Shelley and Oxford
Shelley's connections with the University of Oxford
‘For Shelley’s storm-driven spirit where so fitting a spot to rest as amid the benign peace of Oxford?’
The Speaker, 1893
Percy Bysshe Shelley entered the University of Oxford in 1810. His undergraduate career lasted less than two terms: in March 1811 he and a friend, T .J. Hogg, were expelled from University College following the publication of their pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism. Shortly afterwards Shelley wrote to his father, ‘I hope it will alleviate your sorrow to know that for myself I am perfectly indifferent to the late tyrannical proceedings at Oxford.’
Shelley’s last recorded visit to Oxford was in 1815, on a boating excursion up the Thames, but he would return posthumously. In 1892, the centenary of his birth, his daughter-in-law, Lady Shelley, looked for a suitable home for a statue of the poet she had commissioned. Her first hope was that it should stand over Shelley’s grave in Rome. When that proved impossible, she asked the Master of Balliol College, Benjamin Jowett, whether Oxford University would be interested. ‘We, of our time, would gladly be reconciled with the injured shadow,’ replied Jowett (who also advised Lady Shelley that the great family archive should be given to the Bodleian). The statue was accepted by University College and housed in a specially built domed memorial. At the formal opening in 1893 the Master of the College declared that ‘the rebel of eighty years ago’ was ‘the hero of the present century’.