39. Robert Southey to Charles Collins, 12 [-13] January [1793]

39. Robert Southey to Charles Collins, 12 [–13] January [1793] ⁠* 

Saturday. Jany 12. 7 in the evening. Bristol.


Farewell to Westminster — my friend is gone
The bands that held me once so close — no more.
Shivering at morn no more I wait for John [1] 
At stated hour to send me to my lore.
Farewell the seat of Pedantry & Pride
Where well-wiggd Folly fills the elbowd chair
Where stern Intolerance glows with monstrous stare
Wrapt in himself & scorns the world beside
Farewell to impositions & the rod
Farewell Constraint & Shame — Falshood farewell & Dodd


When Persecution erst upreard the cry
Devils & Doctors set their wits gainst me
When Bishops sage cried out on Blasphemy
And met in council issued their decree.
When stern Injustice calld the aid of Law
Vincent stoopd down with league with Egerton
And Fraud & Force bid luckless me be gone
Whilst Prosecution strove to strike with awe
Poor I could do no more than grow resignd
I went — but left my friends my better part behind


Those friends are gone — broke is the scanty chain
That linkd me where I learnt to suffer wrong.
Combe Lamb — depart & you alone remain
A little while — then quit the unheeded throng
Farewell to Westminster. yet still my soul
Parts with reluctance from the scene belovd
Where every bliss of social joy I provd
Where wont the weeks & months unheeded roll
Where oft Injustice’ power I wont defy
For Dodd was oft unjust & oft rebellious I.


The stolen walk — the secret porter pot
The exercise for supper laid aside
The pudding with such care & trouble got
Made with such pains & eaten with such pride —
The noise I us’d to make but never hear
The wise precaution of the bolted door
These days are past — these occupations oer
Absent far absent every scene so dear
Early I rise nor wish to go astray
When least commanded still the most disposd to obey.


Soon shall we meet — ere yet with beard all hoar
Gemmd with the crystals of the chilly year
Old February comes with snow white oer
And eye distilling down the humid tear —
To other seats of classic lore we go
Seats that high-mounted on her mouldring throne
Mist clad Antiquity still calls her own
More liberal then are these? more wise? ah no
For Precedent his chains oer Genius flings
And Pedantry binds down & Custom clips his wings


Long while in monkish cowl & amis clad
Had Ignorance maintaind despotic reign
Barbarian Pride & brutal Courage bad
And Slaughters ills disgracd all England plain
True the bold Minstrel felt the kindling glow
Of native genius full pervade his frame
Wild Inspiration caught the glorious flame
And bid in Valors praise the numbers flow
Amid the trophied hall he struck the lyre
But with the parent Bard the unwritten strains expire.


The savage forests of the fruitful North
Pregnant with future Empires destind seeds
Pourd oer this isle her pirate offspring forth.
Blood marks its path as on the storm proceeds.
The sacred abbeys walls no more reverd
Reverd no more the heavn-devoted maid
Heaven listless sees nor lends the savior aid
Destruction round with reeking jaws appeard
Aloft supreme the rav’nous raven flies
Nor England dares resist — for who opposed dies.


Oddune [2]  alone amid the sedge grown isle
Graspt in despair his blood-yrusted arms
He mournd the monarch lost nor knew the while
Where hid an Alfred [3]  from the wars alarms —
But weak the covering of the peasants dress
The rustic labor or the smoaky cot
His friends his subjects are not yet forgot
Nor feels he for his country’s woes the less
He grasps the harp the hostile tents among
With piercing eye he goes & pours the tide of song.


Stript of the covering — stern the King appears —
Flows thro the festive camp the sanguine flood
The proud Dane dies ere kno conscious why he fears
Drenchd are the Ravens plumes in Danish blood
The feast of Slaughter & of Fame is oer
And Alfred turns to more ennobling deeds
His daring pland the glorious plan areeds
And bids the fabric rise of future lore
On Isis’ banks he bids the pile arise
And (how unlike a King!) wishd all his subjects wise.


Great Alfred died — & Ignorance again
Seizd on unhappy Albions state still faint
Beneath the lustful Edgars [4]  pious reign
And him whom Apathy enrolld a saint. [5] 
The Bastard [6]  comes — the bold bad man succeeds
Stern browd Oppression stretchd his iron sway
The chieftains fall the vassal race obey
Science but languishes when Freedom bleeds
Oer Europe spreads Devotions mad alarms
The frantic Hermit [7]  calls & Europe flies to arms


Long time had Oxford slowly drudgd along
Oer holy fathers & the comments wise
And schoolmen livd in leading others wrong
And Popes bid Reason see with Peters eyes
To rear the second seat of mystic lore
When Baliol [8]  to increase her number came
Baliol disgracd by kinsmans servile name
Who stoopt a tyrant conqueror to adore
But why my friend need we for founders care
What matters me his race when I shall soon be there.


Soon soon shall I be there — nor there with me
Social my friends shall pass each live long hour
No more as erst our studies shall agree
Thus burst by iron hand of lawful power.
Thee — Wolseys fabric proud [9]  receives — a fane
Of mighty magnitude & pompous state
That loud exclaims with Fortunes smile elate
Scowling contemptuous — ‘hence away profane.
Yet tho’ rejected still must I revere
The spot where many a friend inhabits still so dear.


If in this seat of Learning still we find
Pedantic Precedent assert his reign
And tame Conformity enslave the mind
How useless Science — Knowledge too how vain!
Yet there will Prejudice enslave the man —
Sits the old Dean & give the formal nod
That stern rejects who durst despise the rod
And whom the Doctor stild Republican.
Republican! yet things like these can seed
Plato’s dreams divine — a Brutus [10]  glorious deed


Een at the word I feel my soul expand
The fire of Freedom kindles every vien —
Ah why should Fortune thus restrain my hand
Why stern Necessity thus bind thy chain?
Man must submit to heavn — to heavn alone.
Whilst then Oppression shrinks with wild dismay
Whilst France & Freedom urge their fiery way
And Terror hover round each tyrant throne
Collins — at Oxford must we wait serene
And view with anxious eyes the progress of the scene.


Ah look my friend — behold the black robd crew
That stalk thro Oxfords street in well wiggd pride
With all their Orthodoxity in view
For Folly & Submission dignified.
List to the solemn sad sepulchral sound
Breathd from the pulpit on each public day
That sends the hearers half awake away —
Where are the mighty fruits of Oxford found
Lie they in dull declamatory lore
As pious fathers breathd in stupid zeal before?


Turn now your eyes where oer Jamappes [11]  red plain
The Ravens raise the dismal yell of joy
Chartres — Montpensier [12]  strewd the field with slain
Oppressions chieftains fell before a boy —
Yet did not antique college boast his name
Yet did not Customs chains avail to bind
Or Doctord boobies strive to dull his mind
A woman traind them in the path of Fame
A Woman taught them every ill to face
To fight in Freedoms cause — to adorn the human race!


Brulerck [13]  how must thy soul those scenes despise
Where mouldering colleges in frowning mien
Appear to chill the soul & frown it wise.
Where Learning’s fabrics wide oerspread the scene
Yet where true Learning banishd far away
Mid musty volumes Pedantry elate
Forbids the banishd Muse approach her state
Prohibits Reformation near her sway,
Where Athanasius [14]  & the Right Divine
With thousand follies more support her mouldering shrine.


But Reason dawns around — her morning ray
Breaks forth illuming from the clouds of night
The opposing shadows slowly melt away
And Hope looks on to unremitted light.
Science expands her plumes — her eagle eye
Fearless pervades the mists that round await
Where sits her rival in collegiate state
Before her glance the mantle fades away
Eer long shall Precedents false arts be vain
And universal Freedom claim his equal reign.


Already France has reard the immortal pile
Where Ferneys sage [15]  is husht in deaths repose —
Where laid no more amid the unhallowed isle
The MAN of NATURE rests from all his woes —
Bend down from heaven Rousseau thy laurelld head
Survey with ecstasy this glorious sight
The sparks of Freedom fire the increasing light
Oer Europe see the glowing flames are spread
See Reason spurn the stately throne of Pride
Thy own Emilius see in Chartres verified.


Come then my friend — together let us go
And drag awhile the stern pedantic chain
Creep in the beaten tract of science slow
And toil contented in the falling reign.
The hour will come these chains will be no more
Meantime together let us pass the day
Together with the hastening hours to stay
Whilst we peruse the sages volumes oer
In spite of Prejudice thus learn to see
And study Natures book — despite of Pedantry.

Parvum in Multo. [16] 


Sunday morning.

I deferrd answering your last letter in daily expectation of receiving that from Oxford whither I wrote requesting Wynn to forward it. he had left the place & mine did not reach him till it had followed him all over the country. the grand reflections of the first Historian — the philosophic Tacitus [17]  are not totally despised even in the University — I enquired at Baliol what were the studies & received for answer the present were the Alcibiades of Plato [18]  the annals of Tacitus & the elements of Euclid [19]  — it appears almost miraculous (if in this period anything is to be wondered that) that such monastic institutions, which still in spite of reformation bear so many marks of the old leaven should maintain their ground — look indeed at the whole system of modern education from the nursery to the college & tell me if any thing can be supposed more contradictory to Reason & to Nature? we have seen what are the advantages of public education perhaps it has been my lot to observe more in the boarding houses — you have seen the effects & I have beheld the causes — morality is not conceived essential at present in the eye of fashion — that of Reason will look upon it as the basis of every virtue & every accomplishment — what however can be more destructive than the contagion of bad example? nemo repente fuit turpissimus [20]  — when we once have learnt to behold vice without abhorrence we soon practise it with indifference. public schools (say their advocates) give a knowledge of the world; but it would nor require more argument than these wise men of the world are masters of, to persuade me that driving a hackney coach drinking two bottles & frequenting “the mercenary retailers of iniquity” [21]  constitute that knowledge. & yet what other modern knowledge is to be attained at Westminster [MS torn] the studies pursued there are of the manners of the dead — with their customs & language we are expected [MS torn] be intimate — improvement in our native tongue you know Vincent wishes not. public schools undoubtedly a[MS torn] excellently adapted to such hopeful heirs as are destined to possess ample fortunes & consequently st[MS torn] in no need of science. yet severely as I really reprobate them, many many happy hours have I passed in Deans Yard & shall ever look back to the two last years without experiencing any unpleasing sensation from the retrospect. the present mode of private education will be equally unable to bear investigat[MS torn] it will be perhaps more destructive if meant to end with the University — perhaps no one point has been less understood — it is more to be wondered at that so many are good than that the number of the profligate is so great. whether or not man has the stain of original sin I leave to theologians & metaphysicians. that education tends to give it him I do not even doubt. Rousseaus plan is too visionary — it supposes such unremitted attention in the tutor & such natural virtue in the pupil that I doubt its practability of this however when we read Emilius [22]  (an occupation I look forward to with pleasure) we will freely determine. Madame Brulerck (late Genlis) appears to me to have struck out a path equally new & excellent — the Emilius of L Homme de la Nature existed only in his imagination. but the two sons of Phillipe Egalitè are living proofs of her capacity.  [23] 

every booby will answer an attempt at reformation with this is very well in theory — but how are we rest contented of its impractability without every giving it a trial — <a> experience is the only certain guide & Experience tells us that modern education is bad.

on Friday next I depart for Oxford & shall perhaps be settled before you come. if however upon your arrival you will give me one line at Baliol I will be with you immediately & be of what service I can.

I shall write to Bedford before I go relative to my books — I have spent eleven years already at various school & at this hour know not the languages with your accuracy — your example here is a proof of Rousseaus judgement. perhaps I may waste as many years more at college — thus goes the prime of life in attaining knowledge which will not serve to protract its end — we toil on & at last find on a death bed how ignorant we are of every thing. what is God said Hiero [24]  you know the answer.

I have read all Juvenal [25]  with pleasure it is a manly stile more adapted to me than the sly sarcasms of Horace [26]  but I have no time for more church is ready & I go to hear a sermon very probably about right divine sedition & impiety which last are always linked together in the pulpit.

yrs sincerely

Robert Southey.


* Address: Charles Collins Esqre/ Maize Hill/ Greenwich/ near/ London/ Single Sheet
Stamped: BRISTOL
Postmark: JA/ 14/ 93
Seal: [partial] Black wax, design obscured
Endorsement: — Not answered —
MS: Huntington Library, HM 44800. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Roland Baughman, ‘Southey the Schoolboy’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 7 (1944), 266–269 [verse section in part; prose in full; where it is dated 13 January 1793]. BACK

[1] Possibly a reference to the ringing of a bell. The bell tower at Westminster Abbey (next door to Westminster School) contained a bell dedicated to ‘John Whitmell’ and his family, and Southey could be referring to this. BACK

[2] Oddune, Earl of Devonshire at the time of Alfred the Great’s exile on the Isle of Athelney and a symbol of continuing English resistance to Danish invaders. He defeated the Danish leader, Hubba, and captured his ‘enchanted’ raven standard. See David Hume, The History of England, From the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Accession of Henry VII, 2 vols (London, 1762), I, p. 57. BACK

[3] Alfred the Great (848/9–899; reigned 871–899; DNB), King of Wessex and of the Anglo-Saxons. BACK

[4] Edgar (943–975; reigned 959–975; DNB), patron of St Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury. Southey’s description of his ‘lustful’ nature is drawn from David Hume, The History of England, From the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Accession of Henry VII, 2 vols (London, 1762), I, pp. 85–86. BACK

[5] Edward the Confessor (c. 1005–1066; reigned 1042–1066; DNB). He was canonized by Pope Alexander III in 1161. BACK

[6] William I, the Conqueror (1027/8–1087; reigned 1066–1087; DNB), nicknamed the ‘Bastard’, as he was the illegitimate son of Robert the Magnificent, Duke of Normandy (1000-1035). BACK

[7] Peter the Hermit (d. 1115), a key figure in preaching the first crusade. BACK

[8] Balliol College, Oxford, founded in c. 1263 by John Balliol and his wife Dervorguilla of Galloway. The ‘servile’ kinsman is their son John Balliol (c. 1250–1313; King of Scots 1292–1295; DNB), the preferred candidate of the English King Edward I (1239–1307; reigned 1272–1307; DNB) for the vacant Scottish throne. BACK

[9] Christ Church, Oxford, founded (as Cardinal College) by Thomas Wolsey (1470/71–1530; DNB) in 1524, and refounded by Henry VIII (1491–1547; reigned 1509–47; DNB) in 1546. BACK

[10] Either Lucius Junius Brutus, the man credited with expelling the last king of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus, in 510 BC, or Marcus Junius Brutus (85–42 BC), one of the assassins of Julius Caesar (100/102–44). BACK

[11] The battle of Jemappes, 6 November 1792, saw the defeat of the Austrians and their allies by the French General Charles-Francois Dumouriez (17391823). Both sides sustained heavy casualties. BACK

[12] Louis-Philippe (1773–1850; King of France 1830–1848), Duc de Chartres, was the eldest son of Louis Philippe, Duc d’Orléans (1747–1793). Chartres fought in the Jemappes campaign and was a close friend of General Dumouriez, defecting to the Austrians with him in 1793. Montpensier: Antoine Philippe d’Orléans (1775–1807), Duc de Montpensier, younger brother of the Duc de Chartres. BACK

[13] Identified by Roland Baughman, ‘Southey the Schoolboy’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 7 (1944), 268 n. 22, as a phonetic rendering of ‘Brulart’. i.e. Stéphanie Félicité Ducrest de St-Aubin (1746–1830), Comtesse de Genlis, the wife of Charles-Alexis Brulart (1737–1793), Marquis de Silery. She had supervised the education of the children of the Duc d’Orléans and was said to have followed the educational precepts set out in Rousseau’s (1712–1778) Émile (1762). BACK

[14] The Greek theologian Athanasius (293–373), after whom the later Athanasian Creed was named. BACK

[15] Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet (1694–1778), French writer and philosophe, purchased a substantial estate at Ferney in 1758. BACK

[16] A commonplace saying, which translates as ‘little in much’. BACK

[17] Publius Cornelius Tacitus (c. AD 56–c. 117), historian. His works include the Histories and the Annals. BACK

[18] Alcibiades I and II, dialogues attributed to Plato (427–348 BC). BACK

[19] Euclid of Alexandria (dates uncertain, between 325 and 250 BC), mathematician. His work includes the Elements. BACK

[20] Juvenal (fl. AD late C1 and early C2), Satire 2, line 83. The Latin translates as ‘No one ever became utterly abominable overnight’. BACK

[21] Southey is quoting a letter written by Thomas Chatterton (1752–1770; DNB) to a Mr. Clayfield, as published in William Barrett (1727?–1789; DNB), The History and Antiquities of the City of Bristol (Bristol, 1789), p. 647. BACK

[22] Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Émile (1762). BACK

[23] See note [12] for the ‘two sons’. Philippe Egalite: Louis-Philippe-Joseph, Duc d’Orleans (1747–1793), a distant cousin of Louis XVI (1754–1793; reigned 1774–1792) and early supporter of the French Revolution. Elected as a deputy to the National Convention in September 1792, he voted for the execution of the king. In 1793, after his son (the Duc de Chartres) defected to the Austrians, he was imprisoned and executed during the Terror. BACK

[24] Hiero I, tyrant of Syracuse (478–467 BC), asked the poet, Simonides of Ceos (556–468 BC), ‘What is god?’ and Simonides finally replied ‘The longer I think on the subject the farther I seem from making it out’. BACK

[25] Decimus Junius Juvenalis (fl. AD late C1 and early C2), satirist. BACK

[26] Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65–8 BC), author of the Epodes, Satires, Odes and Epistles. BACK

Places mentioned

Balliol (mentioned 2 times)
College Green, Bristol (mentioned 1 time)