1986. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 20 November 1811 

Printer-friendly versionSend by email
The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 4: 1810-1815

1986. Robert Southey to William Taylor, 20 November 1811 ⁠* 

Keswick. Nov. 20. 1811.

My dear Wm Taylor

Whichever of us may have last written to the other, there is a long chasm in our never-very-frequent correspondence, for which, I, for one, take my full share of shame, & hereby offer atonement. – Your last letter told me that you had not received Kehama; [1]  since that time I trust that it has reached you, because by my account with the publishers it appears to have been sent.

Among the new acquaintance whom I made in London was Butler the Catholick whom you know. A man of singularly gentle mind & manners, but neither in intellect nor in knowledge answerable to the his reputation, nor to the opinion which I had been led to form of him. Upon some parts of the history of his own church, on which I expected to acquire information from him, I was disappointed to discover how much less he knew than I did myself. I dined with him, enjoyed his claret, coveted some of his books, & came away believing him to be a thoroughly amiable man, & apparently a very happy one. – He gave me his life of Fenelon, [2]  & the note upon Quietism which he has smuggled into private circulation. What must his opinion be of his own church when he could feel it necessary, or at least prudent, t not to appear publicly as the author of such any thing so harmless! He also made me read his uncle Alban Butler’s account of the Stigmata of St Francis; [3]  – a point upon which any Catholick may be crucified in argument. His favourite dream is of a reunion of the Church. Two things I conceive must precede this measure, – St Pierres perpetual xxxx perpetual peace, [4]  – & a universal language. [5]  The perpetual peace I do not believe to be unattainable, – the others hardly seem desirable & may fairly be xxx supposed impossible.

Your life of Fransham [6]  amused & interested me much, – yet in most points I held with your opponent. [7]  Nor do I by any means assent to those principles of biography which you lay down in your defence. My way as a biographer is to account for the actions of men by their own principles, & represent them as the persons represented themselves to themselves, – but in judging them to stand aloof, & measure the action by my own rule of right.

If you have seen my Register for 1809 you will have seen that the Burdettites have cured me of all wish for Parliamentary Reform, at least for any reform of their making, or after their fashion. [8]  I am thinking of an Essay in the Quarterly upon the means of bettering the condition of Society, which will be a set off of the Reformers x versus the Reformists. [9]  In the last number I had an article upon the New System of Education, from which all the stings were drawn before it went to the Press. I am enlarging it for seperate publication, with an epistle dedicatory to the Editor of the Edinburgh Review. [10]  It will convict that Review of gross & wilful falsehood. Brougham it seems is the man whom the Lord hath thus delivered into my hands, & the Devil shall not deliver him out of them. [11]  It will be a heavier blow to the Review than that which they have received from Copplestone, [12]  inasmuch as this goes directly to the moral or rather immoral principle upon which it is conducted, – the principle of lying point-blank whenever it serves their purpose. – I have drawn up an abstract of the New System, as clearly & compendiously as possible, showing also what elementary works are wanting to adapt its practice to classical schools, the principle applying equally to all schools, – this I have sent to Cadiz, to my good correspondent there, who applied to me upon the subject, the Cortes being about to takes measures for providing national instruction for the future.

Gooch has been with me, he made a shorter stay than I wished, & could he have staid longer his time would not have been unprofitably spent. Gooch is one of those men whom I liked at first sight, – & the more I know him the higher he stands in my opinion. You probably know that Harry, being naturally enough disposed to remove from Durham, means to try his fortune in London, at the west end of the town. I rather dissuaded him from it, but think he will be succesful.

I was fortunate enough to get my brother Tom promoted at last. It was done by Percevals interference, – & in the course of the business I was led to an acquaintance with Croker, a man of pleasant manners, lively talents, & remarkable quickness. The manner in which Jeffray speaks of the Battle of Talavera, in his reviewal of Scotts Vision, is a good specimen of the honesty of Jeffrays criticism. [13]  – And this reminds me of my own poem Pelayo, [14]  – from which, if there were room, I would send you a passage which forms a most curious parallel with a part of Scotts. forms a most curious parallel with a part of Scotts

In the course of the winter I shall have some volumes of Omniana [15]  to send you.

God bless you



* Address: To/ Wm Taylor Junr Esqr/ Norwich
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: Ansd 10 Dec
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4868
Previously published: J. W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), II, pp. 346–349. BACK

[1] The Curse of Kehama (1810); Taylor to Southey, 2 February 1811, J. W. Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), II, pp. 343–346 (344). BACK

[2] Butler’s Life of Fenelon: Archbishop of Cambray (1810). This was a biography of Francois de Salignac de la Mothe-Fenelon (1651–1715), a French Archbishop and theologian who had defended Quietism – the doctrine that the soul can be absorbed in the divine by withdrawing from worldly interests and passively contemplating God. Quietism had been definitively condemned as heretical by the bull Coelestis Pastor of 1687, hence Butler’s nervousness about expressing his views on the matter. BACK

[3] Alban Butler (1709–1773; DNB), Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and other Saints (1759), section on ‘St Francis of Assisium’, 4 October, told how in 1224 stigmata appeared on the saint’s body: ‘the marks of the nails began to appear in his hands and feet, resembling those he had seen in the vision of the man crucified. His hands and feet seemed bored through in the middle with four wounds, and these holes appeared to be pierced with nails of hard flesh; the heads were round and black, and were seen in the palms of his hands, and in his feet on the upper part of the instep. The points were long, and appeared beyond the skin on the other side, and were turned back as if clenched with a hammer. There was also in his right side a red wound, like one made by the piercing of a lance; out of which there often issued blood, so as to stain the saint’s tunic and drawers … there miraculous wounds were seen by several during the two years which he survived … and by great multitudes after his death; and the proofs of the fact are incontestable’. BACK

[4] An idea for establishing peace over a defined area (ideally the whole world) propagated by the French writer and radical Charles-Irénée Castel, Abbé de Saint-Pierre (1658–1743). BACK

[5] The much touted, and equally much ridiculed, idea for a language spoken by all. BACK

[6] ‘Memoir of the Life of the late John Fransham, the Norwich Polytheist’, Monthly Magazine, 31 (May 1811), 342–348. Fransham (bap. 1730, d. 1810; DNB) was a scholar and teacher with a reputation for eccentricity. Southey, who had a marked taste for the eccentric, undoubtedly enjoyed the anecdotes about Fransham’s unusual dress, taste in food, conduct and beliefs. The latter included a fear of being buried alive: ‘he repeatedly desired, that his body should be laid before a fire, that wine should be offered to his lip, and that the arm of a woman clasped about his neck, before he was given up as irrecoverable’ (348). BACK

[7] Taylor’s portrayal of Fransham’s views on religion had been critiqued by ‘Christianus’ in ‘Remarks on the Biographer of Fransham’s Assertions respecting the Advantages of Infidelity’, Monthly Magazine, 31 (July 1811), 518–519: ‘Had he impartially examined the New Testament … he could not have considered Christianity and cruelty as synonimous terms’ (519). Taylor’s reply, ‘Biographer of Fransham, in reply to Christianus’, Monthly Magazine, 32 (September 1811), 117–119, set out his principles for ‘biographic writing’: ‘By whatever opinions a given individual was influenced, from the point of view which those opinions indicate, his conduct should be surveyed. The biographer ought to climb upon the same standing, and to take the same regard of men and things and thoughts, which the departed spirit took’ (117). Christianus replied in Monthly Magazine, 32 (December 1811), 452–453, pushing home his point that Taylor’s ‘Life’ was ‘an attack upon Christianity’ (452) and refuting his charge of ‘the want of moral courage in Christians’ (453). BACK

[8] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1809, 2.1 (1811), 282–294. This described would-be reformers as anti-patriotic for distracting government attention from the pressing need at hand ‘to abate the power of France’ and argued for would-be reformers to bring forward ‘practicable plans’ which the ministry could cooperate with: ‘the poor laws and the penal laws require revision, and means are still desired to prevent the necessity of pressing for the navy’ (293). BACK

[9] The first of a series of Southeyan articles on the poor appeared in the Quarterly Review, 8 (December 1812), 319–356. It was republished in an expanded, retitled form as ‘On the State of the Poor, the Principle of Mr. Malthus’ Essay on Population, and the Manufacturing System’ in Southey’s Essays, Moral and Political, 2 vols (London, 1832), I, pp. 75–155. BACK

[10] Southey’s defence of Andrew Bell’s educational system over Joseph Lancaster’s, Quarterly Review, 6 (August 1811), 264–304. This formed the basis of his The Origin, Nature, and Object, of the New System of Education (1812). The latter was not dedicated to Jeffrey, though it contained many swipes at him and Brougham. BACK

[11] Southey’s The Origin, Nature and Object, of the New System of Education (London, 1812), pp. 153–180 castigated the article ‘The Education of the Poor’, Edinburgh Review, 17 (November 1810), 58–88, for its condemnation of Andrew Bell as a plagiarist and an Anglican bigot. The author of the article was Brougham, though he was not named by Southey. BACK

[12] Edward Copleston had engaged in a prolonged public debate with the Edinburgh. His A Reply to the Calumnies of the Edinburgh Review against Oxford (Oxford, 1810), reacted to an attack on ‘classical learning as currently taught in England’, Edinburgh Review, 15 (October 1809), 40–53. Copleston noted in response that no one would ‘apply to the Edinburgh Review for information about the Classics’ (Reply, p. 118). For the reviewers’ reaction see Edinburgh Review, 16 (April 1810), 158–187. Copleston followed up with A Second Reply to the Edinburgh Review (1810) and A Third Reply to the Edinburgh Review (1811). BACK

[13] Scott’s Vision of Don Roderick (1811), appraised in Edinburgh Review, 18 (August 1811), 379–392. This highlighted a ‘decidedly vulgar’ passage in the Vision, adding that ‘if Mr Scott had never written any thing better, his poetical reputation would not at this moment have stood much higher than that of the author of the Battles of Talavera’ (388). The ‘author’ was Croker, whose The Battles of Talavera, first published in 1809 had gone into nine editions by 1812. Southey was also undoubtedly stung by Jeffrey’s attack, in the same review (390–391 n.*) on ‘an ingenious person, who compiles what he calls the History of Europe for the Edinburgh Annual Register … The misfortune is, that his annual volume is rather too long to be conveniently read through within the year’. Southey was the ‘ingenious person’ in question. BACK

[14] The early incarnation of Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[15] Omniana, or Horae Otiosiores (1812). BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013