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

2500. Robert Southey to Neville White, 11 November 1814 ⁠* 

Keswick, Nov. 11. 1814.

My Dear Neville,

The General and Dr. Bell were dining with me yesterday when your letter arrived, and they did not leave me till after ten o’clock; this was unfortunate, as it prevented me from immediately writing to James. I have written to him by this day’s post, endeavouring, as far as I could, to convince him that the degree, and not the honour, is the essential object of his studies; that such honours are not worth much in the University, and worth nothing anywhere else; and that the opinion of what he could have done, if he had attempted it, will be of as much use to him as an actual honour, in case of taking pupils, or standing for a fellowship: which I verily believe. [1]  In a soldier, the want of presence of mind is disgraceful and criminal, because he has entered a profession which makes weakness a crime; yet even in a soldier some degree of compassion (out of his profession) usually attaches itself to the consideration of this failing; and in other men I am not sure that it does not in some degree compensate for the inconvenience which it occasions, by exciting an interest in considerate and kindly natures. I have written to him sportively as well as seriously and endeavoured to put him in good humour with himself. If his health is not permanently injured, there is no real injury sustained. I have an absolute hatred of this stimulating system; it is equally injurious to mind and body, and but too often fatal to both. Better was the old sleepy course of things at Oxford, under which men were left to themselves to do just what they pleased and nothing more.

What shall I say about your present? I could be angry with you if anger had any effect upon the incorrigible. The box arrived on Wednesday while I was at the Island. The two Ediths [2]  were desirous that it should not be opened till I were present; which, in the younger one, was no small proof of virtue; the rest, however, were mutinous, and, Mrs. Coleridge putting herself at the head of the mutineers, they succeeded. They agreed among themselves that I was not to be told what each of them had received, but that they were to surprise me in the morning; and, accordingly, I was beset in the very act of shaving. “Here, Pappa! here, Pappa! – only look at mine,” cries one; “Look at mine,” cries another. Herbert brings his books, and Edith her box, and Bel, jumping for joy in the midst of them, told me that “ Mitter White sent her a deal of pretty things in a boss!” I cut myself, of course, in all this confusion; and the father and children with their treasures, and the razor, and the lather, and just blood enough to give effect to the scene, would have made a good comic picture. But indeed, Neville, you are too bountiful.

I hope you will see my brother Harry frequently, now you have been fellow-travellers among the mountains. He has a thoroughly good heart of his own, an admirable temper, and, with very considerable talents, a larger portion of practical good sense than has fallen to my lot, – one of those men whom you love and respect the more the better you know him. You will be glad to hear that he is likely to give me a new sister, – a very interesting woman, whose mother I have known nineteen years, and always considered as the model of whatever is most lovely and excellent in womankind. They were a Lisbon family, but for some years past have lived at Champion Hill. The father has long been lingering in a slow consumption, from which there is little or no hope of his recovery. In point of fortune the connection, on Harry’s part, is exactly what I should wish it to be – neither ambitious nor imprudent.

I am charged with more thanks for you than would have filled this whole sheet; and Bel, moreover, says she “will send you a kiss.” Imagine, therefore, all joyful expressions of thankfulness from the young, and all warm thanks and affectionate remembrances from the elders. God bless you.

Yours very affectionately,

Robert Southey.

P.S. One word more, my dear Neville. Do not let me see your letters marked at the post office in red ink for the future. I do not like my friends to pay for my gratification. [3] 


Notes

* 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. 377–379. BACK

[1] See Southey to James White, 11 November 1814, Letter 2499. BACK

[3] At this time, letters were often paid for by the recipient. If they were marked in red ink this was an indication that the sender had paid the postage. BACK

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August 2013