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13 January, 2012
The Glory Of English Prose|
18. Robert Southey
by Coleridge, Stephen
|My Dear Antony,
To-day I will write about Robert Southey, and, as he and
Coleridge married sisters, you may claim a distant relationship
with him. His personal character was beautiful and unselfish, and
his dwelling at Keswick was the home that for years sheltered
With hardly an exception the poets of England have had an easy
and royal mastery of prose; and in the case of Robert Southey there
are some, and they are not the worst critics, who anticipate that
his prose will long outlast his poetry in the Temple of Fame.
We may suppose that to a man whose whole private life was
stainlessly dedicated to a noble rectitude of conduct, and whose
every act was sternly subjected to the judgment of an unbending
conscience, some circumstances of the private life of Nelson must
have been distasteful and open to censure; but no such reservations
dimmed the splendour of Southey's tribute to the public hero who
gave his life in the act of establishing, beyond reach of dispute
or cavil, the throne of England as Queen of the Sea.
"The death of Nelson was felt in England as something more than
a public calamity; men started at the intelligence, and turned
pale, as if they had heard of the loss of a dear friend. An object
of our admiration and affection, of our pride and of our hopes, was
suddenly taken from us, and it seemed as if we had never, till
then, known how deeply we loved and reverenced him.
Nelson left England the Queen of the Sea, and the great war with
Germany has failed to displace her from that splendid throne. For
the plain fact of history remains that, after the battle of
Jutland, the German High Seas Fleet never ventured out of port
again till the end of the war; and when it did emerge from its
ignominious security, it sailed to captivity at Scapa Flow, there
ultimately to repose on the bottom of the sea.
"What the country had lost in its great naval hero—the
greatest of our own, and of all former times, was scarcely taken
into the account of grief. So perfectly, indeed, had he performed
his part, that the maritime war, after the battle of Trafalgar, was
considered at an end; the fleets of the enemy were not merely
defeated, but destroyed; new navies must be built, and a new race
of seamen reared for them, before the possibility of their invading
our shores could again be contemplated.
"It was not, therefore, from any selfish reflection upon the
magnitude of our loss that we mourned for him; the general sorrow
was of a higher character. The people of England grieved that
funeral ceremonies, public monuments and posthumous rewards, were
all which they could now bestow upon him whom the king, the
legislature, and the nation, would alike have delighted to honour;
whom every tongue would have blessed; whose presence in every
village through which he might have passed would have wakened the
church bells, have given schoolboys a holiday, have drawn children
from their sports to gaze upon him, and 'old men from the chimney
corner' to look upon Nelson ere they died.
"The victory of Trafalgar was celebrated, indeed, with the usual
forms of rejoicing, but they were without joy; for such already was
the glory of the British Navy through Nelson's surpassing genius,
that it scarcely seemed to receive any addition from the most
signal victory that ever was achieved upon the sea; and the
destruction of this mighty fleet, by which all the maritime schemes
of France were totally frustrated, hardly appeared to add to our
security or strength, for while Nelson was living to watch the
combined squadrons of the enemy, we felt ourselves as secure as
now, when they were no longer in existence.
"There was reason to suppose from the appearances upon opening
the body, that in the course of nature he might have attained, like
his father, to a good old age. Yet he cannot be said to have fallen
prematurely whose work was done; nor ought he to be lamented, who
died so full of honours, and at the height of human fame. The most
triumphant death is that of a martyr; the most awful, that of the
martyred patriot; the most splendid, that of the hero in the hour
of victory; and if the chariot and the horses of fire had been
vouchsafed for Nelson's translation, he could scarcely have
departed in a brighter blaze of glory.
"He has left us, not indeed his mantle of inspiration, but a
name and an example which are at this hour inspiring hundreds of
the youth of England; a name which is our pride, and an example
which will continue to be our shield and our strength."
Your loving old