May 3 1816: Leaving England

The white cliffs of dover, viewed from at sea in The English Channel, during force 8 gale force wind.

On May 3, 1816 Mary, Percy, their son William, and Claire leave England on a vessel from Dover. They hope to reach Switzerland and meet Lord Byron. Before leaving, Shelley writes to William Godwin.

Dover, May 3, 1816.

No doubt you are anxious to hear the state of my concerns. I wish that it was in my power to give you a more favourable view of them than such as I am compelled to present. The limited condition of my fortune is regretted by me, as I imagine you well know, because among other designs of a similar nature I cannot at once put you in possession of all that would be sufficient for the comfort and independence which it is so unjust that you should not have already received from society.

Chancery has decided that I and my father may not touch the estates. It has decided also that all the timber, worth, it is said, £60,000, must be cut and sold, and the money paid into court to abide whatever equities may hereafter arise. This you already know from Fanny.

All this reduces me very nearly to the situation I described to you in March, so far as relates to your share in the question. I May–Sept. shall receive nothing from my father except in the way of charity. Post-obit concerns are very doubtful, and annuity transactions are confined within an obvious and very narrow limit. My father is to advance me a sum to meet, as I have alleged, engagements contracted during the dependence of the late negotiation. This sum is extremely small, and is swallowed up almost in such of my debts and the liquidation of such securities as I have been compelled to state in order to obtain the money at all. A few hundred pounds will remain; you shall have £300 from this source in the course of the summer. I am to give a post-obit security for this sum, and the affair at present stands that the deeds are to be drawn in the course of six weeks or two months, and that I am to return for their signature, and to receive the money. There can be no doubt that, if my applications in other quarters should not be discovered by my father, the money will be in readiness for you by the time that Kingdom’s discounts recur. * I am afraid nothing can be done with Bryant. He promised to lend me £500 on my mere bond; of course he failed, and this failure presents no good augury of his future performances. Still the negotiation is open, and I cannot but think that the only, or at least the best, chance for success would be your interference. Perhaps you would dislike to be mistaken for my personal friend, which it would be necessary you should appear, provided you acquiesce in this suggestion. I am confident that it would be a most favourable circumstance. It is necessary, I must remark, that secrecy should at present be observed. Hayward has also an affair in hand. He says he thinks he can get me £300 on post-obit. Neither Bryant nor Hayward know that I have left England, and as I must in all probability, nay certainly, return in a few weeks to sign these deeds, if the people should agree, or at least to get the money from my father, I thought it might relax their exertions to know that I was abroad. I informed them that I was gone for a fortnight or three weeks into the country. I have not even disengaged my lodgings in Marchmont Street. The motives which determined me to leave England, and which I stated toyou in a former letter, have continued since that period to press on me with accumulated force. Continually detained in a situation where what I esteem a prejudice does not permit me to live on equal terms with my fellow-beings, I resolved to commit myself to a decided step. I therefore take Mary to Geneva, where May–Sept. I shall devise some plan of settlement, and only leave her to return to London, and exclusively devote myself to business.

I leave England, I know not, perhaps for ever. I return, alone, to see no friend, to do no office of friendship, to engage in nothing that can soothe the sentiments of regret almost like remorse, which, under such circumstances, every one feels who quits his native land. I respect you, I think well of you, better perhaps than of any other person whom England contains; you were the philosopher who first awakened, and who still as a philosopher to a very great degree regulates, my understanding. It is unfortunate for me that the part of your character which is least excellent should have been met by my convictions of what was right to do. But I have been too indignant, I have been unjust to you—forgive me—burn those letters which contain the records of my violence, and believe that however what you erroneously call fame and honour separate us, I shall always feel towards you as the most affectionate of friends.


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