2607. Robert Southey to James Montgomery, 29 May 1815

2607. Robert Southey to James Montgomery, 29 May 1815 ⁠* 

Keswick. 29 May. 1815

My dear Montgomery

The first thing I have to say relates to Wordsworth. I put into his hands your review of the Excursion & he desired me to tell you how much he was gratified by it, – by the full & liberal praise which it awarded him, – by the ability & discrimination which were shown, but above all by the spirit which it breathed, which is so unlike the prevailing tone of criticism. [1] 

Secondly, – but first in importance, – now that the fine season is arrived, will you fulfil in summer the purpose which was frustrated in autumn, & come to visit me? Neither you nor I need be reminded of the uncertainty of life, – xxxxx we are now neither of us young men, & if we suffer year after year to pass by, we may perhaps never know each other in the body: xxxxx I want to have the outward & visible Montgomery in my minds eye, the form & outline & tangible image of my friend. Come! & come speedily. There is a coach from Leeds to Kendal, but whether daily or only thrice a week, I do not know; you can easily learn this at Sheffield. From Kendal here, there is one every weeks-day in the morning, which will bring you here by twelve o’clock. Write, – & fix the time for coming: Wordsworth, who is now in London, will probably be home in about a fortnight, & both he & Lloyd (with whom you will be much interested) are very desirous of seeing you.

I think your objection to the warlike part of Rodericks character is not well founded; – it would be so if I had designed <him> as a model of Christian perfection, & yet tho wars are most unquestionably forbidden by the Gospel, there are wars of that description in which it is allowable to take part, – unless we suppose that even self-defence is unlawful, which is an absurdity. [2]  But without entering into that question, Roderick acts under xx what was then the universal, & is still the general belief that he was doing his duty in making war against the cruel enemies of his country with all his heart, & with all his soul & with all his strength. – If I proceed with Oliver Newman [3]  of which I have as yet only written the first short canto, I shall pursue the Quaker principle as far as it can be carried, without violating an xxxxxxxxx xxxxx instinct, & after leading Oliver thro many trials of patience place him in a situation wherein it becomes his clear duty to cut a man down with a tomahawk. You exhort me to take an English story, & I would fain do so, if our history offered one to my satisfaction: but I have often & often revolved it in my mind without success. At present I am wholly occupied in prose, – my concluding volume of the history of Brazil is in the press, [4]  & it will not be long before that of the Peninsular war [5]  be in the printers hands also. I have work before me of this kind to an extent which you will be surprized to see; & shall not be out of the printers hands for several years, – if I live so long.

The apprehensions under which you last wrote are fully confirmed, & Europe is once more involved in war by the ambition of a single individual, whom I verily believe to have accumulated a heavier load of guilt upon his soul than any human being ever did before him. [6]  I could almost believe persuade myself that this is permitted in order to draw upon him & his atrocious army & that guilty city of Paris the punishment due to their crimes. The game which he is now playing proves his weakness, which he must feel very severely before he could court the Jacobines & affect to talk xxx <of> liberty. [7]  I am sorry to see the Jacobines act with him, – for I would fain have believed that with all their dreadful errors, they set out with a noble principle: but they are now proving that their only impulse at present is a feeling of personal hatred toward the Bourbons, which Lewis 18 [8]  is far from deserving. I look to the war with anxiety, but not with fear: on our part it is so just, so called for by every proper feeling & sound principle, that nothing can oppose it except that vile infatuation which has made a few persons cling to Buonaparte thro all his crimes.

I thought you would be pleased with the party whom I directed to you in the autumn. Lady Olivia Sparrow [9]  is not related to Lord Calthorpe. [10]  She is the widow of a man who tyrannized over me at school, xxx <where> I was unlucky enough to sleep in the room with him. [11]  He was not without some noble seeds in his nature, but of ungovernable passions, which he had never been taught to regulate or controul. I have understood that she was not happy with him, – indeed it was impossible that she should be, – it was mating the falcon with the dove. I was a good deal affected when in dining with her I first discovered who she was, & saw that the boy whom she then introduced to me as her son, [12]  – just at the age that his father was when I had seen him last, twenty-five years ago. In point of person the father was one of the finest youths I ever beheld, – tho with a wildness about the eye that bespoke his unruly mind too plainly.

The sale of Roderick has exceeded my expectations, a third edition is going to press, the first was 500 copies, the second 1500. [13]  I have seen no review of it, but can perceive more faults thant the most malicious critic will point out; & I have a happy indifference to criticism – which proceeds I suppose as much from temperament as philosophy. – Write & tell me when you will come. Remember me to Mr Gilbert [14]  when you see him, – I should rejoice to see him again.

God bless you

Yrs very affectionately

Robert Southey


* Address: To/ Mr James Montgomery/ Sheffield
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: Berg Collection, New York Public Library. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Holland and James Everett, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of James Montgomery, 7 vols (London, 1854–1856), III, pp. 66–68 [in part]. BACK

[1] Montgomery’s review of The Excursion (1814), in Eclectic Review, 3 (January 1815), 13–39. This celebrated, amongst other things, Wordsworth’s unparalleled ability to afford readers ‘such familiar and complete access’ to the ‘human heart’ (22) and described the poem as a work that ‘will live’ (39). It did, however, express reservations about the poem’s lack of religious sentiment: ‘The love of Nature is the purest, the most sublime, and the sweetest emotion of the mind … yet the love of Nature alone cannot ascend from earth to heaven’ (19). BACK

[2] Montgomery had read parts of Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814) prior to its publication. He had also reviewed it for the Eclectic Review, 3 (April 1815), 352–368; and expressed particular concern about Roderick’s invocation of God to justify his killing of others: ‘the vengeance pursued by him [Roderick], is vengeance against infidels, traitors and usurpers. Be it so; but still let the patriot fight, and the avenger slay, in any name, except in the name of Him, whose “kingdom is not of this world”’ (361). BACK

[3] Oliver Newman, set in New England in 1675–1676, with an eponymous Quaker as a hero. It was unfinished at the time of Southey’s death and was published posthumously. BACK

[4] Two further volumes of The History of Brazil appeared, in 1817 and 1819, respectively. BACK

[5] History of the Peninsular War (1823–1832). BACK

[6] i.e. Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821), who had left his exile in Elba on 26 February 1815 and re-assumed his role as Emperor of France. BACK

[7] During the ‘Hundred Days’ Napoleon gave France a Constitution, with a Chamber of Peers, elected Chamber of Representatives and a guarantee of freedom of the Press. This ‘Acte Additionel’ to the original Bonapartist regime was approved by a plebiscite. He also definitely and finally abolished the French slave trade. BACK

[8] Louis XVIII (1755–1824; King of France 1814–1824), head of the French House of Bourbon. BACK

[9] Lady Olivia Sparrow (c. 1778–1863), daughter of the Irish peer Arthur Acheson, 1st Earl of Gosford (c. 1745–1807). She married Robert Sparrow (1773–1805) on 14 March 1797. The marriage produced three children. A religious woman, Lady Olivia was also interested in the education and welfare of the poor. In the 1830s she established schools and encouraged mission work on her estates, helped by Ridley Herschell (1807–1864; DNB). BACK

[10] George Gough-Calthorpe, 3rd Baron Calthorpe (1787–1851). BACK

[11] Sparrow had been a fellow pupil of Southey’s at Westminster School. His ‘ungovernable passions’ led him to pour water in Southey’s ear, try to frighten him by pretending to be a ghost, and attempt to hang him out of a window by the leg. Sparrow joined the army, rose the the rank of Brigadier General and died on active service. BACK

[12] Robert Acheson Bernard St John Sparrow (c. 1800–1818). BACK

[13] A second edition of Roderick had been published in 1815, a third appeared in 1816. BACK

[14] The Congregational minister Joseph Gilbert (1779–1852; DNB). In 1814 he was classical tutor at Rotherham College and pastor of the Nether Chapel, Sheffield. A friend of Montgomery’s, Gilbert had married the poet Ann Taylor (1782–1866; DNB) on 24 December 1813. BACK

People mentioned

Wordsworth, William (1770–1850) (mentioned 2 times)
Lloyd, Charles (1775–1839) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)