Shelley's letter to his father on his expulsion from Oxford
Percy Bysshe Shelley
In this section:
- Shelley and Oxford
- Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin
- The Young Shelley
- Miniatures of Shelley’s family
- Shelley’s baby-rattle
- Portrait of Shelley as a boy
- Shelley's earliest surviving poem
- Shelley's early gothic novel
- Letter from Shelley to Ralph Wedgwood, inventor
- Anonymous letter from Shelley to Godwin
- Shelley, A Poetical Essay
- Shelley, The Necessity of Atheism
- Shelley's letter to his father on his expulsion from Oxford
- Shelley and Mary
- Shelley's Notebooks
- Shelley’s Last Days
- Mary Shelley in England
- William Godwin & Mary Shelley
- Mary Shelley, Editor
- The Poet's Son & Daughter-in-Law
- The Shelley Sanctum
Credit: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford
London, 29 March 1811
Four days after his expulsion, Shelley wrote this letter to his father from London. He assumes that Timothy Shelley has already heard of his ‘misfortune’, and is unrepentant. Instead he expresses his dismay that the authorities did not respond to his pamphlet with reasonable arguments, and declares his indifference to the ‘tyrannical violent proceedings’ of the college.
Shelley enclosed a copy of The Necessity of Atheism with the letter, on which Timothy Shelley wrote a single word, ‘impious’. Determined that his son abandon his ‘unjustifiable and wicked opinions’ he issued two demands: firstly, that Shelley return to the family home, Field Place, and break off communication with Hogg ‘for some considerable time’; secondly, that he place himself ‘under the care and society of such gentleman as I shall appoint, and attend to his instructions and directions he shall give’. Shelley rejected both demands out of hand, and relations between father and son rapidly worsened.
Shelley’s complaints of college tyranny are contradicted somewhat by Hogg’s remark to his father that the ‘conduct of the fellows has been friendly’, and an offer from George Rowley, Hogg’s tutor, ‘to give an unqualified testimony of approbation to my Pupil should he request it’.
March 29. 1811. Graham’s*, London –
My dear father
You have doubtless heard of my misfortune and that of my friend Mr. Hogg; it gives me great regret to be deprived of the advantages which
which Oxford held out to me, but still more when I consider the vivid sympathy which you always have evinced for my errors & distresses, & which I now fear must be greatly excited. –The case was this – You well know that a train of reasoning, & not any great profligacy has induced me to disbelieve the scriptures – this train myself & my friend pursued. We found to our surprise that (strange as it may appear) the proofs of an existing Deity were as far as we had observed, defective. We therefore embodied our doubts on the subject, & arranged them methodically in the form of ‘The Necessity of Atheism,’ thinking thereby to obtain a satisfactory, or an unsatisfactory answer from men who had made Divinity the study of their lives. – How then were we treated? not as our fair, open, candid conduct might demand, no argument was publickly brought forward to disprove our reasoning, & it at once demonstrated the weakness of their cause, & their inveteracy on discovering it, when they publickly expelled myself & my friend. – It may be here necessary to mention that at first I only was suspected. I was summoned before a common Hall, & refusing to disavow the publication was expelled. My friend Mr. Hogg insisted on sharing the same fate as myself; the result of their proceedings therefore is, that we are both expelled. I know too well that your feeling mind will sympathise too deeply in my misfortunes. I hope it will alleviate your sorrow to know that for myself I am perfectly indifferent to the late tyrannical violent proceedings of Oxford. Will you present my affectionate duty to my mother, my love to Elizabeth. I will not write today but shd. be happy to hear from them. May I turn your attention to the advertisement, which surely deserved an answer not expulsion.
Believe me, my dear Father
ever most affectionately dutifully yours
Percy B. Shelley.
Timothy Shelley; [in the keeping of his solicitor, William Whitton, and subsequently of Messrs. Withall & Withall, solicitors]; Sir John Shelley-Rolls; (gift, 1946) Bodleian.
Shelley Letters, i, no. 50; B.C. Barker-Benfield, ‘Hogg-Shelley Papers of 1810-12’, Bodleian Library Record, xiv (October 1991), pp. 14-29; Shelley’s Guitar nos. 24 (p. 29) and 27 (p. 32);