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Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

Credit: National Portrait Gallery, London.

Chronology of Shelley's life on the 'Romantic Circles' website.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) was born in Field Place, the family home in Sussex, and educated at Eton College. He entered University College Oxford in 1810, and was expelled in 1811 after publishing a pamphlet entitled The Necessity of Atheism. He then eloped with 16-year-old Harriet Westbrook and for the next three years engaged in radical politics and lived in various parts of Britain. In 1813 he privately distributed his first major poem, Queen Mab. In 1814 he met and eloped with the 16-year-old Mary Godwin, daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. They married soon after Harriet’s suicide in 1816.

In 1816 Shelley and Mary spent time with Lord Byron in Geneva and visited the Alps, a visit which inspired Shelley’s poem Mont Blanc. In 1818 Shelley published his longest poem, The Revolt of Islam. Later that year he and Mary left England for good and moved to Italy, living in various cities and towns including Rome, Florence and Pisa, and spending more time with Byron. In Italy Shelley wrote a series of masterpieces including Prometheus Unbound, Julian and Maddalo, Epipsychidion and Adonais; shorter poems such as To a Skylark and Ode to the West Wind; and his greatest prose work, A Defence of Poetry. He drowned off the Italian coast on 8 August 1822. His body was cremated and his ashes buried in the Protestant Cemetery, Rome.

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