This Day In Literary History
On December 30th, 1816, the legendary English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley married his second wife, writer Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, who would become famous for her classic horror novel, Frankenstein.
Five years earlier, after he was expelled from college for refusing to recant the atheist views expressed in a pamphlet he'd written, Percy Bysshe Shelley, then nineteen years old, went to Scotland.
There, he married his 16-year-old girlfriend, Harriet Westbrook, the daughter of a pub owner. They were married on August 28th, 1811, and Shelley's father disinherited him as a result.
Three years later, Shelley's marriage to Harriet had become unhappy. He often left her alone with their daughter, Ianthe.
When he went to visit the writer, journalist, and philosopher William Godwin at his home and bookshop in London, Shelley also met his daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, with whom he fell in love.
Mary's mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was also a writer and philosopher who wrote a classic work of early feminist philosophy, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Sadly, she died shortly after giving birth to her daughter Mary.
On July 28th, 1814, Percy Bysshe Shelley left his wife and ran off with Mary, taking her stepsister Claire Clairmont along for company. They sailed about Europe, wandered through France, and settled in Switzerland, living on a small inheritance Percy had received from his grandfather.
Six weeks later, broke and homesick, they returned to England. In the summer of 1816, Shelley and Mary made another trip to Switzerland, at the behest of Claire Clairmont, who wanted them to meet the great poet Lord Byron - her ex-lover, whose affections she hoped to recapture.
The Shelleys and Byron rented neighboring houses on Lake Geneva. Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron became good friends, and their conversations got Shelley's creative juices flowing again; he began writing prolifically.
In December of 1816, not long after the Shelleys returned to England, Percy's estranged wife Harriet committed suicide, drowning herself in the Serpentine in Hyde Park, London.
A few weeks after Harriet's body was recovered, Percy and Mary Shelley were properly married, partly so Percy could regain custody of his children. The court denied his request for custody because he was an atheist. His children were placed with foster parents.
Six years later, on July 8th, 1822, Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned in a storm while sailing from Livorno to Lirici on his schooner, the Don Juan. The boat, which was custom made for Shelley in Genoa, sank after being pounded by the sudden storm.
Shelley claimed to have had a premonition of his death. Mary Shelley would later claim that her husband's boat wasn't seaworthy. Most believe that the boat was seaworthy and sank as the result of both the violent storm and the poor seamanship of Percy Shelley and his two mates.
Some have claimed that Percy Shelley may have been depressed and committed suicide at sea, while others believe that Shelley's boat was attacked by pirates who mistook it for Lord Byron's ship.
There is also evidence, albeit scattered and contradictory, that Shelley was murdered for political reasons by an agent of the British government, which he had antagonized with his anti-monarchist, pro-Irish views, writings, and activities.
When Shelley's body washed ashore, he was cremated on the beach as per the requirements of the quarantine laws of the time. His heart was rescued from the pyre by his friend, writer / adventurer Edward Trelawny, and given to Mary Shelley, who kept it with her until the day she died, after which, it was interred next to her grave.
Quote Of The Day
"A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds." - Percy Bysshe Shelley
Today's video features a reading from Percy Bysshe Shelley's classic essay, A Defense Of Poetry. Enjoy!