2571. Robert Southey to John Taylor Coleridge, 14 March 1815

2571. Robert Southey to John Taylor Coleridge, 14 March 1815 ⁠* 

Keswick. 14 March. 1815

My dear Sir

I received your letter yesterday, & allowed myself four & twenty hours to chew the cud upon it. This evening a letter has arrived from Mr Wm Coleridge, [1]  in answer to one which Mrs S. Coleridge had written inquiring when it would be necessary for Hartley to be at Oxford. In this letter an opinion is expressed of the value of time at Hartley’s age which comes in aid of my own judgement. – He is now in his nineteenth year.

I feel all the objections which you have stated to Merton, [2]  – perhaps even more forcibly than you do, because I am thoroughly acquainted with Hartley. There is no young man to whom it could be of so much importance to be under a tutor whom he xxxx <might> respect. Such a tutor xxxx would find in <him> all the docility he could desire, & would soon become attached to him. But a man who should be incapable of seeing farther than the outside might excite in him a contempt for the course of University Studies, which xx of all things is most to be deprecated in his case.

Let me tell you as well as I can, what kind of youth this cousin of yours, & nephew of mine, is. Without being an ugly fellow, he is a marvellously odd one; – he is very short, with remarkably strong features, some of the thickest & blackest eyebrows you ever saw, & a beard which a Turk might envy. His manners are almost as peculiar as his appearance, & having discovered that he is awkward by nature, he has formed an unhappy conclusion that art will never make him otherwise, & so resigns himself to his fate. My endeavours have not been wanting to remedy or rather palliate this, – but it is bred in the bone, – & you know the remainder of the proverb. [3]  I have xxxx even habitually quizzed him for the purpose of teaching him to bear such things with good humour, – knowing how much he will must be exposed to it.

Thus much for the outward man. Hartley’s intellect will soon overcome all disadvantages that his exterior may incur, if it do but keep the course. And here indeed I feel how fortunate it is that he has a kinsman upon the spot so willing & able to direct him, & whom he is so well prepared to respect. The great lesson which Wordsworth & myself have endeavoured to impress upon him is that he goes to Oxford to devote himself to the studies of the place; & that no degree of general ability, or general knowledge, can, or ought to, atone for any deficiency in the attainments which the University requires; that to these he must apply himself totis viribus  [4]  while he is there; & when he has attained by these that establishment for which we look, life will be before him to cultivate his intellect in whatever manner he may then please. His disposition is excellent: his principles thoroughly good; & he has instinctively a devotional feeling which I hope will keep them so. An overweening confidence in his own xxxx talents, & a perilous habit of finding out reasons for whatever he likes to do, are the dangerous parts of his character. – To extravagance he has not the slightest propensity, – but he knows as little of frugality; & it is well that he has a friend at hand who may question him concerning his ways & means, – for in these things he is, & I believe always will be a mere child.

You will see from this faithful statement how especially desirable it is that he should be under good discipline. I should not therefore for a moment hesitate in preferring Corpus, were it not on the score of his age. [MS torn]ting till after Xmas, xxxx three terms would be lost – & I could not say that the time would certainly be as well employed as it might be. Emulation is wanting here, & mathematics are evidently against the grain. xxxx xxx xxxx xxxx xxx xxxx xxxxx xxxxxx All things considered I incline to think that he had better taken the Merton situation, & be removed from thence whenever it is practicable to Corpus. But I would better refer this to your judgement & your cousin’s, than my own, for you need not be told that Oxford in my days was not what it is now. Do you therefore decide, – & let us know your determination.

I must not forget to say that when he shall be fairly at college, there is a prospect of getting some city exhibitions for him, – things perhaps of which you never heard. They come from the different companies, [5]  & are of 8 to 10£ each, – but a man may hold as many of them as he can get: they are obtained by interest, & I have a friend [6]  upon the watch in his behalf, with good hope of success. But the recipient must actually be keeping terms, before he can be named to them.

And now my dear Sir farewell. I hope it is needless to add how glad we should be if in one of your summer holydays, you would direct your course toward the Lakes; – x xxxxxxxx you will find a bed, a sincere welcome, – & an experienced guide.

Believe me

yrs very truly

Robert Southey

I ought to say that Hartley has Greek enough for a whole College.


* Address: To/ John Coleridge Esqre/ 44. Southampton Buildings/ Chancery Lane/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 17 MR 17/ 1815
Endorsement: R. Southey Keswick March 23d. 1815
MS: British Library, Add MS 47553. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: W. Braekman, ‘Letters by Robert Southey to Sir John Taylor Coleridge’, Studia Germanica Gandensia, 6 (1964), 110–112. BACK

[1] William Hart Coleridge was well-suited to give advice about the University of Oxford as he had graduated from Christ Church in 1811. BACK

[2] Hartley Coleridge enrolled at Merton College, Oxford in 1815, largely because he was awarded a scholarship or ‘Postmastership’. BACK

[3] i.e. ‘What’s bred in the bone will come out in the flesh.’ BACK

[4] ‘With all his might’. BACK

[5] i.e. the City of London Livery Companies. BACK

[6] Probably John May, with whom Southey had been corresponding about Hartley’s future. BACK

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)