Susan Dunn is the character in Louis' poem based on Miss Mann. This is a slight parody on Wordsworthian characters with short simple names. The solitary bluebell is an allusion to Anne Bronte's poem The Bluebell which I recommend all of you to read.
Louis Moore and Mr Hall set off to Greta Hall to see Robert Southey, author of Thalaba the Destroyer and biographer. They were welcomed warmly by the poet, who ushered them into the library. To their surprise they found a group of children sitting at a table with three ladies. One of the ladies, a well-turned woman with a brown-haired wig, was occupied in teaching French to a few girls. The most beautiful lady, who was dressed in mourning, was heard to dictate several Latin phrases to the other ones. The third lady was not speaking, but she sat with her sewing, observing the scene. Louis noted the sweetness of the last lady's countenance - it seemed so gentle.
Southey cleared his throat. "We have visitors, ladies. Mr Hall and Mr Moore from Yorkshire - Mrs Southey" - the lady with the sewing bobbed a curtsy, "my sisters-in-law, Mrs Coleridge," the pretty be-wigged lady nodded, "and Mrs Lovell. Come away, children," he added, "there will be no Greek today." Mr Hall and Louis bowed. Louis looked at Mrs Coleridge with some interest. So this was the wife of the poet, who had separated from him! He had heard gossip about Coleridge's domestic life, which had been far from comfortable - though he had not expected to meet Mrs Coleridge. The widow and the estranged wife left the room, followed by the children.
"My sisters-in-law, as you see, tutor the children," said Southey, when they were gone.
The gentlemen sat down at the table. "Are you in the literary line youself, sir?" Southey asked of Mr Hall.
"I am no poet like my friend Moore, though I have contributed some articles on the Greek dramatists," replied the middle-aged scholar. "I daresay you may have seen them in The Examiner."
"I believe I have - you are the Rev. Cyril Hall, are you not?"
Mr Hall acknowledged this.
"But I have omitted to speak to Mr Moore about his poetry," said Southey, recalling himself. "You mentioned, Mr Moore, that you intended a career in the literary mould."
"I did," said Louis. "It is the great interest of my life."
"You are possessed of no ordinary talent," observed Southey, "and have a faculty of verse uncommon to most aspiring poets. Were I to judge you based on your merits, I would advise you to pursue Poesy for its sake. However, to earn a living places a different complexion on the matter. You are a tutor, I think?"
"That is my present employment. I am considering, however, that it is a position I do not intend to remain in for long."
"And so you resolved on living on the wings of Poesy," returned the future Poet Laureate, smiling. "It is a noble aim, but were I in your position I would advise against it - not because I doubt your ability, but because the demand for poetry is small. Were you a novelty in Burns' or Bloomfield's manner it would have been more fortunate for you: there is a demand for 'poets of the soil'. Your talents, I think, are differently placed. But your aims, I see, are sincere: a poet who wishes to write for its own sake cannot do so for a living on its own. If you wish to pursue poetry, do so when you are inspired and sincere, and not for celebrity or an income."
"You, sir, have been singularly fortunate in your profession," said Louis.
"Yes, fortune has favoured me so far," reflected Southey. Perhaps a twinge of guilt touched the poet's eyes, for in his early youth he had written a poem in fervent support of the radical movement: how unlike the solid, respectable Tory he was become. If this was the case he did not choose to indulge his listeners with his conscience. "Poetry has enabled me to get a sustenance, though I cannot depend solely on it - it is as a man of prose I earn my bread. I say this not to discourage you, but because I have known what it is to be a struggling poet. If you are bent on literature, I advise you to earn it in some other manner as well, that can ensure you a living."
Louis and Mr Hall spoke with the poet on other subjects quite freely, observing the splendid library, quite splendid for a man who earned his bread through literature. There were tomes on history, geography, biography and languages - Southey was quite the polymath, for this was in the times before distractions came with the industrial revolution, and before subjects had become the specialised fossils they are.
"You are a man of many talents, Mr Southey," observed Mr Hall, "I quite envy you your library."
"It is part of my living," said Southey, "as a biographer it is necessary I am acquainted with the history of different countries. How do you like the Lake District?"
"The scenery is singularly beautiful," said Louis Moore, "it impresses upon one with its grandeur and freshness. I have seen well-kept grounds but they are nothing to this."
"You favour the sublime over the classical, I perceive," remarked Southey. "It is quite a feature among our modern poets. - nature poems are by the dozen nowadays. - Are there scenic spots in your part of Yorkshire?"
"We have our own spots, sir," said Mr Hall, "Nunnely Woods grows green and flourishing - it is even said to have its own ghost though it is surely nothing to you compared to the Lakes."
"My parish, which is next to Hall's," said Louis Moore, "is built along smaller and less grand lines, and yet - I must confess it has its own quiet beauty, distinctive on its own. One could roam wild here, with strange visions for company, but is inspiring rather than soothing. Briarfield is of a calmer sort - it is like a home you return to, after a grand tour of the Lakes. You feel insignificant here, because it is grand: but you belong to, and are part of the Briarfield moors." Was this the cynic speaking? Louis Moore had professed himself a dry critic of passion: he had denounced Lord Byron and the Gothic school, and delighted in parodies of the latter. The extremities of poetic passion had raised some biting scorn from his lips, as Caroline Helstone had observed with some disappointment at her poetic relation, He now looked pensive and thoughtful, not unlike a Romantic poet of a more respectable cast. Had his young cousin been present it would have cast doubt on his cynicism.
Was this the result of a naturally passionate nature? It is not always the naturally unromantic who express strong doubts over great passion. They cannot be bothered to concern themselves with what does not exist to them in their lives or imagination; it is as vague to them as the existence of fairies. Those who express themselves strongly over passion's extremities may have been of a naturally ardent nature. Having idealised passion and perhaps expected it, only to find themselves disillusioned, they turn fully the other way, bitter and disappointed. Only on an ardent person would this be impressed upon. Caroline Helstone, much inclined to sensibility, would have dreamt of the Lakes long after she saw the place, had she visited it. The quiet hills of Briarfield had already excited much rapture from her, as it could not enrapture sober Mr Hall. Mr Hall saw Briarfield and even Nunnely, his parish, with the eye of a contented resident accustomed to these beauties; Caroline saw them as one who wanders to a world, in search of a welcome escape from the high streets of Briarfield. It takes a sensible nature to appreciate a small, less rolling lanscape, being less grand than the magnificent Lakes. Anyone of an artistic disposition may enjoy these magnificent views; fewer still saw every hue and shape among the Briarfield clouds.
"There is much to be said for milder landscapes," agreed Southey, "The love for simpler scenes is what distinguishes the poet from the versifier: it is what Wordsworth has done in our own time. Now Wordsworth is no perfect versifier - there are many things I would fain have erased from his writings, but he has written much that is good - superior to our bard in many ways."
Louis agreed heartily. Mr Hall knew something of Wordsworth, and while he admired the Lake Poet's verse, he did not hold it up to the high esteem his friend did. He listened in some wonder to the conversation of the two poets.
"No common mind," said Louis, "could venerate with discrimination the simple tales of countryside. Wordsworth is my model in the philosophy of poetry, sir, as you are mine in the art of executing its form."
But Southey here shook his head. "You are too good, Mr Moore, to pay tribute to one of my powers. While I believe I have contributed something to form, my poetry shall never reach the heights of Milton. If anyone living has attained the powers of Milton, it is Wordsworth."
"The powers of Milton!" here exclaimed Mr Hall, who could not understand this raving over Wordsworth. To him Milton was a god of poetry: an inclination for drama, deep, elevated passions he had, but small lyrics were not to his taste. The scholar could not see the solitary bluebell in search of the grand moors.
"Certainly, Mr Hall," said Southey. "Milton was a great poet in the grand scale, but Wordsworth is great in his more natural touches. Could Milton have drawn the rural folk so derided in Wordsworth? In posterity he will achieve his name - not now, perhaps, but there will come a time when the public will recognise his talents. What I write comes from my scholarly researches; Wordsworth takes as he sees from life. He owes his greatness to the living, not the dead."
Both the visitors from Yorkshire saw this as a moment of haunted contemplation; they hastily turned the subject to Hazlitt and Lamb and other luminaries. Mr Hall would have liked to ask about Coleridge, but the dependence of the gothick poet's estranged wife on Southey did not encourage enquiry. Louis asked how his poetry could be improved.
"What you want," said Mr Southey, "is dramatic power. You are too fond of the ordinary, I regret - but your heroine in the Martyr of Briarfield lacks vividness. It is accurately-painted, and you have an eye for nature - but your characters want excitement."
"I must speak for my friend," put in Mr Hall. "The original of Susan Dunn is by no means an excitable character. She is a worthy woman but no goddess."
"Many persons are of that cast, it is true," replied Southey, "but it is what the poet sees and dramatises in his character. You would do better to dwell on Susan Dunn's inner thoughts and feelings - for the present, she rouses more curiosity than pity. - Have you written other things since then?"
"As a matter of fact," said Louis, "I have written a short piece called Ellen Bray. It is here with me." And he withdrew his notebook from his surtout and showed it to the poet. Southey perused the pages with some admiration.
"Your style is quite improved," he said, "the heroine is more vivid, though there are some faults in its execution I would advise you to alter." He proceeded to state these, saying that when they were changed, he would be glad if Moore would send them to him to be published. "Your heroine reminds me of Lucy Gray - I should like to see her in print. Where did you say you were from, Mr Moore?"
"I came from Briarfield - it is near Gomersal village. Hall's parish of Nunnely is a short distance away."
"I thought so. It is a most singular coincidence - the other day I received a letter from a lady residing in Briarfield. She, too, has adopted Wordsworth as among her favoured poets, though she is a greater admirer of Coleridge. I have invited her to visit."
"A lady from Briarfield?" said Mr Hall. "If you will excuse my inquisitiveness, was her name Helstone?" He knew well the poetic fancies of his young friend, though he was unaware of her regard for Southey.
"No, her name is Keeldar. You are acquainted with the lady, sir?"
"Miss Keeldar is a personal friend of mine," said Mr Hall. "Moore is tutor to her young cousin - indeed, he tutored Miss Keeldar a short while himself."
"Your manners of versifying are not dissimilar," observed Southey to Moore, "though Miss Keeldar is fond of the lyrical."
How near she was, and yet so far! To think that they were united in the form of the renowned Robert Southey - it would have been a joke, had Louis Moore not inwardly groaned for more information respecting his former pupil.
"She is not without talent," said Southey, "though her powers are dimmed. She had a curious way of expressing herself - I could scarcely understand what she wrote - they were the words of a visionary, but she lacked the form to express her thoughts: the words ran weak and unsustained." He spoke more to himself than to the younger man.
When they had left, Mr Hall wrote to his sister Margaret. "To think that Miss Keeldar has been under our noses all the while! Southey has been very good to Louis - he tells him that he will recommend his pieces to the editor of one of the periodicals. Louis tells me that he hopes to gain work as a reviewer: he ventured to ask Southey, who has promised to introduce him to the literati. They have not yet seen him, however - that is a disadvantage, but a written testimony from Southey might do something. Louis is busy revising his poem on Ellen Bray - quite a marvellous feat I would recommend you to read, when it is published - and I believe he is occupied with yet another work which he will not show me. Perhaps Briarfield will produce its bard."
To whom did Louis express his hopes and dreams? Nobody, save Mr Hall. His sister Hortense was a good woman, but she was not at all literary in the intellectual sense: she knew the works of the old masters, though her mind was not of the depth to grasp their power. Rule, not sentiment dictated her tastes. Robert had some liking for poetry, though he could well dispense with them. Perhaps he might have thought of his young cousin Caroline, but it did not occur to him to write to one whom he had no real intimacy with.
"I envy you and Miss Hall," he remarked one day, as they were sitting outside the inn contemplating the weather. "You and your sister are intellectual companions and happy in each other's society."
"I am singularly fortunate," agreed Mr Hall, contentedly. "Margaret is a rare breed among women - as is Miss Ainley, though in an entirely different way. You ought to marry, Louis, and find a clever wife."
Good Mr Hall perhaps lacked some insight in this remark. He had certainly met clever women (there were the sisters of an old fellow-teacher at his previous post) - not many, to be sure, but of their existence he had no doubt. Bluestockings were all right in their way, and some held interesting and intelligent views it was a pleasure to listen to, but what he yearned for was the affection of a sister. He had not known family-feeling since his departure to England for school. He had been separated from his siblings for years, too long to foster that true sense of belonging completely. He was a wanderer in the mists of nature and poesy, never the brother of the home-hearth and the heart of the warm circle. There is a sense of being comfortable merely staying, not speaking in an entertaining or profound manner, but to be accepted as one of a circle, no matter what one was. It was different from the impassioned democratic speeches he shared with the schoolteacher, the kind words from the latter's mother and sisters - perhaps the closest he had come to it beyond his family was with Mr Hall and Margaret. Then there was a small circle, younger than him - but why should he think of that? It could not be - could not remain.