Political Essays (1819)/Mr. Southey, Poet Laureat
MR. SOUTHEY, POET LAUREAT.
Sept. 18, 1813.
The laurel is at length destined, unexpectedly, to circle the brows of this gentleman, where it will look almost like a civic crown. The patriot and the poet (two venerable names, which we should wish never to see disunited) is said to owe his intended elevation to the intercession of Mr. Croker, to whom, it will be recollected, he has dedicated his Life of Lord Nelson, with an appropriate motto in the title-page, from the poem of Ulm and Trafalgar. Mr. Croker having applied to the Regent in favour of his friend, the Prince is understood to have given his ready assent, observing, that Mr. Southey's efforts in the Spanish cause alone, rendered him highly worthy of the situation. As Mr. Croker, however, was taking his leave, he was met by Lord Liverpool and the Marquis of Hertford, the latter of whom, as chamberlain, had, it seems, made an offer of the place to Mr. Walter Scott, who had signified his acceptance of it. Some little difficulty naturally arose on the occasion, but it was agreed that the two poets should settle the point of precedence between themselves. A friendly altercation, unlike that of the shepherds in Virgil, now took place between Mr. Scott and Mr. Southey, each waving his own pretensions, and giving the palm of victory to the other. But it was finally determined, that as Mr. Scott, though he would not allow himself to be the greatest, was at least the richest poet of the two, Mr. Southey, who had most need of this post of honour and of profit, should have it. So ends this important affair; and, without any ill-will to Mr. Southey, we should not have been disappointed if it had ended differently. Whatever may be the balance of poetical merit, Mr. Scott, we are quite sure, has always been a much better courtier than Mr. Southey; and we are of opinion that the honours of a Court can no where be so gracefully or deservedly bestowed as on its followers. His acceptance of this mark of court favour would not have broken in upon that uniformity of character, which we think no less beautiful and becoming in life than in a poem. But, perhaps, a passion for new faces extends to the intrigues of politics as well as of love; and a triumph over the scruples of delicacy enhances the value of the conquest in both cases. To have been the poet of the people, may not render Mr. Southey less a court favourite; and one of his old Sonnets to Liberty must give a peculiar zest to his new Birth-day Odes. His flaming patriotism will easily subside into the gentle glow of grateful loyalty; and the most extravagant of his plans of reform end in building castles in Spain!