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Monday, 10 July 2006

A biography of Robert Southey has recently been published by Yale University Press: Robert Southey: Entire Man of Letters. It is reviewed at Scotsman.com. I would love to read this book.

The reason [that Byron didn't regret taking the piss out of Southey in his early poem 'English Bards and Scotch Reviewers'] was Southey's acceptance of the laureateship in 1813. Put in context, the previous laureate, Pye, had been execrable, and his appointment was purely political, but so too was Southey's. The difference was that while Pye had been a commissioned officer in the Berkshire militia, an MP and a police magistrate, Southey had been a dangerous radical.

Southey, along with Coleridge and Wordsworth, was indeed a bit of a radical in his youth. The war that Napoleon waged against the rest of Europe turned them all off revolution pretty quick smart, though.

His laureateship was actually owed to Walter Scott, who was offered it and declined, suggesting to the authorities that they pick Southey instead. By this time, you might imagine, Southey was a died-in-the-wool conservative. As was Scott, who often wrote for the Tory magazine The Quarterly Review. In that publication, which was founded in 1809, Scott reviewed Jane Austen's Emma, in 1815.

Naturally, when Southey finally died the laureateship went to Wordsworth.

The 'Scotch Reviewers' part of Byron's title refers, of course, to The Edinburgh Review, a Whig publication founded in Scotland in 1802.

In those days, book reviews were significantly more elaborate than they are now, more on the scale of those found in The New York Review of Books than those found in your average broadsheet. They always contained large quotations from the works they focused on. This is a policy I've tried to follow on this blog, too, in case you hadn't noticed.

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