On the twenty-eighth of July, in 1814, twenty-one year old Percy Bysshe Shelley set off for Europe with 17-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin . . .
He was married to another at the time.
You see, a few years prior, he had eloped with a sixteen-year-old named Harriet Westbrook. Harriet attended boarding school with his sisters; she wrote Percy long letters, describing her desperation to escape her circumstances. Percy decided to be her knight in shining armor. As you might imagine, their marriage was less than idyllic. Harriet remained miserable and Percy soon followed suit.
Then he met Mary — a bright, intelligent young lady — and all sensibility went out the window. So it was, while his wife was pregnant with their son, he thought it a splendid idea to take off for Europe with Mary and her step-sister. For six weeks they sailed and walked and read aloud great works of literature.
Just a little culture, before heading back to domestic life.
Two years later, Harriet drowned herself and their unborn child.
Two weeks after that Percy married Mary.
Of course, so as not to sound quite so callous, he was attempting to gain custody of his children. Not that it did any good.
The Shelleys spent most of their short, married life ‘escaping’ to Europe, dodging creditors, but surrounded by literary sorts.
Just shy of his thirtieth birthday, a sudden storm overtook his boat on the Gulf of Spezia (or so the story goes) and he drowned . When his body washed ashore, he had to be cremated, due quarantine laws of the day. Nonetheless, a friend snatched his heart from the flames. A gift to his wife.
His remains are now buried near Mary’s, at St. Peter’s Church.