1762. Robert Southey to Sharon Turner [fragment], 20 March 1810

1762. Robert Southey to Sharon Turner [fragment], 20 March 1810 ⁠* 

March 20. 1810.

Dear Turner,

I thank you for your little volume, [1]  which I have read with pleasure, as the faithful transcript of a good man’s mind. It contains ample proof that you possess the perceptions of a poet; and if the diction in which they are clothed has sometimes its defects, it is because you have been too laboriously employed in more dignified pursuits to have had leisure for maturing the mechanical part of an art which, of all other trades or professions, requires the longest apprenticeship.

What I have written upon the Missionaries I well knew would accord with your feelings and opinions. [2]  I have not yet done with the subject, meaning, so soon as my many occupations will allow, to prepare an article upon the South African missions; [3]  and, perhaps, to go on at intervals till I have given a view of all the existing Protestant missions; proved my own firm belief that there are but two methods of extending civilisation, – conquest and conversion, – the latter the only certain one; entered fully into the difficulties which oppose the reception of Christianity; and, finally, connected this subject with that of civilisation.

I had given Canning credit for the Austrian article, [4]  though half suspecting that it was giving him credit for too much, because there was a reference to the principles of human nature and a sense of its dignity rarely, or never, to be found in a politician by trade. The Quarterly does well; but it would do far better if it was emancipated from the shackles of party. It wants also some recondite learning: you should give them an account of the Welsh Archaiology; [5]  or, if that be too laborious, should take some of the Welshmen’s publications, Davies [6]  or Roberts, [7]  for your text, and pour out from your full stores

You will receive the first volume of my greatest labours [8]  very shortly; for, after many provoking delays, it has at last got out of the printer’s hands. It is less interesting perhaps than the second volume [9]  will prove, or than the history of the mother country; [10]  but it will repay perusal, and you will find many valuable hints respecting savage life. I have a poem also in the press, [11]  which you will wonder at and abuse. It is, in my own judgment, a successful attempt at giving to rhyme the whole freedom, and more than the variety, of blank verse. But in all its structure and story it is so wholly unlike anything else, that I expect to have very few admirers. This has been a sort of episode to my main employments … What I am busied upon most intently is the historical part of Ballantyne’s new Annual Register. [12]  The perfect freedom and perfect sincerity with which I am discharging this task has astonished Ballantyne, and I dare say he will find his account in it; for, sure I am, the veriest knave will feel that it is written with honesty … This evening I have finished the siege of Zaragoza, and my pulse has not yet recovered its usual regularity. [13]  The death of Sir John Moore will conclude the volume … [14] 

Believe me,

Yours very truly,

Robert Southey.


* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850)
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 281–283 [in part]. BACK

[1] Turner had possibly sent Southey a manuscript of his unpublished poems. BACK

[2] Southey’s accounts of the Baptist Missionary Society, Quarterly Review, 1 (February 1809), 193–226; and of Missionary Societies in the South Sea Islands, Quarterly Review, 2 (August 1809), 24–61. BACK

[3] This was not written. It would probably have focused on the Moravians’ and London Missionary Society’s efforts in the Cape of Good Hope. BACK

[4] The review of Proclamation of the Archduke Charles to his Army (1809); Declaration of War by the Emperor of Austria (1809); and Address of the Archduke to the German Nation (1809), in Quarterly Review, 1 (May 1809), 436–455. It is now attributed to Canning, Gifford and Turner, with possibly some assistance from the German diplomat Friedrich von Gentz (1764–1832). BACK

[5] The Myvyrian Archaiology of Wales (1801–1807), edited by William Owen Pughe, printed many medieval Welsh manuscripts for the first time. Turner had a long-standing interest in Welsh language and culture; see his Vindication of the Genuineness of the Antient British poems of Aneurin, Taliesin, Llywarch Hen and Merdhin with Specimens of their Poems (1803). BACK

[6] The Welsh antiquary Edward Davies (1756–1831). His numerous works included The Mythology and Rites of the British Druids (1809). BACK

[7] Peter Roberts (1760–1819; DNB), Welsh clergyman and author of A Sketch of the Early History of the Cymry (1803). BACK

[8] The first volume of the History of Brazil, published in 1810. BACK

[9] The second volume of the History appeared in 1817 and the third and final one in 1819. BACK

[10] ‘The History of Portugal’. Southey did not complete or publish it. BACK

[11] The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[12] The Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808 (1810). BACK

[13] The Spanish city of Zaragoza had been besieged in 1808 and 1809. It fell to the French on 20 February 1809 after an outbreak of disease. For Southey’s accounts of the first and second sieges, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), 306–321; and Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 508–527. BACK

[14] The British commander, Sir John Moore (1761–1809; DNB), who, after a highly controversial campaign, was killed in battle at Corunna on 16 January 1809. For Southey’s account, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, 1.1 (1810), 442–459. Although he praised many of Moore’s personal qualities, Southey suggested that he was not ‘equal to the difficulties of his situation’ (458). BACK

People mentioned

Ballantyne, John (1774–1821) (mentioned 2 times)
Canning, George (1770–1827) (mentioned 1 time)
Gifford, William (1756–1826) (mentioned 1 time)
Turner, Sharon (1768–1847) (mentioned 1 time)