"O, wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?" -- Percy Bysshe Shelley
Percy Bysshe Shelley (4 August 1792 — 8 July 1822; ) was one of the major English Romantic poets and is critically regarded among the finest lyric poets in the English language. Shelley was famous for his association with John Keats and Lord Byron. The novelist Mary Shelley was his second wife.
He is most famous for such classic anthology verse works as Ozymandias, Ode to the West Wind, To a Skylark, and The Masque of Anarchy, which are among the most popular and critically acclaimed poems in the English language. His major works, however, are long visionary poems which included Alastor, Adonaïs, The Revolt of Islam, and the unfinished work The Triumph of Life. The Cenci (1819) and Prometheus Unbound (1820) were dramatic plays in five and four acts respectively. He wrote the Gothic novels Zastrozzi (1810) and St. Irvyne (1811) and the short works The Assassins (1814), The Coliseum (1817) and The Mass (1817).
Shelley's unconventional life and uncompromising idealism, combined with his strong disapproving voice, made him an authoritative and much-denigrated figure during his life and afterward. Shelley never lived to see the extent of his success and influence. Some of his works were published, but they were often suppressed upon publication. Up until his death, with approximately 50 readers as his audience, it is said he made no more than 40 pounds from his writings.
He became an idol of the next three or even four generations of poets, including the important Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite poets. He was admired by Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde,Thomas Hardy,George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, Upton Sinclair, Isadora Duncan, and Jiddu Krishnamurti ("Shelley is as sacred as the Bible.") Henry David Thoreau's civil disobedience and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi's passive resistance were influenced and inspired by Shelley's nonviolence in protest and political action.
"A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own.""A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds.""All of us who are worth anything, spend our manhood in unlearning the follies, or expiating the mistakes of our youth.""Change is certain. Peace is followed by disturbances; departure of evil men by their return. Such recurrences should not constitute occasions for sadness but realities for awareness, so that one may be happy in the interim.""Concerning God, freewill and destiny: Of all that earth has been or yet may be, all that vain men imagine or believe, or hope can paint or suffering may achieve, we descanted.""Death is the veil which those who live call life; They sleep, and it is lifted.""Familiar acts are beautiful through love.""Fear not for the future, weep not for the past.""First our pleasures die - and then our hopes, and then our fears - and when these are dead, the debt is due dust claims dust - and we die too.""Government is an evil; it is only the thoughtlessness and vices of men that make it a necessary evil. When all men are good and wise, government will of itself decay.""History is a cyclic poem written by time upon the memories of man.""I have drunken deep of joy, And I will taste no other wine tonight.""I think that the leaf of a tree, the meanest insect on which we trample, are in themselves arguments more conclusive than any which can be adduced that some vast intellect animates Infinity.""If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?""In a drama of the highest order there is little food for censure or hatred; it teaches rather self-knowledge and self-respect.""Is it not odd that the only generous person I ever knew, who had money to be generous with, should be a stockbroker.""Love is free; to promise for ever to love the same woman is not less absurd than to promise to believe the same creed; such a vow in both cases excludes us from all inquiry.""Man has no right to kill his brother. It is no excuse that he does so in uniform: he only adds the infamy of servitude to the crime of murder.""Man's yesterday may never be like his morrow; Nought may endure but Mutability.""Music, when soft voices die Vibrates in the memory.""Nothing wilts faster than laurels that have been rested upon.""Obscenity, which is ever blasphemy against the divine beauty in life, is a monster for which the corruption of society forever brings forth new food, which it devours in secret.""Only nature knows how to justly proportion to the fault the punishment it deserves.""Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.""Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.""Poetry is a sword of lightning, ever unsheathed, which consumes the scabbard that would contain it.""Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.""Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.""Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.""Reason respects the differences, and imagination the similitudes of things.""Revenge is the naked idol of the worship of a semi-barbarous age.""Soul meets soul on lovers' lips.""The great instrument of moral good is the imagination.""The man of virtuous soul commands not, nor obeys.""The more we study the more we discover our ignorance.""The pleasure that is in sorrow is sweeter than the pleasure of pleasure itself.""The soul's joy lies in doing.""There is a harmony in autumn, and a luster in its sky, which through the summer is not heard or seen, as if it could not be, as if it had not been!""There is no real wealth but the labor of man.""Tragedy delights by affording a shadow of the pleasure which exists in pain.""Twin-sister of Religion, Selfishness.""War is the statesman's game, the priest's delight, the lawyer's jest, the hired assassin's trade.""We look before and after, And pine for what is not; Our sincerest laughter With some pain is fraught; Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.""When a thing is said to be not worth refuting you may be sure that either it is flagrantly stupid - in which case all comment is superfluous - or it is something formidable, the very crux of the problem.""When my cats aren't happy, I'm not happy. Not because I care about their mood but because I know they're just sitting there thinking up ways to get even."
A son of Sir Timothy Shelley, a Whig Member of Parliament, and his wife, a Sussex landowner, Shelley was born at Field Place, Broadbridge Heath, near Horsham, West Sussex, England. He was the eldest of seven children; he had 5 sisters and one brother. He received his early education at home, tutored by Reverend Evan Edwards of nearby Warnham. His cousin and lifelong friend Thomas Medwin, who lived nearby, recounted his early childhood in his "The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley". It was a happy and contented childhood spent largely on country pursuits such as fishing and hunting.
In 1802, he entered the Syon House Academy of Brentford, Middlesex. In 1804, Shelley entered Eton College, where he fared poorly, subjected to an almost daily mob torment his classmates called "Shelley-baits". Surrounded, the young Shelley would have his books torn from his hands and his clothes pulled at and torn until he cried out madly in his high-pitched "cracked soprano" of a voice.
On 10 April 1810, he matriculated at University College, Oxford. Legend has it that Shelley attended only one lecture while at Oxford, but frequently read sixteen hours a day. His first publication was a Gothic novel, Zastrozzi (1810), in which he vented his atheistic worldview through the villain Zastrozzi. In the same year, Shelley, together with his sister Elizabeth, published Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire. While at Oxford, he issued a collection of verses (perhaps ostensibly burlesque but quite subversive), Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson, with Thomas Jefferson Hogg.
In 1811, Shelley published his second Gothic novel, St. Irvyne; or, The Rosicrucian, and a pamphlet called The Necessity of Atheism. This gained the attention of the university administration and he was called to appear before the College's fellows, including the Dean, George Rowley. His refusal to repudiate the authorship of the pamphlet resulted in his being expelled from Oxford on 25 March 1811, along with Hogg. The rediscovery in mid-2006 of Shelley's long-lost 'Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things', a long, strident anti-monarchical and anti-war poem printed in 1811 in London by Crosby and Company as "by a gentleman of the University of Oxford", gives a new dimension to the expulsion, reinforcing Hogg's implication of political motives ('an affair of party'). Shelley was given the choice to be reinstated after his father intervened, on the condition that he would have had to recant his avowed views. His refusal to do so led to a falling-out with his father.
Four months after being expelled, the 19-year-old Shelley eloped to Scotland with the 16-year-old schoolgirl Harriet Westbrook to get married. After their marriage on 28 August 1811, Shelley invited his college friend Hogg to share their household. When Harriet objected, however, Shelley brought her to Keswick in England's Lake District, intending to write. Distracted by political events, he visited Ireland shortly afterward in order to engage in radical pamphleteering. Here he wrote his Address to the Irish People and was seen at several nationalist rallies. His activities earned him the unfavourable attention of the British government.
Unhappy in his nearly three-year-old marriage, Shelley often left his wife and child (Ianthe Shelley, 1813—76) alone, first to study Italian with a certain Cornelia Turner, and eventually to visit William Godwin's home and bookshop in London. There he met and fell in love with Godwin's eldest daughter, named after her mother Mary Wollstonecraft, the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
On 28 July 1814, Shelley abandoned his pregnant wife and child when he ran away with Mary, then 16, inviting her stepsister Claire Clairmont along for company. The three sailed to Europe, crossed France, and settled in Switzerland, an account of which was subsequently published by the Shelleys. After six weeks, homesick and destitute, the three young people returned to England. In late 1815, while living close to London with Mary and avoiding creditors, he wrote Alastor, or The Spirit of Solitude. It attracted little attention at the time, but has now come to be recognized as his first major achievement. At this point in his writing career, Shelley was deeply influenced by the poetry of Wordsworth.
In mid-1816, Shelley & Mary made a second trip to Switzerland. They were prompted to do so by Mary's stepsister Claire Clairmont, who had commenced a liaison with Lord Byron the previous April just before his self-exile on the continent. Byron had lost interest in her and so she used the opportunity of meeting the Shelleys to act as bait to lure him to Geneva. The Shelleys and Byron rented neighbouring houses on the shores of Lake Geneva. Regular conversation with Byron had an invigorating effect on Shelley's output of poetry. While on a boating tour the two took together, Shelley was inspired to write his Hymn to Intellectual Beauty, often considered his first significant production since Alastor. A tour of Chamonix in the French Alps inspired Mont Blanc, a poem in which Shelley claims to have pondered questions of historical inevitability and the relationship between the human mind and external nature.
After the Shelleys returned to England, Fanny Imlay, Mary's half-sister and Claire's stepsister, travelled from Godwin's household in London to kill herself in Wales in early October. In December 1816, Shelley's estranged wife Harriet drowned herself in the Serpentine in Hyde Park, London. On 30 December 1816, a few weeks after Harriet's body was recovered, Shelley and Mary Godwin were married. The marriage was intended, in part, to help secure Shelley's custody of his children by Harriet, but the plan failed: the courts gave custody of the children to foster parents because he was an atheist.
The Shelleys took up residence in the village of Marlow, Buckinghamshire, where a friend of Percy's, Thomas Love Peacock, lived. Shelley took part in the literary circle that surrounded Leigh Hunt, and during this period he met John Keats. Shelley's major production during this time was Laon and Cythna; or, The Revolution of the Golden City, a long narrative poem in which he attacked religion and featured a pair of incestuous lovers. It was hastily withdrawn after only a few copies were published. It was later edited and reissued as The Revolt of Islam in 1818. Shelley wrote two revolutionary political tracts under the nom de plume, "The Hermit of Marlow."
Early in 1818, the Shelleys and Claire left England in order to take Claire's daughter, Allegra, to her father Byron, who had taken up residence in Venice. Contact with the older and more established poet encouraged Shelley to write once again. During the latter part of the year, he wrote Julian and Maddalo, a lightly disguised rendering of his boat trips and conversations with Byron in Venice, finishing with a visit to a madhouse. This poem marked the appearance of Shelley's "urbane style". He then began the long verse drama Prometheus Unbound, a re-writing of the lost play by the ancient Greek poet Aeschylus, which features talking mountains and a petulant spirit who overthrows Jupiter. Tragedy struck in 1818 and 1819, when his son Will died of fever in Rome, and his infant daughter Clara Everina died during yet another household move.
A daughter, Elena Adelaide Shelley, was born on 27 December 1818 in Naples, Italy and registered there as the daughter of Shelley and a woman named Marina Padurin. However, the identity of the mother is an unsolved mystery. Some scholars speculate that her true mother was actually Claire Clairmont or Elise Foggi, a nursemaid for the Shelley family. Other scholars postulate that she was a foundling Shelley adopted in hopes of distracting Mary after the deaths of William and Clara. Shelley referred to Elena in letters as his "Neapolitan ward". However, Elena was placed with foster parents a few days after her birth and the Shelley family moved on to yet another Italian city, leaving her behind. Elena died 17 months later, on 10 June 1820.
The Shelleys moved around various Italian cities during these years; in later 1818 they were living in a pensione on the Via Valfonde. Here they received two visitors, a Miss Sophia Stacey and her much older travelling companion, Miss Corbet Parry-Jones (to be described by Mary as 'an ignorant little Welshwoman'). Sophia had for three years in her youth been ward of the poet's aunt and uncle. The pair moved into the same pensione and stayed for about two months. During this period Mary gave birth to another son; Sophia is credited with suggesting that he be named after the city of his birth, so he became Percy Florence Shelley, later Sir Percy. Shelley also wrote his 'Ode to Sophia Stacey' during this time.
Shelley completed Prometheus Unbound in Rome, and he spent mid-1819 writing a tragedy, The Cenci, in Leghorn. In this year, prompted among other causes by the Peterloo massacre, he wrote his best-known political poems: The Masque of Anarchy and Men of England. These were most likely his most-remembered works during the 19th century. Around this time period, he wrote the essay The Philosophical View of Reform, which was his most thorough exposition of his political views to that date.
In 1820, hearing of John Keats' illness from a friend, Shelley wrote him a letter inviting him to join him at his residence at Pisa. Keats replied with hopes of seeing him, but instead, arrangements were made for Keats to travel to Rome with the artist Joseph Severn. Inspired by the death of Keats, in 1821 Shelley wrote the elegy Adonais.
In 1821, Shelley met Edward Ellerker Williams, a British naval officer, and his wife Jane. Shelley developed a very strong affection towards Jane and addressed a number of poems to her. This affection was pure and platonic, almost bordering on devotion. In the poems addressed to Jane, such as With a Guitar, To Jane and One Word is Too Often Profaned, he elevates her to an exalted position worthy of worship.
In 1822, Shelley arranged for Leigh Hunt, the British poet and editor who had been one of his chief supporters in England, to come to Italy with his family. He meant for the three of them ... himself, Byron and Hunt ... to create a journal, which would be called The Liberal. With Hunt as editor, their controversial writings would be disseminated, and the journal would act as a counter-blast to conservative periodicals such as Blackwood's Magazine and The Quarterly Review.
Leigh Hunt's son, the editor Thornton Leigh Hunt, when later asked whether he preferred Shelley or Byron as a man, replied:-
"On one occasion I had to fetch or take to Byron some copy for the paper which my father, himself and Shelley, jointly conducted. I found him seated on a lounge feasting himself from a drum of figs. He asked me if I would like a fig. Now, in that, Leno, consists the difference, Shelley would have handed me the drum and allowed me to help myself."
On 8 July 1822, less than a month before his 30th birthday, Shelley drowned in a sudden storm while sailing back from Livorno to Lerici in his schooner, Don Juan. Shelley claimed to have met his Doppelgänger, foreboding his own death. He was returning from having set up The Liberal with the newly arrived Leigh Hunt. The name "Don Juan", a compliment to Byron, was chosen by Edward John Trelawny, a member of the Shelley-Byron Pisan circle. However, according to Mary Shelley's testimony, Shelley changed it to "Ariel". This annoyed Byron, who forced the painting of the words "Don Juan" on the mainsail. This offended the Shelleys, who felt that the boat was made to look much like a coal barge. The vessel, an open boat, was custom-built in Genoa for Shelley. It did not capsize but sank; Mary Shelley declared in her "Note on Poems of 1822" (1839) that the design had a defect and that the boat was never seaworthy. In fact the boat was seaworthy; the sinking was due to the storm and poor seamanship of the three on board.
There were those who believed his death was not accidental. Some said that Shelley was depressed in those days and that he wanted to die; others say that he did not know how to navigate; others believed that some pirates mistook the boat for Byron's and attacked him, and others have even more fantastical stories. There is a mass of evidence, though scattered and contradictory, that Shelley may have been murdered for political reasons. Previously, at Plas Tan-Yr-Allt, the Regency house he rented at Tremadog, near Porthmadog, north-west Wales, from 1812 to 1813, he had, allegedly, been surprised and apparently attacked during the night by a man who may have been, according to some later writers, an intelligence agent. Shelley, who was in financial difficulties, left forthwith leaving rent unpaid and without contributing to the fund to support the house owner, William Madocks; this may provide another, more plausible explanation for this story.In the days before he died, he was almost shot on two separate occasions. A British consul defended the shooter from the first of these two incidents, keeping him from all legal consequence.
Two other Englishmen were with Shelley on the boat. One was a retired Navy officer, Edward Ellerker Williams; the other was a boatboy, Charles Vivien. The boat was found ten miles (16 km) offshore, and it was suggested that one side of the boat had been rammed and staved in by a much stronger vessel. However, the liferaft was unused and still attached to the boat. The bodies were found completely clothed, including boots.
In his 'Recollections of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron', Trelawny noted that the shirt that Williams's body was clad in was 'partly drawn over the head, as if the wearer had been in the act of taking it off [...] and [he was missing] one boot, indicating also that he had attempted to strip.' Trelawny also relates a supposed deathbed confession by an Italian fisherman who claimed to have rammed Shelley's boat in order to rob him, a plan confounded by the rapid sinking of the vessel.Shelley's body washed ashore and later, in keeping with quarantine regulations, was cremated on the beach near Viareggio. The day after the news of his death reached England the Tory newspaper The Courier gloated: "Shelley, the writer of some infidel poetry, has been drowned, now he knows whether there is a God or not." A reclining statue of Shelley's body, depicting him washed up onto the shore, created by sculptor Edward Onslow Ford at the behest of Shelley's daughter-in-law, Jane, Lady Shelley, is the centerpiece of the Shelley Memorial at University College, Oxford. An 1889 painting by Louis Edouard Fournier, The Funeral of Shelley (also known as The Cremation of Shelley), contains inaccuracies. In pre-Victorian times it was English custom that women would not attend funerals for health reasons. Mary Shelley did not attend but was featured in the painting, kneeling at the left-hand side. Leigh Hunt stayed in the carriage during the ceremony but is also pictured. Also, Trelawney, in his account of the recovery of Shelley's body, records that "the face and hands, and parts of the body not protected by the dress, were fleshless," and by the time that the party returned to the beach for the cremation, the body was even further decomposed. In his graphic account of the cremation, he writes of Byron being unable to face the scene, and withdrawing to the beach.
Shelley's heart was snatched from the funeral pyre by Edward Trelawny; Mary Shelley kept it for the rest of her life, and it was later buried with the body of Sir Percy Florence Shelley, their son.Shelley's ashes were interred in the Protestant Cemetery, Rome under an ancient pyramid in the city walls. His grave bears the Latin inscription, Cor Cordium ("Heart of Hearts"), and, in reference to his death at sea, a few lines of "Ariel's Song" from Shakespeare's The Tempest: "Nothing of him that doth fade / But doth suffer a sea-change / Into something rich and strange." The grave site is the second in the cemetery. Some weeks after Shelley had been put to rest, Trelawny had come to Rome, had not liked his friend's position among a number of other graves, and had purchased what seemed to him a better plot near the old wall. The ashes were exhumed and moved to their present location. Trelawny had purchased the adjacent plot, and over sixty years later his remains were placed there.
Shelley was eventually memorialized at the Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey, along with his old friends, Lord Byron and John Keats.
Shelley was a seventeenth generation descendant of Richard Fitzalan, 10th Earl of Arundel, through his son John Fitzalan, Marshall of England (d. 1379). John was married to Baroness Eleanor Maltravers (1345 — 10 January 1404/1405). Their eldest son succeeded them as John FitzAlan, 2nd Baron Arundel (1365—1391). He was himself married to Elizabeth le Despenser (d. 1 April/ 10 April 1408).
Elizabeth was a great-granddaughter of Hugh the younger Despenser by his second son Edward Despenser of Buckland (d. 30 September 1342). Her parents were Sir Edward Despenser, 1st Lord Despenser (24 March 1336—11 November 1375) and Elizabeth Burghersh (d. 26 July 1409).
The eldest son of Elizabeth by Baron Maltravers was John Fitzalan, 13th Earl of Arundel. Their third son was Sir Thomas Fitzalan of Beechwood. His own daughter Eleanor Fitzalan was married to Sir Thomas Browne of Beechworth Castle. They had four sons and one daughter, Katherine Browne, who in 1471 married Humphrey Sackville (1426—24 January 1488), a member of the powerful Sackville family that had been living at Buckhurst, near Withyham, Kent, since 1068.
Their oldest son, Richard Sackville (1472—18 July 1524), was married in 1492 to Isabel Dyggs. Their oldest son, Sir John Sackville,(1492 — 5 October 1557) was married to Margaret Boleyn, a member of the Boleyn family at nearby Hever, Kent. Margaret was a sister to Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire. His younger brother Richard Sackville had a less prominent marriage which resulted in the birth of Elizabeth Sackville. Elizabeth herself was later married to Henry Shelley.
Henry became father to a younger Henry Shelley. This younger Henry had at least three sons. The youngest of them Richard Shelley was later married to Joan Fuste, daughter of John Fuste from Itchingfield, near Horsham, West Sussex. Their grandson John Shelley of Fen Place, Turners Hill, West Sussex, was married himself to Helen Bysshe, daughter of Roger Bysshe. Their son Timothy Shelley of Fen Place (born c. 1700) married widow Johanna Plum from New York City. Timothy and Johanna were the great-grandparents of Percy.
Percy was born to Sir Timothy Shelley (7 September 1753 — 24 April 1844) and his wife Elizabeth Pilfold following their marriage in October 1791. His father was son and heir to Sir Bysshe Shelley, 1st Baronet of Castle Goring (21 June 1731 — 6 January 1815) by his wife Mary Catherine Michell (d. 7 November 1760). His mother was daughter of Charles Pilfold of Effingham. Through his paternal grandmother Percy was great-grandson to Reverend Theobald Michell of Horsham.
He was the eldest of six children. His younger siblings were:
John Shelley of Avington House (15 March 1806 — 11 November 1866; married on 24 March 1827 Elizabeth Bowen (d. 28 November 1889)
Mary Shelley (NB. not to be confused with his wife)
Elizabeth Shelley (d. 1831)
Hellen Shelley (d. 10 May 1885)
Margaret Shelley (d. 9 July 1887)
Shelley's uncle, brother to his mother Elizabeth Pilfold, was Captain John Pilfold, a famous Naval Commander who served under Admiral Nelson during the Battle of Trafalgar.
Three children survived Shelley: Ianthe and Charles, his daughter and son by Harriet; and Percy Florence, his son by Mary. Charles, who suffered from tuberculosis, died in 1826 after being struck by lightning during a rain storm. Percy Florence, who eventually inherited the baronetcy in 1844, died without children. The only lineal descendants of the poet are therefore the children of Ianthe.
Ianthe Eliza Shelley was married in 1837 to Edward Jeffries Esdaile of Cothelstone Manor. The marriage resulted in the birth of two sons and Campbell Scarlett, and so the Scarletts (later the Scarlett/Abingers after their son, Shelley Leopold Laurence Scarlett, succeeded his second cousin to become the fifth Baron Abinger in 1903) became heirs to the Shelleys. Several members of the Scarlett family were born at Percy Florence's seaside home 'Boscombe Manor', in Bournemouth. The 1891 census shows Lady Shelley living at Boscombe Manor with several great nephews.
Shelley's unconventional life and uncompromising idealism, combined with his strong disapproving voice, made him an authoritative and much-denigrated figure during his life and afterward. He became an idol of the next two or three or even four generations of poets, including the important Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite poets Robert Browning, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Algernon Charles Swinburne, as well as Lord Byron, Henry David Thoreau, William Butler Yeats, and Edna St. Vincent Millay, and poets in other languages such as Jan Kasprowicz, Jibanananda Das and Subramanya Bharathy.
Henry David Thoreau's civil disobedience and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi's passive resistance were influenced and inspired by Shelley's nonviolence in protest and political action. It is known that Gandhi would often quote Shelley's Masque of Anarchy., which has been called "perhaps the first modern statement of the principle of nonviolent resistance."
Shelley wrote several essays on the subject, the most prominent of which being "A Vindication of Natural Diet" and "On the Vegetable System of Diet".
Shelley, in heartfelt dedication to sentient beings, wrote: "If the use of animal food be, in consequence, subversive to the peace of human society, how unwarrantable is the injustice and the barbarity which is exercised toward these miserable victims. They are called into existence by human artifice that they may drag out a short and miserable existence of slavery and disease, that their bodies may be mutilated, their social feelings outraged. It were much better that a sentient being should never have existed, than that it should have existed only to endure unmitigated misery"; "Never again may blood of bird or beast/ Stain with its venomous stream a human feast,/ To the pure skies in accusation steaming"; and "It is only by softening and disguising dead flesh by culinary preparation that it is rendered susceptible of mastication or digestion, and that the sight of its bloody juices and raw horror does not excite intolerable loathing and disgust."
Shelley was a strong advocate for social justice for the 'lower classes'. He witnessed many of the same mistreatments occurring in the domestication and slaughtering of animals, and he became a fighter for the rights of all living creatures that he saw being treated unjustly.
Shelley's mainstream following did not develop until a generation after his passing, unlike Lord Byron, who was popular among all classes during his lifetime despite his radical views. For decades after his death, Shelley was mainly only appreciated by the major Victorian poets, the pre-Raphaelites, the socialists and the labour movement. One reason for this was the extreme discomfort with Shelley's political radicalism which led popular anthologists to confine Shelley's reputation to the relatively sanitised 'magazine' pieces such as 'Ozymandias' or 'Lines to an Indian Air'.
He was admired by C. S. Lewis, Karl Marx, Henry Stephens Salt, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, Isadora Duncan, Jiddu Krishnamurti ("Shelley is as sacred as the Bible."), Upton Sinclair and William Butler Yeats. Ralph Vaughan Williams, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Roger Quilter, John Vanderslice and Samuel Barber composed music based on his poems.
Critics such as Matthew Arnold endeavoured to rewrite Shelley's legacy to make him seem a lyricist and a dilettante who had no serious intellectual position and whose longer poems were not worth study. Matthew Arnold famously described Shelley as a 'beautiful but ineffectual angel'. This position contrasted strongly with the judgement of the previous generation who knew Shelley as a skeptic and radical.
Many of Shelley's works remained unpublished or little known after his death, with longer pieces such as A Philosophical View of Reform existing only in manuscript till the 1920s. This contributed to the Victorian idea of him as a minor lyricist. With the inception of formal literary studies in the early twentieth century and the slow rediscovery and re-evaluation of his oeuvre by scholars such as K.N. Cameron, Donald H. Reiman and Harold Bloom, the modern idea of Shelley could not be more different.
Paul Foot, in his Red Shelley, has documented the pivotal role Shelley's works, especially Queen Mab, have played in the genesis of British radicalism. Although Shelley's works were banned from respectable Victorian households, his political writings were pirated by men such as Richard Carlile who regularly went to jail for printing 'seditious and blasphemous libel' (i.e. material proscribed by the government) and these cheap pirate editions reached hundreds of activists and workers throughout the nineteenth century.
In other countries such as India, Shelley's works both in the original and in translation have influenced poets such as Rabindranath Tagore and Jibanananda Das. A pirated copy of Prometheus Unbound dated 1835 is said to have been seized in that year by customs at Bombay.
The 1970s and 1980s Thames Television sitcom Shelley made many references to the poet.
In 2005 the University of Delaware Press published an extensive two-volume biography by James Bieri. In 2008 the Johns Hopkins University Press published Bieri's 856-page one-volume biography, Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography.
The rediscovery in mid-2006 of Shelley's long-lost 'Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things', as noted above and in footnote 6 below, has not been followed up by the work being published or being made generally available on the internet or anywhere else. At present (November 2009), its whereabouts is not generally known. An analysis of the poem by the only person known to have examined the whole work, appeared in the Times Literary Supplement: H. R. Woudhuysen, "Shelley's Fantastic Prank", 12 July 2006.
In 2007, John Lauritsen published his book The Man Who Wrote "Frankenstein" in which he argued that Percy Bysshe Shelley's contributions to the novel were much more extensive than had previously been assumed. It has been known and not disputed that Shelley wrote the Preface, although uncredited, and that he contributed at least 4,000 words to the novel. Lauritsen sought to show that Shelley was the primary author of the novel.
Julian Rathbone's 2002 novel A Very English Agent, about a 19th century government spy Charles Boylan, carries a lengthy section on Shelley's time in Italy, in which Boylan tampers with Shelley's boat on orders from the British government, thus causing his death. Rathbone though has stated that he is "a novelist, not a historian" and that his work is very much a piece of fiction. Shelley also features prominently in The Stress of Her Regard, a 1989 novel by Tim Powers which proposes a secret history connecting the English Romantic writers with the mythology of vampires and lamia.
He also makes an appearance in Jude Morgan's 2005 novel Passion, along with Byron, Keats, Coleridge, Leigh Hunt, and a wealth of other English Romantic figures, though the novel's main focus is the lives of the women behind the famous poets: Lady Caroline Lamb, Augusta Leigh, Mary Shelley, and Fanny Brawne. Mary and Percy Shelley also appear in a 2006 novel AngelMonster, by Veronica Bennet. This book is a fictional version of Mary's and Percy's elopement and the series of depressing events.
Shelley appears in Frankenstein Unbound by Brian Aldiss. The book is a time travel romance featuring Mary Shelley. A movie was made, based on the novel, directed by Roger Corman and starring John Hurt and Bridget Fonda, in 1990. Shelley makes an appearance in the alternative history novel The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. Only referenced in passing by another character, in the novel's story he does not drown in Italy, but lives to become a fierce critic (and perhaps saboteur) of Lord Byron's pro-industrial 'Radical party' government, for which he is arrested, declared insane, and placed in a madhouse.
Shelley is portrayed as befriending cavalry officer Matthew Hervey while the latter is in Rome with his sister trying to cope with the death of his wife, in the 4th of Allan Mallinson's novels in the Hervey canon, A Call to Arms (2002). A friendship between Shelley (social subversive, moral outcast) and Hervey (pattern of martial loyalty and religious rectitude, albeit questioned in his bereavement) seems at first view unlikely. But each sees in the other a good man, and ultimately their agreement, often unspoken, on the travails and truths of the human condition cements the bond between them.
Events in Shelley's and Byron's relationship at the house on Lake Geneva in 1816 have been fictionalized in film three times. He plays minor roles in: a 1986 British production, Gothic, directed by Ken Russell, and starring Gabriel Byrne, Julian Sands, and Natasha Richardson; and a 1988 Spanish production, Rowing with the Wind (Remando al viento), starring Lizzie McInnerny as Mary Shelley and Hugh Grant as Lord Byron. Both these movies deal mostly with Mary Shelley's creation of the Frankenstein novel, while Percy tends to be quite a minor character in both films.
Shelley is the main character in a movie entitled Haunted Summer, made in 1988, starring Laura Dern and Eric Stoltz.
Howard Brenton's play, Bloody Poetry, first performed at the Haymarket Theater in Leicester in 1984, concerns itself with the complex relationships and rivalries between Shelley, Mary Shelley, Claire Clairmont, and Byron. Shelley's cremation at Viareggio and the removal of his heart by Trelawny are described in Tennessee Williams' play Camino Real by a fictionalized Lord Byron.
Percy, Mary and her sister Claire are some of the main characters in the novel, The Vampyre: The Secret History of Lord Byron, by Tom Holland (1995). The story concerns Lord Byron, poet and friend of Percy Shelley. Their meeting and the growth of their friendship are described, along with a hypothetical account of the time the foursome shared in Switzerland. Holland provides a fictional conclusion to the mysteries that surround Shelley's death.
Shelley's death and his claims of having met a Doppelganger served as inspiration for the 1978 short story "Paper Boat", written by Tanith Lee. Shelley is also the main character in Bulgarian poet Pencho Slaveykov's philosophical poem, Heart of Hearts. Shelley's Prometheus Unbound is quoted by Captain Jean Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation, in the episode "Skin of Evil". "A great poet once said, All spirits are enslaved that serve things evil."
Shelley appears as himself in Peter Ackroyd's novel The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein. In this, Mary Shelley's Victor Frankenstein is portrayed as one of Shelley's close friends during his early life and marriage to Harriet, in an entertaining fictional nod to the doppelganger rumour.
Shelley is also the principal model for Marmion Herbert, one of the two male protagonists in Benjamin Disraeli's novel Venetia (1837); the other protagonist Lord Cadurcis is based on Lord Byron.Shelley's poem, "The Indian Serenade", is recited in Chosen, a House of Night novel by P.C. Cast.
In the 1995 novel "Shelley's Heart" by Charles McCarry, Shelley is the inspiration for a secret society that operates at the highest levels of government and is responsible for stealing a presidential election. The members of the society identify each other with the question and answer: What did Trelawny snatch from the funeral pyre at Viareggio? ¬— Shelley’s heart.
Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters mentions Shelley in the poem "Percy Bysshe Shelley" as the namesake of the speaker and that his ashes "were scattered near the pyramid of caius cestius / Somewhere near Rome."