1843 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Southey

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine NS 20 (June 1843) 662-63.



March 21. At Keswick, aged 68, Robert Southey, esq. LL.D.

Dr. Southey was born at Bristol on the 12th August, 1774. His father was a linen-draper in Wine-street. He was sent to school when six years of age to Mr. Foote, a Baptist minister; was subsequently taught by a Mr. Flower, at Corston, near Newton St. Loe, and by Mr. William Williams, a Welshman, from whom little scholarship was to be got; was subsequently placed at Westminster, in 1788, his maternal uncle, Mr. Hill; and finally at Baliol College, in 1792, with the design of his entering the Church. But Southey's Oxford career closed in 1794; for his tendency towards Socinian opinions made the plan of life chalked out for him altogether distasteful. In the same year he published his first poems, in conjunction with Mr. Lovell, the friends assuming the names of Moschus and Bion. About that time, too, he took part in the famous Pantisocracy scheme, to which all the eager contributors brought golden theories, but of more tangible coin so little, that the Utopian project was necessarily relinquished. In the November of the following year, 1795, he married Miss Fricker, of Bristol, the sister of Mrs. Coleridge. In the winter of the same year, while the author was on his way to Lisbon, Joan of Arc was published. He returned to Bristol in the following summer; in the subsequent year removed to London, and entered Gray's-Inn. He passed part of the years 1800-1 in Portugal, and was for a short time resident in Ireland, (as secretary, we believe, to Mr. Corry or to Mr. Foster). His final establishment at Keswick, in the lake-country, took place early in the present century. On the decease of Mr. Pye, in the year 1813, Southey was appointed laureate; he received his Doctor's degree from the university of Oxford in the year 1821; and June 4, 1839, contracted a second marriage with Caroline-Anne, daughter of the late Charles Bowles, esq. of Buckland, North Lymington, one of the most pathetic and natural among contemporary authoresses. That he was at different times offered a baronetcy and a seat in parliament are facts well known to his friends; the rest of his career is to be traced in the works which he poured forth, with a versatility, a care, and a felicity unrivalled in these hasty and superficial days.

To give a complete list of his labours would be difficult. The principal poems are Wat Tyler, Joan of Arc, Thalaba, Metrical Tales, Madoc, The Curse of Kehama, Carmen Triumphale, Roderick, The Vision of Judgment, — to say nothing of fugitive pieces. His prose works comprise translations of the poems Of the Cid, of Amadis, and Palmerin of England: — Essays, allowing the Letters of Espriella, Sir Thomas More's Colloquies, and the slighter Omniana to bear his name: — Histories, among which are The Book of the Church, the History of the Peninsular War, the, History of the Brazils: — Criticism, including his voluminous and important contributions to the Quarterly Review, — and Biography. Foremost in this last department were-the Life of Nelson, one of the most popular and perfect specimens of its class which our language possesses, noble in feeling, and faultless in style, — the Life of Chatterton, the Life of Kirke White, the Life of Wesley, and the Life of Cowper, all of which are in different degrees valuable contributions to our literature.

For the last three years Mr. Southey had been in a state of mental darkness, and a twelvemonth ago he was not able to recognise those who had been his companions from his youth. Scarcely could his wife console herself with the poor hope that he recognised even her. Excess of mental labour in every department of literature — poetry, history, biography, criticism, and philosophy, continued from year to year, without cessation, bowed his strong spirit at last, and obscured the genius which had so long cast a glory upon the literature of the age. As a poet, with an exuberance of imagination seldom equalled, and a mastery of versification never surpassed; and as a prose writer, at once elegant and forcible, his name will endure as long as the language in which he wrote. In all the relations of life Mr. Southey was universally allowed, by those who knew him best, to be truly exemplary. His house at the Lakes was open to all who presented themselves with suitable introduction, and there are few persons of any distinction who have passed through that picturesque region who have not partaken of his hospitality. He enjoyed a pension of 300 a year from the government, granted in 1835 by Sir R. Peel, and has left personal property amounting to about 12,000. By his will, dated the 26th of August, 1839, he has bequeathed to his wife all the personal property possessed by her previously to their marriage, together with the interest of the sum of 2000 during her life. The residue of his property, including the above 2000 he has bequeathed to his four children, Charles Cuthbert Southey, Edith Mary Warter, Bertha Hill, and Katharine Southey, equally, and, in case of the death of any of them before the testator, their share is to be divided amongst their children (if any). The executors named are his brother Henry Herbert Southey, M.D. of Harley-street, and Mr. Henry Taylor, of the Colonial Office, who possesses a voluminous and valuable collection of his letters, which we presume will be published.

The library is consigned to the charge of Mr. Leigh Sotheby for public sale, and will speedily be brought to London. The collection, inasmuch as very many of the books bear internal evidence of their constant use by the late Poet Laureate, will no doubt create considerable interest. Dr. Southey was ardently fond of Spanish literature, in which his library is particularly rich.

The remains of Dr. Southey were interred in the burial ground attached to the parish church at Crosthwaite, where repose the ashes of different members of his family, and were followed to their final resting place by all the wealth and respectability of the neighbourhood.