Shelley Sunday: Assassination Attempt [Letters]

26/27 Feb, 1813 ~ The Assassination Attempt:

“My dear Sir

I have just escaped an atrocious assassination.–Oh send the 20£ if you have it – you will perhaps hear of me no more.

Your friend

Percy Shelley

[Harriet wrote on the bottom of the letter:]

Mr. Shelley is so dreadfully nervous today from having been up all night that I afraid what he has written will alarm you very much. We intend to leave this place as soon as possible as our lives are not safe so long as we remain. –it is no common Robber we dread but a person who is actuated by revenge & who threatens my life & my Sister’s as well. –if you can send us the money it will greatly add to our comfort.

Sir I remain your

Sincere friend

H Shelley1

“My dear Williams

I am surprised that the wretch who attacked me has not been heard of.–Surely the Inquiries have not been sufficiently general or particular? –Mr. Nanney requests that you will order that some boards shd. be nailed against the broken windows of Tanyralt.

We are in immediate want of money.–Could you borrow 25£ in my name to pay my little debts? I know your brother could lend me that sum. I think you cd. ask him on such an occasion as this.–

My dear Williams

Yours very truly

P B Shelley” 2

Harriet describes the frightening night in detail:

“My dear Sir,

We arrive here [Dublin] last Tuesday after a most tedious passage of forty hours, during the whole of which time we were dreadfully ill. I’m afraid no diet will prevent us from the common lot of suffering when obliged to take a sea voyage.

Mr. S. promised you a recital of the horrible events that caused us to leave Wales. I have undertaken the task, as I wish to spare him, in the present nervous state of his health, everything that can recall to his mind the horrors of that night, which I will relate.

On Friday night, the 26th of February, we retired to bed between ten and eleven o’clock. We had been in bed about half an hour, when Mr. S. heard a noise proceeding from one of the parlours. He immediately went down stairs with two pistols, which he had loaded that night, expecting to have occasion for them. He went into the billiard room, where he heard footsteps retreating. He followed into another little room, which was called an office. He there saw a man in the act of quitting the room through a glass window which opens into the shrubbery. The man fired at Mr. S., which he avoided. Bysshe then fired, but it flashed in the pan. The man then knocked Bysshe down, and they struggled on the ground. Bysshe then fired his second pistol, which he thought wounded him in the shoulder, as he uttered a shriek and got up, when he said these words: ‘By God I will be revenged! I will murder your wife. I will ravish your sister. By God. I will be revenged.’ He then fled – as we hoped for the night. Our servants were not gone to bed, but were just going, when this horrible affair happened. This was about eleven o’clock. We all assembled in the parlour, where we remained for two hours. Mr. S. then advised us to retire, thinking it impossible he would make a second attack. We left Bysshe and our manservant, who had only arrived that day, and who knew nothing of the house, to sit up. I had been in bed three hours when I heard a pistol go off. I immediately ran down stairs, when I perceived that Bysshe’s flannel gown had been shot through, and the window curtain. Bysshe had sent Daniel to see what hour it was, when he heard a noise at the window. He went there, and a man thrust his arm through the glass and fired at him. Thank Heaven! The ball went through his gown and he remained unhurt, Mr. S. happened to stand sideways; had he stood fronting, the ball must have killed him. Bysshe fired his pistol, but it would not go off. He then aimed a blow at him with an old sword which we found in the house. The assassin attempted to get the sword from him, and just as he was pulling away, Dan rushed in to the room, when he made his escape.

This was at four in the morning. It had been a most dreadful night; the wind was as loud as thunder, and the rain descended in torrents. Nothing has been heard of him; and we have every reason to believe it was no stranger, as there is a man of the name of Leeson, who the next morning that it happened went and told the shopkeepers of Tremadoc that it was a tale of Mr. Shelley’s to impose upon them, that he might leave the country without paying his bills. This they believed, and none of them attempted to do anything towards his discovery.

We left Tanyrallt on Saturday, and staid till every thing was ready for our leaving the place, at the Solicitor General of the country’s house, who lived seven miles away from us. This Mr. Leeson had been heard to say that he was determined to drive us out of the country. He once happened to get hold of a little pamphlet with Mr. S. had printed in Dublin; this he sent up to Government. In fact, he was for ever saying something against us, and that because we were determined not to admit him to our house, because we had heard of his character and from many acts of his we found that he was malignant and cruel to the greatest degree.

The pleasure we experienced at reading your letter you may conceive, at the time when every one seemed to be plotting against us. When those whom we had the horrible suspicion [missing text] form the task when called upon in a moment like that. Pardon me if I wound your feelings by dwelling on this subject. Your conduct has made a deep impression on our minds, which no length of time can erase.

Would that all mankind were like thee.

Mr Shelley and my sister unite with me in kind regards; whilst I remain,

Yours truly,

H. Shelley” 3

1Shelley, 225: Letter To Thomas Hookham, Feb. 27, 1813. The Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Vol. 1, Shelley in England. Ed by Frederick L. Jones (Oxford, 1964).

2Shelley, 226: Letter To John Williams, Feb. 27 or 28, 1813. Ibid.

3Shelley, Harriet, 225: Footnote 2, Harriet’s Letter To Thomas Hookham, March 12, 1813. Ibid.


Letters Source: Letters Transcribed by myself, B. Anderson, from The Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Vol. 1, Shelley in England. Ed by Frederick L. Jones (Oxford, 1964).

Image Source: Tan-yr-Allt, Shelley’s house in Wales where the assassination attempt took place, photo posted by Parks and Gardens.

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