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Outlines of English and American Literature
Robert Southey
by Long, William J.

In contrast with the irresolution of Coleridge is the steadfastness of Southey (1774-1843), a man of strong character, of enormous industry. For fifty years he worked steadily, day and half the night, turning out lyrics, ballads, epics, histories, biographies, translations, reviews,--an immense amount of stuff, filling endless volumes. Kind nature made up for Southey's small talent by giving him a great opinion of it, and he believed firmly that his work was as immortal as the Iliad.

With the exception of a few short poems, such as the "Battle of Blenheim," "Lodore," "The Inchcape Rock" and "Father William" (parodied in the nonsense of Alice in Wonderland), the mass of Southey's work is already forgotten. Deserving of mention, however, are his Peninsular War and his Life of Nelson, both written in a straightforward style, portraying patriotism without the usual sham, and a first-class fighting man without brag or bluster. Curious readers may also be attracted by the epics of Southey (such as Madoc, the story of a Welsh prince who anticipated Columbus), which contain plenty of the marvelous adventures that give interest to the romances of Jules Verne and the yarns of Rider Haggard.

It as Southey's habit to work by the clock, turning out chapters as another man might dig potatoes. One day, as he plodded along, a fairy must have whispered in his ear; for he suddenly produced a little story, a gem, a treasure of a story, and hid it away in a jungle of chapters in a book called The Doctor. Somebody soon discovered the treasure; indeed, one might as well try to conceal a lighted candle as to hide a good story; and now it is the most famous work to be found in Southey's hundred volumes of prose and verse. Few professors could give you any information concerning The Doctor, but almost any child will tell you all about "The Three Bears." The happy fate of this little nursery tale might indicate that the final judges of literature are not always or often the learned critics.


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