1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Southey

George Ticknor; Journal Entry, 18 March 1819; Life, Letters, and Journals of George Ticknor (1876) 1:285-87.



March 18.... Early the next morning I set off for Keswick, and in about twelve miles found myself already in the broken mountainous country that prepares an approach to the lakes. My drive, though through a country so interesting, had been sad, for I have now little that will cheer me when I am left in solitude, and I know not when I have been more deserted by all decent courage, than I was at the moment I entered Mr. Southey's door. The kindness of his reception gave me the first glad feeling I had had, from the time I left Cogswell at Selkirk.

Mr. Southey introduced me to Mrs. Coleridge, a good respectable-looking lady of five-and-forty, her daughter, a sweet creature of uncommon beauty and gentleness, not quite sixteen, and his own family of daughters, the eldest of whom, Edith, has some of his own peculiar rapidity of mind, and Isabella, the fourth, only six years old, who has a bewitching mischievous beauty, which came from I know not where. After dinner he carried me into his study, and spread out a quantity of his literary projects before me, — his "Life of Wesley," which is in the press, his "Brazil," to he finished in a month, his "Spanish War," to which he has prefixed an interesting preface on the moral state of England, France, and Spain, between 1789 and 1808; and, finally, a poem on the War of Philip, not him of Macedon, but our own particular Philip, recorded by Hubbard and Church, — and as this is more interesting to an American than any other of the works, it is the one I most carefully followed, as he read me all he has written of it. He has, however, finished only six hundred of the six thousand lines that are to compose it, rhymed, and in various measure, but not so elaborately irregular as the versification of "Kehama," though the same principle is adopted of addressing the metre to the ear rather than to the eye....

We sat up very late, and talked a great deal upon all sorts of subjects, especially America, Spain, and Portugal, for these, and particularly the last, are his favorite topics and studies.

The next morning he carried me to see the principal beauties of the neighborhood, and, among other things, the point where Gray stood when he enjoyed the prospect described in one of his letters, and the island in the lake, from which our Franklin, who was then staying at the house of a gentleman here, made his first experiment of pouring oil on troubled waters.... Southey was pleasant during the walk and still more so at dinner and in the evening, talking with great rapidity for the quickness of his mind expresses itself in the fluency of his utterance, and yet he is ready upon almost any subject that can he proposed to him, from the extent of his knowledge. In the evening he opened to me more great bundles of manuscript materials, his "History of Portugal," the work on which he thinks he can most safely rest his claims with posterity, his "History of the Portuguese East Indies," a necessary appendix and consequence of it, etc., etc.; in short, as he himself said, more than the whole amount of all he has published. He is certainly an extraordinary man, one of those whose character I find it difficult to comprehend, because I hardly know how such elements can be brought together, such rapidity of mind with such patient labor and wearisome exactness, so mild a disposition with so much nervous excitability, and a poetical talent so elevated with such an immense mass of minute, dull learning. He considers himself completely an author by profession, and therefore, as he told me, never writes anything which will not sell, in the hours he regularly devotes to labor. For this reason, his poetry has been strictly his amusement, and therefore, as he is forbidden early rising by his physician, he has taken the time before breakfast for his Muse, — which cannot he above half an hour or an hour, — and has not allowed himself any other. When I add that his light reading after supper is now in the fifty-three folios of the "Acta Sanctorum," I have given to myself an idea of industry such as I never saw but in Germany before.

After all, however, my recollections of Southey rest rather on his domestic life and his character as a man, for here he seems to me to be truly excellent.... His family now consists of Mrs. Lovell; Mrs. Coleridge and her beautiful daughter, who is full of genius, and to whom he has given an education that enables her, in defiance of an alarming degree of modesty, to speak of Virgil, Cervantes, and Dante as familiar acquaintance; and his own excellent wife, with six fine children, who are half his occupation and more than half his pride and delight, all living in affection and harmony together, and all supported by the exercise of his talents, in a gentlemanlike establishment, where, besides an ample library, he has the comforts and a great many of the luxuries of life. I have seen few men who I thought better fulfilled the character Heaven destined to them than Southey....