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

2004. Robert Southey to William Peachy, 26 December 1811 ⁠* 

Keswick. Dec. 26. 1811.

My dear Sir

I have to thank you for some excellent brawn, & Calvert, who is not more fond of writing than some of his neighbours, has requested me to convey his thanks also.

Mr Clark [1]  is daily expected back from the Isle of Man, where he has been for some weeks. As soon as he arrives your message with your direction shall be communicated to him.

Last night I received a singular & gratifying proof that in some of my late endeavours I have not altogether been labouring in vain. A circular letter was sent me from the Bristol Church of England Tract Society, [2]  – probably you may have heard of the Society & seen the letter, – the Society is founded for the purpose which I recommended in the Quarterly Review, when treating of the Methodists, [3]  & the letter in question, consists partly of my own words. If I were upon the spot I would attend the meetings of the Committee, & caution them against publishing Tracts too uninviting to be read, as the Society for the promotion of Xtian knowledge [4]  has sometimes done. Books designed for popular instruction wou must be written in a popular manner, & addressed as much to the feelings as to the understanding. If we would act upon men to any good purpose, we must win their attention first, & I am afraid that the Homilies & the writings of the Reformers are not suited to this purpose. The other publications which the Society proposes cannot fail of being useful, – I am only anxious that none of their funds should be misdirected in printing what is little likely to be read.

The specific object which I proposed in that reviewal, – that of making the people acquainted with the history of their own church, [5]  it is very likely that I shall attempt to accomplish, upon a plan which I communicated to Dr Bell, & he to the Bp. of Meath, [6]  & which they both urged me to execute. I want nothing but leisure for the task, & it will be some months before I can command that. My plan is briefly this, – to show 1st the what were the superstitions of the various nations from whom we are descended – the Britons, Romans & Northern Tribes, with the effect of those superstitions upon the manners & morals, – consequently upon the happiness of society, – these being the evils from which England was delivered by its conversion to Christianity. 2dly a picture of Popery & the evils from which the Reformation delivered us. 3dly Puritanism rampant & the evils from which the restoration of the church delivered us. – 4thly a picture of Methodism & the wilder sects, showing what the evils are from which the Church Establishment preserves us. Under the three first heads the history of the English Church would be included, with biographical sketches of all its greatest characters. – In the composition my aim would be so to write as to impress the feelings of the young, making every thing as level as possible to their capacity, in the manner, & as impressive as possible to their imagination, while the matter should stand the test of critical examination & satisfy the maturest judgement. I should call it, the Book of the Church, & (if I write it) shall not improbably accompany it with a Book of the Constitution [7]  for[MS torn] a similar plan. I am inclined to think that two such books if put into the hands of youth would tend to attach [MS torn] strongly to the institutions of their country, by making them understand [MS torn] love them.

The Ladies [8]  beg their remembrances, – so also does my brother the Captain, who has been with me for these few days past.

believe me my dear Sir

Yrs very truly

R Southey.


Notes

* Address: [deletions and readdress in another hand] To/ Colonel Peachy/ with Philip Miles/ Clifton House/ Bristol./ White Lion/ Bath/ Bath
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: [illegible]
MS: British Library, Add MS 28603
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Mr Clark: unidentified. He may have been a Keswick resident who was looking after Peachy’s affairs in the locality. BACK

[2] The object of the Bristol Church of England Tract Society, founded in 1811, was ‘to circulate in a cheap form, among the poor members of the Church of England, her Homilies, the Lives of their Reformers and Martyrs, Extracts from her Writings, and from the Publications of her Bishops; with such short Pieces illustrative of the primitive History, Constitution and Discipline of the Church, as the Committee may approve’; see The Christian Guardian (and Church of England Magazine), 4 (July 1812), 252. BACK

[3] In a review of Hints to the Public and the Legislature, on the Nature and Effect of Evangelical Preaching. By a Barrister (1809), in Quarterly Review, 4 (November 1810), 480–514. BACK

[4] The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge was the oldest Church of England mission society, founded in 1698. BACK

[5] An early idea for the Book of the Church (1824). BACK

[6] 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

[7] This was not written. BACK

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August 2013