January 2014 | Nate Pedersen

Mary Shelly Letters Found in Essex

"Percy is growing up a very fine young man, and developing tastes and talents that would remind you of his father - though he has not that touch that at once made Shelley angelic and unfortunate..." wrote Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley of her son Percy in a newly discovered letter.

Thirteen previously unknown Shelley letters were recently unearthed by Nora Crook, professor emerita at Anglia Ruskin University, and an expert on on the Romantic period. Crook chanced upon the letters while conducting Internet searches for an obscure 19th century novelist. She discovered listings for thirteen documents cataloged as "Letter from Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley" held at the Essex Record Office. Crook suspected immediately that the letters had not previously been published.

And she was right: the cache at Essex University is the largest collection of unknown Shelly letters to surface in decades.

The letters cover the period in time between 1831 and 1849, concluding two years before Shelley died from a brain tumor. Shelley wrote the letters to Horace Smith - a stockbroker with a societal reputation as a wit - and his daughter Eliza.  The Smith family had been close with Mary's husband, the poet Percy Shelley, and befriended Mary after his death. 

The letters will soon be published in the Keats-Shelley Journal. Their contents range from asking for small favors, to describing last-minute preparations to attend the coronation of William IV, to reflections on her son Percy (her only child to survive infancy) as he grows into a young man.