Biography of Robert William Service (1874 – 1958)
Robert William Service was born on January 16, 1874 to a Scottish bank clerk and the daughter of an English factory owner.
At the age of 15 he followed his father into the banking business, but in 1896 he emigrated to Canada where he joined his younger brother in an experiment in ranching. The life of a farmer in British Columbia, however, was far from his expectations and after 18 months he set off for California.
For the next 6 years Service drifted up and down the Pacific coast. In 1903, finding himself broke in Vancouver, he applied to and was hired by the Canadian Bank of Commerce and won a posting in Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory.
Here Service found the western life he had sought, with its balance of a frontier sort of social life and the solitude of the northern woods.
During his wanderings Service had spent much time reading and dreaming and one day he was invited to recite at a church concert. A friend of his suggested that Service write something about the Yukon. He was inspired, as he tells it, by his surroundings. “It was Saturday night, and from the various bars I heard sounds of revelry. The line popped into my mind: ‘A bunch of boys were whooping it up’ and it stuck there. Good enough for a start.”.
Desiring a quiet place to work he went to his bank where the startled bank guard fired a shot at him the event which led Service’s mind toward the idea of a shooting and, “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” was born. The flood gates opened, Service wrote so many poems over the next few months that he decided to publish them and found a publisher who would pay a 10% royalty, and Songs of a Sourdough (reissued as The Spell of the Yukon) was published to some success.
In 1908 he was transformed 400 miles north to Dawson where he composed and published Ballads of a Cheechako and, the following year, resigned from the bank in order to write full time.
Setting up shop in a log cabin Service decided to write a novel about the Gold Rush. In preparation he travelled along the Klondike River visiting the famous gold sites and boom towns; interviewing those who had settled in the area during 1898 and read everything he could find on the subject. Having finished the novel he moved to New York City where the book was published as The Trail of 8.
Having seen the book to publication service travelled to Louisiana, then Cuba and back to Alberta from whence he returned to the Yukon by paddling a canoe down the Mackensie River.
Back in his cabin Service took up where he had left off, enjoying a bohemian sort of life and writing a great amount of poetry. In 1912, having finished Rhymes of a Rolling Stone he accepted the job of war correspondent in the Balkan war.
During his travels in Europe Service married a woman from paris and purchased a villa in Brittany. In the First World War he served in an America volunteer ambulance unit and became a war correspondent for the Canadian government. Following the war he travelled and wrote two volumes of poetry and several novels. With the outbreak of the Second World War he escaped from Poland to Hollywood where he lived in exile until the end of the war and his return to France.
Though he never returned to the Yukon after he left in 1912 it remained a part of his life until his death in 1958.
Biography By: http://www.artdamage.com/service.htm