as he glided or anchored in his boat amid the Thames islets and miniature waterfalls. Its publication occasioned a bitter attack in the ‘Quarterly,’ and drew enthusiastic praise from Professor Wilson, writing under the influence of De Quincey; but it was otherwise received with the indifference which, during Shelley's lifetime, the public, including his own friends, almost invariably manifested towards his works.
When not writing ‘The Revolt of Islam’ Shelley was much engaged in relieving the distress of the cottagers in his neighbourhood, and was publishing his political tracts under the signature of ‘The Hermit of Marlow.’ By the beginning of 1818 he had become restless, and indeed the motives for emigration were weighty as well as numerous. Of one he did not think—the great benefit which his genius was destined to receive by transplantation to a land of romantic beauty and classical association. He left England on 11 March, and arrived at Turin on 31 March 1818. He remained in Italy till his death.
The incidents of Shelley's life in Italy were mainly intellectual. After spending the spring of 1818 at Como and Milan, and the summer at the baths of Lucca, where he translated Plato's ‘Symposium,’ and finished ‘Rosalind and Helen’ (commenced the year before at Marlow), he went to Venice on the unwelcome errand of delivering Claire's daughter to her father, Byron. Here his own daughter Clara died of a disorder induced by the climate. Byron lent him a villa at Este, where he began ‘Prometheus Unbound,’ and wrote the ‘Lines on the Euganean Hills,’ published, along with ‘Rosalind and Helen’ and a few other poems, in the following year. He also wrote about this time ‘Julian and Maddalo,’ inspired by his visits to Byron at Venice. Venice and Byron stand out vividly in the poem against a background of utter obscurity. In November he set out for Rome, and began upon the journey the series of descriptive letters to Peacock, which places him at the head of English epistolographers in this department. The masters of a splendid prose style rarely carry this into their familiar correspondence, but Shelley's prose writings and his letters are of a piece. December was spent at Naples, where painful circumstances imperfectly known produced the ‘Lines written in Dejection,’ the first great example of that marvel of melody and intensity, the characteristically Shelleyan lyric. Returning to Rome, he remained there until June 1819, when the death of his infant son William drove him to Leghorn, and subsequently to Florence, where his youngest son, afterwards Sir Percy Florence Shelley, was born in November. The greater part of ‘Prometheus Unbound’ had been written at Rome, and immediately afterwards he turned to the tragedy of Beatrice Cenci, whose countenance, or reputed countenance, had fascinated him in Guido's portrait in the Colonna palace at Rome. Both pieces were published in the course of 1819–20 (‘The Cenci: a Tragedy in five Acts,’ Leghorn, 1819, 8vo; 2nd edit. London, 1821, 8vo; ‘Prometheus Unbound, a lyrical drama in four acts, with other Poems,’ London, 1820, 8vo). The ‘Prometheus’ is a dithyrambic of sublime exultation on the redemption of humanity, and an assemblage of all that language has of gorgeousness and verse of melody; the diction and passion of the ‘Cenci’ are toned down to their sombre theme, as different from the ‘Prometheus’ as the atrocity of its chief male character is from the transcendent heroism of the suffering demi-god. But both, the tragedy no less than the mythological drama, are effusions of lyrical emotion, and precisely correspond to the state of feeling which produced them.
The ‘Ode to the West Wind,’ perhaps the grandest of Shelley's lyrics, was written at Florence in October 1819, about which time he also produced ‘Peter Bell the Third,’ a parody of Wordsworth, evincing more genuine if more discriminating admiration than many panegyrics. ‘The Masque of Anarchy,’ a poem provoked by the indignation at the ‘Manchester massacre’ of August 1819, was another composition of this period. It did not appear until 1832. ‘Peter Bell the Third’ remained in manuscript until 1839. At the close of 1819 Shelley removed to Pisa, which was in the main his domicile for the rest of his life. He had become greatly interested in a project of his friends, the Gisbornes, for a steamboat between Genoa and Leghorn. The undertaking proved premature, but produced (July 1820) that comparable union of high and familiar poetry, the ‘Epistle to Maria Gisborne.’ The year 1820 also produced the dazzling ‘Witch of Atlas’ and the humorous burlesque on Queen Caroline's trial, ‘Swellfoot the Tyrant’ (‘Œdipus Tyrannus, or Swellfoot the Tyrant: a Tragedy in two Acts. Translated from the original Doric,’ London, 1820, 8vo, written in August and published anonymously; on the Society for the Suppression of Vice threatening to prosecute, it was withdrawn, and only some seven copies of the original are known; reprinted, London, 1876, 8vo). But the year was chiefly remarkable for its lyrics, ranging from the ‘Sensitive Plant’ and the ‘Skylark’ down to the eight lines for which Landor, ever hyperbolical in praise and dispraise, would have bartered the whole of Beaumont and Fletcher. The year was uneventful until near its end, when Shelley made the acquaintance of the lovely Emilia Viviani, a young Italian lady who had been imprisoned in a convent with a view to extorting her consent to an obnoxious marriage. The first draft of his ‘Epipsychidion’ existed some time before Shelley met Emilia, but his meeting with her supplied the needful impulse to perfect and complete that piece of radiant mysticism and rapturous melody (100 copies, London, 1821, 8vo). It attests the growing influence of Plato whose ‘Banquet’ he had already translated. That influence is even more apparent in another composition of 1821, the ‘Defence of Poetry,’ written in answer to Peacock, almost contemporaneously with ‘Epipsychidion.’ Two additional parts were contemplated, but never written, and the essay remained in manuscript until the publication of Shelley's prose writings in 1840. Before long a further incentive to composition was supplied by the death of Keats, whose memory inspired ‘Adonais’ (Pisa, 1821, 4to), not the most magnificent of Shelley's poems, but perhaps the one of most sustained magnificence. The concluding stanzas more fully than any other passage in his writings embody his ultimate speculative conclusions, substantially identical with Spinoza's, whose ‘Tractatus’ he began to translate about the same time. The chief external incident of the year (1821) was Shelley's visit to Byron at Ravenna, for the sake of seeing Byron's and Claire Clairmont's daughter, the little Allegra, before Byron removed to Pisa. The relations between Byron and Claire, who now taught Lady Mountcashell's daughters in Florence, were a continual source of friction. Shelley's conduct towards both parties was unexceptionable, and showed what progress he had made in calm judgment and self-control. Shelley had refused any further contributions to Godwin, but the latter's demands continued, and Shelley permitted Mary to send to her father the money she received for her new novel, ‘Valperga.’
Byron's residence at Pisa, with all its drawbacks, enlivened and diversified Shelley's life, which was further cheered by the society of the gentle and generous Edward Elliker Williams [q. v.] and of his wife Jane, the subject of Shelley's ‘With a Guitar’ and other exquisite lyrics. In the autumn of 1821 the tidings of the Greek insurrection prompted his ‘Hellas’ (London, 1822, 8vo), an imitation in plan, though not in diction, of the ‘Persæ’ of Æschylus, containing some of his noblest lyrical writing. The indifference of the public seems to have discouraged him from prolonged efforts to which he was not constrained, as he was in this instance, by some overmastering impulse. The tragedy on Charles I, which he began to write early in 1822, made little progress; but his powers as a translator appeared at their best in the scenes from ‘Faust’ and Calderon's ‘Mágico Prodigioso’ which he rendered somewhat later as the basis of papers for the ‘Liberal.’ His appearance and conversation at this time are vividly described by Edward John Trelawny [q. v.], a new addition to the Pisan circle. In April the Shelleys and Williamses removed to Lerici, near Spezzia. The wild scenery and primitive people were most congenial to Shelley, who declared himself ready to say with Faust to the passing hour, ‘Verweile doch, du bist so schön.’ While sailing, studying, listening to Mrs. Williams's music, and writing his ‘Triumph of Life’ as his boat rocked in the moonlight, he heard of the Leigh Hunts' arrival at Pisa, and hastened to meet them. Having made them as comfortable as Byron's moodiness and Mrs. Hunt's apparently mortal sickness permitted, Shelley sailed for Spezzia from Leghorn on 8 July 1822, accompanied by Williams. Scarcely had they embarked when the face of sky and sea darkened ominously. Trelawny watched the little vessel sailing in the company of many others, and graphically describes how all were blotted from view by the squall, and how, when this had passed off, all reappeared except Shelley's, which was never seen again until months afterwards she was dredged up from the bottom of the sea. Some thought that she had been accidentally or designedly run down in the squall, but many circumstances militate against this theory. Shelley's body, best recognised by the volumes of Sophocles and Keats in the pockets, was cast ashore near Viareggio on 18 July, and, after having been buried for some time in the sand, was on 16 Aug., in the presence of Byron, Hunt, and Trelawny, cremated, to allow of the interment of the ashes in the protestant cemetery at Rome. This took place on 7 Dec. immediately under the pyramid of Caius Cestius. Leigh Hunt wrote the Latin epitaph, with the famous Cor Cordium, and Trelawny added three English lines from ‘The Tempest.’ The heart, which would not burn, and had been snatched from the flames by Trelawny, was given to Mary Shelley, and is in the keeping of her family (cf. Guido Biaggi, Gli ultimi giorni di P. B. Shelley, Florence, 1892). In 1823 there appeared ‘Poetical Pieces,’ containing ‘Prometheus Unmasked’ (sic), ‘Hellas,’ ‘The Cenci,’ ‘Rosalind and Helen,’ with other poems. ‘Julian and Maddalo’ and ‘The Witch of Atlas,’ which had hitherto remained in manuscript, were published in 1824 along with the unfinished ‘Triumph of Life,’ the ‘Epistle to Maria Gisborne,’ a large number of minor lyrics, and translations, including those executed for the ‘Liberal.’ The title of the collection was ‘Posthumous Poems’ (London, 8vo), and the expenses were guaranteed by two poets, B. W. Procter and T. L. Beddoes, and Beddoes's future biographer, T. Kelsall. It was almost immediately withdrawn in virtue of an arrangement with Sir Timothy Shelley, and for long the public demand continued to be supplied by pirated editions, the refusal of the courts to protect ‘Queen Mab’ being apparently taken as implying a license to appropriate anything. A pirated edition of ‘Miscellaneous Poems’ appeared in numbers during 1826 (London, 12mo). The consequent cheapness of circulation greatly extended Shelley's fame and influence. In 1829 admirers at Cambridge reprinted ‘Adonais,’ and undertook a fruitless mission for the conversion of his own university. In 1829 and 1834 very imperfect issues of his ‘Poetical Works’ appeared, the former along with those of Coleridge and Keats, and with a memoir by Cyrus Redding [q. v.] Another edition of his ‘Works’ in one small volume was published by Charles Daly in 1836. In 1839, the obstacles to an authentic edition having been removed in some unexplained manner, Mrs. Shelley published what was then supposed to be a definitive edition in four volumes, enriched with biographical notes and some very beautiful lyrics which had remained in manuscript. An American edition of this, with a memoir by J. Russell Lowell, appeared at Boston in 1855, 3 vols. 12mo. A collection of his letters and miscellaneous prose writings followed in 1840. The letters, published in 1852 with a preface by Robert Browning, are mostly fabrications by a person claiming to be a natural son of Byron. Many most important additions, however, have been made to those published in 1840. In 1862 the present writer, as the result of an examination of Shelley's manuscripts, published a number of fragments in verse and prose, some of extreme interest, under the title ‘Relics of Shelley.’ These, as well as many of the new letters continually coming to light, have been incorporated into more recent editions of Shelley's writings. The only recent edition virtually complete is Mr. Buxton Forman's in eight volumes, containing both verse and prose (London, 1876–80, 8vo); but those of Mr. W. M. Rossetti (1870, 1878, and 1888) and of Mr. G. E. Woodberry (American, 1892, 1893) deserve consideration. Letters to Claire Clairmont and Miss Hitchener, and Harriet Shelley's letters to Miss Nugent, have been printed separately. A full collection of the letters to Elizabeth Hitchener was first edited by Bertram Dobell, 1908. Translations into French, Italian, German, and Russian are numerous. Selections have been edited by Stopford A. Brooke (1880) and by the present writer (Parchment Library, 1880). The bulk of Shelley's manuscripts has been deposited by his daughter-in-law, Lady Shelley, in the Bodleian Library.
Shelley's eldest son, Charles Bysshe, the offspring of his union with Harriet Westbrook, did not long survive him, and upon the death of Sir Timothy Shelley in 1844 the baronetcy passed to the poet's only surviving son by Mary Godwin, Sir Percy Florence Shelley (1819–1889). This most gentle and lovable man, the inheritor of most of his father's fine qualities and of many of his tastes and accomplishments, died in December 1889. He married, 22 June 1848, Jane, daughter of Thomas Gibson, and widow of the Hon. Charles Robert St. John, who survives him; but, the marriage having proved childless, the baronetcy devolved upon Edward, son of Shelley's younger brother John, and is now enjoyed by Sir Edward's brother Charles.
The excessive vehemence which hurried Shelley into many hasty and unjustifiable steps, was, from a moral point of view, a serious infirmity, but failure to control impulse seems to have been a condition of his greatness and of his influence on mankind. He took Parnassus by storm. His poetical productiveness would have been admirable as the result of a long life; as the work in the main of little more than five years, it is one of the greatest marvels in the history of the human mind. Had it been as unequal in matter as Dryden, in manner as Wordsworth, it would still have been wonderful; but, apart from occasional obscurities in meaning and lapses in grammar, it is as perfect in form as in substance, and equable in merit to a degree unapproached by any of his contemporaries. The lucidity and symmetry of the minor lyrics, in particular, rival anything in antiquity, and surpass the best modern examples by their greater apparent spontaneity, the result in fact of the most strenuous revision.
In 1835 Stuart Mill ably compared and contrasted him with Wordsworth; and the finest passage in his ‘Pauline’ (1833) is the outburst of Browning's passionate admiration. After many vicissitudes, opinion seems to be agreeing to recognise Shelley as the supreme lyrist, all of whose poems, whatever their outward form, should be viewed from the lyrical standpoint. This is a just judgment, for even the apparently austere and methodical ‘Cenci’ is as truly born of a passionate lyrical impulse as any of his songs. Despite his limitations, no modern poet, unless it be Wordsworth, has so deeply influenced English poetry.
The splendour of his prose style, while exalting his character for imagination, has seemed incompatible with homely wisdom. In reality his essays and correspondence are not more distinguished by fine insight into high matters than by sound common-sense in ordinary things. No contemporary, perhaps, so habitually conveys the impression of a man in advance of his time. His capacity for calm discussion appears to advantage under the most provoking circumstances, as in his correspondence with Godwin, Booth, and Southey. As a critic, Shelley does not possess Coleridge's subtlety and penetration, but has a gift for the intuitive recognition of excellence which occasionally carries him too far in enthusiasm, but at all events insures him against the petty and self-interested jealousies from which none of his contemporaries, except Scott and Keats, can be considered exempt. This delight in the work of others, even more than his own poetical power, renders him matchless as a translator. Of his lyrics, those which have been most frequently set to music are: ‘I arise from dreams of thee,’ ‘The Cloud,’ ‘The fountains mingle with the river,’ ‘One word is too often profaned,’ and ‘Music when soft voices die.’
Only two genuine portraits of Shelley are extant, and neither is satisfactory. The earlier, a miniature, was taken when he was only thirteen or fourteen, and is authenticated by its strong and undesigned resemblance to miniatures of the Pilfold family. The later portrait, painted by Miss Curran at Rome in 1819, was left in a flat and unfinished state. ‘I was on the point of burning it before I left Italy,’ the artist told Mrs. Shelley; ‘I luckily saved it just as the fire was scorching.’ There is a general agreement among the descriptions of personal acquaintance; all agree as to the slight but tall and sinewy frame, the abundant brown hair, the fair but somewhat tanned and freckled complexion, the dark blue eyes, with their habitual expression of rapt wonder, and the general appearance of extreme youth. Resemblances, by no means merely fanciful, have been found with the portraits of Novalis, of Sir Robert Dudley, styled duke of Northumberland and earl of Warwick [q. v.], and of Antonio Leisman in the Florentine Ritratti de' Pittori. The preternatural keenness of his senses is well attested, and contributed to the illusions which play so large a part in his history. Of late years two splendid monuments have been erected to Shelley by the piety of his son and daughter-in-law; one is in Christchurch minster, Hampshire; the other, designed by Mr. Onslow Ford, R.A., is at University College, Oxford.