After a developing and all-enveloping love affair that had lasted from the day they met in May, Percy Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin decided to elope to Europe in the early hours of Thursday 28th July 1814, accompanied by Mary's half-sister, Claire Clairmont. The entry below is from Shelley's journal:
The night preceding this morning, all being decided - I ordered a chaise to be ready by 4 o'clock. I watched until the lightning & the stars became pale. A length it was 4. I believed it not possible that we should succeed: still there appeared to lurk some danger even in certainty. I went. I saw her. She came to me. Yet one quarter of an hour remained. Still some arrangements must be made, & she left me for a short time. How dreadful did this time appear. It seemed that we trifled with life & hope. A few minutes past she was in my arms - we were safe. we were on our road to Dover.
Mary was ill as we travelled. Yet in that illness what pleasure & security did we not share! The heat made her faint it was necessary at every stage that she should repose. I was divided between anxiety for her health & terror lest our pursuers should arrive. I reproached myself with not allowing her sufficient time to rest, with concieving any evil so great that the slightest portion of her comfort might be sacrifized to avoid it.
At Dartford we took four horses that we might outstrip pursuit. We arrived at Dove[r] before 4 o'clock. Some time was necessarily exp[ended] in consideration, in dinner - in bargaining with sailors & customs house officers. At length we engaged a small boat to convey us to Calais. It was ready by six o clock.
The evening was most beautiful. The sand slowly receded. we felt secure. There was little wind - the sails flapped in the flagging breeze. The moon rose, the night came on, & with the night a slow heavy swell and a fresher breeze which soon became so violent as to toss the boat very much .... Mary was much affected by the sea. She could scarcely move. She lay in my arms thro the night, the little strength which remained in my own exhausted frame was all expended in keeping her head in rest on my bosom. The wind was violent & contrary. If we could not reach Calais the sailors proposed making for Boulogne. They promised only two hours sail from the shore, yet hour after hour past & we were still far distant when the moon sunk in the red & stormy horizon, & the fast flashing lightning became pale in the breaking day.
We were proceeding slowly against the wind when suddenly a thunder squall struck the sail & the waves rushed into the boat. Even the sailors perceived that our situation was perilous, they succeeded [in] reefing the sail,―the wind had now changed & [w]e drove before a wind that came in violent [g]usts directly to Calais.
Mary did not know our danger. She was resting on between my knees that were unable to support her. She did not speak or look. But I felt that she was there. I had time in that moment to reflect & even to reason upon death. It was a thing of discomfort & of disappointment than [?terror] to me. We could never be separated, but in death we might not know & feel our union as now. I hope ― but my hopes are not unmixed with fear for what will befall this inestimable spirit when we appear to die.
The morning broke, the lightning died away, the violence of the wind abated. We arrived at Calais whilst Mary still slept. We drove upon the sands. Suddenly the broad sun rose over France.