Adnax Publications

< Percy Bysshe Shelley >

  (1792-1822)

Short Biography continued

Travels to Lake Geneva : meets Lord Byron
Mary bore him a son, William, in January 1816 (24), and he published the long poem Alastor, or the Spirit of Solitude. In May he left England once again, travelling with Mary and Claire Clairmont to Geneva, where he met Lord Byron. He and Byron took neighbouring villas on the shores of Lake Geneva (m). Unknown to Shelley, Claire Clairmont was already pregnant with Byron’s child. 

Frankenstein
It was at Byron’s Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva that Mary Wollstoncraft began her story Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, as part of a competition in writing horror stories suggested by Byron. 

Return to England
They returned to England in
September, settling at Marlow (m). Godwin continued to importune him for money, showing little gratitude for what he had already given him (payments amounting to some £4700 (about £250,000 in modern values) according to Shelley). 

Wife commits suicide : marries Mary : loses children
His wife Harriet’s pregnant body was found in the Serpentine on 10th December 1816 (24), the evidence suggesting that she had committed suicide, and on 30th December he married Mary Godwin. Shelley’s son and daughter by Harriet had already been placed in the care of a clergyman in Warwickshire, and the Westbrooks now sued Shelley formally for the custody of the two children. In March 1817 (25) the Court of Chancery found against Shelley, effectively depriving him of his children.

Featured in The Examiner
In December 1816 (24) Leigh Hunt featured Shelley in an article entitled Young Poets in The Examiner, together with John Keats and John Hamilton Reynolds, and he corresponded with and met both Hunt and Keats. 

A trip to Italy
In January 1817 (25) Claire Clairmont gave birth to Byron’s child, Allegra, and Mary Shelley had a second child, Clara, in September of the same year. Shelley completed a long poem, Laon and Cythna, which was published, after some revision of its incestuous and anti religious content, as The Revolt of Islam (1818, 26). Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was also published in the same year, before they left England for Italy in March, along with their two children, Claire Clairmont and Allegra, and a nurse, Elise.

Byron will not see Claire, but takes custody of Allegra
Though Byron was prepared to take custody of Allegra, he explicitly forbade Claire from visiting him, and the child was therefore delivered to him in Venice (m) by the nurse. 

Spends time with Byron in Venice
At Bagni di Lucca (m) Shelley made a translation of Plato’s Symposium, which he called The Banquet of Plato. He then made a trip with Claire to Venice, enabling her to visit Allegra, who had been passed by Byron into the care of the British Consul and his wife. He spent more time with Byron, riding horses along the Lido, and later talking late into the night at his palazzo, which encounter was later to become the subject of his narrative poem Julian and Maddalo (1819, 27). 

At Byron's villa at Este : death of daughter
Byron offered him the use of his villa at Este (
m), and Shelley wrote to Mary to join him there. On the way the baby Clara developed dysentery, and she died in Venice. At Este he began Prometheus Unbound, a lyrical drama in four acts. 

Rome and Naples
They moved to Rome (
m), then Naples (m), where, according to Mary, they lived in utter solitude, and where they also rather mysteriously registered the birth of a child, Elena Adelaide, though there is no mention in Mary’s correspondence that it was hers. Two dismissed servants claimed that the child was Shelley's by Claire Clairmont. Mary later described Naples as a 'paradise inhabited by devils'.

Rome again
They returned to Rome, and he continued working on Prometheus Unbound (1820, 28). He also began to write The Cenci, a blank verse drama about Beatrice Cenci, who had been incestuously violated by her father, and had subsequently murdered him. 

Death of son : birth of son
In June 1819 (27) his son William died after a short illness, and, after moving to Florence (m
), Mary bore another child in November, who they called Percy Florence.

San Guiliano near Pisa
They moved to the Baths of San Guiliano (m), where Shelley wrote The Witch of Atlas (p1824, d2).

Pisa : fourth emotional attachment
In Pisa in 1820 (28), he was introduced to Emilia Viviani, the daughter of the governor of Pisa (
m), who had been consigned to a convent by her father while he tried to find a suitable husband for her. He became emotionally involved with her, entering into correspondence and writing Epipsychidion (1821, 29), a long lyric poem which gave a poetic overview of his search for ideal love with the various women of his acquaintance.

In Defence of Poetry
In 1821 (29), as a response to an article by Peacock in the Literary Miscellany, he wrote In Defence of Poetry (p1840, d18), in which he argued that poetry is distinguished from prose by virtue of its quality of prophetic imagination. 

Keats dies and is celebrated by Shelley in Adonais
Hearing of the arrival of John Keats in Italy, he wrote inviting him to Pisa, but his letter arrived too late. Keats was already dead. Shelley composed his elegy to Keats, Adonais (1821, 29), then finished the long poem Hellas (1822, 30), in honour of the Greek rising against the Turks, and featuring the wandering Jew who had first appeared in St Irvyne.

Shelley's circle
The Shelleys had by this time brought together a small circle of friends : Thomas Medwin, Edward and Jane Williams, and Trelawny the sailor, and Shelley found Byron accommodation close by at the Villa Lanfranchi when Byron found it necessary to leave papal territory with his mistress, the Countess Guiccioli, together with her brother and father. He seems to have quickly regretted having Byron as a close neighbour. Differences over the treatment of Allegra and Claire Clairmont, for whom Shelley maintained a warm and sympathetic affection, and Shelley’s revulsion for Byron’s immorality, became obvious. 

Allegra dies
In April 1822 (30) Allegra (Byron's daughter by Claire Clairmont) died of typhus. 

Godwin importunes
Godwin continued to bombard Mary with letters about his financial plight, at the same time pressing her to persuade Shelley, who he roundly abused, to send money. She had a miscarriage. 

Shipwreck
Shelley began, but never finished, his last major poem, The Triumph of Life, in 1822 (30). Leigh Hunt arrived in Genoa (
m), on an invitation from Byron to take part in publishing a periodical with himself and Shelley as contributors, and proceeded to Leghorn (Livorno) (m). Shelley went to meet him, and then began the journey back to Lerici (m) with Williams in his boat, but a storm arose and it was sunk. 

Cremation on the beach
His body was found some weeks later, a copy of Keats poetry in one pocket and a volume of Sophocles in the other. He was temporarily buried in the sand, before being cremated on the sea shore by his friends. 

Posthumous publication suppressed
Mary Shelley returned to England, and arranged the publication of Posthumous Poems in 1824 (d2), but the book was suppressed at the insistence of Shelley’s father. 

Burial
His ashes were buried in the English cemetery near Rome, which he had himself visited and described as follows : ‘The English burying place is a green slope near the walls, under the pyramidal tomb of Cestius, and is I think the most beautiful and solemn cemetery I ever beheld. To see the sun shining on its bright grass, fresh when we visited it with the autumnal dews and hear the whispering of the wind among the leaves of the trees which have overgrown the tomb of Cestius.....and to mark the tombs mostly of women and young people who were buried there, one might, if one were to die, desire the sleep they seem to sleep.’

 

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