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HE GOES TO WESTMINSTER AT FOURTEEN.
parallel. “The boy is father to the man.” The former, at starting, associated poetic fame with the composition of lengthened epics; the latter could never understand why his contemporaries failed to crown with laurel his protracted narratives in verse. Southey's confidence in his powers was at once the main cause of his great success in literature, and of his failure as a first-rate poet. His ambition sustained him so long as it accompanied efforts to which his genius was equal; it betrayed him into wilful error, and confirmed him in obstinacy whenever it was associated with aspirations which he had no claim to put forth. The heroic attempts made by Southey before he was fairly a schoolboy, astonish by their breadth, and amuse by their boldness. Created for almost superhuman exertion, it would seem that even in petticoats he could hardly think of the lightest of intellectual exercises except as a labour fit for an infant Hercules to grapple with.
At fourteen the young poet was sent to Westminster. He remained at the school four years, when he was dismissed for contributing a sarcastic attack upon corporal punishment to a periodical which he and some of his schoolfellows had set on foot. He returned to Bristol to his aunt in 1792, having formed friendships at Westminster, which, it appears from the present volumes, were a consolation and a blessing to him until his dying hour. One schoolfellow was Mr. Grosvenor Bedford, late of the Exchequer, to whom the bulk of the published correspondence is addressed. Another was the late Mr. C. W. W. Wynn, M.P., who for many years, and until provision was made for Southey by the government, generously allowed his friend an annuity of a hundred and sixty pounds. The lad had scarcely left school before he had the misfortune to lose his father, who died a ruined and broken-hearted man. The kindness of an uncle, however, who had paid Southey's expenses at Westminster, provided for the youthful genius, and he proceeded to Oxford in January, 1793, when he entered at Balliol, having previously been declined at Christ Church on account of his expulsion from Westminster. How close to the French Revolution our hero had arrived the reader will see by the date. He has yet to learn that with the first worthies of that Revolution, and with the cause of civil and religious liberty throughout the world, the author of the satire upon corporal punishment sympathised with all his heart and soul. Southey went to Oxford an honest and a generous-hearted republican ; not, be it always remembered, because he had reasoned out his faith and could rest his conviction upon a satisfied judgment, but because his indignant spirit rose naturally against oppression, and because it was the abiding error of a good and virtuous man rashly to obey his impulses whithersoever they might lead, and to be blind to the daily sacrifice which a fine intellect was not too proud to make to most unworthy and unmeaning prejudice. We shall hear more of this hereafter.
It is unnecessary to state that Southey worked hard in his own way whilst he remained at Balliol, but many circumstances combined to bring his residence to a close some time before its natural term. Jis uncle wished him to go into the Church, as we have said. The nephew had no religious opinions to
BECOMES ACQUAINTED WITH COLERIDGE.
justify the step, and at no period of his life was he the man to play the hypocrite. In justice to his patron, however, he busied himself with thoughts of a profession, whilst his heart became more and more wedded to a pursuit not yet included in the category of legitimate callings. At first he took to medicine, assiduously attended lectures, and got as far as the dissecting room, where the atmosphere sickened him. It then occurred to him to secure a competency by a stroke. He believed himself entitled to a reversion, and he offered it for sale. No purchaser could be found, and no reversion ever came. Failing here, he applied to one of his friends for official employment in London. Such employment is easier asked than obtained. Nothing seemed left for the adventurer, who had already reached his twentieth year, but emigration or open allegiance to the perilous mistress to whom finally he clung, when Samuel Taylor Coleridge, then an undergraduate at Cambridge, paid a visit to Oxford, was introduced to Robert Southey, and suggested a scheme almost as wild as the brain from which it emanated. The boys, after what they deemed due deliberation, decided upon a plan worthy of Robert Owen. They, and as many brother adventurers as they could collect, would embark for the New World, and establish a community there on a thoroughly Social basis. The world was out of joint, and they would set it right by presenting it for imitation a normal world of intellectual contrivance. All the colonists were to marry forthwith ; the ladies were to cook and perform household offices upon their arrival at their destination; the men were to cultivate land by common labour, and, when labour was over,
to improve one another and themselves by social converse and literary undertakings. Plans of building were made, the form of the settlement was accurately defined, and nothing was wanting, at all events, to give the scheme a trial, but a sufficient quantity of that base metal, for lack of which the most promising buildings have been doomed to perish melancholy
Money is a huge evil,” writes Southey to a friend; with his head full of plans and his heart occupied with an engagement, sagely contracted in his poverty, with a young lady, to whose sister the equally penniless Coleridge prudently engaged himself, and whose father had lately died, leaving a widow and six children “wholly unprovided for.” The “ huge evil” was fatal. The grand emigration scheme died where it was born in the heads of its concoctors. But this was not the worst. Miss Tyler hearing of his Social intentions, and of his love for Miss Fricker, immediately shut her door in her nephew's face, and never opened it to him again.
We dwell upon the early incidents of Southey's career, because they constitute all the active incidents of his life. Instructive as the whole story of that life unquestionably is, nothing can be more tranquil than its flow from the hour Southey decided upon his course, and braced himself for a responsibility proudly and deliberately assumed. From the moment he resolved to make literature his sole business, Southey had but one thought—to give dignity to the occupation, and to fulfil every possible duty of his position. The struggle was fraught with action and excitement enough, but they were confined to his
own invincible spirit, and were known to the world only when it profited by their admirable results.
There was a feeble effort to try the Socialist scheme in Wales upon a small scale, but the ridiculous character of the whole affair became evident to the young poets the moment they attempted to reduce their plans to practice. The notion of reforming the universe rapidly gave place, as might be expected, in the case of Coleridge as well as Southey, to the more imminent question of providing, without loss of time, for their own daily bread. To obtain necessary food, they started as public lecturers in Bristol—Southey taking up history, according to his bent; and Coleridge dealing with politics and ethics. The historical lectures lasted many months; they were well attended, and brought some money, but not enough to enable Southey to publish a poem which he had written in his nineteenth year, and now ardently longed to bring forth. At the remote period of which we speak there lived a bookseller in Bristol ; in the outskirts of that city, in honourable retirement, he still dwells. He has survived his illustrious contemporaries, and lives to find consolation in the recollection of friends who, for fifty years, cherished the remembrance of his serviceable sympathy, and never spoke his name but in grateful affection. Joseph Cottle must by this time have travelled far beyond his threescore years and ten; we record it to the old man's praise, that he came to the rescue of genius in its difficulties, and husbanded for mankind powers that might have been deserted through disappointment, and crushed by despair. Cottle provided for the immediate wants of Coleridge, and offered Southey, much to his astonish