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The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey
Early Life: XI

Vol. I Contents
Early Life: I
Early Life: II
Early Life: III
Early Life: IV
Early Life: V
Early Life: VI
Early Life: VII
Early Life: VIII
Early Life: IX
Early Life: X
‣ Early Life: XI
Early Life: XII
Early Life: XIII
Early Life: XIV
Early Life: XV
Early Life: XVI
Early Life: XVII
Ch. I. 1791-93
Ch. II. 1794
Ch. III. 1794-95
Ch. IV. 1796
Ch. V. 1797
Vol. II Contents
Ch. VI. 1799-1800
Ch. VII. 1800-1801
Ch. VIII. 1801
Ch. IX. 1802-03
Ch. X. 1804
Ch. XI. 1804-1805
Vol. III Contents
Ch. XII. 1806
Ch. XIII. 1807
Ch. XIV. 1808
Ch. XV. 1809
Ch. XVI. 1810-1811
Ch. XVII. 1812
Vol. IV Contents
Ch. XVIII. 1813
Ch. XIX. 1814-1815
Ch. XX. 1815-1816
Ch. XXI. 1816
Ch. XXII. 1817
Ch. XXIII. 1818
Ch. XXIV. 1818-1819
Vol. IV Appendix
Vol. V Contents
Ch. XXV. 1820-1821
Ch. XXVI. 1821
Ch. XXVII. 1822-1823
Ch. XXVIII. 1824-1825
Ch. XXIX. 1825-1826
Ch. XXX. 1826-1827
Ch. XXXI. 1827-1828
Vol. V Appendix
Vol. VI Contents
Ch. XXXII. 1829
Ch. XXXIII. 1830
Ch. XXXIV. 1830-1831
Ch. XXXV. 1832-1834
Ch. XXXVI. 1834-1836
Ch. XXXVII. 1836-1837
Ch. XXXVIII. 1837-1843
Vol. VI Appendix
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Letter XI.
January 19th, 1823.

My home, for the first two years while I went to Williams’s school, was at my father’s, except that during the holydays I was with Miss Tyler, either when she had lodgings at Bath, or was visiting Miss Palmer there. The first summer holydays I passed with her at Weymouth, whither she was invited to join her friend Mrs. Dolignon.


This lady, whom I remember with the utmost reverence and affection, was a widow with two children, Louisa, who was three or four years older than me, and John, who was just my age. Her maiden name was Delamare, she and her husband being both of refugee race,—an extraction of which I should be far more proud than if my family name were to be found in the Roll of Battle Abbey. I have heard that Mr. Dolignon, in some delirium, died by his own hand, and this perhaps may have broken her spirits, and given a subdued and somewhat pensive manner to one who was naturally among the gentlest, meekest, kindest of human beings. I shall often have to speak of her in these letters. She had known me at Bath in my earliest childhood; I had the good fortune then to obtain a place in her affections, and that place I retained, even when she thought it necessary to estrange me from her family.

Landor, who paints always with the finest touch of truth, whether he is describing external or internal nature, makes his Charoba disappointed at the first sight of the sea:
“She coldly said, her long-lashed eyes abased,
‘Is this the mighty ocean?—Is this all?’”
and this he designs as characteristic of a “soul discontented with capacity.” When I went on deck in the Corunna packet the first morning, and for the first time found myself out of sight of land, the first feeling was certainly one of disappointment as well as surprise, at seeing myself in the centre of so small a circle. But the impression which the sea made
upon me when I first saw it at Weymouth was very different; probably because not having, like Charoba, thought of its immensity, I was at once made sensible of it. The sea seen from the shore is still to me the most impressive of all objects, except the starry heavens; and if I could live over any hours of my boyhood again, it should be those which I then spent upon the beach at Weymouth. One delightful day we passed at Portland, and another at Abbotsbury, where one of the few heronries in this kingdom was then existing, and perhaps still may be. There was another at Penshurst, and I have never seen a third. I wondered at nothing so much as the Chesil Bank which connects Portland, like the Firm Island of
Amadis, with the mainland, the shingles whereof it is formed gradually diminishing in size from one end to the other, till it becomes a sand-bank. The spot which I recollect with most distinctness is the churchyard of an old church in the island, which, from its neglected state and its situation near the cliffs, above all, perhaps, because so many shipwrecked bodies were interred there, impressed me deeply and durably.

The first book which I ever possessed beyond the size of Mr. Newberry’s gilt regiment, was given me soon after this visit by Mrs. Dolignon. It was Hoole’s translation of the Gerusalemme Liberata. She had heard me speak of it with a delight and interest above my years. My curiosity to read the poem had been strongly excited by the stories of Olendo and Sophronia, and of the Enchanted Forest as versified by Mrs. Rowe. I read them in the volume of her Letters, and despaired at the time of ever reading
more of the poem till I should be a man, from a whimsical notion that as the subject related to Jerusalem, the original must be in Hebrew. No one in my father’s house could set me right upon this point; but going one day with my mother into a shop, one side of which was fitted up with a circulating library, containing not more than three or four hundred volumes, almost all novels, I there laid my hand upon Hoole’s version, a little before my visit to Weymouth. The copy which Mrs. Dolignon sent me is now in my sight, upon the shelf, and in excellent preservation considering that when a school-boy I perused it so often that I had no small portion of it by heart. Forty years have tarnished the gilding upon its back; but they have not effaced my remembrance of the joy with which I received it, and the delight which I found in its repeated perusal.

During the years that I resided in Wine Street, I was upon a short allowance of books. My father read nothing except Felix Farley’s Bristol Journal. A small glass cupboard over the desk in the back parlour held his wine glasses and all his library. It consisted of the Spectator, three or four volumes of the Oxford Magazine, one of the Freeholder’s, and one of the Town and Country; these he had taken in during the Wilkes and Liberty epidemic. My brother Tom and I spoilt them by colouring, that is bedaubing, the prints; but I owe to them some knowledge of the political wit, warfare, and scandal of those days; and from one of them that excellent poem the Old Batchelor was cut out, which I reprinted in the Annual Anthology. The other books were
Pomfret’s Poems, The Death of Abel, Aaron Hill’s translation of Merope, with The Jealous Wife, and Edgar and Emmeline, in one volume; Julius Caesar, the Toy Shop, All for Love, and a Pamphlet upon the Quack Doctors of George II.’s days, in another; the Vestal Virgins, the Duke of Lerma, and the Indian Queen, in a third. To these my mother had added the Guardian, and the happy copy of Mrs. Rowe’s Letters which introduced me to Torquato Tasso.

The holidays made amends for this penury, and Bull’s Circulating Library was then to me what the Bodleian would be now. Hoole, in his notes, frequently referred to the Orlando Furioso. I saw some volumes thus lettered on Bull’s counter, and my heart leaped for joy. They proved to be the original; but the shopman, Mr. Cruett (a most obliging man he was), immediately put the translation into my hand, and I do not think any accession of fortune could now give me so much delight as I then derived from that vile version of Hoole’s. There, in the notes, I first saw the name of Spenser, and some stanzas of the Faery Queen. Accordingly, when I returned the last volume I asked if that work was in the library. My friend Cruett replied that they had it, but it was written in old English, and I should not be able to understand it. This did not appear to me so much a necessary consequence as he supposed, and I therefore requested he would let me look at it. It was the quarto edition of ’17, in three volumes, with large prints folded in the middle, equally worthless (like all the prints of that age) in design and execution. There was nothing in the
language to impede, for the ear set me right where the uncouth spelling (orthography it cannot be called) might have puzzled the eye; and the few words which are really obsolete, were sufficiently explained by the context. No young lady of the present generation falls to a new novel of
Sir Walter Scott’s with keener relish than I did that morning to the Faery Queen. If I had then been asked wherefore it gave me so much more pleasure than ever Ariosto had done, I could not have answered the question. I now know that it was very much owing to the magic of its verse; the contrast between the flat couplets of a rhymester like Hoole, and the fullest and finest of all stanzas written by one who was perfect master of his art. But this was not all. Ariosto too often plays with his subject; Spenser is always in earnest. The delicious landscapes which he luxuriates in describing, brought everything before my eyes. I could fancy such scenes as his lakes and forests, gardens and fountains presented; and I felt, though I did not understand, the truth and purity of his feelings, and that love of the beautiful and the good which pervades his poetry.

When Miss Tyler had lived about among her friends as long as it was convenient for them to entertain her, and longer in lodgings than was convenient for herself, she began to think of looking out for a house at Bristol; and, owing to some odd circumstances, I was the means of finding one which precisely suited her. Mrs. Wraxall, the widow of a lawyer, had heard, I know not how, that I was a promising boy, very much addicted to books, and
she sent to my mother requesting that I might drink tea with her one evening. The old lady was mad as a March hare after a religious fashion. Her behaviour to me was very kind; but as soon as tea was over, she bade me kneel down, and down she knelt herself, and prayed for me by the hour to my awful astonishment. When this was done she gave me a little book called Early Piety, and a coarse edition of the
Paradise Lost, and said she was going to leave Bristol. It struck me immediately that the house which she was about to quit was such a one as my aunt wanted. I said so; and Mrs. Wraxall immediately answered, “Tell her that if she likes it, she shall have the remainder of my lease.” The matter was settled in a few days, for this was an advantageous offer. The house at that time would have been cheap at 20l. a year, and there was an unexpired term of five years upon it at only 11l. This old lady was mother to Sir Nathaniel Wraxall, who had been bred up, and perhaps born, in that habitation. The owner was poor John Morgan’s father. Mr. Wraxall, many years before, had taken it at a low rent upon a repairing lease, and had expended a great deal of money upon it at a time when it was rather a rural than a suburban residence. The situation had been greatly worsened, but it was still in the skirts of the city, and out of reach of its noise.

It stood in the avenue leading from Maudlin Lane to Horfield Lane or Road. When the plan of Bristol for Barrett’s wretched history of that city was engraved, the buildings ended with Maudlin Lane, and all above was fields and gardens. That plan is
dated 1780, but must have been drawn at least ten years earlier, for it marks St. Leonard’s Church, which was pulled down in the beginning of 1771. The avenue is marked there by the name of Red Coat Lane; a mere lane it appears, running up between fields, and with a hedge on each side. It was now, however, known by the name of Terril Street. There were at the bottom four or five houses on the left hand, built like the commencement of a street, and these were there when the plan was taken. Where they ended the steeper ascent began; and some houses followed which, though contiguous, stood each in its little garden some thirty yards back from the street. There were five of these, and the situation was such that they must have been in good estimation before some speculator, instead of building a sixth, erected at right angles with them a row of five or six inferior dwellings. Above these was only a steep paved avenue between high walls, inaccessible for horses because of some flights of steps. The view was to a very large garden opposite, one of those which supplied the market with fruit and culinary vegetables.

The house upon which Miss Tyler now entered was small but cheerful; Sir Nathaniel would perhaps be ashamed to remember it, but to his father it had evidently been an object of pride and pleasure. As is usual in suburban gardens, he had made the most of the ground. Though no wider than the front of the house, there was a walk paved with lozenge-shaped stones from the gate, and two gravel walks. The side beds were allotted to currant and gooseberry
bushes; the others were flower beds, and there were two large apple trees and two smaller ones. In front of the house the pavement extended, under which was an immense cistern for rain-water, so large as to be absurd; it actually seemed fitter for a fort than for a small private family. The kitchen was underground. On one side the gate was a summer-house with a sort of cellar, and another cistern below it.

As soon as my aunt was settled here, she sent for her brother William, who, since his mother’s death, had been boarded at a substantial shopkeeper’s, in the little village of Worle, on the Channel, about twenty miles from Bristol. I look back upon his inoffensive and monotonous course of life with a compassion which I was then not capable of feeling. For one or two years he walked into the heart of the city every Wednesday and Saturday to be shaved, and to purchase his tobacco; he went, also, sometimes to the theatre, which he enjoyed highly. On no other occasion did he ever leave the house; and, as inaction, aided, no doubt, by the inordinate use of tobacco, and the quantity of small beer with which he swilled his inside, brought on a premature old age, even this exercise was left off. As soon as he rose, and had taken his first pint of beer, which was his only breakfast, to the summer-house he went, and took his station in the bow-window as regularly as a sentinel in a watch-box. Here it was his whole and sole employment to look at the few people who passed, and to watch the neighbours, with all whose concerns at last he became perfectly intimate, by what he could thus oversee and overhear. He had a nickname for
every one of them. In the evening, my aunt am generally played at five-card loo with him, in which he took an intense interest; and if, in the middle of the day, when I came home to dinner, he could get me to play at marbles in the summer-house, he was delighted. The points to which he looked on in the week were the two mornings when Joseph came to shave him; this poor journeyman barber felt a sort of compassionate regard for him, and he had an insatiable appetite for such news as the barber could communicate. Thus his days past in wearisome uniformity. He had no other amusement, unless in listening to hear a comedy read; he had not, in himself, a single resource for whiling away the time, not even that which smoking might have afforded him; and being thus utterly without an object for the present or the future, his thoughts were perpetually recurring to the past. His affections were strong and lasting. Indeed, at his mother’s funeral his emotions were such as to affect all who witnessed them. That grief he felt to the day of his death. I have also seen tears in his eyes when he spoke of my sisters, Eliza and Louisa, both having died just at that age when he had most delight in fondling them, and they were most willing to be fondled. Whether it might have been possible to have awakened him to any devotional feelings may be doubted; but he believed and trusted simply and implicitly, and more, assuredly, would not be required from one to whom so little had been given. He lived about four years after this removal. His brother Edward died a year before him, of pulmonary con-
sumption. This event affected him deeply. He attended the funeral, described the condition of the coffins in the family vault in a manner which I well remember, and said that his turn would be next. One day, on my return from school at the dinner-hour, going into the summer-house, I found him sitting in the middle of the room and looking wildly; he told me he had been very ill, that he had had a seizure in the head, such as he had never felt before, and that he was certain something very serious ailed him. I gave the alarm: but it passed over; neither he himself, nor any person in the house, knew what such a seizure indicated. The next morning he arose as usual, walked down stairs into the kitchen, and as he was buttoning the knees of his breeches, exclaimed, “Lord have mercy upon me!” and fell from the chair. His nose was bleeding when he was taken up. Immediate assistance was procured, but he was dead before it arrived. The stroke was mercifully sudden, but it had been preceded by a long and gradual diminution of vital strength; and I have never known any other case in which, when there were so few external appearances of disease or decay, the individual was so aware that his dissolution was approaching.

I often regret that my memory should have retained so few of the traditional tales and proverbial expressions which I heard from him, more certainly than from all other persons in the course of my life. Some of them have been lately recalled to my recollection by Grimm’s Collection. What little his mind was capable of receiving it had retained tenaciously,
and of these things it had a rich store. Upon his death
Miss Tyler became the sole survivor of her paternal race.