2739. Robert Southey to Josiah Conder [fragment], 18 March 1816

2739. Robert Southey to Josiah Conder [fragment], 18 March 1816⁠* 

Keswick, March 18, 1816.

Would that my poem were as free from other faults as it is from that which you have apprehended! [1]  A Quaker would not subscribe to its feelings, but you, I think, might without scruple. Upon this subject I hold it equally a crime to foster the military spirit in time of peace, as it is to deaden and depress it in time of need. While Buonaparte [2]  reigned, the object to be kept in view was not the horrors of war, but the degradation of the human race, to which his system (exclusively military as it was) directly, and almost avowedly, tended. We may shudder at a field of battle with safety now, and instruct others to shudder at it.

. . . I must complain of an omission in your letter. You mention Mrs. Conder, [3]  but there is a third person [4]  in the family of whose well-doing I should be glad to hear. This person must now be growing fast in your favour; when they begin to know you, and you can handle their soft frames without fear, they very soon lay fast hold upon a father’s heart, and he finds that there are deeper springs of affection in his nature than he had ever before discovered.

Another reading, and you and I shall not differ about the ‘White Doe.’ [5]  The faults are glaring and on the surface; admit them, and then read for the beauties. There is neither impiety nor nonsense there – there is much mysticism. This evening I came upon a text in the Wisdom implying pre-existence in the belief of its writer: ‘For I was a witty child, and had a good spirit. Yea rather, being good, I came into a body undefiled.’ [6]  This notion will explain a good deal in Wordsworth.


* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Eustace R. Conder, Josiah Conder: A Memoir (London, 1857)
Previously published: Eustace R. Conder, Josiah Conder: A Memoir (London, 1857), pp. 178–179. BACK

[1] The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo (1816). Conder’s letter has not survived, so the precise nature of his objections is unclear. BACK

[2] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821; Emperor of the French 1804–1814, 1815). BACK

[3] The writer Joan Elizabeth Thomas (c. 1786–1877), whom Conder had married on 8 February 1815. BACK

[4] The Conders' first child, Francis Roubiliac Conder (1815–1889), had been born on 26 November 1815. BACK

[5] Wordsworth’s The White Doe of Rylstone (1815). BACK

[6] Wisdom of Solomon 8: 19–20. BACK

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)