A Blupete Biography Page

Italy, Part 9 to the Life & Works of
Percy Bysshe Shelley

There are a number of good reasons for Englishmen to go and live in Italy. There is the cheapness of living, the sunshine, and the classical culture. Avoidance of creditors has always been one of the chief reasons. Shelley's spending habits, marked by great generosity to his friends, was to get him into serious financial trouble.44 By 1817, his sources of credit dried up. Though it certainly seems that he had a substantial and regular income, it simply did not match his outgo. As the year closed, matters were in the extreme. Bailiffs were arriving to take inventory. Shelley, leaving Mary and the children in the big house they had rented, Great Marlow, started to hide out in various places throughout London.

In February of 1818, after packing up many of their possessions, the Shelleys moved out of their large house at Great Marlow and the premises handed over to new tenants. They spent the next few weeks in London making the rounds. On March 9th, the two children, six month old Clara and 26 month old William, together with Claire's child she had by Byron, 14 month old Allegra, were brought to St Giles-in-the-Fields, there to be christened; it was but a sop which the atheistic Shelley gave to the families.45 The following day, March 10th; Shelley, Mary, Claire, the children and servants made their way to Dover. Waiting a couple of days for the weather to clear they all boarded the Lady Castlereagh and were blown across the channel to Calais. Shelley had left England for good.

Traveling overland, via Lyons, they entered Italy at Susa and were soon at Milan. At Milan correspondence was entered into between Shelley and Byron who was then in Venice. Byron demanded that Allegra be delivered to him. Sad as it was for her mother, realizing that Allegra's future depended on satisfying Byron, Allegra46 was sent off to Venice with her nurse on April 28th. A couple of days later the Shelleys left for Pisa. Though intending to stay at Pisa47, the Shelleys were soon drawn to Venice, mainly for Claire's sake so that she might check up on Allegra.48 By September the Shelleys were occupying Byron's summer place at Este, he having moved to Venice for the winter season (Este is located just north of Venice). It is during this period of time that Clara, the one year old died. Shelley, now having reached the full height of his genius, was writing his best poetry, including: Lines among the Euganean Hills and the first act of Prometheus Unbound. In November, Shelley, ever so true to his vagabond ways, determined to live awhile at Naples; and, on the way, take in the sights of Rome49 and Pompeii. Come March, 1819, the Shelleys are on the move again -- they moved to Rome where they stayed to June 10th. While at Rome, Shelley writes the second and third acts of Prometheus Unbound. It was at this time, on June 6th, while at Rome, that William died. Alone now without children, leaving Rome, they traveled north to take up residence at Leghorn (Livorno), on the western coast not far from Pisa. Then in October, north again to Florence, there to take up residence at Palazzo Marino, 4395 Via Valfonda. Mary then gave birth, on November 12th, to Percy Florence. All along, Shelley was writing: A Philosophical View of Reform, The Mask of Anarchy, Peter Bell the Third, Ode to the West Wind and the third act of Prometheus Unbound.50

In January of 1820, the Shelleys moved to Pisa. Again, in June, they moved so in the hot weather to be nearer the sea coast, to Leghorn.51 In August they moved to San Giuliano, near Pisa. On October 31st, Shelley moved his household back to Pisa. During the year, Shelley continued to be productive and wrote The Witch of Atlas and Oedipus Tyrannus. That summer a book of his poems came out which included: "The Cloud," "The Skylark," "The Hymn of Pan," "Arethusa" and the "Song of Proserpine." In the new year, 1821, Lord Byron came to be part of the literary group around Shelley. Byron regularly entertained by throwing dinner parties that lasted to three in the morning. During the months of January and February, Shelley wrote Epipsychidion.52 On February 23rd, the young poet whom Shelley had befriended back in England, died at Rome.53 This event caused Shelley to write one of his finest poems, Adonais, an elegy on John Keats.54

That fall, in 1821, Shelley and Byron struck upon an idea that they could enter into a joint literary venture. They would, from Italy, launch a new magazine (The Liberal). The implementation of this plan (mainly promoted by Shelley) would allow Shelley to achieve an objective he long had: to get his friend Leigh Hunt to come out from England to Italy. Hunt, due to his involvement with the Examiner, a successful London magazine which he and his brother had set up in 1808, would be a valuable person to have in the setup and production of the new magazine which Shelley and Byron envisioned. Hunt, however, had a large family and no funds. This problem was to be surmounted. Shelley and Byron (with independent aristocratic means, the both of them) would provide money sufficient, and a house. Mary Shelley was to write directly to Marianne Hunt: "Italy will not strike you as so divine at first; but each day it becomes dearer and more delightful; the sun, the flowers, the air, all is more sweet and more balmy than in Ultima Thule that you inhabit."55 In January of 1822, Shelley, writing from Italy, sent to Hunt by "return of post" £150. In his letter Shelley writes:

"Lord Byron has assigned you a portion of his palace, and Mary and I had occupied ourselves in furnishing it ... We had hired a woman cook of the country for you, who is still with us. Lord B. had kindly insisted upon paying the upholsterer's bill, with that sort of unsuspecting goodness which makes it infinitely difficult to ask him for more ..."56
That January, 1822, Edward John Trelawny (1792-1881) joined the circle at Pisa.57 He was quite the character. Mary Shelley was to describe Trelawny:
"A kind of half Arab Englishman whose life has been changeful as that of Anastasius and who recounts the adventures of his youth as eloquently and well as the imagined Greek ... he is a strange web which I am endeavouring to unravel ... he is six feet high -- raven black hair which curls thickly and shortly like a Moor's -- dark grey expressive eyes, overhanging brows, upturned lips and a smile which expresses good nature and kindheatedness ..."58


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