2950. Robert Southey to Humphrey Senhouse, 22 March 1817

2950. Robert Southey to Humphrey Senhouse, 22 March 1817⁠* 

Keswick. 22 March. 1817.

My dear Senhouse

I shall be much obliged to you to secure me a place in the mail, – & will be at the Wheatsheaf, [1]  God willing, as punctually as the Coach.

You see I am flourishing in the newspapers, as much as Joanna Southcott did before her expected accouchement. And I have not flourished in Chancery because a Presbyterian parson has made oath that I gave the MSS to him, & to another person – whom I never saw in my life. There is no standing against perjury, & therefore it is useless to pursue the affair into a court of law. [2]  I have addressed two brief letters to Wm Smith in the Courier, [3]  – & there the matter will end on my part, – unless he is fool enough to reply to them. In the second of those letters you will see the history of Wat Tyler, – as far as it was needful to state it. – There was no occasion for stating that about a year after it was written, I thought of making a serious historical drama upon the same subject, which it would have been on the side of the mob in its main feeling, – but in a very different way; – & indeed under the same circumstances I should have brained a tax-gatherer just as he did. The refaccimiento [4]  proceeded only some fifty or threescore lines, – of which, I can only remember this short passage, – part of which was <it having been> transplanted into Madoc. Some one has been saying a plague on time! in reference to Tylers gloomy state of mind, to which he replies –

Gently on man doth gentle Nature lay
The weight of years, – & even when over laden
He little likes to lay the burthen down.
A plague on care, I say, that makes the heart
Grow old before its time. [5] 

Had it been continued, it might have stood by the side of Joan of Arc, [6]  – & perhaps I should have become a dramatic writer. But Joan of Arc left me no time for it then, & it was dismissed, as I supposed, for ever from my thoughts. I hear that in consequence of this affair, & of the effect which that paper in the Quarterly produced Murray has printed 2000 additional copies of the number. [7]  And yet the paper has been dismally mutilated of its best passages, & of some essential parts. I shall have a second part in the next number, to follow up the blow. [8]  Nothing is done unless the license of the press be checked, & this I am endeavouring to impress upon those whom it concerns, in private as well as in public. My fear is that when commerce recovers, as it presently will, Government should suppose that the danger is over, – & think the disease is removed, because xxxx the fit is past. There are some excellent remarks in Coleridges second Lay Sermon [9]  upon the overbalance of the commercial spirit, – that greediness of gain among all ranks to which I have more than <once> alluded in the Quarterly. If Coleridge could but learn how to deliver his opinions in a way to make them read, & to separate that which would be profitable for all, from that which scarcely half a dozen men in England can understand (I certainly am not one of the number) – he would be the most useful man of the age, as I verily believe him in acquirements & in powers of mind to be very far the greatest.

We may very well hurry thro the less interesting part of France, & get on to Genoa. – Remember us all to your Cousins [10]  & the children, [11]  – & forget not my particular remembrance to Humphrey

Yrs very truly

Robert Southey


* Address: To/ Humphrey Senhouse Esqre/ Netherhall/ Maryport
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Seal: black wax, design illegible
Watermark: B.E. & S. BATH. 1814
MS: Department of Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation, River Campus Libraries, University of Rochester, Robert Southey Papers A.S727. ALS; 3p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] The inn at Warcop from which Southey and Senhouse were to begin their journey to Europe. BACK

[2] Southey refers to the affair of his Jacobin drama Wat Tyler, which he had written in 1794 and sent to James Ridgway (1755–1838) and Henry Symonds (1741–1816), radical booksellers, for publication; see Robert Southey to Edith Fricker, [c. 12 January 1795], The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part One, Letter 123. Ridgway and Symonds did not publish it and it remained in manuscript until a pirated publication, designed to embarrass the now anti-Jacobin Southey, appeared in 1817. Having taken advice from Rickman, Wynn and Turner, Southey launched a suit in Chancery in order to gain an injunction suppressing the publication, on the grounds that it breached his copyright. The case was heard on 18–19 March 1817 and, in Southey’s view, lost because of perjury in an affidavit given to the court by William Winterbotham. The latter swore that Southey had, when visiting Newgate prison, where Winterbotham, Ridgway and Symonds were all confined, given the manuscript of Wat Tyler and the copyright to Winterbotham and Daniel Isaac Eaton (1753–1814; DNB), to do with as they liked. BACK

[3] Smith had denounced Southey in the House of Commons on 14 March 1817 in the debate on the Seditious Meetings Bill, condemning ‘the settled, determined malignity of a renegado’ and comparing Southey’s arguments against radical views in Quarterly Review, 16 (October 1816), 227, with those expressed in Wat Tyler (1817), Act 2, lines 103–112. In reply, Southey wrote two letters which he originally hoped to publish in the Courier: Southey to William Smith, 17 March 1817 (Letter 2943) and Southey to the Editor of the Courier [19 March 1817] (Letters 2946). These two letters were sent to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, on 17 and 19 March 1817 (Letters 2944 and 2948), for him to forward to the newspaper. In the event, Wynn’s absence from home led to a delay in his receiving the letters. By the time he did so, the public debate had moved on and Southey therefore decided not to publish them in the Courier, but instead to incorporate them into his pamphlet A Letter to William Smith, Esq., M.P. (1817). BACK

[4] ‘refashioning’. BACK

[5] A much-adapted version of these lines appears in Madoc (1805), Part One, Book 3, lines 220–224. BACK

[6] Southey’s Joan of Arc (1796). BACK

[7] Southey’s article ‘Parliamentary Reform’, Quarterly Review, 16 (October 1816), 225–278 (published 11 February 1817). The total printing of 7587 copies (in addition to subscription copies) sold out on the first day of sale. BACK

[8] Southey’s ‘Rise and Progress of Popular Disaffection’, Quarterly Review, 16 (January 1817), 511–552 (published 20 May 1817). BACK

[9] Coleridge’s ‘Blessed are ye that sow beside all Waters!’ A Lay Sermon, Addressed to the Higher and Middle Classes, on the Existing Distresses and Discontents, printed in March 1817. BACK

[10] Particularly Mary Anne Wood (1782–1860) and Frances Wood (dates unknown), Senhouse’s first cousins. BACK

[11] Elizabeth Senhouse (1805–1890): Catherine Senhouse (d. 1853); Ellen Senhouse (1808–1838); and Humphrey Senhouse (1809–1834). BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)