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The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey
Early Life: VIII

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 VIII.
December 28th, 1821.

I remember poor Flower with compassion, and not without respect, as a man who, under more auspicious circumstances, might have passed his life happily for himself, and perhaps honourably as well as usefully for his country. His attainments and talents were, I have no doubt, very considerable in their kind; and I am sure that his temper and disposition were naturally good. I never saw so little punishment in any school. There was but one flogging during my stay there; it was for running away, which was considered the heaviest of all offences. The exhibition was then made as serious as possible; the instrument was a scourge of packthread instead of a rod. But though punishments in private schools were at that time, I believe, always much more severe than in public ones, I do not remember that this was remarkable for severity. We stood in awe and respect of him rather than fear. If there was nothing conciliating or indulgent about him, there was no rigour
or ill-nature; but his manner was what you might expect to find in one who was habitually thoughtful, and who, when not engaged in abstruse studies, had reason enough for unhappiness, because of his domestic circumstances. His school was declining. He was about fifty years of age; and having lost his first wife, had married one of his maids, who took to drinking; the house, therefore, was in disorder; the servants were allowed to take their own course, and the boys were sadly neglected. In every thing which relates to personal cleanliness, they were left to the care of themselves. I had a profusion of curly hair: just before the holydays, it was thought proper to examine into the state of its population, which was found to be prodigiously great; my head, therefore, was plastered with soap, and in that condition I was sent home, with such sores in consequence of long neglect, that my mother wept at seeing them.

Our morning ablutions, to the entire saving of all materials, were performed in a little stream which ran through the barton, and in its ordinary state was hardly more than ankle deep. We had porridge for breakfast in winter, bread and milk in summer. My taste was better than my appetite; the green leeks in this uncleanly broth gave me a dislike to that plant, which I retain to this day (St. David forgive me!), and if it were swimming with fat, as it usually was, I could better fast till the hour of dinner than do violence to my stomach by forcing down the greasy and offensive mixture. The bread and milk reminds me of an anecdote connected with the fashion of those days. Because I was indulged with
sugar in my bread and milk at home, when I went to school I was provided with a store carefully secured in paper. I had a cocked hat for Sundays; during the rest of the week it lay in my box upon the top of my clothes, and when the paper of brown sugar was reduced in bulk, I deposited it in the cock of the hat. As you may suppose, my fingers found their way there whenever I went to the box, and the box was sometimes opened for that purpose; thus the sugar was by little and little strewn over the hat. It was in a sweet clammy condition the first time I was sent for from school by my
Aunt Tyler, to visit her at Bath; and as the cocked hat was then in the last and lowest stage of its fashion, mine was dismissed to be rounded by the hatter, and I never wore one again till I was at Madrid, where round hats were prohibited.

One day in the week we had bread and cheese for dinner; or, when baking day came round, a hot cake, with cheese or a small portion of butter at our choice. This, to my liking, was the best dinner in the week. Some of the boys would split their cake, lay the cheese in thin layers between the halves, and then place it under a screw-press, so as to compress it into one mass. This rule of going without meat one day in the week was then, I believe, general in the country schools, and is still practised in many, retained perhaps, for motives of frugality, from Catholic times; and yet, so stupid is popular obstinacy, fish, even where it is most plentiful, is never used. One of the servants had the privilege of selling gingerbread and such things. We had bread and cheese for supper, and
were permitted to raise salads for this meal, in little portions of ground, into which what had been in better times the flower-border of the great pleasure-garden was divided: these portions were our property, and transferable by sale. We raised mustard and cress, radishes and lettuce. When autumn came, we had no lack of apples, for it is a country of orchards. The brook which has already been mentioned, passed through one immediately before it entered the barton where our ablutions were performed; the trees on one side grew on a steepish declivity, and in stormy weather we constructed dams across the stream to stop the apples which were brought down. Our master had an extensive orchard of his own, and employed the boys to gather in the fruit: there was, of course, free license to eat on that day, and a moderate share of pocketings would have been tolerated; but whether original sin was particularly excited by that particular fruit or not, so it was that a subtraction was made enormous enough to make inquiry unavoidable; the boxes were searched in consequence, and the whole plunder was thus recovered. The boys were employed also to squall at the bannets, that is, being interpreted, to throw at his walnuts when it was time to bring them down; there were four or five fine trees on the hill-side above the brook. I was too little to bear a part in this, which required considerable strength; but for many days afterwards, I had the gleaning among the leaves and broken twigs with which the ground was covered; and the fragrance of those leaves, in their incipient decay, is one of those odours which I can recall at will, and which, when-
ever it occurs, brings with it the vivid remembrance of past times.

One very odd amusement, which I never saw or heard of elsewhere, was greatly in vogue at this school. It was performed with snail shells, by placing them against each other, point to point, and pressing till the one was broken in, or sometimes both. This was called conquering; and the shell which remained unhurt, acquired esteem and value in proportion to the number over which it had triumphed, an accurate account being kept. A great conqueror was prodigiously prized and coveted, so much so indeed, that two of this description would seldom have been brought to contest the palm, if both possessors had not been goaded to it by reproaches and taunts. The victor had the number of its opponents added to its own; thus when one conqueror of fifty conquered another which had been as often victorious, it became conqueror of an hundred and one. Yet even in this, reputation was sometimes obtained upon false pretences. I found a boy one day, who had fallen in with a great number of young snails, so recently hatched that the shells were still transparent, and he was besmearing his fingers by crushing these poor creatures one after another against his conqueror, counting away with the greatest satisfaction at his work. He was a good-natured boy, so that I, who had been bred up to have a sense of humanity, ventured to express some compassion for the snails, and to suggest that he might as well count them and lay them aside unhurt. He hesitated, and seemed inclined to assent till it struck him as a point of honour, or of conscience, and
then he resolutely said, no! that would not do, for he could not then fairly say he had conquered them. There is a surprising difference of strength in these shells, and that not depending upon the size or species; I mean, whether yellow, brown, or striped. It might partly be estimated by the appearance of the point, or top (I do not know what better term to use): the strong ones were usually clear and glossy there, and white if the shell were of the large, coarse, mottled brown kind. The top was then said to be petrified; and a good conqueror of this description would triumph for weeks or months. I remember that one of the greatest heroes bore evident marks of having once been conquered. It had been thrown away in some lucky situation, where the poor tenant had leisure to repair his habitation, or rather where the restorative power of nature repaired it for him, and the wall was thus made stronger than it had been before the breach, by an arch of new masonry below. But in general I should think the resisting power of the shell depended upon the geometrical nicety of its form.

One of the big boys one day brought down a kite with an arrow, from the play-ground: this I think a more extraordinary feat than Apollo’s killing Python, though a Belvidere Jack Steel (this was the archer’s name) would not make quite so heroic a statue. We had a boy there who wore midshipman’s uniform, and whose pay must have more than maintained him at school; his father was a purser, and such things were not uncommon in those days. While I was at this school, the corporation of Bristol invited Rodney from Bath to a public dinner, after his great
victory; and we, to do him honour in our way, were all marched down to the Globe at Newton, by the road side, that we might see him pass, and give him three cheers. They were heartily given, and were returned with great good humour from the carriage window. Another circumstance has made me remember the day well. Looking about for conquerors in Newton churchyard before we returned to school, I saw a slow-worm get into the ground under a tombstone; and in consequence, when I met no long time afterwards with the ancient opinion that the spinal marrow of a human body generates a serpent, this fact induced me long to believe it without hesitation, upon the supposed testimony of my own eyes. Though I had a full share of discomfort at Corston, I recollect nothing there so painful as that of being kept up every night till a certain hour, when I was dying with sleepiness. Sometimes I stole away to bed; but it was not easy to do this, and I found that it was not desirable, because the other boys played tricks upon me when they came. But I dreaded nothing so much as Sunday evening in winter: we were then assembled in the hall, to hear the master read a sermon, or a portion of
Stackhouse’s History of the Bible. Here I sat at the end of a long form, in sight but not within feeling of the fire, my feet cold, my eyelids heavy as lead, and yet not daring to close them, kept awake by fear alone, in total inaction, and under the operation of a lecture more soporific than the strongest sleeping dose. Heaven help the wits of those good people who think that children are to be edified by having sermons read to them!


After remaining there about twelve months, I was sent for home, upon an alarm that the itch had broken out among us. Some of the boys communicated this advice to their parents in letters which Duplanien conveyed for them; all others, of course, being dictated and written under inspection. The report, whether true or false, accelerated the ruin of the school. A scandalous scene took place of mutual reproaches between father and son, each accusing the other for that neglect the consequences of which were now become apparent.

The dispute was renewed with more violence after the boys were in bed. The next morning the master was not to be seen; Charley appeared with a black eye, and we knew that father and son had come to blows! Most, if not all, the Bristol boys were now taken away, and I among them, to my great joy. But on my arrival at home I was treated as a suspected person, and underwent a three days’ purgatory in brimstone.