Robert Southey Analysis

Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

The collected prose works of Robert Southey (SOW-thee, also SUHTH-ee) comprise almost forty volumes, ranging from literary criticism to biography, from fiction to translations. Letters from England by Don Manuel Espriella (1807) is a satiric commentary on everyday life in contemporary England, while Sir Thomas More (1829) reveals Southey again examining society, this time by way of conversations between the spirit of the departed More and Montesimos (Southey himself). His so-called novel, the seven-volume The Doctor (1834-1847), concerns Dr. Daniel Dove of Doncaster and his horse Nobs; as a fantasy and a commentary on life, the excruciatingly lengthy piece reminds one of Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (1759-1767)—without the artistic qualities of that remarkable work of fiction. Hidden within chapter 129 of Southey’s effort lies the first-known telling of the nursery classic “The Three Bears.”

Life of Nelson (1813) and Life of Wesley and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820) head the list of Southey’s biographical studies. Others of note include A Summary of the Life of Arthur, Duke of Wellington (1816); the Life of John, Duke of Marlborough (1822); Lives of the British Admirals (1833-1840); and The Life of the Rev. Andrew Bell (1844, one volume only), the Scottish-born educationist who founded the National Society for the Education of the Poor. Southey’s historical writings include the History of Brazil (1810-1819), The History of Europe (1810-1813), and the History of the Peninsular War (1823-1832). In 1812, Southey published The Origin, Nature, and Object of the New System of Education. This was followed by The Book of the Church (1824), Vindiciae Ecclesiae Anglicanae (1826), and Essays Moral and Political (1832).

Southey was also an editor and translator. Among his edited works are The Annual Anthology (1799-1800), The Works of Chatterton (1803, with Joseph Cottle), Palmerin of England (1807), Isaac Watts’s Horae Lyricae (1834), and The Works of William Cowper (1835-1837). Southey’s notable translations include Jacques Necker’s On the French Revolution (1797), Vasco Lobeira’s Amadis de Gaul (1805), the Chronicle of the Cid (1808), Abbe Don Ignatius Molina’s The Geographical, Natural, and Civil History of Chili (1808), and Memoria Sobre a Litteratura Portugueza (1809).


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

During his lifetime, Robert Southey enjoyed moments of popularity and success; there were even those among his contemporaries who believed that he ranked with the best of his nation’s poets. He outlived Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Sir Walter Scott, Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats, yet rarely does one find mention of his name in a discussion of the significant figures and forces that shaped British Romanticism in the first part of the nineteenth century. Although Southey is deep in the shadows of William Wordsworth and Coleridge, appearing in literary histories only as their mediocre associate, his poetry deserves a careful reading, especially that written before 1801. This early work reveals an extremely high degree of versatility, not always appreciated by those who study only the first rank of nineteenth century British Romantics. The simplicity and directness of language found in Southey’s early ballads and short narratives echo Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads (1798), but the pieces succeed because the poet could rise above pure imitation. He could also write irregular odes and heroic epistles that demonstrated his knowledge of the Augustan Age, he knew how to create sublime imagery with the aid of biblical themes, and he could plunge downward to concoct playful exercises with pigs and gooseberry pies. He was adept in a variety of poetic forms: the elegy, the sonnet, the sapphic, the ballad, the metrical tale.

The content of Southey’s poems is as varied as the form. While at Balliol College, Oxford, during the period of his enthusiasm for republicanism, he wrote a...

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(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Bernhardt-Kabisch, Ernest. Robert Southey. Boston: Twayne, 1977. A study of Joan of Arc follows a sketch of Southey’s early life. Chapter 3 assesses his personality and lyrical poetry. The central chapters analyze his epics and the verse of his laureate years. The last chapter is a survey of Southey’s prose. Contains chronology, notes, select bibliography, and index.

Bolton, Carol. Writing the Empire: Robert Southey and Romantic Colonialism. London: Pickering & Chatto, 2007. The author places Southey’s writings, including his epic poetry, within their historical context to argue that Southey’s views created a moral imperialism that shaped Victorian values.

Carnall, Geoffrey. Robert Southey and His Age: The Development of a Conservative Mind. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1960. Part 1 focuses on Southey as Jacobin, devoted to radical reform and democracy. Part 2 analyzes Southey as Tory, advocating strong government and conservativism. Finally, the question of whether Southey should be called an apostate is examined. Supplemented by illustrations, two appendixes, and an index.

Curry, Kenneth. Southey. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975. Reviews Southey’s life, prose, and poetry. Includes bibliography and index.

Pratt, Lynda, ed. Robert Southey...

(The entire section is 410 words.)