Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
William Lisle Bowles was born on September 24, 1762, at Kings Sutton, Northamptonshire (his father’s vicarage), the son and grandson of clergymen and the eldest of seven children. At the age of seven he moved with his parents to Uphill, Somerset; on the journey southward, young Bowles saw the Severn Valley and derived from it a lifelong association of poetry with picturesque scenery.
From 1775 to 1781, Bowles was educated at Winchester School under Joseph Warton, who had written an essay critical of Alexander Pope and was a pre-Romantic advocate of descriptive poetry. Warton’s feeling for nature, dislike of neoclassical rules, and knowledge of Vergil impressed Bowles (see his “Monody on the Death of Dr. Warton,” 1819), who thereafter followed and enlarged on Warton’s precepts. In 1781, Bowles went on to Trinity College, Oxford, where his master, Thomas Warton, Joseph’s brother, further reinforced Bowles’s dislike of neoclassicism and preference for lyric poetry, the ode and sonnet in particular. Bowles wrote “On Leaving Winchester School,” his first important poem, retrospectively in 1782.
His record at Oxford was that of an unusually able student. In 1782, for example, Bowles won a scholarship that sustained him for the next five years. In 1783, his “Calpe Obsessa” (on the Siege of Gibraltar) was the Latin prize poem. Three years later, however, in 1786, Bowles’s father died, leaving the family in difficult financial...
(The entire section is 1913 words.)
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