3603. Robert Southey to Peter Elmsley, 11 January 1821

3603. Robert Southey to Peter Elmsley, 11 January 1821⁠* 

Keswick. 11. Jany. 1821

My dear Elmsley

I have ordered to your address in Pall Mall, the third volume of Brazil, the life of Wesley, [1]  & the republication of certain Odes in a form to bind up with my other Poems. [2]  Of each I have something to say. The latter are ex officio [3]  productions, in a species of composition for which I have little talent & no inclination. Of the rhymed Ode [4]  the best that can be said is, that it is not bad as a whole, & has a few good parts. The three others [5]  are in a freer strain, better conceived, & sometimes better expressed. The postscript to the notes is an excerpt from a letter to Brougham, begun in consequence of one of the most wanton, gross & unprovoked insults that ever was offered by one man to another. [6]  I should not have published this extract if it had contained anything personally acrimonious towards him, because he has, thro Lambton, [7]  positively denied to my brother that he ever gave the offence, & if a man ought to be satisfied with the amende honorable, much more ought to be so when the amende dishonorable is made by his antagonist, – the words which he denies having uttered, having been reported in the newspapers, & heard by many thousand witnesses, of whom some half-dozen repeated them to me. – I print the extract for the love of Gog, to whom I owe more than this, & in whose debt it is not my intention to die. The rest of the fragment you shall see in the summer, – it is written forcibly, & would have made a good companion to my tender epistle to Mr William Smith. [8] 

Secondly concerning the Brazil. Do not bind your set, till I send you some corrections & additions for the first volume, which is now reprinting. [9] 

The Dean of Worcester [10]  (with whom I have no acquaintance) has lately sent me the copy of a fragment of a letter, which he says was one of those taken from Wesleys bureau by his wife, when she finally left him. [11]  He vouches for its authenticity, & refers me for proofs to a quarter where I am now making farther enquiry. [12]  The letter is from one of his female correspondents, – a Miss Briggs, [13]  remonstrating with him upon the improper liberties which he had taken with her, – it is in a strain of the warmest affection, & the most unbounded reverence; & yet at the same time shows that she was a virtuous woman, & was alarmed at his conduct. He must then have been about sixty five years of age. The internal evidence of the letter is in favour of its authenticity. If authentic, it would prove that Wesley had fallen into a temptation incident to the sort of Confessor-like situation in which he had placed himself, – & trusting probably to his age, had indulged it as far as he wished. The fact, if fact it be, would not affect the opinion which should be formed concerning all the former part of his life, nor concerning the general tenour of his conduct. But it would show, like many cases in Catholick history, how easily spiritual & carnal affections may be blended, – which needs no additional proof. On the whole I shall be sorry to find it genuine, because the publication of such a fact will certainly do more harm than good, – & yet having written the life of Wesley, I do not see how I can, consistently with that perfect fairness in which the task has been performed, conceal such it, after it has come to my knowledge. [14] 

You will find me a good deal altered, – for I feel the effect of Time in more ways than one, – physically in an infirmity which will probably (& God knows how soon) incapacitate me for walking, if it does not do more; [15] xx morally, in nothing so much, as in certain anxious thoughts, to which in younger days I was a stranger, concerning my ways & means, as I grow older, & a decay of power is to be apprehended, or any of those accidents which flesh is heir to. It is only now that I have first a prospect of accumulating any property during my life, & that slowly. Ten years would probably make me master of as many thousand pounds, – but who can calculate upon ten years! certainly not I. These thoughts however do not recur very frequently, neither do they leave any deep impression, – but I know that ten years ago I was a stranger to them, & that they belong to the decline of life. Decline of mental power I am not sensible of in any other way, than that I continue now to be a poet rather by profession than by choice.

In the course of a few weeks I shall send you a thin quarto which will provoke a good deal of hostility, & some difference of opinion. [16]  It is an experiment in English hexameters. The rhythm to my ear is good, & well suited to the subject on which it is employed, – a subject which will draw on as much enmity as the measure. But you know I am used to abuse of all kinds & from all quarters. – I count upon seeing you in July

God bless you –

Yrs very truly

Robert Southey.


* Address: [in another hand] Wrexham Jany eighteenth 1821/ The Revd P Elmsley/ High Street/ Oxford/ CW Williams Wynn
Stamped: WREXHAM/ 198
MS: Westminster School. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Nicholas Horsfall, ‘Four Unpublished Letters of Robert Southey’, Notes and Queries, 22.9 (September 1975), 401–402. BACK

[1] The third volume of Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819), and The Life of Wesley; and the Rise and Progress of Methodism (1820). BACK

[2] A combined second edition of Carmen Triumphale (1814) and Congratulatory Odes. Odes to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent, His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Russia, and His Majesty the King of Prussia (1814). It was published under the title Carmen Triumphale, for the Commencement of the Year 1814: Carmen Aulica. Written in 1814, on the Arrival of the Allied Sovereigns in England (1821). BACK

[3] i.e. written in Southey’s capacity as Poet Laureate. BACK

[4] ‘Carmen Triumphale’ (1821). BACK

[5] ‘Carmen Aulica. Written in 1814, on the Arrival of the Allied Sovereigns in England’ (1821). BACK

[6] Carmen Triumphale (London, 1821), pp. 45–53. This ‘Postscript’ had originally been written in 1818 as a response to Brougham’s reported attack on Southey from the hustings on 30 June 1818, during the General Election contest in Westmorland. BACK

[7] John George Lambton, later 1st Earl of Durham (1792–1840; DNB), Whig landowner and colliery owner in County Durham, and MP for Durham 1812–1828. He had supported Brougham’s unsuccessful election campaign in 1818. BACK

[8] Southey had been dissuaded by Bedford and Rickman from publishing the retort to Brougham that he had consciously modelled on his pamphlet A Letter to William Smith, Esq., M.P. (1817). BACK

[9] The revised second edition of the first volume of the History of Brazil (1822). BACK

[10] John Banks Jenkinson (1781–1840; DNB), Dean of Worcester, 1817–1825. He was not known to Southey, but he was the first cousin of the Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool, whom Southey had met in 1820. BACK

[11] Mary Wesley (1709/10–1781). She was a widow at the time of her marriage to John Wesley (1703–1791; DNB) in 1751. The relationship was troubled, and on 23 January 1771 Mary left her husband, taking with her some of his correspondence. BACK

[12] See Southey to [Glocester Wilson], 29 December 1820, Letter 3596. BACK

[13] Elizabeth Briggs (1751–1822), whose family were devout Methodists and close friends of John Wesley. BACK

[14] Wilson’s reply made it clear that his mother had been given a copy of the letter, not the original. Southey, unconvinced by the reliability of such a copy and concerned that it had been part of Mary Wesley’s campaign to ruin her husband’s reputation, decided against publishing it; see Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 7 February 1821, Letter 3628. BACK

[15] Southey was suffering from a rectal prolapse; see Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 3 October 1819, Letter 3356. BACK

[16] A Vision of Judgement (1821), published in early March 1821. BACK

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)


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