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Known for his lyrical and long-form verse, Percy Bysshe Shelley is one of the most highly regarded English Romantic poets of the 19th century. His works include The Masque of Anarchy and Queen Mab.
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Amidst their celebration, however, loss pursued Shelley. Following Harriet’s death, the courts ruled not to give Shelley custody of their children, asserting that they would be better off with foster parents.
With these matters settled, Shelley and Mary moved to Marlow, a small village in Buckinghamshire. There, Shelley befriended John Keats and Leigh Hunt,
both talented poets and writers. Shelley’s conversations with them encouraged his own literary pursuits. Around 1817, he wrote Laon and Cythna; or, The Revolution of the Golden city. His publishers balked at the main storyline, however, which centers on incestuous lovers. He was asked to edit it and to find a new title for the work. In 1818, he reissued it as The Revolt of Islam. Though the title suggests the subject of Islam, the poem’s focus is religion in general and features socialist, political themes.
Shortly after the publication of The Revolt of Islam, Shelley, Mary and Claire left for Italy. Lord Bryon was living in Venice, and Claire was on a mission to bring their daughter, Allegra, to visit with him. For the next several years, Shelley and Mary moved from city to city. While in Rome, their first-born son William died of a fever. A year later, their baby daughter, Clara Everina, died as well. Around this time, Shelley wrote Prometheus Unbound. During their residency in Livorno, in 1819, he wrote The Cenci and The Masque of Anarchy and Men of England, a response to the Peterloo Massacre in England.
On July 8, 1822, just shy of turning 30, Shelley drowned while sailing his schooner back from Livorno to Lerici, after having met with Leigh Hunt to discuss their newly printed journal, The Liberal. Despite conflicting evidence, most papers reported Shelley’s death as an accident. However, based on the scene that was discovered on the boat’s deck, others speculated that he might have been murdered by an enemy who detested his political beliefs.
Shelley’s bodied was cremated on the beach in Viareggio, where his bodied had washed ashore. Mary Shelley, as was the custom for women during the time, did not attend her husband’s funeral. Percy Bysshe Shelley’s ashes were interred in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome. More than a century later, he was memorialized in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey.
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