Percy Bysshe Shelley
Percy Bysshe Shelley was born on August 4, 1792, at Field Place. He spent his early chilhooh in the country, free to roam around the fields. A very sensitive and imaginative child, he was impatient with authority, and had a difficult relationship with his father, a conservative and commanding country squire.
At the age of twelve he was sent to Eton. Here h developed interest in scientific experiments and the occult, and was nicknamed "mad Shelley", Before leaving Eton he wrote two gothc romances, Zastrozzi and St Irvyne.
In 1810 Shelley went to Oxford, and immersed himself in intellectual life. He read incensantly: the classics, and philosophers like David Hume and John Locke.
He also made friend with a young radical, Thomas Jefferson Hogg, with whose help he wrote a pamphlet - published anonymously - entitled The Necessity of Atheism. As a result the two friend were expelled and went to London. Here the poet met Harriet Westbrook, a sixteen-year-old schoolmate of one of his sisters, who fell in love with him; believing her to be oppressed by a tyrannical father, he married her (1811).
The young couple settled in various places, living on the money sent by their fathers and hounded by creditors. While in Dublin, Shelley wrote pamphlets addressed to the Irish, in which he warned them not to rely on the Whigs or the Prince Regent.
In 1813 they were in London, where the poet published Queen Mab, an allegory against organized religion. He also met William Godwin, whose works he knew and admired so much; this meeting was destined to have a very important consequence for the poet: when he saw the philosopher's daughter MAry, he instantly fell in love with her, and she with him.
In 1814 Shelley eloped with Mary. Claire CLairmont, Mary's step-sister, accompanied them.
They went across France to Switzerland, and returned to London after a couple of months. On the death of his grandfather in 1815, Shelley came to an agreement with his father and secured himself an income of £1,000 a year. The poet - and Mary - were on fairly good terms with Harriet, whom they had invited to join them in Switzerland and then to settle in their house. Neither invitation was accepted. In this period Shelley wrote the poem Alastor, or the Spirit of Solitude, published in 1816.
In May 1816 Percy and Mary - and the inevitable Claire - went to Switzerland again. It was on this occasion that they met Byron and spent a period on the lake of Geneva. In the evenings they would talk together. Byron suggested that everyone should write a ghost story, and this was the origin of Mary's Frankenstein.
In September they returned to England, andh in November Harriet committed suicide, drowning ferself in the Serpentine.
The poet, who was then at Bath, was shattered by the news, and hurried up to London. Public opinion rose against him, and he was stripped of the custody of their two cildren Ianthe and Charles. In December Shelley and Mary were married.
1817 saw the publication of The Revolt of Islam, a long poem in Spenserian stanzas preaching bloodless revolution.
In 1818 the Shelley with Claire left England for the last time and settled in Italy, a country that the poet admired and loved, and called "this divine country". They visited various places - Venice, Rome, Naples, Pisa, and it was in ITaly that Shelley wrote his best poetry, between 1820 and 1821: the tragedy The Cenci at Villa Valsovano at Leghorn, the dramatic poem Prometheus Unbound on the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla and on the terraces of Villa Cappucini at Este, some of his lyrics at the cascine of Florence, in the pinewoods of Versilia, on the San Giuliano meadows near Pisa, among the Euganean Hills.
Of the lyrics written in this period it is worth remembering Ode to the West Wind, To a Skylark, The Cloud, Lines Written among the Euganean Hills. The great love-poem Epipsychidion was the result of a platonic relationship with Countess Emilia Viviani. The tragic death of John Keats inspired the elegy in Spenserian stanzas Adonais, in which Shelley compares the poet Keats to the beautiful youth Adonis loved by Venus and killed by a boar sent against him by Marsout of jealousy. The boar represents the brutal attack of the magazines which crushed Keat's's early poems.