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LORD HOLLAND's ORTHOGRAPHY. 16]
nimity of Bonaparte in his exile with the wanton cruelty of his gaolers. One point of difference, however, he does not so much as allude to. It is worthy of observation that, at the very time intelligence reached England of Napoleon's decease, the government were considering a plan for the removal of the ex-emperor to a more salubrious soil, and this humane purpose was probably under discussion at the very period Bonaparte himself was engaged in drawing up his last will, in which, amongst other bequests, he left a legacy of 10,000f. to a miscreant who not long before had attempted to assassinate the Duke of Wellington. Within the narrow limits which are prescribed to us, justice cannot be done to the farrago of idle gossip and misstatement which Henry Edward Lord Holland has not thought it unbecoming the son of his father to publish. At the outset of the volume we learn that the author knows little of Portugal, was never in Russia, and has no acquaintance with Austria. The countries he professes thoroughly to comprehend are Spain and France. A sample of his communications respecting France we have given. His revelations of Spain consist for the most part of ancient anecdotes bearing upon the amours of Godoy, Prince of Peace. The orthography of the writer is of the standard of 1800, and corresponds sufficiently with the tone of his book. Neither will be satisfactory to the matter-of-fact people of 1851, who do not affect retrograde movements, either in the spelling or in the moral tone of their literary and political instructors. Of customs, manners, and solid infor
mation, nothing appears throughout the volume. The M
burden is of kings and queens, and of them little more than their degrading amours. That Lord Holland should have condescended to such labour is somewhat astonishing, for he makes a boast of despising the inhabitants of palaces and the possessors of thrones, and his birth—to say nothing of good breeding—should have protected him from indecent gossip—the proud prerogative of flunkeyism |
January 27, 1851.
ROBERT SOUTHEY. 163
—oCHAPTER THE FIRST.
THE life of Robert Southey is a picture the very first sight of which elicits boundless satisfaction; frequent and close inspection qualifies delight; a last and parting look would seem to justify the early admiration. The faults of the subject may therefore be considered secondary and accidental; its merits of the highest order and unimpeachable. So fine a form, perhaps, is seldom disfigured by such uncouth drapery. The vices of Southey's character are the blunderings of the journeyman; its virtues are the perfect work of Nature and of Genius. We may be justly proud of our late Laureate. Literature does not every day present us with so worthy a son; students who forsake the trodden paths of life to earn their difficult crust by patient spinning of the brain cannot find a more illustrious example. The pursuit of letters was the business of Southey's life; it was also the first and last joy of his heart. Rather than not at intervals breathe the pure air and partake of the golden light that await the worshipper on the topmost heights of Parnassus, he condescended to work as a bondman, through winter and summer from year to year, on its barren
sides. Literature was his glory, and he her pride. Providence, in its bounty, has granted us poets who have put forth a higher note of enchantment; moralists who have preached a more solemn strain; philosophers who have understood more clearly the force of everlasting truths; but in no age have intellectual power and moral worth and social dignity combined to present a finer instance of the literary man. In early youth Southey took to literature as a profession when he might have adopted a more promising calling, and his stedfast adherence to his craft was masculine and perfect. Some men have given utterance to the craving soul in verse immortal as itself, and been satisfied with the loud expression. Others have stolen brief hours from the stern business of life to enjoy a passing gleam of the poet’s happiness. But of such it cannot be affirmed that either the pursuit or the communication of knowledge formed the main object of their lives. Southey educated his mind, became a scholar, devoured books with the sole aim and intention of devoting himself to literary dealings. A loving uncle wished him to enter the Church; he sentenced himself to two years' study of the law; but he could not finally bring himself to grasp either divinity or law as his staff, lest haply literature might prove nothing better than a crutch. He declined the one avocation, forsook the other, yet deliberately entered the profession of his own selection with all the resolution and with quite as much of the sense of responsibility that accompany the most conscientious to the pulpit or the bar. At the age of forty-six Southey began a history of his life. He registered his recollections from earliest
HIS SHORT AUTOBIOGRAPHY. 165
childhood, and communicated them in a series of letters to an old friend. His intention had been to carry those recollections down to the hour of writing, but his heart failed him. The exquisite fragment of autobiography ceases already at Westminster School, and when the lad had hardly attained his fifteenth year. Had Southey found courage to persist in his task, he would have left behind him an autobiography unrivalled for personal and general interest and for its grace and genial style. The few precious sheets that remain exhibit the writer in his most charming aspect. Before he had reached his fortieth year he had proved himself a master of prose. The playful fancy, indicating itself in delicate touches; the marvellous memory, evoking almost from the cradle the most affecting incidents of childhood; the faculty of narrating in the simplest terms the simplest doings of a tranquil life, and of winning and rewarding attention by the very absence of effort—all so characteristic of Robert Southey in his happiest moods—are singularly illustrated in the few but valuable pages of which we speak. Unfortunately, because they are so few, the life of Southey has yet to be written; for we cannot accept the contribution of Mr. Southey’s' son, important as it is, for more than it pretends to be. The six volumes before us furnish materials for a future structure, but are no more that edifice than so many rows of bricks may be said to constitute the building they must help to raise. The work, edited by the Rev. Charles Cuthbert Southey, professes to give the life of his father, but nothing whatever of that life is to be learnt, except what the reader has skill and judgment enough to gather for himself from