2538. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 5 January 1815

2538. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 5 January 1815 ⁠* 

Keswick. 5 Jany. 1815

My dear Tom

I have several letters to thank you for, & some questions to answer. First concerning Isabel, – her ear is better, – the outward sore is healed, & the inner one I believe may safely be left to nature, which seems to be doing her part. Secondly concerning Roderick. [1]  Thank G Taylor for his motto, which I immediately sent to be placed on the back of the title page to the second edition. [2]  I x have another very fine one from the Excursion, but it is so long that it must have a page form for itself. [3]  The 4to edition consisted of 500. [4]  It would not have been prudent to have venturd upon more. – As for promotion, [5]  you may rest assured that nothing which is in my power will ever be wanting towards that object, – but my chief influence was with Mr Perceval; nor shall I ever have so much again unless Canning were to come into power, which is not a very likely event. I believe we may take some credit to ourselves for what has been done in the navy. Croker sent me the other day the Admiralty xxx paper, (the same as the Advertisement) & a mark xxx was placed against that part which gives every man his discharge & pension after 21 years service; evidently, as I think, referring to my recommendation of that specific measure. [6] 

You recommend me a London Banker [7]  with whom to deposit my spare cash. I thank you for your recommendation, & in return, as something equally useful, I beg leave to recommend to you the purchase of an estate & manor now advertised for sale in the county of Somersetshire.

I received Scotts poem [8]  last night, in point of story it is I think worse constructed than any of his former, & not equal to them either in conception of character, or in xx xxxx what may be called scenic effect: but it has his characteristic life & rigour. The last book is very unfortunate in all respects; it is so disconnected with all the former that the poem might almost as well have done without it, for what is necessary to the sequel of the story might have easily xxxx been added to the fifth. And it reminds you of the last book of Marmion [9]  greatly to its own disadvantage. On the other hand Scott no longer provokes you in the midst of his story with a string of ballads & songs – what little there is of this is properly & necessarily introduced. I cannot guess at its reception, for there is no calculating upon such a weathercock as popular favour. Rokeby certainly was not popular, yet in point of dramatic conception of character it was the best of his poems. I read it thro as soon as it arrivd, [10]  & as soon as I had done, as if it had wound me up, I began in good earnest Oliver Newman, [11]  which in all likelihood would have been begun sooner had it not been for that irresolution respecting the choice of metre which torments me whenever I meditate poem any poem below the pitch of Roderick. This irresolution is very silly, for at last chance rather than choice decides it, & the poem is what it in that xxx form into which the commencement happens to run when it is poured out. Oliver Newman is begun in xxx irregular rhyme; of which the xxx pitch may be raisd or lowerd according to the story & in the dramatic part I shall pass into blank verse, & dialogue.

Little did I think when writing the history of Joanna Southcott some years ago what a supplement here would be to it! [12]  If the old woman had given directions to be embalmd or simply laid in a vault for the purpose, till in the fulness of time the miraculous birth should take place from her ashes – she might have perpetuated her sect! Indeed I almost think the sect will not immediately be at an end. The whole story is exceedingly curious. [13]  Having made her followers mad, they made her so in return. How much mischief to individuals & families might have been prevented if she had been shut up in Bedlam as soon as she pretended to inspiration! And how little difficult would it be for a man properly qualified by talents, audacity & common prudence to found a religion even at this time & in this country!

Your remarks upon the treaty with America as affecting the Northern States are perfectly just: & I wish that stipulation could be commuted for any nominal point so as to save our credit & the interest of the New Englanders, for whom I have a sincere feeling of respect. [14]  I must talk with you about the Goodwin Sands [15]  – Love to Sarah & the young ones. I shall find xx my way to them sometime about the Equinox [16]  – Our weather is delightfully mild.

God bless you



* Address: To/ Capt Southey. R. N. / St. Helens/ Auckland
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 390–393. BACK

[1] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[2] Roderick, the Last of the Goths, 2nd edn, 2 vols (London, 1815), had a motto from Publius Cornelius Tacitus (AD 56–117), Histories, Book 3, chapter 51: ‘Tanto acrior apud majores, sicut virtutibus gloria, ita flagitiis pœnitentia fuit. Sed hæc aliaque ex veteri memoriâ petita, quotiens res locusque exempla recti, aut solatia mali poscet, haud absurdé memorabimus.’ The Latin translates as: ‘So much livelier among our ancestors was repentance for guilt as well as glory in virtuous action. Such deeds as this and others like them, drawn from our earlier history, I shall not improperly insert in my work whenever the theme or situation demands examples of the right or solace for the wrong’. BACK

[3] Roderick, the Last of the Goths, 2nd edn, 2 vols (London, 1815), had the following epigraph: ‘As the ample Moon, / In the deep stillness of a summer even / Rising behind a thick and lofty Grove, / Burns like an unconsuming fire of light / In the green trees; and kindling on all sides / Their leafy umbrage turns the dusky veil / Into a substance glorious as her own, / Yea with her own incorporated, by power / Capacious and serene: Like power abides / In man’s celestial Spirit; Virtue thus / Sets forth and magnifies herself; thus feeds / A calm, a beautiful and silent fire, / From the incumbrances of mortal life, / From error, disappointment,.. nay from guilt; / And sometimes, so relenting Justice wills, / From palpable oppressions of Despair. / Wordsworth.’ The source was Wordsworth, The Excursion (1814), Book 4, lines 1062–1077. BACK

[4] The first edition of Roderick, the Last of the Goths, published in 1814. BACK

[5] i.e. Tom Southey’s promotion. BACK

[6] The Admiralty had reformed the Royal Navy pension system, so that all sailors were entitled to a pension after 14 years service and all could demand their discharge after 21 years service, with a pension of at least 1s. per day. These measures were announced publicly in January 1815. Southey had advocated similar ideas in the Quarterly Review, 8 (December 1812), 353–354 (in his article on ‘the Poor’, 319–356). BACK

[7] Unidentified. BACK

[8] Scott’s The Lord of the Isles (1815). BACK

[9] Marmion (1808). BACK

[10] Scott’s Rokeby: A Poem (1813). For Southey’s reading of the poem; see Southey to Walter Scott, 13 January 1813, Letter 2203. He did, however, take a keen interest in its relative lack of popularity; see Southey to Thomas Southey, 20 January 1813, Letter 2208. BACK

[11] Southey’s posthumously published, and unfinished, ‘Oliver Newman’. BACK

[12] Letters from England, 3 vols (London, 1807), III, pp. 267–299. BACK

[13] In 1814 Joanna Southcott had announced that she was pregnant with Shiloh (Genesis 49: 10); see The Third Book of Wonders, Announcing the Coming of Shiloh (1814) and Prophecies Announcing the Birth of the Prince of Peace (1814). Her supposed condition excited tremendous public excitement and ridicule. She was examined by a number of doctors, whose findings were widely reported. Shiloh failed to appear and Southcott died on 27 December 1814. Her corpse was wrapped in flannel and kept warm for four days. Some of her followers believed that she could be resuscitated and Shiloh born. An autopsy was finally conducted on 31 December, and no foetus was found. Whilst some of her followers argued Shiloh had mysteriously disappeared, others present at the autopsy gave physical explanations for Southcott’s condition; see Peter Mathias, The Case of Johanna Southcott (1815). After her death, the Southcottians did fragment, though a core group remained loyal to her beliefs and protected the ‘great box’ of sealed prophecies. BACK

[14] The Treaty of Ghent, signed on 24 December 1814, had ended the war between the United Kingdom and the United States. Many New Englanders had opposed the war and they gained little from the Treaty, which largely restored the situation of 1812. In particular, New England ships did not gain access to the Newfoundland fisheries. BACK

[15] A ten-mile long sandbank in the English Channel. It was notorious amongst sailors as a site of numerous shipwrecks. BACK

[16] i.e about 20–21 March 1815. BACK

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