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

2225. Robert Southey to Neville White, 27 February 1813 ⁠* 

Keswick, Feb. 27. 1813.

My Dear Neville,

I have something to ask you respecting Cambridge, and must first relate the circumstances which occasion me to make the inquiry.

Some three or four months ago, a boy at school sent me sundry specimens of his verses, asking my opinion of certain poetical plans which he had formed. The verses were nothing like Henry’s at the same age, for he had a prematurity of sense and judgment in which none but Chatterton [1]  is comparable with him; but there was in them power enough of language, and ardour, and effect, and promise. I wrote him in reply a letter [2]  not of such advice as he had applied for, but of the best counsel that I could give him, cautioning him against early publication; and endeavouring to show him how these pursuits, which, if they were entered upon rashly, would prove his bane, might be made instrumental, in every way, to his advancement and happiness. A fortnight ago there came a second letter, telling me he had left school, that his friends thought the law would be the best profession for him, – that he was one of ten children, and his father (an old officer) [3]  could do little to set him forward in life. While, therefore, he should be preparing for the bar, he must do something for himself. For this purpose, he wished to make his love of literature available. This, therefore, he thought, would justify, or even require, earlier publication than would else be advisable; and he applied to me to instruct him how he should proceed. I liked his letter; it bore with it an appearance of goodness, as well as of talents; so I told him that the best way to the bar lies through the University, and that there is no means by which he may so immediately obtain assistance in his education, and so soon, as well as certainly, make himself independent, as by going to college, – provided he behaves well there. [4]  I recommended him to seek for a sizarship [5]  (for the Oxford servitors, owing, perhaps, to an invidious distinction of dress, are really a degraded class), and spoke in proper terms of those frugal habits which I believed he would feel to be as honourable as they were necessary. To-night I have received his answer. He and his friends are equally persuaded that I have advised him well; they only doubt their means of meeting the unavoidable expenses. My first business, therefore, is to ascertain what they will be as nearly as possible; and my next, to see if I can procure him a sizarship.

Now, my dear Neville, you can give me the needful information, by telling me what James’s yearly expenses are, and what assistance he obtains from his college. I know there is a difference in these things at different colleges, but any one fact will be something to judge by. What success I may have in my other applications remains to be seen. There is a fellow of Peterhouse who, I think, will assist me if he can. [6]  And I rather think there are some situations of emolument at some of the Oxford colleges, which are not debased by the servitor’s dress. This inquiry I shall proceed to make as soon as I close my letter.

It is some time since I have heard from you; not since I enclosed a letter for James. I am, as usual, pursuing my never-ending course of employments. My “Life of Nelson” [7]  is only delayed by the printer, [8]  and his delays cannot keep it back much longer. I hope to send it you in a month at farthest.

The “Register” [9]  is my main business; but I steal a little time from it for the “History of Brazil,” my favourite pursuit, which I long to finish. [10] 

We are going on well, but in a season of such continued tempests, that I remember nothing like it. As a proof how slowly even those who are the least prejudiced against changes adopt anything to which they are not used, I have just now, and not till now, after residing ten winters in Cumberland, got a pair of clogs (wooden shoes), and every time I put them on, I think what a fool I have been to go without them so long.

Have you seen Coleridge’s play? [11]  God bless you, my dear Neville.

Yours affectionately,

Robert Southey.


* MS: MS untraced; text is taken from John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856)
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 318–320. BACK

[1] Thomas Chatterton (1752–1770; DNB). Southey and Cottle’s edition of his Works had appeared in 1803. BACK

[2] This has not survived. BACK

[3] James Du Sautoy (1761–1859) who had retired from his post as a Lieutenant in the Royal Marines in 1798. BACK

[4] See Southey to James Dusautoy, 12 February 1813, Letter 2220. BACK

[5] At Cambridge University a sizar was a student who received benefits from his College (free food, subsidised fees) in return for performing set tasks. Servitors were roughly equivalent figures at Oxford University – originally they had acted as servants to richer students. They wore a distinctive plain black gown and round hat. BACK

[6] Possibly Samuel Tillbrook (c. 1784–1835), Fellow of Peterhouse and later Rector of Freckenham, Suffolk 1829–1835. BACK

[7] The Life of Nelson (1813). BACK

[8] James Moyes (d. 1839), of Greville St, Hatton Garden, London. BACK

[9] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811 (1813). BACK

[10] The second volume of the History of Brazil was published in 1817, the third, concluding volume in 1819. BACK

[11] Remorse, staged at Drury Lane, London, 23 January-12 February 1813. BACK

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August 2013