1271. Robert Southey to Neville White, 3 February 1807

1271. Robert Southey to Neville White, 3 February 1807 ⁠* 

Keswick, Feb. 3. 1807.

Dear Sir,

. . . . It will be well to print the Melancholy Hours, and some other of the prose compositions. They mark the character, as well as the powers, of your brother’s mind, and should, therefore, be preserved. [1]  The No. 10. which you mention is, I believe, that criticism upon Thalaba the Destroyer, of which I spoke in a former letter. [2]  I may be permitted to expunge from it, or to soften, a few epithets, of which it gratifies me that your brother should have thought me worthy, but which it is not decent that I should edit myself. . . . Believe me, sir, if I were not now proving the high respect which I feel for your brother, it would give me pain to think what value he assigned to the mere expression of it. How deeply I regret that the little intercourse we ever had should have ended where it did, it is needless now to say. I should have begged him to have visited me here, but for this reason: when he told me he was going to Cambridge, there were some circumstances which made me believe he was under the patronage of Mr. Henry Thornton, [3]  or of some other persons of similar views; that his opinions had taken what is called an evangelical turn, and that he was designed for that particular ministry. My own religious opinions are not less zealous and not less sincere, but they are totally opposite. I would not run the risk of disturbing his sentiments, and therefore delayed forming that personal friendship with him, to which I looked on with pleasure, till his mind should have outgrown opinions through which it was well that it should pass.

In reading and re-reading the poems, I have filled up a few of the gaps with conjectural words of correction, which shall be printed in italics, and to which, therefore, there can be no objection. The more I read them, the more is my admiration; they are as it should be – of very various merit, and show the whole progress of his mind. Many of them are excellently good – so good that it is impossible they could be better, and all together certainly exceed the productions of any other young poet whatsoever. I do not except Chatterton [4]  from the number; and I have a full confidence that, sooner or later, the public opinion will confirm mine. Perhaps this may be immediately acknowledged.

I am greatly in hopes that many of his letters may be fit for publication. Till these arrive, it is not possible to judge to what extent the proposed introductory account (in which they would probably be inserted, or after it) will run; but as soon as this is ascertained, the volumes may be divided and the second go to press. Will you have the goodness to copy for me that abominable criticism in the Monthly Review upon Clifton Grove, [5]  and also the notice they took of your brother’s letter. That criticism must be inserted; and if you remember any other reviewal in which he was treated with illiberality, I shall be glad to hold up such criticism to the infamy which it deserves.

It will give me great pleasure if a likeness can be recovered – very great pleasure. Your brother Henry, sir, is not to be lamented. He has gained that earthly immortality for which he laboured, and that heavenly immortality of which he was worthy. I say this with tears, but they are tears of admiration as well as of human regret. If you knew me, sir, and how little prone I am to let such feelings as these appear upon the surface, you would understand these words in their literal sense, and in their full meaning.

Yours very truly,

Robert Southey.


* 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), III, pp. 64–66 [in part]. BACK

[1] Southey is planning with Neville White, brother of the recently deceased poet Henry Kirke White, whose work he had brought to public notice, a posthumous edition. This was published as Remains of Henry Kirke White, of Nottingham, 2 vols (London, 1807). The prose pieces ‘Melancholy Hours’ appear in the second volume. BACK

[2] For this, see Southey to Neville White, 20 December 1806, Letter 1245. Henry Kirke White’s comments on Thalaba formed part of his article ‘Melancholy Hours, V’, in The Monthly Mirror, 16 (1803), 20–24. BACK

[3] Henry Thornton (1760–1815; DNB), banker and political economist, evangelical member of the Clapham sect, supporter of Hannah More’s Bristol Sunday schools, of Henry Kirke White, and chairman of the Sierra Leone company, in which capacity he clashed with, and in 1793 dismissed as colonial governor, Thomas Clarkson’s brother John (1764–1828; DNB). BACK

[4] Southey had edited the poetry of Thomas Chatterton (1752–1770; DNB) for a posthumous edition designed to benefit his living relatives: Southey and Joseph Cottle, The Works of Thomas Chatterton (1803). BACK

[5] Southey had favourably reviewed Henry Kirke White, Clifton Grove, a Sketch in Verse, with other Poems (1803) in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), pp. 552–554. He included the unfavourable review published in the Monthly for February 1804 in the ‘Account of the Life of H. K. White’ that prefaced the Remains. He also included the letter vindicating Kirke White published in the March number of the Monthly. BACK

People mentioned

White, Henry Kirke (1785–1806) (mentioned 4 times)
Clarkson, Thomas (1760–1846) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)