Corps de l’article


  • AA - The Annual Anthology, ed. Robert Southey, 2 Vols. (Bristol: Biggs for Longman London, I 1799, II 1800).

  • B - Edmund Burke, Reflections On The Revolution In France, ed. Conor Cruise O'Brien (Penguin, 1968).

  • CA - Geoffrey Carnall, Robert Southey And His Age (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960).

  • CB - (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1850), Fourth Series. Southey's Common-Place Book, ed. J.W.Warter

  • CP - Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Poetical Works, ed. Ernest Hartley Coleridge (London: Oxford University Press, 1969).

  • F - Poems of Robert Southey, ed. M. H. Fitzgerald (London: Oxford University Press, 1909).

  • Griggs - Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge , 6 Vols., ed. E.L.Griggs (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956).

  • G - Geoffrey Grigson, A Choice of Southey's Verse (London: Faber and Faber, 1970).

  • J - The Letters of Robert Southey to John May 1797 to 1838 , ed. Charles Ramos (Austin Texas: Jenkins Publishing Company, The Pemberton Press, 1976).

  • JAC - Mary Jacobus, Tradition and Experiment in Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads (1798) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976).

  • L - Molly Lefebure, The Bondage of Love (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1987).

  • LC - The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey , ed. C.C.Southey, 6 Vols., 2nd edn. (London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1849-50).

  • MP - The Contributions of Robert Southey to the Morning Post , ed. Kenneth Curry (Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1984).

  • N - Hoxie Neale Fairchild, The Noble Savage. A Study In Romantic Naturalism (New York: Russell and Russell, 1928).

  • NL - New Letters of Robert Southey , 2 Vols., ed. Kenneth Curry (New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1965).

  • Poems 1795 - Poems: Containing The Retrospect, Odes, Elegies, Sonnets, &c. , by Robert Lovell, and Robert Southey, of Baliol College, Oxford (Bath: R.Crutwell, 1795).

  • Poems 1797 - Poems by Robert Southey , Ist edn. (Bristol: J.Cottle, 1797); facsimile (Oxford: Woodstock Books, 1989).

  • Poems 1799 - Poems By Robert Southey , The Second Volume (Bristol: Biggs and Cottle, 1799).

  • PW - The Poetical Works of Robert Southey, Collected by Himself , 10 Vols. (London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green, & Longmans, 1843-45).

  • R - A Memoir Of The Life And Writings Of The Late William Taylor Of Norwich , 2 Vols., ed. J.W.Robberds (London: J.Murray, 1843).

  • RO - Derek Roper, Reviewing Before The Edinburgh 1788-1802 (London: Methuen, 1978).

  • Simmons - Jack Simmons, Southey (London: Collins, 1945).

  • W - Selections From The Letters of Robert Southey , edited by his son-in-law John Wood Warter, in four vols. (London: Longmans, 1856).

Southey acquired fame, and infamy, early in his poetic career. His first volumes of poetry which were published in the late 1790's were all reviewed with some measure of favour as well as becoming targets for satire. Southey's output remains impressive and his range of poetic genres and sub-genres is some indication of the virtuosity and facility of the poet often working within fashionable parameters or upon the borders of metrical experiment. Southey's modes of expression and poetical subjects are equally wide-ranging. He employs sensibility, horror, the picturesque or political debate; he writes about slavery, injustice, women, his own development, historical events, to underline only a few categories of focus. By early 1797 Coleridge could write that he was "jealous for Robert Southey's fame" (Griggs I, 320) but that he feared the fluency and facility of the poet might result in an early decay of his work. "Besides," he added, "I am fearful that he will begin to rely too much on story and event in his poems, to the neglect of those lofty imaginings , that are peculiar to, and definitive of, the poet." Story and event were of course essential factors in the ballad idiom which saw a revival in the 1790s. Southey exploited story and event in many of his smaller poems, but often produced work of a high standard and not devoid of lofty imaginings, albeit in his own style.

In this article I would like to explore the relationship of Southey's writing to the emergence of Lyrical Ballads and other poems. I want to show Southey as a practising writer and as a domesticated poet. I would like to suggest that his volume of Poems 1799 is some ways an 'answer' to Lyrical Ballads and to describe the contents of that volume. Finally, in a piece which brings together comments by Jonathan Wordsworth, Donald Priestman and others, I would like to give as an illustration of Wordsworth and Southey's intertextual 'conversation' regarding Southey's Inscriptions from Poems 1797 one example of poetry from Lyrical Ballads . [1]

1 - Southey And Lyrical Ballads 1798

The Lyrical Ballads are by Coleridge and Wordsworth. The Nightingale, the Dungeon, the Foster Mothers Tale, and the long ballad of the Old Mariner are all that were written by Coleridge. The ballad I think nonsense, the Nightingale tolerable. The other two are pieces of his tragedy. For Wordsworths poems, the last pleases me best, and tho the Idiot Boy is sadly dilated, it is very well done. I reviewed them two months ago.

to Charles Wynn, NL I, 176-77, 17 December 1798

There is still an amusing sense of outrage in the way in which some critics write about Southey's attitudes to and borrowings from Coleridge and Wordsworth, particularly when Lyrical Ballads , one of our cultural icons, is examined. Yet Southey, Coleridge (especially) and Wordsworth all indulged in the textual interactivity which was part of the late eighteenth-century literary scene, and which remains one of the chief accusations against Southey at the time of Lyrical Ballads' publication.

If Coleridge is seen as the covert plagiarist, Southey is the unabashed textual pirate. But all three men had given themselves to that natural exchange of poetical ideas at least since 1795, [2] and it would not be an exaggeration to say that Southey's small poems, especially inscriptions, ballads and poems on popular superstitions supply Wordsworth and Coleridge in part with models for their joint collaboration in Lyrical Ballads .

I would not wish to defend Southey's methods in his ruthless drive for publications in 1798-9, the urgency of which I have tried to sketch elsewhere. He was supporting a household by his pen and therefore all sources of copy were fair game in the struggle. One of the additional reasons for any exploitation of the Lyrical Ballads volume of 1798 would have been Southey's personal interest in the ballad form, and certainly in the stories and situational events therein. We ought also to remember that Byron thought of the poet, however distortedly, as "the ballad-monger Southey" and of Wordsworth as the "dull disciple" of Southey's school of poetry and that this was perhaps indicative of the fashionable attitude to these poets by 1809. [3]

Southey's 1797 Poems included (163-198) three ballads; Mary , Donica and Rudiger . They lie amongst the variety of forms and styles of the volume and illustrate his early preoccupation with German-influenced stories of frisson and horror popularised by Bürger, Lewis and others. Southey's attitude to Mary is very interesting:

The "Maid of the Inn" you selected for censure, and in my own mind it values little; yet how popular it has become! and where one person reads the "Hymn to the Penates," unquestionably the best piece in the volume, fifty can repeat that foolish ballad.

W I, 69-70, April 9, 1799

He obviously still valued his most domestic poem, Hymn to the Penates in which, as Fairchild says:

Southey represents himself as a disillusioned idealist who heals his soul by cultivating the domestic affections in their appropriate environment of natural simplicity. And this simplicity is not, as in pantisocratic days, regarded as an initial step forward to a higher perfection: it is in itself perfection.

N 201

But during the Westbury period, the commercial aspects of writing began to gain an increasing hold upon his work. In 1798-9, the popularity of the "foolish ballad" was exploited by the poet to the full. Southey could not afford to scoff at its potential for pleasing an audience. He began to take a more serious view of the ballad for commercial reasons alone, and he enjoyed rooting out bizarre stories from avowedly authentic antiquarian sources. Under his enduring contempt for Mary , [4] which (JAC 216) "provides an obvious parallel for The Thorn ," we can perhaps discern a certain amazement about its vulgar fame as late as 1809:

They have made a melo-drama of "Mary the Maid of the Inn," at one of the Strand theatres. Did I ever tell you that the story is in Plott's "Staffordshire?" The scene of it was the Black Meer of Morridge, near Leek; the chief personage a man, and the murder not discovered, but prevented. If you have the book, you will find it on page 291. I verily believe that at least half my reputation is owing to that paltry ballad, which is bad enough to spoil a very fine story. The strolling players recite it here about the country.

W II, 181, December 1809

Southey obviously loved the source-hunting and the story-moulding, but held the medium of ballad-metre in some disdain, despite linking it to part of his poetical reputation. This rather careless or insensitive attitude to metrical work (which can also be seen in the 1799 volume of Poems ) had already cost him dear. But in 1798-9 if the ballad could be used as a popular vehicle for saleable work, then he would continue to use it. It was an easy container for social comment, and for the old tales that he and Charles Lamb loved. Something of the continuing popularity of the form is evident here in the fate of The Old Man's Comforts which had originally appeared in the Morning Post on 17 January 1799:

I have met a very odd person, by name Worgan...He does wonders on the pianoforte. Oddly enough, he played and sung The Old Man's Comforts in a large company; and after praising the music, they fell to praising the poetry, which nobody knew to be mine. He himself fancied it was Bowles's; so I set him right.

W I, 289, November 27, 1804

The trite moral reassurance which closes the Old Man's Comforts and the love of antiquarian tales of horror, is characteristic of much of Southey's work in the more stylistically coherent 1799 volume of Poems , and here he seems to function best when he is dramatic, dialogic, idiomatic and vernacular. If he saw himself as something of a proven pioneer, an experimenter, and an authority in 'ballad-work' by the time of the publication of Lyrical Ballads , this might account, in another sense, for the corrective strain in his borrowings, a wish to show his peers how it should be done. Mary Jacobus and others [5] provide us with a list of Southey's borrowings from Lyrical Ballads the manuscript of which was in Cottle's hands by the end of May 1798 and which Southey seems to have read very soon after, because his Morning Post poem The Idiot, based around Wordsworth's The Idiot Boy, [6] appeared on 30 June 1798. Over half of the Jacobus list of borrowings, to which I have made several additions, appeared initially in the Morning Post, other borrowings were re-vamped for inclusion in the 1799 volume of Poems and beyond.

Southey's adaptions from Lyrical Ballads and other works in 1798-9

W.Wordsworth and S.T.Coleridge——- Robert Southey:

  • Yew-Tree Lines (from 1797)——- Henry The Hermit (Poems 1799, 177)

  • The Idiot Boy (written spring 1798)——- The Idiot (MP , 30 June 1799)

  • We Are Seven (spring 1798)——- The Battle of Blenheim (MP , 9 August 1798)

  • Old Man Travelling (late 1796-1798)——- The Sailor's Mother (Poems 1799, 206, circa December 27 1798)

  • Goody Blake and Harry Gill (first half of 1798)——- The Witch (Westbury 1798, Poems 1799, 216)

  • The Thorn (March/April/May 1798)——- The Circumstance On Which The Following Ballad Is Founded Happened Not Many Years Ago In Bristol (MP , 11 June 1799), and Annual Anthology Vol.II, 70 as The Mad Woman(MP, 11 June 1799) and it also supplied material for A Landscape (MP , 26 October 1799)

  • The Ryme of the Ancyent Marinere (winter and spring 1797-8)——- The Sailor who had served in the Slave Trade (from an actual event in September 1798, Westbury 1798, Poems 1799, 107), The Murderer (MP , 14 July 1798)

  • The Complaint of a forsaken Indian Woman (spring 1798?) and Simon Lee (spring 1798?)——- The Song Of The Old American Indian (MP , 16 July 1799)

  • Simon Lee (spring 1798?)——- The Old Mansion-House, (Poems 1799, 183)

  • Expostulation and Reply——- Night (MP , 26 September 1798)

  • Expostulation and Reply & The Tables Turned ——- The conversational form/metre of The Morning Mists ,(MP, 11 October 1798), Stanzas (MP, 28 September 1798)

  • Outside Lyrical Ballads:

  • Peter Bell of the summer of 1798——- The Secret Expedition (MP , 17 August 1799)

  • The Ruined Cottage begun in 1795——- The Ruined Cottage (Poems 1799, 226), Henry The Hermit (Poems 1799, 177)

  • Frost At Midnight (February 1798)——- Night (MP , 26 September 1798), and influenced To A Friend (MP, 18 September 1798), Stanzas (MP, 28 September 1798)

I have noticed similarities between The Complaint of a Forsaken Indian Woman (spring 1798?) and Southey's The Song Of The Old American Indian (MP 161, 16 July 1799) - Southey wrote several more Songs of the American Indians at Westbury and Exeter in 1799. He translates Wordsworth's abandoned female into a male lamenting old age, and he imitates the short couplet lines of his model to produce a rather sentimental poem showing how Indian society rejects the old hunter. There is nothing of the blank desertion found in his model, though, simply the imitative refrain "Alas the burthen of old age," which also makes links between Southey's poem and Simon Lee.[7] Southey's poem does not of course catch the reader up in the intervening mattock-blow that brings out the pathetic gratitude of the struggling Simon Lee, crippled by aristocratic servitude. The reader remains at a distance, listening to a lament for an old Indian who cannot even bend a bow, reinforced in the notion that old age in itself is a bad thing because it renders us useless, rather than being implicated ourselves as readers in the idea that society itself, to which we all belong and have responsibilities in, can produce versions of old age which are lamentable. It is a general involvement with suffering, as Mary Jacobus notes (ibid.24) when speaking about his version of The Ruined Cottage , that Southey avoids here and in much of his other work:

Southey's adaptation of material from Lyrical Ballads is, however, of two sorts. Despite the evidence of his 'Ruined Cottage' one has to concede the possibility that his other borrowings represent a deliberate attempt to put right what he had criticised in his review. In some cases, poems from Lyrical Ballads are returned firmly to the level of the magazine poetry from which they had been raised, stripped of their new thematic depth and narrative sophistication. In other cases, what is idiosyncratic or disturbing in the poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge is replaced by topical or humanitarian interest of a quite straightforward kind: the poems become not simply shallower, but more public.

It is true that Southey converts the disturbing open-endedness of Wordsworth and Coleridge's work to sententious, clear-cut, rapidly-moving stories, or emblems of suffering. Yet one other dimension needs to be included in this analysis of his corrective borrowing, and that is the famous summary of his poetical character by his friend William Taylor:

You have a mimosa-sensibility, which agonizes in so slight a blast; an imagination excessively accustomed to summon up trains of melancholy ideas, and marshal funeral processions; a mind too fond by half, for its own comfort, of sighs and sadness, of pathetic emotions and heart-rending woe. You miss-see the dangers in expectation through the lens of a tear.

R I, 256, March 4 1799

Southey's reply is equally famous, R I, 262, March 12 1799:

Once, indeed, I had a mimosa-sensibility, but it has long been rooted out: Five years ago I counteracted Rousseau by dieting upon Godwin and Epictetus; they did me some good, but time has done more. I have a dislike to all strong emotion, and avoid whatever could excite it; a book like 'Werter' gives me now unmingled pain. In my own writings you may observe that I dwell rather upon what affects than what agitates.

March 12 1799, LC I, 13

Mary Jacobus is certainly correct in representing the borrowings as stolen copy for magazine poetry (though the 'borrowing' was not always one way), and to notice the removal of idiosyncrasies and disturbing qualities from the borrowings, but Southey's comments add to her appraisal. The way in which Wordsworth draws the reader into imaginative involvement with his subject time and again is exactly what Southey shies away from. His borrowings may affect the magazine or anthology audience, but they do not always powerfully agitate in the way that the poems in Lyrical Ballads may still do. Southey rejects the crucial sense of involvement in poems like The Ryme of the Ancyent Marinere and The Idiot Boy and replaces this with an immediacy which is as Mary Jacobus says of a shallower and more public kind. This has the added effect of shortening the shelf-life of the poetry.

William Taylor's summary of Southey's imaginative tendencies show the latter as a poet of sensibility, whose use of Godwin and Epictetus has not quite obscured the apparently habitual turmoil which strong emotions wrought upon him and Southey's reply appears contradictory. If he had "rooted out" his "mimosa sensibility" then surely he could read Werther without "unmingled pain?" I suggest, then, another hidden aspect of Southey's borrowings, which lies in the corrective diffusing of this agitatory involvement demanded by the Lyrical Ballads experiment. Southey takes a step back from the intensity of the subjects which he claims to have found uninteresting whilst plundering what he could re-use.

He was much easier with poems deriving from Cowperian domestic interiors or conversations of advice. In Night (MP 103-4), Southey apparently combines elements of Coleridge's Frost At Midnight with part of Wordsworth's Expostulation and Reply[8] and extracts from CB 106, describing poplar trees and a sunset which corresponds roughly to lines 18-21 (MP 103) of his poem. His phrase "The lovely landscape" is a stock-in-trade lifted (Poems 1797, 154) from his own Musings on a Landscape of Gaspar Poussin . We should also remember that Coleridge's admiration for some of Southey's poems is rarely credited, as here in Griggs I, 297: "bye the bye what a divine poem his Musings on a Landscape after Gaspar Poussin is! - I love it almost better than the Hymn to the Penates." He adds (Griggs I, 300) that the two poems "deserve to have been published after the Joan of Arc, as proofs of progressive genius." Coleridge went on to use some of the tonal qualities of the Hymn to inform his own Frost at Midnight .

In Night (MP 103-4), Southey emphasises the absolute quiet of evening, suggesting the evening of human life, and his poem, with its resigned passivity, looks to the stoical wisdom of old age, rather than retrospectively upon his own life and forward into his child's life as does Coleridge's. Here in fact lies the great distance between Frost At Midnight and Southey's Night . The real nucleus of domesticity, a child, is absent from Night which evokes the acceptance of rest, tranquillity or death. Echoes of Coleridge's phrasing and vocabulary, as well as the attempt to convey an extreme stillness link the two poems strongly:

HOW calm, how quiet all! still, or at times

Just interupted by such stirring sounds

As harmonise with stillness; even the bark

Of yonder watch-dog, heard at intervals,

Comes form the distance pleasantly. Where now

The lovely landscape! hill and vale and wood,

Broad oak, high tufted elm or lighter ash,

Green field and stubble meadows sapless grey,

Or brown variety of new plough'd land?

A dim obscurity o'ermantles all,

An undistinguished greyness, save that near

The church tower seems in heavier gloom to rest

More massy, and those light leaved poplars rise

Dark as a Cypress grove. How fair at morn

It opened on the eye as the grey mists

Roll'd off, how bright at noon, how beautiful

Its evening glories, when more radiant,

Of majesty more visible, the Sun

Beyond the brow of yonder western hill

Blazed o'er the cluster'd clouds! nor charmless now

The scene so dim, nor idly wanders there

The unprofitable eye; earth, air and heaven,

Earth so o'ershadowed, air thus void of sounds,

And yonder moonless vastity of heaven,

With all its countless worlds, all minister

To fill with soothing thoughts the ready mind.

No dissipating objects now distract

Her calm employ; the stir of this low earth

Is silenced, and the bodily powers subdu'd

By the day's business, leave her tranquiliz'd,

And aptest for such feelings as this hour

Inspires, nor light, nor fruitless; for as now

The lively hues of nature are all fled,

Gone with the light that gave them; so the toys

The puppetry of life have lost their glare,

Their worthless splendour. Wise is he who lets

The influence of this spirit-soothing hour

Fill all his thoughts, who passively receives

The calmness that descends upon his soul,

That like the sober wisdom of old age,

Softens and purifies the hallow'd heart.

Southey's phrase "save that near / The church tower" recalls Gray's Elegy, l.9 [9] "Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tower" and brings Coleridge's line "save that at my side / My cradled infant slumbers peacefully" back in line with its literary source. Coleridge's living domestic vignette is returned to its graveyard origins. Southey's Night by comparison with Frost At Midnight is a childless, Godless, tranquillised, passivity, a true nocturne in the Graveyard tradition. Inchoate feeling takes the place of wandering thought, in a kind of stoical melancholy without past or future reference. Two years earlier, in October 1796, he had described a similar existential inertia to Bedford:

If you were married, Grosvenor, you would know the luxury of sitting indolently by the fireside...There is a state of complete mental torpor, very delightful, when the mind admits no sensation but that of mere existence.

LC I, 292-3

Southey's phrase "hill and vale and wood" echoes the Coleridgean "Sea, and hill, and wood" (CP 240) and seems to have been a favourite borrowing as it occurs in To A Friend[10] (MP , 18 September 1798) as "hill, vale, and wood, art hidden from thy sight" and also in Stanzas (MP , 28 September 1798) as "Hill, vale, and wood, and the broad sea." He also extracts the beneficial depiction of passivity from Wordsworth's Expostulation and Reply st.6, so that where Wordsworth writes about "wise passiveness," Southey incorporates this as:

Wise is he who lets

The influence of this spirit-soothing hour

Fill all his thoughts, who passively receives

The calmness that descends upon his soul,

That like the sober wisdom of old age,

Softens and purifies the hallow'd heart.

Night has a rather terrifying blankness, a joyless quality, where home becomes synonymous not just with rest after toil, but with an isolation from the community quite different in quality to that found in Frost At Midnight . Wisdom and purification are high goals, but comfortless housemates and the evocation of calm in this poem is the silence of absolute retreat. In sum, this is an excellent example of Southey's working methods in the production of magazine verse, and other poetry.

2 - Southey on Lyrical Ballads in the Critical Review xxiv, October 1798

Derek Roper's comments upon Lyrical Ballads by way of contemporary reviewers' opinions show that the volume did not emerge into an entirely antagonistic critical atmosphere as has been sometimes stated:

Lyrical Ballads came before the critics as a small anonymous volume of no particular prestige. Its "Advertisement" was somewhat provocative, and its contents uneven in quality. Wordsworth had not yet, to use his own phrase, created the taste by which he was to be relished. Nevertheless, the reviews given to Lyrical Ballads average six pages in length, much more than was usually given to volumes of verse - twice the space given to Rogers's Pleasures of Memory , or Moore's Thomas Little volume. All reviewers expressed strong interest, and their reaction was generally favourable. The Monthly bestowed praise and blame in roughly equal proportions, the Analytical was preponderantly favourable, and the British Critic gave almost nothing but warm praise. The only review in which adverse criticism predominated was that in the Critical , written by the third member of the supposed Lake School, Robert Southey. His was the earliest review to appear; but except for one comment on "The Ancient Mariner" repeated in the Analytical , no critic seems to have followed his lead.

RO 95

Southey (197-204) disliked the experimental poems in the volume including what he saw as the wasted effort (200) of The Idiot Boy , and "tiresome loquacity" of The Thorn . In the case of The Idiot Boy , this did not stop him from quoting sixteen stanzas and giving a full synopsis of the events in the poem. But he thought it, and other poems, "bald in story." In Southey's eyes Goody Blake was "perhaps a good story for a ballad" in the sense that it was a well-known tale and would have had an immediate popular appeal. But he criticised the poem by casting doubts upon its authenticity and because it might promote superstitious belief in witchcraft. This, in the light of his own (often obscure and supernaturally horrific) ballad-work sounds somewhat hypocritical, even if he had in The Witch shown up the brutal stupidity of persecution with (humorous) reason. He also attacked The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere because it did not conform to his idea of authenticity (it claimed to display the style and spirit of the elder poets), and affronted Southey's confidence in his own reading. He had not seen its precursor in the "early English poets," therefore it was a bad poem. It seemed to him "perfectly original in style as well as in story" with many "laboriously beautiful" stanzas which were unfortunately "absurd or unintelligible" when put together.

In dealing with both The Idiot Boy and The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere Southey makes the point that genius (a word very much in vogue with reviewers) has produced worthlessness. On The Idiot Boy he pronounces:

No tale less deserved the labour that appears to have been bestowed upon this. It resembles a Flemish picture in the worthlessness of its design and the excellence of its execution. From Flemish artists we are satisfied with such pieces: who would not have lamented, if Corregio or Rafaelle had wasted their talents in painting Dutch boors or the humours of a Flemish wake?

200 [11]

On The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere he admits:

We do not sufficiently understand the story to analyse it. It is a Dutch attempt at German sublimity. Genius has here been employed in producing a poem of little merit.


So Wordsworth, referred to in this rather brilliant painterly allusion, has metaphorically left the path of the high art of Corregio (c.1489-1534) and Raphael (1483-1520) for imitations of the low genre scenes of the seventeenth century Netherlandish painters. Continuing this thread, Coleridge has put aside the sublime, authentic and successful models from German ballad-work, to substitute his own "Dutch attempt," whose storyline is unintelligible, double-Dutch, a verdict (RO 100) "voiced by every contemporary critic except Charles Lamb." Southey was at least consistent in his opinions, as this extract from a letter of September 1798 to William Taylor indicates:

Coleridge's ballad of "The Ancient Mariner" is, I think, the clumsiest attempt at German sublimity I ever saw. Many of the others are very fine; and some I shall re-read, upon the same principle that led me through Trissino, whenever I am afraid of writing like a child or an old woman.

R I, 223, Sept 5 1798 [12]

Overall, both authors it is implied, are damned for quitting the poetical renaissance for a failed experiment upon the "uninteresting subjects" (204) of genre-painting. I say both authors. Southey writes "ill as the author has employed his talents," (my emphasis) in an apparent attempt to cover the fact that he knew there to be two authors when he reviewed the volume? Or was he genuinely unaware of this fact?

All in all, his verdict upon Lyrical Ballads , though hard upon certain poems does indeed give praise for The Foster-Mother's Tale , The Dungeon , the Yew-Tree Lines , The Female Vagrant and Tintern Abbey , of which he said:

the author seems to discover still superior powers in the Lines written near Tintern Abbey. On reading this production, it is impossible not to lament that he should ever have condescended to write such pieces as the Last of the Flock, the Convict, and most of the ballads. In the whole range of English poetry, we scarcely recollect any thing superior to a part of the following passage.


Southey quotes lines 66-112 of Tintern Abbey which delineate the change in the persona's character from youthful wildness in nature to profound sobriety informed by nature. Perhaps here we might recall the earlier passage in which Southey explains the chastening of his own Rousseauistic impulses and the purported calming of his own character. He responds to that dignified tone of wisdom in Wordsworth's poem suggestive of a similar maturity, if not of a similar frame of mind.

That Southey was so quick to blame and praise Lyrical Ballads is another factor in his own lost poetical reputation, another instance of self-injury. His praise for Tintern Abbey and other poems in the volume is buried under the fact that he, who should have been sympathetic to the aims of the two collaborators, failed to respond generously or perceptively to the experiment and went so far as to scorn The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere , a poem which retains its spellbinding powers of fascination to this day. It is not hard for the reader to take an immediate dislike to Southey on these grounds alone, and to cast him, as so many critics do, as the black sheep of the Lakers. But Wordsworth also came to believe that The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere had hindered the sales of the volume for similar reasons to the ones that Coleridge himself had already stated here, (Griggs I, 332-33) in July 1797 in a letter to Southey, who was editing Chatterton:

You are acting kindly in your exertions for Chatterton's sister: but I doubt the success. Chatterton's or Rowley's poems were never popular - the very circumstance which made them so much talked of - their ancientness - prevented them from being generally read - in the degree, I mean, that Goldsmith's poem or even Rogers's thing upon memory has been. - The sale was never very great.

In the light of the above comment it does seem slightly perverse that Coleridge should have set the poem in a mock old English, especially when Wordsworth was so keen for the volume to succeed. Wordsworth, who was easily put off the idea of publication altogether, was rightly offended by the review:

...Southey's review I have seen. He knew that I published those poems for money and money alone. He knew that money was of importance to me. If he could not conscientiously have spoken differently of the volume, he ought to have declined the task of reviewing it.

The bulk of the poems he has described as destitute of merit. Am I recompensed for this by vague praises of my talents? I care little for the praise of any other professional critic, but as it may help me to pudding... [13]

Seen in this very un-romantic light, it is not impossible to regard Southey's review of Lyrical Ballads as the tactics of someone already in the ballad market as I have suggested, also in pursuit of "pudding" and quite prepared to put the opposition in its place, and even damage it a little. Critics have seen the review as revenge for Coleridge's Nehemiah Higginbottom sonnets and on the other hand as having no impact whatsoever on the sale of Lyrical Ballads. [14] But if Southey could not have been expected to write the puff that Wordsworth seemed to want, his review was certainly not what one would have expected from a friend, assuming that Southey knew who the authors were. One further negative aspect here is that Coleridge and the Wordsworths were away in Germany whilst Southey's review came out, [15] so that his behaviour would appear both hostile and sneakish. Indeed, D. F. Foxon suggests that Southey, acting in "his traditional role as Cottle's adviser" had advised the publisher to rid himself of the volume before the review appeared "so that he would not lose money if the book failed to sell" [16] whether from aesthetic considerations or as a result of his review.

3 - The World of Poems 1799

Then with a deep heart-terrifying voice,

Exclaim'd the Spectre, "Welcome to these realms,

"These regions of DESPAIR! O thou whose steps

"By GRIEF conducted to these sad abodes

"Have pierced; welcome, welcome to this gloom

"Eternal, to this everlasting night,

"Where never morning darts the enlivening ray,

"Where never shines the sun, but all is dark,

"Dark as the bosom of their gloomy King.

The Vision of the Maid of Orleans , Poems 1799, 11-12

Geoffrey Carnall (CA 54) speaks of Southey's poetry as having a joyless quality which sets him apart from Wordsworth. Though this is by no means completely true, it may serve as a general comment upon this volume:

There is little joy in Southey's poetry. When one turns from him to Wordsworth, it is the warmth and tenderness which is more welcome than anything. Southey is obsessed by insecurity and death - the obsession makes his idiot poem extremely powerful.

Yet the volume of Poems 1799 has to be viewed largely in this light, because there is indeed a fascination with death and horror which vies with "Monk" Lewis and the German ballads and goes against the anti-Germanic flavour of Lyrical Ballads . One of these strands of horror takes its cue from The Idiot (MP , 30 June 1798) in which the son Ned digs up his mother's coffin, takes out the corpse and seats it by the fire:

He plac'd his mother in her chair,

And in her wonted place,

And blew the kindling fire, that shone

Reflected on her face;

And pausing now, her hand would feel,

And now her face behold,

"Why, mother, do you look so pale,

"And why are you so cold?"

This scene, with its motif of a kind of return from death (worthy of Hitchcock's film Psycho ), is one keynote of the volume with its expected quota of social protest, parody and experimentation. In some ways the volume is Southey's answer to Lyrical Ballads , and I will explore the poems with this in mind. His idea of interesting subjects, it appears, hinged primarily around outrage, horror and death, a kind of poetical extremis, which usually draws attention by shock.

Both The Vision of the Maid of Orleans (5-69) and The Rose (75-80) which begin the volume, contain violent scenes where young women are about to be burned, but are presented as heroines with miraculous events surrounding their lives. Presumably Southey thought that supernatural was admissible as long as it appeared to have a reliable source and narrative coherence understandable to the reader.

In his anxiety to please an audience, the poet dilutes the depth of his work, as in The Complaints of the Poor (81-84), which is, as Carnall (CA 53) notices, is a distant observation of frozen, diseased and ragged poverty from the vantage point of the well-dressed. It is obvious why the "old bare-headed man" (81), the "young bare-footed child" (82), the woman with the baby (82) and the girl with the sunken eyes (83) are out in the streets in bad weather, but Southey's questions to each character provoke a restatement of their plight from each character's own mouth. He acts as the tour-guide of misfortune, and points out to the "rich man" that (84) "these have answered thee." It is not possible to misunderstand his message, but it is hard to engage any feelings for the sufferers using the poem's language.

The eight 'Ballads' forming the central section of Poems 1799 are a mixture of entertainments of varying seriousness, including poems of social protest, inscripsive epitaphs, horror-stories and a parody of the same genre. Southey's fascination with authenticity is again revealed, as in his epigraph to The Cross Roads (93-102):

The circumstance related in the following Ballad happened about forty years ago in a village adjacent to Bristol. A person who was present at the funeral, told me the story and the particulars of the interment, as I have versified them.

This ballad is one extra dig at the superstitious notions of witchcraft found particularly in village life. Southey borrows the nightingale motif contained in William Taylor's translation of The Lass of Fair Wone, [17] signifying death and sorrow - and especially the persecution of women:

I have past by about that hour

When men are not most brave,

It did not make my heart to fail,

And I have heard the nightingale

Sing sweetly on her grave.


He sets out a dialogue on a hot day between an old man breaking stones and a passing soldier who covets the post against which the old man leans as a resting place. When the old man has moved for the soldier, he reveals:

There's a poor girl lies buried here

Beneath this very place.

The earth upon her corpse is prest

The stake is driven into her breast

And a stone is on her face.


The post is the rather grisly mode of contact with the dead girl's story and it transpires that she was a servant to some wicked farming folk, and was found "hung up one day" behind a stable door. But it is the method of burial that Southey wishes to expose:

And there were strange reports about

That the coroner never guest.

So he decreed that she should lie

Where four roads meet in infamy,

With a stake drove in her breast.


This was of course the traditional way to bury witches, vampires and other unfortunates in order to prevent them from returning to trouble the living. The way that the soldier edges away from the post is intended to show not just the superstitious nature of soldiers perhaps, but that superstitious persons do not really have any faith in their own barbaric methods against the victims of their fears. The old man, however is quite unafraid of the dead girl, fearing instead her killer "one who like a Christian lies" (97) in hallowed ground. Superstition has led to social injustice, and the girl assumes the symbolic quality of slighted Justice herself, remaining in the last line of the ballad with the metaphorical stake in her heart and the stone on her face.

This sense of social outrage is continued in The Sailor who had served in the Slave Trade , where again, by epigraph, Southey protests the authenticity of his story:

In September, 1798, a Dissenting Minister of Bristol, discovered a Sailor in the neighbourhood of that City, groaning and praying in a hovel. The circumstance that occasioned his agony of mind is detailed in the annexed Ballad, without the slightest addition or alteration. By presenting it as a Poem, the story is made more public, and such stories ought to be made as public as possible.

This then, is one answer to The Ryme of the Ancyent Marinere : an intelligible, authentic story of contemporary social concern publicly told without embellishment, with the reinforcing statement that such tales need publicity. In this, it continues the anti-slavery theme of Poems 1797, and is one more example of the very common theme of violence against women in Southey's work. He regularised the rather shifting metre of Coleridge's poem and gave a picture of a sailor cursed, not because he had shot an albatross, but because, more understandably in terms of cause and effect, he had been forced to whip a female slave until she died. But the parallels between the two poems are obvious, and here is just one very Coleridgean example from the guilt-ridden sailor's story:

Oh I have done a wicked thing!

It haunts me night and day,

And I have sought this lonely place

Here undisturbed to pray.


Following Coleridge's cue of the haunted mariner, Southey captures very well the agonised grief of the man who is followed everywhere by "the wicked one" (109) waiting for his soul, and then goes further by explicitly describing the flogging:

She groan'd, she shriek'd - I could not spare

For the Captain he stood by –

Dear God! that I might rest one night

From that poor woman's cry!

She twisted from her blows - her blood

Her mangled flesh I see –

And still the Captain would not spare –

Oh he was worse than me!


After the exposure of the brutality from the superior ranks which has in its turn brutalised the sailor and the slave, the poem's dismissal of the man by the Minister to "the house of prayer," transfers the man's problem to God, and rather ruins the effect. This is also true of The Victory (174-76), which is nevertheless a touching poem based upon a true story of a midshipman who was killed serving alongside Southey's brother Tom on the Mars . Southey told Wynn that: "he was pressed into the service" (W I, 55), and left behind a wife and family. In the poem he contrasts the way that "Old England triumphed!" (174) with the description of the man, his family and his horrific death. The poem falls into the category of epitaph rather than ballad, and the central part would have made a successful blank-verse inscription:

There was one who died

In that day's glory, whose obscurer name

No proud historian's page will chronicle.

Peace to his honest soul! I read his name,

'Twas in the list of slaughter, and blest God

The sound was not familiar to mine ear.

But it was told me after that this man

Was one whom lawful violence had forced

From his own little home and wife and little ones,

Who by his labour lived; that he was one

Whose uncorrupted heart could keenly feel

A husband's love, a father's anxiousness,

That from the wages of his toil he fed

The distant dear ones, and would talk of them

At midnight when he trod the silent deck

With him he valued, talk of them, of joys

Which he had known-oh God! and of the hour

When they should meet again, till his full heart

His manly heart at last would overflow

Even like a child's with very tenderness.

Peace to his honest spirit! Suddenly

It came, and merciful the ball of death,

For it came suddenly and shattered him,

And left no moment's agonizing thought

On those he loved so well.


The sentiments here have direct connections with those in Joan of Arc 1796 upon the effects of war, and with some of the poems ridiculed by the Anti-Jacobin . The sailor's wife is another war-widow, handed over to the divine for comfort. Southey does not exactly blame Old England for this situation, nor does he praise it wholeheartedly, he is content to tell the story plainly and let the reader draw his or her conclusions, which are not difficult to come to. He underlines the cost of patriotism to the English cause in the struggle against France.

If the above pieces were claimed as authentic stories, then the ballads Jaspar and Lord William were by contrast stated to be products of imagination:

The stories of the two following ballads are wholly imaginary. I may say of each as John Bunyan did of his Pilrim's Progress,

It came from my own heart, so to my head,

And thence into my fingers trickled;

Then to my pen, from whence immediately

On paper did I dribble it daintily.

In Jaspar , Southey again uses the rather Gothic nightingale motif as a prelude firstly to a murder, and then as a signal of the dénouement. Jaspar's victim is thrown into the water, and years pass. Later he tries to persuade an honest but financially troubled man, Jonathan, to kill his landlord, but Jonathan fears God's all-seeing eye and the revealing supernatural light which suddenly appears leads to the madness of Jaspar:

His cheek is pale, his eye is wild,

His look bespeaks despair;

For Jaspar since that hour has made

His home unshelter'd there.

And fearful are his dreams at night

And dread to him the day;

He thinks upon his untold crime

And never dares to pray.


Southey's echo of the opening lines of Wordsworth's The Mad Mother is set into a much more straightforwardly cause and effect ballad. Hidden crime is revenged by divine intervention, unlike the loose ends which inhabit the psychologies of real life situations. This neatness of plot, by no means out of place in the fragmentary nature of the traditional ballad is repeated in Lord William . William is also a murderer, who does away with his brother's orphan and is visited by the spirits of both brother and child. The child Edmund is drowned by William, so it is fitting that at the poem's end, William himself, escaping from a flood drowns also. He goes to rescue a child who turns out to be the ghostly boy:

Then William shriek'd; the hand he touch'd

Was cold and damp and dead!

He felt young Edmund in his arms

A heavier weight than lead.

    The boat sunk down, the murderer sunk

Beneath the avenging stream;

He rose, he scream'd, no human ear

Heard William's drowning scream.


These descriptions of supernatural justice, as a way of explaining and punishing guilt, are similar to the events in George Crabbe's later account in The Borough of the violence and murder perpetrated by Peter Grimes. Grimes suffers persecution by the ghostly forms of the boys he has beaten and drowned:

There were three places where they ever rose,-

The whole long river has not such as those,-

Places accursed, where, if a man remain,

He'll see the things which strike him to the brain;

And there they made me on my paddle lean,

And look at them for hours; - accursed scene! [18]

Crabbe continues in his own way the neat revenges of the ballad scene of the 1790s. Southey, though, has a flashy jocularity in his ballad work which is quite unlike the sombre tone of Crabbe's heroic couplets.

Southey's adaptation of a story from Olaus Magnus, A Ballad, shewing how an old woman rode double, and who rode before her , is another supernatural revenge, a fashionable abduction story, like William Taylor's version of the Lenore of Bürger. Again, and unlike the heroine Bürger's ballad, the old woman has committed horrible deeds, and is punished accordingly:

I have suck'd the breath of sleeping babes,

The fiends have been my slaves,

I have nointed myself with infant's fat,

And feasted on rifled graves.

    And the fiend will fetch me now in fire

My witchcrafts to atone,

And I who have rifled the dead man's grave

Shall never have rest in my own.


The old woman of Berkeley's coffin is chained down, and mass is sung to keep off the powers of evil, until at last the Fiend prevails. The old woman's corpse rises and groans, and then:

She followed the fiend to the church door,

There stood a black horse there,

His breath was like red furnace smoke,

His eyes like a meteor's glare.

    The fiend he flung her on the horse

And he leapt up before,

And away like lightning's speed they went

And she was seen no more.


Southey's parody of this poem, The Surgeon's Warning, following this supernatural romp, reduces superstitious beliefs in the undead to the level of simple rational explanation. Graves do not open by themselves, but by the agencies of body-snatchers, in this case with the help of the Surgeon's own zealous 'Prentices. Southey inserts a ludicrous feature into the ballad about "patent coffins" which seems to fascinate him enough to allude to this invention in the epigraph, alongside an anti-popish dig:

Respecting the patent coffins herein mentioned, after the manner of Catholic Poets, who confess the actions they attribute to their Saints and Deity to be but fiction, I hereby declare that it is by no means my design to depreciate that useful invention; and all persons to whom this ballad shall come, are requested to take notice, that nothing here asserted concerning the aforementioned Coffins is true, except that the maker and patentee lives by St. Martin's lane.

Southey's surgeon initially inhabits a deathbed scene, as did the old woman of Berkeley, but is then buried with much fuss in a patent coffin, being wrapped in lead and being watched over by three men who are on the look out (168) for the "resurrection man." The Surgeon retells his crimes in the cause of anatomical research:

I have made candles of infants fat

And the Sextons have been my slaves,

I have bottled babes unborn, and dried

Hearts and livers from rifled graves.

    And my Prentices will surely come

And carve me bone from bone,

And I, who have rifled dead man's graves

Shall never rest in my own.


His apparent scientific interest in the uses and abuses of the human bodies he has stolen is made to seem like the work of a witch. The men who guard the body are bribed after three attempts by Joseph the rogue prentice to release the Surgeon's corpse:

The watchmen as they past along

Full four yards off could smell,

And a curse bestow'd upon the load

So disagreeable.

    So they carried the sack a-pick-a-back

And they carved him bone from bone,

But what became of the Surgeon's soul

Was never to mortal known.


So the Surgeon, who has not sold his soul to the devil as did the old woman, finds himself anatomised in the rational quest for knowledge, with the consequent (but not proven) dispersal of his soul. It is a fate almost worthy of Voltaire's pen, and lively, if revolting, entertainment. Jaspar , Lord William , The Surgeon's Warning and the "old woman of Berkeley" all fall into this category of 'entertainments', lively episodic tales which begin in medias res and swiftly run their course. They are quite different from most of the poetry of Lyrical Ballads , and if their details are not instantly forgotten, because they are disturbing or vile, they do not make the same demands upon the reader that Wordsworth's poems do. But then that was not their intention. They do however, reflect part of the fashionable taste of the period and indicate something of Southey's ideas about what was marketable verse.

But in the last section of Poems 1799, Southey moves much closer to the world of Lyrical Ballads with his experimental English Eclogues that largely centre around themes of domestic unrest. Southey's too-honest epigraph, like the introductory paragraph in Poems 1797, has a kind of hauteur and belligerence peculiar to the poet, claiming originality. His third paragraph is very important, as it stands as an answer to Wordsworth's 1798 Advertisement :

The following Eclogues, I believe, bear no resemblance to any poems in our language. This species of composition has become popular in Germany, and I was induced to attempt it by an account of the German Idylls given me in conversation. They cannot be properly styled imitations, as I am ignorant of the language at present, and have never seen any translations or specimens of this kind.

With bad Eclogues I am sufficiently acquainted, from Tityrus and Corydon down to our English Strephons and Thyrsises. No kind of poetry can boast of more illustrious names, or is more distinguished by the servile dulness of imitated nonsense. Pastoral writers, "more silly than their sheep," have like their sheep gone on in the same track one after another. Gay stumbled into a new path. His eclogues were the only ones which interested me when I was a boy, and did not know they were burlesque. The subject would furnish matter for a long essay, but this is not the place for it.

How far poems requiring almost a colloquial plainness of language may accord with the public taste, I am doubtful. They have been subjected to able criticism, and revised with care. I have endeavoured to make them true to nature.


To Wordsworth's announcement in his 1798 Advertisement to Lyrical Ballads that "the following Poems are to be considered as experiments," Southey responds with an explanation of experimental originality. To Wordsworth's interest in ascertaining "how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure," [19] Southey responds with open doubts about "public taste" and "colloquial plainness of language." In this, he goes beyond his statements in the Critical Review that:

The 'experiment,' we think, has failed, not because the language of conversation is little adapted to the 'purposes of poetic pleasure,' but because it has been tried upon uninteresting subjects.


He now appears very doubtful about the employment of plain or conversational speech altogether in the face of the "public taste" which, like Wordsworth, he is actively courting. In what senses the subjects of his Eclogues have interesting subjects, I will explain. Southey responds to Wordsworth's demand that the reader search Lyrical Ballads for "a natural delineation of human passions, human characters, and human incidents," by merely stating of his own poems: "I have made them true to nature." His linking together of the idea of originality and his open comments on his German models, are perhaps a direct slap in the face for Coleridge whose Rime of the Ancyent Marinere Southey thought "perfectly original in style as well as story" (200) but a clumsy adaptation of other German models. This seems an instance of Southey trying to correct Coleridge's methods of presentation.

The English Eclogues begin with The Old Mansion-House , a poem in blank-verse continuing Southey's interests in old mansions and hospitality which he first published in the 1795 volume of Poems . The eclogue also contains a central metaphor explored in The Retrospect of 1794, the changing fortunes of a mansion reflecting the changing fortunes of humankind. Southey's method however is the conversational method of the German idylls, such as the famous Der Wandrer (1774) of Goethe (between Woman and Wanderer) which was translated by William Taylor and appeared in the Monthly Magazine xxxv, 120-21, for August 1798. The poem's central character, the Old Man (185) nearly "threescore and ten," is reminiscent of Wordsworth's Simon Lee, not just in terms of age, but in the sense that he is doing hard physical work (breaking stones) and he has served the local aristocrats all his life. His greatest fear is that now the old occupants of the mansion have both died, that the new squire will change everything he is familiar with. This work is already underway. The Old Man is, however, talking to the new Squire without knowing it, and the new occupant generously assures him that though the exterior of the house is changed, inside the old hospitality still reigns:


    I remember

All this from a child up, and now to lose it,

'Tis losing an old friend. There's nothing left

As 'twas;- I go abroad and only meet

With men whose fathers I remember boys;

The brook that used to run before my door,

That's gone to the great pond; the trees I learnt

To climb are down; and I see nothing now

That tells me of old times, except the stones

In the church-yard. You are young Sir and I hope,

Have many years in store,- but pray to God

You mayn't be left the last of all your friends.


Well! well! you've one friend more than you're aware of.

If the Squire's taste don't suit with your's, I warrant

That's all you'll quarrel with: walk in and taste

His beer old friend! and see if your old Lady

E'er broached a better cask. You did not know me,

But we're acquainted now. 'Twould not be easy

To make you like the outside; but within-

That is not changed my friend! you'll always find

The same old bounty and old welcome here.

Again the familiar pattern emerges. Where Simon Lee's plight is left as an unresolved state, the Old Man's fears are soothed, and his agitations are smoothed over by the new order. Despite being childless like Simon Lee, his attachment to the aristocracy has not resulted in him being left as useless in old age. It is, however, a patronising solution to the problem. Could mere hospitality make up the loss of the Old Man's intimately-loved world? Or is Southey criticising the new Squire as a second version of Gay's profligate in The Birth of the Squire. An Eclogue ?

This same apparently cheerful and superficial answering of problems is found in The Sailor's Mother , another blank-verse eclogue which picks up the journey to hospital theme of Wordsworth's Old Man Travelling . Here Southey has a dialogue between a Woman and a Traveller about the woman's son, who is now in Plymouth hospital. And here more doubts begin to arise again about Southey's trite answers. The Traveller cheerfully tries to rouse the Woman by offering her food and rest and then launches into a consolatory speech:


    Perhaps your fears

Make evil worse. Even if a limb be lost

There may still be enough for comfort left

An arm or leg shot off, there's yet the heart

To keep life warm, and he may live to talk

With pleasure of the glorious fight that maim'd him,

Proud of his loss. Old England's gratitude

Makes the maim'd sailor happy.


This speech could be viewed as a piece of patriotic jingo, or as a ludicrous satire upon the way government forces try to justify war-wounds to the maimed. The same kind of nervous conversation is echoed in Edward Thomas's poem As the Team's Head-Brass: [20]

I could spare an arm. I shouldn't want to lose

A leg. If I should lose my head, why, so,

I should want nothing more.

The sailor's wounds are more horrific than simply losing limbs, he has lost his eyes in a sea-fight from some appalling secret weapon (208) used by the French forces, "some cursed thing / which bursts and burns." Southey inserts a footnote:

The stink-pots used on board the French ships. In the engagement between the Mars and L'Hercule, some of our sailors were shockingly mangled by them: One in particular, as described in the Eclogue, lost both his eyes. It would be policy and humanity to employ means of destruction, could they be discovered, powerful enough to destroy fleets and armies, but to use any thing that only inflicts additional torture upon the victims of our war systems, is cruel and wicked.

This footnote undercuts the entire poem altogether, indeed the subject is scarcely fit for reassuringly genteel poetry at all because it is so explicit. At the side of Old Man Travelling , which draws back from the particularities of horrific detail, Southey's poem reads like an item on the agenda of the Cabinet of War. The Woman pours out her grief to the Traveller, telling him how this is her only child, the history of the boy's life, and the fact that he was forced into service because of his love of trapping animals:

He did what he should not when he was older:

I warn'd him oft enough; but he was caught

In wiring hares at last, and had his choice

The prison or the ship.


His replies about the leniency of the sentence, about patriotic glory and the fact that the country takes care of its bereaved mothers, set against the Woman's plight read like stark insensitivity or intended burlesque. Is it a sophisticated attempt at another anti-war poem, which seems to resist reading to closure and remains in an undecidable state? It could be seen as either as a patriotic gesture for king and country, or born of a patriotism which rests upon a concern for humanity. Is Southey hedging his political bets, whilst foregrounding the condition of the victim?

A similar kind of conversation occurs in The Witch , but here the interpretation of the poem is more obvious. This poem is Southey's answer to Goody Blake and Harry Gill which he condemned in his review. The characters of Nathaniel and his Father discuss old Margery, who is thought to be a witch, with a Curate. Nathaniel thinks it a shame that "in a Christian country they should let / Such creatures live!" (219) and the Father sees his "proof" of witchcraft:

And when there's such plain proof!

I did but threaten her because she robb'd

Our hedge, and next night there came a wind

That made me shake to hear it in my bed!

How came it that that storm unroofed my barn,

And only mine in the parish? look at her

And that's enough; she has it in her face-

A pair of large dead eyes, sunk in her head,

Just like a corpse, and purs'd with wrinkles round,

A nose and chin that scarce leave room between

For her lean fingers to squeeze in the snuff,

And when she speaks! I'd sooner hear a raven

Croak at my door!


Goody Blake's hedge-robbing is repeated here and also the righteous indignation of Harry Gill, which is ever the voice of the haves against the have-nots. Southey's solution to the situation comes from reason and pity. There is no possibility that Margery can bring down curses by prayer, although Wordsworth's poem only hints at that possibility, and Harry Gill's Lear-like discovery of what wretches feel is replaced by the ridicule of country thickheads like Nathaniel and his father. The Curate's depiction of the old woman is rational:

Poor wretch! half blind

And crooked with her years, without a child

Or friend in her old age, 'tis hard indeed

To have her very miseries made her crimes!

I met her but last week in that hard frost

That made my young limbs ache, and when I ask'd

What brought her out in the snow, the poor old woman

Told me that she was forced to crawl abroad

And pick the hedges, just to keep herself

From perishing with cold, because no neighbour

Had pity on her age; and then she cried,

And said the children pelted her with snow-balls,

And wish'd that she were dead.


Wordsworth's rather rollicking metre is put aside for the relative calm of blank verse, where the situation is taken away from any hint of moonlit superstition into the light of day to plainly expose the yokels' stupidities. And the poem's comic finale rubs in the message. When the Curate leaves to visit the dying old woman the Father insists (225) that Nathaniel "drive t'other nail in!" to the horseshoe which is set up against witches, after all "She may recover." The kind of brutality that these yokels are only inches away from is explored more fully in The Grandmother's Tale , which is another tale of murder and revenge focused upon a female victim, though this time she is not a defenceless old woman.

This poem, Southey's second Eclogue is far from just being the tale for children which it purports to be. It concerns the story of a woman, Moll, who because of her ugliness had in one escapade passed for a man when the press-gang arrived and saved her husband from military service. She now kept asses, which she loved tenderly, and when she threatened a smuggler that if he molest them again she would inform upon him, he murdered her:

he provoked her,

She laid an information, and one morn

They found her in the stable, her throat cut

Form ear to ear, 'till the head only hung

Just by a bit of skin.


The man suffers in the same way that the slave-sailor did, namely he is haunted by the sight and the cries of the woman until at last he confesses his crime. He is "Hung and anatomized" in the words (201) of the Grandmother. Southey's footnote relates the truth of the events:

There must be many persons living who remember these circumstances. They happened two or three and twenty years ago, in the neighbourhood of Bristol. The woman's name was Bees. The stratagem by which she preserved her husband from the press-gang, is also true.

True horrors are then represented alongside horrors in the fictive gothic mode. The explicit nature of the poems is indeed shocking or harrowing, and Southey no doubt had confidence in his market when he published this volume. As Robert Mayo has shown, [21] the distress-ridden situations which centre around female figures in the magazine verse of this period were very saleable indeed. The subject-matter of Lyrical Ballads was therefore in line with this fashion, but the poetical treatment of its subjects was different. Mayo draws attention to Southey's Hannah, A Plaintive Tale , which had appeared in the Monthly Magazine for October 1797 (286-7) as a classic example of the kind of poem to which later works like The Thorn or The Mad Mother were closely related. Southey's blank-verse poem re-titled The Funeral , appeared as one of the English Eclogues in the 1799 volume. Hannah, like Martha Ray, is left alone as an unmarried mother to endure the scorn of the local community and Southey's speaker, as Mayo points out, resembles the narrator of The Thorn in having "a kind of character of his own." [22] We may deduce that the poem grew from one of Southey's experiences when he was living in Burton near Christchurch in Hampshire in 1797:

It is proper to remark that the story related in this Eclogue is strictly true. I met the funeral, and learnt the circumstances, in a village in Hampshire. The indifference of the child was mentioned to me; indeed no addition whatever has been made to the story. I should have thought it wrong to have weakened the effect of a faithful narrative by adding any thing.


These constant protestations of truth about local events are in a sense analogous to the use of political and historical material in some of Southey's Inscriptions . It is as if the Inscriptions had gone more completely commercial. In poems like The Funeral , Southey seems to extend his inscription-work to local popular tales, another form of historical reference. Hannah was a creation from the period before Southey's exposure via William Taylor to the varieties of German literature. Mary Jacobus (JAC 169-172) attaches considerable importance to the poem which she feels "can find room only in the meditative mind" and which despite Southey's "limited ability to portray suffering" does mark "the transition between the pathetic episodes of the eighteenth century and Wordsworth's poetry of suffering." The poem is really a blank-verse epitaph, drawing somewhat upon the inscription voice of Poems 1797, a vivid episode of contemplation in a tone of extreme meditative quietness, much different from many of the other Eclogues in the volume. Its political elements are muted into allusions to poverty. Southey manages to create a kind of immediacy of narration in the poem's opening lines: "The coffin as I past across the lane / Came sudden on my view," (202) which he sustains for most of the poem. He disappoints only in the areas where the description of suffering is wanted, and in the final lines where God's mercy lifts the poem away from the human context and abruptly closes down any imaginative sympathies.

In a similar blank-verse vein The Ruined Cottage which closes the volume treats another widow's plight alongside the humiliation of her daughter Joanna (a name echoing 'Hannah') and the consequent ruin of her home. It is the end of a long list of tales which loosely chart the ruin of domesticity and community, the obverse of the quest for home. The poem found an able and attentive critic in Charles Lamb, who said:

I find no fault in it, unless perhaps Joanna's is a catastrophe too trite, and this is not the first or second time you have cloth'd your indignation in verse in a tale of ruined Innocence. The Old lady spinning in the Sun, I hope would not disdain some kindred with old Margaret.

October 29 1798 [23]

Lamb's critiques spotted Southey's hidden and indignant social agendas, noticed how Southey had responded to the details of his own Rosamund Gray of 1798, and went on:

but the old Lady is so great a favourite with me, I want to hear more of her, and of Joanna you have given us still less.- But the picture of the rustics leaning over the bridge & the old Lady travelling abroad on summer evenings to see her garden water'd, are images so new and true, that I decidedly prefer this ruin'd cottage to any poem in the book. Indeed I think it the only one that will bear comparison with your Hymn to the Penates in a former vol.-I compare dissimilar things, as one would a rose & star for the pleasure they give us.

March 15 1799 [24]

Lamb's connection of this poem with the Hymn to the Penates makes an interesting oblique link between the domestic centres of both poems, and exposes the radical point of departure for much of Southey's work. He is not simply fascinated by death and horror, but by the twists and turns of domestic fortune which suffer the impact of those adverse events. The poem's opening has the gravity of an inscription:

Aye Charles! I knew that this would fix thine eye,

This woodbine wreathing round the broken porch,

Its leaves just withering, yet one autumn flower

Still fresh and fragrant; yon holly-hock

That thro' the creeping weeds and nettles tall

Peers taller, and uplifts its column'd stem

Bright with broad rose-blossoms. I have seen

Many a fallen convent reverend in decay,

And many a time have trod the castle courts

And grass-green halls, yet never did they strike

Home to the heart such melancholy thoughts

As this poor cottage. Look, its little hatch

Fleeced with that grey and wintry moss; the roof

Part moulder'd in, the rest o'ergrown with weeds,

House-leek and long thin grass and greener moss;

So nature wars with all the works of man,

And, like himself, reduces back to earth

His perishable piles.


The details of the ruined cottage bear some comparison with those in Wordsworth's poem of the same name, for example:

this poor hut

Stripped of its outward garb of household flowers,

Of rose and jasmine, offers to the wind

A cold bare wall whose earthy top is tricked

With weeds and the rank spear-grass. [25]

But it is not enough to merely restate the fact that Southey's poem fails to travel across the range of emotions discovered in Wordsworth's The Ruined Cottage . Again, it would be more appropriate to view Southey's work in the light of his own poetic developments, especially his Inscriptions . This poem is another example of his epitaphic and elegiac mode, given a kind of lapidary polish in places with reference to predecessors like Akenside. Southey inscribes the tale like a man working against stone, marking a monument. But, again, The Ruined Cottage is a direct relation of nature inscriptions like For the Banks of the HAMPSHIRE AVON (MP , 19 November 1799), where Southey's own abilities for the recording of natural details are manifest. [26] His attempt to lump together the range of styles and subjects in his English Eclogues is rather amateurish, and he is wrong to say that poems such as The Funeral and The Ruined Cottage "bear no resemblance to any poems in our language" (183) because at the very least The Funeral had already been published before his German-influenced phase, and the poems bear resemblances to his own inscription work.

This, then, is how Southey stands in regard to the experiment of Lyrical Ballads - not simply as a kind of precursor-poet, nor simply as piratical hack who shamelessly borrowed, but as an established commercial writer and social commentator eager to maintain his own growing literary reputation in the experimental cutting-edges of the poetry of the 1790s, a man inside the debate, not upon its periphery.

4 - Southey and Wordsworth: Style-Wars and Inscripsive Intertextualities

In Notes and Queries 224 (1979) 229-31 Donald G. Priestman draws our attention to the way in which Robert Southey functions as an early imitator and parodist of Wordsworth's poetry. Priestman gives examples of two of Southey's poems: In A Forest and Inscription Under An Oak which he compares interestingly to Wordsworth's Yew-Tree Lines which appeared in Lyrical Ballads . Like many critics, he portrays Southey as a literary thief, one who admires, imitates, eviscerates and then, as here, parodies Wordsworth's work. It is almost as if Southey had waited for the publication of Lyrical Ballads before he wrote anything at all. There is of course a different story to tell.

As I have said, from mid-1798, Southey was a successful and notorious author domesticated at Westbury-Upon-Trym near Bristol, having his annus mirabilis during which he wrote an enormous amount of poetry. His work for The Morning Post , which has been edited by Kenneth Curry [27] is testament to the poetical hack-work he undertook during that time - In A Forest and Inscription Under An Oak are part of this hastily assembled work, examples of magazine poetry which had to be immediate, fashionable and often funny.

Whilst we can agree with Priestman that Southey was a borrower or a textual bricoleur at least, we must also acknowledge that Wordsworth also undertook a certain amount of literary shoplifting. In his Yew-Tree Lines , Wordsworth not only supplied material for Southey's magazine imitations of 1798, but set out his own parodic lines which he borrowed from the Inscriptions in Southey's Poems 1797. [28] What we observe in Mr Priestman's article is half the story of a stylistic literary exchange, a common enough occurrence in any literary progress - what needs to be added is a fuller account of the Southeyan material which Yew-Tree Lines , incorporates and challenges, and to see how In A Forest and Inscription Under An Oak are really Southey's response (or part of his response) to Wordsworth's poem.

Geoffrey Hartman's essay upon inscription poetry showed amongst other things how Wordsworth made the nature-inscription into a free-standing lyric and gave Southey a muted, yet significant, place in the increasingly direct voicing born of this metamorphosis. Southey's political stridency and un-Hellenic sententiousness coupled with his borrowings from the classical models differs tonally and stylistically from the inscripsive Wordsworthian voice of the mid to late 1790s. In the 1797 Inscriptions and in later examples, Southey generally makes use of well-known or even glamorous historical episodes and personages to make moral and political points in which he acts as a kind of master of ceremonies. He also trades off the fact that the inscription form was both familiar and fashionable in circles of readership, so that in his hands it becomes almost a scurrilous disguise, a passport into the establishment he criticises.

Hartman, it seems, places Southey's nature-inscriptions somewhere between his second and third categories, between the tradition of iconic verse and the plain speaking voice of the genius loci. He also shows (Hartman, ibid 393 & 400) how Wordsworth in his Lines left upon a Seat in a Yew-Tree uses the "traditional Siste Viator of the epitaph" to inscribe his poem "before our eyes" involving the reader actively in the process, rather than merely pointing out information with imperatives. Wordsworth's natural scene is composed of a rugged barrenness and distant beauty, and it contains natural description lifted from wandering experience which opposes loco-descriptive clichés deliberately placed within the poem. The poem is an answer to depictions of nature found in precursor-poems such as Southey's Inscription III here, For a CAVERN that overlooks the River AVON : [29]

Enter this cavern Stranger! the ascent

Is long and steep and toilsome; here awhile

Thou mayest repose thee, from the noontide heat

O'ercanopied by this arch'd rock that strikes

A grateful coolness: clasping its rough arms

Round the rude portal, the old ivy hangs

Its dark green branches down, and the wild Bees,

O'er its grey blossoms murmuring ceaseless, make

Most pleasant melody. No common spot

Receives thee, for the Power who prompts the song,

Loves this secluded haunt. The tide below

Scarce sends the sound of waters to thine ear;

And this high-hanging forest to the wind

Varies its many hues. Gaze Stranger here!

And let thy soften'd heart intensely feel

How good, how lovely, Nature! When from hence

Departing to the City's crowded streets,

Thy sickening eye at every step revolts

From scenes of vice and wretchedness; reflect

That Man creates the evil he endures.

Bristol 1796

Though Southey's poem has a pleasant Akensidian sharpness and brightness about it, its landscape details are derived from previous literary models, and it implies that recourse to nature is always beneficial against unstated city evils. Wordsworth's Yew-Tree Lines seek to "combat the melancholy use of nature" (Hartman, ibid.398) and contain jibes at the merely literary inscription fashion. Wordsworth writes like a man indignantly defending natural landscape from the bookish writer, trying to wake up the reader to the realisation that Neo-Classical ideal landscape casually slipped into inscription poetry is as false a path as the selfish tendency of making nature merely a mirror of individual mood.

Some passages in Yew-Tree Lines may be compared with Southey's early inscription work, which was published by December 1796, and to which Wordsworth responds. His opening lines emphasise the simple solitary isolated yew, the graveyard tree far from an actual graveyard, in acute contrast to the attributes of the ideal retreat-environment that he then lists in negative:

Nay, Traveller! rest. This lonely Yew-tree stands

Far from all human dwelling: what if here

No sparkling rivulet spread the verdant herb?

What if the bee love not these barren boughs?

Yet, if the wind breathe soft, the curling waves,

That break against the shore, shall lull thy mind

By one soft impulse saved from vacancy.

He got these elements from Southey's work, drawing out details from the three nature-inscriptions in Southey's 1797 Poems . Wordsworth picks upon the way Southey uses natural imagery to cast the natural world in the role of pleasure-garden or soothing anodyne, and questions the optimistic quality of the encounters of traveller with nature. Wordsworth's "sparkling rivulet" and "verdant herb" echo the "rivulet" that "sparkles o'er the shallows" and the "healthful herb" in Southey's Inscription VII here For a TABLET on the Banks of a Stream :

STRANGER! awhile upon this mossy bank

Recline thee. If the Sun rides high, the breeze,

That loves to ripple o'er the rivulet,

Will play around your brow, and the cool sound

Of running waters soothe thee. Mark how clear

It sparkles o'er the shallows, and behold

Where o'er its surface wheels with restless speed

Yon glossy insect, on the sand below

How the swift shadow flies. The stream is pure

In solitude, and many a healthful herb

Bends o'er its course and drinks the vital wave:

But passing on amid the haunts of man,

It finds pollution there, and rolls from thence

A tainted tide. Seek thou for HAPPINESS?

Go stranger, sojourn in the woodland cot

Of INNOCENCE, and thou shalt find her there. [30]

Bristol 1796

Wordsworth's bee-less "barren boughs" over "curling waves" draw upon the "wild Bees" murmuring over "dark green branches" and the "tide below" found in the Avon Cavern example, and his soft breathing wind is mildly parodic of the softening effects of nature, the "soft rustling" of the correspondent breeze in Southey's Inscription VIII For the CENOTAPH at ERMENONVILLE :

STRANGER! the MAN of NATURE lies not here:

Enshrined far distant by his rival's side

His relics rest, there by the giddy throng

With blind idolatry alike revered!

Wiselier directed have thy pilgrim feet

Explored the scenes of Ermenonville. ROUSSEAU

Loved these calm haunts of Solitude and Peace;

Here he has heard the murmurs of the stream,

And the soft rustling of the poplar grove,

When o'er their bending boughs the passing wind

Swept a grey shade. Here if thy breast be full,

If in thine eye the tear devout should gush,

His SPIRIT shall behold thee, to thine home

From Hence returning, purified of heart. [31]

Bristol 1796

Wordsworth continues his use of Southeyan material to describe the actions of the reclusive figure. Again he plunders the Avon Cavern inscription:

And, lifting up his head, he then would gaze

On the more distant scene, - how lovely 'tis

Thou seest, - and he would gaze till it became

Far lovelier, and his heart could not sustain

The beauty, still more beauteous! [32]

Wordsworth's repetition of the word "gaze" and his amplification of "lovely" to "lovelier" and "beauty" to "more beauteous" is a borrowing and a criticism of Southey's instructions for the "Stranger" to be healed by exposure to nature:

Gaze Stranger here!

And let thy soften'd heart intensely feel

How good, how lovely, Nature!

Poems 1797 57-8

Wordsworth's recluse follows Southey's instructions but instead of being soothed by what he sees, is thrown into a mounting agony of yearning for the loveliness he cannot enjoin. His panic is powerfully observed. The man can perceive the loveliness of the scene, but cannot "let" his "soften'd heart" move beyond envy for the happiness of others, or break the psychological reflecting mirrors of his mind which make his surroundings into a mere emblem of his own barren life. Nature is not a guarantor of health for one whose own nature is cauterised against humanity. Wordsworth follows Gray under the elegiac shadow of the yew to present his lost man, a man who has even lost his name and unlike Gray's illiterate buried swains we sense that this man's anonymity is the result of his own writing out of the self from society, from community, from friendship. His failed, panic-ridden attempts to inscribe what he sees in nature upon his own nature, do not exactly regain that lost health, that lost name, save that his ghostly presence is rehearsed as a warning to each reader.

So, if Wordsworth in Yew-Tree Lines (1797 following) has already incorporated material from Southey's 1796 Inscriptions , then the seeming imitations and parodies by Southey indicated by Priestman form a kind of intertextual dialogue between poets. Southey dated his In a FOREST (AA I, 72) "Westbury 1798" and published it in the Morning Post on 13 April 1799:

Stranger! whose steps have reach'd this solitude,

Know that this lonely spot was dear to one

Devoted with no unrequited zeal

To Nature. Here, delighted he has heard

The rustlings of these woods, that now perchance

Melodious to the gale of summer move,

And underneath their shade on yon smooth rock

With grey and yellow lichens overgrown,

Often reclined, watching the silent flow

Of this perspicuous rivulet, that steals

Along its verdant course, till all around

Had filled his sense with tranquillity,

And ever sooth'd in spirit he return'd

A happier, better, man. Stranger, perchance

Therefore the stream more lovely to thine eye

Will glide along, and to the summer gale

The woods wave more melodious. Cleanse thou then

The weeds and mosses from this letter'd stone.

Priestman sees the poem as wholly a Southeyan imitation which reverses the rule in Wordsworth's later Preface of 1800 that the "feeling therein developed gives importance to the action and the situation and not the action and the situation to the feeling." Southey had seen Lyrical Ballads by at least early September 1798, [33] and Priestman argues, In a Forest is a poem imitating the Yew-Tree Lines , which indeed is most strongly born out by Southey's words "verdant" and "rivulet" which do take Wordsworth's third line into account. But, as I have indicated, what Priestman misses is the way which Southey looks back to his own nature-inscriptions for rustling trees, shady rocks, invitations to recline, rivulets, soothed minds returning home and lovely vistas. He takes back the very elements that Wordsworth's Yew-Tree Lines had selected for censure from his own 1797 Inscriptions . It is a gentle tug of war, not simply a one-sided re-rendering of poetic style.

Southey's sheer optimism in his nature inscriptions is intriguing. He does not look to present the unhealable courses that life sometimes can take: there is no Wordsworthian misanthrope here. Nature in the poem is both reflected in the external details inscribed and a reflection of the poet's own stoical character. Southey has moved from the earlier more dogmatic position in the 1797 Inscriptions of giving information, to a growing delight in landscape detail, doubtlessly encouraged by Wordsworth's example, but also centrally fostered by his own life at Westbury, as the beautiful observations in his Commonplace Book show. [34] The request to the reader to cleanse the inscription implies that a joining of nature (as weeds and mosses) with the human text (this letter'd stone) has already taken place. Our poet-inscriber pretends to risk obliteration, or asks fellow strangers to come to him (the stone, the inscribed word) through nature, through the moss and weeds. Conversely, this cleansing could more appropriately be seen as the reader's act of purification, the re-inscription of the self before the beautiful loneliness of the text.

This conversational process can also be seen in the parodic Inscription Under an Oak (MP 139-40) of 27 February 1799, where Southey re-uses the phrase "if the sun ride high" which is almost identical to part of the second line of his For a TABLET on the Banks of a Stream , and again includes the clichés of natural loveliness, the wind as motive force, fruitful boughs and the softening feelings of place. However, he goes on to use the motif of retreat under trees per se , as a good-humoured parodic gesture not just at Wordsworth's expense perhaps, but also at his own.

Southey's second edition of Joan of Arc which emerged in 1798, contains passages which continue my illustration of the poet's self-plundering tendency. In the preface to Joan of Arc , Southey writes:

Upon showing it to the friend in conversation with whom the design had originated, he said, 'I am glad you have written this: it will serve as a store where you will find good passages for better poems'. [35]

This is borne out by several passages which bear similarities to poems that Southey wrote between 1794 and 1796. Joan begins her life as a shepherdess (as a prelude to shepherding the French cause) in the arms of the landscape:

I have laid me down

Beside yon valley stream, that up the ascent

Scarce sends the sounds of waters now, and watch'd

The tide roll glittering to the noon-tide sun,

And listened to its ceaseless murmuring,

Till all was hush'd and tranquil in my soul,

Filled with a strange and undefined delight

That pass'd across the mind like summer clouds

Over the lake at eve...

Here in solitude

My soul was nurst, amid the loveliest scenes

Of unpolluted nature.

Bk. I, 108

Line 3 echoes once more to the Avon Cavern Inscription III: "The tide below / Scarce sends the sounds of waters to thine ear" [36] indicating the important place that this poem occupied in the author's canon. Southey's cavern was in fact an actual place well-known to the author. In 1793 Southey wrote to Bedford:

I am doomed to be pestered by wasps -the other day I was posting to my cave to sit half an hour in the sun & eat blackberries - I had got within five yards & found a thousand devils with stings in their tails flying about me - like a prudent general when it is impossible to advance I retreated - now were not this so far off & and were poor Shad well we would sally forth & exterminate the invaders. [37]

It is not therefore correct to regard Robert Southey as just a slavish imitator or parodist of the other Lakers, nor as a man who was entirely bookish in his inspirations, this is simply not the case. Southey's varied experimental poetry of the mid to late 1790s helped considerably to pave the way for experiments such as Lyrical Ballads themselves. It would be fair to say that Wordsworth in the above exchange (for that is what we have observed) needed Southey's example to partly define his own position and his own more tentative emergence as a poet. And it would seem from the above that Southey in 1798-9 was often not so much 'imitating' Wordsworth as hastily recycling his own output.