Mr. Timothy Shelley was a very ordinary country gentleman in essentials, and a rather eccentric one in some details. He was settled at Field Place, near Horsham, Sussex, and married Elizabeth, daughter of Charles Pilfold, of Effingham, Surrey; she was a beauty, and a woman of good abilities, but without any literary turn. Their first child was the poet, Percy Bysshe, born at Field Place on Aug. 4, 1792: four daughters also grew up, and a younger son, John: the eldest son of John is now the Baronet, having succeeded, in 1889, Sir Percy Florence Shelley, the poet’s only surviving son. No one has managed to discover in the parents of Percy Bysshe any qualities furnishing the prototype or the nucleus of his poetical genius, or of the very exceptional cast of mind and character which he developed in other directions. The parents were commonplace: if we go back to the grandfather, Sir Bysshe, we encounter a man who was certainly not commonplace, but who seems to have been devoid of either poetical or humanitarian fervour. He figures as intent upon his worldly interests, accumulating a massive fortune, and spending lavishly upon the building of Castle Goring; in his old age, penurious, unsocial, and almost churlish in his habits. His passion was to domineer and carry his point; of this the poet may have inherited something. His ideal of success was wealth and worldly position, things to which the poet was, on the contrary, abnormally indifferent.
Shelley’s schooling began at six years of age, when he was placed under the Rev. Mr. Edwards, at Warnham. At ten he went to Sion House School, Brentford, of which the Principal was Dr. Greenlaw, the pupils being mostly sons of local tradesmen. In July, 1804, he proceeded to Eton, where Dr. Goodall was the Head Master, succeeded, just towards the end of Shelley’s stay, by the far severer Dr. Keate. Shelley was shy, sensitive, and of susceptible fancy: at Eton we first find him insubordinate as well. He steadily resisted the fagging-system, learned more as he chose than as his masters dictated, and was known as ’Mad Shelley,’ and ‘Shelley the Atheist.’ It has sometimes been said that an Eton boy, if rebellious, was termed ‘Atheist,’ and that the designation, as applied to Shelley, meant no more than that. I do not feel satisfied that this is true at all; at any rate it seems to me probable that Shelley, who constantly called himself an atheist in after-life, received the epithet at Eton for some cause more apposite than disaffection to school-authority.
He finally left Eton in July, 1810. He had already been entered in University College, Oxford, in April of that year, and he commenced residence there in October. His one very intimate friend in Oxford was Thomas Jefferson Hogg, a student from the county of Durham. Hogg was not, like Shelley, an enthusiast eager to learn new truths, and to apply them; but he was a youth appreciative of classical and other literature, and little or not at all less disposed