The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley by Thomas Medwin


Thomas Medwin was Percy Bysshe Shelley’s cousin and friend: he attended the same school, and possibly collaborated with Shelley on some early writings. After Shelley eloped with Harriet Westbrook in 1811, their paths diverged, but their friendship was rekindled in 1820. Medwin’s Life of Shelley is a useful, though not always reliable, source for the poet’s early life.

How does Medwin’s biographical information on Shelley illuminate the poet’s work? 

Medwin sheds some light on Shelley’s fascination with water, in particularly his interest in toy boats and real boats. Water is a recurring theme in the poems from 1815, though Medwin points out the presence of a boat in Queen Mab (1813). He states that no writer surpasses Shelley when he is writing about water, and in Alastor the boat is treated as a major element in the story. In these short anecdotes we see Shelley on the banks of the Serpentine, skimming stones across the water, making flotillas of paper boats, and even making a paper boat from a £10 note. 

Medwin points out that ‘the water was [Shelley’s] fatal element’; he is particularly alert to the idea that the poet had premonitions of his own death, in the line from Epipsychidion and the story about seeing an apparition of a child rise from the sea.

Full title:
The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley
1847, London
Thomas Medwin
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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