Early Years and Family
Robert William Service, a beloved English poet, came into the world on January 16, 1874, in Preston, Lancashire, England. He was the first of ten children born to his parents. His father, Robert Service Sr., originally hailed from Kilwinning, a historic Scottish town, where he worked as a banker. However, he later relocated to England. When Robert was just five years old, he moved to Kilwinning to live with his maiden aunts, where his paternal grandfather served as a postmaster. It was in Kilwinning that young Robert penned his very first poem at the tender age of six.
At the age of nine, Robert returned to live with his parents in Glasgow, Scotland, and commenced his education at Hillhead High School.
Poetry and Banking
After completing his high school education, he embarked on a career with the Commercial Bank of Scotland, which would later become the Royal Bank of Scotland. During this time, he dabbled in poetry and even managed to sell some of his poems. Service found inspiration in the works of renowned poets of his era, including Robert Browning, John Keats, Thackeray, and Tennyson. When he turned twenty-one, he set out for Vancouver Island, British Columbia, with dreams of becoming a cowboy, complete with his Buffalo Bill costume. This move marked the beginning of his wanderings across western North America, from California back to British Columbia, where he held and abandoned various jobs. Finally, in 1899, he settled as a clerk in Cowichan Bay, British Columbia.
It was during his time as a clerk that he met Charles H. Gibbons, a customer who happened to be the editor of the Victoria Daily Colonist. This encounter led to Service writing poems for the Daily Colonist, with his works, including the celebrated "The March of the Dead," being published in 1900. With this experience, Service's interest in creating his book was kindled. He sent his poems to his father, who resided in Toronto, seeking a printer to transform them into a booklet. The printers at William Briggs in Toronto were impressed by his ballads and offered Service a royalty contract of approximately 10 percent for his book. This book, titled "Songs of a Sourdough," became an instant sensation.
Life in Europe and Beyond
Following the success of "Songs of a Sourdough," Service made a significant move to Paris in 1913. He spent 15 years there and married Germaine Bourgoin, a Parisienne who was 13 years his junior. The couple welcomed a daughter named Iris. During the tumultuous years of World War II, Service resided in California. After the war, he returned with his wife to Brittany, where they discovered their home had been destroyed. Undeterred, they rebuilt their house and resided there until Service's passing. Robert W. Service bid farewell to the world on September 11, 1958, at the age of 84, in Lancieux.
Robert W. Service's Literary Contributions
Notable Poetry Collections
Following the triumph of "Songs of Sourdough," Service continued to craft his poetic legacy. His next poetry collection, "Ballads of a Cheechako," graced the shelves in 1908. In 1912, he released his third collection, "Rhymes of a Rolling Stone," followed by "Ballads of a Bohemian" in 1921. During the 1920s, Service ventured into the world of thriller novels, penning works like "The Poisoned Paradise" and "A Romance of Monte Carlo" in 1922, as well as "The Roughneck" and "A Tale of Tahiti," both published in 1923. Some of his novels were even adapted into silent films.
In his later years, Service continued to write prolifically, publishing six books of poems between 1949 and 1955. His most cherished collections include "Rhymes of a Rebel" and "Songs for My Supper" from the early 1950s, and "Rhymes for My Rags" in 1956. Additionally, he authored two volumes of autobiography.
Style and Iconic Poems
Robert Service's poetic prowess made him one of the most beloved poets of his era. He earned the title of the Canadian Kipling during his lifetime, greatly influenced by the works of Rudyard Kipling, particularly evident in his masterpiece, "The Cremation of Sam McGee." Among his most celebrated poems are "Songs of a Sourdough," "Ballads of a Cheechako," "A Character," "A Domestic Tragedy," "A Rolling Stone," "Ambition," "Artist," "Birthdays," "Cowardice," "Courage," "The Mother," "The Christmas Tree," "The Monster," "The Cuckoo," and "A Bachelor."
Legacy and Recognition
Robert Service's contributions to literature earned him several honors and awards. Numerous schools have been named in his honor, such as Service High School in Anchorage, Alaska, and Robert Service Senior Public School in Toronto, Ontario. His first novel, "The Trail of '98," was adapted into a movie. Furthermore, Robert W. Service was decorated with three medals for his wartime service: the 1914-1915 Star, the Victory Medal, and the British War Medal.
Let's Talk About It
Now that we've explored the life and works of Robert W. Service, let's dive into a discussion. Which of Robert Service's poems resonates most with you, and why? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.