Percy Bysshe Shelley was one of the greatest contributors to the romantic poetry in the English language and author of the Prometheus Unbound and many other poems. Best known for his anthology works such as Ode to the West wind and To a Skylark, Shelley also wrote the most excellent lyric poems in the English language. The author is also known for his atheist views that became the central idea of his work The Necessity of Atheism, written and published in 1811, when he was still in the college. His major works mainly consist of lengthy and imaginative poems including Adonais, The Revolt of Islam and his unfinished poem The Triumph of Life. In his short but successful career, Shelley gained appreciation from eminent persons such as Karl Marx, Henry Stephens Salt and from other contemporary authors as well including eminent poet and friend Lord Byron.
Childhood & Education
Percy was born on 4 August 1792 in England to Sir Timothy Shelley and his wife Elizabeth Pilfold and was the eldest of seven children born to them. His father Timothy was the Baronet of Castle Goring and a Whig member of parliament. After receiving his early schooling at home, Percy was admitted into the Syon House Academy of Brent ford in 1802 and two years later in 1804, Shelley went on to study at Eton College, Oxford University. Throughout his education, Percy remained an average student and his performance in academics could be hailed as 'poor and disappointing'.
In 1810, Percy matriculated from the University College. These years at Oxford were tough for him, as the college authority were not pleased with his subversive idealism and atheistic philosophy. His first work Zastrozzi, a Gothic novel, was published in 1810 followed by Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire in the same year. While at Oxford, he wrote Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson- a joint effort of Percy and Thomas Jefferson Hogg- which earned him the unfavorable attention of the college authorities.
However, the first work which would put him under fire from the college authorities was a pamphlet called The Necessity of Atheism, written and published in 1811. This resulted in his confrontation by the college administration and he was expelled from the college after his refusal to rebut the authorship of the book. He could have been reinstated on the condition of renouncing his atheistic views expressed in the pamphlet, which he again refused to do. End result of this was his final expulsion from the college on 25 March 1811 and fall-out with his father.
Now expelled from the college and estranged from his father, Shelley eloped to Scotland with a sixteen year old Harriet Westbrook. They married on 28 August 1811. Here Shelley attempted an open marriage with inviting his friend Hogg to their house, which led to an opposition from his wife Harriet and eventually demise of their marriage.
For the next three years he paid several visits to London where he became associated with an atheist and journalist William Godwin and eventually became involved with his daughter Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. Unhappy in his first marriage, Shelley found Mary to be his intellectual equal at first instance and grew immensely close to her.
On 28 July 1814, Percy deserted his wife Harriet, who had given birth to their daughter Lanthe Shelley and was pregnant again, and eloped with Mary for a second time. They were accompanied by Mary's step sister Claire Clairmont to Switzerland where the three stayed for sometime before finally returning to England after few months. During this period, Shelley grew hugely impressed with the poems of Williams Wordsworth and wrote Alastor, the spirit of solitude in 1816 followed by History of Six Weeks Tour, which was published in 1817.
In 1816, Shelley's previous wife Harriet killed herself by drowning in the Serpentine River in Hyde Park, London, living behind their son Charles Shelley. It was less than two months after her body was recovered when Shelley wedded Mary in a hastily arranged marriage with an intention to take custody of his son by Harriet. However it did not help him in any manner, as the children were handed over to foster parents. Now married to Mary, Shelley settled in Marlow, Buckinghamshire where he made acquaintances with people like Leigh Hunt and John Keats.
After his marriage to Mary, Percy became acquaintance with the great poet Lord Byron and the two consolidated a strong friendship which would last until his death. In a company of more famous and established poet, Shelley was motivated to write his Hymn to intellectual Beauty, which was his first landmark success as a poet. His friendship with Byron proved to be constructive for his career and he continued to write fiercely. During this period he wrote a poem Mont Blanc in which he spoke of the relationship between human mind and natural creations.
After initial success, he produced some major work this time including two long poems Laon and Cythna in which he again expresses his atheistic views through its characters. After being objected t for its contemptuous content, the original copies were withdrawn from the market and an edited version of it appeared entitled as The Revolt of Islam in 1818. Shelley embarked on writing political pieces with the publication of nom de plume and The Hermit of Marlowe.
In 1818, The Shelley couple moved to Italy where their son Percy Florence Shelley was born a year later in 1819. Lord Byron, who was in Venice at that time, inspired the poet to write once again and Shelley produced Julian and Maddalo, an account of his travel and association with Byron. Once again, he began writing long verses and finished his first drams Prometheus Unbound, which was based on a lost play initially written by the Greek Poet Aeschylus. In 1819, Shelley embarked on writing a tragedy poem The Cenci and completed his two best known poems in 19th century, which were based on political theme- The Masque of Anarchy and Men of England. However, his first great success in this genre came with the essay called The Philosophical View of Reform.
In his later life, Shelley planned to set up a magazine The Liberal with the support from his lifelong friends Leigh Hunt and Lord Byron. However, the fate had something else for him and he drowned in a storm on 8 July 1822 while sailing back from Livorno in his boat Don Juan. He was cremated on the beach near Viareggio. He had not even reached the 30th year of his life at that time. His body was found offshore and decomposed beyond recognition, which led to several speculations regarding his death; however, the mystery of his death remains unsolved.