2645. Robert Southey to James White, 15 August 1815

2645. Robert Southey to James White, 15 August 1815 ⁠* 

Keswick, August 15. 1815.

My Dear James,

Your letter has too long lain unanswered; an apparent neglect which you will easily account for, and which I trust you will be more ready to excuse in me than I am to excuse in myself. I should blame myself the more if all which I could possibly say upon the subject of your disappointment at Cambridge must not already and often have occurred to your own reflections; as, for instance, that your purpose in going to the University was not to obtain college honours (things in themselves not less mischievously than preposterously overrated), but to qualify yourself for one of the most useful and honourable offices in society, that of a minister of the Church of England; and that this end having been obtained, it is neither right nor reasonable to repine if you have failed in gaining a collateral object of unmeasurably less importance. [1]  I am sure you have felt and reasoned thus; and you well know that the opinion which I express respecting University distinction is not advanced for the present purpose, but is that which I have uniformly entertained upon the subject. Go cheerfully forward, and when you are settled upon a curacy, look out for some pupils, and live in hope.

Mr. Tillbrook is in this country, and has brought with him poor Dusautoy’s papers. I need not tell you of what I was reminded while performing the melancholy office of examining these relics. There is nothing among them in any degree approaching to the finish of Henry’s pieces, some of which were as perfect as he could have made them at any age, and must hold their place in our popular Florilegia [2]  as long as the English language endures. But there are abundant proofs of power, and desire, and genius. Wordsworth was with me, and fully agreed with me that there would be ample materials for one volume; popular it cannot be, like the “Remains,” still it will be a monument, and an honourable one, to his memory. [3]  The next step must be to obtain the consent of his parents for this, and to enquire concerning his letters. The parents [4]  have made no enquiry for his papers; for this there may be two causes, both alike probable: their grief may be as yet too recent, or they may regard them as things of no consequence; for I learn from Tillbrook, that his father used to speak of his fondness for poetry as a trifling or silly pursuit, and express sometimes a hope that he had done with it. It will be better to communicate my wish to the family, and learn what there may be through some person who is well acquainted with them, than to write immediately myself; and as I learn from the fragment of a letter that he had an uncle at Salisbury, [5]  I think I have an opportunity of doing this through him by means of one of my own most particular friends. [6] 

Tillbrook thinks you may perhaps know something of his correspondents. Had he any confidential friend to whom he was in the habit of writing? Tell me anything you know which may direct me in these enquiries. Poor fellow, had he never applied to me for advice, he would not thus have been cut off from all hopes! [7] 

I expect to see Neville in less than three weeks, for I purpose running over to Flanders for a month’s excursion in company with my brother Henry and his bride. Neville has been strenuously aiding him in a canvass for the Middlesex Hospital, and I believe has been the most zealous and most useful of his friends. [8]  I received a letter from Neville yesterday, and am sorry to hear so poor an account of your excellent mother. [9]  Pray remember me and Mrs. Southey also to her and your sisters. [10] 

It is well that you were not in Cambridge during the last calamitous sickness, [11]  and perhaps you might have been there had you been successful in your examination. The fever clearly seems to have differed in some respects from any which had formerly appeared there; and whether it were contagious, or, which is more probable, endemic, I think there is some danger of its breaking out again when the season recurs; for the cause is so little known, or rather so entirely unknown, that all precautions for preventing a recurrence must be mere guess-work. If any friend of mine were about to go to the University I should earnestly recommend him to make Oxford his choice, upon this account. Believe me, my dear James,

Very sincerely yours,

Robert Southey.

P.S. All who recollect you here, desire to be kindly remembered. Hartley is of Merton College, Oxford, and is now spending the vacation with his father at Calne, in Wiltshire.


* 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. 422–424. BACK

[1] James White graduated in 1815 from Pembroke College, Cambridge, with a BA. He may have been disappointed that he did not win any college prizes, as these would have helped pay his fees and aided his future career prospects in the Church of England. BACK

[2] ‘Gathering of flowers’; i.e. Southey’s edition of the Remains of Henry Kirke White (1807). BACK

[3] Southey did propose an edition of Dusautoy’s ‘Remains’ to Longmans; see Southey to Longman & Co., 8 March 1816, Part Five of this edition. They accepted, but nothing further came of the project; see Longman & Co. to Southey, 11 March 1816, University of Reading, Longman Archive, Longman I, 99, no. 183. BACK

[4] James Du Sautoy (1761–1859) who had retired from his post as a Lieutenant in the Royal Marines in 1798. He was barrack-master of the cavalry at Totnes 1803–1822. His wife was Mary (c. 1767–1851), daughter of John Hinton (c. 1721–1802), Rector of Chawton, Hampshire. BACK

[5] Unidentified. Dusautoy had attended Salisbury Cathedral School. BACK

[6] Probably John May, whose family had property in the area. BACK

[7] Dusautoy had first written to Southey at the beginning of 1813, enclosing some of his poems and asking advice about publishing them. Southey replied (the letter does not survive) and Dusautoy in turn wrote back. For Southey’s reply to this see Southey to James Dusautoy, 12 February 1813, Letter 2220. Southey had also been instrumental in helping Dusautoy gain admission to Cambridge; see Southey to Neville White, 27 February 1813, Letter 2225. BACK

[8] Henry Herbert Southey was standing for the post of Senior Physician at the Middlesex Hospital. Although initially contested, his opponents withdrew and he was elected unopposed on 17 August 1815. BACK

[9] Mary White, née Neville (1755–1833). BACK

[10] Two of White’s sisters were living in 1815; Frances Moriah White (c. 1791–1854); and Catherine Bailey White (c. 1795–1889). A third, Hannah, had died in 1813. BACK

[11] The ‘Cambridge fever’ of January-April 1815 was probably an outbreak of typhoid and drew attention to public health in the city. James Dusautoy was one of its victims; see Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 16 May 1815, Letter 2598. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)