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

VIII. Southey

§ 8. Southey as Historian and Reviewer

As a historian and reviewer, Southey may be considered here generally; some remarks on the two lighter books may follow; but Kehama and the Nelson cannot be left without separate notice.

If almost the widest possible reading, a keen curiosity and interest in the things both of life and literature, common-sense tempered by humour, unwearying application, a disposition, if with some foibles and prejudices, on the whole singularly equable and amiable and an altogether admirable style, could make a good historian and a good reviewer, Southey ought to have been one of the very best of both classes. It would, perhaps, be too much to say that he actually was. In history, he was apt to attack too large subjects, and to exhibit, in dealing with them, a certain absence of that indefinable grasp of his subject which the historian requires in order to grasp his reader. Episodes, as in the later Expedition of Orsua (1821), or short statements, as in Nelson itself, he could manage admirably; and, for this reason, his reviews are much better than his histories, though it is not easy to judge the former exhaustively, since they have never been collected and are believed to be, in some cases, impossible of identification. But the magisterial style which the early Reviews affected (though he himself sometimes protested against it) was rather a snare to Southey, and it cannot be said that his best work is there.