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

2088. Robert Southey to Josiah Conder, 5 May 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick, May 5, 1812.

My Dear Sir,

I received last night the communications with which you and your highly esteemed friends have favoured me. [1]  They are sent off this evening to Edinburgh, with my recommendation, little as they stand in need of it; and if the editor [2]  be not already overstocked, or if they should not arrive too late, I have no doubt but that he will be as happy to insert them as I shall be to see them there. The discretion, which you gave me, I so far used as to affix your name to the stanzas with the Latin motto, knowing how naturally every reader into whose hands they may fall will inquire who is the author.

Upon the subject of the new system of education, two persons who desire the general good, and have neither party nor private interests to serve, can hardly fail of coming to the same conclusion, when they understand each other, and understand the system. My view of the subject is, that it is a thing of far too great importance to be trusted to so evanescent a source of support as contributions, of which nine-tenths are procured like votes at a county election, by dint of earnest solicitation and the activity of party spirit. It is the interest, the business, and the duty of the State to provide for the education of all those whose parents have not the means of providing it for them. Parochial schools ought to be established in every parish throughout the kingdom. If this were done, it is absurd to expect that the State should not provide that these children be educated according to the religion of the State; that is to say, that they should be instructed in the Church catechism. And it would naturally follow, that the parish priest should become the superintendent of the parish school. My own wish would be, that the parish clerk should always be the master; care being taken to train up a race for this purpose, for thus the character would be raised into respectability. [3] 

Thus much for the application of the system in England. In Scotland, of course, such alterations are to be made as would suit the catechism to the Kirk (though I believe little, if any, would be required); and in Ireland, when you give it to the Catholics, you must let them teach their monstrous idolatry. But you are not to expect that a scheme will succeed in that country, which endeavours to embrace Papist and Protestant, by carefully excluding all points of difference. The Papists are far too wise to suffer this; and I know that when it has been tried, and a few parents have been found willing to send their children to these schools, the priest has waylaid them with a horsewhip, and horsewhipped them back. I have not seen your friend’s book, [4]  but Mr. Wakefield [5]  and the Bishop of Meath [6]  have told me several curious facts which tend to show that the horsewhip is of almost as much use to the Irish priest as the crucifix!

With regard to the origin of the new system, it is no more a matter of consequence than that it is always of consequence that impostors should be exposed, and honour awarded where it is due. Lancaster is not only, by the admission of his own partisans, a worthless and an impudent fellow, but he has materially injured the system which he has stolen. The mode of teaching spelling and writing at once, destroys entirely the two fundamental laws of the Madras system—that whatever is learnt must be learnt thoroughly, and that every boy must find his level. And by his system of punishment he sows the seeds of the vilest passions. [7] 

He derives his popularity from the worthlessness of his most conspicuous opponents—John Bowles, [8]  Archdeacon Daubeny, [9]  the Rev. Dr. Hook, [10]  etc.—fellows with whom it is mortifying to think alike upon any subject, because you are sure they would not be right, if it were not for some unworthy motive. The Dissenters are consistent in taking up his cause, but I do not think they are wise in doing it. There is a monstrous coalition of fanatics, infidels, and Roman Catholics against the Church of England. I do not subscribe to the Church; if I could do it, I should be in orders—an office to which my inclination would always strongly have led me. My mind has undergone many changes, and is in many points nearer to the Church than when I forbore to enter it as a minister. Still, I am far from being in communion with it, or from ever expecting to be so. But I am perfectly sensible of the infinite good which we derive from such a Church, and of the dreadful consequences which would inevitably attend its overthrow. Your metaphor of the waste lands is a happy one; what I contend against is that scheme of improvement which would throw down the inclosures. You will agree with me that the great object is to secure the benefit of national education; this can only be done by a permanent parochial establishment. When next I write to Murray, I will desire him to give you my treatise upon Bell and the Dragon, which goes to this end. [11]  It is in a spirit of controversy, which is not ill directed when its aim is to expose the falsehoods of such writers as the Edinburgh Reviewers. [12] 

I hope your good father [13]  continues well. Believe me, yours very truly,



* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Eustace R. Conder, Josiah Conder: A Memoir (London, 1857)
Previously published: Eustace R. Conder, Josiah Conder: A Memoir (London, 1857), pp. 161–164. BACK

[1] Conder had given Southey a series of poems by himself and his friends James Montgomery, Ann (1782–1829; DNB) and Jane Taylor (1783–1824; DNB) and Joan Elizabeth Thomas (‘Eliza Thomas’) (c. 1786–1877) to send to the Edinburgh Annual Register. James Montgomery’s ‘Verses, Written on a Blank Leaf in the “Hymns for Infant Minds”’, and his translation of two Italian sonnets (from Pellegrini Salandri (1723–1771) and Francesco Petrarca (1304–1374)) appeared in Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1810, 3.1 (1812), xcii–xciii and civ–cv; see Southey to James Montgomery, 26 March 1812, Letter 2066. At least one poem by Jane Taylor, ‘To the Moon’, was also published in this volume, ciii. ‘A Character, a Fragment’, ci–cii, was probably by Ann Taylor. Conder’s poem ‘The Reverie’ was rejected, much to Southey’s disgust; see Southey to Neville White, 27 September 1812, Letter 2151. Conder later revealed in The Star of the East; with Other Poems (London, 1824). p. viii, that ‘The Voice of the Oak’, Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1810, 3.1 (1812), xcviii–ci, was by ‘Eliza Thomas’, whom he married in 1815. BACK

[2] The decisions about poetry in the Edinburgh Annual Register were probably influenced by Walter Scott. BACK

[3] Southey was a keen advocate of the Madras system of Andrew Bell. He had recently expanded a lengthy defence of Bell, and attack on Joseph Lancaster, in Quarterly Review, 6 (August 1811), 264–304, into a full-length study, The Origin, Nature and Object, of the New System of Education (1812). The latter advocated that the ‘school and church establishments ought … to be intimately connected’ (p. 197) and that the pupils at these new national schools ‘should be allowed to accompany the master to church’ (p. 118). Even Bell felt that Southey had gone too far and in a letter of 10 March 1812 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’), see Southey, Caroline Southey and Charles Cuthbert Southey, The Life of the Rev. Andrew Bell, 3 vols (London, 1844), II, pp. 656. Hints to the Public and the Legislature, on the Nature and Effect of Evangelical Preaching. By a Barrister (1809), reviewed in Quarterly Review, 4 (November 1810), 480–514 originally contained Southey’s suggestion about Parish Clerks, but the passage was cut out. In the early nineteenth-century Clerks could be full or part-time and duties varied enormously from parish to parish. They might include reading lessons in church, organising the choir, serving at the altar and leading the responses, opening the church, ringing the bell and even digging graves if there was no sexton. BACK

[4] Unidentified. BACK

[5] The philanthropist, land agent and writer on political economy, Edward Wakefield (1774–1854; DNB), author of Ireland, Statistical and Political (1812). He had visited Southey in Keswick in 1811; see Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 11 October 1811, Letter 1964. The ‘horsewhip’ anecdote probably comes from their conversations. 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] Lancaster had argued for a system of punishments based upon public humiliation of the offender, see The British System of Education (London, 1810), pp. 34–37. These included making badly-behaved pupils wear labels that described their offence, eg. ‘Idle’, ‘Suck finger Baby’. Lancaster assured his readers that these punishments had been tried for 13 years with great success. BACK

[8] John Bowles (1751–1819; DNB), barrister, author, fanatical anti-Jacobin and the subject of long-running fraud allegations. His A Letter Addressed to Samuel Whitbread, Esq. M.P., in consequnce of the Unqualified Approbation Expressed by Him … of Mr. Lancaster’s System of Education and its sequel, Education of the Lower Orders, A Second Letter to Samuel Whitbread … containing Observations on His Bill for the Establishment of Parochial Schools in South Britain both appeared in 1808. BACK

[9] Charles Daubney (1745–1827), Archdeacon of Salisbury 1804–1827 and author of A Charge Delivered to the Clergy of the Archdeaconry of Sarum, on the 26th, 27th, 28th and 29th of June 1810 (1810). BACK

[10] James Hook (1772?-1828; DNB), clergyman. He was believed to owe his rapid promotion through the church hierarchy to marriage to Anne (d. 1844), daughter of Sir Walter Farquahar (1738–1819; DNB), physician and confidant of the Prince of Wales. Hook had served as chaplain to the Prince, held a series of valuable livings, including Prebend of Winchester Cathedral 1807–1825, and in 1825 became Dean of Worcester. He espoused political and religious orthodoxy, publishing sermons against Jacobinism and Methodism. Not all his family pursued respectability with such avidity. Hook’s brother was the hoaxer Theodore Edward Hook (1788–1841; DNB). BACK

[11] i.e. The Origin, Nature and Object, of the New System of Education (1812). BACK

[12] Although the Origin did make several swipes at the Edinburgh Review, Southey did remove some of his more offensive comments prior to publication. These included a mock-dedication to Francis Jeffrey. BACK

[13] The map engraver and bookseller Thomas Conder (1746/7–1831; DNB). BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2013