Robert William Service

Early Life

Robert William Service was born on the 16th of January in 1874, in Preston, Lancashire, England. He was the bright son of Robert Service, a banker, and his mother, Sarah Emily Parker. He spent four years with his parents and later, at five, he was sent to live with his paternal grandfather and aunts in Kilwinning. There he started writing, composing his first piece on his sixth birthday. Later, he rejoined his parents in 1883 when they were in Glasgow.


Robert William Service was gifted with writing abilities. He was educated at some of the best educational institutions of Scotland where his desire for adventure and writing continued growing side by side. After leaving school, he joined the Commercial Bank of Scotland and pursued his literary pursuits, too. Due to his admiration of Alfred Lord Tennyson, John Keats, and Robert Browning, he started studying literature at Glasgow University. Robert Louis Stevenson and Rudyard Kipling further instilled in him a creative urge. Throughout his life, he traveled widely to Western Canada, Cuba, Alberta, Louisiana, Paris, and many other places, which proved to be a boon for his writing career.

Love Affair and Marriage

While living in Yukon, Robert William Service fell in love with Constance MacLean. Filled with intense love, he expressed his feelings but the lady was in search of a financially well-off and an educated man. Therefore, she rejected his offer. Upon gaining success, Service, once again, tried his luck but again he faced the same cold-shouldering. Later, in 1913, after establishing a prolific and prosperous writing career, he married Germaine Bougeoin, a French lady, and settled in France. She remained faithful to him until his last breath in 1958.

Some Important Facts of His Life

  1. For his war contributions and services, he was honored with three medals including the British War Medal, 1914-15 Star, and Victory Medal.
  2. He composed his first verse on his sixth birthday.
  3. He was honored with The Canadian Postage Stamp in 1976.

His Career

Robert William Service started writing at a young age and contributed some celebrated works to literature. His first verse collection, Songs of a Sourdough, was published in 1907, followed by another successful collection, Ballads of a Cheechako. Depicting life in the Canadian north, both collections gained immense popularity. Much like its predecessors, his first novel, The Trail of  98, became the bestseller. His third book of poetry, Rhymes of a Rolling Stone, published in 1912, while in 1916 he dedicated his collection, Rhymes of a Red Cross Man, to those who lost their precious lives during World War I. After five years, he came up with three thrillers including A Romance of Monte Carlo, The Poisoned Paradise, The Roughneck, and A Tale of Tahiti. Later, in 1942, he became a part of the movie “The Spoilers” and earned a reputation in the film industry, too. During his later years, he produced two volumes of autobiographies and six books of verse, which cemented his popularity as the great literary figure of Canada.

His Style

Despite leading life as a cowboy and taking up several odd professions, Robert’s simple way of life could not dampen his thirst for literature. Rather, it blossomed in the form of his successful literary pieces which won global acclaim for him. His friendship with great literary figures further accelerated his writing career. After spending quality time in Europe and Vancouver Island, and his meetings with colorful personalities, he created famous characters based on them. Since he was a great admirer of Kipling’s work, most of his famous poems followed Kipling’s writing style such as “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” Almost all of his works won good recognition. On account of his humorous style, his many popular works are considered doggerels if judged from the literary yardstick. Regarding literary devices, he turned toward imagery, symbolism, and metaphors. The recurring themes in most of her writings are nature, death, suffering, and friendship.

Some Important Works of Robert William Service

  • Best Poems: He was an outstanding poet, some of his best poems include “At Thirty-Five”, “Fighting Mac” – A Life Tragedy, “The Ballad of Blasphemous Bill”, “The Cremation of Sam McGee”, “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” and “Clancy of the Mounted Police.”
  • Other Works: Besides poetry, he tried his hands on fiction and nonfiction. Some of them include The House of Fear, A Novel, The Pretender. A story of the Latin Quarter, The Trail of Ninety-Eight, A Northland Romance, Ploughman of the Moon, An Adventure Into Memory, and Harper of Heaven. A Record of Radiant Living.

Robert Service’s Impact on Future Literature

Robert Service, with his unique abilities, left profound impacts on the global literature. His popularity in permanence in love and portrayal of the Canadian lifestyle won him universal recognition. His unique ideas, along with distinct literary qualities, won applause from his readers and critics alike. It is stated that his poetic output has placed him on the high pedestal of recognition as “The Bard of the Yukon.”

Famous Quotes

  1. “Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us;
    Let us journey to a lonely land I know.
    There’s a whisper on the night-wind, there’s a star agleam to guide us,
    And the Wild is calling, calling…let us go” (The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses)
  2. “There are strange things done in the midnight sun
    By the men who moil for gold;
    The Arctic trails have their secret tales
    That would make your blood run cold;
    The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
    But the queerest they ever did see
    Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
    I cremated Sam McGee.” (The Cremation of Sam McGee)
  3. “It wallowed in its water-bed; it burrowed, heaved and swung;
    It gnawed its way ahead with grunts and sighs;
    Its bill of fare was rock and sand; the tailings were its dung;
    It glared around with fierce electric eyes.
    Full fifty buckets crammed its maw;
    it bellowed out for more;
    It looked like some great monster in the gloom.” (The Collected Verses)