2280. Robert Southey to William Wilberforce, 14 July 1813

2280. Robert Southey to William Wilberforce, 14 July 1813 ⁠* 

Keswick. July 14. 1813

Dear Sir

Be assured that it will give me great pleasure to see Mr Bowdler, & to offer him any attentions which may be in my power. [1]  I hope he will come before the second week in August, or after the second in September; – for during that interval I shall be in London & its vicinity. If however I may be unlucky enough to be absent, & he should make any stay in Keswick, (the proper head quarters for seeing this part of the country) I request that he will make use of my books when he wants amusement for candle-light or rainy days.

Your friend is probably a relation of the Mr Bowdler with whom by mere accident I dined in his house at Sevenoaks, two & twenty years ago. [2] 

The great point respecting India seems to be safe. [3]  The Hindoos were easy proselytes to the Moors; xx the Seiks have grown up among them, the Portugueze did much toward x converting the natives, & the Dutch had certainly at one time flourishing churches in their Indian possessions. To say then that the Hindoos are inconvertible is a xxxx brow beating assertion, advanced by mere ignorance & maintained only by obstinacy & effrontery. “My yoke is easy & my burthern light” [4]  should be the text for the Hindoos; & where you can give that text a direct tangible worldly application, the preacher will have an easy triumph. It is otherwise with the Moors; you offer them a stricter morality; & a more difficult creed; & they will probably be the last persons to receive Christianity, except the Jews. Their women, thro whom they might be won, are not accessible.

I am a good hoper by constitution as well as by faith. Notwithstanding the dreadful revolutions of the continent, & notwithstanding the earthquake which is fermenting under our own feet, & xxxx which I have the most painful conviction that this country will shake down at no very distant time, all our establishments, – the world is better than when I came into it; & the progress of good has been greater than that of evil. If a spirit of colonization could be excited it would be one of the best preventatives of evil & promoters of good. In the wilder parts of the earth this seems to be the best mode of spreading the blessings of civilization & true religion. A regular settlement upon one of the S Sea Islands, would in a very few generations absorb the indigenous population. What a benefit (for instance) it would have been to Otaheite, if the first Missionaries had erected a fort & founded an English town? [5]  – No man can abhor all schemes of conquest & aggression more deeply than I do; but it is an act of humanity, & even a duty, to assume the guardianship of those who are palpably in a state of moral & intellectual infancy. The rights of savages are of infinitely little importance when compared with the temporal & eternal advantages of them & their posterity.

My wish is that Government should promote such plans, furnish the means, & leave the Missionary to Societies to find men, & direct the execution. At present there is no hope of this, but we are told to cast our bread upon the waters. [6] 

Believe me Sir

Yours with the highest respect

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ Wm Wilberforce Esqre M.P./ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: [partial] 19 JY 19/ 1813
MS: National Library of Australia, MS 4246/19. ALS; 3p. (c).
Unpublished. BACK

[1] John Bowdler (1783–1815; DNB), a lawyer, religious writer, friend of Wilberforce’s, prominent member of the Clapham Sect and admirer of Southey’s poetry. Southey’s letter is a reply to Wilberforce’s request (5 July 1813) to extend hospitality to Bowdler on a forthcoming visit to the Lakes, Robert Isaac Wilberforce and Samuel Wilberforce (eds), The Correspondence of William Wilberforce, 2 vols (London, 1840), II, pp. 266–267. BACK

[2] Southey was in Kent in 1791, staying at Hempstead Place, near Cranbrooke, with some relatives of the Lamb family; see Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1851), IV, p. 515. The house in Sevenoaks where he dined probably belonged to Bowdler’s father, John Bowdler (1746–1823; DNB), lawyer and religious writer. BACK

[3] Wilberforce had initiated the correspondence with Southey on 28 May 1813, when he asked Southey to provide him with ‘facts or suggestions which tend to prove either the duty … practicability, or policy of endeavouring (of course by persuasion only) to christianize the natives of Hindostan’, Robert Isaac Wilberforce and Samuel Wilberforce (eds), The Correspondence of William Wilberforce, 2 vols (London, 1840), II, pp. 264–265. The new Charter Act of 1813 governing the East India Company, made it clear that missionaries had permission to go to India to proselytise. BACK

[4] Matthew 11: 30. BACK

[5] The first British missionaries to visit Tahiti, from the London Missionary Society, landed in 1797. As there were only eighteen of them and eleven left in 1798 it was perhaps expecting too much for them to build a town. BACK

[6] Ecclesiastes, 11: 1. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)