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The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey
Early Life: VI

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 VI.
April 7th, 1821.

On her return from Lisbon Miss Tyler took a house in Bath, and there my earliest recollections begin, great part of my earliest childhood having been passed there.

The house was in Walcot parish, in which, five and forty years ago, were the skirts of the city. It stood alone, in a walled garden, and the entrance was from a lane. The situation was thought a bad one, because of the approach, and because the nearest houses were of a mean description; in other respects it was a very desirable residence. The house had been quite in the country when it was built. One of its fronts looked into the garden, the other into a lower garden, and over other garden grounds to the river, Bath Wick Fields (which are now covered with streets), and Claverton Hill, with a grove of firs along its brow, and a sham castle in the midst of their long dark line. I have not a stronger desire to see the Pyramids, than I had to visit that sham castle during the first years of my life. There was a sort of rural freshness about the place. The dead wall of a dwelling-house (the front of which was in Walcot Street) formed one side of the garden enclosure, and was covered with fine fruit trees: the way from the garden door to the house was between
that long house-wall, and a row of espaliers, behind which was a grass plat, interspersed with standard trees and flower beds, and having one of those green rotatory garden-seats shaped like a tub, where the contemplative person within may, like
Diogenes, be as much in the sun as he likes. There was a descent by a few steps to another garden, which was chiefly filled with fragrant herbs, and with a long bed of lilies of the valley. Ground rent had been of little value when the house was built. The kitchen looked into the garden, and opened into it; and near the kitchen door was a pipe, supplied from one of the fine springs with which the country about Bath abounds, and a little stone cistern beneath. The parlour door also opened into the garden; it was bowered with jessamine, and there I often took my seat upon the stone steps.

My aunt, who had an unlucky taste for such things, fitted up the house at a much greater expense than she was well able to afford. She threw two small rooms into one, and thus made a good parlour, and built a drawing-room over the kitchen. The walls of that drawing-room were covered with a plain green paper, the floor with a Turkey carpet: there hung her own portrait by Gainsborough, with a curtain to preserve the frame from flies and the colours from the sun; and there stood one of the most beautiful pieces of old furniture I ever saw,—a cabinet of ivory, ebony, and tortoise-shell, in an ebony frame. It had been left her by a lady of the Spenser family, and was said to have belonged to the great Marlborough. I may mention as part of the parlour furniture a square
screen with a foot-board and a little shelf, because I have always had one of the same fashion myself, for its convenience; a French writing-table, because of its peculiar shape, which was that of a Cajou nut or a kidney,—the writer sat in the concave, and had a drawer on each side; an arm chair made of fine cherry wood, which had been
Mr. Bradford’s, and in which she always sat,—mentionable, because if any visitor who was not in her especial favour sat therein, the leathern cushion was always sent into the garden to be aired and purified before she would use it again; a mezzotinto print of Pope’s Eloisa, in an oval black frame, because of its supposed likeness to herself; two prints in the same kind of engraving from pictures by Angelica Kauffman, one of Hector and Andromache, the other of Telemachus at the court of Menelaus, these I notice because they were in frames of Brazilian wood; and the great print of Pombal, o grande Marquez, in a similar frame, because this was the first portrait of any illustrious man with which I became familiar. The establishment consisted of an old man servant, and a maid, both from Shobdon. The old man used every night to feed the crickets. He died at Bath in her service.

Here my time was chiefly passed from the age of two till six. I had many indulgences, but more privations, and those of an injurious kind; want of playmates, want of exercise, never being allowed to do anything in which by possibility I might dirt myself; late hours in company, that is to say, late hours for a child, which I reckon among the privations (having always had the healthiest propensity for going to bed betimes);
late hours of rising, which were less painful perhaps, but in other respects worse. My aunt chose that I should sleep with her, and this subjected me to a double evil. She used to have her bed warmed, and during the months while this practice was in season I was always put into Molly’s bed first, for fear of an accident from the warming-pan, and removed when my aunt went to bed, so that I was regularly wakened out of a sound sleep. This, however, was not half so bad as being obliged to lie till nine, and not unfrequently till ten in the morning, and not daring to make the slightest movement which could disturb her during the hours that I lay awake, and longing to be set free. These were, indeed, early and severe lessons of patience. My poor little wits were upon the alert at those tedious hours of compulsory idleness, fancying figures and combinations of form in the curtains, wondering at the motes in the slant sunbeam, and watching the light from the crevices of the window-shutters, till it served me at last by its progressive motion to measure the lapse of time. Thoroughly injudicious as my education under
Miss Tyler was, no part of it was so irksome as this.

I was inoculated at Bath at two years old, and most certainly believe that I have a distinct recollection of it as an insulated fact, and the precise place where it was performed. My mother sometimes fancied that my constitution received permanent injury from the long preparatory lowering regimen upon which I was kept. Before that time, she used to say, I had always been plump and fat, but afterwards became the lean, lank, greyhound-like creature
that I have ever since continued. She came to Bath to be with me during the eruption. Except the spots upon the arm, I had only one pustule; afraid that this might not be enough, she gave me a single mouthful of meat at dinner, and, before night, above a hundred made their appearance, with fever enough to frighten her severely. The disease, however, was very favourable. A year or two afterwards, I was brought to the brink of death by a fever, and still I remember the taste of one of my medicines (what it was I know not), and the cup in which it was administered. I remember, also, the doses of bark which followed.
Dr. Schomberg attended me on both occasions. One of Schomberg’s sons was the midshipman who was much talked of some forty years ago for having fought Prince William Henry, then one of his shipmates. I think he is the author of a history of our naval achievements. Alexander, another son, was a fellow of Corpus, and died in 1790 or 1791, having lost the use of his lower parts by a stroke of the palsy. I had the mournful office of going often to sit by him as he lay upon his back in bed, when he was vainly seeking relief at Bath. Boy as I was, and till then a stranger to him, he, who had no friend or relation with him, was glad of the relief which even my presence afforded to his deplorable solitude.

Miss Tyler had a numerous acquaintance, such as her person and talents (which were of no ordinary kind) were likely to attract. The circle of her Herefordshire acquaintance, extending as far as the sphere of the three music meetings in the three
dioceses of Hereford, Worcester, and Gloucester, she became intimate with the family of
Mr. Raikes, printer and proprietor of the Gloucester Journal. One of his sons introduced Sunday Schools* into this kingdom; others became India Directors, Bank Directors, &c., in the career of mercantile prosperity. His daughter, who was my aunt’s friend, married Francis Newberry of St. Paul’s Churchyard, son of that Francis Newberry who published Goody Two-shoes, Giles Gingerbread, and other such delectable histories in sixpenny books for children, splendidly bound in the flowered and gilt Dutch paper of former days. As soon as I could read, which was very early, Mr. Newberry presented me with a whole set of these books, more than twenty in number: I dare say they were in Miss Tyler’s possession at her death, and in perfect preservation, for she taught me (and I thank her for it) never to spoil nor injure anything. This was a rich present, and may have been more instrumental than I am aware of in giving me that love of books, and that decided determination to literature, as the one thing desirable, which manifested itself from my childhood, and which no circumstances in after life ever slackened or abated.

I can trace with certainty the rise and direction of my poetical pursuits. They grew out of my aunt’s intimacy with Miss ——. Her father had acquired a

* I know not where or when they were first instituted; but they are noticed in an ordinance of Albert and Isabel, in the year 1608, as then existing in the Catholic Netherlands, the magistrates being enjoined to see to their establishment and support in all places where they were not yet set on foot.

considerable property as a wax and tallow-chandler at Bath, and vested great part of it in a very curious manner for an illiterate tradesman. He had a passion for the stage, which he indulged by speculating in theatres; one he built at Birmingham, one at Bristol, and one at Bath. Poor man, he outlived his reasonable faculties, and was, when I knew him, a pitiable spectacle of human weakness and decay, hideously ugly, his nose grown out in knobs and bulbs, like an underground artichoke, his fingers crooked and knotted with the gout, filthy, irascible, helpless as an infant, and feebler than one in mind. In one respect this was happy for him. His wife was a kind, plain-mannered domestic woman; her clothes caught fire one day, she ran into the street in flames, and was burnt to death.
Mrs. Coleridge, who was then a girl of eight or nine years old, and lived in the same street, saw her in flames, and remembers how frightfully the dogs barked at the sight. Her husband, though in the house at the time, never knew what had befallen her. He survived her many years, and would frequently say, she had been gone more than a week to Devizes, and it was time for her to come back. After this dreadful event, he lived with his two daughters. Miss —— and Mrs. —— (a widow), in Galloway’s Buildings, in a house at which I often visited with my aunt, during fifteen or sixteen years of my life, occasionally for weeks together. Sometimes I was taken to see this deplorable old man, whose sight always excited in me a mingled feeling of horror and disgust, not to be recalled without some degree of pain. In consequence of his incapacity, the property of the Bath and Bristol theatres devolved upon
his children, and was administered by his
son, who was in truth, a remarkable and rememberable person.

Mr. —— must have been about five-and-thirty when I first remember him, a man of great talents and fine person, with a commanding air and countenance, kind in his manners and in his nature; yet there was an expression in his eyes which I felt, before I had ever heard of physiognomy, or could have understood the meaning of the word. It was a wild unquiet look, a sort of inward emanating light, as if all was not as it ought to be within. I should pronounce now that it was the eye of one predisposed to insanity; and this I believe to have been the fact, though the disease manifested itself not in him, but in his children. They, indeed, had the double reason to apprehend such an inheritance, for their mother was plainly crazed with hypochondriacism and fantasticalness. She was a widow and an actress when he married her, and her humours soon made any place more agreeable to him than home. The children were my playmates at those rare times when I had any. The eldest son was taken from the Charter House, because he was literally almost killed there by the devilish cruelty of the boys; they used to lay him before the fire till he was scorched, and shut him in a trunk with sawdust till he had nearly expired with suffocation. The Charter House at that time was a sort of hell upon earth for the under boys. He was of weak understanding and feeble frame, very like his mother in person; he lived, however, to take orders, and I think I have heard that he died insane, as did one of his sisters, who perfectly resembled him. Two
other sons were at Eton; the elder of the two had one of the most beautiful countenances I ever remember to have seen, only that it had his father’s eyes, and a more fearful light in them. He was a fine, generous, overflowing creature; but you could not look at him without feeling that some disastrous fate would befal one so rash, so inconsiderate, and withal so keenly susceptible. When he was at Cambridge he used to give orders to his gyp by blowing a French horn, and he had a tune for every specific command, which the gyp was trained to understand, till so noisy and unacademical a practice was forbidden. There he ran wild, and contracted debts in all imaginable ways, which his father, the most indulgent of fathers, again and again discharged. These habits clung to him after he had left college. On the last occasion, where his conduct had been deeply culpable, and a large sum had been paid for him, Mr. —— did not utter a single reproach, but in the most affectionate manner entreated him to put away all painful thoughts of the past, and look upon himself as if he were only now beginning life. The poor fellow could not bear his father’s kindness, and knowing, perhaps, too surely, that he could not trust his own resolutions to amend his life, he blew out his own brains.

I had not seen him for several years before his death. When we were boys I admired him for his wit, his hilarity, his open generous temper, and his countenance, which might better be called radiant than described by any other epithet: but there was something which precluded all desire of intimacy.
If we had been thrown together in youth, there would have been an intellectual attraction between us; but intellect alone has never been the basis of my friendships, except in a single instance, and that instance proved the sandiness of such a foundation. Yet we liked each other; and I never think of him without a hope, or rather a belief, an inward and sure persuasion, that there is more mercy in store for human frailty than even the most liberal creed has authorized us to assert.

The next letter will explain in what way my acquaintance with this family was the means of leading

My favoured footsteps to the Muses’ hill,
Whose arduous paths I have not ceased to tread,
From good to better persevering still.