1545. Robert Southey to Neville White, 28 November 1808

1545. Robert Southey to Neville White, 28 November 1808 ⁠* 

Keswick, Nov. 28. 1808.

My dear Neville,

Had I not been very busy in clearing off my annual reviewing, I should sooner have told you that Rees has disclaimed for his house and for Hood’s [1]  any pretensions of copyright to the ‘Life,’ [2]  – so that business is at rest. I thought I had praised the poem concerning which you ask my opinion.

So far from having any objection that what you propose should appear in the ‘Evangelical Magazine,’ I shall heartily rejoice if it can be effected. That Magazine is a powerful engine, – the most powerful in this country; unquestionably it can be of the greatest service to the ‘Remains,’ and it will be doing no little good to those persons who act according to its directions thus to put something into their hands better than the offal and hog’s wash with which they are dieted. I have a horror of the presumptuous ignorance and intolerant spirit of that rapidly strengthening sect, and only wish there were more such writers as Cowper [3]  and Henry whom they might be permitted to read, as the only means of softening them.

I am sorry that ––––– [4]  is acting so childishly, – for his own sake, and not for mine. Could I have guessed that the paragraph in question would have appeared objectionable to anybody, it should have gone behind the fire. [5]  The remark was made to me by Wordsworth, as illustrating how good comes out of evil; he wished I had stated it; and accordingly in the second edition I did state it, with as little thought of ––––– as of the man in the moon. It is lamentable that that good heart of his should be coupled with so bad a judgment and so waspish a temper. I am obliged to Mr. Hill, but shall be sorry if this mark of attention towards me should deprive his ‘Mirror’ of a respectable correspondent. Mr. ––––– may attack me with perfect impunity. I never condescended to reply to any personal attack but once, which was to Sir Herbert Croft in the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine’; [6]  – then I had begun the war. Mrs. Newton’s (Chatterton’s sister’s) [7]  interest was implicated; and my reply to a shilling pamphlet [8]  was made in about fifteen lines. On all such occasions I am a Quaker in literature, as well as in the main foundations of my faith. My thunders and lightnings are reserved for occasions which deserve them.

Will you inform Mr. Park [9]  that those few poems of poor Lovell’s, for which I searched in vain, have turned up among some old papers, and that I should have sent them to him, had not his letter led me to believe they would be too late; – if there be time, they shall still be forwarded.

The ‘Letters,’ as you may well remember, were printed off in the second edition before I saw Mr. Dashwood; part of his communication was inserted in the ‘Life’; [10]  the rest as soon as it could be in the third. I am glad he is well pleased with the book.

The ‘Life of Colonel Hutchinson’ is one of the best books in the English language, or in any other; you must have read it with peculiar interest as being a Nottingham man. It accorded with all my best feelings and dearest principles; and I had the satisfaction of reviewing it in the Annual, in such a manner as to produce a letter of thanks from the editor. [11] 

For these reverses in Spain I was prepared, and by them I am not cast down, nor indeed led to abate a jot of my full confidence in the final success of the Spaniards. We have, as usual, done everything in the very worst manner possible, and have been far more mischievous to the Spaniards as friends than we ever could have been as enemies, by that rascally business in Portugal, which appears worse and worse the more it is investigated. But the end will be well; this I said before any person had begun to hope, and this I shall say after every person has ceased to hope, for Joseph will soon be crowned at Madrid, – is probably by this time. [12]  Zaragoza will in all likelihood be laid in ashes, [13]  and Bonaparte will march to Lisbon; still the country win redeem itself, and work out its own redemption. Sir John Moore has a strong country behind him, and if he cannot make head in the field, may secure himself in the fortified towns along the frontier. [14] 

God bless you. Remember me to James. [15]  – has he received benefit at Brighton?

Yours affectionately,

Robert Southey.


* 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. 111–114. BACK

[1] Thomas Hood (d. 1811): a bookseller in Dundee before 1799; partner in Vernor and Hood booksellers, London 1799–1811. BACK

[2] The first volume of The Remains of Henry Kirke White, of Nottingham (1807) contained a life of White written by Southey. BACK

[3] William Cowper (1731–1800; DNB), poet and evangelical, whose works Southey would edit. BACK

[4] Perhaps Capel Lofft (1751–1824; DNB), Whig landed gentleman, lawyer and poet, notoriously testy of disposition. Lofft was the patron and editor of Robert Bloomfield (1766–1823; DNB), Kirke White and a number of other writers from poor backgrounds. He was a regular contributor to the Monthly Mirror. BACK

[5] It seems that Lofft was offended by a paragraph in which Southey praised himself, rather than Lofft, for bringing White’s poetry to notice after the setback of a cruel review. On p. 27 of the ‘Account of the Life of H. K. White’ in volume 1 of the 1808 edition of the Remains, Southey states, ‘It is not unworthy of remark, that this very reviewal, which was designed to crush the hopes of Henry, and suppress his struggling genius, has been in its consequences, the main occasion of bringing his Remains to light, and obtaining for him that fame which assuredly will be his portion. Had it not been for the indignation which I felt at perusing a criticism at once so cruel and so stupid, the little intercourse between Henry and myself would not have taken place; his papers would probably have remained in oblivion, and his name, in a few years, have been forgotten’. BACK

[6] Croft wrote a series of letters about accusations, levelled by Southey and others, that he had unfairly obtained manuscripts, for his own gain, from the family of Thomas Chatterton (1752–1770; DNB). Croft’s letters appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine, 70 (February–April 1800), 99–104, 222–226, 322–325. Southey replied in the Gentleman’s Magazine, 70.1 (March 1800), 226, and the Monthly Magazine, 9 (April 1800), 253; see The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Two, Southey to Editor of the Gentleman’s Magazine 20 March [1800] (Letter 497) and Southey to Editor of the Monthly Magazine, 20 March [1800] (Letter 498). BACK

[7] Mary Newton (1749–1804), sister of Chatterton, was the principal beneficiary of the sales of The Works of Thomas Chatterton, 3 vols (1803) that Southey and Cottle edited to relieve Chatterton’s family from financial distress. In 1803 Southey had reckoned that the publication would clear over £400 for her. BACK

[8] Herbert Croft, Chatterton and ‘Love and Madness’. A letter from Denmark to Mr. Nichols, Editor of the Gentleman’s Magazine, where it appeared in February, March and April 1800; Respecting an Unprovoked Attack, made upon the Writer during his Absence from England (1800). BACK

[9] Thomas Park (1758/9–1834; DNB): trained as an engraver, Park became a poet, book-collector, antiquary, bibliographer and editor. He lived in Piccadilly, then Portman Square, and from 1804 at Church Row, Hampstead. Park was editing Works of the British Poets, 42 vols (London, 1805–8). The poems by Lovell that Southey discovered were published in vol. XLI. BACK

[10] That is, the communication of new manuscript correspondence between White and Samuel Francis Dashwood (1773–1826), a Nottinghamshire clergyman who was one of White’s early sponsors, came too late for inclusion in the second volume, devoted to letters, of the second edition of Remains (1808). Southey made use of it instead in his ‘Account of the Life of H. K. White’ in the first volume, on pp. 41 and 102. BACK

[11] In the Annual Review for 1806, 5 (1807), 361–378, appeared Southey’s notice of Lucy Hutchinson (1620–1681; DNB), Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson (1806), a posthumously published memoir by the widow of Colonel John Hutchinson (1615–1664; DNB). The Colonel was a Puritan commander in the English civil war and a signatory of the death warrant of King Charles I. The editor thanking Southey was the Rev. Julius Hutchinson (dates unknown), a descendant. BACK

[12] Joseph-Napoléon Bonaparte (1768–1844) was the elder brother of Napoleon, who made him King of Naples and Sicily (1806–1808), and, in August 1808, King of Spain and the Indies as Joseph I of Spain (1808–1813). Joseph was forced by a revolt to abandon Madrid and did not return until January 1809, after French reinforcements retook the city. BACK

[13] From December the town of Zaragoza was besieged (for the second time that year) by the French. The siege involved ferocious street fighting, in which the Spanish civilians took full part. When the French finally succeeded in February, 54000 people had died. BACK

[14] Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore (1761–1809; DNB), commander of British troops in Portugal, had marched into Spain, having been promised support from 60,000 to 70,000 Spanish troops, at the beginning of November. The support was not forthcoming and Moore found himself pursued by an overwhelming French force. In December he began a retreat to Corunna that culminated in a defensive battle there in January 1809, at which he was killed. BACK

[15] Neville’s and Henry’s younger brother James White (baptized 1787–1885). BACK

People mentioned

Hill, Herbert (c. 1749–1828) (mentioned 1 time)
Cottle, Joseph (1770–1853) (mentioned 1 time)
Rees, Owen (1770–1837) (mentioned 1 time)
Lovell, Robert (1771–1796) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)