chapter  1
20 Pages

Shelley’s early biographers

WithPatricia Hodgart

The drama of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s life, together with his eccentric personality, was an obvious gold-mine for any writer of fiction, and Thomas Love Peacock’s novels abound in sketches and caricatures of the poet at various stages of his early career. Thomas Medwin, Shelley’s cousin, was with him at his first school, Syon House at Brentford, but subsequently saw little of him until the last two years of the poet’s life when he joined the Shelley circle in Pisa in 1820. To fill out his inadequacies as a biographer he ransacked Mary Shelley’s notes to her edition of the poems, as well as drawing freely on articles by Thomas Jefferson Hogg and others, but the Life remains full of factual errors and painful misquotations. Victorian biographers, in particular Edward Dowden, who wrote the authorized Life in two volumes, favoured this romantic version, but Shelley’s contemporary critics took a more down-to-earth view.