3363. Robert Southey to Neville White [fragment], 14 October 1819

3363. Robert Southey to Neville White [fragment], 14 October 1819⁠* 

Keswick, Oct. 14. 1819.

My dear Neville,

You need not be warned to remember that all other considerations ought to give way to that of health. [1]  A man had better break a bone, or even lose a limb, than shake his nervous system. I, who never talk about my nerves (and am supposed to have none by persons who see as far into me as they do into a stone wall), know this. Take care of yourself; and if you find your spirits fail, put off your ordination, and shorten your hours of study; Lord Coke requires only eight hours for a student of the law; [2]  and Sir Matthew Hale thought six hours a day as much as any one could well bear; eight, he said, was too much. [3] 

I was about seven weeks absent from home. [4]  My route was from Edinburgh, Loch Katrine, and thence to Dunkeld and Dundee, up the east coast to Aberdeen, then to Banff and Inverness, and up the coast as far as Fleet Mound, [5]  which is within sight of the Ord of Caithness. We crossed from Dingwall to the Western Sea, returned to Inverness, took the line of the Caledonian Canal, crossed Ballachulish Ferry, and so to Inverary, Lochlomond, Glasgow, and home. This took in the greatest and best part of Scotland; and I saw it under the most favourable circumstances of weather and season, in the midst of a joyous harvest, and with the best opportunities for seeing everything, and obtaining information. I travelled with my old friend Mr. Rickman, and Mr. Telford, the former secretary, and the latter engineer to the two committees for the Caledonian Canal and the Highland Roads and Bridges. [6]  They also are the persons upon whom the appropriation of the money from the forfeited estates, for improving and creating harbours, has devolved. [7]  It was truly delightful to see how much Government has done and is doing for the improvement of that part of the kingdom, and how much, in consequence of that encouragement, the people are doing for themselves, which they would not have been able to do without it.

So long an absence involves me, of course, in heavy arrears of business. I have to write half a volume of Wesley, [8]  and to prepare a long paper for the Q. R. (a Life of Marlborough) [9]  before I can set my face toward London. So I shall probably pass the months of February and March in and about town. … A great many Cantabs have been summering here, where they go by the odd name of Cathedrals. [10]  Several of them brought introductions to me, and were good specimens of the rising generation. … God bless you, my dear Neville!

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. 357–359 [in part]. BACK

[1] White had taken the decision to give up his work in the hosiery trade and pursue a clerical career. He enrolled at Peterhouse, Cambridge, on 26 June 1819 to study for a Bachelor of Divinity degree as a ‘ten-year man’, i.e. a part-time, mature student (he graduated in 1829). However, he was more immediately concerned by his ordination examination, which required knowledge of Greek, Latin, works of divinity and the Bible. White passed and was ordained as a Deacon on 12 December 1819, becoming a Curate at St Edmund the King, Norwich. BACK

[2] Sir Edward Coke (1552–1634; DNB), Institutes of the Lawes of England, 4 vols (London, 1628–1644), I, Book 2, chapter 1, section 85: ‘Sex horas somno, totidem des legibus aequis/ Quatuor orabis, des epulisque duas’, which translates as ‘Six hours in sleep, in law’s grave study six,/ Four spend on prayer, the rest on nature fix’. Southey had, therefore, overestimated how much studying Coke advised. Coke was a leading lawyer who rose to be Chief Justice of the King’s Bench 1613–1616. BACK

[3] Sir Matthew Hale (1609–1676; DNB). ‘He said that he studied sixteen hours a day for the first two years that he came to the Inns of Court, but almost brought himself to his grave, though he were of a very strong constitution, and afterwards reduced himself to eight hours; but that he would not advise any body to do so much; that he thought six hours a day, with attention and constancy, was sufficient; that a man must use his body as he would use his horse and his stomach, not tire him at once, but rise with appetite’, The Works, Moral and Religious, of Sir Matthew Hale, Knt., 2 vols (London, 1805), I, pp. 155–156. Hale was a prominent lawyer who rose to be Chief Justice of the King’s Bench 1671–1676. BACK

[4] Southey had toured Scotland from 17 August until 1 October 1819. For his record of events, see Journal of a Tour in Scotland in 1819, ed. Charles Harold Herford (1929). BACK

[5] Fleet Mound was a massive causeway, commissioned in 1803, designed by Telford, and built between 1814–1816, to carry the road over Loch Fleet. It comprised an earthwork, and a bridge with self-regulating sluice gates that allowed the waters from the river to flow out, but prevented seawater from coming in. BACK

[6] Rickman was Secretary to the Commissioners for the Caledonian Canal and the Commissioners for Highland Roads and Bridges. Telford was largely responsible for surveying and designing these works. BACK

[7] Some large Scottish estates were forfeited to the Crown after their owners supported the Jacobite rising of 1745. Most of these estates were returned to the descendants of their owners after new legislation in 1784, but the accumulated profits were used for a series of public works. The remaining balances (about £14,000) were transferred to the Commissioners for Highland Roads and Bridges in 1806; they mainly used the money for the construction of new harbours at Peterhead, Fraserburgh, Port Gower, Thurso, Helensburgh and Burghead. BACK

[8] Southey’s The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[9] Southey’s review of William Coxe, Memoirs of John Duke of Marlborough, with his Original Correspondence; Collected from the Family Records at Blenheim, and Other Authentic Sources. Illustrated with Portraits, Maps, and Military Plans (1818–1819) appeared in Quarterly Review, 23 (May 1820), 1–73. BACK

[10] ‘Cathedrals’ was the name given in Keswick and its environs to young men from the University of Cambridge who visited the Lakes in study parties. It arose, initially, from a ‘comical confusion’ between ‘Collegian’ and ‘College’ and, later, between ‘College’ and ‘Cathedral’; see Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 19–20 August 1821, Letter 3715. BACK

People mentioned

Rickman, John (1771–1840) (mentioned 1 time)
Telford, Thomas (1757–1834) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)


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