2845. Robert Southey to James White, 17 September 1816

2845. Robert Southey to James White, 17 September 1816⁠* 

Keswick , Sept. 17. 1816.

My dear James,

Never, I entreat you, think it necessary to apologise for, or to explain any long interval of correspondence on your part, lest it should seem to require a like formality on mine, and make that be regarded in the irksome character of a debt, which is only valuable in proportion as it is voluntary. We have both of us business always to stand in our excuse, nor can any excuses ever be needed between you and me. I thank you for your letter and your inquiries. Time is passing on, and it does its healing work slowly, but will do it effectually at last. As much as I was sensible of the happiness which I possessed, so much must I unavoidably feel the change which the privation of that happiness produces. My hopes and prospects in life are all altered, and my spirits never again can be what they have been. [1]  But I have a living faith, I am resigned to what is (if I know my own heart, truly and perfectly resigned), thankful for what has been, and happy in the sure and certain hope of what will be, when this scene of probation shall be over.

I shall be glad to receive your communications upon the distresses of the manufacturers; they might probably have been of great use had they reached me when the last Quarterly was in the press. But I may, perhaps, still turn them to some account. There is another paper of mine upon the poor in the sixteenth number of the Quarterly, [2]  written when the Luddites, after their greatest outrages, seemed for a time to be quiet. In that paper I had recommended, as one means of employing hands that were out of work, the fitness of forming good footpaths along the road side, wherever the nature of the soil was not such as to render it unnecessary. This was (foolish enough) cut out by the editor; but when the great object is to discover means of employing willing industry, the hint might be of some service wherever it is applicable. In the way of palliating an evil of which the roots lie deeper than has yet, perhaps, been stated, your efforts should be directed towards finding employment, and making the small wages that can be afforded go as far as possible; the reports of the Bettering Society show what may be done by saving the poor from the exactions of petty shopkeepers; [3]  and as winter approaches great relief may be given, by obtaining through the London Association supplies of fish. [4]  Believe me, that person who should instruct the poor how to prepare cheap food in the most savoury manner would confer upon them a benefit of the greatest importance, both to their comfort, health, and habits; for comforts produce good habits, unless there be a strong predisposition to evil. I have much yet to say upon this subject, which may perhaps furnish matter for a third paper in the Review. Sooner or later I trust we shall get the national schools [5]  placed upon a national establishment; this measure I shall never cease to recommend till it be effected.

I believe I have never congratulated you on your emancipation from mathematics, and on your ordination. [6]  This latter event has placed you in an active situation; you have duties enough to perform, and no man who performs his duty conscientiously can be unhappy. He may endure distress of mind as well as of body, but under any imaginable suffering he may look on to the end with hope and with joy.

Believe me, my dear James,

Yours very truly,



* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850)
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 207–209. BACK

[1] Southey’s son, Herbert, had died on 17 April 1816. BACK

[2] A reference to Southey’s articles from the Quarterly Review, 8 (December 1812), 319–356 (no. 16), and 15 (April 1816), 187–235. The Luddites protested, by smashing machinery, against the introduction of new technologies in the textile trades. BACK

[3] The Society for Bettering the Condition and Increasing the Comforts of the Poor, established in 1796. Its Reports had been amongst the volumes surveyed by Southey in Quarterly Review, 15 (April 1816), 187–235 (205 for the conduct of ‘petty shopkeepers’). BACK

[4] The Association for the Relief of the Manufacturing and Labouring Poor, established in May 1812, whose second Report, published in 1815, had focused on ‘The General Supply of Fish in the Metropolis and the Interior’. BACK

[5] The schools established by the National Society for Promoting Religious Education (founded 1811) and inspired by Southey’s friend Andrew Bell. They provided primary education in accordance with the doctrines of the Church of England. Southey had already propagandised for them in his The Origin, Nature and Object, of the New System of Education (1812). The schools did not receive a State grant until 1833. BACK

[6] White had received his B.A. from Cambridge in June 1816 and became a deacon in the Church of England the same month, proceeding to the priesthood in 1817. He was a Curate in West Bromwich 1816–1826. BACK

People mentioned

Southey, Herbert (1806–1816) (mentioned 1 time)
Gifford, William (1756–1826) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)