Percy Bysshe Shelley by Alfred Clint

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), by Alfred Clint (1807-1883). Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (August 4, 1792 - July 8, 1822) was a major English Romantic poet, who is critically regarded as among the finest lyric poets in the English language.



Shelley, son of Sir Timothy Shelley, was born at Field Place, near Horsham, Sussex, and educated st Eton and Oxford, from which (for writing and circulating a pamphlet, The Necessity of Atheism), he was expelled. One immediate result of this was a difference with his father, which was deepened into a permanent breach by his marriage in the following year to Harriet Westbrook, the pretty and lively daughter of a retired innkeeper. The next 3 years were passed in wandering about from place to place in Ireland, Wales, the Lake District, and other parts of the kingdom, and in the composition of Queen Mab (1813), the poet's 1st serious work. Before the end of that period he had separated from his wife, for which various reasons have been assigned, one being her previous desertion of him, and the discovery on his part of imperfect sympathy between them; the principal reason, however, being that he had conceived a violent passion for Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, daughter of William Godwin, with whom he eloped to Italy in 1814, and whom he married in 1816, Harriet having drowned herself. The custody of his 2 children, whom he had left with their mother, was refused him by the Court of Chancery. In Switzerland he had made the acquaintance of Byron, with whom he afterwards lived in Italy. Returning to England in 1815 he wrote his 1st really great poem, Alastor (1816), followed by the Hymn to Intellectual Beauty, Prince Athanase, Rosalind and Helen, and Laon and Cythna, afterwards called the Revolt of Islam (1817). In 1818 he left England never to return, and went to Italy, and in the next 2 years — while atpage 341 Rome — produced his 2 greatest works, the tragedy of The Cenci (1819) and Prometheus Unbound (1820). He moved to Venice in 1820 in the company of Byron, and there wrote Julian and Maddalo, a poetic record of discussions between them. Epipsychidion, Hellas, and Adonais (a lament for Keats), were all produced in 1821. After a short residence at Pisa he went to Lerici on the Gulf of Spezzia, where he indulged in his favorite recreation of boating, and here on July 8, 1823, he went, in company with a friend, Mr. Williams, on that fatal expedition which cost him his life. His body was cast ashore about a fortnight later, and burnt, in accordance with the quarantine law of the country, on a pyre in the presence of Byron, Leigh Hunt, and Trelawny. His ashes were carefully preserved and buried in the Protestant cemetery at Rome near those of Keats.[1]

The character of Shelley is a singularly compounded one. By the unanimous testimony of his friends, it was remarkable for gentleness, purity, generosity, and strong affection: on the other hand he appears to have had very inadequate conceptions of duty and responsibility, and from his childhood seems to have been in revolt against authority of every kind. The charge of Atheism rests chiefly on Mab, the work of a boy, printed by him for private circulation, and to some extent repudiated as personal opinion. As a poet he stands in the front rank: in lyrical gift, shown in Prometheus, Hellas, and some of his shorter poems, such as "The Skylark," he is probably unsurpassed, and in his Cenci he exhibits dramatic power of a high order. Among his shorter poems are some which reach perfection, such as the sonnet on "Ozymandias," "Music when soft voices die," "I arise from dreams of thee," "When the lamp is shattered," the "Ode to the West Wind," and "O world! O life! O time!" During his short life of 30 years he was, not unnaturally, the object of much severe judgment, and his poetic power even was recognized by only a few. Posterity has taken a more lenient view of his serious errors of conduct, while according to his genius a shining place among the immortals.[1]

The Cenci (1819) and Prometheus Unbound (1820) were dramatic plays in five and four acts respectively..[2] He wrote the Gothic novels Zastrozzi (1810) and St. Irvyne (1811). In 2008, he was credited as the co-author of the novel Frankenstein (1818), in a new edition by the Bodleian Library in Oxford and Random House in the U.S. entitled The Original Frankenstein edited by Charles E. Robinson.[3][4][5]

Shelley's unconventional life and uncompromising idealismTemplate:Cn, combined with his strong disapproving voice, made him an authoritative and much-denigrated figure during his life and afterward. Mark Twain took particular aim at Shelley in In Defense of Harriet Shelley, where he lambasted Shelley for abandoning his pregnant wife and child to run off with the 16 year old Mary Godwin[6]. Shelley never lived to see the extent of his success and influence; although some of his works were published, they were often suppressed upon publication.

He became an idol of the next 3 or even 4 generations of poets, including the important Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite poets. He was admired by Oscar Wilde, Thomas Hardy, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, William Butler Yeats, Upton Sinclair and Isadora Duncan.[7] Henry David Thoreau's civil disobedience and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi's passive resistance were apparently influenced and inspired by Shelley's nonviolence in protest and political action, although Gandhi does not include him in his list of mentors.[8]


A son of Sir 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. The eldest of 7 children, he had 5 sisters and one 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.[9]

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 his classmates called "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.[10]

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 16 hours a day. His first publication was a Gothic novel, Zastrozzi (1810), in which he vented his 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 (perhaps 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. This 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 being expelled 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').[11] 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, the 19-year-old Shelley eloped to Scotland with the 16-year-old schoolgirl Harriet Westbrook to get married. After their marriage on 28 August 1811, Shelley invited his college friend Hogg to share their household. When Harriet objected, however, Shelley brought her to Keswick in England's Lake District, intending to write. Distracted by political events, he visited Ireland shortly afterward in order to engage in radical pamphleteering. Here he wrote his Address to the Irish People and was seen at several nationalist rallies. His activities earned him the unfavourable attention of the British government.

Unhappy in his nearly three-year-old marriage, Shelley often left his wife and child (Ianthe Shelley, 1813–76) alone, first to study Italian with a certain Cornelia Turner, and eventually to visit William Godwin's home and bookshop in London. There he met and fell in love with Godwin's daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft, the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.

On 28 July 1814, Shelley abandoned his pregnant wife and child when he ran away with Mary, then 16, inviting her stepsister Claire Clairmont along for company. The 3 sailed to Europe, crossed France, and settled in Switzerland, an account of which was subsequently published by the Shelleys. After six weeks, homesick and destitute, the three young people returned to England. In late 1815, while living close to London with Mary and avoiding creditors, he wrote Alastor, or The Spirit of Solitude. It attracted little attention at the time, but has now come to be recognized 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 Mary's stepsister Claire Clairmont, who had commenced a liaison with Lord Byron the previous April just before his self-exile on the continent. Byron had lost interest in her and so she used the opportunity of meeting 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(Citation needed). A tour of Chamonix in the French Alps inspired Mont Blanc, a poem in which Shelley claims to have pondered questions of historical inevitability and the relationship between the human mind and external nature.

Second marriageEdit

After the Shelleys returned to England, Fanny Imlay — Mary's half-sister and Claire's stepsister — travelled from Godwin's household in London to kill herself in Wales in early October. In December 1816, Shelley's estranged wife Harriet drowned herself in the Serpentine in Hyde Park, London. 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, but the plan failed: the courts gave custody of the children to foster parents because he was an atheist. Template:Fact

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."


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.[12] 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 train 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"[13] 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.[14]

Shelley completed Prometheus Unbound in Rome, and he spent mid-1819 writing a tragedy, The Cenci, in Leghorn. 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. This affection was pure and platonic, almost bordering on devotion. 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."[15]


The Funeral of Shelley by Louis Edouard Fournier

The Funeral of Shelley by Louis Edouard Fournier (1889); pictured in the centre are, from left, Trelawny, Hunt and Byron. (In fact Hunt did not observe the cremation, he remained in his carriage.)

On 8 July 1822, less than a month before his 30th birthday, Shelley drowned in a sudden storm while sailing back from 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.[16]

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.[16][17] 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.[18] 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.[19] 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.

File:Shelley Memorial, University College, Oxford.JPG
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."[20] 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 Edouard 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.

Shelley was eventually memorialized at the Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey, along with his old friends, Byron and Keats.

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’s Heart Edit

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 Adonais was an envelope containing ashes, which she had identified as belonging to Shelley the poet.[21] 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.[22][23] 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 Saint Peter’s churchyard in Bournemouth.

Family historyEdit


Shelley was a 17th-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 (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[24]

Percy was the eldest of 6 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.[25]


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[26] 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, William Butler 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.[27] It is known that Gandhi would often quote Shelley's Masque of Anarchy,[28] which has been called "perhaps the first modern statement of the principle of nonviolent resistance."[29]


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".[30][31]

Shelley, in heartfelt dedication to sentient beings, wrote:[32] "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."[32] 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."[33] In Frankenstein (1818), the Being, who is a vegetarian, expresses a similar sentiment: "My food is not that of man; I do not destroy the lamb and kid to glut my appetite; acorns and berries afford my sufficient nourishment."[3]

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.[32]


Critical introductionEdit

by Frederic William Henry Myers

The title of "the poets’ poet," which has been bestowed for various reasons on very different authors, applies perhaps with a truer fitness to Shelley than to any of the rest. For all students of Shelley must in a manner feel that they have before them an extreme, almost an extravagant, specimen of the poetic character; and the enthusiastic love, or contemptuous aversion, which his works have inspired has depended mainly on the reader’s sympathy or distaste for that character when exhibited in its unmixed intensity.

And if a brief introductory notice is to be prefixed to a selection from those poems, it becomes speedily obvious that it is on Shelley’s individual nature, rather than on his historical position, that stress must be laid. Considered as a link in the chain of English literature, his poetry is of less importance than we might expect. It is not closely affiliated to the work of any preceding school, nor, with one or two brilliant exceptions, has it modified subsequent poetry in any conspicuous way. It is no doubt true that Shelley, belonging to that group of poets whose genius was awakened by the stirring years which ushered in this century, shows traces of the influence of more than one contemporary. There are echoes of Wordsworth in Alastor, echoes of Moore in the lyrics, echoes even of Byron in the later poems. But, with the possible exception of Wordsworth, whose fresh revelation of Nature supplied poetic nutriment even to minds quite alien from his own, none of these can be said to have perceptibly modified either the substance or the style of Shelley’s works as a whole.

Nor, again, will it be useful to dwell at length here on the special characteristics of each of his poems in order. They show indeed much apparent diversity both of form and content. Alastor is the early reflection of the dreamy and solitary side of its author’s nature. The Revolt of Islam embodies in a fantastic tale the poet’s eager rebellion against the cruelties and oppressions of the world. In Prometheus Unbound these two strains mingle in their highest intensity. The drama of The Cenci shows Shelley’s power of dealing objectively with the thoughts and passions of natures other than his own. Adonais, his elegy on the death of Keats, is the most carefully finished, and the most generally popular, of his longer pieces. And in the songs and odes which he poured forth during his last years, his genius, essentially lyrical, found its most unmixed and spontaneous expression. But in fact the forms which Shelley’s poems assumed, or the occasions which gave them birth, are not the points on which it is most important to linger. It is in ‘the one Spirit’s plastic stress’ which pervades them all,—in the exciting and elevating quality which all in common possess,—that the strange potency of Shelley lies.

For although the directly traceable instances of this great poet’s influence on the style of his successors may be few or unimportant, it by no means follows that the impression left by his personality has been small. On the contrary, it has, I believe, been deeply felt by most of those who since his day have had any share of poetic sensibility as at once an explanation and a justification of the points in which they feel themselves different from the mass of mankind. His character and his story,— more chequered and romantic than Wordsworth’s, purer and loftier than Byron’s,— are such as to call forth in men of ardent and poetic temper the maximum at once of sympathetic pity and sympathetic triumph.

For such men are apt to feel that they have a controversy with the world. Their virtue,— because it is original rather than reflected,— because it rests on impulse rather than on tradition,— seems too often to be counted for nothing at all by those whose highest achievement is to walk mechanically along the ancient ways. Their eagerness to face the reality of things, without some touch of which religion is but a cajoling dream, is denounced as heresy or atheism. Their enthusiasm for ideal beauty, without some touch of which love is but a selfish instinct, is referred to the promptings of a less dignified passion. The very name of their master Plato is vulgarised into an easy sneer. And nevertheless the wisest among them perceive that all this must be, and is better thus. The world must be arranged to suit the ordinary man, for though the man of genius is more capable of being pained, the ordinary man is more likely to be really injured by surroundings unfitted for his development. In society, as in nature, the tests which any exceptional variation has to encounter should be prompt and severe. It is better that poets should be

‘Cradled into poesy by wrong,
And learn in suffering what they teach in song,”

than that a door should be opened to those who are the shadow of that of which the poet is the reality,—who are only sentimental, only revolutionary, only uncontrolled. It is better that the world should persecute a Shelley than that it should endure a St. Just.

But in whatever mood the man of poetic temper may contemplate his own relation to society, he will be tempted to dwell upon, even to idealise, the character and achievements of Shelley. Perhaps he is dreaming, as many men have innocently dreamt who had not strength enough to make their dream come true, of the delight of justifying what the world calls restless indolence by some apparition of unlooked-for power; of revealing the central force of self-control which has guided those eager impulses along an ordered way,

‘As the sun rules, even with a tyrant’s gaze
The unquiet republic of the maze
Of Planets struggling fierce toward Heaven’s free wilderness’;—

of giving, in short, to motives misconstrued and character maligned the noble vindication of some work whose sincerity and virtue enshrine it in the heart of a great people. In such a mood he will turn proudly to Shelley as to one who knew to the uttermost the poet’s sorrow, and has received the poet’s reward; one who, assailed by obloquy, misjudged, abandoned and accursed, replied by strains which have become a part of the highest moments of all after generations, an element (if I may be allowed the expression) in the religion of mankind.

Or if the mood in which the lover of poetry turns to Shelley be merely one in which that true world in which he fain would dwell seems in danger of fading into a remote unreality amid the gross and pressing cares of every day, he will still be tempted to cling to and magnify the poet of Prometheus Unbound, because he offers so uncompromising a testimony to the validity of the poetic vision, because he carries as it were the accredited message of a dweller among unspeakable things.

We need not therefore wonder if among poets and imaginative critics we find the worship of Shelley carried to an extraordinary height. I quote as a specimen some words of a living poet himself closely akin to Shelley in the character of his genius. "Shelley outsang all poets on record but some two or three throughout all time; his depths and heights of inner and outer music are as divine as nature’s, and not sooner exhaustible. He was alone the perfect singing-god; his thoughts, words, deeds, all sang together…. The master singer of our modern race and age; the poet beloved above all other poets, being beyond all other poets—in one word, and the only proper word—divine."

The tone of this eulogy presupposes that there will be many readers to agree and to enjoy. And, in fact, the representatives of this school of criticism are now so strong, and their utterance so confident, that the easiest course in treating of Shelley would be simply to accept their general view, and to ignore that opposite opinion which, if not less widely held, finds at any rate less eloquent exposition. But it is surely not satisfactory that literary judgments should thus become merely the utterances of the imaginative to the imaginative, of the aesthetic to the aesthetic, that "poetry and criticism," in Pope’s words, should be "by no means the universal concern of the world, but only the affair of idle men who write in their closets, and of idle men who read there."

We should surely desire that poetry should become "the universal concern of the world" at least thus far; that those who delight in its deeper mysteries should also be ready to meet plain men on the common ground of plain good sense; should see what they see, listen to what they say, and explain their own superior insight in terms intelligible to all. If clear-headed bat unimaginative readers are practically told that the realm of poetry is a fairy-land which they cannot enter, they will retaliate by calling it a "Cloud-cuckoo-town" built in the air. The sight of our esoteric raptures will only incite them to use the term "poetry" as the antithesis, not of prose, but of common-sense and right reason.

And there is much indeed both in the matter and style of Shelley’s poems to which readers of this uninitiated class are apt to take exception. "We had always supposed," they say,— if I may condense many floating criticisms into an argument, as it were, of the advocatus diaboli in the case of Shelley’s canonisation,— "we had always supposed that one main function of poetry, at least, was to irradiate human virtue with its proper, but often hidden, charm; that she depicts to us the inspiring triumph of man’s higher over his lower self; that (in Plato’s words) 'by adorning ten thousand deeds of men long gone she educates the men that are to be.' But we find Shelley telling us, 'You might as well go to a gin-shop for a leg of mutton as expect anything human or earthly from me.' And his poems bear out this self-criticism.

He is indeed fond of painting a golden age of human happiness; but of what does his millennium consist? and how is it attained? In the "Witch of Atlas" it is the fantastic paradise of a child’s day-dream, summoned, like the transformation-scene in a pantomime, by the capricious touch of a fairy. In the Prometheus an attempt is made to deal more seriously with the sins and sorrows of men. But even there the knot of human destinies is cut and not unravelled; the arbitrary catastrophes of an improvised and chaotic mythology bring about a change in human affairs depending in no way on moral struggle or moral achievement,— on which every real change in human affairs must depend,— but effected apparently by the simple removal of priests and kings,—of the persons, that is to say, in whom the race, however mistakenly, has hitherto embodied its instincts of reverence and of order. And further,—to illustrate by one striking instance the pervading unreality of Shelley’s ideals,—what does Prometheus himself, the vaunted substitute for any other Redeemer, propose to do in this long-expected and culminant hour? He begins at once “There is a cave,” and proposes to retire thither straightway with the mysterious Asia, and “entangle buds and flowers and beams.” “Ask for this great Deliverer now, and find him,”—not surely occupied as a Milton or an Æschylus would have left that bringer of light to men! Nay, so constantly does this idea of a cave-life of beatific seclusion recur in Shelley’s mind that it is even left uncertain whether Asia, amid competing offers of the same kind, can obey Prometheus’ call. For hardly is his description over when Earth in her turn begins “There is a cavern,”— and invites the mystic goddess to this alternative retreat. Nor is Asia’s choice of caves ended here. For we have already heard of her as occupying with Ione a submarine cavern,—as well as an Indian solitude, styled indeed a vale, but differing from the caves above-mentioned in no essential particular. And if this unreality, this aloofness from the real facts of life, pervades Shelley’s crowning composition, what are we to say of Queen Mab and the Revolt of Islam? If we compare their characters and incidents with anything which earth has really to show we should be tempted to argue that their author had never seen a human being. And the one dramatic situation in which Shelley is so strong,—the situation which gives tragic intensity alike to his Cenci and his Prometheus,—hardly assures us of any more searching knowledge of mankind. For it is simply the opposition of absolute wickedness to absolute virtue.

"For the most part, then, Shelley’s conception of the actual world seems to us boyish and visionary. Nor, on the other hand, does he offer us much more of wisdom when we desert the actual world for the ideal,—the realm of observation and experience for the realm of conjecture and intuition. We cannot, in fact, discover what he thought on the main spiritual problems which occupy mankind, while in his treatment of the beliefs of others there is often a violent crudity which boyishness can scarcely excuse. Now we do not demand of a poet a definite religion or a definite philosophy. But we are disappointed to find in so much lofty verse so little substance,—nothing, we may almost say, save a few crumbs from the banquet of Plato. The lark who so scorned our earth and heaven might have brought us, we think, some more convincing message from his empyrean air.

"And now as regards his style. We perceive and admit that Shelley’s style is unique and inimitable. But it often seems to us inimitable only as Turner’s latest pictures are inimitable; the work obviously of a great master, but work so diffused and deflected as to bear quite too remote a relation to the reality of things. We can believe that Shelley’s descriptions of natural scenes, for instance, are full of delightful suggestiveness for the imaginative reader. But considered simply as descriptions we cannot admit that they describe. The objects on which our eyes have rested are certainly not so crystalline or so marmoreal, so amethystine, pellucid, or resplendent, as the objects which meet us in Shelley’s song. Nature never seems to be enough for him as she is, and yet we do not think that he has really improved on her. 14

"Again; we know that it is characteristic of the poetic mind to be fertile in imagery, and to pass from one thought to another by an emotional rather than a logical link of connection. But as regards imagery we think that Shelley might with advantage have remembered Corinna’s advice to Pindar in a somewhat similar case,—“to sow with the hand, and not with the whole sack”; while as regards the connection of parts we think that though the poet (like one of his own magic pinnaces) may be in reality impelled by a rushing impulse peculiar to himself, he should nevertheless (like those pinnaces) carry a rag of sail, so that some breath of reason may at least seem to be bearing him along. We are aware that this hurrying spontaneity of style is often cited as a proof of Shelley’s wealth of imagination. Yet in desiring from him more concentration, more finish, more self-control, we are not desiring that he should have had less imagination but more; that he should have had the power of renewing his inspiration on the same theme and employing it for the perfection of the same passage; so as to leave us less of melodious incoherence,—less of that which is perhaps poetry but is certainly nothing but poetry,—and more of what the greatest poets have left us, namely high ideas and noble emotions enshrined in a form so complete and exquisite that the ideas seem to derive a new truth, the emotions a new dignity, from the intensity with which they have existed in those master minds."

Some such words as these will express the thoughts of many men whose opinions we cannot disregard without a risk of weakening, by our literary exclusiveness, the hold of poetry on the mass of mankind. But neither need we admit that such criticisms as these are unanswerable. Some measure of truth they do no doubt contain, and herein we must plead our poet’s youth and immaturity as our best reply. That immaturity, as we believe, was lessening with every season that passed over his head. With the exception of Alastor (1815),— the first and most pathetic of Shelley’s portraits of himself,— all his poems that possess much value were written in the last four and a-half years of his life (1818–22), and during those years a great, though not a uniform, progress is surely discernible. As his hand gains in cunning we see him retaining all his earliest magic, but also able from time to time to dismiss that excess of individuality which would be mannerism were it less spontaneous.

The drama of Hellas, the last long poem which he finished, illustrates this irregular advance in power. It is for the most part among the slightest of his compositions, but in its concluding chorus,— Shelley’s version of the ancient theme, Alter erit tum Tiphys et altera quæ vehat Argo,— we recognise, more plainly perhaps than ever before in his lyrics, that solidity and simplicity of treatment which we associate with classical masterpieces. And the lyrics of the last year of his life are the very crown of all that he has bequeathed. The delight indeed with which we hear them too quickly passes into regret, so plainly do they tell us that we have but looked on the poet’s opening blossom; his full flower and glory have been reserved as a sight for the blest to see.

But there is much that has been said in Shelley’s dispraise to which we shall need to plead no demurrer. We shall admit it; but in such fashion that our admission constitutes a different or a higher claim. If we are told of the crudity of his teaching and of his conceptions of life, we answer that what we find in him it neither a code nor a philosophy, but a rarer thing,— an example, namely (as it were in an angel or in a child), of the manner in which the littleness and the crimes of men shock a pure spirit which has never compromised with their ignobility nor been tainted with their decay. And in the one dramatic situation in which Shelley is confessedly so great,— the attitude of Beatrice resisting her father, of Prometheus resisting Zeus,— we say that we discern the noble image of that courageous and enduring element in the poet himself which gives force to his gentleness and dignity to his innocence, and which through all his errors, his sufferings, his inward and outward storms, leaves us at last with the conviction that "there is nothing which a spirit of such magnitude cannot overcome or undergo."

Again, if we are told of the vagueness or incoherence of Shelley’s language, we answer that poetic language must always be a compromise between the things which can definitely be said and the things which the poet fain would say; and that when poet or painter desires to fill us with the sense of the vibrating worlds of spiritual intelligences which interpenetrate the world we see,— of those

‘Ten thousand orbs involving and involved,…
Peopled with unimaginable shapes,…
Yet each intertranspicuous,’—

it must needs be that the reflection of these transcendent things should come to us in forms that luxuriate into arabesque, in colours that shimmer into iridescence, in speech that kindles into imagery; while yet we can with little doubt discern whether he who addresses us is merely illuminating the mists of his own mind, or ‘has beheld’ (as Plato has it) ‘and been initiated into the most blessed of initiations, gazing on simple and imperishable and happy visions in a stainless day.’

And, finally, if we are told that, whatever these visions or mysteries may be, Shelley has not revealed them; that he has contributed nothing to the common faith and creed of men,—has only added to their aspiring anthem one keen melodious cry;—we answer that this common religion of all the world advances by many kinds of prophecy, and is spread abroad by the flying flames of pure emotion as well as by the solid incandescence of eternal truth. Some few souls indeed there are,—a Plato, a Dante, a Wordsworth,—whom we may without extravagance call stars of the spiritual firmament, so sure and lasting seems their testimony to those realities which life hides from us as sunlight hides the depth of heaven. But we affirm that in Shelley too there is a testimony of like kind, though it has less of substance and definition, and seems to float diffused in an ethereal loveliness. We may rather liken him to the dewdrop of his own song, which

‘becomes a winged mist
And wanders up the vault of the blue day,
Outlives the noon, and in the sun’s last ray
Hangs o’er the sea, a fleece of fire and amethyst.’

For the hues of sunset also have for us their revelation. We look, and the conviction steals over us that such a spectacle can be no accident in the scheme of things; that the whole universe is tending to beauty; and that the apocalypse of that crimsoned heaven may be not the less authentic because it is so fugitive, not the less real because it comes to us in a fantasy wrought but of light and air.[34]


Keats-Shelley House

Keats-Shelley Memorial House, Rome. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

19th centuryEdit

Shelley's mainstream following did not develop until a generation after his passing, 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'.

Critics such as Matthew Arnold reinterpreted Shelley's work to make him seem a lyricist and a dilettante who had no serious intellectual positions and whose longer poems were not worth study. 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 skeptic 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 20th 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 19th century.[35]

20th centuryEdit

Shelley memorial fountain - - 385858

Shelley memorial fountain, Horsham, UK. Photo by 'Peter Cox. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy

14 of Shelley's poems ("Hymn of Pan," "The Invitation," "Hellas," "To a Skylark," "The Moon," "Ode to the West Wind," "The Indian Serenade," "Night," "From the Arabic," "Lines," "To ——," "The Question," "Remorse." and "Music, when Soft Voices die") were included in the Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900.[36]

He was admired by C.S. Lewis,[37] Karl Marx, Henry Stephens Salt, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, Isadora Duncan,[7] Upton Sinclair[38] and William Butler Yeats.[39] Samuel Barber, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Roger Quilter, Howard Skempton, John Vanderslice and Ralph Vaughan Williams composed music based on his poems.

In other countries such as India, Shelley's works both in the original and in translation have influenced poets such as Rabindranath Tagore(Citation needed) and Jibanananda Das. A pirated copy of Prometheus Unbound dated 1835 is said to have been seized in that year by customs at Bombay.

A memorial to Keats and Shelley was unveiled in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey, by then-Poet Laureate John Masefield in 1954.[40]

21st centuryEdit

In 2005 the University of Delaware Press published an extensive 2-volume biography by James Bieri. In 2008 the Johns Hopkins University Press published Bieri's 856-page 1-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.[41]

In 2007, John Lauritsen published his book The Man Who Wrote "Frankenstein"[42] 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.[43] 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'."[5]

In popular cultureEdit

In fictionEdit

Julian Rathbone's 2002 novel A Very English Agent, about a 19th century government spy Charles Boylan, carries a lengthy section on Shelley's time in Italy, in which Boylan tampers with Shelley's boat on orders from the British government, thus causing his death. Rathbone though has stated that he is "a novelist, not a historian" and that his work is very much a piece of fiction.

Shelley also features prominently in The Stress of Her Regard, a 1989 novel by Tim Powers which proposes a secret history connecting the English Romantic writers with the mythology of vampires and lamia.

He also makes an appearance in Jude Morgan's 2005 novel Passion, along with Byron, Keats, Coleridge, Leigh Hunt, and a wealth of other English Romantic figures, although the novel's main focus is the lives of the women behind the famous poets: Lady Caroline Lamb, Augusta Leigh, Mary Shelley, and Fanny Brawne. Mary and Percy Shelley also appear in a 2006 novel AngelMonster, by Veronica Bennet. This book is a fictional version of Mary's and Percy's elopement and the series of depressing events.

Shelley appears in Frankenstein Unbound by Brian Aldiss. The book is a time-travel romance featuring Mary Shelley. A movie was made, based on the novel, directed by Roger Corman and starring John Hurt and Bridget Fonda, in 1990. Shelley makes an appearance in the alternative history novel The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. Referenced only in passing by another character, in the novel's story he does not drown in Italy, but lives to become a fierce critic (and perhaps saboteur) of Lord Byron's pro-industrial 'Radical party' government, for which he is arrested, declared insane, and placed in a madhouse.

Shelley is portrayed as befriending cavalry officer Matthew Hervey while the latter is in Rome with his sister trying to cope with the death of his wife, in the 4th of Allan Mallinson's novels in the Hervey canon, A Call to Arms (2002). A friendship between Shelley (social subversive, moral outcast) and Hervey (pattern of martial loyalty and religious rectitude, albeit questioned in his bereavement) seems at first view unlikely. But each sees in the other a good man, and ultimately their agreement, often unspoken, on the travails and truths of the human condition cements the bond between them.

Events in Shelley's and Byron's relationship at the house on Lake Geneva in 1816 have been fictionalized in film three times. He is played as a minor character in: a 1986 British production, Gothic, directed by Ken Russell, and starring Gabriel Byrne, Julian Sands, and Natasha Richardson; and a 1988 Spanish production, Rowing with the Wind (Remando al viento), starring Lizzie McInnerny as Mary Shelley and Hugh Grant as Lord Byron. Both these movies deal mostly with Mary Shelley's creation of the Frankenstein novel, while Percy tends to be quite a minor character in both films.

Shelley is the main character in a movie entitled Haunted Summer, made in 1988, starring Laura Dern and Eric Stoltz.

The 1970s and 1980s Thames Television sitcom Shelley made many references to the poet.

Howard Brenton's play, Bloody Poetry, 1st performed at the Haymarket Theater in Leicester in 1984, concerns itself with the complex relationships and rivalries between Shelley, Mary Shelley, Claire Clairmont, and Byron. Shelley's cremation at Viareggio and the removal of his heart by Trelawny are described in Tennessee Williams' play Camino Real by a fictionalized Lord Byron.

Percy, Mary and her sister Claire are some of the main characters in the novel, The Vampyre: The Secret History of Lord Byron, by Tom Holland (1995). The story concerns Lord Byron, poet and friend of Percy Shelley. Their meeting and the growth of their friendship are described, along with a hypothetical account of the time the foursome shared in Switzerland. Holland provides a fictional conclusion to the mysteries that surround Shelley's death.

Shelley's death and his claims of having met a Doppelganger served as inspiration for the 1978 short story "Paper Boat", written by Tanith Lee. Shelley is also the main character in Bulgarian poet Pencho Slaveykov's philosophical poem, Heart of Hearts.

Shelley's Prometheus Unbound is quoted by Captain Jean Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation, in the episode "Skin of Evil". "A great poet once said, All spirits are enslaved that serve things evil."

Shelley appears as himself in Peter Ackroyd's novel The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein. In this, Mary Shelley's Victor Frankenstein is portrayed as one of Shelley's close friends during his early life and marriage to Harriet, in an entertaining fictional nod to the doppelganger rumour.

Shelley is also the principal model for Marmion Herbert, one of the two male protagonists in Benjamin Disraeli's novel Venetia (1837); the other protagonist Lord Cadurcis is based on Lord Byron. Shelley's poem, "The Indian Serenade", is recited in Chosen, a House of Night novel by P.C. Cast.

In the 1995 novel "Shelley's Heart" by Charles McCarry, Shelley is the inspiration for a secret society that operates at the highest levels of government and is responsible for stealing a presidential election. The members of the society identify each other with the question and answer: What did Trelawny snatch from the funeral pyre at Viareggio? ¬– Shelley’s heart.

Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters mentions Shelley in the poem "Percy Bysshe Shelley"[44] as the namesake of the speaker and that his ashes "were scattered near the pyramid of caius cestius / Somewhere near Rome."

In video gamesEdit

A serial killer, in L.A. Noire, uses excerpts from Shelley to play with detectives and provide clues that ultimately lead to the killer.


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Collected editionsEdit

  • The Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley: With his life. (2 volumes), London: John Ascham, 1834.[45] Volume I, Volume II.
  • The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley (edited by Mary Shelley). (4 volumes), London: Edward Moxon, 1839; (1 volume), Philadelphia: Porter & Coates, 1839.
  • The Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley: From the original editions: Fourth series. London: Chatto & Windus, 1875.[45]
  • The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley: Including Various Additional Pieces From MS. and Other Sources (edited by William Michael Rossetti (2 volumes), London: E. Moxon, 1870; New York: T. Crowell, 1878.
  • The Complete Poetical Works of Shelley (edited by Thomas Hutchinson). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1904) Volume I, Volume II, Volume III.
    • revised (by G.M. Matthews). London: Oxford University Press, 1969.
  • The Complete Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Julian Edition (edited by Roger Ingpen and Walter Edwin Peck). (10 volumes), London: Ernest Benn, 1926-1930.
  • "Shelley's Translations from Plato: A Critical Edition," in James Notopoulous, The Platonism of Shelley: A Study of Platonism and the Poetic Mind. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1949).
  • Shelley's Prose; or, The trumpet of a prophecy (edited by David L. Clark). Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1954; corrected, 1966.
  • Posthumous Poems of Shelley: Mary Shelley's Fair Copy Book, Bodleian Ms. Shelley Adds. d.9 Collated with the Holographs and the Printed Texts (edited by Irving Massey). Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1969.
  • Shelley's Poetry and Prose (edited by Donald Reiman and Sharon Powers). New York: Norton, 1977.


  • Select Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley (edited by Richard Garnett). London: Kegan Paul, Trench, 1882.
  • Letters From Percy Bysshe Shelley to Elizabeth Hitchener (edited by T.J. Wise and Harry Buxton Forman). (2 volumes), London: privately printed, 1890.
  • Letters from Percy Bysshe Shelley to William Godwin (edited by T.J. Wise and Harry Buxton Forman). (2 volumes), London: privately printed, 1891. Volume I, Volume II.
  • The Best Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley (edited by Shirley Carter Hughson). Chicago: A.C. McClurg, 1892; London: William Heinemann, 1909.[45]
  • Letters from Percy Bysshe Shelley: To Robert Southey and other correspondents. New York: privately printed, 1886.
  • The Shelley Correspondence in the Bodleian Library: Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley and others, mainly published from the collection presented to the library by Lady Shelley in 1892 (edited by H.R. Hill). Oxford, UK: Printed for the Bodleian Library by John Johnson, 1926.
  • Shelley and His Circle, 1773-1822, The Carl H. Pforzheimer Library (8 volumes: volumes 1-4 edited by Kenneth Neill Cameron; volumes 5-8, edited by Donald H. Reiman). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961-1986.
  • The Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley (edited by Frederick L. Jones). (2 volumes), Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1964.


  • Note books of Percy Bysshe Shelley, From the Originals in the Library of W.K. Bixby (edited by H. Buxton Forman). (3 volumes), St. Louis, MO: Privately printed, 1911.
  • The Esdaile Notebook. A volume of early poems (edited by Kenneth Neale Cameron from the manuscript in the Carol H. Pforzheimer Library). New York: Knopf, 1964.
    • The Esdaile Poems (edited from the manuscripts by Neville Rogers). Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1966.
  • The Manuscripts of the Younger Romantics. Shelley (edited by Donald H. Reiman). (3 volumes: The Esdaile Notebook, The Masque of Anarchy, Hellas: A Lyrical Drama), New York & London: Garland, 1985.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[48]

Poems by Percy Bysshe ShelleyEdit

Love's Philosophy by Percy Bysshe Shelley (read by Tom O'Bedlam)

Love's Philosophy by Percy Bysshe Shelley (read by Tom O'Bedlam)

Music, When Soft Voices Die by Percy Bysshe Shelley - Poetry Reading

Music, When Soft Voices Die by Percy Bysshe Shelley - Poetry Reading

Mutability by Percy Bysshe Shelley - Poetry Reading

Mutability by Percy Bysshe Shelley - Poetry Reading

The Cloud By Percy Bysshe Shelley - Poem

The Cloud By Percy Bysshe Shelley - Poem

  1. Adonais
  2. The cold earth slept below
  3. Ode to the West Wind
  4. Ozymandias
  5. To a Skylark

See alsoEdit


  • Edmund Blunden, Shelley: A life story, Viking Press, 1947.
  • James Bieri, Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008, ISBN 0-8018-8861-1.
  • Altick, Richard D., The English Common Reader. Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1998.
  • Holmes, Richard. Shelley: The Pursuit. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1975.
  • Meaker, M. J. Sudden Endings, 12 Profiles in Depth of Famous Suicides, Garden City, New York, Doubleday, 1964 p. 67-93: "The Deserted Wife: Harriet Westbrook Shelley".
  • Maurois, André, Ariel ou la vie de Shelley, Paris, Bernard Grasset, 1923
  • St Clair, William. The Godwins and the Shelleys: A Biography of a Family. London: Faber and Faber, 1990.
  • St Clair, William. The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  • Hay, Daisy. Young Romantics: the Shelleys, Byron, and Other Tangled Lives, Bloomsbury, 2010.
  • Owchar, Nick. "The Siren's Call: An epic poet as Mary Shelley's co-author. A new edition of 'Frankenstein' shows the contributions of her husband, Percy." Los Angeles Times, October 11, 2009.
  • Rhodes, Jerry. "New paperback by UD professor offers two versions of Frankenstein tale." UDaily, University of Delaware, September 30, 2009. Charles E. Robinson: "These italics used for Percy Shelley's words make even more visible the half-dozen or so places where, in his own voice, he made substantial additions to the 'draft' of Frankenstein."
  • Pratt, Lynda. "Who wrote the original Frankenstein? Mary Shelley created a monster out of her 'waking dream' – but was it her husband Percy who 'embodied its ideas and sentiments'?" The Sunday Times, October 29, 2008.
  • Adams, Stephen. "Percy Bysshe Shelley helped wife Mary write Frankenstein, claims professor: Mary Shelley received extensive help in writing Frankenstein from her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, a leading academic has claimed." Telegraph, August 24, 2008. Charles E. Robinson: "He made very significant changes in words, themes and style. The book should now be credited as 'by Mary Shelley with Percy Shelley'."
  • Shelley, Mary, with Percy Shelley. The Original Frankenstein. Edited with an Introduction by Charles E. Robinson. NY: Random House Vintage Classics, 2008. ISBN 978-0-307-47442-1
  • Mulhallen, Jacqueline, "The Theatre of Shelley", Open Book Publishers, 2011.


  1. 1.0 1.1 John William Cousin, "Shelley, Percy Bysse," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: Dent / New York: Dutton, 1910, 340-341. Wikisource, Web, Feb. 28, 2018.
  2. Mulhallen, Jacqueline. The Theatre of Shelley. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2011.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Shelley, Mary, with Percy Shelley. The Original Frankenstein. Edited and with an Introduction by Charles E. Robinson. Oxford: The Bodleian Library, 2008. ISBN 978-1851243969
  4. Adams, Stephen. "Percy Bysshe Shelley helped wife Mary write Frankenstein, claims professor: Mary Shelley received extensive help in writing Frankenstein from her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, a leading academic has claimed." Telegraph, August 24, 2008. Charles E. Robinson: "He made very significant changes in words, themes and style. The book should now be credited as 'by Mary Shelley with Percy Shelley'."
  5. 5.0 5.1 Shelley, Mary, with Percy Shelley. The Original Frankenstein. Edited with an Introduction by Charles E. Robinson. NY: Random House Vintage Classics, 2008. ISBN 978-0-307-47442-1
  6. Twain, Mark. In Defense of Harriet Shelley
  7. 7.0 7.1 Isadora Duncan, "My Life ", Norton, 1996, pp. 15, 134.
  8. Thomas Weber, "Gandhi as Disciple and Mentor," Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp. 28–29. Print.
  9. The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Thomas Medwin (London, 1847)
  10. Ian Gilmour, Byron and Shelley: The Making of the Poets, New York: Carol & Graf Publishers, 2002, p.96–97.
  11. India Knight. "Article in the ''Times'' Online".,,25341-2266779,00.html. Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  12. Benita Eisler, Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame 1999: p668.
  13. Mary Shelley: romance and reality By Emily W. Sunstein p 175
  14. Shelley and the Revolution in taste: the body and the natural world By Timothy Morton, p232
  15. John Bedford Leno. The Aftermath with Autobiography of the Author. London: Reeves & Turner 1892.
  16. 16.0 16.1 "The Sinking of the Don Juan" by Donald Prell, Keats-Shelley journal, Vol. LVI, 2007, pp 136–154
  17. StClair, William, Trelawny, the Incurable Romancer, New York: The vanguard Press, 1977
  18. Richard Holmes, Shelley: The Pursuit (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1975).
  19. StClair and Prell
  20. Edmund Blunden, Shelley, A Life Story, Oxford University Press, 1965.
  21. ’We Who Are Of His Family And Bear His Name’, by W. L. Jacobs
  22. Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 1955 X(1):114–116; doi:10.1093/jhmas/X.1.114-b
  23. "". 2008-07-20.,2933,386842,00.html. Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  24. Ernest J Lovell Jr, Captain Medwin: Friend of Byron and Shelley,University of Texas 1962
  25. The Life and Times of Captain John Pilfold, CB,RN; Hawkins, Desmond, Horsham Museum Society, 1998
  26. , The Peerage .
  27. Thomas Weber, "Gandhi as Disciple and Mentor," Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp. 28–29.
  28. Thomas Weber, "Gandhi as Disciple and Mentor," Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp. 28.
  29. "" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  30. Spencer, Colin. The Heretic's Feast: A History of Vegetarianism. Great Britain: Hartnolls Ltd, Bodmin. 1993, pp 244–45.
  31. Morton, Timothy, "Joseph Ritson, Percy Shelley and the Making of Romantic Vegetarianism." Romanticism, Vol. 12, Issue 1, 2006. pp. 52–61.
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 Shelley, Percy Bysshe, "A Vindication of Natural Diet;" London: Smith & Davy. 1813, pp. 1–36.
  33. Preece, Rod. Sins of the Flesh: A History of Ethical Vegetarian Thought. Vancouver, BC, Canada: University of British Columbia Press, 2008.
  34. from Frederic William Henry Myers, "Critical Introduction: Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)," The English Poets: Selections with critical introductions (edited by Thomas Humphry Ward). New York & London: Macmillan, 1880-1918. Web, Feb. 26, 2016.
  35. Some details on this can also be found in William St Clair's The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period (Cambridge: CUP, 2005) and Richard D. Altick's The English Common Reader (Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1998) 2nd. edn.
  36. Alphabetical list of authors: Shelley, Percy Bysshe to Yeats, William Butler. Arthur Quiller-Couch, editor, Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900 (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919)., Web, May 19, 2012.
  37. "Poems of the Week". Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  38. Upton Sinclair, "My Lifetime in Letters," Univ of Missouri Press, 1960.
  39. Yeats: The Philosophy of Shelley's Poetry, 1900.
  40. John Keats, People, History, Westminster Abbey. Web, July 12, 2016.
  41. Woudhuysen, H. R. (July 12, 2006). "Shelley's fantastic prank:An extraordinary pamphlet comes to light". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 4 August 2010. 
  42. John Lauritsen (2007). The Man Who Wrote "Frankenstein". Pagan Press. ISBN 0943742145. 
  43. Adams, Stephen. "Percy Bysshe Shelley helped wife Mary write Frankenstein, claims professor: Mary Shelley received extensive help in writing Frankenstein from her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, a leading academic has claimed." Telegraph, August 24, 2008.
  44. "Percy Bysshe Shelley". Spoon River Anthology. Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  45. 45.0 45.1 45.2 45.3 45.4 45.5 45.6 Search results = au:Percy Bysshe Shelley, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Nov. 14,2013.
  46. Search results = au:Mathilde Blind, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Jan. 30, 2017.
  47. A Defence of Poetry, and other essays, Project Gutenberg. Web, Nov. 14, 2013.
  48. Percy Bysshe Shelley 1792-1822, Poetry Foundation. Web, Dec. 4, 2012.

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