3507. Robert Southey to Neville White, 6 July 1820

3507. Robert Southey to Neville White, 6 July 1820⁠* 

Keswick, July 6. 1820.

My dear Neville,

There is no better proof that two fellow-travellers are upon a proper understanding with each other, than when they travel together for a good length of time in silence, each thinking his own thoughts, and neither of them feeling it necessary to open his lips for the sake of politeness. So it is with real friends: I have not written to congratulate you on your change of state [1]  till now, because I could not do it at leisure, I would not do it hastily, and I knew that you knew how completely every day, hour, and minute of my time must be occupied in London. [2]  Never, indeed, was I involved in a more incessant succession of wearying and worrying engagements from morning till night, day after day, without intermission; here, there, and everywhere, with perpetual changes of every kind, except the change of tranquillity and rest. During an absence of nearly eleven weeks, I seldom slept more than three nights successively in the same bed. At length, God be thanked, I am once more seated by my own fireside – perhaps it is the only fire in Keswick at this time; but like a cat and a cricket, my habits or my nature have taught me to love a warm hearth: so I sit with the windows open, and enjoy at the same time the breath of the mountains and the heat of a sea-coal fire.

And now, my dear Neville, I heartily wish you all that serious, sacred, and enduring happiness in marriage which you have proposed to yourself, and which, as far as depends upon yourself, you have every human probability of finding, and I make no doubt as far as depends upon your consort also. Such drawbacks as are inseparable from our present imperfect state, and such griefs as this poor flesh is heir to, you must sometimes expect, and will know how to bear. But the highest temporal blessings as certainly attend upon a well-regulated and virtuous course of conduct now, as they did during the Mosaic dispensation; [3]  for what other blessings are comparable to tranquillity of mind, resignation under the afflictive dispensations of Providence, faith, hope, and that peace which passeth all understanding? [4]  However bitter upon the palate the good man’s cup may be, this is the savour which it leaves: whatever his future may be, his happiness depends upon himself, and must be his own work. In this sense, I am sure you will be a happy man; may you be a fortunate one also.

I had the comfort of finding all my family well, the children thoroughly recovered from the measles, though some of them somewhat thinner, and the mother a good deal so, from the anxiety and the fatigue which she had undergone during their illness. You hardly yet know how great a blessing it is for a family to have got through that disease; one of the passes perilous upon the pilgrimage of life. Cuthbert had not forgotten me; five minutes seemed to bring me to his recollection; he is just beginning to walk alone, – a fine, stout, good-humoured creature, with curling hair, and eyes full of intelligence. How difficult it is not to build one’s hopes upon a child like this.

I am returned to a world of business; enough to intimidate any one of less habitual industry, less resolution, or less hopefulness of spirit. My time will be sadly interrupted by visitors who, with more or less claims, find their way to me during the season from all parts. However, little by little, I shall get on with many things; of which the first in point of time will be the long-intended Book of the Church. [5]  I told you, if I recollect rightly, what the Bishop of London had said to me concerning the Life of Wesley. [6]  You will be glad to hear that Lord Liverpool expressed to me the same opinion, when I met him at Mr. Canning’s, and said that it was a book which could not fail of doing a great deal of good. [7]  Had that book been written by a clergyman, it would have made his fortune beyond all doubt. But it will do its work better as having come from one who could have had no view to preferment, nor any undue bias upon his mind. If I live, I shall yet do good service both to the Church and State.

My visit to Oxford brought with it feelings of the most opposite kind. [8]  After the exhibition in the theatre, and the collation in Brazenose Hall given by the Vice-Chancellor, I went alone into Christ Church walks, where I had not been for six-and-twenty years. Of the friends with whom I used to walk there, many (and among them some of the dearest) were in their graves. I was then inexperienced, headstrong, and as full of errors as of youth and hope and ardour. Through the mercy of God, I have retained the whole better part of my nature, and as for the lapse of years, that can never be a mournful consideration to one who hopes to be ready for a better world, whenever his hour may come. God bless you!



* 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), V, pp. 41–44. BACK

[1] Neville White had married Charlotte Sewell (1799–1873), daughter of Joseph Sewell (1772–1844), a wealthy Norwich solicitor, on 12 January 1820. BACK

[2] Southey had spent the months of May–June 1820 in London. BACK

[3] In Christian theology a way of referring to the period between the revelation of the Ten Commandments to the Old Testament prophet Moses and the institution of Christianity, when mankind necessarily did not have the opportunity to accept the truth of Christianity but was still required to obey God’s laws, even without the hope of reward in a future life. BACK

[4] Philippians 4: 7. BACK

[5] Southey’s The Book of the Church (1824). BACK

[6] The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). Howley told Southey that ‘between the two dangers of seducing people to Methodism by setting its good points in too alluring a light, & of wounding religion by treating its extravagancies & follies with too much levity, I had steered clear with great discretion’, Southey to Edith Southey [19 May 1820], Letter 3484. BACK

[7] Southey had met Lord Liverpool on 4 June 1820. BACK

[8] Southey had visited Oxford to receive an honorary Doctorate of Civil Law from the University on 14 June 1820. The degree had been conferred in the Sheldonian Theatre by the University’s Vice-Chancellor Frodsham Hodson (1770–1822; DNB), Principal of Brasenose College 1809–1822, Vice-Chancellor 1818–1820, Regius Professor of Divinity 1820–1822. Southey had been entertained afterwards at Brasenose and then dined at Balliol, where he had been an undergraduate. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 2 times)