1569. Robert Southey to Neville White, 20 January 1809

1569. Robert Southey to Neville White, 20 January 1809 ⁠* 

Keswick. January 20. 1809.

My dear Neville,

I am the most punctual of men in replying to a letter of business; but when a letter of luxury (as it may be called) is to be written, it is so often deferred till a more convenient season, that what would at first have been a matter of pleasure is at last considered with the feeling of debt. Your last letter is five weeks old. I have during that time been absent from home three days. I have been invalided for a week by a cold, and something worse than invalided, after my recovery, by some of those little family sicknesses which bring with them more disquiet than is reasonable to one who is apt to be anxious overmuch upon such occasions.

You ask me whether you shall write again to ––? [1]  Better advice cannot be given upon that subject than what Henry gives you in one of his earliest letters. In this case I think the question entirely depends upon the pleasure which you derive from his correspondence. Mr. —, I believe, is a man not happy in his circumstances; and fits of irritation against you, or me, or anybody else, serve to divert a certain portion of uneasiness which is always fermenting in him, and which becomes more tolerable by finding its object abroad than at home. I respect his learning and his benevolence, and regard his infirmities of temper with pity, because they are symptomatic of what is still more to be pitied.

It is not by you, Neville, that a monument to your brother should be erected. His works are his monument, and you have done your part in preserving them. Leave it to others to do themselves honour by thus honouring him. He will, perhaps, have one at Nottingham before Chatterton has at Bristol. [2] 

My opinion respecting the affairs of Spain remains unshaken. Every blunder which it is possible to commit our ministry and our generals have committed, and, I suppose, will continue to commit: if, however, they will but (as Walter Scott says, in a letter which I lately received from him,) ‘fight on like mastives, – boldly, blindly, and faithfully,’ even that will do. [3]  We have only to keep the field till the Spaniards have been beaten with soldiers, as they were at Buenos Ayres; [4]  they are a slow nation, but of unconquerable perseverance. Meantime, the temporary success of Bonaparte will end in good, because he is abolishing the Inquisition, and other grievances, which it might not have been easy for the Patriotic Government to abolish, but which certainly they will not renew.

That ‘Life of Sydney’ is indeed a meagre book. [5]  I have been reviewing it very gently, because, as we are never compelled either to buy a book or to read one, the public ought to be obliged to every person who takes the pains to write even a bad one for their use, provided there be no evil in it. Dr. Z. is a bigot in all things; there is nothing so pestilential to my feelings as the fog of bigotry in which all our cathedral establishments are enveloped. Enthusiasm has the glory of the sun to kindle up mists and clouds with beauty; fanaticism has thunders, and lightning, and meteors in its darkness; but bigotry, especially that which is found about deans and chapters, is like one of your London fogs. Dr. Z. is bigoted in his religion, bigoted in his politics, bigoted in his taste. His very admiration of Sydney is bigotry, for by his censure of the ‘Arcadia’ he proves that he has not the slightest perception of Sydney’s real excellence. [6] 

I have lately been much delighted with the ‘African Memoranda’ of Captain Beaver: it is the history of the disastrous settlement, Bulama, where Beaver himself did all that it was possible for man to do, and, I believe, more than it would have been possible for any other man in the world to have done. [7] 

At present I have a pretty frequent correspondence with the printers; for ‘Thalaba’ is reprinting at Edinburgh, [8]  and my ‘History of Brazil’ is in the press at London. [9]  I hope to finish my Hindoo poem early in the spring. [10]  I have also written for a Review, not yet published, nor even announced, and of which I do not yet know the name, a long vindication of the Baptist Mission in Bengal, which I am about to follow, in the succeeding numbers, with a view of the other missions to the South Seas, and to Africa. [11]  Remember me kindly to James.

Yours affectionately,

R. Southey.


* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856)
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 121–124. BACK

[1] Capel Lofft (1751–1824; DNB), Whig landed gentleman, lawyer and poet, notoriously testy of disposition. Lofft was the patron and editor of Robert Bloomfield (1766–1823; DNB), Kirke White and a number of other writers from poor backgrounds. He was a regular contributor to the Monthly Mirror. For further details, see Southey to Neville White, 28 November 1808, Letter 1545. BACK

[2] A statue to Chatterton’s memory was placed in St Mary Redcliffe churchyard, Bristol. A bronze bust of Kirke White is located in the colonnade of Nottingham castle. BACK

[3] Scott wrote to Southey: ‘Alas! we want everything but courage and virtue in this desperate contest. Skill, knowledge of mankind, ineffable unhesitating villany, combination of movement and combination of means, are with our adversary. We can only fight like mastiffs, boldly, blindly, and faithfully’; see Walter Scott to Robert Southey, 14 January 1809, The Letters of Sir Walter Scott, ed. Sir Herbert Grierson, 12 vols (London, 1932–1937), II, p. 151. BACK

[4] British invasions of the Spanish territories around the Río de la Plata took place between 1806 and 1807 when Spain was an ally of France. Buenos Aires was occupied by the British for 46 days in 1806 before they were forced to retreat; in 1807 another British force was repulsed when the citizens defended their town from rooftops and behind barricades. BACK

[5] Southey reviewed Thomas Zouch (1737–1815; DNB), Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Sir Philip Sydney (1808), in the Annual Review for 1808, 7 (1809), 224–235. BACK

[6] Sir Philip Sidney (1554–1586; DNB), The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia (1590). BACK

[7] Philip Beaver (1766–1813; DNB), naval officer, who in 1791 participated in a scheme for colonizing the island of Bulama, near Sierra Leone. The scheme failed and he returned in 1794, publishing his Bulama experiences in African Memoranda (1805). BACK

[8] The second edition of Southey’s poem Thalaba the Destroyer (1801) was published in 1809. It was printed by James Ballantyne. BACK

[9] The first volume of Southey’s History of Brazil was published in 1810. The printer was William Pople. BACK

[10] The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[11] Southey reviewed the Periodical Accounts Relative to the Baptist Missionary Society (published from 1794); [John Scott-Waring (1747–1819; DNB)], Vindication of the Hindoos from the Aspersions of the Reverend Claudius Buchanan, M.A. With a Refutation of the Arguments Exhibited in his Memoir, on the Expediency of an Ecclesiastical Establishment for British India, and the Ultimate Civilization of the Natives, by their Conversion to Christianity… By a Bengal Officer (1808); Thomas Twining (1776–1861; DNB), A Letter to the Chairman of the East India Company, on the Danger of Interfering in the Religious Opinions of the Natives of India; and on the Views of the British and Foreign Bible Society, as Directed to India (1807), in the Quarterly Review, 1 (February 1809), 193–226. Periodical Accounts of the Baptist Missionary Society, Quarterly Review, 1 (February 1809), 193–226. He also reviewed Transactions of the Missionary Society in the South Sea Islands, in the Quarterly Review, 2 (August 1809), 24–61, but a review by Southey of the African missions was never written. BACK

People mentioned

White, Henry Kirke (1785–1806) (mentioned 2 times)
Scott, Walter (1771–1832) (mentioned 1 time)
Ballantyne, James (1772–1833) (mentioned 1 time)
White, James (1787–1885) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Keswick (mentioned 1 time)