Austin Dobson was born in Plymouth, the son of a civil engineer of French descent. His family moved to Holyhead when he was eight and he was educated in Anglesey. In 1856 at the age of sixteen he joined The Board of Trade where he was to work until his retirement in 1901, having risen to become the principal of the Harbour department. In 1868 he got married to Frances Mary Beardmore and they lived in Ealing.
He had started to write poetry and prose by 1864 and over the next few years he contributed poems to Anthony Trollope’s magazine St Paul’s. In 1873 he published his first volume of poetry, Vignettes in Rhyme followed by The Prodigals, the first original ballade written in English. This was a form of medieval and Renaissance French poetry and he went on the experiment with English versions, the triolet, rondel, rondeau and villanelle. In 1877 he published Proverbs in Porcelain and Other Verses. In 1883 he published Old World Idylls which contained some of his most characteristic work including the poems Beau Brocade and The Story of Rosina and in 1885 At the Sign of the Lyre which contained his delightful poem The Ladies of St James’s.
After 1885 he devoted himself almost entirely to the writing of prose works although a volume of his verse Collected Poems appeared in the mid-1880’s. He wrote biographies of several writers including Henry Fielding, Oliver Goldsmith and Samuel Richardson as well as notables such as Horace Walpole, Thomas Bewick and William Hogarth. He also wrote A Handbook of English Literature (1880), Four Frenchwomen (1890) and the Paladin of Philanthropy (1899).
In 1901 he brought out another volume of poems he had written earlier entitled Carmine Votiva and a further volume Selected Poems in 1905. In 1902 he received an honorary doctorate from Edinburgh University. Dobson’s knowledge of intricate medieval verse forms played an important part in the revival of this type of poetry. He wrote with grace and elegance and his poems are characterised by polish, wit and a restrained pathos. The Complete Poetical Works of Austin Dobson was published in 1923, two years after his death.