3605. Robert Southey to Neville White, 12 January 1821

3605. Robert Southey to Neville White, 12 January 1821 ⁠* 

Keswick, Jan. 12 1821.

My dear Neville,

It appears to me that whatever time you bestow upon the classics is little better than time lost. [1]  Classical attainments are not necessary for you, and even if you were ten years younger than you are, they would not be within your reach. This you yourself feel; you had better therefore make up your mind to be contented without them, and desist from a study which is quite impossible for you to pursue with any advantage to yourself.

My dear Neville, it is a common infirmity with us to over-value what we do not happen to possess. In your education you have learnt much which is not acquired in schools and colleges, but which is of great practical utility, – more probably than you would now find it if you had taken a wrangler’s degree, or ranked as a medallist. [2]  You have mingled among men of business. You know their good and their evil, the characters which are formed by trade, and the temptations which are incident to it. You have acquired a knowledge of the existing constitution of society, and situated as you will be, in or near a great city, and in a trading country, this will be of much more use to you professionally, than any university accomplishments. Knowing the probable failings of your flock, you will know what warnings will be most applicable, and what exhortations will be most likely to do them good.

The time which classical studies would take may be much more profitably employed upon history and books of travels. The better you are read in both, the more you will prize the peculiar blessings which this country enjoys in its constitution of Church and State, and more especially in the former branch. I could write largely upon this theme. The greater part of the evil in the world, – that is, all the evil in it which is remediable (and which I take to be at least nine-tenths of the whole) – arises either from the want of institutions, as among savages; from imperfect ones, as among barbarians; or from bad ones, as in point of government among the oriental nations; and in point of religion among them also, and in the intolerant Catholic countries. In your own language you will find all you need, – scriptural illustrations, and stores of knowledge of every kind.

What you say concerning my correspondence, and the latitude which you allow me is both kind and considerate, as is always to be expected from Neville White. I do not, however, so easily forgive myself when a long interval of silence has been suffered to elapse. A letter is like a fresh billet of wood upon the fire, which, if it be not needed for immediate warmth, is always agreeable for its exhilarating effects. I who spend so many hours alone love to pass a portion of them in conversing thus with those whom I love.

You will be grieved to hear that I have lost my poor friend Nash, whom you saw with us in the autumn. He left us at the beginning of November, and is now in his grave! This has been a severe shock to me. I had a most sincere regard for him, and very many pleasant recollections are now so changed by his death, that they will never recur without pain. He was so thoroughly amiable, so sensible of any little kindness that was shown him, so kind in all his thoughts, words, and deeds; and withal bore his cross so patiently and meekly, that every body who knew him respected him and loved him. Very few circumstances could have affected me more deeply than his loss.

Remember me most kindly to your excellent mother, and to your sisters. [3]  You are happy in having had your parents spared to you so long. [4]  The moral influences of a good old age upon the hearts of youth and manhood cannot be appreciated too highly. We are all well at present, thank God.

God bless you, my dear Neville!

Yours affectionately,



* 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. 56–58. BACK

[1] Neville White had enrolled at Peterhouse, Cambridge, in 1819 as a part-time Bachelor of Divinity student. The course lasted ten years and required minimal residence in Cambridge. The assessment was also light. He did not need to acquire this degree in order to become a clergyman – he had passed his examination for the priesthood in October 1820. BACK

[2] i.e. if White had achieved academic success at Cambridge by being a wrangler (obtaining first class honours in the third year of a degree), or by winning or being ranked in a university competition (for example, the Chancellor’s Gold Medal). BACK

[3] Mary White, née Neville (1755–1833), and her two surviving daughters, Frances Moriah White (1791–1854) and Catherine Bailey White (1795–1889). BACK

[4] Neville White’s father, John White (d. 1822), a Nottingham butcher, was also still alive. BACK

People mentioned

Nash, Edward (1778–1821) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)


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