Robert Southey

IN associating with Southey, not only was it necessary to refrain from touching his books, but various rites, ceremonies, and usages must be rigidly observed. At certain appointed hours only was he open to conversation; at the seasons which had been predestined from all eternity for holding intercourse with his friends. Every hour of the day had its commission—every half-hour was assigned to its own peculiar, undeviating function. The indefatigable student gave a detailed account of his painstaking life, every moment of which was fully employed and strictly pre-arranged, to a certain literary Quaker lady.

'I rise at five throughout the year; from six till eight I read Spanish; then French, for one hour: Portuguese, next, for half an hour — my watch lying on the table; I give two hours to poetry; I write prose for two hours; I translate so long; I make extracts so long'; and so of the rest, until the poor fellow had fairly fagged himself into his bed again.
'And, pray, when dost thou think, friend?' she asked, drily, to the great discomfiture of the future Laureate.

—Hogg, Shelley, ii. 27-28.

ON returning from a visit to the Lakes, I told Porson that Southey had said to me,

'My Madoc has brought me in a mere trifle; but that poem will be a valuable possession to my family.'

Porson answered,

'Madoc will be read — when Homer and Virgil are forgotten.'

—Rogers, Table Talk, p. 281.

I FORGET how often we met; it was not very often; it was always at H. Taylor's, or through Taylor. One day, for the first and last time, he made us a visit at Chelsea; a certain old lady cousin of Taylor's, who sometimes presided in his house for a month or two in the town season — a Miss Fenwick, of provincial accent and type, but very wise, discreet, and well-bred — had come driving down with him. Their arrival, and loud thundering knock at the door, is very memorable to me; the moment being unusually critical in our poor household! My little Jeannie was in hands with the marmalade that day; none ever made such marmalade for me, pure as liquid amber, in taste and in look almost poetically delicate, and it was the only one of her pretty and industrious confitures that I individually cared for; which made her doubly diligent and punctual about it. (Ah me, ah me!) The kitchen fire, I suppose, had not been brisk enough, free enough, so she had had the large brass pan and contents brought up to the brisker parlour fire; and was there victoriously boiling it, when it boiled over, in huge blaze, set the chimney on fire — and I (from my writing upstairs I suppose) had been summoned to the rescue. What a moment! what an outlook! The kindling of the chimney soot was itself a grave matter, involving fine of £10 if the fire-engines had to come. My first and immediate step was to parry this, by at once letting down the grate valve, and cutting quite off the supply of oxygen or atmosphere; which of course was effectual, though at the expense of a little smoke in the room meanwhile. The brass pan and remaining contents (not much wasted or injured) she had herself snatched off and set on the hearth; I was pulling down the back-windows, which would have completed the temporary settlement, when, hardly three yards from us, broke out the thundering doorknocker; and before the brass pan could be got away, Miss Fenwick and Southey were let in. Southey, I don't think my darling had yet seen; but her own fine modest composure, and presence of mind, never in any greatest other presence forsook her. I remember how daintily she made the salutations, brief quizzical bit of explanation, got the wreck to vanish; and sat down as member of our little party. Southey and I were on the sofa together; she nearer Miss Fenwick, for a little of feminine 'aside' now and then. The colloquy did not last long: — I recollect no point of it, except that Southey and I got to speaking about Shelley (whom perhaps I remembered to have lived in the Lake country for some time, and had started on Shelley as a practicable topic). Southey did not rise into admiration of Shelley either for talent or conduct; spoke of him and his life, without bitterness, but with contemptuous sorrow, and evident aversion mingled with his pity. To me also poor Shelley always was, and is, a kind of ghastly object, colourless, pallid, without health or warmth or vigour; the sound of him shrieky, frosty, as if a ghost were trying to 'sing to us'; the temperament of him spasmodic, hysterical, instead of strong or robust; with fine affections and aspirations, gone all such a road: — a man infinitely too weak for that solitary scaling of the Alps which he undertook in spite of all the world. At some point of the dialogue I said to Southey, 'a haggard existence!' His look, at this moment, was unusually gloomy and heavy-laden, full of confused distress; as if in retrospect of his own existence, and the haggard battle it too had been.

Reminiscences by Thomas Carlyle, ed. J. A. Froude (1881), ii. 323-326.

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