2220. Robert Southey to James Dusautoy, 12 February 1813

2220. Robert Southey to James Dusautoy, 12 February 1813 ⁠* 

Keswick, Feb. 12. 1813.

My dear Sir,

Your talents will do every thing for you in time, but nothing in the way you wish for some years to come. [1]  The best road to the bar is through the university, where honours of every kind will be within your reach. With proper conduct you would obtain a fellowship by the time you were one or two and twenty, and this would enable you to establish yourself in one profession or another, at your own choice.

This course is as desirable for your intellectual as for your worldly advancement. Your mind would then have time and opportunity to ripen, and bring forth its fruits in due season. God forbid that they should either be forced or blighted! A young man cannot support himself by literary exertions, however great his talents and his industry. Woe be to the youthful poet who sets out upon his pilgrimage to the temple of fame with nothing but hope for his viaticum! There is the Slough of Despond, and the Hill of Difficulty, and the Valley of the Shadow of Death upon the way. [2] 

To be called to the bar you must be five years a member of one of the inns of court; but if you have a university degree, three will suffice. Men who during this course look to their talents for support usually write for newspapers or reviews: the former is destructively laborious, and sends many poor fellows prematurely to the grave; for the latter branch of employment there are always too many applicants. I began it at the age of four and twenty, which was long before I was fit for it. [3] 

The stage, indeed, is a lottery where there is more chance of a prize; but there is an evil attending success in that direction which I can distinctly see, though you perhaps may not be persuaded of it. The young man who produces a successful play is usually the dupe of his own success; and being satisfied with producing an immediate and ephemeral effect, looks for nothing beyond it. You must aim at something more. I think your path is plain. Success at the university is not exclusively a thing of chance or favour; you are certain of it if you deserve it.

When you have considered this with your friends, tell me the result, and rest assured that my endeavours to forward your wishes in this, or in any other course which you may think proper to pursue, shall be given with as much sincerity as this advice; meantime read Greek, and write as many verses as you please. [4]  By shooting at a high mark you will gain strength of arm, and precision of aim will come in its proper season.

Ever yours very truly,

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. 21–22. BACK

[1] Dusautoy had first written to Southey at the beginning of 1813, enclosing some of his poems and asking advice about publishing them. Southey replied (the letter does not survive) and Dusautoy in turn wrote back. Southey’s letter of 12 February 1813 is a reply to this. BACK

[2] All features of John Bunyan (1628–1688; DNB), Pilgrim’s Progress (1678). BACK

[3] Southey had begun his reviewing career in December 1797, writing for the Critical Review. BACK

[4] Dusautoy decided on a university career and Southey assisted him in gaining admission to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, later in 1813; see Southey to Neville White, 27 February 1813, Letter 2225. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)