Imagine how much righteous indignation, how much radioactive sludge would be generated amongst the moral majority were this a current news item –
Poet leaves his pregnant wife and child to elope with a seventeen year-old girl. He has a carriage waiting outside her door at four in the morning. Except he’s not only abducting one young girl, he’s taking her half sister too, who is sixteen. And their father is his friend. They race to Dover where they get passage in an undecked boat. There’s a storm. The boat almost sinks. He’s forgotten to bring much money with him. They have to walk to Switzerland with a half lame donkey. When he arrives in Switzerland he sends a letter to his wife telling her how happy he is, how much he values her friendship and invites her to come and live with him and his two new nymphs. There isn’t a smidgen of irony in his letter. You’ve got to hand it to Shelley. Were he alive now The Daily Mail and The News of the World would be baying for his blood on a daily basis.