Robert Seymour Bridges (1844 –1930) was a British poet, and poet laureate from 1913 to 1930. Bridges is the only medical graduate (he was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians of London in 1900) to have held the office of Poet Laureate.
He is perhaps best known for The Testament of Beauty (1929), for which he received the Order of Merit, but some of his loveliest poems are to be found in the two earlier volumes of Shorter Poems (1890, 1894). He also wrote verse plays, with limited success, and literary criticism, including a study of the work of John Keats. Despite being made poet laureate in 1913, Bridges was never a very well known poet and only achieved his great popularity shortly before his death. However, his verse inspired many great British composers of the time. Among those to set his poems to music were Hubert Parry, Gustav Holst, and later Gerald Finzi. At Oxford, Bridges became friends with Gerard Manley Hopkins, who owes his present re-known to Bridges' efforts in arranging the posthumous publication (1918) of his verse.
Educated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford and St Bartholomew's Hospital, he practised as a casualty physician at his teaching hospital (where he made a series of highly critical remarks of the Victorian medical establishment) and subsequently as a full physician to the Great (later Royal) Northern Hospital. He was also a physician to the Hospital for Sick Children.
It had for long been his intention to retire early from the medical profession and “give himself up wholly to literature”. But despite this, his medical career was to end (at the age of 37 years) sooner than he had planned; in June 1881, he suffered from a severe attack of pneumonia (complicated by emphysema), and in November he took leave of absence from the Great Northern Hospital. He then went on a tour of Italy and Sicily (with a view to recovering his strength). The effects of the illness never left him and lung disease forced him to permanently retire in 1882. From that point on he devoted himself to writing and literary research.
Although Bridges' literary work started long before his retirement, his first collection of poems having been published in 1873, much of his most inspired poetry was completed after his retirement.
There are, however, additional forces at work in his inspirational output.
In 1884 he married Monica Waterhouse, daughter of Alfred Waterhouse R.A., and spent the rest of his life in rural seclusion, first at Yattendon, Berkshire, then at Boars Hill, Oxford, where he died. Yattendon was a “ . . . pleasant old red-brick house with [a] rook-haunted garden” which had “just the combination of beauty, simplicity and remoteness suitable to a poet of his Miltonic order”. Here, he was to spend the first 20 years of his married life. In 1904, his wife suffered from ill health, and they both spent nine months in Switzerland; following this, they did not return to Yattendon, but settled at Boars Hill. Thus we can add LOVE and Safe House [reducing threats] to the mechanisms.
Following a disappointingly sparse output of "official" work, once he was appointed Poet Laureate, Bridges published his greatest literary contribution-The Testament of Beauty-on his 85th birthday. He died at home aged 86.
For more details on his life see
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- Bridges, Robert - I have loved flowers that fade
- Bridges, Robert - I heard a linnet courting
- Bridges, Robert - I will not let thee go
- Bridges, Robert - In Autumn moonlight
- Bridges, Robert - Nightingales
- Bridges, Robert - Nimium Fortunatus
- Bridges, Robert - The Growth of Love
- Bridges, Robert - The South Wind