2898. Robert Southey to John Murray, 14 January 1817

2898. Robert Southey to John Murray, 14 January 1817⁠* 

Keswick. 14 Jany 1817

My dear Sir

First I must return you Mrs Southeys thanks for the almanack. The representation of this house is taken almost from the only point of view which fails to give any idea of its situation in a mountainous country. [1] Sir George Beaumont, with a few trifling liberties such as he conceives a painter ought to take, has made one of the most beautiful drawings of it that I have ever seen. When I have more heart, as well as more leisure for the undertaking, I purpose going on with a desultory poem in blank verse, as desultory in its subject as the Night Thoughts or the Task, [2]  but in a more elevated strain than the latter, & in a happier one than the former; – describing my own habits, views & feelings, – what they have been, & what they are. Whenever I bring this out (which if during my life will be the last of my poetical works) I will have it accompanied with views of the scenery incidentally described, & among them one or two of this house – But this is looking far forwards & leading xx me from my present business.

The papers which you have sent me give me quite a new view of the Spenceans [3]  so that I shall have something to alter in the subsequent proofs, – & something to add at the end. Nothing can be farther from my intention than to write with party feeling. The outline of my projected book [4]  will show you this. The first part of the present article in the beginning – with certain alterations & additions; – this chapter shows the necessity & popularity of the war. then <2dly> the causes of the distress. 3dly the proposed remedies of Reform in Parliament & Diminished Expenditure. 4th. view of political parties in England with a sketch of the history of discontent in the country since the Reformation, – including also some mention of religious sects, as far they have a political bearing – 5. State of the Press & necessity of checking its license: 6. Changes in society – growth of mendicity. agricultural poor. manufacturers. 7th Condition of women. 8th Real Evils in Society which are remediable by Governments: then I among them I include the gross ignorance of the people, the ruinous expence & heart-breaking delays of law – the state of our prisons, & those xx modes of taxation which directly tend to produce xxx violations of the laws – &c &c. Some hints rather than plans for alleviating some of these evils I shall throw out, – such as Protestant nunneries, in which women may find <a> respectable & comfortable retreat, without vows; asylums for every child who needs one; – & whether it would it not be practicable & advisable at this time for tracts of waste land to be at this time purchased by Government, & the poor settled upon them in villages (money being advanced by Government for this purpose; to be borrowed upon the poor rates for such purpose) – these lands to be national property, & when brought into cultivation to be leased like Church or College lands, & thus contribute to the revenue. Perhaps I shall add this to the present article, but of course in an rather as a query as to the feasibility, than in any positive form of advice. This is certain that no relief is to be expected from employing the poor in manufactures; you only shift the burden, & carry more goods to a market already overstocked; – but set them to xx agriculture, & every man can at least provide for himself & family, if he raises no surplus produce – Things cannot continue as they are. There is a perilous spirit abroad, inflamed & misdirected by journalists who are the worst of traitors; – whether we shall escape a more frightful revolution than the world has ever yet seen I will not venture to say, – & perhaps in my secret heart I incline to apprehend the worst; – but it would not do to betray this apprehension, for that would contribute to bring the ruin on. At present the course to be pursued is plain. Individuals are doing all that can be done. I have procured some facts from Birmingham which I shall insert in the article. [5]  Government should force enterprize with public money, – but above all things it should stop these libels which aim at nothing less than a general overthrow, – their lives, – & yours & mine. Were I minister I would suspend the H Corpus Act, [6]  throw these fellows into prison – & then I would call upon the great sinecurists to give up those emoluments which give occasion for just this exaggerated xxx disgust.

You ask me why there was not more discussion in the review of Kosters book – chiefly, if not wholly, because it seemed to me one of those books which are best reviewed by abstracting it, with a running commentary. [7]  In due time I will go thro the whole of the American states & kingdoms for you; – Mexico will come first <on this subject Barrow (if he be the Reviewer of Humboldt) is very much mistaken, or very ill informed> [8] 

I inclose a letter of thanks to Mr R Wellesley. [9]  He has sent me some Debates of the Cortes, – I have the first 18 vol. & then Ferdinands return cut off my supply. [10]  What was more vexatious it deprived me of a complete set of Aragon Gazettes [11]  which the Junta of that Kingdom had collected for me.

Your Ledger is the best pole-star by which we can steer. [12]  I address myself not to any party, – but to the good feelings of mankind. I aim at lessening human misery, & bettering the condition of all the lower classes. Some persons may be offended, but I am perfectly sure that every reader has is honest himself will perceive that the writer is writing as he thinks

Believe me my dear Sir

yrs very truly

Robert Southey

The Correspondent [13]  has far too much French politics, which it is impossible to render interesting here. It wants relief, & general matter. There is another fault also; – the number is not large enough to allow room for finishing a subject, – & it is very injurious not to have every paper compleat as far as possible.


* Watermark: R E & S BATH 1814
Endorsement: 1817 Jan 14/ Southey Rob
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 42551. ALS; 3p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 147–149. BACK

[1] The illustration of Greta Hall in the almanac sent by Murray has not been traced. BACK

[2] Southey began, but did not finish, such a poem, entitled ‘Consolation’. Sections were published after his death as ‘Fragmentary Thoughts Occasioned by his Son’s Death’, Oliver Newman: A New-England Tale (Unfinished): With Other Poetical Remains (London, 1845), pp. 93–95, and ‘Additional Fragment, Occasioned by the Death of his Son’, Poetical Works of Robert Southey. Complete in One Volume (London, 1850), p. 815. The models for this poem were two other works in blank verse: Edward Young (1681–1765; DNB), Night Thoughts (1742–1745) and William Cowper (1731–1800; DNB), The Task (1785). BACK

[3] These papers were for Southey’s article ‘Parliamentary Reform’ in Quarterly Review, 16 (October 1816), 224–278 (published 11 February 1817). Murray had probably sent Southey, Thomas Spence (1750–1814; DNB), Constitution of Spensonia, a Country in Fairy Land Situated between Utopia and Oceana (1801) and The Important Trial of Thomas Spence (1807), and Thomas Evans (1766–1833; DNB), Christian Policy, the Salvation of Empire (1816). The ‘Society of Spencean Philanthropists’ comprised a number of small groups of radicals who met at various London public houses. Their political ideas were modelled on the writings of Thomas Spence, the radical journalist and campaigner for communal ownership of land. By this time they contained a number of revolutionaries, who had attempted to lead part of the crowd at the Spa Fields meeting on 2 December 1816 in storming the Bank of England and the Tower of London. BACK

[4] Southey’s planned book on the ‘State of the Nation’, of which his Quarterly Review article was intended to be the first part. BACK

[5] ‘Parliamentary Reform’, Quarterly Review, 16 (October 1816), 274–275, on distress in Birmingham and charitable efforts to relieve poverty in the city. BACK

[6] The Habeas Corpus Act (1679) effectively prevented detention without trial. BACK

[7] Southey had reviewed Koster’s Travels in Brazil (1816) in Quarterly Review, 16 (January 1817), 344–387. BACK

[8] John Barrow (1764–1848; DNB), had, in Quarterly Review, 15 (July 1816), 440–468, reviewed Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), Researches Concerning the Institutions and Monuments of the Ancient Inhabitants of America; with Descriptions and Views of Some of the Most Striking Scenes in the Cordilleras (1814). Southey might have taken issue with a number of Barrow’s views, especially his prediction that the ongoing revolution in Mexico would be successful (464). BACK

[9] Richard Wellesley (1787–1831), son of Marquess Wellesley, MP for a number of seats intermittently 1810–1826, Lord of the Treasury 1812 and Commissioner of Stamp Duties 1826–1831. He had worked in Spain 1808–1810 as his father’s assistant. BACK

[10] ‘Diario de las Discusiones y Actas de las Cortes, 1810–1813’, no. 3288 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. Southey had eighteen volumes in a ‘Spanish binding’ and a nineteenth, unbound, volume – presumably provided by Wellesley. Ferdinand VII (1784–1833; King of Spain 1808, 1813–1833) had abolished the Cortes and imprisoned its supporters in 1814, so ending Southey’s supply of documents – particularly from Manuel de Abella. BACK

[11] Southey owned twenty-four volumes of Gazetas issued by the various juntas, no. 3472 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[12] That is, Murray’s sales records for the Quarterly Review. BACK

[13] The Correspondent was a new, short-lived, journal devoted to Anglo-French affairs and edited by John Stoddart (1773–1856; DNB), who had been the editor of The Times until dismissed at the end of 1816 for the intemperate Toryism of his articles. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)
Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 1 time)