1617. Robert Southey to Neville White, 21 April 1809

1617. Robert Southey to Neville White, 21 April 1809 ⁠* 

Keswick, April 21. 1809.

My dear Neville,

A ridiculous disorder, called the Mumps, has nearly gone through the house, and visited me in its way, – a thing which puts one more out of humour than out of health; but my neck has now regained its elasticity, and I have left off the extra swathings which yesterday buried my chin, after the fashion of fops a few years ago.

During the half year from November to May, my time passes on with such a happy uniformity, that were it not for an occasional cold, a visit from the mumps, or some other such interruption, time would glide by without anything by which it could be remembered; and when summer came, I should almost be surprised at finding that winter was gone. Never, certainly, did man lead a life more after his heart’s desire, than it is my good fortune to enjoy. My first volume is nearly half printed. [1]  Just at present I am somewhat hurried about the second ‘Quarterly,’ having half-prepared an account of the South Sea Missions, [2]  when I was requested to lay that aside for the third number, and prepare two articles, of an entirely different nature, for the one now in hand. [3]  They tell me the Bishop of Durham is writing an answer to some parts of my defence of the missionaries;  [4]  in what tone and temper time will probably show.

Sir Egerton Brydges, I see, drops the ‘Censura,’ [5]  and starts a quarterly work, of the same kind, in its place; [6]  quarterlies being now in vogue. I wish he had a better plan, or that he had ability enough to execute his present plan better. A good review of the works of the dead would far exceed in value any journal of contemporary criticism; no book would there be introduced which was not, in some degree, worthy of notice; there would be nothing adulatory, nothing malicious, and rigid justice might be administered without any fear of hurting either the feelings or fortunes of the dead; – a fear which every man who reviews the works of a living author ought to have before his eyes. I should like well to bear a part in such a Rhadamanthus [7]  Review, as it might fitly enough be called.

The publication of Sir John Moore’s last letter, and the correspondence between him and Frere, have given a deep wound to his memory, and incontestably proved him to have been utterly unequal to his situation. [8]  Frere’s letters do him high honour. They evince a knowledge of the people, a knowledge of the country, and a reliance upon what is good and permanent in human nature; in all of which Sir John Moore was unhappily deficient. It is no slight satisfaction to me, to find the same opinions in these letters which I have always maintained, both as to what the Spaniards will do, and what the English army should have done.

God bless you.

Yours very truly,

R. S.


* 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. 135–137. BACK

[1] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil was published in 1810. BACK

[2] Southey reviewed Transactions of the Missionary Society in the South Sea Islands in the Quarterly Review, 2 (August 1809), 24–61. BACK

[3] Southey reviewed Extractos em Portuguez e em Inglez; com as Palavras Portuguezas Propriamente Accentuadas, para Facilitar o Estudo d’Aquella Lingoa (1808) in the Quarterly Review, 1 (May, 1809), 268–292 and Abiel Holmes (1763–1837), American Annals; or, a Chronological History of America, from its Discovery in 1492 to 1806 in the Quarterly Review, 2 (November 1809), 319–337. BACK

[4] According to John Murray, Shute Barrington (1734–1826; DNB), Bishop of Durham from 1791 to 1826, had objected to aspects of Southey’s first review for the Quarterly; see Southey to Thomas Southey, 18 April 1809, Letter 1615. This article was a review of the Periodical Accounts Relative to the Baptist Missionary Society (published from 1794); [John Scott-Waring (1747–1819; DNB)], Vindication of the Hindoos from the Aspersions of the Reverend Claudius Buchanan, M.A. With a Refutation of the Arguments Exhibited in his Memoir, on the Expediency of an Ecclesiastical Establishment for British India, and the Ultimate Civilization of the Natives, by their Conversion to Christianity… By a Bengal Officer (1808); Thomas Twining (1776–1861; DNB), A Letter to the Chairman of the East India Company, on the Danger of Interfering in the Religious Opinions of the Natives of India; and on the Views of the British and Foreign Bible Society, as Directed to India (1807), in the Quarterly Review, 1 (February 1809), 193–226. BACK

[5] Censura Literaria: Containing Titles, Abstracts, and Opinions of Old English Books, with Original Disquisitions, Articles of Biography, and other Literary Antiquities (1805–1809), ed. Samuel Egerton Brydges, (1762–1837; DNB). BACK

[6] Brydges’ next project was the British Bibliographer, ed. with Joseph Haslewood (4 vols, 1810–1814). BACK

[7] In Greek mythology Rhadamanthus was a wise king who was one of the judges of the dead. BACK

[8] The diplomatist John Hookham Frere was sent to Spain as minister-plenipotentiary to the Central Junta on 4 October 1808 and when the French marched on Madrid he urged Sir John Moore (1761–1809; DNB), the Commander of the British forces in northern Spain to also advance upon Madrid despite his inclination to retreat through Portugal. After the disastrous retreat to Corunna, Frere was blamed for this advice and recalled by the British government. After some of Frere’s and Moore’s correspondence was read out in the Commons on 27 April, Moore’s side of matters was presented in James Moore (1763–1860; DNB), A Narrative of the Campaign of the British Army in Spain, Commanded by His Excellency Sir John Moore. Authenticated by Official Papers and Original Letters (1809). Frere’s correspondence with Moore was published in 1810 in a work entitled To the British Nation is Presented by Colonel Venault de Charmilly, Knight of the Royal and Military Order of St. Louis, the Narrative of his Transactions in Spain with the Rt. Hon. Hookham Frere, His Britannic Majesty’s Minister Plenipotentiary, and Lt. Gen. Sir John Moore, K.B. Commander of the British Forces: with the Suppressed Correspondence of Sir J. Moore: Being a Refutation of the Calumnies Invented Against Him, and Proving that He was Never Acquainted with General Morla. BACK

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