Shelley, England's greatest lyric poet, came of a family of some importance and power. His father was s Sussex county gentleman and a Whig member of Parliament; his grand-father, who became a baronet, had amassed a great fortune. Shelley, the eldest son, accordingly grew up with the prospect of becoming a man of wealth and title. At Eton, he proved a good classical scholar, but was not very happy, for he was by nature revolutionary and unconventional. He was known as ‘mad Shelley’ and ‘Shelley the atheist’, and his enthusiasm for studies in electricity, chemistry, and astronomy, and the exciting experiments he conducted, gave rise to many stories. The persecutions which he endured and witnessed at school gave him a lifelong detestation of tyranny and violence.
Shelley went to Oxford full of plans for changing the system of society --- ideas partly picked up from the literature of the French Revolution. Being convinced that religious faiths were harmful to man's happiness, he and his friend. T.J. HoggH, put forth a small study in logic, called The Necessity of Atheism. The Oxford authorities objected, and when Shelley and Hogg declined to discuss the matter, they were sent down. This to Shelley at 18 was a disaster, for he lost a valuable education at Oxford.
He fell out with his father and became a wan-derer; though he would eventually inherit a fortune, he had no ready money. When he was 19, he eloped with Harriet Westbrook, a girl of 16 whom he scarcely knew but whom he thought he should rescue from a tyrannical family. They were married in Edinburgh, and went to Keswick where Southey was kind to them. From there Shelley, always full of schemes, went on a quixotic expedition to redress the wrongs of the Irish; from Lynmouth shortly afterwards he distributed a seditious pamphlet called The Rights of Man, scattering some copies by balloon and putting others into bottles and throwing them into the sea. In 1813 he printed and published privately an extraordinary poem, Queen Mab, which expressed his protest against religion, his hatred of all forms of tyranny, and his belief in a new golden age.
In his glorification of revolutionary ideas, Shelley had sought out William Godwin, author of Political Justice, who had married Mary Wollstonecraft, author of The Rights of Women. His marriage with Harriet having proved a complete failure,? Shelley eloped with Godwin's 15-year-old daugher Mary. But later that year Harriet was found drowned in the Serpentine, and her two children by Shelley became the subject of a lawsuit. Shelley was not only deeply shocked by the tragedy but also suffered the bitterness of losing his children. He married Mary Godwin, and they tried to settle at Marlow, on the Thames. There, in 1816, he wrote Alastor, or the Spirit of Solitude, the first long poem to show his true genius; next year he wrote a long imaginative poem on liberty and love, The Revolt of Islam, which was inspired by the French Revolution and contains many fine passages of description and dramatic narrative.
By this time Shelley had become a friend of Leigh Hunt and Peacock and had met Keats. Finally in 1818, partly to escape prejudice and insult, and also Godwin's constant demands for money, and partly because of Shelley's illnesses, the Shelleys decided to seek peace in Italy. There Shelley gave up his dream of reforming the world by direct political action and decided that he could accomplish most by passing on his own inspiration to others through his poetry. In this belief he composed his Prometheus Unbound, a poem to be enjoyed for its incomparable music, its colour and story, as well as because it contains Shelley's noblest ideas. To this period, too, belong his Lines written in the Euganean Hills and Julian and Maddalo, an autobiographical poem based on a happy visit to Byron in VeniceH. At this time Shelley wrote his finest lyrics --- The Could, The Skylark, the Ode to the West Wind, and others, the music and intensity of which show Shelley to be entering on a new stage of personal and imaginative greatness.
The Shelleys moved restlessly from place to place, and they suffered much unhappiness. The strain of constant travelling told on his health, and they both had to endure the great misery of losing their much-loved children William and Clara. They also found that the calumny and hate from which they had hoped to escape followed them even to Italy. In daily life Shelley was gay enough, however, the leading figure in their circle of friends in Pisa, where they eventually settled.
In the summer of 1822 Leigh Hunt came out to Italy to discuss a new periodical, proposed by Byron, in which Shelley was to take part. Shelley with a companion sailed in his yacht to greet him; but on the return voyage, Shelley's yacht capsized in a sudden squall and he and his friend were drowned. Shelley's body was identified by the volumes of Keats and Sophocles found in his pockets. The bodies were cremated on the shore, and Shelley's ashes were buried next to Keats in the Protestant cemetery in Rome. It was for Keats that Shelley had written his elegy, adonais, in 1821, in which he seemed to predict his own death. Shelley was 30 when he died, leaving unfinished the most original of all his poems, The Triumph of Life, in which his realism appears in all its sharp strength. As we have it, this fragment presents life as a vanity of vanities, but it is almost certain that Shelley meant in the second half to assert the splendours which human beings could attain.
Mary Shelley, who was only 25 when Shelley died, wrote his biography and edited and published his poetry, comparatively little of which had appeared during his lifetime and that little received with almost universal abhorrence or indifference. He left much fine prose also, including his famous Defence of Poetry, containing his analysis of the way in which poetry is written and his defence of poets as the ‘unacknowledged legislators of the world’.
Excerpts from Oxford Junior Encyclopedia (来源：专业英语学习网站 http://www.EnglishCN.com)
珀 西·比 希·雪 莱(1792—1822)