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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 1: 1791-1797, Edited By Lynda Pratt

87. Robert Southey to John Horseman, 16[–20] April 1794 ⁠* 

College Green. Bristol. Wed. Apr. 16. 1794

The pointed sentence & the well rounded period my dear friend are proper & pretty in declamation, but the stile of letter writing should flow from the heart, not from the deliberate musing of the head. I remained at old Ball. Coll. till the Friday morning after your departure, & great part of my time passed in all the luxury of democratic converse. my friend Allen is an excellent republican. his manners urbane & liberal — in short never did countenance more truly pourtray disposition than his does — if you know the mans appearance you will feel the force of this. we democratized gloriously nor did I quit Oxford without feeling something like regret notwithstanding the prospect of revisiting some of my dearest friends. even at school I have perceived this sentiment intrude itself on breaking up. tis the local patriotism the heart contracts from habit — the residence of any length of time recalls so many & such various scenes — every spot calls to mind some particular incident which once pleased & still is recollected with pleasure, that I soon domesticate anywhere. Cats have the same attachment to place. do not you regard every rats hole round the fish pond at Souldrey?

On the Friday Burnett roused me before three & we breakfasted together. talkd for an hour & half & then I quitted the high places of orthodoxy in the mail coach. my company a master of Trinity. Pickwick [1]  of St Johns & Slade [2]  of Queens. two men whom I never saw before & hope I never shall see again. the five & thirty miles to breakfast passed in total silence, & my mouth was closed all the rest of the journey. I had however ample food for thought. what philosopher was it that said ‘I am never less alone than when alone’? [3]  you who are a Solitudinarian must admire the saying as much {as} I do. the reveries of silence are delightful — a mind stored with the ideas & sentiments of Romance & Rousseau may paint so exquisite a scene of visionary perfection that when Reason wakes it to human fallibility, disgust attends the contrast. Hawkesworth argues very strongly against indulging in these fantastical pleasures — they enervate the mind & by accustoming it to the dreams of fancy render it totally unfit for serious contemplation & abstract reasoning — they have likewise a worse effect even than this — they tend to render society odious & the world contemptible, till the dreamer possesses all the austerity of a Cynic without the sublimity of his virtues. [4]  think of this Horseman. even in my language it may have some effect because it possesses the strength of truth. when we meet at Oxford I will show you the paper of Hawkesworth.

How like you the gallant city of London? is it not an overgrown monster devouring its own children? a large sink of folly dissipation & iniquity?

Sir I do thank God for it, I do hate
Most righteously the town [5] 

so said old Donne. & thank God I join with him heartily. four years residence there gave me experience. & I had rather dwell in the poorest hovel to which Monarchy & Aristocracy have condemnd honest labour, than in the proud palaces of London. superficial observers & those who rioting in superfluity themselves cry out ‘all is well, will hold up the magnitude & multitudes of London as proofs of the prosperity & happiness of the state. nimium ne crede colori. [6] 

Large cities are inevitably destructive to morality. & [MS torn] be to those legislators who would found the happiness of [MS torn] their people upon any other basis. tis computed that London receives annually six thousand inhabitants from the country. ought that to be considered as the proof of national prosperity which annually destroys six thousand men? if you have ever passed thro the wretched lanes & alleys of St Giles’s & various other parts of London, the pestilential haunts of Depravity Misery & Disease, tis utterly impossible but you must yourself have cursed the state of society & wishd it alterd. partial reformation will not do. who but would blame the surgeon who should from mistaken kindness amputate the foot when the knee was gangrened?

you will write to me as soon as you receive this & give me your adventure in London & whether your sentiments agree with mine. lest you should have lost my direction I repeat it. at Miss Tylers Bristol. in a fortnight I expect to revisit Oxford — the change of scene is pleasant. I found much relief in exchanging collegiate uniformity for a more varied life. neither do I meet with half the liberality at Oxford I find in my Bristol friends. now I have lost Seward Allen is the only man who searches after truth with all the boldness the search requires — my other {friends} are too timid to throw off prejudices tho they own them to be such — they think of interest &c & worship the Golden Calf of abomination.

yours

Robert Southey.

health & fraternity. Easter Sunday.

Notes

* Address: John Horseman/ at the Reverend John Horseman’s/ Souldern near/ Bicester/ Oxfordshire./ Single Sheet
MS: National Library of Scotland, MS 845
Unpublished. BACK

[1] William Pickwick (dates unknown), a student at St John’s College, Oxford (matric. 1793). An acquaintance — not a friend — of Southey’s. BACK

[2] William Slade (dates unknown), a student at Queen’s College, Oxford (matric. 1792, BA 1796). An acquaintance — not a friend — of Southey’s. BACK

[3] Cicero (106–43 BC), De Officiis, Book 3, chapter 1. The Latin translates as ‘Never less idle than when wholly idle, nor less alone than when wholly alone’. BACK

[4] A paraphrase of John Hawkesworth (c. 1720–1773; DNB), The Adventurer, 4 vols (London, 1777), II, pp. 273–275. BACK

[5] A paraphrase of John Donne (1572–1631; DNB), ‘Satyre II’ (c. 1594), lines 1–2. BACK

[6] The Latin translates as ‘put not your trust in colours’. BACK

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March 2009