Robert Southey

Robert Southey, who was the son of a linen draper, was born in Bristol in 1774. His uncle sent him to Westminster School after his father’s death, however, he was expelled in 1792 after denouncing flogging in the school magazine. Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey met in Bristol in 1794 and became close friends. Southey and Coleridge, with their radical political and religious views, began making plans to emigrate to Pennsylvania where they wanted to set up a commune based on communistic values. They, however, eventually abandoned this plan and decided to stay in England, where they concentrated on communicating their radical ideas.

In 1795 Robert Southey married Edith Fricker, whose elder sister, Sara Fricker, married Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Robert and his wife Edith were invited in 1803 to Greta Hall in Keswick after the death of their one year old daughter. Sadly, his life continued to be difficult with the death of three out of seven subsequent children, and, with the family problems of the Coleridges, he found himself working to support the whole household. He worked hard, with a colossal output of poems, essays and articles as well as forty five books.

Some of Southey’s poems were well received, but it was his composition which gained most acclaim, this ranged widely from biographies of John Wesley and Nelson to The Three Bears. Southey became Poet Laureate in 1813, a position he held for the rest of his life. In 1839, after the death of his wife and friends Sir Walter Scott, Coleridge and Charles Lamb, he married the poetess Caroline Bowles. Unfortunately, the stresses he had undergone affected his health and mental state and he gradually deteriorated and died in 1843. The inscription on his marble tomb inside Crosthwaite Church is by William Wordsworth.

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