Description

The retrieval of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s body after he drowned in a storm at sea in 1822 marks the beginning of a phase of myth-making about the poet. Two books were said to have been found in the pockets of Shelley’s clothes. These were works by Sophocles or Aeschylus and a book of poems by John Keats: Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and other poems, as shown here.

The story of Shelley having a folded back copy of a book of poems by Keats in his pocket has a long history. Leigh Hunt, a close friend of Shelley, published his autobiography in 1850, in which he describes giving Shelley his own copy of Keats’s Lamia, etc, the book being ‘found open in the jacket pocket. He had probably been reading it when surprised by the storm’.  In a letter to a friend just after the event Hunt described the book as ‘a copy of Keats’ last volume which he had borrowed of me to read on his passage […] found open and doubled back’. 

A letter by Lord Byron also shows the importance of the volume:

Shelley’s body has been found and identified (though with difficulty) two days ago – chiefly by a book in his jacket pocket – the body itself being totally disfigured & in a state of putrefaction.