1847 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Lovell

Joseph Cottle, in Reminiscences of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey (1847) 2-6, 15.



At the close of the year 1794, a clever young man, of the Society of Friends, of the name of Robert Lovell, who had married a Miss Fricker, informed me that a few friends of his from Oxford and Cambridge, with himself, were about to sail to America, and, on the banks of the Susquehannah, to form a Social Colony, in which there was to be a community of property, and where all that was selfish was to be proscribed. None, he said, were to be admitted into their number, but tried and incorruptible characters; and he felt quite assured that he and his friends would he able to realize a state of society free from the evils and turmoils that then agitated the world, and to present an example of the eminence to which men might arrive under the unrestrained influence of sound principles. He now paid me the compliment of saying that he would be happy to include me in this select assemblage who, under a state which he called PANTISOCRACY, were, he hoped, to regenerate the whole complexion of society; and that, not by establishing formal laws, but by excluding all the little deteriorating passions; injustice, "wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking," and thereby setting an example of "Human Perfectibility."

Young as I was, I suspected there was an old and intractable leaven in human nature that would effectually frustrate these airy schemes of happiness, which had been projected in every age, and always with the same result. At first the disclosure so confounded my understanding, that I almost fancied myself transported to some new state of things, while images of patriarchal and pristine felicity stood thick around, decked in the rainbow's colors. A moment's reflection, however, dissolved the unsubstantial vision, when I asked him a few plain questions.

"How do you go?" said I. My young and ardent friend instantly replied, "We freight a ship, carrying out with us ploughs, and other implements of husbandry." The thought occurred to me, that it might be more economical to purchase such articles in America; but not too much to discourage the enthusiastic aspirant after happiness, I forbore all reference to the accumulation of difficulties to be surmounted, and merely inquired who were to compose his company? He said that only four had as yet absolutely engaged in the enterprise; Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from Cambridge; (in whom I understood the plan to have originated;) Robert Southey and George Burnet, from Oxford, and himself. "Well," I replied, "when do you set sail?" He answered, "Very shortly. I soon expect my friends from the Universities, when all the preliminaries will be adjusted, and we shall joyfully cross the blue waves of the Atlantic." "But," said I, "to freight a ship, and sail out in the high style of gentlemen agriculturists, will require funds. How do you manage this?" "We all contribute what we can," said he, "and I shall introduce all my dear friends to you, immediately on their arrival in Bristol."

Robert Lovell (though inexperienced, and constitutionally sanguine) was a good specimen of the open frankness which characterizes the well-informed members of the Society of Friends; and he excited in me an additional interest, from a warmth of feeling, and an extent of reading, above even the ordinary standard of the estimable class to which he belonged. He now read me some of the MS. poems of his two unknown friends, which at once established their genius in my estimation.

My leisure having been devoted for many years to reading and composition, and having a small volume of Poems at that time in the press, I anticipated great pleasure from an introduction to two poets, who superadded to talents of a high order, all the advantages arising from learning, and a consequent familiarity with the best models of antiquity. Independently of which, they excited an interest, and awakened a peculiar solicitude, from their being about so soon to leave their father-land, and to depart permanently for a foreign shore.

One morning shortly after, Robert Lovell called on me, and introduced Robert Southey. Never will the impression be effaced, produced on me by this young man. Tall, dignified, possessing great suavity of manners; an eye piercing, with a countenance full of genius, kindliness, and intelligence, I gave him at once the right hand of fellowship, and to the moment of his decease, that cordiality was never withdrawn. I had read so much of poetry and sympathized so much with poets in all their eccentricities and vicissitudes, that, to see before me the realization of a character, which in the abstract most absorbed my regards, gave me a degree of satisfaction which it would be difficult to express.

I must now make a brief reference to George Burnet, who, in this epidemic delusion, had given his sanction to, and embarked all his prospects in life on this Pantisocratical scheme. He was a young man about the age of twenty; the son of a respectable Somersetshire farmer, who had bestowed on him his portion, by giving him an University education as an introduction to the Church, into which he probably would have entered but for this his transatlantic pursuit of happiness. His talents were not conspicuous, but his manners were unpresuming, and honesty was depicted on his countenance. He possessed also that habitual good temper, and those accommodating manners, which would prove a desirable accession in any society; and it soon appeared, without indicating any disrespect, that his was a subordinate part to act in the new drama, and not the less valuable for its wanting splendor.

After some considerable delay, it was at length announced that on the coming morning Samuel Taylor Coleridge would arrive in Bristol, as the nearest and most convenient port; and where he was to reside but a short time before the favoring gales were to waft him and his friends across the Atlantic. Robert Lovell at length introduced Mr. C. I instantly descried his intellectual character; exhibiting as he did, an eye, a brow, and a forehead, indicative of commanding genius. Interviews succeeded, and these increased the impression of respect. Each of my new friends read me his productions. Each accepted my invitations, and gave me those repeated proofs of good opinion, ripening fast into esteem, that I could not be insensible to the kindness of their manners, which, it may truly be affirmed, infused into my heart a brotherly feeling, that more than identified their interests with my own.

I introduced them to several intelligent friends, and their own merits soon augmented the number, so that their acquaintance became progressively extended, and their society coveted. Bristol was now found a very pleasant residence; and though the ship was not engaged, nor the least preparation made for so long a voyage, still the delights and wide-spreading advantages of Pantisocracy formed one of their everlasting themes of conversation; and, considering the barrenness of the subject, it was in no common degree amusing, to hear these young enthusiasts repel every objection to the practicability of their scheme, and magnify the condition to which it was to introduce them; where thorns and briers were, no doubt, to be expelled, and their couch to be strewed with down and roses.

It will excite merely an innocent smile in the reader at the extravagance of a youthful and ardent mind, when he learns that Robert Lovell stated with great seriousness, that, after the minutest calculation and inquiry among practical men, the demand on their labor would not exceed two hours a day; that is, for the production of absolute necessaries. The leisure still remaining, might be devoted, in convenient fractions, to the extension of their domain, by prostrating the sturdy trees of the forest, where "lop and top," without cost, would supply their cheerful winter fire; and the trunks, when cut into planks, without any other expense than their own pleasant labor, would form the sties for their pigs, and the linnies for their cattle, and the barns for their produce; reserving their choicest timbers for their own comfortable log-dwellings. But after every claim that might be made on their manual labor had been discharged, a large portion of time would still remain for their own individual pursuits, so that they might read, converse, and even write books....

In conformity with my determination to state occurrences, plainly, as they arose, I must here mention that strange as it may appear in Pantisocritans, I observed at this time a marked coolness between Mr. Coleridge and Robert Lovell, so inauspicious in those about to establish a "Fraternal Colony;" and, in the result, to renovate the whole face of society! They met without speaking, and consequently appeared as strangers. I asked Mr. C. what it meant. He replied, "Lovell, who at first, did all in his power to promote my connection with Miss Fricker, now opposes our union." He continued, "I said to him, 'Lovell! you are a villain!'" "Oh," I replied, "you are quite mistaken. Lovell is an honest fellow, and is proud in the hope of having you for a brother-in-law. Rely on it he only wishes you from prudential motives to delay your union." In a few days I had the happiness of seeing them as sociable as ever.

This is the last time poor Robert Lovell's name will be mentioned in this work, as living. He went to Salisbury, caught a fever, and, in eagerness to reach his family, travelled when he ought to have lain by; reached his home, and died! We attended his funeral, and dropt a tear over his grave.