3410. Robert Southey to Herbert Hill, 31 December 1819

3410. Robert Southey to Herbert Hill, 31 December 1819⁠* 

Dr Wordsworths story has not the slightest foundation, nor can I guess how it should have arisen, unless that <it> be that a paper of mine upon the New Churches which was printed a year ago, has been sent back to me with a wish that I would enlarge it – but there is not a word about the Catholic Question there. [1]  In truth I should most gladly have entered into that question in all its bearings long ago, if I had not known how impossible it was to obtain admission for opinions such as mine upon the subject in the Q. R. – I am as little pleased as you can be with the manner in which Gifford mutilates whatever is sent him, upon no imaginable principle, & as far as I can discover, in most cases, for no other reason, than that of indulging a habit which he cannot help. He has repeatedly promised me that he would not do it, & yet every one of my papers comes forth castrated from under his hands. It would be a great satisfaction to me if I could do without this Review, & at present there seems to be some probability that my connection with it may be broken off, however great the immediate inconvenience. Murray has thought proper to send me a less sum for my last paper [2]  than I chuse to accept for it. I therefore sent the draft back to Gifford, from whom it came, treated the matter as a mistake (as indeed at first I really supposed it to be) & told him I expected an hundred pounds, for the paper. For Six posts have elapsed, & I have received no reply. I shall wait patiently, & let him chew the cud as long as he pleases. But if the answer when it comes is not what it ought to be, the QR. shall never contain another line receive another communication from me.

This will leave me very much abroad for my ways & means at first. However this is of no great consequence, – I shall make my way somehow or other, & probably more to my own contentment at the end.

It is not unlikely that one of the first things which I may undertake will be a little volume in the form of dialogue, [3]  & in remote imitation of Boethius; [4]  the object you may perceive from the motto, – Respice, aspice, prospice, [5]  & the interlocutors would be the author, & Sir Thomas More. [6]  – Did you ever hear it remarked that the print from Holbein’s portrait of this personage, [7]  might have passed for your likeness? I am not the only person who has perceived it. – I have a good deal to say upon the dangers & the prospects of society, & have thought a good deal upon the parallel circumstances of this age & of Henry 8-ths [8]  – And probably my frame of mind & way of thinking very much resemble what his were Sir Thomas More’s were in his day. The fiction would have the double advantage of relieving the subject, & allowing me to bring forward views & opinions which it might be not be advisable directly to avow.

I will set about reading your Oraisons Funebres [9]  forthwith – which I have never yet done, – & by the time I have got thro them, the subject which you propose [10]  will probably shape itself in my mind. I too have been turning the same probable event in my mind as the theme for a Threnodia, [11]  & indeed have gone so far as to plan something, more in the manner of Dante [12]  than of any other poet. – One of my plans which I have for some years been looked forward to as a work worthy of great pains & likely to recompense the labour bestowed upon it is a view of the Age of George 3. a work in which, avoiding all detail because of the almost xx immensity of the subject, I should seize the prominent features & general results trace things to their causes, & look forward to their consequences. Three or perhaps four octavos volumes would comprize it, & this is a book for which a permanent demand might be fairly expected. [13] 

At present I am finishing Wesleys life. [14]  I thought to have compleated this, & two papers for the QR (the Life of Marlborough, & the New Churches) [15]  by the end of February, this would have provided my ways & means for the next half year, & then I should started for London, viâ Ludlow at a season of the year when there would be no danger of losing ones nose by the frost, or being lost in a snow drift. Wesley will be finished in the course of January, – there is not much more to write, & of that only one short part which will require much pains. If Murray & I part company upon this occasion, as I rather expect we shall, I shall give February to my Tale of Paraguay, [16]  – a couple of months will carry that xxx to its close: – it has gone on very slowly, part one great reason of which is that I cast it in the Spenserian stanza, [17]  which stanza is exceedingly difficult for a man who is not satisfied unless what he writes will bear the test of xxx a strict examination. Thirty years ago I could write it as rapidly as any other measure, – & at that time I planned & made some progress in a continuation of the Faery Queen. [MS missing] stanza however is perfectly adapted to the slow movement & thoughtful character of the story, & I am entirely contented with what is done.

The Duke of B. [18]  may thank you that I have not taken advantage of Lord Js book [19]  to play the Iconoclast, & demolish one of the Whig idols.

Yesterday I received a curious paper from H. Koster, containing details of the revenue & expenditure at Para for the <a> few years preceding the Removal. [20]  The deficit was very considerable, & Koster tells me that from what he can learn it appears to have been so in most of the Captaincies. Pernambuco is in a miserable state; – such a system of vexation & oppression has succeeded the <followed> the insurrection, [21]  – that any change would be for the better, & it seems as if the Court were besotted to their own sure destruction. Koster is transcribing for me an account of the insurrection in 1711, written by one of the revolutionary party. [22]  No doubt it will enable me to make some curious additions to that part of the history.

I have lost in John Bell one of the few readers who would have taken almost as much interest in reading the book, as I did in composing it. [23] 

Remember me to Miss Bigg [24]  – & to my Aunt & the boys. I am glad to hear a good account of them all. We are going on well here. I myself am materially better, whether it be that winter has braced me, that total inaction suits my habit of body, or that I am now feeling the good effects of the long Scotch journey I know not, but better I am, & have been for several weeks. – You probably know as much of my Chancery prospects [25]  as I do. – I have commissioned one who will omit no means of fulfilling the commission, [26]  to collect for me the remainder of the Ex Jesuits books in Italy, [27]  – & to ship for me from Rome Luke Waddings huge work, [28]  – a sine qua non for my monastic labours.

God bless you


Keswick 31 Dec. 1819.


* Address: To/ The Reverend Herbert Hill/ Streatham/ Surry.
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: 10 o’Clock/ JA. 3/ 1820 F.Nn; E/ 3 JA 3/ 1820
Seal: red wax; arm raising aloft cross of Lorraine
MS: Keswick Museum and Art Gallery, WC 189. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), III, pp. 167–170 [in part]. BACK

[1] Southey’s review of Benjamin Haydon, New Churches, Considered with Respect to the Opportunities they Offer for the Encouragement of Painting (1818) appeared in Quarterly Review, 23 (July 1820), 549–591. It does not deal with Catholic Emancipation. BACK

[2] Southey’s review of Thomas Fosbrooke (1770–1842; DNB), British Monachism; or, Manners and Customs of the Monks and Nuns of England (1817), Quarterly Review, 22 (July 1819), 59–102, published 11 December 1819. BACK

[3] Sir Thomas More: or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society (1829). BACK

[4] Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (c. 480–525), De Consolatione Philosophiae, a dialogue between the author and the character of Lady Philosophy, consisting of both prose and verse. BACK

[5] ‘Look to the past, the present, the future’, words attributed to St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153). These words did appear on the title page [unpaginated] of Sir Thomas More: or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society, 2 vols (London, 1829). BACK

[6] Sir Thomas More (1478–1535; DNB), Lord Chancellor 1529–1532 and opponent of the Reformation. BACK

[7] Hans Holbein, the younger (c. 1497–1543) painted his Portrait of Thomas More in 1527. Southey had in mind the engraving from the portrait by Jacobus Houlbraken (1698–1780) in Heads of Illustrious Persons of Great Britain (1743–1752), no. 1432 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[8] Henry VIII (1491–1547; King of England 1509–1547; DNB). BACK

[9] Valentin Esprit Flechier (1632–1710) and Jacques Benigne Bossuet (1627–1704), Recueil des Oraisons Funebres (1782), no. 1037 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[10] The impending death of George III (1738–1820; King of Great Britain 1760–1820; DNB), which led Southey to produce A Vision of Judgement (1821). BACK

[11] A song of mourning or lamentation. BACK

[12] Dante Alighieri (c. 1265–1321), Divine Comedy (1308–1321). BACK

[13] Southey did not write this book. BACK

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

[15] 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; Southey’s article on ‘New Churches’ appeared in Quarterly Review, 23 (July 1820), 549–591. BACK

[16] Southey’s A Tale of Paraguay (1825). BACK

[17] Edmund Spenser (c. 1552–1599; DNB), author of The Faerie Queene (1590–1596), which uses stanzas of nine lines, the first eight in iambic pentameters and the ninth an iambic hexameter. BACK

[18] John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford (1766–1839; DNB), Herbert Hill’s patron at Streatham. BACK

[19] Lord John Russell, 1st Earl Russell (1792–1878; DNB), Whig MP for various seats 1813–1861, Prime Minister 1846–1852, 1865–1866, had written The Life of William, Lord Russell, with Some Account of the Times in which He Lived (1819), a biography of William Russell, Lord Russell (1639–1683; DNB). Southey did not review it for the Quarterly Review. BACK

[20] The flight of the Portuguese court to Brazil in 1807–1808. BACK

[21] The failed attempt to create an independent Brazilian Republic in Pernambuco, March–May 1817. BACK

[22] The Mascate War (or ‘War of the Peddlers’) in Pernambuco in 1710–1711. Koster’s death prevented Southey receiving this manuscript. BACK

[23] Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[24] Alethea Bigg (1777–1847), one of Herbert Hill’s sisters-in-law. BACK

[25] John Southey Somerville, 15th Lord Somerville (1765–1819; DNB), agricultural reformer and third cousin of Southey, had died on 5 October 1819. This produced a further round of legal tangles over the Fitzhead estate in Somerset that Somerville had inherited and on which Southey possibly possessed a legal claim. BACK

[27] When members of the Society of Jesus were expelled from Brazil in 1759 and Spanish America in 1767, many settled in the Papal States in Italy, especially in Bologna and Ferrara. BACK

[28] Luke Wadding’s (1588–1657; DNB) history of the Franciscans. Southey eventually possessed two copies, Annales Minorum, in Quibus Res Omnes Trium Ordinum A. S. Francisco Insitutorum (1625–1654), and Annales Minorum, cum Continuatione J. W. de Anona, ab Anno 1208 ad 1564, et Vita L. Waddingii (1731–1745), nos 2903–2904 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

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