Robert Southey ~ Poet

“In 1819 Robert Southey, poet laureate, together with Thomas Telford the engineer, undertook a tour of Scotland. The Journal of the Tour is coloured to some extent by his extreme Toryism but for all that is a lively, direct and on the whole sympathetic account of his travels.” As the pair visited Aberfeldy they were less than awestruck by the town and its bridge: “Aberfeldy is a place that might properly be called Aberfilthy, for marvelously foul it is. You enter through a beggarly street and arrive at a dirty inn. A sort of square or market place has been lately built, so that mean as the village or townlet is, it seems to be thriving. The burn of Moness passes through the place and falls into the Tay near it; there are some falls upon this burn, which when the streams are full should be among the vivenda of this part of the country. Near Aberfeldy is a bridge over the Tay, built by General Wade; but creditable neither to the skill nor taste of the architect. It resembles that at Blenheim, the middle arch being made the principal feature. At a distance it looks well but makes a wretched appearance upon closer inspection. There are four unmeaning obelisks upon the central arch, and the parapet is so high that you cannot see over it. The foundations are also very insecure, for we went into the bed of the river and examined them.” They were proved wrong in their statement as regards the bridge (designed by the father of Robert Adam), for it still stands proudly today. “Though the Journal is written by Southey, the many comments on the construction of roads and bridges bears the imprint of Telford’s knowledge and opinions.”

Robert Southey was born at Bristol in 1774. He attended Westminster but was expelled for Jacobin ideas. He went up to Balliol in 1793 where he was inspired by Coleridge [Samuel Taylor Coleridge (October 21, 1772 – July 25, 1834) was an English poet, critic, and philosopher who was, along with his friend William Wordsworth, one of the founders of the Romantic Movement in England and one of the Lake Poets. He is probably best known for his poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, as well as his major prose work Biographia Literaria and the notion of the pantisocracy{a community in which all are equal and all rule}.] In 1795 he married Edith Fricker, whose sister married Coleridge. his political views moved to the right and Southey became a Tory, supported by the establishment in his literary work; Peel was an advocate of the Southey case. From 1813 he was Poet Laureate – his poetry was always overshadowed by his contemporaries such as Wordsworth and Byron.

Southey was traumatized over the death of his wife. He remarried but his new wife, the poet Catherine Anne Boules was never more than a nurse to the ailing Southey. Robert Southey died of softening of the brain on 21 March 1843.

Despite his name and significance to the society in which he lived and wrote, Southey’s work is barely known today. His prose is usually considered superior to his poetry. The nursery classic, The Three Bears was his. His ballads however were influential at the time:


Battle of Blenheim

Old Women of Berkeley

His notable prose:

nelson (1813)

Joan of Arc (1795)

The Curse of Kehama (1810)

Roderick (1814)

Wesley (1820)

Bunyon (1830)

A Vision of Judgment (1821)

Book of the Church (1824)

Colloquies on Society (1829)

Naval History (1833-40)

The Doctor (1834-47)

Life and Correspondence (1849-50) – Letters