Robert Southey by Thomas Phillips

Thomas Phillips19th Century

Wordsworth Grasmere

Wordsworth Grasmere

This portrait of the poet Robert Southey was painted in 1818 for the Duke of Newcastle. In it Southey is wearing his Poet Laureate's medal, with a moonlit landscape behind. The original drawing for this portrait, commissioned by the publisher John Murray, was completed by November 1815, when Southey wrote to Mary Barker, 9 November 1815: 'The devil who owes me an old grudge has made me sit to Phillips for a picture for Murray.' Southey if often characterised as grumbling about the pains of being famous after he became Poet Laureate. The mezzotint derived from the painting he declared to be 'bad, base, vile, vulgar, odious, hateful, detestable, abominable, execrable, and infamous. The rascally mezzotint scraper has made my face fat, fleshy, silly and sensual, and given the eyes an expression which I conceive to be more like two oysters in love than anything else.’ Southey was a major literary figure, not least in his prose, who comes into the lives of Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley, Byron, and many, many others. He is a figure whose work is intimately bound up with that of his contemporaries. In 1831 John Stuart Mill called him 'a mild man with bitter opinions'; Queen Victoria knew him as the author of the 'Life of Nelson'; Lewis Carroll, irreverently, found him to be a poet eminently worthy of mockery (in 'You are old, Father William'); Byron found in him the obstinate reactionary force against which he turned all his fierce satire. He was the mocked dedicatee of his 'Don Juan', 1818, and the bumbling and overweening poet in his most succinct attack: 'The Vision of Judgement', published in 'The Liberal', 1822.


  • Title: Robert Southey by Thomas Phillips
  • Creator: Thomas Phillips
  • Date Created: 19th Century
  • Physical Dimensions: 900 x 700mm
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Wordsworth Trust
  • Medium: Oil on Canvas

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