3491. Robert Southey to Christian Ignatius Latrobe [fragment], 3 June 1820

3491. Robert Southey to Christian Ignatius Latrobe [fragment], 3 June 1820⁠* 

15 Queen Anne St.,

Cavendish Sq.,

3 June 1820.

Sir

It is a matter of surprise to me, as well as of concern, that the Moravians should feel themselves aggrieved by any part of the history of Mr. Wesley’s life. [1]  With that subject the history of the U. Brethren is intimately connected; to describe them therefore, such as they were at that time, was a necessary part of the task which I had undertaken. I spoke of the extravagances, into which they had run, and the dangers from which they had escaped, not in malice, neither, as you seem to imply, from the mere desire of amusing my readers by enlivening the subject, but as a matter of history, which it was my business, in the strict line of duty, to notice, for example and instruction. And whether this was done with an unfriendly or uncharitable spirit, I may leave, sir, to your own decision. It is distinctly stated, that the early Moravians were innocent of the crimes which were laid to their charge, that they saw the errors which they had committed, and that they corrected them. [2]  It is said, in explicit condemnation of Mr. Wesley, that in no other incident of his life did he act so disingenuously, as when he repeated and accredited the calumnies against them, and it is directly affirmed, that, at this day, they enjoy the general good opinion of every other religious community. [3]  As the biographer of Mr. Wesley, I expected to be assailed from many quarters, but certainly not from the Moravians. [4] 

. . . . . . .

Nothing could be farther from my thoughts and intentions than to give offence to the Moravians, or to impute to them any participation in the fanatical and perilous language of their predecessors. But as the present body are no ways answerable for their errors, so I must be allowed to maintain, that their meritorious conduct cannot be pleaded as a reason, why in an historical account of the Society, all mention of such errors should be suppressed. This would be surely as unreasonable, as it would be in a history of the Church of England to omit the crimes of Henry 8th [5]  and other actions, by which our blessed Reformation was sullied.

The notes, of which you complain, were added as proofs of what had been asserted in the text, and as the page to which they relate is referred to, I should have thought it never could have been supposed that any injury was done, or intended to the existing Society. [6]  Nevertheless, that this may be entirely understood, I will in any future edition alter the superscription of those extracts as you suggest. And if you wish that a distinct disavowal on my part of any injurious intention toward the Moravians should be laid before the public, you have my consent to publish this letter in any manner you may think proper. I remain, sir, with great personal respect,

Yours obediently,

Robert Southey.


Notes

* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Garland Greever (ed.), A Wiltshire Parson and His Friends. The Correspondence of William Lisle Bowles (London, 1926)
Previously published: Garland Greever (ed.), A Wiltshire Parson and His Friends. The Correspondence of William Lisle Bowles (London, 1926), pp. 37–38. BACK

[1] The Moravians were central to the evangelical revival. They had arrived in Britain from Saxony in the 1730s and were influential on John Wesley’s early career and thought; see for example The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism, 2 vols (London, 1820), I, pp. 77–81, 175–208, 338–360. BACK

[2] The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism, 2 vols (London, 1820), I, p. 360, ‘The heavier charges have been effectually disproved by time’. BACK

[3] The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism, 2 vols (London, 1820), I, p. 359, ‘that Wesley should have repeated, and thereby sanctioned those charges, must be considered as the most disingenuous act of his life’. BACK

[4] Latrobe was not alone in taking offence; see William Okely (dates unknown), A Letter to Robert Southey, Esq. On His Life of the Late Mr. John Wesley, and especially that Part in which he treats of the Moravians (1820). Okely was the Minister at Fairfield Moravian Church 1809–1815. BACK

[5] Henry VIII (1491–1547; King of England 1509–1547; DNB), whose reign saw the Reformation of the Church in England. BACK

[6] The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism, 2 vols (London, 1820), I, pp. 479–488: ‘Moravian marriage’, ‘Fanatical Language of the Moravians’, and ‘Certain whimsical Opinions which might entitle Count Zinzendorf to a conspicuous Place in the History of Heresy’. BACK

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