In the aftermath of Bysshe Shelley's cremation ...
Byron’s principal biographer, Leslie A. Marchand, disputes Trelawny’s I-want-Shelley’s-skull story, attributing it to Trelawny’s growing bitterness toward Byron later on. He wrote that the story is not recorded in any of his contemporary manuscript narratives. Then again … there’s no way to be sure, is there? I want to believe the story—it’s so Byron. And so I will.
But we do know that Trelawny plucked Shelley’s heart from the fire—burning his hand in the process—and that a bit of a competition for its possession ensued. As I wrote earlier, Trelawny gave it to Leigh Hunt, and when Mary discovered this, she wanted it. Apparently, Hunt declined. So Mary appealed to Byron, the alpha male in the pack. And Hunt yielded, though bitterly so.
The wonderful Mary Shelley scholar Betty Bennett, who edited Mary’s letters (in three volumes), includes a lengthy footnote in the first volume that traces the story of her husband’s heart. She explains that Bryon persuaded Hunt to surrender it—and that Mary kept it for the rest of her life.
When she died in 1851 (nearly thirty years after the drownings), her son, Percy Florence Shelley, found the heart, dried to dust … in a copy of Adonais, Bysshe’s poem occasioned by the death of Keats—Keats, whose volume Lamia had gone into the Gulf of Spezia in Bysshe Shelley’s pocket.
By the time Percy Florence died in 1889, he had moved all the family remains to be near him in Bournemouth, on England’s southern coast. In the large tomb that stands there today are William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, Percy Florence Shelley, and his wife, Jane, who died in 1899.
Among those remains—Percy Bysshe’s Shelley’s heart.
Below: my photos from 1999 of Bournemouth and the tomb.