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That spring is dried up. I cannot now preserve an appearance of it at all without an effort, and no prospect in this world delights me except that of the next.” Although he often attributed this change to special causes, and particularly to the bereavement which bore so heavily on his heart, he was, at the same time, soon aware that the recuperative energies of his nature were essentially impaired. “It is," he writes to another friend, “between ourselves, a matter of surprise that this bodily machine of mine should have continued its operations with so few derangements, knowing, as I do, its excessive susceptibility to many deranging causes.” These shadows deepened as time passed on. and found him intent upon mental labor, when nature imperatively demanded freedom, variety, the comedy of life, and the atmosphere of a serene, cheerful, and unhackneyed existence.
There was nothing, however, in the native hue of Southey's mind that betokened any tendency to disease. On the contrary, his tone of feeling was singularly moderate, his estimate of life rather philosophic than visionary, and, for a poet, he scarcely has been equalled for practical wisdom and methodical self-gov
Instead of wishing newly-married people happiness, which he considered superfluous, he wished them patience; in travelling, he was remarkable for making the best of everything; he cherished a tranquil religious faith ; he systematized his life, and, instead of lamenting the dreams of youth as the only source of real enjoyment in life, he says, “Our happiness, as we grow older, is more in quantity and higher in degree as well as kind."
Another wholesome quality he largely possessed was candor. He bore with exemplary patience, as a general rule, the malevolence of criticism, suffered with few murmurs the indignity of Gifford's mutilations of his reviews, and seemed to exhibit acrimony only when assailed by a radical, or when he alluded to Bonaparte, whose most appropriate situation, through his whole career, he declared to have been when sleeping beside a fire made of human bones in the desert. He had the magnanimity at once to confess the genuine success of the American navy, at a time when it was common in England to doubt even the testimony of facts on the subject. “It is in vain,” he writes, “to treat the
" matter lightly, or seek to conceal from ourselves the extent of the
evil. Our naval superiority is destroyed.” Of American literature, at an earlier period, he declared, with more truth than now could be warranted, that “the Americans, since the Revolution, have not produced a single poet who has been heard of on this side of the Atlantic.” Subsequently, he was, however, the first to do justice to the poetical merits of Maria del Occidente, and numbered several congenial literary friends among her countrymen. A more versatile course might have contributed greatly to Southey's sustained vigor of mind. His early life was, indeed, sufficiently marked by vicissitude; he was successively a law-student, lecturer, private secretary, traveller, and author, and thought of becoming a librarian and a consul; but the result was a firm reversion to his primary tastes for rural life and books.
It is curious, as a psychological study, to trace the lapse of youth into manhood and senility, as indicated in the writings of men of talent, and observe how differently time and experience affect them, according to the elements of their characters. Some have their individuality of purpose and feeling gradually overlaid by the influences of their age and position, and in others it only asserts itself with more vehemence. There is every degree of independence and mobility, from the isolated hardihood of a Dante to the fertile aptitude of a Brougham. It was the normal condition of Southey to be conservative; taste and habit, affection and temperament, combined to reconcile him to things as they are, or, at least, to wean him from the restless life of a reformer. An intellectual friend of mine, noted for his love of ease, and whose creed was far more visionary than practical, surprised a circle, on one occasion, with his earnest advocacy of some political measure, and sighed heavily, as he added, “Vigilance is the eternal price of liberty.” “But why,” asked a companion, “ do you put on the watchman's cap?” The inquiry was apposite; he had no vocation to fight in the vanguard of opinion. And this seems to us a more charitable way of accounting for Southey's change of views, than to join his opponents in ascribing it to unalloyed selfishness. *
** In all his domestic relations Southey was the most amiable of men, but he had no general philanthropy ; he was what you call a cold man.
I spent some time with him at Lord Lonsdale's, in company with Wordsworth and others ; and, while the rest of the party were walking about, talking and amusing themselves, Southey preferred sitting solus in the library.” — Rogers' Tuble Talk.
To the secluded littérateur, watching over his gifted invalid boy amid romantic lakes and mountains, the calm and nature-loving Wordsworth was a more desirable companion than Godwin, to whom, at a previous era, he acknowledged himself under essential intellectual obligations. IIis wife, the gentle and devoted Edith, might have objected to such an inmate as Mary Wolstonecraft, whom her husband preferred to all the literary lions during his early visits to London; and it was far more agreeable to “counteract sedition ” in his quiet studio at Keswick, than to roughly experience Puntisocracy in America; while a man of sterner mould might be pardoned for preferring a picnic glorification over the battle of Waterloo, on the top of Skiddaw, to a lonely struggle for human rights against the overwhelming tide of popular scorn, which drove the more adventurous and poetic Shelley into exile. All Southey's compassion, however, so oracularly expressed for that sensitive and heroic spirit, derogates not a particle from the superior nobility of soul for which generous thinkers cherish his memory. We can, however, easily follow the natural gradations by which the boy Southey, whose ideal was the Earl of Warwick, and the youth Southey, intent upon human progress and social reformation, became the man Southey, a good citizen, industrious author, exemplary husband and father, and most loyal subject. Indeed, the conservative mood beyins to appear even before any avowed change in his opinions. Soon after his return from the first visit to Lisbon, while hesitating what profession to adopt, and while his friends were discouraged at the apparent speculative recklessness and desultory life he indulged, we find him writing to Grosvenor, one of his most intimate friends, “I am convorsing with you now in that easy, calm, gooil-humored state of mind which is, perhaps, the summum bonum ; the less we think of the world the better. My feelings were once like an ungovernable horse; now I have tamed Bucephalus ; he retains his spirit and his strength, but they are made useful, and he shall not break my neck.”
This early visit to Lisbon, when his mind was in its freshest activity, attracted him to the literature of Spain and Portugal; and the local associations, which gave them so vivid a charm to his taste, imparted kindred life to his subsequent critiques and historical sketches devoted to these scenes and people. They furnish another striking instance of the felicitous manner in which the experience of foreign travel and the results of study coalesce in literary productions.
Authorship, indeed, was so exclusively the vocation of Southey that his life may be said to have been identified with it; yet pursued, as we have seen, in a spirit often mechanical, we are not surprised that, while he felt himself adapted to the pursuit, he was sometimes conscious of that mediocrity which is the inevitable fruit of a'wilful tension of the mind. Thus, while to one friend he writes, “One happy choice I made when I betook myself to literature as my business in life;" to another, in 1815, he declares, "I have the disheartening conviction that my best is done, and that to add to the bulk of my works will not be to add to their estimation." Yet Southey, like all genuine authors, cherished his dream of glory, and probably anticipated enduring renown from his poetry. The mechanical spirit of his literary toil, however, was carried into verse. He set about designing a poem as he did a history or a volume of memoirs, and proceeded to fill up the outline with the same complacent alacrity. Many of these works exhibit great ingenuity of construction, both as regards form and language. They are striking examples of the inventive faculty, and show an extraordinary command of language; in this latter regard, some of his verses are the most curious in our literature ; – the " Fall of Lodore” is an instance. But it is obvious that, unless fused by the glow of sentiment, however aptly constructed, elaborate versified tales can scarcely be ranked among the standard poems of any language. The best passages of his long poems are highly imaginative, but the style is diffuse, the interest complicated, and there is a want of human interest that prevents any strong enlistment of the sympathies. They have not the picturesque and living attraction of Scott, nor yet the natural tenderness of Burns; but are melo-dramatic, and make us wonder at the author's fertility of invention, rather than become attached to its fruits.
One of the most striking instances of want of discrimination in the critical tone of the day, was the habit of designating Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Southey, under the same general term. The only common ground for calling them the Lake School was the fact that they each resided among the lakes of Cumberland at one and the same time. The diffuse, reflective, philosophic
. muse of Wordsworth is as essentially different from the mystic and often profoundly tender sentiment of Coleridge, as both are from the elaborate chronicles and rhetorical artifice of Southey. His “Pilgrimage to Waterloo " is an apt and clever journal in verse, occasionally, from its personal style and simplicity, quite attractive; his laureate odes have a respectable sound, and frequently a commendable sense, but rarely any bardic fire or exquisite grace. In a word, although there is much to admire in Southey's poetry as the work of a creative fancy and the result of research and facility, as well as invention in the use of language, we seldom find, in perusing his works, any of those “Elysian corners of intuition," where Leigh Hunt speaks of comparing notes with the reader. The amplitude, variety, and tact of constructive talent, and not the glow and mystery of genius, win us to his page. It informs, entertains, and seldom
, offends; but rarely melts, kindles, or nerves the spirit.
His most obstinate admirers cannot but admit that, as poems, "Joan of Arc," "Madoc," and "Roderic," have many tedious “ ,”.“ passages. They are fluent, authentic chronicles, recorded in a strain that so often lapses from the spirit and dignity of the muse as to read like mere prose. Here and there, a graphic descriptive sketch or felicitous epithet redeems the narrative; but no one can wonder that, in an age when Byron individualized human passion in the most kindling rhyme, when Crabbe described so truthfully humble life, and Shelley touched the ideal spirit with his aërial fantasy, a species of poetry comparatively so distant from the associations of the heart should fail to achieve popularity. Indeed, Southey recognized the fict, and seemed not unwilling to share the favor of a limited but select circle with Landor and others, who, instead of universal suffrage, gain the special admiration of the few. No author, however, cherished a greater faith in literature as a means of reputation. “Literary fame," he