Percy Bysshe Shelley
- Category : Poet
- Type : MGE
- Profile : 6/2 - Role Model / Hermit
- Definition : Triple Split
- Incarnation Cross : LAX Refinement 1
Percy Bysshe Shelley; 4 August 1792 – 8 July 1822, was one of the major English Romantic poets and is critically regarded as among the finest lyric poets in the English language. A radical in his poetry as well as his political and social views, Shelley did not achieve fame during his lifetime, but recognition for his poetry grew steadily following his death. Shelley was a key member of a close circle of visionary poets and writers that included Lord Byron; Leigh Hunt; Thomas Love Peacock; and his own second wife, Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein.
Shelley is perhaps best known for such classic poems as Ozymandias, Ode to the West Wind, To a Skylark, Music, When Soft Voices Die, The Cloud and The Masque of Anarchy. His other major works include long, visionary poems such as Queen Mab (later reworked as The Daemon of the World), Alastor, The Revolt of Islam, Adonaïs, the unfinished work The Triumph of Life; and the visionary verse dramas The Cenci (1819) and Prometheus Unbound (1820).
His close circle of admirers, however, included some progressive thinkers of the day, including his future father-in-law, the philosopher William Godwin. Though Shelley's poetry and prose output remained steady throughout his life, most publishers and journals declined to publish his work for fear of being arrested themselves for blasphemy or sedition. Shelley did not live to see success and influence, although these reach down to the present day not only in literature, but in major movements in social and political thought.
Shelley became an idol of the next three or four generations of poets, including important Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite poets such as Robert Browning and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. He was admired by Oscar Wilde, Thomas Hardy, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, W. B. Yeats, Karl Marx, Upton Sinclair and Isadora Duncan. Henry David Thoreau's civil disobedience was apparently influenced by Shelley's non-violence in protest and political action.
The eldest legitimate son of Timothy Shelley — a Whig Member of Parliament — and his wife, a Sussex landowner, Shelley was born 4 August 1792 at Field Place, Broadbridge Heath, near Horsham, West Sussex, England. He had four younger sisters and one much younger brother. He received his early education at home, tutored by Reverend Evan Edwards of nearby Warnham. His cousin and lifelong friend Thomas Medwin, who lived nearby, recounted his early childhood in his "The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley". It was a happy and contented childhood spent largely in country pursuits such as fishing and hunting.
In 1802, he entered the Syon House Academy of Brentford, Middlesex. In 1804, Shelley entered Eton College, where he fared poorly, subjected to an almost daily mob torment by classmates who called him "Shelley-baits". Surrounded, the young Shelley would have his books torn from his hands and his clothes pulled at and torn until he cried out madly in his high-pitched "cracked soprano" of a voice.
On 10 April 1810, he matriculated at University College, Oxford. Legend has it that Shelley attended only one lecture while at Oxford, but frequently read sixteen hours a day. His first publication was a Gothic novel, Zastrozzi (1810), in which he vented his early atheistic worldview through the villain Zastrozzi. In the same year, Shelley, together with his sister Elizabeth, published Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire. While at Oxford, he issued a collection of verses (ostensibly burlesque but quite subversive), Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson, with Thomas Jefferson Hogg.
In 1811, Shelley published his second Gothic novel, St. Irvyne; or, The Rosicrucian, and a pamphlet called The Necessity of Atheism. The latter gained the attention of the university administration and he was called to appear before the College's fellows, including the Dean, George Rowley. His refusal to repudiate the authorship of the pamphlet resulted in his expulsion from Oxford on 25 March 1811, along with Hogg. The rediscovery in mid-2006 of Shelley's long-lost "Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things" — a long, strident anti-monarchical and anti-war poem printed in 1811 in London by Crosby and Company as "by a gentleman of the University of Oxford" — gives a new dimension to the expulsion, reinforcing Hogg's implication of political motives ("an affair of party"). Shelley was given the choice to be reinstated after his father intervened, on the condition that he would have to recant his avowed views. His refusal to do so led to a falling-out with his father.
Four months after being expelled, on 28 August 1811, the 19-year-old Shelley eloped to Scotland with the 16-year-old Harriet Westbrook, a pupil at the same boarding school as Shelley's sisters, whom his father had forbidden him to see. Harriet Westbrook had been writing Shelley passionate letters threatening to kill herself because of her unhappiness at the school and at home. Shelley, heartbroken after the failure of his romance with his cousin, Harriet Grove, cut off from his mother and sisters, and convinced he had not long to live, impulsively decided to rescue Harriet Westbrook and make her his beneficiary. Harriet Westbrook's 28-year-old sister Eliza, to whom Harriet was very close, appears to have encouraged the young girl's infatuation with the future baronet. The Westbrooks pretended to disapprove but secretly encouraged the elopement. Sir Timothy Shelley, however, outraged that his son had married beneath him (Harriet's father, though prosperous, had kept a tavern) revoked Shelley's allowance and refused ever to receive the couple at Field Place. Shelley invited his friend Hogg to share his ménage but asked him to leave when Hogg made advances to Harriet. Harriet also insisted that her sister Eliza, whom Shelley detested, live with them. Shelley was also at this time increasingly involved in an intense platonic relationship with Elizabeth Hitchener, a 28-year-old unmarried schoolteacher of advanced views, with whom he had been corresponding. Hitchener, whom Shelley called the "sister of my soul" and "my second self", became his muse and confidante in the writing of his philosophical poem Queen Mab, a Utopian allegory.
During this period, Shelley travelled to Keswick in England's Lake District, where he visited the poet Robert Southey, under the mistaken impression that Southey was still a political radical. Southey, who had himself been expelled from the Westminster School for opposing flogging, was taken with Shelley and predicted great things for him as a poet. He also informed Shelley that William Godwin, author of Political Justice, which had greatly influenced him in his youth, and which Shelley also admired, was still alive. Shelley wrote to Godwin, offering himself as his devoted disciple and informing Godwin that he was "the son of a man of fortune in Sussex" and "heir by entail to an estate of 6,000 £ per an." Godwin, who supported a large family and was chronically penniless, immediately saw in Shelley a source of his financial salvation. He wrote asking for more particulars about Shelley's income and began advising him to reconcile with Sir Timothy. Meanwhile, Sir Timothy's patron, the Duke of Norfolk, a former Catholic who favoured Catholic Emancipation, was also vainly trying to reconcile Sir Timothy and his son, whose political career the Duke wished to encourage. A maternal uncle ultimately supplied money to pay Shelley's debts, but Shelley's relationship with the Duke may have influenced his decision to travel to Ireland. In Dublin Shelley published his Address to the Irish People, priced at fivepence, "the lowest possible price" in order to "awaken in the minds of the Irish poor a knowledge of their real state, summarily pointing out the evils of that state and suggesting a rational means of remedy – Catholic Emancipation and a repeal of the Union Act (the latter the most successful engine that England ever wielded over the misery of fallen Ireland).". His activities earned him the unfavourable attention of the British government.
Shelley was increasingly unhappy in his marriage to Harriet and particularly resented the influence of her older sister Eliza, who discouraged Harriet from breastfeeding their baby daughter (Elizabeth Ianthe Shelley (1813–76). Shelley accused Harriet of having married him for his money. Craving more intellectual female companionship, he began spending more time away from home, among other things, studying Italian with Cornelia Turner and visiting the home and bookshop of William Godwin. Eliza and Harriet moved back with their parents.
Shelley's mentor Godwin had three highly educated daughters, two of whom, Fanny Imlay and Claire Clairmont, were his adopted step-daughters. Godwin's first wife, the celebrated feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, had died giving birth to Godwin's biological daughter, Mary, named after her mother. Fanny had been the illegitimate daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and her lover, the diplomat speculator and writer, Gilbert Imlay. Claire was the illegitimate daughter of Godwin's much younger second wife, Mary Jane Clairmont Godwin, whom Shelley considered a vulgar woman – "not a proper person to form the mind of a young girl", he is supposed to have said. The brilliant Mary was being educated in Scotland when Shelley first became acquainted with the Godwin family. When she returned Shelley fell madly in love with her, repeatedly threatening to commit suicide if she didn't return his affections.
On 28 July 1814, Shelley abandoned Harriet, now pregnant with their son Charles (November 1814 – 1826) and (in imitation of the hero of one of Godwin's novels) he ran away to Switzerland with Mary, then 16, inviting her stepsister Claire Clairmont (also 16) along because she could speak French. The older sister Fanny, was left behind, to her great dismay, for she, too, had fallen in love with Shelley. The three sailed to Europe, and made their way across France to Switzerland on foot, reading aloud from the works of Rousseau, Shakespeare, and Mary's mother, Mary Wollstonecraft (an account of their travels was subsequently published by the Shelleys).
After six weeks, homesick and destitute, the three young people returned to England. The enraged William Godwin refused to see them, though he still demanded money, to be given to him under another name, to avoid scandal. In late 1815, while living close to London with Mary and avoiding creditors, Shelley wrote Alastor, or The Spirit of Solitude. It attracted little attention at the time, but has now come to be recognised as his first major achievement. At this point in his writing career, Shelley was deeply influenced by the poetry of Wordsworth.
In mid-1816, Shelley and Mary made a second trip to Switzerland. They were prompted to do this by Mary's stepsister Claire Clairmont, who, in competition with her sister, had initiated a liaison with Lord Byron the previous April just before his self-exile on the continent. Byron's interest in her had waned and Claire used the opportunity of introducing him to the Shelleys to act as bait to lure him to Geneva. The Shelleys and Byron rented neighbouring houses on the shores of Lake Geneva. Regular conversation with Byron had an invigorating effect on Shelley's output of poetry. While on a boating tour the two took together, Shelley was inspired to write his Hymn to Intellectual Beauty, often considered his first significant production since Alastor. A tour of Chamonix in the French Alps inspired Mont Blanc, a poem in which Shelley claims to have pondered questions of historical inevitability (determinism) and the relationship between the human mind and external nature. Shelley also encouraged Byron to begin an epic poem on a contemporary subject, advice that resulted in Byron's composition of Don Juan. In 1817, Claire gave birth to a daughter by Byron, Alba, later renamed Allegra, whom Shelley offered to support, making provisions for her and for Claire in his will.
Two suicides and a second marriage
After Shelley and Mary's return to England, Fanny Imlay, Mary's half-sister and Claire's stepsister, despondent over her exclusion from the Shelley household and perhaps unhappy at being omitted from Shelley's will, travelled from Godwin's household in London to kill herself in Wales in early October. On 10 December 1816, the body of Shelley's estranged wife Harriet was found in an advanced state of pregnancy, drowned in the Serpentine in Hyde Park, London. Shelley had generously provided for her and their children in his will and had given her a monthly allowance as had her father. It is thought that Harriet, who had left her children with her sister Eliza and had been living alone under the name of Harriet Smith, mistakenly believed herself to have been abandoned by her new lover, 36-year-old, Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Maxwell, who had been deployed abroad, after a landlady refused to forward his letters to her. On 30 December 1816, a few weeks after Harriet's body was recovered, Shelley and Mary Godwin were married. The marriage was intended, in part, to help secure Shelley's custody of his children by Harriet and also to placate Godwin, who had coldly refused to speak to his daughter for two years, and who now effusively received the couple. The courts, however, awarded custody of Shelley and Harriet's children to foster parents.
The Shelleys took up residence in the village of Marlow, Buckinghamshire, where a friend of Percy's, Thomas Love Peacock, lived. Shelley took part in the literary circle that surrounded Leigh Hunt, and during this period he met John Keats. Shelley's major production during this time was Laon and Cythna; or, The Revolution of the Golden City, a long narrative poem in which he attacked religion and featured a pair of incestuous lovers. It was hastily withdrawn after only a few copies were published. It was later edited and reissued as The Revolt of Islam in 1818. Shelley wrote two revolutionary political tracts under the nom de plume, "The Hermit of Marlow." On Boxing Day 1817, presumably prompted by travellers' reports of Belzoni's success (where the French had failed) in removing the 'half sunk and shattered visage' of the so-called 'Young Memnon' from the Ramesseum at Thebes, Shelley and his friend Horace Smith began a poem each about the Memnon or 'Ozymandias,' Diodorus's 'King of Kings' who in an inscription on the base of his statue challenged all comers to 'surpass my works'. Within four months of the publication of Ozymandias (or Rameses II) his seven-and-a-quarter ton bust arrived in London, just too late for Shelley to have seen it.
Early in 1818, the Shelleys and Claire left England in order to take Claire's daughter, Allegra, to her father Byron, who had taken up residence in Venice. Contact with the older and more established poet encouraged Shelley to write once again. During the latter part of the year, he wrote Julian and Maddalo, a lightly disguised rendering of his boat trips and conversations with Byron in Venice, finishing with a visit to a madhouse. This poem marked the appearance of Shelley's "urbane style". He then began the long verse drama Prometheus Unbound, a re-writing of the lost play by the ancient Greek poet Aeschylus, which features talking mountains and a petulant spirit who overthrows Jupiter. Tragedy struck in 1818 and 1819, when Shelley's son Will died of fever in Rome, and his infant daughter Clara Everina died during yet another household move.
A baby girl, Elena Adelaide Shelley, was born on 27 December 1818 in Naples, Italy and registered there as the daughter of Shelley and a woman named "Marina Padurin". However, the identity of the mother is an unsolved mystery. Some scholars speculate that her true mother was actually Claire Clairmont or Elise Foggi, a nursemaid for the Shelley family. Other scholars postulate that she was a foundling Shelley adopted in hopes of distracting Mary after the deaths of William and Clara. Shelley referred to Elena in letters as his "Neapolitan ward". However, Elena was placed with foster parents a few days after her birth and the Shelley family moved on to yet another Italian city, leaving her behind. Elena died 17 months later, on 10 June 1820.
The Shelleys moved around various Italian cities during these years; in later 1818 they were living in a pensione on the Via Valfonde. This street now runs alongside Florence's railway station and the building now on the site, the original having been destroyed in World War II, carries a plaque recording the poet's stay. Here they received two visitors, a Miss Sophia Stacey and her much older travelling companion, Miss Corbet Parry-Jones (to be described by Mary as "an ignorant little Welshwoman"). Sophia had for three years in her youth been ward of the poet's aunt and uncle. The pair moved into the same pensione and stayed for about two months. During this period Mary gave birth to another son; Sophia is credited with suggesting that he be named after the city of his birth, so he became Percy Florence Shelley, later Sir Percy. Shelley also wrote his "Ode to Sophia Stacey" during this time. They then moved to Pisa, largely at the suggestion of its resident Margaret King, who, as a former pupil of Mary Wollstonecraft, took a maternal interest in the younger Mary and her companions. This "no nonsense grande dame" and her common-law husband George William Tighe inspired the poet with "a new-found sense of radicalism". Tighe was an agricultural theorist, and provided the younger man with a great deal of material on chemistry, biology and statistics.
Shelley completed Prometheus Unbound in Rome, and he spent mid-1819 writing a tragedy, The Cenci, in Leghorn (Livorno). In this year, prompted among other causes by the Peterloo massacre, he wrote his best-known political poems: The Masque of Anarchy and Men of England. These were probably his best-remembered works during the 19th century. Around this time period, he wrote the essay The Philosophical View of Reform, which was his most thorough exposition of his political views to that date.
In 1820, hearing of John Keats' illness from a friend, Shelley wrote him a letter inviting him to join him at his residence at Pisa. Keats replied with hopes of seeing him, but instead, arrangements were made for Keats to travel to Rome with the artist Joseph Severn. Inspired by the death of Keats, in 1821 Shelley wrote the elegy Adonais.
In 1821, Shelley met Edward Ellerker Williams, a British naval officer, and his wife Jane Williams. Shelley developed a very strong affection towards Jane and addressed a number of poems to her. In the poems addressed to Jane, such as With a Guitar, To Jane and One Word is Too Often Profaned, he elevates her to an exalted position worthy of worship.
In 1822, Shelley arranged for Leigh Hunt, the British poet and editor who had been one of his chief supporters in England, to come to Italy with his family. He meant for the three of them — himself, Byron and Hunt — to create a journal, which would be called The Liberal. With Hunt as editor, their controversial writings would be disseminated, and the journal would act as a counter-blast to conservative periodicals such as Blackwood's Magazine and The Quarterly Review.
Leigh Hunt's son, the editor Thornton Leigh Hunt, when later asked whether he preferred Shelley or Byron as a man, replied:-
"On one occasion I had to fetch or take to Byron some copy for the paper which my father, himself and Shelley, jointly conducted. I found him seated on a lounge feasting himself from a drum of figs. He asked me if I would like a fig. Now, in that, Leno, consists the difference, Shelley would have handed me the drum and allowed me to help myself."
On 8 July 1822, less than a month before his 30th birthday, Shelley drowned in a sudden storm while sailing back from Leghorn (Livorno) to Lerici in his schooner, Don Juan. Shelley claimed to have met his Doppelgänger, foreboding his own death. He was returning from having set up The Liberal with the newly arrived Leigh Hunt. The name "Don Juan", a compliment to Byron, was chosen by Edward John Trelawny, a member of the Shelley–Byron Pisan circle. However, according to Mary Shelley's testimony, Shelley changed it to "Ariel". This annoyed Byron, who forced the painting of the words "Don Juan" on the mainsail. This offended the Shelleys, who felt that the boat was made to look much like a coal barge. The vessel, an open boat, was custom-built in Genoa for Shelley. It did not capsize but sank; Mary Shelley declared in her "Note on Poems of 1822" (1839) that the design had a defect and that the boat was never seaworthy. In fact the Don Juan was seaworthy; the sinking was due to a severe storm and poor seamanship of the three men on board.
There were those who believed his death was not accidental. Some said that Shelley was depressed in those days and that he wanted to die; others say that he did not know how to navigate; others believed that some pirates mistook the boat for Byron's and attacked him, and others have even more fantastical stories. There is a mass of evidence, though scattered and contradictory, that Shelley may have been murdered for political reasons. Previously, at Plas Tan-Yr-Allt, the Regency house he rented at Tremadog, near Porthmadog, north-west Wales, from 1812 to 1813, he had allegedly been surprised and apparently attacked during the night by a man who may have been, according to some later writers, an intelligence agent. Shelley, who was in financial difficulties, left forthwith leaving rent unpaid and without contributing to the fund to support the house owner, William Madocks; this may provide another, more plausible explanation for this story.
Two other Englishmen were with Shelley on the boat. One was a retired Navy officer, Edward Ellerker Williams; the other was a boatboy, Charles Vivien. The boat was found ten miles (16 km) offshore, and it was suggested that one side of the boat had been rammed and staved in by a much stronger vessel. However, the liferaft was unused and still attached to the boat. The bodies were found completely clothed, including boots.
In his "Recollections of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron", Trelawny noted that the shirt in which Williams's body was clad was "partly drawn over the head, as if the wearer had been in the act of taking it off and he was missing one boot, indicating also that he had attempted to strip." Trelawny also relates a supposed deathbed confession by an Italian fisherman who claimed to have rammed Shelley's boat in order to rob him, a plan confounded by the rapid sinking of the vessel. Shelley's body washed ashore and later, in keeping with quarantine regulations, was cremated on the beach near Viareggio. The day after the news of his death reached England, the Tory newspaper The Courier gloated: "Shelley, the writer of some infidel poetry, has been drowned, now he knows whether there is God or no." A reclining statue of Shelley's body, depicting him washed up onto the shore, created by sculptor Edward Onslow Ford at the behest of Shelley's daughter-in-law, Jane, Lady Shelley, is the centerpiece of the Shelley Memorial at University College, Oxford. An 1889 painting by Louis Édouard Fournier, The Funeral of Shelley (also known as The Cremation of Shelley), contains inaccuracies. In pre-Victorian times it was English custom that women would not attend funerals for health reasons. Mary Shelley did not attend, but was featured in the painting, kneeling at the left-hand side. Leigh Hunt stayed in the carriage during the ceremony but is also pictured. Also, Trelawney, in his account of the recovery of Shelley's body, records that "the face and hands, and parts of the body not protected by the dress, were fleshless," and by the time that the party returned to the beach for the cremation, the body was even further decomposed. In his graphic account of the cremation, he writes of Byron being unable to face the scene, and withdrawing to the beach.
Shelley's ashes were interred in the Protestant Cemetery, Rome, near an ancient pyramid in the city walls. His grave bears the Latin inscription, Cor Cordium ("Heart of Hearts"), and, in reference to his death at sea, a few lines of "Ariel's Song" from Shakespeare's The Tempest: "Nothing of him that doth fade / But doth suffer a sea-change / Into something rich and strange." The grave site is the second in the cemetery. Some weeks after Shelley had been put to rest, Trelawny had come to Rome, had not liked his friend's position among a number of other graves, and had purchased what seemed to him a better plot near the old wall. The ashes were exhumed and moved to their present location. Trelawny had purchased the adjacent plot, and over sixty years later his remains were placed there.
A memorial was eventually created for Shelley at the Poets' Corner at Westminster Abbey, along with his old friends, Lord Byron and John Keats.
Shelley's widow Mary bought a cliff-top home at Boscombe, Bournemouth in 1851. She intended to live there with her son, Percy, and his wife Jane, and had her own parents moved to an underground mausoleum in the town. The property is now known as Shelley Manor. When Lady Jane Shelley was to be buried in the family vault, it was discovered that in her copy of Adonaïs was an envelope containing ashes, which she had identified as belonging to Shelley the poet. The family had preserved the story that when Shelley's body had been burned, his friend Edward Trelawny had taken the ashes of his heart and kept them himself; some more dramatic accounts suggest that Trelawny snatched the whole heart from the pyre. These same accounts claim that the heart was buried with Shelley's son Sir Percy Florence Shelley. All accounts agree, however, that the remains now lie in the vault in the churchyard of St Peter's Church, Bournemouth.
For several years in the 20th century some of Trelawny's collection of Shelley ephemera, including a painting of Shelley as a child, a jacket, and a lock of his hair were on display in "The Shelley Rooms", a small museum at Shelley Manor. When the museum finally closed, these items were returned to Lord Abinger, who descends from a niece of Lady Jane Shelley.
Shelley was a seventeenth-generation descendant of Richard FitzAlan, 10th Earl of Arundel, through his son John FitzAlan, Marshal of England (d. 1379). John was married to Baroness Eleanor Maltravers (1345 – 10 January 1404/1405). Their eldest son succeeded them as John FitzAlan, 2nd Baron Arundel (1365–1391). He was himself married to Elizabeth le Despenser (d. 1 April/ 10 April 1408).
Elizabeth was a great-granddaughter of Hugh the younger Despenser by his second son Edward Despenser of Buckland[disambiguation needed] (d. 30 September 1342). Her parents were Sir Edward Despenser, 1st Lord Despenser (24 March 1336 – 11 November 1375) and Elizabeth Burghersh (d. 26 July 1409).
The eldest son of Elizabeth by Baron Maltravers was John FitzAlan, 13th Earl of Arundel. Their third son was Sir Thomas FitzAlan of Beechwood. His own daughter Eleanor FitzAlan was married to Sir Thomas Browne of Beechworth Castle. They had four sons and one daughter, Katherine Browne, who in 1471 married Humphrey Sackville (1426–24 January 1488), a member of the powerful Sackville family that had been living at Buckhurst, near Withyham, Kent, since 1068.
Their oldest son, Richard Sackville (1472–18 July 1524), was married in 1492 to Isabel Dyggs. Their oldest son, Sir John Sackville (1492 – 5 October 1557), was married to Margaret Boleyn, a member of the Boleyn family at nearby Hever, Kent. Margaret was a sister to Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire. His younger brother Richard Sackville had a less prominent marriage which resulted in the birth of Elizabeth Sackville. Elizabeth herself was later married to Henry Shelley.
Henry became father to a younger Henry Shelley. This younger Henry had at least three sons. The youngest of them Richard Shelley was later married to Joan Fuste, daughter of John Fuste from Itchingfield, near Horsham, West Sussex. Their grandson John Shelley of Fen Place, Turners Hill, West Sussex, was married himself to Helen Bysshe, daughter of Roger Bysshe. Their son Timothy Shelley of Fen Place (born c. 1700) married widow Johanna Plum from New York City. Timothy and Johanna were the great-grandparents of Percy.
Percy was born to Sir Timothy Shelley (7 September 1753 – 24 April 1844)and his wife Elizabeth Pilfold following their marriage in October 1791. His father was son and heir to Sir Bysshe Shelley, 1st Baronet of Castle Goring (21 June 1731 – 6 January 1815) by his wife Mary Catherine Michell (d. 7 November 1760). His mother was daughter of Charles Pilfold of Effingham. Through his paternal grandmother, Percy was a great-grandson to Reverend Theobald Michell of Horsham. Through his maternal lineage, he was a cousin of Thomas Medwin — a childhood friend and Shelley's biographer
Percy was the eldest of six children. His younger siblings were:
John Shelley of Avington House (15 March 1806 – 11 November 1866; married on 24 March 1827 Elizabeth Bowen (d. 28 November 1889));
Mary Shelley (NB. not to be confused with his wife);
Elizabeth Shelley (d. 1831);
Hellen Shelley (d. 10 May 1885);
Margaret Shelley (d. 9 July 1887).
Shelley's uncle, brother to his mother Elizabeth Pilfold, was Captain John Pilfold, a famous Naval Commander who served under Admiral Nelson during the Battle of Trafalgar.
Three children survived Shelley: Ianthe and Charles, his daughter and son by Harriet; and Percy Florence, his son by Mary. Charles, who suffered from tuberculosis, died in 1826 after being struck by lightning during a rain storm. Percy Florence, who eventually inherited the baronetcy in 1844, died without children. The only lineal descendants of the poet are therefore the children of Ianthe.
Ianthe Eliza Shelley was married in 1837 to Edward Jeffries Esdaile of Cothelstone Manor. The marriage resulted in the birth of one daughter, Una Deane Esdaile, who married Campbell Carlston Thurston and had two children by him. Several members of the Scarlett family were born at Percy Florence's seaside home "Boscombe Manor" in Bournemouth. The 1891 census shows Lady Shelley living at Boscombe Manor with several great nephews.
Shelley's unconventional life and uncompromising idealism, combined with his strong disapproving voice, made him an authoritative and much-denigrated figure during his life and afterward. He became an idol of the next two or three or even four generations of poets, including the important Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite poets Robert Browning, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Algernon Charles Swinburne, as well as Lord Byron, Henry David Thoreau, W. B. Yeats, and Edna St. Vincent Millay, and poets in other languages such as Jan Kasprowicz, Jibanananda Das and Subramanya Bharathy.
Henry David Thoreau's civil disobedience and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi's passive resistance were influenced and inspired by Shelley's nonviolence in protest and political action. It is known that Gandhi would often quote Shelley's Masque of Anarchy, which has been called "perhaps the first modern statement of the principle of nonviolent resistance."
Shelley wrote several essays on the subject of vegetarianism, the most prominent of which were "A Vindication of Natural Diet" (1813) and "On the Vegetable System of Diet".
Shelley, in heartfelt dedication to sentient beings, wrote: "If the use of animal food be, in consequence, subversive to the peace of human society, how unwarrantable is the injustice and the barbarity which is exercised toward these miserable victims. They are called into existence by human artifice that they may drag out a short and miserable existence of slavery and disease, that their bodies may be mutilated, their social feelings outraged. It were much better that a sentient being should never have existed, than that it should have existed only to endure unmitigated misery"; "Never again may blood of bird or beast/ Stain with its venomous stream a human feast,/ To the pure skies in accusation steaming"; and "It is only by softening and disguising dead flesh by culinary preparation that it is rendered susceptible of mastication or digestion, and that the sight of its bloody juices and raw horror does not excite intolerable loathing and disgust." In Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem (1813) he wrote about the change to a vegetarian diet: "And man ... no longer now/ He slays the lamb that looks him in the face,/ And horribly devours his mangled flesh."
Shelley was a strong advocate for social justice for the "lower classes". He witnessed many of the same mistreatments occurring in the domestication and slaughtering of animals, and he became a fighter for the rights of all living creatures that he saw being treated unjustly.
Shelley's mainstream following did not develop until a generation after his death, unlike Lord Byron, who was popular among all classes during his lifetime despite his radical views. For decades after his death, Shelley was mainly appreciated by only the major Victorian poets, the pre-Raphaelites, the socialists and the labour movement. One reason for this was the extreme discomfort with Shelley's political radicalism which led popular anthologists to confine Shelley's reputation to the relatively sanitised "magazine" pieces such as "Ozymandias" or "Lines to an Indian Air".
He was admired by C. S. Lewis, Karl Marx, Henry Stephens Salt, Gregory Corso, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, Isadora Duncan, Upton Sinclair, Gabriele d'Annunzio and W. B. Yeats. Samuel Barber, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Roger Quilter, Howard Skempton, John Vanderslice and Ralph Vaughan Williams composed music based on his poems.
Critics such as Matthew Arnold endeavoured to rewrite Shelley's legacy to make him seem a lyricist and a dilettante who had no serious intellectual position and whose longer poems were not worth study. Matthew Arnold famously described Shelley as a "beautiful and ineffectual angel". This position contrasted strongly with the judgement of the previous generation who knew Shelley as a sceptic and radical.
Many of Shelley's works remained unpublished or little known after his death, with longer pieces such as A Philosophical View of Reform existing only in manuscript till the 1920s. This contributed to the Victorian idea of him as a minor lyricist. With the inception of formal literary studies in the early twentieth century and the slow rediscovery and re-evaluation of his oeuvre by scholars such as K.N. Cameron, Donald H. Reiman and Harold Bloom, the modern idea of Shelley could not be more different.
Paul Foot, in his Red Shelley, has documented the pivotal role Shelley's works — especially Queen Mab — have played in the genesis of British radicalism. Although Shelley's works were banned from respectable Victorian households, his political writings were pirated by men such as Richard Carlile who regularly went to jail for printing "seditious and blasphemous libel" (i.e. material proscribed by the government), and these cheap pirate editions reached hundreds of activists and workers throughout the nineteenth century.
In other countries such as India, Shelley's works both in the original and in translation have influenced poets such as Rabindranath Tagore and Jibanananda Das. A pirated copy of Prometheus Unbound dated 1835 is said to have been seized in that year by customs at Bombay.
The 1970s and 1980s Thames Television sitcom Shelley made many references to the poet.
Paul Johnson, in his book Intellectuals, describes Shelley in a chapter titled "Shelley or the Heartlessness of Ideas ". In the book Johnson describes Shelley as a moral-less person, who by borrowing money which he did not intend to return, and by seducing young innocent women who fell for him, destroyed the lives of everybody with whom he had interacted, including himself. However, when reading the book one should keep in mind Johnson's conservative and religious agenda.
In 2005 the University of Delaware Press published an extensive two-volume biography by James Bieri. In 2008 the Johns Hopkins University Press published Bieri's 856-page one-volume biography, Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography.
The rediscovery in mid-2006 of Shelley's long-lost "Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things", as noted above and in footnote 6 below, has not been followed up by the work's being published or being made generally available on the internet or anywhere else. At present (November 2009), its whereabouts is not generally known. An analysis of the poem by the only person known to have examined the whole work appeared in the Times Literary Supplement: H. R. Woudhuysen, "Shelley's Fantastic Prank", 12 July 2006.
In 2007, John Lauritsen published his book The Man Who Wrote "Frankenstein" in which he argued that Percy Bysshe Shelley's contributions to the novel were much more extensive than had previously been assumed. It has been known and not disputed that Shelley wrote the Preface — although uncredited — and that he contributed at least 4,000–5,000 words to the novel. Lauritsen sought to show that Shelley was the primary author of the novel.
In 2008, Percy Bysshe Shelley was credited as the co-author of Frankenstein by Charles E. Robinson in a new edition of the novel entitled The Original Frankenstein published by the Bodleian Library in Oxford and by Random House in the U.S. Charles E. Robinson determined that Percy Bysshe Shelley was the co-author of the novel: "He made very significant changes in words, themes and style. The book should now be credited as 'by Mary Shelley with Percy Shelley'."