3105. Robert Southey to [Benjamin Robert Haydon], 27 March 1818

3105. Robert Southey to [Benjamin Robert Haydon], 27 March 1818⁠* 

My dear Sir

Your letter travelled by the wagon, & did not reach me till Wednesday last; – I answer it by the first post, – the will & the desire to be instrumental in bringing about so great an object are not wanting, – but xxx you will not suspect me of any affectation of diffidence when I express a distrust of my competence for the task. I have arrived at that time of life & that state of mind in which men learn to know their own weakness & their own ignorance, if they are ever capable of attaining to that knowledge. In matters of art I am entirely ignorant. For altho I never should be pleased with a bad picture, & can xxxxxxx <feel> (I believe) xxxxxxxx xx xxxx xx xxxxxxxxx xxxx xxx xxxxx the full merits of certain pictures, – as far as relates to their conception & affect, other works which are acknowledged to be of the highest excellence, have none little or none to me, – a decisive proof that I have not the faculty required for appreciating them.

This however is in my power. I can take your pamphlett for my text, – repeat its arguments & enforce them as well as I am able, & then cast the bread upon the waters. Furnish me therefore with the needful facts, & no time shall be lost. [1] 

The light which you have followed has been “light from heaven”, [2]  – & let happen what will, you are on the summit. Oh never let us doubt about the elevation of this glorious country in art, as well as in arms, & in general happiness as well as in arts, if we can but preserve it from that bestial mob-rule which will would involve every thing in one common destruction. I see the danger distinctly, & while I have life <live> will stand up manfully against it. But I have hitherto had little reason to distrust my own foresight in political affairs, reasoning from the past to the future, – & the more I regard the aspects of these times, the worse they appear. And yet were there but one vigorous mind at the helm all might be well, – one man who had full confidence in himself, & therefore could claim & command the confidence of the great, well-meaning majority of the people. Alas all revolutions have been brought about by a few knaves acting upon a multitude of fools, – while honest men have lain quiet, till they became the victims.

Believe me

Yrs with the highest respect

Robert Southey.

Keswick. 27 March. 1818.


* MS: Houghton Library, fMS Eng 1331 (11). ALS; 2p.
Previously published: Benjamin Robert Haydon: Correspondence and Table-Talk. With a Memoir by his son Frederick Wordsworth Haydon, 2 vols (London, 1876), I, pp. 330–331. BACK

[1] Southey was to promote, in Quarterly Review, 23 (July 1820), 549–591, Haydon’s New Churches, Considered with Respect to the Opportunities they Offer for the Encouragement of Painting (1818). BACK

[2] Acts 9: 3. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)