LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey
Early Life: I

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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In a Series of Letters to his Friend, Mr. John May.

Letter I.


Some old divine has said that hell is paved with good resolutions. If Beelzebub has a tesselated pavement of this kind in one of his state rooms, I fear I shall be found to have contributed largely to its unsubstantial materials. But that I may save one good resolution at least, from being trodden
under hoof by him and his imps, here I begin the performance, hoping, rather than promising, even to myself, that I may find leisure and courage to pursue it to the end,—courage I mean to live again in remembrance with the dead, so much as I must needs do in retracing the course of my life. There are certain savages among whom the name of a deceased person is never mentioned; some superstition may have attached to this custom, but that the feeling in which it originates is natural I know both by experience and observation. My children never speak of their brother
Herbert, and I never utter his name except in my prayers, unless some special cause acts upon me like a moral obligation.

I begin in the cloudy evening of a showery, louring, ungenial day,—no desirable omen for one who is about to record the recollections of six-and-forty years. But a most inappropriate one in my case, for I have lived in the sunshine, and am still looking forward with hope.

I cannot trace my family farther back by the church registers than Oct. 25. 1696, on which day my grandfather Thomas, the son of Robert Southey, and Ann, his wife, was baptized at Wellington, in Somersetshire. The said Robert Southey had seven other children, none of whom left issue. In the subsequent entries of their birth (for Thomas was the eldest) he is designated sometimes as yeoman, sometimes as farmer. His wife’s maiden name was Locke, and she was of the same family as the philosopher (so called) of that name, who is still held in more estimation than he deserves. She must have been his
niece, or the daughter of his first cousin. The register at Wellington goes back only to the year 1683. But I have heard that Robert’s grandfather that, is, my great, great, great grandfather (my children’s tritavus), was a great clothier at Wellington, and had eleven sons who peopled that part of the country with Southeys. In Robert’s days there were no fewer than seven married men of the name in the same parish. Robert himself was the younger of two sons, and John his elder brother was the head of the family. They must have been of gentle blood (though so obscure that I have never by any accident met with the name in a book), for they bore arms in an age when armorial bearings were not assumed by those who had no right to them. The arms are a chevron argent, and three cross crosslets, argent, in a field sable. I should like to believe that one of my ancestors had served in the crusades, or made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

One of them has left the reputation of having been a great soldier; in the great rebellion I guess it must have been, but I neither know his name, nor on what side he fought. Another (and this must have been the Robert with whom my certain knowledge begins) was, as the phrase is, out in Monmouth’s insurrection. If he had come before judge Jeffries in consequence, Nash would never have painted the happy but too handsome likeness of your god-daughter, which I have risen from my work ten times this day to look at in its progress; nor would you have received the intended series of these biographical letters. The entail of my mortal existence was in no small risk of
being cut off by the executioner. My father had the sword which was drawn (not bloodied I hope) in this unlucky quarrel; but it was lost in the wreck of his affairs.

John, the elder brother of this bold reformer and successful runaway, settled as a lawyer in Taunton, and held the office of registrar for the archdeaconry. He married the heiress of the Cannon family, and upon the death of her father fixed his residence at the manor house of Fitzhead in Somersetshire, which was her property. By this marriage he had one son and two daughters. John Cannon Southey, the son, practised the law; one daughter married the last of the Periam family, and survived him; the other married one of the Lethbridges, and had only one child, a daughter. That daughter married Hugh Somerville, then a colonel in the army, and brother to James Lord Somerville; she died in childbed of John Southey Somerville, her only issue.

My grandfather settled at Holford Farm, an estate belonging to his uncle John, in the parish of Lydiard St. Laurence, about ten miles north of Taunton, under the Quantock Hills. This removal was made when John obtained possession of his wife’s property; the first use he made of it, therefore, seems to have been to befriend his nephew. And I have discovered another good indication concerning him; his name appears among the subscribers to Walker’s Sufferings of the Clergy, a presumption at least, that he had some regard for books, and a right way of thinking. He was very much respected and beloved. My grandfather regarded him with the greatest reverence, as
one from whose judgment there could be no appeal; what his uncle said or thought was always sufficient authority with him. Lydiard St. Laurence is a very retired hamlet, containing only three farm-houses, and having no other habitations within two miles of it. My grandfather brought his grandmother there, and there she died at the great age of 102. A maiden sister lived with him. She had a small estate held upon three lives; two of them fell, and the third, a worthless profligate, contrived from that time almost to support himself upon it. Knowing that my poor aunt Hannah was now dependent upon his life, he would never strike a stroke of work more. When his debts became troublesome, away went his wife to the poor old woman with a tale about writs, bailiffs, the jail, and jail fever; and in this manner was she continually fleeced and kept in continual fear, till the rascal died at last of close attention at the alehouse. This story is worthy of insertion in an account of English tenures.

The removal from Wellington to a lonely hamlet seems to have brought my grandfather within the pale of the Established Church, for he had been bred up as a Dissenter. (The old sword, therefore, was probably pursuing its old courses when it went into the field in rebellion.) Aunt Hannah, however, though an inoffensive kind-hearted woman in other respects, retained so much of the essential acid of puritanism in her composition, that she frequently chastised her niece Mary for going into the fields with her playmates on a Sunday: she and her brothers and sisters,
she said, had never been suffered to go out of the house on the Sabbath, except to meetings.

My grandfather did not marry till he was forty-five; probably he could not have maintained a family before he was settled upon his uncle’s farm. His wife’s name was Joan Mullens. They had three sons, John, Robert (who was my father), and Thomas, and two daughters, Hannah and Mary, all born at Halford. The boys received what in those days was thought a good education. The elder, being designed for the law (in which his name and family connections would assist him), learnt a little Latin; he lived more with Cannon Southey than with his parents, both in his boyhood and youth, as his sister Mary did with Madam Periam or Madam Lethbridge (this was in the time when that title was in common use in the West of England), being always with one or the other as long as they lived. But Cannon Southey’s House was a bad school for him. He was looked upon as the probable heir of the family after the birth of young Somerville, who was always a weakly child. The two younger brothers were qualified for trade. My father had preserved his cyphering book, and I would have preserved it too, as carefully as any of my own manuscripts, if it had not been lost at the household wreck at his bankruptcy. If you will look in that little treatise of mine upon the “Origin, Nature, and Object of the New System of Education,” you will find a passage at pp. 85, 86, written in remembrance of this cyphering-book, and of the effects which it produced upon me in early boyhood.


When my uncle John was about to begin business as an attorney in Taunton, Cannon Southey, who was then the head of the family, lent him 100l. to start with. “That hundred pounds,” he used to say, with a sort of surly pride, “I repaid, with interest, in six months, and that is the only favour for which I was ever obliged to my relations.” Cannon Southey, however, though not very liberal to his kin, had a just regard to their legal rights, and left his property in trust for his great nephew, John Southey Somerville and his issue, with the intention that if he, who was then a child, should die without issue, the estates should descend to the Southeys; and, that the whole property might go together, he willed his leasehold estates (which would else have been divided among the next of kin) in remainder upon the same contingency to my uncle John and his two brothers, and to the sons of each in succession, as the former branch might fail.

Robert, my father, was passionately fond of the country and of country sports. The fields should have been his station, instead of the shop. He was placed with a kinsman in London, who, I believe, was a grocer somewhere in the city,—one of the eleven tribes that went out from Wellington. I have heard him say, that as he was one day standing at this person’s door, a porter went by carrying a hare, and this brought his favourite sport so forcibly to mind, that he could not help crying at the sight. This anecdote in Wordsworth’s hands would be worth as much as the Reverie of poor Susan. Before my father had been twelvemonths in London his master
died. Upon which he was removed to Bristol, and placed with William Britton, a linendraper in Wine Street. The business at that time was a profitable one, and Britton’s the best shop of its kind in the town, which is as much as saying that there was not a better in the West of England. This must have been about the end of
George the Second’s reign. Shop-windows were then as little used in this country, as they are now in most of the continental towns. I remember Britton’s shop still open to the weather, long after all the neighbours had glazed theirs; and I remember him, from being the first tradesman in his line, fallen to decay in his old age, and sunk in sottishness, still keeping on a business which had dwindled almost to nothing. My father, I think, was not apprenticed to him; because if he had served a regular apprenticeship, it would have entitled him to the freedom of the city, and I know that he was not a freeman: he lived with him, however, twelve or fourteen years. Among the acquaintance with whom he became intimate during that time, was my half uncle Edward Tyler, then employed in a Coventry Warehouse, in Broad Street, belonging to the Troughtons. This introduced him to my grandmother’s house.