Born in Florence on 12 November 1819, Percy Florence Shelley was the only one of Shelley’s and Mary’s children to survive into adulthood. He was not quite four years old when he travelled to England with Mary in August 1823. Unlike his father, caused no trouble during his years at school (Harrow) and university (Cambridge). He inherited the family baronetcy on Sir Timothy Shelley’s death in 1844, and four years later married Jane St John, née Gibson, a 28-year-old widow. Around the time of Mary Shelley’s death in 1851 Sir Percy moved with Lady Shelley to Boscombe Manor near Bournemouth, where he lived until his death in 1889.
This is one of 332 caricatures of well-known Victorians drawn for Vanity Fair by Carlo Pellegrini (‘Ape’) between 1869 and 1889. Despite his celebrity in London society as ‘The Poet’s Son’, Sir Percy was untroubled by his distinguished literary heritage and had no ambitions as a poet, novelist or philosopher. Instead he led the life of an amiable, mildly eccentric country squire, supporting local societies and worthy causes, and indulging his numerous hobbies: sailing, keeping dogs, photography, bicycling and tricycling, and amateur dramatics. Some of Sir Percy’s literary friends, however, fancied a resemblance to his famous father. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote rather rhapsodically: ‘No one could think of him as old, he had the morning dew upon his spirit: a boy and a poet – so a poet’s son – until the last.’
R. Glynn Grylls, Mary Shelley (London: 1941), p. 262.