Wolverhampton BTW

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Shelley, Percy Bysshe, 1792—1822

by Benjamin Colbert

Percy Bysshe Shelley was born at Field Place near Horsham, Sussex, eldest son of Sir Timothy Shelley, baronet (1753-1844), and Elizabeth Shelley, née Pilfold (1763-1846). Before going up to Oxford, Shelley toured in the vicinity of Cwm Elan, Wales. After being sent down from Oxford in 1811 for publishing The Necessity of Atheism, Shelley eloped with Harriet Westbrook (1795-1816), travelling to Edinburgh and settling briefly in the Lake District. From 1811 to 1813 he travelled extensively in Ireland, Devon, and North Wales on political and literary missions.

A second phase of travel began with a second elopement in 1814, this time with Mary Godwin, daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, whom Shelley married after the suicide of his first wife in 1816. In the 1814 tour, Shelley and Mary (joined by Mary's half-sister Claire Clairmont) travelled to France and Switzerland, returning by the Rhine. In 1816, the year after Waterloo marked the true end of the Napoleonic wars, the trio returned to the Continent residing near Lake Geneva. The experiences of the 1814 and 1816 tours form the substance of Mary Shelley and Percy Shelley's jointly written travelogue, History of a Six Weeks Tour, which concludes with the first printing of Shelley's poem, 'Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni'. The Shelleys returned to the continent in 1818, touring Italy extensively before settling near Pisa. Shelley's travel letters to Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866; ODNB) from 1818 to 1819 were partly intended for publication, although after Shelley's death in 1822, they would not appear until Mary Shelley's edition, Essays, Letters from Abroad (1840 [1839]).


Colbert, Benjamin 'Shelley, Travel, and Tourism'. The Oxford Handbook of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Ed. Michael O'Neill and Anthony Howe, with Madeleine Callaghan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. 594-608. Print.

---. Shelley's Eye: Travel Writing and Aesthetic Vision. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005. Print.

O'Neill, Michael. 'Shelley, Percy Bysshe (1792–1822), poet'. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 26 May 2016. Oxford University Press. Web. 15 Sept. 2017. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/25312


Title Published
History of a Six Weeks' Tour 1817

[see updates]