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

2008. Robert Southey to Andrew Bell [fragment], 30 December 1811 ⁠* 

Keswick, December 30, 1811.

My dear Sir,

A letter of mine, [1]  which crossed yours [2]  upon the road, will have shown you that, however disposed I might be to inflict upon our enemies as severe a chastisement as they deserve, I was, nevertheless, ready to conform to the advice, or even inclination of others. Do not give me any credit for this. The fact is, that though, whenever I write, it is with all my heart, and with all my strength, I write too much and too variously to have any overweaning affection for what is written, especially in a case like this, where the object is, that the essay should do its work, not that I should gratify myself by any display of superiority. [3]  The question itself gave me that. You are right in your views and feelings; and I will pick out all which might counteract those views, as carefully as Jack did the embroidery from his father’s coat. … [4] 

They may have new falsehoods to advance, but can have no new arguments, and their irritation will only act as an emollient upon me, and teach me, by example, the great importance of appearing perfectly cool. As for the question itself, it is settled. The Dragon is now in the same state as the old serpent at Wantley – when Moore of Moore-Hall had given him the last fatal kick. [5]  His after-dinner speech at Dublin has completely exposed him. [6]  This was in vino veritas  [7]  – any thing rather than veritas. [8] 


Notes

* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Robert Southey, Caroline Southey and Charles Cuthbert Southey, The Life of the Rev. Andrew Bell, 3 vols (London, 1844)
Previously published: Robert Southey, Caroline Southey and Charles Cuthbert Southey, The Life of the Rev. Andrew Bell, 3 vols (London, 1844), II, pp. 653–654. BACK

[1] Southey to Andrew Bell, 27 December 1811, Letter 2005. BACK

[2] Andrew Bell to Robert Southey, 26 December 1811, Robert Southey, Caroline Southey and Charles Cuthbert Southey, The Life of the Rev. Andrew Bell, 3 vols (London, 1844), II, pp. 648–651. BACK

[3] Southey had expanded his earlier defence of Bell in Quarterly Review, 6 (August 1811), 264–304, into the book length, The Origin, Nature and Object, of the New System of Education (1812). Bell’s letter of 26 December 1811 had expressed concern that his case would be damaged if Southey employed ‘any degree of acrimony and severity of expression’. Instead he urged him to write in ‘the least offensive and most conciliatory style’; see The Life of the Rev. Andrew Bell, 3 vols (London, 1844), II, p. 650. Southey complied with Bell’s request; see Southey to John Murray [c. 30 December 1811], Letter 2009. BACK

[4] Jonathan Swift (1667–1745; DNB), A Tale of a Tub (1704), where Jack, representing the Reformer John Calvin (1509–1564), rips the embroidery out of his father’s coat (i.e. the Church) with excessive zeal. BACK

[5] 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

[6] Joseph Lancaster’s speech at a ‘DINNER given by the CATHOLICS OF IRELAND’ in Dublin was reported in The Times, 25 December 1811: ‘He [Lancaster] would tell … what no man in existence could impart but himself … He had often talked with the King of England, and in one of his conversations he contrived to know his sentiments upon Catholic Emancipation … he told him he was … but his coronation oath he thought would not allow him to do any thing for the Catholics; and he was concerned at it … He thought that this proof of conscience ought to be respected … He did not learn the circumstance from Courtier or Statesman, he had it from the King personally. He concluded by impressing the necessity of educating the youth of the country, and laying a good foundation for liberality of thought.’ Lancaster’s views would not have been shared by the King himself, as George III (1738–1820; King of the United Kingdom 1760–1820; DNB) was a known opponent of Catholic emancipation. BACK

[7] ‘In wine [there is] the truth’. BACK

[8] ‘The truth’. BACK

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August 2013