Robert Southey Poems & Biography

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  • 0:00 The Young Robert Southey
  • 0:54 Professional Accomplishments
  • 1:51 Personal Life
  • 2:30 Southey's Poetry
  • 4:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Debbie Notari
Robert Southey was a prolific writer and poet who lived in the early 1800s. His works influenced many other great writers, such as Shelley, Byron, Tennyson, and Browning. In this lesson, we will learn about the life of this writer from the Romantic era.

The Young Robert Southey

Robert Southey was a gifted Romantic writer and poet born in Bristol, England, in 1774. Even as a teen, he showed great promise as a poet. He attended London's Westminster School but was actually expelled for standing up against the school's policy of flogging. He then attended Oxford University, but he disliked it and left before his education was complete.

He met Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and the two had much in common. They both decided to create a Utopian farming community in the United States called Pantisocracy. However, Southey decided against the idea after eloping with Edith Fricker. His aunt was deeply offended at this marriage, so Southey traveled with his uncle to Spain on a diplomatic mission. There he had time to study Iberian literature. He published Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal in 1797 as a result. Southey attempted to become a lawyer, but lost interest.

Professional Accomplishments

Southey was a proven writer from the time he was young, and he showed a flair for both dramatic and epic pieces. In 1794, he wrote The Fall of Robespierre, and in 1796, the poem Joan of Arc. He received a yearly stipend from a friend, Charles Wynn, that enabled him to finance his career as a writer; the stipend lasted for nine years. In 1777, Southey published a book of his poems, and then did so again in 1779. In the next years, he would concentrate on ballads and additional short poems.

Southey developed strong political ideas and contributed articles to the Tori Quarterly. He loved to write exotic verses in the Romantic tradition. He published his very popular romance called Thalaba the Destroyer, based on Islamic lore, in 1801. In 1805, he published a Welsh-Aztec epic poem called Madoc. In 1810, he published The Curse of Kehama which reminded some of Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1813, Southey became the Poet Laureate, a post he held for 30 years.

Personal Life

In 1803, the Southey family returned to the Lake District, where he and his family lived with the Coleridge family and their own seven children in a home called Greta Hall, Keswick. Because the women were sisters, it was their desire to have their families live together. During this time, Southey became good friends with William Wordsworth, another well respected poet of the time. In fact, Southey is considered to be a 'Lake Poet' along with Wordsworth and Coleridge.

Coleridge's marital problems no doubt impacted the Southey family. Eventually, after much success as a writer, Southey's wife, Edith, would suffer from insanity and then die. Southey got remarried to a younger woman, named Caroline Bowles, and died in 1843.

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