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

2039. Robert Southey to John Murray, 15 February 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick. Feby. 15. 1812.

My dear Sir

Respecting Charles Lamb nothing can be done but to expunge the allusion when the number is reprinted; – this will prove that it was unintended, & I will let him know that it has given you & the writer more pain than it can possibly have given him. [1] 

I have read the Letter [2]  which is here returned, with some sorrow. The evening that the Commentary reached me I wrote [3]  to L. (being certain that he was the author) telling him I could not lay my head in peace upon the pillow if I did not urge him to strike out some certain passages, – & by the next post I pointed out, not all which were objectionable to my own feelings, but those which appeared to me most likely to wound others, or to produce any inconvenience to himself. The actionable parts as I imagine are p. iii about withholding supplies, [4]  – the language applied to Lord Chatham, [5]  & to Fellowes. [6]  I objected to what was said of Croker as in every respect wrong, [7]  – to the mention of Lord Riversdale, [8]  & the story of Kett. [9]  It would not surprize me if he should resolve in anger to suppress the whole. Had he given me a hint of this intended publication I would have begged him to let me see the manuscript; any comments upon it in that state would have availed more, because there would have been no inconvenience in attending to them. Now they will vex & perhaps for that reason irritate him, – because anger is the easiest way of throwing off vexation, or at least of disguising it. Yet I have too good an opinion of him, & believe that he has too good a one of me, – to expect that this will be the case. L. is a man of most ungoverned mind, with an excellent heart, classical attainments which are not to be surpassed, & a strength of genius to which Count Julian [10]  bears witness: – but in his life as in his Commentary there is a want of self-government; – do not understand this as implying that he is a vicious debauched man – far from it, – it is that sort of imprudence which the Commentary so strikingly displays, – feeling strongly, acting upon light grounds, & speaking with a fearless sincerity, which becomes very dangerous when it is not sufficiently influenced by fore thought. I thought him greatly sobered when I saw him in August last, – but this is a proof to the contrary. He is one of the men As soon as the reviewal of the Iceland-travels [11]  is compleated I shall begin upon his Tragedy, many parts of which are above the pitch of any other living writer. [12]  I feel this, who never effect to undervalue myself.

Thank you for Rodds book. [13]  it will furnish a very amusing article, especially if we can get Balbueñas poem of Bernado del Carpio. [14]  Coleridge is expected tomorrow. I shall endeavour to get from him a reviewal of Chalmerss Poets, [15]  – in such criticism you must know, if you have heard him lecture, that he is unequalled; & the thing will be far better in his hands than mine, – tho better I believe in mine than in those of any third person. – I am promised an article upon Miss Seward (as I mentioned to you in town) from Dr Lister, [16]  who means to send it here, before it is offered, & xxx {if} I understand him right, rather to offer me his materials, than to submit them in a finished form himself. – Gooch is a very able man, – one of the most promising xxx of my friends; – & capable of being a useful assistant in the Quarterly. [17]  No man is more likely to distinguish himself in literature as well as in his own profession.

You have a very water-gruel sort of article upon the Bible Society in a former number. [18]  I believe we had better let it rest. Marsh is strong enough to break the bones of all his antagonists; I have been reading his pamphlett this very afternoon & Clarkes most disgraceful reply to it, [19]  – that man must be as great a blockhead as his brother James Stanier of ponderous memory. [20]  This is Marshs position, – all sects ought to associate for distributing the Bible in foreign countries; – but at home it is the duty of the Church to accompany it with the Liturgy. Churchmen therefore ought to join a foreign Bible society, – but at home i.e. this very Society if it would confine itself to foreign distribution, – but if they act with it at home, they make a concession of principle, & what they yield the dissenters gain. This is very clear, – Marsh is a logical writer, & all his antagonists are mere children to him. But it would have been better not to have agitated the question, – & to have effected the proposed object in a quieter way by proposing a vote that the Church Members of the Society should add {have} the prayer book added to the Bible which they distribute. A little management might have effected this.

If you go on as in your last number you will run the Ed. down tho it should call in a dozen Mackintoshes [21]  to its help.

Yrs very truly

R Southey


Notes

* Address: To/ Mr Murray/ Fleet Street/ London.
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 18 FE 18/ 1812
Watermark: shield/ 1806
Endorsement: 1812 15 Feb/ Robt Southey Esqr
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 42550
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 28–30. BACK

[1] Gifford had described Lamb, in a review of John Ford (bap. 1586–1639x53?; DNB), as ‘a poor maniac’ for whom ‘every feeling mind will find an apology in his calamitous situation’, Quarterly Review, 6 (December 1811), 485. Gifford expressed both regret and ignorance of Lamb’s personal history; see his letter to Southey, 13 February 1813, Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), V, p. 151 n. *. BACK

[2] Landor’s Commentary on Memoirs of Mr Fox, which was printed by Murray in 1812, but suppressed. BACK

[3] See Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 12 February 1811, Letter 1870. BACK

[4] In Charles James Fox. A Commentary on His Life and Character, ed. Stephen Wheeler (London, 1907), p.7, Landor suggested that the British people could force their government to change its policies by refusing to pay taxes. BACK

[5] John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham (1756–1835; DNB), army officer and elder brother of the former prime minister William Pitt (1759–1806; DNB). The Commentary criticised his role in the ill-fated Walcheren expedition of 1809, Charles James Fox. A Commentary on His Life and Character, ed. Stephen Wheeler (London, 1907), p. 23. BACK

[6] In a tirade against ‘Reviewers and magazine-men, the linkboys and scavengers of literature’ Landor singled out Robert Fellowes (1770–1847; DNB): ‘Of late years, if any one had paid any attention to such people [reviewers] … one would imagine … that Aristotle only kept a box for Mr. Fellowes.// This reverent gentleman having settled religion to his mind, but unhappily … driven out from the poets, is retaliating on them as their judge. He writes, or did write, for I know not whether the work survives his hand, in The Critical Review; strange successor to the gentle, but high-minded Southey’, Landor, Charles James Fox. A Commentary on His Life and Character, ed. Stephen Wheeler (London, 1907), p. 146. Landor’s dislike of Fellowes had undoubtedly been fuelled by learning (from Southey) of the latter’s views on his poetry. Fellowes had observed in a letter to Seward of 1803 that: ‘The author of Gebir … has lately made another attempt to convey the waters of Helicon by leaden pipes, and many dark subterranean ways … having trod the dark profound of Gebir, I feel no inclination to begin another journey, which promises so little pleasure, and probably where only a few occasional flashes will enlighten the road’, Letters of Anna Seward: Written Between the Years 1784 and 1807, 6 vols (Edinburgh, 1811), V, p. 77 n. *. BACK

[7] Landor seems to have removed his comments on Croker. BACK

[8] William Tonson, 2nd Lord Riversdale (1775–1848). His father, William Tonson, 1st Lord Riversdale (1724–1787), was born William Hull and was probably the illegitimate son of the substantial Irish landowner, Robert Tonson (1695–1773). Landor had referred to the 1st Lord Riversdale as ‘the bastard of a scullion’; Charles James Fox. A Commentary on His Life and Character, ed. Stephen Wheeler (London, 1907), p. 90. BACK

[9] Henry Kett (1761–1825; DNB), Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford, and writer on education. Landor had encountered him during his time at Oxford. Kett features regularly in Landor’s satirical writings and the Commentary related an anecdote about his unprofessional, self-serving conduct; Charles James Fox. A Commentary on His Life and Character, ed. Stephen Wheeler (London, 1907), pp. 220–222. BACK

[10] Landor, Count Julian: A Tragedy (1812). It deals with similar subject-matter to Southey’s Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[11] 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. BACK

[12] Southey’s review of Count Julian appeared in Quarterly Review, 8 (September 1812), 86–92. BACK

[13] Thomas Rodd (1763–1822; DNB), bookseller, poet and translator. His History of Charles the Great and Orlando, and Other Spanish Ballads was published in 1812. BACK

[14] Manuel José Quintana (1772–1857), Spanish poet and man of letters had, in 1808, republished El Bernardo (1624), Bernardo de Balbuena’s (1564–1627) epic on the legendary Spanish hero Bernardo del Carpio, whose exploits included slaying the French paladin Roland at the battle of Roncesvaux (778). Southey did acquire a copy – it was no. 3175 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[15] Alexander Chalmers (1759–1834; DNB), The Works of the English Poets, from Chaucer to Cowper (1810). It was reviewed not by Coleridge, but by Southey in Quarterly Review, 11 (July 1814), 480–504; and Quarterly Review, 12 (October 1814), 60–90. BACK

[16] Thomas Lister (c. 1773–1828), of Armitage Park, Staffordshire. He was a lawyer and landowner, who, in his younger days, was a miscellaneous writer and protégée of Anna Seward. No article on Seward was published in the Quarterly Review at this time. BACK

[17] Gooch did become a very occasional contributor to the Quarterly. BACK

[18] Quarterly Review, 4 (August 1810), 68–80. Its author was John Ireland (1761–1842; DNB). BACK

[19] Herbert Marsh (1757–1839; DNB), cleric and biblical critic. He had preached a sermon at St Paul’s on 13 June 1811 that was critical of the interdenominational British and Foreign Bible Society (founded 1804) and urged that Anglicans should found their own Bible society. Southey had been reading the pamphlet form of the sermon, The National Religion the Foundation of National Education: A Sermon Preached in the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, London (1811). Its arguments were rebutted by Edward Daniel Clarke (1769–1822; DNB), A Letter to Herbert Marsh, D.D., F.R.S. … in Reply to Certain Observations Contained in His Pamphlet Relative to the British and Foreign Bible Society (1812). BACK

[20] The historian James Stanier Clarke (1765?-1834; DNB), of ‘ponderous memory’ because of his co-authorship of a biography of Lord Nelson (1758–1805; DNB) that weighed, so Southey estimated, some twenty pounds. BACK

[21] On his return to Britain from India in 1811, the writer and politician Sir James Mackintosh (1765–1832; DNB) had been courted by the Tories, but he was elected to Parliament in 1813 as MP for Nairn and became a leading spokesman for the Whigs. At the same time he began contributing to the Whig quarterly, the Edinburgh Review. BACK

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August 2013