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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 4: 1810-1815

1977. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, [c. 4 November 1811] ⁠* 

My dear Tom

I am afraid the Voyage [1]  of yours is rather of too old a date to prove a saleable commodity, in any other shape than for Pinkertons Collection, [2]  – where it would occupy very little space & be very ill paid for. – from 20 to 30 £ perhaps, – which to be sure is rather at a better rate than my payment for the Cid, [3]  – & I have no doubt more than could be got by it as a separate publication upon my usual terms. – You must have Vancouver [4]  to compare with it, & as I want the book, (which is to be had cheap) I will order it to be sent you, together with the two years Registers, [5]  which you have not yet had. We will overhaul your translation when you take a run here at Xmas, as I hope you will do.

Do not be surprized if you get a square frank. Knowing your industry, & greatly admiring your manuscripts, I accepted an offer of that other Spanish manuscript for transcription, which you did not transcribe last winter, – as a pretty employment for you this, – the Argentina – Take it leisurely, & think of the figure it is to make upon my shelf, among the Magnificos, itself the greatest magnifico of all. [6] 

I am a little vexed that you should have been so compleatly duped by the misrepresentation of Dr Bells system, & – I am now enlarging my article into a pamphlett, [7]  – because of all the villainous cases which have ever come within my knowledge, it is one of the most impudent; & because the system itself, which I perfectly understand, is not understood by any person whom I have ever heard speak of the subject, & is the most beautiful & important discovery which has been made since printing was invented. The importance of the principle can only be equalled by the beauty of the system, which as perfect in all its parts, & renders education as certain as a science. Dr Bell has been in Keswick these three weeks. I have seen the very bottom of his heart, – & except Clarkson I never saw that man for whom I had a higher veneration, or a more thorough esteem. My pamphlett will be as decisive as Douglas’s refutation of Lauder; [8]  – the question is not an affair of opinion, – it rests depends upon recorded, dated & authenticated facts, – with proof at every step which would be admitted in a Court of Justice. – It will be the heaviest blow which the Edinburgh Review has ever received, for I shall convict the reviewer of direct & wilful falsehood. [9]  The Lord hath delivered him into my hands. [10]  I mean to address it in an epistle dedicatory to the Editor of that Review, – which as John Thelwall says will be as keen as his grandfathers razor. [11]  – The case is so perfectly clear when it is understood, so palpable & undeniable, that you will be sorry for the vehemence with which you have taken up an {your} opinion upon such insufficient evidence.

I got my answer from Ballantyne at last, couched in proper terms of apology. The next volume [12]  is now taken in hand, & a weary long work it will be, – but I shall curtail the debates as much as possible, – taking advantage of the objection which has been made to the extent of my last years labours. I curtail it now, – but it will be only the debates that I shall retrench, – every thing else as much or in detail as my authorities enable me to give it. Jeffray has given a striking proof of his honesty towards me in the last number of the Review. [13]  You may remember that when my first years history appeared, he, (not suspecting who was the author) went into Ballantynes shop, which he had never entered before, {for the} especi[MS torn] purpose of delivering his opinion upon the book, – which he pronounced to be liberal, spirited & independent, – the best piece of contemporary history which had been published for 20 years, – tho he differed from the writer in many & indeed most of his opinions. This he year he knew that xxx I was the author, – & now no phrase of contempt is too strong for it. It has made that party so angry, that he attacks it in one note, & Brougham in another. This attack on the part of Brougham I am glad of, because xx my Uncles acquaintance with him had previously made me a little sorry when I learnt it was he who had so slandered Dr Bell. [14]  His act of hostility has now preceded mine, & woe be to him.

I have sent over a xxxx succinct account of the Madras System to Abella. Last night Dr Bell received an official letter saying that the Prince Regent by the D of Yorks [15]  desire had given orders that every regiment sho in the service should have one of its Sergeants appointed schoolmaster to the children & requesting him to form as clear & precise a manual of instruction for this purpose as possible. –

Our love to Sarah & a kiss to my niece. – They get on slowly with Madoc & J of Arc. [16]  Kehama [17]  was shipt for London on the 2d – I wish he may not be shipwreckt on the way. – You shall have all the new editions together when they are ready.

God bless you



* Address: To/ Capt Southey. R. N./ St Helens/ Auckland/ Durham
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 47890
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Tom Southey was hoping to make some money by publishing a translation of a voyage narrative. BACK

[2] John Pinkerton (1758–1826; DNB), A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in All Parts of the World (1808–1814); no. 2335 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[3] The Chronicle of the Cid (1808). BACK

[4] George Vancouver (1757–1798; DNB), A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean (1798). BACK

[5] Edinburgh Annual Register for 1808 (1810) and 1809 (1811). BACK

[6] Ruy Diaz de Guzman (1558–1629), La Argentina, y Historia de las Descubrimento de las Provinicas de la Rio de la Plata (1612). The copy made by Tom Southey was no. 3836 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[7] The Origin, Nature, and Object of the New System of Education (1812), an expansion of Southey’s appraisal of the educational systems advocated by Andrew Bell and Joseph Lancaster, Quarterly Review, 6 (October 1811), 264–304. Southey had complained to John Murray about the ‘curtailment’ by the editors of his original article; Southey to John Murray 23 October 1811, Letter 1971. BACK

[8] John Douglas (1721–1807; DNB), whose Milton Vindicated from the Charge of Plagiarism (1751) had defended the author of Paradise Lost against the accusations of the forger William Lauder (c. 1710–1771; DNB). BACK

[9] Southey was enraged by the article in Edinburgh Review, 17 (November 1810), 58–88, which had criticised Andrew Bell and proclaimed Joseph Lancaster’s methods superior. BACK

[10] 1 Samuel, 23: 7. BACK

[11] John Thelwall, who had involved himself in a public dispute with Jeffrey in his Letter to Francis Jeffrey on Certain Calumnies and Misrepresentations in the ‘Edinburgh Review’ (1804) and Mr Thelwall’s Reply to the calumnies … contained in the anonymous Observations on his letter to the editor of the Edinburgh Review (1804). Southey cites a verse attack on Jeffrey and his associates, ‘The Critical Shaver. A New Song’, which Thelwall claimed had been sent to him by the author (whose name he did not know) in the aftermath of his 1804 dispute: ‘Oyes! all good people of every degree,/ Scotch, English, and Irish, come listen to me,/ While I chaunt, so sublimely, in verse analytic,/ To the praise and the glory of Jeffrey the critic.// The Prince of Reviewers is Jeffrey, by jingo!/ Who damns authors by wholesale in horrible lingo,/ And hears the poor devils so dismally groan,/ With a heart that’s as hard – as his grandpapa’s hone.// Then he writes for amusement, nor pockets a boadle;/ So gratis he fractures poor Priscian’s noddle./ But as to his wit! a good wager I’d lay sir,/ ’Tis as keen as his grandpapa’s razor.// For whatever pilgarlicks (or pig-tail or crop)/ This shaver so dextrous lugs into his shop,/ Of Brough’m his mad ’prenctice becoming the butt,/ Like his grandpapa’s customer’s – sorely they’re cut.// To cure the itinerant Thelwall of roaming,/ He gave his black locks a right barberous combing,/ Till the froth and cold sweat stood the Orator’s face on,/ Like – the lather that foams in his grandpapa’s bason.// But Thelwall, provok’d by this villainous shock,/ Started up in a passion and kick’d down the block,/ And bestirr’d him so nimbly – that, ’spite of their bloods,/ Both Jeff and his ’prentice were left in the suds.// Now invoke, O ye authors! on Thelwall a blessing,/ For giving this brace of barberians a dressing./ And may prigs who vend malice in critical barter,/ Like Jeff, cut their fingers, – by catching a Tartar.’; see Thelwall’s Selections (Newcastle, n.d.), pp. 7–8. BACK

[12] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1810 (1812). BACK

[13] A long aside (attributed by Southey to Brougham) in the Edinburgh Review, 18 (August 1811), 420–423n, had questioned whether the ‘virulent personal abuse … levelled at the most respectable members of the Legislature’ in the Edinburgh Annual Register was in breach of Parliamentary privilege and hinted that action against the author and publishers might be taken. The Register’s criticism of Sir John Moore (1761–1809; DNB) was also berated (by Jeffrey, according to Southey) at Edinburgh Review, 18 (August 1811), 391. BACK

[14] Edinburgh Review, 17 (November 1810), 58–88. BACK

[15] Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1763–1827; DNB), who had been reappointed as commander-in-chief of the British army in May 1811. BACK

[16] A third edition of Madoc and a fourth of Joan of Arc appeared in 1812. BACK

[17] The third edition of The Curse of Kehama, published in 1812. BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2013