3521. Robert Southey to Sharon Turner, 7 August 1820

3521. Robert Southey to Sharon Turner, 7 August 1820⁠* 

My dear Turner

That part of Lord Somervilles will which relates to his Somersetshire estates, is the only part in which I am concerned, & that must be a very small portion of it. [1]  Would not therefore an extract answer the purpose, as well as a copy of the whole? He had you know the property to dispose of which he inherited with his title; [2]  & he had also estates in Gloucestershire, which fell to him xxx xx upon the extinction of the English branch of his family, – of which branch the poet Somerville was the head. [3]  The disposal of these, & the provision made for his natural children must take up much more of his will, than the property to which, if it had so pleased him, I might have succeeded. [4]  With all the rest we have nothing to do, – except as to the simple fact whether the will be attested by three witnesses. [5] 

You may imagine how happy I was to reach home & find all well after so long an absence. [6]  & how much I enjoy leisure, tranquillity, fresh air, books & regular employment, after the hurry & disquiet, & fatigue & dissipation of London. – dissipation it may properly be called, when so much time is expended which produces nothing. I found my four younger children thoroughly recovered from the measles, God be thanked; & Cuthbert just beginning to walk. A finer creature of his age never was seen, – full of animation & good nature. My arrival made a sort of jubilee in the house, – & the arrival of my packages some days after occasiond a second. For some time I was idle for very happiness, – the mere xxxxxxx <gxxxx> of being at rest, – of knowing that I had no engagement of any kind, but that where I slept, there I should breakfast, & that where I breakfasted, there I should dine, & that where I dined, there I should drink tea, & sup, & sleep, was so unlike any thing which I had felt for the preceding three months, that x it was of itself a pleasure, of which it seemed I could never have too much. And I have not yet lost the perception of it.

I have however settled fairly to work, proceeding, more meo, [7]  with many things at once; – having I believe learnt to manage my own mind almost as well as you manage your body, & in like manner adapting my habits to its infirmity. Too much attention to any subject would disturb my sleep. I turn therefore from one to another, that no one may fasten upon my thoughts too strongly, & this brings with it a great advantage, for if my mind does not flow freely on one subject, or I do not perceive how to arrange either the argument, or the narrative, – instead of persisting doggedly against the grain, I lay the paper by, & turn to something else that the current may run free. – In another week perhaps, if I am not interrupted, I may send off the introductory chapter of the Peninsular War. [8]  And the first part of the Book of the Church will not be long after it. [9]  I am getting on with my Dialogues, [10]  – extracting from the Acta SStorum [11]  materials both for the picture of popery in the Book of the Church, & for the Moral & Literary History of England [12]  (which will I think become my favourite work) – proceeding at fits & starts with my American poem, [13]  – reading East Indian History to fit myself for writing the life of Warren Hastings, [14]  – & preparing for a Life of George Fox, upon the scale of that of Wesley, – tho probably to be only half the length. [15]  Think of the age in which George Fox lived – from the beginning of Charles I – to the close of K Williams reign, & you will see how wide a portion of Church History this subject includes, & how much of the progress of opinion. [16] 

I give half an hour after supper every night to a folio of Sir Thomas Mores works, which I borrowed from Heber. [17]  It is suprizing to me that the [MS missing] should not have reprinted them; for give him his Catholick postulates, (in which they would all agree xxx) & his inferences are as logical & as clear & as convincing, as you would expect them to be, from such a man. The historians of our reformation have not dealt fairly on either side. Indeed how can it be thought that they should have kept clear of the contagious passions which raged so violently? when even in our days it is so difficult to come to <the> question with an equitable mind. My own belief is this, – that if in those dreadful days I had been a young man, I should have courted martyrdom for the reformation, – if I have been an elderly one I should have suffered it for the old establishment: – in the first case youth hope & ardour would have made me overlook all the immediate evils of & dangers of the change; in the other, the good would have appeared so doubtful & remote, the evil so certain & immediate, that I should have thought it better to die than to assist in the work of destruction which was going on.

Are we, are or are we not verging towards as great a revolution in the political, as then took place in the religious part of our Establishment? I hope not. There is this difference in the circumstances of the country, that the Revolutionist of this day have nothing reasonable to ask, – except for that melioration of the lower ranks, which they go the sure way to prevent, by their own excesses. But I fear that an explosion will be brought on by this woman, [18]  whose mixture of insanity & wickedness looks as much like possession as any case that ever came within my knowledge. And I think we ought to pray for restraints for xx upon the press, which twenty years ago, the most Ultra Anti Jacobins would never have dreamt of desiring. God bless you. Remember me to Mrs Turner [19]  – your daughters [20]  & Alfred, [21]  & believe me

yours very affectionately

Robert Southey.

Keswick. 7 Aug. 1820.


* Address: To/ Sharon Turner Esqre/ 32. Red Lion Square
Stamped: Two Py Post/ Unpaid/ [illegible]
Postmark: [partial] Clock/ AU
Endorsement: 7 Augt 20 7 March 1817
MS: British Library, Add MS 59737. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] The first part of the letter deals with Southey’s continuing attempts to discover if he, and his brothers, might benefit from the estate of their third cousin John Southey Somerville, 15th Lord Somerville (1765–1819; DNB), who had died on 5 October 1819. Somerville had inherited the Fitzhead estate in Somerset from his great-uncle John Cannon Southey (d. 1768). On his death, John Cannon Southey had left a complex, ill-advised will which named Somerville his primary heir and, should Somerville die without heirs, Robert Southey’s father and two uncles as the residuary legatees, their rights passing, in turn, to their children. Of the three Southey brothers only the Poet Laureate’s father married, leading the Poet Laureate to believe (after the death of his father and paternal uncles) that he and his brothers were now the rightful heirs to the Fitzhead estate. BACK

[2] i.e. the lands that Somerville inherited from his uncle, James Somerville, 14th Lord Somerville (1727–1796). These had nothing to do with the Southeys. BACK

[3] William Somervile (1675–1742; DNB), whose best-known poem was The Chace (1735). When he died, his estates passed to the Scottish branch of the Somerville family, whose head was James, 13th Lord Somerville (1698–1765) and from whom these estates had descended to his grandson, John Southey Somerville. BACK

[4] Somerville’s main heir was his half-brother, Mark Somerville, 16th Lord Somerville (1784–1842). There is no mention in contemporary reports of any illegitimate children. BACK

[5] If the will was not thus attested it would have been invalid. Unfortunately for Southey, John Southey Somerville’s will was valid, and was proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury on 19 March 1820. BACK

[6] Southey had spent May and June 1820 in London. BACK

[7] ‘In my way’. BACK

[8] Southey’s History of the Peninsular War, 3 vols (London, 1823–1832), I, pp. 3–62. BACK

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

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

[11] Acta Sanctorum (1643–1794), a massive compendium of hagiographies. Southey had bought a copy in 1817, no. 207 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[12] This project did not result in a book; the surviving notes that Southey assembled were posthumously published as ‘Collections for the History of Manners and Literature in England’, Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), I, pp. 439–578. BACK

[13] Southey’s unfinished epic, set in New England. The completed sections were published after Southey’s death in Oliver Newman: A New-England Tale (Unfinished): With Other Poetical Remains (London, 1845), pp. 1–90. BACK

[14] Southey had been offered the opportunity to write the biography of Warren Hastings (1732–1818; DNB), Governor-General of Bengal 1773–1785; see Southey to John Murray, 10 July 1820, Letter 3509. He ultimately rejected this idea. BACK

[15] Southey did not fulfil his plan to follow his controversial Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820) with a similar study of George Fox (1624–1691; DNB), founder of the Society of Friends. BACK

[16] Fox lived through a period of religious and political upheaval, including the civil war triggered by the policies of Charles I (1600–1649; King of Great Britain 1625–1649; DNB) and the new religious and political settlement ushered in by the reign of William III (1650–1702; King of Great Britain 1689–1702; DNB). BACK

[17] An edition of the writings of Sir Thomas More (1478–1535; DNB). BACK

[18] Caroline of Brunswick (1768–1821; DNB), the estranged wife of George IV, had returned to Britain on 5 June 1820. Her arrival and the series of events that followed, as attempts were made in parliament to deprive her of the title of Queen and to dissolve her marriage to the King, made her a figurehead for radicals, and also triggered public protests in her support. BACK

[19] Mary Turner, née Watts (c. 1768–1843). BACK

[20] Emilia (b. 1798), Eliza (1799–1874), Mary (1801–1870) and Harriet (b. 1803) Turner. BACK

[21] Turner’s eldest son Alfred (1796–1864), later a solicitor. BACK

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)


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