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Shelley Sites/Sights

Gulf of Spezia

On 25 April 1822, Shelley was in Pisa when he received two simultaneous pieces of news: Allegra, Claire's daughter by Byron, had died of typhus at Bagnacavallo; and Edward Williams had discovered a dilapidated but nonetheless habitable house for rent near the fishing village of Lerici, on the Gulf of Spezia. Worried about the effect of the child's death on Claire, and eager to leave Pisa (he had been involved in the attack on a Pisan dragoon resulting in Byron's banishment), Shelley decided that a change of scene was just the thing. Within a day and a half, he had seen to moving arrangements, packed Mary, Claire (who had not yet been told about Allegra) and his son Percy Florence into a coach, and was himself aboard a luggage boat for Lerici.
Lerici is an exquisite coastal town, dominated by the massive 800-year-old Lerici castle of San Georgio, which overlooks the port.
 
In the town itself, the central feature is the oratory of Saint Rocco's Church, built in 1287, and rebuilt in 1524 by plague-weary citizens. From Lerici, one can see the nearby town of San Terenzo and the creamy white arches of Shelley's last residence, Casa Magni.
 
Casa Magni was roughly two miles up the coast toward San Terenzo, in an extremely isolated area. In 1822, there was not even a road to the place—furniture and luggage had to be brought in by boat. Today, the residence is crowded into the center of town, and only a virtual view can give a sense of its isolation.
The Shelleys, the Williamses, their children, and the servants finalized lease arrangements and moved in on 30 April 1822. The ground floor, invaded by sand and surf on a fairly regular basis, was useful only for storing boat equipment. The main floor was the only habitable section, consisting of a large central room which the party used for dining, three small bedrooms, and a rear area for the servants and children.
The house overlooks the lovely gulf of Spezia, where Byron and Shelley sailed their yachts Bolivar and Don Juan.
Shelley had sailed to Livorno to greet the Hunts, whose arrival in Italy he had long anticipated. His ill-fated trip was the Livorno-Lerici run. Shelley's boat was caught in a terrible storm, and although passing sailors warned him to lower his sails, he refused—indeed, the captain stated that "one of the gentlemen (Williams it is believed) was seen to make an effort to lower the sails—his companion seized him by the arm as if in anger" (cited in Holmes 729). The Don Juan sank under full sail and Shelley, Williams, and the boat-boy Charles Vivian were drowned. Ten days later, the bodies washed up on the beach off Viareggio (roughly halfway between Lerici and Livorno).

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Published @ RC

January 2006

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