3515. Robert Southey to John Wilson, 27 July 1820

3515. Robert Southey to John Wilson, 27 July 1820⁠* 

Keswick. 27 July. 1820

My dear Sir

I am very glad that you have succeeded in obtaining the Professorship. [1]  You had my best wishes, & wherever an opportunity occurred of offering it, my best word; [2]  but these I am well aware could be of little avail from a man who mixes very little with the world, & when he goes to London, at intervals of two or three years, confines himself as much as possible to the circle of his private friends.

My reading has never been directed to metaphysical subjects, concerning such subjects therefore, & the authors who have written upon them I know nothing more than what one cannot help learning from common books & common conversation. With regard to moralists the best beyond all doubt will be found among those divines, speaking of whom the late King said ‘there were Giants upon the earth in those days.” [3]  Ethics have never been treated with more force & ability than in the English pulpit. –

But upon these subjects you had xx may obtain fuller information from De Quincey & from Coleridge than from any other men

Believe me my dear Sir

Yrs very truly

Robert Southey.

If you could recommend a little poem called Ellen Fitz-Arthur to a kind notice in the Magazine, I should feel myself greatly obliged. [4]  It has great tenderness &, in parts, great beauty as well as truth of feeling. And I have reason to believe that any friendly notice would be of essential service to the Authoress, – a very interesting woman, whose feeble health & shaken spirits might be materially benefitted by any appearance of success in her first literary attempt.


* Address: To/ John Wilson Esqre/ 53 Queen Street/ Edinburgh
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: JUL/ M 29 M/ 1820
MS: Cornell University Library. ALS; 3p. (c).
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Wilson had been appointed as Professor of Moral Philosophy and Political Economy at the University of Edinburgh on 19 July 1820, in a bitter and politicised contest against the more suitably qualified Whig candidate, the philosopher Sir William Hamilton (1788–1856; DNB). BACK

[2] Southey had written in support of Wilson; see Southey to John Wilson, 21 April 1820, Letter 3469. BACK

[3] A paraphrase of Genesis 4: 4 attributed to George III (1738–1820; King of Great Britain 1760–1820; DNB); see Joseph Taylor (1761/2–1844), Relics of Royalty; or Remarks, Anecdotes & Conversations of His Late Majesty George the Third (London, 1820), p. 87: ‘His Majesty was accustomed after hearing a sermon, to walk and discourse with the preacher. On such an occasion speaking to a fashionable preacher, he asked him whether he had read Bishops, Andrews, Sanderson, Sherlock, &c. The pigmy divine replied, “No, please your Majesty, my reading is all modern. The writers, of whom your Majesty speaks, are now obsolete; though I doubt not they might have been very well for those days.” – The King, turning upon his heel, rejoined with pointed emphasis, “There were giants on earth in those days.”’ BACK

[4] Caroline Bowles, Ellen Fitzarthur: a Metrical Tale, in Five Cantos (1820); Southey had played a key role in securing a publisher. It was first offered to John Murray, who rejected it, but was taken on by Longmans. It was not reviewed in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. BACK

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