A Blupete Biography Page

Organized & Industrious, Part 5 to the Life & Works of
Robert Southey

Southey, generally, was a very organized and industrious researcher and writer,10 with, due to the generosity of a government pension, the leisure to fully pursue his literary interests. Augustine Birrell commented on Southey's industry and devotion:
"He [Southey] wrote poetry (as if anybody could) before breakfast; he read during breakfast; he wrote history until dinner; he corrected proofsheets between dinner and tea; he wrote an essay for the Quarterly afterwards, and after supper, by way of relaxation, composed the Doctor, a lengthy and elaborate jest. Now, what can anyone think of such a life, except how clearly it shows that the habits best fitted for communicating information, formed with the best care and daily regulated by the best motives, are exactly the habits which are likely to afford a man the least information to communicate? Southey had no events, no experiences. His wife kept house and allowed him pocket-money ..."11
De Quincey, who lived as a neighbour to both of them, compared Wordsworth and Southey in respect to their life styles:
"Wordsworth lived in the open air: Southey in his library, which Coleridge used to call his wife. Southey had particularly elegant habits (Wordsworth called them finical) in the use of books. Wordsworth, on the other hand, was so negligent, and so self-indulgent in the same case, that, as Southey laughingly expressed it to me some years afterwards, 'to introduce Wordsworth into one's library, is like letting a bear into a tulip garden.'"12
Overall, especially compared to the other romantics such as Coleridge and Lord Byron, Southey was a steady man, not given to extremes of behaviour; he was pretty flat, and, as Hazlitt was to observe, not "a boon companion." The diarist, Henry Crabb Robinson, however, was charmed by Southey's person and manners. I quote Edith Morley who wrote Robinson's biography:
"Crabb Robinson was on cordial personal terms with Southey from the time of their first meeting at Dr. Aikin's house in March 1808, when he was 'charmed by his person and manners.' They did not agree on politics, and Crabb Robinson 'deemed him... an honest' alarmist; they seldom agreed about poetry, except in so far as both admired Wordsworth and Coleridge. But Crabb Robinson and Southey had much in common in their love of travel and their love of letters, and when, at Godwin's house in 1817, in Crabb Robinson's presence, Shelley 'was very abusive towards the laureate,' saying he had 'sold himself to the court,' the diarist is content to state that 'the friends of Southey are under no difficulty in defending him.' It is, by the way, somewhat surprising to find that Crabb Robinson noted in Shelley 'a resemblance to Southey, particularly in his voice.' This seems to have been the only occasion when the two men met, and Crabb Robinson says that Shelley made 'a pleasing impression, which was not altogether destroyed by his conversation, though he is vehement, and arrogant, and intolerant.'"13


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Peter Landry

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