Today In Literary History – July 8, 1822 – poet Percy Bysshe Shelley drowns in Italy

The Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned in the Gulf of Spezia in Italy on July 8, 1822, just weeks short of his 30th birthday, after his boat sank during a sudden storm. There have been theories that his death was a suicide or a botched robbery but it seems more likely to have been a simple accident.


Shelley was born into a wealthy family in Sussex, the son of Sir Timothy Shelley who was a member of Parliament. He had a typically upper class upbringing and education, including Eton and Oxford, but rebelled against it early, eloping at the age of 19 with a 16 year-old Harriet Westbrook, a friend of his sister.

Three years later Shelley left Harriet (who was pregnant with their second child) and ran away to Europe with 16 year-old Mary Wolstoncraft, who would become his second wife, and the author of the novel Frankenstein.

Shelley and Mary lived most his last years in Italy, where he befriended fellow poet Lord Byron. In Italy Shelley dedicated himself to the writing of poetry.


His poetry reflected his impetuous and rebellious life. Contradictory themes of skepticism and idealism, joy and gloom, pervaded his work. His reputation grew steadily since his death and he is now considered to be the most important and influential Romantic poet alongside his friend Byron.

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