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

2507. Robert Southey to Robert Gooch, 30 November 1814 ⁠* 

Keswick. 30 Nov. 1814.

My dear Gooch

Your letter reminds me that I have something to ask of you. You may remember telling me of a sailor in Yarmouth hospital, after Duncans victory {Nelsons battle at Copenhagen [1] } (if I recollect rightly) – whom you attended, – & who died in consequence of neglect after you had ceased to attend him, – but expressed his delight at seeing you before he died. Tho I have not forgotten, – & could not forget – the circumstances, I have had acquired a sort of passion for authenticity upon all points where it is attainable, – & you will oblige me by relating the particulars. I am about to compose a paper for the Quarterly, the text for which will be taken from the Reports of the Poor Society, [2]  & the object of which is to show what has been done in this country towards lessening the quantum of human suffering, & what remains to do. [3]  In treating of prevention, correction & alleviation, I shall have to treat of schools, prisons & hospitals: & respecting hospitals must quote the saying of a Frenchman whom Louis XVI sent over to England to inquire into the manner in which they were conducted. He praised them as they deserved, but added – mais il y manque deux choses, nos curés et nos hospitaliéres; [4]  – & here with due caution respecting place &c. I wish to tell your story.

I am fully convinced that a gradual improvement is going on in the world, has been going on from its commencement, & will continue till the {human} race of men shall attain the all the perfection of which they are {it is} capable in this mortal state. This belief grows out of knowledge, – that is it is a corollary deduced from the whole history of mankind. It is no little pleasure to believe that in no age has this improvement proceeded so rapidly as in the present, & that there never was so great a disposition to promote it in those who have the power. The disposition indeed is alloyed with much weakness, & much superstition; & God knows there are many disturbing powers at work. But much has been done, more is doing, & nothing can be of more importance than giving this disposition a good direction. Percevals death was one of the severest losses that England has ever sustained: he was a man who not only desired to act well, but desired it ardently; his heart always strengthened his understanding, & gave him that power which rose always to the measure of the occasion. Lord Liverpool is a cold man; you may convince his understanding, but you can only obtain an inert consent assent, where zealous cooperation is wanted. It is however enough for us to know what ought to be done. The how & the when are in the hands of One who knows when & how it may be done best. Oh if this world of ours were but well cultivated & weeded well how like the Garden of Eden might it be made! – Its evils might almost be reduced to physical sufferings & death; – the former continually diminishing, – & the latter always indeed an aweful thing, but yet to be converted into hope & joy.

I am much better pleased with Henrys choice than if he had made a more ambitious alliance. [5]  Give me neither riches nor poverty, said the wise man. [6]  Lead us not into temptation [7]  is one of the few petitions of that xxxxx prayer which x comprizes all that we need to ask; – riches always lead that way. I have seen very little of Louisa since she was a child, but before she was born I knew her mother, who was then almost in person what she is in disposition – the ideal of whatever is womanly & lovely. You know xxxx xxxxx it xxxxxx xx xxxx xxx xxxxxxx xxxx xx xxxxx of which I xxxxxx xxxx xx xxxxxxx) – she has as fair a prospect of happiness as could fall to any of her sex. I know not what larger portion of the gifts of heaven can be requird than good sense, good nature & good spirits all w with all which Henry is blest in perfection.

Why have you not been to visit Joanna Southcott? [8]  If I had been less occupied I should have requested you to go, – not for the sake of a professional opinion (Dr Simms [9]  having satisfied me upon that score) – but that you might have got at some of the mythology, & ascertained how much was imposture and how much delusion. – Gregoire has published a Histoire des Sectes in two volumes, beginning with the last century. [10]  I shall review it as a second part to my the article upon the Dissenters. [11] 

You have in Roderick [12]  the best which I have done, & probably the best that I shall do, – which is rather a melancholy feeling for the author. My powers I hope are not yet verging upon decay, but I have no right to expect any increase or improvement, – short as they are of what they might have been, & of what I might have hoped to make them. Perhaps I shall never venture upon another poem of equal extent, & in so deep a strain. It will affect you more than Madoc, [13]  because it is pitchd in a higher key. I am growing old, the grey hairs thicken upon me, my joints are less flexible supple, & in mind as well as body I am less enterprizing than in former years. When the thought of any new undertaking occurs, the question shall I live to compleat what I have already undertaken – occurs also. – My next poem will be ‘A Tale of Paraguay’ [14]  – about 1000 lines only in length, its object will be to dress plant the grave with flowers, & wreathe a chaplet for the Angel of Death. If you suspect from all this that I suffer any diminution of my usual happy spirits you will be mistaken.

My best wishes to Mrs Gooch – & God bless you –

RS.


Notes

* Address: To/ Dr Gooch/ Aldermanbury/ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ 3 DE 3/ 1813
Endorsement: November 30th. 1814
Watermark: DICKINSON & Co/ 1811
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Don. d. 86
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 87–90 [in part]. BACK

[1] The Battle of Copenhagen (1801). BACK

[2] The Society for Bettering the Condition and Increasing the Comforts of the Poor. BACK

[3] The essay was a long time in gestation, eventually appearing as ‘The Poor’, Quarterly Review, 15 (April 1816), 187–235. It attracted a great deal of attention and was reprinted in Southey’s Essays, Moral and Political, 2 vols (London, 1832), II, pp. 159–247. It did not make use of Gooch’s story. BACK

[4] ‘But there they are lacking two things: our treatments and our care’. Southey did not use this story in his Quarterly article. Louis XVI (1754–1793; King of France 1774–1792) appointed a commission, which reported in 1788, to examine how French hospitals could be improved. Southey probably culled his story of the anonymous Frenchman’s view on English hospitals from John Lingard (1771–1851; DNB), The Antiquities of the Anglo-Saxon Church (Newcastle, 1810), p. 146, which follows a similar phrasing. The book is no. 1728 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[5] Henry Herbert Southey had recently become engaged to Louisa Gonne. BACK

[6] Proverbs 30: 8. BACK

[7] Matthew 6: 13. BACK

[8] 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. Shiloh failed to appear and Southcott died on 27 December 1814. BACK

[9] The respected accoucheur, botanist and founder member of the Linnaean Society. Dr John Sims (1749–1831) had examined Southcott on 18 August and published a statement in the Morning Chronicle (3 September 1814) that she was not pregnant but labouring ‘under strong mental delusion’. In November 1817 he was involved in another controversial pregnancy. Sims was one of three doctors who attended the labour of Princess Charlotte (1796–1817; DNB). The Princess was delivered of a stillborn son and died shortly afterwards. BACK

[10] Henri Gregoire (1750–1831), Histoire des Sectes Religieuses (1810). BACK

[11] The first part of the article had appeared in the Quarterly Review, 10 (October 1813), 90–139. A second part was not written, and Southey’s review of Gregoire was published in Quarterly Review, 28 (October 1822), 1–46. BACK

[12] Roderick, The Last of the Goths, published in 1814. It was the best-selling of all his long poems. BACK

[13] Madoc (1805). BACK

[14] A Tale of Paraguay was published in 1825, dedicated to Edith May Southey. BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2013