2910. Robert Southey to John Murray, 31 January 1817

2910. Robert Southey to John Murray, 31 January 1817⁠* 

My dear Sir

I have a letter from Dublin to this effect. Government has granted to a Society for promoting the Education of the Poor, [1]  “a sum sufficiently ample to print & circulate useful, improving & amusing books among the lower order, at such price as considerably to undersell the destructive popular publications of the day”. In this way they expect in the course of two months to have a dozen works in editions of from 5 to 10,000 copies each, selling at the price of five pence each at the highest, – the largest being about 200 pages 18mo. The letter comes with a request for permission to print an abridgement of Nelson [2]  in this manner & for this purpose. – The matter of course rests with you, – as to the good or the injury which it might do the sale I can have no opinion, – nor have I any wish upon the subject; – the application comes from Mr H J Monck Mason, a very useful & excellent man, – the least like an Irishman of any person I ever saw from that country, – & I know not what better can be said for which is saying much in his praise. But if there the slightest objection to granting the permission which he asks, you should perfectly understand that I can there will not be the least awkwardness in my witholding it in your name. [3]  Did you know that the Life of Wellington [4]  had been pirated in Ireland? he tells me so. – It was so here in the Military Chronicle. [5] 

If the Tales of my Landlord are not reviewed in your next Number [6]  perhaps you will offer to the suggestion of the reviewer what has been suggested to me, [7]  – for I myself have not as yet seen the book. Two things are complained of in it, – the first is not remediable, being in the very texture of the book, but it might well to notice it: – that it produces a very unfair impression of the Scotch Covenantors, an equally unfair one of a very detestable monster (for such Claverhouse [8]  was) & tends to lessen the horror which ought always to be felt at persecution & cruelty. James Grahame had the right feeling upon this subject, & his poems & his notes might be referred to with good effect. [9] 

The other objection is remediable, & it is of importance to the sale of the book that it should be remedied in after editions. It is complained that whole passages of scripture are frequently introduced in such a manner that xxxxxx which “renders volumes otherwise containing so much animated & interesting delineation both of national & individual character either forbidden articles, or highly dangerous in families where it is deemed proper to preserve young peoples minds from profane associations, which would infallibly be present during divine service.” – I repeat to you what has been said to me, & I think there is some weight in it, – tho’ the fault is one which I myself should have been very likely to commit, my faith not being of that kind which depends upon the letter. [10]  A hint given without any puritanism xx in the way of giving it, might possibly induce the author to expunge what is really objectionable

Believe me my dear Sir

yrs very truly

Robert Southey

31 Jany. 1817.


* Address: To/ John Murray Esqr/ Albemarle Street/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 3 FE 3/ 1817
Watermark: R E & S BATH 1814
Endorsements: 1817 Jan 31 Southey, Rob; 2/8
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 42551. ALS; 3p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] The Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in Ireland, founded in 1811 (usually known as the Kildare Place Society, from the location of its headquarters). It promoted non-denominational primary schools, teacher training and school text-books, but its requirement that the Bible be read in its schools without interpretation was unacceptable to Catholics. From 1815 it received an annual government grant. BACK

[2] Southey’s The Life of Nelson (1813), published by Murray. BACK

[3] Monck Mason’s proposal for an abridgement of Southey’s Life of Nelson (1813) does not seem to have been taken up. BACK

[4] Southey’s reviews of a series of books on the Duke of Wellington in the Quarterly Review, 13 (April 1815), 215–275, and 13 (July 1815), 448–526. The Irish books based on these reviews to which Southey refers are A Summary of the Life of Arthur Duke of Wellington: from the Period of his First Achievements in India, to his Invasion of France, and the Decisive Battle of Waterloo, June 18, 1815., Taken from the Quarterly Review (1816) and A Summary of the Life of Arthur, Duke of Wellington, from the Period of his First Battle of Waterloo (1816). BACK

[5] Southey’s biographical sketch was pirated in the Royal Military Chronicle, or the British Officers’ Monthly Register, n.s. 4 (March 1816), 323–338; (April 1816); 417–432; and n.s. 5 (May 1816) 49–56; (June 1816), 105–117; (July 1816,), 265–268. BACK

[6] Walter Scott reviewed his own (pseudonymously–published as by ‘Jedediah Cleishbotham’) Tales of My Landlord (1816) in Quarterly Review, 16 (January 1817), 430–480, with assistance from William Erskine (1768–1822; DNB), William Gifford and others. BACK

[7] These suggestions came from William Wilberforce. BACK

[8] John Graham of Claverhouse, 7th Laird of Claverhouse and 1st Viscount Dundee (1648–1689; DNB), nicknamed ‘bluidy clavers’ because of his persecution of the Presbyterians who resisted the Established Church in South West Scotland in 1679–1680. These events were the background to Walter Scott’s Old Mortality, one of the two Tales of My Landlord (1816). BACK

[9] Grahame had denounced Claverhouse in a note to his poem, The Sabbath (1804). BACK

[10] Southey makes it clear in this passage that his Christianity did not depend on literal interpretations of passages in the Bible – unlike an evangelical such as Wilberforce. BACK

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