January 7 1816: Shelley’s Finances


On January 7, 1816, Percy Shelley writes to William Godwin about his financial affairs. The poet demonstrates a very practical and detailed understanding of his finances. 

Bishopgate, January 7, 1816.

SlR, I will endeavour to give you as clear as possible a history of the proceedings between myself and my father. A small portion of the estates to which I am entitled in reversion were comprehended in the will of Mr. John Shelley, my great-uncle, and devised to the same uses as the larger portion which was settled on my father’s marriage jointly by my grandfather and father. This portion was valued at £18,000, which my father purchased of me with an equivalent of £11,000. I signed on this occasion two deeds; the one was to empower my attorney to suffer what is called a recovery, the other a counterpart of the deed of conveyance.

Before these transactions, however, and at the very commencement of our negotiations, I signed a deed which was the preliminary and the basis of the whole business. My grandfather had left me the option of receiving a life estate in some very large sum (I think £140,000) on condition that I would prolong the entail, so as to possess only a life estate in my original patrimony. These conditions I never intended to accept, although Longdill [Shelley’s solicitor] considered them very favourable to me, and urged me by all means to grasp at the offer. It was my father’s interest and wish that I should refuse the conditions, because my younger brother would inherit, in default of my compliance with them, this life estate. Longdill and Whitton therefore made an agreement that I should resign my rights to this property, and that my father, in exchange for this concession, should give me the full price of my reversion. In compliance with the terms of this agreement, I signed a deed importing that I disclaimed my grandfather’s property. My father did not sign his part of the agreement, because he could not do so without forfeiting the new entail, which says that whoever in whatsoever manner endeavours to break through the intentions of the testator shall not enjoy the fortune; but Mr. Whitton engaged tacitly to Longdill that my father would buy the reversion oo the terms already settled.

Now, Whitton professes my father’s willingness to proceed, but urges every consideration calculated to delay the progress of the affair. Longdill told me that he saw Whitton wished to procure as much delay as possible, but that he still thought it was their intention not entirely to give up the negotiation. Whether both Whitton and Longdill are not quietly making their advantage out of the inexperience and credulity of myself and my father is a doubt that has crossed my mind.

You say that you will receive no more than £1250 for the payment of those encumbrances from which you think I may be considered as specially bound to relieve you. I would not desire to persuade you to sell the approbation of your friends for the difference between this sum and that which your necessities actually require, but the mention of your friends has suggested a plan to my mind which possibly you may be able to execute. You have undoubtedly some well-wishers who, although ihey would refuse to give you so large a sum as £1200, might not refuse to lend it you on security which they might consider as unexceptionable. I think you could lay before any rich friend such a statement of your case as that, if he could refuse to lend £1200  on my security, his desire of benefiting you must be exceedingly — slight. There is every probability in favour of the arrangement with my father being completed within the year. I can give evidence of the existence of the negotiation between us. If this prospect should fail, I still remain heir to property of £6000 or £7000 a year. Why not ask Grattan, or Mackintosh, or Lord Holland, whom I have heard named as your . . .

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