|Percy Bysshe Shelley by Alfred Clint, 1819|
Last year, within the first few weeks of the salon doors opening, I told of the life of legendary poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley. He experienced joy and despair, huge highs and deep lows and his life was a short one, ending in tragedy. Today is the anniversary of Shelley's death and I wanted to mark the occasion by relating the circumstances of that last day.
By 1822, Shelley and his wife, Mary, had been in Italy for two years . It had been a visit marked by tragedy as two of the couple's children died whilst on the continent yet Shelley had rediscovered the creativity which had begun to desert him during troublesome times in England. Fired by his newly-rediscovered inspiration, he summoned Leigh Hunt to travel to Italy, intending that he, along with Byron, would collaborate with Shelley on a journal called The Liberal. Hunt was swift to answer the call and the journal was established that same year.
|The Funeral of Shelley by Louis Edouard Fournier, 1889|
Returning from a meeting regarding The Liberal, Shelley set sail for Lerici on 8th July 1822 in the company of two Englishmen, retired naval officer, Edward Ellerker Williams, and a boatboy named Charles Vivien. The men were destined never to reach their destination and a storm blew up that struck their vessel, recently renamed Ariel, though it had once been called Don Juan, in honour of Lord Byron. When the boat was found drifting it had sustained serious damage to one side, suggesting a collision had occurred.
The decomposed body of the poet washed ashore near Viareggio where it was cremated; according to funereal tradition, Mary was not present. Shelley's ashes were interred in the Protestant Cemetery, Rome, the wanderer having finally reached his rest. He is now memorialised in Poets' Corner at Westminster Abbey, recognised as a literary legend.