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

2103. Robert Southey to Sir George Beaumont, 29 May 1812 ⁠* 

Keswick. May 29th, 1812

My dear Sir,

I write to you with an especial ill grace, because having left undone that which I ought to have done, I have now to do that which of all things there is the most discomfort in doing.

M. Dutens, [1]  his Majesty’s historiographer, is dead. This appointment I have long desired to hold. I am ambitious of the title, which would be honourable at home and useful abroad; and the salary would enable me while in health to make some provision for my family, and secure me a moderate competence in case of infirmities from which no man is secure. It is the gift of the Lord Chamberlain. Mr. Percival honoured me with his good opinion, and I have every reason to believe that I might have relied upon him, had he not been taken from us by this dreadful blow. [2]  God grant that it may not prove a fatal one to the best interests of Great Britain and of Europe. But I confess that now for the first time I look forward almost without hope, so many and so imminent are the perils which surround us.

At any other time I should have been sure of Mr. Canning’s good offices. It is now so little likely that he can have a minute to bestow upon me, that I shall send the letter I have written to him to his friend Gifford, to be delivered or thrown into the fire at his discretion. I have written also to Lord Lonsdale. The readiness with which he endeavoured to serve me on a former occasion, and the friendliness with which he would have urged his application, – if I had not discovered its unfitness, – made this as much a matter of due respect in the present case, as of self-interest. My friend Williams Wynn gave me the first information of the vacancy, and will omit no means within his reach. And when I have requested you to befriend me, if it be in your power so to do, I shall have no omission for which to reproach myself, in case the office should again be conferred upon a Frenchman, or any other person equally unfit.

It would be too much like castle-building to say with what pride and diligence I would discharge the duties which ought to be annexed to the office. As much as possible I will now put it out of mind, and the state of affairs as well as my own occupations give me matter enough for thought.

You know that I am no desponding politician. My disposition is naturally as joyous as a skylark in spring. I have carried a boy’s heart into middle age; and besides this unbroken cheerfulness, my philosophy and my faith teach me always to look on to the best. But I very much dread that we are on the brink of one of those ages of calamity, the good of which is not perceived till generations have passed by. The sinking down of Jacobinism into the lowest class, who have been prepared for it by the inevitable effects of the manufacturing system, is an evil of which I have long been aware, but its progress has been more rapid than I apprehended, and the whole extent of the danger now stares us in the face. Nothing but the army at this moment preserves us from a war of the poor against the rich, and God knows how long the army may be depended upon. The abuse of liberty has always been punished by the loss of liberty. Whether we shall see ours endangered (at least) to prevent a civil war, or forfeited as the cost of one, seems to me the alternative which we have to apprehend. Of this I feel certain, that the present state of the press is sufficient to overthrow the Government, and must overthrow it, without some speedy remedy be applied.

If these will be averted, I am one of those persons who believe that the Church of England would be most seriously endangered by what is called Catholic Emancipation. To a Catholic Establishment in Ireland (the inevitable consequence) I could almost consent from utter hopelessness respecting that unhappy country; but in England, the downfall of the Church would prove fatal to the whole system upon which our prosperity has been built. I think I can even see the process by which it would be brought down. The State will want money. M. Wellesley will do as in India – carry on the war to a triumphant and decisive conclusion, – but he will be careless at what expense. The tithes offer a ready resource. The Catholic members (under the next Duke of Norfolk England will have many such), [3]  the Scotch philosophists, and the country gentlemen will joyfully combine against them; and it would even be a popular measure to sell them, in which case Government funds the money, and the clergy become stipendiaries of the Crown. A very easy step then puts up the Establishment for sale to the lowest bidder, and the Methodists step in. England cannot be said to have recovered from the Reformation till William the Third’s reign. [4]  That Reformation was not too dearly purchased. But by another religious revolution we can have nothing to gain, and have everything to lose. The more I contemplate this subject, the more I am convinced of our danger.

Make my respects to Lady Beaumont, – and believe me, my dear sir, yours with great respect,

ROBERT SOUTHEY.


Notes

* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from William Knight, Memorials of Coleorton, 2 vols (London, 1887)
Previously published: William Knight, Memorials of Coleorton, 2 vols (London, 1887), II, pp. 166–170. BACK

[1] Louis Dutens (1730–1812; DNB), who had held the post of Historiographer Royal. He died on 23 May 1812. Southey’s campaign for the post proved unsuccessful and it went to one of his particular bêtes noires, James Stanier Clarke (c. 1765–1834; DNB). BACK

[2] Perceval was assassinated on 11 May 1812. BACK

[3] Bernard Edward Howard, 12th Duke of Norfolk (1765–1842; DNB). Unlike his cousin and predecessor, Charles Howard, 11th Duke of Norfolk (1765–1815; DNB), he was a Catholic. Charles Howard controlled at least eight Parliamentary boroughs (Arundel, Horsham, Shoreham, Steyning, Gloucester, Hereford, Leominster and Thetford). BACK

[4] William III (1650–1702; King of Great Britain 1689–1702; DNB). BACK

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August 2013