1882 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Southey

Epes Sargent, in Harper's Cyclopaedia of British and American Poetry (1882) 319.



Associated with the names of Wordsworth and Coleridge is that of the poet-laureate, Southey (1774-1843). His fame has not, like that of his associates of the Lake School, gone on increasing. The son of a linen-draper in Bristol, he was intended for the ministry, but disqualified himself for Oxford by adopting, like Coleridge, Unitarian views in religion and republican in politics. These he soon outgrew. Having published his poems of Wat Tyler, and Joan of Arc, he married, in 1795, Miss Fricker, sister of the wife of Coleridge. After a residence in Lisbon, and a brief course of legal study in London, he settled near Keswick, and his life became a round of incessant and voluminous scholarship. A list of the works in prose and verse which he produced would fill a long page. Above one hundred volumes in all testify to his diligence. In 1837 his first wife died; and in 1839 he married Miss Caroline Bowles, who was his peer as a writer of poetry. Soon afterward his overtasked mind began to show symptoms of decay. His end was second childishness and mere oblivion. He left, as the result of his literary labors, about 12,000, to be divided among his children, and one of the most valuable private libraries in the kingdom. Southey was a genuine poet in feeling and aspiration, though he did not "wreak himself on expression" with the felicity of Byron and Shelley. Wordsworth once mentioned Southey's verses on the holly-tree as his most perfect poem; "but," he said, "the first line is bad."