Robert Southey was born in Bristol on 12 August 1774. The son of a linen-draper, he was handed over, from two to six years of age, to an eccentric and dictatorial maiden aunt, Miss Elizabeth Tyler, who ‘laboured under perpetual dusto-phobia’ and inculcated on him an almost morbid sense of physical and moral cleanliness. At the age of six the child was removed from Miss Tyler’s household in Bath. After attending schools at Bristol and Corston (1780–88), he entered Westminster School (Apr 1788) where he formed lifelong friendships with C. W. W. Wynn and Grosvenor Charles Bedford, with whom he exchanged letters for forty years. Expelled from Westminster (Apr 1792) for writing a pamphlet entitled The Flagellant, in which corporal punishment was stigmatised as inspired by the Devil, he was a prey to severe dejection for a few months. His sympathy for the French Revolution was no obstacle to his entering Balliol College, Oxford (Nov 1792), where he never felt happy. There he read Godwin’s Political Justice and wrote a revolutionary epic, Joan of Arc, in which he denounced all the representatives of the establishment. With Coleridge, whom he first met in Oxford (June 1794), he planned a Utopian scheme of emigration to America called ‘Pantisocracy’ (the idea was to establish an egalitarian community of six families ‘on the banks of the Susquehanna’), which came to nothing for lack of money.
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