In December 1831, Adventures of a Younger Son, Trelawny’s memoir appeared. This, recall, was the book that Mary had helped publish for her friend from brighter days—the summer of 1822, that summer just before Bysshe and the others drowned. Trelawny had basically taken charge then, arranging for the cremations on the beach at Viareggio, Italy, and for the subsequent burial of Bysshe’s ashes in Rome’s Protestant Cemetery—where he himself would one day lie beside the remains of his hero, Bysshe Shelley.
Trelawny’s book, today, would earn something like the reaction to James Frey’s memoir A Million Little Pieces, 2005. Oprah had selected the volume for her Book Club—but then came the news that Frey had exaggerated and fabricated, news Oprah did not take, uh, sitting down. Frey went back on her show and endured a withering interview. And subsequent widespread opprobrium in the literary community.
Trelawny lived in a different time, though, and people were reading memoirs for entertainment, not necessarily for factual accuracy. And so readers were excited by his (exaggerated, fabricated) accounts of his sailing adventures in the Indian Ocean, battles, visits to exotic islands, and so on. The memoir ends before the summer of 1822, but Trelawny says at the end, I am continuing this history of my life. This news did not please Mary, who, as we know, did not cooperate with his subsequent account, Recollections of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron, which did not appear until 1858, seven years after Mary’s death.
In August 1832, some months after the publication of his book, Trelawny and his daughter, Julia, 18, spent about a month with Mary. In her journal, Mary was both complimentary and harsh with Trelawny. He is a strange yet wonderful being, she wrote, —Endued with genius—great force of character & power of feeling—but destroyed by being nothing—destroyed by [envy] and internal dissatisfaction—At first he was so gloomy that he destroyed me—this wore off somewhat ….
The Trelawnys left, and Mary wrote a piercing note in her journal about something horrible—yet another horrible occurrence in her still young life. My poor dear Brother William Sep. 8th of Cholera—This is a sad blow to us all …. He was thirty-one.