Biography of English Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley Part 1

About the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, history and biography of the famous writer.




Percy Bysshe Shelley was a man of extreme passion who scorned the conventional and commonplace. The author of some of the most exalted lyric poetry in the English language, Shelley's virtual deification after his early death at last brought him to the heights to which he had always aspired.

The first of seven children born to Sir Timothy Shelley, a wealthy member of the landed gentry, Bysshe (as he was called by his friends) was idolized by his younger sisters, in whose company he spent his early childhood. Unaccustomed to routine roughhousing and unusually intense by nature, he became a ready target for taunts and practical jokes when he entered the Syon House Academy at age 10. Enraged at this callous treatment, he would periodically retaliate by blowing up the schoolyard fence with gunpowder. At Syon and later at Eton, Shelley developed a keen if unorthodox political consciousness which set him on a collision course with school authorities when he entered Oxford in 1810. A year later, when he and his best friend, Thomas Hogg, circulated a pamphlet entitled "The Necessity of Atheism," the college disciplinary board promptly expelled them.

Dismayed, Shelley and Hogg departed for London, where Shelley fell in love with Harriet Westbrook, a lively young girl of 16 who declared she was a victim of ill treatment at home and school. Shelley urged her to run away with him to Scotland, but Harriet insisted they first be married. When Timothy Shelley learned of his son's abrupt marriage to the daughter of a common wine merchant, he severed all communication with him from that day forward.

In 1812 Shelley made the acquaintance of philosopher William Godwin, whose An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice had been the formative source for Shelley's philosophy of life. Unfortunately, Godwin had degenerated into an opportunistic, debt-ridden man with but one remaining treasure-his 17-year-old daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. Shelley's relationship with Harriet had already soured, and now he turned his affections toward Mary.

Harriet had given birth to one child and was two months pregnant with a second when Shelley eloped with Mary to France. Although at first desperately poor and ostracized by former friends, their difficulties were assuaged when Shelley's grandfather left him an inheritance of pound 100,000. They returned to England, where Mary gave birth in 1816 to a son they named William in honor of her father. But Shelley was restless, and when Mary's stepsister, Claire Clairmont, proposed that he and Mary leave for Switzerland with her and her newly acquired lover, Lord Byron, Shelley readily accepted. Just after the birth of their daughter, Clara, he and Mary moved to Geneva, where they shared an adjoining household with Claire and Byron. It was in Geneva that Mary wrote Frankenstein, which was to become more popular than any of Shelley's poems.

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