2596. Robert Southey to Neville White, 8 May 1815

2596. Robert Southey to Neville White, 8 May 1815 ⁠* 

Keswick, May 8. 1815.

My Dear Neville,

I had resolved upon writing to you this evening, and, alas! my thoughts are drawn towards you very mournfully by a letter which this post has brought, informing me of poor Dusautoy’s death. The fever at Cambridge has proved fatal to him, and he, too, like Henry, rests in the cloister of his own college! [1]  You may well suppose that this very much affects me. The poor lad originally wrote to me in consequence of reading Henry’s “Remains.” [2]  I advised him to a course which, to all human foresight, might have seemed most conducive to his welfare, and that course has led him to an early grave. It would be worse than weakness to feel anything like self-reproach, but it is impossible not to feel something more than an ordinary regret. James will be shocked at this event. I thank God that he has escaped this danger, and I pray God the pestilence (for so it may be called) may not spread. My letter (which is from Tillbrooke [3] ) says that “in three days Cambridge, with respect to its colleges, will become an uninhabited desert!” God be merciful to us! How frail a thing is human life! And if this life were all, how unsupportable it would be!

Hartley is by this time at Oxford, and probably settled at Merton. What will his fate be? I hardly dare ask myself the question. He goes with the invaluable advantage of having a cousin  [4]  in the University old enough to be his adviser, and not too old to be his friend; he takes with him a larger stock of Greek than is often carried to college, a powerful intellect, good principles, and good feelings. But with these he has some dangerous accompaniments; for he is headstrong, violent, perilously disposed to justify whatever he may wish to do, eccentric in all his ways, and willing to persuade himself that there is a merit in eccentricity. But his greatest danger arises from a mournful cause, against which it is impossible to protect, or even to caution him, – it arises from his father. Hartley is able to comprehend the powers of his father’s mind, and has for it all that veneration which it is both natural and proper that he should feel. The conduct of the father is, of course, a subject on which no one would speak to the son; and Hartley, I believe, contrives to keep it out of his own sight; but if Coleridge should take it in his head to send for the boy to pass any of his vacations with him, there is the most imminent danger of his unsettling his mind upon the most important subjects, and the end would be utter and irremediable ruin. For Coleridge, totally regardless of all consequences, will lead him into all the depths and mazes of metaphysics: he would root up from his mind, without intending it, all established principles; and if he should succeed in establishing others in their place, with one of Hartley’s ardour and sincerity, they would never serve for the practical purposes of society, and he would be thrown out from the only profession or way of life for which he is qualified. This you see it is absolutely impossible to prevent. I know but too well, and Coleridge also knows, what an evil it is to be thus as it were cut adrift upon the sea of life; but experience is lost upon him.

This has been a sickly season; my young ones have all been affected with an endemic cold and cough, from which they are not yet thoroughly recovered, though, thank God, they are recovering. The “Eclectic” has not reached me yet. If the article be written by Montgomery, [5]  he has, probably, stated the scope of his objections in a letter which I received from him about a month ago, and which I thought more creditable to the benevolence of his temper than to his judgment. Wordsworth is in town. Have you seen the new edition of his poems? [6]  I do not hesitate to say that in the whole compass of poetry, ancient or modern, there is no collection of miscellaneous poems comparable to them, nor any work whatever which discovers greater strength of mind or higher poetical genius.

I am working on in the old horse-in-a-mill way at reviewing, with intervals of worthier employment upon the “Brazilian History,” [7]  which is advancing in the press, and of which I have a huge pile of papers beside me. Remember me to Josiah Conder, and tell James that I am ashamed of not having written to him, but will speedily atone for my fault. All here unite in the kindest remembrances to you.

Believe me, my dear Neville,

Yours very affectionately,

Robert Southey.


* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856)
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 407–409. BACK

[1] Dusautoy had written to Southey for advice in 1813; see Southey to James Dusautoy, 12 February 1813, Letter 2220. Southey told him to go to University, sought the advice of friends, including Neville White, and helped secure the young man’s admission to Emmanuel College, Cambridge. BACK

[2] Southey’s Remains of Henry Kirke White (1807). BACK

[4] William Hart Coleridge had taken his MA in 1814. BACK

[5] Eclectic Review, 3 (April 1815), 352–368, carried a review of Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[6] Wordsworth’s Poems (1815). BACK

[7] Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

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