Robert Southey was expelled from Westminster School for criticising the practice of flogging in the school magazine. This incident helped to fire his youthful revolutionary ideals, which found expression a few years later in his first long poem Joan of Arc (1796). He went to Balliol College, Oxford, but failed to gain a degree; his attention was taken up by a new friend, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and his ideas about 'pantisocracy', a scheme to set up a utopian community in America. Southey and Coleridge married two sisters, Edith and Sara Fricker. Though there was some ill-feeling over the abandonment of pantisocracy, the two men remained friends.
By this time Southey had resolved to make his living as a writer. In 1797 he was already printing the second edition of his Poems, and a trip to the Continent resulted in the publication of Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal. In this year he also began to receive an annual sum of £160 from his friend Charles Wynn; this was replaced in 1807 by a government pension for the same amount.
Southey and his family moved into Greta Hall, Keswick, in 1803, where he lived for the rest of his life. They shared the house with the Coleridges, and Southey also got to know William and Dorothy Wordsworth, who lived nearby. When Coleridge went to Malta in 1804 Southey worked extremely hard to provide for both families.
As he grew older, Southey seemed increasingly a part of the Establishment he had sought to rebel against in his pantisocratic days. Like Wordsworth and Coleridge, he became disillusioned by the progress of the French Revolution, and he was criticised as a political turncoat by the younger generation of Romantic writers, notably in Byron's Don Juan. He became Poet Laureate in 1813, a responsibility he later came to dislike.
Though he has been subject to some neglect since his death, Southey was an influential writer in his own day, and even his enemies, like Byron and Hazlitt, professed admiration for his prose style. His later years were clouded by his wife's madness and death in 1837, and his own deteriorating mental and physical health.