Thursday 8 March 2018

149 Southey's descendant

149 Southey’s descendant
In the course of his lengthy preface to the 1802 edition of “Lyrical Ballads”, William Wordsworth stated that “Poetry … is emotion recollected in tranquillity”.  Certainly a poet would usually require some peace and quiet in order to produce what the American Paul Simon would call “words that tear and strain to rhyme”.
When in Laugharne Dylan Thomas would retire during the afternoons to the Boathouse to work on drafts of his poems (although Caitlin suspected that he did not use his time there quite so constructively), whereas his friend Vernon Watkins would begin to write after 9pm, following a day’s work in the bank in Swansea, and when his children had gone to bed.  A descendant of another poet thought that a remote Gower cave might be conducive to inspire him to write poetry.
The poet who compared Swansea Bay with the Bay of Naples, Walter Savage Landor, was a friend of Robert Southey, who like Wordsworth was one of the “Lake Poets”.  Incidentally, Southey also wrote biographies of John Wesley, Lord Nelson, William Cowper and others, as well as “The story of the three bears” - though his account includes an old woman instead of Goldilocks!  The user of a Gower cave was Southey’s great-nephew, a tenant at Stouthall in the 1880s.  That estate had been inherited in 1787 by John Lucas, who rebuilt the mansion to a design of architect William Jernegan, for members of the Lucas family to live there until Colonel Edward Wood died leaving no male heir in 1876, whereupon Stouthall was rented out to tenants.
At Rhossili, Worm’s Head contains an almost inaccessible cave in the sheer rock-face of the Outer Head, about 15ft above the high water mark.  This was noted by Henry VIII’s antiquarian John Leland, who wrote (with spelling modernised) of a “Hole at the point of Worm’s Head, but few dare enter it, and men (relate) that a door within the spacious hole has been seen with great nails on it”.
Bernard Morris in the Gower Society’s publication “The Caves of Gower” states that from the cave entrance a passage leads to a large chamber, from which a further passage continues deep into the rock, and that bones of mammoth, bear and reindeer have been uncovered during excavations there. 
Southey’s great-nephew, who was an eccentric revolver-carrying man, paid to jump into the sea off scaffolding while Port Eynon lifeboat station was being built in 1883!  Inspired to write poetry, he had a table and chair rowed out to the Worm and placed in the cave at the Outer Head.  As a place to recollect emotion in tranquillity it may have few rivals, though accessibility and lighting would be difficult.  The cave is difficult if not dangerous to reach, and would afford access by sea only when the tide was right.  It seems unlikely that anything literary was actually produced there.                      
Peninsular Gower’s countryside has inspired poetry from many people, though not apparently from Southey’s descendant.  Perhaps he was a town dweller, for the advantages of living in Stouthall mansion amid such surroundings held little attraction for him: before long he was riding each week (and soon nearly every day) into the town of Swansea to idle away his time drinking at the Albion Inn, which used to stand in Union Street.  He declared “there is nothing to see in Gower”, which even 150 years ago flies in the face of Gower’s castles, beaches and countryside, with the superb views.  Besides, for a public house he had only to ride as far as Parkmill, where Major Thomas Penrice of Kilvrough had built The Gower Inn in 1824. 
By contrast with this temporary resident, people like Vernon Watkins, Dylan Thomas, Nigel Jenkins and others have managed to convey their appreciation of Gower in poetic form, perhaps because they never attempted to do so from within a remote inhospitable cave.     

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