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The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey
Early Life: V

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 V.
March 20th, 1821.

The popular saint of the democratic cantons in Switzerland, St. Nicolas de Huë (to whom I paid my respects in his own church at Saxeln), remembered his own birth, knew his mother and the midwife as soon as he was born, and never forgot the way by which he was taken to be christened, nor the faces of the persons who were present at that ceremony. But he was an extraordinary child, who, though he neither danced nor sung nor preached before he was born (all which certain other saints are said to have done), had revelations in that state, and saw the light of Heaven before he came into the light of day. It has pleased the metaphysico-critico-politico-patriotico-phoolo-philosopher Jeremy Bentham to designate me, in one of his opaque works, by the appellation of St. Southey, for which I humbly thank his Jeremy
Benthamship, and have in part requited him. It would be very convenient if I had the same claim to this honour, on the score of miraculous memory, as the aforesaid Nicolas—but the twilight of my recollections does not begin till the third year of my age.*

However, though I did not, like him, know the midwife at the time when she had most to do with me, I knew her afterwards, for she brought all my brothers and sisters into the world. She was the wife of a superannuated Baptist preacher, who, as was formerly common for Baptist preachers to do, kept a shop, dealing in medicines and quackery among other things. Preachers of this grade have now nearly, or entirely disappeared; and even the Methodists will not allow their ministers to engage in any kind of trade. I mention this family, therefore, as belonging to a class which is now extinct. They were stiff Oliverians in their politics. The husband was always at his studies, which probably lay in old puritanical divinity; he was chiefly supported by his wife’s professional labours, and I well remember hearing him spoken of as a miserable morose tyrant. The only son of this poor woman lost his life by a singularly dismal accident, when he was grown up and doing well in

* My feelings were very acute; they used to amuse themselves by making me cry at sad songs and dismal stories. I remember “Death and the Lady,” “Billy Pringle’s Pig,” “The children sliding on the ice all on a summer’s day,” and Witherington fighting on his stumps at Chevy Chase. This was at two years old, when my recollection begins,—prior identity, I have none;—they tell me I used to beg them not to proceed. I know not whether our feelings are blunted or rendered more acute by action; in either case these pranks are wrong with children. I cannot now hear a melancholy tale in silence, but I have learnt to whistle.—Letter to G. C. Bedford, Esq., Sept. 30, 1796.

the world. Hastening one day to see his mother, upon the alarm of a sudden and dangerous illness which had seized her, he came to the draw-bridge on St. Augustine’s Back just as they were beginning to raise it for the passage of a vessel. In his eagerness he attempted to spring across, but not calculating upon the rise, he fell in, and the vessel past over him, inevitably, before any attempts to save him could be made. I used to cross the bridge almost every day for many years of my life; and the knowledge of his fate warned me from incurring the same danger, which otherwise in all likelihood, active as I then was, and always impatient of loss of time, I should very often have done.

It was my lot to be consigned to a foster-mother, a girl, or rather a young woman, who had been from childhood employed by my grandmother, first in the garden, then in household affairs, a poor, thoughtless, simple creature, who, however, proved a most affectionate nurse to me. The first day that I was taken to school she was almost heart-broken at the scene between me and the school-mistress,—a scene which no doubt appeared to me of the most tragical kind. Having ushered me into the room and delivered me into custody, she made a hasty retreat, but stood without the door, looking through a curtained window which gave light into the passage, and listening to what ensued. It was a place where I was sent to be out of the way for a few hours morning and evening, for I was hardly older than Cuthbert is at this time, and though quite capable of learning the alphabet, far too young to be put to it as a task, or made to compre-
hend the fitness of sitting still for so long a time together on pain of the rod. Upon this occasion, when for the first time in my life I saw nothing but strange faces about me, and no one to whom I could look for kindness or protection, I gave good proof of a sense of physiognomy which never misled me yet, of honesty in speaking my opinion, and of a temerity in doing it by which my after life has often been characterised. Ma’am Powell had as forbidding a face (I well remember it) as can easily be imagined: and it was remarkable for having no eyelashes, a peculiarity which I instantly perceived. When the old woman, therefore, led me to a seat on the form, I rebelled as manfully as a boy in his third year could do, crying out, “Take me to Pat! I don’t like ye! you’ve got ugly eyes! take me to Pat, I say!” Poor Pat went home with the story, and cried as bitterly in relating it as I had done during the unequal contest, and at the utter discomfiture to which I was fain to submit, when might, as it appeared to me, overpowered right.*

* Here I was at intervals till my sixth year, and formed a delectable plan with two school-mates for going to an island and living by ourselves. We were to have one mountain of gingerbread and another of candy. . . . I had a great desire to be a soldier: Colonel Johnson once gave me his sword; I took it to bed, and went to sleep in a state of most complete happiness,—in the morning it was gone. Once I sat upon the grass in what we call a brown study; at last, out it came, with the utmost earnestness to my aunt Mary—“Auntee Polly, I should like to have all the weapons of war, the gun and the sword, and the halbert, and the pistol, and all the weapons of war.” Once I got horsewhipped for taking a walk with a journeyman barber who lived opposite, and promised to give me a sword. This took a strange turn when I was about nine years old; I had been reading the historical plays of Shakspeare, and concluded there must be civil wars in my own time, and resolved to be a very great man, like the Earl of Warwick. Now it would be prudent to make


My sister Eliza was born in 1776, died of the measles in 1779. I remember her as my earliest playmate, by help of some local circumstances, and sometimes fancy that I can call to mind a faint resemblance of her face. My brother Thomas came into the world 1777; Louisa next, in 1779. This was a beautiful creature, the admiration of all who beheld her. My aunt Mary was one day walking with her down Union Street, when Wesley happened to be coming up, and the old man was so struck with the little girl’s beauty, that he stopped and exclaimed, “Oh! sweet creature!” took her by the hand, and gave her a blessing. That which in affliction we are prone to think a blessing, and which, perhaps, in sober reflection, may be justly thought so, befell her soon afterwards,—an early removal to a better world. She died of hydrocephalus, a disease to which the most promising children are the most liable. Happily neither her parents nor her grandmother ever suspected, what is exceedingly probable, that in her case the disease may have been induced by their dipping her every morning in a tub of the coldest well water. This was done from an old notion of strengthening her: the shock was dreadful, the poor child’s horror of it every morning when taken out of bed still more so; I cannot remember having seen it without horror; nor do I believe that among

partizans, so I told my companions at school that my mother was a very good woman, and had taught me to interpret dreams; they used to come and repeat their dreams to me, and I was artful enough to refer them all to great civil wars, and the appearance of a very great man who was to appear—meaning myself. I had resolved that Tom should be a great man too; and actually dreamt once of going into his tent to wake him the morning before a battle, so full was I of these ideas.—Letter to G. C. Bedford, Esq., Sept. 30. 1797.

all the preposterous practices which false theories have produced, there was ever a more cruel and perilous one than this. John, the next child, was born in 1782, and died in infancy.

My recollections of Eliza and Louisa are more imperfect than they might otherwise have been, because during those years I was very much from home, being sometimes at school, and sometimes with Miss Tyler, of whose situation and previous history I must now speak, because they had a material influence upon the course of my life.

Miss Tyler, who was born in the year 1739, passed the earlier part of her life with her maternal uncle at Shobdon, a little village in Herefordshire, where he resided upon a curacy. Mr. Bradford had been educated at Trinity College, Oxford, and was in much better circumstances than country curates in general. He had an estate in Radnorshire of respectable value, and married the sister of Mr. Greenly, of Titley in Herefordshire, who, being of so good a family, had probably a good fortune. He appears to have possessed some taste for letters, and his library was well provided with the professional literature of that age. Shobdon, though a remote place, gave him great opportunities of society: Lord Bateman resided there, in one of the finest midland situations that England affords; and a clergyman of companionable talents and manners was always a welcome guest at his table. Miss Tyler also became a favourite with Lady Bateman, and spent a great deal of time with her, enough to acquire the manners of high life, and too many of its habits and notions. Mrs. Bradford
died a few years before her husband; not however till he was too far advanced in life, or too confirmed in his habits, to think of marrying again. By that time he had become a victim to the gout. An odd accident happened to him during one of his severe fits, at a time when no persuasions could have induced him to put his feet to the ground, or to believe it possible that he could walk. He was sitting with his legs up, in the full costume of that respectable and orthodox disease, when the ceiling being somewhat old, part of it gave way, and down came a fine nest of rats, old and young together, plump upon him. He had what is called an antipathy to these creatures, and, forgetting the gout in the horror which their visitation excited, sprung from his easy chair, and fairly ran down stairs.

Miss Tyler had the management of his house after his wife’s death, and she had also in no small degree the management of the parish. She had influence enough to introduce inoculation there, and I believe great merit in the exertions which she made on that occasion, and the personal attention which she bestowed. It occurs to my recollection now also while I write, that she effected a wholesome and curious innovation in the poor-house, by persuading them to use beds stuffed with beech leaves, according to a practice in some parts of France, which she had heard or read of. It was Mr. Bradford who placed my uncle Mr. Hill at Oxford, first at St. Mary Hall, afterwards at Christ Church, where he obtained a studentship, which must have been by means of some Shobdon connections. When Mr. Bradford died,
which was in the year 1778, he left the whole of his property to Miss Tyler, except 50l. to my mother, and a small provision, charged upon his estates, for my poor uncle William, as one utterly incapable of providing for himself.

Finding herself mistress of 1500l. in money from Mr. Bradford’s effects, besides the estate, and her own paternal portion of 600l., she began to live at large, and to frequent watering places. At one of these (I think it was Weymouth) she fell in with Armstrong, the physician and poet, a writer deservedly respectable for his poem upon Health, and deservedly infamous for another of his productions. He recommended her to try the climate of Lisbon, less for any real or apprehended complaint, than because he perceived the advice would be agreeable; and thus before you and I were born did Armstrong prepare the way for our friendship, as well as for the great literary labours of my life. To Lisbon accordingly she went, taking with her my uncle, who had lately entered into orders, and Mrs. —— (a distant relation, the widow of a decayed Bristol merchant) as a sort of ama. Miss Palmer (sister of that Palmer who planned the mail coach system), one of her Bath acquaintances, joined the party. They remained about twelve months abroad, where some of your friends no doubt remember them, during the golden age of the factory, in 1774, the year of my birth. Miss Tyler was then thirty-four. She was remarkably beautiful, as far as any face can be called beautiful in which the indications of a violent temper are strongly marked.