Sailing was Shelley’s favourite pursuit in the last year of his life, first on the rivers Serchio and Arno, and latterly off the coast. Rough sketches of sailing vessels are dotted about his notebooks, and many of his poems contain evocative images of boats, rivers and the sea. ‘Rivers are not like roads’, he wrote to Peacock in July 1816, ‘the work of the hands of man; they imitate mind, which wanders at will over pathless deserts, and flows through nature's loveliest recesses, which are inaccessible to anything besides.'
These unusually finished drawings of boats appear among drafts of Shelley's translation of Goethe's Faust and his poem 'With a Guitar. To Jane' . They may depict his usual companion on his boating excursions, Edward Williams, who appears as 'Lionel' in his poem 'The Boat on the Serchio'.
Percy Bysshe Shelley; (1822) Mary Shelley; (bequest, 1851) Sir Percy and Lady Shelley; (bequest, 1889) Lady Shelley; (bequest, 1899) John C.E. Shelley (later Sir John Shelley-Rolls); (gift, 1946) Bodleian.