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

2247. Robert Southey to Robert Gooch, 14 April 1813 ⁠* 

Keswick April 14. 1813.

My dear Gooch

I had not the most distant intention of applying the term miscreant [1]  to Hunt. I was describing the genus, & made up the description from different individuals, – the features which justify that word were belong to Anthony Pasquin, [2]  to a fellow by name Agg, [3]  & to the Satirist, Scourge &c &c. [4] 

In writing upon the French Revolutionists I concluded the article by promising that upon the Poor, – or rather upon the predisposing causes of revolution in England, saying that we also had our Heberts & our Marats. [5]  – I got the Examiner xxx as a Volume, some year & half after its completion, among other materials for the Register; [6] x one volume that for 1811 is all that I have yet had of it. It convinced me that the Editor was a man of good feelings, who was led astray by them, & who was taking a course which would lead him irretrievably wrong, because pride & shame & vindictive feelings & party spirit would chain down his soul {mind} to its errors, – & that which began in a love of general liberty would end in hatred of the government under which he lived. His talents were manifest, – his presumption not less so; this I readily pardoned, – & when I exposed (as I have done in the forth-coming Annals of the year) his blundering predictions respecting the war in Portugal, & the unwise, unjust & unfeeling manner in which he spoke of the Spaniards, I wrote without asperity, or the slightest personal allusion. [7] 

But in the same volume there is an unprovoked personal attack upon Coleridge. [8]  And last summer a single number of his paper found its way to one of my guests, containing another passage levelled at him, & alluding in no ambiguous terms to his habits of life, [9] habits which To C’s family those habits have are a far heavier calamity than any which has yet befallen Mrs Hunt & her children. [10] I trust than any, I sincerely hope, that ever may befall them: – to me, & to those who like me know the heights & depths of Coleridges intellect, & his virtues as well as his vices, – they are the heaviest affliction, – & will occasion a life-long regret {sorrow}. Mr Hunt may judge how I felt towards him when that number of the Examiner cames into the hands of Coleridges wife, & of Coleridges son, – a youth at that time under sixteen whose feelings are as strong as his talents are extraordinary.

Soon after my article on the French Revolutionists had appeared, a paragraph from the Examiner was copied into one of my newspapers; – the accuracy of the extract I took for granted, Mr Hunt had taken what was said of our Heberts & Marats to himself, & challenged the reviewer, – whom he called hireling or slave or some such name, to specify whom he had alluded to. [11]  – Had I looked for a parallel for him I should have found it in Camille Desmoulins: – an enthusiast for liberty, a man of talents, of good feelings & domestic virtues, – who was led on step by step to concur in the executions of the Royalists first – then of the Brissotines, – & of course took his own turn at last. [12] 

The sentence which so pointedly applies to Mr Hunt derives its point from circumstances which occurring after it was written, – the arti paper was written for the number anterior to that in which it appeared, before his trial, – & before I knew that he was about to be tried. [13]  He was in my eye, but not exclusively. I men spoke of the progress of those writers who proceed upon a system of insulting & injuring the feelings of individuals, & I remembered that the prospectus of the Examiner took credit for to itself for the manner {spirit} in which its theatrical criticism was to be conducted written, [14]  – it was the spirit of the Edinburgh Review, or rather of its Editor, – excepting that Mr Hunt must {may} be acquitted of indulging any personal resentments in this branch of his vocation. My dear Gooch of all the cruel employments to which a man in this country can devote himself, that of dramatic – or rather of histrionic criticism is infinitely the worst. If I can have {given} Mr Hunt ‘severe pain’ [15]  by speaking with severity of conduct which he believes to be meritorious & heroic, what must he have done by the cutting irony with which he has attacked the professional reputation of those, – who have nothing else to depend upon for daily bread!

You may if you think fit show him what I have written. It may tend to make him pause before he again touches upon the private xxxxxxxxx failings of a private man; – & I readily assure him that nothing shall again proceed from me which may wound him as an individual. In an evil hour did he forsake the happier paths of literature to make politics his profession – in an evil hour for his country & himself: – instead of shedding his errors like xxxx before xxx their xxxxxx {xx xxx xxxxxxx as his intellect was matured by knowledge}, – he has sown them like the dragons teeth. I too, like him, set sail for the in the ship Presumption from the port of Good Intent, – but I have escaped from the shoals upon which he is in danger of foundering. The difference between his opinions & mine {(it is a difference, rather as to the means than the end.)} would may be explained by the difference {the alteration} which ten years of xxxxxxxx xxx xxx xxxx to a man {necessarily occasion cause in one} whose whole life is devoted to the acquisition of knowledge. But it is to be feared that time will not do for him what it has done for me. His opinions will become dead to him because he has suffered from {for} them; nor & he cannot can never become wiser without discovering that the certain tendency of his journal has been to hurry on a revolution, which God knows is approaching too fast, – xxx in This car of Jaganaut [16]  if it be once set in motion will crush him as well as me, – but if I fall it xx xxxx will be in my while endeavouring to impede its course, – not in xx dragging it on.

I have left myself no room to say anything concerning Roderick. [17]  The 6 & 7 books seems to xx me to display situations of the deep passion. – As for patriotism you would soon have learnt what it is had you been in Zaragoza, or were you at this time in the North of Germany. [18]  God be praised that the overthrow of this intolerable tyranny is at hand.

Yrs affectionately

Robert Southey


* Address: To/ Dr Gooch/ Aldermanbury/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: [partial] 1813
Endorsement: April 14th – 1814
Watermark: C WILLMOTT/ 1807
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Don. d. 86
Unpublished. BACK

[1] A reference to Southey’s review of Patrick Colquhoun (1745–1820; DNB), Propositions for Ameliorating the Condition of the Poor: and For Improving the Moral Habits, and Increasing the Comforts of the Labouring People (1812), in the Quarterly Review, 8 (December 1812), 319–356. At 346–347, Southey had stated ‘To slander public and private characters has become a regular trade in England, and miscreants of one description take to it just as miscreants of another to the more dangerous, but not more nefarious, practice of thieving and robbing; they begin upon players and they end upon princes.’ BACK

[2] John Williams (1754–1818; DNB), poet, satirist and journalist, often under the pseudonym ‘Anthony Pasquin’. BACK

[3] The prolific satirist John Agg (fl. 1800s–1820s). BACK

[4] The Satirist, or Monthly Meteor (1807–1814); The Scourge, or Monthly Expositor of Imposture and Folly (1811–1816). Both magazines depended for their sales on the virulence of their attacks on public figures. The Satirist, 2 (1808), 61, had described Southey as guilty of ‘perpetual and inimitable absurdity’. BACK

[5] Southey’s ‘Lives of the French Revolutionists’, Quarterly Review, 7 (June 1812), 412–438, esp. 437–438, had attacked British journalists who were, in his view, abusing the liberty of the press and thus provoking unrest amongst the poor. He had compared them to the journalists and revolutionaries Jacques Hébert (1757–1794), Jean-Paul Marat (1743–1793) and the radical politician Pierre Gaspard Chaumette (1763–1794). All three had met violent ends. Southey’s article had not mentioned Hunt by name, but it did draw clear parallels between revolutionary France and contemporary Britain. BACK

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

[7] Southey was being disingenuous. He had not actually named Hunt, but his target was clear. Southey had quoted and dismissed the Examiner’s observations on the ‘crisis in Portugal’ (Examiner, 9 (20 January 1811), 39), Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811, 4.1 (1813), 245–246. That said, Hunt came off lightly compared to Cobbett, who, in the same chapter was labelled a ‘demagogue’ and accused of ‘virulent and malicious misrepresentation’, Ibid., 246. BACK

[8] The Examiner’s reply to an article in the Courier, 25 February 1811, on ‘Mutinous Libels’, which had lamented the Hunts’ recent acquittal for publishing an article condemning military flogging (Examiner, 8 (2 September 1810), 557–558). Although the Examiner did not mention Coleridge by name, the concluding paragraph made it clear that he was the target: ‘Retire … to your patrons and a bottle; and there, calling for white handkerchiefs and pouring out libations to the departed Friend, lament over the shocking increase of humanity and public spirit, so fatal to selfishness and public corruption’, Examiner, 9 (3 March 1811), 131. The next issue published, at Coleridge’s request, a note that denied his authorship of the offending article, Examiner, 9 (10 March 1811), 154. BACK

[9] Possibly a reference to the Examiner, 9 (21 June 1812), 387: ‘A love of drinking, especially if it has any gift of talking to work upon, will make a man exceedingly didactic; … he will sometimes deceive his very self into a notion that he is a worthy person, and attribute his bad habits to a vague sort of destiny that besets him, and renders him more to be pitied than blamed. The most didactic and talkative person of the day appears to be one of this description, and wants nothing but his supply of brandy and water to be set a-doling about the “moral feeling” from morning to night.’ BACK

[10] Hunt had married Marianne Kent (d. 1857) in 1809. Their family eventually numbered seven children. BACK

[11] Examiner, 9 (30 August 1812), 556, where the anonymous author (Southey) of the article in the Quarterly that Hunt felt alluded to him was described as one of the government’s ‘servile scribes’. BACK

[12] The journalist and revolutionary Camille Desmoulins (1760–1794). The Brissotins were the followers of Jacques Pierre Brissot (1754–1793). They were better known as the Girondins and were ousted from power by the more radical Jacobins in 1793. BACK

[13] i.e. Southey’s sentence about slandering princes in Quarterly Review, 8 (December 1812), 346–347. Leigh Hunt was convicted on 9 December 1812, and sentenced to two years imprisonment on 3 February 1813, for attacks on the Prince Regent. BACK

[14] Examiner, 1 (3 January 1808), 7. BACK

[15] Possibly, this is what Hunt had told Gooch of Hunt’s reaction to Southey’s article. BACK

[16] Curse of Kehama (1810), Book 14 described the ‘Car of Jaga-Naut’, a huge vehicle under which pilgrims threw themselves to be crushed. BACK

[17] Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[18] The Spanish city of Zaragoza was twice besieged by the French in 1808–1809. The death toll was over 54,000 before it finally fell on 20 February 1809. Fighting between France and the Sixth Coalition was underway in North Germany. BACK

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August 2013