12. Robert Southey to Charles Collins, [begun 4 June 1792]

12. Robert Southey to Charles Collins, [begun 4 June 1792] ⁠* 

My dear friend

Pestered yesterday with the Athanasian creed [1]  & a sermon in defence of incomprehensibility besides the epistle from the Revelations. believe me I lost all patience & tho’ the sermon denounced damnation to me if I doubted the Trinity I still must doubt & deny. the present state as well of religion [MS torn] politicks is very very bad — church & state are rotten at the heart & [MS torn]hould be hewn down & cast into the fire. but government raises a mob to burn the dissenters houses [2]  & oppression leads his thousands against the French. a good flaming libel is wanted very much & were there a possibility of publishing it safely I would sweat the whole system of government — if you were to tie up your dog should not you think it very hard were all the curs in town to worry you? now apply this to the French they have tied up their King from doing mischief & all the rest of that cursed breed are “letting loose the dogs of war”. [3]  the second part of Junius’ letters [4]  would be well timed but I have already experienced the ill effects of speaking truth — the whole bench of Bishops & every Schoolmaster in the Kingdom are my avowed enemies & so I must take warning. yet methinks were a good hot inflammatory piece of treason sent to the Revolution society [5]  they would perhaps publish it without inquiry. unless Paine comes forward this inquisitorial proclamation will subvert the Rights of Man.  [6] 

a paper upon wigs (too much like No 5 [7]  for publication) with a few imitations & some occasional lines are all I have written here — you saw Birch in imitation of Watts’ divine hymns so take this as Shenstone. [8]  [MS torn]

Yes now I may view the white sheep
In search of their provender stray
Up the side of the steep hillock creep
Or wind by the fountains their way —
I may view the hills forests & dales
And fading in distance the church
I may wander all day in the vales
For I am not afraid of the birch.

When first I escapd from the stroke
What pleasure illumind my heart
My fetters in shivers I broke
For I feard that I might not depart.
He frownd with scholastical sway
My path I could hardly discern
So sternly he sent me away
I thought that he bade me return.

Why will you my pleasure reprove
Or why would you teach me to grieve
Shall not Freedom this ecstasy move?
Birch is harder than you can believe.
With disgrace it disgusts all the brave
With oppression it tortures the Free
With contempt too it frowns on the grave —
It is every way hateful to me.

As the bees murmur busy around
In search of their sweet wintry food
Where the wild thyme scents over the ground
And the primrose is fresh in the wood —
By the fountain whose banks coverd oer
With moss are far softer than down
I rejoice that my service no more
I may fly from the smoke of the town


I shall see you this week most probably so do not write. you must allow a little fiction in poetry. I never cared for the birch you know, tho’ the birchen monarch [9]  cared for me.

yours sincerely



* Address: Mr C Collins/ opposite the Lying in hospital/ Lambeth/ near/ Westminster Bridge
Stamped: RYE
Postmark: JU/ 7/ 92
MS: Huntington Library, HM 44798. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Roland Baughman, ‘Southey the Schoolboy’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 7 (1944), 261–263. BACK

[1] Statement of Christian orthodoxy, parodied by Southey in the fifth issue of The Flagellant (29 March 1792). BACK

[2] The destruction of the house of the scientist and philosopher, Joseph Priestley (1733–1804; DNB), during the Birmingham riots, July 1791. BACK

[3] Julius Caesar, Act 3, scene 1, line 273. BACK

[4] A series of pseudonymous attacks on powerful figures of the British establishment (including the monarch and the Prime Minister) that first appeared in the Public Advertiser (1769–1772) . BACK

[5] The pro-reform London Revolution Society, originally established to celebrate the Glorious Revolution of 1688. BACK

[6] Thomas Paine (1737–1809; DNB), writer and political controversialist. His works included Common Sense (1776), The Rights of Man (1791–1792) and The Age of Reason (1793). The reference is to the Royal Proclamation against seditious writings of 21 May 1792 and the simultaneous prosecution launched against The Rights of Man. BACK

[7] The fifth issue of The Flagellant, which appeared on 29 March 1792. It contained Southey’s essay claiming that flogging was an invention of the devil and parodying the Athanasian creed. BACK

[8] William Shenstone (1714–1763; DNB), poet, essayist and landscape gardener. Southey is imitating his ‘Pastoral Ballad, in Four Parts. Written in 1743’. BACK

[9] An allusion to the corporal punishment meted out to Southey during his time at Westminster School. BACK