Thomas Lovell Beddoes was born in Clifton, Bristol, the son of a distinguished scientist and medical practitioner who was a friend of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. His aunt was the novelist Maria Edgeworth. His father died when Thomas was five years old. Thomas was educated at Charterhouse and Pembroke College, Cambridge, but left without taking any examinations following the death of his mother in Italy.
He published his first book, The Improvisatore, while still at university as well as his first play, The Bride’s Tragedy, based on the story of a murder committed by an undergraduate. After Oxford he went to Göttingen in Germany to study anatomy and medicine, starting work at the same time on Death’s Test Book, a surreal morality play. His life, in fact, seems to have been dominated with death and the macabre. Although evidently a brilliant student, his radical political views were unacceptable to the university authorities and he was asked to leave. He went on to Würzburg to complete his studies, where he received his MD in 1831.
He later led an itinerant life, working variously as a doctor in southern Germany and Switzerland, before being expelled from both countries on account of his political views. During this period he struggled with alcohol and depression, was frequently arrested, and in 1849 ended his tormented, self-destructive life by his own hand in Basel, Switzerland, after a previous unsuccessful attempt, having returned there from England in 1844. His Death’s Test Book was published posthumously in 1850.
As far as his poetry is concerned, he is regarded as a reviver of the Elizabethan late romantic period. He was a skilled wordsmith and his poems, many of which are concerned with death, display a delicacy of form and a vibrancy of expression.