Lovell, Robert (1771–1796)

Poet. Born in Bristol, the son of a wealthy Quaker manufacturer (initially of cabinets and later of pins), and his first wife Edith Bourne, a Quaker minister. Lovell possibly entered the manufacturing business (on his death he was described as a pin manufacturer) but was ill at ease in the commercial world. In 1794 he married Mary Fricker. His family disapproved of the match because she was not a Quaker and had worked as an actress. Their son, also named Robert, was born in 1795. Lovell died at Bristol on 3 May 1796 of a fever contracted on a trip to Salisbury and exacerbated by refusing to take medical advice before returning home. One of his final letters to his wife is in the Huntington Library, San Marino, another in Bristol Reference Library. Lovell’s father was reluctant to provide regular financial support for Mary Lovell and her child, and both became part of Southey’s extended household. Lovell and Southey were introduced by Sarah Fricker in Bristol in late 1793. Lovell was also a poet, his Bristol: A Satire appeared in 1794, and he and Southey embarked on a period of collaboration: planning two co-authored collections, only one of which was published under the pseudonyms ‘Bion’ [Southey] and ‘Moschus’ [Lovell] in late 1794. Lovell was also involved in the 1794 revisions to Southey’s Joan of Arc. The advent of Coleridge in summer–autumn 1794 seems to have led (at least temporarily) to a reorientation of literary relationships. Lovell was pushed to the margins. His contribution to The Fall of Robespierre was dropped and Coleridge was openly critical of his poetry. Lovell was, however, involved in Pantisocracy and it was through him that Southey and Coleridge were introduced to Joseph Cottle. After Lovell’s death, Southey tried — and failed — to produce a subscription edition of his poems, to raise money for his widow and child. However, Lovell’s writings were included in the Annual Anthology (1799 and 1800) and Specimens of the Later English Poets (1807). In a notice published in Literary Memoirs of Living Authors of Great Britain (1798), David Rivers described Lovell’s poetry as being ‘entitled to considerable distinction’. Southey described receiving the news of Lovell’s death as ‘the most sudden check I ever experienced’. The full extent of their relationship is difficult to gauge because of the survival of only two letters from what must have been an extensive correspondence.

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