1633. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 22 May 1809

1633. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 22 May 1809 ⁠* 

Monday. May 22. 1809

My dear Tom

My last letter told you of Herberts danger & of his recovery. You will be a little shocked at the intelligence in this. We lost Emma yesterday night. five days ago she was in finer health than we had ever seen her, & I repeatedly remarked it, – for a day or two she had been ailing – on Saturday night breathed shortly & was evidently ill, – yesterday morning was violently sick, & tho she discharged a prodigious quantity of bile by vomiting, was not relieved. Edmondson repeatedly saw her, – thought her better at ten o clock, & assured us he saw no danger, – in half an hour she literally fell asleep without a struggle. – Edith is as well as should be expected, & I perhaps better. You know how I take tooth-ache & tooth drawing, & I have almost learnt to bear moral pain, – not indeed with the same levity, – but with as few outward & visible signs. In fact God be praised thanked for it, there never was a man more who had more entirely set his heart upon things permanent & eternal as I have done; the transitoriness of every thing here is always present to my feelings as well as my understanding, – were I to speak as sincerely of my family as Wordsworths little girl, my story that I have five children, – three of them at home, – & two under my Mothers care in Heaven.  [1]  No more of this, – & to convince you that I am not more unhappy than I profess, I will fill up this sheet, – instead of sending you a mere annotation of this xxx loss. – It is well you left her xxx such an infant, – for you are thus spared some sorrow.

Ballantyne has just sent me a present of Campbells new poem, [2]  & included the last Edinburgh Review in the parcel. They have taken occasion there under cover of a Methodists book to attempt an answer to my Missionary Defence, [3] xxxxx xx xx they are very angry & have made wretched work of it. I hear from all quarters that this article of mine has excited much notice & produced considerable effect. I had the great advantage of being in earnest, as well as thoroughly understanding the subject. Sidney Smith the Ed. Reviewer knew nothing of Hindoo history except what newspapers & pamphlets had taught him, & tho he is a Reverend & publishes Sermons believes no more of Xtianity than he can help. I heartily believe as much as I like, – he dare not disbelieve as much as he would fain do: – no wonder therefore that I should have the upper hand of such a man in the argument.

Campbells poem [4]  has disappointed his friends – Ballantyne tells me. It is however better than I expected except in story which is altogether meagre. This gentleman also, who is one of Wordsworths abusers has been nibbling at imitation, & palpably borrowed from the two poems of Ruth & the Brothers. [5]  Tis amusing enough to see how the race of borrowers upon all occasions xxx abuse us who do not borrow, – the main topic against me is that I do not imitate Virgil in my story, Pope in my language &c &c –

Scott is still detained in London, & this will prevent me from going with him to Edinburgh, – for Miss Betham is to be here as early in June as I can get her to come, & Charles of Antwerp with David Jardine during the midsummer holydays. Indeed if these engagements had not existed I could not have left home now, for Edith will find it melancholy enough for some time to come with me, & without me it would be worse. Herbert thank God seems well, – seems is all one dares say – of all precarious things there is nothing so precarious as life. – You would have been delighted with your eldest niece if you could have seen the sorrow she was in this morning, – for fear her mother should die for grief, – & then she said she should die too – & then her Pappa would die for grief about her – Just now Tom, – it might have been happier for you & I if we had gone to bed as early as John & Eliza, [6]  – a hundred years hence the advantage will be on our side. We shall see what they have seen – & have tough stories to tell them about what they have escaped seeing. My notions about life are much the same as they are about travelling, – there is a good deal of amusement on the road, – but after all one wants to be at rest. Evils of this kind – if they may be called evils – soon cure themselves, – the wound smarts, – in a little while it heals, & if the scar did not sometimes renew the recollection of the smart it would perhaps be forgotten.

My history gets on. [7]  the proof before me reaches to page 336. I look at it with great pleasure. Whether I may live to complete the series of works which I have projected & in good part executed, God only knows – be that as it may, in what is done I shall, to the best of my power, have on all occasions enforced good opinions upon those subjects which are of most importance to mankind.

God bless you. It is long since I have heard from you – what can you be cruising after? Things go on well in Spain, & will go on better when the Wellesleys get there. – once more God bless you



* Address: To/ Lieutenant Southey/ H. M. S. Dreadnought/ Plymouth Dock
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 47890. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 233–236 [with omissions]. BACK

[1] See Wordsworth’s poem ‘We Are Seven’, in Lyrical Ballads. BACK

[2] Thomas Campbell, (1777–1844; DNB), published Gertrude of Wyoming in 1809. BACK

[3] When Sydney Smith (1771–1845; DNB), one of the founders of and leading contributors to the Edinburgh Review reviewed the activities of British missionaries in India negatively, Southey opposed his views in the Quarterly Review. Smith’s review of ‘Ingram on Methodism’ appeared in the Edinburgh Review, 11 (January 1808), 341–362, and he reviewed ‘Indian Missions’ in the next volume: 12 (April 1808), 151–181. In in the Quarterly Review, 1 (February 1809), 193–226, 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 his turn, Smith responded in ‘Styles on Methodists and Missions’, in the Edinburgh Review, 14 (April 1809), 40–50. BACK

[4] See note 3. BACK

[5] ‘Ruth’ and ‘The Brothers’ were published in the second edition of Lyrical Ballads (1800). BACK

[6] Southey’s siblings who died young. BACK

[7] The first volume of Southey’s The History of Brazil was published in 1810. BACK

People mentioned

Wordsworth, William (1770–1850) (mentioned 2 times)
Ballantyne, John (1774–1821) (mentioned 2 times)
Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 2 times)
Southey, Eliza (1776–1779) (mentioned 1 time)
Jardine, David (1794–1860) (mentioned 1 time)
Southey, Herbert (1806–1816) (mentioned 1 time)
Wellesley, Arthur (1769–1852) (mentioned 1 time)
Southey, Emma (1808–1809) (mentioned 1 time)
Scott, Walter (1771–1832) (mentioned 1 time)