2929. Robert Southey to Sharon Turner, 24 February 1817

2929. Robert Southey to Sharon Turner, 24 February 1817⁠* 

Keswick, Feb. 24. 1817.

My dear Turner,

My brother has written to dissuade me strongly from proceeding in this business. [1]  My own opinion is, that if I do not act now the men who have published the work will compel me to do so at last, by inserting my name in such a manner as to render the measure unavoidable. Indeed it was inserted as a paragraph in the Chronicle, which I suppose they paid for as an advertisement. [2]  Therefore I think it best to take the short and open course, believing that in most cases such courses are the best. However, I have sent Harry’s letter to Wynn, and, if his arguments convince him, have desired him to let you know. This was done yesterday, and if you have not heard from him before this reaches you, it may be concluded that he thinks it best to proceed. I suppose there can be no doubt of obtaining the injunction. The statement is perfectly accurate; I know not whether it be of any use to let you know that at the time the transaction took place I was under age. I was just twenty when the poem was written, and saw these booksellers about four months afterwards.

I fully assent to what you say concerning political discussions, and intermeddle with them no farther than as they are connected not only with the future good, but as appears to me with the immediate safety of society. [3]  It is not for any men, or set of men, that I am interested; nor for any particular measures. But with regard to the fearful aspect of these times, you may perhaps have traced the ground of my apprehensions in Espriella, in the Edinburgh Register, and in the Quarterly, more especially in a paper upon the Poor about four years ago. [4]  It is now come to this question, – Can we educate the people in moral and religious habits, and better the condition of the poor, so as to secure ourselves from a mob-revolution; or has this duty been neglected so long, that the punishment will overtake us before this only remediable means can take effect? The papers which I shall write upon the real evils of society will, I hope, work for posterity, and not be wholly forgotten by it; they proceed from a sense of duty, and that duty discharged, I shall gladly retire into other ages, and give all my studies to the past and all my hopes to the future. [5] 

My spirits, rather than my disposition, have undergone a great change. [6]  They used to be exuberant beyond those of almost every other person; my heart seemed to possess a perpetual fountain of hilarity; no circumstances of study, or atmosphere, or solitude affected it; and the ordinary vexations and cares of life, even when they showered upon me, fell off like hail from a pent-house. That spring is dried up; I cannot now preserve an appearance of serenity at all times without an effort, and no prospect in this world delights me except that of the next. My heart and my hopes are there.

I have a scheme to throw out somewhere for taking the Methodists into the Church; or borrowing from Methodism so much of it as is good, and thereby regenerating the Establishment. There is little hope in such schemes, except that in process of time they may produce some effect. But were it effected now, and would the Church accept the volunteer services of lay coadjutors, I should feel strongly inclined to volunteer mine. This is a dream, and I fear the whole fabric will fall to pieces even in our days.

Believe me.

Yours with affection and esteem,

Robert Southey.


* 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. 246–248. BACK

[1] A reference to Southey’s Jacobin drama Wat Tyler, which he had written in 1794 and sent to James Ridgway (1755–1838) and Henry Symonds (1741–1816), radical booksellers, for publication; see Robert Southey to Edith Fricker, [c. 12 January 1795], The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part One, Letter 123, recounting Southey’s subsequent visit to Ridgway and Symonds in Newgate prison. However, Ridgway and Symonds did not publish Wat Tyler and it remained in manuscript until a pirated publication, designed to embarrass the now anti-Jacobin Southey, appeared in 1817. Having taken advice from Rickman, Wynn and Turner, Southey launched a suit in Chancery so as to gain an injunction suppressing the publication, on the grounds that it breached his copyright. BACK

[2] Southey had learned of the publication of Wat Tyler from a short article in the Morning Chronicle, 12 February 1817. BACK

[3] As in, for example, his review essay ‘Parliamentary Reform’, Quarterly Review, 16 (October 1816), 225–278 (published 11 February 1817). BACK

[4] Southey lists a series of works in which he warned of the dangers from industrialisation and revolution. See, for instance: Letters from England: By Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella, 3 vols (London, 1807), III, p. 133; Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 229; ‘Inquiry into the Poor Laws’, Quarterly Review, 8 (December 1812), 319–356. BACK

[5] Southey was currently engaged in writing his ‘Rise and Progress of Popular Disaffection’, Quarterly Review, 16 (January 1817), 511–552. BACK

[6] The key to this change in Southey’s spirits had been the death of his son, Herbert, on 17 April 1816. BACK

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)