Shelley, Percy Bysshe (17921821)

Shelley, Percy Bysshe, born at Field Place, near Horsham, Sussex, eldest son of Sir Timothy Shelley, a wealthy landed proprietor; was educated at Eton, and in 1810 went to Oxford, where his impatience of control and violent heterodoxy of opinion, characteristic of him throughout, burst forth in a pamphlet “The Necessity of Atheism,” which led to his expulsion in 1811, along with Jefferson Hogg, his subsequent biographer; henceforth led a restless, wandering life; married at 19 Harriet Westbrook, a pretty girl of 16, a school companion of his sister, from whom he was separated within three years; under the influence of William Godwin (q.v.) his revolutionary ideas of politics and society developed apace; engaged in quixotic political enterprises in Dublin, Lynmouth, and elsewhere, and above all put to practical test Godwin's heterodox view on marriage by eloping (1814) to the Continent with his daughter Mary, whom he married two years later after the unhappy suicide of Harriet; in 1816, embittered by lord Eldon's decision that he was unfit to be trusted with the care of Harriet's children, and with consumption threatening, he left England never to return; spent the few remaining years of his life in Italy, chiefly at Lucca, Florence, and Pisa, in friendly relations with Byron, Leigh Hunt, Trelawney, &c.; during this time were written his greatest works, “Prometheus Unbound,” “The Cenci,” his noble lament on Keats, “Adonais,” besides other longer works, and most of his finest lyrics, “Ode to the South Wind,” “The Skylark,” &c.; was drowned while returning in an open sailing-boat from Leghorn to his home on Spezia Bay; “An enthusiast for humanity generally,” says Professor Saintsbury, “and towards individuals a man of infinite generosity and kindliness, he yet did some of the cruellest and some of not the least disgraceful things from mere childish want of realising the pacta conventa of the world;” Shelley is pre-eminently the poet of lyric emotion, the subtle and most musical interpreter of vague spiritual longing and intellectual desire; his poems form together “the most sensitive,” says Stopford Brooke, “the most imaginative, and the most musical, but the least tangible lyrical poetry we possess” (17921821).

Definition taken from The Nuttall Encyclopædia, edited by the Reverend James Wood (1907)

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