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The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey
Robert Southey, “Memoir: Westminster School,” 29 August 1824

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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Produced by CATH
August 29th, 1824.

The business of placing me at Westminster afforded my aunt an excuse for going to London; Miss Palmer was easily persuaded to accompany her and to hire a carriage for the season, and we set off in February 1788. I had never before been a mile from Bath in that direction, and when my childish thoughts ever wandered into the terra incognita which I was one day to explore, this had been the road to it, simply because all the other outlets from that city were familiar to me. We slept at Marlborough the first night; at Reading the second, and on the third day we reached Salt Hill. Tom and Charles Palmer were summoned from Eton to meet their aunt there, and we remained a day for the purpose of seeing Windsor, which I have never seen since. Lodgings had been engaged in a small house in Pall Mall, for no situation that was less fashionable would content Miss Tyler, and she had a reckless prodigality at fits and starts, the effects of which could not be counteracted by the parsimony and even penuriousness of her usual habits. Mr. Palmer was at that time comptroller of the Post Office, holding the situation which he had so well
deserved, and from which he was not long afterwards most injuriously displaced. We visited him, and the
Newberrys, and Mrs. Dolignon, and went often to the theatres; and my aunt appeared to be as happy as if she were not incurring expenses which she had no means of discharging. My father had given her thirty pounds for the journey, a sum amply sufficient for taking me to school and leaving me there, and moreover as much as he could afford; but she had resolved upon passing the season in town, as careless of all consequences as if she had been blind to them.

About six weeks elapsed before I was deposited at my place of destination. In the interval I had passed a few days with the Newberrys at Addiscombe, and with the Miss Delamares at Cheshunt; at the latter place I was happy, for they were excellent women, to whom my heart opened, and I had the full enjoyment of the country there, without any drawback. London I very much disliked: I was too young to take any pleasure in the companies to which I was introduced as an inconvenient appendage of my aunt’s; nor did I feel half the interest at the theatres, splendid as they were, which I had been wont to take at Bath and Bristol, where every actor’s face was familiar to me, and every movement of the countenance could be perceived. I wished for Shad, and the carpentry, and poor Phillis, and our rambles among the woods and rocks. At length, upon the first of April (of all ominous days that could be chosen), Mr. Palmer took me in his carriage to Dean’s Yard, introduced me to Dr. Smith, entered my name with him, and, upon his recommendation, placed me
at the boarding-house, then called Otly’s, from its late mistress, but kept by Mrs. Farren; and left me, there, with
Samuel Hayes, the usher of the house, and of the fifth form, for my tutor.

Botch Hayes, as he was denominated, for the manner in which he mended his pupil’s verses, kept a smaller boarding-house next door; but at this time a treaty of union between the two houses was going on, which, like the union of Castille and Aragon, was to be brought about by a marriage between the respective heads of the several states. This marriage took place during the ensuing Whitsun-holydays; and the smaller flock was removed in consequence to our boarding-house, which then took the name of Hayes’s, but retained it only a few months, for Hayes, in disgust at not being appointed under-master, withdrew from the school: his wife of course followed his fortunes, and was succeeded by Mrs. Clough, who migrated thither with a few boarders from Abingdon Street. But as Botch Hayes is a person who must make his appearance in the Athenæ Cantabrigienses (if my lively, happy, good-natured friend Mr. Hughes carries into effect his intention of compiling such a work), I will say something of him here.

He was a man who, having some skill and much facility in versifying, walked for many years over the Seatonlan race-ground at Cambridge, and enjoyed the produce of Mr. Seaton’s Kislingbury estate without a competitor. He was, moreover, what Oldys describes Nahum Tate to have been,—“a free, good-natured fuddling companion;” to all which qualities his countenance bore witness. With better conduct and
better fortune, Hayes would have had learning and talents enough to have deserved and obtained promotion. His failings were so notorious, and the boys took such liberties with him (sticking his wig full of paper darts in school, and, indeed, doing or leaving undone whatever they pleased, in full reliance upon his easy and indolent good-nature), that it would have been a most unfit thing to have appointed him under-master, in course of seniority, when
Vincent succeeded Dr. Smith. Perhaps he would not have taken offence at being passed by, if a person thoroughly qualified had been chosen in his stead; but he could not bear to have an inferior usher, who was a man of no talents whatever, promoted over him, and therefore, to the great injury of his worldly affairs, which could ill bear such a sacrifice, he left the school altogether. Hayes it was who edited those sermons which Dr. Johnson is supposed to have written for his friend Dr. Taylor.

I was placed in the under fourth, a year lower than I might have been if I could have made Latin verses, and yet more than a year too high for being properly trained to make them. The manner of introducing a boy into the ways of the school was by placing him for a week or ten days under the direction of one in the same remove, who is called his substance, the new comer being the shadow; and, during this sort of noviciate, the shadow neither takes nor loses place by his own deserts, but follows the substance. A diligent and capable boy is, of course, selected for this service; and Smedley, the usher of the fourth, to my great joy, picked out George Strachey,
the very individual on whom my physiognomical eyes would have rested if I might have made a choice throughout the whole school. Strachey and I were friends at first sight. But he boarded at home; and it is in the boarding-house, more than in the school, that a friend is wanted: and there, God knows, I had for some time a solitary heart.

The present Lord Amherst was head of the house; a mild, inoffensive boy, who interfered with no one, and, having a room to himself (which no other boy had), lived very much to himself in it, liked and respected by every body. I was quartered in the room with ——, who afterwards married that sweet creature, Lady ——, and never was woman of a dove-like nature more unsuitably mated, for ——, when in anger, was perfectly frantic. His face was as fine as a countenance could be which expressed so ungovernable and dangerous a temper; the finest red and white, dark eyes and brows, and black curling hair; but the expression was rather that of a savage than of a civilized being, and no savage could be more violent. He had seasons of good-nature, and at the worst was rather to be dreaded than disliked; for he was plainly not master of himself. But I had cause to dread him; for he once attempted to hold me by the leg out of the window; it was the first floor, and over a stone area: had I not struggled in time, and clung to the frame with both hands, my life would probably have been sacrificed to this freak of temporary madness. He used to pour water into my ear when I was a-bed and asleep, fling the porter-pot or the poker
at me, and in many ways exercised such a capricious and dangerous tyranny, merely by right of the strongest (for he was not high enough in the school to fag me), that at last I requested
Mr. Hayes to remove me into another chamber. Thither he followed me; and, at a very late hour one night, came in wrapt in a sheet, and thinking to frighten me by personating a ghost, in which character he threw himself upon the bed, and rolled upon me. Not knowing who it was, but certain that it was flesh and blood, I seized him by the throat, and we made noise enough to bring up the usher of the house, and occasion an inquiry, which ended in requiring ——’s word that he never would again molest me.

He kept his word faithfully, and left school a few months afterwards, when he was about seventeen or eighteen, and apparently full grown,—a singularly fine and striking youth; indeed, one of those figures which you always remember vividly. I heard nothing of him till the Irish rebellion: he served in the army there; and there was a story, which got into the newspapers, of his meeting a man upon the road, and putting him to death without judge or jury, upon suspicion of his being a rebel. It was, no doubt, an act of madness. I know not whether any proceedings took place (indeed, in those dreadful times, anything was passed over); but he died soon afterwards, happily for himself, and all who were connected with him.

Miss Tyler returned to Bristol before the Whitsun-holydays, having embarrassed herself, and had recourse to shifts of which I knew too much. To
spare the expense of a journey so soon after my entrance at school, I was invited for the holydays by the good Miss Delamares to Cheshunt. I passed three weeks there very happily, having the use of an excellent microscope, and frequently taking my book into the greenhouse, and reading there for the sake of the temperature and the odour of the flowers. During part of the time there were two other guests in the house. The one was a nice good-humoured warmhearted girl, in the very flower of youth and feeling, who was engaged to a French or Swiss clergyman, Mercier by name. Her own was La Chaumette. She was of Swiss extraction, and, having passed the preceding year among her relations in the Pays de Vaud, had brought home something like a maladie du pays, if that phrase may be applied to a longing after any country which is not our own: it was, however, a very natural affection for one who was compelled to exchange Lausanne for Spitalfields. I used to abuse Switzerland as a land of bears and wolves, and ice and snow, for the sake of seeing the animation with which she defended and praised it. Not long afterwards she married to her heart’s content—and, to the very great regret of all who knew her, died in her first child-bed. Poor Betsey La Chaumette! after a lapse of nine and-twenty years, I thought of her in Switzerland, and, when I was at Echichens with the
Awdrys, met with a Swiss clergyman who knew her and remembered her visit to that country.

I have heard her mother relate an anecdote of herself which is well worthy of preservation, because of another personage to whom it relates also. She was
a most lively, good-humoured, entertaining woman; and her conversation was the more amusing because it was in broken English, intermingled plentifully with French interjections. In person she was strong-featured, large, and plain even to ugliness, if a countenance can be called ugly which was always brightened with cheerfulness and good-nature. There was a
Mr. Giffardiere, who held some appointment in the Queen’s household (I think he used to read French to her), and was one of those persons with whom the royal family were familiar. Mrs. La Chaumette was on a visit to him at Windsor; and it was insisted upon by the Giffardieres that she must have one of the Lunardi bonnets (immortalized by Burns) which were then in fashion, it being the first age of balloons. This she resisted most womanfully, pleading her time of life and ugliness with characteristic volubility and liveliness, but to no purpose. Her eloquence was overruled; and as nobody could appear without such a bonnet, such a bonnet she had. All this went to the palace; for kings and queens are sometimes as much pleased at being acquainted with small private affairs as their subjects are in conversing upon great public ones. Mrs. La Chaumette’s conversation was worth repeating, even to a king; and she was so original a person, that the King knew her very well by character, and was determined to see her. Accordingly he stopped his horse one day before Giffardiere’s apartments, and, after talking a while with him, asked if Mrs. La Chaumette was within, and desired she might be called to the window. She came in all the agitation or fluster that such a
summons was likely to excite. The King spoke to her with his wonted good-nature, asked her a few questions, hoped she liked Windsor, and concluded by saying he was glad to hear she had consented at last to have a Lunardi bonnet. Trifling as this is, it is a sort of trifling in which none but a kind-hearted king would have indulged; and I believe no one ever heard the story without liking George III. the better for it: I am sure this was the effect it produced in the circle of her acquaintance. How well do I remember the looks, and tones, and gestures, and mon Dieus! with which she accompanied the relation.

James Beresford was the other visitor at Cheshunt, an unsuccessful translator of the Æneid into blank verse, but the very successful author of the Miseries of Human Life. He was then a young man, either just in orders, or on the point of being ordained. This story was then remembered of him at the Charter House: that he had been equally remarkable when a boy for his noisiness and his love of music; and having one day skipped school to attend a concert, there was such an unusual quietness in consequence of his absence, that the master looked round, and said “Where’s Beresford? I am sure he cannot be in school!” and the detection thus brought about cost poor Beresford a flogging. Him also, like Betsey La Chaumette, I never saw after that visit; and, with all his pleasantness and good-nature, he left upon me an unpleasant impression, from a trifling circumstance which I remember as indicative of my own moral temper at that time. Our holydays’ exercise was to compose a certain number of Latin verses from any part
Thomson’s Spring. I did my task doggedly, in such a manner that it was impossible any exercise could have been more unlike a good one, and yet the very best could not more effectually have proved the diligence with which it had been made. There was neither a false quantity, nor a grammatical fault, nor a decent line in the whole. The ladies made me show it to Beresford; and he, instead of saying, in good-natured sincerity, “You have never been taught to make verses, but it is plain that you have taken great pains in making these, and therefore I am sure the usher will give you credit for what you have done,” returned them to me, saying, “Sir, I see you will be another Virgil one of these days.” I knew that this was neither deserved as praise nor as mockery; and I felt then, as I have continued through life to do, that unmerited censure brings with it its own antidote in the sense of injustice which it provokes, but that nothing is so mortifying as praise to which you are conscious that you have no claim.

Smedley spoke to me sensibly and kindly about this exercise, and put me in training as far as could then be done. He had no reason to complain of my want of good-will, for before the next holydays I wrote about fifty long and short verses upon the death of Fair Rosamund, which I put into his hands. The composition was bad enough, I dare say, in many respects; but it gave proofs of good progress. They were verses to the ear as well as to the fingers; and I remember them sufficiently to know that the attempt was that of a poet. It is worth remembering as being the only Latin poem that I ever composed voluntarily.
For there my ambition ended. When I was so far upon a footing with the rest of the remove, that I could make verses decent enough to pass muster, I was satisfied. It was in English, and not in heathen Latin, that
“The sacred Sisters for their own
Baptized me in the springs of Helicon;”
and I also knew, though I did not know
Lope de Vega had said it, that
“Todo paxaro en su nido
Natural canto mantiene,
En que ser perfeto viene:
Porque en el canto aprendido
Mil imperfeciones tiene.”