Southey, Robert

Southey, Robert, poet-laureate, born, the son of a linen-draper, at Bristol; was expelled from Westminster School for a satirical article in the school magazine directed against flogging; in the following year (1793) entered Balliol College, where he only remained one year, leaving it a Unitarian and a red-hot republican; was for a time enamoured of Coleridge's wild pantisocratic scheme; married (1795) clandestinely Edith Frickes, a penniless girl, sister to Mrs. Coleridge, and in disgrace with his English relatives visited his uncle in Lisbon, where in six months he laid the foundation of his knowledge of Spanish history and literature; the Church and medicine had already, as possible careers, been abandoned, and on his return to England he made a half-hearted effort to take up law; still unsettled he again visited Portugal, and finally was relieved of pecuniary difficulties by the settlement of a pension on him by an old school friend, which he relinquished in 1807 on receiving a pension from Government; meanwhile had settled at Keswick, where he prosecuted with untiring energy the craft of authorship; “Joan of Arc,” “Thalaba,” “Madoc,” and “The Curse of Kehama,” won for him the laureateship in 1813, and in the same year appeared his prose masterpiece “The Life of Nelson”; of numerous other works mention may be made of his Histories of Brazil and the Peninsular War, Lives of Bunyan and Wesley, and “Colloquies on Society”; declined a baronetcy offered by Peel; domestic affliction—the death of children, and the insanity and death of his wife—saddened his later years, which were brightened in the last by his second marriage (1839) with the poetess and his twenty years' friend, Caroline Bowles; as a poet Southey has few readers nowadays; full of miscellaneous interest, vigour of narrative, and spirited rhythm, his poems yet lack the finer spirit of poetry; but in prose he ranks with the masters of English prose style “of a kind at once simple and scholarly” (1774-1843).

Definition taken from The Nuttall Encyclopædia, edited by the Reverend James Wood (1907)

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