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

2238. Robert Southey to John Murray, 31 March 1813 ⁠* 

Keswick. March 31. 1813.

My dear Sir

Your project of a View of the World has hardly been out of my thoughts since the receipt of your letter. I meant in the Life of George 3. to have given a summary account of the state of all those countries over which the influence of G Britain extends {or with which its political history was in any degree connected}. [1]  My plan may perhaps be the better for having its object limited.

I was at Longmans table when the scheme of his Collection of Voyages & Travels was first suggested: & I was asked to undertake it. This I declined upon the ground that it required that sort of scientific knowledge which Capt Burney possesses, & of which I knew nothing, – but at his desire I wrote to him upon the subject, showing in what manner, according to my judgement, such a collection ought to be formed. First I proposed a geographical arrangement; – then that the best accounts of the respective regions, should be printed entire, in chronological order, & the great mass of inferior works brought to elucidate them in the form of notes & appendices; Thus giving the whole substance of the great standard works, & the whole essence of all the others. – You see what a disgraceful work {job} Pinkerton has made of it! If the titles of xx different voyages had been put in a bag, & he had drawn them out by lottery to the amount of the quantity required, the probability is that the Collection would rather have been better than worse. [2] 

What you propose I clearly comprehend. Not a mere compilation, but a work which might live, & which the character of the authors mind should prevade so as to individualize & appropriate it: – A view of the world as it is, with references enough to what it has been for all purposes of elucidation. Magnum opus; – an xx undertaking of great labour, but of proportionate delight. No man has ever taken more interest than I have done into {in} looking {back} into the history of the human race, or in looking forward to their amelioration, & collecting the light of the past as in the focus of a mirror to fling it before me into that I may see into the future. I have therefore a great capital xxx xxx to begin upon, – few men, if any can have more, for this peculiar kind of knowledge has for more than twenty years been my favourite pursuit. I have many good materials, some of the best, & not a few rare ones. Still there would be many to seek.

You seem to guess well at the extent, & to go to the extent in your estimate. Concerning the form, that which would carry with it most appearance of respectability would be best; because a work which may at first be taken for a mere piece of patchwork, ought to make some pretensions at its outset; – the first half dozen pages would overcome all prejudice of this kind. Prints would be indispensable, – xxx the views {might perhaps best be} xxx given in outline, the costume in colours, & the natural history in wood for head & tail pieces.

The arrangement of the subject will form itself in my mind long before there will be any necessity for beginning upon it. For this & the life of George 3 must not go on xxx together: – one at a time will be as much as I can manage with the great series of my Portugueze histories, [3]  & my poems, – of which I should always wish to have one in hand. I shall not xx see you as I expected xx in May, – nor before the close of the year. It would be vexatious to arrive in London just when every body is leaving it, & I cannot get from home before this would be the case. Perhaps therefore you will, at your convenience, let me know how far the plan which you & Cadell & Davies have meditated, accords with mine, that we may see whether they had better be kept separate, or made to agree. What I propose is not the history of the Age, – but the spirit {philosophy} of that history: having all the result of research but none of the form of it; – xxx counts only of xxx xx dealing rather with causes & consequences than with events, & using culling the flow of xx events to illustrate, & elucidate, & enhance & adorn & extracting their essential spirit to be the life of the book. – There is one reason why the view of the world (this title would not do for it) seems entitled to precedence in order of time, & that is that the Age of George 3 is not yet at an end. Perhaps the ensuing campaign may bring with it the consummation so devoutly to be wished for. If Alexander had reestablished Poland as a kingdom I should have had little anxiety for the result: not having done this I fear that France is as certain of finding strength there, as Alexander is in Germany. [4]  – A proper paper war, & an army with Louis XVIII [5] . at their head, would probably in a very short time overthrow this unnatural tyranny.

Thank you for the inclosure in your last, – & also for your hint respecting the temperatures of the controversial part of the article; tho I could easily persuade myself that Malthus is one of those writers with whom we ought to be indignant. [6]  – I expect to make a stimulating article about the Dissenters. –  [7] 

The Quarterly may very well wait till Nelson [8]  is ready.

believe me my dear Sir

yrs very truly

Robert Southey.


* Address: To/ John Murray Esqr/ Albemarle Street/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Watermark: C WILMOTT/ 1807
Endorsement: 1813 March 31/ Southey R. Esqr
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 42551
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 53–55. BACK

[1] Neither a ‘View of the World’ or the ‘Life’ of George III (1738–1820; King of the United Kingdom 1820–1830; DNB) were written. BACK

[2] John Pinkerton (1758–1826; DNB), A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in all Parts of the World, published in 18 volumes between 1808–1814. Southey’s copy was no. 2335 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[3] Southey’s History of Brazil (1810–1819) and his unfinished ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[4] Alexander I (1777–1825; Tsar of Russia 1801–1825). Southey hoped he would reverse the partition of Poland between Russia, Austria and Prussia in 1792–1795 and establish an independent Kingdom of Poland. As he had not agreed to do this, Southey feared the Poles would side with France. BACK

[5] Louis XVIII (1755–1824; King of France 1814–1824), head of the French house of Bourbon BACK

[6] The political economist Thomas Robert Malthus (1766–1834; DNB). Southey used the first of a series of articles on the poor, Quarterly Review, 8 (December 1812), 319–356, as ‘an attack upon Malthus’, amongst others; see Southey to Charles Danvers, 5 January 1813. BACK

[7] Southey’s review of David Bogue (1750–1825; DNB) and James Bennet (1774–1862; DNB), The History of Dissenters, from the Revolution in 1688–to the Year 1808 (1812); Walter Wilson (1781–1847; DNB), History and Antiquities of Dissenting Churches (1808–1814); Neal’s History of the Puritans (1812), Quarterly Review, 10 (October 1813), 90–139. BACK

[8] The Life of Nelson (1813). Southey published nothing in the Quarterly Review between December 1812 and October 1813. BACK

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August 2013