LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley
Family History
‣ Family History
Shelley at Eton
Taste for the Gothic
Shelley’s Juvenilia
Queen Mab
Shelley at Oxford
First Marriage
Death of Harriet
Chancery Suit
Switzerland: 1814
Alastor; Geneva: 1816
Byron and Claire
At Marlow: 1817
Italy: 1818
Naples, Rome: 1819
The Cenci
Florence: 1819
Vol I Appendix
Vol II Front Matter
Pisa: 1820
Poets and Poetry
Pisa: 1821
Shelley and Keats
Williams, Hunt, Byron
Shelley and Byron
Poetry and Politics
Byron and his Friends
The Pisan Circle
Casa Magni
Death of Shelley
Lerici: 1822
Burial in Rome
Character of Shelley
Vol II Appendix
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Sussex boasts of two great poets, Collins and Otway—it may pride itself on a third and a greater. Percy Bysshe Shelley was born at Field Place, on the 4th of August, 1792. His sirname of Percy being derived from an aunt, who was distantly connected with the Northumberland family, and that of Bysshe from the heiress of Fen Place, through whom that portion of the estate was derived.

The family of Shelly, Shellie, or Shelley, as the name has been spelt at different epochs, is of great antiquity in the above county, and is descended from Sir William, Lord of Affendary,
brother of Sir Thomas Shelly, a faithful adherent of King
Richard the Second, who was attainted and executed by Henry IV. Without tracing the pedigree, and referring those interested in such matters to the Peerage, under the head of “De Lisle and Dudley,” I will only say, that Sir John Shelley, of Maresfield Park, who dated his Baronetage from the earliest creation of that title, in 1611, had, besides other issue, two sons, Sir William, a judge of the Common-pleas, and Edward; from the latter of whom, in the seventh descent, sprung Timothy, who had also two sons, and settled—having married an American lady—at Christ’s Church, Newark, in North America; where Bysshe was born, on the 21st June, 1731.

As often happens to the junior branches of houses, he began life with few of the goods of fortune, and little chance of worldly aggrandisement. America was then the land of promise; but it was only such to him. He there exercised the profession of a Quack doctor, and married, as it is said, the widow of a miller, but for this I cannot vouch.


To a good name, and a remarkably handsome person, he united the most polished manners and address, and it is little to be wondered at that these, in addition to the prestige that never fails to attach itself to a travelled man, should have captivated the great heiress of Horsham, the only daughter and heiress of the Rev. Theobald Michell. The guardian (the young lady was an orphan and a minor) put his veto on the match, but, like a new Desdemona, Miss Michell was not to be deterred by interdictions, and eloped with Mr. Shelley to London, where the fugitives were wedded in that convenient asylum for lovers, the Fleet, by the Fleet parson, and lost no time in repairing to Paris. There the lady was attacked, on her arrival, with the small-pox, and her life despaired of; and which circumstance, had it occurred, by a freak of fortune, would have made my mother heiress to the estates.

After his wife’s death, an insatiate fortune-hunter, he laid siege to a second heiress in an
adjoining county. In order to become acquainted with her, he took up his abode for some time in a small inn on the verge of the Park at Penshurst, a mansion consecrated by the loves of
Waller and Sacarissa, (whose oak is still an object of veneration,) and honoured by the praises of Ben Jonson.

Thou art not, Penshurst, built to envious show,
Or touch, of marble; nor canst boast a row
Of polished pillars, or a roof of gold;
Thou hast no lantern whereof tales are told;
Or stair or courts, but stand’st an ancient pile;
And these, grudged at, are reverenced the while.
Thou joy’st in better marks, of soil, of air,
Of wood, of water; therein art thou fair.
Thou hast thy walks for health as well as sport,
Thy mount, to which the Dryads do resort,
Where Pan and Bacchus their high feasts have made,
Beneath the broad beech, and the chesnut shade,
That taller tree, which of a nut was set,
At his great birth, where all the muses met:
There in the withered bark are cut the names
Of many a Sylvan, taken with his flames,
And thence the ruddy Satyrs oft provoke
The lighter Fauns to reach the Lady’s Oak;
Thy copse, too, named of Gramage, thou hast there,
That never fails to serve the seasoned deer,
When thou wouldst feast, or exercise thy friends
The lower land, that to the river bends,
Thy sheep, thy bullocks, kine and calves do feed
The middle ground, thy mares and horses breed.
Each bank doth yield thee conies, and the tops,
Fertile of wood, Ashore and Sydney copse,
To crown thy open table doth provide,
The purple pheasant with the speckled side.

It might well have excited the ambition of Mr. Shelley to become the proprietor of that historical mansion, so often embellished by the Court of Queen Elizabeth, and the presence of Lord Leicester, the nephew of the great Sir Philip Sidney, “a man without spot,” as Shelley calls him in his Adonais, the patron and friend of Spencer, who so pathetically laments his death, and where the Arcadia (according to family tradition) was partly written; but he was little alire to these influences, and aimed at the hand of Miss Sidney Perry, not as the last scion of the house of Sidney, but as the largest fortune in Kent. He succeeded so well in ingratiating himself with this lady, that she also eloped
with him to London, where they were married at St. James’s, Westminster. John Sidney, afterwards
Sir John Sidney Shelley, and who has now dropped the name of Shelley, was one of the fruits of this marriage, and in the person of his son, was revived the family title of De Lisle, soon after his marriage with Lady Sophia Fitzclarence, the natural daughter of William the Fourth.

It is worthy of remark, that the patent for his being created Lord Leicester, had been drawn up, but not signed by his late Majesty, and somewhat singular that that title should, in the face of it, have been conferred by the Whigs, for political services, on one who had not only no claim to it, but whose ancestor was the coldblooded, and times-serving, and foul-mouthed, Lawyer Coke.

As I shall not have occasion further to allude to this branch of the family, I will remark here, that if Percy Bysshe Shelley was proud of anything, it was of his connection with the Sidneys, and that when Sir John, on his eldest son Philip’s coming of age, resettled the estate,
he offered Percy Bysshe £3000 to renounce his contingency, but which, distressed as he was for money, he refused.

On the 3rd March, 1806, Bysshe, the grandfather, was raised to the baronetage. He owed this distinction, if such it be, to Charles, Duke of Norfolk, who wished thereby to win over to his party the Shelley interest in the western part of the county of Sussex and the Rape of Bramber, not to mention Horsham, on which he had at this period electioneering designs.

I remember Sir Bysshe well in a very advanced age, a remarkably handsome man, fully six feet in height, and with a noble and aristocratic bearing. Nil fuit unquam sic impar sibi. His manner of life was most eccentric, for he used to frequent daily the tap-room of one of the low inns in Horsham, and there drank with some of the lowest citizens, a habit he had probably acquired in the new world. Though he had built a castle, (Goring Castle) that cost him upwards of £80,000, he passed the last twenty
or thirty years of his existence in a small cottage, looking on the river Arun, at Horsham, in which all was mean and beggarly—the existence, indeed, of a miser-—enriching his legatees at the expense of one of his sons, by buying up his post-obits.

In order to dispose of him, I will add that his affectionate son Timothy, received every morning a bulletin of his health, till he became one of the oldest heir-apparents in England, and began to think his father immortal. God takes those to him, who are worth taking, early, and drains to the last sands in the glass, the hours of the worthless and immoral, in order that they may reform their ways. But his were unredeemed by one good action. Two of his daughters by the second marriage led so miserable a life under his roof, that they eloped from him; a consummation he devoutly wished, as he thereby found an excuse for giving them no dowries; and though they were married to two highly respectable men, and one had a numerous
family, he made no mention of either of them in his will.

Shelley seems to have had him in his mind when he says:—
He died—
He was bowed and bent with fears:
Pale with the quenchless thirst of gold,
Which like fierce fever, left him weak,
And his straight lip and bloated cheek
Were wrapt in spasms by hollow sneers;
And selfish cares, with barren plough,
Not age, had lined his narrow brow;
And foul and cruel thoughts, which feed
Upon the withered life within,
Like vipers upon some poisonous weed.

Yes, he died at last, and in his room were found bank notes to the amount of £10,000, some in the leaves of the few books he possessed, others in the folds of his sofa, or sewn into the lining of his dressing gown. But “Ohe! jam satis.

Timothy Shelley, his eldest son, and heir to the Shelley and Michell estates, whose early education was much neglected, and who had originally
been designed to be sent to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, which the great
Sir Philip Sidney founded—and to which his descendant, and Timothy’s half-brother, Sir John, nominates the Master, President, or whatever the head of the College may be called, entered himself at University College, Oxford, and after the usual routine of academical studies, by which he little profited, made The Grand Tour. He was one of those travellers, who, with so much waste of time, travel for the sake of saying they have travelled; and, after making the circuit of Europe, return home, knowing no more of the countries they have visited than the trunks attached to their carriages. All, indeed, that he did bring back with him was a smattering of French, and a bad picture of an Eruption of Vesuvius, if we except a certain air, miscalled that of the old school, which he could put off and on, as occasion served.

He was a disciple of Chesterfield and La Rochefaucauld, reducing all politeness to forms, and moral virtue to expediency; as an instance
of which, he once told his son,
Percy Bysshe, in my presence, that he would provide for as many natural children as he chose to get, but that he would never forgive his making a mesalliance; a sentiment which excited in Shelley anything but respect for his sire.

This anecdote proves that the moral sense in Sir Timothy was obtuse; indeed, his religious opinions were also very lax; although he occasionally went to the parish church, and made his servants regularly attend divine service, he possessed no true devotion himself, and inculcated none to his son and heir, so that much of Percy Bysshe’s scepticism may be traced to early example, if not to precept. But I anticipate. Before Sir Timothy, then Mr. Shelley, set out on his European tour, he had engaged himself to Miss Pilfold, (daughter of Charles Pilfold, Esq., of Effingham Place), who had been brought up by her aunt, Lady Ferdinand Pool, the wife of the well-known father of the turf, and owner of “Potoooooooo,” and the equally celebrated “Waxy” and “Mealy.”