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

2040. Robert Southey to James White, 16 February 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick, Feb. 16. 1812.

My dear James,

I was glad to hear from Neville that you were comfortably settled, and growing attached to college; and glad to hear afterwards from yourself that you begin to feel your ground. There is no part of my own life which I remember with so little pleasure as that which was passed at the university; not that it has left behind it any cause of self-reproach, but I had many causes of disquietude and unhappiness, — some imaginary, and some, God knows, real enough. And I cannot think of the place without pain, because of the men with whom I there lived in the closest intimacy of daily and almost hourly intercourse; those whom I loved best are dead, and there are some whom I never have seen since we parted there, and possibly never shall see more. It is with this feeling I believe, more or less, that every man who has any feeling always remembers college. Seven years ago I walked through Oxford on a fine summer morning, just after sunrise, while the stage was changing horses: I went under the windows of what had formerly been my own rooms; the majesty of the place was heightened by the perfect silence of the streets, and it had never before appeared to me half so majestic or half so beautiful. But I would rather go a day’s journey round than pass through that city again, especially in the day-time, when the streets are full. Other places in which I have been an inhabitant would not make the same impression; there is an enduring sameness in a university like that of the sea and mountains. It is the same in our age that it was in our youth; the same figures fill the streets, and the knowledge that they are not the same persons brings home the sense of change which is of all things the most mournful.

I see your name to the Bible Society, concerning which I have read Herbert Marsh’s pamphlet and Dr. Clarke’s reply. [1]  Marsh may possibly be fond of controversy, because he knows his strength. He is a clear logical writer, and in these days a little logic goes a great way, for of all things it is that in which the writers of this generation are most deficient. His reasoning is to me completely satisfactory as to these two points, – that where Christians of all denominations combine for the purpose either of spreading Christianity or distributing Bibles in other countries, the cause of the general church is promoted thereby; but that when they combine together at home, as that condition can only be effected by a concession on the part of the churchmen, by that concession the Church of England is proportionally weakened. Nothing can be clearer. But though the Margaret Professor [2]  is perfectly right in his views, and his antagonists are mere children when compared to him, I think he has been injudicious in exciting the controversy, because upon that statement of the case which his opponents will make, and which appears at first sight to be a perfectly fair one, everybody must conclude him to be in the wrong, and very few persons will take the trouble of looking farther. And I think his object might have been effected by a little management without much difficulty, — by an arrangement among the Church members of the Society that the Liturgy should be appended to the Bibles which they distributed at home, or by a Prayer-book Society. [3]  A man should be very careful how he engages in a controversy, in which, however right he may be, he is certain to appear wrong to the multitude; and he ought to be especially careful, when he thus exposes not his own character alone but that of the body to which he belongs. Besides, the mischief which Marsh perceives is not very great, because I apprehend that at least nine tenths of the business of B. Society relates to foreign countries. But I agree with him entirely as to the mischief that lurks under the name of liberality; by which is meant not an indulgence to the opinions of other communities, but an indifference to your own.

Do you attend the Divinity Lectures? Herbert Marsh is likely to be a good lecturer, being a thorough master of his subject, and a reasoner of the old school. [4] 

Give me a letter when you feel inclined; and believe me,

My dear James,

Your affectionate friend,

Robert Southey.


Notes

* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850)
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), III, pp. 327–330. BACK

[1] 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 read 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). In late 1811 the dispute spread to Cambridge, where students proposed forming an auxiliary group of the British and Foreign Bible Society. Marsh publicly opposed this in his Address to the Members of the Senate of the University of Cambridge (1811). The students gained support from Lord Hardwick (1757–1834; DNB) and the Duke of Gloucester (1776–1834; DNB), Chancellor of the University. The first meeting of their new society was a great success, and Marsh backed down. James White had clearly joined this new Cambridge bible society. BACK

[2] i.e. Marsh, who had been appointed of Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge in 1807. BACK

[3] A group of evangelical Anglicans went on to found the Prayer Book and Homily Society in 1812 to distribute specifically Anglican material. BACK

[4] Marsh gave his first set of professorial lectures in 1809, following up with further series in 1810, 1813, 1816, 1822 and 1823. He did not lecture in 1812. Marsh set a precedent by lecturing in English (not the customary Latin) and in the church of Great St Mary (rather than the divinity schools). BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013