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Biography of Percy Bysshe Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley: Early Life

Percy Bysshe Shelley (P B Shelley) was born at field place in the country of Sussex on 4th August 1792. His father Timothy Shelley was the eldest grandson of Sir Bysshe, was heir to the title and vast wealth of the family. He was educated at Eton and Oxford. His experience of the public school embittered his boyhood. Floggings and corporal punishments of various descriptions prevailed in the educational institutions for boys. These were followed by pain and humiliation due to the flagging system prevailing at Eton. Shelley revolted against all this.

P B Shelley Life & Works: 1810-1822

This spirit of revolt was awakened into a more vigorous activity at Oxford where he published a pamphlet under the title, “On the Necessity of Atheism”. As a result of this he was expelled from the university in 1811. He refused to mend his conduct even at the threat of his father and grandfather. To save his younger brothers and sisters from being spoilt by this dangerous rebel, his father wanted to keep him apart. At that time he formed an intimacy with a school girl named Harriet Westbrook, the daughter of a coffee-house keeper who persecuted his own daughter. Shelley took her away to Edinburgh and married her to save her from the persecution. As a result he was disinherited by his grandfather and he took to a wandering life. In 1814 he came under the personal influence of William Godwin, a philosopher. Soon he fell in love with his daughter Mary, and leaving Harriet alone he left for Switzerland with Mary. Harriet being desperate committed suicide in 1816 by drowning herself in the serpentine. The same year in December Shelley married Mary. During his stay in Switzerland his friendship with Byron began.

Percy Bysshe Shelley Poems

It is indeed astounding to note the germs of poetry he produced during his very short literary career. Of the notable poems we can mention Alstor, or The spirit of Solitude (1816), The revolt of Islam (1818), Prometheus Unbound (1820), The Cenci (1819), The witch of Atlas (1820), Epipsychidion (1821), Adonais (1821) and a large number of short lyrical poems. The Defence of Poetry is his most notable critical prose work.

Travel and Death: P B Shelley

He spent the winter of 1816-17 in England and in 1818 he left England for Italy. He visited Rome in 1819 after a stay at Venice. At the end of 1819 he moved to Pisa where he produced some of his best lyrics including The Cloud, Ode to the West Wind and To a Skylark. From there he removed to Lerici. On 8th July 1822 while returning to Lerici in his yacht from a visit to Byron at Leghorn, he was drowned in the gulf of Spezzia. His body was washed ashore a few days later. Although his head was eaten away by fishes, his wife and friends had no difficulty of identification when they looked at the tall and thin figure of the man and two books, in his two pockets-Keat’s Hyperion and Eschylus prometheus Bound. His body was burnt on the beach where it was found and his ashes were laid beside those of Keats in the Roman cemetery.

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