3045. Robert Southey to Sir William Knighton [fragment], [late November 1817]

3045. Robert Southey to Sir William Knighton [fragment], [late November 1817]⁠* 

The death of the Princess Charlotte has been felt in a manner very honourable to the national character. Individuals, as far as my observation goes, feel concerning it as they would upon a similar case occurring in private life, and within the circle of their own acquaintance.

The manner in which I have heard Prince Leopold [1]  spoken of on the occasion impressed me a good deal: he was called ‘poor man’ and ‘poor fellow.’ His affliction has brought him down to our level, and rank was forgotten in the sympathy of humanity.

I do not like to write anything upon the mournful occasion in the common-place form of threnodial verses, which would be read only to be criticised and forgotten, and, under the appearance of respect, are in reality the most disrespectful of all things. But I would fain so treat the subject as to combine with it something which might aim at present utility, and possess some permanent value, as far as I am capable of giving it. I hope I see the way of doing this; but I compose slowly, and not without some previous meditation. [2] 

Many causes have led me to look far forward and widely around me: and if I could teach others to see things as they appear distinctly to myself, it would be doing the State some service. Great changes in the very constitution of society are going on – almost as great as the human system undergoes when all its physical powers are developed, and the time is as critical. In proportion as this is properly understood, government will be strengthened or endangered – perhaps overthrown: and in that word ‘government’ the best interests of the human race are at this time included. If I can assist in strengthening it, I shall not be an unprofitable servant: and I am a very disinterested one, for I look for no reward.


* MS: MS untraced; text taken from Lady Knighton, Memoirs of Sir William Knighton, 2 vols (Paris, 1838)
Previously published: Lady Knighton, Memoirs of Sir William Knighton, Bart., G.C.H. Keeper of the Privy Purse during the Reign of His Majesty George the Fourth, 2 vols (Paris, 1838), I, pp. 83–84 [in part; undated].
Dating note: The letter was probably written in late November 1817, as Southey turned to the task of marking the death, from post-partum haemorrhage, on 6 November 1817, of Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales. Similarities in phrasing suggest a composition date close to Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 26 November 1817, Letter 3042. BACK

[1] Charlotte’s widower, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg (1790–1865; DNB). BACK

[2] Southey swiftly drafted ‘Lines Written Upon the Death of the Princess Charlotte’, but these were not published until they appeared in The Amulet, or Christian and Literary Remembrancer (London, 1829), pp. 91–92. By 15 December 1817 Southey had completed a ‘Funeral Song for the Princess Charlotte’, to serve as the Poet Laureate’s New Year’s Ode for 1818; but this too was left unpublished for ten years, when it appeared in Friendship’s Offering: A Literary Album and Christmas and New Year’s Present, for 1828 (London, 1828), pp. 1–6. But his thoughts provoked by Princess Charlotte’s death eventually developed into Sir Thomas More: or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society (1829), which developed some of the reflections outlined in the following paragraph. BACK

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