3198. Robert Southey to Sharon Turner, 21 September 1818

3198. Robert Southey to Sharon Turner, 21 September 1818⁠* 

Keswick, Sept 21. 1818.

My dear Turner,

You have taken, I see, Cornano for your physician. [1]  Had I made the same experiment, I should have been disposed to prefer a diet of roots, fruits, and esculent plants to bread, which is so likely to be adulterated. There is as much difference in the stomachs of men as in their tempers and faces; severe abstinence is necessary for some, and others feed high and drink hard, and yet attain to a robust old age; but unquestionably the sparing system has most facts in its favour, and I have often remarked with wonder the great length of life to which some of the hardest students and most inveterate self-tormentors among the monastic orders have attained. Truly glad shall I be if you derive from your system the permanent benefit which there seems such good reason to expect. Both you and I must wish to remain as long as we can in this ‘tough world’ for the sake of others. Thank Heaven it is no rack to us, though we have both reached that stage in our progress in which the highest pleasure that this life can afford is the anticipation of that which is to follow it.

You have made a wise determination for your son William, for I believe that medical studies are of all others the most unfavourable to the moral sense. [2]  Anatomical studies are so revolting, that men who carry any feeling to the pursuit are glad to have it seared as soon as possible. I do not remember ever in the course of my life to have been so shocked as by hearing Carlisle relate some bravados of young men in this state when he was a student himself.

I wonder you should have any qualms at going to the press, [3]  knowing, as you do, how capriciously at best, and in general with what injustice and impudent partiality, praise or blame is awarded by contemporary critics, and how absolutely worthless their decrees are in the court of posterity, by which the merits of the case must be finally determined. I am so certain that any subject which has amused your wakeful hours must be worthy to employ the thoughts of other men, and to give them a profitable direction, that, without knowing what the subject is, I exhort you to cast away your fears.

Remember me most kindly to your household.

Yours affectionately,



* 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. 313–315. BACK

[1] Turner, who was anxious about his health, was emulating the dietary restraint practised by Luigi Cornaro (1467/84–1566). The latter adopted a restricted diet, initially comprised of 14oz of solid food and 17oz of wine, and lived into advanced old age. Southey, though not a follower of Cornaro’s system, owned a 1768 edition of his Art of Living Long, no. 533 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[2] Turner’s second son William (b. 1804). Southey was speaking from experience. He had briefly considered a medical career during his time at Oxford; see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 2 [–5] February 1794, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part One, Letter 81. His youngest brother, Henry Herbert, was established in medical practice. BACK

[3] Turner was worried about the reception of his Prolusions on the Present Greatness of Britain; on Modern Poetry; and on the Present Aspect of the World (1819) – the third of the three ‘Prolusions’ was addressed to Southey. This diversion from history to poetry was not well-received; e.g. ‘his book is very prosaic, while it professes to be poetical’, Monthly Review, 95 (May 1821), 94–96 (95). BACK

People mentioned

Carlisle, Anthony (1768–1840) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)