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

2479. Robert Southey to Neville White, 7 September 1814 ⁠* 

Keswick, Sept. 7. 1814.

My Dear Neville,

I have for some time been in daily hope of a letter to announce that you were on your way to Keswick: during the delightful weather which we have enjoyed for the last fortnight we have repeatedly wished for you to enjoy it with us. Some of our purposed excursions are postponed till your arrival. The sooner you come the better: every day now shortens upon us, and though I hope we shall manage so as never to want daylight, this is a country in which we cannot have too much of it.

James wrote to me, some week or ten days since, a very pleasing and good letter in every respect. He expresses a solicitude about taking his degree with some credit, on account of the pleasure which it would give you. This feeling does him great honour, but I fear he is rather too anxious about it; and it might perhaps have a good effect if you were to assure him that you see this point in its true light, and attach no undue importance to a thing which can in no degree affect his future fortunes. You have not sent him to college to seek his fortune by academical pursuits, but that he may be qualified for the ministry there, and obtain that degree and those testimonials which are very properly considered as necessary for one who enters into the service of the Established Church. I have said this because it is evident to me that the fear of not taking an honorary degree haunts him; and this is a bad thing for anybody, especially for one whose health and spirits cannot afford much wear and tear.

Thank you for the B. Ayres papers. [1]  Imperfect as the series is, it is very valuable, and has given me much more knowledge of what is going on in that unhappy country than I could have obtained from any other source. Will you believe that the Revolutionary Government there has made one law fixing the time before which children shall not be weaned, and another forbidding that they shall be whipped at school!! The wicked conduct of that beast Ferdinand [2]  will doubtless render the separation of the colonies inevitable. Alas, that the despotism of the old country, and the republicanism (how is that name polluted!) of the new, should be equally blind, equally bloody, and almost equally detestable!

My poem [3]  still lingers in the press; – as there are, however, but two sheets remaining, I expect that they will both have reached me before you receive this letter. Have you seen Wordsworth’s poem? [4]  If not, read it, if you can, before you see the author. You will see him with the more pleasure, and look with more interest at the scenery which he describes.

Did I tell you that Montgomery sent Mr. Gilbert [5]  here? I was very much pleased with him, and should have been very glad if he could have made a longer stay.

As I do not believe with Doctor Reece and Co., that Joanna Southcott is actually pregnant, I of course believe that she is mad; it is more likely that she has some disease of which the appearance resembles pregnancy, than that the whole should be blasphemous imposture, with the intention of producing a supposititious child. [6]  Had she been sent to Bedlam ten years ago, how many hundred persons would have been preserved from this infectious and disgraceful insanity! God help the men who flatter the age upon its increased knowledge and wisdom! This woman has her thousands and her ten thousands of believers in England. The Jesuits are just restored, and have sent a colony to Ireland. [7]  The Inquisition is re-established, [8]  and France is placed under the protection of the Virgin Mary! [9]  God bless you.

Yours very 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. 375–377. BACK

[1] Southey was probably reading the Gazeta de Buenos Ayres, a weekly newspaper than ran 7 June 1810 - 12 September 1821. The ‘Assembly of the Year XIII’, called together in October 1812, was responsible for the legislation that so astonished Southey. BACK

[2] Ferdinand VII (1784–1833; King of Spain 1808, 1813–1833). He had abolished the liberal Constitution of 1812 on 4 May 1814 and arrested the leading liberals. BACK

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

[4] The Excursion (1814). BACK

[5] The Congregational minister Joseph Gilbert (1779–1852; DNB). In 1814 he was classical tutor at Rotherham College and pastor of the Nether Chapel, Sheffield. A friend of Montgomery’s, Gilbert had married the poet Ann Taylor (1782–1866; DNB) on 24 December 1813. BACK

[6] Southcott had announced that she was pregnant with Shiloh (Genesis 49: 10); see The Third Book of Wonders, Announcing the Coming of Shiloh (1814) and Prophecies Announcing the Birth of the Prince of Peace (1814). Her supposed condition excited tremendous public excitement and ridicule. She was examined by a number of doctors, whose findings were widely reported; these included Richard Reece (1775–1831; DNB). Shiloh failed to appear and Southcott died on 27 December 1814. Reece was one of the physicians who conducted her autopsy. BACK

[7] Pius VII (1742–1823), pontiff since 1800, restored the Society of Jesus (which had been suppressed in 1773), in a Bull of 7 August 1814. In the same year the Jesuit, Peter James Kenney (1779–1841; DNB), founded Clongowes Wood College, County Kildare, and it accepted its first pupil on 18 May 1814. It became the leading boarding school for Irish middle class Catholics. BACK

[8] In 1814 the Spanish Inquisition had been re-established by Ferdinand VII. It was permanently abolished in 1834. BACK

[9] France had been consecrated to the Virgin Mary as its special patroness by royal decrees in 1638, 1656 and 1738. On 5 August 1814 Louis XVIII (1755–1824; King of France 1814–1824) ordered the initial declaration of 1638 should be read again in all churches on the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin (15 August), followed by a special procession of local dignitaries. BACK

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August 2013