Shelley’s Final Summer season – Needed in Rome


Shelley deliberate to spend the summer time of 1822 crusing alongside the coast of Tuscany however he drowned when his new boat went down in a summer time storm.

Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned in a summer time storm within the Gulf of Spezia on 8 July 1822. He would have been 30 years outdated lower than a month later, on 4 August. It took 10 days earlier than his virtually unrecognisable physique was discovered on the seashore simply north of Viareggio.

There was fixed hypothesis within the two centuries since then as to what occurred, and his early and tragic finish has lent itself to all kinds of romantic and dramatic tales.

Shelley’s final journey

On the bicentenary of his dying it’s typically now accepted that the sinking of his new boat and the drowning of all on board have been attributable to a summer time storm, however the circumstances surrounding Shelley’s final journey have been sophisticated and filled with sufficient feelings to have left a path of tales behind.

The primary accounts speculated that he took his personal life. Though he was identified to be  depressed and had recurring bouts of ailing well being, this narrative appears unlikely contemplating that there have been two different individuals on board, his good pal and crusing buddy Edward Williams and a younger boat hand Charles Vivian. All of them had intensive crusing expertise behind them.

One other story that unfold was that the boat was attacked by pirates, however there was no proof of a battle and all of the indicators have been that the boat sank quickly and virtually with out warning.

It’s sure from the proof accessible that there was a sudden summer time storm and such storms alongside the Mediterranean coast may be very violent. It is usually sure that Shelley determined to set sail regardless from Livorno to get again to Lerici, the place each the Shelley and Edwards household have been dwelling for the summer time, moderately than await higher climate.

A mock-up of what Shelley’s new boat may need regarded like, with Casa Magni within the background.

Mary Shelley had lately had a severe miscarriage, however maybe much more than that Percy was caught up in one among his infinite romantic relationships, this time with Edward’s common-law spouse, Jane. He may have wished to get residence rapidly as a result of he had been disillusioned by the assembly with Lord Byron and Leigh Hunt in regards to the launching of their new journal, The Liberal.

He was out of kinds with Byron, which was common. Though he had persuaded Byron and his entourage to maneuver to Tuscany from Ravenna for the summer time, their friendship was below pressure. Byron’s rowdy events and looking expeditions in addition to a tough and bad-tempered run-in with a member of the Pisan garrison all put strain on the friendship.

Masi affair

The Masi affair, because it was identified, began outdoors the town when a member of the native Pisan garrison tried to journey his approach at pace via the Byron entourage strung out throughout the street. Scuffles and insults flew and finally Sergeant-Main Masi was wounded by one among Byron’s entourage. Relations between the Pisans and the English group have been at a low ebb and so have been Shelley’s relations with Byron.

Shelley’s recurring rivalry with Byron resurfaced. As he wrote to Hunt:

“Specific circumstances — or moderately I ought to say, explicit indispositions in Lord B’s character render the shut and unique intimacy with him by which I discover myself, insupportable to me; thus a lot my finest pal I’ll confess and confide to you…Nevertheless….I’ll take care to protect the little affect I’ll have over this Proteus in whom such unusual extremes are reconciled till we meet.” Richard Holmes. Shelley. The Pursuit. web page 704. Shelley to Hunt, Letters Vol 2.


It was partly to get away from Byron that Shelley determined to maneuver to the coast within the spring of 1822. Another excuse why the Shelleys and the Williams moved to Lerici was in order that Shelley and Edward may sail all through the summer time.

They have been crusing buddies and although Shelley had by no means been in a position to swim they each had appreciable expertise in small boats in lakes and most lately within the inland canals and rivers round Pisa.

For Shelley an extra benefit was that Jane, his newest romantic attachment, would even be there. For Mary, who by no means preferred Casa Magni, the home they’d rented on the sting of the ocean, it put an extra pressure on her uneasy relationship with Shelley, at a time when she was having one other troublesome being pregnant.

Edward Trelawny

The summer time was going to be totally different from what both Shelley or Williams have been used to. Byron who was dwelling in Pisa had lately commissioned a big sea-going yacht, the equal of a schooner or a brigantine, to be inbuilt Genoa by Captain Dan Roberts. Shelley, egged on by their mutual pal Edward Trelawny, determined he was to not be outdone and added his personal fee, once more to be overseen by the flamboyant Trelawny.

These boats weren’t the standard small skiffs that Shelley liked a lot for river crusing, however giant sea-going yachts, the tremendous yachts of the early nineteenth century. Their essential attribute was the 2 masts and a big space of sail. Byron’s yacht was to be known as Bolivar, after the South American hero who led a lot of the continent to independence. Shelley was extra romantic. He wished his yacht to be known as Ariel, the character from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. Why Ariel?

Jane Williams

Shakespeare’s sprite Ariel was clearly on his thoughts and The Tempest was one among his favorite Shakespeare works. It was the identify with which he recognized his relationship with Jane Williams. This might not be extra apparent than within the first stanzas of his poem With a Guitar. To Jane

Ariel to Miranda – Take
This slave of music for the sake
Of him who’s the slave of thee;
And train it all of the concord,
Through which thou canst, and solely thou,
Make the delighted spirit glow,
Until pleasure denies itself once more
And too intense is turned to ache;
For by permission and command
Of thine personal prince Ferdinand
Poor Ariel despatched this silent token
Of greater than ever may be spoken;
Your guardian spirit Ariel, who
From life to life should nonetheless pursue
Your happiness, for thus alone
Can Ariel discover his personal;

So in Shelley’s thoughts the boat had a transparent affiliation with Jane. Many nonetheless check with the boat as Ariel. Even a reference to Shelley on the Royal Museums Greenwich web site calls it Ariel. Why then did it change into often known as Don Juan?

Like lots of the tales and legends that encompass Shelley and Byron the identify Don Juan may also be traced again to their pal, adventurer and basic mischief maker Trelawny. He was accountable not just for the commissioning of the yachts however he was purported to have persuaded Shelley to name the boat the Don Juan in honour of Byron’s epic satirical poem of the identical identify, which was inflicting significantly notoriety on the time and which Byron was nonetheless writing in summer time 1822.

Portrait of Jane Williams by George Clint, painted circa 1822.

A considerably totally different affiliation might be positioned on Trelawny’s renaming of Shelley’s boat. The connotations of Don Juan and Don Giovanni the fictional womaniser couldn’t have been misplaced on Shelley and his entourage. Shelley was brazenly writing about his cooled relationship with Mary on the time. His flirtation with Jane, the spouse of his pal Edward, was plain for all to see and his infatuation with Teresa (Emilia) Viviani was the inspiration for his poem Epipsychidion.

No simpler was Byron’s and Percy’s relationship with Claire Clairmont, Mary’s step-sister. Claire and Byron had an illegitimate daughter, Allegra, who was born in England in early 1817 and who died in April 1822 within the convent the place Byron had despatched her, a lot in opposition to Claire’s needs. Percy was extra usually that not the arbiter between Byron on one aspect and Claire on the opposite when it got here to Allegra and tensions have been excessive in spring 1822 when Allegra died aged 5. Claire’s open reference to Byron didn’t assist allay suspicions in regards to the relationship between the inseparable Percy and Claire, all the time the reason for appreciable gossip and far of Mary’s anguish.

With this in thoughts the re-naming of Shelley’s boat the Don Juan is one thing greater than only a homage to Byron, but additionally a reference to Percy’s lifestyle as a infamous womaniser. Was this what Trelawny had in thoughts? Nobody will ever know. However that Trelawny was a key determine within the lives of the Romantic poets at the moment is past dialogue.

An illustration of the cremation on the seashore, organised by Edward Trelawny. A duplicate of the work, by Louis Édouard Fournier, is within the Keats-Shelley Home.

After the invention of Shelley’s physique north of Viareggio it was Trelawny who stage-managed the dramatic cremation on the seashore. It was Trelawny who was accountable for arranging the internment of Shelley’s ashes within the Protestant cemetery in Rome, managing to safe a burial house for himself alongside Shelley on the identical time. He may have been in love with Mary himself and positively grew to become one among her shut entourage after Shelley’s dying.

Regardless of the tales and suspicions that circulated after Shelley’s dying there have been additionally good technical explanation why the boat went down within the storm. Shelley wished the world of sail elevated to make the yacht sooner, in order that he may outrace Byron, in response to yet one more story. However placing on extra sail meant that the boat grew to become unstable.

With the intention to counteract what would have been a doubtlessly harmful heel when crusing in excessive winds extra ballast was placed on board. However consequently the boat sat decrease within the water than it ought to have been in its unique design. The hazard was apparent sufficient, however most likely no-one anticipated that Shelley can be out crusing in heavy climate. When the storm hit the boat took on an excessive amount of water and went below quick.

In fact seafarers and the superstitious will level out that altering the identify of a ship is unfortunate and ought to be prevented in any respect prices. In line with this age-old superstition Ariel/Don Juan by no means stood an opportunity. And what bitter irony that Shelley took the identify Ariel for his boat from one among his favorite Shakespeare works, The Tempest.

By Mary Wilsey

This text was printed within the April 2022 version of Needed in Rome journal.

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