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Bryan R. The King and the Gentleman. Derek Wilson. Doubtful and Dangerous. Susan Doran. Nineteenth-Century Major Lives and Letters. How to write a great review. The review must be at least 50 characters long. The title should be at least 4 characters long. Your display name should be at least 2 characters long.
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Even so, Letters from England is of lasting interest as a sweeping, kaleidoscopic, and often humorous depiction of England at the epochal beginning of the 19th century—the narrative is set in , during the Peace of Amiens—and as an early and articulate appeal to the social conscience in the face of revolutionary change, particularly in the eloquent evocation of the inhuman plight of the new industrial laboring class in factory towns such as Manchester. Letters from England may be usefully juxtaposed with a second, much later piece of fictionalized polemic, the notorious Sir Thomas More: or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society , written between and and published in , with a second edition in As the title indicates, the epistolary model has here been replaced by the dialogue, Southey choosing as his new literary model the Consolation of Boethius.
The work has often been praised for its limpid prose style. In them Southey inveighs in often shrill tones against the evils of the day as he saw them: materialism whether philosophical or commercial , immorality, infidelity, and sedition, pacifism, Methodism, Malthusianism, Catholic emancipation, and parliamentary reform. Some of his diagnoses are accurate enough and his proposed remedies salutary: universal education, legislation to regulate industry and provide social benefits, and the like.
But his analyses of the causes of economic and social dislocation—and therefore also his solutions—are generally one part science and two parts moralism. Sir Thomas More caps this evolving paternalistic vision of contemporary history as an Armageddon between the forces of law and order and moral and religious absolutes and the forces of materialism and anarchy, between the principles of obedience and authority and the dissolving agents of pluralism and skepsis. The main opus was to have been accompanied by subsidiary volumes on the Portuguese colonies in Asia and South America, on monasticism, on the Jesuit missions, and on Iberian literature.
The proof of that alcohol can be gauged from the only major portion of the complete Portuguese scheme that did reach publication, the massive History of Brazil. An inexhaustible source of information, the History of Brazil will produce fatigue or overload in the most determined reader. The voluminous History of the Peninsular War , while containing dense and graphic episodes, such as the moving Siege of Saragossa, is crammed with Verbatim documents and with digressions into local color and Iberiana that are often not even marginally relevant to the main subject.
It also suffers from overidealization of the Spanish insurgents and a corresponding underestimation of the role of the British in the war, that of Gen. John Moore in particular.
It was thus speedily eclipsed by the authorized history published concurrently by Col. William Napier, who used all the available sources and had himself taken part in the campaign. To be sure, prolixity and partiality are hazards in the biographies as well.
But the material adduced from these sources is often of doubtful relevance, and the volumes savor of task work and encyclopedia compilation. He fares better with a congenial subject such as William Cowper, albeit here, too, circumstantiality, contingency, and digression are often the bane of portraiture. Apart from his breach of domestic decorum and related indiscretions, however, Nelson was so thoroughly simpatico to Southey as to leave no need for a deeper, more dialectical empathy.
More than in his epics with their voluminous notes, narrative here increasingly subserves a discursive and antiquarian purpose, to become at last a grotesque parody of Southeyan garrulousness and packrat mentality. The narrative—what there is of it—projects essentially a nostalgic, agrarian idyll of the good old days before the eruption of revolutionary modernity. He is surrounded by a cast of similarly innocuous characters. Its closest antecedents and parallels are perhaps to be found in the unpretentious felicity of Joseph Addison and the workmanlike language of Walter Scott.
On balance, however, his prose is a model of transparent functionalism: clear, simple, direct, and vigorous; largely paratactic, but varied in its rhythms and sentence lengths; seemingly artless, yet taut, polished, and economical when time constraints did not promote makeshift; rhetorically forceful where appropriate in its use of alliteration, anaphora, and extended metaphor often derived from the areas of warfare, travel, navigation, horticulture, and especially, medicine ; and, above all, astonishing in its tireless abundance. To be an author meant to transmit authority rather than to explore strange seas of thought as his fellow Romantics did.
His life after the move to Keswick in was not without signal, even shattering events, such as the death of several children, including his first-born and his beloved first son and playmate, Herbert, or his many intense friendships, including several with women, one of whom, the minor poet Caroline Anne Bowles, he married on 4 June —after 20 years of intimate correspondence—after the death in of the by then demented Edith Southey. But rather than opening his imagination fully to the force of the human condition, they caused him to retreat to the high ground of received beliefs.
Although he always remained a somewhat truculent individualist, had doubts about some religious orthodoxies, and roamed to the ends of the earth and the beginnings of history in his reveries and researches, he was, after his early years, a staunch and even bigoted defender of both political and ecclesiastical hierarchies if not always of their doctrines , and he turned down all job offers from newspapers, libraries, and universities that might have taken him away from the Lake District.
He was endlessly curious about human nature but would not face it, whether in others or himself, except in the less volatile form of human culture, most of which he ended up despising as immoral or irrational, seditious or superstitious, dirty or even diabolical. His own mind eventually failed, after a lifetime of repressed passion and herculean compensatory labor, and he died of a stroke on the vernal equinox of He was buried in Crosthwaite Churchyard in Keswick, alongside his first wife and three of his children. Prose Home Harriet Blog. Visit Home Events Exhibitions Library.
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Poems by This Poet Bibliography. The Battle of Blenheim. The Cataract of Lodore. The Complaints of the Poor. God's Judgment on a Wicked Bishop. My Days among the Dead are Past. The Old Man's Complaints. And how he gained them. The Well of St. Lunn and J. Merrill, sold by J. March, Norwich, Cruttwell, Robinson, London, ; revised edition, 2 volumes, Bristol: Printed by N.
Biggs for T. Longman and J. Nancrede, Cottle, Bristol, and G. Poems , 2 volumes Bristol: Printed by N. Biggs for Joseph Cottle and G. Rees, London, , Thalaba the Destroyer , 2 volumes London: Printed for T. Williams, Murray, Wells, Fry, Carmina Aulica. The Lay of the Laureate. Wat Tyler.
Mendum, A Letter to William Smith, Esq. London: J. Gilley,