When famous poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was living with writer of ‘Frankenstein,’ Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley in Italy, he was said to be bereft over the deaths of three of his children, who had died soon after their births. One day, on June the 24th 1812, he went for a walk alone, and his wife later wrote of what happened to him in a letter to a friend. Shelley saw the figure of himself as he walked on the terrace, and it said to him, “How long do you mean to be content?” On another occasion, a friend was staying with them, Mrs. Jane Williams, who was described by Shelley’s wife as ‘a woman of sensibility’ who ‘has not much imagination and is not in the slightest degree nervous – neither in dreams or otherwise.’ Mrs Williams was standing inside the house gazing out of a window that looked out onto the terrace, when ‘she saw, as she thought, Shelley pass by the window, as he often was, without coat or jacket. He passed again, as he passed both times the same way – towards which he went there was no way to get back except past the window again, except over a wall twenty foot from the ground. She was struck at seeing him pass twice thus, and looking out and seeing him no more, she cried, “Good God, can Shelley have leapt from the wall? Where can he be gone?” She was told that Shelley was not at the villa at the time. ‘She trembled exceedingly when she heard, and it proved indeed that Shelley had never been on the terrace and was far off at the time she saw him.’ Shelley’s final encounter with his doppelganger came when he was walking alone on the beach. Again, he encountered himself. On this occasion, the doppelganger was looking at him, but his hand was pointing out to the sea. Not long after this, Shelley’s body would be found in the sea after he drowned while sailing back from Liverno in a storm in the bay of Spezia on July the 8th 1822. He was a month short of his 30th birthday. The boat had been custom built for Shelley in Genoa, but it sank. Some, including Shelley’s friend Edward John Trelawney, said Shelley lacked the seamanship skills to have undertaken this 7-hour journey with two friends, retired Navy officer Edward Ellerker Williams and boat-hand young Charles Vivien. Richard Holmes of The Guardian however says, ‘Despite what Trelawny implied, Shelley had considerable experience sailing boats, from schoolboy expeditions up the Thames, to sailing single-handed down the Arno, the Serchio, and beyond Livorno out to sea. He had successfully survived perilous incidents on the Rhine in 1814, on Lake Geneva (with Byron) in 1816, and on the Pisan Canal (with Williams) in 1821,’ however, crucially he adds, ‘It was true, however, that Shelley was a river sailor.’ Mary Shelley later claimed in her ‘Note on Poems, 1822,’ that the design of the boat had been defective, and had never been seaworthy. Says Richard Holmes, ‘Unknown to Shelley,’ his boat ‘had a fundamental design-fault. A twin-master schooner could not simply be scaled-down to a small, undecked, open boat.’ Some suggested Shelley’s sadness over his children’s deaths had led him to want to drown himself, while others suggested he had been attacked by pirates; but there were many who whispered that he been assassinated for political reasons while out to sea. Shelley’s boat was found 10 miles off shore after the storm had sunk the boat. Some suggested it had been rammed, for one side was caved in. His friend Trelawny said that William’s shirt was ‘partly drawn over the head, and he was missing one boot.’ He felt that this meant Williams had been in the act of undressing for bed when he died. Shelley’s father was a Baron in Parliament. Shelley was staunch in his own radical and outspoken anti-establishment political views. Biographer Richard Holmes says Shelley’s political interests included ‘Radical reform of the Houses of Parliament, disestablishment of the Anglican Church, formation of trade unions, universal suffrage.’ In a letter to a Mr. Leigh Hunt, who would later become his friend, Shelley writes, ‘My father is in Parliament and on attaining 21, I shall, in all probability, fill his vacant seat.’ His letter also mentions, ‘The ultimate intention is to introduce a meeting of such enlightened, unprejudiced members of the community; to form a methodical society which should be organised so as to resist the coalition of the enemies of liberty… the very great influence which some years since was gained by Illuminism,… a society of equal might establish rational liberty.’ Is he referring to the founding of the Illuminati? Hunt would be imprisoned for libel in 1821, and Shelley, Lord Byron and Hunt would publish a radical political journal called ‘The Liberal.’ Contemporary Professor Aleksandar Nedeljković says, ‘On the basis of several witness reports and strong material evidence, and on the basis of political circumstances, the final, conclusive answer, one that some people in earlier times perhaps had an inkling of but didn’t dare to say: Shelley was murdered by the British Secret Service, namely, secret agents were sent from England and they bribed a crew of Italian fishermen to sink his boat and drown him, because he kept attacking and drastically insulting the British government and Parliament, aristocrats, the King, and Christian faith.’ Shelley’s body washed to shore; the mystery of his death never really solved.
Interestingly, it would seem that Shelley had been attacked before. When Shelley was living in Wales, he claimed he was attacked in the middle of the night. He was living at a house called Tan-yr-allt in 1812, when he claimed a man entered the property and attacked him. The suggestion was that this man was an intelligence agent, although there are other possibilities. Richard Holmes, in ‘Shelley: The Pursuit’ says, ‘It’s said that he had annoyed some of the local residents with his outspoken views and may have even owed some people money. Who knows what really happened?’ Author Lynn Shepherd End on this says, ‘Within weeks, Shelley had antagonised many of his neighbours, particularly a local landowner named Robert Leeson. On the night of February 26th, in the midst of a storm, Shelley was apparently the subject of an assassination attempt. He certainly thought it such, and more than one gunshot was heard, but no-one but Shelley saw the man who attacked him, even though the supposed assailant came back to the house a second time the same night. Even many of Shelley’s friends thought it was some kind of delusion, and years later the incident was still being referred to in the Tremadoc area as ‘Shelley’s ghost.’ Intriguingly, she continues, ‘Shelley always believed Leeson was the man who tried to murder him, improbable though that suggestion was, and over the next few years this became almost a mania with him – he even claimed he’d seen Leeson following him in London, and once as far away as Pisa. Something was certainly persecuting Shelley, but it wasn’t Robert Leeson. Again, and again in his letters and journals Shelley talks of the ‘doubleness’ of his own nature, of a dark ‘anti-self’, and once he describes himself “starting from my own company as if it were that of a fiend”. Like a ‘ghastly presence ever beside him like his shadow’, it was his own self Shelley could not escape….’ Or his doppelganger.