“A great many second-rate poets, in fact, are second-rate just for this reason, that they have not the sensitiveness and consciousness to perceive that they feel differently from the preceding generation, and therefore must use words differently.” So wrote T. S. Eliot, with the eighteenth century in mind: and few poets better illustrate the truth of his insight than Robert Southey (1774–1843). Southey is the forgotten man of English Romanticism, whose poems were little studied until recently even by specialists, and, while available in facsimile, had never been edited on modern principles. Mark Storey’s sympathetic biography, which appeared in 1997, still had to use the original printings. Yet in his own day Southey was compared by some to Milton, and Cardinal Newman, of all people, knew great stretches of his work by heart. Now, reading through this handsome new five-volume edition of his epics and selected shorter poems, written...


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