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The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey
Early Life: IX

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 IX.
July, 1822.

The year which I passed at Corston had been a mournful one for my mother. She lost my sweet little sister Louisa during that time; and being after a while persuaded to accompany Miss Tyler to London, where she had never before been, they were recalled
by the tidings of my grandmother’s sudden death. Miss Tyler had found it expedient to break up her establishment at Bath, and pass some time in visiting among her friends. She now took up her abode at Bedminster, till family affairs should be settled, and till she could determine where and how to fix herself. Thither also I was sent, while my father was looking out for another school at which to place me.

I have so many vivid feelings connected with this house at Bedminster, that if it had not been in a vile neighbourhood, I believe my heart would have been set upon purchasing it, and fixing my abode there where the happiest days of my childhood were spent. My grandfather built it (about the year 1740, I suppose), and had made it what was then thought a thoroughly commodious and good house for one in his rank of life. It stood in a lane, some two or three hundred yards from the great western road. You ascended by several semicircular steps into what was called the fore court, but was in fact a flower-garden, with a broad pavement from the gate to the porch. That porch was in great part lined, as well as covered, with white jessamine; and many a time have I sat there with my poor sisters, threading the fallen blossoms upon grass stalks. It opened into a little hall, paved with diamond-shaped flags. On the right hand was the parlour, which had a brown or black boarded floor, covered with a Lisbon mat, and a handsome timepiece over the fireplace; on the left was the best kitchen, in which the family lived. The best kitchen is an apartment that belongs to other days, and is now no longer to be seen, except in
houses which, having remained unaltered for the last half century, are inhabited by persons a degree lower in society than their former possessors. The one which I am now calling to mind after an interval of more than forty years, was a cheerful room, with an air of such country comfort about it, that my little heart was always gladdened when I entered it during my grandmother’s life. It had a stone floor, which I believe was the chief distinction between a best kitchen and a parlour. The furniture consisted of a clock, a large oval oak table with two flaps (over which two or three fowling-pieces had their place), a round tea-table of cherry wood, Windsor chairs of the same, and two large armed ones of that easy make (of all makes it is the easiest), in one of which my grandmother always sat. On one side of the fireplace the china was displayed in a buffet—that is, a cupboard with glass doors; on the other were closets for articles less ornamental, but more in use. The room was wainscotted and ornamented with some old maps, and with a long looking-glass over the chimney-piece, and a tall one between the windows, both in white frames. The windows opened into the fore-court, and were as cheerful and fragrant in the season of flowers as roses and jessamine, which grew luxuriantly without, could make them. There was a passage between this apartment and the kitchen, long enough to admit of a large airy pantry, and a Larder on the left hand, the windows of both opening into the barton, as did those of the kitchen; on the right was a door into the back court. There was a rack in the kitchen
well furnished with bacon, and a mistletoe bush always suspended from the middle of the ceiling.

The green room, which was my uncle Edward’s, was over the parlour. Over the hall was a smaller apartment, which had been my grandfather’s office, and still contained his desk and his pigeon-holes: I remember it well, and the large-patterned, dark, flock paper, with its faded ground. The yellow room, over the best kitchen, was the visitor’s chamber; and this my mother occupied whenever she slept there. There was no way to my grandmother’s, the blue room over the kitchen, but through this and an intervening passage, where, on the left, was a storeroom. The blue room had a thorough light, one window looking into the barton, the other into the back court. The squire slept in the garret; his room was on one side, the servants’ on the other: and there was a large open space between, at the top of the stairs, used for lumber and stores.

A door from the hall, opposite to the entrance, opened upon the cellar stairs, to which there was another door from the back court. This was a square, having the house on two sides, the washhouse and brewhouse on the third, and walled on the fourth. A vine covered one side of the house here, and grew round my grandmother’s window, out of which I have often reached the grapes. Here also was the pigeon-house, and the pump, under which the fatal dipping* was performed. The yard or barton was of considerable size; the entrance to it was from the lane, through large folding-gates, with a horse-chest-

* See page 28.

nut on each side. And here another building fronted you, as large as the house, containing the dairy and laundry, both large and excellent in their kind, seed-rooms, stable, haylofts, &c. The front of this out-house was almost clothed with yew, dipt to the shape of the windows. Opposite the one gable-end were the coal and stick houses; and on the left side of the barton was a shed for the cart, and while my grandfather lived, for an open carriage, which after his death was no longer kept. Here too was the horse-block, beautifully overhung with ivy, from an old wall against which it was placed. The other gable-end was covered with fruit trees, and at the bottom was a raised camomile bed.

An old-fashioned bird’s eye view, half picture, half plan, would explain all this more intelligibly than my description can do; and if I possessed the skill, I should delight in tracing one—my memory would accurately serve. If I have made myself understood, you will perceive that the back court formed a square with the house. Behind both was a piece of waste ground, left for the passage of carts from the barton to the orchard, but considerably wider than was necessary for that purpose. It was neatly kept in grass, with a good wide path from the court to the kitchen-garden. This was large, excellently stocked, and kept in admirable order by my uncle Edward. It was enclosed from the waste ground by a wall about breast-high, surmounted with white rails till it joined the outhouses. The back of these was covered with pear and plum trees—the green gages I remember were remarkably fine of their kind. One
side was walled, and well clothed with cherry, peach, and nectarine trees; the opposite one was separated by a hedge from the lane leading to the orchard, from which the garden was divided at the bottom. I have called it a kitchen-garden, because that name was given it; but it was ornamental as well as useful, with grass walks, espaliers, and a profusion of fine flowers. The side of the house in the fore court also was covered with an apricot-tree; so that every luxury of this kind which an English sun can ripen, was there in abundance. Just by the orchard gate was a fine barberry-bush; and that peculiar odour of its blossoms, which is supposed to injure the wheat within its reach, is still fresh in my remembrance.
Wordsworth has no sense of smell. Once, and once only in his life, the dormant power awakened; it was by a bed of stocks in full bloom, at a house which he inhabited in Dorsetshire, some five and twenty years ago; and he says it was like a vision of Paradise to him: but it lasted only a few minutes, and the faculty has continued torpid from that time. The fact is remarkable in itself, and would be worthy of notice, even if it did not relate to a man of whom posterity will desire to know all that can be remembered. He has often expressed to me his regret for this privation. I, on the contrary, possess the sense in such acuteness, that I can remember an odour and call up the ghost of one that is departed. But I must return to the barberry-bush. It stood at the entrance of a potato garden, which had been taken from the orchard. The orchard was still of considerable size. At the bottom was a broad wet ditch,
with a little drawbridge over it leading into the fields, through which was the pleasantest way to church and to Bristol. It was just one mile to the church, and two to my father’s house in Wine Street.

It was very seldom indeed, that my grandmother went to Bristol. I scarcely recollect ever to have seen her there. The extent of her walks was to church, which she never missed, unless the weather absolutely confined her to the house. She was not able to attend the evening service also, on account of the distance; but in the morning she was constant, and always in good time; for if she were not there before the absolution, she used to say that she might as well have remained at home. At other times she rarely went out of her own premises. Neighbours of her own rank there were none within her reach; her husband’s acquaintance had mostly died off, and she had made no new ones since his death. Her greatest happiness was to have my mother there with some of the young fry; and we, on our part, had no pleasure so great as that of a visit to Bedminster. It was, indeed, for my mother, as well as for us, an advantage beyond all price to have this quiet country home at so easy a distance, abounding as it did with all country comforts. Bedminster itself was an ugly, dirty, poor, populous village, many of the inhabitants being colliers. But the coal pits were in a different part of the parish, and the house was at a sufficient distance from all annoyances. If there was no beauty of situation, there was complete retirement, and perfect comfort. The view was merely to a field and cottage on the other side the lane, on a
rising ground belonging to the property. But the little world within was our own. And to me it was quite a different world from that in which I lived at other times. My father’s house was in one of the busiest and noisiest streets of Bristol, and of course had no outlets. At Bath I was under perpetual restraint. But here I had all wholesome liberty, all wholesome indulgence, all wholesome enjoyments; and the delight which I there learnt to take in rural sights and sounds, has grown up with me and continues unabated to this day.

My chief amusement was in the garden, where I found endless entertainment in the flowers and in observing insects. I had little propensity to any boyish sports, and less expertness in them. My uncles Edward and William used to reproach me with this sometimes, saying they never saw such a boy. One schoolboy’s art, however, they taught me, which I have never read of, nor seen practised elsewhere; it was that of converting a marble into a black witch, and thereby making it lucky. You know that if a marble be put in the fire, it makes a good detonating ball. I have sacrificed many a one so, to frighten the cook. But if the marble be wrapt up in brown paper (perhaps any paper may answer the purpose as well) with some suet or dripping round about it, it will not explode while the fat is burning, and when you take it out of the grate it is as black as jet.

But if I was unapt at ordinary sports, a botanist or entomologist would have found me a willing pupil in those years; and if I had fallen in with one, I might perhaps, at this very day, have been classifying
mosses, and writing upon the natural history of snails or cockchafers, instead of recording the events of the Peninsular War. I knew every variety of grass blossom that the fields produced, and in what situations to look for each. I discovered that snails seal themselves up in their shells during the winter; and that ants make their way into the cockchafer through an aperture in the breast, and eat out its inside while it is yet alive. This gave me a great dislike to the ants, which even the delightful papers about them in the
Guardian did not overcome. Two curious facts concerning these insects, which fell under my own observation in those days, are worthy of being noted. They spoilt the produce of some of our best currant trees one year. The trees were trained against a wall, the ants walked over them continually and in great numbers (I cannot tell why, but probably after the aphides, which, as Kirby and Spence tell us, they regularly milk), and thus they imparted so rank a smell to the fruit that it could not be eaten. The ants were very numerous that season, and this occasioned a just and necessary war upon them. They had made a highway through the porch, along the interstices of the flagstones. The right of path, as you may suppose, was not acquiesced in; and when this road was as full as Cheapside at noonday, boiling water was poured upon it. The bodies, however, all disappeared in a few hours, carried away, as we supposed, by their comrades. But we know that some insects are marvellously retentive of life; and this circumstance has sometimes tempted me to suspect that an ant may derive no more injury from being boiled, than a fly
from being bottled in Madeira, or a snail from having its head cut off, or from lying seven years in a collector’s cabinet. Of the latter fact (which was already authenticated) my neighbour,
Mr. Fryer of Ormathwaite, had proof the other day.

There are three flowers which, to this day, always remind me of Bedminster. The Syringa or Roman Jessamine, which covered an arbour in the fore court, and another at the bottom of the kitchen-garden; the everlasting pea, which grew most luxuriantly under the best kitchen windows; and the evening primrose: my grandmother loved to watch the opening of this singularly delicate flower—a flower, indeed, which in purity and delicacy seems to me to exceed all others. She called it mortality, because these beauties pass away so soon, and because in the briefness of its continuance (living only for a night) it reminded her of human life.

The house was sold after her death, as soon as a purchaser could be found, there being no longer the means for supporting it. The reversion of her jointure had long ago been sold by John Tyler. The house was Edward’s property, he having bought it when he came of age. Her loss was deeply felt by him and the poor Squire: and indeed it was fatal to their happiness; for happy hitherto they had been, according to their own sense of enjoyment. In losing her they lost everything. The Squire was sent to board in a village on the coast of the Bristol Channel, called Worle; and Edward Tyler, who was very capable of business, took a clerk’s place in Bristol, But their stay was gone; and eventually, I have
no doubt, both their lives were shortened by the consequences.

I went to look at the place, some twenty years ago; it was a good deal altered—bow windows had been thrown out in the front, and a gazebo erected in the roof. After viewing about the front as much as I could without being noticed and deemed impertinent, I made my way round into the fields, and saw that the drawbridge was still in existence. I have seen the gazebo since, from the window of a stage coach; and this is probably the last view I shall ever have of a place so dear to me. Even the recollections of it will soon be confined to my own breast; for my uncle and my aunt Mary are now the only living persons who partake them.