Sydney Dobell was born in Cranbrook, Kent, the son of a wine merchant. The family moved to Cheltenham when Sydney was twelve and he was educated privately, neither attending school nor university. In 1844 he married Emily Fordham from whom he maintained he was never away for more than 30 hours throughout their married life. They lived initially in Charlton Kings, Gloucestershire where he established himself as a wine merchant whilst developing a career as a writer.
In 1850 he published The Roman, a long dramatic poem celebrating the cause of Italian literature which was well received and led to his friendship with several eminent writers and artists including Tennyson, Carlisle, Ruskin and Rosetti. In 1853 he wrote the long poem Balder which was less successful. From 1854 he spent three years in Edinburgh and it was largely through his efforts that David Gray’s poems were published. He collaborated with Alexander Smith in the publication of sonnets on the Crimean War in 1855 and the following year wrote a volume of poems entitled England in Time of War which contained the ballad Keith of Ravelston and several other good poems.
By 1861 he was living in Hampstead but spending winters in France, Spain and Italy. He suffered a couple of serious blows to his health in the 1860’s, first when he injured himself in a fall whilst exploring the ruins of Pozzuoli, near Naples in 1866 and three years later when he was involved inna riding fall in 1869. Thereafter he became a virtual invalid and died in 1874, aged 52.
Dobell was a prolific poet and a man of excellent character who was always willing to help others. He was an advocate of social reform and a believer in women’s rights and the support of oppressed minorities. He was a prolific poet belonging to the Spasmodic school of poetry and his poetry is characterised by an undercurrent of discontent with the mystery of existence, unrewarded struggle and a fruitless search for the unattainable.