1412. Robert Southey to James Grahame, 4 January 1808

1412. Robert Southey to James Grahame, 4 January 1808 ⁠* 

My Dear Sir,

I am sorry to hear so bad an account of your health. To me who in the South of England am called a West-countryman it seems strange that any one should think of removing into Cumberland for the sake of climate. Yet certainly it must be a great change from the bleak Edinburgh winds which I remember with a sort of shivering antipathy to the long cheerless streets of your new town. Do you suffer most from cold, or from damp weather? We have more rain than they have at Penrith – but are much warmer; our mountains stop the clouds which come from the coast & manufacture plenty of their own – but they also screen us from bitter East winds, & our side of Skiddaw is green for many weeks before that which looks towards Carlisle has lost its winter covering. In our neighbourhood there is no house of the description that would suit you. I am making enquiry round about, – the neighbourhood of Cockermouth would suit you best in point of climate, as neither too near the sea, nor the mountains; – but any place on that side the mountains will be preferable to the Penrith side. Heartily glad shall I be to have you within such a distance that you may often see Keswick Lake, & receive ocular proof that there are times when neither pen nor pencil can convey ought but a faint idea of its awefulness.

Espriella [1]  is so generally ascribed to me that I must console myself by the persuasion that the public had no good reason for suspecting me, unknown as I am to them in any other character than that of a poet. Nothing renders England more remarkable to a Spaniard than the variety of religious sects which it contains: & few subjects appeal to me more worthy of attention than the aberrations of human intellect upon the most momentous object which can ever employ it. You & I seem to hold different opinions upon that subject – & our points of difference probably appear to me of less importance than they do to you. I regard those letters as some of the most curious in the whole work. there is more research in them than you would imagine, & if I am not mistaken some valuable observations. As to my own faith I am what would have been called a Seeker in former times; – belonging to no flock yet not without a shepherd. I incline to Quakerism, & if the present Quakers abstained from insisting on articles of faith, & left those points which are not explained in the Gospel, untouched, with the same reverence as their fathers did – I should perhaps call myself a Quaker. But I have no Quaker superstitions, & can see their errors with a strong eye. All sects appear to think unworthily of man & his maker. You may recognise their opinions thro the assumed character of a thorough Papist. – As for Joanna Southcote surely that such a woman can find believers is an extraordinary fact in the history of the present times. William Owen the Welsh Scolar is one of her four and twenty elders! Bedlam is the place for such half lunatic half-imposters because they infect others. I have seen instances of the mischief Brothers did in making tradesmen leave their business & their families, all that relates to him & Bryan [2]  is written from personal knowledge. I knew Bryan & heard the whole system from his own mouth, & he it was who went with the knife to stab Brothers & told me the fact himself. The main value of the book is its thorough veracity. To the best of my knowledge I have good authority for every single thing which it asserts.

Your opinion of the moral & political opinions which pervade it, is highly gratifying to me. It is time that there should be a Sect of Moral Economists in the world & let you & I do our best to establish it.

There needed no explanation concerning the coincidence in one of your poems & mine, – the passage has that dissimilitude which no imitator could ever have given it. You have elsewhere noticed another such which is wrongly imputed to me (unless my memory fails me) but is I believe to be found in a poem of Coleridges upon the Princess of Wales, published many years ago in the Monthly Magazine. [3] 

I am much obliged to you for procuring Vieyra, & very much rejoiced at it. Have the goodness to send it by the Carlisle Coach, directed to be forwarded from Carlisle by the Keswick carrier. You will be interested by the history of that Vieyra, [4]  – he is one of our heroes – had Popery canonized him I could have knelt before his altar. It will be well for Jeffray if his abuse of Wordsworth  [5]  does not draw down vengeance upon his head. I know a man who wants neither the power nor the inclination to inflict it, – only the leisure: – & who for every flea bite of his animalcular malice could repay him with a scorpion sting.

I beg my remembrance to Mrs Grahame & am

Yours very truly,

Robert Southey.

Jany. 4. 1808


* MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 20768. TS; 2p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 467–469.
Manuscript note: No address sheet – text is from a typed copy of the letter. BACK

[1] Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807). BACK

[2] Letters from England included sections on the visit of the copperplate engraver and religious visionary William Bryan (dates unknown) to the Société des Illuminés d’Avignon, and of his subsequent relationship with the self-proclaimed prophet Richard Brothers (1757–1824; DNB). For these sections see Robert Southey and Millenarianism: Documents Concerning the Prophetic Movements of the Romantic Era, ed. Tim Fulford. BACK

[3] Coleridge’s poem ‘On a late Connubial Rupture in High Life’ was published in the Monthly Magazine, 2 (September 1796), 647. BACK

[4] Antonio Viera (1608–1697), the Brazilian-born Jesuit renowned for his preaching and as the architect of the Jesuit missions (Reductions) there. In his History of Brazil, Southey cites both Viera’s Todos sus Sermones y Obras diferentes que de su original Portugués se han traducido en Castellano (1734) and André de Barros (1675–1754), Vida do Apostolico Padre Antonio Vieyra da Companhia de Jesus, Chamado por Grande (1746). BACK

[5] Francis Jeffrey had negatively reviewed Wordsworth’s Poems in Two Volumes in the Edinburgh Review, 11 (October 1807), 214–231. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)
Skiddaw (mentioned 1 time)