Printer-friendly versionSend by email
The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1160. Robert Southey to Henry Herbert Southey, 25 February 1806 ⁠* 

My dear Harry

I should not put you to the cost of a letter, nor myself to that of the paper whereon it is written, if I had not learnt that Walter Scott is in London, & in consequence been uneasy respecting the MSS, [1]  lest if his house, more Scotico [2]  be shut up, it should be lost – in which case I must pay for it. Do make enquiry if it has been taken {in} at Scotts, & if not, look after it at the Coach Office.

I have written about your bedoctoring expences both to Lisbon [3]  & to John May. [4]  but the sooner you let me know what they may amount to the better, that I may mention the sum when next I write. It is very long since my Uncle has written {to} me, & therefore I daily look for a letter from him, – & in general it is my custom to answer letters speedily, while what there is to say is uppermost

Your letter has answered this part of my enquiries. About the Highlands I can say nothing. It is not likely that I should be able to afford either the terms or the money, – my whole exertions will be necessary to set me even with the world this summer being now sadly behind hand. At present it is my serious intention, immediately on returning from London to set about a play, [5]  sorely against the grain – in the hope of acquiring such a sum as may make me feel quite easy till better times. – The Critical I had neither seen nor heard of [6]  – from Cambridge abuse would come very naturally from the friends of Malthus or Clarke, [7]  & also very honestly from a fellow who learnt his taste when he did his Catechism, & sticks with the same fidelity to all the articles in both, – which x {which} I conceive the case with those who are honestly orthodox. If Wordsworth had had his wits about him in time he might have reviewed me there, for it is in that Review that his brother, who believes in 40 articles, writes in defence of the whole mythology which has been added to the system of Jesus Christ. [8] 

Do’nt sleep in your flannel waistcoat Doctor. it excites a greater perspiration than you are aware will perhaps believe. This is King’s advice & he thinks it of importance.

I am very happily employed upon Espriella [9]  & reading as relaxation the Italian Hist of Heresies by Bernini [10]  which I bought in Edinburgh, a book highly useful to one who knows how to arrange what new ideas it presents, & how to discriminate between truth & falsehood. Beausobre [11]  for which I have been groaning these many years is on the road to me – John May has procured it from Paris – I had no notion that it was so scarce a book. Without this I felt myself very deficient in that part of religious history which relates to the connection between the superstitions of Europe & the East.

The History of Heresies is in other words that of the corruptions of Xtianity, every addition to the system being opposed as it was introduced. This is a key to Church History. But among the earlier sects who sprung up before the Mythology was added, some preferred rejected Christ as an unfit nucleus to incrust with their fables, & endeavoured to substitute Moses or Melchisedech [12]  as the Philosophers did Apollonius Tyaneus & Pythagoras. [13]  Others more boldly declar set up for the Paraclete [14]  – in which as you know Mohammed followed them & succeeded. The Church triumphed over all, sometimes by a silent absorption, & union with them xxx xxplex & thus Manicheism [15]  is fairly the taken in with {the} faith – & John Calvin & John Wesley [16]  only repeated what they believed Manes was damned for xxxx bringing into Europe – the belief in Two Principles.

You may perhaps remember a speculation of mine that Buddha is not older than the third Century of our era, which would if true destroy the whole fabric of Eastern chronology. [17]  I am confirmed in it by finding that the teacher of new sects branched off at the East as well as the West in those days, & that the Adams Peak foot-mark [18]  venerated in Ceylon was one of the Twelve Masters instituted by Manes. – But you are hardly old enough to take an interest in these things. The great blessing of such pursuits as mine is – that the appetite for them heightens every day literally growing by what it feeds on. At your age I used to think of the Fathers as probably you do now – they now appear to me to be such men as modern Metaphysicians with this difference, – that they had tenfold the genius of any of the clan, & that the subject on which they employed themselves being of infinitely greater imaginary importance, affords a better excuse for the possession of their powers of mind.

God bless you


Feby. 25. 1806.


* Address: To/ H. H. Southey Esqr/ Mr Guthries – Bookseller/ Nicholson Street/ Edinburgh./ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: [partial] FE/ 1806/ 2
MS: Keswick Museum and Art Gallery
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), I, pp. 359–360. BACK

[1] Southey had been sent a manuscript volume containing rare medieval metrical romances belonging to a Mrs Sherbrook (first name and dates unknown), and had posted it to Scott, who had arranged its purchase by his friend Thomas Thomson (1768–1852; DNB), an Edinburgh advocate, record keeper and editor of medieval manuscripts; see Southey to Walter Scott, 4 February 1806, Letter 1152. BACK

[2] ‘In the Scottish manner’. BACK

[3] Where Southey’s uncle Herbert Hill resided. This letter has not survived. BACK

[4] See Southey to John May, 10 February 1806, Letter 1154. BACK

[5] Southey did not write a play. BACK

[6] Southey’s Madoc (1805) was negatively reviewed by Charles Valentine Le Grice (1773–1858) in the Critical Review, ns 7 (1806), 72–83. BACK

[7] Thomas Malthus (1766–1834; DNB) and James Stanier Clarke (1766–1834; DNB). In the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), Southey reviewed Clarke’s The Progress of Maritime Discovery, from the Earliest Period to the Close of the Eighteenth Century, Forming an Extensive System of Hydrography (1803), 12–20, and Malthus’s An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society; with Remarks on the Speculations of W. Godwin, M. Condorcet and Other Writers (1803), 292–301. He also reviewed Clarke’s 1804 edition of William Falconer’s (1732–1769) poem The Shipwreck (1762) in the Annual Review for 1804, 3 (1805), 577–580 and Clarke’s Naufragia, or, Historical Memoirs of Shipwrecks (1805), in the Annual Review for 1805, 4 (1806), 99–100. BACK

[8] Christopher Wordsworth (1774–1846; DNB), who reviewed for the Critical Review, was an apologist for the Church of England. The 39 Articles of Religion, which Southey puns on here, established the basis of Anglican belief in 1563. BACK

[9] Southey’s Letters from England: by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807). BACK

[10] Domenico Bernini (1657–1723), Istoria, di Tutte l’Heresie (1705–1717). BACK

[11] Isaac de Beausobre (1659–1738), a French Protestant clergyman, who published a history of Manichaeism, entitled Histoire Critique de Manichée et du Manichéisme (1734–1739). Southey’s copy of this work was no. 185 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[12] King of Salem, mentioned in Genesis 14.18–20, after whom a heretical sect (the Melchisedechians) was established in Phrygia in the 9th Century. BACK

[13] Apollonius of Tyana, was a first century Greek philosopher who attempted to revive the doctrines of Pythagorus (c. 570-c. 495 BC), the philosopher, mathematician and founder of the Pythagorean religious movement. BACK

[14] Some Muslim theologians have argued that the paraclete, or ‘other counsellor’ promised to the faithful by Jesus in John 14.15–15 and 16.7–8 refers to the Prophet Muhammad. BACK

[15] A dualist religious philosophy, in which good (God) and evil (Satan) are perceived to be in conflict, which originated in Persia (Iran) in the 3rd century. Its founding prophet was Mani (or Manes in Latin). BACK

[16] John Calvin (1509–1564), French Protestant theologian, active during the Reformation in the development of the Christian theology later known as Calvinism; John Wesley (1703–1791; DNB) Church of England clergyman, and founder of Methodism. BACK

[17] Commonly known as Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, is believed to have lived in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time during the 6th and 4th centuries BC. BACK

[18] Adam’s Peak is a mountain in central Sri Lanka which has a rock formation near its summit, which in Muslim tradition is believed to be the ‘sacred footprint’ of Adam. BACK

About this Page

Published @ RC

August 2013