1796
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

On my own miniature Picture, taken at Two Years of Age.

Poems, by Robert Southey. [Vol. 1]

Robert Southey


Written in 1796: calling upon the spirit of Spenser, Robert Southey describes his vocation as poet: "Ill-judging ones! they let thy little feet | Stray in the pleasant paths of POESY ... | Loitering beneath the laurel's barren shade. | SPIRIT OF SPENSER! was the wanderer wrong?" The final four lines were omitted in later editions. Not seen.

Charles Lamb to Samuel Taylor Coleridge: "In your notice of Southey's new volume you omit to mention the most pleasing of all, the Miniature, 'There were Who form'd high hopes and flattering ones of thee, Young Robert. Spirit of Spenser!' — was the wanderer wrong?'" 5 February 1797; in Thomas Noon Talfourd, Literary Sketches and Letters ... of Charles Lamb (1849) 53.

Robert Southey to William Taylor of Norwich: "Eight years ago I thought of continuing the [English] Metamorphoses [by Chatterton], and soon after actually planned six books to complete the Faery Queen, and wrote three cantos; the cantos I burnt, but the plans, I believe, still exist" 12 March 1799; in Robberds, Memoir of William Taylor (1843) 1:262.

Joseph Cottle, who published this and all Southey's earlier volumes, recalls his first meeting with the poet in Bristol: "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 I gave him at once the right hand of fellowship, and to the moment of his decease, that cordiality was never withdrawn.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" Reminiscences (1847) 4.

Anne Grant: "I like him exceedingly; he has the finest poetical countenance, features unusually high, and somewhat strong though regular; a quantity of bushy black hair, worn carelessly, but not with affected negligence; deep-set, but very animated black eyes, and a countenance serious and collected, but kindling into ardour when animated in conversation. I have heard Southey called silent and restrained; I did not find him so; he talked easily and much, without seeming in the least consequential or saying a single word for effect. On the contrary, he converses with the feeling and earnestness of one who speaks to relieve a full mind" Letters; in Russell Book of Authors (1860) 397.



And I was like this! that glowing cheek
Was mine, those pleasure-sparkling eyes, that brow
Smooth as the level lake, when not a breeze
Dies o'er the sleeping surface! twenty years
Have wrought strange alteration! Of the friends
Who once so dearly prized this miniature,
And loved it for its likeness, some are gone
To their last home; and some, estranged in heart,
Beholding me, with quick-averted glance
Pass on the other side! But still these hues
Remain unalter'd, and these features wear
The look of Infancy and Innocence.
I search myself in vain, and find no trace
Of what I was: those lightly-arching lines
Dark and o'erhanging now; and that mild face
Settled in those strong lineaments! — There were
Who form'd high hopes and flattering ones of thee,
Young Robert! for thine eye was quick to speak
Each opening feeling: should they not have known,
If the rich rainbow on a morning cloud
Reflects its radiant dies, the husbandman
Beholds the ominous glory, and foresees
Impending storms? they augur'd happily,
For thou didst love each wild and wonderous tale
Of faery fiction, and thine infant tongue
Lisp'd with delight the godlike deeds of Greece
And rising Rome; therefore they deem'd forsooth
That thou shouldst tread PREFERMENT's pleasant path.
Ill-judging ones! they let thy little feet
Stray in the pleasant paths of POESY,
And when thou shouldst have prest amid the crowd,
There didst thou love to linger out the day,
Loitering beneath the laurel's barren shade.
SPIRIT OF SPENSER! was the wanderer wrong?
This little picture was for ornament
Design'd, to shine amid the motley mob
Of Fashion and of Folly, — is it not
More honour'd by this solitary song?

[Works (1837) 2:229-30]