LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
[Leigh Hunt]
Dr. Southey and Lord Byron.
The Examiner  No. 881  (19 December 1824)  802.
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH


No. 881. SUNDAY, DEC. 19, 1824.


Robert Southey, Mr. Southey and Lord Byron

The Poet Laureate has published a letter in the Courier, in which he contradicts several assertions said by Captain Medwin to have been made by Lord Byron. Dr. Southey denies that he wrote the critique on Foliage in the Quarterly, though he decidedly approves the composition—“the charge of scattering dark and devilish insinuations,” he says, “is one which, if Lord Byron were now living, he would throw back in his teeth;”—and the observation made by his Lordship respecting the Republican Trio (Southey and others) who once, it is said, contemplated retiring in common,—the Doctor boldly denounces as an “atrocious falsehood.”;

Robert Southey, Mr. Southey and Lord Byron

In the course of his offensive and defensive letter, the Laureate thinks proper to charge one of the most upright of men, the late Mr. Shelley, with meanness, and wilful falsehood, merely because that he (Southey) had been informed that Mr. Shelley had attributed the critique in the Quarterly on the ill-treated Keats to the pen of the Poet Laureate. Now Mr. Shelley never said any such thing, and some “kind friend,” we suppose, must have thought (as the Globe and Traveller observes) he recognized the Laureate under the title of “the foremost of literary prostitutes;” though Shelley, we have no doubt, never applied, or meant that others should apply, the name to him. If his anger had not got the better of his judgment, Southey would have waited till he saw the “Elegy,” and thus avoided this unhappy exposure of the light in which some of his friends used to regard him.”

Blackwood's Magazine, Southey and Byron

But the conclusion of the Laureate’s letter is beyond description characteristic. Dr. Southey is one of those “good people” who so unceasingly recommend to others the practice of humility, forbearance, and “all the Christian virtues;” yet mark the way in which he shows that he belongs to that body of religionists,—(where do they dwell?)—who always return good for evil—who, when reviled, revile not again—and who never forget to turn the left cheek when the right has been cruelly smitten.

Robert Southey, Mr. Southey and Lord Byron

“Here I dismiss the subject. It might have been thought that Lord Byron had attained the last degree of disgrace when his head was set up for a sign at one of those preparatory schools for the brothel and the gallows; where obscenity, sedition, and blasphemy, are retailed in drams for the vulgar. There remained one further shame: there remained this exposure of his Private Conversations, which has compelled his Lordship’s friends, in their own defence, to compare his oral declarations with his written words, and thereby demonstrate that he was as regardless of truth as he was incapable of sustaining those feelings suited to his birth, station, and high endowments, which sometimes came across his better mind.

Keswick, Dec. 8, 1824. Robert Southey.

Editor of the Globe and Traveller

Upon this “meek and lowly” passage, the Globe and Traveller thus pleasantly observes:—“What preparatory school this is, we have not knowledge enough of such places to say; but we must remonstrate against a political injustice of a tendency so injurious to the character of all illustrious personages. Somebody, it seems, has set up Lord Byron’s Head over a gin-shop with which the Laureate is acquainted, and the Bard makes his defunct Satirist answerable for every enormity which is committed under the sign! Would Mr. Southey think it just to be made answerable for the vice of gambling, if any one had set his likeness upon the Knave of Spades? or would he deem it loyal to say of that gracious Sovereign from whom he receives his annual sack-but, ‘I should have thought it a sufficient disgrace to the Monarch of the first empire of the world, to have his Head set up as a sign over houses adapted for the consumption of gin, and the furtherance of profane swearing and even for worse purposes?”

Thomas Barnes, Mr. Southey and Lord Byron

Quoting the same rancorous sentence, the Times asks, “Is this the language of a rational or a decent man? Surely the author, however now inflamed by hatred, or raving with malignant jealousy, must—if he shall ever hereafter come to have one calm moment, when the name or person of Byron crosses his mind, we say, blush that he has so written respecting him.”

No; it is not the language of a rational, or decent man; but rather that of an unfeeling, irascible and vindictive Apostate! The Laureate may be assured that these are not the
“Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not;”
for they disgust the ears of all benevolent hearers and inflict an irreparable wound on the character of the degraded utterer.