Robert Southey.

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M.A., F.R.IIist.S.

Professor of History and English, Royal Naval College,

Greenwich ; Vice-President of the Navy Records

Society ; Hon. Secretary of the Society

for Nautical Research



All rights reserved





Southey's " Nelson "
Bibliography .

Part I

Part II

Part III.

Part IV






Part IX


. — Boyhood and Youth .

. — Early Services ....
I. During the War of American Independ(
II. Cruise of the Boreas

— Cruise of the " Agamemnon "

I. Lord Hood being Commander-in-Chief

II. Admiral Hotham being Commander-in-Chief
III. A Digression ....

IV. Sir John Jervis being Commander-in-Chief

. — St. Vincent and Teneriffe

. — The Battle of the Nile

. — Naples .....

. — The Baltic Campaign of i8oi
I. The Battle of Copenhagen
II. After the Battle ....

. — At Home .....

. — The Campaign of Trafalgar
I. The Blockade of Toulon

II. The Pursuit of Villeneuve
III. Dramatic Pause before the Catastrophe
IV. The Battle ....

V. The Death of Nelson .

—Questions .....



The Siege of the North Pole, 1616-1909

Theatre of War in the West Indies, 1778-83

Western Mediterranean, 1793-96 ....

The Italian Campaign of 1795 ....

Jervis's Tactics at the Battle of St. Vincent

" Nelson's Patent Bridge for Boarding First-Rates

The French Position in Aboukir Bay

The Tactics of the Nile

The Fighting at the Nile

The Approaches to Copenhagen

The Fighting at Copenhagen .

The " Victory's " Part at Trafalgar











No more striking contrast could be devised by the ingenious
than tJuit which is afforded by the hfe of England's Admiral
and the life of his most famous biographer. Nelson's career
was varied, adventurous, exciting; Southey's monotonous,
sequestered, and serene. For the poet there were no single-
handed conflicts with boat-loads of assassins; no hair-
breadth escapes from fire and wounds and shipwreck; no
rescuing of royal families and re-establishment of dynasties ;
no destruction of fleets or overthrow of Emperors. The
greatest days in Southey's life were days when he first made
the acquaintance of one of the world's classics; received
the proofs of a magnum opus which was to rank him with
the Immortals; or met in the flesh some literary giant
whose work he had read and admired.

The main facts of his life can therefore be sketched in
rapid outline.

Born on 12th August, 1774, he was the son of a Bristol
linendraper \^ho came of good yeoman stock in the Quan-
tocks, and who married Margaret Hill, an accomplished
lady of gentle parentage. The drapery business unhappily
did not flourish; and Robert in infancy was transferred
from his parents' care to the household of Miss Elizabeth
Tyler, his mother's half-sister. This lady, who in many
essentials resembled David Copperfield's aunt, Miss Betsy
Trotwood, was prepared to play the part of fairy godmother
so long as her nephew allowed his career to be moulded by
her imperious hands. Robert's education from the first
was carefully conducted; and, after the rudiments of
knowledge had been acquired in Bristol and the neighbour-
hood, the future Poet Laureate, aged fourteen and a half,
went up to Westminster.

This ancient foundation still prided itself upon main-



taining in pristine vigour the flogging principles of the
famous Doctor Busby; and against these principles Robert
Southey, in the fourth year of his school-time, matched
himself in unequal strife. An article from his pen condemning
heartily the use of the rod as an inducement to study ap-
peared in a magazine run by the boys ; and its author, with
every accompaniment of ignominy, was as a consequence
expelled. Southey 's motives were honourable, even if his
defiance of authority was injudicious; and his aunt, who
could not pronounce the word " expulsion " without
shuddering, satisfied herself that her nephew's martyrdom
had been suffered for principles of which she might justly
be proud. The boy's uncle, the Rev. Herbert Hill, Chaplain
to the English factory at Lisbon, reached a similar con-
clusion, and very generously provided funds so that the
youthful anti-flagellant could continue his studies at Oxford.

Christ Church College, outraged in its tenderest feelings
by the news from Westminster, hurriedly closed its doors
with what to-day will be thought a ludicrous lack of dignity,
and Southey in the eighteenth year of his age matriculated
at Balliol.

It is unnecessary to take too seriously his own statement
that, of all the attractions that Oxford offered, he availed
himself only of swimming and boating, paying as little
regard to serious study as he had done at Westminster.
To such an omnivorous reader as Southey, the cut-and-
dried curricula of school and college must have seemed too
narrow and restricted; and one who had revelled in Beau-
mont and Fletcher before the age of eight could be trusted
ten years later to feed his mind on strong meats, though
they may not have been such as the dons recommended.

Michaelmas term, 1792, brought him into residence;
and in the summer term of 1794 there occurred a casual
interview which profoundly affected his outlook on life,
and to some extent shaped his whole career. A close friend
of his, Allen of University, brought round to his rooms at
Balliol a visitor from the Cam, a young man called Samuel
Taylor Coleridge. Southey himself was ripe for the meeting.
Deeply versed in all kinds of learning, widely read in many
subjects and many tongues, he was like a torch ready
primed to give light, and Coleridge with his faculty for


inspiring others was the spark that set him aflame. The
two men talked the sun down and the night away, while
the deepest veins of philosophy were mined to fin-nish them
with material for fresh discourse. Southey's proposal to
complete the unfinished works of Ovid and Spenser now
seemed lacking in ambition. What was needed was to
refashion the world and restore the Golden Age.

In the long vacation the two dreamers met again near
Bristol and defined their plans, which included a model
republic based very largely on the teaching of Jean Jacques
Rousseau. Having furnished themselves with comely
wives, the founders were to shake the dust of England off
their feet, and in the beautiful valley of the Susquehanna
build up their commonwealth, where no right to private
property would be admitted, where all mundane tilings
would be shared in common, where the fields would make
merry with music and song, and where the barren hillsides
would blossom as the rose. Southey's friend, Lovell, cheer-
fully agreed to emigrate to the valley beautiful; and the
three liberators of a world enchained offered marriage to
three fair ladies, Mary, Sarah, and Edith, daughters of one
Fricker, a merchant.

The great scheme budded, but never bloomed. Money
was required, and none was forthcoming. Nor was this
the worst of the matter. Southey's aunt lost patience with
what she not unnaturally considered the fanaticism of her
nephew, and turned him remorselessly out of doors. The
whole affair formed a very painful episode; and the per-
manent estrangement from his benevolent godmother made
a greater chasm in the road which Southey travelled than
his expulsion from Westminster. Once more, however,
his uncle the Chaplain came to his assistance, and carried
him off for a trip to Portugal in order that the breath of a
new world might bring his spirit peace. On the eve of his
departure Southey was secretly married to Edith Fricker,
who bade him good-bye at the door of the church and under
her maiden name went back to live with her sisters.

The trip to Lisbon was of incalculable benefit to the young
poet, and he returned to England, aged twenty-three, with
a fervent rcsoh'e to settle down and earn an income suitable
for the maintenance of his wife. The next few years were


years of anxiety and disquiet. Southey wanted to adopt
the advice of the uncle whose kindness had twice been his
salvation; but a freedom of thought, which Coleridge had
encouraged, quite unfitted him for Holy Orders. He turned
from the Church to Medicine ; but the anatomy classes and
the dissecting-room nauseated him, and with an earnest
desire to persevere he turned his back on them. He went
up to London, took rooms in Gray's Inn, and with a wet
towel round his head endeavoured pluckily to qualify for
a legal career. But though libraries of all kinds had ever
held him captive, the books of the law enfranchised him.
He hated their style and he hated their contents, and could
not keep his eyes on the page. Very quickly the Inns of
Court closed their gates behind him, and his living was still
to seek. He accepted gratefully a private secretaryship
to no less a person than the Chancellor of the Exchequer for
Ireland. But Dublin Castle proved even less congenial
than deeds and indentures, and the boat that carried Southey
to Ireland very quickly brought him home again. It would
be a mistake to suppose that, like his father, he was un-
methodical. It would be a mistake to suppose that by
temperament he was unable to settle down to a profession.
He was careful, punctilious, and painstaking: he never
spared himself in the matter of toil. He worked so hard,
achieved so little, and worried his nerves so much, that
before long another visit to Portugal was necessary to restore
him to health. The truth is that no one who ever lived was
more completely the man of letters than Robert Southey.
Literature demanded not merely his leisure, but his whole
life and soul and strength.

This was definitely recognised at the time of his second
return from Lisbon ; and henceforth he resolved to dedicate
himself wholly to the work of authorship. There was not
more wealth to be derived from poetry in those days than
in these ; but the admiration of an old Oxford friend brought
him an annuity of £i6o, and Southey hoped to augment
this by literary hackwork, which would yet leave him time
for epics comparable with those of Dante, Tasso and Milton.
About this time too — the hour in which Nelson, with his
flag in the Victory, set sail for the blockade of Toulon —
Southey after hesitating between this berth and that came


to an anchor in the Lake District. He was invited there by
Coleridge, who wrote from Greta Hall, Keswick; and Greta
Hall, Keswick, was found on inspection to comprise two
houses under one roof. Charmed by the scenery, and
gladdened by the joy of his wife's reunion with her sister,
Southey decided to take the spare half of the residence
and make it his permanent home. By the time that he
settled down Coleridge had departed to act as secretary
to Nelson's friend. Sir Alexander Ball, the Governor of
Malta; and Keswick knew this wayward genius no more.
In time Southey became the sole owner of the double man-
sion, making himself responsible for the care of Coleridge's
family in addition to his own.

At Greta Hall, Keswick, Southey resided for the remainder
of his life. An occasional visit to London or the Continent
only served to enhance the affection he felt for the lake
below him and the hills above. His children, whom he
idolised, filled his heart alternately with hopes and fears.
Their love for him gave new zest to his life ; and when three
of them, including his first-born son, died in infancy or
early youth, the cup of his sorrow overflowed. Such a
succession of tragedies bereft the poor mother first of her
reason and then of her life; and Southey himself, brave
as he was, was never the same man again. Li his later years
he ceased to write books, and at length found himself without
the heart, or even the mind, to read them. He fingered
their backs in a listless way, or rearranged them on the
shelves. Life had become a weariness to him ; and in March
1843, taking a last look at the country he loved, he closed
his eyes and fell asleep. On a dark and stormy day his body
was laid to rest in the beautiful churchyard of Crosthwaite
imder the shadow of Skiddaw.

Before taking stock of Southey's work, the reader will do
well to remember the influences that determined its character.

His aunt, with whom he spent some of liis most impres-
sionable years, was devoted to the theatre; and Robert
^^•as taken to see Sheridan played at an age when other boys
fed their imagination on fights with pirates, or scalp-himting
Indians, or packs of pursuing wolves. The pageantry of
the stage filled all his life with colour; and his efforts to
recall favourite snatches of dialogue sent him to the volumes


of plays that stacked his aunt's bookshelves. By eight he
had sampled all the Elizabethan dramatists and his passion
for Shakespeare and the " Mermaid Tavern " group led
him by a natural transition to Spenser. Then was his spirit
uplifted indeed. When he opened the Faerie Queenc, his
feelings were those of a navigator entering undreamed-of
seas where all is new. Worshipping the " Poet's Poet "
with knightly adoration, he read the book and read it again,
and wept because there was no more. A stage had been
reached in this precocious youth's career. He was not yet
in his teens, but had already resolved to enrich the world
with an epic.

More authors than one, with an epic in view, have found
their chief difficulty in the choice of a fitting subject. But
while Southey was at Westminster his ideas began to take
shape. A copy of Picart's Religious Ceremonies was read by
stealth, and strongly impressed his imagination. At length
he determined to exhibit in a great heroic poem all the
more prominent forms of mythology which have swayed
the heart of mankind. The greatness of the theme required
years of contemplation ; and in the meantime his intellectual
development was given a new turn by Gibbon's Decline
and Fall. This book influenced his mind profoundly. It
uprooted some of his beliefs; cast others into the crucible
of doubt; and convinced him that his proper mission in
life was to write History on the imperial scale. For this a
new subject was needed.

Southey reached Westminster in 1788, and in the following
year the States-General assembled at Versailles. The great
upheaval that followed caused a very sharp division of
English thought. But when the would-be author of epics
and monumental chronicles reached Oxford, it seemed to
him that, by all sane men, there was only one tenable view
of things. Rousseau was the heaven-sent Prophet whose
teaching must liberate the world. All men had been born
free, and despotism had shackled them with chains. Tyrants
must be punished according to their deserts, and the peoples
labouring in bondage set free. The same generous impulse
that set the poet in sympathy with Coleridge's Susquehanna
project fired his bosom with a sense of indignant outrage
at what the Third Estate suffered from Monarchy.


In after years detractors attempted to prove that Southey
of Balliol had been a sans-culoiie, and had renounced his
allegiance to God as well as to Caesar. But there was not a
vestige of ground for such a reproach. Southey may have
been by conversion a Republican, but he was never an
atheist. Gibbon may have shaken his faith in revelation,
but he remained throughout his life an intensely religious
man; and of all the books that he read at Oxford, none
held him so much in thrall as Epictetus. " Look up to
God," said the Stoic philosopher, " and say to Him, ' Hence-
forth use me as Thou wilt. I am of one mind with Thee.
I am Thine. I deprecate nothing that seems right to Thee.
Where Thou wishest, lead me; and choose for me even the
garments that I shall wear.' " Such precepts struck an
echoing chord in Southey's heart, and helped to make him
what he was. But there was nothing in Epictetus to save
him from Pharisaical complacency; and he grew to be an
austere moralist, hating unrighteousness, but condemning
all those who failed to hft their spiritual being to the ethical
standards he had chosen for himself.

When the Susquehanna settlement failed, and Southey
accepted his uncle's offer to travel abroad, he found in
Portugal the subject he wanted for the historical work that
was to rival Gibbon's. From this time onwards to the end
of his hfe he collected with unflagging energy books and
documents and manuscripts on which his work was to be
based. In these he delved with patient scholarship, gar-
nering annually an amazing harvest of illustrative facts
and cited passages.

Nothing less like a " Lake Poet " can well be imagined
than Southey at work transcribing from his vellum-covered
quartos. But to say the truth, Southey's connection with
Cumberland was accidental rather than real. His relation-
ship with Coleridge brought him to Keswick at a time when
he was looking for a home and could find rest nowhere else.
He loved the seclusion that the place afforded him, but he
was no self-proclaimed apostle of nature and naturalism.
He knew Wordsworth, and the two occasionally exchanged
visits; but there does not appear to have been much cordi-
ality in the acquaintance, or any tendency to ripen. De
Quincey, while testifying to the prodigious scholarship of


his neighbour, describes Southey as reserved and academic.
But there is no dishonour in this. It was Southey 's mis-
fortune rather than his fault that Wordsworth eventually
made the Lake District sacred for poesy of a kind that the
historian of Portugal did not write. The proximity of such
a giant as Wordsworth might have converted Southey into
a mere imitator. Originality of thought and art are mas-
culine virtues, and Southey deserves credit for his inde-
pendence. However often he may be labelled a " Lake "
poet and then be dismissed as insignificant, the fact remains
that his mind had received its determining bent before he
visited Cumberland, and that his new environment was
powerless to change his predilections.

Among these a foremost place must be assigned to his
books, which he loved above all earthly possessions. Though
he never knew what it was to be rich, he always had more
books than he could easily accommodate. Like Erasmus,
he put the need of new volumes above necessity of food and
clothing. Friends knew his weakness, and welcomed a way
of showing their affection; booksellers sent him notice of
bargains, and enabled him to acquire Colgar's Irish Saints,
Ariosto's works, and Casaubon's Epistles without incurring
financial ruin. In Greta Hall the books overflowed from
room to room, stretched up to the ceihng, and lined the
passages. The Spanish and Portuguese collection was
probably the most remarkable ever assembled in England ;
but Southey was cathohc in his tastes and, like a true
bibliophile, lavished affection on handsome tomes in gilded
parchment which he took from the shelves to fondle awhile,
or open only to shut. At its greatest extent his library
included some fourteen thousand volumes; and yet all
had a place in his memory, and fresh acquisitions were
never allowed to dethrone old friends. Wordsworth did not
more surely draw his inspiration from wayside flowers,
nor Coleridge from opium, than Southey from his books.

With them I take delight in weal,

And seek relief in woe;
And while I understand and feel

How much to them I owe,
My cheeks have often been bedewed
With tears of thoughtful gratitude.

Southey owed more, then, to what he called the " mighty
minds of old " than to the society or the friendship of


contemporary men of letters. He incurred Shelley's anger
by uninvited admonition; he trespassed on the patience
of sweet-natured Elia ; he invoked the passionate invective
of Byron. But on the other side of the account must be
set the names of Savage Landor and Sir Walter Scott. With
both of them Southey maintained a sweet and unbroken
communion. Landor gallantly offered to bear the cost of
publishing all the epics that his fellow-bard found time to
write; and it was on the urgent recommendation of the
author of Waverley that the Government appointed Southey
Poet Laureate.

But the sweetest influence in Southey's life was his own
family circle. His loving wife and adoring children made
known to him sources of happiness unrevealed by Epictetus.
The stoicism which had done duty in Oxford days melted in
the warmth of that divine faith first taught on the slopes of Oli-
vet and the coasts of Galilee. His austere regulations for the
proper conduct of life were forgotten when sickness invaded
the nursery; and the sententious pomposity which alienated
brother-scribes fell off him like a cloak when he romped with
the kiddies, or brought them home toys from his travels :

The Ark well-filled with all its numerous hives:

Noah and Shem and Ham and Japhet and their wives.

In the sunny Eden of Greta Hall his opinions, both
pohtical and religious, underwent a complete change.
Freedom of thought gave way to something like veneration
for the Fathers of the Church; and enthusiastic rapture
for the Tree of Liberty was replaced by a heartfelt loathing
for Napoleon Bonaparte.

Woe, woe to England! woe and endless shame,
If this heroic land

False to her feelings and unspotted fame
Hold out the olive to the Tyrant's hand!

Woe to the world if Bonaparte's throne
Be suffered still to stand !

For by what names shall Right and Wrong be known,
What new and courtly phrases must we feign
For Falsehood, Murder, and all monstrous crimes,
If that perfidious Corsican maintain

Still his detested reign;
And France, who yearns even now to break her chain,

Beneath his iron rule be left to groan?
No! by the innumerable dead
Whose blood has for his lust of power been shed

Death only can for his foul deeds atone!
That peace whirli Death and Judgment can bestow,

That peace be Bonaparte's . . . that alone!


It was this reversal of attitude that was hailed in many
quarters as apostasy, and invited the mocking raillery and
scathing satire of Byron. Southey, it must be admitted,
brought his fate on his own head. Intolerant in youth to
every opinion which he did not hold himself, he could hardly
in his grey hairs expect to recant without enduring perse-
cution. Yet he had the grace to perceive his own short-
comings and the wit to plead for their forgiveness. Look at
the Holly Tree, he writes. Near the ground its keen and
wrinkled leaves oppose a circling fence to repel and wound
all that approach unwarily; but nearer to Heaven the
prickles disappear and the leaves grow unarmed and barbless :

Thus, though abroad perchance I might appear

Harsh and austere,
To those who on my leisure would intrude

Reserved and rude;
Gentle at home amid my friends I'd be
Like the high leaves upon the Holly Tree.

If Southey had been blessed with a profusion of this
world's goods, he would still have been dragged in opposite
directions by his desire to write History and his desire to
write Epics. But the state of his exchequer left him little
freedom of choice; and the task of providing for Coleridge's
family in addition to his own forced him in his own despite
to use his pen for such things as would sell. In his young
days there was quite a brisk market for occasional verse;
and he turned out ballads at a guinea apiece with no more
scruple for the worth of his wares than a jingling troubadour.
Years afterwards, when the Quarterly was inaugurated as
a rival to the Edinburgh Review, he gladly accepted an
invitation to make regular contributions, and wrote ninety-
five articles at £ioo apiece, suffering in silence when his
copious sentences were trimmed by the editorial shears.
He would gladly have shaken from his sleeve the badge of
servitude; but there was hardly a year which brought
with it any promise but of penury and want. Southey

Online LibraryRobert SoutheySouthey's Life of Nelson → online text (page 1 of 39)