Born in 1792 in Field Place, near Horsham in Sussex, England, Percy Shelley steadily rose in prominence and exposure to become one of Great Britain’s most popular romantic poets and a noted atheist.
Shelley was educated at Syon House Academy and Eton. Due to his flamboyant nature and disregard of most authoritative figures (which has been ascribed to his family’s fortune and his being spoiled), Shelley was nicknamed ‘Mad Shelley’ and later ‘Eton Atheist.’
While attending Eton, Shelley published his first work, a Gothic novel called Zastrozzi, in 1810. Later that same year, with his sister Elizabeth published Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire.
In 1811, Shelley produced another Gothic romance novel titled St. Irvine, or, The Rosicrucian. At this time, Shelley was attending University College at Oxford.
At University, Shelley continued the flamboyant and provocative nature that had gotten him into trouble in his earlier education. At this time, he co-authored a pamphlet, with Thomas Jefferson Hogg, called The Necessity of Atheism and both authors were expelled.
After his expulsion, Shelley went to Scotland and eloped with the then 16-year-old Harriet Westbrook. Between the expulsion and the elopement, Shelley’s family disinherited him.
Shelley would not recant and the ties with his family were severed and never reconciled. Shelley lived itinerantly for the next three years in York, the Lake District and Dublin. While in Dublin, Shelley advocated the repeal of the Union and Catholic Emancipation. Shelley wrote Queen Mob in 1913 and it debuted to lukewarm response. He moved back to London with Harriet.
Despite two children, Shelley’s marriage was falling apart. At this time he met Mary Wollstonecraft. Shelley then embarked on a whirlwind tour of the continent with Mary and Mary’s half-sister Jane ‘Claire” Claremont. During this period, Shelley wrote The Assassins (1814) and The History of a Six Weeks’ Tour (1817). The couple returned to London and bought a house near Windsor.
In 1816, Mary gave birth to William and Shelley published Alastor. Also in 1816, Harriet Westbrook committed suicide by drowning herself. Shelley wasted no time and promptly married Mary. The two of them spent a great deal of time with Lord Byron in Lake Geneva. This is where Mary composed Frankenstein.
Shelley moved to Marlow in 1817 and produced An Address to the People on the Death of Princess Charlotte. Shelley left England for Italy in 1818. This is where he would spend the rest of his life.
The tragic death of William in 1819 was reflected in a great burst of creative energy from Shelley.
This would last from 1819 to 1821 and included: Prometheus Unbound (1819), The Masque of Anarchy (1819), The Letter to Maria Gisborne (1820), The Witch of Atlas (1820), A Philosophical View of Reform (1820), Essay on the Devil (1821), The Defence of Poetry (1821), Swellfoot the Tyrant (1820), Adonais (1821) and Epipsychidion (1821).
In November of 1819, Shelley’s son Percy was born. Shelley visited Pisa in 1821 and composed Hellas (1822) after being inspired by the Greek war of Independence. This would be his last work. Returning from a visit to Lord Byron in August 1822, Shelley and Edward Williams were killed aboard the schooner ‘Ariel.’ Shelley, Williams and a cabin boy were drowned when they were surprised by a sudden squall. Shelley’s body was cremated at Viareggio.