Born in Ireland in 1667, Swift spent much of his adult life in England. He was actively involved in politics, and in his self-penned epitaph describes himself as a ‘champion of liberty’.
Katherine Philips started writing soon after her marriage in 1647, aged sixteen, to James Philips.
Mary Pierrepont was born in 1689, the first child of the Earl of Kingston. Her mother died in 1694 and Mary was groomed to become hostess and housekeeper for her father, then a Whig MP.
Lewis Carroll was the literary pseudonym of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, born in 1832, the third in a family of eleven children; he had seven younger sisters.
George Byron was born in 1788 with a deformed foot: he limped all his life. His father was 'Mad Jack' Byron, an infamous adventurer who abandoned his wife and family in 1790 and died in 1791.
Intellectually gifted Mary Coleridge was the great-grand‑niece of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Her parents were impressively well connected to writers and musicians in the London of the last half of the nineteenth century.
In spite of needing to earn a living as a kitchen maid and her death from measles at the age of twenty‑four, Mary Leapor left behind a substantial body of work.
Mary Robinson was a gifted musician, champion of the rights of women, novelist, poet and actress.
Mary Sidney Herbert was an influential and talented poet, translator and patron of the arts in Elizabethan England. She was also the sister of the courtier and poet Philip Sidney.
Matthew Arnold was born in 1822, the son of the celebrated headmaster of Rugby, Thomas Arnold.
Wilde’s imprisonment for homosexuality in 1895 ended a spectacularly successful career. Although he lived for a few more years in exile in France after his release and produced some moving poetry, his life was effectively over.
Dunbar was one of the first African-American poets to be widely known and admired in America. His parents were freed slaves and Dunbar used some of their tales of plantation life in his work.
Shelley was born at Field Place, near Horsham, the eldest son of Sir Timothy Shelley, MP for the Duke of Norfolk's pocket borough of Shoreham-by-sea.
A poet, soldier and courtier, Philip Sidney was one of the most celebrated figures of the Elizabethan age.
Phillis Wheatley was the first US slave to publish a book of poems. Born in Africa in about 1753 and shipped as an 8 year old child to the Boston Slave Market, she was purchased by John Wheatley to be a personal servant for his wife, Susanna.
Robert Bridges was a trained doctor working in London hospitals until 1882, a classicist and poet who served as Poet Laureate from 1913 until his death in 1930.
Robert Browning was born in South London in 1812. He was largely self-educated, utilising his father's extensive library of over six thousand volumes.
Burns started life as a ploughman in Scotland but is now one of the world’s most celebrated poets. Every January, his life is remembered with whisky, haggis, singing and dancing on Burns Night.
Born in Scotland, Stevenson was an unconventional and adventurous novelist, poet, essayist, short‑story and travel writer with a remarkable gift for captivating story‑telling.
Robert Southey was an independently minded young man who was expelled from Westminster School for opposing flogging.
Southwell wrote most of his poems and prose when working as an underground Jesuit priest in Protestant England at a time when an active Catholic priest’s chances of survival were no more than one in three.
Samuel Johnson is a towering figure in the history of English literature, to the extent that the second half of the eighteenth century has sometimes been described as ‘the age of Johnson’.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born in 1772, the tenth and youngest child of the schoolmaster of the country town of Ottery St Mary. After the death of his father he attended Christ's Hospital School:
Written over several years in the 1740s, Gray’s elegy was eventually published in 1751 and enjoyed phenomenal popularity for the next two hundred years.
Thomas Hardy was born in 1840, the son of a stonemason. He trained and practised as an architect, but, as soon as he could, earned his living by writing the novels which made him famous.