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july2018  louis edouard fournier the cremation of percy bysshe shelley
Pictured in the centre are, from left, Trelawny, Hunt, and Byron

Death by Drowning of Percy Bysshe Shelley

8 July 1822

Just a month before his 30th birthday, Romantic poet, Percy Shelley, drowned in a sudden storm in the Gulf of Spezia. Husband to Mary Shelley, inventor of the science fiction genre and daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Percy Shelley had managed to pack an impressive amount of unconventional life into his 29 years.

He was famously expelled from University College, Oxford on 25 March 1811, for the publishing of a pamphlet, The Necessity of Atheism, under the impenetrable pseudonym ‘by a gentleman of the University of Oxford.’ This was not forgotten on the announcement of his death. When the news reached England, the Tory newspaper The Courier commented: “Shelley, the writer of some infidel poetry, has been drowned; now he knows whether there is God or no.” Shelley’s friend, Lord Byron, was kinder, commentated “I never met a man who wasn't a beast in comparison to him”, which is high praise from Byron who had few good words for anyone.

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