364. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 30 December 1798

364. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 30 December 1798 ⁠* 

The Last of the Family


What Gregory! you are come I see to join us
On this sad business!
Aye James! I am come,
But with a heavy heart – God knows it, man –
Where shall we meet the corpse?
Some hour from hence,
By noon, & near about the elms I take it.
This is not as it should be Gregory!
Old men to follow young ones to the grave! –
This morning when I heard the bell strike out
I thought that I had never heard it toll
In dismay before.
Well – well – my friend –
Tis what we all must come to soon or late.
But when a young man dies, in the prime of life,
One born so well, who might have blest us all
Many long years, –
And then the family
Extinguishd in him, & the good old name
Only to be remembered on a tombstone!
A name that has gone down from sire to son
So many generations! – many a time
Poor Master Edward, who is now a corpse,
When yet a child would come to me & lead me
To the great family tree, & beg of me
To tell him stories of his ancestors,
Of Eustace he that went to the Holy Land
With Richard Lionheart, & that Sir Henry
Who fought at Crecy in K. Edwards wars.
And then his little eyes would kindle so
To hear of their brave deeds! – I usd to think
The bravest of them all would not out do
My darling boy.
This comes of your great schools
And college breeding! plague upon his guardians
That would have made him wiser than his fathers.
If his poor father Gregory! had but lived
Things would not have been so. he poor good man
Had little of book learning, but there lived not
A kinder, nobler hearted gentleman.
One better to his tenants. when he died
There was not a dry eye for miles around.
Gregory I thought that I could never know
A sadder day than that, – but what was that
Compared to this days sorrow?
I remember
Eight months ago when the young Squire began
To alter the old mansion, they destroyd
The martins nests that had stood undisturbd
Under that roof, – aye – long before my memory.
I shook my head at seeing it & thought
No good could follow.
Poor young man! I loved him
Like my own child, I loved the family;
Come Candlemas & I have been their servant
For five & forty years. I lived with them
When his good father brought my Lady home,
And when the young Squire was born, it did me good
To hear the bells so merrily announce
An heir. this is indeed a heavy blow –
I feel it Gregory, heavier than the weight
Of three-score years. he was a noble lad –
I loved him dearly!
Every body loved him –
Such a fine, generous, open-hearted youth!
When he came home from school at holydays
How I rejoiced to see him! he was sure
To come to me & to ask of me what birds there were
About my fields; & when I found a covey
Theres not a testy Squire preserves his game
More charily, than I have kept them safe
For Master Edward. & he lookd so well
Upon a fine sharp morning after them,
His brown hair frosted, & his cheek so flushd,
With such a wholesome ruddiness! ah James
But he was sadly changed when he came down
To keep his birth day!
Changd! – why Gregory
Twas like a palsy to me, when he steppd
Out of the carriage. he was grown so thin,
His cheek so delicate sallow, & his eyes
Had such a dim & rakish hollowness!
And when he came to shake me by the hand
And spoke as kindly to me as he used,
I hardly knew the voice!
It struck a damp
On all our merriment. twas a noble ox
That smoak’d before us, & the old October
Went merrily in overflowing cans;
But twas a skin-deep merriment, my heart
Seemd as it took no share. – & when we drank
His health, the thought came over me what cause
We had for wishing that, & spoilt the draught.
Poor Gentleman – to think ten months ago
He came of age, & now –
I feard it then;
He lookd to me as one that was not long
For this worlds business.
When the Doctors sent him
Abroad to try the air it made me certain
That all was over. there’s but little hope,
Methinks, that foreign parts can help a man
When his own mother country will not do.
The last time he came down these bells rung so
I thought they would have rockd the old steeple down
And now that dismal toll! I would have staid
Beyond its reach, but this was a last duty.
I’m an old tenant of the family,
Born on the estate, & now that I’ve outlived it,
Why tis but right to see it to the grave.
Have you heard ought of the new Squire?
But little
And that not well; but be he what he may
Matters not much to me. the love I bore
To the good family will not easily fix
Upon a stranger; tis too old a plant
To bear transplanting & its roots had struck
Too deeply. look – what’s on the opposite hill?
Is’t not the funeral?
Tis I think some horsemen
And yonder is the herse – between the trees,
Tis hid behind them now.
Gregory –
Aye – there I see it
And there’s the coaches following, we shall meet <it>
About the bridge. would that this day were over
I wonder whose turn’s next?
God above knows.
When youth is summond what must age expect!
God make us ready Gregory when it comes. [1] 


The last fifteen lines are crude & must be mended. the “too old a plant &c – is too metaphoric I think. this however is easily mended, & the Eclogue pleases me. [2]  What follows is the last.

The Ruined Cottage [3] 


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 & fragrant; & yon holly hock
That thro the creeping weeds & nettles tall
Peers taller, & uplifts its columned stem
Bright with the broad rose blossoms. I have seen
Many an old 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 & wintry moss; the roof
Part mouldered in, the rest oergrown with weeds,
House leek & long thin grass, & greener moss –
So Nature wars with all the works of man,
And like himself reduces back to earth
His perishable piles.
I led thee here
Charles! not without design; for this hath been
My favourite walk even since I was a boy;
And I remember Charles the ruin here
The neatest comfortable dwelling place!
That when I read in those dear books that first
Woke in my heart the love of poesy,
How with the villagers Erminia dwelt,
And Calidore for a fair shepherdess
Forgot his quest to learn the shepherds lore,
My fancy drew from this the little hut
Where that poor princess wept her hopeless love
Or when the gentle Calidore at eve
Led Pastorella home. there was not then
A weed where all these nettles overtop
The garden wall, but sweet brier, scenting sweet
The morning air, rosemary & marjoram,
All wholesome herbs, & then that woodbine wreathd
So lavishly around the pillard porch
Its fragrant flowers, that when I past this way
After a truant absence hastening home,
I could not chuse but pass with slackened speed
By that delightful fragrance. sadly changed
Is this poor cottage, & its dwellers. Charles!
Theirs is a simple melancholy tale;
Theres scarce a village but can fellow it,
And yet methinks it will not weary thee
And should not be untold.
A widow woman
Dwelt with her daughter here; just above want
She lived on some small pittance that sufficed,
In better times, the needful calls of life,
Not without comfort. I remember her
Sitting at evening in that open door-way
And spinning in the sun; – methinks I see her
Raising her eyes & dark-rimmd spectacles
To see the passer-by, yet ceasing not
To twirl her lengthening thread: or in the garden
On some dry summer evening walking round
To view her flowers, & pointing as she leand
Upon the ivory handle of her stick,
To some carnation whose oerheavy head
Needed support, while with the watering pot
Joanna followed & refreshed & trimmd
The drooping plant, Joanna her dear child,
As lovely & as happy then as youth
And innocence could make her.
Charles – it seems
As tho I were a boy again, & all
The mediate years with their vicissitudes
A half-forgotten dream. I see the Maid
So comely in her Sunday dress! her hair,
Her bright brown hair, wreathd in contracting curls,
And then her cheek – it was a red & white
That made the delicate hues of art look loathsome.
The countrymen who on their way to church
Were leaning oer the bridge, loitering to hear
The bells last summons, & in idleness
Watching the steam below, would all look up
When she past by. & her old mother – Charles!
When I have heard some erring infidel
Speak of our faith as of a gloomy creed
Inspiring fear & boding wretchedness,
Her figure has recurrd; for she did love
The sabbath day, & many a time has crossd
These fields in rain & thro the winter snows,
When I, a graceless boy, wishing myself
By the fire side, have wondered why she came
Who might have sate at home.
One only care
Hung on her aged spirits. for herself
The path was plain before her, & the close
Of her long journey near. but then her child
Soon to be left along in this bad world.!
That was a thought that many a winter night
Had kept her sleepless; & when prudent love
In something better than a servants state
Had placed her well at last, it was a pang –
Like parting life, to part from her dear girl.

One Summer Charles, when at the holydays
Returnd from school, I visited again
My old accustomed walks, & found in them
A joy almost like meeting an old friend,
I saw the cottage empty, & the weeds
Already crowding the neglected flowers.
Joannas by a villains wiles seduced
Had playd the wanton, & that blow had reachd
Her mothers heart. she did not suffer long,
Her age was feeble, & the heavy blow
Brought her grey hairs with sorrow to the grave

I passd this ruined dwelling oftentimes [MS torn]
And think of other days. it wakes in [MS torn]
A transient sadness, but therefore linger Char[MS torn]
That ever with these recollections rise –
I trust in God they will pass away. [4] 


What you said respecting the foreign Almanacks of the Muses [5]  has served me as a hint, & I think of speedily editing such a volume. for this I have more motives than one, among others, that there are some half a hundred pieces of my own, too good to perish with the newspapers in which they are printed. I have also among my more intimate friends many some who will willingly contribute; & if I should find all my stores deficient by a sheet or two for the due size of a volume – why it is but turning to, & filling it myself. Can you assist me with a title? Pratt has damned the word Gleanings, [6]  which I thought of. & will you assist me with any thing else? I have some tolerable balladlings, & some tolerable stories for more.

I have had a singular book to review — the Memoires Historiques de Stephanie Louise de Bourbon Conti. [7]  Have you seen it? it is a lamentable tale of wickedness under the old regime, & injustice in the new.

God bless you.

yrs affectionately

Robert Southey.

Dec. 30. 1798


* Address: To/ Mr William Taylor Junr/ Surry Street/ Norwich./ Single
Stamped: [twice] BRISTOL
Postmark: [partial] 98
Endorsement: Ansd 4 Jan
Watermarks: GR in a circle/ 1794; Britannia in an oval underneath a crown
MS: Berg Collection, New York Public Library
Previously published: J. W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), I, 239–240 [in part; verses not reproduced]. BACK

[1] James ... when it comes: Verse in double columns. BACK

[2] ‘The Last of the Family’ was not published in Poems (1799), appearing instead in Annual Anthology (Bristol, 1799), pp. 165–171. BACK

[3] Published as the final piece in Poems, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799), II, pp. 226–232. BACK

[4] Aye Charles ... pass away: Verse in double columns. BACK

[5] The seed for the Annual Anthology (1799–1800) was in Taylor’s observation to Southey of 26 September 1798: ‘I wonder some one of our poets does not undertake what the French and Germans so long supported in great popularity – an Almanack of the Muses – an annual Anthology of minor poems – too unimportant to subsist apart, and too neat to be sacrificed with the ephemeral victims of oblivion’ (J.W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), I, p. 228). BACK

[6] Samuel Jackson Pratt, Gleanings Through Wales, Holland and Westphalia (1795). BACK

[7] Princess Stephanie-Louise de Bourbon Conti (1756–1825), Mémoires Historique (1798). Southey’s review was published in an Appendix to Critical Review, 25 (April 1799), 490–499. BACK