Percy Bysshe Shelley Additional Biography


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

0111201583-Shelley_P.jpg Percy Bysshe Shelley (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Born into a wealthy landed English family of conservative beliefs, Shelley developed such independence of thought that he earned the nickname “mad Shelley.” By the time he entered Oxford University in 1810, he had already published juvenile verse and two Gothic romances. At Oxford he turned to more controversial subjects. His short theological polemic The Necessity of Atheism (1811), examined and refuted proofs traditionally offered for the existence of God, and then asked readers either to supply any deficiency in its reasoning or to embrace the truth that it contained, arguing that truth can never be detrimental to society.

Shelley’s pamphlet—which he contentiously sent to bishops and heads of the colleges at Oxford—coupled with his political writings and conspicuous efforts to support an imprisoned Irish journalist, brought him to the attention of the masters and fellows of University College. They summoned him to a meeting in March, 1811. There, instead of acknowledging authorship and reiterating his stance as a pursuer of truth, he refused to acknowledge the pamphlet and argued that because it had been printed anonymously, his questioners had no legal right to interrogate him concerning its authorship. The university then expelled him, not for his published religious or political beliefs, but for his stubbornness in answering questions, a matter of college discipline.

Soon after his expulsion, Shelley eloped with...

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Percy Bysshe Shelley, born on August 4, 1792, at Field Place in Sussex, England, near the town of Horsham, was the eldest of seven children. His father was Timothy Shelley, a longtime member of Parliament and eventual baronet, and his mother, the former Elizabeth Pilfold. The young Shelley lived in privileged comfort, a circumstance that later offended his reformist sensibilities, and was the object of considerable family affection. His education was begun near Field Place by the Reverend Evan Edwards and was continued at Syon House Academy (from 1802 to 1804) and Eton (from 1804 to 1810). His experiences at Syon House and Eton, where he underwent considerable bullying, helped inspire his passionate hatred of oppressive power. These were also the years in which he developed his fascinations with science and literature. The former brought about his successful attempt to burn down a willow tree with a magnifying glass and his unsuccessful attempt to summon the devil; the latter led to the publication of his first book, a gothic novel, before his eighteenth birthday.

Shelley entered University College, Oxford, in October of 1810, and was expelled on March 25, 1811, for his distribution of The Necessity of Atheism, a collaboration with Hogg. His expulsion aggravated the difficulties that already existed between him and his father, and finding himself unwelcome at home, Shelley took up residence in London, where he became reacquainted with Harriet Westbrook, a classmate of his sister. Westbrook soon replaced Harriet Grove in Shelley’s affections, Grove having rejected the young poet earlier in the year. After the sixteen-year-old Westbrook had made herself irresistible by claiming to be a sufferer of persecution, the two ran off to Edinburgh, where they were married on August 29, 1811. Although the marriage appears to have been reasonably happy at first, it eventually became one of the great disasters of Shelley’s life.

Hogg lived with the Shelleys in Edinburgh and later in York, but Hogg’s unsuccessful attempt to seduce Harriet during a short trip by Shelley to Sussex resulted in the couple’s quick departure for Keswick, this time accompanied by Harriet’s meddlesome sister, Eliza. At Keswick, Shelley became acquainted with Robert Southey, who saw in Shelley’s radical ways a reflection of what he had once been, and began corresponding with his future father-in-law, William Godwin, celebrated among liberals as the writer of An Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Political Justice, and Its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness (1793). Godwin’s ideas were among the most powerful influences on Shelley’s own early political ethos.

In February of 1812, Shelley traveled to Dublin, Ireland, where he issued pamphlets and delivered speeches in favor of increased Irish autonomy. He then took himself and his household to Wales and later to Lynmouth, Devon, where A Letter to Lord Ellenborough was refused publication, most of the copies being burned by the printer, and where his servant was arrested for handing out sheets of his Declaration of Rights. Having come under government surveillance, he then retired to Tremadoc, Wales, after which he departed for London, arriving on October 4, 1812.

During the six weeks he spent in London, Shelley met Godwin, Thomas Hookham, and Peacock, all of whom were to figure prominently in his later career. Shelley’s explicit purposes in going to London, however, were to raise money for an engineering project near Tremadoc that was being supported by one of his liberal friends and to deal with some of his own financial difficulties. Having done what he could, he returned to Tremadoc for the winter but left for Ireland after someone purportedly tried to shoot him on February 26, 1813.

Shelley was back in London by April, where Queen Mab was published in May (by Hookham) and where Shelley’s daughter, Eliza Ianthe, was born in June. During the next several months, the Shelleys’ wanderings continued, but most of their time was spent in or near London, thus giving them continuing access to the Godwin household and allowing the growth of their friendship with the amiable Peacock. This seems to be the period, too, when Harriet and Shelley began drifting apart. Their differences in temperament were becoming less easy to ignore, and the annoying presence of the irascible Westbrook was driving her brother-in-law to distraction. The inevitable crisis occurred after Shelley, to Godwin’s horror, expressed his love for Godwin’s teenage daughter Mary on June 27, 1814. Harriet was not amenable to Shelley’s suggestion that Mary become part of the family, and after a period of melodramatic chaos, Shelley and Mary, with Mary’s half sister Claire Clairmont, fled to France on July 27, 1814. After an impromptu Continental tour, the errant lovers returned to England on September 13. During the next six months, both Harriet and Mary gave birth to children by Shelley, but only Charles Bysshe Shelley, Harriet’s son, survived infancy.

Shelley and Mary found that they were not welcome among most of their old friends, though Peacock remained loyal, and Shelley spent a great deal of his time dodging creditors. His financial troubles were somewhat eased when his father, in June, 1815, began providing him with a generous annual allowance, but his social problems continued. In August of that year, he and Mary rented a cottage outside Bishopsgate, where they lived for a time in somber seclusion. Following a journey up the Thames, however, Shelley recovered his equanimity and began work on the poetry of the Alastor volume. Alastor was published in February, 1816, shortly after the birth of William Shelley, the poet’s second son.

Shelley, with Mary, their son, and Claire Clairmont, embarked on a second Continental tour in May. Claire, who had secretly carried on an affair with Lord Byron and was carrying his child, urged...

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(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

In Great Expectations (1860-1861), Charles Dickens has the convict Magwitch put his life’s story, as he says, into a mouthful of English—in and out of jail, in and out of jail, in and out of jail. Percy Bysshe Shelley’s life falls into a similar pattern—in and out of love, in and out of love, in and out of love. Shelley admitted as much in a letter to John Gisborne, written the year he was to drown in a boating accident, and expressive of a truth he discovered too late: “I think one is always in love with something or other; the error, and I confess it is not easy for spirits cased in flesh and blood to avoid it, consists in seeking in a mortal image the likeness of what is perhaps eternal.” At the age of...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In a way, life was good to Percy Bysshe Shelley—and not so good. He was born on August 4, 1792, in Field Place, Sussex, England, the firstborn son of a wealthy Whig aristocrat, Timothy Shelley, whom he loathed, and Elizabeth Pilford. His life became a permanent rebellion against parental and every other kind of authority. His verse envisions a reformed world where people would eat no flesh and thereby grow healthier, gentler, and more loving; where women would be freed from wedlock; and where all would be liberated from the restraints imposed by authority. For this, he was shunned by polite society, excoriated by literary critics, and ignored by the public.

Shelley spent part of his education at Eton and at Oxford....

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Percy Bysshe Shelley created a Romantic myth to compete with religions and philosophies that explain humanity’s relationship to the world. His agnostic faith was, by turns, drawn to materialistic and idealistic viewpoints. Finally, he despaired of radically reforming the world in his life, but he maintained his faith in the power of the human imagination to glimpse ideal truth and beauty that lie beyond experience. The cosmic power that runs the world remains remote for Shelley, and, unmindful of human desire, so nature’s beauties are false idols. Only in surges of creative imagination can humans unite with this power, a spirit that cannot be embodied in experience.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Percy Bysshe Shelley, English poet, was born at Field Place, near Horsham, Sussex, on August 4, 1792, the eldest son of a landed country squire. After some tutoring he was sent to Syon House Academy, where his shyness exposed him to brutal bullying. Entering Eton in 1804, he lived as much apart from the other students as possible, a moody, sensitive, and precocious boy with the nickname “mad Shelley.” There he wrote Zastrozzi, a wild gothic romance, Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire, and another inferior gothic romance, St. Irvyne, all published in 1810.

Shelley matriculated at University College, Oxford, in 1810. He and Thomas Jefferson Hogg were expelled during their second term for...

(The entire section is 977 words.)