Robert W. Service

Robert W. Service’s Life

A popular English poet, Robert William Service was born on January 16, 1874, in Preston, Lancashire, England. His parents had ten children, of which Service was first. His father, Robert Service Sr., was a banker by profession and was from Kilwinning, a historic town in Scotland. Later, he moved to England. At the age of five, Service went to live with his maiden aunts in Kilwinning, where his paternal grandfather was also working as a postmaster. While staying with them, Service wrote his first poem at the age of six. When he turned nine, Service went to live with his parents in Glasgow, where he studied at Hillhead High School.

Upon completion of his high school education, he joined the Commercial Bank of Scotland, which later became the Royal Bank of Scotland. During this time, he wrote poetry and sold his poems. He fell under the spell of the popular poets of that time such as Robert Browning, John Keats, Thackeray, and Tennyson. At the age of twenty-one, Service moved to Vancouver Island, British Columbia and dreamed of becoming a cowboy with his Buffalo Bill costume in tow. Following this move, he traveled around western North America, wandering from California back to British Columbia, starting and quitting various jobs. Finally, he joined a store as a clerk in Cowichan Bay in British Columbia in 1899.

During this career, he met a customer named Charles H. Gibbons, the editor of the Victoria Daily Colonist. Subsequently, Service started writing poems for the Daily Colonist, which were published in 1900, including his popular poem “The March of the Dead.” After getting experience in writing poems, Service developed interest in writing his own book, and sent poems to his father living in Toronto so that he could find a printer to transform them into a booklet. When printers at William Briggs in Toronto saw his work, the majority of them liked his ballads and the publisher offered a royalty contract of around 10 percent to Service for his book. This book, titled “Songs of a Sourdough,” was an instant hit.

In the wake of this achievement, Service moved to Paris in 1913. He lived there for 15 years, where he married Parisienne Germaine Bourgoin, a woman 13 years younger than him. The couple had a daughter, Iris. In the midst of Second World War, he lived in California. After the war Service returned with his wife to Brittany, where they found their house destroyed. They rebuilt their house and lived there until Service’s death. Service died in Lancieux on September 11, 1958 at the age of 84.

Robert W. Service’s Works

After his popular “Songs of Sourdough,” Service’s next poetry collection, “Ballads of a Cheechako,” was published in 1908. His third collection, Rhymes of a Rolling Stone,” was published in 1912, and his fourth collection, “Ballads of a Bohemian,” was published in 1921. During the 1920s, Service started writing his thriller novels, including The Poisoned Paradise” and “A Romance of Monte Carlo,” published in 1922, and “The Roughneck” and “A Tale of Tahiti,” both published in 1923. Some of his novels were adapted into silent films.

In his later years, Service wrote efficiently and published six books of poems during the years 1949-1955. His most popular poem collections are “Rhymes of a Rebel” and “Songs for My Supper” from the early fifties, and then Rhymes for My Rags” from 1956. He also wrote two autobiographical volumes.

Robert W. Service’s Style and Popular Poems

Robert Service was one of the most popular poets of his time. He received the title of the Canadian Kipling during his lifetime. The original Kipling enlivened him a great deal and therefore Service followed Kipling’s writing style in his work “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” His popular 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.”

More about Him

Robert Service was honored with several titles and awards. Several schools are named after him, 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 turned into a movie. Robert W. Service received three medals for his war engagement: 1914-1915 Star, the Victory Medal, and the British War Medal.

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