The Lake Poets became known as such when Francis Jeffrey used the term in one of his articles on literary criticism. Derogatorily intended, this expression alluded their sectary nature. They were regarded as radical and antisocial, and blamed for using ordinary language and themes in their poetry. The term prospered and it has been systematically used to this day. The three components of this group are considered Romantic poets, due to their interest in the unusual and the supernatural. Each of them had their own focus, though: Wordsworth the familiar, Coleridge the philosophical, and Southey travelling and adventure. The three poets shared a love for liberty and radical political convictions in their youth, sympathising with the French Revolution, although they turned more conservative as they grew older. The French Revolution meant the promise of a glorious renovation of society. It inspired Southey and Coleridge – who met in 1794 in Oxford – to plan a Utopian community in America called Pantisocracy – equal rule by all -, based on libertarian principles. Wordsworth and Coleridge met in 1795, and wrote Lyrical Ballads (1798) together, influencing each other greatly throughout their lives. The Wordsworth household was formed by William and his sister Dorothy, also a poet, relegated by literary history to a satellite position together with other authors. Her writings were not intended for publication, although she had a gift for precise observation and description that may surpassed that of William Wordsworth and Coleridge.
Wordsworth had chosen to describe the “humble and rustic life”, as in them “the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity”. His works were not considered as radical because they embodied revolutionary thoughts, but because he sought to express values which stood apart from gentility and what he regarded as false sophistication. He even professed the ambition of beginning a literary reform. His main themes are the pastoral against the ugly background of industrialization, his love of nature and “emotion recollected in tranquility”.
Coleridge was brilliant in his studies but as he grew older, he found little stimulation in them and fell in idleness, dissoluteness and debt. In accord to the medical prescription of the time, Coleridge had been taking laudanum from an early age in order to ease the physical pains and ailments that he suffered. As a result, he became an addict. He expresses his despair in Dejection: An Ode (1802), his farewell to health, happiness and poetic creativity. Despite his attempts at restoring his health, he continued with his habit, and withdrawal symptoms interfered in all his relationships. He survived for some time by giving lectures, writing for newspapers, etc. While addiction was a main driving force in his life, he usually adapted – or simply transcribed – passages from other writers in order to meet deadlines, and he was charged with plagiarism. Writings that required sustained planning were left unfinished or were made up of brilliant sections padded out with filler. In 1816 under Dr. Gillman’s supervision, he manages to control, although not to suppress his addiction. His remaining years he spent with Dr. and Mrs. Gillman.
Robert Southey was expelled from Westminster School for criticising the practise of flogging in the school magazine. The incident was an instance of his revolutionary ideals which found expression in his first long poem Joan of Arc (1796). By then, he had already written The fall of Robespierre (1794) in partnership with Coleridge, with whom he also shared experiences such as taking part in experiments with nitrous oxide (laughing gas) in 1799. He also wrote travel books, composed by letters from his short residence in Port and Spain. The Doctor, published in 1837 contains the famour tale The Three Bears. Although he was praised by W. Scott and Lord Byron, and was appointed Poet Laureate in 1813, his poems does not seem to have passed the test of time, as he is now regarded by the critics as the most flat and less talented of the three.