Percy Bysshe Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Born: 4 August 1792 Died: 8 July 1822 Gender: Male Period: Romantic Genre: Romantic poetry Occupation: Poet

Percy Bysshe Shelley was born on 4 August 1792 at Field Place, near Horsham in Sussex, England. The eldest son of Timothy and Elizabeth Shelley, he stood in line to inherit his grandfather’s considerable estate and a seat in Parliament. He attended Eton College, where he began writing poetry, and went on to Oxford University. His first publication was a Gothic novel, Zastrozzi (1810), in which he voiced his own heretical and atheistic opinions through the villain Zastrozzi. After less than a year at Oxford, he was expelled for writing and circulating a pamphlet promoting atheism.

At 19, Shelley eloped to Scotland with 16-year-old Harriet Westbrook. Two years later he published his first long serious work, Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem. The poem emerged from Shelley’s friendship with the British thinker William Godwin, and it expressed Godwin’s freethinking socialist philosophy. Shelley also fell in love with Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft’s daughter, Mary, and in 1814 they travelled to Europe. In 1815 the couple went to Lake Geneva, where Shelley spent a great deal of time with the poet Lord Byron, sailing and discussing poetry and the supernatural late into the night. It was during this period that Mary devised her famous Gothic novel, Frankenstein. In December 1816 Harriet Shelley is believed to have committed suicide. After a matter of weeks, Shelley and Mary Godwin were married.

Early in 1818, Percy and Mary Shelley travelled to Italy, leaving England for the last time. During the remaining four years of his life, Shelley produced all of his major works, including The Masque of Anarchy (written in response to the Peterloo Massacre of 1819), The Cenci and Prometheus Unbound. On 8 July 1822, shortly before his 30th birthday, Shelley was drowned in a storm while attempting to sail from Leghorn to La Spezia in his sailing ship, the Don Juan.

Featured works

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s ‘To a Skylark’

Title: 'To a Skylark' Published: 1820 Format: Poem Period: Romantic Learn more
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