Read his poem "Ode to the West Wind"
Also known as: Victor (pseudonym); The Hermit of Marlow (pseudonym)
Career: Poet, playwright, novelist, essayist, and translator
The eldest son of Sir Timothy and Elizabeth Shelley, landed aristocrats living in Horsham, Sussex, Shelley was born on August 4, 1792. First attending Syon House Academy for two years, Shelley entered Eton College at the age of twelve in 1804, and finally moved on to University College, Oxford, in 1810. His idiosyncratic, sensitive nature and refusal to conform to tradition, compounded with his hobby of performing scientific experiments, earned him the name "Mad Shelley." During his years as a student he pursued 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 he had already published a wildly improbable Gothic novel, Zastrozzi (1810), written a large part of another, St. Irvyne (1811), and co-authored two collections of verse. Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire (1810), written with his sister, continued in the Gothic mode, while Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson (1810), co-authored with his friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg, was a collection of treasonous and erotic poetry disguised as the ravings of a mad washerwoman who had attempted to stab King George III. In his second term at Oxford, Shelley turned to philosophical concerns with his The Necessity of Atheism, a pamphlet challenging theological proofs for the existence of God. Teaming up with Hogg, he published the tract, distributed it to the conservative clergymen and dons of Oxford, and challenged them to a debate. Instead, Shelley and Hogg were immediately expelled in March of 1811, an event that estranged Shelley from his family. Undeterred by the fact that he had no financial support until he came of age, in 1811 he eloped to Scotland with Harriet Westbrook, a sixteen-year-old schoolmate of his sisters. For three years they moved around England to avoid creditors; at the same time they became actively involved in political and social reform in Ireland and Wales, writing radical pamphlets in which Shelley set forth his views on liberty, equality, and justice. He and Harriet enthusiastically distributed these tracts among the working classes, but with little effect.
The year 1814 was a pivotal one in Shelley's personal life. Despite their faltering marriage, he remarried Harriet in England to ensure the legality of their union and the legitimacy of their children. Unfortunately for Harriet, Shelley became a frequent guest of the radical English philosopher William Godwin, whose book Political Justice greatly influenced Shelley's political ideas. Shelley fell in love with Mary Godwin, the sixteen-year-old daughter of Godwin and his first wife, the feminist author Mary Wollstonecraft, and they eloped to Calais on July 27, 1814. Upon Shelley's return to England, he entered into a financial agreement with his family that ensured him a regular income. When Harriet declined to join his household as a "sister," he provided for her and their two children but continued to live with Mary.
In the summer of 1816, while travelling in Europe, Shelley met Lord Byron and developed an enduring friendship that proved an important influence on the works of both men. Shortly after Shelley's return to England that fall, Harriet drowned herself in Hyde Park. Shelley took advantage of this situation and legalized his relationship with Mary on December 30, 1816. He sought custody of his children by Harriet, but the Westbrook family successfully blocked him in a lengthy lawsuit, convincing the court that Shelley was morally unfit for guardianship. In 1818 Shelley relocated his family to Italy, spending time in Leghorn, Venice, Naples, Rome, Florence, Pisa, and Lerici. Shelley and Byron, who was also living in Italy, became the nucleus of a circle of expatriot writers that became known as the "Satanic School" because of their defiance of English social and religious conventions and promotion of radical ideas in their works. Despite the death of his two children and a disintegrating marriage, Shelley was generally content in Italy. On July 8, 1822, Shelley and his companion Edward Williams set sail from Italy, but their boat capsized in a squall off the coast of Lerici. Ten days later their bodies washed ashore. Shelley's body, identified by an open volume of John Keats' poems found in his pocket, was cremated on the beach in a ceremony conducted by his friends Byron, Leigh Hunt, and Edward John Trelawny. His ashes (except for his heart, which Byron reportedly plucked from the fire) were buried near Keats' grave in the Protestant cemetery in Rome.
Source: Exploring Poetry, Gale.