Last Years In England, Part 8 to the Life & Works of
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Shelley, in 1816, was to make friends with Leigh Hunt. Hunt, together with his brother, had established one of the most famous newspapers of the time, the Examiner. In the paper, Hunt was given to express his liberal views. Such expressions of liberalism was to get he and his brother into trouble with the government, which was more interested in prosecuting the war against Napoleon than with civil liberties at home. Both of the Hunt brothers were tried and found guilty "for a libel on the prince regent." They both received a two year term of imprisonment, 1813-15. "I first saw Shelley," Hunt explains in his Autobiography37, "during the early period of the Examiner, before its indictment on account of the Regent; but it was only for a few short visits, which did not produce intimacy. ... He was then a youth, not come to his full growth; very gentlemanly, earnestly gazing at every object that interested him, and quoting the Greek dramatists." Shelley, always a man to support a good cause, sent "a large sum of money" to Hunt at his home address, known as the "Vale of Health" at Hampstead: thereafter, "an affectionate correspondence began."38 On December 6th, 1816, Shelley arrived at Hunt's home at Hampstead and was ushered in as a member of the family. To Shelley, Hunt dispensed enthusiasm and encouragement and most importantly gave Shelley (he was to do the same for the young John Keats at the same time) access to the columns of the Examiner.
In the meantime, there, in the background, was Harriet and the two children, all of whom Shelley had effectively deserted.39 The loss to her was a great one and she suffered more than we will ever know. Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866), a friend of Shelley's, was to write of Harriet:
"Her manners were good; and her whole aspect and demeanour such manifest emanations of pure and truthful nature, that to be once in her company was to know her thoroughly. She was fond of her husband, and accommodated herself in every way to his tastes. If they mixed in society, she adorned it; if they lived in retirement, she was satisfied; if they traveled, she enjoyed the change of scene."40In December of 1816, Harriet's body was pulled out of a pond located in Hyde Park, "The Serpentine." On December the 30th, Shelley married Mary.41
Within days of Harriet's death the Westbrook family brought a petition before the court of Chancery which would effectively deprive Shelley of any say in respect to his two children, who were then three and half years old (Eliza Ianthe) and two (Charles Bysshe). Eliza Westbrook, Harriet's elder sister was undoubtedly the driving force behind the move to shut Shelley out. There were any number of stories, mostly true, which the court was to hear which went to the suitability of Shelley as a father. The children were made wards of the court and went to live with a mutually acceptable family, Dr. and Mrs. Hume.42 Shelley was given limited visitation rights but it would not appear that he exercised these rights to any great degree and not at all after he left for Italy in March of 1818.
In spite of these listed miseries, or maybe because of them, Shelley wrote poetry. He was now coming into his best years. In 1817, he wrote Rosalind and Helen and The Revolt of Islam and (in part) Prince Athanase. Shelley took a house43 in the new year (1817) so to be near his friend Leigh Hunt at the "Vale of Health," Hampstead. Hunt had just seen to the publication of his, "The Story of Rimini." Hunt's enemies (he had many due to his writings in the Examiner) criticized the poem's "idiosyncratic, colloquial style and the sympathetic treatment of incestuous adultery."
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