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Greta Hall, Part 4 to the Life & Works of
Robert Southey

In September of 1803, the Southeys moved to the Lake District, Keswick. (See map.) It would certainly seem that they moved there at the invitation of Mrs. Southey's sister, Sara. As we have seen, Sara had married Coleridge. By 1803, Sara was in need of help. Coleridge was addicted to opium and was proving to be a failure both as a husband and a father. Further, Edith Southey was in need of some consoling, as she had lost her first born but a month before and it must have been thought that a change of scenery would help.6 The Coleridges had moved into this large home at Keswick known as Greta Hall, and had been living there for about three years. Greta Hall was certainly big enough for both families,7 indeed, Greta Hall was big enough for three families: the Coleridges, the Southeys and the Lowells; most of the members of whom were to live together there at Greta Hall for a number of years. As we have seen, the three young friends (Southey, Coleridge and Lowell) had married three of the Fricker sisters. Coleridge was never to spend any great amounts of time there, indeed, in time he was to take up a permanent residence in London; and Lowell, as we have seen, died in 1795. Thus it was that the three sisters and their children were to live at Greta Hall with Southey as the male head of this collective.

De Quincey in his Recollections was to describe Greta Hall and the arrangements, therein. "The house itself -- Greta Hall -- stood upon a little eminence ... overhanging the river Greta. There was nothing remarkable in its internal arrangements: in all respects, it was a very plain, unadorned family dwelling; large enough, by a little contrivance, to accommodate two, or, in some sense, three families, viz., Mr. Southey and his family; Coleridge and his; together with Mrs. Lovell [Lowell], who, when her son was with her, might be said to compose a third." De Quincey then goes on to make reference to the fact that all of the adult women at Greta Hill were sisters; and how, given that they all had children living under the same roof, that among the many amusing jests of Southey's there was the one where he called the hill on which Greta Hall was placed, the aunt hill. "The house had, therefore been divided (not by absolute partition into two distinct apartments, but by an amicable distribution of rooms) between the two families of Coleridge and Southey." The two families might live apart during the day but would meet together at dinner.8

By comparing it to that of Wordsworth's, de Quincey was to write of Southey's library at Greta Hall:

"... the two or three hundred volumes of Wordsworth occupied a little, homely bookcase, fixed into one of two shallow recesses formed on each side of the fireplace by the projection of the chimney in the little sittingroom up stairs. ... I believe Wordsworth rarely resorted to his books ... On the other hand, Southey's collection occupied a separate room, the largest, and every way the most agreeable, in the house; and this room styled, and not ostentatiously (for it really merited that name), the Library. ... The books were chiefly English, Spanish, and Portuguese; well selected, being the great cardinal classics of the three literatures."9
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2011