Poems Without Frontiers

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Robert Seymour Bridges 1844-1930

Bridges was born in Walmer, Kent, to a large family where his father was a member of a prosperous Kentish family of landowners. His father died in 1853, however, and his mother remarried in 1854 removing the family to Rochdale.

Bridges attended Eton College from 1854 where he developed a taste for rowing and cricket. He subsequently attended Oxford University where he gained a 2nd class degree in Classics. From 1869, instead of entering the Church as he had originally intended, he studied medicine at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London, graduating in 1874 and practising in London hospitals until 1882 when he contracted pneumonia that, in consequence, caused him to seek his profession in literature to which he had turned as a pastime.

After recuperation in Italy, he returned to England and married Mary Monica Waterhouse by whom he had three children. One daughter, Elizabeth, became a poet and his son, Edward, who was wounded in the First World War, was subsequently ennobled as first Baron Bridges. The family removed several times including spending a year in Switzerland before finally settling at Boar's Hill, near Oxford, where he remained until his death.

Bridges was well known and respected amongst leading poets of the day. His work was well received by his peers but he reached popular acclaim only in the decade preceding his death. He co-founded the Society for Pure English in 1913 and was an exponent of hymn writing including numerous translations of old hymnals into modern English. He was elected Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1900, became Poet Laureate in 1913 and received the Order of Merit in 1929.

Several of his works were set to music by Parry, Holst and Finzi.