The Doctor "Your True Lover Of Literature Is Never Fastidious"

Robert Southey

"Your True Lover Of Literature Is Never Fastidious"

Context: Robert Southey was an important literary figure in his day. A leader and pioneer, he explored new paths in literature and opened up ways for others to follow. The only professional man of letters of his time who depended solely upon his literary efforts, Southey experimented widely and was active in many forms of writing. He attempted a number of new approaches and freedoms in the structure of verse and in the choice of subject matter. In his break with eighteenth century restrictions, he helped to reëstablish blank verse, contributed to popularization of the ballad, and introduced exotic settings which aroused interest in the Orient. He wrote a number of epics, which he hoped would insure his lasting fame. In addition to his poetry, Southey wrote a great deal of competent prose, including essays, criticism, and several historical works. He was named poet laureate in 1813. In spite of his historical importance, however, Southey's work does not seem to have stood the test of time. Critics of the present century are agreed that his talents were unequal to his ambitions, and that his work is largely mediocre. He was a conscientious workman, however, and an indefatigable scholar. His mind eventually gave way from overwork and he died insane. The Doctor is an interesting example of his prose writing, and a difficult one to classify. A lengthy and curious work with which Southey amused himself in his spare time, it is a compendium of anecdotes, fantasy, whimsy, facetiae, and all sorts of miscellaneous lore. These diverse materials are joined loosely and presented in humorous fashion; to a modern reader the facetiousness is labored, but the variety of subject matter has a fascination of its own. It is evident that Southey enjoyed writing these pages, in which he discourses at random. In Chapter 16 he discusses literary appetites in general, and in the following chapter he examines and appraises the reader whose tastes are fastidious:

A fastidious taste is like a squeamish appetite; the one has its origin in some disease of mind, as the other has in some ailment of the stomach. Your true lover of literature is never fastidious. I do not mean the helluo librorum, the swinish feeder, who thinks that every name which is to be found in a title-page, or on a tombstone, ought to be rescued from oblivion; nor those first cousins of the moth, who labour under a bulimy for black-letter, and believe every thing to be excellent which was written in the reign of Elizabeth. I mean the man of robust and healthy intellect, who gathers the harvest of literature into his barns, threshes the straw, winnows the grain, grinds it at his own mill, bakes it in his own oven, and then eats the true bread of knowledge. If he bake his loaf upon a cabbage leaf, and eat onions with his bread and cheese, let who will find fault with him for his taste,–not I!