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

1997. Robert Southey to John Murray, 13 December 1811 ⁠* 

Keswick Dec. 13. 1811.

My dear Sir

Thank you for that beautiful volume upon Iceland. [1]  It arrived on Wednesday, & the larger parcel has made its appearance this evening. You can never send me too many books upon any subject on which I am to write, respecting the Poor however, it seems that you have been forming one plan & I another. My original intention was to take the Reports of the Bettering Society for the text, & show what actually had been done & was doing towards lessening the evils of humanity in this country. – a set off on the part of the true reformers against those who ought to be called reformists. The subject is certainly, as you have felt it to be, materially connected with the general state of the Poor, – but I am inclined to think it may be better to treat it distinctly, & form two essays. [2]  This however I shall see by the time I have gone thro Sir F. M. Edens work. [3] 

Respecting school-books, – for those which are merely initiatory, not a thought concerning them ever past across my mind, – but I have thought of a work, & talked about it with Dr Bell & the Bishop of Meath, [4]  which if it were executed according to my second sight, might bid fair for admission into schools. The plan is this, to describe first the religions of our British, Roman & Saxon ancestors, & the consequences resulting from their respective systems, – being the {temporal} evils from which our conversion to Christianity redeemed us. 2d. a view of Popery with its consequences, – from which the Reformation delivered us. 3dly. a picture of Puritanism rampant from which the re-establishment of the Church rescued us. 4th. a picture of Methodism, from which the Church protects us. Summing up the whole with an account of what the Church is, how it acts upon us, & how inseparably it is connected with the best interests of the country. [5]  – The whole to form one little volume, the shorter the better, perfectly clear to a childs capacity, that is a child of 12 or 14 years of age, – but as satisfactory as I could make it to minds perfectly mature; – & to be carried home to the heart by biographical sketches, – for which I suppose this Book of Martyrs [6]  has been sent me as materials.

There might be a companion work upon our civil history, – the one might be called the Book of the Church, the other the Book of the Constitution. [7]  Two such books if they could pu be put into the hands of the rising generation, would go far towards inspiring that ardent & devoted patriotism of which the ancients had so much, & we have so little, – because no means are taken to create it. I hardly know any thing of more importance than to impress upon the heart as well as the understandings of the people this knowledge of what we have been, & what we are.

These works ought not to employ much time, but I much doubt whether I could find time for them, – for I have an over love of research, – of reading every thing which relates to the subject before me: & for every work great or little which I have executed, I have always laid in xx a great superabundance of materials. – It has often happened {to me} to spend hours in acquiring knowledge, – the whole apparent pursuit of which has been a single line – or even a single epithet.

I am finishing off the Dragon, with I hope a blow as fatal as Moore of Moore-Halls xxx well-placed kick proved to the Dragon of Wantley. [8]  You will convey the proofs to Dr B. that we may be sure no error in points of fact or date may escape me.

believe me my dear Sir

Yrs very truly

R Southey.


* Address: To/ Mr Murray/ Fleet Street/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 16 DE 16/ 1811
Watermark: shield/ 1806
Endorsement: 1811 Decr 13th/ Southey. R.
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 42550
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Sir George Steuart Mackenzie (1780–1848; DNB), Travels in the Island of Iceland, in the Summer of the Year 1810 (1811); reviewed by Southey alongside Sir William Jackson Hooker (1785–1865; DNB), Journal of a Tour in Iceland, in the Summer of 1809 (1811), Quarterly Review, 7 (March 1812), 48–92. Southey’s copy of Mackenzie – which had some coloured plates and marbled leaves – was no. 1654 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[2] The first of a series of Southeyan articles on the poor, which appeared in the Quarterly Review, 8 (December 1812), 319–356, was intended as ‘an attack upon Malthus’, amongst others; see Southey to Charles Danvers, 5 January 1813, Letter 2199. 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

[3] Sir Frederick Morton Eden, 2nd Baronet (1766–1809; DNB), The State of the Poor, or, An History of the Labouring Classes in England from the Conquest to the Present Period; in which are Particularly Considered their Domestic Economy with Respect to Diet, Dress, Fuel, and Habitation; and the Various Plans which, from Time to Time, have been Proposed and Adopted for the Relief of the Poor, first published in three volumes in 1797. BACK

[4] Thomas Lewis O’Beirne (1747–1823; DNB), Bishop of Meath 1798–1823. The son of a County Longford farmer, he had been educated for the Catholic priesthood, but converted to Protestantism and became a Church of Ireland clergyman. He had been a well-known Whig, but by 1811 he was increasingly conservative and a defender of the Church of Ireland. BACK

[5] An early plan for what became the Book of the Church (1824). BACK

[6] Presumably an edition of John Foxe’s (1516/17–1587; DNB) Acts and Monuments (1563); widely known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Southey owned an edition of 1684, no. 975 in the sale catalogue of his library. The new edition was possibly that published in 1811 by John Malham (1747–1821; DNB), clergyman and writer. BACK

[7] The ‘Book of the Constitution’ was not written. BACK

[8] The seventeenth century parody of medieval romance ‘The Dragon of Wantley’, in which the knight More of More Hall fights and kills the dragon with a well-placed ‘kick on the ….’; see Thomas Percy (1729–1811; DNB), Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, 3 vols (London, 1765), III, pp. 277–286 (esp. 285). BACK

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August 2013