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Biography of Robert Southey

Portrait of Robert Southey

Robert Southey was one of the nineteenth century Romantic Lake Poets. He was also onetime Poet Laureate and famous for writing the “Three Bears”.

When and Where was he Born?

12th August 1774, 9 Wine Street, Bristol, Avon, England.

Family Background:

Robert Southey was the son of a linen draper. His father worked in Wine Street with William Britton. His mother was Margaret Hill.

Education:

Westminster School (Expelled for his radical ideas and denouncing flogging in the school magazine). Oxford University (Left without taking degree).

Timeliney of Robert Southey:

1794: Southey meets Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Bristol and the two become great friends. They develop their own politico-religious views which they call Pantiscocracy and decide to set up a settlement in Pennsylvania, USA with their girlfriends the Fricker sisters. They eventually abandoned the plans and stay in England.

1795: He publishes his first volume of poems. Visits Lisbon. On 13th November he marries Edith Fricker at St. Mary Redcliffe, Bristol. Edith was the sister of Sarah Fricker who became the wife of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

1796: Southey begins writing ballads.

1798: He writes “The Battle of Blenheim” although his poetry does not make him much money and he has to rely on an allowance made to him by a friend.

1800: He makes another visit to Lisbon.

1802: He goes to Greta Hall in Keswick to stay with Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

1803: On September 7th Southey decides to stay permanently at Greta Hall., where he will remain for the rest of his life. The rooms are plastered and papered and the garden is planted.

Greta Hall
Greta Hall, Main Street, Keswick, Cumbria. Coleridge’s study is behind the first floor window on the far left. This is one of the great literary houses of Britain. Besides being the family home of the Coleridges and Southeys, visitors included Wordsworth, Byron, Keats, Shelley, Walter Scott , De Quincey, John Stuart Mill, Charles Lamb, John Ruskin, Humphry Davy, William Hazlitt and William Wilberforce amongst others. (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1807: He gets an allowance from the Government.

1809: He joins the staff of the literary magazine “The Quarterly Review”. Death of the owner of Greta Hall, William Jackson, a retired wool trade carrier. The house is inherited by his brother Rev. J Jackson. New roof beams are added and the house is given a new roof (“a cap of slate and an overcoat of rough-cast”).

1813: Southey is appointed as the Poet Laureate and is heavily criticised by his former friends William Hazlitt and Lord Byron for betraying his radical ideas for money. He writes a biography of Lord Nelson.

1820: He writes a biography of John Wesley.

1821: Southey commemorates the Death of King George the Third in a Poem “A Vision of Judgment” which was heavily satirised by Byron. He begins to turn his full attention to biographies and historical works.

1824: He writes “The Book of the Church.”

1829: He writes “The Lives of the British Admirals.”

1830: Southey completes a biography of John Bunyan.

St Kentigern's Church
St Kentigern’s Church, Crosthwaite near Keswick where the Southey family regularly worshipped. (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1834: He published “The Doctor” which contains the now famous fairy tale “The Three Bears”.

1835: The Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel increases his pension.

When and Where did he Die?

21st March 1843, Greta Hall, Keswick, Cumbria, England of a stroke.

Age at death:

68.

Written Works:

1794: “The Fall of Robesspierre” (With Coleridge)
1796: “Joan of Arc”.
1797: “Letters Written from Spain and Portugal”. “Poems”.
1801: “Thalaba the Destroyer”.
1803: “Amadis of Gaul”.
1808: “The Chronicle of Cid”.
1812: “The History of Brazil”. “The Curse of Kehama”. “Omniana” (With Coleridge).
1813: “The Life of Nelson”.
1814: “Odes to the Prince Regent, The Emperor of Russia and the King of Prussia”. “Roderick The Last of the Gauls”.
1816: “The Lay of the Laureate”. “A Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo”.
1817: “Wat Tyler”.
1820: “The Life of John Wesley”.
1821: “The Life of Cromwell”. “Carmen Triumphale”. “A Vision of Judgement”.
1823: “History of the Peninsular War”.
1825: “A Tale of Paraguay”.
1829: “Sir Thomas More”.
1834: “The Doctor”.
(1845): “Oliver Newman and other Poetical Remains”.
(1849): “Commonplace Book”.

Marriage:

13th November 1795 to Edith Fricker at St. Mary Redcliffe, Bristol. Edith was the sister of Sarah Fricker who became the wife of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Site of Grave:

St. Kentigern’s Churchyard, Crosthwaite, Keswick, Cumbria. Grave monument restored in 1961 with a Grant from the Brazilian Government.

Southey Grave Marker
Southey's Grave
Southey’s Grave next to St Kentigern’s Church, Crosthwaite, near Keswick (copyright Anthony Blagg)

Places of Interest:

CUMBRIA:

Dove Cottage and Museum, Grasmere, LA22 9SH. (Wordsworth Trust).
Greta Hall, Keswick. Now a private family home of the musician Scott Ligertwood and his partner Jeronime Palmer, however parts of the house and buildings are available for holiday let, including the Coleridge wing). Southey lived here with (amongst other people) Coleridge and his wife Sarah.
Wordsworth House, Cockermouth has a set of chairs said to belong to Southey.

DEVON:

The Valley of the Rocks, Lynton, Devon. (Southey walked here many times inspired by Coleridge. (He was an avid great rock climber).
Watersmeet, near Lynmouth.

LONDON:

National Portrait Gallery.

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