Percy Bysshe Shelley Biography

Essay by Umpalumpa March 2004

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Percy Bysshe Shelley was born August 4, 1792 at Field Place near Sussex, England. He was the oldest son of Timothy and Elizabeth Shelley. He had one brother and four sisters. His father was a squire and a representative in Parliament.

He went to school at the Syon House Academy and at Eton. His teachers said he was an exceptional student. His biggest passions were the spirit of revolution and the power of free thought. His sensitive nature, refusal to conform to tradition, and his hobby of performing scientific experiments earned him the nickname Mad Shelley. During his years as a student he had a wide range of interests. He experimented in physical science, studied medicine and philosophy, and wrote novels and poetry. By the time he entered Oxford in 1810 he had already published a novel named Zastrozzi. He attended Oxford until he and his roommate were expelled for writing a pamphlet named The Necessity of Atheism.

His father visited him in London after he was expelled and insisted that he renounce his beliefs, which included atheism, vegetarianism, free love, and political radicalism. Shelley refused. He met and married Harriet Westbrook, the daughter of a tavern owner. His father didn't approve of their marriage so he took Percy out of his will. Percy and his new wife traveled around England and Ireland the next two years distributing pamphlets and giving speeches against political injustice.

Percy had been writing poems since childhood but in 1813 he wrote his first important poem. It was called Queen Mab. In June of that same year Harriet gave birth to their daughter Ianthe. Percy and Harriet's marriage began to deteriorate.

In 1814 Percy visited his role model William Godwin and fell in love with Godwin's 16-year-old daughter Mary. She traveled around with Percy for...