Portrait of English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

(1792 - 1822)

Expelled from Oxford University in 1811, Percy Bysshe Shelley published his first major work, Queen Mab, two years later; he abandoned his wife and child in 1814, eloping with Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. During a summer in Geneva with Lord Byron and his wife in 1816, he composed “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” and “Mont Blanc,” while she began Frankenstein. Shelley drowned at the age of twenty-nine in 1822, a volume of John Keats’ poems in his pocket. His “Defense of Poetry”—where he famously declared, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”—was not published until 1840.

All Writing

That sweet bondage which is freedom’s self.

—Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1813


After his first wife’s suicide, Percy Bysshe Shelley applied for custody of their children. Lord Eldon denied his petition, citing the poet’s conduct and principles, which, wrote the lord, “the law calls upon me to consider as immoral and vicious” as well as “inconsistent with the duties of persons in such relations of life.”


“Just opposite, an island of the sea, / There came enchantment with the shifting wind, / That did both drown and keep alive my ears,” wrote John Keats in Hyperion. It was published in a collection of poems in 1820; Keats died the following year. In 1822 Percy Bysshe Shelley, returning from a visit to Lord Byron, drowned after his schooner, the Don Juan, capsized. His body washed up on the Tuscan shore a few days later. In his pocket was a copy of Keats’ poems.

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