Percy Bysshe, an English poet, born at Field Place, near Horsham, Sussex, Aug. 4, 1792, drowned in the bay of Spezia, July 8, 1822. His ancestors had long been large landholders in Sussex. His father, Sir Timothy Shelley, was a country gentleman, who had studied at Oxford. Bysshe was sent in his sixth year to a day school near home, and in his tenth to a seminary at Brentford, where he excelled in his studies. At the age of 13 he went to Eton, where he refused to fag, and consequently was harshly treated by his schoolfellows, till he alarmed them by his storms of anger or won their love by his kindness. He was already in love with Miss Grove, a cousin of his own age, with whom he wrote a romance entitled "Zastrozzi" (London, 1810), with the payment for which he gave a magnificent banquet to his friends. He wrote another romance, "St. Irvyne, or the Rosicru-cian" (London, 1811), translated a portion of Pliny's "Natural History," and composed in conjunction with Capt. Medwin the poem of "Ahasuerus, or the Wandering Jew," a portion of which was afterward published; but his greatest passion was for chemistry, and he continued eagerly to experiment with electricity and acids after his return home in 1809. In 1810 he went to Oxford, and became an undergraduate of University college.
At first devoted to physics, he abandoned them for metaphysics. Hume and the French exponents of Locke were his text books, and he soon rushed to materialism and atheism. At the age of 17, says De Quincey, satisfied that atheism was the sheet anchor of the world, he determined to accomplish a general apostasy successively in the university, the church of England, and the whole Christian world. He began with printing a pamphlet of two pages on the "Necessity of Atheism," setting forth the defective logic of the usual arguments for the divine existence. He sent it with a letter to the heads of colleges and professors of the university, inviting them to notify him of their assent to the accompanying argument; for this he was expelled, and ordered to quit the college by the next morning. His father at first forbade his appearance at Field Place. All communication was forbidden between him and Miss Grove, who soon married another. He took lodgings in Poland street, London, and his sisters, who were at school at Bromp-ton, sent him small sums saved from their pocket money, the bearer being their schoolmate Harriet Westbrook, a beautiful daughter of a retired hotel-keeper, residing in London; and after his reconciliation with his father, who settled upon him an allowance of £200 a year, he suddenly eloped with her and married her at Gretna Green. He was aged 19, and she 16. The young pair went to Edinburgh, thence to York, and at length fixed their residence at Keswick. There Shelley became intimate with Southey and De Quincey, and received many favors from the duke of Norfolk. He had already obtained the friendship of Leigh Hunt, and proposed to him a scheme for forming an association of liberals; and he began a correspondence with Godwin, whose advice probably saved him from extreme imprudence in the championship of Irish wrongs, when soon after he removed to Dublin. There, in February, 1812, he published a pamphlet entitled "An Address to the Irish People," copies of which he threw from his window and distributed to passers on the street.
The police suggested to him the propriety of quitting Ireland, and he resided successively in the isle of Man, in North Wales, and in Lyn-mouth. From the last named place he addressed an eloquent letter to Lord Ellenbor-ough against his sentence on the publisher of the third part of Paine's "Age of Reason." Soon afterward he took a cottage in Tanyrallt, Carnarvonshire; and prior to May, 1813, he had visited London, resided again in Dublin, made a tour to the lakes of Killarney, and re-turned to London. In Tanyrallt, as elsewhere, he visited and relieved the poor and suffering. A mysterious attempt on his life, which was never explained, occasioned his immediate removal. In London was born his daughter, Ianthe Eliza. He soon after removed to the cottage of High Elms in Berkshire, where he passed the summer, with the exception of visits to London and Field Place. Toward the close of 1813 the estrangement which had been slowly growing between him and his wife resulted in their separation by mutual consent, and she returned to her father's house, where she gave birth to a second child, which died in 1826. He was soon after travelling abroad, chiefly in Switzerland, with Mary, afterward the second Mrs. Shelley, daughter of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, all of whom deemed marriage a useless institution.
His father, succeeding to the family estates, settled on him from this time an allowance of £1,000 a year. In the winter he frequented a hospital to acquire some knowledge of surgery, that he might become more serviceable to the poor; made several trips in England in 1815; and again visited Switzerland in 1816, where he first met Byron. The same year his wife drowned herself. He now married his second wife, who had been his companion for two years, and fixed his residence in the neighborhood of Mar-low in Buckinghamshire. He claimed the custody of his children, which was refused by the court of chancery on the ground of the alleged depravity of his religious and moral opinions, and after this decision he again left England. He had become acquainted with Keats, whose genius he defended against the reviewers, and afterward wrote to his memory the dirge of "Adonais." In 1810 he had published at Oxford "Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson," a small volume of poems; and in September of that year, in London, "Original Poetry, by Victor and Cazire," of which about 100 copies got into circulation before he suppressed it, but none can now be found.
He had commenced at the age of 18, and completed in 1812, a poem in the rhythm of Southey's "Thalaba," entitled "Queen Mab." It was printed privately in 1813, and an edition was surreptitiously issued in 1821, when he was in Italy. He applied to chancery for an injunction to restrain the sale, which was refused on the ground that the law could give no protection to a heretical book, nor even recognize it except by prosecution. In 1815 he wrote at Bishopsgate, on the Thames, his poem of "Alastor, or the Spirit of Solitude." At Marlow he wrote "The Revolt of Islam." There he suffered a severe attack of ophthal-. mia, caught while visiting the cottages of the poor. In 1818 he left England, never to return. At Lucca he completed the poem of "Julian and Maddalo," a dialogue between himself and Lord Byron, and began his "Prometheus Unbound," which was finished in Rome in 1819 (London, 1821). His next production was "The Cenci," a tragedy repulsive in its subject, but the most elaborate in execution of all his writings.
In 1819 he wrote "The Witch of Atlas" in three days after a pedestrian excursion, and in 1821 produced his "Epipsychidion," "Adonais," and "Hellas." Among his minor poems, the most exquisite and original are the "Address to the Skylark," "The Sensitive Plant," and "The Cloud." He had renewed his intimacy with Byron in Italy, and enjoyed boating as his favorite amusement. On July 8, 1822, he sailed with his friend Williams, in a boat of peculiar build, and requiring skilful management, from Leghorn for Lerici. In a sudden squall the boat disappeared, and the bodies of Shelley and his companions were washed ashore. The quarantine regulations of Tuscany required that everything drifting from the sea should be burned, and the remains of the poet were therefore reduced to ashes on a funeral pile, after the ancient fashion, in the presence of Lord Byron, Leigh Hunt, and Mr. Trelawney. The ashes were deposited in the Protestant burial ground at Rome, near the grave of Keats, with the inscription: Cor Cor-dium. His reputation both as a poet and a man has risen as the misapprehensions of his contemporaries have passed away, and his sincerity, benevolence, noble aims, and peculiar graces' of character and genius have been fully recognized. - Mrs. Shelley published an edition of his poetical works, with biographical notes, in 1839, and a selection from his letters, transla-tions, and prose writings, in 1840. The first complete edition of his works, from the original editions, was edited by R. H. Shepherd (4 vols., London, 1875). See also the "Life" by Capt. Thomas Medwin (London, 1847); "Recollections of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron," by E. J. Trelawney (London and Boston, 1858); the unfinished "Life of Shelley," by Thomas Jefferson Hogg (2 vols., London, 1858); the "Shelley Memorials," by Lady Shelley (London and Boston, 1859); and "Shelley's Early Life, from Original Sources," by Denis Florence Mac-Carthy (London, 1872).
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, an English authoress, second wife of the preceding, born in London in 1797, died there, Feb. 1, 1851. She was the daughter of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, received a careful and peculiar education, and married Shelley in 1816, after having lived with him two years previous to his first wife's death. In 1816, on the lake of Geneva, she joined in a compact with Shelley and Byron each to write a romance in imitation of the German ghost stories which they were reading. The result was her novel of "Frankenstein" (London, 1818), the hero of which discovers the secret of generation and life, and creates a man by the resources of natural philosophy, who proves to be a powerful and mischievous monster. She completed the novel of "Valperga" just before the death of Shelley, and afterward published "The Last Man," "Lodore" (1835), and "The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck." She also wrote a series of biographies of foreign artists and poets for the "Cabinet Cyclopaedia" (1835), and "Rambles in Germany and Italy" (1844), and edited Shelley's works (2 vols., 1839-'40).