SHELLEY: THE PURSUIT
by RICHARD HOLMES
829 pages. Illustrated. Dutton. $22.50.
One month before his 30th birthday in 1822, Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned in a sailing accident on the Mediterranean. Back in London, the Gentleman's Magazine harrumphed: "We ought as justly to regret the decease of the Devil." A far different post-mortem came from Lord Byron, who called Shelley "the best and the least selfish man I ever knew. I never knew one who was not a beast in comparison."
Byron's view prevailed. By tearing out passages from diaries and journals and keeping the lid...