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

2060. Robert Southey to Andrew Bell, 13 March 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick, March 13, 1812.

My dear Sir,

I cannot think that the manner in which I have expressed myself upon church-going, can give offence to any person. [1]  A letter from my friend, Charles W. Wynn, happened to arrive the same day with the proof. He spoke of this test, [2]  as if he supposed that I favoured it. It had never entered into my thoughts, that such a test was to be insisted on, except at schools where the children are lodged, and where, of course, as they cannot attend worship with their parents, they must go with their schoolmaster. And I was anxious not to be misunderstood, and to show that while I stood up as resolutely as Herbert Marsh [3]  himself could do, for the rights and duties of the Church, I desired nothing more than it was her indispensable duty to exact, and her undoubted right to require. I have carefully (as I thought) guarded against giving offence, by making the distinction between day-schools and boarding-schools. High or low Church are no more to me than Whig or Tory, or the Shanavists and Caravats of the wild Irish; [4]  and if there be any persons who can be offended at such an opinion so expressed, and in such a place, why I am sorry for them. The passage occurs just where I have been repeating the arguments of others to show that the parents cannot give religious instruction, and adding others of my own to show that it is not the business of the clergyman; but (for the children of the lower classes) that it must be the business of the schoolmaster.

The cry which will be raised against the book is that of intolerance and illiberality, and this you will see. But I have, all my life long, been careless what accusations might be brought against me for speaking as I thought right. It will be too late to remedy the error, if error it be, which I trust it is not. The subsequent sheets will have been struck off; and if the leaf were to be cancelled, it would be necessary to supply precisely the same quantity of matter as that which should be expunged. How difficult this is, it must be needless to remark. Besides, I should rather incur the disapprobation of such persons as are capable of disapproving the expression of such an opinion, than be suspected of agreeing with them. My own opinions lean so strongly towards what it is the fashion to call intolerance, that it especially behoves me to take care, that there be no shadow of a reasonable charge on that head.

I congratulate you most truly upon the opening of the Preparatory School. [5]  You have now the reward of your long labours in sight. God grant that the government may do their duty, and establish the system upon a secure and permanent foundation! for I cannot conceal from myself, that what we see doing on the part of the heads of the Church, has been forced upon them, and that they are doing that from fear of the enemy, which they would never have done for love of the system. An establishment of parochial schools would be the best outwork of the Church; and, God knows, it needs all the defence that can be given it! Never was there such a monstrous coalition as is now formed against it. Calvinists and Arminians, Socinians, Quakers, Papists, and Unbelievers, all acting in concert for her overthrow. I can do her good service against all her enemies, except the most dangerous of all—her intemperate friends.

Young and old join in the kindest remembrance. God bless you, my dear sir! Yours very truly, and with unfeigned respect.


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. 657–659. BACK

[1] Southey’s letter is a reply to Bell’s of 10 March 1812, Robert Southey, Caroline Southey and Charles Cuthbert Southey, The Life of the Rev. Andrew Bell, 3 vols (London, 1844), II, pp. 656–657. In The Origin, Nature and Object, of the New System of Education (1812), Southey advocated that the ‘school and church establishments ought … to be intimately connected’ (p. 197). He also argued that the pupils at these new national schools ‘should be allowed to accompany the master to church’ (p. 118). Bell’s letter cautioned against compulsion in this matter (‘we should draw the children to church by cords of love, and not drag them by chains of iron’, Life, II, p. 656). Although in his reply Southey claimed that it was too late for him to make changes, the final published text, which notes that it should not be compulsory for ‘children to go to church’ (Nature, p. 118), indicates that some last minute corrections may have been made. BACK

[2] i.e. the test of knowing and accepting the catechism of the Church of England. BACK

[3] Herbert Marsh (1757–1839; DNB), cleric and biblical critic. His staunch defence of the Church of England included a sermon preached 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. The sermon was published as The National Religion the Foundation of National Education: A Sermon Preached in the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, London (1811). Southey read it in early 1812; see Southey to John Murray, 18 February 1812, Letter 2041. BACK

[4] Shanavists and Caravats were the names of rival factions, particularly in Co. Tipperary. The nature of their quarrels was not obvious to British observers. BACK

[5] Possibly a reference to the new central school set up in Gray’s Inn, with an aim to train more teachers in Dr Bell’s system. BACK

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August 2013