On this day in history….8th July 1822

On this day in history : 8th July 1822 – The death of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley – who drowned in a sudden storm whilst sailing his schooner in Italy….

Portrait of Shelley by Alfred Clint – Public domain

The small schooner, ‘Don Juan’, was an open boat that had been custom built for Shelley in Genoa…. He was sailing from Livorno and was returning home to Lerici, when whilst in the Gulf of La Spezla, 10 miles from shore, a sudden violent storm struck – and the boat sank….

Although there was some suggestion that the boat had possibly been rammed, by a larger vessel, the accident was put down to the severe weather and the poor seamanship of the three men onboard…. As well as Shelley ‘Don Juan’ had been carrying retired naval officer Edward Elleker Williams and boat-boy Charles Vivien….

However, there were those who believed the sinking of ‘Don Juan’ was not an accident – and the stories began to circulate…. They ranged from Shelley having committed suicide on account of suffering from depression to the more fanciful idea of having been attacked by pirates…. It is said an Italian fisherman later confessed on his deathbed to having rammed the boat in order to rob it….

Shelley was having financial difficulties at the time; he owed a substantial sum after leaving his former home in wales without paying any rent – as well as having other debts – so he certainly had his enemies…. There was also a theory, which had some supporting evidence, that he may have been murdered by one of his enemies – some think by an intelligence agent who strongly disagreed with Shelley’s political views…. He had indeed been attacked by such a person in the past….and the supposed ramming of his boat fuelled the speculation….

Shelley’s body washed ashore a few days later – and would have already been in a state of decomposition…. As in keeping with quarantine regulations he was cremated on the beach near to Viareggio…. He had died just a month before his 30th birthday….

The funeral of Shelley by Louis Edouard Fournier (1889) – Public domain

His ashes were interred in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome – with the Latin inscription ‘Cor Cordium’ – meaning ‘Heart of Hearts’…. And then followed with a few lines from Aerial’s song from Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’…. Eventually a memorial to Shelley was created at Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey….

Photo credit : RubyEmpress – own work – CC BY-SA 4.0

On this day in history….25th March 1811

On this day in history : 25th March 1811 – Percy Bysshe Shelley is expelled from Oxford University for publishing the pamphlet ‘The Necessity of Atheism”….

Portrait of Shelley, by Alfred Clint (1829) – Public domain

Shelley, one of the major English Romantic poets, held radical political and social views which were to be, inevitably, reflected in his poetry and writing….

He was born in Broadbridge Heath, near to Horsham, West Sussex on the 4th of August 1782 and was the eldest son of Sir Timothy Shelley, a Whig MP…. After attending the Syon House Academy, Brentford, Middlesex and Eton College, Shelley entered University College, Oxford on the 10th of April 1810….

His first novel was published anonymously in 1810…. ‘Zastrozzi’, a Gothic novel, which through its characters indicated its author’s atheist views…. Other publications followed, ‘St Irvine; or, The Rosicrucian: A Romance’, and ‘Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire’, which he wrote with his sister Elizabeth…. He also published a collection of verses ‘Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson’, with his close friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg…. Then in 1811 he anonymously published the pamphlet ‘The Necessity of Atheism’ – which saw him hauled in front of the College Dean, George Rowley…. His refusal to admit as to whether he had or had not penned the publication saw his expulsion from Oxford…. It is widely believed Hogg helped him to write the pamphlet….

1811, Title Page – Public domain

‘The Necessity of Atheism’ was first published around the 14th of February 1811…. Few original copies remain as most were destroyed shortly after publication…. At the time its content was deemed to be so shocking….

“As a love of truth is the only motive which actuated the Author of this little tract, he earnestly entreats that those of his readers who may discover any deficiency in his reasoning, or may be in possession of proofs which his mind could never obtain, would offer them, together with their objections to the Public, as briefly, as methodically, as plainly as he has taken the liberty of doing”….

At the end of the pamphlet Shelley writes…. “the mind cannot believe in the existence of a God”…. He signed it…. ‘Thro’ deficiency of proof, AN ATHEIST’….

A page from the 1811 Worthing Printing – Bodleian Library