Percy Shelley was one of the seminal English Romantic poets who is still regarded as one of the finest poets. Fame and money came too late though and he wasn’t regarded well in his lifetime. He wrote most of his famous timeless works in the last four years of his short life.
He was a vegetarian and as I stopped eating meat on 31st December 1985 I thought the least I could do while in Bournemouth is visit a fellow veggie dude. He’s not buried here but his heart is (he drowned in a storm off the coast of Italy and his ashes are in Rome.)
On the first evening of the day I arrived at the hotel in Bournemouth I strolled down to the church in evening sunlight. Entering the gates I hoped a grave’s elevated position in front of the church gave away the occupant’s status. I was lucky - this was it. Percy’s heart is in here. His second wife was Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin who wrote the novel Frankenstein. They married after Percy’s first wife committed suicide.
It wasn’t a long life. He died less than a month before his thirtieth birthday in a boat that was not sea-worthy and sank rather than capsize. Two other English friends were also on the boat, a retired naval officer and a boat boy. It’s thought they may have been murdered as when the boat was later found ten miles offshore it looked to have been rammed and the raft hadn’t been used. Also when the bodies were washed ashore a few days later all were fully clothed and wearing boots. As was custom at the time Percy’s wife didn’t attend the cremation.
Mary and Percy are reunited here on the south coast. So how did the heart end up here in this family grave? Due to quarantine laws Percy was cremated on the beach. A friend was in attendance but when Percy’s heart refused to burn (probably due to being calcified from a bout with tuberculosis) he claimed it and it was eventually turned over to Percy’s widow in England. She kept it in a silken shroud and carried it around with her. After her death it was found in her desk. She had bought a cliff-top home in Bournemouth which is how they ended up here. Perhaps Percy’s would have lived longer had he not gone to Eton College when he was aged 12. It’s thought he was violently beaten and mentally bullied that he retreated into his imagination and started writing.
I noticed there were a lot of people buried in this grave - it’s more a mausoleum, a room under grass rather than a standard grave. A bit of British nobility is here. Percy and Mary’s son became the 3rd Baronet of Castle Goring upon the death of his granddad. It’s good to know the poet left behind a bit of glitter as when he died as he was considered a drug addict, taking laudanum to the point where he suffered spasms, haunting dreams and loss of lucidity.
Blimey, what a colourful life and gone at twenty-nine. As I strolled down to the Bournemouth beach I tried to think what I’d achieved by this age - done the Rubik’s Cube three times, had a full page article published in a magazine, slit my wrist rendering two fingers numb (with blood spurting onto the lampshade.) I couldn’t think of anything else.
The heart is in this family mausoleum…
In a corner of the cemetery is buried Constantin Silvestri who was an orchestra conductor. He was the head of the Bucharest Opera but fled Romania in 1956 and became the chief conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in 1961. Worth a quick look…