2128. Robert Southey to Neville White, 29 July 1812

2128. Robert Southey to Neville White, 29 July 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick, July 29. 1812.

My Dear Neville,

I returned home on Saturday after an absence of twelve days, and a round of 300 miles, more than two of which were performed on foot, – a seasonable change of air and occupation to freshen me up for resuming my wonted employments, which, it seems, must commence again with shorter intermission than I had proposed. Letters were awaiting me to urge the necessity of expediting the “Register,” [1]  so that the volumes for the future may be published in March instead of July, which is said to be essential to the interest, and almost necessary to the continuance of the work. This will interfere no farther with my plans than that my journey to London must be postponed till the next volume is done; that is, till March. In March, then, I must hope to see you, and to make some arrangements for seeing your excellent mother and one of your sisters [2]  here, at the ensuing summer holidays, if we are all living and well-doing at that time.

I had a letter from James a little while before my departure: just such a one in matter and manner, as his best friends would wish to receive from him. I was particularly pleased with what he said respecting the controversy which Dr. Marsh has raised; [3]  for James, with a proper mixture of feeling and judgment, perceives at the same time the strength of the Professor’s argument, and the unfitness of exciting any controversy upon such a subject; when, however right in his main view, upon the first broad statement of the case he must necessarily appear wrong, and that in the most obnoxious way. I do not doubt that James will prove a highly valuable member of the profession which he has chosen. [4] 

In a few days, as soon as I have cleared off the arrears of letters which have accumulated upon my hands, I will transcribe the pieces from Henry’s manuscript volume. [5] 

During my journey I saw many of the finest things in the north of England, – the falls of the Tees, Mr. Moritt’s grounds at Rokeby, [6]  Richmond, in Yorkshire, one of the most striking towns which I have ever seen – Wensley Dale, the Yorkshire Caves, and Gordall Scar, – a most impressive and extraordinary place. A mountain stream, forcing its way through the rocks, appears issuing from under an arch of stones, and falls from a height down a cleft in brown and naked rocks, that hang over you, like the cliff under which Evangelist met Christian when he had been persuaded to leave the right way. [7]  The rocks resemble the scoria of some furnace more than anything else, both in colour and texture, being full of cavities. Whenever you can find time to come and see me by my own fireside, you should allot a day to this place and the caves, which may easily be seen in that time. The Leeds coach passes through Settle on its way to Kendal every Friday and Saturday. It reaches Settle at three in the afternoon, and in summer, with a guide and a pony, you may see the Scar that evening. To Ingleton from Settle is ten miles; get there to breakfast. The caves form a round of twelve miles, and at five the coach which you left on the preceding day will take you up and convey you on to Kendal.

My hopes are not very sanguine respecting the war in the North; in Alexander [8]  we may calculate upon any degree of folly and of madness, and in his counsellors upon any baseness. Yet if he would continue to act as he seems to have begun, Bonaparte would rue the day in which he ever invaded Russia. Let what will happen I trust some good will accrue to Poland; and, unless things are most miserably mismanaged, a great deal will be done toward the deliverance of Spain, – the point upon which my hopes have always rested. Of the political resurrection of that country I have never doubted. Would that it were possible for me to look on with equal hope to its moral regeneration, and a reformation of its abominable religion; but how this is to begin I cannot see. Even if a reformation were to begin in the very head of the Church, – in Rome itself, – which it might easily be supposed to do, whenever Bonaparte makes his uncle [9]  Pope, its immediate effect would be to produce a schism in Spain, when the old Catholic Church would anathematise the new heresy.

Dr. Bell’s system is likely to be introduced at Westminster and the Charter-House, [10]  as far as it is applicable; that is, in its two fundamental laws of teaching everything thoroughly, and making every boy find his own level. This will have the effect of abridging the term of classical education at least one half, for all of quick capacities; and of making those learn well, who now learn imperfectly, and come away almost as ignorant as they went.

Edith desires to be remembered to you. Believe me, my dear Neville,

Yours affectionately,

R. Southey.


* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856)
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 287–290. BACK

[1] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811 (1813). BACK

[2] Mary White, née Neville (1755–1833). She had three daughters; Hannah White (c. 1779–1813); Frances Moriah White (1791–1854); Catherine Bailey White (1795–1889). BACK

[3] Herbert Marsh (1757–1839; DNB), Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge. He had preached a sermon at St Paul’s on 13 June 1811 that was critical of the interdenominational British and Foreign Bible Society (founded 1804) and urged that Anglicans should found their own Bible society. Southey had read the pamphlet form of the sermon, The National Religion the Foundation of National Education: A Sermon Preached in the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, London (1811). Its arguments were rebutted by Edward Daniel Clarke (1769–1822; DNB), A Letter to Herbert Marsh, D.D., F.R.S. … in Reply to Certain Observations Contained in His Pamphlet Relative to the British and Foreign Bible Society (1812). In late 1811 the dispute spread to Cambridge, where students proposed forming an auxiliary group of the British and Foreign Bible Society. Marsh publicly opposed this in his Address to the Members of the Senate of the University of Cambridge (1811). The students gained support from Lord Hardwick (1757–1834; DNB) and the Duke of Gloucester (1776–1834; DNB), Chancellor of the University. The first meeting of their new society was a great success, and Marsh backed down. James White had joined this new Cambridge bible society; see Southey to James White, 16 February 1812, Letter 2040. BACK

[4] James White became an Anglican clergyman. BACK

[5] See Southey to Neville White, 20 September 1812, Letter 2147. BACK

[6] John Bacon Sawrey Morritt (1771–1843; DNB), traveller, classical scholar and member of the Society of Dilettanti. He had gained the nickname ‘Troy’ for his endeavours to prove that the city had been a real place, not an invention of Homer. He owned the Rokeby estate, where he entertained a large circle, including Humphry Davy and Walter Scott. BACK

[7] An incident from in John Bunyan (1628–1688; DNB), The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678). BACK

[8] Alexander I (1777–1825; Emperor of Russia 1801–1825). French forces had invaded Russia on 24 June 1812. BACK

[9] Cardinal Joseph Fesch (1763–1839), Archbishop of Lyon from 1802 and a noted art collector. He had served as an intermediary between France and the Papacy, but was out of favour with the French government by 1812. BACK

[10] The major London public schools Westminster (Southey’s alma mater) and Charterhouse (founded 1611). Westminster does not seem to have used Bell’s system, though Charterhouse did in 1813–1818. BACK

People mentioned

White, James (1787–1885) (mentioned 3 times)
Bell, Andrew (1753–1832) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)