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Percy Bysshe Shelley Essay

1455 words - 6 pages

SHELLEY was born at Field Place, near Horsham, in Sussex, August 4, 1792; and his eventful life came suddenly to a sad termination. He had gone out in a boat to Leghorn to welcome Leigh Hunt to Italy, and while returning on the eighth of July, 1822, the boat sank in the Bay of Spezia, and all on board perished. When his body floated to shore a volume of Keats' poetry was found open in Shelley's coat pocket. The remains were reduced to ashes and deposited in the Protestant burial ground at Rome, near those of a child he had lost in that city.

His father was a member of the House of Commons. The family line could be traced back to one of the followers of William of Normandy. Thus in noble ...view middle of the document...

He also issued a syllabus of Hume's "Essays," and at the same time challenged the authorities of Oxford to a public discussion of the subject. He was only seventeen at the time. In company with Mr. Hogg, a fellow-student, he composed a treatise entitled "The Necessity of Atheism." For this publication, both of the heterodox students were expelled from the college in 1811. Mr. Hogg removed to York, while Shelley went to London, where he still received support from his family.

His expulsion from Oxford led also to an inexcusable confusion in his social life. He had become strongly attached to Miss Grove, an accomplished young lady, but after he was driven from college her father prohibited communication between them. He next became strongly attached to Miss Harriet Westbrook, a beautiful lady of sixteen, but of social position inferior to his. An elopement soon followed, and a marriage in August, 1811. Shelley's father was so enraged at this act that he cut off his son's allowance. "An uncle, Captain Pilfold--one of Nelson's captains at the Nile and Trafalgar--generously supplied the youthful pair with money, and they lived for some time in Cumberland, where Shelley made the acquaintance of Southey, Wordsworth, De Quincey and Wilson. His literary ambition must have been excited by this intercourse; but he suddenly departed for Dublin, whence he again removed to the Isle of Man, and afterward to Wales. After they had been married three years and two children were born to them they separated. In March, 1814, Shelley was married a second time to Harriet Westbrook, the ceremony taking place in St. George's Church, Hanover Square. Unfortunately, about this time the poet became enamored of the daughter of Mr. Godwin, a young lady who could `feel poetry and understand philosophy,' which he thought his wife was incapable of, and Harriet refusing to agree to a separation, Shelley, at the end of July in the same year, left England in the company of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin."

Upon his return to London, it was found that by the deed, the fee-simple of the Shelley estate would pass to the poet upon his father's death. Accordingly he was enabled to raise money with which he purchased an annuity from his father. He again repaired to the continent in 1816, when he met Lord Byron at Lake Geneva. Later he returned to England and settled at Great Marlow, in Buckinghamshire. His unfortunate wife committed suicide by drowning herself in the Serpentine River in December, 1816, and Shelley married Miss Godwin a few weeks afterward (December 30).

Leaving his unfortunate social career, we come now to consider his poetical works. At the age of eighteen he wrote "Queen Mab," a poem containing passages of great power and melody. In 1818 he produced "Alastor, or the Spirit of Solitude," full of almost unexcelled descriptive passages; also the "Revolt of Islam." Shelley was most earnest in his attentions to the poor. A severe spell of sickness was brought on by...

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