1822 - Death of Shelley; Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 (Unfinished)

Shelley drowned off the coast of Livorno on the 8th July 1822, less than one month before his 30th birthday. Suspicion surrounds the sinking of his boat, Ariel, which went down in a storm with two other hands on board. Some believe that Shelley scuppered the boat himself, in a selfish act of suicide, others that he was the victim of a pirate attack, or even that he was murdered for political reasons. His body was lost at sea for 11 days, and upon its retrieval was cremated on the beach at Viareggio. At the funeral Edward Trelawny, a friend of the poet’s, plucked what he took to be Shelley’s heart from the body and gave it to Mary Shelley, who kept it for the rest of her life in a heart-shaped box. Although this may seem morbidly grotesque in the light of modern day values, the practice of keeping relics as mementos of the deceased was commonplace at the time. Byron intended to take the skull of his friend but it did not survive the cremation intact. The Keats-Shelley House collection includes fragments of Shelley’s jawbone.

It was in 1822 that Schubert began his famous unfinished symphony, Symphony No. 8. Mystery surrounds the fact that he never finished the work; he only ever completed two movements despite the fact that he lived for another six years.

The Cremation of Shelley, Louis Edouard Fournier, 1889