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

VIII. Southey

§ 15. The Doctor

Few books, indeed, have been the subjects of more different judgments than Southey’s last, unfinished and, indeed, unfinishable work The Doctor, in seven volumes (1837–47), part being posthumous. It has been pronounced by some to be actually delightful and by others to be intolerably dull. An impartial, experienced and acute thirdsman, even without knowing the book, would, in such a case, perceive easily enough that there must be something in it which appeals strongly to one taste or set of tastes and does not appeal to, or actually revolts, another. Yet, inasmuch as the tastes and appreciations to which The Doctor appeals are positive, and those to which it does not appeal are negative, it seems that the admirers have the most to say for themselves. The book has been called “a novel,” which it certainly is not; “a commonplace-book” pure and simple, which it, as certainly, is not; and “a miscellany,” which it, as certainly, is. But the last description is, perhaps, as inadequate as the two former are incorrect. To speak with critical accuracy, materials of the most apparently heterogeneous sort, derived from the author’s vast reading, are in it digested into a series, as it were, of articles, the succession of which is not without a certain contiguity of subject between each pair or batch, while the whole is loosely strung on a thread, now thicker now thinner, of personal narrative. This last history, of Dr. Daniel Dove of Doncaster and his horse Nobs, seems, originally, to have been a sprout of Coleridge’s brain; but, if it ever had, as such, any beginning, middle or end, they are certainly not recorded or retained in any regular fashion here. The extraction, early and later homes, marriage, horse-ownership and other circumstances of the titular hero serve as starting-points for enormous, though often very ingeniously connected, divagations which display the author’s varied interests, his quaint humour and his unparalleled reading. To a person who wants a recognisable specimen of a recognised department of literature; to one, who, if not averse from humour, altogether abhors that nonsense-humour which Southey loved, and which his enemy Hazlitt valiantly championed as specially English; to anyone who does not take any interest in literary quodlibeta, The Doctor must be a dull book, and may be a disgusting one. To readers differently disposed and equipped, it cannot but be delightful. Attempts have sometimes been made at compromise, by excepting from condemnation, not merely the famous Story of the Three Bears, but the beautiful descriptions of the Yorkshire dales, the history of the cats of Greta hall and other things. But the fact is that, to anybody really qualified to appreciate it, there is hardly a page of The Doctor which is not delightful.