On this day in history: Death of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley

Culture History of Italy

English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley died on 8th July, 1822 while travelling from Livorno in Tuscany to Lerici in Liguria. He was sailing his boat, Don Juan, in in the Gulf of La Spezia.

Just a month before his 30th birthday, the Romantic era poet drowned during a sudden, dramatic storm in the Gulf of La Spezia. His boat, Don Juan, sank taking him down too.

Shelley was travelling from Livorno in Tuscany to Lerici in Liguria. On board were two other people: a retired naval officer, Edward Ellerker Williams, and a boatboy, Charles Vivien. They also died.

Shelley’s body was later washed ashore and, in keeping with the quarantine regulations at the time, was cremated on the beach bear Viareggio on the Tuscan coast.

Shelley had been living with his wife, the writer Mary Shelley, at a rented villa in Lerici. He was returning to his home from Livorno, where he had been arranging the start-up of a new literary magazine to be called The Liberal.

His body was able to be identified by the volume of poetry by John Keats found in his pocket.

Byron on Shelley

The poet was cremated on the beach under the supervision of his friend, the poet Lord Byron, and others from his circle out in Italy. It is reported Byron went for a swim while Shelley’s body burned.

Byron is quoted as saying of Shelley: “He was the best and least selfish man I ever knew.”

Shelley’s ashes were later interred in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome.

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