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The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey
Early Life: IV

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 IV.

My mother was born in 1752. She was a remarkably beautiful infant, till, when she was between one and two years old, an abominable nursemaid carried her, of all places in the world, to Newgate (as was afterwards discovered); and there she took the smallpox in its most malignant form. It seemed almost miraculous that she escaped with life and eyesight, so dreadfully severe was the disease; but her eyebrows were almost destroyed, and the whole face seamed with scars. While she was a mere child, she had a paralytic affection, which deadened one side from the hip downward, and crippled her for about twelvemonths. Some person advised that she should be placed out of doors in the sunshine as much as possible; and one day, when she had been carried out as usual into the fore-court, in her little armchair, and left there to see her brothers at play, she rose from her seat to the astonishment of the family, and walked into the house. The recovery from that time was complete. The fact is worthy of notice, because some persons may derive hope from it in similar cases, and because it is by no means improbable that the sunshine really effected the cure. The manner by which I should explain this, would lead to a theory somewhat akin to that of Bishop Berkeley upon the virtues of tar-water.


There are two portraits of my mother, both taken by Robert Hancock in 1798. My brother Tom has the one; the other hangs opposite me where I am now seated in my usual position at my desk. Neither of these would convey to a stranger a just idea of her countenance. That in my possession is very much the best: it represents her as she then was, with features care-worn and fallen away, and with an air of melancholy which was not natural to her; for never was any human being blest with a sweeter temper, or a happier disposition. She had an excellent understanding, and a readiness of apprehension, which I have rarely known surpassed. In quickness of capacity, in the kindness of her nature, and in that kind of moral magnetism which wins the affections of all within its sphere, I never knew her equal. To strangers she must probably have appeared much disfigured by the smallpox. I, of course, could not be sensible of this. Her complexion was very good, and nothing could be more expressive than her fine clear hazel eyes.

Female education was not much regarded in her childhood. The ladies who kept boarding-schools in those days did not consider it necessary to possess any other knowledge themselves than that of ornamental needlework. Two sisters, who had been mistresses of the most fashionable school in Herefordshire, fifty years ago, used to say when they spoke of a former pupil, “Her went to school to we:” and the mistress of which, some ten years later, was thought the best school near Bristol (where Mrs. Siddons sent her daughter), spoke, to my perfect
recollection, much such English as this. My mother, I believe, never went to any but a dancing-school, and her state was the more gracious. But her half-sister,
Miss Tyler, was placed at one in the neighbourhood under a Mrs. ——, whom I mention because her history is characteristic of those times. Her husband carried on the agreeable business of a butcher in Bristol, while she managed a school for young ladies about a mile out of the town. His business would not necessarily have disqualified her for this occupation (though it would be no recommendation), Kirke White’s mother, a truly admirable woman, being in this respect just under like circumstances. But Mrs. —— might, with more propriety, have been a blacksmith’s wife; as, in that case, Vulcan might have served for a type of her husband in his fate, but not in the complacency with which he submitted to it, horns sitting as easily on his head as upon the beasts which he slaughtered. She was a handsome woman, and her children were, like the Harleian Miscellany, by different authors. This was notorious; yet her school flourished notwithstanding, and she retired from it at last with a competent fortune, and was visited as long as she lived by her former pupils. This may serve to show a great improvement in the morals of middle life.

Two things concerning my mother’s childhood and youth may be worthy of mention. One is, that she had for a fellow-scholar at the dancing-school Mary Darby (I think her name was), then in her beauty and innocence, soon afterwards notorious as the Prince of Wales’s Perdita, and to be remembered
hereafter, though a poor poetess, as having, perhaps, a finer feeling of metre, and more command of it, than any of her contemporaries. The other is, that my mother, who had a good ear for music, was taught by her father to whistle; and he succeeded in making her such a proficient in this unusual accomplishment, that it was his delight to place her upon his knee, and make her entertain his visitors with a display. This art she never lost, and she could whistle a song-tune as sweetly as a skilful player could have performed it upon the flute.

My grandmother continued to live in the house at Bedminster, which her husband had built, and which after his death had been purchased by Edward Tyler. It was about half an hour’s walk, εύζώνω άνδρί, from Bristol; and my father, having been introduced there, became in process of time a regular Sabbath guest. How long he had been acquainted with the family before he thought of connecting himself with it, I do not know; but in the year 1772, being the 27th of his own age, and the 20th of my mother’s, they were married at Bedminster church. He had previously left Britton’s service, and opened a shop for himself in the same business and in the same street, three doors above. Cannon Southey had left him 100l.; my mother had a legacy of 50l. from her uncle Bradford; my father formed a partnership with his younger brother Thomas, who had such another bequest as his from the same quarter; perhaps also he might have saved something during his years of service, and the business may have begun with a capital of 500l.; I should think not more. Shop
signs were general in those days; but the custom of suspending them over the street, as is still done at inns in the country, was falling into disuse. My father, true to his boyish feelings, and his passion for field sports (which continued unabated, notwithstanding the uncongenial way of life in which his lot had fallen), took a hare for his device. It was painted on a pane in the window on each side of the door, and was engraved on his shopbills. This became interesting when he told me of his shedding tears at the sight of the hare in the porter’s hand in London; and I often think of having one cut upon a seal, in remembrance of him and of the old shop. Bryan the Prophet told me, in the days of
Richard Brothers, that I was of the tribe of Judah,—a sort of nobility which those prophets had the privilege of discovering without any assistance from the Herald’s office. Had he derived me from Esau instead of Jacob, my father’s instincts might have induced me to lend a less incredulous ear.

The first child of this marriage was born August 1. 1773, and christened John Cannon. He lived only to be nine or ten months old. He was singularly beautiful; so much so, that, when I made my appearance on the 12th of August, 1774*, I was sadly dis-

* My birth-day was Friday the 12th of August, 1774,—the time of my birth half-past eight in the morning, according to the family Bible. According to my astrological friend Gilbert, it was a few minutes before the half hour, in consequence of which I am to have a pain in my bowels when I am about thirty, and Jupiter is my deadly antagonist; but I may thank the stars for “a gloomy capability of walking through desolation.”—Letter to Grosvenor C. Bedford, Esq., Sept. 30. 1797.

paraged by comparison with him. My mother asking if it was a boy, was answered by her nurse in a tone as little favourable to me as the opinion was flattering. “Ay, a great ugly boy!” and she added, when she told me this, “God forgive me!—when I saw what a great red creature it was, covered with rolls of fat, I thought I should never be able to love him.”