3610. Robert Southey to Bernard Barton, 19 January 1821

3610. Robert Southey to Bernard Barton, 19 January 1821⁠* 

Keswick. 19 Jany. 1821

My dear Sir

Tho I am more than usually busy at this time (otherwise your former letter would not have lain unnoticed so long) – I feel myself bound to assure you, without delay, that the paragraph which you have transmitted to me from I know not what Magazine, has surprized me quite as much as it can have done you. There is not the slightest foundation for it, nor can I guess how such a notion should have arisen. [1]  So far is it from being true, that offers of assistance in the way of documents have been made me by several of the Society, [2] & books have been sent me by some, & I have been referred to others for any information or aid which I may happen to want, & they be able to afford. Mrs Fry offered me access to some manuscript collections in the possession of some of her friends, [3]  – & Thomas Wilkinson (of whom you cannot think with more respect than I do) asked me the other to let him know what books I wanted, & he would endeavour to borrow them for me, with good hopes of success.

I can only account for the paragraph by supposing the Editor, [4]  whoever he may be, may have heard that Longman had not been able to obtain for my use the first edition of G. Fox’s Journal. – I have found it since in the possession of an acquaintance in this country [5] 

Your poem is a very pleasing one. [6]  How came the prejudice against verse to arise among the Quakers, when so may of the primitive Quakers wrote verses themselves? miserably bad ones they were, but still they were intended for poetry.

It is very likely that Jeffrey may praise your book, [7]  & one motive may be a wish to make amends to the Quakers for some gratuitous impertinence which he formerly offered them, when the E. R. was not so decidedly the instrument of a party as it is now. [8]  It is long been the system of that party to flatter the dissenters, of every denomination. But whatever his motives may be, I shall be glad if he is of service to you, & if he promotes the very useful object at which you are aiming, & in which you will certainly succeed.

Farewell my dear Sir & believe me

yrs with sincere respect

Robert Southey.

The Vision of Judgement [9]  will have nothing alarming in its size, being but a short poem, printed in quarto because no other page would hold the lines. To explain what you might else be puzzled how to understand, I will xx inform you that it is written in English hexameters an experiment which will probably occasion some variety of opinions & very probably some ridicule. But I have the best & highest authorities for saying that it has succeeded. Nor shall I, on such a question, affect to undervalue my own opinion, which on a point of metre, I take to be as good as that of a Judge upon a point of Law.


* Address: To/ Bernard Barton Esqr/ Woodbridge/ Suffolk
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Seal: red wax, design illegible
MS: Pforzheimer Collection, New York Public Library, Misc 0479. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: Lucy Barton, Selections from the Poems and Letters of Bernard Barton (London, 1849), pp. 115–116 [in part]. BACK

[1] London Magazine, 3 (January 1821), 68: ‘We understand that Mr. Southey is making preparations for a History of the Quakers, but that those pacific folks are not, at present, very forward in yielding to the wishes which the learned historian has expressed, of seeing the various documents in England belonging to the sect.’ BACK

[2] The Society of Friends, of whose founder, George Fox (1624–1691; DNB), Southey was contemplating writing a life. He did not do so. BACK

[3] The Quaker philanthropist and prison reformer Elizabeth Fry (1780–1845; DNB). She had visited Southey in 1820 and when she failed in dissuading him from writing a life of George Fox, she offered him access to sources for the book; see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 27 October 1820, Letter 3544. BACK

[4] John Scott (1784–1821; DNB), founder of the London Magazine in 1820. He was mortally wounded in a duel on 16 February 1821. BACK

[5] A Journal or Historical Account of the Life, Travel, Sufferings, and Christian Experiences of that Ancient, Eminent and Faithful Servant of Jesus Christ, George Fox (1694), edited by Thomas Ellwood (1639–1714; DNB). It is not clear from whom Southey had acquired this book. BACK

[6] Barton’s A Day in Autumn; A Poem (London, 1820), which was dedicated to Southey (‘an Author to whom I am indebted for repeated and various gratification’ (p. vi)) and had an epigraph from the latter’s Madoc (1805). BACK

[7] A Day in Autumn was not reviewed in the Edinburgh Review, but Poems, Barton’s other volume published in 1820, was praised as welcome evidence that Quakers were turning to the composition of verse; see Edinburgh Review, 34 (November 1820), 348–357. BACK

[8] The offensive article was possibly the notice of Thomas Clarkson’s A Portraiture of Quakerism, as Taken From a View of the Moral Education, Discipline, Peculiar Customs, Religious Principles, Political and Civil Œconomy, and Character, of the Society of Friends (1806), Edinburgh Review, 34 (April 1807), 85–102, which, among other swipes, described George Fox as ‘exceedingly insane’ (101). BACK

[9] Southey’s A Vision of Judgement (1821). BACK

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)