Near the end of her edition of her husband’s poems, Mary wrote affectingly about his drowning in the summer of 1822 near the coast of Viareggio, Italy. A sort of spell surrounded us, she wrote of those waiting for the boat’s return, and each day, as the voyagers did not return, we grew restless and disquieted, and yet, strange to say, we were not fearful of the most apparent danger.
The spell snapped; it was all over; an interval of agonizing doubt—of days passed in miserable journeys to gain tidings, of hopes that took firmer root even as they were more baseless—was changed to the certainty that death had eclipsed all happiness for the survivors for evermore.
She praised Trelawny for his efforts in the cremations (required by Italian law) and his arrangements for the return of the ashes. He was indefatigable in his exertions, she wrote.
Following the publication of Bysshe’s poems—and the wrenching experience of writing about his final days—Mary was near a breakdown. In her journal—some time in March 1839—she wrote: Illness did ensue—what an illness—driving me to the verge of insanity—Often I felt the cord wd snap & I should no longer be able to rule my though[t]s with fearful struggles—After long repose, I became somewhat better.
Nine months later her next entry appeared, and it was hardly more sanguine: A hope gleams through the clouds of my life—will it break forth into sunshine?—Never!
Like her late husband, Mary was quite peripatetic. She was moving here and there, hither and yon, discovering each time, of course, that her happiness did not reside in a place. Her happiness, she recognized very clearly, was something that would never return to her. It lived nowhere.
In June 1840, she and her twenty-year-old son, Percy Florence Shelley (and a maid), set sail for the Continent, for a journey she would later recount in her final book, Rambles in Germany and Italy, published on August 1, 1844. In the next few years she would return a couple of more times, in many cases revisiting sites that had been so significant to her in her years with Bysshe.