Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) was a romantic poet, writer and man of letters best known for works such as Prometheus Unbound and Ozymandias.
Although Shelley bristled at the thought of organized religion, he nonetheless envisioned a transcendent reality implicit to nature. Oxford expelled him in 1811 for distributing his pamphlet, The Necessity of Atheism.
His first wife drowned herself, after which time he married Mary Godwin, who went on to write the famous novel Frankenstein as Mary Shelley in 1818.
Friend to Lord Byron and John Keats, Percy was found dead, washed ashore after he and Edward Williams were caught in a storm while boating. Lord Byron and Leigh Hunt immolated the bodies at a solemn beach-side ceremony.
Most of us probably cannot recite Shelley as readily we might, say, Shakespeare – “To be or not to be.” But he leaves behind an important legacy. Not seeking fame for himself, his work nonetheless influenced many an important person. Recurring themes of social justice, concern for the poor, vegetarianism, and non-violence left their mark on figures like Mohandas Gandhi, C. S. Lewis, and Karl Marx.
He was admired by C. S. Lewis, Karl Marx, Robert Browning, Henry Stephens Salt, Gregory Corso, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, Isadora Duncan, Upton Sinclair, Gabriele d’Annunzio, Aleister Crowley and W. B. Yeats. Samuel Barber, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Roger Quilter, Howard Skempton, John Vanderslice and Ralph Vaughan Williams composed music based on his poems.¹