2824. Robert Southey to Chauncy Hare Townshend [fragment], 22 July 1816

2824. Robert Southey to Chauncy Hare Townshend [fragment], 22 July 1816 ⁠* 

Keswick, July 22. 1816.

My dear Chauncey

. . . . . . . It will be unfortunate if chance should not one day bring me within reach of you; but I would rather that chance should bring you to Cumberland, when you can spare a few weeks for such a visit. [1]  You will find a bed, plain fare, and a glad welcome; books for wet weather, a boat for sunny evenings; the loveliest parts of this lovely county within reach and within sight; and myself one of the best guides to all the recesses of the vales and mountains. As a geologist, you will enjoy one more pleasure than I do, who am ignorant of every branch of science. Mineralogy and botany are the only branches which I wish that I had possessed, not from any predilection for either, but because opportunities have fallen in my way for making observations (had I been master of the requisite knowledge) by which others might have been interested and guided. These two are sciences which add to our out-door enjoyments, and have no injurious effects. Chemical and physical studies seem, on the contrary, to draw on very prejudicial consequences. Their utility is not to be doubted; but it appears as if man could not devote himself to these pursuits without blunting his finer faculties.

This county is very imperfectly visited by many of its numerous guests. They take the regular route, stop at the regular stations, ascend one of the mountains, and then fancy they have seen the Lakes, in which, after a thirteen years’ residence, I am every year discovering new scenes of beauty. Here I shall probably pass the remainder of my days. Our church, as you may perhaps recollect, stands at a distance from the town, unconnected with any other buildings, and so as to form a striking and beautiful feature in the vale. The churchyard is as open to the eye and to the breath of heaven as if it were a Druid’s place of meeting. There I shall take up my last abode, and it is some satisfaction to think so – to feel as if I were at anchor, and should shift my berth no more. [2]  A man whose habitual frame of mind leads him to look forward, is not the worse for treading the churchyard path, with a belief that along that very path his hearse is one day to convey him.

Do not imagine that I am of a gloomy temper, – far from it; never was man blessed with a more elastic spirit or more cheerful mind; and even now the liquor retains its body and its strength, though it will sparkle no more.

Your comments upon the Castle of Indolence express the feeling of every true poet; the second part must always be felt as injuring the first. [3]  I agree with you, also, as respecting the Minstrel, beautiful and delightful as it is. It still wants that imaginative charm which Thomson has caught from Spenser, but which no poet has ever so entirely possessed as Spenser himself. [4]  Among the many plans of my ambitious boyhood, the favourite one was that of completing the Faery Queen. [5]  For this purpose I had collected every hint and indication of what Spenser meant to introduce in the progress of his poem, and had planned the remaining legends in a manner which, as far as I can remember after a lapse of four or five-and-twenty years, was not without some merit. What I have done as a poet falls far short of what I had hoped to do; but in boyhood and in youth I dreamt of poetry alone; and I suppose it is the course of nature, that the ardour which this pursuit requires should diminish as we advance in life. In youth we delight in strong emotions, to be agitated and inflamed with hope, and to weep at tragedy. In maturer life we have no tears to spare; it is more delightful to have our judgment exercised than our feelings.

God bless you! Come and visit me when you can. I long to see you.



* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850)
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 190–192 [in part]. BACK

[1] Townshend visited Southey in Keswick in October 1818; see Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 26 October 1818, Letter 3203. BACK

[2] Southey, his first wife Edith, and many members of their family are buried in the churchyard of St Kentigern’s, Crosthwaite. BACK

[3] James Thomson (1700–1748; DNB), The Castle of Indolence (1748). BACK

[4] James Beattie (1735–1803; DNB), The Minstrel (1771–1774). Like Thomson’s Castle of Indolence, it was indebted to Edmund Spenser (1552?–1599; DNB). BACK

[5] Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590–1596), a particular influence on Southey, both as a young writer and on the works he produced as Poet Laureate. As a youth, Southey had planned a six–book continuation but abandoned the idea after writing three cantos, which he destroyed; see Southey to William Taylor, 12 March 1799, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Two, Letter 387. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Crosthwaite Church (mentioned 1 time)