Percy Bysshe Shelley

PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY, eldest son of Sir Timothy Shelley, Baronet, of Castle Goring, Sussex, was born in that county, on the 4th of August, 1792. At the age of thirteen he was sent to Eton, where he was distinguished from his schoolfellows by a melancholy and reserved disposition, and an abstinence from every amusement natural to youth. He soon began to develop a rigid, unconventional tenacity of character, in relation to what he deemed reason and justice of things, and he was in consequence, at an earlier period than usual, removed to the University of Oxford. Here his penetrating and inquisitive mind displayed more fully that pertinacious but conscientious eccentricity, which forbade his assent to the most common truths without investigation; and, in consequence of publishing a pamphlet, in which he attacked the ordinarily received notions of the being of God, he was expelled from the university, on his refusal to retract his opinions. This step drew upon him the displeasure of his family, whose total discountenance of him soon after followed, on his marriage, at the age of about seven teen or eighteen, with a lady equally young. The union ended in misery to both; after the birth of two children they separated by mutual consent, and Mrs. Shelley subsequently destroying herself, the subject of our memoir was looked upon as her murderer, and spoken of with proportionate obloquy.

A perusal of Mr. Godwin's Political Justice, had first induced Shelley to adopt the systematic rule of conduct, by which he subsequently squared all his actions, at the sacrifice of every worldly interest. His conduct was, in consequence, equally noble and extraordinary; and though, it is said, 'he had only to become a yea and nay man in the house of commons, to be one of the richest men in Sussex,' he declined it to live upon a comparative pittance. After a visit to Italy, where he formed a friendship with lord Byron, and composed his Rosalind and Helen, and Ode to the Euganean Hill, he returned to England, and married the daughter of Mr. Godwin, with whom he resided for some time at Great Marlow, in Buckinghamshire. Here he was remarkable for his unostentatious charity; and he not only administered pecuniary relief to the poor, but visited them when sick in their beds, having previously gone the round of the hospitals, on purpose to be able to practice on occasion. At Marlow, he composed the Revolt of Islam, his introduction to which, addressed to his wife, is, perhaps, one of the most beautiful and touching pieces of poetry ever composed. About this time he was deprived of the guardianship of his two children, in consequence of his alleged sceptical notions, and of certain peculiar opinions respecting the intercourse of the sexes. After his separation from them, which deeply affected him, and increased his disgust towards the institutions of his country, he returned, with his family by his second wife, to Italy, where he joined lord Byron and Leigh Hunt in a periodical called The Liberal. In June, 1822, he visited the former, at Pisa, and, on the 7th of July, set off, in a boat, on his return to his own family, at Lerici, in the bay of Spezzia; when a tremendous storm came on, and, in a week afterwards, the body of Shelley, with those of Mr. Williams and a seaman, his only companions, were washed on shore near Villa Reggio. Their remains, after having been interred by the Italian authorities, were, at the request of their respective friends, dug up, and reduced to ashes, when those of Shelley were deposited in the Protestant burial ground at Rome, near the grave of Keats.