Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lloyd, Charles (1775-1839)

LLOYD, CHARLES (1775–1839), poet, born in Birmingham, 12 Feb. 1775, two days after the birth of Charles Lamb, was the eldest son of Charles Lloyd (1748–1828) [q. v.] the quaker banker and philanthropist. He was educated privately by a tutor named Gilpin, and was intended to have entered his father's bank, but, in Cottle's language, 'thought that the tedious and unintellectual occupation of adjusting pounds, shillings, and pence suited those alone who had never, eagle-like, gazed at the sun, or bathed their temples in the dews of Parnassus.' As early as 1795 he published a volume of poems at Carlisle, which display a thoughtfulness unusual at his age. In the following year he made the acquaintance of Coleridge on the latter's visit to Birmingham to enlist subscribers to his 'Watchman.' Fascinated with Coleridge's conversation, Lloyd 'proposed even to domesticate with him, and made him such a pecuniary offer that Coleridge immediately acceded to the proposal.' This was 80l. a year, in return for which Coleridge was to devote three hours every morning to his instruction; and although the undertaking may not have been very strictly performed, Lloyd, much later in life, speaks with enthusiasm of the benefit he had derived from Coleridge's society. They lived together at Kingsdown, Bristol, and at the close of 1796 Lloyd accompanied the Coleridges on their removal to Nether Stowey. Coleridge's sonnet 'To a Friend' on the birth of his son Hartley, and his lines 'To a Young Man of Fortune,' are probably addressed to Lloyd. The latter had already printed at Bristol, for publication in London, a volume of elegiac verse to the memory of his grandmother, Priscilla Farmer, introduced by a sonnet from Coleridge's pen, and concluded by 'The Grandam' of Charles Lamb, to whom Lloyd had been introduced by Coleridge. Almost immediately after his arrival at Nether Stowey, Lloyd was attacked by fits, the precursors of his subsequent infirmities, and Coleridge described his condition as alarming. He shortly afterwards went to London, where he cultivated the society of Lamb. This was the most afflicted period of Lamb's life. 'I had well-nigh,' he writes, 'quarrelled with Charles Lloyd; and for no other reason, I believe, than that the good creature did all he could to make me happy.' Lloyd appears, notwithstanding, to have been substantially domesticated with Coleridge until the summer of 1797. In the autumn of this year all the poems which he deemed worthy of preservation were appended by Cottle, along with poems by Charles Lamb, to a second edition of Coleridge's poems. The collection was headed by an elegant Latin motto on the mutual friendship of the authors, attributed to 'Groscollius,' but in reality composed by Coleridge. Coleridge shortly afterwards asserted that he had only allowed Lloyd's poems to be published together with his own at the earnest solicitation of the writer, and ridiculed both them and Lamb's poems in sonnets subscribed 'Nehemiah Higginbotham' in the 'Monthly Magazine' (November 1797).

Some tattling communication subsequently made by Lloyd to Lamb respecting Coleridge reached Coleridge's ears in the first half of 1798, and a serious breach was inevitable. Lloyd, nevertheless, speaks of Coleridge as a friend in the preface to 'Edmund Oliver,' a novel in letters, published in 1798, some of the details of which are derived from Coleridge's experiences as a private soldier. The book is mainly a polemic against Godwin's views on marriage, and, though very poor as a novel, is not devoid of interesting features. In the same year there appeared ‘Blank Verse by Charles Lloyd and Charles Lamb.’ In 1799 Lloyd married Sophia, daughter of Samuel Pemberton of Birmingham, with whom, if De Quincey can be trusted, he eloped by proxy, employing no less distinguished a person than Southey to carry her off. He at first resided with her at Barnwell, near Cambridge, whose prosaic landscape is the subject of one of his best descriptive poems. About August 1800 he took the small mansion of Low Brathay, near Ambleside, where he received Southey and his wife on their return from Portugal, and where De Quincey made his acquaintance in 1807. At that time he appeared enviably happy, enjoying an ample allowance from his father, and blessed with a numerous family of children, and a wife whom De Quincey declares to have been ‘as a wife and mother unsurpassed by anybody I have known in either of those characters.’ He corresponded in French with Miss Watson, daughter of the Bishop of Llandaff, ‘the letters on both sides being full of spirit and originality.’ His principal literary occupation was a translation of Ovid's ‘Metamorphoses,’ commenced in 1805 and completed in 1811, specimens only of which have been published. A version of the last book of the ‘Iliad,’ published at Birmingham in 1807, and sometimes ascribed to him, was by his father.

It was probably about 1811 that Lloyd began to suffer from the distressing auditory illusions so powerfully described by De Quincey, and from the ‘slight and transient fits of aberration, flying showers from the skirts of the clouds that precede and announce the main storm.’ A serious illness is mentioned in July 1813. De Quincey seems to intimate that Lloyd undertook his translation of Alfieri as a means of diverting his mind. It appeared in 1815, with a dedication to Southey, who reviewed it in the ‘Quarterly,’ vol. xiv., and might have spoken with warmer acknowledgment of its homely force and strict accuracy. Lloyd also wrote, and printed privately at Ulverston, a novel, entitled ‘Isabel,’ which was published in 1820, but has remained almost unknown. It has little merit. Meanwhile Lloyd was placed in an asylum near York, from which he escaped about 1818, and found his way back to Westmoreland, where he suddenly reappeared at De Quincey's cottage. De Quincey vividly describes his condition and conversation, but does not mention, what he privately told Woodhouse, that Lloyd laboured to convince him of his (Lloyd's) identity with the devil, and in trying to establish this assertion ultimately reasoned himself out of it. This anecdote confirms the testimony of Talfourd: ‘Poor Charles Lloyd! Delusions of the most melancholy kind thickened over his latter days, yet left his admirable intellect free for the finest processes of severe reasoning.’ Mrs. Coleridge, writing to Poole in April 1819, says that Lloyd visited Greta Hall ‘last summer,’ and said ‘he was lost and his wife and children only shadows.’ His mental condition seems to have borne great affinity to Cowper's. Soon after his interview with De Quincey, however, he temporarily recovered, and removed to London, accompanied by his wife, but not, as would appear, by his children. In London in June 1819 he was more beneficially affected by the emotion caused by witnessing Macready's performance of Rob Roy, and expressed his feelings in a copy of verses, printed in Macready's ‘Reminiscences.’ For some time he displayed much literary activity, publishing in 1819 a collection of his poems, under the title of ‘Nugæ Canoræ;’ in 1821, ‘Desultory Thoughts in London; Titus and Gisippus; and other Poems;’ and ‘Poetical Essays on the Character of Pope;’ in 1822, ‘The Duke D'Ormond,’ a tragedy written in 1798, together with ‘Beritola,’ a metrical tale in the Italian manner; and a small volume of poems in 1823. From this time he was silent, and precise details of his latter days are wanting, but the tone of De Quincey and Talfourd leaves no doubt that they were clouded by insanity, which, nevertheless, left him the power, while sunk in despondency respecting his own condition, of discussing speculative questions with interest and acuteness. He eventually went to France, and died in a maison de santé at Chaillot, near Versailles, 16 Jan. 1839. His wife died at Versailles about the same time. The children, five sons and four daughters, were, when De Quincey wrote, dead, or scattered over the world. Lloyd cannot be ranked among good poets, but his writings are the reflection of an interesting personality. De Quincey compares him with Rousseau, whom he certainly resembles in sentimental pensiveness and intense love of nature. As a descriptive poet he has considerable merit, and exhibits that gift of minute observation so frequently found combined with powers of mental analysis. His poetry, however, is mainly subjective, and monotonous from the writer's continual self-absorption. His versification is frequently worse than inharmonious, and his diction so prosaic as to evince that his power of expression bore no proportion to his power of thought. His best poem is ‘Desultory Thoughts in London,’ which contains, with other good passages, a beautiful description of his home in Westmoreland, and deeply felt though poorly composed eulogies on Lamb and Coleridge. His abilities as a thinker were rated highly. ‘It was really a delightful luxury,’ declares De Quincey, ‘to hear him giving free scope to his powers for investigating subtle combinations of character.’ ‘His mind,’ says Talfourd, ‘was chiefly remarkable for a fine power of analysis. In this power of discriminating and distinguishing, carried almost to a pitch of painfulness, Lloyd has scarcely been equalled.’

[De Quincey's Literary Reminiscences, and Conversations with Woodhouse, appended to the Parchment Series edition of the English Opium Eater; Talfourd's Memorials of Charles Lamb; Cottle's Early Recollections; Southey's Letters; Leigh Hunt's Correspondence; Page's Life of De Quincey; Mrs. Sandford's Thomas Poole and his Friends; Macready's Reminiscences, i. 164–6; Charles Lamb and the Lloyds, ed. E. V. Lucas, 1898.]

R. G.