Percy Bysshe Shelley biography
Percy Bysshe Shelley (August 4, 1792 – July 8, 1822), poet and representative of English romanticism. He was born in Worthing, West Sussex, England. He was raised in a wealthy family that provided the best education, studied at Eton (1804-1810) and then entered the University College of Oxford, but, from there was expelled in 1811, because of the publication of his treatise entitled: The need for atheism; the content categorically questioned the authority with a quite subversive tendency. In London, he experienced love for the first time thanks to the beautiful young Harriet Westbrook. Actually, their love was not validated by their relatives, so they decided to flee and marry in a rural area of northwest England called the Lake District. In that place, he was inspired to write his first important poem, Queen Mab (1813).
His thought regarding the existence of God was very criticized, but he said that the generality of the human race was ignorance. The need to name and understand hidden, distant and unknown events, caused God to be named as responsible for what man was unable to understand. Following Shelley, every time we say that God is the author of some phenomenon, we are ignoring how such phenomenon was able to operate with the help of forces or causes that we know in nature.
In this sense, man imputes to the Divinity not only the unusual effects that disturb them but also the simple ones, whose causes we could understand if we study them. In short, man has always respected the surprising effects that his ignorance did not allow him to unravel. From this ignorance of nature by man was born the imaginary of the Divine. From 1811, Percy Bysshe Shelley received a clear influence from William Godwin because he maintained an epistolary and personal relationship for years; Godwin’s influence on Shelley’s poetry is already noticeable in 1813, while he was part of the second generation of the circle of romantic writers.
It should be noted that his work was enriched with the contributions of other authors but keeping the imprint of his teacher to reach the idealistic tone of his latest compositions. Now, in several of his works, we can appreciate a multitude of attributes that allude to his teacher: radical thought; driven by the French Revolution, generating the revival of radicalism in British culture.
The influence of Godwin is expressed in the impulse of ethical rationalism, the establishment of utopian proposals, the vindication of the passions and the principle of the primacy of feelings. These four characteristics gave space to the theoretical foundation of English romanticism, expressed in English literature. From this moment, English literature is given greater relevance to morals and behavior, than to religion and traditions. From this point, it is good to emphasize that Shelley considered the German romantic philosophy as counterrevolutionary. Nevertheless, there was a point of concurrence between the romantic movements, the German and the English, which was individualism; in poets such as Shelley, specifically, it reflected overtly revolutionary tendencies.
Percy Bysshe Shelley developed a political ideal based on the liberation of peoples and the revolution. Although this was not unique to the person of Shelley; but of the generation of poets to which he belonged. They endeavored to develop alternative mythology to Christianity, oriented towards the public and committed to the social. Rejecting every Jacobin idea and understanding poetry as a revolutionary weapon: It is a call to action, for the author a denunciation. In addition, for Shelley, the human being is the center of all reflection. We continue to warn of the remarkable influence of Godwin on Shelley, although the teachings of many other authors and movements, granted a personality to his thought and his creativity.
The differences between disciple and teacher existed: Godwin considered that peace and tranquility were necessary for the spiritual perfection of man; Shelley relied on social unrest and discontent. In this sense, Shelley embraces the ideals of Thomas Paine and his conception of the value of man as a social being. The Godwinian individualism, in this way, inspires Shelley to place man in society: an ideal and symbolic vision of society as a set of individual wills limited by the pettiness of the world. However, Shelley relies on the transformative capacity of social institutions, at this point, he timidly distances himself from Godwinian anarchist thought.
His thought can be analyzed in his various works: Epipsychidion (1812), The Spirit of Solitude (1816): one of his best-known works. In short, the poem The Revolt of Islam (1818); the play in verse Los Cenci (1819); sonnet England (1819); Prometheus Unchained (1820), recounts the free thought of humanity, praises freedom and attacks tyranny. He then published: The Mask of Anarchy, Men of England and The Witch of the Atlas, probably his best-known works during the nineteenth century. Also, Adonaí (1821); Treaty The defense of poetry (1821); The need for atheism (1822); The triumph of life (1824), Ode to freedom (1825), makes mention of the deed of the Spanish people in the liberal revolt against the regime of Fernando VII.
The breakdown of Shelley’s friendship with Godwin occurred when he decided, unhappy in his marriage, to marry Mary, the 16-year-old daughter of Godwin, with whom he spent a lot of time while consulting in Godwin’s library. It was there that he fell in love with Mary. In July 1814, Percy Bysshe Shelley decided to run away with the young Mary, leaving behind his wife and two children. They were married in the presence of Mary’s stepsister, Clare Marie Jane Clairmont; the three embarked towards Switzerland. Six weeks after the flight, they returned to England to find Godwin offended and outraged. In short, he learned of the suicide of Harriet, his ex-wife, and lost the guardianship of his two sons.
Mary did not go to school, she was educated at home and acquired an admirable knowledge of the intellectual circle of her father. We can affirm that his presence was very enriching in Shelley’s life. While she was married, she wrote the famous work of Frankenstein, a book she wrote before she was twenty. Although, it is affirmed that her written production could have been greater if her husband had not overshadowed Mary’s creativity. Despite this, she is considered one of the great authors of the short story, a fertile genre in English literature.
Due to his condition: tuberculosis, he left in the company of Mary his country to settle in Italy. He lived in Milan, Lucca, Venice, Naples, and Florence; places that took the opportunity to write some of the works mentioned above. At that point, his works showed melancholy before the misfortunes of existence. This great romantic poet died in a shipwreck, in Lerici, Italy, on July 8, 1822.