Study Guide

Percy Bysshe Shelley Childhood & Education

Childhood & Education

Percy Bysshe Shelley was born 4 August 1792 in Horsham, England. He was the first of seven children (two died as babies) born to Elizabeth Pilfold Shelley and her husband, a Whig Parliamentarian named Sir Timothy Shelley. As the son of a Member of Parliament who stood to inherit a sizeable income, Shelley attended only the best schools. In 1804, at the age of twelve, he went off to Eton College, the boys' boarding school. The other boys teased him mercilessly. Shelley was a classic bully target - bookish, awkward, dainty in appearance. Having grown up with only sisters - his one brother wasn't born until 1804, two years after Shelley left for Eton - he had no idea how to play sports or do anything boys normally liked to do. A natural introvert, Shelley's torment at school only caused him to retreat deeper into his mind.

In 1810, Shelley enrolled at University College, Oxford, to begin his spectacularly unsuccessful college career. "Oxonian society was insipid to me, uncongenial with my habits of thinking," Shelley wrote dismissively of the school. "I could not descend to common life: the sublime interest of poetry, lofty and exalted achievements, the proselytism of the world, the equalization of its inhabitants, were to me the soul of my soul." (Ah, a social experiment of a marriage! It's the dream - right, girls?) Harriet gave birth to their first daughter, Ianthe, on 23 June 1813.