Home  »  Volume XI: English THE PERIOD OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION  »  § 14. Miscellaneous Prose; The Lives of the Admirals

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

VIII. Southey

§ 14. Miscellaneous Prose; The Lives of the Admirals

The same mixture of fault and fate from the first beset some more original productions of the same period—The Book of the Church (1822), Vindiciae Ecclesiae Anglicanae (1826), Colloquies (1828), rather unfairly described in Macaulay’s essay, and Essays Moral and Political (1834), part of which was Rickman’s work. All were quite admirably written, as, indeed, Macaulay himself confesses, Colloquies especially containing passages of almost consummate execution; and the caution above given as to Byron may be repeated in reference to their matter. But Southey’s defects as a political writer have been frankly acknowledged already, and he suffered from the same defects, or others like them, in matters ecclesiastical. He had entirely got over his early unorthodoxy, here, also, on important points; but, even in his orthodoxy, there was a good deal of private misjudgment; and he carried the disapproval of Roman catholicism, and of all forms of protestant dissent, which, when held and expressed moderately, is logically incumbent on an Anglican, to fantastic and extravagant lengths. Fortunately, these things were succeeded in his last decade, while it was yet time—not merely by an edition of Cowper, which, though prevented by insuperable obstacles from being quite complete, is, in the circumstances, a most remarkable example of combined industry and judgment, but, also, by two original works: one, The Lives of the Admirals, which has been almost universally admitted to contain delightful matter, admirably told, and another, almost an opus maximum, which has not been so fortunate.