It was not my happy destiny to know much of Robert Southey — the man of all the men of letters of my time I most revere; yet it is something to have conversed and corresponded with that truly great man, — a lofty poet, a sound teacher, a thorough Christian, who, if he never wrote a line that "dying he might wish to blot," certainly never penned a sentence that was not intended to do good. He was not a Christian in theory only; he practised all the virtues inculcated by the precepts and example of his Divine Master; and the less assured believer may refer to him as one of the many great intellectual lights who had faith in the Divinity of the Saviour, and in the Gospel as a direct gift from God. Who shall say how much, in the perilous time of prevalent infidelity in which he lived, he dispelled doubts and destroyed scepticism, by exhibiting a man who had read and thought extensively and deeply, seeking for truth in every occult as well as open source — who was not a missionary by profession, nor a teacher of whom instruction was demanded as a duty — declaring implicit belief in Christianity, and thus confirming and strengthening thinkers and reasoners comparatively weak in faith?
I desire to do justice to the memory of this illustrious man, chiefly because he was a man of letters by profession it was his pride so to proclaim himself. There is "a craft," of which he is the chief (I have the honour to be a humble member of it), which numbers many thousands, who derive honourable independence solely from literary labour; "whose ways," to borrow a sentence from Southey, "are as broad as the Queen's high road, but whose means lie in an inkstand." It cannot fail to cheer and encourage all such to consider the career of Robert Southey; so useful to every class that came under his influence; at once so high and so humble; so honourable, so independent, so pure; so brave, yet so conciliating; so prudent, yet so generous; so careful of all home duties; so truly the idol of a household; so just in all his dealings with fellow-men; so rational in the expenditure of time; so lavish in distributing good in thought, word, and deed; so true to man, and so faithful to God!
The family of Southey was originally — as far back as the poet could trace its history — settled at Wellington, in Somersetshire, where their "heads" appear to have been small farmers or substantial yeomen. His father was a linen-draper at Bristol, where the poet was born on the 12th August, 1774. The house is still standing in Wine Street: I have engraved it. It has not undergone much alteration, except that what was formerly one house is now divided into two.
Chiefly by the help of a maternal uncle, the Rev. Herbert Hill, Southey was sent, in 1788, to Westminster School; and in 1792 was entered at Balliol College, Oxford. His boy-teaching had been obtained at Corston, near Bristol. In 1793 he visited the school "when it had ceased to be one," and that visit induced a poem, entitled "The Retrospect," which shows, however much he may have wandered from the right road to happiness, the seed of goodness was fructifying in his soul. It is dated 1794, and addressed to "Edith," his after wife. These are the concluding lines:—
My path is plain and straight, that light is given,
Onward in faith, and leave the rest to Heaven.
In 1836, accompanied by his son Cuthbert, Southey visited his old haunts in Bristol, and was entertained by Joseph Cottle, who had published his "Joan of Arc" in 1793. He had forgotten nothing — not even a by-way! — in the city of his birth. Let us imagine his feelings, so long after the battle had been fought and the victory won, and when, by universal accord, he was recognised among the foremost men of his age and country. Sixty-two years had passed since his birth, and nearly fifty since he had gone out into the world to find the road to fame. He was a way-worn, though not a way-wearied, man, for life had been pleasant to him, and he had trodden mostly in the paths of peace; but he had a long career of struggles passed, obstacles encountered, and difficulties overcome, to look back upon, as he stood before that tradesman's house in Wine Street, and walked among his fellow-citizens, few of whom knew the glory he conferred upon their city, and the intellectual wealth he had acquired — to lavish it on mankind. Probably, in that great capital of commerce, he would have excited more homage it he had been a prosperous sugar-baker; but if that thought had come to him, which we venture to say it did not, it would not have kept away the God-given happiness with which he reviewed his past, or have lessened his gratitude for the mercy that had kept him active in His service for nearly half a century of life. He visited the school-house where he had been taught fifty-five years ago. Fifty-five years ago! His teachers, no doubt, had gone home long before, and we are not told that there were any to greet him, in the streets or in the houses of magnanimous Bristol! But we are free in fancy to picture the venerable white-headed man wearing his crown of glory, conscious of his triumphs, and going back, back — with the pride that God sanctions and approves — into the long past.
He was, in a manner, compelled to leave Westminster, his "crime" being that he had written "a sarcastic attack upon corporal punishment," at which the self-accused head-master took mortal offence; and on that ground he was refused admission to Christ Church, which thus lost the glory that would have clung to it for all time — conferring it on Balliol.
In 1791, while at college, having made the acquaintance of Coleridge, they entered into the Utopian scheme of "Pantisocracy," agreeing to become emigrants to the New World; "to purchase land by common contributions, to be cultivated by their common labour" — and so forth. However much of thoughtless folly there was in the project, it certainly originated in benevolence; and that it met the earnest advocacy of Southey is only evidence of large and genuine love of his kind. Fortunately it was abandoned, mainly by the wise advice of good Joseph Cottle, the first publisher of Southey, Coleridge, and Wordsworth, to whose volume of "Recollections" I have referred in writing of Coleridge. By him "Joan of Arc" was published in 1794.
Southey was married to Edith Fricker on the 14th November, 1795, at Redcliff Church, Bristol; her sister having been wedded to the poet Coleridge. It was a marriage of pure affection, without a worldly thought, scarcely with a worldly hope; and it endured unbroken and undiminished through a varied and trying lifetime of forty-two years.
In 1801 Coleridge was residing at Greta Hall, close to Keswick, in Cumberland; he described to Southey the attractions of the locality: — "A fairer scene you have not seen in all your wanderings" (Southey had but recently returned from Portugal); and to that house, in 1805, Southey removed. There he dwelt all the remainder of his days; and in the neighbouring churchyard of Crosthwaite he is buried.
There were a few friends in the neighbourhood — many far off, with whom to correspond, with beautiful scenery, the wonderful works of God in rich abundance all about him, and a library full of the books he loved — all his own!
In 1813, by the death of Pye, the Laureateship became vacant, and the appointment was conferred upon Southey, having been, however, previously offered to, and declined by, Walter Scott; and, for the first time, the office, instead of conferring dignity, received it from the holder. Southey's successors have been Wordsworth and Tennyson.
It is needless to give, even in outline, a history of the full life of Southey: its main facts are well known; yet some notes I may offer in prefacing my slight personal Memory of the great and good man. His first work, the drama of "Wat Tyler," written when he was a mere youth, haunted by visions of imaginary Freedom, has been, for more than half a century, a subject of irrational censure; and because he repented him of the evil, he has been branded as a traitor and renegade by men who were utterly incapable of comprehending the change that time and reason — and surely it is not too much to say Providence — had wrought in the mind and heart of the poet. To call Southey a renegade is tantamount to calling the Apostle Paul an apostate.
Byron had "a sort of insane and rabid hatred" of Southey; but the Laureate was an over-match for the chief "of the Satanic school." He "sent a stone from his sling that smote the Goliath in the forehead." When in 1817, in the House of Commons, William Smith, of Norwich, branded "Wat Tyler" as "the most seditious book that ever was written," and its author as a "renegado," Southey addressed to him a letter, explaining that the obnoxious poem had been written twenty-three years previously to 1817; that a copy of it had been surreptitiously obtained, and made public by some skulking scoundrel, who had found a bookseller to issue it without the writer's knowledge, for the avowed purpose of insulting him, and with the hope of doing him injury; that it was "a boyish composition," "full of errors," and "mischievous," written under the influence of opinions long since outgrown and repeatedly disclaimed; that the writer had claimed the book only that it might be suppressed."
The "reply" to William Smith was scathing: it is, perhaps, as grand a defence as the English language can supply — stern, fierce, and desperately bitter, yet manly, dignified, and thoroughly TRUE. There was self-gratulation, but no self-glorification, in his reference to "Wat Tyler," — "Happy are they who have no worse sins of their youth to rise up in judgment against them," — and when he says of himself, "He has not ceased to love Liberty with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his strength." It was with a pride not only justifiable, but holy, that in this famous letter he said, in future biographies of him it will be recorded that "he lived in the bosom of his family, in absolute retirement; that in all his writings there breathed the same abhorrence of oppression and immorality, the same spirit of devotion, and the same ardent wishes for the amelioration of mankind; ... that in an age of personality he abstained from satire."
His biographers may say much more than that. Although there is abundant evidence of his sacrifices to serve or comfort young aspirants for fame, to draw upwards and onwards struggling men of letters who needed help, there is not a tittle of proof — there could not be, for it does not exist — of his ever having written a line to discourage deserving. [In a letter to Bernard Barton, Southey, referring to his connection with the Quarterly Review, makes note of "the abuse and calumny he had to endure for opinions he did not hold and articles he had not written."] Now that every review he ever wrote is known, they may be read to obtain only conviction that he was generous as well as just, merciful as well as wise, whenever a work came under his hands as a reviewer. "As a writer" (I quote from Coleridge, who knew him so well) "he has uniformly made his talents subservient to the best interests of humanity, of public virtue, and domestic piety. His cause has ever been the cause of pure religion and of liberty, of national independence and national illumination."
These are, among others, the subjects on which he wrote — advocating religion, virtue, the cause of humanity, and the natural rights of man — at a time when envenomed slander was brawling to "cry him down" as a Tory, a Government hack, and a hired enemy of freedom:—
The diffusion of cheap literature of a healthy and harmless kind; the importance of a wholesome training for children in large towns; the wisdom of encouraging female emigration under a well-organised system; a better order of hospital nurses; the establishment of savings-banks throughout the country; the abolition of flogging in the army and navy; extensive alterations in the Game Laws; arguments for greatly diminishing the punishment of death; regulations for lessening the hours of labour of children in factories; the policy of discontinuing interments in crowded cities and towns; the employment of paupers in cultivating waste lands; proposals for increasing facilities for educating the people; the wise humanity of Magdalen institutions; against a Puritanical observance of the Sabbath; advocating judicious alterations in the Liturgy.
In short, there is hardly a theme of rational reform of which he was not the zealous and eloquent advocate.
These lines were written by Southey in the year 1813, long after he had become, by God's mercy, "a renegade:"
Train up thy children, England, in the ways
Of righteousness, and feed them with the bread
Of wholesome doctrine. Where hast thou thy mines
But in their industry?
Thy bulwarks where, but in their breasts?
Thy might but in their arms?
Shall not their numbers, therefore, be thy wealth,
Thy strength, thy power, thy safety, and thy pride?
Oh grief, then, grief and shame,
If in this flourishing land
There should be dwellings where the new-born babe
Doth bring into its parent's soul no joy,
Where squalid poverty
Receives it at its birth,
And on her withered knees
Gives it the scanty food of discontent.
It was Southey who edited the first collected edition of the poems of Chatterton (published 1802), by which the sister and niece of the unhappy boy obtained £300, that "rescued them from great poverty." It was he, too, who, when reviewers were hard upon Henry Kirke White, reached out a hand to him struggling amid troubled waters, editing his poems, and consecrating his memory after his death. For Herbert Knowles, who had written a poem "brimful of power and of promise," he "wanted to raise (and did raise) £30 a year," of which "he would himself give £10," to send him as a sizar to Oxford. Like unhappy White, however, who died while "life was in its prime," Knowles enjoyed the aid but a short time: "the lamp was consumed by the fire that burned in it." So far back as 1809 he wrote encouragement to Ebenezer Elliott, saying, "Go on, and you will prosper." The footman, "honest John Jones," and the milkmaid, Mary Colling, were not too humble or insignificant for his helping praise. Both had that which Peers coveted at his hand in vain — laudatory reviews in the Quarterly Review; and of the poems of each he was the "editor," to the profit as well as honour of both. When he dipped his pen in gall — for, as he somewhere says, he was not in the habit of diluting his ink — it was to assail those he considered equally the foes of God and man. The impetus may be found in the following passage from one of his "Letters concerning Lord Byron:"—
"The publication of a lascivious book is one of the worst offences that can be committed against the well-being of society. It is a sin to the consequences of which no limits can be assigned; and those consequences no after repentance in the writer can counteract. Whatever remorse of conscience he may feel when his hour conies (and come it must) will be of no avail. The poignancy of a death-bed repentance cannot cancel one copy of the thousands that are sent abroad; and so long as it continues to be read, so long is he the pander of posterity, and so long is he heaping up guilt upon his soul in perpetual accumulation."
Yes, a very large portion of his busy, active, and hard-working life was devoted to the cause of benevolence — the whole of it to the advancement of his kind in knowledge, virtue, loyalty, and piety. It was indeed a hard-working life; yet so regular, so methodic, so "systematised," that when one reviews his habits, one ceases to wonder at the quantity of labour he "got through."
It was to this regularity the world is mainly indebted for the rich and abundant legacy he bequeathed to posterity. "Every day, every hour, had its allotted employment;" his son tells us, and he himself describes, the even tenor of his way from early morn till night. He was "by profession a man of letters;" and though he found ample leisure for home duties, for the domestic charities that dignify and sweeten life, he had none for what is usually called pleasure. He dared not be idle; for continual and arduous labour only could bring to that home the comforts and small luxuries there were so many to share; not alone of his own immediate family, but of near and dear relatives, whose dependence was chiefly, in some cases solely, upon the fruits of his toil.
"My notions of competence," he writes, "do not exceed £300 a year." Earlier than that, in 1808, we find him rejoicing that "the £200 a year which is necessary for my expenditure is within my reach." In that year, writing to Cottle, he says: "The very money with which I bought my wedding-ring and paid my marriage fees was supplied by you;" and he adds, "There lives not the man upon earth whom I remember with more gratitude, or more affection."
The income he derived from his post of Poet-Laureate he devoted to effect an insurance on his life. Indeed, at no period of his career was his income so large as that of a first-class banker's clerk; yet he was often described as "rich," and once, at least, as "rolling in riches unworthily obtained." He was a spendthrift only in books — the tools without which he could do no work: among them he lived. De Quincey calls his library "his wife:" it was, at all events, there his time was spent. "They are on actual service," he writes. They were books, not for show, but for use; acquired by degrees, as his means enabled him to procure them: gradually they multiplied until they numbered 14,000 volumes. With them he dwelt, "living in the past," and "conversing with the dead." In one of his Colloquies he gives a few interesting notes as to the sources from which some of them came: from monasteries and colleges that had been ransacked, many; from the old book-stalls, where he haunted, others; while some were the welcome gifts of cherished friends. Again they have been dispersed; but they had done their work. "Wherever they go," he writes, "there is not one among them that will ever be more comfortably lodged, or more highly prized by its possessor." Yes, they had done their work; the proof is this: he published nearly one hundred volumes, original and edited, and upwards of two hundred articles contributed to the Quarterly and other reviews. He had, as one of his friends writes, "enjoyment in all books whatsoever that were not morally tainted or absolutely barren." He read with amazing rapidity, and saw at a glance over a page where was the grain and where the chaff.
"Here," he exclaims, "I possess those gathered treasures of time, the harvest of so many generations, laid up in my garners; and when I go to the windows, there is the lake, and there the circle of the mountains, and the illimitable sky!"
The pure and lofty — nay, the "holy" character of Southey may be judged from his works; but if other testimony be needed, there is ample — not alone from friends, but from foes. "In all the relations and charities of private life," writes Hazlitt, who was in many ways his adversary, "he is correct, exemplary, generous, just." William Howitt — who by no means takes a generous view of his works, their motives and their uses — deposes to his "many virtues and the peculiar amiability of his domestic life." Lamb, after his unmeaning quarrel with him, is made happy by the tenderness with which the high-souled Laureate sought reconciliation; the essayist writing, "Think of me as of a dog that went mad and bit you." The political bias of Thackeray was the opposite to that of Southey; yet this is the testimony of the author of "The Four Georges" to the Poet Laureate of George IV.: — "An English worthy; doing his duty for fifty noble years of labour; day by day storing up learning; day by day working for scant wages; most charitable out of his small means; bravely faithful to the calling he had chosen; refusing to turn from his path for popular praise or prince's favour. I hope his life will not be forgotten, for it is sublime in its simplicity, its energy, its honour, its affection."
I offer no comments on either the poetry or prose of Southey; I assume both to be sufficiently known to my readers. Indeed, generally in these "Memories" I adopt that plan. Others have shown, and others may yet show, the purity of his style. No author, living or dead, drank more exclusively from "the pure well of English undefiled," and no student of "English" can drink from a better source than the writings of Southey.
I may, however, quote this passage from a letter written to me by Walter Savage Landor:—
"Of late years the prose of Southey has been preferred to his poetry. It rarely happens that there is a preference without a disparagement. No poet in the present or the past century has written three such poems as 'Thalaba,' 'Kehama,' and 'Roderick.' Others have more excelled in DELINEATING what they find before them in life, but none have given such proofs of extraordinary power in CREATING. He has been called diffuse, because there is a spaciousness and amplitude about his poetry, as if concentration was the highest quality of a writer. He lays all his thoughts before us, but they never rush forth tumultuously. He excels in unity of design and congruity of character; and never did poet more adequately express heroic fortitude and generous affection. He has not, however, limited his pen to grand paintings of epic character. Among his shorter productions will be found some light and graceful sketches, full of beauty and feeling, and not the less valuable because they invariably aim at promoting virtue."
That he had many and bitter foes is certain. No doubt they disturbed him much; but "the conscience void of offence" justified his repeated declaration that they took little from his peace and happiness, and affected him no more than a pebble could a stone wall. It is, I think, Coleridge who says, "Future critics will have to record that quacks in education, quacks in politics, and quacks in criticism were his only enemies."
I quote his own lines:—
We soon live down
Evil or good report, when undeserved.
The earliest testimony to his moral and intellectual worth is that of the publisher Cottle; yet this of Coleridge may have been even earlier: — "It is Southey's almost unexampled felicity to possess the best gifts of talents and genius free from all their characteristic defects." He deposes also to the poet's matchless industry and perseverance in his pursuits, and the worthiness and dignity of those pursuits; to the methodical tenor of his daily labours, which might be envied even by the mere man of business; the dignified simplicity of his manners; the spring and healthful cheerfulness of his spirits. As "son, brother, husband, father, master, friend, he moves with firm, yet light steps, alike unostentatious and alike exemplary;" and in one of his letters to Southey of a later date he writes, — "God knows my heart. I am delighted to feel you as superior to me in genius as in virtue."
I might quote such testimonies in abundance, but another will suffice. It is that of one who knew him as intimately, and had studied him as closely, as his friend Coleridge — the poet Wordsworth. These lines, written after Southey's death, are inscribed on his monument:—
Whether he traced historic truth, with zeal
For the State's guidance, or she Church's weal,
Or Fancy, disciplined by studious art,
Informed his pen, or wisdom of the heart,
Or judgment sanctioned in the Patriot's mind
By reverence for the rights of all mankind,
Wide were his aims, yet in no human breast
Could private feelings meet for holier rest.
I may add, perhaps, that of one other dear friend and true lover — the author of "Philip Van Artevelde:"—
That heart, the simplest, gentlest, kindliest, best,
Where truth and manly tenderness are met,
With faith and heavenward hope, the suns that never set.
The earliest description of his person is that of his friend, the Bristol publisher, Cottle. The youth, as he pictures him, was "tall, dignified, an eye piercing; a countenance full of genius, kindliness, and innocence; possessing great suavity of manners." His height was five feet eleven inches. "His forehead was very broad; his complexion rather dark; the eyebrows large and arched; the eye well shaped, and dark brown; the mouth somewhat prominent, muscular, and very variously expressive; the chin small in proportion to the upper features of the face." So writes his son, who adds that "many thought him a handsomer man in age than in youth," when his hair had become white, continuing abundant, and flowing in thick curls over his brow. Byron, who saw him but twice, — once at Holland House, and once at one of Rogers's breakfasts, — said, "To have that man's head and shoulders, I would almost have written his sapphics." That was in 1813, when Southey was in his prime. Hazlitt thus pictures him: — "Southey, as I remember him, had a hectic flush upon his cheek, a roving fire in his eye, a falcon glance, a look at once aspiring and dejected." Other authors write of him in similar terms — all describing him as of refined yet manly beauty of person.
To his habits I have made some reference. Cottle says of him when a youth, — "His regular habits scarcely rendered it a virtue in him never to fail in an engagement" Thus wrote De Quincey long afterwards: — "So prudently regular was Southey in all his habits, that all letters were answered in the evening of the day that brought them." "Study," Hazlitt says, "serves him for business, exercise, recreation." Not quite so, for he was a good walker, "walking twenty miles at a stretch." It was thus he made acquaintance not only with the mountains and lakes, but with the hills, and dales, and crags, and streams of the wild district in which he dwelt. He did not often, as Wordsworth did, sound their praises in verse, but he had as full a capacity for enjoying the beauties of nature — the more so because he ever looked from nature up to nature's God.
His manner seemed to me to be peculiarly gentle. William Hazlitt has complained that "there was an air of condescension in his civility." To him, perhaps, there was, for he neither respected the writer nor liked the man; but De Quincey also writes, — "There was an air of reserve and distance about him — the reserve of a lofty, self-respecting mind — perhaps a little too freezing, in his treatment of all persons who were not amongst the corps of his ancient fireside friends." But he adds, "For honour the most delicate, for integrity the firmest, and for generosity within the limits of prudence, Southey cannot well have a superior." He writes also "of his health so regular, and cheerfulness so uniformly serene;" and adds that "his golden equanimity was bound up in a threefold chain — in a conscience clear of offence, in the recurring enjoyments from his honourable industry, and in the gratification of his parental affections."
Southey was "constitutionally cheerful, and therefore hopeful." In a letter to James Montgomery he thus writes: — "Oh that I could impart to you a portion of that animal cheerfulness which I would not exchange for the richest earthly inheritance! For me, when those whom I love cause me no sad anxiety, the skylark on a summer morning is not more joyous than I am; and if I had wings on my shoulders, I should be up with him in the sunshine carolling for pure joy."
A cheerful life is what the Muses love,
A soaring spirit is their prune delight.
His religion was practical. In his calm solitude, amid a quiet and contented peasantry, few cases of grief and misery came in his way, and he was ever too busy a man to seek them; but there were many pensioners on his small income; some who had rights, others who had none. This is one of his very few references to the subject: — "It is my fate to have more claimants upon me than usually fall to the share of a man who has a family of his own." Only once in his life was he able to say he had a year's sufficient income "in advance." Yet he writes, "On the whole, few men have had more reason to be thankful for blessings enjoyed."
Although he said of himself—
Thus, in the ages which are past I live,
And those which are to come my sure reward will give—
anticipated honours were not the only ones he enjoyed, albeit he was so wise as uniformly to decline the political and social distinctions that were offered him. In 1826, during his absence in Holland, he was elected member for the borough of Downton by the influence of Lord Radnor; that honour he declined, as consistent neither with his circumstances, inclinations, habits, nor pursuits in life. Moreover, the return was null, inasmuch as he held a pension of £200 a year "during pleasure," and was without a "qualification." The latter objection would have been removed by a subscription of admirers and friends to purchase for him the requisite "estate;" but other objections retained their force. Robert Southey, therefore, continued to be "Robert Lackland," and a new writ was moved for.
In 1835 (the letter is dated February 1st) Sir Robert Peel communicated to Southey thus: — "I have advised the king to adorn the distinction of baronetage with a name the most eminent in literature, and which has claims to respect and honour that literature alone can never confer." And in a second letter Sir Robert alludes to the eminent services he had rendered not only to literature, but to the higher interests of virtue and religion.
That honour Southey also declined, having, however, first communicated with his son, and found the opinions and feelings of that son in entire harmony with his own. "I am writing," he said, "for a livelihood, and a livelihood is all I have gained." Incessant work "enabled him to live respectably, nothing more:" "without his pension," he says, "it would not have done even that."
Walter Scott, in a letter to Southey, entreats him to take warning and not overwork himself. How frequently is this counsel given, where only daily toil produces daily bread! Few worked harder than Scott, and none harder than Southey. To Southey, however, mental labour was an absolute necessity; a year of illness such as most men have to suffer during life would have inevitably brought that which most of all things terrified him — debt. Of course he "overworked" himself; of course we all do, whose incomes are precarious, determined not only by the fancy of the public, but by a score of circumstances, on any one of which depends life — the life of the "man of letters by profession." The caution, "Do not overwork yourself," to such men is something like the prescription of port wine daily to an artisan whose wages are twenty shillings a week.
The prime minister, however, had the happiness to augment his pension to £500 a year. That independence came somewhat late; it was the sunshine when the day was closing in, but it dispelled the clouds that otherwise would have darkened its decline. He had passed his sixtieth year, having known but one great sorrow, the loss of his darling son, Herbert:—
In whose life I lived, in whom I saw
My better part transmitted and improved.
The "common lot" had been his, but troubles were now gathering with age. In 1834 his beloved wife was placed in a lunatic asylum, in the vain hope that her restoration might be surer there than at home. It had pleased God to visit him with the "severest of all domestic afflictions, those alone excepted into which guilt enters." He seldom afterwards quitted the retirement in which he lived at Greta Hall.
In November, 1837, his wife, Edith Southey, died. It was, as he writes to his old friend Cottle, "a change from life to death, from death to life." "While she was with me I did not feel the weight of years; my heart continued young, and my spirits retained their youthful buoyancy." We have been married two-and-forty years, and a more affectionate and devoted wife no man was ever blessed with." "After two-and-forty years of marriage, no infant was ever more void of offence towards God and man. I never knew her to do an unkind act, nor say an unkind word." His wife was his "note-taker;" her pen had been his ever-ready help before her daughters grew up to aid him. She made extracts for him; and therefore he writes, in a letter after her death, — "She will continue to he my helpmate as long as I live and retain my senses."
Two years afterwards, when his threshold rarely echoed familiar footsteps, when his children and friends had gradually departed for homes on earth or homes in heaven, he resolved on marrying his very dear friend, Caroline Anne Bowles. They were married on the 5th of June, 1839, at Boldre Church, and he returned to Greta Hall with her in the August following.
She came to his home when it was all but desolate; when his vigour had declined; when he could no more take the long walks that gave him health and strength; when his mind was clouded, and when his days could be but few; when he was indeed "shaken at the root."
I knew Caroline Bowles before she became the wife of Southey. She had long passed the middle age, was not handsome, though with a very gentle manner and gracious countenance; a lovable, because a good, woman. Her books, though now seldom read, are not forgotten. She was worthy to be the companion, the friend, the wife, of Robert Southey. She has been silent as to his latter days; but it is certain, from the pious nature of her mind, that she led him onward towards the celestial city to which he was hastening.
"No sacrifice," writes one of the friends of Caroline Bowles (in a contribution to the Athenaeum), "could have been greater than the one she was induced to make. It can be placed beyond all doubt that she was fully prepared for the distressing calamity which impended over both .... She consented to unite herself to him, with a sure prevision of the awful condition of mind to which he would shortly be reduced, from the purest motive that could actuate a woman in forming such a connection — namely, the faint hope that her devotedness might enable her, if not to avert the catastrophe, to acquire at least a legal title to minister to the sufferer's comforts, and watch over the few sad years of existence that might remain to him."
That was indeed true heroism. Her high and holy purpose was accomplished; and we may be very sure she had her reward.
I have preserved a letter from Caroline Bowles to Mrs. Hall, dated July 2, 1830, which contains passages that may illustrate her character:—
"At present the little energy restored by partial restoration to health is all in requisition to answer claims of this 'work-a-day world' which may not be put off till a more convenient season; and then, I must confess, that when I can command my own time, and a gleam of sunshine is vouchsafed to us, I am more restless within walls than a squirrel in his cage, and grudge every moment not spent in the garden, or in a little open carriage, or on the back of a certain palfrey, Miniken yclept, whose diminutive proportions would just fit him for a charger to Queen Mab, and who seems to have as much taste for scrambling with me over hill, dale, and common, as if he was still roaming his native isle. Judge by this very uncalled-for history of my un-literary pursuits and rambling propensities whether I cannot sympathise with your longing for green fields and babbling brooks .... I might well expect to be forgotten, except by the few who love me for myself, and expect no return but of affection."
The "enemy" — so Death is wrongfully called — was creeping towards him. "His movements were slower; he was subject to frequent fits of absence; there was an indecision in his manner, and an unsteadiness in his step, wholly unusual to him." "He sometimes lost his way even in familiar places;" "in some of the last notes he wrote, the letters were formed like those of a child." "His mind," writes one of his friends, "was beautiful even in its debility;" the river was not turbulent as it joined the ocean. In 1840 Wordsworth describes a visit to his old friend of half a century: — "He did not recognise me till he was told. Then his eyes flashed for a moment with their former brightness, but he sank into the state in which I found him, patting with both hands his books affectionately like a child."
In the malady of his departed wife he had learned what a woeful thing it is
When the poor flesh surviving doth entomb
The reasonable soul;
and not long afterwards he was doomed himself to feel that terrible affliction.
It was a sad sight to see the aged and venerable man "shaken at the root," "irritable as he had never been before," "losing his way in well-known places," his form thin and shrunk, the fire gone from his eyes, or shining dimly as a light going out, and the bright intelligence fading from the still fine features; growing worse and worse, with brief intervals of consciousness, during which, with "placid languor," sometimes, apparently, torpor, he hopelessly and helplessly saw the shadow approach; still "mechanically" moving about his books, taking down one and then another, looking upon them with relics of old love, and mournfully murmuring as he put them by, — "Memory, memory, where art thou gone?"
So passed the last three or four years of his life, giving the clearest proof that he could do nothing, because nothing was done. There had been no sudden shock, no bodily ailment; the mind was simply worn out by the wear and tear of life — fifty years of labour, as "by profession a man of letters!"
On the 21st of March, 1843, he died, in the sixty-eighth year of his age, "in sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection."
On the 23rd of March, 1843, he was buried in the churchyard of Crosthwaite, where his wife Edith, four of his children, and several of his dear household, relatives and friends, had been, or have since been, laid. The tombstone contains their names, the dates of their births and deaths — no more. Here "the dead speak, and give admonition to the living." His funeral was private. Except the members of his family, there were but two strangers. A white-headed man, older by four years than the departed, walked over the mountains that gloomy and stormy day, to offer a last tribute of affection on his grave; it was the venerable poet, William Wordsworth, who leaned upon the arm of his son-in-law, Quillinan — a most estimable gentleman and true poet, who survived but a short time his illustrious father-in-law. It was told to me, by one who was present, that as the solemn words were uttered, "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," a ray of unlooked-for sunshine suddenly fell upon the grave; the rain ceased, the wind lulled, and, at the instant, two small birds sung from an adjacent tree. In a poem entitled "The Funeral of Southey," written by Mr. Quillinan, he notices this, which we may accept as a striking and most interesting fact:—
Heedless of the driving rain,
Fearless of the mourning train,
Perched upon the trembling stem,
They sung the Poet's requiem.
Posthumous honours were accorded to the poet. There is a bust in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey, and another in the cathedral of the city whose chiefest glory it is — or ought to be — that Bristol was his place of birth.
A simple slab marks where his ashes lie,
Fast by the church; while, from the sculptor's art,
Within the aisle his semblance meets the eye;
The marble sleeper makes the stranger start.
The monument in Crosthwaite Church is a fine and very beautiful achievement of sculptured art: a recumbent figure, in pure white marble, without a spot; and the sculptor, Lough, by a happy inspiration, has preserved, with singular fidelity, the features and expression of the poet, as he describes him in placid and tranquil sleep. On the base are inscribed the lines by Wordsworth I have elsewhere quoted. Two of his own might also be placed there: he
teacheth in his songs
The love of all things lovely, all things pure.
I have intimated that my personal memory of this great and good man, who was so "lovely in his life," is but limited. I knew him only in London, in 1830, when he was in the wane of life, yet not older than fifty-six; even then he had been forty years, or very nearly so, an author — living "laborious days" from his youth upwards. I met him more than once at the house of Allan Cunningham, whom he cordially greets in one of his poems,—
Allan, true child of Scotland, thou who art
So oft in spirit on thy native hills.
Though I can add nothing of worth to the portrait I have given, I may recall him as he appeared to me. He was the very beau ideal of a poet — singularly impressive, tall, somewhat slight, slow in his movements, and very dignified in manner, with the eye of a hawk, and with sharp features and an aquiline nose, that carried the similitude somewhat further. His forehead was broad and high, his eyebrows dark, his hair profuse and long, rapidly approaching white. I can see vividly, even now, his graceful and winning smile. To the commonest observer he was obviously a man who had lived more with books than men, whose converse had chiefly been with "the mighty minds of old," whose "days," whose "thoughts," whose "hopes," were, as he tells us they were, "with the dead."
In the few and brief conversations I had with him, he impressed me — as, indeed, he did every person who was, even for an hour, in his company — with the conviction that he elevated the profession of letters not only by knowledge acquired and distributed, not alone by the wisdom of his career and the integrity of his life, but by manners unassuming and unexacting, and by a condescending gentleness of demeanour that, if not humility in the common sense of the term, arose out of generous consideration and large charity.
Not long ago I made a pilgrimage to the house in which Southey lived, and to the grave in which he is buried. I had for my pleasant and profitable companion [to his graceful pencil I am chiefly indebted for the illustrations that accompany this Memory] the artist Jacob Thompson, who knew the poet, and knew also his neighbour, Wordsworth.
Greta Hall, for nearly half a century his residence — his "loophole of retreat" — stands on a slight elevation above the river Greta, and close to its confluence with the Derwent. From a picturesque bridge — Greta Bridge — a view of the house is obtained. It was originally two houses, converted by the poet into one. It consists of many rooms, all small, except what was the poet's library — his library in chief, that is to say, for every apartment was lined with books. "Books," writes Wordsworth, "were his passion:" — "Books were his passion, as wandering was mine;" and, he adds, circumstances might have made the one a Benedictine monk, in whose monastery was a library, and the other a pedlar, such as he describes his "Wanderer" to have been. Adjoining it is the chamber in which he died, or rather, in which his spirit was released from its earthly tabernacle, to companion the angels and pure spirits who had gone before, and to be with the Master he had long served. He there, to borrow a line from his friend Coleridge, "Found life in death."
A garden surrounds the house; there is a sloping lawn in front; and immediately facing the entrance are two "narrow-leaved" maple-trees, planted by the poet. Let us hope that no thoughtless or heedless hand will ever remove them.
Behind is a thick growth of shrubs and underwood, leading down to an embrasure of the river; along the bank is the Poet's Walk, at the end of which was a seat beneath an elm-tree, where he often sat looking across the stream upon the ruins of an ancient friary (now a barn) and the mountains of old Skiddaw and Blencathra.
In front of the house, however, the grandest view is obtained. It commands Derwentwater (the loveliest of all the English lakes: "I would not," writes Southey, "exchange Derwentwater for the Lake of Geneva"), on which look down the loftiest and the most picturesque of the mountains of Cumberland. From every one of the windows there is a glorious prospect. Within ken is the "gorgeous confusion of Borrowdale, just revealing its sublime chaos through the narrow vista of its gorge." There is bleak Skiddaw, with "its fine black head," that extorted a compliment even from London-loving Charles Lamb. There is Souter Fell, where ghosts have been seen in troops in the broad light of day. There is the Druids' Temple, little more than a mile from Keswick, at the foot of Saddleback, — old Blencathra, — near the entrance to St. John's Vale, the stones of which "no person can count with a like result as to number." There is Derwentwater, seen from so many points, with its traditions of the young lord who was "out in the fifteen," and died on a scaffold on Tower Hill. You may ascend the "Lady's Rake," up which his lady fled for shelter; and if you listen calmly, you may hear the distant fall of Lodore. From his window he saw, as he wrote, not only Derwent, "that under the hills reposed," but other views that were to him "perpetual benedictions." Thus he describes some of them:—
'Twas at that sober hour when the light of day is receding,
And from surrounding things the hues wherewith day has adorn'd them
Fade like the hopes of youth till the beauty of youth is departed:
Pensive, though not in thought, I stood at the window beholding
Mountain and lake and vale; the valley disrobed of its verdure;
Derwent retaining yet from eve a glassy reflection,
Where his expanded breast, then still and smooth as a mirror,
Under the woods reposed; the hills that, calm and majestic,
Lifted their heads into the silent sky, from far Glaramara,
Bleacrag, and Maidenmawr, to Griesdale and westernmost Wythrop;
Dark and distinct they rose. The clouds had gathered above them,
High in the middle air huge purple pillowy masses,
While in the west beyond was the last pale tint of the twilight,
Green as the stream in the glen, whose pore and chrysolite waters
Flow o'er a schistous bed, and serene as the age of the righteous.
Earth was hush'd and still: all motion and sound were suspended;
Neither man was heard, bird, beast, nor humming of insect—
Only the voice of the Greta, heard only when all is in stillness.
I borrow a description of the adjacent scenery from my valued friend William Howitt's excellent and interesting volumes — "Homes and Haunts of the most Eminent British Poets:"—
The situation of Southey's house, taking all into consideration, is exceeded by few in England. It is agreeably distant from the road and the little town, and stands in a fine open valley, surrounded by hills of the noblest and most diversified character. From your stand on the Greta Bridge, looking over the house, your eye falls on the group of mountains behind it. The lofty hill of Latrig lifts its steep green back, with its larch plantations clothing one edge, and scattered in groups over the other. Stretching away to the left, rise the still loftier range and gaunt masses of Skiddaw, with its intervening dells and ravines, and summits often lost in their canopy of shadowy clouds. Between the feet of Skiddaw and Greta Bridge lie pleasant knolls and fields, with scattered villas and cottages and Crosthwaite Church. On your right hand is the town, and behind it green swelling fields again, and the more distant inclosing chain of hills. If you then turn your back on the house and view the scene which is presented from the house, you find yourself in the presence of the river, hurrying away towards the assemblage of beautifully-varied mountains which encompass magnificently the Lake of Derwentwater."
Yes, Southey perhaps as fully as Wordsworth enjoyed the beautiful and glorious scenery of "the English lakes." The one wrote much concerning them; the other said little about them in verse; but who can doubt that they influenced the mind, heart, and soul of the one as fully as they did the mind, heart, and soul of the other?
The two poets, and others who were their associates in this locality, have added deep interest to the charms it derives from nature; and for all time the places they have commemorated will be "delights" to all visitors who dwell even for a day among the mountains and rivers, the hills and dells, of Westmoreland.
The walks that were familiar to the poet were in all directions; some at a distance from his home. He walked ever with his head raised, thrown back somewhat, looking upwards, and was rarely seen without a book in his hand. Of these walks, his favourite was to "The Friars' Crag," or Walk, — a promontory that overhangs Derwentwater, a short way from Keswick. It was of this spot he said, — "If I had Aladdin's lamp, or Fortunatus's purse, I would here build myself a house." The crag — which I have pictured — is said to have derived its name from the monks of Lindisfarn coming to it once a year to receive the blessing of St. Herbert. The view hence is very lovely. Close to the foot of the crag the rocks are washed by the waters of the lake, the whole expanse of which is seen, with its picturesque islands. On the right the eye takes in the sunny slopes of "the Catbells" — scarcely to be called mountains when compared with mighty Scafell in the distance — while beneath them lies the fairest of all the islands, the island dedicated to St. Herbert.
At the head of the lake, standing like a sentinel guarding the entrance to Borrowdale, is Castle Crag, and on its left lies the beautiful Fall of Lodore, immortalised by Southey in some quaint verses which are known to most readers:—
And dashing and flashing, and splashing and crashing,
* * * With a mighty uproar,
And this way the water ceases down at Lodore.
Lodore Waterfall is about three miles from Keswick, on the road to Borrowdale, between two towering cliffs: one on the left, Gowdar Crag; on the right, Shepherd's Crag. The perpendicular height through which the water descends is said to be 150 feet (the whole height of the fall is 360 feet). The crags on either side are covered with trees overhanging the water; the oak, ash, birch, holly, and even the wild rose, flourish in wanton luxuriance. The foaming cataract, as it bounds over the huge rocks, is to be seen more than three miles off. The fall runs into the lake, and the noise which it makes can be heard miles away. There is a pretty rustic bridge over it, and at its foot stands a little hotel, once an ancient hostelry, but now much enlarged to accommodate the many thousands that annually visit the place.
But the grand and glorious scenery of the Lakes may be adverted to more fitly when I recall to memory the great High Priest of Nature, Wordsworth.
An illustrative anecdote was told me by the sexton of Crosthwaite Church, who, however, had little to say of the poet, except that he seldom saw him smile. He met him often in his walks, but he seemed pensive, full of thought, and looked as if his life was elsewhere than on earth. The anecdote is this. Southey had a great dislike to be "looked at;" and although very regular in his attendance at church, he would stay away when he knew there were many tourists in the neighbourhood. One Sunday, two strangers who had a great desire to see the poet besought the sexton to point him out to them. The sexton, knowing that this must be done secretly, said, "I will take you up the aisle, and, in passing, touch the pew in which he sits." He did so, and no doubt the strangers had "a good stare." A few days after, the sexton met Southey in the street of Keswick. The poet looked somewhat sternly at him, said, "Don't do it again," and passed on, leaving the conscience-stricken sexton to ponder over the "crime" in which he had been detected by the poet.
The graveyard of Crosthwaite is a lonely graveyard, in the midst of mountains, commanding an open view of Derwentwater, on which the mountains Blencathra and Skiddaw look down. There are few human dwellings near at hand, and even those are being hidden by intervening trees. The church is very ancient — more than seven centuries have passed since its foundations were laid: it was not long ago thoroughly restored by a liberal "neighbour."
In 1816, Southey, in describing the churchyard, which thirty years afterwards was to be his resting-place, writes: — "The churchyard is as open to the eye and to the breath of heaven as if it were a Druids' place of meeting." A wall has since been placed, but it is looked over, — upon the lake and on the mountains, the everlasting hills" of which he somewhere speaks.
And in that calm and isolated graveyard lie the mortal remains of Robert Southey,—
He who sung
Of Thalaba the wild and wondrous song;
he who, in so many ways, inculcated the wisdom of Virtue. If his prophecy of himself has not been as yet altogether fulfilled—
And those which are to come my sore reward will give,
at least it is certain that he has received the justice he looked for, and knew to be his right.