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The Inevitable Fate

There is a sense of inevitability in Shelley’s last letters, as well as an atmosphere of prophecy. The Shelley circle’s letters, as well as Mary’s journal, seem to show the presence of fate and the impossibility of avoiding it. Did Shelley’s “Adieu” to Jane Williams, and Jane’s blurred memory (did she dream of the Bolivar or did she really see it?) represent an unconscious feeling of what was going to happen? We know that the Shelleys and their friends were still upset about the death of little Allegra Byron, but the images of sorrow, prophecy and melancholy are also very appropriate for what was going to happen.

It is well known, that between Allegra Byron’s death and Shelley’s death, the Shelley circle experienced some prophetic dreams and visions. My theory is that those dreams and visions had been possible because Jane, Mary and Percy were at the time so deeply moved for Allegra’s death as to become very sensitive towards the stimuli coming from the unconscious.

Let’s see what this means in Jungian terms.

A Voyage into the Unconscious

Richard Wynne Nevinson, A Bursting Shell, 1915

“Every emotional state produces an alteration of consciousness which Janet called abaissement du niveau mental; that is to say there is a certain narrowing of consciousness and a corresponding strengthening of the unconscious which, particularly in the case of strong affects, is noticeable even to the layman. The tone of the unconscious is heightened, thereby creating a gradient for the unconscious to flow towards the conscious. The conscious then comes under the influence of unconscious instinctual impulses and contents. These are as a rule complexes whose ultimate basis is the archetype, the “instinctual pattern.” The unconscious also contains subliminal perceptions (as well as forgotten memory-images that cannot be reproduced at the moment, and perhaps not at all). Among the subliminal contents we must distinguish perceptions from what I would call an inexplicable “knowledge,” or an “immediacy” of psychic images. Whereas the sense-perceptions can be related to probable or possible sensory stimuli below the threshold of consciousness, this “knowledge,” or the “immediacy” of unconscious images, either has no recognizable foundation or else we find that there are recognizable causal connections with certain already existing, and often archetypal, contents.

But these images, whether rooted in any already existing basis or not, stand in an analogous or equivalent (i.e., meaningful) relationship to objective occurrences which have no recognizable or even conceivable causal relationship with them. How could an event remote in space and time produce a corresponding psychic image when the transmission of energy necessary for this is not even thinkable? However incomprehensible it may appear, we are finally compelled to assume that there is in the unconscious something like an a priori knowledge or an “immediacy” of events which lacks any causal basis. At any rate our conception of causality is incapable of explaining the facts.”

Carl Gustav Jung, Synchronicity. An Acausal Connecting Principle, The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 8, pp. 39-40

A Dream Image?

George Frederic Watts and workshop, Hope, 1886

So, in Jung’s terms, under such emotional states, inhibitions are loosened and content can rise up freely from the unconscious.

In other words, is it possible that Jane Williams perceived Shelley’s death through dream, as she experienced an abaissement du niveau mental (a lowering of the level of consciousness), with the consequent rise in sensitivity towards unconscious contents, after the stress of Allegra Byron’s death?

Jane was very close to Shelley, and Shelley himself experienced a vision in which he saw Allegra rising up from the sea. At the time, their unconscious seemed to be so closely connected that they influenced each other in those perceptions, visions and prophetic feelings.

Let’s see some of those images from their letters and Mary’s journal.

The Prophecy

George J. Stodart, Mary and Percy Shelley, engraving (1853), after a monument by Henry Weekes

The breath whose might I have invoked in song
Descends on me; my spirit’s bark is driven
Far from the shore
, far from the trembling throng
Whose sails were never to the tempest given;
The massy earth and sphered skies are riven!
I am borne darkly, fearfully, afar;
Whilst, burning through the inmost veil of Heaven,
The soul of Adonais, like a star,
Beacons from the abode where the Eternal are.

Shelley, Adonais, last stanza

A Vision

British School, A Woman with a Dead Child Adrift at Sea on a Raft, Sunset

From Mary Shelley’s Journal:

Monday, May 6. Fine. Some heavy drops of rain fell today, without a cloud being visible. Made a sketch of the western side of the bay. Read a little. Walked with Jane up the mountain.

After tea walking with Shelley on the terrace, and observing the effect of moonshine on the waters, he complained of being unusually nervous, and stopping short, he grasped me violently by the arm, and stared steadfastly on the white surf that broke upon the beach under our feet. Observing him sensibly affected, I demanded of him if he were in pain. But he only answered by saying, “There it is again there”! He recovered after some time, and declared that he saw, as plainly as he then saw me, a naked child (Allegra) rise from the sea, and clap its hands as in joy, smiling at him. This was a trance that it required some reasoning and philosophy entirely to awaken him from, so forcibly had the vision operated on his mind. Our conversation, which had been at first rather melancholy, led to this; and my confirming his sensations, by confessing that I had felt the same, gave greater activity to his ever-wandering and lively imagination.

Death Wish

18th June, 1822

“(…) should you meet with any scientific person, capable of preparing the Prussic Acid, or essential oil of bitter almonds, I should regard it as a great kindness if you could procure me a small quantity. It requires the greatest caution in preparation, and ought to be highly concentrated; I would give any price for this medicine; you remember we talked of it the other night, and we both expressed a wish to possess it; my wish was serious, and sprung from the desire of avoiding needless suffering. I need not tell you I have no intention of suicide at present, but I confess it would be a comfort to me to hold in my possession that golden key to the chamber of perpetual rest.”

Remain Thou, Thou art so Beautiful!

This small sketch could depict Byron and Shelley’s boats.
Credit: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

Shelley to Gisborne

18th June, 1822

“I have a boat here; it cost me eighty pounds, and reduced me to some difficulty in point of money. However, it is swift and beautiful, and appears quite a vessel. Williams is captain, and we drive along this delightful bay in the evening wind, under the summer moon, until earth appears another world. Jane brings her guitar, and if the past and the future could be obliterated, the present would content me so well that I could say with Faust to the passing moment, “Remain thou, thou art so beautiful!” (…) Lord Byron, who is at Leghorn, has fitted up a splendid vessel a small schooner on the American model and Trelawney is to be captain. How long the fiery spirit of our pirate will accommodate itself to the caprice of the poet remains to be seen. . . .”

Everybody is in Despair, and Everything in Confusion

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights (Detail), 1490-1510

Shelley to Mary

Pisa, 4h July, 1822.

My dearest Mary — I have received both your letters, and shall attend to the instructions they convey. I did not think of buying the Bolivar; Lord Byron wishes to sell her, but I imagine would prefer ready money.


I am detained unwillingly here, and you will probably see Williams in the boat before me, but that will be decided tomorrow.


Lord Byron is at this moment on the point of leaving Tuscany. The Gambas have been exiled, and he declares his intention of following their fortunes. His first idea was to sail to America, which was changed to Switzerland, then to Genoa, and last to Lucca. Everybody is in despair, and everything in confusion. Trelawny was on the point of sailing to Genoa for the purpose of transporting the Bolivar overland to the Lake of Geneva, and had already whispered in my ear his desire that I should not influence Lord Byron against this terrestrial navigation. He next received orders to weigh anchor and set sail for Lerici. He is now without instructions, moody and disappointed. But it is the worse for poor Hunt, unless the present storm should blow over.

Adieu, my Dearest Friend

Alfred Guillou (1844-1926), Adieu (1892)

Shelley to Jane Williams

Pisa, 5th July, 1822.

You will probably see Williams before I can disentangle myself from the affairs with which I am now surrounded. I return to Leghorn to-night, and shall urge him to sail with the first fair wind without expecting me. I have thus the pleasure of contributing to your happiness when deprived of every other, and of leaving you no other subject of regret but the absence of one scarcely worth regretting. I fear you are solitary and melancholy at the Villa Magni, and, in the intervals of the greater and more serious distress in which I am compelled to sympathise here, I figure to myself the countenance which has been the source of such consolation to me, shadowed by a veil of sorrow.

How soon those hours passed, and how slowly they return, to pass so soon again, and perhaps for ever, in which we have lived together so intimately, so happily! Adieu, my dearest friend. I only write these lines for the pleasure of tracing what will meet your eyes. Mary will tell you all the news. S-

The Visionary Veil – The Spirit of Prophecy

Gustav Dore, From The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, 1868

Jane Williams to Shelley

6th July, 1822

My dearest Friend — Your few melancholy lines have indeed cast your own visionary veil over a countenance that was animated with the hope of seeing you return with far different tidings. We heard yesterday that you had left Leghorn in company with the Bolivar, and would assuredly be here in the morning at 5 o’clock; therefore I got up, and from the terrace saw (or I dreamt it) the Bolivar opposite in the offing. She hoisted more sail, and went through the Straits. What can this mean? Hope and uncertainty have made such a chaos in my mind that I know not what to think.


Lord B.’s departure gives me pleasure, for whatever may be the present difficulties and disappointments, they are small to what you would have suffered had he remained with you. This I say in the spirit of prophecy, so gather consolation from it.

I have only time left to scrawl you a hasty adieu, and am affectionately yours, J. W.

Why do you talk of never enjoying moments like the past? Are you going to join your friend Plato, or do you expect I shall do so soon? Buona notte.

Jacopo Ortis

Ugo Foscolo, Le ultime lettere di Jacopo Ortis (The Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis)

From Mary Shelley’s Journal:

Sunday July 7. — I am ill most of this time. Ill, and then convalescent. Roberts and Trelawny arrive with the Bolivar, On Monday, 16th June, Trelawny goes on to Leghorn with her. Roberts remains here until 1st July, when the Hunts being arrived, Shelley goes in the boat with him and Edward to Leghorn. They are still there. Read Jacopo Ortis, second volume of Geographica Fisica, etc. etc.

The Ariel Sinks

Monday 8th July, 1822. Stormy all day. The Ariel sinks.

Plaque in Lerici dedicated to Shelley

NOTE: The name “Jame” is a mispelling in the plaque.




From this portico in which the aged shade of an ilex fell
Mary Godwin and Jame Williams waited with tearful anxiety
For Percy Bysshe Shelley
Who from Leghorn on fragile wood sailing
Arrived by sudden fortune
At the silence of the Elysean Isles

Oh blessed beaches
Where love liberty and dreams
Have no chains

Translation by David Nicholson (http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidatrome/4636482501)

The Dispatch

Louis Édouard Fournier, The Funeral of Shelley (1889)

[Translation from the Italian by E. J. Trelawny]

This Sixteenth day of August, 1822, at 4 o’clock, P. M.

‘We Domenico Simoncini captain and official of the maritime quarantine of the city of Viareggio, in consequence of orders communicated by his Excellency the governor of the said city, President of the Quarantine Commission, in paper No. 90; together with which is sent a copy of the dispatch of his Excellency the Minister of State of the 27th of last month, No. 384, whereby the Quarantine Office is informed that our august Sovereign has granted the request made by the British Legation to be allowed to remove the mortal remains of Mr. Shelley, brought to land by the waves of the sea, on the 18th day of July, where they were buried according to the quarantine rules in force.
E. J. Trelawny, commanding the schooner ‘Bolivar,’ with the English flag, presented himself to us, authorized by the Consul of Her Britannic Majesty with a paper from the same, dated 13th of this present month, which he produced: attended by this gentleman, by the Mayor commanding the place, and the Royal Marine of the Dachy, and by his Excellency Lord Noel Byron, an English peer, we proceeded to the eastern shore, and arrived at the spot where the above mentioned corpse had been buried. After recognition made, according to the legal forms of the tribunal, we caused the ground to be opened and found the remains of the above-mentioned corpse. The said remains were placed in an iron furnace, there burnt and reduced to ashes. After which, always in the presence of those above mentioned, the said ashes were placed in a box lined with black velvet, which was fastened with screws; this was left in the possession of the said E. J. Trelawny to be taken to Leghorn.
The present report is made in double original of the whole of the above proceeding, and is signed by us, and the above named gentlemen,
E. J. Trelawny.
Deo. Simoncini.
Noel Byron.

Commissione Sanitaria,
Marittima, Viareggio,
Duchy of Lucca.

Ariel Sings

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them—Ding-dong, bell.

William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act 1, Scene 2

Death by Water

Jackson Pollock, Full Fathom Five, Oil on canvas with nails, tacks, buttons, coins, cigarettes, etc, (1947)

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