1830 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Bp. Reginald Heber

An Oxford acquaintance, 30 January 1830; Life of Reginald Heber (1830) 1:323.



My Dear Mrs. Heber,

I promised to send you some recollections of his early life: and with very mixed feelings I now perform that promise.

At a time when with the enthusiasm of the place [Oxford], I had rather caught by heart than learnt Palestine, and when it was a privilege to any one of any age to know Reginald Heber, I had the delight of forming an acquaintance. I cannot forget the feeling of admiration with which, in the autumn of 1803, I approached his presence, or the surprise with which I contrasted my abstract image of him, with his own simple, social, every-day manner. He talked and laughed like those around him, and entered into the pleasures of the day with them, and with their relish: but when any higher subject was introduced, [and he was never slow in contriving to introduce literature at least, and to draw from his exhaustless memory riches of every kind,] his manner became his own. He never looked up at his hearers, (one of the few things, by the bye, which I could have wished altered in him in after life, for he retained the habit,) but with his eyes downcast and fixed, poured forth in a measured intonation, which from him became fashionable, stores of every age; the old romances, Spencer, some of our early prose writers, of Scott's published works, or verses of his own. I speak not of one day only, but of my general recollection of his habits as after that day witnessed often. One moonlight night, (I do not recollect the year,) we were walking together, talking of the old fabliaux and romances, with which his memory was full; and we continued our walk till long past midnight. He said that it was a very easy style, and he could imitate without an effort; and as he went along, he recited, composing as he recited, the happiest imitation of the George-Ellis-specimens which I ever saw. He came to my rooms, and wrote it down the next day. He called it the Boke of the purple faucon. I now send the original manuscript to you....