2831. Robert Southey to John Murray, 24 August 1816

2831. Robert Southey to John Murray, 24 August 1816⁠* 

Keswick. 24 Aug. 1816

My dear Sir

I have received your letter, & shall of course lay aside the West Indian subject, or prepare it for some other journal. [1]  Your opinion upon the Registry Bill had been implied in a former letter, but upon that (as upon the Baptist Missionaries [2] ) I thought it likely that you had been prepossessed by hearing only one side, – that you had not had occasion to examine xx into the merits of the question, & that the Review was perfectly free upon that subject. Why you should have taken it for granted that I was in favour of the Planters I am utterly at a loss to imagine; abhorring the Slave Trade as I do, & having taken every opportunity of expressing that abhorrence.

The Quarterly has sometimes agreed with the Edinburgh; sometimes in praising good books, – sometimes in extolling very worthless ones, – & once upon a great political question, – the Bullion controversy, – when both were so totally in the wrong, that had their advice been followed this country would instantly have been rendered incapable of continuing the war. [3]  It would be truly disgraceful if because the Edinburgh had taken the one side, the Quarterly for that reason should take the other; & if I were xx always to think differently from MessrsJeffrey & Brougham, merely from the spirit of opposition, I should prove myself to be as devoid of principles as I believe them both to be. If there be one subject upon which all persons might be expected to agree (except those who are influenced by a mistaken principle of self–interest, or who act openly in contempt of any other ruling principle) it is the Slave Trade. And this is the question, which under the name of the Registry Bill is to be tried again.

I have often wished some mark might be affixed to the different papers in the Review, – a single letter for instance, – which might just to serve the purpose of exempting Mr A from any imputation of holding the same opinions as Mr B, or the rest of the Alphabet, & thus leaving every writer responsible only to the public only for what he advances himself.

I perfectly agree with you in thinking that the last number is the best which has yet appeared. The review of Malcolm is written with great learning & great ability, [4]  – that upon Milman is exceedingly good [5]  – (by the by he meant to send me his play & I have never received it.) – in this kind I have seen no article in the journal which has pleased me so entirely; for it is written with discrimination, with feeling & in a good spirit, which may redeem the Quarterly from the stigma brought upon it by such articles as those upon Galts Tragedies, & Leigh Hunts Rimini. [6] 

Mr Owen of Lanark [7]  called upon me this morning. Perhaps when I get the Report upon the State of the Manufactories that subject might suffice for a third paper upon the state of the lower classes, & the means of benefitting society. [8]  I shall see Mr Owen again next week, & perhaps may go to Lanark for the sole purpose of seeing what he has done. [9]  My judgement & my feelings are entirely with him; – but I am less sanguine in my expectations, – & xxx foresee more opposition & a greater outcry against him than he seems to apprehend. I am therefore aware that it is a subject which must be treated cautiously.

Many visitors have interrupted me of late, – but the number will not be delayed by me, – I will take care to mention the Turkish travels in the right way, [10]  – & for the second subject we will have the foreign travellers in England. [11]  – But I beseech you take heed how you xxx handle the Slave question: & do not give the Edinburgh the advantage of being on the right side, – the side on which all men of generous feelings & sound wisdom will be found, – the side which must ultimately prevail.

I should have made a stirring article which would have done its work, – tho the Registry Bill would certainly not have occupied more than a single page.

Believe me my dear Sir

yrs very truly

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ John Murray Esqr/ Archdeacon Nebbers/ Chichester
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 27 AU 27/ 1816
Seal: black wax, ‘S’ and illegible motto
Watermark: J DICKINSON & Co/ 1811
Endorsement: Southey/ Aug 24 1816
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 42551. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 140–141. BACK

[1] Murray did not wish the Quarterly Review to agree with its rival, the Edinburgh Review, in supporting the Registry Bill, a measure proposed by Wilberforce in 1815, and requiring West Indian planters to submit accurate records of the slaves they owned. He may also have feared that the Quarterly’s conservative readership and the government would be hostile to an abolitionist article. BACK

[2] The West Indian planters resented the attempts of anti-slavery Baptist missionaries, who arrived in Jamaica in 1813, to instruct their slaves in Christianity. BACK

[3] The question of whether to restore the convertability of the wartime paper currency to gold bullion had been hotly debated in 1811, with Parliament eventually rejecting the idea. Southey had been opposed to convertability on the grounds that it would restrict the country’s ability to fund the war against France, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811, 4.1 (1813), 104–113. BACK

[4] Reginald Heber reviewed, in Quarterly Review, 15 (April 1816), 236–292, John Malcolm (1769–1833; DNB), The History of Persia, from the most Early Period to the Present Time: containing an Account of the Religion, Government, Usages, and Character of the Inhabitants of that Kingdom (1815). BACK

[5] John Taylor Coleridge reviewed Henry Hart Milman, Fazio; a Tragedy (1815) in Quarterly Review, 15 (April 1816), 69–85. BACK

[6] John Wilson Croker was the author of snide, personal and disparaging reviews of John Galt (1779–1839; DNB), The Tragedies of Maddelen, Agamemnon, Lady Macbeth, Antonia, and Clytemnestra (1812), Quarterly Review, 11 (April 1814), 33–41, and of Leigh Hunt, The Story of Rimini, a Poem (1816), Quarterly Review, 14 (January 1816), 473–481. BACK

[7] Robert Owen (1771–1858; DNB), manager and owner of the mills and model community at New Lanark in Scotland 1799–1825. BACK

[8] Owen had given evidence to the Select Committee on the State of Children employed in Manufactories (1816). Southey’s first two papers on the ‘lower classes’ were: ‘Inquiry into the Poor Laws’, Quarterly Review, 8 (December 1812), 319–356, and ‘On the Poor’, Quarterly Review, 15 (April 1816), 187–235. BACK

[9] Southey paid a brief visit to New Lanark on 28 September 1819, whilst returning from his tour of Scotland; see Journal of a Tour in Scotland in 1819, ed. Charles Harold Herford (London, 1929), pp. 259–266. BACK

[10] In Quarterly Review, 15 (July 1816), 299–345, Southey reviewed Domingo Badia y Leblich (1766–1818), Travels of Ali Bey in Morocco, Tripoli, Cyprus, Egypt, Arabia, Syria, and Turkey, Between the Years 1803 and 1807 (1816); at 331 he made a complimentary reference to the seventeenth-century travel narrative of the Turk ‘Evlia Effendi’, Evliya Çelebi (1611–1682), in the Ottoman empire, which Murray had asked him to consider for publication. BACK

[11] In Quarterly Review, 15 (July 1816), 537–574, Southey reviewed a series of works by travellers in England, under the title ‘Works on England’. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)


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