The great home and haunt of Robert Southey was Keswick. Of the sixty-nine years that he lived, he spent exactly forty there. He settled there at the early age of twenty-nine, and commenced a life of the most unremitting industry, which he pursued till nature gave way, and the powers of his mind sunk under their taskmaster. There never was a more thorough fixture as a literary man. It seemed to be the highest enjoyment of his life to work; and having taken the bent in time to work the right side, he avoided the general fate of literary men, and died in good esteem with the powers that be, and worth £12,000.
Of the period of Southey's life previous to settling at Keswick, there is little to be said in this work. No good biography of him exists, and the materials for his life are still in the hands of his executors, and not issued in due form to the public. He was born in Bristol, in 1774. His father was a linen-draper there, — a most extensive wholesale linen-draper, says a short memoir of him affixed to a French selection from his poems. This, I suppose, is one of the statements usually made to take off from the lives of men who have risen to eminence, the writers think, something of their vulgar origin. But what care all sensible people what a man's origin was, so that his career was honourable? Who thinks, because Shakspeare was the son of a wool-comber; because Ben Jonson was apprenticed to a mason; because Milton was a schoolmaster; because Sir Walter Scott was the son of an attorney; because Moore was the son of a grocer and spirit dealer, and Chatterton was a charity boy, that they are one whit less the genuine nobles of the land? It is high time that we got rid of this vulgar way of thinking, and regarded all men, all trades, all origins honourable, when there has been no moral obliquity about the persons themselves. Whether Southey's father, then, was "a most extensive linen-draper," and could say with John Gilpin,
l am a linendraper bold,
As all the world doth know:
there is no doubt that he was a retail as well as wholesale trader. His shop was at the sign of the Golden Key, in Wine-street; and there the shop still remains in the very same trade, and with the golden key hanging in front still, as the sign. In this shop Robert used to serve as a boy. I believe his father was then deceased, and the concern was in the hands of his uncle, who brought him up. However, he was a gay youth, and served only of a fashion. At one time he was measuring off his drapery goods with his yard-wand, at another he was measuring the fields after the hounds, and used to come in amid all the shop customers in his splashed boots and scarlet coat. His uncle did not augur much success in trade from this style of doing business, and destined him for the Church. His friends and associates were chiefly dissenters; but young dissenters, caught early and well drilled, make the staunchest churchmen. He was first educated by a Baptist minister, Mr. Foote, a very able, but very old man. He was then removed to a school at Corston, where he remained about two years, and it was probably at the conclusion of this schooling that it was intended to put him to the drapery business. On the plan of devoting him to the Church opening itself, he would naturally be sent to one of the Church preparatory schools; and accordingly he went to Westminster, in 1787, where, in 1790, he fell under censure, for his concern in the rebellion excited against the master, Dr. Vincent. In 1792 he became a student of Baliol college, Oxford, but Unitarian principles and the revolutionary mania put an end to that design. So strongly did he imbibe the new opinions on politics, which the explosion in France had produced, that he, with his friends Lovell and Coleridge, projected a plan of settling on the banks of the Susquehannah, in North America, and there founding a new republic, under the name of The Pantisocracy. This utopian scheme was soon dissolved for the want of means; and in 1795, Mr. Southey married Miss Fricker. Every one remembers Byron's lines in Don Juan, when, speaking of Coleridge, he says:—
When he and Southey, following the same path,
Espoused two partners, milliners of Bath.
Coleridge and Lovell were townsmen of Southey's, and youthful companions. Lovell was of a Quaker family, and all were connected with the dissenters. Soon after his marriage, Southey accompanied his maternal uncle, the Rev. Dr. Hill, to Portugal, that gentleman being appointed chaplain to the Factory at Lisbon. In 1801, Southey obtained the appointment of secretary to the Right Hon. Isaac Corry, Chancellor of the Exchequer for Ireland. In retiring from office with his patron, our author went to reside at Keswick, where also dwelt, under the same roof, the widow of his friend Lovell, and the wife of Mr. Coleridge, both which ladies were sisters to Mrs. Southey. Such were the movements of Southey till he settled down at Keswick, and there, busy as a bee in its hive, worked out the forty years of his then remaining life. The mere list of his works attests a wonderful industry: — Joan of Arc, 4to, 1796. Poems, 1797. Letters from Spain and Portugal, 8vo, 1797. Annual Anthology, edited by him, 2 vols, 1799-1800. Amadis de Gaul, from a Spanish version, 4 vols, 1803. Edited the works of Chatterton, 3 vols, 1803. Thalaba, 2 vols, 1804. Madoc, 1805. Specimens of Latin Poets, 3 vols, 1807. Palmerin of England, from the Portuguese, 4 vols, 1807. Espriello's Letters, 3 vols, 1807. Edited the Remains of H. K. White, 2 vols, 1807. The Chronicle of the Cid, from the Spanish, 1808. The History of Brazil, 3 vols, 1809. The Curse of Kehama, 1811. Omniana, 3 vols, 1812. Life of Nelson, 2 vols, 1813. Carmen Triumphale, 1814. Odes to the Allied Sovereigns, 1814. Roderick the Last of the Goths, 1814. The Vision of Judgment. The Life of Bunyan. Morte Arthur, 2 vols, 1817. Life of Wesley, 2 vols, 1820. Expedition of Orsua and Crimes of Aguirre, 1821. All for Love, or the Sinner Well Saved, 1829. Pilgrimage to Compostella. Tales of Paraguay, etc. Essays Political and Moral, 2 vols, 1831. Book of the Church, 2 vols. Sir Thomas More, or Colloquies on the State of Society, 2 vols, 1832. Lives of British Admirals, Svols, 1839-40, Vindicia Ecclesiae Anglicanae. The Doctor, 5 vols. etc. etc.
This is a striking list of the works of one man, though he took nearly fifty years of almost unexampled health and industry to complete it. But this does not include the large amount of his contributions to the Quarterly and other periodicals; nor does the mere bulk of the work thrown off convey any idea of the bulk of work gone through. The immense and patient research necessary for his histories, was scarcely less than that which he bestowed on the subject matter and illustrative notes of his poems. The whole of his writings abound with evidences of learning and laborious reading that have been rarely equalled. But the variety of talents and humour displayed in his different writings is equally extraordinary. The love of fun, and the keenness of satire, which distinguished his smaller poems, are enough to make a very brilliant reputation. The Devil's Walk, so long attributed to Person, but, as testified by themselves, conceived and written by Southey, with some touches and additions from the hand of Coleridge; The Old Woman of Berkeley; The Surgeon's Warning; The Pig; Gooseberry Pie; Ruprecht the Robber; The Cataract of Lodore; Bishop Hatto; The Pious Painter; St. Antidius, the Pope, and the Devil The March to Moscow; — these and others of the like kind would make a volume, that might be attributed to a man who had lived only for joke and quiz. Then the wild and wandering imagination of Thalaba and Kehama; the grave beauty of Madoc; the fine youthful glow of liberty and love in Joan of Arc; and the vivid fire and vigour of Roderick the last of the Goths, are little less in contrast to the jocose productions just mentioned, than they are to the grave judgment displayed in his histories, or the keenness with which he enters, in his Book of the Church, the Colloquies, and his critiques, into the questions and interests of the day, and puts forth all the acumen and often the acidity of the partizan.
With all our admiration of the genius and varied powers of Southey, and with all our esteem for his many virtues, and the peculiar amiability of his domestic life, we cannot, however, read him without a feeling of deep melancholy. The contrast between the beginning and the end of his career, the glorious and high path entered upon, and so soon and suddenly quitted for the pay of the placeman and the bitterness of the bigot, cling to his memory with a lamentable effect. Without doing as many hastily do, regarding him as a dishonest renegade; allowing him, on the contrary, all the credence possible for an earnest and entire change in his views; we cannot the less mourn over that change, or the less elude the consciousness that there was a moment when this change must have been a matter of calculation. They who have held the same high and noble views of human life and social interests, and still hold them, find it impossible to realize to themselves the process by which such a change in a clear-headed and conscientious man can be carried through. For a man whose heart and intellect were full of the inspiration of great sentiments, on the freedom of man in all his relations, as a subject and a citizen as well as a man, on peace, on religion, and on the oppressions of the poor, to go round at once to the system and the doctrines of the opposite character, and to resolve to support that machinery of violence and oppression which originates all these evils, is so unaccountable as to tempt the most charitable to hard thoughts. Nothing is so easy of vindication as a man's honesty, when he changes to his own worldly disadvantage, and to a more free mode of thinking; but when the contrary happens, suspicion will lie in spite of all argument. We can well conceive, for instance, the uncle of the young poet, with whom he went out to Portugal, a clergyman of the Church of England, saying to him, "Robert, my dear fellow, these notions and these terrible democratic poems, — this Wat Tyler, these Botany Bay Eclogues, and the like, are not the way to flourish in the world. No doubt you want to live comfortably; then just look about you, and see how you are to live. Here are church and state, and there are Wat Tyler and the Botany Bay Eclogues. Here are promotion and comfort, there are poverty and contempt. Take which you will." We can well conceive the effect of such representations on a young man who, with all his poetic and patriotic devotion, did not like poverty and contempt, and did hope to live comfortably. This idea once taking the smallest root in a young man having a spice of worldly prudence as well as a great deal of ambition, we can imagine the youth nodding to himself and saying, — "True, there is great wisdom in what my uncle says. I must live, and so no more Wat Tylers, nor Botany Bay Eclogues. I will adhere to the powers that be, but I will still endeavour to infuse liberal and generous views into these powers." Very good; but then comes the transplanting to a new soil, and into new influences. Then come the hearing of nothing but a new set of opinions, and the feeling of a very different tone in all around him. Then comes the "facilis descensus Averni," and the "sed revocare gradum hoc opus, hic labor est." The metamorphosis goes on insensibly — "Nemo repent fuit turpissimus;" but the end is not the less such as, if it could have been seen from the beginning, would have made the startled subject of it exclaim, "Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing?"
Allowing Dr. Southey the full benefit of all these operating influences, so as to clear his conscience in the metamorphosis as much as possible, yet what a metamorphosis that was! The man who set out in a career that augured the life of a second Milton, ending as the most thorough, though probably unconscious, tool of tyranny and state corruption. The writer of Wat Tyler lauding George IV. and Castlereagh! The author of The Battle of Blenheim, singing hymns to the allied sovereigns, and hosannas over the most horrible war and carnage, and for the worst purposes in history. The advocate of the pauper and the mill operative, supporting the power and the system which made pauperism universal, and manufacturing oppressive to the artizan. And last, and worst, the man who justly lashed Lord Byron for his licentious pen, being subjected to the necessity of slurring over the debaucheries of such a monster as George IV, and singing his praises, as a wise, and just, and virtuous prince. While Southey congratulated himself on never having prostituted his pen to the cause of vice, he forgot that to prostitute it to the praise of those who were the most libidinous and vicious characters of their age, was only the same thing in another form. No greater dishonour could have befallen a man of Southey's private character, than to have so fully justified the scarifying strictures of his aristocratic satirist:—
He said — I only give the heads — he said
He meant no harm in scribbling; 'twas his way
Upon all topics; 'twas besides his bread,
Of which he buttered both sides; 'twould delay
Too long the assembly, he was pleased to dread,
And take up rather more time than a day,
To name his works-he would but cite a few—
Wat Tyler — Rhymes on Blenheim — Waterloo.
He had written praises of a regicide;
He had written praises of all kings whatever;
He had written for republics far and wide,
And then against them bitterer than ever:
For pantisocracy he once had cried
Aloud, a scheme less moral than 'twas clever;
Then grew a hearty anti-jacobin—
Had turned his coat — and would have turned his skin.
He had sung against all battles, and again
In their high praise and glory; he had called
Reviewing, "the ungentle craft," and then
Become as base a critic as o'er crawled—
Fed, paid, and pampered by the very men
By whom his muse and morals had been mauled.
He had written much blank verse, and blanker prose,
And more of both than anybody knows.
Byron, The Vision of Judgment.
Spite of the indecencies of Byron's muse, and the orthodox character of Southey's, it must be confessed that the former is much less mischievous than the latter. Everywhere, Byron speaks out boldly his opinion of men and things. Everywhere, he hates despotism, and laughs to scorn cant and hypocrisy. If he be too free in some of his sentiments, he is equally free where he ought to be so. The world will never have to complain that the liberties of mankind have been curtailed through the inculcations of Lord Byron; or that he has endeavoured to confound all just sense of morals, by heaping incense on the vilest of princes. What an impressive contrast is there between the Laureate's hymning of the bloated George IV. into Dublin, and the Irish Avater of Byron:—
Oh, what a joy was there!
In loud buzzes prolonged.
Surge after surge the tide
Of popular welcome rose;
And in the interval alone
Of that tumultuous sound of glad acclaim
Could the deep cannon's voice
Of duteous gratulation, though it spake
In thunder, reach the ear.
From every tower the merry bells rung round,
Peal hurrying upon peal,
Till with the still reverberating din
The walls and solid pavement seemed to shake,
And every bosom with the tremulous air
Inhaled a dizzy joy.
Age, that came forth to gaze
That memorable day,
Felt in its quickened veins a pulse like youth;
And lisping babes were taught to bless their king
And grandsires bade their children treasure up
The precious sight, for it would be a tale
The which in their old age
Would make their children's children gather round,
Intent all ears to hear.
Southey's Ode on the King's Visit to Ireland.
Who would not have believed that this was some virtuous monarch, the father of his people? What had the Irish to bless this king for? What ears now are intent to hear of this vaunted boon of this great and good king's visit sung by this paid poet, the pious Southey? What a much more healthy though terrible truth exists in the Irish Avater, by Lord Byron!
It is a circumstance that redeems the age, that when despotism was making its most hardy attempts in England, when too many of our literary men were disposed to flatter and follow in its train, and when such a man as Southey was the loudest to hymn the follies and crimes of the despots, Lord Byron, the very man who was accused of corrupting the public morals, should still have been the man to denounce, with all the powers of poetry, wit, and withering sarcasm, the nefarious attempt. What a fall was that of Southey, from the poet of liberty to the laudator of crime, tyranny, and carnage! What a position in which to see him stand, crying for a continuance of religious slavery, for the slavery of the press, and advancing beyond all former example of fanatic bigotry, assuming the office of the Deity himself, and dooming those who differed in opinion from him to perdition in the next world! If Robert Southey, as he wrote the epitaph to Algernon Sidney, or the sonnet to Mary Wolstancraft, could have been shown himself, writing his Vision of Judgment, representing Junius as afraid to speak in his own defence, and George IV. lauded as good, and wise, and "treading in the steps of his father," with what horror would he have regarded himself. With what shame would he have seen Lord Byron, like his avenger, ever ready at hand to turn his solemn adulation to ridicule, and to lash him with a merciless scourge of immortal indignation.
It is with deepest sorrow that I view Southey in this light; but the lesson to future poets should never be withheld. Truth is of eternal interest to mankind, and it can never be too often impressed on youth, that no temporary favour or emolument can make a millionth part of amends for the loss of the glorious reputation of the patriot. Allowing that Southey became sincerely convinced that he was right in his adopted political creed, his own private opinion cannot alter the eternal nature of things, and the fact is not the less a fact that his change was a mischievous and an unworthy one. If, while he lived in dread of public opinion, as evinced in his Colloquies, — "First the Sword governs; then the Laws; next in succession is the government of Public Opinion. To this we are coming. Already its claims are openly and boldly advanced ... timidly, and therefore feebly resisted!" — Vol. II. p. 114.) — he could have seen to what a pitch this government of public opinion has now arrived, and how peacefully and beneficially all advances under it, with what regret must he have looked back on his own acts and counsels. How much he must have deplored the terms of factionists, seditionists, schismatics, and "lying slanderers," which he had heaped on all who dared to utter an independent opinion. See, especially, his Vision of Judgment. And that the laureate's feelings were very keen, circumstances always showed; for though he declares in his Colloquies that his enemies might as well shoot their arrows at a rhinoceros as at him, yet on every occasion when an able antagonist adverted to his peculiar career, he writhed and turned in bitterest resentment; as on William Smith, of Norwich, for his remarks on Wat Tyler in parliament, and on Lord Byron. That outward policy, and a regard for the position which he had assumed, tended to make him write in a more church and state strain than he otherwise would, is rendered more than probable by the freedom of opinion which he allowed himself in the Doctor, where he was shielded by his incognito.
Deploring the grand error of Southey's life — for we bear no resentment to the dead — more especially as England has gone on advancing and liberalizing, spite of his slavish dogmas, and thus rendered his most zealous advocacy of narrow notions perfectly innoxious, — we would ask, whether this peculiar change of his original opinions may not have had a peculiar effect on his poetry? Much and beautifully as he has written, yet, if I may be allowed the expression, he never seems to be at home in his poetry, any more than in the country which, with his new opinions, he adopted. We can read once, especially in our youth, his poems, even the longest — but it is rarely more than once. We are charmed, sometimes a little wearied, but we never wish to recur to them again. There are a few of his smaller poems, as the Penates, the Bee, Blenheim, and a few others, which are exceptions, with some exquisite passages, as that often-quoted one on love in Kehama. But, on the whole, we are quite satisfied with one reading. There is a want, somehow, of the spiritual in his writing. Beautiful fancy, and tender feeling, and sometimes deep devotion, there are; but still there lacks that spirit, that essence of the soul which makes Wordsworth and many of the poems of Lord Byron a never satiating aliment and refreshment, — a divine substance on which you live and grow, and by its influence seem to draw nearer to the world of mind and of eternity. Southey's poetry seems a beautiful manufacture, not a part of himself: He carries you in it, as in an enchanted cloud, to Arabia, India, or America; to the celestial Meru, to the dolorous depths of Padalon, or to the Domdaniel caves under the roots of the ocean; but he does not seem to entertain you at home; to take you down into himself. He does not seem to be at rest there, or to have there "his abiding city."
It is exactly the same as to the country in which he lived. He seemed to live there as a stranger and a sojourner. That he loved the lakes and mountains around, there can be no question; but has he linked his poetry with them? Has he, like Wordsworth, woven his verse into almost every crevice of every rock? Cast the spell of his enchantment upon every stream? Made the hills, the waters, the hamlets, and the people, part and parcel of his life and his fame? We seek in vain for any such amalgamation. With the exception of the cataract of Lodore, there is scarcely a line of his poetry which localizes itself in the fairy region where he lived forty years. When Wordsworth is gone, he will leave on the mountains, and in all the vales of Cumberland, an everlasting people of his creation. The Wanderer, and the Clergyman of the Excursion, Michael, and Matthew, and the Waggoner, and Peter Bell, Ruth, and many a picturesque vagrant will linger there for ever. The Shepherd Lord will haunt his ancient hills and castles, and the White Doe will still cross Rylston fells. A thousand associations will start up in the mind of many a future generation, as they hear the names of Helvellyn, Blencathra, or Langdale Pikes. But when you seek for evidences of the poetic existence of Southey in Cumberland, you are carried at once to Greta hall at Keswick, and there you remain. I suppose the phrenologists would say it was owing to his idiosyncracy — that he had much imitativeness, but very little locality. It is most singular, that look over the contents of his voluminous poems, and you find them connected with almost every region of the world, and every quarter of these kingdoms, except with the neighbourhood of his abode. He would seem like a man flying from the face of the world, and brushing out all traces of his retreat as he goes. In Spain, France, America, India, Arabia, Africa, the West Indies, in Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland, you perceive his poetical habitations and resting places; but not in Cumberland. He has commemorated Pultowa, Jerusalem, Alentejo, Oxford, Blenheim, Dreux, Moscow, the Rhine. He has epitaphs and inscriptions for numbers of places in England, Spain, and Portugal. In his Madoc, Wales; in his Roderick, Spain; in his Joan of Arc, France, find abundance of their localities celebrated. In his Pilgrimage to Waterloo, Flanders has its commemorations; but Cumberland — no! You would think it was some district not glorious with mountain, lake and legend, but some fenny flat on which a poetic spirit could not dwell.
Almost the only clues that we get are to be found in the Colloquies. Here we learn that the poet and his family did sometimes walk to Skiddaw Dod, Causey Pike, and Watenlath. At page 119 of vol. 1, where these names occur, we find the poet proposing an excursion to Walla Crag, on the borders of the Derwentwater. "I, who perhaps would more willingly have sat at home, was yet in a mood to suffer violence, and making a sort of compromise between their exuberant activity and my own inclination for the chair and the fireside, fixed on Walla Crag." Besides this mention you have in Colloquy XII, pages 59 to 69, an introduction to a long history of the Clifford family, in which you are introduced to Threlkeld farm and village. This peep into the mountains makes you wonder that Southey did not give you more of them; but no, that is all. It is evident that his heart was, as he hinted just above, "at home in the chair by the fireside." It was in his library that he really lived, and there is little question that when his children did get him out, on the plea that it was necessary for his health, his mind was gone off with some Thalaba or Madoc or other, or with that other favourite hero of his, whose "walk," and whose exploits with old women, he has described with a gusto that might have fitly fixed on him the appellation he gave to Lord Byron — the head of the Satanic school.
To Keswick we must then betake ourselves as the sole haunt of Robert Southey. My visit there in the summer of 1845 was marked by a circumstance which may show how well the fame of Dr. Southey, the laureate of Church and State, and the bard who sang the triumphs of legitimacy on the occasion of the allied sovereigns coming to England in 1814, is spread amongst the nations which are the strictest maintainers of his favourite doctrines; a fettered press, a law church, and a government maintained by such statesmen as Castlereagh and Metternich. I was travelling at that time with four of the subjects of these allied sovereigns, whom our laureate had so highly lauded; a Russian, a Cossack, an Austrian, and a Bohemian; the Cossack no other than the nephew of the Hetman Platoff, and the Bohemian, Count Wratislaw, the present representative of that very ancient family of which the queen of our Richard the Second, "the good Queen Anne," who sent out Wycliffe's Bible to Huss, and was thus the mother of the Reformation on the Continent; and, singularly also, still closely connected with our royal family, his mother being sister to the Princess of Leiningen, wife to the half-brother of Queen Victoria. Austrian and Russian nobles are not famous for great reading, but every one of these were as familiar with Dr. Southey's name as most people the world over are with those of Scott and Byron. They not only went over the laureate's house with the greatest interest, but carried away sprigs of evergreen to preserve as memorials.
Southey's house, which lies at a little distance from the town of Keswick, on the way to Bassenthwaite water, is a plain stuccoed tenement, looking as you approach it almost like a chapel, from the apparent absence of chimneys. Standing upon the bridge over the Greta which crosses the high-road here, the view all round of the mountains, those which lie at the back of Southey's house, Skiddaw being the chief, and those which lie in front, girdling the lake of Derwentwater, is grand and complete. From this bridge the house lies at the distance of a croft, or of three or four hundred yards, on an agreeable swell. In front, that is, between you and the house, ascends towards it a set of homelike crofts, with their cut hedges and a few scattered trees. When Southey went there, and I suppose for twenty years after, these were occupied as a nursery ground, and injured the effect of the immediate environs of the house extremely. Nothing now can be more green and agreeable. On the brow of the hill, if it can be called so, stand two stuccoed houses; the one nearest to the town, and the largest, being Southey's. Both are well flanked by pleasant trees, and partly hidden by them, that of Southey being most so. The smaller house has the air of a good neighbour of lesser importance, who is proud of being a neighbour. It is at present occupied by a Miss Denton, daughter of a former vicar of Crosthwaite, the place just below on the Bassenthwaite road, and where Southey lies buried.
The situation of Southey's house, taking all into consideration, is exceeded by few in England. It is agreeably distant from the road and the little town, and stands in a fine open valley, surrounded by hills of the noblest and most diversified character. From your stand on Greta bridge, looking over the house, your eye falls on the group of mountains behind it. The lofty hill of Latrig lifts its steep green back with its larch plantations clothing one edge, and scattered in groups over the other. Stretching away to the left, rises the still loftier range and giant masses of Skiddaw, with its intervening dells and ravines, and summits often lost in their canopy of shadowy clouds. Between the feet of Skiddaw and Greta bridge, lie pleasant knolls and fields with scattered villas and cottages, and Crosthwaite church. On your right band is the town, and behind it green swelling fields again, and the more distant enclosing chain of hills.
If you then turn your back on the house, and view the scene which is presented from the house, you find yourself in the presence of the river, hurrying away towards the assemblage of beautifully varied mountains, which encompass magnificently the lake of Derwentwater.
The vicinity to the lake itself would make this spot as a residence most attractive. I think I like Derwentwater more than any other of the lakes. The mountains all round are so bold and so diversified in form. You see them showing themselves one behind another, many tending to the pyramidal form, and their hues as varied as their shapes. Some are of that peculiar tawny, or lion colour, which is so singular in its effect in the Scotch mountains of the south; others so softly and smoothly green; others so black and desolate. Some are so beautifully wooded, others so bare. When you look onwards to the end of the lake, the group of mountains and crags there, at the entrance of Borrowdale, is one of the most beautiful and pictorial things imaginable. If any artist would choose a scene for the entrance into fairyland, let him take that. When, again, you turn and look over the town, there soars aloft Skiddaw, in his giant grandeur, with all his slopes, ridges, dints, ravines, and summits clear in the blue sky, or hung with the cloud-curtains of heaven, full of magnificent mystery. There is a perfect pyramid, broad and massy as those of Egypt, standing solemnly in one of its ascending vales, called Carrsledrum. Then, the beautifully wooded islands of Derwentwater, eight in number, and the fine masses of wood that stretch away between the feet of the hills and the lake, with here and there a villa lighting up the scene, make it perfect. In all the changes of weather, the changes of aspect must be full of new beauty; but, in bright and genial summer weather, how enchanting must it be! As it was at our visit, the deep black, yet transparent shadow that lay on some of the huge piles of mountain, and the soft light that lay on others, were indescribably noble and poetical, and the strangers exclaimed continually, — "Prachtig!" "Wunderschon!" and "Tres-beau!"
When we ascend to the house, it is through a narrow sort of croft or a wide shrubbery, which you will. The carriage road goes another way, and here you have only a single footpath, and on your right hand a grassy plot scattered with a few flower beds, and trees and shrubs, which brings you, by a considerable ascent, to the front of the house, which is screened almost wholly from view by tall trees, amongst which some are fine maples and red beeches. Here, on the left hand, a little side gate leads to Miss Denton's house, and on the other stretches out the lawn, screened by hedges of laurel and other evergreens. Behind this little lawn, on the right hand of the house, lie one or two kitchen gardens, and passing through these, you come to a wood descending towards the river, which you again find here sweeping around the house. Down this wood or copse, which is half orchard, and half of forest trees, you see traces of winding footpaths, but all now grown over with grass. The house is deserted; the spirits which animated the scene are fled, some one way, and some another; and there is already a wildness and a desolation about it. The Greta, rushing over its weir beneath this wood, moans in melancholy sympathy with the rest of the scene. You see that great pleasure has some time been taken in this spot, in these gardens, in this shadowy and steeply descending wood; and the river that runs on beneath, and the melancholy feeling of the dream-like nature and vanity of human things, its fame and happiness included, seizes irresistibly upon you. A little foot-path which runs along the Greta side towards the town deepens this feeling. Through the trees, and behind the river, lie deep and grassy meadows with masses of woodland, having a very Cuyp or Paul Potter look; and, between the higher branches of the trees you see the huge green bulk of Skiddaw, soaring up with fine and almost startling effect. You may imagine Southey walking to and fro along the foot-path under the trees, in the fields leading to the town, by another route, and thinking over his topics, while he took the air, and had in view a scene of mountain magnificence, of the effect of which the poet was fully conscious. "The height and extent of the surrounding objects seem to produce a correspondent expansion and elevation of mind, and the silence and solitude contribute to this emotion. You feel as if in another region, almost in another world." Here, too, you may imagine Coleridge lying and dreaming under the trees of the wood within sound of the river. He was here, at one time, a great while.
To return to the house, however. It is a capacious house enough, but not apparently very well built. The floors of the upper rooms shake under your tread; and I have heard, that when Southey had these rooms crowded and piled with books, there was a fear of their coming down. The house is one of those square houses of which you may count the rooms without going into them, but at each end is a circular projection, making each a snug sort of ladies' room. The room on the right hand as we entered, was said to be the sitting-room, and that on the left, the library, while the room over it was Southey's writing room; and most of these rooms, as well as the entrance hall, were all crowded with books. We were told that, after several days' sale at home, where some books as well as the furniture were sold, fourteen tons of books and similar articles were sent off for sale in London.
If Southey has not told us much about his haunts in the mountains, he has, however, particularly described that where his heart lay — his library. To this he has given a whole chapter in his Colloquies; and in this volume we must, as a matter of course, give a few extracts, for it is almost the only haunt of Southey, of which he has left us any glimpse in his writings.
"I was in my library," he says, "making room upon the shelves for some books which had just arrived from New England, removing to a less conspicuous station others which were of less value, and in worn dress, when Sir Thomas entered.
"'You are employed,' said he, 'to your heart's content. Why, Montesinos, with these books, and the delight you take in their constant society, what have you to covet or desire more?'
"MONTESINOS. — 'Nothing, ... except more books.'
"SIR THOMAS MORE. — 'Crescit, indulgens sibi, dirus hydrops.'
"MONTESINOS. — 'Nay, nay, my ghostly monitor, this at least is no diseased desire! If I covet more, it is for the want I feel and the use I should make of them. "Libraries," says my good old friend, George Dyer, a man as learned as he is benevolent, "libraries are the wardrobes of literature, whence men, properly informed, might bring forth something for ornament, much for curiosity, and more for use." These books of mine, as you well know, are not drawn up here for display, however much the pride of the eye may be gratified in beholding them; they are on actual service. Whenever they may be dispersed, there is not one amongst them that will ever be more comfortably lodged, or more highly prized by its possessor; and generations may pass away before some of them will again find a reader It is well that we do not moralize too much upon such subjects....
For foresight is a melancholy gift,
Which bears the bald, and speeds the ill too swift.
But the dispersion of a library, whether in retrospect or anticipation, is to me always a melancholy thing.'
SIR THOMAS MORE. — 'How many such dispersions must have taken place to have made it possible that these books should be thus brought together here amongst the Cumberland mountains!'
"MONTESINOS. — 'Many, indeed; and in many instances, most disastrous ones. Not a few of these volumes have been cast up from the wreck of the family or convent libraries, during the Revolution. Yonder Aeta Sanctorum belonged to the Capuchins, at Ghent. This book of St. Bridget's Revelations, in which not only all the initial letters are illuminated, but every capital throughout the volume was coloured, came from the Carmelite nunnery at Bruges. That copy of Alain Chartier, from the Jesuits' college at Louvain; that Imago Primi Saeculi Societatis, from their college at Ruremond. Here are books from Colbert's library; here others from the Lamoignon one. And here are two volumes of a work — Chronicles of the bare-footed Franciscans in the Philippines, China, Japan, etc. — for which I am indebted to my friend, Sir Robert Harry Inglis; a work, not more rare than valuable for its contents, divorced, unhappily, and it is to be feared for ever, from the volume which should stand between these. They were printed in a convent at Manilla, and brought from thence when that city was taken by Sir William Draper. They have given me, perhaps, as many pleasurable hours, passed in acquiring information which I could not otherwise have obtained, as Sir William spent years of anxiety and vexation in vainly soliciting the reward of his conquest.'
"'About a score of the more out-of-time-way works in my possession, belonged to some unknown person, who seems carefully to have gleaned the bookstalls a little before and after the year 1790. He marked them with certain ciphers, always at the end of the volume. They are in various languages, and I never found his mark in any book that was not worth buying, or that I should not have bought without that indication to induce me. All were in ragged condition, and having been dispersed on the owner's death, probably as of no value, to the stalls they had returned; and there I found — this portion of them, just before my old haunts as a book-hunter in the metropolis were disforested, to make room for improvements between Westminster and Oxford-road. I have endeavoured, without success, to discover the name of their former possessor. * * * *
"'Yonder Chronicle of King D. Manoel, by Damiam de Goes, and yonder General History of Spain, by Esteban de Garibay, are signed by their respective authors. The minds of these laborious and useful scholars are in their works; but you are brought into a more perfect relation with them when you see the page upon which you know that their eyes have rested, and the very characters which their hands have traced. This copy of Casaubon's Epistles was sent to me from Florence by Walter Landor. He had perused it carefully, and to that perusal we are indebted for one of the most pleasing of his Conversations. These letters had carried him in spirit to the age of their writer, and shown James I. to him in the light in which James was regarded by cotemporary scholars; and, under the impression thus produced, Landor has written of him in his happiest mood, calmly, philosophically, feelingly, and with no more favourable leaning than justice will always manifest when justice is in good humour, and in charity with all men. The book came from the palace library at Milan ... how or when abstracted, I know not; but this beautiful dialogue would never have been written had it remained there in its place upon the shelf, for the worms to finish the work which they had begun. * * * *
"'Here is a book with which Lauderdale amused himself, when Cromwell kept him prisoner in Windsor castle. He has recorded his state of mind during that imprisonment, by inscribing in it, with his name and dates of time, the Latin word Durate, and the Greek [Greek characters]. The date is 22 Oct. 1657. The book is the Pia Hilaria Angelini Gazai ... Here is a memorial of a different kind, inscribed in this "Rule of Penance of St. Francis," as it is ordered for religious women ... "I beseech my dear mother humbly to accept of this exposition of our holy rule, the better to conceive what your poor child ought to be who daly beges your blessing. Constantia Francisco." And here are the Apophthemata, collected by Conrad Lycosthenes, and published, after drastic expurgation by the Jesuits, as a commonplace book, — some Portuguese has entered a hearty vow, that he would never part with the book, nor lend it to any one. Very different was my poor old Lisbon acquaintance, the Abbe, who, after the old humorous form, wrote in all his books, and he had a rare collection, Ex libris Francisci Garnier, et amicorum.'
"SIR THOMAS MORE. — 'How peaceably they stand together Papists and Protestants side by side!'
"MONTESINOS. — 'Their very dust reposes not more quietly in the cemetery. Ancient and modern, Jew and Gentile, Mahomedan and Crusader, French and English, Spaniards and Portuguese, Dutch and Brazilians, fighting their old battles silently now upon the shelf; Fernam Lopez and Pedro de Ayala; John de Laet and Barclaeus, with the historians of Joam Ferandes Vieira; Fox's Martyrs, and the Three Conversations of Father Persons; Cranmer and Stephen Gardiner; Dominican and Franciscan; Jesuit and Philosophe, equally misnamed; Churchmen and Sectarians; Roundheads and Cavaliers!
Here are God's conduits, grave divines; and here
Is nature's secretary, the philosopher;
And wily statesmen, which teach how to tie
The sinews of a city's mystic body:
Here gathering chroniclers: and by them stand
Giddy fantastic poets of each land. — Donne.
Here I possess these gathered treasures of time, the harvest of so many generations, laid up in may garners; and when I go to the windows, there is the lake, and the circle of the mountains, and the illimitable sky.'"
This noble collection, of which their possessor might well be proud, which is said to have included by far the best collection of Spanish books in England, and the gathering of which together, through many researches, many inquiries, and many years, had, perhaps, given him almost as much pleasurable excitement as their perusal, is once more dispersed into thousands of hands. The house, indeed at the time we visited it, was in the act of being repaired, fresh painted and papered, ready for a new tenant; and, of course, looked desolate enough. All the old paper had been torn off the walls, or scraped away; and workmen, with piles of rolls of new paper, and buckets of paste, were beginning their work of revival. The whole house, outside and inside, had an air of dilapidation, such as houses in the country are often allowed to fall into; but, no doubt, when all furnished and inhabited, would be comfortable and habitable enough.
But death had been there, and the appraiser and auctioneer, and a crowd of eager sale-attenders after them; and the history of the poet and the poet's family life was wound up and done there. A populous dwelling it must have been when Southey and his wife and children, and Mrs. Coleridge and her daughter, and perhaps other friends, were all housed in it. And an active and pleasant house it must have been when great works were going on in it, a Thalaba, a Madoc, an article for the Quarterly, and news from London were coming in, and letters were expected of great interest, and papers were sending oft by post to printers and publishers, and correspondents. All that is now passed over as a dream; the whole busy hive is dispersed many ways, and the house and grounds are preparing to let at £55 a year, just as if no genius had set a greater value on them than on any other premises around. It is when we see these changes that we really feel the vanity of human life. But the beauty of the life of genius is, that though the scene of domestic action and sojourn can become as empty as any other, the home of the poet's mind becomes thenceforth that of the whole heart and mind of his nation, and often far beyond that. The Cossack and the Bohemian — did they not also carry away from it to their far-off lands tokens of their veneration?
Before quitting Southey's house for his tomb, I cannot resist referring to a little fact connected with his appointment to the laureateship. It is well known that the post was first offered to Walter Scott, who declined it, but recommended Southey, who was chosen. The letters on the whole transaction are given in Lockhart's Life of Scott, (chap. xxvi.) and certainly present one of the most luxurious bits of human nature imaginable. Scott, who was then only plain Walter Scott, who was not made Sir Walter for seven years after; who had published the greater number of his popular poetical romances, but had not yet published Waverley; felt, however, quite terrified at the offer of the laureateship. He was quite agonized with shame at the prospect, and wrote off to the Duke of Buccleugh to ask his advice how he was to get decently out of the scrape without offending the Prince Regent. "I am," says Scott, "very much embarrassed by it. I am, on the one hand, very much afraid of giving offence, where no one would willingly offend, and perhaps losing the opportunity of smoothing the way to my youngsters through life; on the other hand the offer is a ridiculous one; somehow or other, they and I should be well quizzed," etc. * * * "I feel much disposed to shake myself free of it. I should make but a had courtier, and an ode-maker is described by Pope as a man out of his way, or out of his senses."
Almost by return of post came the duke's answer. "As to the offer of his Royal highness to appoint you laureate, I shall frankly say, that I should be mortified to see you hold a situation which by the general concurrence of the world is stamped ridiculous. There is no good reason why it should be so; but it is so. Walter Scott, Poet Laureate, ceases to be Walter Scott of the Lay, Marmion, etc. Any future poem of yours would not come forth with the same probability of a successful reception. The poet laureate would stick to you and your productions like a piece of court plaister. * * * Only think of being chaunted and recitatived by a parcel of hoarse and squeaking choristers on a birth-day, for the edification of the bishops, pages, maids of honour, and gentlemen-pensioners! Oh horrible! thrice horrible!"
Scott replied, "I should certainly never have survived the recitative described by your Grace; it is a part of the etiquette I was quite unprepared for, and should have sunk under it."
Such was the horror of Scott, and his great patron Buccleugh, at the very idea of this most ridiculous of offers, of this piece of court plaister, of this horrible, thrice horrible of all quizzes — Scott at once declined the honour, and though he said he should make a bad courtier, assuredly no courtier could have done it in better style, professing that the office was too distinguished for his merits; that he was by no means adequate to it. Now Scott all this time had but an income of £2,000 a-year out of all his resources; we have these calculated and cast up on the very same page, opposite to his letter to Buccleugh; nay, he is in embarrassments, and in the very same letter requests the Duke to be guarantee for £2,000 for him and he thought the laureateship worth £300 or £400 a-year. These facts all testify to his thorough idea of the ignominy of the office. How rich then is the sequel! This ignominy, this burning shame of an office, this piece of adhesive court plaister, he goes at once and recommends to Southey! "Hang it," he says to himself, "it would never do for such a man as me; but, by the bye, it will do very well for Southey!" Well, he writes at once to Southey — tells him that he has had this offer, but that he has declined it because he has had already two pieces of preferment, and moreover, "my dear Southey, I had you in my eye." He adds — and now let any one who thinks himself flattered on any particular occasion, remember this delicious bam — "I did not refuse it from any foolish prejudice against the situation — otherwise how durst I offer it to you (ay, how indeed!) my elder brother in the muse? — but from a sort of internal hope that they would give it to you, on whom it would he so much more worthily conferred. For I am not such an ass as not to know that you are my better in poetry, though I have had, probably but for a time, the tide of popularity in my favour. I have not time to add the thousand other reasons, but I only wished to tell you how the matter was, and to beg you to think before you reject the offer which I flatter myself will be made to you. If I had not been, like Dogberry, a fellow with two gowns already, I should have jumped at it like a cock at a gooseberry. Ever yours, most truly, WALTER SCOTT."
The whole is too rich to need a remark, except that Southey accepted it, and Scott wrote him a letter of warmest congratulation on getting this piece of court plaister clapped on his back, and putting himself into a position to be "well quizzed;" but was quite confounded to learn that the honorarium for the "horrible! thrice horrible! "was not £400 a-year, but only £100 and a butt of wine. I wonder whether poor Southey lived to read Scott's life!
The present illustrious holder of this post accepted it with a dignity worthy of his character and fame, declining it till it was stripped of all its disgusting duties. The next step, it is to be hoped, will be to abolish an office equally derogatory to monarch and subject. No poet of reputation should feel himself in a position to pay mercenary praise; no monarch of this country need purchase praise; to a worthy occupier of the throne it will he freely accorded from the universal heart of the nation.
Crosthwaite church, in whose grave-yard Robert Southey's remains lie, is about a quarter of a mile from the house, on the Bassenthwaite-water road. It is a very simple and lowly village church with a low square tower, but stands finely in the wide, open valley, surrounded, at a considerable distance, by the scenery I have described. I suppose it is nearly a mile from the foot of Skiddaw. From Southey's house the walks to it, and again from it along the winding lanes, and over the quiet fields towards Skiddaw, are particularly pleasant. Southey in his Colloquies speaks of the church and churchyard with much affection. He quotes the account of an old man who more than fifty years ago spoke of the oldest and finest yew trees in the country standing in this churchyard, and of having seen all the boys of the school-house near, forty in number, perched at once on the boughs of one of them.
At the north-west corner of the churchyard, stands Southey's tomb. It is a plain altar-tomb of reddish freestone, covered with a slab of blue slate, with this inscription, — "Here lies the body of Robert Southey, LL.D. Poet Laureate; Born August 12, 1774. Died March 26, 1843. Also of Edith his wife, Born May 20, 1774; Died Nov. 16, 1837. I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord."
Close in front of the tomb lies the grave of Mrs. Southey and behind, and close to the hedge, stands a stone bearing this inscription, — "The Lord gave and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord. Sacred to the memory of Emma Southey, who departed in May 1809, aged 14 months. And of Herbert Southey, who departed April 17th, 1816, in the tenth year of his age. Also of George Fricker, their uncle, aged 26, 1814. Also Isabel Southey, their sister, who departed on the 16th of July, 1826, aged 13 years. Also of Edith Southey, their mother, who departed May, 1837, aged 63. Requiescat in pace."
I recollected that there was something peculiar connected with the death of the son, Herbert. The old clerk said that his disorder could not he discovered till after his death, but that on opening him, a human hair was found fast round his heart!
I wished to see the pew where the Southeys used to sit, but I found the interior of the church, as well as of his house, undergoing the revolution of repair, or rather of renewal. It seemed as if people had only waited for Southey's death, to begin and clear off all traces of his existence here. The church is fine and capacious within, but all the old pews, all the old seats, pulpit and everything belonging to them, have been cleared away, and the whole replaced by fittings in the ancient style. There are nothing but open benches, with a single exception. The benches are of solid oak, with heavy, handsome carving, and have a very goodly and substantial look. The windows are also renewed with handsome painted glass, and the tables of the Decalogue, etc. placed behind the altar, are all painted in the old missal style. The church will he very handsome, at the same time that it is a sign of the times. Of course Southey's pew is gone. In the church is an ancient monument of the Radcliffes, ancestors of the Earl of Derwentwater; and two of the Brownrigs of Armathwaite, immediate maternal relations of my wife.
The close of Southey's life was melancholy. His mind gave way, probably from having been over-tasked, and he sunk into a condition of utter imbecility. Shortly before this event he had married, as his second wife, his friend of many years standing, Caroline Bowles, one of the sweetest and most genuine poetesses of the age. In her early widowhood she has the satisfaction of reflecting, that, as one of the tenderest nurses and most assiduous companions, she did all that mortal power could do to render his last gloomy stage on earth easy and comfortable. She wrote for him when he could no longer write, read to him for days, weeks, months, when he was not allowed to read himself, and watched over him with untiring affection when he was no longer sensible of the value and devotion of these services. What is to be deeply regretted is, that we believe her pecuniary sacrifices by this marriage were as serious as those demanded in the shape of anxiety, vigilance, and physical exertion, from a mind of the quickest feeling and a frame never strong; her own personal income being contingent on such a circumstance. Such a woman, who has adorned the literature of her country with some of its most exquisite contributions, and sacrificed everything to render the last days of one of its finest writers as serene as possible, ought not to be left to wear the remainder of her life in the res augusta domi, stripped of those simple elegances and enjoyments to which, as a gentlewoman, she has always been accustomed. Even they who differ most in opinion from that writer, and most regret the direction u which his mind took on many great questions, still admit most cheerfully the brilliant services rendered by him to the national literature and fame, and would desire that the wife of Robert Southey should enjoy that ease and consideration which his merits, independent of her own, ought to secure her.