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Edward Dowden, M. A., Litt. D.





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A . l^ . F O W 1^ E.




I AM indebted throughout to The Life and Correspond-
ence of Robert Southey, edited by the Rev. C C. Southey,
six volumes, 1850, and to Selections from the Letters of
Robert Southey, edited by J. W. Warter, B.D., four vol-
iimes, 1856. Many other sources have been consulted.
I thank Mr. W. J. Craig for help given in examining
Southey manuscripts, and Mr. T. W. Lyster for many valu-
able suggestions.



Childhood 1

Westminster, Oxford, Pantisocracy, and Marriage . 19

Wanderings, 1795—1803 44

Ways of Life at Keswick, 1803—1839 80

Ways of Life at Keswick, 1803 — 1839 (continued) . . 112

Changes and Events, 1803—1843 142

Southey's Work in Literature 187




No one of his generation lived so completely in and for
literature as did Southey. " He is," said Byron, " the
only existing entire man of letters." With him literature
served the needs both of the material life and of the life
of the intellect and imagination ; it was his means of earn-
ing daily bread, and also the means of satisfying his high-
est ambitions and desires. This, which was true of Southey
at five-and-twenty years of age, was equally true at forty,
fifty, sixty. During all that time he was actively at work
accumulating, arranging, and distributing knowledge ; no
one among his contemporaries gathered so large a store
from the records of the past; no one toiled with such
steadfast devotion to enrich his age ; no one occupied so
honourable a place in so many provinces of literature.
There is not, perhaps, any single work of Southey's the
loss of which would be felt by us as a capital misfortune.
But the more we consider his total work, its mass, its va-
riety, its high excellence, the more we come to regard it as
a memorable, an extraordinary achievement.

2 SOUTHEY. [chap.

Southey himself, however, stands above his works. In
subject they are disconnected, and some of them appear
like huge fragments. It is the presence of one mind, one
character in all, easily recognizable by him who knows
Southey, which gives them a vital unity. We could lose
the History of Brazil, or th*^ Peninsular War, or the Life
of Wesley, and feel that if our possessions were diminish-
ed, we ourselves in our inmost being had undergone no
loss which might not easily be endured. But he who
has once come to know Southey's voice as the voice of a
friend, so clear, so brave, so honest, so full of boyish glee,
so full of manly tenderness, feels that if he heard that
voice no more a portion of his life were gone. To make
acquaintance with the man is better than to study the
subjects of his books. In such a memoir as the present,
to glance over the contents of a hundred volumes, dealing
with matters widely remote, would be to wander upon a
vast circumference when we ought to strike for the centre.
If the reader come to know Southey as he read and wrote
in his library, as he rejoiced and sorrowed among his chil-
dren, as he held hands with good old friends, as he walked
by the lake-side, or lingered to muse near some mountain
stream, as he hoped and feared for England, as he thought
of life and death and a future beyond the grave, the end
of this small book will have been attained.

At the age of forty-six Robert Southey wrote the first
of a series of autobiographic sketches ; his spirit was cou-
rageous, and life had been good to him ; but it needed
more than his courage to live again in remembrance with
so many of the dead; having told the story of his boy-
hood, he had not the heart to go farther. The autobiog^
raphy rambles pleasantly into by-ways of old Bath and
Bristol life ; at Westminster School it leaves him. So far


we shall go along with it ; for what lies beyond, a record
of Southey's career must be brought together from a mul-
titude of letters, published or still remaining in manuscript,
and from many and massy volumes in prose and verse,
which show how the industrious hours sped by.

Southey's father was a linen-draper of Bristol. He had
left his native fields under the Quantock hills to take ser-
vice in a London shop, but his heart suffered in its exile.
The tears were in his eyes one day when a porter went by
carrying a hare, and the remembrance suddenly came to
him of his rural sports. On his master's death he took a
place behind the counter of Britton's shop in Wine Street,
Bristol ; and when, twelve years later, he opened a shop for
himself in the same business, he had, with tender reminis-
cence, a hare painted for a device upon his windows. He
kept his grandfather's sword which had been borne in
Monmouth's rebellion ; he loved the chimes and quarter-
boys of Christ Church, Bristol, and tried, as church-warden,
to preserve them. What else of poetry there may have
been in the life of Robert Southey the elder is lost among
the buried epics of prosaic lives. We cannot suppose that
as a man of business he was sharp and shrewd; he cer-
tainly was not successful. When the draper's work was
done, he whiled away the hours over Felix Farley's Bristol
Journal, his only reading. For library some score of books
shared with his wine-glasses the small cupboard in the
back parlour ; its chief treasures were the Spectator, the
Guardian^ some eighteenth-century poems, dead even then,
and one or two immortal plays.

On Sundays Mr. Southey, then a bachelor, would stroll
to Bedminster to dine at the pleasant house of Mrs. Hill
— a substantial house to which Edward Hill, gentleman,
brought his second wife, herself a widow ; a house rich in

4 SOUTHEY. [chap.

old English comfort, with its diamond -tiled garden -way
and jessamine-covered porch, its wainscoted " best kitchen,"
its blue room and green room and yellow room, its grapes
and greengages and nectarines, its sweet-williams and
stocks and syringas. Among these pleasant surroundings
the young draper found it natural, on Sabbath afternoons,
to make love to pleasant Margaret Hill. " Never," writes
her son Robert Southey — " never was any human being
blessed with a sweeter temper or a happier disposition."
Her face had been marred by the seams of small-pox, but
its brightness and kindness remained ; there was a charm
in her clear hazel eyes, so good a temper and so alert an
understanding were to be read in them. She had not
gone to any school except one for dancing, and "her state,"
declares Southey, " was the more gracious ;" her father
had, however, given her lessons in the art of whistling ;
she could turn a tune like a blackbird. From a mother,
able to see a fact swiftly and surely, and who knew both
to whistle and to dance, Southey inherited that alertness
of intellect and that joyous temper, without which he could
not have accomplished his huge task-work, never yielding
to a mood of rebellion or ennui.

After the courtship on Sunday afternoons came the
wedding, and before long a beautiful boy was born, who
died in infancy. On the 12th of August, 1774, Mrs.
Southey was again in the pain of childbirth. " Is it a
boy ?" she asked the nurse. " Ay, a great ugly boy !"
With such salutation from his earliest critic the future
poet-laureate entered this world. "God forgive me," his
mother exclaimed afterwards, in relating the event, " when
I saw what a great red creature it was, covered with rolls
of fat, I thought I should never be able to love him."
In due time the red creature proved to be a distinctively


human ctild, whose curly hair and sensitive feelings made
him a mother's darling. He had not yet heard of senti-
ment or of Rousseau, but he wept at the pathos of roman-
tic literature, at the tragic fate of the " Children sliding on
the ice all on a summer's day," or the too early death of
"Billy Pringle's pig," and he would beg the reciters not
to proceed. His mother's household cares multiplied, and
Southey, an unbreeched boy of three years, was borne
away one morning by his faithful foster-mother Patty to
be handed over to the tender mercies of a schoolmistress.
Ma'am Powell was old and grim, and with her lashless
eyes gorgonized the new pupil ; on the seizure of her hand
he woke to rebellion, kicking lustily, and crying, " Take
me to Pat ! I don't like ye ! you've got ugly eyes ! take
me to Pat, I say !" But soft-hearted Pat had gone home,

Mrs. Southey's one weakness was that of submitting too
meekly to the tyranny of an imperious half-sister. Miss
Tyler, the daughter of Grandmother Hill by her first mar-
riage. For this weakness there were excuses ; Miss Tyler
was an elder sister by many years; she had property of
her own ; she passed for a person of fashion, and was still
held to be a beauty ; above all, she had the advantage of a
temper so capricious and violent that to quarrel with her
at all might be to lose her sisterly regard for ever. Her
struggling sister's eldest son took Aunt Tyler's fancy; it
was a part of her imperious kindness to adopt or half-
adopt the boy. Aunt Tyler lived in Bath ; in no other
city could a gentlewoman better preserve health and good
looks, or enjoy so much society of distinction on easy but
not too ample means ; it possessed a charming theatre, and
Miss Tyler was a patron of the drama. To Bath, then, she
had brought her portrait by Gainsborough, her inlaid cabi-

6 SOUTHEY. [chap.

net of ebony, her cherry-wood arm-chair, her mezzotints
after Angelica Kaufmann, her old-maid hoards of this and
of that, the woman servant she had saved from the toils of
matrimony, and the old man, harmless as one of the crick-
ets which he nightly fed until he died. To Bath Miss Ty-
ler also brought her nephew ; and she purchased a copy of
the new gospel of education, Rousseau's Emilius, in order
to ascertain how Nature should have her perfect work with
a boy in petticoats. Here the little victim, without com-
panions, without play, without the child's beatitudes of
dirt and din, was carefully swathed in the odds and ends
of habits and humours which belonged to a maiden lady
of a whimsical, irrational, and self-indulgent temper. Miss
Tyler, when not prepared for company, wandered about the
house — a faded beauty — in the most faded and fluttering
of costumes ; but in her rags she was spotless. To pre-
serve herself and her worldly gear from the dust, for ever
floating and gathering in this our sordid atmosphere, was
the business of her life. Her acquaintances she divided
into the clean and the unclean — the latter class being much
the more numerous. Did one of the unclean take a seat
in her best room, the infected chair must be removed to
the garden to be aired. But did he seat himself in Miss
Tyler's own arm-chair, pressing his abominable person into
Miss Tyler's own cushion, then passionate were her dismay
and despair. To her favourites she was gracious and high-
bred, regaling them with reminiscences of Lady Bateman,
and with her views on taste, Shakspeare, and the musical
glasses. For her little nephew she invented the pretty rec-
reation of pricking playbills ; all capital letters were to be
illuminated with pin-holes ; it was not a boisterous nor an
ungenteel sport. At other times the boy wOuld beguile
the hours in the garden, making friends with flowers and


insects, or looking wistfully towards that sham castle on
ClavertoD Hill, seat of romantic mystery, but, alas ! two
miles away, and therefore beyond the climbing powers of
a refined gentlewoman. Southey's hardest daily trial was
the luxurious morning captivity of his aunt's bed ; still at
nine, at ten that lady lay in slumber; the small urchin,
long perked up and broad awake, feared by sound or stir
to rouse her, and would nearly wear his little wits away in
plotting re-arrangements of the curtain-pattern, or studying
the motes at mazy play in the slant sunbeam. His happi-
est season was when all other little boys were fast asleep ;
then, splendid in his gayest " jam," he sat beside Miss Ty-
ler in a front row of the best part of the theatre ; when the
yawning fits had passed, he was as open-eyed as the oldest,
and stared on, filling his soul with the spectacle, till the
curtain fell.

The "great red creature," Robert Southey, had now
grown into the lean greyhound of his after-life ; his long
legs wanted to be stirring, and there were childish ambi-
tions already at work in his head. Freedom became dear-
er to him than the daintiest cage, and when at six he re-
turned to his father's house in Wine Street, it was with
rejoicing. Now, too, his aunt issued an edict that the
long-legged lad should be breeched ; an epoch of life was
complete. Wine Street, with its freedom, seemed good ;
but best of all was a visit to Grandmother Hill's pleasant
house at Bedminster. " Here I had all wholesome liberty,
all wholesome indulgence, all wholesome enjoyments ; and
the delight which I there learnt to take in rural sights and
sounds has grown up with me, and continues unabated to
this day." And now that scrambling process called edu-
cation was to begin, A year was spent by Southey as a
day-scholar with old Mr. Foot, a dissenting minister, whose

8 SOUTHEY. [chap.

unorthodoxy as to the doctrine of the Trinity was in some
measure compensated by sound traditional views as to the
uses of the cane. Mr. Foot, having given proof on the
back of his last and his least pupil of steadfastness in the
faith according to Busby, died ; and it was decided that
the boy should be placed under Thomas Flower, who kept
school at Corston, nine miles from Bristol. To a tender
mother's heart nine miles seemed a breadth of severance
cruel as an Atlantic. Mrs. Southey, born to be happy her-
self, and to make others happy, had always heretofore met
her son with a smile; now he found her weeping in her
chamber ; with an effort, such as Southey, man and boy, al-
ways knew how to make on like occasions, he gulped down
his own rising sob, and tried to brighten her sorrow with
a smUe.

A boy's first night at school is usually not a time of
mirth. The heart of the solitary little lad at Corston
sank within him. A melancholy hung about the decayed
mansion which had once known better days; the broken
gateways, the summer-houses falling in ruins, the grass-
grown court, the bleakness of the schoolroom, ill-disguised
by its faded tapestry, depressed the spirits. Southey's pil-
low was wet with tears before he fell asleep. The master
was at one with his surroundings ; he, too, was a piece of
worthy old humanity now decayed ; he, too, was falling in
untimely ruins. From the memory of happier days, from
the troubles of his broken fortune, from the vexations of
the drunken maid-servant who was now his wife, he took
refuge in contemplating the order and motions of the
stars. " When he came into his desk, even there he was
thinking of the stars, and looked as if he were out of hu-
mour, not from ill-nature, but because his calculations were
interrupted." Naturally the work of the school, such as


it was, fell, for the most part, into the hands of Charley,
Thomas Flower's son. Both father and son knew the
mystery of that flamboyant penmanship admired by our
ancestors, but Southey's handwriting had not yet advanced
from the early rounded to the decorated style. His spell-
ing he could look back upon with pride : on one occasion
a grand spelling tournament between the boys took place ;
and little Southey can hardly have failed to overthrow his
taller adversaries with the posers, "crystallization" and
" coterie." The household arrangements at Corston, as
may be supposed, were not of the most perfect kind ; Mrs.
Flower had so deep an interest in her bottle, and poor
Thomas Flower in his planets. The boys each morning
washed themselves, or did not, in the brook ankle -deep
which ran through the yard. In autumn the brook grew
deeper and more swift, and after a gale it would bring
within bounds a tribute of floating apples from the neigh-
bouring orchard. That was a merry day, also in autumn,
when the boys were employed to pelt the master's walnut-
trees ; Southey, too small to bear his part in the battery,
would glean among the fallen leaves and twigs, inhaling
the penetrating fragrance which ever after called up a vi-
sion of the brook, the hillside, and its trees. One school-
boy sport — that of " conquering " with snail-shells — seems
to have been the special invention of Corston. The snail-
shells, not tenantless, were pressed point against point un-
til one was broken in. A great conqueror was prodigious-
ly prized, was treated with honourable distinction, and was
not exposed to danger save in great emergencies. One
who had slain his hundreds might rank with Rodney, to
see whom the boys had marched down to the Globe inn,
and for whom they had cheered and waved their Sunday

cocked hats as he passed by. So, on the whole, life at

10 SOUTHEY. [chap.

Corston had its pleasures. Chief among its pains was the
misery of Sunday evenings in winter; then the pupils
were assembled in the hall to hear the master read a ser-
mon, or a portion of Stackhouse's History of the Bible.
" Here," writes Southey, " I sat at the end of a long form,
in sight but not within feel'ng of the fire, my feet cold,
my eyelids heavy as lead, and yet not daring to close
them — kept awake by fear alone, in total inaction, and
under the operation of a lecture more soporific than the
strongest sleeping dose." While the boys' souls were
thus provided for, there was a certain negligence in mat-
ters un spiritual ; an alarm got abroad that infection was
among them. This hastened the downfall of the school.
One night disputing was heard between Charley and his
father; in the morning poor Flower was not to be seen,
and Charley appeared with a black eye. So came to an
end the year at Corston. Southey, aged eight, was brought
home, and underwent " a three days' purgatory in brim-

What Southey had gained of book-lore by his two years'
schooling was as little as could be ; but he was already a
lover of literature after a fashion of his own. A friend of
Miss Tyler had presented him, as soon as he could read,
with a series of Newbery's sixpenny books for children —
Goody Twoshoes, Giles Gingerbread, and the rest — delect-
able histories, resplendent in Dutch-gilt paper. The true
masters of his imagination, however, were the players and
playwrights who provided amusement for the pleasure-lov-
ing people of Bath. Miss Tyler was acquainted with Col-
man, and Sheridan, and Cumberland, and Holcroft ; her talk

' Recollections of Corston, somewhat in the manner of Gold-
smith's Deserted Village, will be found in Southey's early poem, Tlu


was of actors and authors, and her nephew soon perceived
that, honoured as were both classes, the authors were
awarded the higher place. His first dreams of literary
fame, accordingly, were connected with the drama. " ' It
is the easiest thing in the world to write a play,' said I to
Miss Palmer (a friend of Aunt Tyler's), as we were in a
carriage on Redcliffe Hill one day, returning from Bristol
to Bedminster. ' Is it, my dear V was her reply. ' Yes,'
I continued, ' for you know you have only to think what
you would say if you were in the place of the characters,
and to make them say it.' " With such a canon of dra-
matic authorship Southey began a play on the continence
of Scipio, and actually completed an act and a half. Shak-
speare he read and read again ; Beaumont and Fletcher he
had gone through before he was eight years old. Were
they not great theatrical names. Miss Tyler reasoned, and
therefore improving writers for her nephew ? and Southey
had read them unharmed. When he visited his aunt from
Corston, she was a guest with Miss Palmer at Bath ; a
covered passage led to the playhouse, and every evening
the delighted child, seated between the two lady-patron-
esses of the stage, saw the pageantry and heard the poetry.
A little later he persuaded a schoolfellow to write a trage-
dy ; Ballard liked the suggestion, but could not invent a
plot. Southey gave him a story ; Ballard approved, but
found a difficulty in devising names for the dramatis per-
sonoB. Southey supplied a list of heroic names : they were
just what Ballard wanted — but he was at a loss to know
what the characters should say. "I made the same at-
tempt," continued Southey, "with another schoolfellow,
and with no better success. It seemed to me very odd
that they should not be able to write plays as well as to
do their lessons."

12 SOUTHEY. [chap.

The ingenious Ballard was an ornament of the school
of William Williams, whither Southey was sent as a day-
boarder after the catastrophe of Corston. Under the care
of this kindly, irascible, little, bewigged old Welshman,
Southey remained during four years. Williams was not
a model schoolmaster, but he was a man of character and
of a certain humorous originality. In two things he be-
lieved with all the energy of his nature — in his own spell-
ing-book printed for his own school, and in the Church
Catechism. Latin was left to the curate ; when Southey
reached Virgil, old Williams, delighted with classical at-
tainments rare among his pupils, thought of taking the
boy into his own hands, but his little Latin had faded
from his brain; and the curate himself seemed to have
reached his term in the Tityre tu patulce recubans sub teg-
mine fagi, so that to Southey, driven round and round the
pastoral paddock, the names of Tityrus and Meliboeus be-
came for ever after symbols of ennui. No prosody was
taught : " I am," said Southey, " at this day as liable to
make a false quantity as any Scotchman." The credit,
however, is due to Williams of having discovered in his
favourite pupil a writer of English prose. One day each
boy of a certain standing was called upon to write a letter
on any subject he pleased : never had Southey written a
letter except the formal one dictated at Corston which be-
gan with " Honoured Parents." He cried for perplexity
and vexation ; but Williams encouraged him, and present-
ly a description of Stonehenge filled his slate. The old
man was surprised and delighted. A less amiable feeling
possessed Southey's schoolfellows : a plan was forthwith
laid for his humiliation — could he tell them, fine scholar
that he was, what the letters i. e. stand for? Southey,


never lacking in courage, drew a bow at a venture : for
John the Evangelist.

The old Welshman, an original himself, had an odd fol-
lowing of friends and poor retainers. There was the crazy
rhymester known as " Dr. Jones ;" tradition darkly related
that a dose of cantharides administered by waggish boys
of a former generation had robbed him of his wits. "The
most celebrated improvisatore was never half so vain of his
talent as this queer creature, whose little figure of some
five-feet-two I can perfectly call to mind, with his suit of
rusty black, his more rusty wig, and his old cocked hat.
Whenever he entered the schoolroom he was greeted with
a shout of welcome." There was also Pullen, the breeches-
maker — a glorious fellow, brimful of vulgarity, prosperity,
and boisterous good-nature ; above all, an excellent hand
at demanding a half-holiday. A more graceful presence,
but a more fleeting, was that of Mrs. Estan, the actress,
who came to learn from the dancing-master her minuet de
la cour in The Belle's Stratagem. Southey himself had
to submit to lessons in dancing. Tom Madge, his constant
partner, had limbs that went every way ; Southey's limbs
would go no way : the spectacle presented by their joint
endeavours was one designed for the pencil of Cruikshank.
In the art of reading aloud Miss Tyler had herself instruct-
ed her nephew, probably after the manner of the most ap-
proved tragedy queens. The grand style did not please
honest Williams. " Who taught you to read ?" he asked,
scornfully. " My aunt," answered Southey. "Then give
my compliments to your aunt, and tell her that my old
horse, that has been dead these twenty years, could have

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