1807 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Josiah Relph

Robert Southey, in Specimens of the Later English Poets (1807) 1:418-19.



The life of this interesting man has been written with much feeling by his countryman the late learned Mr. Boucher.

He was the son of a Cumberland Statesman, who on a paternal inheritance which could not exceed, if it even amounted to, thirty pounds a year, brought up a family of three sons and a daughter, one of whom he educated for a learned profession. Josiah was sent first to Appleby School, — one of the many excellent schools of this country, — then to Glasgow; he afterwards engaged in a grammar school in his native place, and succeeded to the perpetual curacy there, but there is no reason to believe, that his income was ever more than fifty pounds.

It appears from his diary that his step-mother was harsh and unkind to him and to his sister, whom he dearly loved, the father siding with his wife; an injury which he felt the more poignantly from his having either entirely, or very near, made up to him all the expense he had been at in his education. "In a lonely dell," says Mr. Boucher, "by a murmuring stream, under the canopy of heaven, he had provided himself a table and a stool, and a little raised seat or altar of sods; hither in his difficulties and distresses, in imitation of his Saviour, he retired and prayed; rising from his knees he generally committed to paper the meditation on which he had been employed, or the resolves he had then formed. On business and emergencies which he deemed still more momentous, he withdrew into the church, and there walking in the aisles, in that awful solitude, poured out his soul in prayer and praise to his maker. His sermons were usually meditated in the church-yard, after the evening had closed. The awe which his footsteps excited at that unusual hour is not yet forgotten by the villagers."

He continued his school when his constitution was visibly giving way to that disorder which at length proved mortal, being accelerated by his ascetick mode of living. "A few days before his death he sent for all his pupils, one by one, into his chamber, — a more affecting interview it is not possible to conceive; one of them, who is still living, acknowledges he never thinks of it without awe; it reminds him, he says, of the last judgment. He was perfectly composed, collected and serene. His valedictory admonitions were not very long, but they were earnest and pathetick. He addressed each of them in terms somewhat different, adapted to their different tempers and circumstances; but in one charge he was uniform, — lead a good life that your death may be easy, and you everlastingly happy. He died of a consumption before he had compleated his 32nd year. After many years, a monument was erected to his memory by Mr. Boucher."

The characters as well as imagery of the Cambrian Pastorals were taken from real life; there was hardly a person in the village who could not point out those who had sate for his Cursty and Peggy. The amorous maiden was well known, and died a few years ago, at a very advanced age.

His poems evince not any indication of his ascetick disposition, and have been twice published, first by his pupil the Reverend Mr. Denton.