Happy birthday Percy Shelley!

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Percy Bysshe Shelley (August 4, 1792 – July 8, 1822) was an English Romantic poet. He had radical political views— he was a vegetarian and left his first wife for another woman (Mary Shelley) before she bore their second child. He became part of a ring of important poets including Lord Byron, Leigh Hunt, and Thomas Love Peacock.

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Shelley was born in Broadbridge Heath, England to Timothy Shelley and Elizabeth Pilfold. At ten, he left home to study at Syon House Academy and just two years later enrolled at Eton College. Within his first year at Eton, he had already published two novels and two volumes of poetry, including St Irvyne and Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson. (Image source)

In 1810, Shelley enrolled at the University of Oxford. But after just a few months, he was called to the office of a dean who demanded he acknowledge his contribution to an atheist pamphlet. He denied authoring any part of it and was expelled.

Shelley's beliefs were controversial to those who surrounded him and included vegetarianism as well as political and sexual freedom. He eloped with a 16-year-old girl named Harriet Westbrook, but soon lost interest and became interested in a schoolteacher named Elizabeth Hitchener, who became the inspiration for his first important poem, Queen Mab. Despite this, he remained with Harriet and they had two children together, but but he left her for another woman before the second was born. The other woman was Mary Wollstonecraft, the daughter of famed political activist and writer William Godwin. She, herself, was an activist-writer, responsible for the work A Vindication of the Rights of Women. The two fled Godwin, who disapproved of their relationship, to go to Paris. For the next three years they toured France, Switzerland, Germany and Holland.

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Mary and Percy Shelley. Engraving by George Stodart after monument by Henry Weekes

In 1816, Shelley accompanied Mary on a trip to Switzerland for the summer with Mary's stepsister, who was dating Lord Byron at the time. Shelley became close with the Romantic poet, and wrote Hymn to Intellectual Beauty upon his return. Not long after, he took a trip through the French Alps with Byron and later wrote Mont Blanc.

hqdefaultUpon returning to England, it was discovered that Shelley's wife, Harriet, had committed suicide. This left Shelley free to marry Mary. Next, he lost custody of his children when the courts ruled they would be better off with foster parents. (Image source)

Shelley and Mary moved to Buckinghamshire where they befriended John Keats and Leigh Hunt. Not long after, in 1817, he wrote The Revolt of Islam, which had been renamed from Laon and Cythna; or, The Revolution of the Golden City. Along with being renamed, the work was edited from revolving around incestuous lovers to the topic of religion in general. It was also characterized by socialist themes.

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Shelley and Mary spent the next several years living in Italy, traveling from city to city. Both of their two children died. After their second child, Clara Everina, died, Shelley wrote Prometheus Unbound. While living in Livorno, Italy, he wrote The Cenci, The Masque of Anarchy, and Men of England.

Shelley drowned at the age of 29, while sailing from Livorno to Lerici. There is much speculation surrounding his death, and many believe he was murdered for his political beliefs.

Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Monday, 04 August 2014
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