English poet and author. He is sometimes regarded as one of the ‘Lake poets’, more because of his friendship with English poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth and residence in Keswick, in the English Lake District, than for any influence of Romanticism in his work. In 1813 he became poet laureate, but he is better known for his Life of Nelson (1813) and for his letters.
Southey was born in Bristol and educated at Oxford. He became a friend of Coleridge in 1794 and the two poets collaborated on a play, The Fall of Robespierre, the same year. In 1795 he married Edith Fricker and in 1796 visited Lisbon and published Letters Written during a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (1797). In 1803 he moved to Keswick, where he lived near Wordsworth. His long epic poems include Madoc (1805), Thalaba the Destroyer (1807), and The Curse of Kehama (1810). In 1807 he obtained a small government pension, and in 1813 became poet laureate, after Scottish poet Walter Scott had refused the honour. Southey declined both the editorship of The Times and a baronetcy in 1835.
He was an early admirer of the French Revolution, whose aims he supported in the epic poem Joan of Arc (1796). He joined with Coleridge in planning the utopian ‘Pantisocracy’, a scheme for a radical community in the USA, which came to nothing. He later abandoned his revolutionary views, and from 1808 contributed regularly to the Tory Quarterly Review. He wrote long epic poems reflecting the contemporary fashion for exotic melodrama, and short poems including ‘The Battle of Blenheim’ and ‘The Inchcape Rock’.
An attack on English poet Byron in the preface to his A Vision of Judgement (1821), commemorating the death of George III, provoked Byron into the satirical answer The Vision of Judgement (1822). Among many other works produced in his efforts to maintain his large family, Southey wrote a Life of Wesley (1820), edited the works of English poets William Cowper and Thomas Chatterton, published histories of Brazil and the Peninsular War, and translated the Chronicle of the Cid. However, his less formal work now seems the most successful; in The Doctor (1834–47), an anecdotal miscellany, he included the classic fairy tale of ‘The Three Bears’, and several of his short poems are widely known, for example ‘The Holly Tree’, ‘The Scholar’, and ‘Old Woman of Berkeley’.
Life of Nelson
Selected Poetry of Robert Southey (1774–1843)
Southey, Robert The Battle of Blenheim
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