Biography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 458

Robert Seymour Bridges explicitly requested that no biography or biographical study should ever be made of him. He destroyed many of his personal papers, and his heirs have respected his wishes. Although there is no formal biography, the outlines of his life are well known. Bridges was the next-to-last child...

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Robert Seymour Bridges explicitly requested that no biography or biographical study should ever be made of him. He destroyed many of his personal papers, and his heirs have respected his wishes. Although there is no formal biography, the outlines of his life are well known. Bridges was the next-to-last child in a family of nine, born to comfortable landed gentry. Bridges went to Eton in 1854, where he showed an inclination toward the Oxford Movement. He matriculated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford University, in 1863, where he was athletic and popular as an undergraduate. He rowed stroke in the Corpus Christi boat in 1867 but took only a gentleman’s second class degree in literae humaniores, the study of classical languages and the literature and philosophy of ancient Greece and Rome. At Oxford, he became a close friend of the brilliant but somewhat eccentric Hopkins, who became one of the most important modernist poets in English. Bridges and Hopkins carried on an extensive correspondence after their undergraduate days; although Bridges destroyed his letters to Hopkins, Hopkins’s letters to Bridges have been published and provide a fascinating glimpse into the poetic workshop of these two talented men and their complicated personal relationship. Although Bridges was independently wealthy, he entered medical studies after he had completed the work for his B.A. degree at Oxford and earned his degree in medicine in 1874. He practiced for some time in various hospitals in London, sometimes under grueling conditions. In 1877, he was appointed assistant physician in the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street. In 1881, he suffered a severe illness, apparently pneumonia with complications, and retired from his medical career at the age of thirty-seven.

In 1882, Bridges moved to Manor House, Yattendon, Berkshire. Two years later, he married Monica Waterhouse, the daughter of a famous architect. There, too, he and Harry Ellis Wooldridge produced The Yattendon Hymnal (1895-1899). In 1907, he moved to his final residence, Chilswell House, at Boar’s Hill near Oxford. After publishing his first collection, Poems, in 1873, Bridges had been steadily publishing lyric poetry and closet dramas. His fame as a poet and man of letters increased over the decades until he was appointed poet laureate of England to succeed Alfred Austin in 1913. That year, together with Henry Bradley, Logan Pearsall Smith, and Sir Walter Raleigh, he founded the Society for Pure English. In his final years, Bridges was an enormously influential figure in the literary world, editing the poems of his deceased friend, Gerard Manley Hopkins, in 1918, and composing his long philosophical poem The Testament of Beauty. He was decorated with the Order of Merit in 1929 and received honorary degrees from Oxford, St. Andrews University, Harvard, and the University of Michigan. He died at Boar’s Hill, near Oxford, on April 21, 1930.

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