A Short Biographical Sketch of ROBERT SOUTHEY (1774 to 1843)
Written by: John W. Cousin
SOUTHEY, ROBERT (1774-1843). —Poet, biographer, etc., s. of an unsuccessful linen-draper in Bristol, where he was b., was sent to Westminster School, and in 1792 went to Oxf. His friendship with Coleridge began in 1794, and with him he joined in the scheme of a "pantisocracy" (seeColeridge). In 1795 he m. his first wife, Edith Fricker, and thus became the brother-in-law of Coleridge. Shortly afterwards he visited Spain, and in 1800 Portugal, and laid the foundations of his thorough knowledge of the history and literature of the Peninsula. Between these two periods of foreign travel he had attempted the study of law, which proved entirely uncongenial; and in 1803 he settled at Greta Hall, Keswick, to which neighbourhood the Coleridges had also come. Here he set himself to a course of indefatigable literary toil which only ended with his life. Thalaba had appeared in 1801, and there followed Madoc (1805), The Curse of Kehama (1810), Roderic, the Last of the Goths (1814), and A Vision of Judgment (1821); and in prose a History of Brazil, Lives of Nelson (1813), Wesley (1820), and Bunyan (1830), The Book of the Church (1824), History of the Peninsular War (1823-32), Naval History, and The Doctor (1834-37). In addition to this vast amount of work he had been from 1808 a constant contributor to the Quarterly Review. In 1839 when he was failing both in body and mind he m., as his second wife, Miss Caroline Ann Bowles, who had for 20 years been his intimate friend, and by whom his few remaining years were soothed. Though the name of S. still bulks somewhat largely in the history of our literature, his works, with a few exceptions, are now little read, and those of them (his longer poems, Thalaba and Kehama) on which he himself based his hopes of lasting fame, least of all. To this result their length, remoteness from living interests, and the impression that their often splendid diction is rather eloquence than true poetry, have contributed. Some of his shorter poems, e.g., "The Holly Tree," and "The Battle of Blenheim" still live, but his fame now rests on his vigorous prose and especially on his classic Life of Nelson. Like Wordsworth and Coleridge, S. began life as a democratic visionary, and was strongly influenced by the French Revolution, but gradually cooled down into a pronounced Tory. He was himself greater and better than any of his works, his life being a noble record of devotion to duty and unselfish benevolence. He held the office of Poet Laureate from 1813, and had a pension from Government. He declined a baronetcy.