1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Edward Smedley the elder

Robert Southey, 29 August 1824; Life and Correspondence (1849-50;1851) 54.



Our holidays' exercise [at Westminster School] was to compose a certain number of Latin verses from any part of Thomson's Spring. I did my task doggedly, in such a manner that it was impossible any exercise could have been more unlike a good one, and yet the very best could not more effectually have proved the diligence with which it had been made. There was neither a false quantity, nor a grammatical fault, nor a decent line in the whole. The ladies made me show it to Beresford; and he, instead of saying, in good-natured sincerity, "You have never been taught to make verses, but it is plain that you have taken great pains in making these, and therefore I am sure the usher will give you credit for what you have done," returned them to me, saying, "Sir, I see you will be another Virgil one of these days." I knew that this was neither deserved as praise nor as mockery; and I felt then, as I have continued through life to do, that unmerited censure brings with it its own antidote in the sense of injustice which it provokes, but that nothing is so mortifying as praise to which you are conscious that you have no claim.

Smedley spoke to me sensibly and kindly about this exercise, and put me in training as far as could then be done. He had no reason to complain of my want of good will, for before the next holidays I wrote about fifty long and short verses upon the death of Fair Rosamund, which I put into his hands. The composition was bad enough, I dare say, in many respects, but it gave proofs of good progress. They were verses to the ear as well as to the fingers; and I remember them sufficiently to know that the attempt was that of a poet.