2574. Robert Southey to John Prior Estlin, 17 March 1815

2574. Robert Southey to John Prior Estlin, 17 March 1815 ⁠* 

Keswick. 17 March. 1815

My dear Sir

This evening I have received your General Prayer Book. [1]  The letter which accompanies it bears date three months ago, – these delays are unavoidable at such a distance & thro such channels of conveyance, – but they are vexatious, when they give occasion for a suspicion of incivility or neglect, where I should be most sorry to incur, & most unwilling to deserve it.

You touch upon two painful subjects. Of our dead friend [2]  I scarcely yet dare speak. – once, & once only have I suffered so severe a loss: x after an interval of nineteen <xxxxx twenty> years that wound still opens whenever it is touched, [3]  – I know not when this will close.

But of Coleridge I must say something. It gave me much pain to hear, as I accidentally did, that you were offended with him, & it gives me more that you should thus have mentioned him with asperity. [4]  You would find him different only in some of his opinions, a change which would certainly break one bond of union, but should not methinks be allowed to break all ties asunder. You would deem the Churchman a bigot who should <have> renounced all connection with him when he became a Unitarian. It is very likely that he may have thrown out expressions which he himself would not vindicate, in that warmth of language & wantonness of mind which you know are habitual to him. It is also likely that these expressions may have been exaggerated by report, or at least so changed in their bearing by being presented nakedly without all those circumstances which introduced, accompanied, qualified & explained them, as to represent something very different from what they were intended to convey. But as I know no circumstances could ever abate his feelings of respect for you, I cannot but regret that anything should have thus entirely alienated your good will kindly ones towards him. – As for his conduct, – he can neither be censured nor commiserated too much, – but in those who suffer the most from it commiseration is the feeling which predominates. It is my belief that he labours under a disease of the volition, nothing short of insanity: nosologists perhaps will not admit of the term, where the moral & not the intellectual faculties are affected. But in his case it is the moral part which is diseased while the intellect is as vigorous as ever.

You are kind enough to inquire after my domestic concerns. They are, God be thanked, even as I could wish them. I have five children, [5]  the only boy among them is now in his ninth year, – I am his tutor, he knows quite as much Latin as boys ordinarily do at his age, & as much Greek as they do at 15. But there has been no cramming. His lessons are short & easy, & made almost as much matter of sport as of business. No child can possibly offer fairer hopes. Hartley Coleridge is going very shortly to Oxford; [6]  – his fathers relations, & some of his friends performing that duty which he upon whom it was most incumbent has deserted. Derwent is at school at Ambleside. Both boys have the good word of their Master above all his other pxxx pupils, & the good will of all to whom they are known. Sara has received an education here at home which would astonish you. She is a good French & Italian scholar, – a tolerable Latinist, & is now learning Spanish. She has begun music also, & is said by those who are competent to the subject, to display most extraordinary talents for it.

Long, my dear Sir, may you live to enjoy your summer retirement in Wales; – & long may that sight be spared which has been so worthily employed!

Mrs S. & Mrs Coleridge join in kind remembrances to yourself & Mrs Estlin

Believe me my dear Sir

Yrs with the truest respect

Robert Southey.

May I beg you to remember me to Mrs Foote, Mr Rowe, Mr Hort & Wm Reid, [7]  – I will request you also if you see Mr Butcher [8]  to say that I have not heard from him since he wrote me word (in October I think) that he should make a remittance to me shortly. I mention it only under some apprehension lest it should have been lost on the way.


* Address: To/ The Revd Dr Estlin/ St Michaels Hill/ Bristol
Stamped: Keswick/ 298
Seal: Red wax with ‘S’
Watermark: J. DICKENSON & CO./ 1811
MS: Bristol Reference Library, SR4 pb Southey MSS B20860. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 118–119. BACK

[1] Estlin’s The General Prayer Book; containing Forms of Prayer on Principles Common to All Christians, for Religious Societies, for Families, and for Individuals (1814). BACK

[2] Charles Danvers, who had died in 1814. BACK

[3] Edmund Seward, who had died suddenly in 1795. BACK

[4] Estlin had taken offence at a comment made by Coleridge in his lecture ‘On the Minor Poems of Milton’ (7 April 1814), that Milton represented Satan as a sceptical Socinian. Estlin had communicated his displeasure in a note to Coleridge, to which the latter sent an apologetic reply on 9 April. See E.L. Griggs (ed.), Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 6 vols (Oxford, 1956–1971), III, 471–2, 477–8, 492. BACK

[6] Hartley Coleridge matriculated at Merton College, Oxford in May 1815. BACK

[7] Friends from Bristol: Mary Foot (c. 1742 -1827), daughter of Southey’s old schoolmaster in Bristol, William Foot (1707–1782); Rowe is probably the Unitarian John Rowe (1764–1832), one of the ministers of Lewin’s Mead Chapel, Bristol; William Jillard Hort (1764–1849), Unitarian Minister and writer; William Reid (dates unknown), a Bristol insurance broker. BACK

[8] Possibly Edmund Butcher (1757–1822; DNB), eminent Unitarian and minister to a congregation in Sidmouth. He was an executor of Danvers’s estate. BACK

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